The Yankees go into the 2012 season as clear-cut World Series contenders after reworking their starting rotation this offseason.
The rotation was their only glaring weakness following a disappointing season (by Yankees’ standards). However, there are still six issues they need to work on in Spring Training in order to fulfill their lofty expectations going into the 2012 season.
Note: All statistics are from baseball-reference.com.
Can Freddy Garcia beat out Phil Hughes for the 5th spot in the rotation?
With Freddy Garcia you know what you’re getting. Garcia is a pitcher who labors and needs to deceive hitters to get through every at bat. He went 12-8 last year with a 3.62 ERA.
On the other hand, Phil Hughes is a total mystery. This may be his last chance to try his hand at starting. If he can find a way to stay healthy and show that his velocity has bounced back to its 2010 levels, he would be the clear front runner for the fifth spot in the rotation.
If Garcia is named the fifth starter, Hughes will move into the bullpen as a middle reliever, and the Yankees will need to find a long relief man to cover for their rotation.
It makes more sense to have Hughes start the season in the rotation and have Garcia hang around as the long reliever ready to fill in in case Hughes can’t regain his 2010 form.
How many games will A-Rod play as the DH?
Alex Rodriguez only appeared in 99 games in 2011. In order for the Yankees to win the division and avoid a dreaded one-game playoff as a wild-card team, they need A-Rod to have a productive season at the plate.
In games the Yankees won last season, A-Rod had a batting average of .350 and OPS of 1.081, which are magnificent numbers. However, in the losses that A-Rod played in, he hit .173 with an OPS of .548.
A startling difference.
Those numbers magnify how valuable Rodriguez is to the middle of the order.
A-Rod needs to be featured in more games at DH, with a competent backup in Eric Chavez filling in at third base. The Yankees need to come up with a plan for A-Rod in Spring Training in order for him to know his role and be comfortable going into the season instead of winging it as the season rolls along.
The Yankees need A-Rod playing and healthy in order to have the type of lineup that can win a World Series.
Teixeira batted .248 in 2011, the lowest in his career.
When the Yankees signed Teixeira in 2009 they thought they were getting a Gold Glove-caliber first-baseman who would hit close to .300 and be a power force in the middle of the lineup.
For most teams, two out of three ain’t bad. These are the Yankees we’re talking about, so two out of three just doesn’t cut it in the Bronx.
Teixeira hit over .300 as a right-handed batter last season, so the problem lies in his .224 batting average as a left-handed batter.
Teixeira has identified the issue and plans on trying to bunt and slap the ball more when he is batting left-handed, in order to beat the shift and increase his average.
Maybe Brett Gardner can give him a few tips down in Tampa.
Whether Phil Hughes claims the fifth spot in the rotation or is placed as a power arm in the bullpen, he needs to bounce back from his 2011 dead arm season.
In order to do that, he needs to work on building up his arm strength this spring.
If the Yankees can add the 2010 All-Star version of Hughes to their rotation or the 2009 flame-throwing reliever to their bullpen, they will be in good shape as the season rolls along.
The Yankees need to establish where they stand with Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos.
This spring training will give the Yankees’ upper management the opportunity to decide how major league ready their two young starters are, and if they are interested in keeping them in the minors for another year waiting to take the rotation spots of Kuroda and Garcia in 2013, or if they should use one or both as trade bait to find an upgrade at DH.
With the new limit on spending that has been imposed by Hal Steinbrenner, it looks more likely that the Yankees would hold onto their young talent and wait for them to mature into major league-caliber pitchers.
Therefore, one objective this spring should be geared toward evaluating what improvements need to be made by their young aces in 2012 so they are ready to step into the rotation next season.
Boone Logan is the only left-hander in the Yankees bullpen going into the season.
That is one scary proposition.
Relievers are not the most reliable bunch, so it is essential for the Yankees to have a lefty waiting in the minors ready to take over the left-handed specialist role in case Logan falls to injury or ineffectiveness.