The New York Yankees were busy bees this offseason, and as a result, they look considerably stronger at the start of the 2012 season than they did at the end of the 2011 season.
The most important thing the Bombers did this offseason was upgrade their starting rotation. They traded for young fireballer Michael Pineda and signed innings-eater Hiroki Kuroda. They also traded A.J. Burnett, which is addition by subtraction.
Whereas in recent seasons it was all too easy to complain about the Yankees' starting pitching, there's very little about this rendition of the Bombers to complain about. Their roster is as strong as can be, giving them a very good chance of winning the American League East for the second year in a row.
Here's a look at how the Yankees are shaping up heading into 2012.
2011 Record: 97-65
Key Arrivals (courtesy of BaseballProspectus.com): RHP Brad Meyers (waivers), LHP Cesar Cabral (from Kansas City), OF Preston Mattingly (FA), RHP Michael Pineda (from Seattle), RHP Jose Campos (from Seattle), RHP Hiroki Kuroda (FA), RHP Manny Delcarmen (FA), 1B Russell Branyan (FA), SS Doug Bernier (FA), RHP Diego Moreno (from Pittsburgh), OF Exicardo Cayones (from Pittsburgh), LHP Clay Rapada (FA), OF Raul Ibanez (FA), RHP David Aardsma (FA).
Key Departures: LHP Aaron Laffey (waivers), C Jesus Montero (to Seattle), RHP Hector Noesi (to Seattle), RHP A.J. Burnett (to Pittsburgh), C Jorge Posada (retired), RHP Bartolo Colon (FA).
Projected Rotation (per official site)
- CC Sabathia (19-8, 3.00 ERA, 1.23 WHIP)
- Hiroki Kuroda (13-16, 3.07, 1.21)
- Ivan Nova (16-4, 3.70, 1.33)
- Michael Pineda (9-10, 3.74, 1.10)
- Phil Hughes (5-5, 5.79, 1.49)
- Freddy Garcia (12-8, 3.62, 1.34)
UPDATE: March 16
According to Jack Curry of the YES Network, the Yankees have signed Andy Pettitte to a one-year minor league contract. Yeah, that Andy Pettitte. The Yankees must have felt they needed more pitching depth. Very curious move, and it's unclear what it means, but I'd say Pineda, Garcia and Hughes should all be looking over their shoulders.
C: Russell Martin (.237/.324/.408)
1B: Mark Teixeira (.248/.341/.494)
2B: Robinson Cano (.302/.349/.533)
3B: Alex Rodriguez (.276/.362/.461)
SS: Derek Jeter (.297/.355/.388)
LF: Brett Gardner (.259/.345/.369)
CF: Curtis Granderson (.262/.364/.552)
RF: Nick Swisher (.260/.374/.449)
DH: Raul Ibanez (.245/.289/.419)
Closer: Mariano Rivera (R) (1-2, 44 SV, 5 BLSV, 1.91 ERA, 0.90 WHIP)
Rafael Soriano (R) (2-3, 2 SV, 23 HLD, 3 BLSV, 4.12, 1.30)
David Robertson (R) (4-0, 1 SV, 34 HLD, 3 BLSV, 1.08, 1.13)
Boone Logan (L) (5-3, 10 HLD, 2 BLSV, 3.46, 1.34)
Cory Wade (R) (6-1, 8 HLD, 1 BLSV, 2.04, 1.03)
Dellin Betances (R) (0-0, 6.75, 2.63)
George Kontos (R) (0-0, 3.00, 1.17)
Joba Chamberlain (R) (2-0, 12 HLD, 1 BLSV, 2.83, 1.05)*
*Tommy John surgery in June of 2011
Scouting the Starting Pitching
The Yankees didn't enjoy outstanding starting pitching last season, but it was surprisingly good. Yankees starters posted a 4.03 ERA, which isn't bad at all considering the rotation also had an unspectacular 1.34 WHIP.
Regardless of the numbers, last year's rotation hardly passed the eye test. CC Sabathia was characteristically great and the Yanks got a big boost from Ivan Nova, but A.J. Burnett was a mess and even Yankees fans had to realize that Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia were too good to be true.
The Yankees' 2012 rotation is different. It passes the eye test with flying colors.
The Yankees don't need to worry about a thing with Sabathia at the top. He's won at least 19 games in each of his three seasons in pinstripes, and he's coming off a season in which he posted a 3.77 K/BB, a personal best as a Yankee.
Not surprisingly, fewer walks translated to more hits against Sabathia. Batters hit .255 off him, and Sabathia's BABIP was curiously high at .318. Nonetheless, Sabathia held hitters to mere singles for the most part, and he kept the ball in the ballpark. His HR/9 was 0.64, a new career-best.
You can count me among those who think Sabathia's arm is going to fall off sooner or later. But until it does, he's going to continue to be one of the best and most dependable starting pitchers in baseball.
The Yankees would like nothing more than to see Hiroki Kuroda emerge as a co-ace alongside Sabathia. It's not entirely out of the question given the fact Kuroda has a solid career ERA of 3.45 in four major league seasons, but there is cause for concern for Kuroda.
Though Kuroda posted a career-low ERA of 3.07 in 2011, he had his issues. He's at his best when he's getting ground balls, and that's something he didn't do well in 2011. His ground-ball rate decreased, and his line-drive and fly-ball rates increased. In the end, he gave up 196 hits in exactly 202 innings, including a career-high 24 home runs.
If Kuroda elevates the ball in 2012 like he did in 2011, he's going to run into trouble. The AL East is not the NL West. Hitters are going to make him pay for his mistakes.
Still, the Yankees will be plenty happy with Kuroda if he pitches 200 innings, something only Sabathia managed to do for them last season.
Nova will occupy the No. 3 spot in this rotation. He won 16 games last season, but he's the very definition of a pitcher who relies on his defense. His K/BB was a minuscule 1.72, and his ground-ball rate was close to 53 percent.
Numbers like those are typically followed by a BABIP close to or over .300. Nova's was .283. Unless he starts striking more hitters out, I'd expect that number to increase this season, leading to more hits and more runs.
There's some negative buzz surrounding Pineda these days, which is due mainly to his shaky velocity in spring training and his surprisingly rotund figure. Instead of the pitcher who won eight games and had an ERA of 3.03 at the All-Star break last season, the fear now is that the Yankees have traded for the pitcher who wore down and had a 5.12 ERA after the break.
It's a legit concern. The Yankees need Pineda to be in top form with top velocity. He's a strikeout pitcher, and it's going to be a lot easier for him to rack up strikeouts if he has his great fastball. If not, Pineda's fly ball tendencies will cause far more problems in the AL East and in Yankee Stadium than they ever did in Safeco Field.
Don't be surprised in Pineda struggles out of the gate. He came up as a thrower, but now may be the time when he's forced to learn how to be a pitcher.
It remains to be seen who the Yankees will use as their No. 5 starter. It's my personal opinion that they're better off going with Freddy Garcia, thus moving Phil Hughes to the pen or sending him to the minors to keep working as a starter. But if Hughes wins the job in spring training, so be it.
Will the Yankees have one of baseball's elite rotations this season?
The answer is no. But if the question is whether or not the Yankees will win plenty of games with their rotation intact, the answer is yes. The group that has been assembled is much strong than the group the Yankees used last season, and even that group was good enough to give the Yankees' offense some breathing room on a daily basis.
It all boils down to this: for the first time in what feels like many years, starting pitching is not the top concern regarding the Yankees.
Scouting the Bullpen
The Yankees got to enjoy a luxury that few other teams got to enjoy last season in that they rarely had to worry about their bullpen.
All told, Yankees relievers posted an AL-best 3.12 ERA, and they finished second in the AL with a K/BB of 8.46. They blew just 16 saves all season.
It helps that Mariano Rivera is not, and has never been, in the habit of blowing saves. He was as brilliant as ever in 2011, saving 44 games in 49 chances. He gave up a few more hits than usual, but he kept his walks absurdly low and made it as difficult as ever for hitters to make solid contact.
I'm assuming this is going to be Rivera's final season. What's truly remarkable is that his final season is a virtual lock to be as impressive as any of the 17 seasons that have come before it. Rivera has been the best reliever in baseball over the last two decades, and in my opinion he'll go down as the greatest reliever ever to play in the majors.
So the Yankees are going to have the ninth inning on lock-down, and the middle innings shouldn't be much of an issue either.
The Yankees will be looking for a big bounce-back season from Rafael Soriano. He was ineffective early on last season and then he got hurt, a series of events that made his contract look like a joke.
However, Soriano did pitch well down the stretch. He had an ERA of 3.33 after the break, as well as an opponents' batting average of .205. He struck out 26 hitters in 24.1 innings of work.
Of course, that K rate looks pretty pedestrian next to the K rate David Robertson posted last season. His K/9 in 2011 was a ridiculous 13.50. It's no wonder he had an ERA of 1.08.
There is some uncertainty regarding Robertson at present, as he suffered a bruised foot in spring training. The word from the New York Post is that the Yankees are going to play it safe with him, which was to be expected.
As long as Robertson and Soriano are healthy for the bulk of the year, the Yankees are going to be in good shape when they hand a lead over to their bullpen. To boot, Joe Girardi will have a handful of other solid arms to turn to, and the Yankees could potentially get a huge boost once Joba Chamberlain returns in the middle of the season.
His return could make an already great bullpen even better.
Scouting the Hitting
As expected, the Yankees mashed with the bats in 2011. They finished second in the majors in runs behind the Red Sox, and they hit more home runs than any team in the majors. They hit 222 of them, to be exact.
Hitting homers will be the Yankees' M.O. once again in 2012, and they have more than enough guys in their lineup who are capable of blasting the ball into the cheap seats.
Curtis Granderson led the Yankees with 41 bombs, 11 more than his previous career high. Remarkably, the bulk of them did not come thanks to Yankee Stadium's short right field porch. Granderson hit 21 home runs at home, and 20 on the road.
Granderson's explosion in 2011 can be traced back to a swing adjustment he made in the latter half of the 2010 season. He started blasting home runs down the stretch that season, and he picked up right where he left off in 2011.
Nevertheless, Granderson is bound to come back to earth. His power numbers over the last season-plus are simply too good to be true, and it's certainly worth noting that the tradeoff for Granderson in 2011 was an increased strikeout percentage. In addition, let it be noted that he was an extremely streaky hitter, with 20 of his home runs coming via 10-home run months in May and August.
I have no such regression concerns when it comes to Robinson Cano. He had another outstanding season in 2011, batting .302 with 28 homers and a career-high 118 RBI. I'm going to break him down in more depth in just a minute, but suffice it to say he's one of my favorite hitters in baseball.
The question in this lineup is whether the Yankees will enjoy bounce-back seasons from Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.
Yes, Teixeira did hit 39 home runs last season, but he's capable of much more than a .248 batting average and a .341 on-base percentage. He took fewer walks then usual, and making solid contact consistently proved to be a problem. The most telling stat is Teixeira's .239 BABIP, which was among the lowest marks in the majors among qualified batters.
There should be some concern regarding Teixeira. Though he's managed to keep hitting home runs, his batting averages and on-base percentages have declined each of the last four years. He's still a very good player, but Teixeira is slipping further and further away from being the dominant force he used to be.
The same goes for A-Rod, though he can at least pin his problems on an inability to stay healthy. He hasn't been able to play in more than 150 games since his brilliant season in 2007, and he failed to hit 30 home runs and drive in 100 runs for the first time since 1997 in 2011.
On the bright side, A-Rod was pretty good in the first half of the 2011 season when he was at his healthiest. He hit .295 with a .485 slugging percentage and an .851 OPS. Those numbers are a far cry from the numbers A-Rod used to put up, but the Yankees will gladly take that kind of production at this point in his career.
The Yankees will also take what they can get from Derek Jeter. He's basically nothing more than a singles hitter at this point, but he deserves no shortage of credit for the way he turned his season around last year. He was useless for a good portion of the first half, and then next thing you knew Jeter was spraying base hits all over the place. He ended up hitting .327 after the break, and .297 for the year.
There is, however, one thing that stands out. For his career, Jeter is a .366 hitter going to the opposite field. In 2011, he hit .315 going to the opposite field. That's a sign that his hands just aren't as quick as they once were.
Brett Gardner is the guy who should be batting leadoff for the Yankees this season. He won't hit .300, but he's proven that he has the ability to get on base, and he's certainly proven that he has the ability to steal bases. If Granderson regresses and some of the older Yankees continue to struggle, Girardi could do himself a big favor by installing a speedster like Gardner at the top of the lineup and keeping him there.
Regardless of how things stack up, this is a lineup that is going to score a ton of runs. Beyond the key players are guys like Nick Swisher, Raul Ibanez and Russell Martin, and they're all going to hit a little bit too, making this order unfairly deep.
A solid starting rotation? Check.
A great bullpen? Check.
A thunderous lineup? Check.
Not too shabby.
There's only one guy who can go here, and that's CC Sabathia.
If there's one stat that pretty much says it all, it's the amount of innings Sabathia has pitched since 2007. He's pitched exactly 1,199 innings in the last five seasons, the most of any pitcher in that span.
Sabathia didn't win as many games in 2011 as he won in 2010, but I'm of the mind that it was his best season as a Yankee. His K/9 of 8.72 was his best mark as a Yankee, as was his 2.31 BB/9. He gave up a few more hits than usual, but he only have up 17 home runs all season and he held opponents to a slugging percentage of .361.
There's little reason to think Sabathia won't be as good or better than he was in 2011 this coming season. I mentioned he had a curiously high .318 BABIP last season, yet that didn't lead to an excess of earned runs. If Sabathia's BABIP levels out to a more reasonable sub-.300 figure, he's going to allow even fewer baserunners and thus even fewer earned runs.
If that happens, this could be the year Sabathia wins his first Cy Young as a member of the Yankees.
The best hitter on the Yankees is Robinson Cano, and it's not close.
Cano is coming off an odd season. He's never been a guy to take his walks, but he took even fewer of them in 2011. On top of that, his strikeout percentage increased. And on top of that, Cano's BABIP slipped to .318.
So as strange as it feels to say it, Cano had something of an off year in 2011. That he still managed to have an outstanding season should tell you just how good Cano is.
There's no stopping Cano. He's in the prime of his career, and it's pretty clear where the bar has been set. Anything less than a .300 average, 25 home runs and 100 RBI will be a disappointment. That's where Cano has been in the last three seasons, in which he's established himself as one of the best second basemen in baseball.
Just imagine how unstoppable Cano would be if he started being more selective at the plate. He could easily have an OBP over .400 if he started taking more walks, and that's a scary thought for opposing pitchers.
And indeed, Cano is scary enough.
Let's talk a little more about Pineda.
I've alright outlined the potential pitfalls when it comes to Pineda. He's in that dicey area of transitioning from being a thrower to being a pitcher, and his decreased velocity seems to be part of the process. Unfortunately, this has the potential to lead to fewer strikeouts, more hard hits and more runs on the board.
Because Pineda is so young, the Yankees can afford to be patient with him. But at the same time, they know as well as anyone that they gave up a great young hitter in Jesus Montero to get Pineda, and that trade will be too easily regretted if he doesn't live up to the potential that he showed in the first half of the 2011 season with Seattle.
If Pineda pitches well, he'll stay in the rotation and the Yankees will have one of the best starting fives in the American League. If he doesn't pitch well, the Yankees are going to be forced to tinker with him, and that could include moving him to the pen or sending him down to figure things out.
If it comes to that, their rotation will not be as strong in reality as it looks on paper right now.
Prospect to Watch
The Yankees have some intriguing arms in their system, and Manny Banuelos tops the list.
You get the sense that Yankees fans are chomping at the bit to see Banuelos make his debut, but you also get the sense that the Yankees aren't about to rush Banuelos' development.
As well they shouldn't. Banuelos has been in the system for a few years at this point, but he's only made seven starts at the Triple-A level and those didn't go so well. In the seven starts Banuelos made for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, he had an ERA over 4.00 and a WHIP over 1.60.
The key for Banuelos is the same key for every other young hurler under the sun. He needs to establish good control, particularly when it comes to his secondary pitches.
His time is the big leagues is coming, though. Banuelos will be with the big club soon enough.
What the Yankees Will Do Well
The Yankees are going to pitch well, and they're going to hit well.
Virtually every other club in the big leagues would love to be so lucky.
There are some concerns here and there, but the simple truth is that the Yankees upgraded their starting rotation over the winter, they still have a great bullpen and they have a deep lineup that's going to hit a ton of home runs and score a ton of runs.
Because of this, they're going to win a ton of games.
What the Yankees Won’t Do Well
My biggest gripe with the Yankees is that they're a mixed bag defensively.
Most notably, the left side of the Yankees' infield consists of two players who have a lot of years and a lot of mileage between them. Jeter can't move like he used to, and the same goes for A-Rod. Both of them are shaky defensive players.
As a defender, Cano is overrated. Sorry, but he has yet to post a positive UZR and there are a handful of second basemen around the league who save more defensive runs. Dustin Pedroia is one of them.
At least Teixeira and Gardner are outstanding defensive players. Teixeira rebounded nicely in 2011 after a down year defensively in 2010, and Gardner led all players in UZR and tied for first with 22 defensive runs saved.
Gardner will make plenty of plays in left field and Teixeira will save his fellow infielders plenty of trouble, but as a whole I'd say the Yankees are merely a decent defensive team.
The Yankees are better than they were last year, and they're without a doubt one of the top teams in the American League once again.
The only question I have is whether they're better than the Tampa Bay Rays. Given the problems the Red Sox are facing with their pitching, it's looking like the AL East will be up for grabs between the Yankees and Rays when all is said and done, and the Rays could very well take the division title for their own.
Because their starting pitching is stacked, I like the Rays to ultimately take the East.
If so, the Yankees will have to settle for a wild card berth.
Projected Record: 97-65, second in AL East (wild card).
American League East
National League Central
American League Central
National League West
American League West
Zachary D. Rymer is a lifelong baseball junkie with an impressive collection of Nomar Garciaparra rookie cards and a knuckleball that is coming along. He loves the Red Sox and hates the Yankees, but he has a huge man-crush on Derek Jeter and would like nothing more than to have a few beers with Nick Swisher. He's always down to talk some baseball, so feel free to hit him up on Twitter:
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