Joe Girardi has some decisions to make before Opening Day
The 2012 Major League Baseball season opens in a few days and teams will be paring down their rosters to what they hope are the 25 players who will take them into the postseason.
Such is the case with the New York Yankees.
While many on manager Joe Girardi's roster are considered "no-brainers," there remain a few slots up for grabs.
This article looks at the 25 most likely to begin the new season in Tampa facing the division rival Rays on Opening Day.
Derek Jeter enters his 18th year with the Yankees
He is the captain. He is the franchise's all-time hits leader, and one of its most beloved stars. As the face of the Yankees, Derek Jeter will be entering his 18th year with the "Bronx Bombers" and tries to carry the momentum of hitting .331 over the final three months of 2011 into 2012.
In all likelihood he will be leading off for manager Joe Girardi and will once again be looked to for his calm veteran leadership throughout the season.
Even though he is in the twilight of a Hall of Fame career, Derek Jeter is the first "no-brainer" to make the Yankees Opening Day roster.
Robinson Cano's future is something worth smiling about
Coming off his most productive season yet, Robinson Cano's brilliance seems limitless. In 2011 the second baseman hit .302 with 28 home runs and 118 RBI.
It would appear that Cano will be slated to bat third in the order for the upcoming season and hitting from that spot will only increase his RBI opportunities as well as provide him valuable protection in the lineup (in front of Teixeira and Rodriguez).
With a swing that at once is both picture-perfect and effortless, and a cannon for an arm with a wide range at second base, you can be sure that Robinson Cano will be on Yankee teams for years to come.
Mark Texeira has something to prove this year
Normally 39 home runs, 111 RBI and 90 runs scored would define an MVP type of year—unless you are Mark Teixeira. A career .281 hitter, Teixeira hit .248 in 2011 leaving himself and the Yankees with a sense of disappointment.
The Yankee first baseman reported to the 2012 camp in visibly better shape than 2011. Hoping that better physical shape will translate into better discipline at the plate and a more productive season, Teixeira appears ready to prove that at age 32 he hasn't lost a step.
The Yankees will be counting on that fact.
Alex Rodriguez will try to put injuries behind him
Alex Rodriguez comes into 2012 not having played in more than 138 games since 2007. That's not exactly what the Yankees had banked on when he signed a 10-year contract in 2008.
In an effort to ease, or even reverse, the troublesome injury trend, Alex traveled to Germany in the offseason for experimental treatments on his knee and his shoulder.
Yankees fans looking for the production the three-time MVP once had may be in for a disappointment. He hasn't topped a .300 average since 2008 and those days may be behind the 36-year-old.
In spite of that, if he can remain healthy for most of the season A-Rod can still be productive in the Yankees order and he remains capable of a solid performance in the field at third base.
Look for Alex to hit the ground running come Opening Day but, the season for him will be defined by whether his "run" is a sprint or a marathon.
Yankees look to Russell Martin for consistency and grit.
Russell Martin came to the New York Yankees in 2011 and immediately provided stability behind the plate as well as some pop (18 home runs). His toughness on the field instantly endeared him to Yankee fans and the Bombers' pitchers complimented his ability to work the game from behind the plate.
Having signed with New York for another year at $7.5 million, the team can look for more of the same consistency and grittiness that has established him as the starting backstop.
Curtis Granderson has emerged as a Yankee star
In December of 2009 the New York Yankees traded top-prospect and center field heir-apparent Austin Jackson to the Detroit Tigers for Curtis Granderson as part of a three team, multi-player deal. At the time Yankees fans and the media lamented the fact that the Bronx Bombers had given away the speedy, .300-hitting phenom for a player who had just hit .249 with the Tigers the year before.
2011 was Curtis Granderson's year to prove their worries unsubstantiated. The Yankee center fielder spent 2010 working closely with hitting coach Kevin Long on fine-tuning his swing and that hard work resulted in a 2011 season in which Granderson hit .262 with 41 home runs, 119 RBI and 136 runs scored (both the RBI and runs led the American League).
"Grandy" enters 2012 as a key piece of the lineup and the latest fixture in the storied history of Yankees center fielders.
Brett Gardner's defense and speed make him a valuable member of the Yankees squad
Brett Gardner knows only one speed—FAST—and he comes off a season in which he led the league in stolen bases with 49.
As he enters the prime of his career (he'll be 28 this year), the Yankees hope that Gardner can increase his batting average (.259 in 2011) and on-base percentage (.345 last season) giving him better opportunities to utilize that speed.
In the field he is one of the best in the American League in left, with a .991 fielding percentage. In short, Gardner is showing the Yankees that he can be a very valuable weapon for the team.
Whether he bats leadoff or at the bottom of the order, Brett Gardner will provide the Bronx Bombers a much needed change-of-pace from the typical station-to-station, power dependent rest of the lineup.
Nick Swisher hopes to improve on poor postseasons at the plate
Nick Swisher has played in at least 150 games each of the past six seasons and he has hit at least 20 home runs each of the past seven. Over that time he has averaged 90 walks and 90 RBI. That type of consistency has given the Yankees a stabilizing force in right field and, a solid first baseman to spell starter Mark Teixeira from time to time.
In the field, Swisher has raised his fielding percentage each of the last four seasons—from .962 in 2008 to .996 in 2011. He has gone from an average outfielder with a good bat to a great outfielder with a good bat establishing himself as a key component in the lineup.
The only flaw in Swisher's Yankees resume has been his .169 average in the postseason. If he can continue as the stable right fielder that he has become during the regular season, he'll get a chance in 2012 to rectify that flaw.
Eric Chavez provides essential backup at the hot corner
Given the recent struggles with injury that Alex Rodriguez has gone through, the New York Yankees needed a backup third baseman that they could count on to step up when needed.
They found that in Eric Chavez.
In 42 appearances at the hot corner last season, Chavez had 86 balls hit his way and didn't have an error on any of them. At the plate he hit a respectable .263 providing the Yankees with relief in knowing they had someone that could fill in when A-Rod couldn't play.
New York re-signed Chavez in the offseason and his steady play assures the 34-year-old of a spot on the Opening Day roster.
Eduardo Nunez has shown the ability to play multiple positions for the Yanks
Versatility is what makes Eduardo Nunez a valuable piece to the Yankee puzzle. In 2011, he played in games at five different positions and over the past two years his fielding percentage has been .934—making him a reliable replacement around the diamond.
At the plate he has hit a respectable .267 and has displayed flashes of speed as he stole 22 bases in 2011.
This spring he has hit .375 with a .500 slugging percentage—all but assuring himself a spot on the 25-man roster that will open in Tampa. Given the need to occasionally rest his aging stars, Joe Girardi will give Nunez every opportunity to once again display his flexibility.
Raul Ibanez should enjoy the right field porch at Yankee Stadium
A major focus of the New York Yankees' offseason was filling the need for a designated hitter in their power-laden lineup. While there were several choices who could meet the criteria at the plate, there really was only one man who would not only provide punch from the left side, but also give them depth in the outfield.
On February 21, 2012 the Yankees signed Raul Ibanez for one year at $1.1 million, getting their man.
In 2011, Ibanez hit 20 home runs and drove in 84 while playing left field for the Philadelphia Phillies. He is a lifetime .280 hitter and last season had a .995 fielding percentage.
Raul Ibanez will break camp with the Yankees and provide them with a solid left-handed DH and outfielder in 2012.
Andruw Jones will be the Yankees' right-handed DH and occassional Left Fielder
Andruw Jones is the right-handed version of Raul Ibanez. In his role with the Yankees as the DH/OF from the right side, Jones hit 13 home runs and drove in 33 in 77 games. That translates to 27 home runs and 70 RBI over a full 162-game schedule—certainly numbers any team would love from their DH.
This past New Year's Eve the Yankees showed how much they valued Andruw by re-signing him to a one-year $2 million contract. With another performance in 2012 like the one in 2011, the Yankees will consider the contract to be money well spent.
CC Sabathia will once again be the Yankee Ace
CC Sabathia is the unquestioned ace of the New York Yankees pitching staff. In the three years he has been in the Bronx, Sabathia has won 59 games and pitched to an ERA of 3.18. His durability is second to none as he has an average of 34 games a season.
Coming into 2012, CC's spot in the Yankee rotation was the only one manager Joe Girardi would say was certain.
In an effort to improve his stamina over the course of an entire season, Sabathia reported to camp much lighter than in past seasons (reports vary between 25 and 30 pounds lighter).
With that renewed dedication and improved stamina, look for the Yankee ace to once again win at least 19 games for the Bombers.
Ivan Nova hopes to build on a successful 2011 season
In spite of a brief stint back in the minor leagues, Ivan Nova dazzled the Yankees and their fans with a 16-4 campaign in 2011. No one knew quite what to expect in his first full season with the big league club and all were pleasantly surprised as Nova finished with a 3.70 ERA—not a small accomplishment when competing in the AL East.
With that year now under his belt, the 25-year-old looks to continue to improve and become an integral part of the Yankee rotation. With a devastating sinker and above-average fastball, the team hopes the 6' 4" hurler will continue to mature into the right-handed complement to Sabathia.
Hiroki Kuroda adds depth to Yankee rotation
37-year-old Hiroki Kuroda signed with the Yankees in January. He spent his first four seasons in the Major Leagues with the Dodgers where he was 41-46 and had a 3.45 ERA , and he comes off his best season in 2011 where he won 13 games and carried a 3.07 ERA.
The Yankees are hoping that those stats will remain close to the same as he moves into the powerful AL East division and have announced that Kuroda will start the second game of the season against the Rays.
Based upon what they have seen this spring (3.07 ERA, 1.16 WHIP) the team seems confident that Hiroki's results will not be affected by his age or the move to the American League. Only time will tell.
The Yankees will look for David Robertson to be the bridge to the great Rivera
2011 was David Robertson's coming out party for the New York Yankees. The season saw him hit career bests in ERA (1.08), games (70), innings pitched (66.2), WHIP (1.125) and strikeouts (100) as he was selected to his first All-Star game.
Where once Rafael Soriano was looked to as the heir-apparent to Mariano Rivera at the closer spot, now Robertson has the inside track, and with good reason.
At age 27 the reliever is blessed with an electric fastball that appears to have an extra "hop" to it as it crosses the plate. He compliments that pitch with an above-average curveball which enables him to keep the hitters off-balance and frustrated.
As it appears that Mariano Rivera will begin his farewell tour this summer, David Robertson has the opportunity to prove that he can be the next stopper for the Yankees. If last season is any indication, "D-Rob" will have no problem stepping up.
Boone Logan—not the typical lefty specialist for the Yankees
Boone Logan is entering the prime of his career and at age 27 is coming off two successful seasons as a New York Yankee. In pitching to a 3.20 ERA with New York, and averaging more than a strikeout per inning (84 strikeouts in 81.2 innings pitched) he has provided manager Joe Girardi with the left handed reliever that the Yankee bullpen so desperately needs.
His value to the team doesn't just lie in the typical lefty-lefty matchups that many southpaw relievers are accustomed to. Instead, Girardi will usually leave Logan in to face multiple batters. Last season, for example, he averaged over four batters faced per inning pitched (185 batters faced over 41.2 innings) showing the kind of confidence the manager has in the left-hander.
In 2012 it should be more of the same for Boone Logan as the Yankees will continue to use him during key innings with the game on the line.
Rafael Soriano has a lot to prove in 2012
In January of 2011 the New York Yankees signed Rafael Soriano to a three-year $35 million contract. He was coming off the kind of season only the very best relievers have—45 saves, 1.73 ERA—with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Needless to say, the Yankees were disappointed with the return on their investment as Soriano's ERA ballooned to 4.12 in an injury-hampered season, and the once heir-apparent to Mariano Rivera's closer role was relegated to seventh inning appearances.
2012 brings with it new hope for Soriano as he comes to camp healthy, and as of this writing is sporting a 1.59 spring ERA. If he can show the type of stuff he displayed with the Rays, there is no reason Rafael Soriano cannot once again become the favorite to take over for "Mo".
This will be a bounce-back year for the Yankees' Phil Hughes
It has been quite a roller-coaster ride for Phil Hughes and his career as a Yankee. He has experienced the highs of being an All-Star in 2010 (going 18-8) and the lows of the 2011 fall from grace (5-5 with a 5.79 ERA).
Even though it seems that he has been in the league for a long time, he is still only 26 and just now starting his "prime" years.
Admittedly, Hughes entered 2011 out of shape and much has been written about his sudden loss of velocity. 2012 brings new hope and a visibly in-shape hurler to the Yankee camp. To this point in the spring, Hughes' velocity is back to the 94-95 mph of pre-2011 and he carries a 2.03 ERA and 0.98 WHIP. These are promising signs for the young pitcher and could result in him regaining a top-three spot in the Bombers' rotation.
Freddy Garcia will be battling to stay in the rotation in 2012
The New York Yankees' rotation in 2011 started off on the wrong foot as Phil Hughes struggled to show the form that had made him an All-Star in 2010. Freddy Garcia stepped up and filled the hole that Hughes had left—helping the Yankees to a 97-win season by going 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA (his lowest earned run average since 2001).
The Yankees rewarded the 35-year-old with a one year, $4 million contract.
All is not a bed of roses for Garcia as we approach Opening Day of 2012. With the announcement that Andy Pettitte has come out of retirement and signed with the Yankees, the writing is on the wall. Freddy knows that now not only will he be competing with the young guns—Hughes, Pineda and Nova—for a starting spot but also with Pettitte when he returns.
It is a disappointing turn of events for Garcia and more than likely he will be relegated to long relief and spot starts for New York.
Michael Pineda will shine in the Yankee rotation
Michael Pineda's rookie season with the Seattle Mariners saw him go 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA and landed him in the top five of Rookie of the Year voting. In 2011 he displayed maturity and a knockout type of fastball that convinced the Yankees to give up their top prospect Jesus Montero to acquire him.
Yankees fans started the spring very wary of what they had given up as Pineda came to camp overweight and experiencing the type of velocity loss that Phil Hughes had in 2011.
Since then the 23-year-old has shown that their worries were misplaced as his fastball is now reaching 94 mph with the highly-touted "pop" the Yankees were hoping to see.
With a higher-quality team behind him and a full Major League year under his belt, Michael Pineda will help Yankees fans to forget Jesus Montero.
Cory Wade gives the Yankees quality depth in their bullpen
Cory Wade was signed by the Yankees in June of 2011 after being released by the Tampa Bay Rays. He completed the season by walking only eight batters in 39.2 innings pitched with a 2.04 ERA.
Joe Girardi will continue to look to the 29-year-old in the middle innings in 2012 hoping for more of the same control that the Yanks saw last season—guaranteeing him a spot on the 25-man roster.
Francisco Cervelli will back up Russell Martin in 2012
From the moment he set foot on Yankee Stadium dirt, Francisco Cervelli endeared himself to Yankees fans with his gritty, enthusiastic style of play.
With a batting average of .272 over three-plus years with the club, and an uncharacteristic speed for a catcher (he stole four bases in 2011), Cervelli provides a solid backup to starter Russell Martin.
As part of the 25-man roster on opening day, the 26-year-old will be counted on to give Martin much needed days off throughout the season.
Clay Rapada will land a lefty-reliever role with the Yankees in 2012
Of all the spots on the 25-man opening day New York Yankee roster, the most unpredictable spot could be that being battled for by Clay Rapada and Cesar Cabral.
Joe Girardi has stated that there is a decent chance the Yankees will carry a second left handed reliever on the roster (the first lefty spot going to Boone Logan). That narrows the choice to either the 31-year-old Rapada or the 23-year-old Cabral.
While Cabral's upside may be higher, Girardi likes the fact that they already know what they are getting from Rapada. The manager also indicated that Clay's ability to change his arm angles makes it tough for left handed hitters.
This spring both pitchers have excelled as Cabral has struck out 12 in 10.1 innings with a 1.74 ERA, and Rapada has struck out 11 in 8.1 innings with a 0.00 ERA.
If the choice was up to this author, the youngster Cabral would be part of the 25 man roster because of his higher upside but, the Yankees have shown that they prefer the established pitchers that have little or no unknowns. That is why I am predicting that Clay Rapada will travel with the team to Tampa for opening day.
Is 2012 Mariano Rivera's farewell?
Mariano Rivera is the greatest relief pitcher in the history of baseball. In fact, no one else even comes close.
In 2011, his 17th season, Rivera had 44 saves and a 1.91 ERA—nothing new for the Yankee closer. Over his career he has averaged 39 saves and a 2.21 ERA—all done with basically just one devastating pitch. His consistency is unequaled, and nine times out of ten when he steps onto the field during a game it means the game is over and the Yankees have another win in the books.
In February, at the start of spring training, "Mo" hinted that the 2012 season would be his last.
If it is, an era of greatness comes to an end and in 2017 Cooperstown will have its newest entrant.