When history looks back on the 2009 Yankees roster it will have to wear sunglasses. The lineup card sparkles with names like Jeter, Rodriguez, and Teixeira. The starting rotation gleams with the likes of Sabathia, Burnett, Chamberlain, Wang, and Pettite—even the bullpen shimmers with the ageless closer Mariano Rivera.
However, the fate of the 2009 version of the Bronx Bombers turns on the players whose names don't cause the same furor as the established stars of the league.
For the first time in recent memory, the Yankees boast a solid bullpen with depth. Joe Girardi will be able to call on Damaso Marte, Brain Bruney, Jonathan Albaladejo, Jose Veras, Edwar Ramirez, Phil Coke, and David Robertson to get the ball into the capable hands of Mariano Rivera.
As this is a relatively young group, their success hinges on a rapid acquisition of experience and Girardi's ability to manage their innings. Youngsters like Phil Coke and David Roberston showed great promise at the end of last year but need to show that they can sustain that same performance over the 162 game marathon season.
Bruney was dominant last year in limited action, but must stay healthy to anchor the transition to Mo. Since he did have so few innings last year, his injury might have been a blessing in disguise, as he will be much fresher this year.
Marte, Veras, and Ramirez were the workhorses of the bullpen last season and will benefit the most from the increased depth. They were very successful for the majority of the year, but showed signs of wear towards the end of the season. This problem should be alleviated by the presence of new, younger faces in the pen.
If this group proves they can succeed (or continue to succeed), it will enable the highly capable starting rotation to shorten games and allow the high-powered offense to take over.
On paper, this is really the Yankees' greatest area of strength. However, the two most important cogs in the rotation (Sabathia and Burnett) are also arguably the biggest question marks.
Big money free agents traditionally have a tough time dealing with the intensity of the New York spotlight. If Sabathia and Burnett prove they can survive the media (and the dangerous AL East hitters), the rotation will have a dominant front-end and can expect to succeed.
The other two uncertainties have to do with age, or the lack thereof. Andy Pettite will be 37 for much of the 2009 season and seemed to break down at the end of the last campaign.
Joba Chamberlain has the opposite problem.
His lack of experience as a starter is a concern for the staff. Dave Eiland will have to work hard with Joba to build up the proper arm strength needed to sustain performance through the whole season.
If the injury bug bites the starting rotation again this year, unproven pitchers like Phil Hughes, Alfredo Aceves, and Ian Kennedy will be relied upon heavily. This trio will also be called on if Chamberlain's inning total gets out of control or he needs to be skipped in the rotation.
Championship Yankee teams have traditionally had very strong bench play. This year's team will have its infield spelled by Angel Berroa, Nick Swisher, and Cody Ransom. The veteran presences of Berroa and Swisher will work to create clubhouse unity and shore up the holes when perennial all-stars Jeter, A-Rod, Cano and Texiera need a day off.
The outfield reserves look very strong with Swisher (doubling in the corner spots along with his role at first), Matsui, and Damon sharing time in left and at DH. Gardner and Melky will be competing for the starting centerfield role. This means that at any given time, the Yanks will have either Swisher, Matsui, or Swisher to come off the bench and hit. Furthermore, either Cabrera or Gardner can pinch-run to utilize their speed.
Probably the biggest concern for this year's squad is Jorge Posada.
Will he be able to contribute effectively from the defensive side?
Will his shoulder hold up and allow him to throw out runners?
These are questions that cannot be answered. Yankees fans will have to wait until the season starts to see if he can perform as well as he has in the past.
If not, Jose Molina is a more than capable backup behind the plate (some would even argue he is a defensive improvement over Posada).
But, his presence behind the dish means that Jorge would probably be moved to DH. This means that either Matsui or Damon would have to sit down to make room, taking a dangerous bat out of the lineup.
All that I've put forth counts on the continued success of those who have always performed: Jeter, A-Rod, Teixeira, Chein-Ming Wang, Mariano Rivera, Damon, Matsui, and Nady.
Damon showed resurgence last year, but both he and Matsui spent time on the DL last year and represent somewhat of a concern. If they can both post similar numbers to their career averages, it lengthens the lineup that much more.
Also with injury concerns are Wang (who spent the last half of the year on the DL) and Rivera (who is coming off of offseason surgery). Rivera has unquestionably been the MVP of the team since 1996 and if he can't bounce back it would be disastrous.
Such a gaping absence in the closer role might necessitate moving Joba to the 9th inning or trading for a new stopper.
Neither scenario is beneficial to the team.
A tough year for Wang wouldn't be quite so devastating, but if he continues to be the pitcher he can be (with the most wins in the bigs since he entered the league) the Yankees would have an ace in each of the 1-2-3 spots in the rotation.
This year's team has a chance to be one for the ages and should be the preseason favorite to win it all. If they play to their potential, the only thing that can beat the Yankees, is the Yankees.
The publishing of Joe Torre's book has shown that there certainly can be tension in the clubhouse and in upper management. With so many stars there is always a chance that egos will not mesh. To succeed, the Yankees must once again call on the Captain to be a leader on and (now more than ever) off the field.
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