The 2009 Yankees will have a very different lineup in 2009 from what we generally saw in 2008. Mark Teixeira is new; Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada are back. Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu are gone. That is a lot of change. So, if Xavier Nady stays with the Yankees, what's the lineup in the early season?
I start with Johnny Damon. While Derek Jeter is an equally good lead off hitter in terms of on-base-percentage, stolen bases and doubles, Jeter is an ideal No. 2 hitter, because of his unique hitting style that drives hits into right field. If Damon gets on, Jeter can drive him in. I always value hits to right field more than hits to left because it allows the runner on first to get to third. I digress to say that a hit-machine like Wade Boggs was overvalued, because he was a singles hitter into short left field who moved runners on first only as far as second.
The next decision is whether to bat Teixeira and Rodriguez as No. 3 and clean-up or to flip them. Teixeira is a switch hitter and Jeter, at No. 2, is such a good inside-out hitter, that I would not make the decision based on lefty-righty considerations. I also think that Rodriguez suffered a lack of hitting production in recent years due to batting in front of Giambi. We all have the image of Rodriguez taking a loping upper cut at a ball in the dirt and walking back to the dugout-strike three. Teixeira is probably the better on-base-percentage guy, and also the hitter who will hit to right and bring Jeter or Damon home. So Teixeira is No. 3, by a close margin.
I really want Rodriguez to have good hitting protection behind him, so I am reluctant to bat Teixeira before Rodriguez, but I expect Matsui to return to a .300 batting average, 25 home runs and 105 RBIs. That is enough protection for Rodriguez to see better pitching than he saw batting in front of Giambi. The 2008 Yankees were a pathetic RBI team last year. Much of the blame for that has to fall on Rodriguez, who only plated 103 RBIs. He should do better not because Teixeira replaces Abreu in the No. 3 spot, but because Matsui replaces Giambi in the No. 5 spot.
Matsui gets up with either Teixeira or Rodriguez on base and he will deliver.
I have Cano batting No. 6, almost as a second lead-off man. I do not think of him as much of an RBI guy, but someone who should be able to achieve a .340 on-base-percentage. This is a hope more than science, because his 2008 record does not bear this out. But the guy can hit, and, in 2007 had a .353 on-base-percentage. Anyway, the No. 9 spot is already Brett Gardner's by default.
Nady at No. 7 is the right guy to follow Cano for two reasons: the usual lefty-righty reason and because of Nady's profile: high batting average, low on-base-percentage. With Cano on the bases, you want Nady to drive the ball and let Cano run.
Posada comes up No. 8. If Nady fails to move Cano up, or if Nady has advanced Cano to third base, Posada is the right batter to bring the run in. I can't think of any No. 8 hitter who has better slugging numbers than Posada. But with his lack of speed, he is a station-to-station runner. If stranded on the bases with the Gardner coming up, so be it. Someone has to make the final out.
Finally No. 9, Gardner. He will never be an RBI guy. So he comes up with Posada on first, slaps a ball to third. If it goes through OK, otherwise, its a quick toss to second base to force Posada.
But if Gardner develops some technique to push up his on-base-percentage, whether by bunting, chopping, slashing, taking walks or getting hit, he is on base with Damon or Jeter who have the know-how to let him steal bases and score.