2008 MLB Preview: New York Yankees

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2008 MLB Preview: New York Yankees

Manager: Joe Girardi
Arrivals: P Jonathan Albaladejo, 3B Morgan Ensberg, RP LaTroy Hawkins, OF Jason Lane, RP Billy Traber, SS Chris Woodward
Departures: SP Tyler Clippard, C Wil Nieves, 1B Andy Phillips, RP Luis Vizcaino

Offseason grade: D+

Outside of Andy Pettitte and possibly Mike Mussina, this is a young Yankees rotation.

Yeah. What?

That's right. The big, bad Yankees have put together an excellent group of young starters through–*gasp*–the draft and good scouting. While Pettitte and Mussina are both old, highly-paid starters and Kei Igawa and Carl Pavano's contracts total around $65 million, this rotation is still young and more than half the rotation will be making under $5 million this season barring any injury.

Chien-Ming Wang is the ace of this staff after compiling a 46-18 record with a 3.74 ERA over his three seasons with the Yankees. Wang has an excellent sinker that leads to a lot of ground balls–namely, a 2.90 groundball/flyball ratio for his career. 

Philip Hughes came up last year as one of the more highly-touted prospects the Yankees have ever had. In just his second MLB start, Hughes had a no-hitter going into the seventh at Texas before pulling a hamstring. 

After three months on the disabled list with the hamstring injury, Hughes returned to the Yankees in August and struggled over six starts in the month, posting an ERA of 6.40.

However, Hughes flashed his true ability in September, going 3-0 over five starts with a 2.73 ERA. 

With no injury setbacks, Hughes, who will turn just 22 in June, could put up very good numbers in the middle of the Yankee rotation.

Joba (no, not Jobu) Chamberlain appears to be on track to make the Yankee starting rotation this year (at some point) after pitching ridiculously well out of the bullpen down the stretch last year.

In 24 innings in August and September, Chamberlain pitched like Eddie Harris stole his rum, as he allowed just one earned run and threw 16 straight innings without allowing an earned run to begin his MLB career. 

A move to the rotation should allow Chamberlain to showcase all four of his pitches. He features an excellent fastball that usually is clocked in the mid-90s, an absolutely dominant slider, a very good changeup and an above-average curveball.

Out of the bullpen, Chamberlain usually limited himself to throwing just his fastball and slider.

However, Chamberlain may start the season in the bullpen, as the Yankees (GM Brian Cashman) want to limit him to around 140 innings. However, the Yankees (Hank Steinbrenner) would like to see him in the starting rotation to open the year.

In the end, it will likely be up to Joe Girardi, but Chamberlain almost certainly will find his way into the rotation at some point this year. 

If Chamberlain begins in the bullpen, somebody gets injured or Girardi decides Mussina has lost whatever he had left, Ian Kennedy will get the call to be in the starting rotation.

Kennedy was New York's first round (No. 21 overall) pick in the 2006 draft out of USC and has had success in all his stops since becoming a pro.

In 10 starts (11 games) at A+ Tampa, Kennedy went 6-1 with a 1.29 ERA. In nine starts at AA Trenton, he went 5-1 with a 2.59 ERA. In six starts at AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, he went 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA.

See a trend?

Then, in three starts for the Yankees, Kennedy went 1-0 with a 1.89 ERA.

You can say that he's young and unproven and that minor league stats don't count, but Kennedy's track record seems to indicate that he'll be a successful MLB pitcher.

While there's a chance he may begin the season with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, don't be surprised if he makes 20 starts for the big league club this year.

Apparently, Mussina's spot in the Yankees starting rotation isn't a sure thing. Considering the young talent they have and that Mussina saw his ERA climb above 5.00 last year, he could be pushed out of the rotation.

If Mussina does end up in the rotation and stays healthy, he's a viable fifth starter, but I personally would rather have Kennedy at the back of my rotation.

Pettitte owned up to his mistakes and hopefully, for his and the Yankees sake, can put everything that went on in the offseason behind him and pitch well.

If he can do that and not misremember how to pitch inside with his excellent cut fastball, another 15 wins should be in store from Pettitte this year.

I like the direction this Yankee rotation is going in. Mussina and Pettite likely won't be back after this year, which would give the Yankees four excellent young starters in their rotation. 

A pitcher like Jon Garland wouldn't break the bank to round out the rotation, but you know the Yankees will be in the hunt for C.C/ Sabathia or Ben Sheets come November.

As for this season, the young pitchers may go through some growing pains, but overall, this is a pretty solid rotation that should allow the Yankees to stay in contention with the Red Sox in the AL East.

Starting rotation grade: B

Bullpen

At age 38, Mariano Rivera still has some juice left in the tank. Yes, he was hit harder than usual last year, posting a 3.15 ERA, but he still saved 30 of 34 games. 

Rivera's nasty cut fastball still makes him one of the best closers in the game, period.

Setting up Rivera might be a challenge, however. LaTroy Hawkins was New York's biggest free-agent signing of the offseason, but his 2007 ERA of 3.42 likely was more of an aberration than a start of a trend.

I'd take Hawkins as a middle reliever like he was last year with Colorado, but as an eighth inning setup man? No thanks.

Kyle Farnsworth isn't much better. Farnsy (hey, I can use the nickname. He babysat me when I was in fourth grade...no joke.) has struggled in his two years in the Bronx, posting ERAs of 4.36 and 4.80. His strikeout total in 2007 was unusually low at 48, compared to 75 in 2006 and 87 in 2007.

Behind Hawkins and Farnsworth is a ragtag group of young, unproven or mediocre pitchers.  

Brian Bruney has the most MLB experience of anybody in the group, but has proven to be nothing more than an average middle reliever in his career.

He did show some potential in his first year with the Yankees, giving up just two earned runs over 20.2 innings in 2006. However, in 2007, Bruney showed the Yankees what to expect from him over a full year–an ERA above 4.50 over about 50 innings of work.

Jose Veras entered the Yankees organization in 2006 after eight nondescript years in the farm systems of Tampa Bay and Texas.  

Veras was good in 2006 for AAA Columbus, posting a 2.40 ERA, and was halfway decent in limited work with AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre in 2007, but he's never been lights out at the minor league level.

I'd expect Veras, if he's in the Yankee bullpen full-time, to put up and ERA somewhere in the 4's over 55 or so innings. Nothing spectacular.

Edwar Ramirez also joined the Yankees farm system in 2006 and has put up much better stats in the minors than Veras. With A+ Tampa in 2006, Ramirez's ERA was 1.16 over 31 innings and in 2007, with AA Trenton and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Ramirez posted a miniscule ERA of 0.79 in 56.2 innings.

Ramirez struggled when he was called up to the Yankees, allowing 19 earned runs over 21 innings. He's probably the best bet of this group to have success, as his track record in the minors is pretty good. However, the majors are a different animal. It'll be interesting to see how Ramirez progresses, if at all.

(A side note: yes, I realize what I just wrote about the difference between the minors and majors. Say what you will about Kennedy/Chamberlain/Hughes, I'd still be willing to bet a lot that they have success in the majors this year despite their relative inexperience.)

Chris Britton came over from Baltimore in 2007 after throwing 53.2 innings and posting an ERA of 3.35 for the Orioles in 2006. However, Britton only got in to 11 games last year.

There appeared to be no rhyme or reason for that lack of playing time. If Britton is given a chance this year, he could see success, but he may not even be in the MLB bullpen.

Jeff Karstens likely isn't anything more than a mop-up innings eater if he's anything at all. He's a guy who likely will be on the shuttle from AAA to the bigs for most of 2008.

Ross Ohlendorf or Jonathan Albaladejo could see some time in the majors with good performances in the spring and in the minors, but nothing great should be expected from either of them.

After Rivera, this bullpen really goes downhill. The Yankees will need somebody to unexpectedly step up to fill the setup role if this bullpen is to be successful before the ninth inning.

Bullpen grade: D+

Lineup

With Jason Giambi playing more and more at first base, the DH spot in the Yankee lineup should be opened up for Johnny Damon.

Damon, a brutal defensive outfielder, finally appears to have been bumped out for good by Melky Cabrera.

These shifts will give this Yankees lineup excellent depth from top to bottom.

Damon is still a decent top-of-the-order hitter, posting a .351 OBP and stealing 27 bases to only three caught stealings in 2007. At 34, he certainly isn't the player he once was, but again, he's acceptable in the leadof spot. 

Cabrera will need to see an improvement in his OBP, which was jut .327 in 2007, before taking over the leadoff duties. If Cabrera can improve his eye at the plate, he'll become the best leadoff option the Yankees have. For now, however, that's still Damon.

The middle of the Yankees lineup is where it gets fun. Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu, Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui and Robinson Cano will be absolute Hell for pitchers to face. 

Jeter and Cano anchor the middle of the Yankee infield and are both are excellent hitters for average. Jeter should turn in another .315+ season at the dish while Cano could easily hit .300/20/100 this year.  

Abreu and Matsui will patrol the corner outfield spots and both should rack up over 100 RBIs again. Abreu may not have the power of a typical rightfielder, but his ability to get on base and drive in runs is extremely good.

Matsui was back and healthy last year, hitting 25 home runs and driving in 103.

Expect more of the same from both these outfielders in 2008.

Then, of course, there's A-Rod, who heard very few boos en route to an MVP season of .314/54/156.

He'll almost certainly surpass the 550 home run mark and should put up MVP-worthy stats again in 2008.

If Giambi is healthy or back on HGH, he could put up nice stats for the Yankees and big a boost to this lineup. If he stays off the disabled list, 25 home runs and 100 RBI isn't out of the question for Giambi.

That leaves Jorge Posada, who, out of nowhere, put up massive stats last year.

I'd be absolutely shocked if Posada hits .338 with 20 homers and 90 RBI this year. He's going to be 37 and has a nice, fat contract for the next four years. 

An average around .270 with 15 home runs is about where I expect Posada to finish this year.

Overall, this is a very good lineup that will do an excellent job to support the Yankee pitching staff.

Lineup grade: A-

Bench

Wilson Betemit and Shelley Duncan both could be seeing playing time as defensive replacements late in games for Giambi at first base. They both provide decent power off the bench as well.

Duncan could also see some time in the outfield as a spot starter to give some of the older players a rest.  

Jose Molina is an excellent backup catcher. He may not hit much, but his ability to call games and throw runners out is exactly what the Yankees need in a backup catcher

Bench grade: B

The bullpen could very likely be the undoing of the 2008 Yankees. The glaring lack of relievers who can hold a lead to get to Rivera could offset whatever success the pitching staff and lineup have this year.

It's a shame, too, as Yankee Stadium deserves to have one more playoff series in it before it shuts down for good after this year.

Am I rooting for the Yankees? Hell no. But it would only be fitting if the last game ever played at Yankee Stadium was a World Series game.

Oh, and to the NHL: stay the hell out of Yankee Stadium after the season ends. I respect the NHL a lot, but the last sporting event to be played in Yankee Stadium better be a baseball game. 

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