Spring has come. Pitchers and catchers have reported to all minor-league complexes. Tomorrow, all roster players and invitees are scheduled to be on hand. It is a time to look forward to the upcoming season.
The New York Yankees made a number of changes to their roster and fans are hopeful that the team will be improved and return to the playoffs after only a one-year hiatus. There is reason for hope with the acquisition of starting pitchers C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, first baseman Mark Teixeira, and outfielder-first baseman Nick Swisher.
Also, catcher Jorge Posada, designated hitter Hideki Matsui, and starting pitcher Chien-Ming Wang are all returning from season-ending injuries and could make major improvements to their performances from last year.
There are a number of players gone from the Yankee roster. Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu, Mike Mussina, Ivan Rodriguez, and Carl Pavano head the list of those who will no longer appear in pinstripes.
So, while it is time to look forward, this fan wants to take a look back at the same time and consider which of these players will be missed the most.
Jason Giambi toiled in the Bronx for seven seasons, primarily as the first baseman but also as a designated hitter. He was bothered by injuries a good part of his time in New York.
He was the center of a great deal of controversy after he admitted to using steroids. He also suffered from his comparison to Yankee first basemen of the recent past, including Don Mattingly and Tino Martinez.
Martinez had been let go after the 2001 season in order for the Yankees to sign Giambi. Unfortunately, Giambi never met expectations and was never as well-received by New York fans as Tino had been.
Giambi's contract expired at the end of the 2008 season and the Yankees made no attempt to bring him back. Instead, they first traded for Nick Swisher from the White Sox and later signed free agent Mark Teixeira, who brings great promise to his first base position for the Yankees.
Bobby Abreu came over midway through the 2006 season to play right field. Abreu played exceptionally in New York, hitting over .300 and averaging more than 100 RBI and 100 runs scored in his two-and-a-half seasons.
Abreu provided solid defense and had an exceptional arm in the outfield. He also provided almost the only consistent base-stealing threat the Yankees had before Brett Gardner joined the team late in 2008.
Abreu was a free agent after last season and the Yankees refused to offer him arbitration and made no effort to sign him again.
Abreu will be replaced in right field by Xavier Nady or Swisher. By most accounts, Nady seems to be the front-runner for the position since he played in New York last year. He performed very well for the Yankees after coming over from Pittsburgh, but almost all his games were in left field.
Switching to right field may not be that big of a change for Nady, but there is nothing in his history to indicate that he will consistently put up the kind of numbers Abreu did while in the Bronx.
In 2008, starting pitcher Mike Mussina had his best season in what may be a Hall of Fame career. For the first time in his career he won 20 games and only his consistency on the mound kept any Yankee hopes of playoff baseball alive.
Mussina's contract also ended with last season, but without any doubt the Yankees would have welcomed him back to the staff despite their expressed intentions of signing at least two new starters.
However, Mussina chose to retire and spend more time with his family at his home in Pennsylvania. The Yankees will see the return of Wang from injury, the advent of Joba Chamberlain as a starter from Day One for the first time, and the return of veteran lefty Andy Pettitte, who finally came to terms with the team.
But the biggest news concerning Yankee pitching is the acquisition of free agents C. C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett.
Sabathia had led the Milwaukee Brewers to the playoffs after being traded from Cleveland and has become known as a pitcher who can eat innings all year long. Some question still remains about his ability to pitch so much throughout the season and its impact on his postseason performance, which has never been spectacular.
Burnett was considered by many to be the best starter in the American League last year, even though he did not finish first in the Cy Young vote. Despite a career where he has been injured too often to make management comfortable, the Yankees believed Burnett when he said he had matured and learned how to pitch and pace himself to avoid injuries.
With the return of Jorge Posada from surgery, Yankee fans hope their catching woes are behind them. The midseason of 2008 saw the Yankees trade for Ivan Rodriguez, who will unquestionably enter the Hall of Fame someday and is among the three best catchers ever to pull on a chest protector.
But Rodriguez did not overwhelm in New York. He failed to hit consistently and was actually not as good behind the plate as Jose Molina, who had inherited the starting job when Posada went on the disabled list.
With the uncertainty about Posada's return for '09, some thought the Yankees might try to bring Pudge back as insurance, but as of the start of spring training that has not happened and Rodriguez has not hooked on with any club.
So the question posed here is which player mentioned above will be missed most by the Yankees in 2009.
Will it be Giambi, who provided consistent power and RBI production last year? Will it be Abreu, who combined the best defense and most consistent offense of any Yankee outfielder? Will it be Mussina, the winningest pitcher in New York last season? Or will it be Rodriguez, if Posada is not able to catch regularly?