Joe Girardi is entering his third year as a major league manager.
In his first with the very young Florida Marlins, Girardi was very good and was chosen as National League Manager of the Year. Despite this, he was fired after one season because of problems with the team owner.
In 2008, Girardi took over for Joe Torre with the New York Yankees, and the year was very disappointing for Yankee fans. The Yankees finished third in the American League East and failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 1995.
Girardi cannot be blamed solely for the Yankee breakdown last year. The team was beset with more serious injuries than anyone could have expected.
Catcher Jorge Posada, DH Hideki Matsui, and starting pitchers Chien-Ming Wang, Phil Hughes, and Joba Chamberlain all saw time on the disabled list. The first three having had season-ending injuries.
Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez also spend short stints on the DL. None of this could be blamed on the Yankees' Manager.
But there was much to consider in decisions Girardi made.
One area of concern was Girardi's insistence on resting starting players. He moved players from one position to another, even when no one was injured.
It was very difficult for fans to anticipate whether they were going to go to a game and find A-Rod at third or Cody Ransom. One could never know whether Jason Giambi would be playing first or Wilson Betemit.
You might look for Bobby Abreu in right field only to find Xavier Nady playing there, when X-Man had played the last two weeks in left.
With the 2009 season right around the corner, there are several new faces to consider for positions on the field. This gives rise to concern about how much Girardi will try to mix and match with his team as he did last year.
Nick Swisher has come over from the White Sox. Originally, it was thought that he would be the first baseman to replace Giambi. But with the signing of Mark Teixeira, Swisher should see very little action in the infield.
If Girardi decides he needs to give the 29-year-old Teixeira days off or half-days off, fans are going to wonder why a very young and always healthy Teixeira needs rest.
So if Swisher is relegated to playing in the outfield, he will find himself in a mix there with Johnny Damon, Brett Gardner, Melky Cabrera, Xavier Nady, and possibly Hideki Matsui. This adds up to six players who will compete for playing time at three positions.
All indications now are that Damon will start in left, Nady in right, which leaves Gardner and Cabrera to battle for center.
Damon is a very weak defensive player now. It will be tempting to have Damon DH more and have better defense in the very tough left field at Yankee Stadium.
But is Swisher the answer in left? Or do you move Nady back to left and let Swisher take over in right?
If Damon is used as DH, do you sit Matsui or put him in one of the corner outfield positions?
General Manager Brian Cashman has said that the expectation is for Jorge Posada to catch only about 110 games. Leaving 52 games, or roughly two out of every seven, when Posada is not penciled in at his regular position.
Expectations are high for Posada to add a great deal of strength to the Yankee offense. Much of this is based on his extraordinary numbers in 2007.
Although that year was the finest Posada he has ever had, it is unrealistic to expect him to ever match it again. His bat is still necessary for the Yankees to succeed.
So when he is not catching over 50 games, what do you do with him? Will the temptation be for Girardi to put Jorge at DH when Jose Molina catches?
If so, you take Matsui's bat out of the lineup and shorten your batting order because Molina cannot hit.
If Posada is sitting two games out of every seven, how is that going to affect his hitting?
Big league hitters will let you know in a hurry that they can't produce if they don't play regularly. Posada, who turns 38 in August, will need rest. But too much rest can destroy the edge a hitter needs.
In 2008, Girardi was criticized by many for giving his best players too many days off. This year it may be even more tempting for him to do so.
Girardi was quoted in August last season saying that he wanted to rest his players to keep their legs fresh. But at the time he was resting his stars, the Yankees were not completely out of the race.
In 2009, if the Yankees expect to battle in the very tough American League East, Girardi has to put a consistent team on the field so players know what to expect.
Each player is going to play his position a little differently than the next.
Each corner outfielder will have a little more or a lot less range than the player who played there last. The center fielder has to know what to expect, has to know where his teammate can make the play and where he cannot.
For the Yankees to be successful this year, Girardi must be more consistent in his lineup choices than he was in 2008. Aside from injuries, there is no reason a major league baseball player cannot play 145-150 games per season.
The Yankees can compete for their 27th world championship. But for them to do so, the same team must take the field day after day after day.
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