Yankee Lineup Has Great Depth and Many Question Marks

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Yankee Lineup Has Great Depth and Many Question Marks

CC Sabathia

A.J. Burnett

Chien-Ming Wang

Joba Chamberlain

Andy Pettitte

Alfredo Aceves

Brian Bruney

Damaso Marte

Edgar Ramirez

Phil Hughes

Mariano Rivera

 

Jorge Posada

Jose Molina

 

Mark Teixeira

Robinson Cano

Alex Rodriguez

Derek Jeter

Angel Berroa

Cody Ransom

 

Johnny Damon

Brett Gardner

Melky Cabrera

Xavier Nady

Nick Swisher

 

Hideki Matsui

 

This would seem to be the Yankees' most likely 25-man roster when the team breaks camp and heads north to begin the regular season. Of course, this is barring injuries during Spring Training.

 

There is a lot of depth and a lot of uncertainty piled up in this list.

 

To begin with, there is a lot of depth at pitching. The starting five as it is now configured with Sabathia, Burnett, Wang, Chamberlain, and Pettitte is as strong or stronger than any other staff in the bigs.

 

If Phil Hughes performs as he is capable at camp, he may break through in the starting five, and Andy Pettitte may become a spot starter and long reliever. Again, that adds strength.

 

Alfredo Aceves showed flashes of brilliance last year, as did Brian Bruney. With Edgar Ramirez and Damaso Marte finishing out the bullpen and leading to closer Mariano Rivera, few teams can count on a pen with this much talent. Considering how strong the Yanks seem to be with starting pitching, the pen may not get as much work as in recent years.

 

The infield seems to be very solid and set. Again, barring injuries, there is no reason not to expect Teixeira, Cano, Jeter, and A-Rod to play at least 145 games each.

 

Nick Swisher provides some backup for Tex at first if needed, but Teixeira will turn only 29 in April, and there is no reason to believe he will not play every day. Teixeira has always been healthy and will add a great deal to the Yankee defense with his fine glove at first.

 

Jeter has been injured a great deal in the past few seasons. In 2008 he had leg problems that put him on the disabled list and later had hand injuries that weakened his hitting. But if Derek can keep the pains away, he can play consistently at short, and there is no reason to believe he cannot match his career average of .319.

 

A-Rod should be his usual rock at third base, where he is now Gold Glove caliber. He has consistently hit and hit for power in his five seasons in the Bronx. He has had adversity before, and he will overcome the steroids controversy to put up big numbers again.

 

By all reports Cano has come to camp in great shape and worked hard all winter to make certain he returns to his All-Star form of 2006 and 2007. He can play very good defense and projects to be a hitting star for many years.

 

Angel Berroa is a veteran presence, and if he makes the team, he will be very good security as a backup infielder. Ransom played with the big team last year and provides versatility and more speed than any regular has.

 

The outfield is less certain for the Yankees. Johnny Damon is slated to start in left field. But in 2008 the Yankees made it clear they were not satisfied with Damon on defense when they traded for Xavier Nady to take over in the toughest field to play in Yankee Stadium.

 

(A note here: Although the Yankees are moving into the new Yankee Stadium, all the dimensions are exactly the same as the old field, and the orientation will be the same in the new park. So left will continue to be a very difficult sun field for day games, and there is a great deal of room to cover in the gap in left center.)

 

Nady is now expected to take over in right for the departed Bobby Abreu, and Nady will not be as good on defense as Abreu was. So the Yankees are downgrading on defense in the corner outfield positions.

 

Damon hit over .300 in 2008 playing more at DH than had been expected. Nady was also very good on offense. So if performances are repeated, the offense will not suffer badly in the corner outfield positions. But it is unlikely that either Damon or Nady can make up completely for the loss of production from Abreu.

 

 

Center field is different. The two candidates for center are Brett Gardner and Melky Cabrera. Cabrera had been the regular in center for the past two seasons until his lack of concentration and inability to hit saw Gardner promoted and Cabrera sent back to the minors.

 

But Gardner has not proven he can hit major league pitching. He provides excitement when he does get on base because he is the Yankee with the most speed since the days of Homer Bush.

 

But where Cabrera and Gardner must prove themselves on offense, they provide very good defense. Both of them play exceptionally in center field, with great range and better than good arms.

 

It was obvious someone with Yankee management was not satisfied with this option when they tried unsuccessfully to swing a deal that would have brought Mike Cameron from Milwaukee to play center. But Gardner and Cabrera may prove to be much more than adequate in center.

 

Whichever of the two center fielders is not starting can be expected to come into the game in late innings to spell Damon in left, where he is an absolute liability on defense.

 

Nick Swisher has played a great deal of outfield, and if he remains with the team despite repeated trade rumors, he provides insurance in case of injuries at the corner positions and could even fill in adequately in center.

 

A big question for the Yankees is Jorge Posada.  Posada has been the regular Yankee catcher since 1999. But in 2008 he was injured right out of the gate. A shoulder injury put Posada on the disabled list early in the year.  He tried to make a comeback but still could not throw.

 

The shoulder injury also affected his swing, especially from the right side. After a few attempts to play, Posada was eventually shut down completely with season-ending surgery.

 

Posada is now throwing but is not expected to catch many games in Spring Training. He is projected to be ready by Opening Day to take over behind the plate. But GM Brian Cashman has said that he expects Jorge to catch only about 110 games this season.

 

That presents problems for the Yankees because much is expected from Posada and DH Hideki Matsui.  With Posada and Matsui both on the DL in 2008, the Yankees produced almost 200 runs fewer than in 2007.

 

The team is depending on these two to replace much of the run production that had been expected if Posada and Matsui had been healthy and that has been lost with the departure of Jason Giambi and Abreu.

 

With Posada and Matsui, who also had season-ending knee injuries, back and completely healthy, the Yankee lineup is imposing indeed. But if Posada cannot catch in 50+ games, he may be called to DH part of that time.

 

In either event, whether Posada is sitting or he is the DH and Matsui is sitting, the Yankees will be much weaker with Jose Molina in the batting order.  Molina cannot be expected to hit much more than .230 and strikes out too much.

 

The only good thing is that Molina is actually a superior catcher to Posada and can be expected to call a good game and throw out more runners than Jorge would.

 

Something else that the Yankees don’t often like to talk about is the fact that some pitchers don’t want to throw to Posada.

 

In the past this was true of Randy Johnson. It was also true with Mike Mussina. With newcomers Sabathia and Burnett, it remains to be seen whether they will acclimate with Posada or would prefer Molina. To some extent this is true of Chamberlain too, because he became a starter only after Posada went to the DL in 2008.

 

All in all, there is tremendous promise but also tremendous questions that will only be answered as the season unfolds. This may be a year of great triumph for the team in pinstripes. But it may also be another disappointing year for fans who are never satisfied unless the season is complete with a parade down Fifth Avenue.

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