I guess this is pretty much an opinion piece. I've heard an array of predictions for this year's Yankees, from World Series winners to 3rd in the AL East; so I'm guessing one more opinion couldn't hurt.
My views of this year's Yankee season aren't really dark, but not very bright either. If you're looking for me to tell you it's gonna be a 1998-2000-esque season, you might want to stop reading this now. However, I don't think the Yanks are in danger of finishing behind the Blue Jays. By Yankee standards though, the Bronx Bombers are going to suck... plain and simple. Let's break it down by position.
Look, hitting has never been a problem for this team. Year in and year out, the Yankees top the league in hitting. The infield is pretty much what anybody would expect.
Third Base- While I doubt Alex Rodriguez will have the year he had last year, you pretty much know what this veteran is gonna give you at third. Forty something homers, 120+ RBI, and somewhere between a .290-.320 average.
Shortstop- While I see Derek Jeter starting to decline, especially in the field, he's just about as predictable as A-Rod. .300-.320, 15 dingers, 70+ RBI for Jeter. His range is getting much worse though; look for a few more errors out of him this year.
Second Base- Robinson Cano isn't very predictable at second. He's entering only his fourth year and hasn't shown what he's consistently capable of yet. I'd say his average will be around .320 this year (in between the .342 of 2 years ago and the .306 of last) with 20+ homers (I see his power increasing year by year over the next 5-6 years) and his RBIs kind of unpredictable. If Joe Girardi bats him deep in the lineup, especially behind Matsui/Posada or god forbid Giambi, I'd say 70-80 RBI. If he jumps up in between Matsui and/or Posada (a Lefty-Switch-Switch) cluster, I see him being able to reach 90+ RBI.
First Base- This is where the real problem stands. All this coverage you hear about Jason Giambi needs to go. His fielding is not as horrendous as people make it out to be. Fielding the ball doesn't seem like much of a problem to me. While he's far from a gold glover, he's not terrible at picking it. Throwing is his real problem to me. He's not accurate with his throws, double clutches, and often picks the wrong base to throw to. Having him at first wouldn't be the most terrible of things; his bat is where I have a problem. You can't sit a guy making as much as Giambi. However, his .250ish average over the last 5 years doesn't cut it. If Shelley Duncan proves to be a better average hitter this year, I see Giambi becoming a non-factor. Duncan might be worse in the field than Giambi (Yes, I said it) but not by much. If Duncan can hit .270-.280, he's in the lineup for me. His power is equal if not better than Giambi's and his righty bat would fit well between a Cano and Melky sandwich. He'd get pitches to hit in that spot as well. I see Duncan starting at first by the end of the year (assuming Giambi does not perform).
Catcher- I'll include catcher in the infield discussion. Don't look for Jorge Posada to repeat last year. His .338 average was the best of his career and his 20 HRs and 90 RBIs were towards the tops of his career bests. While I don't see his power decreasing, his .338 average won't be found this year. I'd say .285 at best and his RBIs dependent on where he hits in the lineup. A side note for Posada, he has a new manager. He averaged around 140-150 games under Joe Torre a year. If Girardi rests him more frequently, we could see his average go up with rest and his power and RBIs go down with a lack of at bats. Should be interesting to see what Girardi decides.
This looks to be one of the more interesting years to be in the Yankee outfield. With a platoon of four polished Major League outfielders and not much past them, injuries or lack of production in the outfield could prove drastic.
Right Field- Bobby Abreu- The best of the Yankee outfielders in my eyes should play every game in right field aside from the occasional DH rest. His average has dipped a bit in recent years, and he hasn't proven he can consistently play like he did in the second half when he was traded to the Yanks. Ideally I see him hitting a little over .290, a step up from last year, but not what he once was. I'd like to think he'll hit 20+ HRs this year, but every since the HR Derby he won, right around 15 seems like his number. If he decides to pull the ball a little more, the short porch looks appealing for 20+. RBIs are probably right around 100-110 hitting 3rd in the lineup.
Left Field/Designated Hitter- Hideki Matsui- Just behind Abreu in talent, I feel a career year for Matsui. He's hit just under .300 for his big league career, I see him at around .310 this year. I predict 30 homers, powerful for his major league career and 100+ RBI. I think Matsui is the guy to step up behind A-Rod for the middle of the lineup. Resting him at DH, as I see Damon playing left mostly could give him the makings for the career year I see.
Left Field/Designated Hitter- Johnny Damon- Number 3. His arm is horrendous, so left field fits like a glove. He played well there last year, and left in Yankee Stadium isn't an easy task. I think Damon rebounds this year. Comeback player of the year. He looks to be injury free for the first time in a couple years, and I see the Damon of old returning. .290-.305, 15-20 HRs, 80 RBI. Damon will play very well for the first time in New York.
Center Fielder- Melky Cabrera- The fourth best offensive outfielder but the fan favorite. Like Cano, Melky is still young and unpredictable. He struggled mightily to start off last year, but finished solid. I don't see him struggling or excelling this year, but he will be more consistent I think. He will see every game in center aside from rest. .275, 10 HR, 70 RBI. What's interesting about the outfield is the rest situation. When Melky is rested, does Matsui play center like in Japan, or does Damon retake his position? Is Shelley Duncan placed in right for Abreu during rest or does Matsui head over to right? It should be interesting to see how this plays out.
Probable Yankee Lineup (In My Opinion)
Johnny Damon- LF
Derek Jeter- SS
Bobby Abreu- LF
Alex Rodriguez- 3B
Hideki Matsui- DH
Jorge Posada- C
Robinson Cano- 2B
Jason Giambi- 1B
Melky Cabrera- CF
As the lineup stands like this, it's a nice lefty-righty-lefty-righty-lefty-switch-lefty-lefty-switch lineup. I think that probably works best for the Yanks. Matsui-Posada-Cano could be switched up, but I don't see it. Some people will probably have a problem with me batting Melky last, but I think Damon is a better leadoff hitter (sees more pitches, hits for higher average) and Jeter is a perfect two hitter. Melky is sort of a double leadoff in the 9 spot, but you could see him at leadoff or the two hole throughout the year. I like this lineup best though.
Ace- Gotta go to Chien-Ming Wang. While Sportscenter wants to bash this guy for not being a "true ace," I say give me a break. You can't argue with 38-13 over the last 2 years with an ERA just over 3.50. To expect an ace in the American League to a) be more productive in wins or b) have a better ERA with these deep lineups is unrealistic. While he might not be the best fantasy option, you can't ask for more than the wins he puts up. There's no lack of run support for him. I look for him to stay healthy this year and play a full season. 22-8, 3.50 ERA, 100 K
Two-Man- Andy Pettitte. I figure Girardi is gonna want a lefty sandwiched between two righties and I don't see Pettitte as the four starter. He's pretty consistent every year. You know what you're gonna get from Pettitte and I don't see the HGH confession hurting him much. 15-18 wins, 10 losses 3.50-3.90 ERA, 150 K
Third- Wearing #34, Phil Hughes. I hesitated giving Hughes the nod here and going with Mussina, but I don't see Mussina getting a better slot than Hughes for reasons other than respect (something Torre included too much in his decisions). I think Hughes is going to surprise people this year. The Yankees were smart in not dealing him for Santana because the Bottle Rocket should be the next big thing. His trick is going to be staying healthy and walking fewer batters. Injuries aside, I see Hughes finishing the year with a shocking 18-8 record, 3.50 ERA, and around 150-175 K. If the Yankees opt to put him on an inning limit, look for the wins and Ks to be far less.
Fourth- Mike Mussina. What can you say here? Mussina is at the end of his career and his lack of velocity is killing him. While guys like Greg Maddux can continue being successful without the heat, Mussina is getting burnt by it. His fastball is going to need to hit at least 92 on a regular basis, and according the the Yanks, that's not the case in spring training. He's not really a strikeout threat anymore and can't take the ball deep into the game. The only thing he really has is accuracy, but trying to hit corners leaves him throwing a ton of pitches. I'd say Moose finishes with 13-15 wins, 10 losses, and an ERA of anywhere from 4-4.50.
Five- Ian Kennedy. Not much to go on here, he only pitched 20 innings in the bigs last year. He was successful though and if he's the reason the Yankees would not deal for Johan, then they must see something in him. He has the minor league resume to brag about. Never posted an ERA above 2.59 at any level and posted a 12-3 record over all three levels. I really don't have much to go on, but I'm gonna say he struggles a little more in the bigs. 15-10, 3.50 ERA, 150 K.
I really don't have much to go on, but I'm saying he'll have as many K's as innings pitched. If any of these guys struggle or get hurt, the Yanks might be in trouble outside of Jeff Karstens. The Yankees say they have faith in Kei Igawa and say he's gotten better but give me a break. That's because they poured a ton of money into a nobody. He who wears sunglasses on the mound, is not successful. Instead, I like Jeff Karstens a lot. He only had 14 innings last year before getting hurt, but he's pitched often in the offseason and I like what he did in 2006. I think this guy could turn heads even within the Yankee organization. Good news past Karstens, this is Carl Pavano's last contract year! Why the Yankees haven't cut their losses on this guy is beyond me. In his stellar ten year career, he's pitched 200 innings twice. Whether this guy decides to suck it up for once in his life is beyond me, but I don't expect much from Pavano in 2008 either. Outside of these probable options, Darrell Rasner, Chase Wright, Steven White, Alan Horne, and Danny McCutchen are all guys I see maybe getting a shot at the big leagues this year. Free agents out there still include Jeff Weaver (help us) and John Thomson if all else fails.
Closer- Mariano Rivera. Not much to say here. You know what Mo is going to bring. 5 wins, 40 saves, 2.00 ERA
Set-up- Joba Chamberlain. If he can replicate the success he had in the regular season last year and stretch it out over a season, Joba will be the best set-up man in the game. Look for Joba to have a low ERA and a ton of Ks. God forbid Mariano goes down, the Yankees have their best alternative closer since Tom Gordon and/or Mariano himself. Several wins, 1.50-2.00 ERA, couple saves, maybe just under 100 Ks.
Set-up- Kyle Farnsworth. With Torre gone, I see Farnsworth bouncing back. Girardi did catch him in Chicago, and Farnsworth wants nothing more than a chance to perform. Whether he succeeds in pitching back-to-back days or consecutive innings remains to be seen, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Farnsworth's best year in New York is coming. A few wins, 3.00-3.50 ERA
Middle Relief- LaTroy Hawkins. This guy is the Yankees' best offseason move. In a bullpen that can be make or break, this guy is a glove fit. While he's struggled with San Francisco and Baltimore, this guy has made an impact everywhere else he's been and helped Colorado get to the World Series last year. He'll be a key guy to take the ball when starters are unable to go deep and especially important if Farnsworth struggles or is unable to pitch frequently. 3.50 ERA
The Rest- It looks like Billy Traber could pitch his way past Sean Henn to be the Yankees' lefty reliever (one of them will make the squad). Brian Bruney most likely makes the roster although he has struggled this spring. Ross Ohlendorf has impressed me this spring, throwing at a high velocity. I expect him to pitch better than some expect (maybe Torre was right having so much faith in him during Game 1 last year). The last pitching spot in my book looks like it will be battled for by Karstens, Igawa, Jose Veras, Chris Britton, and Edwar Ramirez. That's assuming Bruney and Ohlendorf make the roster. I see the last spot going to Karstens (good long relief), Igawa (for money and left-handed purposes only), or Britton (I like him). My guess is Karstens.
Utility Man- Wilson Betemit. I love this guy. Granted, I feel as though Scott Proctor was more important to the Yankees than Betemit will ever be, but he might be a better utility man than Miguel Cairo (although he doesn't play outfield). This guy plays every infield position and has decent pop in the bat. He proved with the Braves that he can hit for average when he's given a chance to play frequently (which he probably won't see with the Yanks, but hey... it's a nice thing to think about). Overall, he's a good role player.
The Slugger- Shelley Duncan. Who doesn't like Shelley Duncan? (Tampa Bay?) Whether it's throwing elbows or hitting dingers, Shelley is just a guy you have to like. He's got a ton of pop in the bat, and if he can get his average up, he'll get a shot to start (likely at first or DH). He also offers right field versatility. Although I'm not sure how much you'll see him there.
The Back-up- Jose Molina. I see Molina as one of Jorge Posada's better back-ups in recent years. In my book, he's a stronger catcher than Will Nieves and John Flaherty both defensively and offensively. While he probably won't see much playing time, Nieves is a good guy to have around.
Well that pretty much wraps up the lineup. The team should not struggle offensively, but could take some lumps pitching. Pitching is the key for this team. They need to be on their "A" game. I think red flags are the health of the five main starters because there's a significant drop off after them. Having the pitchers go deep in games is important to not wear out this young and possible shaky bullpen. Limiting the young pitchers innings could hurt the team a bit if they're needed. I think the bench is stronger than in past years and I think that Girardi will play the hot hand more than Torre ever did. Overall, I see a Wild Card clinch, with a shot at the division if Boston's pitching staff doesn't put it together. The Yankees will most likely get the Tigers in the divisional round if I were to guess, and that's a tough opponent if healthy. I believe the Yankees need to try and grab some trades if given the opportunity, although I don't know what's out there. We shall see how the season pans out, but I hope it's better than I'm predicting.