Here we are, ready to start the 2009 regular season, so before the New York Yankees take the field let's take a quick look at what to expect from them this season.
On paper, the Yankees look to boast another strong team, and with a $200 million payroll, they should always be in contention. The additions of CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, Mark Teixera, and Nick Swisher bring a lot of excitement to the season.
The Yankees again boast another strong team, even without A-Rod for the first few weeks. Most teams would kill to have the names of Jeter, Damon, Teixera, Nady, Cano, and Posada, but in New York, if A-Rod's name isn't included, people are concerned.
The lineup does have some question marks heading into the 2009 campaign. First of all, who knows what the psyche of A-Rod will be following his topsy-turvy offseason, from steroids to Madonna to an injury to kissing himself in a mirror?
They also have to find out if Robinson Cano is a .330 hitter or .280 hitter and if Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada can return to their old form. Also, Bret Gardner brings some needed speed and athleticism to the team.
When looking at the lineup, Yankee fans will notice (or already probably noticed this weekend) that there is a major change. Derek Jeter will be batting leadoff and Johnny Damon is batting second. The flip-flop could be an attempt at protecting Jeter, who has hit 40+ double plays the last two years, 15 of those in the first inning. This only protects him in the first inning, but it might be one of a couple changes Jeter sees in his role.
There has been a lot of talk about Jeter and his contract following 2010. A lot of this is just to grab headlines, as last I checked, Jeter batted .300 last year while being injured. He is the face of the Yankees and baseball and on the verge of being the first Yankee to obtain 3,000 hits. He still gets the job done and leads the team.
On to the pitching staff, where the Yankees feature their best rotation since at least 2003. With Sabathia, Burnett, Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettite, and Joba Chamberlain, the staff is as strong as any other. The fact that Wang, Pettitte, and Chamberlain will matchup with other team's No. 3-5 starters gives the Yankees an edge. Who would you favor, Pettitte or Sidney Ponson?
They also have reinforcements for when someone gets hurt, and someone will, in Phil Hughes, Alfredo Aceves, and Ian Kennedy.
The bullpen is still fortified by the greatest closer of all time in Mariano Rivera, and the bridge to him will still be a key to winning ball games. Brian Bruney last season quietly had a similar 2008 to what Chamberlain had in 2007. Phil Coke had a great September and spring and has looked very promising.
Coke and Damaso Marte give the Yankees some important lefty arms. They also have Jose Veras and Edwar Ramirez to help eat up some innings.
The big offseason debate has been whether Joba Chamberlain should be a starter or a bullpen man. He is a starter now and should be a starter always. But if he fails there, or an injury to Rivera or Bruney forces him into a bullpen role, he will be fine.
The big weakness on this team is defense. The addition of Mark Teixera will save some errors in the infield, as it is believed he saves 40 runs a year with his glove. Jeter and Rodriguez' range will be an issue on the left side of the field. Cano has the talent to win a Gold Glove but his effort needs to be there.
As for the outfield, Gardner covers a lot of ground, and Damon is an above-average defender but has no arm. Xavier Nady in right field is probably a dropoff from Bobby Abreu (except he will go within 20 feet of a wall.)
The outlook for 2009 is bright for the Yankees, but to win No. 27 they need to hope certain things happen. Playing in the AL East will be tough with the Red Sox and Rays, arguably the top two teams in baseball after New York. The Yankees need to hope no major injuries occur and that they improve their hitting with runners in scoring position.
In any event, 2009 should be an exciting year in the New Yankee Stadium.