First off, I would just like to say congratulations to the New York Yankees on their AL East Division Championship. It is well earned and well deserved.
As another Frank Sinatra song says, "And now, the end is near," so it is time to see who performed well and who underperformed. Here is my individual grading for each of the Yanks' seasons.
Let's start with the rotation.
CC Sabathia: A
CC came in this year with a big contract and big expectations, and he has performed just as expected. He has 19 wins thus far and could possibly have his first 20-win season before the end of the week. With an average ERA and a dominant second half, this ace is primed for the postseason and a great career with the Yanks.
A.J. Burnett: B
This would have been an A, but I had to settle for average. Burnett has had an up and down season, being average in the first half, dominant after the All-Star Break in July, and then just horrible in August. His last three starts have seemed like the July A.J., and it is a good time to be that way heading into the playoffs. If we are going to win it all, we NEED him to perform.
Andy Pettitte: B+
Andy is the rock of this rotation. He is a competitor, and he finds a way to win, even on days when he doesn't have his best stuff, something that Burnett hasn't been able to do thus far. He has a decent record for a third starter and could find himself pitching Game Two of the ALDS with his proven track record in the postseason.
Bottom line is that Andy knows how to win, and that is what we need. He has said that he wants to pitch again next season, and he needs to be in pinstripes.
Joba Chamberlain: B-
Okay, I went easy on Joba; call it "Growing Pains." I'm one of those believers that Joba has been a victim of overprotection. The Yankee brass loves him and wants to protect the future of the 23-year-old, but I think it has played with his mind, and his performance has suffered because of it.
When he is on, though, he is on. In his last start, he was allowed to pitch a REAL game, with no innings limit, and he had a determination in his eye, along with a 95 MPH fastball and devastating slider. That is the Joba we need. Hopefully his confidence will build and he will no longer be babied in his fourth year in the bigs.
Chien-Ming Wang/Sergio Mitre/Chad Gaudin: F+, C-, B+
Wang = absolutely nothing this year. Coming back from a season-ending injury last year, he was never the same and then had shoulder problems. If we can have the Wang from the three previous seasons, this would be an unbeatable rotation. F+ is for failure due to injury, but he did win one game.
Mitre came up and had one really good game, about two decent games, and a bunch of crap after that. He probably won't make the postseason roster.
Gaudin was a waiver pickup and has performed well since joining the Yanks, who have won every game he has started. I think he will be a great long relief guy in the bullpen in the postseason. A pleasant surprise.
Now on to the bullpen, one of the best in baseball.
Mariano Rivera: A
What else is new? He is the best closer in the history of baseball and continues to prove that every year. With a save number approaching 50 at the age of 40, he is an anomaly. All this with one devastating pitch. Amazing. Over 500 career saves and counting.
Phil Hughes: A+
Honestly, who ever predicted this? Hughes is a perfect eighth inning setup man for Rivera.
He started the year at AAA and then pitched in the rotation, and when Wang came back in June, the Yanks didn't know what to do with him. He was too good for AAA but wasn't completely effective in the rotation, though not bad. They didn't want to lose his arm, so they sent him to the bullpen. GREAT MOVE.
No one saw this coming, and it is exactly what we needed and have been missing since the dynasty teams. His ERA in the bullpen is under 2.00, and his fastball is up to 95-96 MPH, along with a great slider and devastating curve, all of which he throws for strikes.
Hughes has gained his confidence, and the Yanks might have found their post-Rivera closer by mistake!
Phil Coke: B-
Up and down season for Coke, both good times and bad times, but nonetheless effective when it really counts. He can get lefties and righties out. Decent.
Damaso Marte: INCOMPLETE
I give Marte an incomplete because he has had a very abbreviated season with an injury. He was signed to a three-year deal, so we will see a lot more of him, and he has been able to get lefties out since coming back in August. He will probably make the postseason roster as a lefty specialist.
Brian Bruney: C
He was great, and then not so great. He has been battling injuries this season, with multiple DL stints. He is a good bullpen arm, with a live fastball that is around 96 MPH. He has pitched better in September, but is it too little, too late? He might not make it onto the ALDS roster.
David Robertson: B+
He is the reason that Bruney might not make the ALDS roster. Robertson, coming back from an arm injury, has to prove he is healthy before the Yanks make any decisions on him for the postseason.
When he was healthy, he turned out to be a very effective, middle innings, righty strikeout guy, something you need in the postseason. He sports a 94 MPH fastball and a 12-6 curve, and he strikes people out. If he is healthy, he is in, and Bruney might be out.
Alfredo Aceves: A-
Also not on the Opening Day roster, Aceves has been a jack of all trades. He has proven to be a great long relief man, along with setup in the middle innings. Being a starter, he is able to work multiple innings. He had one start this season, where he didn't fare too well but wasn't horrible.
He will be a big factor in the postseason if one of our starters turns in a lackluster start. Kudos to Ace for stepping in.
Now, we can turn our attention to the best lineup in baseball.
Derek Jeter: A+
Oh Captain, my Captain! Jeter has made those critics eat their words with a MVP-type season at 35. He is hitting, stealing bases, driving in runs, and fielding the ball like a 25-year-old. It has really been a Renaissance year for Jeet, proving that he's still got it and is not slowing down.
He is the all-time Yankee hits leader, potential AL MVP, and a potential Gold Glove winner. Is there anything else to say?
Mark Teixeira: A
Who says you have to adjust to New York? Just like the other two BIG signings, Mark has had a monster year and has fit right into this team, something the teams of the early 2000s didn't have. He is a Gold Glove first baseman, a switch hitter, and the leader in HRs and RBI for the American League. Who doesn't love Tex?
Robinson Cano: A-
Cano needed this type of season. After trade rumors and a big contract, Cano needed to prove he was worth it. After a dismal 2008, 2009 has been kind to the second baseman. He could very well be on his way to a Gold Glove, is hitting over .320, and has a career high in HRs. The only blemish is his average with runners in scoring position, but that is being nitpicky.
Both he and Jeter have over 200 hits, and they are the only double play duo to do so in the same season while playing their respective positions. Nice comeback year.
Alex Rodriguez: B+
He needed this season. After a spring training filled with a steroid scandal, personal scandals, and a major hip injury, A-Rod was in the spotlight, in a negative way, once again.
When he was out of the lineup for the first month of the season, he was forgotten for a while, and the lineup suffered, but team chemistry seemed to build. Then, when he arrived back in town ahead of schedule on May 8, the lineup woke up, and it has put us where we are today.
Like him or not, he is a major reason the team is where it is. He protects Tex and has had a great season in his own right. He is hitting in the .280s with close to 30 HRs and close to 100 RBI, which is a great season for a regular player and a below average one for A-Rod.
It doesn't matter though; he is relaxed, and with Tex in town, the pressure on him to constantly perform is off a little bit. It has allowed him to be on the team, not above it in one way or another, and he has been able to take a back seat. The team has responded in a very, very positive way. Joe Girardi rests that hip at least once a week, and it is a recipe for success.
Jorge Posada: B
Good year for Jorge. At 38, he still can field his position respectably and call a good game, and he still can hit, which was always his major strength. Still a great presence in the lineup, and still has pop with over 20 HRs and an average around .280-.290. He's still got it!
Johnny Damon: B+
Damon, I believe, has played his way into a new contract. He is having a great year with the bat, slugging 24 HRs at the moment, and has a perfect swing for the stadium. He still can swipe a base and give you a good at-bat. He is a decent left fielder and a personality in the clubhouse. He should return.
Melky Cabrera: B+
Melky had his job taken away, and he has responded. Melky battled for the CF gig in spring training and lost, but just barely. He then recaptured it and has not let it go. He has a career high in HRs and is driving in runs in clutch situations, with several game-ending hits. He plays an above average CF and has an arm. He has proven his place as an everyday starter.
Brett Gardner: B
Overall, Brett has proven that he is a Major Leaguer. He can handle himself at the plate and is just as good a fielder as Melky.
Gardner has one asset that the Yanks really never had, and that is SPEED. He is a fast little you know what and can swipe a base on demand. He is going to be an X-factor in the playoffs, pinch running in the later innings for some of the slower starters.
Don't be surprised if you see the Yanks win a couple of games because of this speed. It is an ace in the hole for Girardi and company. He even swipes a base in pitchouts!
Nick Swisher: A
Had to give Nick at Night an A. Once Tex was signed, no one thought that Nick would factor in that much. But when Xavier Nady went down, he seized the opportunity and has flourished. He is having a great year, hitting close to 30 HRs and being a great presence in the clubhouse as well.
Nick loves this game and shows it with his jovial sense of humor and emotion. He has been an unexpected shot in the arm for the Yanks, one that has worked not only on the field, but off the field too. This team is having fun, and when you have fun, it makes winning a whole lot easier, or vice versa.
Maybe he should get a B for playing, but he gets bonus points for everything he brings to this team.
On to the bench.
Jose Molina: C+
Molina gets a C+ because he only brings one thing to the table, and that is defense. He knows how to handle the pitching staff, call a good game, and throw out runners, but that is it. He is too one-dimensional. Good backup, but you lose something in the lineup when he plays.
Jerry Hairston Jr.: B-
Good pickup and very versatile with some pop. Good fielder overall and can play almost anywhere. He will help in the playoffs if his wrist is okay.
Eric Hinske: C+
Another midseason pickup. He provides lefty pop off the bench and can play 1B, 3B, LF, and RF. Nice pinch hitter but suffers from lack of playing time. He should make the postseason roster, but don't expect him to play all that much.
Rookies/Occasional bench call-ups: A
This group includes Francisco Cervelli, Ramiro Pena, Shelley Duncan, Juan Miranda, Freddy Guzman, etc. I happen to love Cervelli, and not just because he is part Italian. He has great instincts behind the plate, and along with Kevin Cash he held down the fort behind the plate when both Posada and Molina were out with injuries.
I love Cervelli's energy, and his bat is better then what was perceived. Along with Miranda, he has been pied by Burnett, meaning he has hit a walkoff in limited time on the team. I believe he is and should be next year's backup to Posada, and maybe even a replacement when the time comes.
Pena is a great little spark plug who can get hits and can run a bit. He hit his first Major League HR the other night, and after the team joked and gave him the silent treatment when he got back to the dugout, they congratulated him in great style.
Pena can pick it also, which might find him as a key bench player in 2010; he is learning the outfield after being able to play SS, 2B, and 3B. If Hairston isn't back, he's our guy.
Miranda had his walkoff hit, Duncan has contributed a bit, and Guzman has speed much like Gardner, which might land him a playoff spot as well. The rookies have very bright futures.
Joe Girardi and the Coaching Staff: A+
I always thought Girardi was a great coach and that he knew how to play the game. He has been able get everything out of this group of guys and has made the right moves at the right times. Along with Dave Eiland, Kevin Long, Tony Pena, and the base coaches, he has molded this team with tons of talent into a true ball club—a real team.
Brian Cashman: A
Having met the man, he knows his stuff. He does his research. He knows this clubhouse. Since I believe 2006 or 2007, he has been in full control of who he really pursues, and that has changed the team entirely, starting with trusting the youth and building a strong farm system, along with bringing in the right personalities along with the talent. He earns his money, and working for the Steinbrenners is not an easy task.
Last but not least, Team Chemistry: A+
This team has what it takes to be champions. For the first time in a really long time, the team clicks together. They are having fun. They all are having fun together, and that is what wins championships. They laugh together, lose together, and win together.
Will Championship No. 27 happen in 2009? I'll see you in October. Look out baseball—the Yanks are back, so be prepared.
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