After winning their first World Series in nearly a decade, the Yankees refused to stand pat and spent the off-season making wholesale changes to an increasingly-aging roster. As a result, they re-tooled for another AL East title and put themselves in position to challenge for back-to-back championships.
The Yankees said goodbye to players at both ends of the career spectrum - aging veterans near the end of their playing days and prospects whose big league careers are yet to begin. They brought in veteran ballplayers with big contracts who should still have many productive seasons ahead.
A year after adding veterans AJ Burnett, CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira, the front office added a bevy of veterans to an already loaded roster, including OF Curtis Granderson and P Javier Vazquez via trade and 1B/DH Nick Johnson through free agency.
When all is said and done, the changes should lead the New Yorkers into another ALCS showdown with the Boston Red Sox in October.
Key Additions: OF Curtis Granderson, 1B/DH Nick Johnson, OF Marcus Thames, P Javier Vazquez, OF Randy Winn
Key Subtractions: OF Melky Cabrera, OF Johnny Damon, OF/DH Hideki Matsui, OF Xavier Nady, P Chien-Ming Wang
Key Performer, 2010: P Javier Vazquez
The Yankees rotation may rival the Red Sox's rotation for the best in baseball. The key factors will include health (as always) and whether Vazquez can make a successful transition back to the AL, something that is assumed by fans in New York but is far from a certainty.
Last year’s free agent hurlers brought mixed results. While southpaw C C Sabathia (19-8, 3.37) was worth every dime he was paid, RHP A J Burnett (13-9, 4.04) was a disappointment, failing to live up to the performance expected of a guy making $16.5 million annually.
Lefty Andy Pettitte (14-8, 4.16) will return for his sixteenth (and final?) season of big league action. He recovered from a substandard 2008 campaign with an excellent effort in 2009, but as with any aging pitcher, health is always a concern.
The final two slots in the rotation will be manned by RHPs Javier Vazquez and Phillip Hughes.
Vazquez, acquired form the Atlanta Braves in an off-season trade, returns to the American League, where he is a less-than-stellar 52-46, with a 4.52 ERA, over four seasons. He pitched for the Yanks back in 2004, when he posted a 14-10 record and compiled a 4.91 ERA… and now he is pitching in the new Yankee Stadium softball field.
Much of his success in Atlanta last season was predicated on the fact that he reduce the number of fly balls he surrendered (from 42% in 2008 to 35% last year). His success this season in Yankee Stadium will be largely dependent on whether he can manage a repeat. Hughes has proved far more effective as a reliever (5-1, 1.40) than as a starter (8-9, 5.22) during his brief career. How he adjusts to his role in the rotation will go a long way to determining the Yankees' fate this year.
The Yankees bullpen in 2010 looks to be among the most formidable in all of baseball. Future Hall-of-Famer Mariano Rivera (3-3, 1.76, 44 S) once again anchors the Yankees relief corps. He will be set up by Joba Chamberlain (9-6, 4.75), Dave Robertson (2-1, 3.30) and southpaw Damaso Marte (1-3, 9.45 in 13 games). Alfredo Aceves (10-3.54) will pitch middle relief and once again scavenge his fair share of wins thanks to the Yankees offense.
The Yankees will once again field baseball’s most fearsome lineup, centered around one of the most productive infields in major league history. Derek Jeter (.334, 18 HR, 66 RBI, 30 SB) will bat lead-off, followed by on-base machine Nick Johnson (.291/8/62 with a .426 OBP last year in Washington and Florida). The lineup is anchored by corner-men Mark Teixeira (.292/39/122), Alex Rodriguez (.286/30/100) and 2B Robinson Cano (.320/25/85).
Switch-hitter Jorge Posada (.285/22/81) is aging but still swings a productive bat, especially at home (where he hit .325 last season). CF Curtis Granderson (.249/30/71) will hit seventh, and while he has struggled at Yankee Stadium throughout his career it is expected he will benefit from the dimensions of the new stadium in much the same way Johnny Damon did last year. RF Nick Swisher (.249/29/82) and LF Brett Gardner (.273/3/23 with 26 SB in just 248 AB) round out the offense.
The Yankees will be fine as long as Sabathia, Burnett and Pettitte stay healthy. I expect Vazquez to struggle, though that will largely be masked by the Yankees offense, which once again will lead all of baseball (amassing upwards of 950 runs).
The Yankees club is built to win the Eastern division year-in and year-out. Ultimately, the question will be whether their pitching will remain healthy and be capable of out-performing the Red Sox staff in the League Championship Series.
SOX1Forecast: 97-65, 1st place.
New York Yankees — Top Five Prospects
1. C Jesus Montero
2. C Austin Romine
3. P Arodys Vizcaino
4. P Manny Banuelos
5. OF Slade Heathcott