2010 turned out to be another in a string of Major League Baseball seasons filled with myriad surprises, none bigger than the eventual World Champion, San Francisco Giants.
The Padres, Reds, even the Texas Rangers played much bigger than we expected them to, and heading into 2011 the New York Yankees find themselves in the odd position of hoping to do the same —surprise — while they attempt to overcome this seasons near consensus choice to emerge out of the A.L. East, their arch rival from New England way, the Boston Red Sox.
A near perennial choice to grab the division and at the very least challenge for a spot in the World Series, it seems only those bleeding Pinstripes view this years potential twenty five man group in a similarly lofty light.
Heading into Spring Training the Yankees are hardly a finished product while the Red Sox look tight after a busy off season that saw All Stars Adrian Gonzales and Carl Crawford agree to make their bones in Beantown for 2011 and well beyond.
Those two moves alone had the Boston faithful crowing and even Yankee GM Brian Cashman — at least the Bizzaro version we've been getting a load of the past couple of months — declared the Yank's most despised rival the odds on favorite to take the division as the teams, just beginning to receive pitchers and catchers now in their respective Florida camps, prepare to embark on another six month, 162 game, regular season adventure.
To be sure the Yank's will need something of a revival if they hope to challenge the 'Sox in 2011. With the exception of second baseman Robbie Cano — who should be set for a massive 2011 — the zillion dollar infield badly underproduced in 2010, at least by the heady standard of numerous seasons prior.
A-Rod hit .270 with 30 HR & 125 RBI, not entirely implausible numbers but there were endless stretches last Spring & Summer when he went darker than the witchiest hour and even in 137 games it still felt like his run production fell far short of what it could or even should have been, (and that's setting aside the $25 million dollars per season, about half the total salary number of nine MLB franchises.)
But that perspective was surely magnified by Texiera's terrible start — and playoff finish — Jeter's career low everything, and Jorge Posada's injury plagued, minimum impact 2010.
While Nick Swisher was steady throughout the regular season — but another playoff flameout — CF Curtis Granderson was invisible over the first three months and in LF, burner Brett Gardner, plagued with a wrist injury, fell almost entirely off the map in the post All Star Game part of the schedule.
But these two, Gardner and Granderson may represent the Yankee's best chance to have a dynamic lineup in 2011. The former is an on base maverick with the ability to manufacture runs, something the Yankee's sorely need and would love to have at the top of the line up with Jeter dropping down to the two spot where he had much success in the years when Johnny Damon roamed left field for the Bombers and batted lead off.
Granderson was on fire over the last 45-50 games finally showing the stuff that made him one of the league most impressive players in 2008 when he threw up the kind of wet dream, roto numbers .302, 122 runs, 38 doubles, 23 triples, 26 stolen bases the Yankee's would love to see only in part in 2011.
With a raging Gardner up top, better form out of Jeter, A Rod and Texiera, Cano just being Cano and Granderson strutting optimum stuff out of the six or seven hole the Yankee's will have no problem scoring runs, something the Red Sox are counting on as well with their reconfigured 1-9 looking something like:
Carl Crawford LF .307 110 runs 19 HR 90 RBI & 47 stolen bases in 2010
Dustin Pedroia 2B .305 career hitter, clutch as they come.
Adrian Gonzales 1B .285 35 HR 105 RBI since 2007, numbers that can only go up in Boston
Kevin Youkilis 3B .307 77 runs 19 HR 62 RBI in an injury shortened 2010
David Ortiz DH .270 32 HR 102 RBI after a deathly slow beginning to the 2010 season.
Which makes for a neat run of left, right, left, right, left and then some combination of J.D. Drew, Mike Cameron, Jacoby Ellsbury — flip flopping between center and right, Varitek and maybe Saltalamacchia behind the plate with steady Marco Scutaro or last years surprise at 2B, switch hitting Jed Lowrie —moving over — and splitting time at short.
Advantage? Despite all the off season hype If the Red Sox have a slight offensive edge on paper heading into the Spring of 2011 it's negligible.
Which brings us to the arms race.