The Yankees are the Red Sox minus one front-line starting pitcher. The lineup is, as always, one of the best in baseball. Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher get on base, and the trio of Teixeira, Rodriguez and Cano can drive them in.
The bullpen is the class of the AL East, if not baseball. The rotation? A big question mark. CC Sabathia is one of the best pitchers in the league, an ace. But as talented as Phil Hughes is, he’s probably more of a No. 3 starter right now. Can he take the next step in 2011 to form a deadly 1-2 punch with Sabathia? Can AJ Burnett bounce back from a terrible 2010 and pitch like the No. 2 starter the Yankees paid him to be? Can a combination of Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Sergio Mitre, and Ivan Nova keep the Yankees in games?
If this team brings in another No. 1 or No. 2 starter (think Chris Carpenter or Francisco Liriano), they can win this division and maybe a World Series. As of now they’re a Wild Card team and not nearly as scary in the playoffs as they have been the past two years.
For the first time in his career, Alex Rodriguez enters a season far from the center of attention. More ink has been spilled on Jesus Montero than the three time American League MVP, and despite being a trendy sleeper pick, Rodriguez looks to many like a superstar in a graceful period of decline. It’s fair.
His OPS has dropped from 1.067, to .965, to .933, and finally to .847 last season. Yet outside of 2010, Rodriguez has still been an elite offensive force during this decline. In fact, he hit better in 2008 and in 2009 than he did in 2004 and 2006, the evenly-numbered seasons sandwiched between his ’03, ’05 and ’07 MVP seasons.
Rodriguez has battled injuries since ’08, playing in fewer than 140 games each of the past three years. But he enters camp in great shape, and could easily prove 2010 an outlier rather than the beginning of the end. I refuse to bet against this guy.
Right fielder Nick Swisher has proven to be one of Brian Cashman’s most prudent acquisitions. Entering his third season in the Bronx, Swisher is a fan favorite and positive clubhouse influence. He had perhaps his best season in 2010—unquestionably his best from a fantasy perspective—and while Swisher will always be a good source for homers and RBIs, he’s unlikely to fully repeat his 2010 performance.
The always patient Swisher saw his walk rate tumble from 16 percent—one of the best in baseball—to just 9.1 percent—a rather pedestrian figure. Swisher is a .250 hitter who hit .288 last season, and many guessed that his less patient approach led to his higher batting average. But his strikeout rate was as high as ever and his BABIP of .335 is probably unsustainable. He'll hit for power, but he's a .250 hitter and his lack of patience last season is concerning.