Alex Rodriguez and 6 Other New York Yankees Who Must Play Better in 2012

Kenny DeJohn@@kennydejohnAnalyst IIIJanuary 31, 2012

Alex Rodriguez and 6 Other New York Yankees Who Must Play Better in 2012

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    The Yankees had a very good season in 2011, despite their patchwork rotation and down years from their usually consistent stars.

    With a 97-65 record, they finished tops in the American League, but were still unable to defeat the strong pitching of the Detroit Tigers in the division series. In the end, the problem turned out to be a lack of clutch hitting, rather than the weak pitching that many thought would be their downfall.

    The Yankees, on paper, have improved heading into the 2012 season. The trade that sent Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi to Seattle for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos will be good for the rotation in both the short and long term. The signing of Hiroki Kuroda acts as the perfect cushion so Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances can get a bit more seasoning in the minors.

    The only hole left unfilled is the designated hitter slot. Having Andruw Jones and Jorge Vazquez DH may be a possibility, but don't be surprised if the Yankees go out and sign someone on the cheap, i.e. Johnny Damon, Raul Ibanez or Hideki Matsui.

    Even with the new rotation upgrades, the Yankees need improvement from some of their current stars. Many Yankees experienced tough times last season and the only shot at winning the World Series in 2012 is if they can bring it together and play up to their full potential.

Alex Rodriguez

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    The poster child for down seasons, Alex Rodriguez has not had a great season since 2007. He has had a few good seasons, but certainly not great ones.

    He won the American League MVP in 2007, when he mashed 54 home runs and had 156 RBI. Couple that with his .314/.422/.645 line, and it's easy to see why he received 97 percent of the first-place votes.

    Since then, however, A-Rod has hardly even been a shell of his former self.

    From 2008-2010, he averaged 32 home runs, 109 RBI and a .286 batting average. These numbers are very respectable, and in no way am I saying I didn't appreciate his production during that time frame (2009 saw the greatest postseason run of his career), but they weren't his usual numbers.

    Aside from his actual numbers, he averaged just 133 games played during those three seasons.

    Then came 2011. In 99 games, A-Rod hit 16 home runs, drove in 62 and hit a pedestrian .276.

    Clearly, a healthy Rodriguez would have put up better numbers. In 2012, he needs to be healthy, motivated and ready to play to the level that Yankees fans expect him to play at.

    If he can get back to the 40-home run level with his usual run production and a .290 average, expect the Yankees to be in good shape come October.

Mark Teixeira

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    Despite mashing 39 homers and knocking in 111 runs, Mark Teixeira had what would be considered a down season by many fans. His batting average continued to drop off from his rookie season in pinstripes, when he hit .292.

    A line of .248/.341/.494 is just unacceptable when you hit in the middle of the Yankees lineup. Last season, Teixeira was essentially Jason Giambi with a great glove. Ouch. The Yankees were hoping to avoid another Giambi-type hitter when they brought in Teixeira.

    Hitting coach Kevin Long has worked miracles before (see Curtis Granderson), so maybe he can reach into his bag of tricks and teach Teixeira how to hit the ball the other way. Managers last season had absolutely no second thoughts about putting an extreme shift on for Teixeira. He managed just seven opposite field hits last season.

    Teixeira is loved by the fans, and rightfully so. He is a stand-up guy who plays hard and loves being a Yankee. Unfortunately for him, another season like this one and he may start to see a lot of fans turn on him.

Brett Gardner

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    Brett Gardner, despite leading the American League with 49 stolen bases last season, is someone who the Yankees would really benefit from improving. 

    It doesn't matter where he hits in the lineup. Whether it's first or last, he is the table-setter that gets the Yankees offense moving.

    His line of .259/.345/.369 was definitely not good enough in 2011. Gardner is somebody who should be scoring well over 100 runs each season, unfortunately he won't be able to unless he improves his on-base percentage.

    I think Gardner will have a breakout season in 2012, as I wrote here in an earlier article.

    If Gardner can produce at the level mentioned in the link, the Yankees offense will be a force to be reckoned with in 2012.

Nick Swisher

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    Swisher's bad season in 2011 was a result of a very slow start. When all was said and done, he finished with a respectable 23 home runs and 85 RBI. He did, though, have just a .260/.374/.449 line.

    Swisher's bad season may have gone relatively unnoticed if it weren't for his horrible series against the Tigers in the postseason. He hit just .211//.250/.368 with one home run, one RBI, one walk and five strikeouts.

    Unfortunately, Swisher's postseason failures are nothing new. In 38 career playoff games Swisher has hit just .169/.285/.323 with four home runs, six RBI and 36 strikeouts.

    A fan favorite, Swisher is one of the most popular personalities in the majors today. The Yankees love having him around and he's been an above-average right fielder since he joined the club in 2009.

    There have been rumors that the team will not pursue Swisher once he hits free agency after the 2012 season, despite the weak pool of free agent right fielders. These rumors are mostly because of his playoff woes, and may not be entirely true.

    To silence the doubters, however, it would be smart for Swisher to improve his postseason line in 2012.

AJ Burnett

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    AJ Burnett pitched valiantly in his last start of the season against the Tigers. Unfortunately for him, that was easily his best start of 2011.

    Burnett has struggled his entire career as a Yankee. He has gone 35-35 with a 4.82 ERA since joining the team prior to the 2009 season.

    Despite showing flashes of potential now and again, he is too inconsistent for the Yankees to rely on too heavily. That has led to the recent acquisitions of Pineda and Kuroda. With the additions of these two starters, Burnett no longer has a guaranteed spot in the rotation. He'll have to battle it out with Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes for that spot.

    Assuming he cracks the rotation, he will have to improve in 2012. Even though there are two other options behind him should he falter, the Yankees cannot afford to lose games early on in the season.

    Another bad season by Burnett and he will have no shot at being a member of the rotation in 2013.

Phil Hughes

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    Big things were expected from Hughes after his breakout 2010 season in which he won 18 games and threw a career high 176.1 innings.

    Unfortunately, the career high in innings took its toll on Hughes, as he was shelved for most of the 2011 season by a dead arm. When he was healthy, he suffered from low velocity that saw his usually electric fastball get smacked around to the tune of a 5.79 ERA.

    A good season from Hughes, whether it be as the fifth starter or as the long man out of the bullpen, is a must for the Yankees in 2012.

    Hughes, once a key piece of the future for the Yankees, is still just 25 years old. He can still regain his consistency and become a main cog in the pitching staff for the Yankees for years to come.

Rafael Soriano

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    Soriano, the Yankees' response to being spurned by Cliff Lee, faced high expectations last season after leading the American League in saves in 2010 and signed a huge three-year, $35 million deal.

    Needless to say, Soriano's first season in pinstripes was a bit of a disappointment. He went 2-3 with a 4.12 ERA in 39.1 innings as the Yankees' primary seventh inning man. 

    Towards the end of the season Soriano pitched much better, forming a formidable triumvirate at the end of the Yankees' bullpen.

    If Soriano improves and David Robertson and Mariano Rivera pitch as they did last season, the Yankees will have one of the best bullpens in the American League in 2012.