Thursday, February 4, 2010

Biggest question marks: Yankees

Unlike the Mets, the Yankees don’t enter 2010 with a busload of question marks. However, that is not to say that there aren’t a decent number of questions to ask.

1. Who’s the number 5 starter… Joba or Hughes?
With the 1 – 4 spots in the rotation already fixed with Sabathia, Burnett, Pettitte and Vazquez, the only spot up for grabs is the fifth spot. I fail to see why this is even a debate. To tell you the truth, if it was up to me, the one who would be in the rotation? Neither. Oh, calm down… hear me out beore you Yankee fans freak out. Hughes was a disaster in a starting role in 2008. Yes, I know there were some injuries but the kid hasn’t been the same in a starting role since coming out of that near no-hitter with a pulled hamstring. Joba hasn’t shown half the swagger or confidence in any of his starts that he shows when coming out of the bullpen. Hell, after last year there were question marks if he’d even be on the postseason roster. However Joba was quite decent in the bullpen in the playoffs and despite Hughes postseason struggles, he was lights out in the regular season. The idea of a hughes/joba/rivera 7th/8th/9th should give the Yankee fans a reason to drool and bring back the thoughts of Nelson/Stanton/Rivera. I’ve ALWAYS felt the key to success in baseball is a strong bullpen. The Yankees will score enough runs that the 5th starter could be my 12 year old (who actually has decent control… they should give him a shot) and he would have a chance to win 11 games. However odds are it will be Hughes as the 5th starter with Joba back in the bullpen as the setup man and heir apparent to Rivera as the eventual closer.

2. Is the starting pitching as strong as it looks?
Well… if everyone stays healthy then… well, yeah. Of course, your number 2 and 3 pitchers are both injury risks (Pettitte because of his age and Burnett because of… well… he’s Burnett) and you have no idea if you are getting the Vazquez of last year or the one that pitched for the Yanks in 2004. Yeah, I heard all about Vazquez saying he was hurt the second half of the year when he was terrible, but doesn’t EVERYONE say that when they have a rough season? However Vazquez doesn’t have to be a number 1 or 2 or even 3 as long as no one gets hurt. Listen, Sabathia is amazing and he’s not an injury risk so there’s no issue there. The number five guy only becomes important if one of the other guys goes down with injury, so for the 2010 Yanks to have any real issues with their starting rotation it’ll likely come from a health issue from Burnett and/or Pettitte. If those two guys get though the season making about 64 starts between them then there’s no issue at all. If it gets down to about 58 or less then there could be an issue. If either one makes less than 25 starts I might worry a little. It’s all about those two.

3. Will they miss Damon and Matsui?
You know, I actually think they will. The thing about these two players is, not only did they both have a swing that was tailor made for Yankee Stadium, but both were positive presences in the clubhouse. Damon was much more than just what you saw on the field and Matsui was an ultimate professional. Of course, one of the guys replacing these two is Curtis Grandserson who is widely regarded as a good guy and positive clubhouse presence in his own right. Are the Yanks going to struggle for runs? No, I don’t think so. That doesn’t mean that the absence of these two won’t be felt in some ways.

4. Can Posada make it through a full season?
Here’s a legit issue I think the Yanks should be thinking about. Here’s where the signing of Nick Johnson become a puzzler. One of the biggest reasons to part ways with Matsui was because the Yanks felt he could not play the field and they wanted to clear up the DH position to make sure Posada could have a few games a week at DH to rest those knees. However, with Johnson on the roster, the only place he can play is 1st and you’re not sitting Teixeria much so he’s going to get a majority of his at-bats at DH. Johnson is a way-below average runner and Tex is way too good a glove to be swapped out for late inning defense, so it’s obvious Johnson is only on this team to DH. This means more catching time for Posada. This means the likely-hood for a few DL stints for Jorge is fairly high.

5. Is this the year Rivera finally shows his age?
I think I’ve heard at least four times in the last five years that Mariano Rivera is at the end of the road. At this point, I think everyone needs to accept that the man is a freak of nature that we really haven’t seen before and likely will never see again. I feel bad for Rivera because once he dies and the devil collects on the “I sold my soul to be the best relief pitcher ever” deal that he obviously made back in 1995 then the poor S.O.B. will spend eternity in Hell (or as a Mets fan… it’s really the same thing). Listen, Riveria is 40 years old and will be a free agent after the 2010 season and unless he decides the retire the Yankees would be crazy not to offer him another contract… maybe even a two year deal. As far as I’m concerned the guy could pitch until he’s 50 and still be effective. No, I cannot imagine this is the year he bottoms out.

BONUS QUESTION: So, will the Yankees contend?
Ok, yeah I know it’s a stupid question. There is no doubt that the team could lose any single one of their everyday position players and still be a hell of a team. I would actually go as far as to say there are only three players on the roster that the Yankees cannot afford to lose.
1. C. C. Sabathia
2. Mariano Rivera
3. Alex Rodriguez
I’m sure everyone would agree with the first two, but why A-Rod and number 3? You saw how an unprotected Mark Teixeria struggled last year until A-Rod came back? You could expect a simular situation. Tex is a great hitter but he needs pitchers to be forced to throw fastballs at him and challenge him to be as effective as he was once A-Rod was in the lineup.
The real issue the Yanks will have is age/injury to guys like Burnett, Pettitte, Posada, Jeter, etc. Not to say they are all going down, but to lose a few of those guys, plus the fact that both Tampa Bay and Boston are as strong as the Yankees for the most part it could be a cause for some concern. Barring major injury there is no reason the Yanks won’t be in the thick of the Division Race right up to the end and into the playoffs.

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