Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Guide Preview: New York Yankees

The Yankees are next on our trip through the AL East. The offseason was absolutely dominated by the Yankees. From the big money acquisitions of CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and AJ Burnett, to Joe Torre's book and, finally, to the whole A-Rod mess, there was hardly a week that the Yanks weren't the big story. Up until this last week or so, when the news about A-Rod's hip problems came to light, the offseason was looking good for the Yankees. Yes, the steroid scandal and Torre's book gave the team a lot of bad press, but, as far as the game on the field, it didn't threaten to hurt the team much more than bad feelings. But with A-Rod's surgery and the two (or more) months that he'll be out of the lineup, the story changes some. Of course, the season preview guides that were printed a month ago have no way of knowing about all of this. We'll have to keep that in mind as we look at their predictions.

As before, this preview is meant to be a summary of what the three main baseball preview magazines are saying about the team's 2009 season. I've included quotes and other information from each of the them - Sporting News, Athlon, and Lindy's. I've also included some statistics about each magazines' success at predictions over the last ten years. Be sure to check out the Team-by-Team Season Preview index for other guide previews over the next few weeks.

My original intention was to completely refrain from providing any opinion. I was afraid that I would have too much to say about some teams and too little about others. But, after doing a few of these now, I feel like there's room for some personal commentary. I think it'll add a little bit of personality to the preview. But I don't want to make my opinion the focus of the post, so I'll put it near the end. Please feel free to ignore it; I've never claimed to be the most knowledgeable person when it comes to all 30 teams. With that said, on with the "combined" team preview for the...

New York Yankees
Last Year: 89 - 73, 3rd Place, AL East

Since 1999

This YearLast Year
Avg Pred.Avg Finish
Sporting News12



* Sporting News average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 - 2001, 2003 - 2004, 2006 - 2008
** Athlon average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 - 2003, 2006 - 2008

Team Notes

The Yankees finished in third place last year, and were left out of the postseason for the first time since the strike of 1994. However, with 89 victories last year, it wasn't as if the Yankees put up a terrible year. Regardless, New York felt it was important to upgrade their team, and they did so in a big way.
"Fresh off their first October without a playoff apeearance since 1993, the Yankees have made it clear that one autumn filled with foliage tours and monitoring the BCS standings is enough.

All those rumblings that the Yankees would be aggressive "players" in the offseason came true during a stunning display of largesse in December. While many clubs were lamenting the state of the economy and cutting corners, the Yankees were spending $161 million to lure lefty CC Sabathia to the Bronx. Then, they spent $82.5 million on a five-year contract for righty AJ Burnett. And after that, when everyone figured they absolutely, positively were finished lavishing money on big name free agents, they spent $180 million on an eight-year deal for first baseman Mark Teixeira.

Yes, that brief bout of fiscal restraint is over in Steinbrenner-land. (Lindy's)"
With CC and Burnett signed to strengthen the rotation and Teixeira signed to shore up the middle of the order, it seems that the Yankees dealt with the biggest holes in their team. And, as impressive of a fix as that is, it still needs to be asked if they added enough.
"This year, the pressure is on the Yankees and second-year manager Joe Girardi. The Red Sox remain strong. The Rays are a new force in the league. If the Yankees are to return to the postseason, they'll have to finish ahead of at least one of those teams. And they have more than their share of question marks to overcome to do that.

The starting pitching is addressed. Of that there can be no doubt. The Yankees have assembled a 2009 rotation to at least rival or match that of Tampa Bay and Boston. The remaining questions are on the field behind those pitchers.

One was answered shortly before Christmas when the Yankee again opened their wallets and inked first baseman Mark Teixeira to an eight-year, $180 million deal. Arguably the top free-agent hitter on the market, Teixeira will provide protection to Alex Rodriguez, who remains a stalwart force in the middle of the lineup.

However, Teixeira, Derek Jeter, and A-Rod can't do it all. The Yankees will need help from the rest of the lineup. Can right fielder Xavier Nady build on a career-best 2008? And what will the team get from recovering surgery patients Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui? (TSN)"
Of course, these magazines are printed at the end of January, and so have no way of knowing what kind of things will be revealed in spring training. Usually, this doesn't mean too much, since most spring trainings aren't all that exciting. The Yankees' 2009 spring training, however, has been quite exciting. This week's news of A-Rod's surgery is quite the surprise, and could have repercussions for the entire season. The magazine's could never foresee that, though, and could only write about the Yankees' season as if A-Rod was fully healthy.
"Only with the Yankees could the corner infielders be making almost $50 million between them. But that's the going rate for players the caliber of third baseman Alex Rodriguez and Teixeira. It is customary for Rodriguez to follow an MVP season with a major letdown, and last year was no exception. His final numbers looked good, but close observers of the team knew they were hollow. The hitting coach, Kevin Long, said that while Rodriguez was distracted by going through a divorce last summer, he improved his mindset during the offseason. However he does it, Rodriguez needs to be the best player in the league again. One skill that never deserts him is arm strength, which may be unrivaled among third basemen. This season, he'll fire strikes to Teixeira, his former teammate with the Rangers, who signed a staggering eight-year, $180 million contract in late December. Teixeira, a two-time Gold Glover, should be on base for Rodriguez constantly, while posting big power numbers of his own as he takes over for Jason Giambi. (Athlon)"
Spotlight Quote

Athlon explores Derek Jeter's spot at shortstop:
"History shows it's very hard to win with a shortstop who's 35 years old, as Derek Jeter will be in June. (According to Sports Illustrated, none of the past 56 playoff teams has had a shortstop that old. [lar's note: of course, that's only the last seven years]) Jeter never fares well in defensive statistical analysis, and it is illogical to predict his range to increase as he ages. But Jeter stays in impeccable shape, he still hits better than almost any other AL shortstop and he is the face of the franchise, if not the entire industry."

I've never had many positive feelings towards the Yankees. As a guy who prefers to root for the underdog and as someone who grew up following an AL East rival, there's just not much that could make me like the Yankees (and that's an understatement). Now, as a Brewers fan who fell hook-line-and-sinker for CC last season (but who wasn't naive enough to expect to see him back), that's just one more strike against the Yanks in my book.

Still, by snagging both CC and Teixeira this winter, the Yankees added the two best players available to their team. The money they paid, while staggering, just doesn't matter. If the Brewers had that kind of means available, I'd be upset if they hadn't done the same thing.

The knock against the Yankees for the last 7 or 8 years, since their last World Series appearance, has been that their free agent purchases have been neither timely (ie, the players are too old) nor well thought out (ie, not part of a broader, "team"-building plan). For the most part, I agree with those points, but I'm not sure this winter falls into either category. With two young, talented players like CC and Teixeira getting added to this team, the Yankees are indeed improved enough to compete with the Rays and Red Sox at the top of the division.

It may not be enough, though. With A-Rod missing the start of the season (and being gone for who knows how long), and with too many older (eg, Jeter), injured (eg, Matsui), or unproven (eg, Cabrera, Hughes) players, I don't think the Yankees are a complete enough team to compete with Tampa and Boston. They'll be there, but, at the end, the Red Sox and Rays are going to pull away. At least, that's how I see it right now. Who knows what will change in the next week or month or more?


Jason @ IIATMS said...

Good stuff, Lar. Thou shalt be linked.


tHeMARksMiTh said...

I think I have them third as well. I think the Red Sox are, at the very least, as good as the Yanks, and I feel the Rays are being underrated in this race again.