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Yankees Preview

Posted By Cliff Corcoran On March 30, 2008 @ 7:32 am In Bronx Banter | Comments Disabled

New York Yankees

2007 Record: 94-68 (.580)
2007 Pythagorean Record: 98.5-63.5 (.608)

Manager: Joe Girardi
General Manager: Brian Cashman

Home Ballpark (multi-year Park Factors): Yankee Stadium (100/99)

Who’s Replacing Whom:

Morgan Ensberg replaces Doug Mientkiewicz
Ian Kennedy replaces Roger Clemens
LaTroy Hawkins replaces Luis Vizcaino
Billy Traber replaces Ron Villone and Sean Henn (DL)
Ross Ohlendorf replaces Edwar Ramirez (minors)

Opening Day Roster:

1B – Jason Giambi (L)
2B – Robinson Cano (L)
SS – Derek Jeter (R)
3B – Alex Rodriguez (R)
C – Jorge Posada (S)
RF – Bobby Abreu (L)
CF – Melky Cabrera (S)
LF – Johnny Damon (L)
DH – Hideki Matsui (L)

Bench:

R – Shelley Duncan (1B/OF)
R – Morgan Ensberg (1B/3B)
S – Wilson Betemit (IF)
R – Jose Molina (C)

Rotation:

R – Chien-Ming Wang
R – Mike Mussina
R – Phil Hughes
R – Ian Kennedy

Bullpen:

R – Mariano Rivera
R – Joba Chamberlain
L – Billy Traber
R – LaTroy Hawkins
R – Kyle Farnsworth
R – Brian Bruney
R – Ross Ohlendorf
R – Jonathan Albaladejo

15-day DL: L – Andy Pettitte, R – Jeff Karstens, L – Sean Henn
60-day DL: R – Humberto Sanchez, R – Andrew Brackman, R – Carl Pavano

Lineup:

L – Johnny Damon (LF)
R – Derek Jeter (SS)
L – Bobby Abreu (RF)
R – Alex Rodriguez (3B)
L – Jason Giambi (1B)
S – Jorge Posada (C)
L – Robinson Cano (2B)
L – Hideki Matsui (DH)
S – Melky Cabrera (CF)

The Yankees open the 2008 season with a roster that looks a lot like the one with which they concluded the 2007 season. That may not be the most encouraging sign for a team that finished in second place in its division in 2007, but there are a lot of hidden positives.

To begin with, the Yankees made several significant roster upgrades during the season last year. Roger Clemens solidified a rotation spot in early June, replacing Kei Igawa and Matt DeSalvo; thus, Ian Kennedy replaces not just Clemens, whose performance he’s likely to match or even exceed, but the dismal early-season performances of Igawa (7.63 ERA prior to Clemens’ arrival) and DeSalvo (5.87 ERA prior to Clemens). On the bench, Wilson Betemit, Shelley Duncan, and Jose Molina were mid-season upgrades from Miguel Cairo (.246 EqA), Kevin Thompson (.214), and Wil Nieves (.141), respectively. Duncan replaced Thompson on July 20, Molina replaced Nieves on July 22, Betemit was acquired at the July 31 trading deadline, and Cairo was designated for assignment a week later. When Phil Hughes came off the disabled list on August 4, he solidified another rotation spot that had been filled at various times by Carl Pavano (4.76 ERA), Jeff Karstens (14.73 ERA as a starter), Darrell Rasner (solid until he was injured in his third start in this spot), Tyler Clippard (6.33 ERA), DeSalvo (one dismal start), and Igawa in a return engagement (5.97 ERA pre-Hughes). This year, Hughes returns to the rotation as a better pitcher than the one who came back from hamstring and ankle injuries last August still worried about his legs, and is replacing not only his own performance over 13 starts, but that of those various replacement pitchers. On August 7 of last year, the Yankees brought up Joba Chamberlain and made him their primary set-up reliever, which allowed every other reliever other than Rivera to drop down a notch on the depth chart and squeezed out Mike Myers a week later. Opposing hitters had hit .257/.349/.399 against Myers. They hit .145/.202/.229 against Chamberlain. Chamberlain won’t be quite that dominant this year for the simple reason that no one could be, but he’ll be more effective than any of the short relievers the Yankees used for the first four months of last season, save for perhaps for Luis Vizcaino during the months of June and July (1.27 ERA in 29 games after posting a 7.27 mark in April and May).

In part due to those in-season upgrades, the Yankees went 56-28 over the final three months of last season, a pace which projects to 108 wins over a full campaign. Having upgraded on the fly during the summer, the Yankees then spent the offseason working to keep that roster intact, doling out more than $444 million to do so by signing Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and Robinson Cano to long-term deals, re-signing Andy Pettitte and picking up Bobby Abreu’s option for this season, inking Jose Molina for two years, going through arbitration with Chien-Ming Wang, and settling with arbitration-eligible youngsters Wilson Betemit and Brian Bruney.

Given all of that, the apparent lack of change on the roster is less of a concern. The bench, rotation, and bullpen should all be better than they were a year ago because of the upgrades made during last season. As for the starting lineup, Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada are all but guaranteed to see noticeable-to-significant decreases in production given the exceptional nature of their 2007 performances, but there are several other players who can be flagged for improvement.

Bobby Abreu hit .228/.313/.289 through the end of last May, then hit .309/.396/.520 the rest of the season. Abreu hit .349 with a pair of homers and a team-best 13 walks this spring. If he stays hot entering the season, he should easily outpace last year’s performance. Similarly, Johnny Damon hit .234/.338/.322 through July 20 of last year, then .319/.369/.493 the rest of the year. Damon was plagued by a variety of nagging injuries in the first half of last season, but once he got healthy, his stats looked a lot like they did in his first year as a Yankee (.285/.359/.482). Keeping Damon healthy is a challenge, but there’s ample opportunity for improvement there.

Speaking of health, Jason Giambi missed more than two months of last year with plantar fasciitis and hit just .236/.356/.433, which was roughly equivalent to what the Yankees got out of Doug Mientkiewicz (.277/.349/.440) or what they can expect from Morgan Ensberg this year (.233/.366/.438 the last two seasons combined). This year, Giambi’s going to be back in the field, which increases his chance of injury, but also tends to increase his production at the plate. Just looking at 2006 [1], Giambi’s last healthy season–which happened to be one split fairly evenly between the two positions–Giambi hit .224/.373/.531 as a DH and .289/.459/.592 as a first baseman. Giambi is 37 and his body has been through a lot over the years, so there’s a good chance he’s cooked, but he spent most of his time in the field this spring and looked good, hitting .395 with two homers (though, oddly, just two walks), so there’s reason to believe that, even if he only gives the Yanks another 300 plate appearances, they’ll be more productive plate appearances than the 300 he gave them last year.

Then there’s Robinson Cano, who hit .343/.396/.557 in the second half of last season, but just .274/.314/.427 in the first half. Cano’s seen this pattern before, as his career OPS is 212 points higher after the All-Star break than before. Cano arrived in camp this year determined to have a first-half similar to his past second-half performances and hit .452. He also went 3-for-3 on the basepaths (Cano stole just four bags in nine tries last season). If Cano can put together a full season reflective of his abilities at the plate, he could make the leap from star to superstar at age 25.

Finally, there’s Melky Cabrera. Melky’s just 23, but this will be his third season as a major league starter, and it could be a decisive one for his Yankee future. Scranton center fielder Brett Gardner was one of the last cuts in camp and will be breathing down Melky’s neck all year, something both Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman have been rather upfront about in the press. Melky started last year cold and on the bench before finally being given the center field job on June 1 as a result of Johnny Damon’s first-half struggles. Melky hit .325/.375/.482 in his first three months in center, but went cold again September. This year he’ll be the Yankees’ starting center fielder on Opening Day for the first time in his career, and the club will be looking for him to reward their continued faith in him with a breakout season. One positive indicator from spring training: Melky hit .304, drew 7 walks (tied for second best on the team), and struck out just three times.

Another positive indicator for the team is that 98-plus-win Pythagorean record listed above. The Yankees scored nearly six runs per game last year and 76 more than the next most productive offense in baseball. This year, they have a better bench and hope for improvement at five spots in the order. The passage of a season has also allowed them to improve their pitching by starting the year with Hughes, Kennedy, Chamberlain, and Ross Ohlendorf on the major league staff and with last year’s Double-A sensations Alan Horne, Jeff Marquez, and reliever Scott Patterson now waiting in the wings with triple-A Scranton.

None of this means the Yankees will be a better team than they were a year ago, but there’s certainly a strong chance that they will be, and it’s difficult to believe they’ll be any worse, which, considering they won 94 games and the Wild Card last year, is a nice place to start.


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[1] 2006: http://www.baseball-reference.com/pi/bsplit.cgi?n1=giambja01&year=2006

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