MLB Fan Previews: New York Yankees
The 2008 New York Yankees enter this season coming off a 2007 campaign that saw them finish second in the AL East for the first time since 1997, but still earning a post-season spot by winning the AL Wild Card. For the third year in a row, they were knocked out in the first round. The Yankees organization, as always, expect to get back on top in their division and to bring home their 27th World Series Championship trophy. I’m not so sure they will view anything less as a failure as they have in years past, but they are still setting their sights on it as a realistic goal.
Expectations among fans are mixed this year. There is a lot of optimism about the future of the organization with so many talented prospects and young players. On one hand, you have the fans who believe it is their birthright that the Yankees win the World Series every year—and this year is no exception. On the other hand, there are those who think this will be a very good team, but there is a chance that they might not make the playoffs. Somewhere in the middle, of course, are those who believe the Yankees are going to be a playoff team, but not necessarily a championship team.
New in 2008
The biggest change this season is the manager, Joe Girardi, who is replacing former Yankees skipper Joe Torre. He brings a different energy than Torre did to the clubhouse and is very much a hands-on manager.
On the free agent market, the Yankees mainly re-signed players who played for the club last year (Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Bobby Abreu). However, one free agent acquisition, that of LaTroy Hawkins for one season, the Yankees are hoping can fill the place of departed reliever Luis Vizcaino, who wanted more money and years than the Yanks were willing to dish out.
The Yankees will continue their youth movement this season with pitchers Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, and Joba Chamberlain all vying for spots in the starting rotation. Chamberlain will probably start the year in the bullpen due to innings limits, but the Yankees plan to move him to the rotation later in the season—assuming everyone stays healthy. Some other prospects could make it to the Big Show, including Shelley Duncan as a platooning 1B/OF and Ross Ohlendorf, Edwar Ramirez, Jeff Karstens, and/or Darrell Rasner in the bullpen.
Other players hoping to make an impact with the big league club are Morgan Ensberg and Jason Lane, both former Astros competing for a bench spot. Billy Traber, who’s bounced around with a couple of organizations, is looking to fill the role of lefty specialist. Jonathan Albaladejo, who was acquired in a trade with the Washington Nationals, is trying to latch on as a reliever.
Ownership has shifted as well, and this will be something to keep an eye on over the next couple of years. George Steinbrenner’s failing health has led to the emergence of his two sons—and to a lesser extent, his two daughters—as the overseers of Yankees Enterprises.
Reasons for Optimism
The players have come into camp in much better shape than they did the last few seasons. Several players such as Johnny Damon, Mike Mussina, and Robinson Cano feel they have something to prove—not just to the organization and fans, but to themselves. Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi are in the walk year of their contracts, so expect good production from them.
Lots of depth in the Yankee farm system, especially pitchers. There are a lot of legitimate arms they can plug into the bullpen if needed. Plus, Humberto Sanchez is coming back from Tommy John surgery and could see time with the Yankees sometime around the All-Star break.
Unlike Girardi’s first stint as a manager with the Florida Marlins, this time around he will have a strong core of veterans that he can rely on.
The lineup is killer. There isn’t one easy out.
Causes for Concern
The Yankees are relying on two young starting pitchers who have innings limits to get through a full season. This is the main reason Girardi will probably keep a long man in the pen, but one has to wonder if the Yankees can make this work.
Kyle Farnsworth and LaTroy Hawkins as Rivera’s setup guys. (I know, I know… some people will tell me that can be solved by having Joba in the setup role, but the Yankees believe he will be wasted there because he has been a starter all his life. I agree with this thinking. Most relievers are relievers because they failed as starters. At least let him fail as a starter before locking him in as a reliever.) Girardi believes that he can get Farnsworth back on track, but I’ll still be holding my breath when he takes the mound. In my opinion, Hawkins is a poor man’s Vizcaino and until I see results, I have my reservations.
And since we’re on the topic of relievers, how about Mariano Rivera? He’s getting up there in age and while he’s still been effective the last few seasons, he’s more human than he’s been in the past. He will need to be watched. The Yankees have a couple guys in their system that they project as future closers, but no one who is close to being major league ready at this point.
LF – Johnny Damon
SS – Derek Jeter
RF – Bobby Abreu
3B – Alex Rodriguez
1B – Jason Giambi
C – Jorge Posada
DH – Shelley Duncan/Hideki Matsui
2B – Robinson Cano
CF – Melky Cabrera
Mariano Rivera – Closer
Kyle Farnsworth – Setup
LaTroy Hawkins – Setup
Joba Chamberlain – Setup
Jeff Karstens – Long Reliever
Billy Traber – Lefty Specialist
Five Bold Predictions
1. Alex Rodriguez will be the AL MVP (again)
2. Chien-Ming Wang will win the AL Cy Young
3. Phil Hughes will pitch a no-hitter
4. Joba Chamberlain will be the AL ROY
5. Robinson Cano will win the AL Batting Title
Official Kool-Aid Predictions
AL East Champions
World Series Champions