While the New York Yankees took the field in Tampa for the first time this morning, there are still several questions that remained unanswered. The New York Yankees offseason has been well un-Yankee like to say the least. Everybody knows that the Yankees like to spend money, and when Cliff Lee entered free agency, it seemed that the Yankees would not have a problem signing the ace. However, that did not happen.
Instead, Lee decided to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies and who can blame him? The Phillies now have the most dominant starting rotation in baseball and will surely be a World Series contender. But, the Yankees have not been deemed a title contender by several analysts, citing the Yankees’ depleted rotation and unsuccessful offseason. Hey, can Rafael Soriano, Bartolo Colon, Mark Prior, or Freddy Garcia get some love? Probably not.
Now that I can get past the pain in my stomach when I think that Bartolo Colon could start for the Yankees, we can look at the top five questions facing the Yanks in 2011.
5. Will the starting pitchers perform like a playoff rotation?
Heading into spring training, the Yankees’ starting rotation may make some fans cringe. We all know that in order to win a title, a team must have multiple top – tier starting pitchers, which the Yankees do not have. There is no question that CC Sabathia’s performance this season will ultimately determine the Yankees’ playoff hopes.
At the moment, Sabathia is the only true ace on the roster. Granted, Phil Hughes had a solid season in 2010, finishing with a stellar 18-8 record. But, Hughes will have to bring down his 4.19 ERA that he posted in 2010 in order to become a dominant No. 2 starter.
After Hughes comes A.J. Burnett. Last season was clearly a season to forget for Burnett, as his performance (5.26 ERA, 15 losses) not worthy of his large contract that he received in before the 2009 season. I attended a game at Yankee Stadium and A.J. Burnett was booed off the field after allowing about seven runs to the lowly Toronto Blue Jays. The fact that Burnett has become a laughing stock in New York won’t help him in his improvement. But, if Burnett can have a somewhat productive season, then that should be enough to regain the love in the Bronx.
While the top three pitchers are settled, the fourth and fifth spots are not. Right now, the spots are being battled out by Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia, and Bartolo Colon. My guess would be that Nova and Garcia will win the final two spots, but I’ve seen worse decisions by New York (i.e. Sidney Ponson in 2008.)
4. Will Rafael Soriano live up to his huge contract?
When Yankees fans were informed that Rafael Soriano had been signed, they were probably more than excited. Who wouldn’t want a guy that saved 45 games in the same division last season, and had an ERA of just 1.73? Well maybe, if he isn’t getting paid $36 million.
There’s no question that Soriano is capable of being one of the top relief pitchers in the MLB, but he is clearly not worth that much money. Regardless, Soriano is the new setup man in the Bronx and he will have high expectations.
If Soriano and closer Mariano Rivera play the way that they played last year, then the Yankees may only need a lead through seven innings. This duo has the potential of being the best 1-2 punch to finish games in baseball. However, Soriano must prove that he was not just a one year wonder and that he can be the best setup man in the league.
If Soriano does play the same as in 2010, then Yankees fans should be able to breathe during the last two innings of most of the games this season.
3. Will we get a glimpse of Jesus Montero?
During the offseason, the Yankees signed former Dodgers catcher Russell Martin to become the starting catcher. With an aging Jorge Posada moving to the DH postion, Martin will be filling some pretty big shoes. But, if Martin does not play up to par, then we may have a Jesus Montero sighting in the Bronx.
Jesus Montero is currently the top prospect in the Yankees’ minor league organization and will soon be ready to move to the big leagues. With AAA Scranton/Wilkes – Barre in 2010, Montero hit 21 homeruns and drove in 75 runs. Montero is also a solid fielder behind home plate. In 2010, Montero had a fielding percentage of .992, and in 2009, Montero had a fielding percentage of 1.000 for AA Trenton.
These stats can only help Montero’s case for becoming the new franchise catcher for the New York Yankees. If Russell Martin exceeds expectations, then the Yankees will be perfectly fine keeping Montero in AAA for a bit longer, as Montero is still 21 years of age.
2. Can Derek Jeter return to his elite form?
Fans of baseball closely followed the Derek Jeter dilemma throughout his past offseason, as it dominated the headlines for several weeks. After a disappointing 2010 campaign, Jeter was asking for an absurd amount of money from the Yankees’ owners. The two sides eventually came to an agreement on December 7th, and Jeter won the battle.
Despite hitting just .270 with 10 homers a season ago, Jeter ended up with a new three year deal that could reach $51 million. Although Jeter did not statistically earn the contract, his intangibles did. Derek Jeter, No. 2, “The Captain” undoubtedly earned the new contract because he is the face of New York Yankees baseball.
Derek Jeter could hit zero homeruns and strike out 200 times this season and I’m sure that the majority of Yankees fans will still love the guy. But, many fans, including myself would probably love him even more if he can improve his stats from 2010. If he can bring his average closer to the .300 mark, then the Yankees will have no problem keeping him in the leadoff position.
But, if his average declines, then expect to see someone else such as Curtis Granderson or Brett Gardner move into the leadoff spot.
1. The New York Yankees: Contenders or Pretenders?
Clearly, the Yankees have not received the same amount of preseason praise as they have in the past, and there is good reason. First of all, the Yankees are an aging team and the clock may be ticking. As stated before, Derek Jeter appears to be on the decline, Mariano Rivera is nearing retirement, and Alex Rodriguez seems to get injured every time a baby in the world is born.
But, if the Yankees can stay healthy, then they have one of the best lineups in baseball. While the Boston Red Sox have become elite after adding Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, the Yankees were already elite. The roster is the same as the 2009 championship roster for the most part.
Despite the loss of Andy Pettitte, the Yankees have a roster that can be stacked up against any other roster in baseball. But, it is hard to do that when not every player is on the field. Last season, Alex Rodriguez missed a total of 25 games, but he reported to spring training 10 pounds lighter than last season, which will benefit his endurance throughout the season.
Even if the team stays healthy, it may still come down to the starting rotation. The bullpen seems to be set, but the starting rotation is still unanswered. Manager Joe Girardi will need solid contributions from whoever the five starting pitchers are come Opening Day. If all else fails, expect the Yankees to be looking for a No. 2 starter at the trading deadline.
The Yankees’ 2011 season is pretty much unpredictable at this point. Right now, the Bronx Bombers seem as if they could contend for a title. But, they also seem as a team that may be watching games while on the golf course in October. If the majority of the roster stays healthy this season, then expect to see October baseball in the Bronx.