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Know Thy Enemy: The New York Yankees

A couple of weeks back I got an email from Travis Goldman, who is one of the folks who runs Pinstripe Alley SBNation's Yankee site, asking if we'd write a quick Blue Jay preview for them and answer 5 questions about the team. I said I would if he would do the same for us. And he did. Now Hugo and I are going to do more in depth reviews of the other AL East teams other the next couple of weeks, but here is what Travis had to say about his Yankees:

I'm more excited about this season than any season in recent memory (although I probably say that every spring). We've all heard about the $400 million plus the Yankees guaranteed to three players, and loud, recurring voices demanding a salary cap to curb Yankee spending. There will be tremendous pressure on the big three free agents to perform up to expectations. If the Yankees somehow miss the playoffs, it would be a disaster. They pretty much have to win the pennant to avoid feelings of failure, whether it's from the GM, owner, players or fans.

I feel very confident about the pitching. Sabathia, Burnett, Wang, Pettitte and Joba seem like the best 1-5 rotation in all of baseball. The bullpen should be solid - Mo at the top, followed by a plethora of talented (if unproven) lesser relievers.

The lineup is where I have the most concerns, because health may play a huge role. We lost Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada for most of 2008, and that was why our offense ranked just 8th in the AL. The offense has a chance to be elite - if Cano and Swisher bounce back, Matsui and Posada stay healthy, and the rest of the lineup performs even close to expectations, the offense will be fine.

The biggest question marks entering Spring Training are center and rightfield. Center will be a competition between Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner, with right to be Xavier Nady vs. Nick Swisher. My vote goes to Gardner and Swisher because of better OBP and defense.

A few other things happened to the Yankees this offseason - maybe you heard of Joe Torre's book, which hit shelves earlier this month, that details his 12 years in the Bronx?

And there was also some little news story about a guy named Alex. Unfortunately, and despite Arod's best attempts to 'move on', it will linger throughout 2009 and into following seasons.

1. Who will be the surprises of your team, both good and bad?

I think Phil Hughes will be a pleasant surprise, finally having a healthy and productive season. A disappointment will be the X-Man (Xavier Nady), who will regress after a career year in 2008.

2. Final standings and number of wins (for your team)?

 I see the Rays or Yanks finishing first, Boston third (Dice-K will regress big time), then (sorry) Baltimore and Toronto. The loss of Marcum and the addition and maturation of Orioles' like Wieters and Jones will help them immensely. But this is the toughest division in baseball and will only get stronger (three of the top 5 prospects play for AL East organizations).

3. What offseason acquisition(s) will have the most impact?

The obvious (and correct) choice is Sabathia. He's not just a workhorse that we can count on for at least 200 innings, but they'll be quality innings. We haven't had a quality workhorse in a long time.

4. What offseason 'loss' will have the most impact?

Moose will be the biggest loss. He was fantastic last year, posting a 3.37 ERA over 200 innings. He was our best starter and was always healthy, never starting fewer than 27 games in any of his eight Yankee years.

5. Strengths and weaknesses of your team?

 As I mentioned earlier, our strength will be pitching, which is contrary to the past few years. If Burnett stays healthy, it gives us one of the best 1-2 combos in baseball. Then adding three quality pitchers in Wang, Pettitte and Joba will make a dynomite! rotation. I have confidence in the bullpen because it was actually quite good in 2008 - along with the inevitable addition of top prospect Mark Melancon, it will make for another good pen.
Another improvement should be the defense. Mark Teixeira is a very good first-baseman, which is a huge upgrade from Giambi. And Brett Gardner, who might win the centerfield job, was ranked the best defensive outfielder in all of baseball last year.
The offense will not necessarily a weakness, but has a chance to be weak. It all depends on health: if Matsui and Posada play more than 100 games with their normal production, the offense should be fine.

Rincewind back.....I, of course, disagree that the Jays will finish last but opinions are a dime a dozen and everyone gets one. I'm also curious about Phil Hughes being his pick for 'pleasant surprise' for the Yankees as he doesn't have a spot in the starting rotation at the moment. Yankees finished 3rd last season, 8 games back from the Rays, I'm not sure I see that much improvement in their team from last year but we'll save that for our preview of the Yankees. 

Thanks Travis for your preview.