For a team that won 97 games last season (most in the American League), the Yankees had a very busy off-season. Sure, if you took a look at their roster, there was a lot of room for improvement, especially in the starting rotation, but for a team that was as good they were, their dynamic changed a good amount.
After a few quiet months to start the winter, the Yanks exploded in one night by shipping top prospect Jesus Montero for young starting pitcher Michael Pineda and then signed starter Hiroki Kuroda to a one year deal. And in one night, just like that, the rotation was so much deeper. They had already given CC Sabathia a five year extension and in the following months they would re-sign Andruw Jones and sign Raul Ibanez to patch up the designated hitter spot. With an already powerful lineup and a very good bullpen, the Bombers could once again be the team to beat in the AL.
Let’s start with this new rotation. CC Sabathia is obviously the anchor and everyone knows what he’s going to do. He’ll throw his 200+ innings, pitch to a FIP of around three, and make 30+ starts. CC was never the question mark though. Next is Michael Pineda. Pineda is going to be the name on everyone’s mind going forward because of what the Bombers gave up to get him. He had a very good 2011, but fell off as the season went on due to fatigue. There have been a lot of question marks surrounding him this spring because of his velocity and weight, but it doesn’t seem to be too big of an issue anymore (he was hitting 93 and 94 in his last start) and he should be good to go by time the season starts.
The Yanks best move of the winter was signing Hiroki Kuroda. In him, they got the veteran presence that can stabilize the middle of the staff and put up pretty solid numbers. In each of the last two seasons, Kuroda has logged at least 196 innings, struck out more than seven hitters per nine innings, while walking around two per nine. Of course, he is making a switch from the National League West to the AL East, which won’t be easy, but as a guy with a very big repertoire and as someone who just knows how to pitch, he should be fine. With him should be another stable piece in Ivan Nova who had a big year in 2011. Nova’s peripherals weren’t great, but they were a lot better thanks to an improved slider after a short stint in Triple A in July. It will be interesting to see what he does with that new toy for an entire season.
The other thing that separates this rotation from the ones in recent years is the depth they have. Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia are currently fighting it out for the fifth spot, and then after that they have recently signed Andy Pettitte who could be ready to pitch by the end of April. And then at Triple A, there’s David Phelps, DJ Mitchell, and Adam Warren who are essentially ready for the bigs and top prospects Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances who could be ready at some point in the summer. So if the injury bug does bite the Yanks, the pitching should be able to recover quite easily.
In 2011, the Bombers had one of the best bullpens in the game and not much should change this year. Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, and Rafael Soriano will still be closing and setting up, respectively, with Cory Wade handling middle relief duties and Boone Logan handling the lefties. The loser of the Hughes/Garcia fight will probably take the long relief spot leaving just one slot to be had. This will probably be taken by another lefty, either Clay Rapada or Rule 5 pick Ceasr Cabral. Joe Girardi loves matching up pitchers out of the pen with opposing hitters so this should come as no surprise and this will give him a little more flexibility.
As far as depth goes, the team has a little bit of it. They have sort of prospect George Kontos who made his Yankees debut last September who could come up and be effective in a pinch and they also have David Aardsma who’s on his way back from Tommy John surgery and should be ready to join the pen at some point in July. Unfortunately, it seems as though they have lost their other ‘mid-season acquisition’ in Joba Chamberlain and his brutal ankle injury. It still should be one of the better bullpens in the game.
The last and probably best part of this team is the offense. Last year, the Yanks were second in the Majors in homers, runs scored, on-base percentage, wRC+, and third in slugging percentage and wOBA. So yeah they were pretty good and they are returning with essentially the same lineup. The number three and four hitters, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, are actually coming off down years and are expected to bounce back. A-Rod just needs to stay healthy and he will put up solid numbers, not necessarily what he put up a few years ago, but still very good. Teixeira on the other hand has worked on his mechanics from the left side where he struggled mightily (hitting .224/.325/.453) and is working on going the other way. If you combine this with the fact that they will have Jones and Ibanez platooning at designated hitter instead of Jorge Posada, who was horrid in 2011, the Yankee offense should be looking forward to another great year.
As it is with every team, the key to the Yanks 2012 will be to stay healthy. They are an older team, but they are definitely one of the best on paper and as long as they can stay on the field, they should have no problem at least making the playoffs and making a run at the division. The one thing that many people questioned entering the off-season was the starting pitching and now that that is patched up, there isn’t really anything holding this team back.