Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Yankees Preview
2008-03-30 07:32
by Cliff Corcoran

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)


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


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


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


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, 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.

2008-03-30 11:23:39
1.   Bruce Markusen
Cliff, nice comprehensive write-up for the season and good to hear the optimistic projection. The Red Sox may still end up with the better record, but they'll have to earn it--perhaps by playing better than last season. Let's see if they avoid major injuries for a second straight season.

In contrast, it would be nice for the Yankees to have a "shortage" of injuries for the first time in awhile. Let's avoid the plague that affected the starting rotation last spring and see how this team, with a more normal level of injury, can play up to its potential.

2008-03-30 11:29:14
2.   Zack
I had somehow gotten it into my head that the Yanks' season started today, Sunday, and not tomorrow. Sigh. Now I'll have to DVR the game and try really really hard not to check in on the score.

But in any case, as both Cliff and Bruce rightly point out, health is a big big key this season. Of course, it always is, but with Damon, Giambi, Pettitte, Hughes, Moose, Matsui, and to some degree Posada based on his age/position, all very liable to face significant injury issues this year, if they can all manage to stay healthy for most of the season and avoid what happened at the start of last year, I suspect the division is theirs to take. But doesn't it seem pretty likely that at least two of those guys will miss significant (1/4-1/2 of the season) time?

2008-03-30 12:38:40
3.   tommyl
I'm going to opening day! I'm so excited, I can't wait. Anyone else going to be there tomorrow?

0 Great write up Cliff. As usual, excellent writing and analysis. Thanks!

2008-03-30 13:52:35
4.   claybeez
3 I'll be there for my 3rd in a row. It's become a new family tradition.

0 Excellent write-up, Cliff. I think there's good reason to be optimistic. Let's just hope everyone stays healthy and the young ones take a step forward.

2008-03-30 15:42:02
5.   bartap74
No mention of the biggest change from 2007 to 2008 - the switch from Joe Torre to Joe Girardi? I think we're going to see a huge improvement in terms of in-game tactical managing and that should be good for a win or two.
2008-03-30 15:58:31
6.   JL25and3
Suddenly, it's baseball season again. (The A's-Sox games seemed more like exhibition games than the actual season.) 3 , I'll be there tomorrow - I've been to a ton of Opening Days. There's no other feeling like walking through the portal and having the field suddenly be there; it's like coming back home.

I might as well enjoy it while I can. I'm not expecting to be able to get tickets next year, and the upper deck's going to suck anyway.

2008-03-30 16:04:23
7.   Sliced Bread
Man, the table can't be set any better than that, Cliff. Let's feast!

Here's hoping the Yanks can make the most of this historic season. Here's hoping 2008 is remembered for something special, and not just the end of "The House That Ruth Built."

Say an extra prayer for the pitchers t'nite, all. They have to keep the games close so the Yankee sluggers can stay patient, and pounce. Something tells me the Yanks are gonna need more than their fair share of defensive double plays to stay out of trouble.

Girardi's going to emphasize the fundamentals, and try to keep the gameplan simple: tight defense, timely hits, smart baserunning.

That's not such an easy gameplan to execute consistently, but this looks like a team that can get it done.

I can't wait to see what Girardiball is all about, but it's all gonna come down to pitching, pitching, pitching.

Pretty much outta words and ideas at this point.

Let's go Yankees!

2008-03-30 16:44:32
8.   monkeypants
7 Just yanking your chain a little...but how precisely is Girardi going to coach "timely hits"?
2008-03-30 16:56:37
9.   Sliced Bread
8 damned if I know. That's why he gets the big bucks.

Hitting when the hit-and-run is on is a good start. Executing bunts. That's all part of timely hitting.

2008-03-30 17:09:15
10.   Sliced Bread
8 9 I think you can coach a batter to make contact when the hit-and-run is on. Have them choke up, widen their stance, shorten their swing, whatever it takes to increase their chances of making contact.
I had a J.V. coach who emphasized this early in the season when the weather was cold. I wouldn't be surprised if Girardi and Long are advising a similar approach out of the starting gate.
2008-03-30 17:32:23
11.   monkeypants
10 Girardi is going to preach choking up on the bat and just getting a little bingo. This could be an interesting season.
2008-03-30 17:42:23
12.   Sliced Bread
11 indeed, it will be very interesting.
I hope you don't think I believe A-Rod will be getting that pep talk,(unless he falls into a sustained slump) or any of the other big hitting vets, but I could see Damon getting nudged in that direction occassionally, and certainly Melky, Cano, and the backup players. Giambi constantly needs to be reminded about the other half of the field. Gardner will likely be up at some point based on Cashman and Girardi's high praise of him. He seems like he'd be a good Girardiball player.
But yes, I do believe Girardi will preach a smaller brand of baseball, and will try to "coach" more than Torre did the past few years, and you betcha it will get interesting around here when he does.
2008-03-30 17:57:05
13.   monkeypants
12 They scored 968 runs last year. I equate a "smaller brand of baseball" with things like starting Cairo at 1B. I'm not sure I need to see more of that. We'll see, I guess.
2008-03-30 17:59:22
14.   vockins
Totally off topic, I cleaned out my mom's basement today. Found one of these:

I'm a fan, but not that much of a fan that I'm not going to get rid of it. If anyone's got any advice on selling something like this, please email me at vockins at yahoo.

2008-03-30 18:33:42
15.   Yu-Hsing Chen
optimism on a yankee blog? blasphamy!!!!! :P
(just check out Steve's if you don't get what i mean)

great write up though Cliff. and pretty much exactly how i feel

2008-03-30 18:59:29
16.   tommyl
14 I'm sorry, you found a Mantle rookie card?
2008-03-30 19:45:45
17.   Just fair
Beautiful. Nats win on a 9th inning homerun. Welcome back, baseball. Let's go Yankees.
2008-03-30 20:31:43
18.   Yu-Hsing Chen
17 Chien Ming Wang's head must hurt seeing that ;)
2008-03-30 20:40:40
19.   Mr OK Jazz TOKYO
2:30 AM local time for first pitch...sob sob sob...but TV will be there when I get home from work. Happy Opening Day everyone, LET's Go YAN-Kees!!
2008-03-30 21:25:18
20.   wsporter
A very big smile to see Nick Johnson playing and running hard last night. I caught the bottom of the first and that sure was a sweet thing to see. I still have a soft spot for that kid and wish him nothing but the best. Glad he plays for the hometown club if he can't play for my team.

Stinkin lousy F-word meeting tomorrow so I can't partake of opening day at the Toaster. Have fun everybody who can.

That's it I guess other than LET'S GO YAN-KEES!!!

2008-03-30 22:36:47
21.   joejoejoe
Great preview Cliff. I almost wish the Yankees had more changes just to read your analysis. I think your 'Who's replacing whom' feature should be adopted widely when talking about matchups.
2008-03-31 02:10:21
22.   joe in boston
Great write-up Cliff - can't wait for 1:00 !

Let's Go Yan-kees !

Hoping to hit the Stadium this summer with my kids - 3 1/2 and 5 1/2 so they can always tell their friends they saw a game at the "old park" !

2008-03-31 04:37:26
23.   vockins
16 A 1953 Stahl Meyer hotdogs Mantle baseball card.
2008-03-31 05:01:39
24.   monkeypants
Weather forecast looks dire, but I don't live in NYC. Does anyone have the weather scoop from the local perspective? Are they getting this game in today?
2008-03-31 05:30:47
25.   Sliced Bread
24 cool and gray in midtown Manhattan, couple of drops a little while ago, but we willed them away. Looks like they'll get it in.

Those lucky enough to be at the game will be sipping hot chocolate in their rain ponchos.

I'll be sans poncho, trying to catch the game at my desk when work doesn't get in the way.

2008-03-31 05:43:16
26.   OldYanksFan
I would still love to see Nick the Stick in Pinstripes. I'm sure the Nats would take some of our young pitching for him? Really like the guy.
2008-03-31 06:56:59
27.   Sliced Bread
call me superstitious, but I couldn't let this thread end stuck on #26.
2008-03-31 07:42:41
28.   OldYanksFan
27 (2009 Optimism here)
2008-03-31 10:18:37
29.   rbj
Good preview Cliff. Better than the ones in the magazines.

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