We’re in that time period of the year that I hate the most, as it relates to sports, the time after the Superbowl but before the start of baseball season. The only things to watch right now are wrestling, which has no off season but can’t really be called “sports,” and basketball and hockey. I couldn’t care less about hockey, though I have at least made an effort to start watching basketball a little bit and know what the Knicks are up to. But with spring training underway, it’s time to start thinking about baseball again, and my two teams, the Cincinnati Reds, my National League team from my home town, and the New York Yankees, my American League team in my adopted city. Sorry, Mets, but you just don’t make the grade. I’ve talked before here on the site about how I became a fan of the Yankees watching them during the dynasty years of the late 90’s, and it has been a special experience living here in New York and going to games and watching the Bronx Bombers on TV. After winning it all my first year here, ’09, the Yanks have struggled a bit. They got to the ALCS in the ’10 postseason and lost to the Rangers in six games, and they were knocked out by the Tigers in the ALDS last year despite winning the American League East. That was a tough way for the season to end, with the bats going dead in Game 5 despite adequate pitching; ironic, considering that pitching was considered a possible weakness going into the playoffs. This year there are many questions surrounding the team, beginning with the starting rotation. It’s going to be Sabathia, followed by Huroki Kuroda who we signed as a free agent for one year, and then there are four more pitchers competing for three more spots: Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia, Phil Hughes, and Michael Pineda, who we got from Seattle in exchange for Jesus Montero. It sucks that we dealt Montero. He wasn’t much of a catching prospect, but he had a lot of power and looked like he could be a big, young contributor to the lineup. But we needed pitching, so with that being said…I would like it most if Nova, Hughes, and Pineda made the rotation, and then we kept Garcia for long relief. Nova is a young gun and there’s no reason he shouldn’t be a back of the rotation guy. There’s questions about the arm strength of Phil Hughes, but he should be able to address that during spring training. If he seems to be able to go and his stuff is sharp, he should be given a spot. Pineda was more impressive for Seattle in the early part of last year, and seemed to fade down the stretch. He should be able to extend himself further this year, and the offense to back him up in Seattle was anemic; that shouldn’t be a problem with the Yankees. Which leaves Garcia the odd man out, which I think he should be at his age with his diminished arm strength. If he can thrive in a long relief role if anyone else gets in trouble early, perfect. But all this depends on what we see from these guys during spring training the next few weeks. It’s all about proving yourself.
I’m not too worried about the offense, as long as Texeira can hit for average, and A-Rod and Jeter can stay healthy. Those are big “ifs,” though. A-Rod will be 36 this year, I think, and Jeter will be 37. That will make them the oldest shortstop-third baseman combo in the league, so you have to wonder about what they’ve still got in the tank. I’m not a bit worried about Cano and Granderson. Grandy had a career year last year and Cano is in his prime. I just wonder how much the Yanks are going to have to pay if they want to keep either of these guys long term, especially since they want to shrink the payroll to 189 million by 2014 to avoid the 50 million dollar luxury tax the team would have to pay otherwise. Raul Ibanez was a good pickup, even though he’ll be 40 this year. He is a consistent power threat and RBI machine, and he’ll be a perfect DH, I think. Let’s just hope that the corner outfielders, Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher, can also produce, not only during the regular season, but in the postseason, assuming the Yankees make it. Swisher’s bat going dead in the playoffs has become a real problem the past couple of years.
The bullpen should be a strength too, with David Robertson, Boone Logan, Alfonso Soriano, and Joba Chamberlain coming back supposedly in June…then, of course, Mariano Rivera. The ageless closer has hinted that this will be his last year, so if that’s the case, I’ll definitely have to get to some games this year to see the man in action while I can. He’s a first ballot hall of famer, and will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest Yankees of all time.
It’s going to be an exciting year, I think. The Yanks will have their work cut out for them in the AL East that features the always competitive Red Sox with new manager Bobby Valentine, the scrappy Rays, and the improved Blue Jays. With two new added wild cards this year, anything can happen, and I’ll be curious to see how the new format works out. Hell, with an additional wildcard added in the National League too, maybe the Reds can have a chance. They’ll field a not-too-bad looking ball club this year too. As of this writing it’s 31 days till opening day, and counting. Spring is here. Take me out to the ballgame!