2011 Record: 97-65, 1st AL East
2011 Prediction:
90-72, 3rd AL East

Impact Player: CF Curtis Granderson
Impact Pitcher:
LHP C.C. Sabathia
Best Reliever:
RHP Mariano Rivera
Top Prospect:
LHP Manny Banuelos

Last Year
The Yankees bashed their way to their 12th division title in 15 seasons, although it was only their second in the last five. They led the AL in home runs, were second in on-base percentage and third in slugging, led by Curtis Granderson’s MVP-calibre season. He ended up with a career high 41 home runs and a .394 wOBA while finishing fourth in AL MVP voting. The Yankees have now made the playoffs every year since the strike in 1994 with the exception of 2008.

The Yankees were chided all season long for a lack of rotation depth, relying heavily on the likes of Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia, but they still managed to allow the third fewest runs in the AL with the help of a fantastic bullpen. It all ended in sadness for the Bronx Bombers, however; they lost to the upstart Detroit Tigers in the ALDS in five games.

Pitching
Get ready, because I’m about to drop some knowledge: C.C. Sabathia is a really good baseball pitcher. Since 2006, only Roy Halladay has posted a higher fWAR and rWAR and there’s an argument to be made that he was actually better than Justin Verlander last season. Recognizing that the rest of the rotation was suspect, GM Brian Cashman made improving it priority number one this offseason and on paper, he was very successful. Within hours on January 13th, Cashman sent top prospect Jesus Montero and pitcher Hector Noesi to Seattle in exchange for young phenom Michael Pineda and minor league pitcher Jose Campos. In Pineda, the Yankees appear to have a legitimate number two behind Sabathia. In his rookie season with Seattle, Pineda posted a 3.15 K/BB ratio and finished second to Toronto’s Brandon Morrow in K/9 rate. There are some worries that Pineda’s lack of secondary stuff is an issue, as is a switch out of Safeco Field and in to Yankee Stadium, but he is just 23 and the raw materials are there for him to turn into a legitimate number one.

Hours after the announcement of the Pineda trade, the Bombers announced they had signed former Dodger Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year deal. Since coming over from Japan in 2008, the 37-year-old has posted a 3.62 xFIP and has averaged just over 3.0 fWAR per year. He’s an underrated pitcher and should fit in well as the number three starter for 2012.

The back end of the rotation will be filled out by Ivan Nova, whose low strike out-rate and middling walk-rate should lead to regression from the 3.70 ERA he posted in 2011, and either Phil Hughes or Garcia, who’s back on a one-year deal. Hughes lost some velocity on of his fastball (although not enough to truly be concerned about) and saw his swinging strike-rate plummet from 8.8% in 2010 to just 6.2% last year, taking his strikeouts with it. Garcia, meanwhile, posted his best season since 2006, but is still no better than league-average. With the Pineda and Kuroda acquisitions, the Yankees had enough depth to trade A.J. Burnett to the Pirates for a couple of low-end prospects  to rid themselves of at least some ($13-million) of the $33-million they owed him over the last two years of the deal. Top prospects Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances are unlikely to have an impact until at least next season, but Betances could end up with a bullpen role if the team decides to accelerate him.

The Yankees still have an elite bullpen led by the greatest relief pitcher in the game’s history in Mariano Rivera (who will retire at season’s end). Rivera hasn’t posted an ERA over 2.00 since 2002. Even at 42, he’s possibly the best reliever in baseball. Setting him up will be David Robertson and the highly compensated Rafael Soriano. Robertson led all AL relief pitchers in a number of categories in 2011, including ERA (1.08) and K/9 (13.50). He still walks too many batters, but he more than made up for it last year. Soriano meanwhile, struggled in his first year with New York posting a middling 4.18 xFIP. Lefty Boone Logan will join Cory Wade in rounding out the ‘pen along with whoever loses out on the fifth spot in the rotation. Rule V lefty Cesar Cabral, Manny Delcarmen, Bradley Meyers, Matt Daley and George Kontos could also be in the mix for a spot.

Lineup
Gone are the days when the Yankees were led offensively by Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira; last season the top offensive contributors to the team were Granderson and second baseman Robinson Cano. Cano had another impressive year, posting a .302/.349/.533 slash line with 28 home runs. He’s easily one of the top two-baggers in the game.

There is an emerging problem in the Bronx, however: Age. Of the Yankees projected starting nine, only Cano (29), catcher Russell Martin (29), and leftfielder Brett Gardner (28) are under the age of 30. The team’s infield is aging rapidly with Teixeira, Jeter and Rodriguez averaging over 35 years of age and all are into the decline phase of their careers. All three were still above-average offensive contributors in 2011, but injuries and aging skill sets for three cornerstone players would be a problem for any team. The Yankees will still score a ton of runs in 2012, but the warning signs for a rather steep regression are there.

Along with Granderson and Gardner in the outfield will be rightfielder Nick Swisher who will be a free agent at the end of the season. The Yankees picked up his $10.25-million option for 2012 and he should have no problem returning on the investment. Swisher has averaged 3.7 fWAR in his three seasons with New York. Designated hitter will be handled by a platoon of veterans Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones. Jones was the third-most valuable player in all of baseball between 1998 and 2006, behind only Barry Bonds and A-Rod, but he’s fallen off dramatically since then. He’s still an excellent option to fill-in as a fourth outfielder and provides a platoon partner for Ibanez who hit just .211/.232/.353 against lefties last season in Philly. Ibanez should be better than the now-retired Jorge Posada was last season in that role.

Bench
Francisco Cervelli will likely serve as the backup catcher and has all the necessary tools to do so. Joining him on the bench will be utility infielder Eduardo Nunez who could see an uptick in playing time this year as he figures to spell Jeter at short quite often while he rotates into the DH spot. The final spot should go to Eric Chavez, who’s back on a Major League deal to provide depth in the corner infield.

For a more detailed statistical look at the Yankees roster, click here.

Outlook
The Yankees are getting older and a lot of those older players are being paid a lot of money, but they are still a very good team. The Pineda trade upgrades the one weak spot the team had, but they still don’t have an elite rotation on par with the likes of the Angels or even the Rangers. It’s hard to imagine the Yankees repeating their 97-win performance from last year with so many 30-somethings, but they will still be in the thick of things in the AL East. Unfortunately for them, both the Red Sox and the Rays are very, very good teams.
2012 Prediction: 92-70, 3rd AL East

Comments (27)

  1. I think people are writing off Teixeira too soon. I wouldn’t bucket him in with Jeter and Arod as “declining” just yet.
    He had a bad year, but he’s still only 31.

    • Bad year? He had 39 homers last season.

      • Well fuck… why are we even discussing a decline then?

        • His low batting average probably convinced people he had a bad year. It was due largely to teams employing a shift against him, which is easy to correct with a few grounders up the third base line.

      • Ah you sneaky bastard! You baited me with a single old school stat.
        He DID have a bad year last year (117 OPS+) when compared to his career average (132) and the year before that was only 124…. but I still don’t think he’s in decline and he shouldn’t be bucketed in with Jeter and Arod.

        • I think I agree, but I’d be willing to listen to what Travis says about that.

          • Rodriguez and Teixeira had very similar years offensively last year (except that A-Rod couldn’t stay healthy). When I say “decline” they certainly have a long way to fall given just how good they are, but I think if you look at Teixeira, he is falling back a little.

            .361 wOBA although still very good was the lowest since his rookie year; same with his 124 wRC+. Those numbers put him in the middle of the pack among AL 1Bmen, a far cry from what he was the previous few years.

            Tex is still an excellent player, and I should have made that more clear, but when you combine him with an aging Jeter and A-Rod and a likely regression from Granderson I do see them falling back a little offensively. I still have them with 92 wins; essentially tied with the Red Sox and Rays; I think all three teams are really, really close.

          • I should also mention that his .239 BABIP should regress (although he’s had two straight years of a depressed BABIP now). Still, there are at least 5 or 6 1Bman I’d rather have and I couldn’t say that a couple years ago

            • I think the low BABIP is sign of the shift being played against him. Apparently he’s been working with the hitting coach to not be so pull happy and swing for the fences every time.

    • Travis is not writing off Tex. He simply grouped him in with the other aging Yankees because he will be 32 in a couple months and approaching his declining years .

  2. If that rotation last year helped the Yankees run away with the East, I can’t imagine that this one doesn’t equal or better their win total this year. Seems a likely divisional winner to me, and very likely best in the AL.

  3. The Yankees will be tough this year. You hear rumblings here and there that they will regress from last year (from an offensive standpoint) as the lineup is ageing. But you have to like the pitching talent that is coming to the Bronx.

    What is scary is how Cashman went about and did it. No big FA contract. Pineda has upside yes but more importantly, he’s young, cheap and under control for a good number of years. The only flier was Kuroda at $10M but its a one-year contract. The Yankees have to worry about Cano’s extension down the road and won’t committ to big A-Rod and Tex-like contracts, especially not for pitchers (they already have CC’s contract to carry).

    I see this team making it to the post season in 2012.

    Rumours are circulating that Rivera might call it a career after the 2012 season. That means that the Yankees will now have a mere mortal closing out games (Robertson or Soriano). AA finally is catching a break. With everything else that is going on the AL East, there will be no Rivera next year.

  4. Gardner should bat lead-off, with Jeter #2, Granderson batting #3, Cano #4, Tex #5, Arod #6….

  5. Is Jeter the favourite to be leading off vs. LHP?

  6. Pretty bearish take on the Yanks from my point of view. This team is superior on paper to the one that won 97 last year. I’d be surprised if they don’t win the division and shocked if they missed the playoffs.

    • I’ll admit, it’s bold on my part, I think all three teams are really, really close and if I had to put my money on it, I’d bet on the Red Sox and Rays being very marginally better.

  7. The only concern I would have about Tex is his health. If he can stay healthy and avoid pulling his hammy, he should be okay. He’s only 31 but he doesn’t seem to age as well as what you would think. Coupled with A-Rod, they form a formidable duo in the corner infield, but it seems that they have a combined higher injury risk as compared to Youk/Gonzalez or Longoria/Pena.

  8. I think the yanks are a bit stronger than last season, even if you expect granderson to regress, their improved pitching and the ability of their lineup, they should be able to deal with a few injuries. I see them winning 93-95 games.

  9. I think the Yankees will win the AL East with 95 wins, followed closely by the Rays at 93 wins and the Red Sox at 92 wins. Boston has the best lineup, but lack pitching, the Yankees have a strong lineup, and a pretty strong pitching staff, while the Rays have a strong pitching staff but a bit weaker lineup. Either team could take the division though.

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