As we roll on with our preview of the AL East division, we turn our attention to the Evil Empire, the New York Yankees. The hated rivals were once again crowned as the AL East champs last season and although some might argue that it was the Red Sox who lost it and not so much as the Yankees winning it, either way, they won and we didn’t.
As always, we reached out to our friends at Yanks Go Yard for a little preview of what to expect from the Yankees this year. Ricky Keeler was gracious enough to help us out. You know what they say, “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”
1. The Yankees appeared to have bolstered their rotation by trading for Michael Pineda and signing Hiroki Kuroda. While Pineda is on the cusp of greatness, how do you feel Kuroda will adjust to a fierce AL East lineups and ballparks that aren’t so pitcher friendly as he was used to in the NL West?
R - First off, about Michael Pineda, I think he will make an impact eventually, but a lot of Yankee fans want him to be the number 2 starter right away and I think that is unrealistic to expect greatness right away from him when the kid has not finished a full season in the major leagues. As for Kuroda, I think the wins will go up because of the run support he will have behind him, but the ERA will also go up. The bats in the American League now with Pujols and Fielder in the AL to go with the tough lineups of the Rangers and Red Sox. I think he will be a nice veteran starter for kids like Hughes, Pineda, and Nova to look too and he can be a player that is a solid back of the end starter in 2012 for the Yankees.
2. Mariano Rivera is 43 years old. Is this the year he starts to show his age or can we expect another brilliant season from the greatest closer of all time?
R - This will make Red Sox’ fans happy, but I think this is Mariano Rivera’s last year in the big leagues. He has stated repeatedly that he will not leave the Yankees high and dry by staying too long and the further you get in age, the closer you get to doing that. Rivera had one of his best seasons last year and continues to be that stable force in the 9th inning. Mo will have a nice final season for the Yankees, but I expect some struggles in April and May similar to last season which will scare some people off the cliff.
3. Aside from Pineda and Kuroda, who’s in and who’s out? Which of the players that aren’t there will be missed and which new ones will have the most impact and why?
R - The player that is going to be missed on the Yankees is Jesus Montero. Montero played very well in September for the Yankees and was looking to be the designated hitter of the future with his power. Personally, I thought he was untouchable unless Cashman was able to get Felix Hernandez. However, that was not the case and he was dealt to Seattle for Pineda. I think Montero will be a nice hitter for the Mariners in the future and they could have had him two years ago for Cliff Lee instead of their slumping first baseman, Justin Smoak.
As for the new guy that makes the most impact, I would go with Pineda because I think he will eventually get used to the pressure of playing in New York. But, keep an eye on some of the players New York has for their strengthened bullpen. The focus is on the middle innings. You Red Sox guys know some of them well with Hideki Okajima and Manny Delcarmen in camp as minor league invitations. The guy I like is Cesar Cabral. Cabral is a Rule 5 addition from the Royals who had a 2.95 ERA in the minors last year. He has an electric fastball and New York could use him as a 2nd lefty besides Boone Logan.
4. With the addition of Pineda and Kuroda the rotation is getting crowded. Talks of trading A.J. Burnett have again surfaced, but there don’t appear to be many takers. How do you see Burnett’s future playing out with the Yankees? Will Phil Hughes and/or Freddy Garcia make the rotation this year?
R - I can’t see AJ Burnett starting the season with the Yankees. It already makes me a little bit nervous that the trading impasse has occurred. If you let Burnett start the season or even go deep into Spring Training with the club, it will just provide another distraction. I thought Burnett would be the number five starter for the Yankees coming off of his solid finish to 2011, but I think Cashman is doing this for two reasons. The first reason is to get rid of a clubhouse distraction and the second reason is to give Phil Hughes a little bit of confidence. Hughes has come into camp much slimmer this year and is looking to return to 18 win form from 2010. The confidence has to be there for Hughes to be successful as they could just stick Freddy Garcia in the long man role out of the bullpen as a spot starter.
5. This is a ballclub that won 97 games last season and the AL East. What holes does this team have if any that could potentially impact this club’s success for 2012?
R - There aren’t many holes in this Yankees’ team, which is why I was not surprised that the franchise did not make that big splash move during the Winter Meetings. They do need that lefty bat as a DH or platoon player that Jorge Posada filled last year. I wrote on YanksGoYard.com that the team should go out and get Raul Ibanez, who hit 20 HR’s in Citizens Bank Park last year and could be a nice glove in the 4th outfield spot. A lot of fans want Johnny Damon and I love what Damon has done. I would not be opposed to Johnny, but he wouldn’t bring much pop to the bottom of the order. With Ibanez, you can keep the lineup pretty much as is. They also need more bench depth, which they should get if they re-sign Eric Chavez once the Burnett drama is over.
6. In your opinion, how do the Yankees stack up to the rest of the AL East?
R - The Yankees are still the favorites for me in the American League East. They have more depth in the rotation, the lineup is still great, and the bullpen is one of the best in baseball. They don’t have to answer questions to eating fried chicken in the locker room, which is a plus. I am concerned about Tampa’s pitching, but I don’t think their offense is good enough to win that division. New York still has control in a tight division, but I don’t think they have enough to win the entire American League as of right now with the moves the Tigers, Rangers, and Angels made in the offseason.
Topics: A.j Burnett, AL East, Boone Logan, Boston Red Sox, Cesar Cabral, Cliff Lee, Eric Chavez, Felix Hernandez, Freddy Garcia, Hideki Okajima, Hiroki Kuroda, Jesus Montero, Johnny Damon, Jorge Posada, Justin Smoak, Manny Delcarmen, Mariano Rivera, Michael Pineda, New York Yankees, Phil Hughes, Raul Ibanez