Can the 2009 New York Yankees regain past glory or will all their free-agent money just go down the drain?
After missing the playoffs for the first time since 1994, the entire Yankee organization had one off-season goal: get the best talent and spare no dime doing so.
As they ready themselves to christen a brand spanking new, billion-dollar stadium, the Yanks and their fans welcome in three brand new, high-priced free agents: First baseman Mark Teixeira, as well as pitchers CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett.
Each of these players help fill a gaping hole that the 2008 team had. Sabathia and Burnett will anchor a staff filled out by holdovers Chien-Ming Wang and Andy Pettitte.
Joba Chamberlain will be the #5 starter this year, but has all the tools to be a #1. The major problem is the fact he has never pitched more than 100 innings in his young pro career. A large jump in innings could be a concern as the season progresses.
Unlike last year, there is help. Young guns Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy will start the season in AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre hoping to improve enough to help the mother-club. These two, along with old forgotten friend Kei Igawa, who had a great Spring, provide nice insurance.
The Pinstripes bullpen has all the makings to be a huge strength. As always, the relief corp starts and stops with the ageless Mariano Rivera, perhaps the greatest reliever of all time. The man continues to defy all logic by continuing to get hitters out with one pitch and, like a fine wine, he's gets better with age.
The men getting the ball to Rivera are all high-quality arms. Brian Bruney and Damaso Marte will be the primary set-up men. Jose Veras and Enwar Ramirez are both swing-and-miss hurlers while youngsters Phil Coke and Jonathan Albaladejo have shown flashes of dominance over their short major league careers.
Lets not downplay the obvious though. The Yankees calling card is their hitting and let me tell ya, these boys can rake!
Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon, Teixeira, Hideki Matsui, Xavier Nady, Jorge Posada and Robinson Cano are all at, or near the top of their positions offensively. Not to mention some guy named A-Rod who is expected back in mid- to late-May.
This is a lineup well-balanced from top to bottom. Speed at both ends with Jeter and Damon at the top and rookie Brett Gardner in the nine hole. All hitters, except for Cano, can wear down a starting pitcher by working deep counts.
Expect to see a lot of low-scoring games for the first four or five innings, then watch the offense explode against other teams' weak bullpens.
There are a few things that concern me about this '09 squad: health and defense.
Can Posada come back from shoulder surgery and regain the form that made him on of the top signal callers in the game? Who will catch the balls in the outfield? All of them are average or below average for their positions.
How far have Jeter's glove skills diminished? Can Joba bear the brunt of a starters workload? Can AJ Burnett but together a healthy season when free agency is not looming?
The Yanks have OK depth in case of an injury bug. Nick Swisher can play 1st and all three outfield spots. Melky Cabrera is a plus center fielder with decent speed. Jose Molina is a great back-up catcher, but their infield depth is sub-par. Cody Ransom was going to be the main sub, but he was thrust into a starting role because of the A-Rod injury. Even as a back-up, he wasn't in the same class as some of his counterparts on other teams.
Anytime a player puts the pinstripes on, pressure ensues. UNGODLY pressure. A-Rod has cracked under the bright lights of the Bronx. Will the big three thrive or fade under those same lights?
I have to believe last year was a fluke more than a trend. This team has too much talent not to be playing in October.
Baseballprospectus.com has the Yanks at 100-62 and winning the AL East. One hundred wins is just too much to ask of a team, especially when you consider they play the Red Sox and Rays 38 times.
These are the three best teams in baseball and each game has a playoff-type intensity. It's unfortunate that only two of these three can make it, but the Yanks will be one of them.
I see them winning 93-95 games and not only competing for the AL East crown, but knowing that the wild card is there as a consolation prize.
So with a little luck, and a lot of skill, banner #27 will be #1 in the new digs.