Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Yankees looking to rehash 2003?

(photo courtesy of

It's the second day of February and the Super Bowl is just four days away, meaning baseball is right around the corner (pitchers and catchers report in about two weeks).

That means it's time to start talking about the Yankees (and the Mets, in time; the Wilpons need money).

Is it me or is this the least excitement that has surrounded the Yankees in recent seasons? It's hard to blame fans who don't get excited over a rotation that, beyond C.C. Sabathia and Phil Hughes, is full of question marks.

Overpaid A.J. Burnett was awful last season and is slated as New York's third starter, while Sergio Mitre and Ivan Nova are fourth and fifth at the moment.

New York's lineup returns virtually unchanged outside of the addition of Russell Martin behind the plate, who at the least allows Jorge Posada to become the everyday designated hitter and provides an upgrade over Francisco Cervelli. Martin is just keeping that position warm for Jesus Montero anyway, the fourth-ranked player on ESPN's Keith Law's Top 100 prospects list.

Let's go back to the pitching staff though. The Yankees signed Freddy Garcia to complete their triumvirate of pitchers who were good almost 10 years that they hope to catch lightning in a bottle with, along with Mark Prior and Bartolo Colon. All three are expected to compete with Mitre and Nova for the final two rotation spots if Andy Pettitte does in fact retire.

If none or just one of those five works out, don't count out Manny Banuelos (#12 on Law's Top 100). Banuelos will be just 20 years old when he starts the season in Double-A but is nearly maxed out physically. He has three plus pitches (fastball, changeup, curveball) and enough refinement that he could find his way to the majors as early as this season if he continues to ascend the minor league ladder.

Rafael Soriano was an important addition to the Yankees bullpen, both as their current eighth-inning setup man and their closer when Mariano Rivera retires. But at 31, Soriano is no spring chicken and is not the long-term answer when Rivera does move on.

With all the question marks surrounding New York's rotation and the improvements made by Boston, they are likely looking at a second-place AL East finish at best. And despite losing star Carl Crawford, the Rays are still stacked and shouldn't be counted out of this race.

It's a realistic possibility that the Yankees could finish third in the division and miss the playoffs entirely after an offseason that saw no serious impact players come to New York. A Pettitte return could be a season-saving godsend for this team; without him they will struggle to compete with Boston and Tampa Bay on the mound.

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