by Chris Arena
Having spent so many words on the Rays, I want to discuss the team many people feel is the biggest obstacle standing in the way of their repeating as AL East champions - The New York Yankees. Much has been made of the Yankees myriad off-season moves - signing C.C. Sabathia and Mark Teixeira to enormous contracts, and adding A.J. Burnett and Nick Swisher as well.
On the face of things, it seems the Yankees have made the kind of moves that should directly translate to more wins on the field and, as the Yankees always hope, World Series contention. While it's clear that the Yankees added some very skilled players to their already impressive lineup, I am skeptical that it will lead to any kind of vast improvements in their win total in 2009.
The main basis for my argument is that in order to objectively analyze the Yankees' chances for success in 2009, you can't just look at New York's moves in a vacuum. Only by comparing what can be expected to be gained from the new players against what will be lost from last year's team can we truly get a sense of how the Yankees should perform in '09.
While the additions are indeed very good, I hesitate to call them great for reasons I will detail below. Additionally, the Yankees received some amazing performances last year from unlikely places, making it difficult to expect anything more than a modest increase in their win total in the coming season.
Here's a statistical breakdown of what the Yankees lost and what they have acquired heading into 2009:
Players Lost (2008 Stats)
Mike Mussina (20-9, 1.22 WHIP, 3.37 ERA)
Jason Giambi (32 HR, 96 RBI, .247/.373/.502)
Bobby Abreu (20 HR, 100 RBI, .296/.371/.471)
Players Acquired (2008 Stats)
C.C. Sabathia (17-10, 1.11 WHIP, 2.70 ERA (against the AL: 6-8, 1.23 WHIP, 3.83 ERA))
A.J. Burnett (18-10, 1.34 WHIP, 4.07 ERA (averaged 142 IP over last six years))
Mark Teixeira (33 HR, 121 RBI, .308/.410/.552)
Nick Swisher (24 HR, 69 RBI, .219/.332/.410)
The gains here are marginal. C.C. Sabathia will do well to simply duplicate the numbers Mussina put up as the team's de facto ace in 2008. Giambi's late career renaissance means that Teixeira's offensive output at 1st base will be negligibly better than what the Yankees had there last year (although his defense will certainly save them a few more runs). Nick Swisher will be a bench player for the Yankees, and Bobby Abreu's absence will almost certainly hurt more than Swisher's presence will help.
The only major area of improvement will be having A.J. Burnett starting instead of the rag tag group of guys the Yankees employed to eat innings last year. However, Burnett's injury history all but guarantees the Yankees will not reap full value from his services.
Another area to analyze is expected gains and losses from expected gains, declines, and injuries. On the pitching side, the Yankees should gain considerably from a healthy Chien-Ming Wang and Joba Chamberlain. However, the soon-to-be-37 Andy Pettitte should continue to experience declines in his skills that will counteract some of those gains. Overall, I would say their pitching has improved markedly from last year, from a C- to a B.
It's a different story on the batting side for the Yankees. Sporting one of the oldest rosters in the majors, the Yankees are almost certain to experience diminishing returns from many of their key players - Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Jorge Posada are all at least 34 years old and on the decline. In addition, Posada and Matsui are both coming off of injury-plagued seasons, but neither player looked good when healthy and they appear to be losing any semblance of their power stroke as they continue to age.
On the defensive end, save for Teixeira and Cano, this team is a mess and counteracting a good bit of the gains gained from their pitching improvements. Jeter continues to be one of the most overrated defenders in the game, while Posada was always known more for his bat than his glove. I don't know the exact history of offensive-minded catchers in their late thirties coming off shoulder surgery, but I can't imagine the outlook there is good.
The Yankee outfield, consisting of Damon, Nady, and some combination of Swisher, Brent Gardner and Melky Cabrera, is almost certain to be one of the worst in the majors defensively. Teixeira is a very solid player both with the bat and the glove, but Giambi was his equal with the bat last year and the gains on defense will be marginal.
And last, but of course not least, is Alex Rodriguez. The keystone of the Yankees offense, A-Rod will miss at least the first month or two of the season after undergoing arthroscopic hip surgery, hoping to put off additional (but necessary) surgery until the off-season. Not only do the Yankees lose his massive value, but they also must suffer through the play of his replacement, Cody Ransom, a 31 year old with a career .251 batting average. Factor in the very real possibility that A-Rod suffers rehab setbacks and/or elects to finish the necessary surgeries on his hip, and this situation is a very scary one for the Yankees.
The fact that the Yankees are still 4:1 favorites to win the World Series and 6:5 favorites to clinch the AL East seems absurd to me. One bet I do like is taking the under on games won, currently at a ridiculous 95.5. In the most competitive division in baseball by far and without A-Rod for at least 20% of the season, I find it hard to believe the Yankees will be able to break the 90-win plateau, let alone the 96 needed to go over that line.