Assessing the very few ills of baseball's very best team
TAMPA -- This is a new, more frugal Yankees team, one that kept their payroll to
But let's not confuse them with a team in transition. Sure, they saved a few bucks. But they have plenty left over after winning the World Series in their inaugural year in their palatial new ballpark that can be used this summer if necessary. The Yankees likely only took the winter off for free agents because they didn't love the free-agent field and are merely saving up for next winter, which is a strong class that includes certain outfield target
Not too many conclusions should be drawn on Day One. But
He has good reason to be. This is still the best team in baseball. The Yankees enter spring training with concerns that are still relatively few, flaws that are not readily obvious and weaknesses that are not exactly overwhelming.
Of course, that doesn't make them perfect. There are still a few things that can derail them -- not many, but a few. Here is a rundown of the concerns for the team with the least number of concerns:
Since Girardi called forming a lineup from a group as almost impressive as last year's as foremost in his mind when asked about concerns, we'll start there. With
No one would suggest that
Girardi named Johnson and Granderson as the primary candidates to replace Damon in that coveted No. 2 hole between high MVP finishers Jeter and Teixeira (word is the Yankees absolutely love Johnson, he of the .426 on-base percentage last year, batting second). Posada and
But it's a work that isn't even in progress yet. Newcomers
"I really like the players who are assembled in camp,'' Girardi said. "We just have to figure out how all the parts fit.''
The staff is much stronger this year with
"Certainly, we're deeper in the starting rotation, which was a necessity,'' Cashman said.
Some New Yorkers questioned the choice of Vazquez. But he's looked upon in their room as a welcome addition and new man following his fourth-place finish in NL Cy Young voting.
"Right now he's at the peak of his career,'' Posada said. "He's learned a lot about himself. He enjoyed it here last time, and he wants to be here.''
The No. 5 starters' job almost surely will go to either
The guess here is that Hughes has a slight edge for the starting job going in, partly because Chamberlain was so much better in the bullpen than as a starter and partly because there are no Hughes Rules. Either way, they have two talented young candidates for the No. 5 job, and more importantly for a team that'll very likely be playing into October, they have a chance to be as good as anyone one through four in the rotation.
There is no set set-up man for now. But the loser of the Hughes-Chamberlain competition will give the Yankees a very viable option. Both pitchers have performed much better in that role to date. Girardi also mentioned
It should be better in the outfield this year with Granderson taking over for Damon even if Granderson's rep took a hit or two last year. Some Tigers people privately questioned Granderson's defense at the end of last year, when there were a few uncharacteristic misplays late in the year. As to whether Granderson is still a top defensive player, Cashman said, "We're about to find out.''
But the Yankees must have some opinion to have made the trade, no?
"We still have him as a plus defender,'' Cashman asserted. "Also, he's an upgrade over what we had previously.'' (That presumably meant Damon.)
The Yankees are calling it an open competition to see who plays left and who plays center, though Granderson is surely an everyday player at one of those two positions while Gardner likely will be one. "We'll see what we see,'' Cashman said. "But we have two center fielders, which we think is a good thing.'' The guess here is that Gardner winds up in center if only because he's rarely played left
Gardner for Melky Cabrera is probably a push defensively, and the other players around the field remain the same. There was a lot of chatter last year about some of the pitchers preferring to throw to a more defensive-oriented backup than Posada. But they've now won our World Series titles with Posada. The defensively adept
They are not being complacent about the issue of complacency. No topic was more prominent at Girardi's press conference, and it will continue to be a main theme. It's no surprise that will be the main message for the players. Here's the way Girardi previewed the words in his coming clubhouse speeches: "It all starts over. Everyone is 0-0 going into April 4.''
Girardi said he isn't too worried that that message will get lost. "I don't view [complacency] as a huge problem,'' Girardi said. "But in saying that, we'll keep an eye on it.''
The manager added, "I love the people in the room. We have great leadership in that room.''
Girardi also loved a question about whether newcomers Granderson and Vazquez might be hungrier due to past postseason disappointments. Granderson's Tigers lost the 2006 World Series to the Cardinals in an upset, and Vazquez had setbacks in October with the White Sox, and memorably, with the 2004 Yankees.
The answer won't be known until games are played, but while they lost two great people (Damon and Matsui, who were both very clutch), they gained a few, as well. Granderson and Vazquez are considered two of the better guys in the sport, and as a side benefit, Granderson, that rare major leaguer who's already earned his college degree, brings intellectual qualities and can be counted on to fix anyone's computer problem.
Posada said, "We've got two great guys, three actually.
The contracts of Jeter, Rivera and Girardi are up at season's end. But unlike past cases of of Damon,
The last time they talked about a multiyear deal for Jeter,
Girardi has proved to be a tough negotiator (it doesn't help that he's popular among other teams). But really, how does a manager who likes to change his number every year based on championships leave the Yankees?
Girardi also has an advantage in that the Steinbrenner family absolutely loves him. By the end, the feeling obviously was something less than that for Torre.
The amazing quartet of Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Posada and Rivera is back to try to duplicate the exploits of a year ago. They are, in order, 35, 37, 38 and 40 (yes, Rivera quietly hit that magic number the month of the Yankees' 27th World Series championship). There was not one iota of a hint of slippage from any of them last year, and Jeter in fact had one of his best years ever, especially defensively. And while aging is inevitable, it's such a non-issue now that no one even brings it up.
• Damon is weighing offers from the Tigers, White Sox and Braves with Detroit's offer believed to be the best one financially. By text message, Damon shot down rumors his wife
• The Indians are looking to add a first baseman and have reached out to
• The Rays also are looking at Branyan, plus reliever
• The Cubs and Yankees are two more possibilities for Park.
• As one AL scout said of the Mets and their catching situation, "They have four backups.''
• The Rangers think Barajas is priced too high and are looking at
• Both sides in the