March 31, 2009
New York <a href=Yankees" title="New York Yankees"/>
SI Prediction: 1st in AL East
For $180 million, the Yanks have the most well-rounded position player money can buy in Teixeira.
For $180 million, the Yanks have the most well-rounded position player money can buy in Teixeira.
Chuck Solomon/SI
New York Yankees Manager Joe Girardi
second Season with Yankees
Team Page | 2009 Schedule
Unintentional walks drawn by Robinson Cano in 634 plate appearances in 2008. That was a step back from '07 when he more than doubled his walk total from his previous high and had an on-base percentage of .353. The 26-year-old Cano -- whose OBP slipped to .305 last year -- is that rare Yankees regular entering his peak years. (Come July, five everyday players will be at least 34.) The Bombers need Cano's numbers to climb, not fall.
A long-standing weak spot on the Yankees' roster has been the utility infielder. For much of the Joe Torre era, the team employed no-hit types such as Luis Sojo, Enrique Wilson and Miguel Cairo in that role. Last year's backup, Wilson Betemit, was a welcome change in type in that he had a little pop, but he was traded to the White Sox in the Nick Swisher deal. New York should take advantage of the Dodgers' excess of infielders and trade for Mark Loretta, a free-agent pickup who became superfluous after L.A. re-signed jack-of-all-trades Casey Blake and landed free-agent second baseman Orlando Hudson. One of the Yankees' many young arms could pry Loretta loose from a club that lacks pitching depth. Loretta could cover third base instead of Cody Ransom until Alex Rodriguez returns, and he'd be an excellent bench player after that.
SS Derek Jeter R 101 .300 11 69 11
LF Johnny Damon L 79 .303 17 71 29
1B Mark Teixeira S-R 16 .308 33 121 2
3B Alex Rodriguez R 18 .302 35 103 18
DH Hideki Matsui L-R 115 .294 9 45 0
C Jorge Posada S-R 128 .268 3 22 0
2B Robinson Cano L-R 120 .271 14 72 2
RF Xavier Nady R 133 .305 25 97 2
CF Brett Gardner L 202 .228 0 16 13
OF Nick Swisher S-L 258 .219 24 69 3
C Jose Molina R 356 .216 3 18 0
LH CC Sabathia 3 17 10 8.9 1.11 2.70
RH Chien-Ming Wang 67 8 2 5.1 1.32 4.07
RH A.J. Burnett 32 18 10 9.4 1.34 4.07
LH Andy Pettitte 125 14 14 7.0 1.41 4.54
RH Joba Chamberlain 60 4 3 10.6 1.26 2.60
RH Mariano Rivera 13 6 39 9.8 0.67 1.40
RH Brian Bruney 193 3 1 8.7 0.99 1.83
LH Damaso Marte 212 5 5 9.8 1.20 4.02

These are tight!" said outfielder-first baseman Nick Swisher -- who's always saying something -- as he performed squats and lunges in an attempt to stretch out a new pair of uniform pants last month in the home clubhouse of Tampa's George M. Steinbrenner Field.

"Yeah?" pitcher A.J. Burnett called back from across the room. "Well, you ain't with the White Sox anymore, dawg. You're a Yankee!"

The snug pinstripes might take some getting used to, but in every other way Swisher has fit in beautifully, loosening up a clubhouse that had grown excessively solemn by last year, when the Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time since 1994. It's hard to imagine that the Bronx Bombers will again find themselves pressing at the first sign of a rough patch. Swisher, who delivers pep talks by the minute and always seems to come up with just the right mid-1990s hip-hop song to blast from his iPod boom box, won't hear of it.

G.M. Brian Cashman insists that he traded for Swisher's bat (he has averaged 25 home runs in his four seasons), not his disposition -- but the latter has been a welcome addition. "Aw, he's great," Cashman says. "It's nice to have that come our way, because we're a quiet group in there. We're a little sterile now and then, and we need to be livened up. And Swish is just the guy to do it."

In fact, each of New York's major off-season acquisitions has been quickly embraced by the holdovers. "They're just good guys that take their jobs seriously but at the same time like to have fun," says pitcher Phil Hughes. The Steinbrenners, though, didn't commit $423.5 million to starters Burnett and CC Sabathia and first baseman Mark Teixeira for their potential to win any man-of-the-year awards, but to break a streak of eight years without a World Series title. And there's little doubt that the winter's free-agent haul has brought the Yankees within striking distance of that goal.

The arrivals of Sabathia and Burnett have structurally changed New York from a team that has in recent years lived and died with its offense and hoped for the best from its pitchers to one whose success will spring from its rotation -- which is second to none. "We've put together over the years a collection of pitchers we thought could be good enough, and it just didn't work out, to be honest," says Cashman. Still, the 28-year-old Teixeira, who has more RBIs (676) over his first six seasons than all but seven other players in history, should help ensure that an offense that was devastated last year by injuries to catcher Jorge Posada and outfielder Hideki Matsui (both of whom are back, though Matsui won't play in the field until June at the earliest) doesn't lag too far behind.

After an off-season in which the Steinbrenners dipped the roster in a greenback-filled river Styx, one spot remains all too mortal -- their defense. "I admit that overall we have not been a good defensive team for quite some time," says Cashman, and that's particularly true of the middle infield, where both second baseman Robinson Cano and shortstop Derek Jeter possess substandard range. Even so, the D should be improved from a year ago, thanks to the upgrade at first base from the clumsy Jason Giambi to the two-time Gold Glove winner Teixeira and the installation in rightfield of Xavier Nady in place of Bobby Abreu, who never met a wall from which he wouldn't shy.

And we haven't even mentioned Alex Rodriguez yet. At last report, A-Rod was spending most of his time riding a stationary bike in Aspen, Colo., on track to return from hip surgery in mid-May. When he does, he'll find a team replete with intriguing characters to distract the public's gaze from whatever questionable lifestyle decisions he's made in the past and with plenty of new stars to help diffuse the pressure under which he so often chafes. It will constitute a fresh start for both Rodriguez and the Yankees, who have their most October-ready roster since 2003, the last year they went to the World Series.

-- Ben Reiter

Issue date: April 6, 2009

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