MANAGER JOETORRE 12th season with Yankees
PERHAPS YOU'VE heard that these Yankees are different from their forebears.There's now an emphasis on roster and payroll flexibility, and a renewedinterest in player development has given the franchise a burst of youthfulenergy that's been missing since the late '90s--not coincidentally, the erathat yielded four championships in five years. After six ringless seasons thechanges are being embraced, even by the old guard. "You have to have theright mix of youth and experience, high-salaried and low-salaried guys,"says 38-year-old righthander Mike Mussina. "It seems like [G.M.] Brian[Cashman] is getting that balance more than we've ever had. You can't buy thebest players every year, no matter how hard you try."
"We're notreinventing the wheel," says Cashman. "We're just going back to thebasics, back to what did it for us before."
The payroll is,of course, still a league-high $190 million, and from time to time springtraining had that familiar soap-operatic feel, some of which was just the usualtabloid excess. (Surely righty Carl Pavano set a record for most consecutiveNew York Post back covers--four--by a fifth starter.) But there were alsosubplots that the Yankees' brass cannot dismiss so easily, most notably thatfour of the team's pillars are heading into their walk years and could be goneby next spring: closer Mariano Rivera, manager Joe Torre, catcher Jorge Posadaand third baseman Alex Rodriguez.
During thewinter Cashman nimbly pulled off the trick of adding youth without putting adent in the club's annual World Series expectations. The acquisition of fiveminor league pitching prospects in deals that sent starter Randy Johnson to theDiamondbacks and slugger Gary Sheffield to the Tigers not only fortified whathas become a top 10 farm system but also provided minor league depth to makepossible a major, in-season trade that won't strip the farm bare. With nocertainty in the rotation beyond the trio of Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte andMussina--$46 million Japanese import Kei Igawa has drawn mixed reviews thisspring at best--that's no small luxury. (Of course, New York is the favorite tofill out its staff with 44-year-old retiree Roger Clemens, who, while notexactly advancing the youth movement, would cost only an eight-figure salaryand not talent.)
Among theevery-day players only second baseman Robinson Cano is younger than 30, butthat shouldn't prevent New York's lineup from wearing down opposing pitching.Yankees hitters had a league-best .363 on-base percentage, and that numberfigures to increase with Bobby Abreu in the lineup for an entire season.Acquired from the Phillies last July, the 33-year-old rightfielder reachedtriple digits in bases on balls for the eighth straight year, matching FrankThomas for the longest streak in major league history.
While theproduction should be spread evenly, the headlines are likely to tilt toward asingle player: Rodriguez, who after shedding a dozen pounds over the winterfurther unburdened himself last month by acknowledging his frayed relationshipwith shortstop Derek Jeter. Consider that A-Rod had 35 homers, 121 RBIs, an OBPof .392 and a .523 slugging percentage in 2006, the worst season of his career.This year he has the added incentive of a contract drive. Rodriguez says hewants to remain a Yankee after '07, but if he exercises his opt-out clause atseason's end, he could probably double the $72 million remaining on the $252million megadeal he signed in 2000.
"We'recertainly more secure on the offensive side," Cashman says."Pitching-wise, we're still a work in progress." Even if they don'tunload prospects for pitching during the season, these Yankees--like the 12versions before them--have enough to reach October.
a modestproposal ...
The Yankeesdecided against writing a big check when they addressed their first base--DHdilemma this winter. While Frank Thomas, Mike Piazza and Nomar Garciaparra wereavailable, New York was spending a pittance on Doug Mientkiewicz so that JasonGiambi could become a full-time DH. The competition to be Mientkiewicz'splatoon partner, utilityman Andy Phillips and Rule 5 pickup Josh Phelps, isless than scintillating. Given that either Phillips or Phelps would likely batninth, provide below-average defense and eat up a roster spot, why not just letMientkiewicz (left) play every day? The lefthanded batter doesn't have a largeperformance split against lefthanded and righthanded pitching, and he's notplaying for his bat, anyway. Such a move would allow Joe Torre to use the extraroster spot on a fifth outfielder, such as Kevin Thompson, to spare his threethirtysomething starters wear and tear.
[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
PROJECTED ROSTER WITH 2006 STATISTICS
|LH||Kei Igawa (R)*|
Japanese CentralLeague stats
* New acquisition
(R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 77)
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Career sluggingpercentage for Jason Giambi as a DH, his every-day position in 2007 even thoughhis percentage is 92 points higher when he plays first base. In '06 thosesplits were slightly less pronounced: .531 as a DH; .592 as a first baseman.Still, based on his career numbers, Giambi will produce 47 fewer total basesfor every 500 at bats as an every-day DH.