New York Yankees 2010 season preview

Joe Girardi wore No. 27 last season and the Yankees won their 27th World Series. This season, he is sporting No. 28. Next year, no one will be surprised if he asks backup catcher Francisco Cervelli to give up his No. 29. The Yankees are primed to become the first team to repeat since, well, the Yankees completed a three-peat 10 years ago. "They’re the team to beat once again," Rays manager Joe Maddon says.

Javier Vazquez looks like an upgrade for the Yankees' pitching staff.
Javier Vazquez looks like an upgrade for the Yankees’ pitching staff.

Three questions

1. Are the Yankees better than last season?
They don’t need to be to repeat. On paper, however, they should be slightly improved because of the addition of righthander Javier Vazquez. His numbers with the Braves last season were better than any of the Yankees’ starters. The offense will be younger with center fielder Curtis Granderson, DH Nick Johnson and left fielder Brett Gardner replacing Melky Cabrera, Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon. Being younger doesn’t mean the offense will be better, but as long as the hitters with the eight-figure salaries — Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada — don’t suffer drastic drop-offs, the Yankees’ offense should be as dangerous as a year ago.

2. Who’s in left?
The leading contender to replace Damon is Gardner, who is faster and superior defensively but doesn’t have Damon’s power. Gardner will have competition, however, from Randy Winn, Marcus Thames and Jamie Hoffmann, the first pick in the Rule 5 draft. Winn, 35, signed a discount deal after enduring his worst season (.318 OBP, two homers in 538 at-bats) with the Giants. Thames, who was signed to a minor league deal, has the power the other candidates lack (13 homers in 258 at-bats with Detroit last year). Hoffmann, 25, hit .283/.355/.401 in five minor league seasons in the Dodgers’ system. (UPDATE: Gardner is the man in left. Also, the Yankees shipped Hoffmann back to the Dodgers after he cleared waivers.)

"Gardner is a young player trying to establish himself in the game who’s got well above average defensive ability," says Yankees general manager Cashman, before addressing another possibility. "He’s, we think, one of the best center fielders in the game. There are a lot of different ways we can go, including being open-minded to having Gardner in center and Granderson in left. We’ll have to see how it shakes out."

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman would like to see the homegrown Gardner win the job. "Gardner is a young player trying to establish himself in the game who’s got well above average defensive ability," says Cashman, before addressing another possibility. "He’s, we think, one of the best center fielders in the game. There are a lot of different ways we can go, including being open-minded to having Gardner in center and Granderson in left. We’ll have to see how it shakes out."

3. Joba or Hughes for the fifth spot?
Talent evaluators from other clubs believe Phil Hughes is better suited to start than Joba Chamberlain. Chamberlain is best when he can go all-out one trip through the lineup; his fastball velocity was noticeably diminished last season when he started. As obvious as the decision seems, what were the Yankees thinking last season when they started Chamberlain but severely limited his pitch counts? That was like having a reliever start the game.

Perhaps because the bullpen solidified when Hughes took over the eighth-inning role, the Yankees stayed the course before adding Chamberlain to the bullpen for the playoffs. Both guys say they want to start in 2010. (UPDATE: Hughes beat out Chamberlain for the rotation spot; Joba returned to a setup role.)

Projected lineup

1. SS Derek Jeter: 107 runs, AL-best 289 times on base.
2. DH Nick Johnson: Career-best .426 OBP for Nats, Marlins.
3. 1B Mark Teixeira: Led club with 39 HRs, 122 RBIs, .948 OPS.
4. 3B Alex Rodriguez: 12th straight 30-HR, 100-RBI season (despite missing 38 games).
5. C Jorge Posada: .891 OPS was second-best among catchers.
6. CF Curtis Granderson: Newcomer hit 30 HRs for first time.
7. 2B Robinson Cano: Led second basemen with .320 AVG, .520 SLG.
8. RF Nick Swisher: Would clean up for some teams (29 HRs, .371 OBP).
9. LF Brett Gardner: Must Beat out Randy Winn, Marcus Thames.

Projected rotation

1. LHP CC Sabathia: Typical dominance (19-8, 3.37 ERA, 230 IP).
2. RHP A.J. Burnett: 1.40 WHIP was his highest since 2003.
3. LHP Andy Pettitte: Best during the postseason: 4-0, 3.52 ERA.
4. RHP Javier Vazquez: Had more IPs, Ks and lower ERA than Sabathia.
5. RHP Phil Hughes: His maturity gives him the edge over Joba.

Projected closer

RHP Mariano Rivera: At 40, still the best in the business.

GRADES

Offense: A. The Yankees were the only team to score more than 900 runs last season, their .362 on-base percentage led the majors by 10 points and their 244 homers were 20 more than the Phillies. Even if the newcomers can’t match the departed, the mainstays are back. And New York will have A-Rod for the entire season.

Pitching: A. They lack the Red Sox’s depth, but any club with the best closer and one of the top starters deserves a high mark. Vazquez gives the rotation a third pitcher capable of 200-plus innings after Sabathia and Burnett. Chamberlain will fit nicely into the eighth-inning role.

Bench: C. This is where the Yankees typically save payroll, and they can because they have six regulars who figure to play at least 150 games. The outfield is deep but, to nitpick, the club could use an upgrade over Ramiro Pena at utility infielder.

Manager: B. Until he started making defensive changes in the middle of an inning during the playoffs, Girardi didn’t over-manage as much in 2009. After winning a championship, he should be even more relaxed in his third season as the Yankees’ skipper.

Sporting News prediction: Money can’t buy a championship, but having the highest-paid players at six positions (third, shortstop, first, catcher, starting pitcher and closer) remains reason No. 1 the Yankees will repeat.

COMING TUESDAY: Red Sox preview.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

Joe Girardi wore No. 27 last season and the Yankees won their 27th World Series. This season, he is sporting No. 28. Next year, no one will be surprised if he asks backup catcher Francisco Cervelli to give up his No. 29. The Yankees are primed to become the first team to repeat since, well, the Yankees completed a three-peat 10 years ago. "They’re the team to beat once again," Rays manager Joe Maddon says.

Javier Vazquez looks like an upgrade for the Yankees' pitching staff.
Javier Vazquez looks like an upgrade for the Yankees’ pitching staff.

Three questions

1. Are the Yankees better than last season?
They don’t need to be to repeat. On paper, however, they should be slightly improved because of the addition of righthander Javier Vazquez. His numbers with the Braves last season were better than any of the Yankees’ starters. The offense will be younger with center fielder Curtis Granderson, DH Nick Johnson and left fielder Brett Gardner replacing Melky Cabrera, Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon. Being younger doesn’t mean the offense will be better, but as long as the hitters with the eight-figure salaries — Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada — don’t suffer drastic drop-offs, the Yankees’ offense should be as dangerous as a year ago.

2. Who’s in left?
The leading contender to replace Damon is Gardner, who is faster and superior defensively but doesn’t have Damon’s power. Gardner will have competition, however, from Randy Winn, Marcus Thames and Jamie Hoffmann, the first pick in the Rule 5 draft. Winn, 35, signed a discount deal after enduring his worst season (.318 OBP, two homers in 538 at-bats) with the Giants. Thames, who was signed to a minor league deal, has the power the other candidates lack (13 homers in 258 at-bats with Detroit last year). Hoffmann, 25, hit .283/.355/.401 in five minor league seasons in the Dodgers’ system. (UPDATE: Gardner is the man in left. Also, the Yankees shipped Hoffmann back to the Dodgers after he cleared waivers.)

"Gardner is a young player trying to establish himself in the game who’s got well above average defensive ability," says Yankees general manager Cashman, before addressing another possibility. "He’s, we think, one of the best center fielders in the game. There are a lot of different ways we can go, including being open-minded to having Gardner in center and Granderson in left. We’ll have to see how it shakes out."

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman would like to see the homegrown Gardner win the job. "Gardner is a young player trying to establish himself in the game who’s got well above average defensive ability," says Cashman, before addressing another possibility. "He’s, we think, one of the best center fielders in the game. There are a lot of different ways we can go, including being open-minded to having Gardner in center and Granderson in left. We’ll have to see how it shakes out."

3. Joba or Hughes for the fifth spot?
Talent evaluators from other clubs believe Phil Hughes is better suited to start than Joba Chamberlain. Chamberlain is best when he can go all-out one trip through the lineup; his fastball velocity was noticeably diminished last season when he started. As obvious as the decision seems, what were the Yankees thinking last season when they started Chamberlain but severely limited his pitch counts? That was like having a reliever start the game.

Perhaps because the bullpen solidified when Hughes took over the eighth-inning role, the Yankees stayed the course before adding Chamberlain to the bullpen for the playoffs. Both guys say they want to start in 2010. (UPDATE: Hughes beat out Chamberlain for the rotation spot; Joba returned to a setup role.)

Projected lineup

1. SS Derek Jeter: 107 runs, AL-best 289 times on base.
2. DH Nick Johnson: Career-best .426 OBP for Nats, Marlins.
3. 1B Mark Teixeira: Led club with 39 HRs, 122 RBIs, .948 OPS.
4. 3B Alex Rodriguez: 12th straight 30-HR, 100-RBI season (despite missing 38 games).
5. C Jorge Posada: .891 OPS was second-best among catchers.
6. CF Curtis Granderson: Newcomer hit 30 HRs for first time.
7. 2B Robinson Cano: Led second basemen with .320 AVG, .520 SLG.
8. RF Nick Swisher: Would clean up for some teams (29 HRs, .371 OBP).
9. LF Brett Gardner: Must Beat out Randy Winn, Marcus Thames.

Projected rotation

1. LHP CC Sabathia: Typical dominance (19-8, 3.37 ERA, 230 IP).
2. RHP A.J. Burnett: 1.40 WHIP was his highest since 2003.
3. LHP Andy Pettitte: Best during the postseason: 4-0, 3.52 ERA.
4. RHP Javier Vazquez: Had more IPs, Ks and lower ERA than Sabathia.
5. RHP Phil Hughes: His maturity gives him the edge over Joba.

Projected closer

RHP Mariano Rivera: At 40, still the best in the business.

GRADES

Offense: A. The Yankees were the only team to score more than 900 runs last season, their .362 on-base percentage led the majors by 10 points and their 244 homers were 20 more than the Phillies. Even if the newcomers can’t match the departed, the mainstays are back. And New York will have A-Rod for the entire season.

Pitching: A. They lack the Red Sox’s depth, but any club with the best closer and one of the top starters deserves a high mark. Vazquez gives the rotation a third pitcher capable of 200-plus innings after Sabathia and Burnett. Chamberlain will fit nicely into the eighth-inning role.

Bench: C. This is where the Yankees typically save payroll, and they can because they have six regulars who figure to play at least 150 games. The outfield is deep but, to nitpick, the club could use an upgrade over Ramiro Pena at utility infielder.

Manager: B. Until he started making defensive changes in the middle of an inning during the playoffs, Girardi didn’t over-manage as much in 2009. After winning a championship, he should be even more relaxed in his third season as the Yankees’ skipper.

Sporting News prediction: Money can’t buy a championship, but having the highest-paid players at six positions (third, shortstop, first, catcher, starting pitcher and closer) remains reason No. 1 the Yankees will repeat.

COMING TUESDAY: Red Sox preview.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

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