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Yankees quietly adjust title-contending squad

Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano

Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano Photo Credit: Getty Images

Last season ended in frustrating fashion as the Yankees lifelessly fell in six games to the Texas Rangers in the AL Championship Series.

Angry fans then lost patience as the off-season wore on, as stud lefty Cliff Lee rejected the Bombers in favor of a deal with the Philadelphia Phillies; Andy Pettitte retired; and the hated Boston Red Sox went on a spending spree.

In place of headline-worthy changes, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman added depth, addressing holes throughout the roster. It’s easy to forget that this squad won 95 games last year. Most likely, they’ll flirt with that win total again in 2011.

1. What will life be like after Andy?

The Yankees’ starting rotation took a major hit with Pettitte’s retirement. Not only did he give them innings and leadership, Pettitte also had a knack of coming up big in the biggest games. After CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes, the 2011 rotation is littered with question marks. A.J. Burnett is coming off a embarrassingly bad season; 24-year-old Ivan Nova has is unproven despite an eye-opening spring; and Freddy Garcia — who beat out newly designated long-man Bartolo Colon for the No. 5 spot — may prove to be a .500 pitcher at best. Don’t be surprised if the Yanks make an upgrade via trade come June.

2. Can Jeter bounce back?

You may have heard that Derek Jeter is coming off the worst season of his career, but signed a rather lucrative contract — three years and $51 million. The 36-year-old captain saw his batting average drop 64 points last year, but he did some off-season tinkering with batting coach Kevin Long to correct his swing. During each slump this season, there will be talk along the lines of “Is Derek done?” or “Time to move him to the outfield.” We expect a rebound year — maybe a .290 average and fewer double plays than the 22 he hit into last year.

3. How will Posada adjust to a new role?

The Yankees’ most vocal, fiery leader is not going to catch much this year unless the team desperately needs him there or he begs his way behind the plate for a dozen games or so. But it seems the 39-year-old Jorge Posada, is content with his role as a full-time DH. It’s a big switch, going from being involved in every pitch and play of a game to sitting on the bench for 90 percent of it. Such a transformation could seriously affect his bat — and the team’s morale.

4. Is the AL East too stacked?

The Red Sox, who already possessed a deep, solid roster, broke the bank to add stars Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. The Blue Jays made some key changes, adding closer Frank Francisco, outfielder Juan Rivera and some speed with outfielders Scott Podsednik and Rajal Davis, while shedding Vernon Wells’ obscene contract. The Orioles, meanwhile, brought on veterans Vladimir Guerrero and Derrek Lee, among others, to complement their young core. They’re led by no-nonsense manager Buck Showalter, who miraculously turned Baltimore from a laughingstock into a winning team for the last two months of the 2010 season. Meanwhile, the defending AL East champion Rays must overcome the losses of Carlos Pena, Crawford and others. Some already are giving the AL East to the Sox, leaving the Yanks to vie for the wild card, which could be all order considering the unbalanced scheduled will force them to regularly play the stronger teams in the AL.

5. Is the ’pen mightier?

Unable to land Cliff Lee, the Yanks chose to bolster their ’pen to make up for it — and quietly assembled one of the AL’s best. Rafael Soriano signed a three-year deal to set up and provide insurance for 41-year-old Mariano Rivera, who’s coming off a flawless year and rather impressive spring. The Yankees also added lefty specialist Pedro Felciano, the ex-Met; made Bartolo Colon the new long man; and seem to have a renewed — yet out of shape — Joba Chamberlain to share sixth- and seventh-inning duties with David Robertson, the team’s other righty flamethrower.
 

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