Unit should be, as usual, among the most offensively explosive in baseball, especially if Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez stay healthy and Robinson Cano continues his ascension into discussion of best all-around players in the game. Another MVP-caliber season from Cano is fair to expect, but the season-long health of A-Rod and Jeter, both of whom were on the DL last season, is a concern.
Curtis Granderson had a breakthrough 2011, reaping a full season of benefits from a swing alteration he made in mid-August 2010. He had a career-best 41 homers and 119 RBIs. Nick Swisher bounced back from a horrendous first two months of last season to hit .260 with a .374 OBP — the best of his three seasons in the Bronx — with 23 homers and 85 RBIs. Brett Gardner established himself as a Gold Glove-caliber leftfielder but needs to improve a .345 OBP.
In his first season with the Yankees, Russell Martin quickly gained the respect and trust of the pitching staff and established himself as one of the best in the game at blocking balls. Francisco Cervelli had a decent spring and is a capable backup. The Yankees would have liked to have seen Austin Romine push Cervelli for that job, but the prospect was sidelined much of the spring with a lower back issue and will start the season in Triple-A.
On paper, one scout said, it’s “as deep a rotation” as there is in the American League — and that was before Andy Pettitte’s stunning return. The scout did note, however, that there are questions about whether Ivan Nova was a one-hit wonder, if Hughes can regain the form that made him an All-Star the first half of 2010, if Michael Pineda can handle the New York stage and whether Hiroki Kuroda’s stuff translates to the AL. Still, thinking all those things will go wrong is glass-half-empty thinking. Better to have too many arms than too few, and right now the Yankees have the former.
Good luck finding issues here. Mariano Rivera, 42, is coming off a season in which he saved 44 games with a 1.91 ERA, set up by David Robertson, who held opponents scoreless in 63 of his 70 outings, recording a 1.08 ERA. Rafael Soriano is the game’s most expensive seventh-inning pitcher but, if he stays healthy, should thrive there. Lefty Boone Logan is solid. Cory Wade is a good utility reliever, and the loser of the rotation battle — likely either Freddy Garcia or Phil Hughes — gives the unit even more depth, which could increase if Joba Chamberlain returns this season from a serious ankle injury.
Raul Ibañez had a down year — by his standards — last season, but the 39-year-old was brought in to be the Yankees’ primary DH against lefties. His 20 homers and 84 RBIs from 2011 wouldn’t look too bad in 2012. He also can play some outfield, which gave him the nod in the Yankees’ eyes over Johnny Damon, also considered for the DH job. Andruw Jones’ left knee ached much of last season, and he should be healthier after undergoing surgery during the offseason. Eric Chavez, when healthy, can spell Alex Rodriguez at third and Mark Teixeira at first, and the Yankees still have high expectations for Eduardo Nuñez.
Fans still quibble with his bullpen moves and some in the media still get frustrated that he’s not his predecessor (Joe Torre) when it comes to giving great quotes or sound bites. But Joe Girardi, who admitted he could have handled some of last year’s issues with Jorge Posada better, for the most part has the respect of his players, a big reason being that he almost always has their back in public.