25 Yankees, 25 Questions

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Opening Day is a time for celebration, a time for joy and good feelings.  It is also a time to evaluate the state of your team (and possibly overreact to an Opening Day loss).  But hey, that’s the fun of it.  Let’s take a look at the entire 2012 Yankees roster and answer the hard-hitting questions everyone wants to know:

Infielders

1: Will Teixeira hit .281 this season?

.281 is Teixeira’s career batting average.  Don’t get me wrong, batting average is one of the most overrated statistics for a hitter (right behind “average with one out, a guy on first, a 2-2 count with a full moon and a 20% chance of rain in the forecast”—got to love those ridiculously specific stats ESPN likes to run during their broadcasts).  Mark is a power hitter, paid to produce runs.  While his run and power production was near his career levels, there is no question his batting average hurt the Yankees last season.  His average was 33 points below his career mark, and consequently his on-base-percentage was 32 points below his career mark.  I’m not suggesting Teix lay bunts down third when the over-shift is on, but he needs to get his contact rate up which should increase his average and OBP.

2: Can Robinson Cano win the Triple Crown?

It has been 44 years since Carl Yastrzemski won the Triple Crown with a .321/44/121 split (AVG/HR/RBI).  Think that would get it done in 2012?  There is a good chance it wouldn’t.  Last year Miguel Cabrera won the batting title with a .344 average.  In 2010 Jose Bautista led the league with 54 home runs.  Just 5 years ago Alex Rodriguez blew everybody’s doors off with 156 RBIs.  The point is there is always somebody who steps-up in one category, so to win the Triple Crown is extremely difficult.  Cano is however one of three or four players in the league who honestly has a chance (I would rank him third, behind Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Gonzalez, but ahead of Albert Pujols—I think his days of batting .340 are over).  Cano is just that good.

3: Who is the real Derek Jeter?

In the first half of last year Jeter looked like a 2022 version of himself coming back for Old Timers Day.  In the second half he looked more like the 2009 version who finished third in MVP voting.  What version can we expect in 2012?  I’d say split the difference.  Call it: .304, 26 doubles, and 10 home runs.

4: Alex Rodriguez over/under on games played: 130

Over… barely.  A-Rod only managed to get on the field for 99 games last year, 137 the year before, and 124 in 2009.  A-Rod says he’s never been healthier, but I’ll believe it when I see it.  130 games for an ex-steroid user in his mid-30s is about all you can ask for.

5 & 6: Who will see more playing time, Chavez or Nunez?

This really depends on who stay’s healthier, Jeter or A-Rod.  Both Chavez and Nunez have their place on this team though.  If Nunez can sure-up his fielding (which he did as the season progressed last year) I think he can provide a spark with Gardner at the bottom of the lineup.

Catchers

7: How long will Russell Martin be a Yankee?

Clearly the Yankees had enough confidence in Martin last year to have him replace Posada—a legend who was still on the active roster.  Martin succeeded, which is no small feat.  The real question is how long will he be a Yankee?  The Yankees and Martin tabled contract talks this off-season, which were projected to be in the 3 year, $25 million range.  If the Yankees believe in their stock of young catchers (Romine and Sanchez—which I also think is what made trading Montero easier to swallow) then a three year deal for Martin could be beneficial to the Yankees and their young catchers.

8: Who is Chris Stewart?  And why was Cervelli optioned to Triple-A?

The Yankees traded pitcher George Kontos to the Giants for backup catcher Chris Stewart as Spring Training came to a close, and optioned Cervelli to the minors.  To me this was an unnecessary, but ultimately insignificant move.  All reports over the past two seasons have been that Cervelli is a favorite among Yankees pitchers, so to opt for Stewart—who actually appeared in one game for the Yankees in 2008 (he struck out in his only plate appearance)—is questionable.

Outfielders

9: Has Brett Gardner peaked?

Let’s compare two players:

Player A career OBP .353, 2012 Salary: $2.8 million

Player B career OBP .333, 2012 Salary: $20.3 million

Gardner is rated as the best defensive Left Fielder in Baseball.

Player A is Brett Gardner and Player B is Carl Crawford.  If Gardner has peaked, and I think he has, then the Yankees can’t really complain.  Gardner does what he is supposed to do, and he does it at an above average level.  He steals bases (49 last season), catches everything hit near him (led the league with a 3.2 Defensive WAR last season), and he gets on base at an above-average pace (.345 OBP last season—2011 MLB OBP league average was .320).  If Gardner’s OBP can approach his 2010 level (.383), he will be the best bargain in Baseball.

10: Will Granderson repeat?

If the over/under on home runs for Granderson this season was set at 35, I would take the over.  Hitting in front of Cano will allow him to see enough fastballs to hit a lot of home runs.  But if Granderson wants to repeat his 2011 performance—in which he led the league in Runs and RBIs, Curtis needs to make contact more often and strike out less.

11: Is this Swisher’s last season in pinstripes?

That is entirely up to him.  Swisher’s season starts in October, when I expect the Yankees to open a playoff series against the AL Central winner (as usual).  Nick’s regular season numbers speak for themselves: he has averaged 27 home runs and 85 RBIs over the course of three seasons.  As consistent as he has been during the summer months, he is equally as inconsistent in October.  The Yankees don’t (and shouldn’t) tolerate liabilities in the playoffs.

12: Will Andruw Jones get more playing time?

No.  I thought the Yankees used Jones perfectly last season.  He played mostly against lefties (66% of his plate appearances came against left-handers).  Don’t change a thing.

13: Can Raul Ibanez hit 20 home runs playing at Yankee Stadium?

If he gets a full season of at bats (500), yes.  I don’t think he will however.  The Ibanez signing intrigued me because I felt the Yankees already had a log-jam at DH.  A-Rod projects to have more time there and I think Jeter would benefit from added DH time as well.  Very quietly, Ibanez could be a big pickup for the Yankees if he gets playing time.

Starting Pitchers

14: Will CC win the Cy?

You can pencil CC in for 18+ wins, 220+ IP, and an ERA around 3.00 (assuming health, of course).  He did give up 8.7 hits per nine innings last year though, almost a full hit higher than his previous three seasons.  Looking at past Cy Young winners, that number is too high to win.  Verlander gave up only 6.2 hits per nine last season and King Felix 7.5 the year before.  If CC is giving up somewhere around 8 or 9 hits per nine then he won’t win the Cy Young.

15: Was trading for Michael Pineda a mistake?

Starting the season on the disabled list with tendinitis in his shoulder is not a good start for the Pineda-era, but it is way too early to call it a mistake.  He was clearly not right in Spring Training, consistently clocked in the low 90s.  If we learned anything from Phil Hughes last season though, don’t force the issue.  I expect Pineda to be fully healthy and return sometime in late April.

16: Can Kuroda make the transition?

Kuroda’s numbers will definitely increase by coming to the AL East.  He did however throw 202 innings last year (only one Yankees starter threw over 200 innings in 2011).  If Kuroda can give the Yankees close to 200 innings he should win 15 games regardless of the stronger lineups.

17: Will Ivan Nova have a sophomore slump?

Nova has had a miserable spring, but that is not to say he can’t rebound and have a strong season.  Many are making the comparison to Phil Hughes from a year ago.  There is one key difference between the two however; Hughes struggled towards the end of 2010, Nova got stronger last year.

18 & 19: Will Hughes be a starter all season?  And where does Freddy Garcia fit in?

Hughes and Garcia were in competition for the fifth spot in the rotation entering spring, but because of the injury to Pineda they will both start to begin the season.  Whoever pitches better during that time will keep his job when Pineda returns and the other will be relegated to the bullpen.  Of the two, Hughes has more value (and potential for success) in the pen, but I think the Yankees should do everything they can to keep Hughes in the rotation.  As the old-adage goes, you can never have too much pitching (cue the Ken Burns special…).

Relief Pitchers

This will be Mariano's 18th year in Baseball.

20: Is this Mariano’s farewell tour?

Mariano is going to pitch until he is 85, right?  Enjoy it while it lasts Yankees fans, because this may be his last season in Baseball.

21: Is Robertson the next Yankee closer?

I really hope so.  The reality is Robertson could struggle this season; relievers are just that volatile.  But Robertson had an all-time great season last year.  He struck out 13.5 batters per 9 innings (100 in 66.2 IP), and only allowed 23% of inherited runners to score (probably the most important stat for a reliever).  I believe Robertson will continue to excel in the late innings and take over for Mo after this season.

22: Can Boone Logan and Clay Rapada get it done?

Boone Logan was the lone left-hander in the pen for the Yankees last year, and he was mediocre at best.  The Yankees desperately need a strong lefty out of the pen, especially in the AL East.  Rapada is an unknown; he has only pitched 52.2 innings over the course of 5 big league seasons.  If the Yankees get anything out of Rapada it will be a bonus.

23: Is Rafael Soriano mentally stable enough to pitch the seventh inning?

Unless Robertson completely implodes, Soriano has no chance to pitch the eighth inning this year.  He was signed to set-up Mariano (and possibly replace Mariano if he retired anytime soon), but because of injury and poor performance Soriano lost his job to D-Rob.  Soriano is known to be a wild-card, so it will be interesting to see if he can he stay focused and motivated enough to pitch the middle innings.

24: Will Corey Wade be an All Star?

Obviously not, but I couldn’t think of a thought-provoking question concerning Corey Wade.

25: Who is David Phelps?

David Phelps is the guy who will be optioned to Triple-A when Michael Pineda returns from the DL.

Bonus: What can we realistically expect from Andy Pettitte?

This is a tough one.  The fan-boy in me wants to say Pettitte will pick up where he left off in 2010, but the reality is he will probably struggle.  If you remember, Clemens struggled to a 6-6 record in 17 starts in 2007, often leaving games with various minor injuries (and he only sat out about a month of the ’07 season).  I understand that Clemens and Pettitte are different players, in both stature and style, but that’s the life of a 40 year old starter.  I just hope when this season ends we still remember Pettitte for his gutsy October performances and not for the time he tried to un-retire.

Andrew is a fellow diehard Yankees fan who lives in—wait for it—Boston. Growing up in New England Andrew has had to deal with loud and obnoxious Red Sox fans his entire life; but thanks in part to his father, he knew where to devote his loyalty at a young age. Andrew graduated from The University of Vermont in 2010 and has been living in Boston ever since. In his spare time he enjoys playing golf, skiing, writing, calling local sports radio to piss off Boston fans, and of course, the Yankees. Follow Andrew on Twitter (@Yankees_talk) where you discuss the latest play during each game.
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