Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Kim Jones' Replacement Has Been Found

As you may remember, I was a bit distraught when it was announced in January that Kim Jones would not be returning as the clubhouse reporter for the YES Network this season.  Her replacement was announced to say, and dare I say I think she will be more than enough to help me get over the loss of my precious Kimmy.  Say, "HELLOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!" to Meredith Marakovits.

She's worked for SNY and with the Philadelphia 76ers and Phillies, so to get to graduate from the scuzz heap that is the NL East to the big leagues in Yankeeland is obviously a huge upgrade for her.  I don't know how I'm going to feel about her taking a pie after a walk-off win this year, if the Yankees are dumb enough to try to keep that tradition going, but if she can give a good interview I think she and I will get along just fine.  She's a peach, Jerry.  A peach.

2012 Storylines: Elder Statesmen Of The Lineup

("Hey, guy.  My calf hurts."  Courtesy of The AP)

When you're operating with the biggest payroll in baseball, your team should be potent offensively.  The Yankees are just that and have been for some time now.  They're coming off a 2011 season that saw them rank 1st in total team HR, 2nd in runs scored, 3rd in wOBA, and tied for 2nd in wRC+, and with almost the entire gang who collectively racked up those numbers back for 2012 they're looking at more of the same.  In looking at the projected starting lineup, it's expected that the group of Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, and Brett Gardner will produce in a fashion similar to their 2011 output.  It's not a coincidence that those gentlemen are the younger members of the lineup, still in their physical primes.  The wild cards when predicting just how good the Yankee offense will be in 2012 are the older group of everyday players, specifically the infield trio of Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez.  They're all coming off of interesting 2011 seasons to say the least, and so far have had mixed results in ST, making it difficult to pinpoint how effective they'll be once the regular season grind starts.

Jeter and A-Rod, at 37 and 36 respectively, are the resident "old guys" of the Yankees lineup and clearly the ones most affected by age-related decline.  Jeter looked damn near dead in the water after the 2nd half of 2010 and the first half of 2011, but rebounded after his DL stint to hit .331/.384/.447 from July 4 on.  I've already discussed what Jeter needs to do this season to try to keep the momentum from his 2011 2nd half going, but results have been mixed in ST as he's been hitting a lot of balls on the ground and has been out for almost a week with a calf strain.  The Horse, on the other hoof, has looked fantastic this spring, both physically and from a baseball perspective.  He's got 7 hits in 24 AB, 4 of them for extra bases, and hasn't reported any physical issues with the knee or hip while pushing himself hard on the field and on the basepaths.  130-140 games of a healthy A-Rod will be a huge boost to the Yankees, especially if he can produce the way we know he's capable of.

Teix isn't quite as long in the tooth as his left side counterparts, and is still technically in his prime at 32, but he's coming off a down year that's not attributable to age-related decline or injury, his third straight year of offensive decline since becoming a Yankee.  With five more years left on his deal, the Yankees need him to right the ship and correct his issues from the left side of the plate.  Teix reportedly worked on his left-handed hitting in the offseason, shed some weight, and has been saying and doing all the right things in camp (including not trying to bunt against the shift).  He's also had mixed results at the plate, with 5 hits in 21 AB and little to no power, but he's drawn 5 walks and gone the other way a couple times.  The lack of power can likely be chalked up to him making a conscious effort to focus on his approach from the left side more than driving the ball, so there's really no cause for concern yet.

They aren't infielders, but the tag team tandem of Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones are expected to carry the bulk of the load from the DH spot in the lineup this year, and at 39 and 34 respectively they aren't young and haven't exactly been filling anybody with confidence with their early spring performances.  They're currently a combined 6-55 this spring with only 1 XBH and 13 K.  Ibanez has been particularly ugly to watch as neither his timing nor his swing look very good and he offers very little value defensively if forced into outfield duty.  Jones had offseason knee surgery and also got into better shape before camp to attempt to be a bigger contributor in 2012, but both need to produce more than they have so far once the games start to count or the Yankees may be fishing for a new DH at the trade deadline.

If none of these guys improve upon their 2011 offensive output the Yankees will still be a very good offensive team.  But they can be a force with a pair of bounce-back seasons from A-Rod and Teix in the middle of the lineup, and Jeter maintaining a production level above replacement level at the top of the order would be gravy.  If, however, the downward trend continues for this group, things could start to get dicey for the Yankees as they move to the latter parts of the season and further into the future.  Jeter, The Horse, and Teix are all under contract for the next handful of seasons at a hefty price and will become even bigger anchors to the payroll and lineup if they don't produce, and Ibanez and Jones will have people pining for The Jesus if they continue to scuffle.

Andy Pettitte And The Balance Between Nostalgia And Necessity

(Hopefully Andy-Wan Kenobi's presence doesn't disrupt the development of the young Padawans)

Let me preface this post by saying that this is not meant to be me taking a shot at Andy Pettitte. Andy is one of my favorite Yankees of all time and I'm happy that he's coming back for another go. I was bummed when he decided to hang it up after the 2010 season, especially when it was clear that he could still get the job done. If you're a believer in the "you can never have too much pitching" theory (and you'd be an idiot not to be), you have to be a fan of this move. Any time you can bring in the all-time leader in multiple postseason statistical categories who also happens to have won five championships as a member of your team as your de facto 7th starter, that's a good move. What bothers me about the situation, though, and has from the time I first heard the breaking news on Friday afternoon to right now, are the implications that this has been in the works for a while and that Pettitte deserves to be shoehorned into the rotation at some point simply because he's Andy Pettitte.

As more of the backstory leading up to the signing has come out, it has become clear that this wasn't so much Andy suddenly getting the urge to pitch again as it was a mutual back-and-forth discussion between him and Cash about the possibility of him coming back that goes back to last December. During last Friday's press conference, Cash stated that he offered Andy a $10-12 million deal as a way to force his decision and implied that had Andy accepted the offer, the Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda moves might not have happened. At the time, the Yankee rotation was CC, Nova, a recently re-signed Freddy Garcia, Phil Hughes, and He Who Shall Not Be Named. Pettitte likely would have been an upgrade over at least one of those options, but the idea that the Yankees were willing to throw 12 mil at him when he had been retired for a year and hadn't really been working out as a pitcher rather than pursue guys like Pineda and Kuroda is a little frightening. If you would have asked me back in December whether I would rather have a 39-year-old Andy Pettitte coming off a year away from the game for $12 million or Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda for less than that, I would have chosen Option B.

Once those moves were made, this behind-the-scenes story should have died. But because Pettitte kept working out and informed Cash that he wanted to pitch when he showed up at camp a few weeks ago as a guest instructor, here we are in mid-March with Andy Pettitte back in a Yankee uniform. In the time that has passed since he and Cash talked in December, the Yankees have put together a blueprint for their 2012 rotation (whether they publicly admit it or not) that includes both Pineda and Kuroda as well as a third consecutive ST competition for the 5th spot between Hughes and Garcia. In addition to those six, the Yankees have also gotten strong spring performances from David Phelps and D.J. Mitchell, guys who are close to banging their heads against the Triple-A glass ceiling and not getting any younger. On paper, they're as deep as they've ever been in the rotation and well-stocked with young talent to cover any injury or performance-related issues. If ever there was a season where the Yankees didn't necessarily NEED a cheap veteran starter, this was it. This is where my concern comes in.