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Alas, the day has come! Opening Day has officially arrived, and once again the Yankees are set to embark on yet another season that is, as per usual – full of lofty expectations. As the season gets underway, the Yankees once again have the makings of a team capable of achieving their annual goal to win the World Series.
Robinson Cano has finally been given the opportunity to be bat third and should be able to excel like never before. He’ll once again be right in the thick of things for the AL MVP race, and might now be an early favorite to win it. Regardless, he’s going to the Yankees team MVP, and thats without even taking into consideration he’s developed into the best defensive second baseman in baseball.
I believe Alex Rodriguez is going to be the Comeback Player of the Year. Not a sexy award, certainly by his standards, but it is going to be essential for the Yankees to get A-Rod back on track. He’s as healthy right now as he has been in a long time, which should provide huge dividends. A-Rod might not no longer be the most feared hitter in the Yankees lineup, but that might be what will help his resurgence in 2012, as he’ll be primed to feast on all opposing pitchers that are in support of such notion.
I can see Derek Jeter having another up and down year in 2012. But when push comes to shove, you know he’ll be clutch when it counts most. The intangibles Jeter brings to the game on a daily basis continuously helps make the Yankees a better team. Defensively, Jeter and A-Rod may have lost a step, but they still get the job done more than adequately, contrary to what the defensive statisticians and sabermetric-heads will tell you.
Mark Teixeira has worked on a bunch of different things with hitting coach(/ hitting genius) Kevin Long in hopes of raising his batting average, which plummeted the past two seasons. If Tex can get that average back up to respectability, he’ll be an even bigger force in the middle of the lineup, who even in bad years has averaged 35 homers and 110 RBI.
Russell Martin was an All-Star in 2011 due to the great start he got off to, but when it was all said and done, his offensive numbers weren’t All-Star worthy to say the least. Nonetheless, Martin still exceeded expectations in 2011 after returning from some pretty serious injuries from his priors years as a Dodger. What he did for the Yankees defensively, was far and beyond what the team could have imagined, and could be what can keeps him in the Bronx going forward, despite a plethora of catching prospects the Yanks have in their minor league system.
Nick Swisher is in a contract year and it’ll be interesting to see how that makes or breaks his season. However it turns out, based off the trend on the back of his baseball card, it’s a safe bet to pencil him in for 25 homers, 85 RBI, and a plus .350 OBP.
Curtis Granderson was a little banged up this spring, but when he was in the lineup he was quick to show 2011 was no fluke. If Granderson joins Cano in the MVP race like he did last year, the Yankees will be in real good shape, I believe.
Brett Gardner needs to find a way to be more consistent at the plate if he wants to be more of an everyday player. He has to avoid the extended slumps he’s been susceptible to, especially in the second-half of the season. Otherwise, he’s quite a weapon to have as a second leadoff type of hitter, rounding out the lineup, with 50 stolen base ability. His defense is as stellar as it gets in left, and even his arm is underestimated in my mind.
Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones can become a useful platoon situation in the DH role. Of course, that role will be compromised a bit if Eduardo Nunez continues to progress. Nunez will see plenty of ABs spelling Jeter and A-Rod at third and short, especially when opposing left-handed starters. Eric Chavez can also work his way into the lineup if he hits as well off the bench as he did in 2011. Hopefully this year he can avoid his annual lengthy D.L. stint so he can get more opportunities to do that.
It is now an afterthought, but CC Sabathia opted not to opt-out and instead re-upped to remain a Yankee. To mimic what Joe Girardi often says about the ace, it’s almost as if he goes unnoticed at times because of how reliable he is. CC will again do his thing leading the way for the pitching staff, and who knows, maybe 2012 is will be h’s year to take home the Cy Young award after placing close but no cigar the past three years.
Initially I wasn’t sold on the Hiroki Kuroda signing, even stating he would only produce at the rate of a fifth starter. But after seeing him in action this spring, I can already tell I was wrong. I think he’s going to defy the odds and transition well in the AL and become a serviceable starter in the middle of the rotation throughout the year.
Phil Hughes has looked great this spring, so it’s hard not to get excited about him as he can hopefully, for the Yankees sake, regain his 18 win, 2010 form. If he can do that, he will fit nicely into the elusive number 2 spot in the Yankees rotation.
Ivan Nova, meanwhile, can only build off of what he did in 2011 and how well he pitched down the stretch and into the post-season.
What becomes of Freddy Garcia remains to be seen, based on the health of Michael Pineda. But, Garcia is a gamer and can continue to to exceed expectations every fifth game. Pineda’s Yankee career is off on the wrong foot, but he can change that quickly as soon as he is able to refine his fastball velocity and develop his changeup further. But first and foremost he’s going to have to avoid his shoulder soreness/tendinitis from becoming a persistent issue.
Then there’s Andy Pettitte – back in the picture after a year-long retirement. Pettitte could be ready to pitch in the majors at some point in May, but what spot in the rotation he’s going to be taking remains to be seen. A main reason Pettitte’s comeback was even made possible was because of how impressive he was when he threw in front of selective members of the Yankees brain-trust over the winter. Supposedly, those to witness all said it was as if Pettitte didn’t skip a beat, despite being over a year removed from throwing a pitch in a major league game. That being said, there really is no reason to believe he won’t be a big factor down the stretch, being the savvy, veteran southpaw, winningest post-season pitcher – that he is.
The bullpen can again be a huge strength in 2012 as it was last year. Mariano Rivera is still the same old Mo, dominating at a pace in which it seems only he knows how to. David Robertson became the modern age houdini with his incredible strikeout ability. With those two and Rafael Soriano, the Yankees have in the minds of many, the best 1-2-3 back-end bullpen trio in baseball.