RotoWire Partners

MLB Team Previews: 2011 Yankees Preview

Zach Sundelius

Zach Sundelius

Zach Sundelius writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Seeking a return to the World Series after falling to the Rangers in last year's ALCS, the Yankees courted several high-profile free agents in the offseason, including Cliff Lee and Carl Crawford, but ultimately swung and missed on most of their primary targets. They did add a few pieces, but didn't make nearly the splash the rival Red Sox did by acquiring Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. The offseason took another disappointing turn when Andy Pettitte announced his retirement in early February, leaving New York with a starting rotation fraught with question marks and uncertainty. The success or failure of the back end of the rotation may be the deciding factor in whether the Yankees emerge from the grueling AL East.

Offseason Moves

Signed Derek Jeter to a three-year, $51 million contract.

The negotiations got messy at times, but Jeter eventually agreed to return to New York as everyone knew he would all along. He's coming off a disappointing 2010 season and no longer looks like the player he was just a couple of years ago, but his unlucky .307 average on balls in play should normalize enough to result in a bounce-back season. Don't count on a return to his 2009 form, however.

Signed Mariano Rivera to a two-year, $30 million contract.

Rivera inked what could be his final baseball contract and will look to continue his remarkable consistency despite entering the season at 41 years old. Although his velocity is down a bit, his cutter is still as unhittable as ever, resulting in a miniscule 1.80 ERA with 45 strikeouts and 11 walks in 60 innings last year.

Signed Russell Martin to a one-year, $4 million contract.

The Yankees signed Martin to be their primary backstop, but keep in mind he's coming back from hip and knee surgeries and will have to answer questions about both his durability and his production. He's gone from being an elite catcher in 2007 to a very good one in 2008 to a mediocre option the past two seasons. On the plus side, his plate discipline remains solid, and although his power has vanished recently, a move to the Yankees' loaded lineup and hitter-friendly park could return him to fantasy relevance.

Signed Pedro Feliciano to a two-year, $8 million contract.

Felciano gives the Yankees another left-handed reliever to complement Boone Logan. The lefty specialist role won't afford him much fantasy value, but New York will appreciate his dominance against southpaws (.211 average with no homers in 123 at-bats).

Signed Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia to minor league contracts.

Assuming Ivan Nova locks up the fourth starting spot this spring, Colon, Garcia and Sergio Mitre will battle to be the final piece of the rotation. Colon hasn't thrown 100 major league innings in a season since his 2005 Cy Young campaign and Garcia posted an unimpressive 4.64 ERA with the White Sox last season, so neither inspires much confidence, but the fact that Garcia was a full-time major league starter last season (unlike Mitre and Colon) could give him an edge.

Signed Rafael Soriano to a three-year, $35 million contract.

Soriano was spectacular as the Rays' closer last season, but his fantasy value plunged when he signed with New York, locking him into a setup role behind Mariano Rivera. He might be more aggressive knowing that he has a future Hall of Famer to clean up behind him, which could help a strikeout rate that dipped to 8.2 K/9IP last season, but don't expect many saves.

Signed Andruw Jones to a one-year, $2 million contract.

Jones helps solidify the Yankees' bench and won't see regular playing time, but he smacked 19 homers and posted a .827 OPS in a part-time role for the White Sox last season and could have AL-only value if he can flash that same power in the Bronx.

Traded Adam Olbrychowski to the Nationals for Justin Maxwell.

Maxwell will be in the mix for the fifth outfield spot in New York, though the Yankees may decide he's better off getting regular at-bats in Triple-A than playing sparingly in the majors. He's a speedy, athletic player who can generate walks (19.1% walk percentage with the Nationals last year), but he strikes out at a tremendous rate (41.3 percent of his major league at-bats in 2010).

Projected Lineup/Rotation

Lineup (vs. RH/LH):

Derek Jeter SS
Nick Swisher RF
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Robinson Cano 2B
Jorge Posada DH
Curtis Granderson CF
Russell Martin C
Brett Gardner LF

The only change from last year's lineup is Posada's shift to designated hitter, opening the door for free agent signee Martin to start behind the plate. Assuming Martin is healthy to begin the season, the most interesting position battle will be for the backup catcher spot, which will fall to Francisco Cervelli, Jesus Montero or Austin Romine. As is usually the case with the Yankees, there are no major weaknesses in the batting order, especially if Jeter and Martin bounce back from subpar 2010 seasons.

Rotation:

CC Sabathia
Philip Hughes
A.J. Burnett
Ivan Nova
Sergio Mitre / Freddy Garcia / Bartolo Colon

Spurned by Cliff Lee and unable to convince Andy Pettitte to return for a 17th season, the Yankees enter 2011 with significant concerns about their starting pitching. Sabathia is a dominant workhorse and Hughes should continue to improve despite slowing down in the second half last year, but Burnett is coming off a miserable season and Nova's resume features just 42 major league innings. The fight for the fifth starter spot will likely come down to Mitre and Garcia; it's hard to envision the soon-to-be 38-year-old Colon making a serious push given his recent history (5.18 ERA and 1.506 WHIP in 47 starts since 2005).

Closer:

Mariano Rivera

No mystery here. Rivera inked a two-year deal with the Yankees this offseason and will again be the team's unquestioned closer in 2011.

Notes of Import, Fantasy and Otherwise

Can A.J. Burnett bounce back?

By almost any metric, Burnett was awful in 2010. His ERA (5.26), WHIP (1.511) and HR/9IP (1.2) were the worst of his career, and his K/9IP (7.0) and K:BB (1.86) were his worst since 2003. For a good pitcher, he has always been somewhat inconsistent, but why was he consistently poor in 2010? The biggest concern is his flagging fastball velocity, which averaged 93.2 miles per hour last season, his lowest mark since 2003. In fact, his velocity has dropped every year since 2007. For a pitcher like Burnett, who used to rely on his scorching fastball to generate strikeouts, it's a disturbing trend, made more troubling by the fact that his strikeout rate has also declined in each of the last three years.

The question, of course, is whether he can experience some type of bounce-back campaign in 2011. Much has been made of new pitching coach's Larry Rothschild's impact on Burnett's psyche, but even if Rothshild morphs Burnett into a smarter, more confident pitcher, he can't teach velocity. Burnett has the look of a pitcher beginning to succumb to the physical toll of nearly 1,800 major league innings. His ERA and WHIP should improve (a fairly unlucky .323 BABIP didn't help last season), but it's unwise to expect his strikeout total - just 145 last year - to return to the type of numbers he was putting up a few years ago.

What will become of Jesus Montero?

With Jorge Posada shifting to designated hitter, Montero was planning to compete for the starting catcher job in 2011, only to watch as the Yankees signed Russell Martin in December and declared him the team's primary backstop. Montero, the Yankees' top hitting prospect, is now left to compete for the backup job. General manager Brian Cashman seems willing to bring Montero along slowly, perhaps giving the 21-year-old another year at Triple-A to continue to hone his defensive skills before making a push for the starting job in 2012. But if Montero is demolishing Triple-A pitching and either Martin or Posada is injured or ineffective, the cries for Montero in the Bronx will be louder than ever. His value in keeper leagues is obvious, and his offensive potential makes him worth stashing away in some deep yearly leagues as well.

Who will be the No. 4 and 5 starters?

This question which has already been touched on a couple times in this article will be the most hotly debated topic in Yankees camp this spring. You know the major candidates by now Ivan Nova, Sergio Mitre, Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon though don't forget about minor league prospects like Andrew Brackman, Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos. Our money is on Nova and Garcia, but admittedly, there are a lot of different possibilities here, and fantasy players will want to monitor the battle closely, especially those in AL-only leagues. Any New York pitcher will have an opportunity to rack up some wins thanks to plenty of offensive support.

Strengths:

Despite down seasons (to varying degrees) from Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira, the Yankees still produced more runs than any other team in baseball. Yes folks, this is still a dominant lineup, and playing in one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the big leagues certainly doesn't hurt. The bullpen should also be a strength, anchored by Mariano Rivera and featuring new acquisition Rafael Soriano.

Weaknesses:

A strong offense can only carry a team so far, and it seems likely that the Yankees' 2011 season will be defined by the quality of their starting pitching. The back end of the rotation is a glaring weakness, and most of the candidates to fill the roles are either inexperienced youngsters or aging veterans. Age is a concern among the hitters as well, as Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriguez will all enter the season 35 or older.

Rising: Philip Hughes Hughes was terrific over the first half of his first full season as a starter, going 11-2 with a 3.65 ERA and a 91:29 K:BB ratio in 101 innings. He faltered after that, posting a 4.90 ERA after the All-Star break, though the fact that he had never thrown more than 86 big league innings in a season likely contributed to some fatigue down the stretch. Now free of his innings restrictions, Hughes figures to be more consistent and may even improve on last year's 7.5 K/9IP.

Falling: A.J. Burnett Burnett's 2010 struggles are well-documented, and a closer inspection reveals a strikeout rate and fastball velocity that have been in decline for several years. Will he be as bad as he was last season? Probably not. But Burnett is not the same pitcher he was a couple of years ago, and unless new pitching coach Larry Rothschild can work miracles, Burnett will be a middling starter again in 2011.

Sleeper: Ivan Nova In seven starts for the Yankees last season, Nova posted a 4.91 ERA with 24 strikeouts, 14 walks and four home runs allowed in 36.2 innings. We'll concede that those aren't the most inspiring numbers, but remember that he was facing major league hitting for the first time after cruising through the Triple-A season with a 2.86 ERA and a 2.40 K:BB ratio. He won't generate a ton of strikeouts, but he has a lot of poise for a young pitcher and could be a sneaky source of wins if he locks down a spot in the rotation.

Supersleeper: Eduardo Nunez Had the unthinkable happened and Derek Jeter signed elsewhere as a free agent in the offseason, the prevailing rumor was that the Yankees would have turned to Nunez to be the starting shortstop. Obviously, Jeter is back in the Bronx, but the Yankees are still high on Nunez, who hit .289/.340/.381 with 23 steals at Triple-A last season and posted a similar batting line in a very brief major league stint. His defense, once a major question mark, has improved, and he may get some more opportunities this season when Jeter needs a rest. If the captain were to go down with an injury, Nunez would have an opportunity to turn some heads.

Roster:

Here is a rundown of players not mentioned above:

Robinson Cano: If you can find a flaw in Cano's game, please let us know. His MVP-caliber 2010 campaign featured career highs in home runs, RBI and OPS; and there's little reason to expect him to slow down, especially as his plate discipline continues to improve. OK, there may be one blemish - his lack of stolen bases - but when you're getting ridiculous production in the other categories, it's easy to overlook. Don't be surprised if he comes off the board as a first-round selection on draft day.

Francisco Cervelli: With Jorge Posada battling injuries and demonstrating increasing defensive deficiencies, Cervelli logged over 300 plate appearances last season. He makes decent contact and was good at generating walks (.359 OBP), but his .335 slugging percentage means the Yankees are basically devoid of any power from the catching position when he's in the lineup. Posada will transition to DH in 2011, likely leaving Cervelli to battle with prospects Jesus Montero and Austin Romine for the backup job behind Russell Martin.

Joba Chamberlain: Chamberlain's role with the Yankees was one of the most hotly debated issues in spring training last year, but don't expect that to be the case in 2011. New York doesn't seem to be giving any serious thought to giving him another chance in the starting rotation, and he seems destined to spend the year in a seventh-inning role. Chamberlain is probably better suited to the bullpen anyway, showing significant improvement in both K/9IP (9.7) and BB/9IP (2.8) when used as a full-time reliever last year.

Brett Gardner: Some questioned the Yankees' decision to enter 2010 with Gardner as their starting left fielder, but the experiment produced better results than probably even the team expected. Gardner played 150 games, stole 47 bases, was very sound defensively and made up for his lack of power with some impressive plate discipline (13.9 percent walk rate, .383 OBP). With potential Yankee free agent target Carl Crawford now in Boston, Gardner will again be the team's starting left fielder in 2011. You'll need to monitor his recovery from a December wrist surgery, but he's a player on the rise playing in a strong offense.

Curtis Granderson: Nine home runs in August helped masked what was a somewhat lackluster debut in pinstripes for Granderson. His batting average sunk even further from a disappointing 2009 mark (to .247), and for much of the year he didn't demonstrate the type of power many expected from him in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium. However, the mechanical tweak that led to his hot August is reason for optimism entering 2011, and a healthier campaign (he was limited to 136 games last season) should improve his hitting totals. You'll still probably have to deal with some batting average woes, however.

Boone Logan: Logan was effective as a lefty specialist last season, posting a 2.93 ERA and notching 38 strikeouts in 40 innings. However, he also issued 20 walks, and the Yankees signed fellow lefty Pedro Feliciano to pair with him in their bullpen.

Damaso Marte: Marte missed the second half of last season with a shoulder injury and underwent labrum surgery in October. He'll be out at least until the All-Star break and possibly longer, so there's no need to consider him on draft day. Injuries have limited him to just 31 innings over the past two years.

Ramiro Pena: Just in case it wasn't clear already, Pena proved beyond a reasonable doubt last season that he will never be a successful major league hitter. He hit .227 with an absolutely abysmal .504 OPS in 167 at-bats. His glove and his versatility make him useful as a utility man, but he brings next to nothing offensively.

Jorge Posada: As can be expected from a 39-year-old catcher, Posada battled a few nagging injuries last season and missed 40-plus games for the third straight year. His offensive numbers also began to slide, as he posted his lowest average (.248) and his third-lowest OPS (.811) since 1999. A move to the DH role this season could help keep his legs fresh, but we're talking about a player who will turn 40 this season and comes with some significant injury concerns. Don't overpay for the name.

David Robertson: Robertson made his mark as a strikeout machine in 2009 and lived up to those expectations again in 2010, fanning 71 batters in 61.1 innings. Despite a few rough patches, he was one of manager Joe Girardi's favorite bullpen arms and will again be one of the Yankees' most-used relievers in 2011. Command is the biggest area of concern here; Robertson's walk rate has increased every year he's been in the majors.

Alex Rodriguez: Rodriguez has seemingly been a fantasy first-round pick forever, and if early average draft position (ADP) data tells us anything, it's that A-Rod will be a popular late-first, early-second round choice again in 2011. However, thanks to a few nagging injuries last year, Rodriguez missed at least 24 games for the third straight season, and he'll turn 36 during the 2011 campaign. He's still one of the best hitters in baseball, but he posted his lowest OPS (.847) since 1997 and may be beginning his decline. There's a good chance he's going to be overvalued in most drafts.

Kevin Russo: Russo looked lost at the plate in his first taste of major league action, hitting just .184/.245/.224 in 54 plate appearances. An unlucky .225 BABIP didn't help, and his minor league track record indicates some room for improvement, but he's always going to be more valuable for his defensive versatility than his prowess with a bat in his hands. He'll compete for a utility role in spring training.

CC Sabathia: Sabathia's second year in the Bronx unfolded just as smoothly as the first, and at this point you can basically pencil him in for around 230 innings, 200 strikeouts and 20 wins. As long as he stays healthy, and he's been remarkably durable throughout his career, he'll again be one of the most dominant and most reliable starting pitchers in baseball.

Nick Swisher: Swisher was probably one of the Yankees' most valuable players last season for providing his typical power (29 homers), but also for shattering his previous career high with a .288 batting average. That number will almost certainly drop in 2011 (a very favorable .335 BABIP played a major role in his success), but Swisher significantly improved his line drive percentage last season and seemed to evolve into a better hitter. He's locked into a starting job in one of the best offenses and one of the most favorable ballparks in the majors.

Mark Teixeira: As we've come to expect from Teixeira, his 2010 campaign began with a spring swoon that left him with a weak .136/.300/.259 line at April's end. But unlike past seasons, he never really found his groove (other than an outstanding July), resulting in his lowest OPS (.846) since his rookie season of 2003. What is to blame for the down year? Injuries, for one. By the end of August, Teixeira was dealing with a sore thumb, a fractured toe and an inflamed knee, and his season eventually ended with a severe hamstring strain in the playoffs. Fully healthy entering 2011, Teixeira seems due for a bounce-back year, which sounds crazy to say about a player coming off a 33-homer, 108-RBI season.

Top Prospects:

Jesus Montero: See above.

Manny Banuelos: Banuelos has rocketed up the Yankees' prospect list and is now arguably the most promising pitcher in the team's farm system. Although an appendectomy delayed the start of his 2010 season, he showed no signs of rust upon his return, posting a 2.23 ERA with 62 strikeouts and 14 walks in 44.1 innings (10 starts) for High-A Tampa. Near the end of the year he made three starts for Double-A Trenton, which is where he figures to begin the 2011 campaign. Clocked in the low-90s when the Yankees first signed him, the lefty reportedly hit 97 on the radar gun last season and has demonstrated significant improvement with his changeup as well. The best part is he is just 20 this season, and the Yankees love his potential as an eventual mid-rotation starter. He could make his big league debut as a 21-year-old in 2012.

Andrew Brackman: More than two years removed from his Tommy John surgery, the 6-foot-10 Brackman made 26 starts last season between High-A and Double-A. His fastball got better as the year went on, topping out around 95 mph, and he recorded 8.1 K/9IP across the two levels. Command can still be a problem at times, but the Yankees are very excited about his development, and he could be in line for a major league debut in the second half of 2011, possibly as a reliever before eventually becoming a starter at the big league level.

Dellin Betances: Betances spent the bulk of the year at High-A Tampa, holding opposing hitters to a woeful .169 average while racking up 88 strikeouts and just 19 walks in 71 innings (14 starts). Most impressively, he did it all in his first year back from Tommy John surgery (August 2009) and restored himself as one of the Yankees' best pitching prospects. At 6-foot-8, 245, Betances is a huge right-hander with a cannon arm, a fastball that hovers at 93-94 mph and a plus curveball. He'll likely start the year at Double-A Trenton, where he finished last season, and is unlikely to see any big league action until at least 2012.

Austin Romine: Romine had a strong start to 2010, but a second-half slide dropped his final line to .268/.324/.402 at Double-A Trenton. As a hitter, he's well behind Jesus Montero, but scouts think he'll still have average power, and he's the better defender of the two. However, he's stuck in a holding pattern until the Yankees decide how to handle their abundance of riches. Montero is more likely to get the first look with the big club, and if he's able to hold his own, Romine may get stuck at Triple-A as potential trade bait. But if Montero falters and needs to switch positions (or gets traded himself), Romine will assume the "catcher of the future" mantle.

Gary Sanchez: Despite not turning 18 until after the season, Sanchez hit .329/.393/.543 between the rookie league Yankees and short-season Staten Island. He obviously still needs a lot of development, but he has the physical tools to be a good backstop, and scouts believe he has above-average power to all fields. Add his name to the impressive array of minor league catching talent the Yankees have assembled.