2011 was a bit of an odd year for the Yankees. There were some big positives, such as Curtis Granderson's power surge (he finished second in the majors with 41 homers and easily led the majors in runs scored), the emergence of David Robertson as a dominant setup man, and unexpected sources of stability on the starting staff from Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon. Those positives were largely outweighed by the early-season disastrous performance and long DL stint from Phil Hughes (though he was significant better upon his return later in the year), another injury-plagued season from Alex Rodriguez, Tommy John surgery for Joba Chamberlain, and the never-ending drama that is A.J. Burnett.
After a loss to the Tigers in the ALDS, Yankees fans expected some big moves, but they probably weren't counting on seeing stud prospect Jesus Montero (along with back-end rotation candidate Hector Noesi) go to the Mariners in exchange for young power starter Michael Pineda and 19-year-old power arm Jose Campos. Montero's late-season audition, where he hit .328 with a .996 OPS in 18 games, showed the kind of impact bat he can be, but the Yankees weren't hurting for offense, so grabbing Pineda, along with signing Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year deal that same day, gives the Yankees the rotation depth they need to set them up as one of the favorites to make another deep playoff run.
Traded C Jesus Montero and P Hector Noesi to Seattle for P Michael Pineda and P Jose Campos.
Montero's departure leaves a hole at DH, which may be filled by one of the remaining older free agent hitters (Raul Ibanez, Hideki Matsui, Johnny Damon), but Yankees fans might prefer using the DH hole as a rotating place to keep Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter fresher, as Eduardo Nunez definitely showed in 2011 that he can handle a near full-time role. The Yankees are counting on Pineda to be a mainstay in their rotation for many years, and while his ERA increased in the second half, much of that was colored by three poor July starts. Pineda's strikeout rate actually improved in the second half, and his batting average against was still only .236. While moving from Safeco to Yankee Stadium will hurt his ERA a bit, it's hard not to like what Pineda brings to the table.
Signed pitcher Hiroki Kuroda.
Kuroda had a solid 2011 for the Dodgers, tossing a career-best 202 innings with a 3.07 ERA, 7.17 K/9IP and 2.18 BB/9IP. He was just 13-16, but that mediocre record can be laid at the feet of the Dodgers' offense. Kuroda turned 37 this winter, but the expected age-related degradation in his skills has yet to manifest. Kuroda signed a one-year deal with the Yankees. His ERA and WHIP may decline in moving to the AL and going from a pitchers' park to a hitters' park, but he may also get a boost in win totals with the Yankees offense.
Signed pitchers Manny Delcarmen and Hideki Okajima to minor league deals.
The Yankees raided the Red Sox's bullpen to grab a couple of guys who don't appear to be nearly the pitchers they were a few years ago. The left-handed Okajima is more likely to have an impact than Delcarmen is, as the Yankees went through 2011 with Boone Logan as the only southpaw in the bullpen.
Re-signed OF/DH Andruw Jones.
While Jones has fallen mightily from the Hall of Fame pace he was on early in his career, he still mashes lefties, to the tune of a .286/.384/.540 slash line in 126 at-bats in 2011. He was putrid against righties, however, so he's not likely to see much more than 200 or 250 at-bats. His power potential makes him worth a short-term pickup if injuries thrust him into the lineup for a week or two.
Re-signed P Freddy Garcia.
Garcia went 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA and a 1.343 WHIP. While Garcia doesn't have anywhere close to the velocity he once did, striking out just 96 batters in 2011, he's developed an off-speed arsenal that could line him up for similar success in 2012. The Yankees are clearly committed to keeping Garcia around, signing him to a $4.5 million contract in the offseason, but he does have competition from A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes for the fifth starter role. If he does get a rotation slot, streaming him in road starts may be the best approach; although he wasn't a disaster at home (3.98 ERA, 1.410 WHIP), the results away from Yankee Stadium (3.27 ERA, 1.278 WHIP) are far superior.
C Jorge Posada retired.
Posada was at the center of some clubhouse drama earlier in 2011 when he reportedly opted out of the lineup when he didn't like being asked to hit ninth. Posada had a big series against the Tigers in the ALDS, hitting .429 with an 1.150 OPS, but he clearly knew that it was time to retire. He leaves the Yankees after 15 full seasons, hitting .273 with 275 homers and 1,065 RBI.
Projected Lineup (vs. RH/LH)
1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Curtis Granderson, CF
3. Robinson Cano, 2B
4. Alex Rodriguez, DH/3B
5. Mark Teixeira, 1B
6. Nick Swisher, RF
7. Russell Martin C/Andruw Jones DH
8. Brett Gardner LF/Russell Martin C
9. Eduardo Nunez 3B/Brett Gardner LF
The Yankees' lineup will vary based on how the DH situation shakes out. Given his recent health issues, it makes sense for Alex Rodriguez to get a good number of games at DH; when he does, Eduardo Nunez will play third, and hit lower in the lineup. When Derek Jeter DHs, Nunez should fill in at short as well. Brett Gardner can jump to the leadoff spot when Jeter takes a full day off; Gardner also may sit against some tough lefties, in which case Jones will play left field, and Nunez, Rodriguez, or Jeter may DH. Mark Teixeira's struggles against righties have led to his likely being dropped to the fifth slot in the lineup most days; he claims he's going to beat the overshifts he's seeing by introducing some bunts into his game, but we'll believe that when we see it.
1. CC Sabathia
2. Michael Pineda
3. Hiroki Kuroda
4. Ivan Nova
5. A.J. Burnett/Phil Hughes/Freddy Garcia
Sabathia shows no signs of slowing down, despite questions in the press about his conditioning. He's as solid a No. 1 starter as you're going to find. Pineda and Kuroda will slot in behind him, and while some regression from Nova is likely, he'd have to really fall apart to lose his rotation spot after going 16-4 in 2011. Both Burnett and Hughes are trade candidates, so they may be showcased at the beginning of the year. Only the Yankees could give $5 million to someone like Freddy Garcia then not guarantee him a rotation slot, but spring training will be very telling as to who will start the year with a regular role.
Closer: Mariano Rivera
The ageless wonder just kept it going in 2011, putting up yet another year with 40-plus saves, an ERA under 2.00, and a WHIP below 1.000. The Yankees do have a ready-made fill-in for Rivera with the emergence of David Robertson, so they may be more willing to put Rivera on the shelf for a few weeks if he experiences any aches and pains, but Rivera shows absolutely no signs of weakening, and there's no reason to think he can't duplicate his 2011 stats. Other than handcuffing him with Robertson in case this is the year Rivera finally shows his age, we have no hesitation about drafting him as one of the top closers out there.
Notes of import, fantasy and otherwise
Who will be the Yankees' primary DH?
The Yankees can be perfectly fine going into 2012 with a DH mix of Andruw Jones, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, and Nick Swisher. The Yankees never met a problem they didn't want to throw money at, though so it does seem likely that they will look either to sign an aging veteran of the Raul Ibanez or Johnny Damon variety, or trade A.J. Burnett (likely eating most of his contract) or Phil Hughes to a team that suffers a pitching injury.
Can Alex Rodriguez stay healthy?
Part of that answer ties into the DH question above. Eduardo Nunez definitely showed that he could handle more work, putting up 22 steals and 30 RBI in just 309 at-bats, so that gives the Yankees a window to give Rodriguez 30-40 games at DH, and perhaps 10-15 more complete days off. It seems unlikely that Rodriguez will approach 40 homers again, and his speed is all but gone, but if his playing time is managed well, he does have a shot to get back to the 30-35 home run range.
Who will be the fifth starter?
A.J. Burnett's contract likely guarantees that he'll get the first shot, but he'll be on a short leash, and if he gets off to an inconsistent start (or if the Yankees can find a trading partner), Garcia could get a shot, and could definitely match his 2012 performance. The wild card here is Hughes. Before the Pineda and Kuroda acquisitions, he seemed like a sure bet for a rotation slot, but he's been so successful in the bullpen in the past that it might make sense to put him back there. We won't have enough information until early in the season to see how this will shake out.
A stacked offense led by Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, newfound depth in the starting rotation after the Pineda and Kuroda acquisitions, and a bottomless wallet enabling the Yankees to sign additional help or make trades as needed.
Age and a fragile starting third baseman. Other than that, it's tough to find too many holes.
Rising: Eduardo Nunez - Most Yankees are either currently in their prime (Cano, Granderson, Sabathia) or in some part of their decline phase (Jeter, Rodriguez). With Jesus Montero gone, Nunez is the best candidate for a breakout, particularly if Rodriguez or Jeter misses significant time. Even if he does only play 80 or so games, he's got 25-steal potential, and is an interesting endgame play in fantasy drafts. It's in the Yankees' interest to get Nunez into the lineup more often as well, as he's the clear heir apparent to Jeter (unless they get impatient and trade him first).
Falling: Mark Teixeira - On the surface, Teixeira's 39 homers and 111 RBI seem impressive, but after following up his .256 batting average in 2010 with a .248 line in 2011, he has to be considered a liability in that category at this point. Teixeira never hit above .264 in any calendar month in 2011 and his power slumped as the season wore on, with just 14 of his 39 homers coming after June 30. Perhaps hitting coach Kevin Long can work some of the same magic with Teixeira as he has with teammate Curtis Granderson, but until we see the results of that, let someone else overpay for Teixeira's reputation.
Sleeper: David Robertson - Robertson was one of the most valuable setup men in the game in 2011, cementing himself as the next in line should Mariano Rivera ever falter or retire. Robertson's numbers speak for themselves: he struck out an incredible 100 batters in 66.2 innings and his ERA was a sparkling 1.08. He can get himself into trouble with walks occasionally, averaging 4.73 BB/9IP, but Robertson's fantastic power stuff can often get him out of tough spots. Even if he doesn't close many games, Robertson can serve as a valuable staff filler because of the strikeouts (he struck out more hitters than starter Ivan Nova), and he's a particularly great pick if you want to insure an investment in Rivera.
Supersleeper: Jorge Vazquez - With the full-time DH job still open, if the Yankees don't decide to use the lineup spot to give aging veterans some rest, Vazquez could step up with a big spring. The 29-year-old Vazquez hit .262 with 32 homers and 93 RBI at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2011. He spent nine seasons in the Mexican League before signing with the Yankees in 2009. Vazquez has an abysmal contact rate (he had 30 walks and 166 strikeouts in 2011), and it seems likely he'd be exposed at the major league level. Still, if he actually does get the DH job for at least part of the year for the Yankees, he's worth keeping an eye on, but don't overpay based on the power numbers.
Manny Banuelos, SP - Banuelos lost just a bit of his luster in 2011, but he remains one of the top left-handed pitching prospects in the game. He's capable of occasional dominance, putting up a one-hitter against Pawtucket in his second to last start of the season, but he got smoked for five runs in just 1 2/3 innings against the same team five days later. Banuelos shows good velocity, but needs to work on his control, averaging 4.92 BB/9 IP across two levels in 2011. Banuelos will be just 21 when the 2012 season starts, and if he can improve his command he should find his way into the Yankee rotation later this year or to start 2013.
Dellin Betances, SP - Betances is three years older, nine inches taller, and 100 pounds heavier than fellow prospect Manny Banuelos, but the two share both excellent stuff and frustrating inconsistency. Betances can sit consistently in the high 90s with his fastball, and has an outstanding power curve as well. His secondary stuff needs work, which has some scouts beginning to profile him as a reliever, but 142 strikeouts in 126 1/3 innings in 2011 show how dominant he can be, and if he can improve his command (he walked 70 last season, averaging right around 5.0 BB/9 IP), he may beat Banuelos into the Yankee rotation. Betances will start 2012 in Triple-A.
Austin Romine, C - Romine is in a curious position in the Yankee system. He clearly has the skills to be at least an average major-league catcher; Romine hit .286 for Double-A Trenton in 2011, and scouts forecast Romine developing low double-digit power. The trade of Jesus Montero leaves Romine as the likely backup to Russell Martin, who is himself on a one-year deal. If Romine ends up with the job either due to a Martin injury in 2012, or after Martin's deal ends in 2013, he should hit enough to be a decent fantasy starter, but a huge offensive breakout is unlikely.
Gary Sanchez, C - Sanchez, 19, came into the season at Low-A Charleston with very high expectations, and when he got off to a slow start, Sanchez pouted and complained to the point that he was sent back to Tampa in early June to get his mind right. When Sanchez returned to the team, he was a different player, putting up seven homers in a nine-game stretch in late July through early August, and twice winning South Atlantic League Player of the Week honors. Sanchez shows fantastic power, but continues to struggle with his defense, though Sanchez has a an excellent arm. Sanchez remains a top-50 prospect on most industry lists, and 2012 will be a key year in his development as he faces more advanced pitching at High-A and demonstrates whether he'll be able to remain as a catcher. He's got the hitting tools to be worth picking up in your minor league draft regardless of where he ends up playing, though.
Mason Williams, OF - Williams, 20, had a really impressive year with short-season Staten Island in 2011, batting .349 with an .863 OPS, and stealing 28 bases in 68 games. Williams has all the tools you want in a center fielder; the speed is obvious from the stolen base numbers, the hit tool is legitimate, and he appears to take good routes in the field and play the position very well. While he hit just three homers, his .468 slugging percentage isn't awful. Williams will never be any kind of power threat, but he shouldn't be overpowered by more advanced pitching either. He's a prospect to watch, and could see the majors by 2014.
Jose Campos, SP - The forgotten man in the Montero/Pineda deal has a huge arm, and led the low-A Northwest League in both strikeouts and ERA in 2011. The 19-year-old should start at high-A Tampa, and could join Pineda in the Yankee rotation by 2014 or 2015.
Dante Bichette Jr., 3B - Bichette, son of the former Colorado slugger, was the Yankees' top draft pick in 2011, and he did nothing but hit from the time he got started in pro ball. Bichette won the Gulf Coat League MVP award, putting up a .342 average and .951 OPS. Bichette's power and hit tools definitely appear legitimate, and he's got a plus arm. The only question in his game at this point is whether he can stay at third base, or if he'll have to move to a corner outfield slot. In any case, at age 19, Bichette is a hitter to watch.
Brett Marshall, SP - Marshall had Tommy John surgery in 2009, but came back in 2010 showing excellent power stuff. While his numbers in 2011 weren't overwhelming (9-7 with a 3.78 ERA for High-A Tampa), the season would have to be considered a success in that Marshall handled a workload of 140.1 innings. Marshall throws two-seam and four-seam fastballs, a pretty good slider, and is continuing to develop his change-up. He's a bit overshadowed in the Yankee system by fellow prospects Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances, but if Marshall can continue to develop at Double-A Trenton in 2012, he should cement a major-league future for himself.
Angelo Gumbs, 2B - Gumbs is a raw, toolsy middle infield prospect, who acquitted himself fairly well at short-season Staten Island in 2011 at age 18. Gumbs shows decent patience at the plate, flashes of power, and good speed, stealing 11 bases (but getting caught seven times) in 2011. Gumbs will play the entire 2012 season at age 19, and while his skills still need significant development, the tools are there. If he can put it all together he's got a bright future.
Adam Warren, SP - The Yankees made noise about giving Warren a spot start or two in 2011, but with the emergence of Ivan Nova, Warren remained in Triple-A, where he had a decent year, going 6-8 with a 3.60 ERA. Warren can show slightly above average fastball velocity, but his secondary pitches are nothing to write home about, and at age 25 it's hard to see him developing too much more than he already has. If Warren has a major league future, it's likely as a fourth starter type, and probably for another team.
D.J. Mitchell, SP - Mitchell had a nice year for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2011, going 13-9 with a 3.18 ERA. Mitchell doesn't miss a lot of bats, striking out 112 in 161.1 innings, but he keeps the ball on the ground, giving up significantly more groundouts than flyouts throughout his minor league career. Mitchell will probably start 2012 back in the rotation at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, but many scouts see him as more of a situational reliever given his small frame and lack of strikeout ability.
David Phelps, SP - Phelps doesn't have the upside of fellow Yankees prospects Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances, but his command and control may allow him to beat them to the majors should the Yankees need rotation help. The 25-year-old has just average velocity on his fastball, but he put up good numbers in Triple-A in 2011, going 6-6 with a 3.19 ERA and 1.317 WHIP last season. He's far too hittable to achieve much success in the AL East without additional progress with his secondary pitches, but Phelps would become more intriguing if he landed in a situation with a more pitcher-friendly home park.
Cito Culver, SS - Culver was the Yankees' first-round pick in 2010, and while he's very impressive with the glove at shortstop, scouts doubt whether he'll hit enough to secure an everyday job. Culver hit just .250 with a .337 slugging percentage for short-season Staten Island in 2011. He's still just 19, so there's still some time for the hit tool to develop, but Culver's really got to show some development at the plate for the Yankees to have much faith in him as part of their future.