Yankees pitchers and catchers report to Tampa in less than 24 hours. The offseason is essentially over, teams have finished their winter maneuvering, but if you dig through baseball, you’ll find that no team is perfect. No organization answered every question and patched every hole. The Phillies aren’t perfect. The Red Sox aren’t perfect. The Yankees aren’t perfect.
I thought it was best to wrap up the Pinch Hitters series with something positive on the day before camp opens, and James did that nicely. The season is not over before pitchers and catchers report.
It says a lot that the Yankees — given their potent lineup and deep bullpen — are seen as such a question mark this season. It’s all because of their rotation, because starters are important enough to make the Phillies a favorite and the Yankees an unknown. I don’t disagree, but pitchers and catchers report tomorrow morning, ad the Yankees are much like every other team in baseball: A mix of good, bad and unknown.
Good – CC Sabathia is a legitimate ace, one of the top pitchers in the game in terms of both dominance and durability… Phil Hughes was an all-star in his first full season as a starter, beginning to live up to the considerable potential that’s been touted for a half-decade… After a terrific Triple-A season, Ivan Nova held his own during a big league call-up late last season… When he’s good, A.J. Burnett can be one of the best No. 2 starters in baseball.
Bad — Burnett is coming off the worst season of his career, a season so bad that he was held out of the ALDS rotation, just one year after he was the team’s No. 2 starter… Unable to land Cliff Lee, the Yankees top free agent rotation additions were Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon, both at the end of their careers, not at the beginning… Despite the positives, Nova has only seven career starts in the big leagues and last year struggled to work deep into games.
Unknown — Sabathia had offseason surgery on his knee, fixing an injury that impacted him late last season… Several young starters from the minor league system could make a run at a rotation spot this spring, and could be counted on to fill holes during the regular season… Colon has not pitched in the big leagues since 2009 but impressed the Yankees in winter ball… Hughes is still working to refine a changeup that could be key to building consistency… Are the Yankees top minor league starters ready for the next step?
Good — The Yankees are returning almost everyone from a lineup that scored the most runs in baseball last year. They could have scored 100 fewer runs and still been in the top third… Robinson Cano has emerged as a legitimate MVP candidate, one of the best all-around hitters in baseball… Nick Swisher made legitimate strides last season to improve his batting average and increase his production. Brett Gardner also took a significant step forward… At the designated hitter position, the Yankees have replaced Nick Johnson with Jorge Posada.
Bad – Derek Jeter is coming off the worse season of his career, and at 36 years old, there’s reason to wonder if that drop in production is a sign of things to come… Curtis Granderson made strides in the second half, but his overall numbers were not what was expected in his first season with the Yankees… Russell Martin hit .249/.350/.330 the last two seasons.
Unknown – Alex Rodriguez was healthy this winter. That might be enough to put him back among the super elite hitters in baseball… Similar bounce-back questions surround Jeter, Granderson, Posada, Martin and Mark Teixeira. The Yankees will especially count on Teixiera to return to his pre-2010 form… Top prospect Jesus Montero could hit his way into the big league picture sooner rather than later… Is Gardner’s wrist 100 percent healthy?
Good – The Yankees top offseason addition was Rafael Soriano, who led the American League in saves last year and will slide into a setup role… The Yankees also added Pedro Feliciano this winter, giving them a consistent, veteran left-handed specialist… Mariano Rivera remains one of the best closers in baseball… Joba Chamberlain, Dave Robertson and Boone Logan were terrific down the stretch last season.
Bad – The Yankees have plenty of dominant one-inning relievers, but carrying all of them will mean room for only one long reliever. It could be difficult to fill the void if back-to-back starters make early exits… Rivera is 41 years old. Feliciano is 34 and has carried a heavy load the past three seasons… The Yankees top minor league relief depth — the guys who previous bounced back and forth from Triple-A — is gone, most notably Jonathan Albaladejo and Mark Melancon.
Unknown – Chamberlain and Robertson seem on the verge of being reliable setup men, but last year the Yankees felt compelled to trade for Kerry Wood, and this year they felt compelled to sign Soriano. It’s uncertain if/when they’ll be trusted to take the next step… Logan was a revelation last season, but he doesn’t have a Major League track record… The best long relief candidate might be needed in the rotation… Borderline bullpen candidates Romulo Sanchez, Daniel Turpen and Robert Fish are either out of options or Rule 5 picks who can’t be sent to the minor leagues.
Good — Despite concerns about his ability to hit at the Major League level, Francisco Cervelli is a career .274/.343/.340 hitter in New York, more than acceptable for a backup catcher… Fourth outfielder Andruw Jones slugged .486 last season, giving the Yankees a replacement for Marcus Thames, but with a better glove… At the very least, the Yankees know Ramiro Pena is a reliable defensive option in the infield.
Bad – Cervelli’s overall numbers are good, but he’s been prone to extended periods without offensive production… Jones is no longer an elite defensive player, and he hit .212 the past four seasons… Pena hit .227/.258/.247 last season… Aside from Jones, the Yankees have no reliable, proven offensive options for the bench.
Unknown – The Yankees could replace Pena with Eduardo Nunez, but Nunez has just 50 at-bats of Major League experience… Veterans Eric Chavez and Ronnie Belliard were signed to minor league contracts and will try to prove themselves this spring… The Yankees bench could play a significant role if the Yankees feel the need to give Rodriguez and Jeter regular days off… How long will the Yankees wait before giving Jesus Montero or Austin Romine a spot on the roster?
Associated Press photos of Sabathia, Rodriguez, Chamberlain and Cervelli