Forget about long-term contractual concerns for a minute. Given the moves they’ve made this winter, are the Yankees a better team — in the short term — than they were last year? David Cone provided an interesting answer at last night’s Thurman Munson Awards dinner.
“Certainly a much more interesting team,” Cone said. “Better is going to be up for grabs. They still have obvious some holes, but Teixeira’s a big key for them to come back this year in the infield, because otherwise they could be a little short in the infield this year, certainly offensively as well. It’s going to be a much more interesting lineup, a much more dynamic lineup, and they’ve got a leader in Brian McCann. I’m a big fan of him, and I think he was a great signing for the Yankees; maybe the No. 1 priority was signing him over anybody else.”
Cone made it clear that he likes the lineup changes — the old lineup had gotten “stale” he said — but he acknowledged that there are still some lingering questions, and some of those are likely to remain for a while.
Of course, Cone’s a pitcher, so most of his analysis centered on new addition Masahiro Tanaka.
“I don’t know if it’s the best split-finger fastball in the world, but it’s certainly among the top five right now,” Cone said. “He has that kind of talent in terms of velocity and movement. When you look at a split-finger fastball — having thrown it for most of my career – I look at how late it breaks; the late movement and the velocity it maintains. He has both of those. He has high velocity and late movement on that splitter, which puts it among the best in the world.
“… He’s really polished for a 25-year old. When I was 25 years old, I was still learning how to throw a split-finger fastball. He’s 25 and he’s got one of the best in the world. He’s ready for this challenge, and it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch him.”
Cone was asked to compare Kuroda’s arrival to that of his former teammates, Hideki Irabu.
“Much different scenario,” Cone said. “Tanaka is much more established than Irabu was at that time, and Irabu was a different kind of a cat too. He was a little aloof at the time, and a little uncertain of whether he could pitch at the Major League level, but I believe that Tanaka has dreamed of this. This is what he wanted. He chose the Yankees for a reason, and I give him a lot of credit for that.”
Cone said a pitcher “of (Tanaka’s) magnitude and his talent” should be able to make the adjustments to different mounds and a slightly different ball, but Cone did suggest that the Yankees take into account the fact that Tanaka has never pitched as part of a five-man rotation. He thinks using off days to give Tanaka an extra day here and there could be helpful. Tanaka might get off to a strong start, but Cone cautioned that the adjustment will be just beginning.
“Generally, the (new) pitchers probably have an advantage because the hitters are in a defensive mode trying to react to what the pitcher does,” Cone said. “Naturally, I think the pitcher will have the advantage the first time around. That changes quickly once you’ve seen them a few times, especially with that unbalanced schedule. The American League East is going to see him more. It’s going to be interesting to see him go into Fenway and pitch in August and September in a pennant race playing for the Yankees, but he is a remarkable talent and once again, I think it’s a chance the Yankees had to take.”
Associated Press photo