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As I’m writing this, the Yankees are in first place, 2 ½ games ahead of the hated Red Sox.

Stop to think about that for a second. Despite all of the injuries and preseason prognostications calling Boston the greatest team since the ’27 Yanks, It’s the Yankees who have the best record in the league. So much for predicting baseball, eh?

So how did we get here? And what about the next 84 games – can they keep it up?

CC and the 7 Dwarves

The starting rotation, if unspectacular, has been steady. That CC Sabathia  (10-4, 3.25 ERA) would turn in a typical ace-like season was not in much doubt. But when Phil Hughes broke camp without a fastball or command, an already shaky rotation seemed destined for trouble. Instead, AJ Burnett (8-6, 4.05) has seemingly put last season’s demons on hold, Freddy Garcia (7-6, 3.28) keeps junkballing his way to wins, Ivan Nova (7-4,4.26) has gotten progressively better as the season has moved into the summer and Bartolo Colon (5-3, 3.10) found the fountain of youth. Even journeyman Brian Gordon has turned in a couple of credible starts. With Hughes and Colon due back from the disabled list within the next week, the Yanks still may not have a “name” #2 guy, but the team won’t suffer from a lack of credible rotation options in the second half.

Mo and the other 7 Dwarves

At the beginning of the year, the bullpen was supposed to be the best in baseball. And it started out that way. But Pedro Feliciano was injured before camp even opened. Then Rafael Soriano (1-1, 5.40) followed up an erratic first month by hurting his elbow. Joba Chamberlain (2-0, 2.83) needed Tommy John surgery. Suddenly, a lock-down bullpen had holes everywhere except closer, where the ageless Mariano Rivera (1-1, 1.72, 21 SV) remains incomparable. Stepping into the breach has been Houdini’s reincarnation, David Robertson (1-0, 1.11) and a bunch of guys that barely earned a mention in the media guide: Hector Noesi, Luis Ayala, Buddy Carlysle, Lance Pendleton, Cory Wade, Jeff Marquez, Kevin Whelan, Amauri Sanit. Even the much-maligned Boone Logan has managed to become effective lately. Here, too, reinforcements are on the way, as Soriano looks to be ready by mid-July. And just to add to the laugh factor, yesterday the Yankees re-acquired Sergio Mitre.

The EVIL Home Run

Call it a sign of baseball experts not being as expert as they thought. A common refrain is that the Yankees hit too many home runs. Maybe I’m thin-skinned, but I take it to mean that the Yankees “cheat” because they do what they do best: hit home runs. They lead the majors in homers (115), runs scored (416) and OPS (.793). If the rest of baseball is jealous simply because the Yankees sport an offense that means they’re never out of a game, let them eat (AJ) pie. Oh, and for all of those NL “small ball” types: the Yanks are third in steals, with 71.

What probably scares the bejeezus out of the rest of baseball is that as good as the offense has been, it hasn’t really clicked on all cylinders yet – even though it’s beginning to heat up. While Curtis Granderson (.276, 21, 56, along with a ML leading 70 runs) is having an MVP type year and Mark Teixeira leads the majors with 24 homers, Nick Swisher (.250, 10, 43) and Jorge Posada (.240, 9, 27) have just started to hit over the past couple of weeks. Derek Jeter (.260, 2, 20) was playing old before his injury and Alex Rodriguez (.299, 13, 51) still hasn’t recovered his power stroke. Robbie Cano (.289, 14, 49) is hitting 30 points under last season.

The Manager

I’ve never been a fan of Joe Girardi. I probably never will be. But I have to give credit where it’s due and this season, Girardi deserves mention for Manager of the Year. He has stumbled a couple of times, but for the most part he has managed to string together enough oddball pieces to keep this team playing better than the sum of its parts.

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Andy Kindler took his annual visit to Yankees Spring Training camp in Florida. He appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman last night and shared his experiences. Here’s a look back at at 2010.

Andy Kindler: (wondering how you work in a baseball glove) “Do you suck it….uh….soak it…”  David Wells: “I don’t suck anything, buddy. You might want to suck it.”

(more…)

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There can be no doubt that the American League East is easily the best division in baseball. In fact, this year could wind up being historic in terms of division play, as my projections show 4 of the 5 teams capable of winning 90+ games this season – a feat that’s never been accomplished before. Is the talent level in the East really that much better than the rest of the AL? In a word, YES.

Both the Boston Red Sox and Yankees look to be the class of baseball this year. I project both teams to win 105 games this year and finish tied for the division crown. How evenly matched are the two juggernauts? The projections also have them splitting the season series, 9-9. Many prognosticators are giving the edge to the Red Sox this year, based on their starting rotation of Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Clay Buchholz. While the Yankees rotation is known to be unsettled, relying on a return to form by AJ Burnett, Phil Hughes avoiding regression from his 18-8 2010 season, and a collection of rookies and reclamation projects to fill the 4 & 5 spots, the Sox rotation also has question marks. Can Lackey reclaim his form? Can Beckett come back from an injury plagued season? Will Buchholz ever deliver on his promise? Can Matsuzaka come back from injuries and inconsistency? In short, both teams could have excellent rotations – or horrible ones, once you get past the aces. But offensively, both squads are loaded 1 – 9. The Yankees projected line-up of Derek Jeter, Nick SwisherMark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Jorge Posada, Curtis Granderson, Russell Martin and Brett Gardner may actually be better than the team that led the league in runs scored last season. Boston counters with Carl Crawford, Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, JD Drew, Marco Scutaro, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jacoby Ellsbury. Both line-ups are capable of scoring 1,000 runs. The real differentiators between the teams are in the bullpens and on the bench. The Yanks have a slight edge in the bullpen, with the 1 – 1a tandem of Mariano Rivera and Rafael Soriano. The Sox have a slight edge on the bench.

As for the rest of the division, Tampa Bay suffered some tremendous free-agent losses. Despite that, they come into the season with their only real question being the strength of the bullpen, where the oft-traveled Kyle Farnsworth heads a makeshift relief corps. The additions of Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon, along with new shortstop Reid Brignac and rookie Desmond Jennings, should actually make the offense better. And Tampa’s rotation remains one of the game’s best, led by David Price. But while good enough to win pretty much any other division in the game, this year’s Rays aren’t in the same class as either New York or Boston.

The same goes for the Orioles, although Baltimore may have the most improved team in the league. The infield was completely remade, as Mark Reynolds, Derek Lee and JJ Hardy join Brian Roberts. The O’s also brought in veteran slugger Vladimir Guerrero and closer Kevin Gregg. Add in what looks to be the league’s best young rotation and proven winner (and old friend) Buck Showalter as manager, and Baltimore is poised to shock people the same way Toronto did last year.

As for the Blue Jays, this team lost too much – and replaced those parts with questionable signings – from last year’s overachieving squad to compete this year. They’ve brought in pitching guru John Farrell to lead the team, but this team will suffer from losing Cito Gastons “let-‘em-fly” attitude on offense. Include a rookie catcher, changes at 1st, 3rd and all three OF spots and it will prove to be too much turnover to overcome. One bright spot for the Jays this year could be rookie starter Kyle Drabek, one of the game’s more hyped young pitchers.

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31 days until pitchers and catchers report, and Andy Pettitte has yet to decide whether he wants to pitch in 2011. He announced he may sort of, maybe, pitch for half of 2011. In my humble effort to help the Yankees’3rd winningest pitcher of all-time make up his mind, I offer 5 reasons he should schedule a presser and announce he’s retiring.
  1. We’re all expecting it, anyway. By now, most of the drama is out of the situation. If were trying to let all of Yankees fans down easy, you’ve pretty much accomplished that. All winter, we’ve been deluged with reports that you’re leaning towards retirement, that you’ve told Brian Cashman to proceed as if you won’t be back, that you told Mark Teixeira you doubt you’re coming back for 2011. By now, this is beginning to feel more like we’re being teased than primed for a triumphant return.
  2. If last year showed us anything, it’s that injuries are catching up to you. Yes, you had a great first half. An All-Star caliber first half. Then, your 38 year old quad blew out and when we saw you again in late September, you weren’t the same pitcher anymore. Why should anyone think a 39 year old quad will hold up any better?
  3. You’ve had a great career – go out on top! We all have memories of our sports heroes playing when they should have been home, feet up, enjoying a cold beer. Willie Mays stumbling around in center field for the Mets. Mickey Mantle reduced to playing first base. Most recently, Brett Favre not even being healthy enough to put on his uniform for his last two games. Better to go out on a high note, a la Mike Mussina and Ted Williams.
  4. It’s time to let the Yankees move on. Even thought the front office keeps telling us they’re going on as if you’ve already retired, it sure doesn’t look like it to those of us shivering through the winter. The team came into the offseason needing another starter, a set-up man, and bench depth. So far, they’ve only added an injury plagued catcher and a pitcher who hasn’t fired a ML fastball in anger in four years. Until you tell them you’re not coming back, they’ll probably continue to walk around as if trying for a part in Zombieland.
  5. 2011 is going to be stressful enough. Let’s face it: 2011 is going to be a year for seclusion, when possible. Besides all of the retirement talk you’re starting the year off with, you have that pesky Roger Clemens trial coming up in July. Do you really want to deal with the whole steroids issue in what would be your final season? Nah, of course you don’t. Better to have our final image of you being one of gutting it out on the mound in another classic playoff performance.

So, there you have it. Just let me know when to call the press and have them assemble on your front lawn. Heck, you can even wear your pj’s for the event.

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Part 1 of 2


The principle topic of discussion in Yankeeland for the past week has been, how much should Derek Jeter make on his next contract? The debate has raged on since Sunday, when details began leaking of the Yankees $45 million, 3 year offer and Casey Close’s “bafflement.” Yesterday, I saw a bunch of tweets about Jeter asking for 6 years and $150 million. I don’t know where those rumors started, but I also saw a bunch from Close stating those figures were “rubbish.” I’m also hearing that the $15 million average salary offered to Jeter represents a number perhaps twice his true market value, which sounds like so much rubbish to me. But before I start tossing around opinions, I thought I would do a little research into the matter.

The central questions to all of this tug-and-pull remains what, exactly, is Jeter’s worth to the open market and what is his worth to the Yankees? I think pretty much everyone with a little common sense understands that Jeter is for more valuable to the Yankees than to any other team and for the Yankees to pay him based strictly on what he is worth to, say, the Giants is ridiculous. And Jeter would be just as ridiculous to expect the same type of money from the Giants as he would from the Yankees. Harvey Araton of the NY Times has a good article today in which none other than Brian Cashman compares Jeter to Lou Gehrig. Like Gehrig, Jeter is a for more valuable commodity to the Yankees than to any other team.

So what is Jeter’s worth?

To start, I looked at what a typical major league team pays for players of Jeter’s caliber. By using WAR, we can determine how much a player is paid based on how many wins he is better than a typical replacement:

2011

2011

Rk Player

WAR

Salary

$/WAR

1 Albert Pujols

42.6

$ 16,000,000.00 $ 1,877,934.27
2 Joe Mauer

33.8

$ 23,000,000.00 $ 3,402,366.86
3 Chase Utley

30.8

$ 15,000,000.00 $ 2,435,064.94
4 Hanley Ramirez

29.1

$ 11,000,000.00 $ 1,890,034.36
5 Alex Rodriguez

26.3

$ 31,000,000.00 $ 5,893,536.12
6 Mark Teixeira

26.2

$ 22,500,000.00 $ 4,293,893.13
7 Miguel Cabrera

24.9

$ 20,000,000.00 $ 4,016,064.26
8 David Wright

24.8

$ 14,000,000.00 $ 2,822,580.65
9 Chipper Jones

24.1

$ 13,000,000.00 $ 2,697,095.44
10 Kevin Youkilis

23.2

$ 12,000,000.00 $ 2,586,206.90
11 Adrian Gonzalez

22.9

$ 5,500,000.00 $ 1,200,873.36
12 Robinson Cano

22.1

$ 10,000,000.00 $ 2,262,443.44
13 Derek Jeter

21.4

$ –
14 Justin Morneau

19.8

$ 14,000,000.00 $ 3,535,353.54
15 Jose Reyes

19.4

$ 11,000,000.00 $ 2,835,051.55
ML Average –> $ 2,945,945.95

First up, Derek Jeter is the 13th most productive player in all of MLB since 2006. I think that lost in all of the acrimony and discussion of how bad Jeter was last year is that simple fact – only 12 players in MLB have been more productive than Derek Jeter. That’s pretty amazing, if you consider that more than 600 individuals have donned a major league uniform over that time. (I went back 5 seasons, so as to get a representative sample). You’ll also notice that even with some horrendously underpaid performers (Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez) in the top 15, the average compensation per win in 2011 is nearly $3 million. Using that figure as a yardstick, fair compensation for Jeter – based solely on performance – would be his WAR dollar value of $12,608,648.65. If you were to pay him based on WAR dollar value of players at similar ages/careers, then the number drops slightly to $12,096,338.26 – or, to put it another way, teams realize players of Jeter’s age probably won’t continue to produce like they did when they were 30 and the average “age discount” is roughly $510,000. Also, you can see that there are four Yankees in the top fifteen: besides Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano. Their average compensation per win in 2011 is $4,149,976.76 – if Jeter were paid on the Yankee scale, then his value would be $17,761,818.37.

All of a sudden, that $15 million figure offered by Cashman doesn’t represent a number that far from Jeter’s value based on performance. Best case for Cashman, they’re offering Jeter a $3 million bonus. Worst case, the offer represents shortchanging Jeter by about $2.5 million. Based strictly on performance, the two sides probably could come to a pretty quick accommodation. But the principle sticking point in this negotiation is that Jeter is worth far more to the Yankees than to any of the other 31 teams in baseball. Jeter knows it. Cashman knows it. The obvious problem is coming to an agreement on just how much value Jeter represents to the Yankees vs. other teams. Or, to put it in Cashman’s own words, how much this century’s Gehrig is worth to the Yankees.

There really isn’t any way to statistically analyze that number. Since the Yankees are not a public corporation, we don’t have access to their financials, nor do we have access for their revenue projections for the next 5 years. But we can make an educated guess.

And I’ll discuss that tomorrow.

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Yesterday, the Yankees made their first move of the Hot Stove Season.

Was it signing Derek Jeter? No, although there are numerous reports today of them officially offering the Captain a 3 year, $45 million contract.

Was it signing Mariano Rivera or coaxing Andy Pettitte from the brink of retirement? No, again.

The Yankees traded Juan Miranda to Arizona for Scott Allen.

We’re all pretty familiar with Miranda at this point. A regular call-up over the past three seasons, the first baseman posted a .788 OPS over 94 plate appearances. A lefty swinger with some power (25.3 AB/HR) in the minors, Miranda was hopelessly blocked at the major league level by the logjam that is Mark Teixeira, Jorge Posada and Jesus Montero. Because of his frequent trips on the SWB Shuttle, Miranda is out of options: come April 1, the Yankees were faced with two choices; either waive him or keep him on the 25 man roster. So, the Yankees needed to do something to get value in return – even if they were dealing from behind the 8 ball. Here’s hoping the 27 year old Miranda gets a chance to play regularly in Arizona.

In Allen, the Yanks get a 19 year-old left handed pitcher who hasn’t exactly wowed scouts at any level. An 11th  round pick in the 2009 draft, he’s posted a 1.3 WHIP and 8.9 k/9 in 95 minor league innings. Did I mention he’s left-handed? And only 19? So there is a chance for some upside with this trade.

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One of the highlights of the early off-season is MLB’s handing out of various post-season awards. This year, several Yankees have taken home some hardware. Robinson Cano, as befitting his MVP candidate status, laid claim to his first Gold Glove and second Silver Slugger awards. Joining Robbie as Gold Glove recipients for 2010 are Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira. It’s Jeter’s fifth selection and Tex’s fourth.

As usually happens when these things are handed out, there’s been quite a bit of hew and cry that these are merely fan favorite awards and don’t really represent the best player at that position. I have to admit, as much as I love Jeter, his Gold Glove award this year surprised me. I certainly didn’t think Jeter had his best year defensively, nor did I think he was the best defender I saw during the course of the season. But these awards are voted on by managers and coaches, so…

Is there a chance the voters got this wrong? Unfortunately, baseball hasn’t really come up with a defensive metric that can really measure a player’s defensive contributions. UZR comes close, but it takes 3 seasons to come up with an accurate measurement – sort of a rolling measurement that is useless in determining a single-season award. Old school fans still cling to fielding percentage, even though it cannot account for a player’s range. For infielders, FP cannot account for errant throws that are converted into outs by an exemplary first baseman. So, a player like Jeter gets a big lift – while Cesar Izturis of the Orioles gets penalized for playing on a bad team with a substitute first sacker for most of the year.

Perhaps the best defensive metric we can use is the defensive portion of WAR – Wins Above Replacement. The theory is this: a player’s true value is best measured by comparing him to the mythical league average player and determining how many wins (or losses) his individual effort contributed. As part of the calculation, a player’s defensive statistics are measured, not only fielding percentage, but also things like range factor and runs prevented, then compared to the league averages in each category. (You can read much more about the calculation process here). Is it perfect? No, but it may be the most accurate method for determining defensive ability in a given season.

So I charted the defensive WAR for players at each position. I specifically selected players with a minimum of 1000 innings played at that position, which works out to 8 innings over 125 games (I dropped the innings requirement to 960 for catchers, or 120 games). I did this to avoid the Alvaro Espinoza syndrome (before you ask, Espinoza was a defensive whiz who turned that ability into a 13 year career, but was only a full time starter on 3 really awful Yankee teams in the late 80’s). Here’s the results for the top 5 at each position:

Catcher

First Base

Second Base

Name dWAR   Name dWAR   Name dWAR
Wieters (Bal)

0.7

  Barton (Oak)

1

  Cano (NYY)

0.8

Mauer (Min)

0.4

  Teixeira (NYY)

0.7

  Hill (Tor)

0.4

Kendall (KC)

0.3

  Overbay (Tor)

0.7

  Hudson (Min)

0.2

Pierzynski (ChW)

0.1

  Butler (KC)

0.1

  Kendrick (LAA)

-0.4

Buck (Tor)

0.1

Konerko (ChW)

-0.4

Figgins (Sea)

-0.7

               
Shortstop*

Third Base

Outfield**

Name dWAR   Name dWAR   Name dWAR
Pennington (Oak)

1.2

  J. Lopez (Sea)

1.8

  Pierre (ChW)

1.9

Al. Ramirez (ChW)

0.9

  Longoria (TB)

1.5

  Gutierrez (Sea)

1.6

Izturis (Bal)

0.6

  Inge (Det)

0.8

  Choo (Cle)

1.5

Andrus (Tex)

0.2

  Beltre (Bos)

0.6

  Gardner (NYY)

1.4

Scutaro (Bos)

0.1

Kouzmanoff (Oak)

0.5

Ichiro (Sea)

1.1

*Gold Glove, Derek Jeter (NYY): dWAR -1.1

**Gold Glove, Carl Crawford (TB): dWAR 0.1

The players highlighted in gold represent the Gold Glove winners at each position. A difference under .5 between players is probably negligible, given that amounts to 3 innings over the course of the season – not likely to affect much more than a manager’s intake of Rolaids. That being said, a difference greater than 1 is significant – it means an average player at that position would have contributed at least 1 more win. In that light, the voters seem to have basically gotten things right at C, 1B, 2B and 3B. But at short and in the outfield, it seems they voted purely on reputation, since neither Jeter nor Crawford finished in the top 5 in dWAR at their respective positions. In fact, Jeter finished dead last among AL shortstops and 1.3 wins behind Cliff Pennington. Crawford finished 11th among AL outfielders, 1.8 wins behind the league leader and 1.4 behind 3rd. Ichiro’s gold glove, in fact, is borderline on reputation. It’s not that he had a bad year defensively – a dWAR of 1.1 is excellent – but he did wind up in 5th place among outfielders. Net-net: Pennington, Shin-Soo Choo and Juan Pierre fans have a good reason to wail a bit about the Gold Glove awards this year. (Personally, I really like Choo. I just have no idea where the Yanks would play him. But that’s another post for another day.)

So, what do you think? Did the voters get the Gold Gloves basically right? If not, to who would you have given the award?

By the way, Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Facebook!

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Fourth in a series

2010 was the tale of two offenses for the Yankees: there was the offense that could explode at any moment; that led the league in runs scored and struck fear into opposing teams. And then there was the offense that could go days without getting a clutch hit; that lived and died as it waited for someone to hit the mythical 5 run homer. Both offenses were evident in the 2010 ALCS. Unfortunately for the Yankees, the latter offense was the one that spent most of the time on display. Injuries to key players like Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada robbed key players of time in 2010 and 2011 doesn’t figure to offer much improvement on that front. Of the 9 projected starters, 3 (Derek Jeter, Posada and Rodriguez) are older than 35. Additionally, the only projected regulars under 30 next season are Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner. This isn’t meant to be pessimistic – the emergence of Cano as an MVP caliber player and Gardner as a solid corner outfielder were huge positives for the team in 2010. There’s also a crop of intriguing minor leaguers nearly ready for the jump to the Big Ballclub in the Bronx. Once again, players highlighted likely won’t be back in 2011.

Under Contract (9):

2B Robinson Cano, C Francisco Cervelli, LF Brett Gardner, CF Curtis Granderson, IF Ramiro Pena, C Jorge Posada, 3B Alex Rodriguez, RF Nick Swisher, 1B Mark Teixeira

Free Agents (6):

1B Lance Berkman, SS Derek Jeter, 1B Nick Johnson, OF Austin Kearns, C Chad Moeller, OF Marcus Thames

Minor Leaguers to Watch (9): Note – this group includes players who received a call-up during the 2010 season

IF Reegie Corona, OF Colin Curtis, OF Greg Golson, 3B Brandon Laird, 1B Juan Miranda, C Jesus Montero, IF Eduardo Nunez, C Austin Romine, IF/OF Kevin Russo

Infield:

Derek Jeter may be a free agent this offseason, but nobody honestly expects him to sign elsewhere. GM Brian Cashman may have pulled some idiotic maneuvers in the past, but if he fails to re-sign the Captain I would fully anticipate his head being hoisted on a pole outside gate 4. That said, all four infield starters from last year – A-Rod at 3B, Cano at 2B, Teixeira at 1B and Jeter at SS look to be back next year. The key for this group in 2011 is health, as age, injuries and lack of rest caught up to them. Jeter had what is easily the worst season of his illustrious career, and at times seemed to have a slow bat. Teixeira battled nagging injuries throughout the season, as did Rodriguez. Cano finally realized his incredible potential and had his best season ever, but tailed off towards the end of the season – although he did seem refreshed by October. Despite their troubles, the infield combined for 102 HR, 401 R and 409 RBI. Getting the regulars some rest on occasion can only help their production, especially down the stretch. To that end, the Yankees need to decide what to do about reserve infielders. Ramiro Pena has a sure, if unspectacular glove but tends to get his bat knocked out of his hands, managing a meager .504 OPS despite garnering 167 plate appearances. Eduardo Nunez got a look late in the season, but displayed shaky defense with a middling bat. Kevin Russo got a look early in the year, but proved to be another Cody Ransom. Expect Reegie Corona to get a look this spring, but I expect he’ll spend a year at Scranton as the Yanks look to see if he might be able to fill in for Jeter in 2012. Another option is the free agent market, which is loaded with career utility types. One in particular, Willie Bloomquist, has piqued the Yankees interest in the past. As for Nick Johnson, 2010’s big offseason free agent signing: I don’t think he can pack his bags fast enough for the Yankees or their fans.

Catchers:

This was a definite weak spot for the Yankees in 2010. Neither Jorge Posada nor Francisco Cervelli proved to be worth much defensively. To make matters worse, Posada not only battled an assortment of injuries during the season, but suffered through a decidedly sub-par season offensively. Cervelli finished with decent numbers for a catcher (.694 OPS), but disappeared for the entire summer, hitting only .147 in June, July and August. Fully expect touted rookie Jesus Montero to make his Bronx debut in 2011, although that will crowd the situation behind the plate. If the Yankees do keep 11 pitchers on the roster, as is generally the case these days that only leaves room for 14 fielders – carrying three catchers is probably a luxury the Yankees can’t afford. Expect the Yankees to give Cervelli a look at third before making a final decision, to see if he can field the position defensively. Whatever the future holds for Cervelli, fully expect Posada and Montero to split the catching duties, with Montero getting the bulk of the starts behind the plate as the season progresses. The reviews on Montero’s defense have not been kind, but the Yanks hope that he can learn on the job, similar to another young, power-hitting catching prospect from 15 years ago. Some kid named Jorge Posada.

Outfield:

The Yankees seem to be set, with all three of 2010’s starters returning. But here’s the catch: there are two FA outfielders the Yanks have long coveted, Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth. Should the Yankees sign one or the other, a stable outfield situation suddenly becomes crowded. Do you sit Brett Gardner, who had a very respectable .762 OPS and stole 47 bases? Do you trade Nick Swisher, who is a fan favorite in the Bronx and posted a .288/29/89 line? Do you trade Curtis Granderson, a former all-star who found his stroke towards the end of the season? The most likely scenario has the Yankees signing Crawford (.307,19 HR, 90 RBI, 47 SB), if for no other reason than to keep him away from Boston, starting him in left and sitting Gardner. Also expect the Yankees to make an effort to re-sign Thames, who proved to be a valuable bat off the bench. But since 2011 looks to offer him even fewer opportunities than 2010, Thames will likely look elsewhere first.

That means the projected opening day line-up in 2011 would be:

SS Jeter, LF Crawford, 1B Teixeira, 3B Rodriguez, 2B Cano, RF Swisher, C Posada, DH Montero, CF Granderson

Current MLB players on 40 man roster:

Position Name Age Avg OBA SLG 2010 Salary 2011 Contract
2B Robinson Cano

28

0.319

0.381

0.534

$ 9,000,000.00 $ 10,000,000.00
C Francisco Cervelli

25

0.271

0.359

0.335

$ 410,800.00 Under Team Control
LF Brett Gardner

27

0.277

0.383

0.379

$ 452,000.00 Under Team Control
CF Curtis Granderson

30

0.247

0.324

0.468

$ 5,500,000.00 $ 8,250,000.00
IF Ramiro Pena

25

0.227

0.258

0.247

$ 412,000.00 Under Team Control
C Jorge Posada

39

0.248

0.357

0.454

$ 13,100,000.00 $ 13,100,000.00
3B Alex Rodriguez

35

0.270

0.341

0.506

$ 33,000,000.00 $ 31,000,000.00
RF/1B Nick Swisher

30

0.288

0.359

0.511

$ 6,850,000.00 $ 9,000,000.00
1B Mark Teixeira

31

0.256

0.365

0.481

$ 20,625,000.00 $ 22,500,000.00
1B Lance Berkman

35

0.255

0.358

0.349

$ 15,000,000.00 Free Agent
SS Derek Jeter

37

0.270

0.340

0.370

$ 22,500,000.00 Free Agent
1B Nick Johnson

32

0.167

0.388

0.306

$ 5,500,000.00 Free Agent
OF Austin Kearns

31

0.235

0.345

0.324

$ 750,000.00 Free Agent
C Chad Moeller

36

0.214

0.267

0.429

Unknown Free Agent
OF Marcus Thames

34

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$ 900,000.00 Free Agent

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According to Marc Carig of the Star Ledger, Mark Teixeira is out for the remainder of the playoffs with a Grade II sprain (6 to 8 weeks). With Teixeira being removed from the roster, he will not be allowed to be added in the next round (if they were to advance). Eduardo Nunez will be activated.

  Mark Teixeira #25 Of The New York Yankees Is

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Tonight, the Yankees start the second leg of the Chase for 28 in Arlington, Texas. The game is on TBS and coverage begins at 8pm ET.

The Yankees got to this point by disposing of the Twins in 3 straight, while the Rangers are coming off a much more grueling 5 game victory over the Rays. The teams split their regular season series at 4 wins apiece – but this is the postseason, where the Yankees have historically owned the Rangers. But these aren’t your father’s Rangers. Those teams tried to club you into submission; this one features some pitching and speed in addition to the power.

During the regular season, the Rangers cruised to the AL West crown, finishing 9 games ahead of Oakland. Still, they would have finished third in the AL East, only one game ahead of Boston – and Boston was never really in the race after the All-Star break.

Let’s break it down.

Rotations:

Each team is planning on going with a four man rotation, although if either is down 3-0 the smart money is the game four starter will change.

Game 1: CC Sabathia vs. CJ Wilson

In the battle of Starters With Initials For Names, Sabathia is the Yankee ace and won 21 games this year. Wilson is the Rangers version of Phil Hughes, emerging from the bullpen to realize his potential this season. In their respective starts in the ALDS, Sabathia worked through 6 innings, demonstrating why he’s an ace: even without great command or life on his pitches, he kept the Yankees in the game until the team solved Francisco Liriano. The guy just finds a way to win, especially in prime-time. Wilson dominated the Rays in Game 2 of that series.

Game 2: Phil Hughes vs. Colby Lewis

Hughes gets the ball in Arlington, where he’s pitched well in the past. Lewis is a reclamation project, being rescued from Japan. Hughes went 18-8 while Lewis parked a 12-13 record. Each pitcher is relatively inexperienced in the postseason and will be making their second start, although Hughes also pitched out of the pen in last year’s postseason run to #27. In their previous starts, Hughes dominated the Twins in winning the clincher. Lewis was nearly as effective in game 3 against the Rays.

Game 3: Andy Pettite vs. Cliff Lee

The marquee matchup of this series pits Pettite, the all-time leader in starts and wins in the postseason against the Rangers ace – who has been dominant the past two years in October. Prepare for one of those classic 1-0 type games.

Game 4: AJ Burnett vs. Tommy Hunter

Burnett is basically like the lost lamb trying to find his way back, after a season in which he posted career highs in hit batters and ERA while posting a career worst WHIP. It was an ugly year for AJ and is pretty much getting the start only because the Yanks don’t want to burn out CC before the World Series. However, the Rangers may be the perfect team for AJ to get his groove back – the only teams he was statistically better against in 2010 were the Royals and Indians. Hunter posted career highs in wins, starts and innings pitched, but he’s very much a pitcher who relies on guile and command. Yankee Stadium in October isn’t exactly conducive to easing rattled nerves for opposing players (just ask the Angels from last year).

Because the Rangers had to go the distance with Tampa Bay, the Yankees catch a huge break: Rangers ace and Yankee-killer Cliff Lee will, at best, get 2 starts (games 3 & 7). But the odds are this series won’t go the full 7 games. Edge: Yankees

Bullpens:

The Yankees have the ultimate post season weapon in closer Mariano Rivera, and set him up rather nicely with Kerry Wood, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and lefty Boone Logan. Despite the Rangers being primarily right-handed offensively, Logan still figures to be an important weapon out of the pen against Josh Hamilton.

The Rangers feature first-year closer Neftali Feliz and veteran lefty swing-man Darren Oliver. After that, it’s a hope, a prayer and somebody getting thrown to the wolves. The primary set-up man this year is Darren O’Day, but expect lefties Michael Kirkman and Derrek Holland to see plenty of action, as well. The Rangers also added another lefthander, Clay Rapada, to the roster for this series. Edge: Yankees

Offenses:

The Yankees led the league in scoring and the lineup is so deep that veteran All-Star Lance Berkman hits 8th. MVP candidate Robinson Cano is joined by perennial All-Stars Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira in the 100RBI club, and 5 Yankees went deep 25 or more times in 2010. When future Hall-of-Famer Derek Jeter is the weakest link in your lineup, you’re pretty set offensively. The Yankees also have speed in Jeter, Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner (3rd in steals). Marcus Thames adds a proven power bat off the bench. The key to holding the Yankees down is hoping that Joe Girardi goes insane and starts IF Ramiro Pena and OF Greg Golson.

The Rangers boast some serious offense with the likes of CF/LF Josh Hamilton (also an MVP candidate), RF Nelson Cruz, DH Vladimir Guerrero, 3B Michael Young and 2B Ian Kinsler. SS Elvis Andrus and CF Julio Borbon add speed, but not much pop and not much in the way of getting on base. OF Jeff Francouer was brought over from the Mets to add a RH bat off the bench and pair with lefty OF David Murphy. The Rangers are offensively challenged at C and 1B, although C Bengie Molina can turn on a mistake. Still, the Rangers are only a real force offensively in positions 2-6. Edge: Yankees

Defenses:

The Rangers are a solid team defensively, particularly in the outfield, where the speed of Hamilton, Cruz and Borbon lets them get to a lot of balls and both Hamilton and Cruz feature excellent throwing arms. On the infield, Kinsler and Young don’t make many mistakes, but both have been compared to statues in the past. Catcher Molina is a weapon against opponents running games, but more importantly works well with the pitching staff. Reserve C Matt Treanor also figures to get at least one start. SS Andrus has terrific range and a good arm, but can be erratic at times. Manager Ron Washington has done a terrific job in shoring up what was once one of the worst defenses in baseball, but the Rangers aren’t on par with 1976 Reds yet.

The Yankees feature Gold Glove defense at 1B, 2B and LF. The greatest weakness is behind the plate, where C Jorge Posada had a sub-par year both throwing and blocking balls. Reserve C Francisco Cervelli seems destined to get the game 4 start, but has only been marginally better. Edge: Yankees

On the whole, the Yankees are clearly the better team. Watch out if the Yankees win the first two in Texas – this series could be over before Cliff Lee even takes the hill in game 3. Pick: I was originally going to say Yankees in 5, but I talked myself into it…

Yankees in a sweep.

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