Sunday, March 30, 2008

Baseball Eve

So, tomorrow it's all happening for real. Tomorrow, Yankee Stadium has its last Opening Day. Let's look at the squad that'll attend the beginning of the end at the House that Ruth Built:

Pitchers (12)

Starters (4)
Chien Ming Wang
Mike Mussina
Phil Hughes
Ian Kennedy

Wang gets tomorrow's start, which'll be a small-print bit in the history books. Seniority rather than outlook makes Mussina the Game Two starter. Having Mussina and Hughes back-to-back could be hard on the pitching staff, unless Hughes learns how to economize a little with his pitches, or Mussina gets effective enough to pitch deep into ballgames again. Pettitte starts the season off the roster, although has him as the starter for Friday's matchup against the Rays, even before IPK gets his first start of the year.

Relievers (8)

Mariano Rivera
Joba Chamberlain
LaTroy Hawkins
Kyle Farnsworth
Jonathan Alabadejo
Billy Traber
Brian Bruney
Ross Ohlendorf

One of the few decisions of the spring was "Joba Chamberlain: starter or reliever?" In the short term, the answer has come out reliever, but the idea is still to make him a starter, perhaps as soon as later on this season. I worry that he'll get stuck in the bullpen, particularly if an injury put Mariano out of action for an extended period of time, he could wind up the Yankee closer, and find it hard not to get pigeonholed a bullpen role afterward. One of these guys is likely gone when Pettitte returns, and since I've stacked them in rough pecking order, I'd have to say that Bruney or Ohlendorf, the last two relievers to make the roster, are the likeliest cuts. Three games is not a long time to make an impression. With a new manager in town, Kyle Farnsworth has disclaimed that the limitations once placed on his usage were his idea. It'll be interesting to see if Farnsie finally pitches worth a damn now that he's in his walk year.

Catchers (2)

Jorge Posada
Jose Molina

No surprises here. The Yankees didn't have anyone in camp in a position to unseat Molina, or rather, Molina's 2-year contract. It may be impossible for Posada to match his 2007 performance--an A+ performance, in my view--but he's going to have to maintain his 2004-7 form to keep this offense moving.

Infielders (7)

Derek Jeter
Alex Rodriguez
Robinson Cano
Jason Giambi
Wilson Betemit
Shelley Duncan
Morgan Ensberg

The first three guys should, if healthy, play 150+ games each as the entrenched shortstop, third baseman, and second baseman, respectively. The last four will make a hash of playing first base, DHing, and backing up the infield and outfield. Ensberg was one of the other decisions of Spring Training, winning out over Jason Lane for the job of a second righthanded bat (after Duncan) to balance out this left-leaning lineup. Good job by the Yanks of going with longterm performance over Spring statistics in that decision (for much of the Grapefruit league, Lane was outhitting his former Astros teammate). Giambi, like Farnsworth, is playing for next season's payday. The ideal would be for him to start the majority of the games at first, some 100-120 games. We'll see about that.

Outfielders (4)
Johnny Damon
Melky Cabrera
Bobby Abreu
Hideki Matsui

Technically, Duncan's the fifth outfielder here. That works if you consider Damon a proper backup in center, I guess. Brett Gardner would probably have made the team if he was a righthanded hitter. We'll have to see how the newly-married Matsui adjusts to DHing regularly. That aside, everything here is a known quantity. The Yanks have to hope for continued growth from Cabrera and for Damon to perform the way he did in the second half last year.

Here's to a great season!

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