As we pass the mid-January mark, most teams have the core of their 2010 roster in place. Only a few free agents remain, and other than a team adding Johnny Damon as a leadoff hitter or Joel Pineiro as a No. 3 starter, none figures to have a significant impact on a first-division team. The Yankees, as we’ve realized over the past three weeks, have little work left this off-season, leaving us to sit back and admire the roster Brian Cashman has assembled for 2010.
It’s hard not to like what the team offers. Some might not like Brett Gardner roaming left field, but with eight great to solid hitters ahead of him, and with Gardner bringing speed and defense to the table, the Yankees could do worse. I agree with ESPN’s Keith Law when he says, “I’m not a Gardner guy, never have been, but their offense is fine even if they put a pointed stick in left field (if the ball hits the stick, the batter is out).” He also notes that the Yankees will find alternatives, if need be, as the season moves along. But, if the No. 9 hitter who plays good defense is the only worry for this team, they have to be in a good spot.
Where they stand now, however, goes out the window once the season begins. At this point all we can do is analyze what we can expect from this group of players. We really have no idea what they will end up producing. Injuries and off-years can drag production down, while career years can boost the team. This captures the beauty of baseball. We have a reasonable idea of what players and teams can do, but once they start playing everything changes, and continues to change over the course of the team. The Yankees on April 4 won’t be the same team as they are to start Spring Training, and won’t be the same as the team they will be on July 1.
Buster Olney reminds us of this on his blog today, noting the common thoughts at this time last year.
A year ago, the conventional wisdom in baseball offices was that the Red Sox had the kind of starting pitching and overall pitching depth that should be envied, that the Rays’ trade for Matt Joyce was one of the best trades of the winter, and that the Tigers were a mess and couldn’t possibly compete in 2009.
For the most part, I believed all three points. While I didn’t go so far as to envy the Sox pitching staff, mainly because their depth consisted of recovering injury cases who had never pitched in the AL, I recognized they had a number of quality arms. Thinking, like many others, that Edwin Jackson’s 2008 was an aberration — he still walked too many and didn’t strike out enough — the Joyce trade looked like a win for the Rays. And I thought that the Tigers shouldn’t have started Rick Porcello in the majors because they didn’t have the pitching to compete. So what points do I believe now that will turn around once the season starts?
One point Olney lists, and with which I agree, is that the Yankees “have the best chance for repeating as champions since the dynasty Yankees.” I’m not so sure about that — the 2008 Red Sox looked like a strong enough team. But yes, the way things look now the Yankees surely lead the pack in terms of World Series favorites. How long they stay there depends on how close they stay to expectations. It means high production levels from older players, plus improving production from younger ones. It means staying healthy. It means standing strong against the ever-improving AL East.
Only the luckiest of the lucky teams go through a season without anything significant going wrong. I wouldn’t expect that for the 2010 Yankees. They’ll get their share of bad breaks, hopefully offsetting that with a few good breaks. But, while the Yankees deal with their issues, so will other teams. We can speak to the perils of a starting pitcher going down for the season, but other teams face the same risk and don’t have the Yankees’ depth to cover it up. That’s part of the game — sometimes the good breaks come in the form of another team’s misfortune.
I expect the world of this 2010 Yankees team. They’re well-built, with a strong and deep rotation alongside one of the best offenses in baseball. Things will change between now and October, of course, but so they will for the 29 other teams. As it stands, on January 19, I feel pretty damn good about this team. Don’t you?