"Talk about new world orders. The Boston Red Sox are the new symbol of inspirational comebacks and the New York Yankees are the new symbol of choking collapse." - Jim Caple (ESPN.com)
Are the Yankees a good team? Yes, obviously. No lineup with Sheffield, A-Rod, Matsui, Posada and Jeter, with a rotation headed by Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina, and a bullpen anchored by Mo Rivera, is going to be bad. But how good are the Yankees? I really think this is an interesting question this year.
They upgraded their rotation with the addition of Johnson, but adding Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright is not something that I think will strike fear into the lineup of the Boston Red Sox - which, let's be honest, is all the Yankees think they have as competition, and they very well may be right. Pavano's move to the AL could be a tricky one, and Wright is still an injury waiting to happen until he's healthy for more than one season. He was good last year, but again, moving the AL will be a test for him. Kevin Brown at the back-end is nowhere near the dominant pitcher he once was. His injury-riddled 2004 was a bit above average, but outside of 2002 was easily his worst season since 1994. And he's 40 with a bad back.
Mussina is another question mark. 2004 was his worst season, posting a career-low ERA+ of 98 in 27 starts, and getting hit more than any season since '96. Moose is no spring chicken anymore - he's 36 years old. The average age of the Yankee rotation is 35. Pavano and Wright are both 29 years old. Outside of Johnson, they don't have a dominator, and I count four of the five of them as risky, which could be all five of them if you want to really say, "Hey, you know, Johnson is 41 years old, and it was only two years ago he missed most of the year with injuries."
The Yankee offense should be fine, but they didn't fix the things that were wrong with them last year, instead bringing in Name Value Tony Womack over Miguel Cairo, who did a perfectly fine job as the second baseman of a team constructed the way this one was, and leaving Bernie Williams as the horrible center fielder he has become. They've brought Tino Martinez back so everyone can feel good about Tino's Clutch Hitting (career .239/.326/.359 postseason hitter, for what that's worth) heroics and ignore the mess that Jason Giambi has become.
Tino is not a bad player, really. He's perfectly OK. He hit .262/.362/.461 last year, and with a team that has as much offense as this one does, repeating that should work out. Historically, Tino is a pretty good ballplayer and an important piece of some great teams. He might even be a little underrated. And he's 37.
The left side will be fine, though the fact still remains that A-Rod might save them some runs at shortstop (yes, Jeter was pretty good last year, but A-Rod is still better).
The outfield is aging with Williams (36), Sheffield (36) and Matsui (31). Matsui had a hell of a good season, but can he be better, or is a regression in order? I'd have to think that he will get a tick worse, but a tick worse would still make him a real good hitter. He's the most underrated part of their lineup except for perhaps Posada (33).
The team is good. They will probably make the playoffs. But penciling them in as a foregone conclusion is foolish. Injuries threaten to destroy this team, as they have absolutely no bench whatsoever. Their bench is among the worst in the league, with Ruben Sierra as the go-to guy, and all he can do is DH, which is being blocked by Giambi. Their choices for backup infielders look to be Rey Sanchez, Andy Phillips and Felix Escalona. Bubba Crosby is the fourth outfielder. And that bullpen, though heavy with names (Rivera, Gordon, Quantrill, Felix Rodriguez, the returning Mike Stanton, Tanyon Sturtze and Steve Karsay) is the same as the rest of the team: old, troublesome, and risky, but good.
The Yankees sported an 89-73 Pythagorean W-L record last year, which made them a ridiculous +12 at their actual W-L of 101-61. That is the highest since at least 1990, which is as far back as I looked at the numbers. Only the 1997 Giants (+10) posted positive double digits. The '04 Yankees were incredibly lucky. If Pythagorean W-L records had been correct, the Yankees would not have made the playoffs.
The Yankee teams that had the dynasty in the late 90s were a few stars, a bunch of role players, and good pitching. They weren't absurdly overpaid for the most part. Now, just about everyone on this team is overpaid. The question isn't whether it's a big deal, because the Yankees can afford it. But if you spend this kind of money, results are expected. I don't think this team is any lock to give results. I don't think they're a lock for the playoffs. I don't think they'll make the playoffs. I just don't think they're that great.
My Pick: 2nd
Street & Smith's: 1st, World Series champions
Sporting News: 1st, World Series champions
Sports Illustrated: 1st, World Series champions