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The Opposition: New York Yankees

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NEW YORK YANKEES
2006 Record: 97-65, AL East Champions
Manager: Joe Torre

On SBN: Pinstripe Alley

Incoming: LHP Andy Pettitte, LHP Kei Igawa, RHP Luis Vizcaino, RHP Chris Britton
Outgoing: RF Gary Sheffield, LHP Randy Johnson, OF Bernie Williams, RHP Jaret Wright, C Sal Fasano

Out With the Old
There were some pretty serious changes made to this team over the offseason, with Gary Sheffield and Randy Johnson traded away, Andy Pettitte brought back, and the Yankees' dip into the Japanese pitching market to nab lefty Kei Igawa, plus trading away Jaret Wright after two failed seasons for a young reliever that isn't expected to do much more than set up Mariano Rivera, if even that.

But Bernie Williams is gone, and that might be the most significant thing to happen to the Yankees. Not in terms of player value, or shock, even, but, Bernie Williams isn't a Yankee anymore?

Bernie Williams has been a regular for the New York Yankees since I was 11 years old. He came up in '91, when I was nine. He became a good player when I was 10. He stopped being a good player when I was 23. And he admirably filled a role for a team that needed him more than they hoped they would when I was 24.

He spans a baseball lifetime, more or less. I have spent pretty much all of my life that I've paid attention to baseball hating Bernie Williams.

And I mean, I hated Bernie Williams. He always seemed like the whiniest of the Yankees, though that might have been just that most of the time he was so low-key, that when he'd show any emotion it came off huge. Or maybe it was just the letters on his hat.

Bernie will wind up somewhere or he'll be retired, which would kind of be a shame both ways. To me, he'll always be Bernie Williams: New York Yankee. And heaven knows how much I hate the New York Yankees and their players, but there is always a grudging respect for a good player, and Bernie Williams was a damn good player. I said about two years ago (or maybe it was just a year, I don't know) that it would be a real shame to watch Bernie flail away and chase fly balls he can't get to in Kansas City or Tampa Bay or Washington, because he deserves an honorable exit, and in my mind, "honorable" at this stage for Bernie Williams simply means he takes a final bow in front of a well-earned standing ovation at Yankee Stadium, with his pinstripes on and his hat in his hand, one last season completed.

And he still has his uses. He's a terrible outfielder, but the Yankees have outfielders. He can still mash the hell out of left-handed pitching (.323/.387/.549 in 2006). There are teams -- good ones -- that could find a way to fit Bernie Williams into their plans. He'd have to be a role player, but I doubt that's his issue with anything.

If I were running a team looking for a spare-part outfielder/DH with a track record and some ability left to kill lefties, I would rather give Bernie Williams a guaranteed spot for a couple million bucks than waste time even talking on the phone with Juan Gonzalez's agent.

Rotation Upgrade...Or Not
The Yankees made a big to-do about fixing their rotation in the 2006 offseason, as only Mike Mussina and Chien-Ming Wang were worth anything last year, which wound up causing another early exit from the playoffs. Randy Johnson has been shipped back to Arizona like a defective eBay purchase, and Jaret Wright was given to the Orioles with money to pick up Chris Britton.

To fill these two open slots, the Yankees went out and got Andy Pettitte back, plus they snagged Japanese lefty Kei Igawa, projected as a back-end starter in the major leagues. Assuming Igawa meets expectations, he will ably replace Wright.

But then there's Pettitte over Johnson, and there are things there that just don't add up, despite Yankee fan and media loving the move.

Randy Johnson sucked in 2006, yes, but Andy Pettitte wasn't really very good, and that was pitching in the NL Central. This is the AL East. Pettitte is 35 years old and just had his worst full season in quite a while, which followed what was by far the best season of his career. His strikeouts were good, but his walks were way up and he was very hittable. It may turn out that Andy Pettitte is no upgrade on Randy Johnson at all.

Wang had a good season, but not the type of season where you just assume that he's going to be good again the next year. He wasn't in any way, shape or form a dominant pitcher, surviving on a good sinker. And you can survive for a long time on a good sinker, but that is really all he has as far as a plus pitch goes. If he were to implode, it really wouldn't be all that surprising.

So then you're left with Mike Mussina, who is 38 years old. He just had his best season since 2003, and while his Yankee career could be considered something of a disappointment given that only two of his five years have been anything to get excited about, he is a reliable guy who does his job. Mussina, Wang and Pettitte are set in stone. The fourth and fifth spots in the rotation will be up for grabs between Igawa, prospects like Jeff Karstens or Phil Hughes or Humberto Sanchez, and Carl Pavano, who hasn't played since 2005 and took eight seasons to reach 1,000 innings.

The bullpen, which was another issue last season, is still headed up by Mo Rivera. Righties Chris Britton (3.35 ERA with Baltimore) and Luis Vizcaino (3.58 ERA with Arizona) arrive via trade to try to help get to Rivera and make the closer's job a one-inning affair as much as possible.

And somewhere, Roger Clemens realizes that the Yankees have an open rotation spot.

"Hey, You Think We Have Enough Veteran Sluggers? Because I Had This Idea..."
The Yankees appear to have finally realized that this "All-Star at every position" thing just wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Injuries, age and an apparent simple lack of chemistry left them without a World Series title for -- gasp! -- the last six years. And while it's easy to scoff at the Yankee mindset of worrying over making the playoffs every year but not winning the World Series, it is useful to remember how much money they're paying, and that the World Series is not the ultimate goal of this franchise, it's the only goal.

So say goodbye to Gary Sheffield, sent to Detroit for young arms. With Bobby Abreu over a full season, the Yankees have a more than adequate immediate replacement for him, and still have a seriously formidable outfield with Abreu, Johnny Damon and a healthy Hideki Matsui, plus Melky Cabrera as the fourth outfielder and hopeful starter-in-waiting, as all three outfielders enter their age 33 seasons. Cabrera, at 23 in August, has a lot of future left.

Jason Giambi will move from first base and part-time DH to full-time DH, and the Yankees appear serious about a first-base platoon coming down to Andy Phillips, gloveman free agent signing Doug Mientkiewicz, and maybe Josh Phelps. Phelps could be finding himself in very much the right place at the right time, as he smokes left-handed pitching and could form an offense/defense platoon with Mientkiewicz that winds up very effective, and perfectly adequate for a team that is starting Robinson Cano (.342/.365/.525, 15 HR, 41 doubles), Alex Rodriguez (.290/.392/.523, 35 HR, 121 RBI in a rough year) and Derek Jeter (.344/.417/.483, 14 HR, 39 doubles, 97 RBI, 34 SB) around ther rest of the infield.

Plus, veteran catcher Jorge Posada is still contributing with the bat at age 35. They can absorb the loss of Sheffield without even blinking.

Joe Versus The Volcano
Joe Torre has so long been "on the hot seat" that they might as well just start calling him Ol' Toasty Ass Torre. But, really, who else is going to manage this bunch of malcontents? Lou Piniella is with the Cubs now, and going outside of the Yankee family probably isn't going to happen. Lee Mazzilli? Please, he can't even bench coach in New York anymore. Don Mattingly? Mattingly is a loser. Torre deserves another World Series, so let's hope he gets fired and manages someone else to one.

Why New York Will Win
Despite still valid concerns about the rotation, the Yankees have a dynamite offense, with constant baserunners and the bats to bring them across the plate. The bullpen has a couple of new arms to take the pressure off of Kyle Farnsworth and his merry band of fools. Plus, you know what else? They always win. Really.