Know Thy Enemy: The 2004 New York Yankees

The New York Yankees, the most hated team in baseball, in any sport. And yet they have a following, a great one. (Take that with a grain of salt, many Yankee hats have mysteriously dissapeared the last three years.)
Many Yankee fans have asked me to explain why we hate the Yankees, what we did to them. They are further mystified when I tell them that the Yankees’ buying of Babe Ruth SAVED the Red Sox from being “contracted” by Ban Johnson.
Well, here’s your answer: I can’t. We hate the Yankees, we always will. We have an undying, unquenchable flame of passion. Years and years later, when the Yankees lose 100 games and the Red Sox win 100, the passion won’t be any different, every Yankee loss will be loved.
I enlisted Dan Benton, MVN Yankees writer, in help to try and form a neutral column on the Yankees to give you a good feel of the team. I figured this would happen by me trying to be honest, but inevitably leaning to the Red Sox, and the same for him, but leaning to the Yankees. Hopefully both can combine into a true look at the Yankees.
Before I let you read this column, let me make one thing clear. This is the year.
Comments by Dan Benton, MVN Yankee columnist, are in underlines.
DH Ruben Sierra will mainly be used as a pinch hitter. Came off the bench the majority of the time last year. Decent hitter, good power. He’ll do the job as a PH as well as the next guy. Sierra is nothing to be concerned about. He is not going to be a big factor this year. I don’t feel like Sierra will do well as a pinch-hitter, only playing sparingly. My guess is that when Travis Lee comes off the DL, Sierra will be the casualty.
C Jorge Posada/John Flaherty both comprise a strong force at a needed position, catcher. While Posada is not a good defender or game-runner at all, he has a good batting eye and can hit the ball out of the park. Flaherty is a top-notch backup catcher. I wouldn’t expect as much production out of Posada this year as in previous years. He’ll be batting 8th, in front whomever takes control of the 9 spot. Won’t nearly see as many good pitches and has very little prtoection. Expect a below .290 BA, decent HR’s and low RBIs. Flaherty is a great back-up catcher. Used mainly for defense, although has good spurts with the bat. Most likely will catch once every five days. One of the better back-up catchers in the league.
1B Jason Giambi/Travis Lee/Tony Clark are all scary this year. Jason Giambi is much thinner, and apparently his batting eye is restored. I would expect a higher batting average than normal, but I think Giambi will hit more doubles than usual this season. I don’t think he will be as a power threat as he used to be. Lee was a very solid player for the Devil Rays last year and deserves to start, but won’t in New York. Revitalized Tony Clark seems to enjoy New York and could take Sierra’s at-bats away from him. Leg fixed, eyes fixed, middle of a powerful line-up, expect huge power numbers and a decent BA from Giambi. Not as many RBI’s as you’d expect, with A-Rod in front of him and Shef behind him. Lee will start season on the DL, may not remain with team. Clark is a good back-up, above average defense. Good power and decent bat. Had a great spring, but doesn’t expect to see much playing time.
2B Enrique Wilson/Miguel Cairo both make up the worst position that the Yankees field. If the Expos dissapoint, don’t be surprised to see Jose Vidro take a little trip to New York. Until then, ex-Cardinals super-sub Miguel Cairo will try to do what Craig Paquette couldn’t do – survive as a starter outside of St. Louis. Wilson is the Pedro killer, even though many expect that will end this year. If Wilson can play as well has he did in 2000, the Yankees will be all set. But there’s no way the Yankees will accept what they have in the position now. A trade WILL happen. Cairo is injured, will start season on DL. If he heals soon, he will be coming off the bench. Decent player all around. But nothing special. Expect a little below average numbers at the plate, for a back-up. Meanwhile, Enrique is expected to be the starter. Good defense, decent range. Batting 9th. Expect a low BA, little power numbers and a very minimal number of RBI’s.
3B Alex Rodriguez is new to 3rd base. Great fielder, will take a little while to get used to 3rd. Expect huge offensive numbers. Less HR’s than last year, but many more RBI’s. What Benton says is true – if you check out A-Rod’s home/road splits last year, you will notice a trend with players playing in the Ballpark of Arlington and away. They’re better at the Ballpark. A-Rod should have less homers, and his average will suffer. However, his RBIs should stay about the same, as the Rangers were a good hitting team. It’s conceivable that he could drive in more runs, but my guess is he will have more runs scored than ever before.
SS Derek Jeter is an above average short stop. Expected to have a great season hitting. Low power numbers and RBI’s, but expect another high BA season like last year. Will help set the table for the big bats. Expect more stolen bases out of him this year. Jeter bounced back last year, finishing 3rd in the batting race behind Bill Mueller and Manny Ramirez. Can Jeter stay above .300? With Giambi, A-Rod, and Sheffield hitting behind him, he should see a lot of pitches to hit and should have no trouble challenging for the batting title. However, his continued horrible defense will handcuff the Yankees. A fustrated Stienbrenner could possibly order A-Rod to short, alienating Jeter and quite possibly running him out of town. However, with the money Jeter makes, which is clearly too much for him, he will not be able to leave. Jeter will be quieted and moved to either third or second. This could be the divisive issue of not the team, nor the year, but of the century.
LF Hideki Matsui is in his 2nd year in MLB, more adjusted to pitchers. Batting low in the line-up, but expect numbers similar to last year, with the power numbers increasing. Great fielder, amazing arm. Matsui, not much to say about him. It’s a trend with Japanese players now to have less power when coming to America. I found out why the other day, in an article about Kazuo Matsui’s woes. Japanese hitters are tought to stride forward, which creates a lack of power. While Matsui should be more used to the movement on the pitches, his power numbers likely won’t increase. He should have no trouble driving in over 100 runs again, however. His average is likely to rise. Matsui will be very important in the outfield, what with the old guys manning center and right. It’s possible Matsui could become the center fielder by the end of the season.
CF Bernie Williams/Kenny Lofton are two old guys whose best days are behind them. Bernie Williams is nothing but a singles hitter now with bad legs. Lofton had a revitalizing year last year, but is still not worth two years at over $4 million. Leading off, Lofton should have no trouble scoring over 100 runs. Williams should DH most of the year, low in the order, creating fustration on his part, but will be kept happy by the run-scoring capablities of this team. He could go down with injury again this year. Bernie will miss first two games of the season, but will vary between CF and DH this year. Expect great batting numbers. High BA, decent power, 70-80 RBIs. Won’t get as many as he could with this high powered offense. Will score plenty of runs however. Weak arm in CF. Lofton will be the leadoff hitter, expect a high OBP and many stolen bases. Decent fielder, good range. No power, few RBI’s. A set-up man for the power behind him. Expect him to be in the top 10 in runs scored in the MLB.
RF Gary Sheffield/Bubba Crosby man right field. Sheffield is expected to stay healthy all season and get many at-bats, even though his ligament trouble in his hand could flare up again and require surgery. It remains to see whether his career season last year was a result of a new attitude, or just a contract year. We will find out what the answer is this year, from the self-absorbed man. Crosby is the low man on the totem pole. Sheffield will have huge numbers, much the same as last year. Possible MVP type season. Decent defense. Expect huge power numbers, huge RBI numbers and a huge BA. Perhaps the most dangerous man on the Yankees in this line-up. Crosby will see very little playing time. Below average on offense. Decent on defense. Expect less than 75 AB.
SP Mike Mussina/Kevin Brown/Javier Vazquez/Jose Contreras/Jon Lieber/Donovan Osborne/Jorge DePaula are one of the most injury prone rotations. This will be Mussina’s first year as the ace of the Yankees. How will he handle it? He left Baltimore and went to the Yankees knowing he wouldn’t have to be the ace, there were pitchers better than him. Now he’s the ace. What will he do? Who knows? Brown is always an injury risk. But when he’s not, he is on, and could make a run at a Cy Young season if all goes right. Vazquez – will he be Pedro of the Yankees or will he struggle making the transition? Vazquez has logged a ton of innings over his last several years. Going from a non-existent pressure cooker to a pressure cooker, with an expectation to win, and all those innings on his arm? Watch him, he could flame out. Or he could be great. STAY AWAY FROM JOSE CONTRERAS! He clearly hasn’t pitched well in pressure cookers, and he is the Yankees’ answer to Byung-Hyun Kim. The man cannot pitch against the Red Sox. He cannot pitch against the Red Sox, they just slay him. They did last year, and have this spring traning. Oh and by the way, Joe Torre, if you’re reading this…I think Contreras is a great person to start on the first game of the Sox-Yankees 2004. (Which I am going to! :)) Lieber just keeps having injuries thrown at him. He might make 5-10 starts. Osborne won’t stick around for long once the Yankees tire of having to win 11-10 games. DePaula is a young up and comer, entering the season at 25 years of age. He will provide the Yankees with one thing they haven’t had recently before – a man who makes the major league minimum and can actually pitch. Wow! DePaula will never be an ace, but could have a career as a #4 starter. Mussina is the #1, will probably have his first 20 win season. Expect typical Mussina numbers. Mid 3 ERA, over 200 IP. Many think Brown will be hurt. If he remains healthy this year, he will probably approach 15-16 wins. He’ll win more games with a better offense. Could surprise everyone and have an even better year. Or could be hurt. Javier is the most over-looked player on the staff. At #3 he will be the key. Expect low ERA, high wins, high K’s, 200 IP. Cy Young contender. Jose Contreras WILL surprise everyone. Great as a starter last year, healthy and ready to go. He will finish in the top 3 in the AL in K’s. He’ll pitch 180 innings, and win 12-14 games. Leiber will most likely be hurt all season. Donovan won’t last, expect perhaps 2-3 starts from him, before Jorge DePaula takes over for the season, who is a great young pitcher, good young #5. 8-9 wins, 4.00 ERA. Needs to get used to the league, will take time.
RP Mariano Rivera/Paul Quantrill/Tom Gordon/Gabe White/Felix Heredia is a bullpen much improved from last year. Rivera is … unfortuately, I must say this … one of, if not the, best closers of all time. I still say Dennis Eckersley was great in his time. Anyways, we all know what Rivera can bring to the plate. Here’s hoping Manny continues his run of success against him. Too bad Shea Hillenbrand is gone. Gordon is a strikeout pitcher and will try to amp himself up against the Red Sox. He feels the Red Sox did not ‘respect’ him. What is it with egotistical superstars and respect? He should put up similar numbers like last year. Quantrill will suffer from the move back to the AL after pitching against pitchers and being part of the Dodger’s dominating pitching. That being said, he is still an upgrade over last year. White and Heredia are the lefties, and are nothing to be excited about. Rivera is the greatest closer of all time. Expect the same he gives every year. Gordon will serve as a set-up man to Rivera, with Gordon coming in, in the 7th or 8th, expect the Yanks to make many close games, 6 inning games. Quantrill is a great middle, short relief guy. Really an upgrade in the bullpen. White is a shaky pitcher, on and off. has spurts of greatness and spurts of Jeff Weaver. Felix Heredia will be used in situational pitching. He is much the same as Gabe White.
When It’s All Said And Done…
The Yankees will be the best offensive team in history, and have an highly underestimated starting staff. If they remain healthy, they could be one of the top 5 in the MLB. IF. Big if, they stay healthy. They could crumble and ruin the Yanks chances at a good season. Their bullpen is perhaps one of the best in baseball. The strongest it’s been since 1996. Expect the Yanks to finish first in the AL again, while the Red Sox grab the wild card. However, the starting staff will most likely fail in the playoffs.
Let me just point out that right now, the Red Sox are the best offensive team in history, shattering the 1927 Yankees’ record for slugging percentage. While the Yankees certainly are going to try to change this (maybe Stienbrenner ordered them to take the record back?), I doubt it will happen. There are just too many question marks in the lineup. Can Bernie recover? Can Kenny keep it up? Can Jeter hit for power? (Slugging percentage matters here, not batting average.) Can Giambi hit them out like he did in his steroid days with the A’s? Can Matsui get some power? Is Sheffield’s 2003 year the real deal? Will Posada start to break down? Can they fix second base? Will A-Rod miss the Ballpark in Arlington?
Sorry, Dan, they won’t even come close to being the best offensive team in history.
That being said, they will still be good – good enough. Their rotation, if all goes right, could be formidable. But the history with Brown, Lieber, and Contreras are not good. Vazquez is unproven, but he should adjust and be the ace next season. Mussina is not anyone to worry about. Osborne and DePaula just won’t get the job done this season. If Mussina, Brown, and Vazquez can all step up, they can carry the Yankees through the playoffs.
The bullpen is much better than last year. Sports Weekly ranked them #2 in the division, though, behind the Red Sox. It’s certainly better than #5. How many more wins will the Yankees gain by having a better bullpen? Not enough if the starting rotation falls apart. What happens if Contreras stinks again or is injured again? What if Brown is out? Lieber falls apart? DePaula posts a 4.50 ERA? Suddenly you can only depend on Mussina.
If all goes right, the Yankees can win 100+ games, finish in first, but they won’t win the World Series. They could make it, though. It won’t take much to get past the A’s if they beat out the Angels. If the Angels make the playoffs, they have to be the second favorite to win it all. (Guess what the first favorite is? :)) The AL Central is a non-factor.
If all goes horribly wrong, the Yankees will finish third, behind the Blue Jays, and an enraged Stienbrenner will fire Cashman and rip up Torre’s extension which will be agreed to in April. He will spend so much money that they will approach $300 million, as he will attempt to get rid of everyone that underperformed last year – but he will have to pony up the most dough. A whole new team could be seen in 2005.
What will most likely happen? A dogfight with the Red Sox, with the Sox coming out on top. The reason the Red Sox will come out on top is because for the first time in an extremely long time, their foundation is pitching. And not only that, but they have the best hitting team of all time – so if their foundation is pitching, that’s saying a lot.
No matter who finishes in second, the Yankees or the Sox, they will have their hands full sewing up the Wild Card. The East and the West will beat up each other all season. However, the West will beat each other up more, for they have four teams while the East has five. The wild card should stay in the AL East.
Well, that finishes up the “Know Thy Enemy” series.
So, I said that all AL East teams were improved (save the Yankees, who will most likely be the same). So where do all the losses come?
As said in the comments, the losses will come via each other (strength is not reflected in divisional records when all teams have improved, ask the AL West) and they will destroy the AL Central.
Quick MLB Look
The Central could win it all with an 81-81 record, which will most likely go to Minnesota. The Royals will will finish in second, while Cleveland will struggle with creating a cohesive youth group. That beind said, Cleveland should overtake the White Sox as Cleveland starts coming together. The White Sox cannot win as is – they need to blow up and start over. There are too many clashing personalities, and the image of the team is bad. They need to restart and become a speed and batting average hitting team. Detroit will lose 99.
The Angels are very powerful, and are going to dominate – it is hard for them not to. They should win the division, while the A’s finally collaspe under the weight of losing everyone and should finish in second, missing out on the wild card. The Mariners will finish in third, while an improved Rangers team will finish in fourth.
The East is the Phillies for the taking, even though I say the Braves will surprise everyone and continue their run – of playoff appearances, taking the wild card. The Mets will take third, vaulting ahead of the struggling Expos. The Expos will either have a new home by the All Star Break, or be a candidate for contraction. This whole thing could be a ruse by Bud Selig to get the Expos to contraction, which he can do after 2006.
The Central will belong to the Cubs, as long as Prior can come back after being out until May/June (depending who you believe) and completely annilihates the competition. If the organization knew Prior could be out longer, why did they trade Juan Cruz? Simple – Cruz has control problems (which Leo Mazzone will correct, and he will become the new anchor of the Braves rotation by 2006). They recieved Andy Pratt, a left-hander who should fill the #5 spot very well. Houston will challenge the Braves, but fall. The Cards’ budget will betray them, while the Brewers should improve because of the Sexson trade – they may have downgraded first, but they upgraded other positions. The Reds will fall behind. They have problems. They have a horrible owner who overruled the President and named O’Brien the GM. The president then overruled O’Brien and named Miley the manager. Despicable. The Pirates will stink.
The West is weaker than before. Why did the Giants sign Tucker and not bring back Cruz? Insanity. Bonds will keep them in first, the Diamondbacks will barely miss out on the wild card, the Padres will be much improved but their pitching will need improvement. The Rockies will have not found the solution. The Dodgers will stink, but DePodesta will begin the managing of the new Dodgers by creating a youth infusion.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Opening Day is in 2 days. Enjoy.