Meanwhile, the Yankees have lost nothing significant from an offense that drew an AL-best 670 walks last year. They should jump back up near the plus-309 walk differential they had in 2003. Johnson alone opens the gap a bit on Boston.
But wait, the Yankees aren't home free just yet. Last year at this time I wrote that the Yankees "need another solid starting pitcher as an insurance policy. Does anybody believe that Kevin Brown, Jose Contreras and Jon Lieber will make all their starts? Without Jeff Weaver or David Wells around, the Yankees have only Jorge DePaula (10-11 at Columbus) as a ready replacement. They are considering John Burkett, Orlando Hernandez and Scott Erickson."
DePaula broke down. Burkett retired and Erickson failed miserably in comeback tries with the Mets and Rangers. Hernandez did rescue the Yankees' season by going 8-2 with a 3.30 ERA in 15 starts. He also wore down, though, and gave the Yankees only five so-so innings in October.
So this year I ask: "Does anybody believe that Brown and Wright will make all their starts?"
Wright, who had not thrown 100 innings in any season since 1999, tossed 195 frames last year, including the postseason, when his tank was predictably empty. Brown has made only 63 percent of his starts since he turned 36 four seasons ago and has shown little aptitude for pitching without the 95-mph fastball of his healthier days.
More important, some in the organization want Brown gone in the worst way. Many still have not forgiven him for his gag job in Game 7 of the ALCS against Boston. His outing, in which he was charged with five runs while getting only four outs, was bad enough. But what really incensed the Yankees was that manager Joe Torre repeatedly had checked with Brown in the 24 hours leading up to the game about his physical condition, stressing to Brown, who battled back issues all year, that he wasn't looking for a hero, just a healthy pitcher. Brown kept assuring Torre he was fine. So when Brown appeared physically limited on the mound -- he had nothing that night --- he created more ill will in an organization already ticked at him for his immature clubhouse tantrum in which he broke his left hand punching a wall.
The Yankees have to decide whether it's worth the maintenance keeping Brown around at a cost of $15 million. In the meantime, he'll be given a chance in Tampa this spring to prove he's healthy.