With key additions, Yankees ready for another run at World Series
Curtis Granderson and Javier Vazquez make the Yankees even more loaded
A-Rod's link to a tainted doctor has not been too much of a distraction -- yet
Competing for the No. 5 starter job, Joba Chamberlain has struggled badly
This spring, SI.com's writers are filing postcards from all 30 camps. To read all the postcards, click here.
1. Brian Cashman wasted no time improving the club this offseason.
Heck, the Yankees general manager didn't even wait for the offseason to start. Once the World Series roster was submitted, Cashman's work was done on the 2009 season. "At that point I'm out of it," he says. "I'm in more of a fan situation." Cashman then used the 4 to 6 o'clock hours before each World Series game to make exploratory calls to each general manager. He placed about seven such calls before each game, not calling with any agenda but just to check in with each club, some of whom were already a month into their offseason work.
One of the calls before Game 1 was to Detroit's Dave Dombrowski, "not for any reason except I was going A-B-C-D," Cashman says. It was in that call that Dombrowski gave two lists: players who were definitely available and those that might become available. On that second list was center fielder Curtis Granderson, to which Cashman replied, "Mark me down" with interest.
Six weeks later Cashman and Dombrowski completed a trade (which also included the Diamondbacks) that sent Granderson to the Bronx, and two weeks later the Yankees struck again, dealing Melky Cabrera and two minor league pitchers to the Braves, netting Javier Vazquez to be the most overqualified No. 4 starter in baseball.
It was the trade for Vazquez that Cashman ranked as the most important of the offseason. The 12-year veteran is coming off a career year in which he finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting after going 15-10 with a 2.87 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP, the latter two personal bests). He gives the Yankees a reliable fourth option in the postseason -- more necessary this fall given the tightened October schedule -- and has not thrown fewer than 198 innings in the past decade. With CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte in front of Vazquez, catcher Jorge Posada says, "We have four No. 1's here."
2. Curtis Granderson's swing will thrive in the new Yankee Stadium.
As fate would have it, outgoing Yankees left fielder Johnny Damon -- the man Granderson is effectively replacing in the lineup -- would sign with the Tigers in the offseason, a de facto swap of left-handed outfielders with fly ball swings. And, indeed, Granderson, if he improves his production against lefties, should surpass even Damon's 2009 numbers: 24 home runs, 82 RBIs, 107 runs scored.
With right field in the new Yankee Stadium just a short pop-up away, Damon changed his swing and hit fly balls 42.3 percent of the time he made contact, a career-high rate (at least since 2002, the first year for which fangraphs.com has such data). He hit 17 of his career-high-tying 24 homers at home.
Granderson, meanwhile, put up his own career-high home run total last year but did so playing half his games in cavernous Comerica Park. In fact, only 10 of his 30 homers came at home. Even better (for Granderson and the Yankees): He's already more of a fly ball hitter than Damon, hitting fly balls on 49.3 percent of his batted balls last year, and only three of his homers went to the left-field side of center, according to this Hit Tracker spray chart. As a lefty pull fly ball hitter in the new Yankee Stadium, Granderson could hit 35-40 home runs.
3. Alex Rodriguez will never escape the headlines.
Life with A-Rod will never be boring. From steroids to starlets, Rodriguez has an uncanny knack for cracking the headlines. The new chapter this spring -- besides the news that A-Rod and Derek Jeter recently carpooled to the park -- is Rodriguez's link to a Toronto-based doctor, Anthony Galea, who faces several charges in Canada, including conspiring to smuggle HGH into the U.S. Galea has acknowledged treating A-Rod but says that he only prescribed anti-inflammatory medicine as the third baseman recovered from hip surgery last year. Rodriguez has indicated a willingness to meet with federal investigators, though an exact date and time have not yet been agreed to. All the Yankees have said is that Rodriguez was not authorized to be treated by Galea. Such is life now -- and seemingly forever -- for the $32 million, three-time AL MVP.
No. 5 starter
It has been declared an open competition among Alfredo Aceves, Joba Chamberlain, Chad Gaudin, Phil Hughes and Sergio Mitre, but one would have to assume that it's really a Chamberlain/Hughes wunderkind showdown, with the runner-up being returned to the bullpen as the primary eighth-inning setup man in front of Mariano Rivera. So far the underdogs Aceves and Mitre have been the best, neither allowing a run in their 11 combined innings; Gaudin and Hughes have both been fair; and Chamberlain has been terrible, allowing 11 runs in 3 2/3 innings. He even said he felt fatigued by the third inning of his most recent start, suggesting that maybe the Joba Rules were right all along and that he should be returned to the bullpen.
Old face, new place
Not only have Johnson and Vazquez both been Yankees before, but they were even traded for each other, with Johnson the headliner of a three-player package sent to Montreal for Vazquez in December 2003. There had been speculation last fall that the Yankees would keep the DH slot open for a rotation of aging veteran hitters like Jeter, Posada and Rodriguez. But Johnson and his .402 career on-base percentage were too good to pass up for Cashman. The Yankees can easily slot him into Damon's vacant lineup spot. "Nick Johnson has huge on-base skills," Cashman says "He hits lefties, he hits righties. He doesn't strike out much. All those things, for me, I could plug him into the No. 2 role right in front of [Mark Teixeira] and A-Rod and, if he can stay healthy, everybody's going to make a lot of money."
Ah yes, "if he can stay healthy." That's not Johnson's strong suit. In the nine years of his big league career, he has played 100 or more games only four times. He was already scratched from a game earlier this spring with a stiff lower back.
Right fielder Nick Swisher, who famously spent one offseason working out on a farm in Ohio, opted for another off-the-beaten-path training routine this winter: boxing. He worked out at a gym in Los Angeles for three weeks, pounding a bag for two and sparring for the third. He reported to camp the lightest he has been in four years, down 12 pounds. "I thought it was great," Swisher says. "No matter how good of a day or how bad of a day I was having, I could take it out on somebody." ... Former Yankee great Bernie Williams passed through Tampa before the club's spring opener. He starting informally chatting with a few reporters in the clubhouse, a group of media that quickly swelled, prompting Williams to pause, step back and quip, "Some things never change." He said his music has helped fill the competitive void created by his retirement from baseball.... Cashman says he doesn't expect the expiring contracts of manager Joe Girardi, Jeter and Rivera to be an issue this year, citing the established organizational policy not to negotiate new contracts before the old one has been completed. And, he adds, it'd get tricky if the club advanced further in negotiations with one and not the others. "I don't even know how you start [negotiating] with one and not the others, and God forbid you're successful with one and not the other," he says. "They're not insecure people. They know how good they are. They know how much we love them."
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