Sunday, February 28, 2010

Spring Preview: New York Yankees

TAMPA - Rain washed out my visit to New York Yankees spring training practice Saturday, although that didn't stop a few hundred pinstriped fans from loitering around George Steinbrenner Field to perhaps get a glimpse of one of their heroes from under an umbrella.

There might be a little less tension around Tampa and back in the Bronx this year with the Yanks having claimed their 27th world title in 2009. But New York is primed to make a run at No. 28 this year, thanks to plenty of Yankee superstars worthy of your fantasy consideration in 2010.

BREAKOUT PLAYERS: The Yanks weren't afraid to do some major tweaking to their championship roster, most notably staying goodbye to left fielder and World Series Game 4 star Johnny Damon over the offseason. His departure creates an opportunity for two new faces to have big years in 2010: New left fielder Curtis Granderson and DH Nick Johnson, back for his second tour of duty with N.Y. There have been whispers of Granderson's diminished defensive abilities and loud sirens signalling his ineffectiveness against left-handed pitching (.183 vs. southpaws in 2009), but he did also jack a career-high 30 homers last year, and he could easily duplicate that thanks to a swing that's tailor-made for the new Yankee Stadium's friendly right-field porch.

Meanwhile, there's a chance Johnson could take Damon's No. 2 spot in the batting order, and you can't tell me he wouldn't be excited to bat behind Derek Jeter and in front of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez after spending the past few years in the MLB wasteland of Washington, D.C. Johnson's plate discipline (career OBP: .402) make him a great fit for that spot in the Yanks' lineup, and the opportunity to DH after years in the NL should allow the injury-hampered Johnson to stay in the game.

BUYER BEWARE: Jorge Posada has to eventually break down, and though he's shown no warning signs yet, the man is 38 years old and will be behind the plate yet again for New York. In many ways he's the surest thing at the position this side of Joe Mauer if he performs up to his level of consistency, but one of these days Father Time will catch up with him (pun intended), and some fantasy owners are going to get burned. Is this the year?

ETC: A year removed from hip surgery, Rodriguez is still a fantasy beast and and a mid-first-rounder. ... Little reason to worry about Jeter, Teixeira, Robinson Cano or CC Sabathia. You know what kind of quality you're getting there. ... Javier Vazquez, another player making his second tour of duty in the Bronx, is intriguing. Coming off arguably his best season, his ERA is sure to take a hit with the move back to the AL East, where he once failed. But the lowered expectations of a No. 4 starter spot and the likely increase in run support he'll get in New York should help. So I don't really know what to expect. ... The battle for New York's No. 5 starter spot is one to watch, not just because of who wins but also who loses. If it's really a race between Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain, the loser will still have value as arguably one of the top setup men in baseball. ... Mariano Rivera is still a worry-free draft choice at closer. Pick him and pencil yourself in for an easy 35 saves and no headaches. ... Brett Gardner is the Yanks' top stolen base threat, swiping 26 in just 284 plate appearances last year. He stands to get regular playing time with Melky Cabrera and Damon out of the picture and could be a 40-steal source without killing you in batting average (.270 in 2009).

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