My lineup post from yesterday morning generated a fair bit of discussion in the comments section, mainly about the topics of optimism vs. pessimism and how it's way too early in the year to be so negative about the team. I didn't think I was being anything other than objective and realistic about the players I listed. I mean, if Juan Rivera and Brennan Boesch were such world beaters, wouldn't other teams have scooped them up before the Yankees? Boesch is in the prime of his career and Detroit threw him out like a sack of garbage. That said more to me about the type of player the Yankees were getting than any kind of positive projections or hopeful feelings ever could, but I digress. Before I get officially labeled the Negative Nancy of this new blogging team, I wanted to go on the record and point out some of the things I have very positive feelings about this season, things like...
Brett Gardner Having Another 6 fWAR Season
I've always been a big Gardner fan and I think he's due for a big bounce back this season, both health-wise and at the plate. Gardner has always been good at taking pitches and working counts, and I believe he'll spend more time hitting at the top of the order this season where those skills are even more valuable. Gardner understands the game and he won't be the type to come up hacking if he's leading off a game or an inning unless he's looking for a fastball and gets one right down Broadway. I won't point to his ST stats other than to acknowledge that his 7 BB are most among players expected to make the roster, and I believe that combined with his slightly new swing mechanics, Gold Glove-caliber defense, 45-50 SB, and 150ish games played will get him back to where he was in 2010.
Kevin Youkilis' Resurgence
Specifically a resurgence in production, as I do believe the amount of playing time he'll have to get without rest early in the season will put him at risk of breaking down physically. But as a placeholder for A-Rod, the Yankees don't need Youkilis to be productive for a full season and I have faith in Kevin Long's ability to correct hitters' mechanical mistakes and find bat speed and Youkilis' ST results the past two weeks have been a testament to the Dr. Long System. Again, I'm name dropping ST stats here, which is a big no-no for me, but 11 hits in roughly a dozen games and all of those hits for extra bases? That's impressive in any situation. There's life left in Youkilis' bat, and as long as he's on the field I think he'll produce more than we might have expected.
The "the rotation will have to carry the team" bell is being rung at a record pace right now and it is true. For me, the most important part of that theme playing out is Hughes and Nova at the back end of the rotation. Even with some regression, you pretty much know what you're going to get from CC, Kuroda, and Andy at the top. Improved performance from Hughes and Nova in the 4-5 spots is the key to making this year's rotation great and based on what I saw late last year from Hughes with the slider and early this year from Nova with the fastball command, I believe it's in the cards. These are guys who are still just entering their prime and still learning to refine their pitching repertoires. I think Hughes will have some health issues, and I don't think Nova will be as good as he was at the end of 2011, but 2013 will be a step forward for both.
Robinson Cano's MVP Candidacy
While he's always been a candidate by the most basic definition of the word, Robbie Cano has never been a "real" contender for the American League MVP as he's ascended to the level of the game's best players these last few years. He's gotten burned by guys like Verlander or Cabrera having monster seasons, and gotten burned even more by the jersey he's wearing and the association that the MSM puts with it. The anti-Yankee basis or "he's on a team full of All Stars" argument shouldn't be in play this season with every other major lineup contributor set to miss a significant portion of time, and being the most important player on this team in a contract year is more than enough motivation for Cano to have a monster season of his own. I'm just going to go ahead and call it right now. Robinson Cano will win the 2013 AL MVP.
Michael Pineda's Comeback
It's still too early to get excited about it, but every little bit of news on Pineda's progress makes me more optimistic. Considering the recovery history from his shoulder injury is checkered at best, I probably shouldn't be this hopeful. Pineda is still a very young man, though, and that youth works to his advantage in being one of the positive comeback stories. We've been hearing since the middle of last fall that he's in great shape, so the injury at least helped kick that little bout of laziness he had with his conditioning, and all the reports from his early throwing sessions have been good. He's scheduled to throw live BP in a couple weeks, which I believe puts him a little bit ahead of schedule again. I'm not counting on him coming back and being an ace this season. I am, however, counting on Pineda to show enough in his limited 2013 reps to feel confident that he can come back and be a good, productive piece of the 2014 rotation.
See? I'm not all doom and gloom. There's a few rays of hopeful sunshine inside me somewhere. Not many, but a few.
P.S.- For the record, I'm pro-Cash, pro-Girardi, and anti-Steinbrenners.