For the New York Yankees, spring training is officially underway in Tampa, FL and players couldn’t be happier to once again be tossing around a baseball in the beautiful gulf coast weather. With temperatures hitting the 80’s this week, the team has every reason to be excited that its baseball season and are eager to get back to work. However, for the first time in 12 years, there is a new face running the show at the camps. Coach Joe Girardi has some big shoes to fill, replacing Joe Torre as the new Yankees manager, but believes that his team has what it takes to get back on top in the AL East.
“Sometimes the way you do things, you might think slightly different,” Girardi said in the NY Daily News. “But by no means am I trying to reinvent the game or the wheel or whatever you want to call it. I just want players healthy, in shape and ready to go by March 31.”
His simple approach to the game, a lot like Torre’s, will make the team’s transition very easy with a new skipper at the reigns. The rest will be up to Girardi, to lead the highest paid team in baseball back into the playoffs, and past the Boston Red Sox to reclaim the top spot in the AL East, all with the hopes of capturing their 27th World Series title.
Easier said then done.
Luckily for the Yankees, they have a few returning veterans that have been there before and know how to get right down to business. It never hurts to have the reigning AL MVP on your team in 3B Alex Rodriguez, a first ballot hall of fame inductee in SS Derek Jeter, and C Jorge Posada who led almost every offensive category last season for catchers in all of baseball. The three veterans make up the core of a powerful and potent lineup, but it will take contributions from spots 1 through 9 in this order if they want any chance at reclaiming the Division Pennant again.
There are still some questions floating around camp that need to be addressed before the season begins. The first and most obvious one is what’s the plan for RHP Joba Chamberlain? Many reporters and fans are torn when it comes to concluding where Chamberlain would be most effective either as a starter or reliever. He was flat out dominant last season in the set-up role to Mariano Rivera, but the Yankees have been adamant that their plan from the beginning has been to groove him into the role of a starting pitcher, in hopes that his ‘stuff’ will one day be of Cy-Young quality.
Another question that Girardi will have to decipher based on spring training games is who will be his fifth starter in the rotation, Ian Kennedy or Mike Mussina? The young and talented Kennedy showed lots of potential last year, but he constantly made rookie mistakes whenever he took the mound. Mussina struggled from the get-go in 2007 but comes to camp knowing his spot in the rotation will be earned, and not handed over.
One final question Yankees fans are anxious to find the answer to is who will make up the rest of their 2008 bullpen? The only three pitchers guaranteed spots at the start of camp are Mariano Rivera, Kyle Farnsworth, and newly acquired LaTroy Hawkins. The rest of the spots will be up for grabs by young arms, for some, they are vying for their first call up to the big leagues. One name to keep an eye on is Alan Horne. Within the Yankees farm system, he was the Eastern League’s pitcher of the year in 2007 and some consider him to be one of the brightest prospects in the game. He will likely get promoted to Triple-A ball for the seasons opening, but it’s not unlikely that you could be seeing him fill a void in the Yankees pen or starting rotation if they need the help.
The bottom line for the Yankees organization this spring training is to make sure all the players continue to transition over to Girardi’s system. It might not be much different from Torre’s, but it is still different and will take some time getting used to. Once everyone feels at home and is comfortable with their new structure, look for the Bronx bombers to be back near the top of the AL power rankings throughout the season trying to overtake their rivals, the Boston Red Sox.
Again, easier said then done.