I’ve been receiving a lot of guest postings lately. This one comes from George Morales. Enjoy.
2011 didn’t quite pan out how Joe Girardi and the New York Yankees had planned. They were bounced from the playoffs in a decisive Division Series game against the Detroit Tigers, dropping an elimination match at home for the first time since 2007. 2011 also marked the last season Yankee great Jorge Posada would don his pinstripes, as he retired after his contract was up at the end of the season. Still, the New York Yankees are coming into the 2012 season with major reasons to pick their head up after the disappointment that was the 2011 campaign, and here are seven of them:
1. They have 7 starters. There were huge questions raised about the 2011 rotation; mainly because of the ineffectiveness of A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes, who were the Yankees two and three starters when the 2011 campaign began. Obviously, the Yankees took this into consideration as their biggest rotation concern in 2012 has become who their five starters will be. After posting stellar numbers in 2011, CC Sabathia will return as the ace of the staff. C.C. and free agent acquisition Hiroki Kuroda are locks at the one and two spot in the rotation for the 2012 campaign.
As for the other three spots, well, those are still up for grabs. Phil Hughes, an early favorite to nab one of the remaining rotation spots, has bounced back nicely in spring training after an abysmal 2011 season. Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda, despite concerns of Nova’s subpar outings and Pineda’s lack of velocity during spring training, have great potential as possible end of the rotation pitchers. The last two candidates for starter roles are seasoned veterans Freddy Garcia and Andy Pettitte, who will return to the game after an entire season off. Overall, the Yankees have a nice mix of veterans, including Sabathia and Garcia, and younger players, such as Hughes and Pineda, who could easily turn this staff into one of the deadliest in the majors.  
2. There were two key additions the Yankees made during the offseason that will have immediate impacts on their roster. Hiroki Kuroda is a lock at the number two spot in the Yankees rotation to begin the season. Coming off a 13 win season in which he posted a 3.07 ERA; Kuroda is sure to benefit from a Yankees lineup that ranked second in runs scored last season. Though his ERA might increase pitching against the big bats of the AL East, Kuroda’s win total is looking like it’s going to increase in 2012.
Another key acquisition, Raul Ibanez, will fill in as the Yankees DH this season; giving them much needed stability at the position after Posada’s retirement and Jesus Montero’s departure. Ibanez brings with him a strong veteran presence and a powerful lefty bat perfectly suited for Yankees Stadium’s short right field. Both Kuroda and Ibanez will figure into the Yankees success in 2012. Not to mention, the Yankees also acquired Michael Pineda, who could be a huge asset for them down the road.  
3. Three of the Yankees biggest concerns for their 2012 campaign are the 2011 performances of Mark Teixeira and veterans A-Rod and Derek Jeter. Despite belting 39 homers in 2011, Big Tex ended the season hitting only .248. His threat as a switch hitter wasn’t as intimidating as it’s been in previous years: his on-base percentage dropped against right handers for the third consecutive season to .773, his worst number since his rookie season. But Tex wasn’t the only player who had a non-characteristic 2011 season. 2011 marked the end of A-Rod’s major league record 13 consecutive season streak of at least 30 home runs and 100 RBI’s. Injuries have plagued the three time MVP over the last four seasons, during which he has missed 150 games. At 36 years old, A-Rod is not the powerhouse he once was.
Similarly, Derek Jeter, now 37 years old, has seen a decline in his game, specifically on the defensive end. Despite posting a .297 batting average by the end of last season, Jeter’s not the same hitter he once was. But here’s the deal: Tex did have 111 RBI’s last season and is expected to rebound nicely in the 2012 campaign. And though A-Rod and Jeter may not be the same players they once were, they don’t have to be because they don’t have to bare the brunt of the offense on a stacked 2012 Yankees lineup. You don’t have much to worry about when three of your concerns coming into a season are a player who hit 30 home runs and drove in a 100 runs, a player who missed those numbers for the first time in 13 years and a player coming off a season where he hit his 3000th career hit.
4. The four C’s, C.C, Cano and Curtis, are the gems of the Yankee’s 2012 roster. These three guys were major contributors to the 2011 squad and have become the reason why the pressure is off of big name players such as A-Rod and Jeter. C.C.’s stats speak for themselves: in 2011 he posted 19 wins and 230 strikeouts while maintaining his ERA at 3.00 during the regular season. Plus C.C.’s been a workhorse; he leads the majors in innings pitched over the last five seasons. Enough said. At 29 years of age, Robinson Cano is hitting the prime of his career, and he’s doing so in tip top shape. After finishing back to back seasons with 100 RBIs and batting averages over .300, it would be absurd if Cano were not considered for the cleanup spot in the 2012 lineup given A-Rod’s struggles last season. Perhaps 2011 was a fluke for Curtis Granderson, who eclipsed his previous season high in home runs by 11 homers. But here’s a reason that should make skeptics think otherwise: Curtis righted his wrongs against left handed pitchers last season, which is optimal for a left handed power hitter dealing with a short right field at Yankee Stadium.
5. The Yankees have quite possibly one of the best back-ends of any bullpen in the majors. At 42 years young, Mariano Rivera is still one of the premiere closers in the game. Mariano and his cutter will provide the same security at the end of games that he has provided the Yankees for the past 15 years. Though he’s been a certainty for the Yankees, it’s been the bridge to Mariano that has provided much concern for the Yankees over the past few years. Last season, Rafael Soriano was brought in to set up for the future hall of famer, but didn’t live up to his success in Tampa Bay. And then David Robertson took over. Robertson ended the season with over 60 innings pitched, a miniscule 1.08 ERA and a ridiculous 100 strikeouts. Batters will have their hands full dealing with Robertson and Mariano in the eighth and ninth inning of games in 2012.      
6. Unlike in past years, the Yankees are flying under the radar entering the 2012 season. In an offseason filled with big spending and the acquisitions of big name players such as Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Jose Reyes; the Yankees have been uncharacteristically quiet in their spending and thus have not drawn the attention that teams such as the Angels and Marlins have drawn during the offseason. Still the frontrunners in the AL East with the Red Sox, the Yankees could benefit from the scrutiny that they will avoid and other teams, including the Red Sox and their new manager Bobby Valentine, will receive at the beginning of the season. With some of the pressure taken off, players like A-Rod, Tex (who has dealt with April woes before in his career) and Hughes will have a smoother time easing back into their rhythm.   
7. The 2012 Yankees are one of the most well balanced squads they’ve had in several seasons. Their offense has been, and will continue to be, one of the most potent and dangerous in all of baseball. The Yankees will be getting a healthy A-Rod back in 2012 to add to the middle of a lineup including Cano, Granderson and Teixeira. Also back for another season is catcher Russel Martin, who supplied an unexpected 18 home runs for the Yankees in 2011. Martin, along with Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher, provide a nice back-end to the Yankees lineup. But in 2012, the Yankees pitching will be as equally important as their offense. As mentioned earlier, the Yankees will have seven starters to choose their starting five from and the other two will undoubtedly play roles on the Yankees squad at some point in the 2012 campaign. One way which one of those extra two starters could have an immediate impact is by becoming an addition to an already potent bullpen consisting of Soriano, Robertson and Mariano. The 2012 Yankees are well covered on their offensive and pitching fronts and are ready to battle their way to the World Series this season.