Don’t Let the Chris Young Signing Ruffle Your Feathers, Mets Fans!

So, I woke up this morning and the Mets did something. That was new. They signed free-agent outfielder Chris Young to a one-year deal worth $7.2 million. It’s a little weird, but let’s talk this through before we react.

Young struggled through a down year with the Oakland A’s last year, hitting at just a .200 clip, striking out a ton, and playing kinda crappy defense. FanGraphs had his 2013 UZR at 0.2 with negative-six defensive runs saved. Guh.

His lowest single-season batting average was, as you’d imagine, a product of his lowest single-season BABIP. That mark was a sad .237—but it’s easy to see why when you take a look at some batted-ball numbers. Young’s infield fly ball percentage was nearly five percentage points higher than in 2012, and that makes sense considering the ballpark he played in. Using my super-advanced Photoshop skills, here’s a comparison of infield pastures between O.co Coliseum—or whatever the hell you wanna call it—and Citi Field.

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So yeah, you can predict that Young probably won’t pop out as much.

On the down side, he struck out a ton last season, K-ing in nearly 25 percent of his plate appearances. That was bad. Between the strikeouts and pop flies, Young’s on-base clip was .280, which goes against pretty much everything Sandy Alderson wants.

That OBP being significantly higher than his .200 AVG is pretty encouraging though, again alluding back to the projected drop off in infield flies. As long as Young manages to strike out a little less often in 2014, it’d be reasonable to except that BABIP to creep back towards his .274 career average. If the Mets can get, say, a .245/.330/.430-type line from Young at the bottom of their order, that’s a lot better than the scraps they’d be running out in right field without him.

The Mets obviously have a need for both corner outfield spots, and Young fills one. You’d presume they’ll try and build the outfield with Juan Lagares planted in center. Lagares posted a crazy 28 DRS last season in just over 900 innings, roughly 400 and 300 less than outfield leaders Gerardo Parra and Carlos Gomez. Young will probably be slotted into right, according to Adam Rubin. Prior to last season, Young has no MLB experience at either corner, but played 26 games in right and 24 in left for the A’s. At the moment, Eric Young Jr. (this will probably get confusing) is penciled in starting in left.

The $7.2 million salary is questionable, but it’s not a long-term handicap, expiring after this season. It seems like an overpay, but at a certain point, if everybody is getting overpaid, maybe that’s just the way of the market in 2013. With Matt Harvey down until 2015, that’s what the Mets are building towards. Young has the potential to be a solid starter in right, and if not, his career .262 average against lefties—compared to .225 against right-handers—makes him a platoon candidate, with Matt den Dekker as a possible partner.

With the glove, Young won’t need to be spectacular with Lagares able to cover plenty of ground, but the Mets will hope for an improvement from 2013, when he finished 264th out of 299 qualified outfielders in runs saved.

The value is questionable, but Alderson needed a corner outfielder, and wasn’t going to get anyone else of worth on a one-year pact. The deal makes for a good trial run for the 30-year-old Young, who’ll need to prove that he can be worth significant free-agent consideration next year. If it works out, it’s a win for both sides. The Mets will get 2014 outfield help and Young will garner a multi-year deal from somebody next winter (maybe somebody like the Knicks, since he’s represented by CAA). If the deal blows up in Sandy’s face? Oh well. That $7 million is off the books immediately and they try again next winter.

With one corner down, Alderson still needs a power-hitting bat to line up in left, which will more than likely—hopefully?—be acquired via trade. The Mets have Daniel Murphy and one of the Ike Davis/Lucas Duda pu pu platoon to dangle as major-league bats, along with one of Jon Niese or Jenrry Mejia, and a glut of prospect arms. If Murphy is dealt, EY Jr. or Wilmer Flores could presumably slide in at second base full time, and the remaining of Davis or Duda (or possibly even Josh Satin?) would take the first base job.

Meanwhile, the team still has no suitable shortstop anywhere in the system, which is, err, less than ideal. New York is still looking to add a starter or two, also, so keep an eye on guys like Phil Hughes and Bronson Arroyo as potential Mets in the coming weeks—I’d personally prefer the former.

Sandy has his work cut out for him, especially with the pitiful budget he’s being allocated this winter, but the Young addition is a decent move to get the ball rolling.

Ike Davis’ Struggles Extend Beyond the Ks

I could dedicate an entire post to Ike Davis’ miserable .169 batting average, or maybe his .315 slugging percentage. The fact that he has hit just four homers and driven in eight runs through 25 games is alarming too, but those are things we’re all made well aware of each day. He’s recorded 15 hits, and we’ve now entered the month of May.

Even the 195-strikeout pace Davis is on wouldn’t be as excruciating if the 26-year-old would demonstrate a hint of humility after getting punched out time after time.

But that’s the issue. He hasn’t. Through his four MLB campaigns, Davis seems to believe he’s entitled to borderline calls at the plate, which—for better or worse—are not given to players in their early 20s all that often. Although there is a way to eradicate that unwritten rule: to get on the umpiring crew’s good side. MLB Etiquette 101.

Either Ike isn’t aware of that, or believes he can complain his way to the benefit of the doubt. Four seasons, 364 games, and nearly 1,500 plate appearances into his Major League career, and Davis still can’t grasp the very simple concept of taking his lumps and sitting down quietly. This, unfortunately, is what deserves an entire post.

Davis has been prone to strikeouts over his career—that cat was let ouf the bag years ago. But it’s never been more apparent than in 2013. His strikeout percentage is up around 30 percent (chart via Fangraphs), which is more than five percent higher than in any prior season.

Through April 28, eight of Of Davis’ 26 Ks in 2013 have been punchouts. That equates to 31 percent of his strikeouts coming with the bat on his shoulder, which is a five percent increase from 2012 and seven percent higher than the league average.

I broke down the tape of those eight backwards-Ks, and found that Ike did his very best to show up the home plate ump on six of the eight strike-three calls. That comes out to a 75 percent Ike-Davis-Being-Immature rating—yeah, you can call me a sabermagician.

Note: One GIF from 4/10 vs. PHI was lost in the heat of battle :(. Davis has also struck out looking twice since 4/28 that I haven’t been able to retrieve video from. With or without the missing clips, the point still stands. Ike won’t be getting the close ones any time soon.

Included are strikezone plots for corresponding at-bats from Brooks Baseball.

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I hate to exert this much energy ranting against Ike, because I’ve been on his side of the Keep-Davis-or-Keep-Duda argument all along. His second-half numbers from 2012 were downright scary, and I didn’t think it was outrageous to expect the ball to continue rolling in that direction in 2013. Perhaps I was wrong.

The point here is that sometimes Davis has a legit gripe with the home plate ump. But acting out like a spoiled child leaving the toy store empty handed isn’t exactly the way to present an argument to said umpire (a grown man).

It’s an issue that Davis was approached about as early as 2010 as a rookie. Nearly three years later, it’s still an issue.

Ike’s struggles during his ABs are one issue—and don’t be mistaken, they’re plentiful—but its the lack of judgement after them that are especially concerning as he transitions from a precocious neophyte to a whiny veteran.

Follow me on Twitter at @JSDorn6.

Stats and graphics obtained from Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs, and Brooks Baseball.

Johan Santana Throws First Mets No-Hitter: What it means to an aching fanbase

AP

When the Mets acquired two-time Cy Young award winner Johan Santana on Feb. 3, 2008, it was much more than a trade. It was much more than a six-year, $138 million contract. The franchise was rebounding from the most embarrassing collapse in history to date, and whether it was something on the field or not, it was evident that there was a missing piece to the puzzle. When the Mets acquired two-time Cy Young award winner Johan Santana on February 3rd, 2008, it was more than anything you could see on a baseball diamond. It brought to fans something they’d been longing for since their last title season 22 years prior: the belief that the Mets would be World Series champions once again.

That belief is a virtue that has often eluded the Mets and their fans throughout the franchise’s 50-year history. With the exception of their two banner-raising seasons, 43 and 26 years ago, respectively, the ballclub from Queens has been hamstrung by stretches of lengthy rebuilds, injuries, eyebrow-raising front office decisions, and flat-out bad luck. Although these all seem like traits that would steer anyone in their right mind away from Flushing, Mets fans have grown to embrace and inexplicably love their club’s struggles. It’s what makes the Mets, well, the Mets, and what bonds all Mets fans into one great, heartbreak-loving baseball family.

Of course, all the Mets’ lows are what make experiencing success unlike anything else in baseball. You could look back as far as the Miracle Mets of ’69, who came out of the cellar of the National League to win 100 games and shock the world on their way to a championship in the franchise’s seventh season. Maybe Mookie Wilson’s dribbler that you might have heard about once or twice. Mike Piazza’s home run on Sep. 21, 2001 to hand the Mets a victory in their first game since the 9/11 terrorist attacks swayed every American to the blue and orange side of baseball fandom for a night. Or, you could just think back to game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, when Endy Chavez lept and reached over Shea’s blue eight-foot wall to make the greatest catch in the history of the team, robbing Scott Rolen of a home run that would’ve essentially ended the team’s season. Shea Stadium rocked. Literally, the old place used to sway, horrifically but triumphantly, from side to side as fans would go bonkers for the blue and orange. In moments like these, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an atmosphere more amazing than where the Mets call home.

Through all the historic moments brought to us by the Metsies, there’s always been one slight imperfection. It was simply one of the sports oddities that nobody could logically explain. It’s not that the Mets have been devoid of stellar pitching — studs such as Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Jon Matlack, Dwight Gooden, David Cone, Tom Glavine, and Pedro Martinez, just to name a few, have all called Queens home for at least a few seasons. They’d tried, and they’d came close, but all had ultimately failed. The Mets had never thrown a no-hitter.

Many men came close. Excruciatingly close. The franchise’s historic armory has hurled a whopping total of 35 one-hitters. Some notables in that batch of gems that history wouldn’t so much as blink an eye at are the three times that Tom Seaver carried a no-hitter into the 9th inning, only to allow base hits in the final frame of each. Seaver compiled five total one-hitters in his 12 seasons in New York. Long-time mediocre Met Steve Trachsel is second on the list with two one-hit complete game shutouts, tied with Cone, Matlack, and Gary Gentry. Most recently, it was John Maine who waited until the eighth inning with two retired to allow his first hit of the afternoon, in the penultimate game of Shea Stadium’s penultimate season.

The Mets won that second-to-last game of 2007. Unfortunately, it was their last victory of that season. Tom Glavine laid an egg in the season’s final game that would have clinched a postseason berth with a victory. Instead, the Mets fell behind Florida 7-0 in the first inning, and never made up that ground — resulting in the most epic collapse baseball had seen. (Glavine was admittedly “not devastated” about the performance — his last as a Met.)

This brings us back to Johan Santana.

Fast forward one calendar year to Sep. 27, 2008. It was Santana’s very own performance to conclude his inaugural Metropolitan campaign. Interim manager Jerry Manuel, who took over that June after Willie Randolph’s canning, called upon his ace on just three days rest to save the Mets’ season. A loss would eliminate the team from playoff contention with just one game remaining.

It wasn’t a no-hit bid (Santana allowed a single in the first inning), but he delivered in the biggest way possible. The Marlins failed to score a run in Santana’s complete game victory — one of the franchise’s most memorable pitching performances. Shea Stadium rocked. In a season that began with championship hopes, Santana put his team in a position to ride his momentum, and begin a playoff run in which he’d lead the charge. All they would need is one more victory the next day at Shea.

That victory never came.

Shea Stadium closed its doors for good that next day, lacking the third title many fans anticipated it would go out with that 2008 season. Hopes were again high for the 2009 season, but injuries got the best of the club that Sports Illustrated predicted would win it all. The 2009 Mets won 70 games, 23 behind the division-leading Phillies.

By the middle of 2010, Johan Santana was in the middle years of his contract, and had no playoff appearances to show for it. As if that wasn’t bad enough, on Sep. 11, 2010 it was announced that he would need surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule in his throwing shoulder, the same surgery that many pitchers have failed to fully recover from.

His return date was initially set for May 2011. That later got pushed back to June, then August, and, as any Mets fan could’ve predicted, Santana never threw a pitch in the 2011 season. The man that once embodied optimism and promise was beginning to look more and more like that $138 million price tag.

At the start of his fifth season in New York, many expected Santana to fail. Mets fans have watched their team sink from World Series contenders in 2008, to salary-slashing bottom-dwellers in 2011. There was room for optimism to start off the year. Many even doubted Santana would return for the start of the season.

He did return, however, and through the first two months of the season, looked just as sharp as he did as a 29-year-old New York neophyte. Now 33, and that fastball three or four miles-per-hour slower due to a combination of medical procedure and age, Johan Santana is still a warrior. The kind of warrior that loves adversity. The kind of warrior that knows his team doesn’t stand a chance without him.

Santana took the mound Friday night on the heels of a complete game shutout vs. San Diego — a start most reminiscent of the Johan Santana of old. It was a night that was initially noteworthy as Carlos Beltran’s return to New York. Johan soon stole the show.

By the start of the sixth inning, all 27,069 fans in attendance new exactly what the circumstances were. But with Santana at around 90 pitches, a dream scenario seemed unlikely. Carlos Beltran led off the sixth and smoked a line drive that appeared to be fair down the left field line. Third base umpire Adrian Johnson ruled it foul, and Beltran was eventually retired.

Sure enough, Santana turned his outing into a serious bid. With one out in the seventh inning, the ball found the biggest Mets fan on the field. Mets left fielder and Whitestone native Mike Baxter grew up a descendant of that great, heartbreak-embracing Mets fan ancestry. He understood better than anybody on the field what a no-hitter would mean to the team and its fans. Baxter sprinted to the blue outfield fence, threw his glove in the air and snagged a Yadier Molina liner that was sure to be extra bases. Baxter’s momentum slammed him into that left field wall, and he lay still for several moments before players and training staff surrounded him. He walked off the field holding his arm, but to a standing ovation. Chants of “BAX-TER, BAX-TER.” Mike Baxter literally ran through a wall for the Mets, and the rest was up to Johan.

With the help of some soft line drives that stayed in the air just long enough, along with some devastating change-ups, Santana found himself on the mound in the ninth inning without having allowed a hit. The heart of St. Louis’ lineup was due up. Miraculously, he induced to lineouts to the shallow outfield to begin the inning. The previous World Series’ hero David Freese would be the batter. Santana fell behind him in the count 3-0 before working back to a full count on his 133rd pitch (a new career high). Here’s Howie Rose to bring you closer than any other description ever could:

Citi Field could have been mistaken for Shea Stadium. It remained stationary, however the decibel level reached new Citi Field heights. Mets fans finally had a reason to go Shea Stadium-nuts in their new home, and they didn’t disappoint. The home field, at long last, felt like home.

There was a blown call that the Mets benefited from, but the baseball gods wouldn’t have it any other way. Try naming a single game in the sport’s history where the umpiring was perfect. Baseball is a game that, for better or worse, is largely reliant on the human element. Tape of every no-hitter could be picked apart, and there’d surely be questionable ball and strike calls that would extend at-bats to possibly change history. That’s just the way baseball has always been, and forever will be.

Santana’s feat is one of the instances in sports that can be celebrated and appreciated by everybody, everywhere. Everyone in the Mets family wholly  understood the importance of Santana’s feat, and celebrated accordingly — whether it be a 90-year-old fan since ’62, a 10-year-old just getting to know the game of baseball, an 18-year-old blogger trying to make sense of the whole thing, or a 27-year-old left fielder living every Queens kid’s dream.

It’d be a safe assumption to declare the Mets had somebody on their side Friday night. Take a look at the box score. The Mets had eight runs on eight hits. Johan had eight Ks. He threw 134 pitches (1 + 3 + 4 = 8). All in the year dedicated to The Kid (2012. 20 – 12 = 8).

Mets fans now have their long-coveted no-hitter, and it’s delightfully clear there’s something amazin’ brewing at Citi Field this year. Following Friday’s win, New York is at their high-water mark, six games over .500, and one game off the division-leading Nationals’ pace. One last note: The Miracle Mets were also 29-23 through their first 52 games of the 1969 season, before going on to shock the world by finishing at 100-62, and bringing a World Series crown to Flushing, Queens.

So far, so good.

Two games, two wins. Can’t really get much better than that.

While two games is certainly a small sample size, the Mets have impressed in their first couple matchups vs. Atlanta, with two straight wins. Their 1-0 Opening Day victory was followed up by a 4-2 Saturday afternoon win vs. the Braves. Saturday provided a burst of offense, with three home runs (one for David Wright, two for Lucas Duda) and four runs. R.A. Dickey threw a solid 6 innings, allowing only two runs on a home run to Martin Prado. That homer has been the only blemish on the Mets’ pitching staff record thus far.

David Wright is swinging a hot bat to start 2012, with a 3-5 effort on Saturday after a two hit performance on Opening Day. His approach seems to be to the opposite field, which is a sight Mets fans sorely missed. His home run in the first inning of Saturday’s win was hit into the bullpen in right center field, which is imperative for Wright. When he’s hitting the ball the opposite way, Wright can be unstoppable offensively. The Mets and their fans are hoping to see this approach from their All-Star third baseman all year long.

Lucas Duda also impressed offensively Saturday versus Atlanta. Duda went yard twice, including the first home run that cleared Citi Field’s new fence that wouldn’t have cleared the old one. Duda seems as if he’s primed for a huge season, and the league will take notice soon. Someone with Duda’s power will not go unnoticed for very long.

The Mets’ offense has not been the only big time positive  so far in 2012. Their bullpen, which struggled in Spring Training, has been spectacular thus far. Ramon Ramirez, Tim Byrdak, Jon Rauch, Bobby Parnell, and Frank Francisco have all been in action the first two games, and no one has given up any runs. For all the talk about the struggles the bullpen would have, (myself included…sorry Frank) everyone has been wonderful so far. Heck, he’s 2/2 on save opportunities this season. That’s two more saves than any other closer in New York has. Just. sayin’.

Santana and Dickey were also impressive in their starts, and we’ll break down the entire rotation later this week once everyone has had their turn.

So two games down, 160 games to go. We’re  not saying the Mets are gonna keep this pace up, (I think it’d be a little much to expect a perfect season) but in their first two games, they have shown the league and their fans that they aren’t going to lay down and die just because they’re expected to.

The Mets will go for the sweep tomorrow afternoon against Atlanta at 1:00 at Citi Field. Jonathan Niese gets the nod against Mike Minor and the Braves.

2012 New York Mets

The New York Mets enter the 2012 season facing both serious financial issues and improved competition in the National League East. At first glance, it is very easy to write them off and move on with your day. However, Terry Collins, in his second year as manager, has his team believing that they can shock the so called “experts” and make some noise in an extremely talented division. It does take more than believing in your chances to be successful, but it’s not a bad place to start. We’ll let you know what we loved and hated about the Mets’ offseason and Spring Training, and also give a prediction as to how the Mets will do in the upcoming campaign, their 50th season as a franchise.

Offseason: With the financial troubles that the Wilpons are in, the Mets were not in play for any big name free agents as they have been in years past. The biggest example of that lack of money to freely spend was their inability to even offer a contract to free agent shortstop Jose Reyes. Reyes, age 28, made the All-Star team 4 times as a member of the Mets. Unfortunately for the Mets and their fans, Jose’s free agency came at an inopportune time. They didn’t have the money, and he moved south to join Hanley Ramirez and the new-look Miami Marlins, leaving shortstop at Citi Field occupied by Ruben Tejada . This hurts for multiple reasons, including the sheer fact that Mets fans will be reminded of their former beloved shortstop 18 times a year when the Mets and Marlins square off. Reyes being with another NL East Club is also a big reason as to why many people feel the Mets will be buried by midseason.

Now, the Mets did make some additions this offseason. Their biggest free agent acquisition happens to be my least favorite offseason move. Former Blue Jay and Ranger Frank Francisco was signed to be their closer; signing for 2 years and $12 million. Francisco has certainly had his share of Major League success, but he also has a history of being injury prone, in addition to his apparent inability to keep runners held on base. His Spring Training was less than impressive, with a 5.54 ERA and a .333 opponent’s Batting Average.  I know this sounds like a bitter Mets fan’s rant, (not entirely false) but I truly do believe the Mets would have been better served had they promoted someone in house (i.e: Bobby Parnell, Pedro Beato) to closer and spending their limited money elsewhere. Hopefully, for the Mets’ sake, I am wrong.

There were some good moves made by the Mets this offseason, such as the signing of Jon Rauch. Rauch, the 6’11” reliever who spent last year with Toronto has had a solid Major League career, and was signed for relatively cheap, with a one year $3.5 million contract. This addition should help the bullpen.

One of the biggest offseason shake-ups came via trade. Early in the offseason, Angel Pagan was shipped to San Francisco for centerfielder Andres Torres and reliever Ramon Ramirez. Pagan, one year removed from his breakout 2010 campaign, fell flat in 2011. He seemed to regress in terms of both performance and maturity. Mets fans were pretty fed up with him (myself included) by the end of the season, and ownership sent him packing. In return, they acquired a quality defensive centerfielder and speedy leadoff hitter to try and replace the speed lost with Reyes’ departure. In addition to Torres, Ramon Ramirez is another welcome addition to the bullpen. Many fans, including myself, were confident that the duo received will be more than worth Pagan.

Spring Training: The Mets finished with a lackluster 9-20-2 record in Grapefruit League play this season. However, we know that Spring Training records don’t necessarily reflect what a team’s regular season record will be. The Mets certainly hope not anyway.

One of the biggest problems Spring Training presented (more like reminded us of) was Jason Bay’s continued struggles. For all the offseason talk about Bay’s improvement, the results certainly were not there in spring. Bay finished Spring Training with the same amount of RBI’s that I did. That’s right folks –zero. He may get a pass for a tough spring, but a 30 game regular season stretch without a RBI will surely not sit well with the New York fans.

Another problem the Mets saw in Spring Training was injuries. Luckily for them, the three players that lost time due to injury will be active on the Opening Day roster. Andres Torres had a quad injury that cost him a few weeks, Tim Byrdak had meniscus surgery, causing him to miss the latter half of spring and David Wright missed the majority of the Spring season with a strained ribcage. However, these players are in New York for Opening Day, so the Mets did luck out in that respect.

One major positive from Spring Training was the production from this year’s starting Right Fielder: Lucas Duda. “The Big Lebowski” went yard four times, and finished spring with a .300 average. His fellow lefty in the lineup, first baseman Ike Davis, also hit four homers in spring. The Mets would love to see that type of production all season long.

With all due respect to Duda and Davis, the story out of Port St. Lucie was the success, and health, of Johan Santana. He finished the exhibition season with 18.1 innings pitched and a 3.44 ERA. He is healthy going into the season, and will start the season opener versus Atlanta. This start will mark his first Major League start since September of 2010, and the Mets are hoping he can recapture some of what made him a two-time Cy Young Award winner in Minnesota. Santana’s presence alone should bolster the rest of the rotation, to include RA Dickey, Jon Niese, Mike Pelfrey and Dillon Gee. Mets fans are hoping Santana can stay healthy and give them something to cheer about this season.

Prediction: Well, folks, many people have predicted the Mets to finish last in the NL East this season. I personally do not see that happening. I think, if they can stay healthy and play up to their potential, the Metropolitans can manage a .500 record (81-81). I believe they will finish 4th place in the NL East, with the Nationals disappointing a lot of people and finishing in last. In their 50th season, I wouldn’t expect the Mets to make any 1969-esque miracle runs, but this team has potential to be competitive. If they were in a weaker division, perhaps they could make a playoff push. However, the NL East will be deadly and I see .500 as a best case scenario. So Mets fans, try and enjoy this season and look at it is a building block towards a brighter future.

The Mets open their season Thursday April 5th, with a 1:10 pm game against their division rival Atlanta Braves at Citi Field.  The pitching matchup is sure to be a good one, with Tommy Hanson squaring off against Johan Santana.

The Mets will honor the memory of 1986 World Champion Gary Carter, who died of brain cancer this offseason,  with a pre-game ceremony on Opening Day.

2012 New York Yankees

The New York Yankees are retooled, reloaded, and ready to bring Championship number 28 to the Bronx. Here is the lowdown on their offseason, Spring Training and our prediction for their 2012 season.

Offseason: The Yankees’ offseason this year was unusually quiet. While huge free agent names (i.e Jose Reyes, Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder) were out getting massive contracts with other teams, it seems as if the Yanks finally realized they didn’t need to make any huge free agent additions to their already All-Star studded lineup. However, this is not to say they didn’t make any changes this offseason. Their biggest splash came via trade, when they shipped the immensely talented catching prospect Jesus Montero to Seattle for the young Starting Pitcher Michael Pineda. Pineda, a rookie last season, made a big splash on the scene with the Mariners, finishing the season with 28 starts and a 3.74 E.R.A., quite impressive for a rookie. This trade provided a huge bolster to a rotation that was certainly not the team’s strength last season. (It has not worked out perfectly thus far, but we’ll get into that later)

Pineda was not the only pitcher the Yankees added this offseason. Just after they made the trade with Seattle the Bombers signed Pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, formerly of the Los Angeles Dodgers, to a one year, 10 million dollar contract. Kuroda, who had a 3.45 E.R.A. in Los Angeles last season, will without a doubt benefit from the high-octane lineup that will be hitting for him this season. So far, so good for Kuroda, whose Spring Training E.R.A. was 2.96. These additions, combined with C.C. Sabathia, Phil Hughes, and Ivan Nova should make the Yankees’ rotation one of the best in the American League this season. But wait aren’t we forgetting someone?

Oh yea, A.J. Burnett. The former free agent prize was shipped to Pittsburgh this offseason for two minor leaguers. Clearly, Burnett was not cut out for the Big Apple. He was an integral part of the team’s 2009 championship run, but the honeymoon was over. Fans no longer wanted to hear about AJ’s issues, and that was that.

One major signing of note includes that of former Yankee Andy Pettite. It took most people by surprise, but Andy could provide a veteran presence and some Champion experience to the clubhouse. Not to mention the fact that he still seems to think he’s got some gas left in the tank.

Another interesting departure from the team this offseason was the retirement of Jorge Posada. In pinstripes since 1995, Posada decided to retire instead of playing for another team. By doing so, he demonstrated some loyalty that we rarely see in sports today. It will indeed be odd to see a Yankee roster that does not include Jorge.

Spring Training So, we move ahead to Spring Training. Going into Tuesday’s game with the New York Mets, the Yankees sit at 17-11 in the Grapefruit League. While records don’t mean much, it is certainly good to see the Yankees getting good results. One of the major positives out of Spring Training is the health and numbers from Alex Rodriguez. The highly scrutinized (and paid) 3rd baseman has a .292 batting average and has gone deep a couple of times for the Yankees, and his swing just looks better than it has in years past. Healthy and prepared for the season, I think it’s safe to expect big numbers from A-Rod this season.

One major problem the Yankees have seen this Exhibition season is the problems the aforementioned Michael Pineda has encountered. He showed up to camp seemingly overweight, and his velocity was not where it was last year. He averaged a bit over 94 mph on his fastball last year, but is a bit down thus far with New York. Pineda has experienced shoulder soreness and will begin the season the 15 day DL. While the Yankees and their fans are a bit nervous about Pineda’s health, he should eventually regain his velocity and be the pitcher the Yankees traded a star in the making for. Pineda will be replaced in the Yankees rotation by Freddy Garcia for the time being.

Another issue that has received some attention is the diminishing range of Hall of Fame shortstop Derek Jeter. Jeter, 37, simply does not have the same athletic ability as he did earlier in his career. However, with the stellar offense he will continue to provide, I personally don’t see this as much of a problem.

Prediction: The Yankees will be battle-tested this season without a doubt. The A.L. East, as always, will be among the game’s toughest divisions. However, between their lineup (including Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, and the reigning Home Run Derby Champion Robinson Cano) revamped rotation, and stellar bullpen anchored by David Robertson and the sure-fire Hall of Fame Closer Mariano Rivera, the Yankees have the firepower to win this division.

While I do believe the Yankees will win the A.L. East, I see them falling in the ALCS to the Detroit Tigers, who face a much less challenging path to the postseason in the less competitive AL Central.

The Yankees begin their 2012 regular season where their 2011 regular season ended, Tropicana Field against the Tampa Bay Rays at 3:05 pm this Friday April 6th. Their home opener is next Friday, April 13th against the Los Angeles Angels at Yankee Stadium at 1:05 pm.