New York Yankee 2009 Season Outlook: Infield
FIRST BASE: The last-minute negotiations to bring Mark Teixeira to the Yankees solidified the position in a way that it hasn’t been since Tino Martinez’s first tenure in the Bronx. Teixeira is a classic two-way player and a switch-hitter to booth. His swing is remarkably consistent from both sides of the plate and his plate coverage and pitch recognition is superb. Teixeira will not only help fellow slugger Alex Rodriguez in the lineup, but also in the field as well. Teixeira bring with him gold glove caliber defense, something the Yankees haven’t seen consistently since again, Tino Martinez.
SECOND BASE: Robinson Cano was rewarded with a lucrative 4-year contract before the 2008 campaign, and then turned in his poorest season of his young career. Cano triple-slashed in at .271/.305/.410 in 2008 which was good for an OPS+ of 86. He continued a trend of low walk and strikeout rates, and his low BABIP may indicate a bit of bad luck in 2008, and give reason for a bounceback year in 2009. The Yankees certainly need him to justify his contract as they passed on every second base alternative in free agency. Cano retains immense potential, but must regain the edge he appeared to lose with the departure of infield coach Larry Bowa in 2008.
SHORTSTOP: There will come a time when Derek Jeter will no longer be able to handle the rigors and demands of being a full time shortstop, but it hasn’t come yet. Jeter battled through an injured hand for a majority of the 2008 summer, significantly cutting into his offensive numbers. With a full offseason to rest and rehab the hand, Jeter should return to being a premiere AL shortstop. His power numbers will probably not return to what they were five years ago, but his patented inside-out swing and gap power will continue to make Jeter an asset with the bat. His speed, much like his power, has regressed with age, but remains a strength nonetheless. Although not the fleetest of foot, Jeter remains one of the game’s smartest and instinctive players.
THIRD BASE: Steroid admission aside, Alex Rodriguez remains one of the game’s top five players. His ability to jump on mistakes in addition to being able to handle the top-of-the-line stuff sets him apart from just about every other player. He’s a threat to go deep every time up and can handle anybody’s best fastball, but can be fooled by effective offspeed offerings. He still needs to address concerns about his ability to hit in the postseason, but the Yankees are banking on him answering those questions to the tune of nine more years and over $250 million. While A-Rod’s range is about average, his arm allows him to make plays that other third basemen may not be able to. Rodriguez remains a twister of rumors and gossip among sportswriters and tabloids, but as long as he continues to produce ungodly numbers year in and year out, the Yankees will be able to put up with him.
CATCHER: The Yankees have started stockpiling young catchers through the draft and international free agency, but most of these young prospects are younger than me and still quite a few years away from making any major impact in the majors. Therefore, the Yankees will rely heavily on the surgically repaired shoulder of Jorge Posada. A mainstay behind the plate for nearly a decade, Posada spent his first stint on the disabled list last year and was effectively a nonfactor the entire season. The Yankees struggled to find an adequate replacement and nothing worked out. Posada will not need to return his contract-year 2007 numbers, but will need to control the opponent’s running game, manage the new starting rotation and contribute something above replacement level offensively. Even an 80% Posada is leagues better than Jose Molina at full bat strength.