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With a record payroll of $218 million, the 2008 New York Yankees have high hopes of bringing a 27th World Championship to the Bronx. But with high hopes comes great expectations and added pressure.
The Yankees are no strangers to playing under pressure. After all, New York is the media capital of the world. But how will this year's collection of veterans, rookies, All-Stars, and new coaches fair in trying to capture their first World Series title since 2000?
2008 will be the first season for manager Joe Giradi. He must step beyond the image of Joe Torre (12 playoff appearances, six pennants, four world championships in 12 seasons) and establish his voice while managing some veteran ex-teammates and young, valuable arms. He was the NL Manager of the Year in his one prior season, with the 2006 Marlins, where he lost the battle about how to direct a team with Marlin ownership. The Yankees have a better structure in place and Giradi should fit in nicely as long as Senior Vice President Hank Steinbrenner does not interfere.
The Yankees should have no problem scoring runs as their lineup boasts All-Stars at almost every position. While their offense looks solid with reigning MVP Alex Rodriguez in the middle, the Yankees need Johnny Damon to stay healthy all season and return to being one of the game's top lead off men. It's hard to believe that a potential .300/30-homer hitter could be projected to bat eighth, but Robinson Cano might be able to climb to sixth or seventh this year. With Damon, Bobby Abreu, Hideki Matsui, Jason Giambi and Cano, this is a heavily left-handed dominant lineup, susceptible to unfavorable late inning relief matchups.
One position that is up for grabs in spring training is the first basemen's job. The Yankees have Giambi, Shelly Duncan, and Morgan Ensberg competing among others. Wilson Betemit and Chris Woodward will also compete for time at first base, though Betemit carries value as a switch-hitting middle infielder. With Giambi slated to play the field this year, Damon will move to left to hide his week throwing arm, Melky Cabrera will start in center, and Matsui will be relegated to the DH while his rehabs his knee after arthroscopic surgery in November.
The Yankees starting pitching staff comes into spring training with the most question marks. However, unlike past years, the Yankees will rely on two rookies to round out their staff, RHPs Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy. Lefty Andy Pettite and Chien Ming Wang will anchor the staff, but neither are true aces. Veteran Mike Mussina will be the fifth starter, however, Joba Chamberlain may compete with him midseason after Chamberlain starts the year in the bullpen.
The bullpen is another point of concern. Ace closer Mariano Rivera is back but his set up man has not been chosen. Kyle Farnsworth is prone to giving up homeruns and changeup specialist Edwar Ramirez is young and unproven. Perhaps the biggest surprise will come from Jonathan Albaladejo. He is a 6'5, 250 lb hard throwing right hander who may be able to bridge the eight inning to get to Rivera.
2008 will the last season that baseball will be played at historic Yankee Stadium. The House that Ruth Built will become a museum as the Yankees will move next door for the 2009 season. Expect sold out home games all summer as well as an AL East battle with the defending World Series Champion Boston Red Sox. The two bitter rivals will play 18 times including the final three games of the season at Fenway Park.