The New York Yankees concluded Spring Training on Tuesday. They open the 2011 Major League Baseball season Thursday afternoon at Yankee Stadium against the Detroit Tigers (1:05 p.m., YES). Let's take a look at five things that will be keys to the success or failure of the Yankees 2011 season.
1. Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod will turn 36 this summer and many doubt that we will ever see the MVP caliber Rodriguez again. Despite the emergence of Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira, and Derek Jeter's assault on 3,000 hits, A-Rod remains the most important player in the Yankee lineup. If Spring Training is any indication, Rodriguez is poised for a huge season. He hit .388 with seven home runs and 15 RBI in just 49 spring at-bats. After watching him, SI.com's Jon Heyman predicted that Rodriguez will be the American League MVP this season. For the first time in two or three years Rodriguez did not spend the winter re-habbing an injury and he enters the season in better shape than he has since
2. The starting pitching. This is hardly a revalation. A rotation with A.J. Burnett as the No. 2 and with Freddy Garcia and Ivan Nova holding up the bottom is not exactly how the Yankees had hoped, or expected to go into the 2011 season. The Yankees have their fingers crossed that they will see the good side of the enigmatic Burnett, and that Garcia and Nova can keep their heads above water until General Manager Brian Cashman can acquire someone better, or the Yankees decide Manuel Banuelos or Dellin Betances is ready for the big leagues. SI's Heyman predicted that Yankee ace CC Sabathia will have a Cy Young season, and if he can do that it will certainly help. A poor year from Sabathia, who had off-season knee surgery, is something the Yankees can't afford.
3. The bullpen. The Yankees signed free agents Rafael Soriano and Pedro Feliciano because they know their bullpen has to be just about flawless this season. They aren't likely to get the length or consistency from their starting pitching that Yankee fans have become accustomed to. When the Yankees get a lead after five innings or so, they are going to have to hold it. And the bullpen is going to have to pick up the pieces early in some games and let their bats try to win other games.
4. The catching. The Yankees signed free-agent Russell Martin this off-season to take over for the aging Jorge Posada. Martin is a two-time All-Star, but is coming off two sub-par seasons. This is a prove-it season for the 28-year-old former Los Angeles Dodger. If he flames out the Yankees might have to turn the job over to one of their two highly-touted youngsters, Jesus Montero or Austin Romine. The Yankees love both youngsters, but that might not be an ideal circumstance.
5. Brian Cashman. We already talked about the starting pitching and let's face it, at some point this season the Yankees general manager is going to have to fortify that group for the Yankees to a) get to October and b) have a chance to make a deep run if/when they do get there. A year ago Cashman couldn't complete a deal for then-Seattle ace Cliff Lee, and it cost the Yankees. Can he pull off a deal this time around for a big-time starter like, oh, maybe Felix Hernandez of Seattle? Or, a lesser deal for someone like Chris Carpenter of the St. Louis Cardinals or Mike Pelfrey of the New York Mets?