The New York Yankees enter the 2012 MLB season with the same expectations the Yankees always have. They expect to get to the playoffs, which should be pretty much a certainty with the newly-expanded format this season. Once there they expect to make a deep run in the chase for the 28th World Series championship in franchise history.
Is this edition of the Yankees positioned to do that? Let's take a closer look.
A year ago the Yankees went 97-65, winning the American League East division title by six games over the Tampa Bay Rays. The Yankees, though, were ousted by the Detroit Tigers in the American League Division Series.
If they are to go further this time around the reason will most likely be the revamped starting pitching.
Beyond ace CC Sabathia the Yankees were a sea of question marks in 2011. Rookie Ivan Nova stepped up and provided a reliable No. 2 starter during the year, going 16-4. Freddy Garcia was decent, as was Bartolo Colon for a a while. Phil Hughes was a mess and A.J. Burnett was, well, A.J. Burnett.
General manager Brian Cashman said repeatedly during the offseason that improving the Yankees starting rotation was his primary objective during the winter. Heading into the new season it would appear that Cashman has done just that.
Colon is gone. Burnett is banished to Pittsburgh via trade. Garcia might soon be gone, or pitching in long relief and mop-up duty.
Cashman traded highly-touted catcher/DH Jesus Montero for 23-year-old hard-throwing right-hander Michael Pineda, who made the American League All-Star team as a rookie with the Seattle Mariners last season. Pineda ended up 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA in 171 innings, and the Yankees believe he will develop into a quality front of the rotation pitcher.
The Yankees signed veteran free-agent right-hander Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year deal. The Yankees believe Kuroda, 41-46 with a 3.45 ERA in five seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, will be a stabilizing force in the middle of the rotation.
Maybe most surprisingly, and in the end possibly most importantly, left-hander Andy Pettitte has decided to come back after a season away from baseball. Pettitte, 39, hopes to be ready to rejoin the Yankees at some point in May, providing the Yankees with the luxury of having the kid of starting pitching depth they could only have dreamed of a season ago.
The Yankees are also hoping for a bounce-back year from the 25-year-old Hughes, who pitched to a 5.79 ERA in 2011 after winning 18 games in 2010.
The bullpen will still be anchored by the ageless Mariano Rivera, though he has given hints that he could be ready to retire at the end of this season.
The lineup will be virtually the same as it was a season ago, with the exception of free-agent signee Raul Ibanez replacing the retired Jorge Posada as left-handed hitting designated hitter.
Alex Rodriguez (3B), Derek Jeter (SS), Robinson Cano (2B) and Mark Teixeira (1B) will be in the infield. Russell Martin will catch. Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher will be in the outfield, with Ibanez and Andruw Jones in reserve.
The lineup the Yankees put on the field in 2012 will be virtually the same one as last season. The infield will feature Alex Rodriguez (3B), Derek Jeter (SS), Robinson Cano (2B) and Mark Teixeira (1B).
Michael Pineda (SP); Hiroki Kuroda (SP); Raul Ibanez (DH); Andy Pettitte (SP).
A.J. Burnett (SP); Jorge Posada (DH); Jesus Montero (C-DH); Bartolo Colon (P).