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The "Empire" looks to strike back in 2011. The "Evil Empire" that is.
The New York Yankees, arguably the most-loved and most-hated sports franchise, failed to repeat as World Series champions in 2010, seeing their hopes for a 28th title end in the ALCS against the Rangers. The road back to the World Series won't get any easier in 2011, especially with New York's hated rival -- the Boston Red Sox -- loading up on marquee names in the offseason.
The Red Sox did what the Yankees normally do -- throw money at their problems. Only this offseason, no one wanted to take the Yankees' tender. Cliff Lee passed and booked a flight to Philadelphia. Andy Pettitte made the decision that $12 million for one season wasn't enough to postpone retirement. And the Yankees' biggest offseason acquisition -- outside of re-signing Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera -- was acquiring setup man Rafael Soriano, who was forced down general manager Brian Cashman's throat by team ownership.
Despite a relatively quiet offseason by Yankees' standards, the team is still loaded heading into '11. New York is still going to have one of the best lineups in baseball, anchored by Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano.
The biggest concern for New York is in its rotation. Outside of CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes, it's going to be a crapshoot. Will new pitching coach Larry Rothschild solve A.J. Burnett's woes? Is Ivan Nova ready to handle the rigors of pitching on the league's biggest stage? Can New York get by with the likes of Garcia or Sergio Mitre at the back end of the rotation and contend without having to dip into its farm system?
Another issue this season could be durability. Come opening day, the Yankees could have just three starting position players -- Brett Gardner, Cano and Martin -- and potentially two starting pitchers -- Nova and Hughes -- under 30 years old.
The Yankees don't rebuild. They re-stock. Only the inventory is getting a little old and the competition is stacking up.
Bounce-back player ... Jorge Posada, DH
Posada gets too beat up these days to catch on a regular basis. The Yankees solution is to stick the 16-year vet at designated hitter. This is a move Fantasy owners should welcome for '11. Posada will retain his catcher eligibility in Fantasy while reducing his chances of getting injured and improving his opportunities to keep his potent bat in the lineup. Posada's 57 RBI and .248 average in 120 games last season were a bit disappointing, but he still accumulated 18 homers, 23 doubles and a .454 slugging percentage. Those numbers are attractive for a thin Fantasy position like catcher. It's also worth noting that Posada totaled four homers, five doubles and 14 RBI in 30 games at DH last season.
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Sleeper ... Ivan Nova, SP
No matter how little experience or success a pitcher might have, if they are a starter for the Yankees, then they are going to garner recognition in Fantasy circles. The latest example is Nova. The undrafted free agent got his first taste of the majors last season, going 1-1 with a 4.91 ERA in seven starts. He was a little erratic (walking 14 in 36 2/3 innings) and was prone to the long ball (one homer for every nine hits he surrendered) in starts, but those are things he can easily correct with time. It's the upside that makes Nova intriguing for Fantasy purposes. He had his best year in the minors in '10, going 12-3 with a 2.86 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in 23 Triple-A starts. Nova isn't an elite strikeout pitcher just yet and Fantasy owners are probably more intrigued with his win-potential at this stage in his career. But he is a favorite to land a spot in the Yankees' rotation and that makes him a late-round Fantasy sleeper in deeper formats.
Can't-miss prospect ... Jesus Montero, C
Montero is on the cusp of making his MLB debut, which is likely to happen this year. The Yankees are going to start the year with Martin and Francisco Cervelli handling most of the catching duties, but neither player has the upside that Montero possesses. The only major concern for New York is whether he can handle the defensive responsibilities for a team in a pennant race. Montero is probably going to be eased into the starting role, but now is the best time to bring him to the majors so he can work with Posada, who has an expiring contract and can impart wisdom on the team's top prospect before he leaves. While his defense is a work in progress, offense has never been an issue for Montero. He is a .314 hitter in the minors with 58 homers, 99 doubles and 251 RBI in 380 games. He hit .351 with 14 homers in the second half last season at Triple-A, so he appears ready for the majors.
|Projected Lineup||Pos.||Projected Rotation|
|1||Derek Jeter||SS||1||CC Sabathia||LH|
|2||Nick Swisher||RF||2||Phil Hughes||RH|
|3||Mark Teixeira||1B||3||A.J. Burnett||RH|
|4||Alex Rodriguez||3B||4||Ivan Nova||RH|
|5||Robinson Cano||2B||5||Freddy Garcia||RH|
|6||Jorge Posada||DH||Alt||Sergio Mitre||RH|
|7||Curtis Granderson||CF|| |
|8||Russell Martin||C||CL||Mariano Rivera||RH|
|9||Brett Gardner||LF||SU||Rafael Soriano||RH|
|Top bench options||RP||Joba Chamberlain||RH|
|R||Francisco Cervelli||C||RP||David Robertson||RH|
|R||Andruw Jones||OF||RP||Pedro Feliciano||LH|
|Montero leads the list of Yankees' top-catching prospects and is a Fantasy star in the making.|
|2||Gary Sanchez||18||C||Class A||Class A|
|Potential is probably highest in Yanks' system, but he is still very raw at 18 years old.|
|Returned from elbow surgery last year throwing mid-90s heat. Has frontline rotation potential.|
|Promising lefty prospect who has fanned 9.5 batters per nine innings in the minors.|
|Former first-rounder and Tommy John survivor who is finally developing and tapping into potential.|
|Best of the rest: Hector Noesi, SP; Austin Romine, C; Slade Heathcott, OF; Eduardo Nunez, INF; Brandon Laird, 3B; Adam Warren, SP; Graham Stoneburner, SP; David Phelps, SP; David Adams, 2B; J.R. Murphy, C; Corban Joseph, 2B; Cito Culver, SS; Brett Marshall, SP; Angelo Gumbs, OF; Jeremy Bleich, SP.|
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