1. Chien-Ming Wang. By the end of last year, you got the feeling the Yankees would win any time Wang took the mound. And that’s pretty much the definition of a stopper. Stat-heads insist Wang is due for a regression, primarily due to his extremely low strikeout rates. But the bottom line is that despite throwing 97+, Wang is not a strikeout pitcher. Really, if he stays healthy, Wang should only get better. And that means lots and lots of groundballs and dead worms in front of home plate.
2. Mike Mussina. Mussina, as I’ve mentioned before, was probably the steal of the offseason in terms of contracts. As we’re seeing right now with the Pavano situation, he’s a team leader, and most importantly rarely has a terrible start. The development of his 70mph changeup allows him to be effective when his fastball is off and dominant when it’s on.
3. Andy Pettitte. Hard not to be excited about the return of “Big-Game Andy.” While I thoroughly support the Yankees pitching youth movement, it is still nice to have proven experience. And at 34, Pettitte is hardly ancient. Of course because of Andy’s return, he’ll probably be dogged with Clemens questions all season.
4. Carl Pavano. I’m optimistic Pavano pitches this season. And really that’s all we need him to do. If he is healthy, he is certainly at least fourth starter material. Many people are calling for Pavano to be traded but his value is at rock bottom right now. Let’s see him start a few games first.
5. Kei Igawa. Everything I’ve read about Kei, I like. He’s a pretty funny guy. Can he pitch?
1. Mariano Rivera. Though at this point he should probably just have his name changed to The Incomparable Mariano Rivera. I actually had a nightmare a couple weeks back that Mo had signed with the Colorado Rockies. I woke up completely terrified. Then a few days later the papers are filled with his contract issues. Normally I think Cashman is right to wait until a contract is up before negotiating a new one. But this is the only case where I disagree. Even if Mo has a terrible year or is hurt all year, he will still get a fairly lucrative 1 or 2 year offer from someone, because the probability of him bouncing back will be high. The Yankees HAVE to match whatever is offerred to him. Unless they want me to tear Yankee stadium to the ground brick by brick with my bare hands. So therefore, Mo is going to get paid roughly the same amount no matter his performance in 2007. So just sign the most important baseball player of my lifetime to an extension and let everyone rest easy.
2. Kyle Farnsworth. This is a pivotal year for Farnsworth. His 2006 was up and down. I supported Cashman signing him and I still feel somewhat vindicated in my support. Gordon commanded more money and was spotty and his arm may come flying off with any pitch. Farnsworth just has to learn to throw more strikes and attack the zone now that he’s in the AL East.
3. Scott Proctor. I was telling everyone who would listen at the beginning of last year that Proctor should be given a shot in the bullpen. Once Joe finally realized that Tanyon Sturtze isn’t very good, Proctor got his shot and never looked back. He tired at points last year and said he could hear a clicking in his elbow, which will happen when you make a league leading 238 appearances. But he’s been checked out and should be healthy. I sent Joe a copy of my new book How To Effectively Use a Major League Bullpen. I hope he got it.
4. Jose Viscaino. I’ve never seen Viscaino pitch. From what I’ve heard, he’s a workhorse, which you have to be in a Torre ‘pen. I also heard he’s good against lefties, despite being a righty. Not to harp on the Torre can’t use his bullpen thing, but we had Felix Rodriguez a few years back who has similar splits. And Torre never figured out how to use him…. so we’ll see.
5. Mike Myers. Having such an extreme lefty specialist seems like a waste. And it also seems like Myers never gets anyone out, even if his numbers say otherwise.
6. Brian Bruney. Bruney was nasty when he came over midseason from Arizona. Another guy who can throw 96+ and help take pressure off Farnsworth and Proctor. Let’s hope he can keep it up.
7. Jeff Karstens / Ron Villone. This spot is for the long man. Karstens was an admirable fill in as a starter last year and would be nice to have around. Villone was a solid guy out of the pen, can get out lefties, and can act as longman. That versatility probably gives him the edge. (Though an interesting aside- the Yankees had offerred Villone arbitration but he declined. If Villone had signed with another team, they would have forfeited a draft pick to the Yanks. I think Cashman wanted a high pick for Villone but no one would sign him because they didn’t want to give up the pick. Would he have been out of a job this year if the Yanks hadn’t finally signed him? Would the current draft pick compensation system put him out of work even though he is good enough to setup for many teams?)