In some ways, this has been the most interesting off-season in years. The Yankees failed to land a prime pitching free agent they'd had their eye on for the first time since Greg Maddux in 1993. Of course, we all know what happened then: the Yankees, partly due to the absence of George Steinbrenner, were forced (and wanted) to build the team from the minors up. That turned into the Core Five (Rivera, Posada, Jeter, Pettitte, Bernie Williams), who led the club to five World Series titles.
The failure to land Cliff Lee last July forced the Bombers to hold on to Jesus Montero, who will likely become the back-up catcher by year's end and could be the starting catcher by 2012. It will also force the team to give chances to young pitchers like Ivan Nova, who will be the fourth starter, and next year to the Killer B's.
So the off-season... yes... most of the press was about who the Yanks didn't sign as opposed to who they did, namely Cliff Lee and Andy Pettitte. The news was compounded when Boston acquired two big-name left-handed hitters, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford.
Brian Cashman turned to addressing depth, which he seems to have succeeded at. A plethora of signings were made: Andruw Jones, Russell Martin, Eric Chavez, Pedro Feliciano, Mark Prior, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Rafael Soriano, and most recently, Kevin Millwood.
Strengths: The Bombers have the best bullpen in baseball. There is a real chance that the Yanks will lock down games after the sixth inning. Soriano would close for the vast majority of teams, and he's setting up for the best closer ever. Pitching the sixth and seventh will probably be some combination of Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson, Pedro Feliciano and Boone Logan, an excellent quartet.
They also have one of, if not the best lineups, in the game. The Yankees led MLB in runs scored last year with 859 - 41 ahead of the second place team (Boston). Considering the down years they got from Tex, A-Rod, Jeter and the catching position, along with the probable addition of Montero at some point, they'll have an outside chance to score 900 runs.
Weaknesses: Everybody knows this one - the starting rotation. The only given is CC Sabathia. I don't care how good A.J. Burnett's been in Spring Training, I have doubts about whether he can maintain it through 30+ starts. I do expect Phil Hughes to have a very good year, think 3.50-4.00 ERA over about 200 innings. Nova will probably put up numbers similar to last year (4.50 ERA), only over 150+ innings. As for the fifth starter, it's a total toss up. I disagree with Joe Girardi's decision to make Garcia the no. 5 starter over Colon, who utterly out-pitched him this spring, but I expect "Bart" to get a fair number of starts, due to injuries and/or ineffectiveness. I just hope that Girardi doesn't plug him into the "mop up" role. He's shown he's better than that. At least give him some chances in high leverage situations - if he fails, then he can be demoted to the long-relief role.
Boston: BPro gives the Yanks a 36% chance to win the division and a 71% chance to make the playoffs (compared to 57% and 82%, respectively, for Boston). I don't think there's any doubt that Boston has the better rotation, but there are obvious question marks with them too. Clay Buchholz should come back to earth - he's not a true 2.33 ERA pitcher. Beckett has been negligibly better than Burnett over the last three years, Daisuke (or "Dice-BB" as some Bostonians lovingly refer to him as) is a ticking time bomb, and John Lackey is coming off one of his worst seasons. That said, they still have a more solid starting five than the Yankees (at least at this moment).
It looks like a two-team race in the American League. No other club really compares to the powerhouses of the AL East. The only question is: Will the Yankees get hot in October?
(stats source: BRef.com)