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SB NATION: AL EAST ROUND TABLE

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This year, the SB nation bloggers got together and had a little chat about the upcoming season in the AL East. Here is our take on the Yankees prospects.

Participants:
Pinstripe Alley (Jaime Robledo)
Over The Monster (Randy Booth)
Bluebird Banter (Mark Willis-O'Connor)
Camden Chat (Scott Christ)
DRays Bay (Patrick Kennedy)
Beyond The Boxscore (Marc Normandin)


1. Which key addition or loss from this offseason will have the greatest impact on the Yankees' success in 2007? (Added: Kei Igawa, Doug Mientkiewicz, Andy Pettitte, Chris Britton, Humberto Sanchez, Luis Vizcaino. Lost: Octavio Dotel, Aaron Guiel, Tanyon Sturtze, Craig Wilson, Gary Sheffield, Randy Johnson, Jaret Wright).

Pinstripe Alley: I think the loss of Gary Sheffield may have the biggest impact on the Yanks this year. This team had been designed for pure brute force with power at every position. Sheffield's loss signals the transition to a different style of play focusing on making contact, working the counts, and moving runners. The sight of Sheff's waving bat intimidated the poor saps who had to pitch to him. He might not have been the best hitter on the team, he was certainly the most intimidating. Besides the visual flourish he provided, he also took the pressure off of Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod did not have to be THE big righty bat. Now it's all on his shoulders. Craig Wilson's departure adds to this dearth of right handed power. But it was Sheffield's presence that gave A-Rod better pitches to hit and added the air of invincibility to the Yankees line-up.

I think re-acquiring Andy Pettite's return to the Bronx will provide some stability to an already rocky starting pitching rotation. His leadership and poise will help the new kids Igawa, Karstens, and eventually Philip Hughes immensly. This reunion also increases the chances of Roger Clemens returning for a playoff run. If the Yankees win the World Series this season, Andy Pettite will have had a great deal to do with it.

Over The Monster: Unlike in seasons past, the Yankees haven't made a giant move to attempt to improve their ballclub. Maybe they're trying to start spending their money a little more wisely, but I do think this was one of the Yankees' more successful off-seasons. They're taking a risk with Kei Igawa, but it's a cheap risk that can pay off well. They brought in Doug Mientkiewicz who will sure up their defense at first base, a problem that has been persistent for a few years. Adding Andy Pettitte was probably their smartest move in the off-season. They brought in a proven veteran pitcher that knows how to A) pitch in New York and B) beat Boston. Two things the Yankees are always looking for.
Bluebird Banter: Since the question focuses on 2007, any listed prospects - in this case, only Sanchez - should be discounted. Even if Sanchez were ready for the majors, the Yankees' roster likely wouldn't be able to accomodate him until it more spots open up. Furthermore, marginal role players, fringe players, and middle relievers - Mientkiewictz, Britton, Vizcaino, Dotel, Guiel, Sturtze, Wilson, and Wright - should be discounted from the conversation. While it's possible that any one of them could have the largest impact of the bunch, it's very unlikely.

That leaves Igawa, Pettitte, Sheffield, and Johnson. Of course, it's difficult to single out one of the four with any form of conviction. However, barring any major injuries, the production provided by Sheffield and Johnson, based on recent performance, should be easily replaced from within the stacked Yankees roster.

As for Igawa and Pettitte, that appears to be a toss up at this point. While Pettitte has better stuff, he's older and more injury prone. Igawa, on the other hand, is younger and healthier, though he's completely unaccustomed to the American game. If forced to choose, though, I guess I'd pick Igawa, if only to be different.

Camden Chat: None, really. The Yankees are roughly as good as they were last year, but they subtracted an old lefty with a balky back and added an aging lefty in his place. They lost Jaret Wright ("lost" probably isn't the right word) and added Kei Igawa, who should be able to at least duplicate Wright's battles to get through five innings. Gary Sheffield was barely on the team last year, and he's pretty capably replaced by Abreu. If Vizcaino and/or Britton help solidify their bullpen getting to Rivera, then they're going to win more games. Their offense was perfectly good, to say the least, and should remain so this season. So without having a real answer, I'll just say that losing the almighty Tanyon Sturtze cripples their chances.

DRays Bay: I think that it is hard to pinpoint a single addition or subtraction that will have the greatest impact on New York simply because New York's offseason wasn't about "the big splash". Even signing Andy Pettite doesn't really feel like it goes under that category. Nonetheless, I think that the success of the offseason will ultimately come down to the performance of Kei Igawa. Whereas it is a pretty sure bet that Pettite will produce effectively and replace Johsnon in that regard for the positive, Igawa is more of a question mark. I like the Igawa signing, and think he can be a good No. 3/4/5, but whether he does fulfill my hypothesis is another story. If he performs well, the Yankees finally have that back end guy to round out the rotation, and they can stop giving starts to the revolving door that has been part of their back end of the rotation the last couple years. If Igawa can prove to be consistently effective, the Yankees will gain so much from having consistent production from that spot in the rotation, unlike the Aaron/Small/Shawn Chacon/Al Leiter dead end black hole that part of the rotation has been in years past.

Marc Normandin: The Yankees best moves were all of those that had an eye towards the future of the organization, such as the Gary Sheffield and Randy Johnson deals (even if the Johnson one did not bring back any sort of useful future major leaguers). The fact that they did not get involved in any of the ridiculous bidding wars over long-term deals was also a positive for the team, who have been much more responsible with their wallet ever since Brian Cashman took complete control as General Manager.

Adding Andy Pettitte should certainly help the rotation, but I don't think he is going to be an ace like he was on occasion in Houston. Back in the American League-in the difficult AL East, even-is going to make life hard on Pettitte, who has pitched in one of the weakest offensive divisions in the league for a few years now. I think a healthy Randy Johnson would have been a better option for the rotation, but there were other items at play with that situation.



2. What, if anything, will prevent the Yankees from winning their tenth consecutive AL East title?

Pinstripe Alley: Last season the Yankees dealt with drastic injuries and the young guys and backups stepped in with great aplomb. I think if New York loses, it's because the other teams, specifically the Red Sox, will have performed better. I would say, if the vaunted Boston starting five can perform as they have been hyped to, then the Yankees may be in trouble. But this is contigent on a number of factors including Manny Ramirez's sanity, Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling's health and Dice-K delivering as he was paid to.

Over The Monster: I'd love my answer to be Diasuke Matsuzaka, but it will certainly take more than an 18 win season from the new kid on the block to knock the Yankees off the top of the mountain. Let me be a broken record and say: their rotation. Their lineup, of course, is solid. Even on an off-day that team can knock in a few runs. But the rotation does have its questions. Will Wang hold up after a great `06 campaign? Will Pettitte finally show his age? Will Carl Pavano actually pitch? And, if he does, will it be decent?

Bluebird Banter: As they've been throughout their run of consecutive AL East titles, the Yankees will once again be the prohibitive favourites in the division. Of course, that doesn't imply that their streak will undoubtedly extend to eleven. However, at this point, the same obstacles that apply to other divisional favourites apply to Yankees, too: untimely injuries, inexplicably poor play from their key players, and inexplicably good play from one (or more) of their divisional rivals.

Camden Chat: Injuries and the rotation are the only things that can prevent New York from winning this division. They just have too much firepower and the other teams don't have enough of anything concrete to challenge them straight-up. But Mussina showed his age last year as the season progressed. Wang is a tricky pitcher to rely on reproducing that 2006 season, which was really good. Pettitte wasn't all that great last year. Pavano is a penny in a light socket. Who knows what Igawa does? They have some depth with a lot of young guys, but they're young guys. Most likely their rotation does enough with the support they'll be given, but if anything besides health trips them up, that'll be it.

DRays Bay: I think that the Yankees will have no problem, again, with their batting order, and I think that their rotation is better than was last year's. However two things could stand in their way. The first one is relatively straightforward; their bullpen simply doesn't look that good between the middle relief and Mariano Rivera. The Yankees have hung their hat on a lot of inconsistent, older veterans like Mike Myers, Luis Vizcaino, and Scott Proctor, each of which could just drop off the map at any moment. They also have an influx of arms that have seen a lot of time riding the Columbus-JFK shuttle (I guess JFK-Scranton now) in years past, journeymen we like to call them, and I don't know if you can rely on them. The other thing that could trip New York up is clubhouse issues. If A-Rod does something stupid, particularly something involving another teammate, and word leaks out to the media, you will never hear the end of it. And eventually this type of stuff divides clubhouses; say if A-Rod makes some dumb remark that he shouldn't have about Jeter or whomever. The constant friction from within really seemed to be eating away at the Yankees last season, and New York has probably alleviated some of their problems by jettisoning Randy Johnson and Gary Sheffield, but the A-Rod/Jeter soap opera remains. If that flares up over the course of the season, it could ultimately end up causing problems in-house, and as a result, production may drop.

Marc Normandin: The team took a step back by dealing Randy Johnson, who had the potential to be their strongest starter in 2007 if his back was healthy. With that said, the rotation is still good enough when the team's incredible offense is taken into consideration; the only thing that will keep the Yankees from winning the AL East again is a few key injuries to infielders-if an outfielder is injured, Melky Cabrera can save the day-or a starter. Kei Igawa may not pitch well in the AL East, where he may be a bit of a stretch as a starter rather than a reliever. If the Yankees play poorly versus the Jays, Sox or both, then their chances of winning the AL East will certainly decrease.



3. Is there any salvaging the dried up chaff of Carl Pavano's career? Is there any scenario in which he actually succeeds as a Yankee this season? Who is Plan B?

Pinstripe Alley: The loss of Gary Sheffield, Randy Johnson, and Jaret Wright brought some great young pitching talent. New York's farm system is now stacked with future Yankee stars and wonderful trade bait. Look for the Yankees to call up Phillip Hughes and pull of a giant trade for a big time pitcher later this summer if Pavano tanks. I think Carl Pavano, knowing his career may be at stake, might actually have a strong showing. I wouldn't put money on it, but It wouldn't surprise me to see him winning 10-15 games this season.

Over The Monster: Carl "The Biggest Joke in the Baseball Blogosphere" Pavano. As I say that, I do think he can rebound to be a decent pitcher. He won't return to his 2004 form with the Marlins - I think that's given - but he could be a decent #5 starter in the American League. I expect a .500 season out of Pavano, if healthy, and a ERA that floats in the 5.00 range. Pavano pitched against the Red Sox on Monday, March 12 and he was quite effective. He didn't blow the doors off the barn but he opened some eyes - eyes he hasn't opened since 2005.

Bluebird Banter: Even if Pavano could miraculously stay healthy for most of the season, it's unclear whether he would represent an upgrade on whomever he'd unseat from the fifth spot in the rotation. Pavano's impressive minor league totals have failed to be replicated in the majors, his anomalistic 2003 season notwithstanding. However, his success that season is largely due to playing half his games in a pitcher's park and the good fortune associated with overcoming so-so peripherals.

Camden Chat: Pavano has had one good season in his career and the contract they gave him was a reflection on the way they were running the team at the time. I think they've changed some, and I think it's for the better of their long-term prospects. If Pavano stays healthy - please, hold your laughter - he could give them the season of a fifth starter, which is all they can really expect of him. DRays Bay: I think that Pavano can be salvaged. He is, of course, never going to be the top of the rotation starter the Yankees thought they had bought a few years ago, but he could be a decent back end guy. Pavano has lost a lot of things, but his tendency for not giving up a lot of walks doesn't appear to be one of them, and as long as he's got that and can minimize his mistakes via the base on balls, that's a good start. He won't blow people away, but if he can keep the ball down in the zone and avoid getting clobbered, he very easily could be a league average pitcher. I think Pavano will post an ERA in the high 4s this season, which isn't great but it is certainly something to salvage from that awful contract. I have heard the possibility floated in the past that Scott Proctor may move into the rotation if need be, and while I don't think that would be a great option, he's probably a lock for at least mediocrity. And mediocrity is still probably a step up from some of the back ends of New York rotations in the last few years.

Marc Normandin: I was never as high on Pavano as some people to begin with, and at this stage I think all he brings to the table is the ability to be a strong back-end starter, if anything. That is of course assuming he can stay healthy, and actually has the desire to be out on the field. Pavano's actual ability is almost never in question thanks to his big season in Florida that preceded his payday, and the focus has been mostly on whether or not he even wants to pitch in New York anymore as well as his health, but he really is not all that great of a starter, and if he flops again, NY should not really miss him. The Yankees can probably do better than Pavano somewhere down the line, as more players become available via trade, or when Philip Hughes pitches himself out of Triple-A.