Last night, I appeared on Ricky Keeler's first half roundtable show, wherein the other guests and I looked back at the Yankees' pre-All-Star break games while also glancing forward to the last few months of the season. Ricky sent me some questions, for which I prepared responses. Not all of these questions were asked, and not all of my answers below are what I said verbatim, but the general sentiments are the same.
1. Have the Yankees exceeded your expectations so far?
Out of the gate, when it was slowly revealed that Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, and Mark Teixeira would all have to miss significant time, I thought the Yankees would still finish the first half above .500, by about ten games since they had a fairly solid team with a strong rotation anyway. I felt they would likely at least get Tex and Grandy back by mid-June. As the season progressed and the Yankees have gone forth almost entirely without these players in addition to Kevin Youkilis and Francisco Cervelli, I thought they would be fortunate if they finished the first half over .500. So if someone showed me the roster the Yankees have today back in April, I would have been surprised if that was a .500 team.
2. Biggest surprise/biggest disappointment of the first half?
The biggest surprise has been Lyle Overbay actually appearing to have a pulse. Fans knew he would have a decent glove, but considering expectations on Overbay's offense were essentially zero coming into the season for him since he was mulling retirement, it was a pleasant surprise to learn that he's wielded a league-average bat with important hits as well (evidenced by his 101 wRC+ and +0.69 WPA). The biggest disappointment is CC Sabathia. It's not shocking that Youkilis got hurt or that Teixeira's wrist injury ended his season. It is surprising that CC's barely been around league average for ERA and FIP (97 ERA- and FIP-). Pitching is not this team's main problem, but they need their supposed ace to do better when the team isn't providing much run support.
3. How has the AL East look in your opinion?
Boston's first-place first-half is a surprise. I didn't expect them to be nearly as bad as last year, but I also didn't expect them to be sniffing the top of the division, let alone sitting there. Their .333 team BABIP entering today is easily the highest in the league. Expect them to fade, though they will stay a contender and possibly a Wild Card. The Orioles have also been a little better than expected, and they will stay a threat. Toronto and Tampa Bay's slow starts were strange, but Tampa has already rebounded and might be the AL East favorite considering their tough pitching staff and curiously good offense. Toronto's not rolling over, either, but their sluggish start might doom them to last even with a good second half.
4. Who is most likely to be a new Yankee on August 1st?
Justin Morneau. Overbay's success has been surprising, but at the same time, I think the Yankees are aware that they might want to quit while they're ahead. If the Twins are willing to accept mediocre prospects in a salary dump, I could definitely see the Yankees pulling off a trade for the veteran lefty hitter.
5. What player are you watching the most in second half?
CC. He has to turn it around, and while he has struggled, I am confident that he is still talented enough to make a difference.
6. Bigger impact: Jeter/A-Rod?
Jeter. As bad as his ankle injury was, a second hip operation concerns me even more. A bad hip essentially ended Albert Belle's career at age 34. While likely a better athlete, a nigh-38 A-Rod is also older than Belle was in 2000. Jeter will probably get his timing back before A-Rod
7. What do the Yankees with Pineda?
I think Phil Hughes will be traded by July 31, opening a spot for Pineda in the rotation in August. If he's not traded but Pineda is ready, they might "phantom DL" the struggling Pettitte to at least give Pineda a shot while Andy takes a breather. The Yankees probably want to just wait until then to bring him up since they get another year of team control just by waiting until then. The extra starts in July will help Pineda make more of a case for himself, too. They at least need to use August and September to assess what Pineda can possibly provide for them in the future.
8. Is there potential for maybe a Phil Hughes-for-Mark Trumbo deal with the Angels?
I don't think that deal would happen. I'm not really sure why the Angels would do that deal. Trumbo has some flaws as player, but he can really hit homers and is cheap, under team control through 2016. I don't see a Trumbo-for-Hughes deal making sense for the Angels unless the Yankees included good prospects in addition to Hughes. I don't see that happening though.
9. Do you think the Yankees with their $189 million plan bring back Robinson Cano? If so, how much would you pay him?
It might take until the off-season to finalize the deal, but I would be surprised if Cano departs. They will figure out some way to keep him, even if it means scrapping the $189 million plan (which has been rumored). I think he'll probably take something like Tex's eight-year, $180 million deal from '09 since he plays a more valuable position, albeit while being a couple years older. It might cost them more than $200 million though; if it comes down to more cash or more years, I'd rather give him more cash (as Greg Kirkland has previously mentioned.) God knows the Yankees have enough of that.
10. Where do you think the Yankees will finish in the division?
I think the Yankees, much like in 2008 with the old Yankee Stadium, will be disappointingly looking back on this year that they couldn't provide a better send-off for Mariano Rivera. The old Yankee Stadium ended its tenure with regular season games, and it looks like Rivera's tenure will also end in regular season games. It might allow for a better way to send him off with a ceremony like the final Yankee Stadium game than the uncertainty of whether a certain playoff game will be the last home game. Obviously, that's not the way he or anyone else would actually want to see him go, but I don't see them making the playoffs. The division looks too tough right now with the Rays, Orioles, and Red Sox all appearing to be a lot better. The Yankees might have to hope for misfortunes for those teams if they want to improve in the standings. As it stands, I think they're looking at a fourth place finish, though they will avoid last place since Toronto's first half probably buried them too much. The Yankees will end up over .500 by a little bit, but it's probably going to be their worst season since 1992.
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