With Spring Training right around the corner, baseball fans everywhere are getting a little antsy for the start of the season. Nobody is waiting more than the fans of the New York Yankees.
They have every reason to be excited. With the additions of CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett in the starting rotation, plus Mark Teixeira at first base, the Yankees seem to be poised to make a run for the American League pennant.
The Yankees seem to have their starting rotation set, despite the addition of the fragile Burnett. What some seem to forget is that games are not just won by the rotation. The bullpen can make or break a game.
It is the bullpen the Yankees did not seem to feel the need to work on this offseason. They will be going into 2009 with the same bullpen with which they left 2008. That is not very reassuring, if you ask me.
The great Mariano Rivera is coming off of shoulder surgery from last October. Nobody knows how it will affect him. It was his first surgery since having elbow surgery back in 1992.
The comforting fact for Yankee fans to look at is that Rivera pitched through pain in the 2008 season and still had a comeback season after putting up numbers that are not quite Mariano-like in 2007.
Damaso Marte, while not exactly blowing me away as a Yankee, had great numbers with the Pittsburgh Pirates. With a 4-0 record, 3.47 ERA in 46 plus innings, 47 strikeouts, and only allowing 16 walks, I am hopeful he will return to that.
Marte was going through an adjustment period, as all players do when they come to New York and switch leagues. I predict he will be the set-up man to Rivera. The 1-3 record with a 5.40 ERA was a fluke.
Jose Veras, Brian Bruney, Phil Coke, and Edwar Ramirez all appear to be strong in the bullpen. They have combined for 173 strikeouts and 71 walks in 162 innings of work. Coke alone has an ERA under one. Bruney had a 1.83 ERA.
The bullpen will not be the problem for the 2009 Yankees. I would look at the rotation, centerfield, and the mental strength of their third baseman, Alex Rodriguez.