You can say what you want about the Yankees’ starting pitching, but New York’s lineup continues to be one of the best in the majors. The Bombers lived up to their nickname in 2011 hitting a major-league leading 222 home runs and were number two in RBIs with 836. For a team with power, they were also dangerous on the base paths. They had a combined 147 stolen bases, fourth most in the majors.
The lineup for 2012 looks to be pretty much the same with the exception of veteran-catcher-turned-DH Jorge Posada, who will not be back in a Yankee uniform (at least not as a player).
1. Derek Jeter SS (2011: .297 AVG, 6 HR, 61 RBI, 84 R) — You can argue all day whether or not Jeter should be hitting in the leadoff spot or whether the 37-year-old Yankees Captain should even be playing shortstop at all. (I hear Michael Kay’s voice yelling, “Past a diving Jeter!” in my nightmares). The fact is Jeter will be doing both for the Yankees next season. While this was only the third time in his illustrious career that he failed to score 100 runs, Jeter did have a, well, Jeterian second half after he came back from a calf injury. It all seemed to go uphill after his dramatic home run for hit number 3,000, a game in which he went 5-5 and was a tailor-made Yankee Classic. I think the tales of Jeter’s demise are greatly exaggerated. As long as he’s healthy, he’ll still hit in the .300 range.
2. Curtis Granderson CF (2011: .262 AVG, 41 HR, 119 RBI, 136 R) — Armed with an improved swing and playing half his games with the short porch as a target, Granderson has turned into quite the home-run hitter. He also hit more than 100 RBIs for the first time in his career. But Granderson is armed with more than power. The Grandy Man is speedy and stole 25 bases in 2011, which makes him a threat to be a 30-30 man at some point. The one area that can stand some improvement is his strikeouts (something Granderson himself acknowledges). He K’d 169 times last season. If he can shave that number down, look out.
3. Mark Teixeira 1B (2011: .248 AVG, 39 HR, 111 RBI, 90 R) — The switch-hitting Teixeira is a dangerous presence at the plate. He has the power, but the past few seasons he hasn’t been hitting for average. (His average was .256 in 2010). I admit it’s a tad worrisome, but he’s still knocking in runs. His defense is also top rate. Teixeira has certainly saved Jeter’s butt more than a few times digging balls out of the dirt.
4. Alex Rodriguez 3B (2011: .276 AVG, 16 HR, 62 RBI, 67 R) — A-Rod played in 99 games thanks to a variety of nagging injuries. Those injuries were to blame for his power outage. He hit a measly 16 home runs, the lowest number of his career. (Prior to that, his lowest home-run total was 23, which came in his sophomore season). If A-Rod can stay healthy, he should be the lethal clean-up heater he’s supposed to be.
5. Robinson Cano 2B (2011: .302 AVG, 28 HR, 118 RBI, 104R) — In my opinion, Cano is the best the best second baseman in all of baseball and one of the game’s most exciting players. Whether swinging a bat or throwing the ball, Cano makes playing baseball look amazingly effortless. He has answered the call when asked to hit in the cleanup spot and may be the Yankees cleanup hitter of the future. Cano’s contract is up after this season, so it will be interesting to see if he puts up some gaudy numbers in 2012.
6. Nick Swisher RF (2011: .260 AVG, 23 HR, 85 RBI, 81 R) — Swisher lightens the mood in a clubhouse that has been described as a bit buttoned up. He has blossomed since coming to the Bronx, gaining more power and improving his defense in right field. If the Yankees don’t trade him in a deal for starting pitching, the switch-hitting Swisher’s light mood and play will continue to be an asset.
7. Russell Martin C (2011: .237 AVG, 18 HR, 65 RBI, 57R) — Behind the plate, Martin did a great job blocking balls in the dirt (catching A.J. Burnett is no easy feat) and holding runners on. At the plate, after a torrid start, he cooled big time. Martin hit .237 on the year, but the league average for catchers in 2011 was only .245. He should improve on that number next year, but if he doesn’t, given all the power in the lineup, the Yankees will be fine making that the trade off for Martin’s defensive skills.
8. Jesus Montero DH/C (2011: .328 AVG, 4 HR, 12 RBI, 9 R) — If the Yankees don’t use him for trade bait, the Jesus Montero era may have finally arrived in the Bronx with the departure of Posada. Montero is never going to impress anyone with his prowess behind the plate, but the kid can hit. It’s time to give him some regular playing time. And if he’s not the best defensive catcher, so what? His bat makes it worthwhile.
9. Brett Gardner LF (2011: .258 AVG, 7 HR, 36 RBI, 87 R) — Gardner’s speed makes him dangerous every time he gets on base. He led the AL in stolen bases with 49. A great outfielder, who probably should have won the Gold Glove, Gardner does need to improve his bunting skills. Those speedy legs can take him far, he just needs to make sure he’s creating more opportunities to show off his speed in 2012.