02/11/2003 09:00 am ET
Yankees Spring Training Rundown
A look at the Bronx Bombers as the start of camp nears
By Mark Feinsand / MLB.com
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103-59, AL East champions
2002 Hitting Leaders
(min. 200 at-bats)
BA: Bernie Williams, .333
OBP: Jason Giambi, .435
SLG: Giambi, .598
Runs: Alfonso Soriano, 128
RBIs: Giambi, 122
Hits: Soriano, 209
2B: Soriano, 51
3B: Four tied with 2
HR: Jason Giambi, 41
SB: Alfonso Soriano, 41
2002 Pitching Leaders
(min. 40 IP)
IP: Mike Mussina, 215 2/3
W: David Wells, 19
L: Mussina, 10
Win %: Mike Stanton, 7-1, .875
S: Mariano Rivera, 28
ERA: Rivera, 2.74
K: Roger Clemens, 192
K/9: Roger Clemens, 9.6
WHIP: Rivera, 1.000
Projected Starting Lineup
2B Alfonso Soriano
SS Derek Jeter
1B Jason Giambi
CF Bernie Williams
LF Hideki Matsui
C Jorge Posada
3B Robin Ventura
RF Raul Mondesi
DH Nick Johnson/Todd Zeile
1. Roger Clemens
2. Mike Mussina
3. Andy Pettitte
4. David Wells
5. Jose Contreras/Jeff Weaver
LH setup man: Chris Hammond
RH setup man: Steve Karsay
Closer: Mariano Rivera
Spring Cleaning: Five questions that need to be answered
1. What will happen with all of the starting pitchers?
Despite Joe Torre's resistance to putting starters in the bullpen, that's where two of them will end up unless the Yankees make a trade before the season begins. Sterling Hitchcock worked out of the bullpen last year in limited action, tossing just 39 1/3 innings all season, making him a likely candidate for the relief corps. Jeff Weaver made half of his appearances for New York last year out of the bullpen, but his best work comes as a starter. Look for Weaver to begin the year in the pen, but given the age of the rotation (every other starter is over 30, while Wells will turn 40 in May and Clemens 41 in August), he will likely make his share of starts.
2. Can Alfonso Soriano repeat his breakthrough sophomore season?
After finishing one home run shy of the exclusive 40-40 club in 2002, Soriano smiled and said, "There's always next year." While no one is predicting another run at 40-40, there's no reason why this 25-year-old won't make it two 30-30 seasons in a row. As long as Soriano sticks to his natural game and doesn't try to hit it out of the park every at-bat, he should remain the top offensive second baseman in the American League.
3. How much will Mike Stanton and Ramiro Mendoza be missed?
Two of the steadier presences in the Yankees bullpen since 1997, Stanton and Mendoza both departed via free agency this winter after the team opted not to offer either pitcher arbitration. Stanton left for the crosstown Mets, while Mendoza inked a deal with the rival Red Sox. How much they will be missed depends on how replacements Chris Hammond and Antonio Osuna perform on baseball's biggest stage. If Hammond can repeat his outstanding 2002 season (7-2, 0.95 ERA), the Yankees' bullpen will be in good shape.
4. Will Hideki Matsui and Jose Contreras live up to expectations?
Judging from the Yankees' track record with international signings, these two could go either way. New York had great success with Orlando Hernandez and Alfonso Soriano, though Hideki Irabu and Andy Morales never became the players the club expected them to be. Matsui will have plenty of chances to succeed, but Contreras will have Jeff Weaver to contend with if he stumbles out of the gate. However, New York invested too much money in this international pair to give up on either one right away.
5. What will become of Nick Johnson?
One of the organization's top prospects the last few years, Johnson had an effective if unspectacular rookie season in 2002. In 129 games, Johnson started 59 at first base and 49 as the team's DH, hitting .243 with 15 homers and 58 RBIs. With Jason Giambi firmly entrenched as the team's first baseman and Todd Zeile in the DH mix, Johnson may be relegated to a platoon DH role. The 24-year-old could also be used at some point as trade bait should the Yankees need to make a deal during the season.
New Faces: Players acquired via trade or free agency
RHP Juan Acevedo -- Coming off a season in which he saved 28 games for the Detroit Tigers, Acevedo inked a
minor-league contract with the Yankees in late January that will give him a chance to make the roster. The Yankees see him as a setup man, helping to replace Ramiro Mendoza.
RHP Jose Contreras -- The Cuban defector joined a pitching staff that currently features seven starters. He posted a 13-4 record in the Cuban league in 2002 with a league-leading 1.76 ERA. Contreras is expected to compete with Jeff Weaver and Sterling Hitchcock for the fifth spot in the starting rotation.
C John Flaherty -- An 11-year veteran, Flaherty was signed to a minor league deal in January to compete with Chris Widger for the role of Jorge Posada's backup.
LHP Chris Hammond -- After the best season of his 10-year career, Hammond will step into the left-handed setup role occupied by Mike Stanton since 1997. If Hammond can come close to the 7-2, 0.95 ERA season he posted in 2002, the Yankees will be very happy.
OF Chris Latham -- The switch-hitting outfielder signed a one-year Major League contract with the Yankees in
December. The 29-year-old plays all three outfield positions and could make the team as the fifth outfielder.
RHP Jon Lieber -- A former 20-game winner rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, Lieber is not likely to pitch in the Majors before August. The 32-year-old is not expected to play a major part in the Yankees' plans for 2003, but should land a spot in the 2004 rotation.
OF Hideki Matsui -- The Yankees' biggest offensive free agent acquisition of the winter, Matsui is the first Japanese power hitter to make his way to the Majors. Matsui averaged 33 homers a year in his decade with the Yomiuri Giants, including 50 in 2002 as he won his third Central League MVP award. Matsui will likely play left field and bat somewhere in the middle of the order.
RHP Antonio Osuna -- A part of the closer-by-committee approach the White Sox used last season (his 14 saves tied for the team lead), Osuna came to the Yankees in a three-way trade that sent Orlando Hernandez to Montreal. Osuna will be the fourth man in the Yankees' bullpen, stepping in to replace Ramiro Mendoza.
IF/DH Todd Zeile -- Zeile, 37, will essentially replace Ron Coomer as the Yankees' backup first baseman and third baseman and could share time with Nick Johnson as the team's designated hitter. Zeile batted .273 with 18 home runs and 87 RBIs for the Colorado Rockies last season, reaching 1,000 RBIs for his career.
IF Ron Coomer -- Coomer said publicly that he wanted to return to New York, but the Yankees decided to sign Todd
Zeile as their right-handed backup to Jason Giambi and Robin Ventura. Coomer signed a minor league deal with the Dodgers.
RHP Orlando Hernandez -- Losing a starter of this magnitude would be a blow to most teams, but with seven other starters vying for spots in the rotation, "El Duque" was expendable. The Yankees sent the Cuban right-hander to Montreal via Chicago in a three-way trade that landed Antonio Osuna in New York.
RHP Ramiro Mendoza -- Despite his desire to remain a Yankee for his entire career, Mendoza was not offered
arbitration by the team and wound up signing a contract with its biggest rival, the Boston Red Sox. Mendoza's role will be filled by Osuna.
OF Shane Spencer -- Injuries and inconsistency plagued Spencer since he burst onto the scene at the end of the 1998 season. Spencer, who never got 300 at-bats in a season, was non-tendered in December and signed with the Cleveland Indians in January.
LHP Mike Stanton -- Stanton, who served as the Yankees' player rep the last two seasons, was not offered arbitration and signed with the New York Mets in December. The Yankees inked Braves southpaw Chris Hammond to replace the popular Stanton, who had anchored the left side of the bullpen since 1997.
OF John Vander Wal -- Vander Wal's tenure in New York ended after one season, as the 36-year-old batted .260 with six home runs and 20 RBIs in limited action. The signing of Hideki Matsui, along with the inability to trade either Raul Mondesi or Rondell White, spelled the end for Vander Wal, who signed a minor league deal with the Brewers.
Returning from injury
RHP Steve Karsay -- The right-handed setup man underwent surgery in November for a herniated disc in his back, but has been making good progress in his throwing program at the team's minor league complex. Karsay began playing catch in January and should be at full strength when camp opens on Feb. 11.
New Kids on the Block: Prospects to watch
RHP Jose Contreras -- Like Matsui, the 31-year-old Cuban enters the season classified as a rookie despite his seven seasons in the Cuban league. The team's $32 million investment in Contreras would indicate that he will be the favorite to land the fifth spot in the rotation, and he should compete with his teammate Matsui for AL top rookie honors.
OF Hideki Matsui -- Though the Japanese slugger played 10 years for the Yomiuri Giants, the 28-year-old is
considered a rookie in the Majors in 2003. Two years ago, Ichiro Suzuki won the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards for the Seattle Mariners, and the Yankees would love to see their import have the same impact on the league this season.
OF Juan Rivera -- The young outfielder made enough of an impression on Joe Torre and his staff last September to earn a starting spot in left field in the AL Division Series. Though the Yankees feel that the 24-year-old has the potential to start in the Majors, the presence of Hideki Matsui and Raul Mondesi make it unlikely that he will get that chance this year.
On the Rebound
OF Raul Mondesi -- Despite hitting 26 home runs last season with the Blue Jays and Yankees, Mondesi had a disappointing year, batting more than 40 points below his career average. In 71 games with New York, Mondesi hit .241 with 11 homers and 43 RBIs. If he can lift that average to the .270 range and continue to play above-average defense in right field, his spot in the lineup should be safe.
OF Rondell White -- When White signed a two-year deal with the Yankees last winter, he was expected to give New York a steady presence in left field to replace Chuck Knoblauch. But White's first year in pinstripes was a disappointment, as a finger injury bothered him all season. White enters the spring as the Yankees' fourth outfielder, so he may not have the opportunity to improve on his 14 homers and 62 RBIs, though he should be able to better his .240 average.
The Bottom Line
The Yankees certainly have enough players to make a run at another championship, but the question of the spring will be where each of those players fit into the equation. Not many jobs will be up for grabs this spring, so Joe Torre's top priority will be to figure out who is in the starting rotation and to determine how much of an impact his two international stars will have on his club.
Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.