01/21/09 1:20 PM EST
Long excited about lineup upgrade
Yanks hitting coach brings high hopes to offseason workouts
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
The winter offers a more relaxed dining atmosphere for the Yankees' hitting coach, but the basic workload remains the same. Players scatter when the weather gets cold in New York, but Long makes an effort to connect with as many as possible.
Hopes are a bit higher now for the Hot Stove champions, and Long understands that there will be many eyes transfixed upon his lineup after the addition of Mark Teixeira. But Long said the winter transactions add no pressure -- the expectation is always for the Yankees to be a winner.
"I think everybody goes out and says they are ready and willing to do it, but now with the type of talent we have, the expectations become even larger and greater," Long said in a recent telephone interview.
Long's first stop on the winter travelogue was to visit Alex Rodriguez in Miami, meeting with the All-Star for four days. Working with A-Rod has become a regular task for Long, the third consecutive offseason that they have met for drills.
"He's got to be the best player he can be," Long said. "The most important part with Alex is to have himself ready to go for the upcoming season and have himself fully committed to winning a championship.
"That's everybody -- not just Alex. We've got to be committed to winning a championship at this point."
Robinson Cano met with Long in November, working out in the Dominican Republic and continuing the adjustments that the hitting coach suggested late in the season. Cano had hit rock bottom in terms of frustration, and only a September surge helped him raise his average to .271.
With Long's help, Cano has reduced movement at the plate, tweaks that remain constant in the overhauled stance that will be on display next month. But Long said he was blown away by other changes Cano has made, hiring a personal trainer to help reduce his body fat and add muscle for the year ahead.
"The trip to the Dominican went above and beyond what I expected," Long said. "Really, I just expected to go out there and see where he was from an offensive standpoint and mechanically, and mentally talk to him about his game plan for winter ball.
"To go out there and see what kind of shape he was in was a pleasant surprise, to say the least. He's worked hard to get himself in shape and get himself looking like a top-notch ballplayer."
Long said he also worked out with Johnny Damon and Cody Ransom before visiting Jorge Posada at the Yankees' Tampa, Fla., complex earlier this month, where the veteran catcher continues to rehabilitate from right shoulder surgery.
Posada recently estimated that he is at "75 percent" with his hitting and throwing, though his hopes of playing for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic were dashed when proper insurance could not be obtained.
While Posada may not be active defensively when pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 13, he is hitting from both sides of the plate, and expectations are that Posada will be available in the lineup when the Yankees open their season in Baltimore on April 6.
Long complemented the work of Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, who moved to fill three major needs on the roster with the backing of a combined $423.5 million in salary commitments.
It should be, Long believes, enough to at least get the Yankees into the playoffs after missing the postseason for the first time in 13 years.
New York flashed the dollars and landed its top two choices in CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, then offered Long the gift of Teixeira two days before Christmas. The hitting coach intends to make the best of it, rewarding Cashman's winter work.
"To go out there and come through like he's come through, it's exciting," Long said. "You look around baseball and see where everybody is at, and the New York Yankees have got to be considered a favorite at this point."
Yankees manager Joe Girardi has not confirmed exactly where Teixeira will bat in the order, saying that he wants to use the spring to discuss lineups with his coaching staff.
But no matter if Teixeira bats third or fourth, he should provide a great complement for A-Rod, helping to restore the pop lost by the departures of Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu. Returns to form from both Posada and designated hitter Hideki Matsui -- who lost much of last season to injuries -- would also help.
"Potentially, we look great on paper," Long said. "But we have to come together and jell as a team. We have to become a team as quick as possible. We're going to have to work at this thing, but having somebody of Mark Teixeira's caliber and talent certainly makes things look a lot easier."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.