Considering how many Yankees had sub par seasons by their standards in 2010, it can be considered a minor miracle the team came within two games of returning to the World Series last fall.
Many of those slumping stars are back in 2011. Does having several key players with something to prove provide a perfect cocktail for success? Or are the Yankees closing in on a new season with a roster filled with soon-to-be has-beens?
River & Sunset is here to give you a list of the Yankees looking to improve on their season of a year ago.
A.J. Burnett: The tattooed one's ERA by month in 2010: 2.43, 4.03, 11.35, 2.00, 7.80, 5.60. There's a great pitcher locked away in there somewhere. Larry Rothschild, I present you baseball's Rubik's Cube.
Joba Chamberlain: There's a growing legion of doubters when it comes to Chamberlain — will he use that as motivation to improve or ignore it and continue to wallow in mediocrity? The overarching question with Joba: Does he get it?
Curtis Granderson: Now here's a prime candidate for a comeback season. Some guys take a full year before they're comfortable and playing at their full capability in New York, and Granderson seems like the classic example. Fantasy owners be advised.
Mark Teixiera: Totally underrated subplot of the Yankees' failure to defend their championship last season was Teixeira's baffling fall from the ranks of superstardom. His numbers were hardly terrible (33 homers, 108 RBI, league-leading 113 runs), but his game sprung leaks that you'd ever expect from a T-800 cyborg. Perhaps the hand and foot injuries were more serious than he let on. I'm more of the feeling that (yet another) slow start led to some bad habits that snowballed on him. If Tex gets out of the gate fast this April, he's an MVP candidate.
FATHER TIME VS. THE ALL-STAR
Alex Rodriguez: He was still an epic run producer last season (125 RBIs in 137 games), but it's fair to ask if the superstar era of A-Rod's career is over. His OPS has declined in each of the past three years and he's missed 87 games since 2008 after missing just 19 in the seven years prior. The 35-year-old said he's feels like himself this spring, but you wonder if the hip condition is something that will prevent him from ever being that elite guy again.
Derek Jeter: Just to be clear, the captain doesn't need the insane ramblings of Hank Steinbrenner to get motivated. He's coming off the worst season of his career, and there's no way he didn't go nuts this offseason looking to wash out the taste of '10. The question is whether he has another classic Jeterian season (200 hits, 115 runs, 15 homers) in his 36-year-old bones. Count me as a believer.
Jorge Posada: I don't see much in the way of middle ground when it comes to Posada at this point. He'll either get 450-500 at-bats, hit 20-25 homers and drive 70-80 runs as the full-time DH/spot catcher, or he'll break down and enter the depressing late-period Jason Varitek phase of his career. I've made a lot of Jason Varitek jokes since 2008; I'm praying karma isn't going to take it out on poor Georgie.
Jesus Montero: The Yankees seem committed to taking it slow with Montero, but they should also be cognizant not to keep a Buster Posey-type talent in the minors just because they don't want to rush the process. If the kid hits in spring training, there's no reason he shouldn't replace Cervelli as backup catcher. If he keeps hitting, there's no reason he shouldn't replace Russell Martin as starter. Yep, I'm drinking the Jesus Juice.
THE LAME DUCK
Brian Cashman: It's been pretty tough sledding for Cashman since the Yankees' World Series win, with some failed acquisitions and two whiffs on Cliff Lee. Now he enters the walk year of his contract. If the wheels fall off this season, it'd be very interesting to see if the front office believed a change in culture was necessary.
THE LOW EXPECTATION EXPRESS
No. 4 and 5 starters: The good news for the two guys that win these roles? Everyone already assumes you suck. So, yeah, the bar is pretty close to the pavement here. Whether you're Sergio Mitre, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, a Bronx garbage man, that guy with the riser in your Sunday morning softball league, Charlie Sheen, or one of Charlie Sheen escorts, understand that if you string a couple of quality starts together you'll get the Michael Kay equivalent of Al Michaels' "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!"