Hot Stove Heaters

Pitching Probables
Injuries: AL | NL
Minor Leagues
MLB en espanol
Message Board

News Wire
Daily Glance
Power Alley
MLB Insider

Jim Caple
Peter Gammons
Rob Neyer
John Sickels
Jayson Stark
ESPN Auctions
Friday, February 7
Updated: March 30, 9:43 AM ET
New York Yankees

By Kieran Darcy
ESPN The Magazine

The Numbers
2002 record:
103-58, .640 (1st overall)

Runs scored:
897, 1st in AL
Runs allowed:
697, 4th in AL
Run differential:
+200 (2nd overall)

Starters' ERA:
3.97, 3rd in AL
Bullpen ERA:
3.64, tied for 3rd in AL

Payroll (Opening Day):
$125.9 million (1st overall)
3.47 million (2nd overall)

3-year record:
285-197, .591 (3rd overall)

2002 in review
What went right?
The Yankees won 103 games, giving them the best record in the major leagues. Second baseman Alfonso Soriano was a sophomore sensation -- he just missed joining the 40/40 club, with 39 home runs and 41 stolen bases. Soriano also hit .300 and drove in 102 runs. New first baseman Jason Giambi bounced back from a slow start to hit .314 with 41 homers and 122 RBI. Center fielder Bernie Williams stayed healthy and hit a team-leading .333. Third baseman Robin Ventura didn't hit for average (.247), but knocked 27 balls out of the park.

Derek Jeter had another solid, though not spectacular, year at shortstop. David Wells, a question mark before the season, ended up leading the team with 19 wins. Andy Pettitte recovered from an early-season injury to go 13-5. Mike Stanton was 7-1 out of the bullpen, teaming with Steve Karsay to cover effectively for Mariano Rivera when he was injured.

What went wrong?
Despite having the best record in the majors, the Yankees fell to the eventual world champion Anaheim Angels in four games in the AL Division Series. For the second straight year, the Yanks didn't win the World Series -- which means panic time in owner George Steinbrenner's world. Rondell White stayed healthy but didn't live up to expectations in left field, batting only .240. Right fielder Raul Mondesi was acquired but never found a groove at the plate -- his average was .232 overall.

More was expected of young 1B/DH Nick Johnson, but he hit just .243. Mike Mussina and Roger Clemens won 18 and 13 games, respectively, but had ERAs over 4.00. Jeff Weaver pitched much worse than he did in Detroit, as a starter and out of the bullpen. And closer Rivera made three trips to the disabled list.

In retrospect, the critical decisions were:
1. Signing Giambi. Many Yankee fans were upset with the swap of Tino Martinez for Giambi at first base -- and early on, their frustrations seemed justified. But Giambi eventually settled into his pinstripes and became the slugger The Boss thought he signed.

2. Putting Soriano at the top of the lineup. Soriano had a promising rookie season, hitting .268 with 18 homers out of the 9-hole. Manager Joe Torre put a lot of faith in him by switching him to the first slot, and the experiment worked. Soriano was the Yankees' catalyst, raising his average to .300 and leading the AL in stolen bases. The only question is, how much longer will Torre keep him in that slot, considering Soriano's power numbers?

Robin Ventura
Third baseman
New York Yankees
141 465 68 27 93 .247

3. Signing Ventura. Scott Brosius retired, and hot prospect Drew Henson proved far from ready for the major leagues. So the Yanks swiped Ventura from their crosstown rivals, and he rebounded from an off-year with the Mets to make the All-Star team. In the first half, he hit .263 with a whopping 19 home runs and 62 RBI. Despite cooling off the rest of the way, Ventura was still a big pick-up.

Looking ahead to 2003
Three key questions
1. Who makes up the starting five? Clemens was re-signed, so he'll be in the rotation to pick up his 300th career victory. He'll be joined by Mussina, Pettitte and Wells, barring injuries. The fifth slot is up for grabs, with Weaver the front-runner -- Torre promised Weaver a 2003 starting slot last year, and he was relatively ineffective in relief last season. But the Yanks are also paying Cuban Jose Contreras $32 million, and that's an awful lot for a middle reliever. Orlando Hernandez was shipped to Montreal. But don't forget, the Yankees also have Sterling Hitchcock, and Jon Lieber, who they primarily signed for 2004. With the age (Clemens, Wells) and prior injury problems (Pettitte) of the staff, having starting pitching depth should come in handy.

2. The state of the bullpen? Vets Mike Stanton (Mets) and Ramiro Mendoza (Red Sox) are gone, taking tons of postseason experience with them. Chris Hammond replaces Stanton -- he had an amazing comeback year with the Braves in 2002 (7-2, 0.95) after sitting out three seasons, but can he do it again in the AL? The Yanks also acquired Antonio Osuna in the El Duque trade. Osuna was 8-2 with the White Sox last year, but with a 3.86 ERA. And they signed Juan Acevedo (28 saves last season for the Tigers) to a minor-league deal. Karsay is coming off a bad back, and Rivera battled injuries all last year -- meaning the bullpen has a lot to prove.

3. How good will Godzilla be? Hideki Matsui hit .334 with 50 home runs in Japan last year. Don't expect numbers quite so high in the American League. But he should certainly be an improvement over White in left field.

Can expect to play better
Weaver. He was 6-8 with the Tigers before being traded last year, but with a 3.18 ERA on one of the worst teams in the majors. When Weaver joined the Yankees, he was primarily a long reliever and had trouble adjusting. Weaver is 26, with a live arm. If Torre gives him the starting slot he promised him, look for him to improve.

Stats Corner
  • Mike Mussina (above) made 33 starts, the seventh time in the last eight years he's made 30 or more starts.
  • Jason Giambi scored a career high 120 runs.
  • David Wells was 10-2 with a 3.86 ERA in 14 starts in the second half.
  • Alfonso Soriano topped the AL with 41 stolen bases.
  • Derek Jeter batted .297, the first time he hit less than .300 since the 1997 season.
  • Can expect to play worse
    Ventura. He had an amazing first half of last season (see above). But after the All-Star break, he hit only .234 with eight homers. His decline could very well continue this season -- and Henson is still not ready. Todd Zeile might end up being a huge pick-up for the Yanks, because they can plug him in at third.

    Projected lineup
    2B Alfonso Soriano
    SS Derek Jeter
    CF Bernie Williams
    1B Jason Giambi
    C Jorge Posada
    LF Hideki Matsui
    3B Robin Ventura
    RF Raul Mondesi
    DH Nick Johnson/Todd Zeile

    Mike Mussina
    Andy Pettitte
    Roger Clemens
    David Wells
    Jeff Weaver/Jose Contreras

    Mariano Rivera

    A closer look
    Major League Baseball's trading deadline is only 174 days away. On paper, the New York Yankees appear pretty stacked. But odds are, there will be changes by the time that deadline rolls around.

    Some changes could come quite soon. The Yanks continue to try to shed some of their overpriced players, such as Raul Mondesi, Rondell White and Sterling Hitchcock, but without success so far. Even if they do find any takers, owner George Steinbrenner will still likely be stuck paying a good portion of their salaries.

    Younger Yankees, such as Nick Johnson and outfielder Juan Rivera, are better trade bait. But moving them would deplete the bench, which is already thin.

    What holes might the Bronx Bombers try to fill? The bullpen is a likely candidate. If Chris Hammond proves ineffective, the only lefty alternative on the current roster (excluding Hitchcock) would be Randy Choate. They might also look for a hard thrower who can close, in case Rivera is besieged by injuries again.

    The Yankees could also add another outfielder to the mix, especially if Mondesi and White continue to struggle. Matsui can play left or right, so the Yanks would likely look for a good all-around hitter at one of those two positions.

    And who knows -- perhaps the Yanks might even go on the prowl for a blue-chip third baseman? Robin Ventura and Todd Zeile can probably fill the position adequately this season, but if the Yanks lose any more confidence in Drew Henson, maybe they'll look for a new prospect at the hot corner.

    Consider this team a work in progress. Aren't they always?

    Kieran Darcy covers baseball for ESPN The Magazine. He can be reached at

     More from ESPN...
    Klapisch: What a relief!
    The Yankees paid top dollar ...
    Yankees minor-league report
    John Sickels analyzes the ...

    Hot Stove Heaters Index
    A rundown of's Hot ...

     ESPN Tools
    Email story
    Most sent
    Print story
    Daily email