Two different articles, one from George A. King III of The New York Post and the other posted by Tyler Kepner at his “Bats” blog at The New York Times, convey optimism from GM Brian Cashman and hitting coach Kevin Long that the offense should be better from within. King quotes Long as saying that Robinson Cano is working with a personal trainer to shed some weight, while Long has spent considerable time this off-season illustrating the importance of early-count patience to the second baseman. I’m unsure what he’s conveying to Cano that didn’t take during the six-month season, but it might revolve around the additional weight of responsibility on him now that, in all likelihood, neither Giambi nor Abreu–both far more patient than Cano–are likely to return next season. From King:
“If he is going to be a third- or fifth-place hitter, which we need him to be, he has to learn about the strike zone and taking a lot more often than not,” Long said of Cano, who drew 26 walks last year. Only 11 players with at least 477 at-bats drew fewer walks than Cano.
I’m still not ready to put Cano in either of those spots since his plate discipline has been atrocious but, without Abreu and Giambi, expect Cano to be tried there at some point. Right now, I’d rather see a healthy Matsui batting third, with Nady fifth and a healthy Posada sixth–and I’d settle for vice versa. However, should Cano show some improved patience and given the likely holes left by Giambi and Abreu in the lineup, Cano could be in the top six, possibly higher. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Cano fifth to back up A-Rod and Nady sixth, which would also allow Girardi to construct a mixed lineup of lefties, righties, and switch hitters in Posada, Swisher and, if he ever gets his act together, Melky. (I’m not holding my breath on that, honestly. I’d slate Melky as the fourth outfielder behind Gardner.) The Yanks want more from Cano and this is a real shot for him to mature as a hitter. But I’m still uncertain that it will occur this season. As of now, this would be the lineup I’d field, if all are healthy Opening Day:
- Damon LF
- Jeter SS
- Matsui DH
- A-Rod 3B
- Nady RF
- Posada C
- Cano 2B
- Swisher 1B
- Gardner CF
I still think Cano needs to earn hitting third or fifth. He’s still young, he had a bad 2008, and needs to show the maturity to handle those vital spots without having them handed to him. I am glad to see him showing an earnest commitment to off-season fitness, however. It’s a good sign of maturity.
Kepner quotes Long as also asserting that the Yankees’ offense should be better from within since A-Rod was dealing with his divorce last season, and Cano was dealing with partying with Melky until all hours. (Actually, that last part on Cano is from me and not Long but, given the concerns about Cano’s weight last season, I highly doubt that Long, Cashman, and others haven’t connected the dots on what helped cause that…) With Posada and Matsui expected back and healthy, they feel that improving on the 789-run 2008 season, which was a drop-off of 179 runs from 2007, is likely. It’s possible, but it’s also clear that much hinges on the healthy hinges of Posada (shoulder) and Matsui (knee)–not a given especially with their turning 38 and 35, respectively. I’d love to see the Yankees’ offense rebound with a reinvigorated A-Rod (turning 34 next July) and Cano, and a healthy Posada, Matsui, and let’s not forget Jeter (turning 35 next June), leading the team to a 900-plus run season. However, given their respective ages and various injury issues, I’m starting to fear that should the Yankees enter 2009 with this lineup–filled with potential but fraught with peril–next season’s offense might at some point parallel last season’s starting pitching–injured and lacking an adequate contingency plan.
The team cannot afford to replicate that.