Tagged: Derk Jeter

Jeter’s 4 Hits Backs Tanaka As Yanks Club Chisox

GAME 49

YANKEES 7, WHITE SOX 1

For the paid sellout crowd of 39,142 at U.S. Cellular Field on Sunday they witnessed the last of one great era and the precipice of a new one wearing Yankee gray.

Those who came to pay tribute to Derek Jeter in his final game in Chicago witnessed him contribute four hits, including a rare triple, and two RBIs and those who came to see rookie sensation Masahiro Tanaka saw him pitch one-run ball for 6 2/3 innings against the White Sox.

So the bridge from the past to the future was featured prominently as Jeter and Tanaka helped lead New York to a four-game series split with Chicago.

Jeter thanked the fans for their cheers and their tributes by posting his first four-hit game since Aug. 20, 2012. He also topped it off by hitting his first triple since the 2011 season as part of a seven-run, 10-attack that was the undoing of right-hander Andre Rienzo (4-1) and the two relievers that followed him.

Meanwhile, Tanaka (6-1) bounced back from his first loss in the major leagues on Tuesday to the Chicago Cubs to hold the Chisox to one run on five hits and two walks while he struck out six before he tired in the seventh inning. The 25-year-old right-hander has now posted quality starts in all 10 of his starts this season.

The Yankees made it easier for him by jumping on Rienzo for four runs in the second inning.

Yangervis Solarte started the frame by shooting a bad-hop grounder past second baseman Gordon Beckham into right for a single. One out later, Ichiro Suzuki singled up the middle and Brian Roberts loaded the bases by drawing a walk.

Brett Gardner then stroked a two-run single and, after a throwing error on Rienzo that allowed Roberts and Gardner to move up a base, Jeter rapped out an RBI single. Jacoby Ellsbury capped the rally with a sacrifice fly that scored Gardner.

The Yankees added a run in the fourth when Jeter hit a two-out triple into center and he scored when Rienzo uncorked a wild pitch.

Rienzo was touched for five runs on seven hits and two walks while he struck out seven batters in five innings.

Jeter came through again for the Yankees in the sixth off right-hander Javy Guerra when Alfonso Soriano led off the inning with a double and Jeter ripped a two-out single up the middle into center to score Soriano.

The White Sox scored their only run of the day in the bottom of the sixth off Tanaka when Tyler Flowers laced a leadoff double over the head of Gardner in left. Later in the inning, Conor Gillaspie slapped a two-out bloop single that scored Flowers to spoil the shutout bid.

Roberts capped the scoring with one out in the eighth inning off White Sox right-hander Scott Carroll by blasting his second home run of the season into the bleachers in right-center.

So after the Yankees lost 10 straight game at U.S. Cellular Field in a streak that began in 2012, the Yankees were able to recover to win the final two games of the four-game set for a split.

With the victory the Yankees boosted their season ledger to 26-23. They remain in second place in the American League East, two games behind the first-place Toronto Blue Jays. The White Sox fell to 25-27.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • After going 0-for-5 on Saturday, Jeter bounced back in a big way in his final game at U.S. Cellular Field. His 4-for-5 game raised his season average from .259 to .275. There is no doubt that Jeter is not the player he once was. But it is nice to know that the Yankee captain is still capable of games like this every so often in his final season.
  • After getting knocked around for four runs (three earned) on eight hits against the Cubs, Tanaka told reporters he would make the necessary adjustments in his next start. The reporters then asked him how he would do it and he replied by saying, “Watch me.” It appears he made those adjustments because there were only two really hard hit balls off him on Sunday. He did appear to tire in the seventh inning, when he issued his only two walks to Adam Dunn and Alejandro De Aza.  But he lowered his ERA to 2.29. He is amazing.
  • Along with Jeter, the only other Yankee starter to have a multiple-hit game was Soriano, who posted a pair of doubles. Soriano needed a good showing because from May 18 through May 22, Soriano was 0-for-13 with seven strikeouts. Since getting a pinch-hit single against the White Sox on Friday, Soriano is 4-for-9 (.444). He was dropped in the batting order on Sunday to the seventh spot behind the rookie Solarte.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

  • Mark Teixeira (batting fourth) and Brian McCann (batting fifth) combined to go 0-for-8 in the game with four strikeouts and they stranded three runners apiece. The fact that the Yankees scored seven runs in the game without a significant contribution from two of their three top run producers is saying a lot. Both Teixeira and McCann need to step up their games in the absence of outfielder Carlos Beltran.

BOMBER BANTER

The White Sox paid tribute to Jeter in a 30-minute pre-game ceremony and awarded him a plague bearing soil from shortstop at U.S. Cellular Field collected three days ago to honor all the shortstops who played there and all of those happen to be in the Hall in Fame. Jeter’s name was on the large plaque along with the names of Luke Appling, Pee Wee Reese, Luis Aparacio, Cal Ripken Jr., Lou Boudreau, Ozzie Smith, Barry Larkin, Robin Yount, Omar Vizquel and Phil Rizzuto. The White Sox also chipped in with a check for $5,000 for Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation.  . . .  Right-hander Michael Pineda reported no issues on Sunday after throwing 28 pitches in live batting practice on Saturday. Pineda, who has been on the 15-day disabled list since May 4 with a strained muscle in his upper right shoulder, is next scheduled to pitch in s simulated game on Tuesday. He hopes to be able to return to the Yankees in early June.

ON DECK

The Yankees will travel to Busch Stadium for a Memorial Day matchup to begin a three-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Rookie right-hander Chase Whitley (0-0, 1.00 ERA) will make his third start for the Yankees. Whitley held the Cubs to one run on six hits and a walk while he fanned three in 4 1/3 innings of a game the Yankees rallied to win 4-2 in 13 innings on Wednesday.

The Cardinals will send to the mound right-hander Michael Wacha (3-3, 2.54 ERA). Wacha was cruising having shut out the Arizona Diamondbacks on two hits and three walks in six innings. But he settled for a no-decision when he was forced to leave the game after taking a batted ball off his right elbow. The injury was not serious and he was cleared to start on Monday.

Game-time will be 4:15 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by ESPN and locally by the YES Network.

 

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Starting Spot, Bench, Pen Yankees Only Unknowns

With the first exhibition a day away the New York Yankees pretty much have answered all their roster questions.

By investing $475 million on free agents this winter they have turned a team that was ravaged by injury in 2013 into a possible contender in 2014.

The rotation is almost set with C.C. Sabathia heading up a group that includes a Japanese sensation in Masahiro Tanaka and holdovers Ivan Nova and Hiroki Kuroda.

The starting lineup is set with shortstop Derek Jeter returning from injury along with first baseman Mark Teixeira. Free agents Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson will primarily play second and third base, respectively. Fellow free agent Brian McCann gives the Yankees the best hitting catcher they have had since Jorge Posada retired.

The outfield was strengthened with the free-agent signings of Jacoby Ellsbury in center and Carlos Beltran in right. Brett Gardner, fresh off signing a new four-year extension, will move back to left and last year’s key acquisition, Alfonso Soriano, will be the primary designated hitter.

The bullpen is pretty set with David Robertson being asked to fill the mighty big cleats of the best closer the game as ever seen in Mariano Rivera.

With him are free agent left-hander Matt Thornton, who will assume the role of the departed Boone Logan. Shawn Kelley will also try to build on what was a fairly good first season with the team.

The Yankees even added to the bullpen with the signing of oft-injured former closer Andrew Bailey, who could easily slip into Robertson’s setup role if he is sound.

The bench already will have backup middle infielder Brendan Ryan and catcher Francisco Cervelli. Ichiro Suzuki, who suddenly became the odd man out of a job with the new outfielders looks to have the backup outfield spot assured unless he is traded.

So there are few jobs left to fill. But here they are and the players who are competing for them:

NO. 5 STARTER

The Candidates: Michael Pineda, David Phelps, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno.

Pineda, 25, has missed two complete seasons following surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder in 2012. The Yankees hope and Pineda believes it is time for him to resume what was once a promising career. The velocity may not be what it was in his rookie season in 2011 when he was an American League All-Star and he had nine victories, 173 strikeouts and a 3.73 ERA with the Seattle Mariners. But the Yankees hope that his stuff is still effective enough to get out major-league hitters. If Pineda proves that this spring the job is really his. That is why they traded Jesus Montero for him. Now it is time for results.

Phelps, 27, has spent the past two seasons as the Yankees’ long man and spot starter out of the bullpen. He has done the job pretty well. He is 10-9 with 4.11 ERA in 55 games (23 of them starts) the past two seasons. But Phelps had his 2013 season interrupted by a right forearm strain that sidelined him for two months. But he is 100 percent this spring and he will get a chance to win the final spot in the rotation. However, he likely won’t get it if Pineda shines. The reason is that Phelps’ numbers the past two seasons have been better out of the bullpen than as a starter. Phelps actually might move into a short relief role, where he could even end up setting up Robertson at some point. Phelps, barring injury, will leave spring training with a role. The only question is what role.

Warren, 26, surprisingly made the team out of spring training last season and he was the team’s long reliever. Warren also pitched very well. He was 3-2 with a 3.39 ERA in 34 games (two starts). Warren is excellent insurance if Pineda is not ready because Warren is actually better suited as a starter than Phelps. But his value as a long reliever is excellent. So a likely scenario is that Pineda becomes the starter, Warren keeps his long man and spot starting gig and Phelps shifts to the bullpen again. It is hard for Warren not to want to start. Obviously he does. He will get a lot of chances to do it. Do not be surprised if you see very little of Sabathia, Tanaka and Kuroda early this spring. The reason is you will be seeing a lot of these four pitchers instead.

Nuno, 26, won the James P. Dawson Award last spring as the team’s most impressive rookie after going 1-1 with a 0.61 ERA in 14 2/3 innings over seven games. That does not even include the five shutout innings he tossed against the Yankees when he was offered to the Dominican Republic for an exhibition game before the World Baseball Classic. Nuno was sent out to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he was 2-0 with a 1.44 ERA in five games before he was summoned to fill a spot in the bullpen. In five games with the Yankees (three of them starts), Nuno was 1-2 with a 2.25 ERA over 20 innings. Nuno subsequently had his season ended by a groin injury. Nuno is the real wildcard in this equation. His fastball barely reaches 88 miles per hour yet he keeps hitters off-balance and doesn’t walk many either. But if Nuno loses out to any of the other three he likely will be returned to Scranton, where he will be available should an injury occur. Nuno is not as experienced pitching out the bullpen and the Yankees prefer he remain stretched out as a starter.

BACKUP INFIELDER

The Candidates: Eduardo Nunez, Dean Anna, Scott Sizemore and Russ Canzler.

Nunez, 26, has had huge opportunities after he batted .265 with 22 steals in 112 games in 2011. In the past two seasons, Nunez has blown those chances. In 2012, his inconsistent fielding got him sent to Scranton and Nunez injured his right hand and missed a huge chunk of the summer. In 2013, the Yankees lost Jeter for most of the season as he battled to get back from a severe ankle injury. Nunez was handed the job early but it went downhill in a hurry after he got injured himself. Nunez hit .260 in 90 games but he did not have that same fire he had in 2011. It was a shame because Nunez worked on a new throwing motion and cut down on his errors. The Yankees sealed Nunez’s fate by deciding to keep Ryan, who can also play second base. That means the only way Nunez can make the team is as a right-handed portion of a platoon with Johnson at third base. This is Nunez’s last shot with the Yankees and he could very well be dealt away before the spring is over.

Anna is a year OLDER than Nunez but has never received a single at-bat in the majors. Yet, Anna chances of making the team may be better than Nunez. Anna was traded to the Yankees by the San Diego Padres in return for right-hander Ben Paulus. The reason Anna is intriguing is that he led the Pacific Coast League in batting in 2o13 with a .331 average with nine homers and 73 RBIs. Anna also bats left-handed and he can play second, third, shortstop and the two corner outfield spots. He lacks speed and range in the field but his fielding is above average. So a good spring could catapult Anna into a backup spot with the Yankees. He could be valuable in that Roberts has spent the past four seasons battling injuries. He also could win the primary starting spot over Johnson at third. The Yankees can’t wait to see what Anna can do this spring.

Sizemore, 29, was a hot minor leaguer like Anna in 2009 when he batted .308 with 17 homers and 66 RBIs at two stops in the Detroit Tigers’ minor-league system. He was handed the starting second base job for the Tigers in 2010 and he promptly handed it back by hitting .224 in 48 games. He did not fare much better by hitting .245 in 110 games for the Tigers in 2011. For the past two seasons Sizemore has had two separate surgeries for a torn ACL in his left knee. He reinjured the ACL just 10 days into the 2013 season with the Oakland Athletics. The Yankees signed him to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training. Sizemore is working out with the Yankees but he is not going all-out just yet. Sizemore has hopes of winning a job as a backup at second and third base. As a right-handed hitter, Sizemore could be of use if he could recapture his old form. The odds are not in his favor but Sizemore is not one to give up that easily.

Canzler, 28, is different from the other three because he can play first base. With Teixeira coming off surgery to repair the sheath in his right wrist, having someone on the roster who can first would be a plus. The current depth chart lists Johnson as the backup there but Johnson has started only two games in his career there. That was why the Yankees re-signed Canzler to a minor-league contract after they cut him loose from the 40-man roster when the team signed designated hitter Tracis Hafner last February. Canzler spent the 2013 season at Triple A, first with the Baltimore Orioles and later with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He batted a combined .252 with 12 homers and 62 RBIs in 125 games. Canzler’s real value is that he can play both corner infield and both corner outfield spots. That means if the right-handed slugger is impressive he could end up in a platoon with Johnson at third and back up for Teixiera at first. That is why Canzler bears watching so closely this spring.

FOUR BULLPEN SPOTS

The Candidates: Cesar Cabral, Preston Claiborne, Bailey, Phelps, Warren, Nuno and Dellin Betances

Robertson is a lock at closer. Thornton and Kelly seem to safe as late-inning options. The Yankees are also very high on the first two names on the candidate list, Cabral and Claiborne. Both made their major-league debuts last season and both impressed manager Joe Girardi. Cabral, 25, missed all of the 2012 season and most of 2013 after fracturing his left elbow in his final spring appearance in 2012. The big left-hander is deadly to left-handed hitters and the Yankees covet a specialist as they had in Clay Rapada in 2012. Something they did not have in 2013. That why it is almost certain that Cabral will make the team, barring injury.

Claiborne, 26, did not walk his first major-league batter until his 15th appearance. He also carried a 2.13 ERA into August before he was shuttled from Scranton to New York five times. His control left him and he got shelled hard in his final 11 games. But the Yankees think very highly of Claiborne. With Logan and Joba Chamberlain gone, the Yankees have a need for Claiborne in their bullpen. Girardi only wants to see the youngster attacking the strike zone consistently this spring to add him to the roster.

Bailey, 29, is the former closer for the A’s and the Boston Red Sox. However, a series of injuries have derailed his once-promising career. After saving 75 games for the A’s from 2009 through 2011, Bailey was acquired by the Red Sox but he endured an injury-plagued 2012 season, pitching in only 19 games and recording a 7.04 ERA. He began 2013 well but ended up having right shoulder surgery in July. The Bosox opted to cut him from the roster by not tendering him a contract. He will not be ready to pitch to start the season. But the Yankees are hoping he may be able to bolster the bullpen later. If he comes back healthy he could very well become the team’s setup man.

The other two bullpen spots likely will go to the losers of the No. 5 starter competition – with the exception of Pineda. If Pineda is not ready to pitch in the majors the Yankees likely will keep him for some while in extended spring training in Tampa, FL. They then would ship him to some rehab assignments before they choose to bring him up later in the season.

That leaves Phelps, Warren and Nuno to fight for the last two spots in addition to a former top-rated starting prospect in Dellin Betances. Betances, 25, was shifted into a bullpen role last season after he struggled with his command as a starter. The result is that Betances is on the verge of becoming a dominant relief pitcher with much better control. He made his major-league debut in September after posting a 6-4 record and a 2.68 ERA with five saves at Scranton. Betances struck out 108 while walking 42 over 84 innings in 38 (six starts) games . Betances looks to be a budding future closer candidate and the Yankees could have him up sometime in 2014 if he does not make the team this spring.

 

Cano 5 RBIs Key Another Yankee Clubbing Of Tribe

GAME 8

YANKEES 14, INDIANS 1

Robinson Cano entered Tuesday’s game against the Cleveland Indians owning the highest opposing batting average at Progressive Field of players with a minimum of 50 at-bats at .358. After the game, Cano’s average at the stadium went into the stratosphere.

Cano went 4-for-6 with two doubles and a home run and drove in five runs as New York unleashed a torrent of five home runs to back another solid effort from Andy Pettitte to destroy Cleveland for the second straight evening.

The Yankees jumped on Indians right-hander Carlos Carrasco (0-1) for four runs after two were out in the second inning, keyed by a two-run single by Brett Gardner and a a two-run double by Cano.

They added a run with two out in the third inning when Ichiro Suzuki cranked his first home run of the season.

Carrasco, as was his pattern all night, got into even more trouble with two out in the fourth when he walked Gardner and Cano followed with a mammoth opposite-field blast into the left-field bleachers to extend the Yankees’ lead to 7-0.

On Aug. 1, 2011, Carrasco drew a six-game suspension and a fine for an incident in which he threw at the head of the Royals’ Billy Butler after Melky Cabrera blasted a grand-slam homer off of him.

On Tuesday, Carrasco’s first pitch after Cano’s home run struck Kevin Youkilis in the left shoulder. Home plate umpire Jordan Baker immediately sprung from behind home plate and ejected Carrasco.

Carrasco left after giving up seven runs on seven hits and two walks and he registered two strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings.

The seven-run cushion was more than enough support for Pettitte (2-0).

The 40-year-old left-hander pitched seven solid innings, giving up only a solo home run to Asdrubal Cabrera to lead off the sixth inning. Pettitte gave up only the one run on five hits and three walks while he fanned three.

Meanwhile, the Yankees showed no mercy on Indians’ pitching by pounding reliever Brett Myers for seven runs on 11 hits over the remaining 5 1/3 innings. Included in those hits was a two-run home run from Youkilis in the sixth, a solo home run by Lyle Overbay in the seventh and a two-run pinch-hit home run by Brennan Boesch in the seventh.

For Overbay and Boesch it was their first home runs of the season and their first as members of the Yankees.

In their past three games, the Yankees have outscored their opposition 32-7.

The victory evened the Yankees’ season mark at 4-4. The Indians dropped to 3-5.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • Cano has had a nice week in just two games in Cleveland. He is 7-for-10 with two singles, three doubles, three home runs, six runs scored and seven RBIs in the series so far. He has raised his season average to .303 and it does not appear that batting second is adversely affecting him.
  • After scuffling in the first seven games, Gardner broke out of his funk to go 4-for-5 with a walk, two doubles, two singles, three runs scored and two RBIs. Gardner entered the  game hitting .167. He and Cano combined for eight of the team’s 18 hits and they drove in seven runs at the top of the order.
  • Pettitte was cruising and likely would have won without all the run support. In his first two outings, Pettitte has given up just two runs on 13 hits and four walks while fanning seven in 15 innings. His ERA is a tidy 1.20 and his WHIP is an excellent 1.13. Does anyone really think he is too old to still be pitching?

NAGGING NEGATIVES

Why quibble with negatives after this team, which many people wrote off after they lost four of their first five games, has won its past three games in routs and has pounded out 44 hits in those contests. Yankee fans need to relax. This team will do fine until Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Curtsi Granderson and Alex Rodriguez get back. Just have a little faith.

BOMBER BANTER

Jeter has begun running at the team’s minor-league complex in Tampa, FL, and he seems to progressing in his rehab from a surgically repaired left ankle. Jeter also took ground balls and hit in the batting cage, but it is still too early for the Yankees to put a timetable on the Yankee captain’s return.  . . .  The Yankees are giving Boesch a crash-course in playing first base and coach Mick Kelleher hit some hard ground shots at him on Tuesday at Progressive Field. Boesch, who has been strictly an outfielder in his pro career, has not played the position since high school. The team is not looking to replace Overbay but they want to extend Boesch’s versatility. Manager Joe Girardi said that he would use Youkilis or Jayson Nix at first before he would put Boesch there but he wants Boesch to learn to play the position in case he is needed.  . . .  The Yankees have re-signed left-hander Clay Rapada to a minor-league contract, and he will report to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Rapada was designated for assignment last week and was expected to begin the season on the disabled list after dealing with left shoulder bursitis during spring training.

ON DECK

The Yankees certainly have their hitting shoes on as they continue their four-game set with the Indians on Wednesday.

Right-hander Ivan Nova (0-1, 7.71 ERA) will start for the Yankees. Nova is coming off a poor first outing against the Detroit Tigers last Friday in which he gave up four runs on five hits and two walks in 4 2/3 innings. Nova is 1-0 with a 2.57 ERA against the Indians.

The Indians will counter with former Yankee right-hander Zach McCallister (0-1, 3.00 ERA). McCallister gave up four runs (two earned) on six hits and no walks in six innings against the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday. He has never faced the Yankees.

Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast nationally by ESPN2 and locally by the YES Network.

 

Face Reality, A-Rod, CC Are Yankees’ Pujols, Lee

You are a Yankee fan and you are not happy now.

The reason: General manager Brian Cashman has not made a major splash with a big free-agent signing or a blockbuster trade.

To Yankee fans standing pat is like surrendering to teams like the Marlins and Angels, who tossed around cash this week as if it was only Monopoly money. Some fans are yearning for the days when George Steinbrenner would go after free agents he wanted with the ruthlessness of a pit-bull, never letting go.

However, Hal and Hank Steinbrenner seem to be a lot more pragmatic about spending too much for negligible return. They were willing to spend $150 million for Cliff Lee but they were not going to spend close to $80 million for C.J. Wilson or about $60 million for Mark Buerhle.

There are a lot of reasons the Yankees sat idly by while some teams played “Let’s Make a Deal.”

But perhaps the biggest reason is the Yankees have already lavished their riches on their “Pujols” and their “Lee.” Those are the 10-year, $275 million deal the Yankees committed to Alex Rodriguez in 2007 and the $186 million the team is paying CC Sabathia to be the ace the staff through at least the 2016 season.

Those two contracts are largely why the Yankees are the only team in the major leagues who are subject to the luxury tax. The Steinbrenner family would like for the team to remain competitive and successful while Cashman tries to reduce the annual payroll below the $178 million level where the tax kicks in. or, at the very least, the Steinbrenners would like it to remain steady and not push higher.

That is the reason Christmas ornaments like Pujols, Wilson, Buerhle, Jose Reyes and Prince Fielder will be dangling on other teams’ trees this December.

So Yankee fans will have to realize that a team that won 97 games last season is still an excellent one even if adds no one of significance this winter. Rodriguez will just have to be our Pujols and Sabathia will just have to pitch like Lee in 2012 to make Yankee fans forget that this free-agent shopping spree was just too pricey for a team already above the $200 million mark in annual payroll.

Rodriguez is the biggest key to the Yankees’ success in 2012. You just have to face the fact that Rodriguez is being paid the most because he is expected to be the best player in pinstripes, period.

Last season, he was anything but that. Oh, he showed a lot of promise in the spring when he showed up lighter and quicker in the field. He also had a spring that portended a monster 2011 season. But, as the previous three seasons proved, Rodriguez was beset by a series of injuries that kept him off the field for 63 games and a shadow of what he was in the other 99.

Rodriguez, 36, hit .276 with 16 home runs and 62 RBIs. If this is the level of performance the Yankees will get from Rodriguez in 2012 they are doomed to fail. Oh, they are talented enough to make the playoffs. But they will not go very far or do very well in the playoffs without what was the most feared hitter in the American League when he is healthy.

But balky shoulders, unsteady knees and painful thumbs can reduce a great player to just a pretty good one real quick. That is what happened to Rodriguez in 2011 and why he needs to arrive in Tampa in Florida fit and ready to go to war to restore his reputation as that most feared hitter.

 

To steal a Reggie Jackson line, A-Rod “stirs the drink.” His health will determine if that drink is a classy Manhattan or just another slow gin fizzle.

 

There is no doubt that Rodriguez is on a slight decline. He has not played in more than 138 games since the 2007 season. From 2004 through 2007, Rodriguez averaged 43 home runs and 128 RBIs. From 2008 through 2010 he has averaged 32 home runs and 109 RBIs. In 2009, Rodriguez barely reached 30 home runs and 100 RBIs on the final day against the Rays but he was healthy at the right time to lead the Yankees through the playoffs and into the World Series as the Yankees won their 27th championship.

So the point is that Rodriguez can average 32 home runs and 109 RBIs and be in decline and still lead the Yankees into a World Series. He just has to be healthy when the playoffs begin. That was not the case last season and the Yankees paid dearly for it in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. They only trailed by a run but it may as well have been 10 runs the way the offense just seemed to sputter with runners in scoring position.

With a healthy and “locked in” A-Rod would the result have been the same? I doubt it.

For all the talk of Robinson Cano and how he has become the best hitter and best player on the Yankees, it is still Rodriguez who can turn a game with his bat that can strike fear into opposing pitchers, managers and teams. Besides the fact is that his ability to hit makes Cano, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner better.

To steal a Reggie Jackson line, A-Rod “stirs the drink.”

His health will determine if that drink is a classy Manhattan or just another slow gin fizzle.

The same can be said of Sabathia. He is, after all, the unquestioned ace.

When he is really dealing he is among the best pitchers in baseball. He is 59-23 in his 101 starts in pinstripes. The Yankees have reached the postseason in the past three seasons largely because of his work in the regular season.

But the past two seasons, his work in the postseason has been not worthy of the status of the one of the best pitchers in baseball. In the past two postseasons he is 2-0 but his ERA in his six appearances (five starts) is 5.84. That stands in stark contrast to his 3-1 record and 1.98 ERA in the 2009 postseason.

In the 2010 playoffs, Sabathia pitched with an injured left knee that required offseason surgery. Sabathia rehabbed the knee and showed up at spring training in February 30 pounds lighter. It helped him get off to unusually quick start and by the All-Star break Sabathia was on the top of his game.

He was 13-4 with a 2.72 ERA at the break. He finished the season 19-8 with a 3.00 ERA. So in his last 12 starts, Sabathia was a very ordinary 6-4 with a 3.66 ERA before imploding the playoffs. Why?

Much of that was was blamed on Sabathia’s noticeable and significant weight gain down the stretch. The heavier he got the worse he pitched.

But the Yankees chose not to allow Sabathia to opt out of his contract and leave via free agency. Considering the things Sabathia has done for the Yankees it was a very wise decision. After all, Wilson. Buerhle, Edwin Jackson, Roy Oswalt and Hiroki Kuroda were not going to replace Sabathia.

In order to find another ace like Sabathia would have cost the Yankees prize prospects like Jesus Monetro, Eduardo Nunez, Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos. So getting a younger pitcher like Felix Hernandez would have pretty much raped the impressive farm system Cashman has gradually rebuilt the past five years.

So Sabathia will remain a Yankee through at least 2016 (the Yankees have an option for 2017) and the Yankees do not have to bid on overpriced free agents or trade their great young prospects. Sounds like a pretty good idea to me.

Now the Yankees just have to make sure Sabathia stays off the Cap’n Crunch cereal he loves and eats a lot more salad throughout the 2012 season. At age 31, Sabathia is going to have to realize that to extend his career he is going to have to take care of that large frame going forward.

The Yankees could easily add a starting pitcher or two to their roster to improve the rotation. I fully expect Cashman to continue to his efforts to do just that this winter. But the real key to this staff is making sure Sabathia is able to hit the 2012 playoffs in shape and healthy enough to be the ace he is supposed to be.

Without that, and the health of A-Rod, the whole journey to the 2012 playoffs will be just as wasted as the effort in 2011 was.

Like I said Yankee fans, A-Rod and CC are our free agent pickups and we will live or die in 2012 with them.