02/15/2004 11:54 PM ET
Yankees lineup now truly scary
By Mark Feinsand / MLB.com
2004 Yankees Mock Lineup
|Alex Rodriguez would join a Yankees lineup that already features stars like Jason Giambi. (Kathy Willens/AP)
NEW YORK -- The Yankees' offense was already one of the scariest in baseball before New York added reigning AL MVP Alex Rodriguez to the mix. Now, with A-Rod heading to the Bronx and occupying the No. 3 hole in the batting order, the Yankees possess a lineup that could rival the best of all time.
The 2004 Yankees have the potential to break several records, boasting eight All-Stars, two former MVPs -- including the reigning one -- and three former batting champions. Although Alfonso Soriano was a formidable presence in the lineup, his lack of patience at the plate led to a low on-base percentage. Yes, he once came one homer shy of the magical 40-40 mark, but Rodriguez did him one better, accomplishing that feat in 1998.
Manager Joe Torre won't settle on a lineup for another month or so, but no matter what decision he makes, it's hard to imagine that it will be a bad one.
Kenny Lofton, Derek Jeter, A-Rod, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, Enrique Wilson.
Not too shabby.
Maybe Torre decides to move Posada up one spot to sandwich Matsui between two switch-hitters. Maybe Williams, who has hit cleanup for New York for the past few years, gets the nod in the sixth spot out of respect. Honestly, does it really matter?
"I just said, 'Wow,'" said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire after hearing about the deal. "I'm glad we only play them [six] times this year."
Rodriguez, the three-time defending AL home run champion, will not have to carry the load for the Yankees, allowing him to blend in -- at least to whatever extent that will be possible.
"At Texas, especially his first year, there were times you could pitch around [Rodriguez] when certain other guys weren't hitting," one Major League scout said. "Now you drop him in a lineup that already has Giambi, Posada, Matsui, Jeter and now Sheffield, that's strong, home or road. ... They will score a ton of runs and [A-Rod] will see more pitches to hit than he has the last couple of years."
Only seven teams in history have reached the 1,000-run mark, a number that could increase to eight this season if the Yankees' sluggers reach their potential. Last season, New York tallied 877 runs despite injuries to Jeter and Williams, a mish-mosh of players in right field and an underachieving year from its third basemen. With A-Rod stepping in at third and Sheffield taking over in right field, the only hole in the lineup is at second base, where Wilson and Miguel Cairo are the leading candidates to replace Soriano.
"The Yankees gave up a real good player in Soriano to get [A-Rod], but it makes the Yankees that much tougher," said Mariners outfielder Randy Winn. "With the addition of Alex and Sheffield, you are adding a lot of home runs and high average right in the middle of the lineup. It seems like the Red Sox and Yankees have been competing against each other this offseason. The Red Sox missed out on Alex and the Yankees one-upped them."
"You know, there's a lot of good lineups in the Major Leagues, and you just have to go out, make your pitches and let your defense work," said Angels pitcher Aaron Sele. "Obviously, there are some lineups that you can't afford to make a mistake to, and that's just one of those lineups. It always has been."
Five players in the lineup (Rodriguez, Giambi, Sheffield, Matsui and Posada) combined to belt 173 homers and drive in 564 RBIs last season. Only 13 teams had more homers than the quintet, while the Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Dodgers didn't have that many RBIs in the entire 2003 campaign.
Six of the Yankees' starters boast career batting averages of .298 or better, all of whom have been in the Majors since at least 1996. Among the three whose averages aren't quite up to snuff, two of them (Posada, .270, and Matsui, .287) are coming off of 100-RBI seasons.
"They won't have as much speed without Alfonso Soriano, but when you have that many guys who can get on base and knock the ball out of the park, they won't miss Soriano," said the scout. "This lineup means a lot more offense, more breathing room for that pitching staff and more headaches for [opposing pitchers]."
This year's Bronx Bombers will try to measure up to some of the great Yankees teams of the past. Babe Ruth's 1927 Yankees are considered by many to be the greatest team of all time, the 1961 team featured Mantle and Maris' home run battle, while the 1998 squad won a then-AL-record 114 games in the regular season. All of these teams had one thing in common -- a World Series championship. If the 2004 Yankees don't win the final game of the season, the year will be considered a disappointment.
"It's a situation where Boston and New York were playing a game of tic tac toe. I think New York just got three X's in a row, picking up probably the best player all-around in the game right now," said Cardinals pitcher Ray King. "It's not going to be a bad lineup. If some guys can put up half the numbers they did last year, I don't see a weak link in there.
"You can have nine guys in the lineup who hit .300 with 60 home runs, but come playoff time, good pitching stops good hitting -- as you saw with the Marlins," King added. "You look at every series, whatever team pitches the best will usually win."
Until now, it appeared the Yankees had simply kept up with the Red Sox, whose offseason acquisitions of Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke had many prognosticators picking the BoSox to break their dreaded curse and finally overtake their rivals from the Bronx.
"I'm thinking, Aaron Boone has done it to us twice in four months. The first time with that homer in the playoffs, now him getting hurt opened the door for Rodriguez," said Red Sox pitcher Derek Lowe. "I thought, with the moves we made this offseason, we had moved ahead of them a little bit. This evens the playing field, but there's nothing wrong with that."
Mark Feinsand is a reporter for MLB.com. MLB.com reporters Matthew Leach, Jim Molony, Jared Ravich, Mark Sheldon and Jim Street contributed to this story, which was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.