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Spring Training 2004

Best ever or 2nd best in the East?

The Yankees may have All-Stars everywhere, but do they have enough to get by the Red Sox?

By TOM JONES
Published March 4, 2004

TAMPA - The catcher is an All-Star. So is the first baseman. And shortstop.

The third baseman might be the best player in the game. The leftfielder used to be the best player in Japan and showed he is pretty good on this side of the ocean, too.

They have two of the best centerfielders of the past 20 years. And the rightfielder? Another All-Star.

Think of these names: Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, Gary Sheffield, Kenny Lofton, Hideki Matsui.

Throw in one of the best closers of all-time (Mariano Rivera), a manager (Joe Torre) who knows how to govern this clubhouse and an owner (George Steinbrenner) who has the drive for having the best team regardless of cost, and what do you have?

The first answer for these Yankees is: maybe the best team in history. But take a step back and it's just possible the Yankees are not the best team in their division.

Despite coming within two games of another world title and then having one of the biggest offseasons in history, the Yankees - well, it's possible - might be the underdogs in the American League East to the rival Red Sox.

"We have a lot of potential, but we have to be careful not to get caught up in potential," Rodriguez said. "We have to go out and take care of business on the field. We have to go out and perform on the field, not worry about what we're reading."

It's true the Yankees are loaded, and no one would be surprised if they won 120 games and swept through the playoffs. But even the Yankees aren't counting their World Series shares just yet.

"It's like an All-Star team," Jeter said. "We have a lot of established guys who have been around for a while and done some great things. I would anticipate us having a pretty potent lineup. But we still have to stay healthy and play well."

And get good pitching. The Yankees lineup is full of stars, but their pitching is full of questions. Gone are dependable postseason aces Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens and David Wells.

Mike Mussina is back, and new acquisitions Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez bring impressive resumes. But can Jose Contreras and Jon Leiber be counted on to fill out the rotation? There haven't been this many questions surrounding the Yankees pitching staff in perhaps 10 years.

"Winning and losing is about pitching, and the Yankees will find that out," said former Yankees coach Don Zimmer, who now works for the Devil Rays. "How did we win eight years? With pitching. We had a good club, but (won with) pitching. When you think of eight players in the lineup, it would be pretty tough to name a better eight players in all of baseball right now. But you still have to play 162 games, and you never know what's going to happen in this game.

"And, again, pitching will decide that."

This spring the Yankees will introduce at least four into the lineup. A-Rod will learn third. Jeter will learn to play with A-Rod. Most of all, the Yankees will try to hammer out a rotation. Whether or not they can will determine whether they will be the best team in baseball or the second-best team in the AL East.

[Last modified March 4, 2004, 01:15:01]


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