Your defending American League East champs are skating on thin ice with their arch nemesis Boston building a World-Series caliber team down in the back bay. After missing out on all of their big free agent targets, the Yankees were stuck making bargain moves this winter, most notably signing former phenom Mark Prior to a minor league contract. That said, the Yankees still have several fantasy studs who should be high on every fantasy baseball owner's draft board.
Robinson Cano, Second Base
Although Cano has been a stud ever since his arrival on the Yankees (after all, he batted .342 in '06, his second year in the league), he truly elevated his game to a new level. Cano, a career .309/.347/.489 hitter, established new season-highs for his career in plate appearances (696), home runs (29), runs (103-- tied with his 2010 total), RBI (109), walks (57), on-base percentage (.381), slugging percentage (.534), and OPS (.914).
Writes our own Rustyn Rose in his fantasy baseball second baseman rankings, Cano is the top second baseman in all of fantasy:
"Most fantasy "experts" will tell you Utley is the hands down #1 pick at 2B, but he's too often hurt, and Cano is too damn consistent. Over the last four seasons he's averaged 160 games played. This is the guy you want to anchor your team at 2B, if you can afford the high draft pick."
Simply put, this guy can hit, and he's one of the best at it.
CC Sabathia, Starting Pitcher
Because it seems that Andy Pettitte will not be coming back, A.J. Burnett has self destructed, and Phil Hughes was hardly a source of anything outside of wins, the Yankees need CC Sabathia to be their ace now more than ever.
The big lefty went 21-7 last year with a 3.18 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 197 strikeouts in 237 innings. One alarming thing is that for the past three years Sabathia has seen slight decline in his K/9 numbers with a slight rise in his BB/9 numbers, and despite his propensity for the strikeout, he's never been unhittable. He's always good to give up around 20 home runs a year, and if his control really is eroding or if his numbers are simply correcting themselves from unsustainable levels is not exactly certain.
If Sabathia's control is slipping from him little bit by bit, which is not impossible for a 31-year old, 290-pound mammoth, then one must tread carefully when approaching Sabathia in keeper formats. In the short term, however, there is nothing to indicate an immediate drop off in his stats, so Sabathia looks as safe a bet as anyone to be the anchor of your fantasy baseball pitching staff.
Mark Teixeira, First Base
Many will be quick to compare Teixeira to Jason Giambi because of his slump last year, given the possibility that Teixeira follows in the footsteps of Giambi, who was at first great for the Yankees before falling into steep decline. Whether that comparison is apt or not I am not here to argue, so let's just examine the facts. Very few fantasy players are well rounded enough to be considered perfect, and perhaps the concerns that Teixeira's hitting mechanics will lead to him becoming an extreme pull hitter and cause some vast drop off in his production down the road are legitimate.
But as is, Teixeira is a 31 year old health freak in the middle of his prime, coming off a .256/.365/.481 season with an .846 OPS, 33 home runs, and 108 RBI. His peripherals were way down from his career norms, and it is very likely that Tex simply had an off year that is being blown out of proportion. Some of the more smug fantasy owners will think they are doing themselves a great favor by avoiding Tex in fantasy baseball drafts this year, but I see a career .286 hitter who has averaged 37 home runs and 121 RBI per season over his 8 year career who is ready for a big bounce back season to prove his detractors wrong.
If you can get him late in the second round or even in the third, it's a bargain that only a fool would pass up.
Alex Rodriguez, Third Base
A-Rod may be on the downswing of career, which means seeing (and hearing) less "A Bombs, from A-Rod!" Still, the 34 year old Rodriguez posted a stat line of .270/.341/.506 with 30 home runs and 125 RBI. If you take A-Rod for your fantasy team you will likely need to get ready to compensate for a small drop off in power and a further decline in peripherals, but a relatively stocked Yankees lineup will help ensure that Rodriguez keeps healthy RBI numbers.
If he continues to decline or not, we're talking about a .270/.340/.500, 25 home run, 100 RBI third baseman at the very minimum; although it is highly likely that A-Rod surpasses these numbers. Even if he seems like a shell of his former self, A-Rod can still contribute quite a lot to your fantasy baseball team and remains a must-own player.
Mariano Rivera, Closer
At this point of The Sandman's career, there's nothing left to be said. Rivera is hands down the most dominant relief pitcher we have ever seen, and at 41 continues to go strong (3-3, 1.80 ERA, 33 saves in 2010). Although if you pick up Mo for your fantasy team you absolutely need to pick up his set-up partner Rafael Soriano just in case, there are no immediate health concerns.
Under-rated Speedster: Brett Gardner, Outfield
Given the kind of attention the New York Yankees historically have and always will continue to receive, there is no such thing as a sleeper on the New York Yankees. There are, however, very helpful guys for your fantasy squad who fly under the radar. Need speed? Take a flier on outfielder Brett Gardner, who last year posted a very quiet .277/.383/.379 slash line with 20 doubles, 7 triples, 5 home runs, 97 runs scored, 47 RBI, and 47 stolen bases. He leaves some to be desired in the power department, but he's a smaller guy without the strength to drive the ball for extra bases on most occasions, mostly relying on his speed and aggressive baserunning to get him the extra base.
Despite not receiving any love or comparisons to his fleet-footed peers, Gardner is an elite speedster who can help you dominate in the stolen base category, or give you a huge boost if you need some speed. He can also draw a lot of walks, help your batting average, and given the lineup he hits in, he's always going to be scoring runs for you.
Can I get an encore? Look for another big year out of Nick Swisher
Nick Swisher was a career .244 hitter when he got to New York, but his above-average power was enough to get people to look the other way on his low batting average. After an uninspiring .249 batting average in 2009, Swisher decided it was time to work with the hitting coach. Swisher fixed his swing, learned to drive to ball to all fields without losing his power, and presto, voila! Swisher earned an All-Star nod due to his .288/.359/.511, 29 home run, 89 RBI season.
Despite finishing on the threshold of the 30-home run club, Swisher has not been thought of as a particularly valuable fantasy baseball commodity, and because of a track record that leaves some to be desired, he will likely continue to be overlooked. If you can get Swisher on the cheap-- jump on the opportunity. Players who can hit 25-30 home runs typically come at a premium, so think of getting Swisher in the later middle rounds of your draft as buying a new Lexus at the price of a Ford Focus.