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Nothing But GoodTimes
Along with remaking their rotation, they've lightened the mood in theclubhouse

THESE AREtight!" said outfielder--first baseman Nick Swisher—who's always sayingsomething—as he performed squats and lunges in an attempt to stretch out a newpair of uniform pants last month in the home clubhouse of Tampa's George M.Steinbrenner Field.

"Yeah?"pitcher A.J. Burnett called back from across the room. "Well, you ain'twith the White Sox anymore, dawg. You're a Yankee!"

The snug pinstripesmight take some getting used to, but in every other way Swisher has fit inbeautifully, loosening up a clubhouse that had grown excessively solemn by lastyear, when the Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time since 1994. It'shard to imagine that the Bronx Bombers will again find themselves pressing atthe first sign of a rough patch. Swisher, who delivers pep talks by the minuteand always seems to come up with just the right mid-1990s hip-hop song to blastfrom his iPod boom box, won't hear of it.

G.M. Brian Cashmaninsists that he traded for Swisher's bat (he has averaged 25 home runs in hisfour seasons), not his disposition—but the latter has been a welcome addition."Aw, he's great," Cashman says. "It's nice to have that come ourway, because we're a quiet group in there. We're a little sterile now and then,and we need to be livened up. And Swish is just the guy to do it."

In fact, each ofNew York's major off-season acquisitions has been quickly embraced by theholdovers. "They're just good guys that take their jobs seriously but atthe same time like to have fun," says pitcher Phil Hughes. TheSteinbrenners, though, didn't commit $423.5 million to starters Burnett and CCSabathia and first baseman Mark Teixeira for their potential to win anyman-of-the-year awards, but to break a streak of eight years without a WorldSeries title. And there's little doubt that the winter's free-agent haul hasbrought the Yankees within striking distance of that goal.

The arrivals ofSabathia and Burnett have structurally changed New York from a team that has inrecent years lived and died with its offense and hoped for the best from itspitchers to one whose success will spring from its rotation—which is second tonone. "We've put together over the years a collection of pitchers wethought could be good enough, and it just didn't work out, to be honest,"says Cashman. Still, the 28-year-old Teixeira, who has more RBIs (676) over hisfirst six seasons than all but seven other players in history, should helpensure that an offense that was devastated last year by injuries to catcherJorge Posada and outfielder Hideki Matsui (both of whom are back, though Matsuiwon't play in the field until June at the earliest) doesn't lag too farbehind.

After an off-seasonin which the Steinbrenners dipped the roster in a greenback-filled river Styx,one spot remains all too mortal—their defense. "I admit that overall wehave not been a good defensive team for quite some time," says Cashman, andthat's particularly true of the middle infield, where both second basemanRobinson Cano and shortstop Derek Jeter possess substandard range. Even so, theD should be improved from a year ago, thanks to the upgrade at first base fromthe clumsy Jason Giambi to the two-time Gold Glove winner Teixeira and theinstallation in rightfield of Xavier Nady in place of Bobby Abreu, who nevermet a wall from which he wouldn't shy.

And we haven't evenmentioned Alex Rodriguez yet. At last report, A-Rod was spending most of histime riding a stationary bike in Aspen, Colo., on track to return from hipsurgery in mid-May. When he does, he'll find a team replete with intriguingcharacters to distract the public's gaze from whatever questionable lifestyledecisions he's made in the past and with plenty of new stars to help diffusethe pressure under which he so often chafes. It will constitute a fresh startfor both Rodriguez and the Yankees, who have their most October-ready rostersince 2003, the last year they went to the World Series.

CONSIDER THIS AModest Proposal ...

A long-standingweak spot on the Yankees' roster has been the utility infielder. For much ofthe Joe Torre era, the team employed no-hit types such as Luis Sojo, EnriqueWilson and Miguel Cairo in that role. Last year's backup, Wilson Betemit, was awelcome change in type in that he had a little pop, but he was traded to theWhite Sox in the Nick Swisher deal. New York should take advantage of theDodgers' excess of infielders and trade for Mark Loretta, a free-agent pickupwho became superfluous after L.A. re-signed jack-of-all-trades Casey Blake andlanded free-agent second baseman Orlando Hudson. One of the Yankees' many youngarms could pry Loretta loose from a club that lacks pitching depth. Lorettacould cover third base instead of Cody Ransom (left) until Alex Rodriguezreturns, and he'd be an excellent bench player after that.



Unintentional walksdrawn by Robinson Cano in 634 plate appearances in 2008. That was a step backfrom '07 when he more than doubled his walk total from his previous high andhad an on-base percentage of .353. The 26-year-old Cano—whose OBP slipped to.305 last year—is that rare Yankees regular entering his peak years. (ComeJuly, five everyday players will be at least 34.) The Bombers need Cano'snumbers to climb, not fall.

The Lineup

Manager JoeGirardi

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

B-T: Bats-throws
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 69)


August 24, 1998

In the midst of these storms, the apolitical Babeminced happily around the bases. Everything he did in those days, from smokingcigars to smoking fastballs, smacked of hyperbole. He ate too much. He dranktoo much. He womanized to a fare-thee-well. And when he hit yet another of histitanic shots, the reporters covering his games wrote the prose of excess. Injournalism this was the age of alliteration. The Babe's homers were describedvariously as "the wicked wallop" and "soaring socks." Even Ruthcaught the alliterative fever. He had three favorite bats in 1927: Black Betsy,the Titian-colored Beautiful Bella and the ash-blonde Big Bertha.

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FAIR MARKUP For $180 million, the Yanks have the most well-rounded position player money can buy in Teixeira.