Hot Stove Daily: New York Yankees
Editor’s note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the New York Yankees.
2008 record: 89-73
Finish: Third place in the American League East, eight games behind Tampa Bay
2008 opening-day payroll: $209 million
2009 estimated opening-day payroll: $200 million to $210 million
OFFSEASON ACTION This is the Yankees 2009 season preview from Yahoo! Sports:
Hal Steinbrenner, the chip off the Boss’ block now in charge of his father’s team, left little doubt this winter that a team which spent over a billion dollars on player payroll since last winning the World Series in 2000 will continue to forge ahead with wallets wide open.
“My family believes we have a commitment every single year … to field a championship team, to invest and reinvest in the team,” Prince Hal said at the news conference announcing the signing of $180-million free agent Mark Teixeira. “This philosophy has not changed, and this philosophy will not change.”
And if anyone has a problem with that, too bad. What’s good for the Yankees, argues team president Randy Levine, is good for baseball, pointing to the hundreds of millions of dollars the Yanks contribute to their brethren through revenue sharing and luxury taxes, their importance to the fat network TV contracts, the Yankee products peddled by MLB properties, and their ranking as top customer on MLB Advanced Media.
“We play by the rules,” Levine says. “We’ve always played by the rules. Everybody just a few years ago, all 30 teams, voted unanimously for the collective bargaining agreement. Those are the rules. When the rules change, everybody can adjust. Otherwise, it’s sour grapes.”
Only the Yankees, then, can spend $423.5 million on three players – Teixeira, CC Sabathia ($161 million) and A.J. Burnett ($82.5 million) – and argue fiscal prudence, saying they were merely taking advantage of the $80 million-plus they had shed from their ’08 payroll.
They have unfinished business – they’re looking to deal Nick Swisher, newly acquired from the White Sox, or Xavier Nady to alleviate their crowded outfield picture; Nady appears the most likely to go. They also added a backup catcher, Kevin Cash, who last played for the Red Sox, the team stung by the Yankees’ last-minute capture of Teixeira.
So, when they move into their new billion-dollar palace, that familiar air of Yankee superiority will never be more apparent, but will it translate into their 27th World Series title?
On paper, the new guys make the Yankees odds-on favorites to win the division, which would not have been the case if Teixeira was hitting in the middle of the Boston lineup in 2009. But this is a team growing old at the core – by midseason, Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada will all be 35 or older. Posada played in only 51 games because of a shoulder injury, Matsui played just 93 because of his knee woes, Damon went on the disabled list for the first time in his career and Jeter’s .771 OPS was the lowest of his career, 74 points below his career .845 OPS.
Burnett has won more than 12 games once since breaking into the big leagues in 1999, and pitched as many as 200 innings three times. Sabathia will be a horse, but Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte combined to give the Bombers 67 starts, 404 innings, and 34 wins last season. Sabathia and Burnett will do well to match those numbers.
Chien-Ming Wang comes back after a foot injury ended his season in June, Joba Chamberlain begins his first full season as a starter, and Phil Hughes or Ian Kennedy will be given every chance to show last season’s struggles were only growing pains, especially if Pettitte decides not to return at a deep discount. The Yankees, who gave up 4.49 runs a game last season, which ranked 14th in the majors, should be better at run prevention.
Still, the addition of Teixeira and his Gold Glove-caliber defense will help, but not mask one of the Yankees’ most glaring deficiencies: They ranked just 25th in defensive efficiency, last in the AL East.
Assuming the return to health of Posada and Matsui and a bounce-back year by second baseman Robinson Cano, the Yankees’ offense should be more formidable than the team that ranked just 10th in runs per game (4.87) in 2008, especially with Teixeira just entering his prime. A-Rod is in a class by himself, both as a hitter and as tabloid fodder, but without the ring, he will never occupy the rarified air occupied by Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Reggie and Jeter.