By Alec Radzikowski, TheSportsHatch.com managing editor
Entering the 2009 season and after failing to make the postseason for the first time in 13 years, the New York Yankees realized their starting pitching was quite suspect. As a result, they dropped $243 million dollars on C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, the two best available free agents on the market.
These type of moves didn't always work out for the Yankees, (see Carl Pavano, Kei Igawa, Randy Johnson, Kevin Brown, Jose Contreras, Jeff Weaver, and forgotten others). But Sabathia and Burnett paid off in spades and set the tone in a good-omen season that concluded with their ridiculous 27th world championship.
Good omens? Good vibes? It was all good for the Bronx Bombers this year. They opened a new state of the art billion dollar stadium in 2009. When then opened the old Yankee Stadium in 1923, they also won the world series. They traded for Nick Swisher, a guy who brought tremendous energy to the team after letting the unproductive and further declining Jason Giambi hit the road. There was talk about Swisher playing first base, but it turns out this was just a smoke screen.
Their rival, the Boston Red Sox, were hot on the trail for the best positional player on the market, first baseman Mark Teixeira. John Henry and Co. we're haggling over $10-20 million dollars, thinking their offer was the best on the table. That turned out to be a very poor miscalculation as Teixeira ended up in pinstripes with a 10yr./$180 million dollar deal, and had a MVP-caliber season.
And Teixeira didn't even have a good playoffs. But he didn't need to. Alex Rodriguez, typically the Yankees postseason whipping-boy came up BIG in every round. He was an especially dangerous batter late in the ballgames. It seemed like every one of his hits changed the game. This definitely wasn't the case in years past for the highest-paid player in baseball (10yr./$275 million). However, this season it was as if A-Rod didn't worry about being "the guy" in that stacked lineup. All the pressure was off and with that, he became that guy.
Last season he was the butt of every joke and now he's accepted as a "true Yankee." His successful 2009 season can be summarized as, admitting to taking steroids, having hip surgery, coming back earlier than expected, raking meaningful hits right away, keeping it up until to the end of the season. You'd think that A-Rod was destined for the
World Series MVP trophy, but there was an even better hitter.
Hideki Matsui can't play the outfield anymore, the primary reason why many feel he won't be back next year as the Yankees' full-time DH. They might have to re-think that after the monstrous series Matsui had, where he hit .615 and collected 6 RBI in the clinching game 6. During his playing days in Japan, Matsui earned the nickname Godzilla, not because of his beast-like home runs, but more because he is a pretty ugly guy.
Now Matsui is sitting pretty after collecting the final $13 million on his 4yr./$52 million dollar contract he signed in 2005. There's no question he's due to make more after this postseason performance, although not remotely close to $13 million dollars. After the ho-hum season Red Sox DH David Ortiz had, one looks at a guy like Matsui and thinks, why the heck not?
That was just a guy that the Yankees considered doing without in 2010. Then there are the consistently relied upon players that also produced as expected this year. Derek Jeter, fantastic year, Jorge Posada, ditto. Andy Pettitte, solid. Mariano Rivera, lights out. Johnny Damon (in a contract year nonetheless) provided a dangerous 1-2 punch with Jeter at the top of the order and was especially tough in the playoffs.
Damon also signed a 4yr./$52 million dollar contract in 2006, leaving the Boston Red Sox for a better deal from the Yankees. Some feel the Yankees might repeat history and sign free agent Jason Bay in the same manner, possibly allowing Johnny Damon to return to Boston, filling the void in left field. If you're a Red Sox fan, you're hoping that scenario doesn't play out again.
As always, there were some important players like Robinson Cano (although he did NOTHING in the playoffs this year), Melky Cabrera and Phil Hughes who are affordable contributors and also home-grown talent. Joba Chamberlain couldn't be counted on to start, resulting in the Yankees going with a three-man rotation for the playoffs, but he regained his form as a tough 8th inning guy as the World Series progressed.
The Yankees certainly loaded up in 2009 spending $423 million in the off season, securing three impact players that all panned out as New York hoped. They have have significant money coming off the books and always have enough financial resources to acquire the top talent available. Someone like a Jason Bay, Matt Holliday or John Lackey would certainly boost the Yankees chances to defend their title in 2010. The rest of baseball can only hope that the Yanks uncover some of those Kevin Brown/Randy Johnson "diamonds" in the rough.