NO DOUBT about who has been spending the big bucks in baseball this winter. But just how much stronger will the New York Yankees be in 2009?
After finishing eight games behind the Tampa Bay Rays and two adrift of the Boston Red Sox in the American League East last year, they need to show improvement.
That’s why Brian Cashman has been by far the busiest general manager this off-season, and why the sport’s richest club has invested more than $423 million in signing three of the top four free agents – Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett.
There’s no question that Cashman has acquired the best players on the market. Manny Ramirez might have better numbers in the short term than Teixeira, but the latter is undoubtedly a sounder long-term investment and a better fit in the clubhouse.
The Yanks have also acquired Nick Swisher in a trade with the Chicago White Sox so how much difference will these four players make?
If you base it on statistics alone, the answer is not a lot.
Sabathia (17) and Burnett (18) won 35 games between them last season. That’s just one more than the retired Mike Mussina (20) and possibly departing Andy Pettitte (14).
Pettitte has sullied his reputation as one of the Yankees’ all-time great pitchers by rejecting a more than reasonable offer of $10 million for one year’s work.
Teixeira (121 and 33) and Swisher (69 and 24) produced a combined total of 190 RBIs last season, including 57 home runs.
Compare that to the 196 RBIs and 52 home runs hit by Bobby Abreu (100 and 20) and Jason Giambi (96 and 32).
GM Cashman lives up to his name
Of course, the game isn’t all about statistics. Teixiera and Swisher should improve the team defensively and there are many other factors to be taken into consideration.
The Yanks will have Xavier Nady for a full season, Robinson Cano will surely improve on last year’s figures and a healthy Hideki Matsui would be an added bonus.
Chien-Ming Wang’s return from a foot injury gives the Bronx Bombers a scary-looking rotation, no matter who their fifth starter is.
Hopefully, Mariano Rivera will return as good as ever from surgery on his sore right shoulder and players like Phil Coke will continue to make progress in the bullpen.
But perhaps the key to just how good a year the Yanks have is whether catcher Jorge Posada returns as good as new from his shoulder surgery.
Switch-hitter Posada gives the batting lineup immense depth, but he has to be able to throw out runners too.
All this and we haven’t even mentioned A-Rod, who still managed to hit 103 RBIs and 35 home runs in a sub-standard year.
A little more from Alex Rodriguez, especially in clutch situations, and the Yanks will have a real chance of marking the first season in their new stadium with their 27th World Championship.
To do that, they will have to finish ahead of one – if not two – of the Rays and Red Sox in the regular season.
That will be no easy task. The Rays have added the experienced Pat Burrell to a lineup packed with emerging young talent and don’t expect the Red Sox to stand still this winter.
Whatever the outcome, Yankees fans have a lot to look forward to in 2009. It could just be a big year.