By John Otano
In 2008, the New York Yankees missed the postseason for the first time since 1995, ending a streak that included four World Series titles over 13 years.
During the offseason that followed, the Yankees committed nearly half a billion dollars to CC Sabathia, Mark Teixiera and AJ Burnett.
In 2009, the New York Yankees won their 27th World Championship.
The Yankees are hated for their offseason spending sprees and they will continue to be hated for grabbing the top talent from free agency at their leisure. Reflective of the balls that flew out of the new Yankee Stadium, the Yankees are always a threat to hit a home run during the Hot Stove season. Going into the 2009 offseason, the Yankees won’t spend as much as they did last year but there are issues that need to be addressed when assembling the 2010 roster.
Andy Pettitte, Johnny Damon and World Series MVP Hideki Matsui highlight a list of priority signings for the Yankees heading into the 2009 offseason. GM Brian Cashman and the Yankees organization have several tough decisions to make following their 27th World Championship.
Pettitte will return to the Yankees only if he decides he wants to keep pitching, and there has been no indication from him what his future with the Yankees is. Considering that the market for starting pitchers is thin, outside of type A free agents John Lackey and Randy Wolf, the Yankees could sign Pettitte to another one-year deal similar to the one he signed in 2008. If the Yankees keep to their plans of working Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes back into the rotation, Pettitte could serve as a No. 4 starter for the Yanks in 2010. If Pettitte decides that the 2009 season that ended with a fifth ring for him is enough, the Yankees could once again dig into those endless pockets and sign another free agent starting pitcher. A dark horse candidate for the Yankees could come in the form of Cuban defector, 21-year-old left-hander Aroldis Chapman. Chapman is a raw talent who features a 100 MPH fastball to go along with a biting slider. Chapman struggled with control in his appearance in the World Baseball Classic for the Cuban national team but is considered by scouts to be one of the best pitching prospects in the world.
One of the toughest decisions Cashman and company will have to make regards the re-signing of Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui. Damon, 36, and Matsui, 35, are not long-term options at either the DH of LF positions for the Yankees. If Damon’s agent, Scott Boras, pushes for a deal longer than one or two years, chances are Damon won’t return to the Yankees in 2010. Matsui showed the Yankees in the World Series that he is still the slugger of old, despite battling creaky knees over the past few seasons. If the Yankees were to sign Matsui, it would be a short term contract and his role will be primarily to DH in 2010. If the Yankees fail to bring back either players, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if the they made a substantial push for prized free agent outfielder Matt Holliday.
Filling out the bench is a priority for the Yanks as super-subs Jerry Hairston Jr. and Eric Hinske have declared for free agency. Versatile, dynamic bench players like Hairston and Hinske are few and far between in the majors. Xavier Nady, who missed most of last year with a season ending elbow injury, is likely to sign a deal where he will be a starting outfielder and all signs indicate that he will not return the to the Yankees in 2010.
Another player that may well be on his way out is backup catcher Jose Molina. Rookie Francisco Cervelli impressed with his cup of coffee during the ’09 campaign and the Yankees may not be willing to pay a 34-year-old backup catcher despite Molina’s direct impact on A.J. Burnett’s performance. The Yankees would lose his veteran presence if they don’t decide to re-sign the veteran but Cervelli is a promising up-and-coming catcher in the Yankees organization.
As with any offseason with the Yankees, you must always consider them major players. Although we won’t see the Yankees flex their financial bulk this year the way they did last year, the road to a 28th World Championship starts this winter.