(Long Island, N.Y.) For most organizations, letting two October heroes go while receiving nothing back in return would seem like a huge off-season loss. But most organizations are not the New York Yankees.
Not only Johnny Damon, but also World Series Most Valuable Player Hideki Matsui left as free agents with nary an attempt to retain them. General manager Brian Cashman did not rest on his laurels, though, and swung a few deals that have made the roster younger and possibly more formidable.
By going 19-8 with a 3.37 ERA, CC Sabathia became the ace that the Bombers expected when they inked him to that $161-million deal. The southpaw also had 197 strikeouts and pitched 230 innings and shows no signs of slowing down at 29.
The other free agent arm brought in during the 2008 off-season was A.J. Burnett, who was not as consistent as Sabathia. If he is going to be counted on as the number two man in the rotation, Burnett needs to improve on his 13-9, 4.04 inaugural campaign in the Bronx.
At 37, Andy Pettitte (14-8) still gets the job done. The lefty will be entering his 16th year in the major leagues and is more than capable of holding the third spot amongst the starters.
Javier Vazquez is getting a second chance to impress the finicky Yankee brass and fans. In 2004, he was brought in from Montreal and although he went 14-10, the right-hander will always be remembered for getting blasted in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series versus Boston.
Coming out of Spring Training, Phil Hughes was named the fifth starter by manager Joe Girardi. The 23-year-old made only seven starts 951 appearances) in 2009 and finished at 8-3, 3.03.
The Yankees bullpen needs no introduction, at least their closer. Mariano Rivera is not the greatest of all time for nothing and was as automatic as ever last year with only two blown saves, 44 saves and a 1.76 ERA.
Getting to the ninth (and sometimes eighth) inning may be a problem, though. Joba Chamberlain has been a starter and reliever throughout his young career and will begin 2010 in the pen.
Others like Damaso Marte, Alfredo Aceves and Sergio Mitre have been effective in short stints.
After Cashman inked Sabathia and Burnett during the 2008 free agent spree, most figured that he was done throwing big money around. But he had one more trick up his sleeve. Boston looked to be the frontrunner for Mark Teixeira’s services, but Cashman signed the first baseman at the 11th hour. The former Angel made an impact right away in New York and won both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards. A .292 average, 39 home runs, 43 doubles and 122 RBI kept him in the AL MVP running throughout the summer.
Since winning the 2005 AL Rookie of the Year Award, Robinson Cano has been considered one of the more potent second baseman in the league. His numbers a year ago (.320, 25 home runs, 48 doubles and 85 RBI) did nothing to change that.
The Bombers go as Derek Jeter goes and his offseason marriage should not affect his on-the-field performance. The captain leads the way and batted .334 a year ago. He also added 18 home runs, 30 steals and 27 doubles.
For all his personal accolades, Alex Rodriguez needed to earn a championship ring for himself and the critics. He had a rough start to the season with his steroid admission and hip surgery but bounced back to hit .286 with 30 long balls and 100 RBI.
Melky Cabrera was a fan favorite, but acquiring Curtis Granderson makes the team immediately better. Dealing the former centerfielder to Detroit for the speedy newcomer will help defensively and offensively. Granderson knocked out 30 and stole 20 bases but needs to improve on his .249 average and 141 strikeouts.
When Nick Swisher was first acquired, he was viewed as a versatile player who could man all three outfield positions and first base. He eventually settled in as the every day right fielder and banged out 29 homers and 82 RBI.
Taking over for Damon will be young lefty Brett Gardner, who played in 108 games last season, batting .270 and stealing 26 bases. Veteran Randy Winn is going north as the fourth outfielder but should get his fair share of at-bats.
Another returning former Yankee is Nick Johnson, who has found it extremely difficult to stay on the field. He has been injury-prone even before he was traded to Montreal in 2004 but should be able to improve on his .291, 8, 62 in 133 games with both Washington and Florida. Why? Because Johnson will not have to worry about playing the field like he did in the NL.
Girardi removed the huge monkey on his back by winning the World Series and exorcising the ghost of Joe Torre. He is well liked by the front office, players and fans and should find himself in his current position for a while.
A guy like Cashman is all business and that is the main reason why he has the record he does. Not holding onto Matsui or Damon out of loyalty or cries from the media and fans proves that he will do what he firmly believes is the best for the team in the long run.