(Long Island, NY) All things must pass. Learn to love change. Whatever saying you want to use, it may pertain to the Yankees. Maybe not the team that will be defending their American League East crown this spring, but possibly by the time 2009 rolls around. And that just happens to be when they open their new ballpark.
It is unfathomable to think of the Yankees in a rebuilding stage. But take a step back and look at the big picture. Since their dismantling in the AL Division Series at the hands of the Detroit Tigers, General Manager Brian Cashman has not added bloated contracts from players past their prime, but has actually found takers for his problems. Gary Sheffield, Jaret Wright and Randy Johnson are all gone via trade, and the Yankees have not only cleared salary, but also acquired some young talent in return. Humberto Sanchez, who was one of the three arms obtained from Detroit for Sheffield, may play a prominent role sooner than later.
Which brings us to our next topic. Closer Mariano Rivera publicly speculated leaving the Bronx after the upcoming season. His is in his ‘walk’ season, currently 37 years old, and had elbow problems last September. Cashman has said that he will not negotiate until after the season with Rivera and catcher Jorge Posada. Is the handwriting on the wall that the torch may soon be passed in the bullpen? Rivera may need to be injury-free all season to guarantee his return, and that may only be if Sanchez falters. Just as Rivera was the set-up man for a quality closer, Sanchez may caddy for him until he is ready. When the Yankees’ dynasty began with the 1996 World Series championship over the Atlanta Braves, the MVP of the series was closer John Wettland, who had Rivera as an 8th-inning man.
With all the questions surrounding the return of manager Joe Torre at the end of last season, the talk will certainly be revisited as the summer sizzles and the Yankees don’t. Anytime you enter a season with lame-duck status, the pressure is on. And the pressure in New York can be overwhelming, even for a person such as Torre, born and bred here and experienced in playing and managing in the spotlight. His team has holes in a few areas, and they did not go out and make any major moves.
Their division has improved, especially with the Boston Red Sox signing Japanese right-hander Diasuke Matsuzaka. Is the worm starting to turn? The Sox stepped up and signed some big money players, such as J.D. Drew. And up in Toronto, they look to improve on their second place finish a year ago. They resigned talented outfielder Vernon Wells and inked free-agent Designated Hitter Frank Thomas. ‘The Big Hurt’ had a huge comeback year in 2006 with Oakland, and appears to be healthy again.
With all of these questions surrounding the Bronx Bombers, by the time 2009 arrives, they may be in a full rebuilding mode. Owner George Steinbrenner is getting older and has not been seen as much. If ‘The Boss’ can mellow out, anyone can. He has been the face of the franchise throughout the tenures of Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield and Derek Jeter. A new ballpark will attract fans regardless of the success of the team. And it is inevitable that after long stretches of success, some humbling rebuilding must take place. The Yankees went through their own tough times in the 1960’s and 1980’s. And even in other sports, like the Knicks being perennial playoff participants and now lottery-bound every season. It’s just the nature of the business.
The team and its fortunes may look as different as the ballpark on Opening Day, 2009.