No Recession in the Bronx as Yankees Set to Open Vaults
Let the games begin. Well, maybe not just yet. They won't count until next April, but the stove will certainly be hot through a cold winter, at least in the Bronx. New Yankee Stadium will be a cash cow for ownership, even in a rough economy. According to what co-chairman Hal Steinbrenner said, being frugal is definitely not part of the plan.
"Everything has a price," the more quiet of George's offspring told reporters. "We understand free agency. We're going to go after what we need, and if what we can do and what we're willing to do is not enough, then it won't be enough. But we're going to pursue the market aggressively."
Strong words that are usually credited to his brother Hank, who - in the absence of 'The Boss' on day-to-day operations due to advanced age - has taken the lead in the media. Hank seemed content to be in the background as the moneyman. Now it appears that he is not shy of the spotlight, much like the rest of the clan.
Speaking about addressing team weaknesses and fixing problems, Hal didn't pull any punches. "If that means spending money, obviously that means spending money," he said. "The philosophy has not changed."
But it did last winter when Johan Santana was on the table. Both the Yankees and Boston Red Sox didn't pull the trigger on deals for the quality lefthander, who ended up going to the Mets and being dominant. Finishing third in the National League Cy Young voting, Santana could have done a lot better than his 16-7, 2.53 ERA if his bullpen didn't blow an entire slew of late-inning leads for him.
Intent on not letting another big fish get away, the Yankees are expected to be major players for starting pitchers this offseason. According to Steinbrenner, they will not be outbid on any of the top free agent hurlers hitting the market, with CC Sabathia leading the pack.
Traded from Cleveland to Milwaukee during the summer, the hefty lefty practically willed the Brewers into the playoffs with an 11-2, 1.65 ERA mark in the NL. Expect him to hold out for a contract that will eclipse the six-year, $137.5 million extension Santana received from the Mets, at the time, tops for a pitcher in the history of the game.
Other pitchers who expect to receive a lot of attention are A.J. Burnett (Blue Jays) and Derek Lowe (Dodgers). Both are a big drop-off from the caliber of a Sabathia, who is rumored to be interested in joining a west coast team. Burnett, who is expected to opt out of a long-term deal, had an 18-10, 4.07 season, but has fought the injury bug throughout his colorful career. Lowe, the former Red Sox starter and closer, won 14 games and dropped 11 and had a 3.24 ERA for a playoff team.
Also available are Brad Penny, who has also had issues with injuries, and Jake Peavy, the 2007 NL Cy Young Award winner and ace of the Padres staff that has been made available due to the team looking to cut payroll. 99 losses will do that for a team, and the two likeliest landing spots for the righthander are the Braves or Cubs.
This will certainly be an interesting time for the Yankees, who are saying goodbye to six players (Jason Giambi, Andy Pettitte, Bobby Abreau, Ivan Rodriguez, Mike Mussina and Carl Pavano) who's earnings totaled nearly $100 million. Pettitte may be brought back at a lower price and Mussina, who won 20 games for the first time, figures to retire.
Cleaning the slate just to open the coffers once again appears to be the formula. After having the highest payroll in baseball ($207 million) a year ago, anything close to that had better result in a postseason berth.
Hal Steinbrenner is betting on it.