Looking forward on the cusp of the Hot Stove LeagueBy
I was on the phone with my dad tonight during game four of this lopsided World Series, and as is often the case, our talk turned to the Yankees. “I’m a bit worried about the off-season,” my dad said. “The Yanks have so many holes to fill.”
His voiced tailed off a bit at the end, and we both knew what went unspoken. The Yanks are on the cusp of a rather important off-season, one that could make or break the team over the next few seasons. They have a lot of old players coming off the books, a lot of financial resources at hand, and a few clear needs. They also have an aging core of players and a few needs, tougher to fill, that aren’t so clear.
On the flip side, the 2008-2009 winter also offers up a rare combination of free agents. One of the game’s best pitchers and one of the league’s premier hitters are both free agents at the peak of their baseball prowess. Rare are the days when young players hit free agency at the right times in their lives, and in CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira, the Yankees have two obvious targets who would both fill two of the team’s glaring holes. Whether or not they can actually land them is a different story.
If the Phillies manage to dispatch the listless Tampa Bay Rays this evening — and with Cole Hamels on the mound, the odds are in their favor — we’ll be two weeks away from the start of the free agent frenzy. Tonight, A-Rod won’t opt out from his contract, but bigger moves await on the horizon.
For some reason, over the last few years, some baseball insecurities have crept into New York’s attitude. Once upon a time, the Yanks had swagger. The team, coming off of four World Series in five years, was good, and they knew it. Free agents — Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi — wanted to come to New York. They didn’t hedge their bets. They were the best; the Yankees had money; and everyone went home happy.
But the Yanks have won no World Series since then. For the first time since the early 90s, the team didn’t make the playoffs, and before that, they hadn’t advanced to the World Series since 2003. What if, fans have wondered, the team is just becoming a bloated semblance of a team populated by overpaid has-beens on the wrong sides of their careers? Is Bobby Abreu a Yankee or a Philadelphia reject? Are we really going to suffer through another season of Hideki Matsui‘s hobbled knees?
Of course, it’s not as bad as the naysayers would have you believe, but it is not wine and roses in the Bronx right now. The Yanks are a flawed team in need of some fixing. But what happens if the Yanks can’t sign these very alluring targets?
Well, on the one hand, it wouldn’t be so great if the Yanks don’t sign Teixeira — my personal first choice — or Sabathia. It may make them go out and waste money on lesser pitchers. But on the other, the baseball world will not end. Even as a flawed team, the Yanks managed to hammer out 89 wins this year. Soon, they’ll have to replace Jorge Posada; he’s one of those not-so-obvious holes. But in 2009, they’ll have him back and healthy. They’ll hopefully have September’s version of Robinson Cano as well as a healthy Chien-Ming Wang.
Tomorrow, or later this week, when the World Series dust settles, the rumors will fly. But for now, we can’t let the worries of next month get too overwhelming. The Yankees are still the Yankees, and money talks. The Yankees need to spend; the players want to get the best deals; and the pieces will fall right enough, if not just right as we all imagine them to in our little Yankee-centric bubble. Optimism becomes us. This is, after all, Yankee baseball.