What Went Right: The Offseason Pickups

2010 UZR Projections and the Yankees
Bailey, Coghlan named Rookies of the Year

Over the next week or so, we’ll again break down what went wrong and what went right for the 2009 Yankees. The series this year will be much more enjoyable than the last.

Tex, CC, and AJ

Every season starts with some new faces in Yankee pinstripes. Some are more notable than others, but they’re all expected to produce. The offseason brought three big time free agents to the 2009 Yanks, and after several high-profile flops in recent years, Yankee haters and the MSM were chomping at the bit to tear into the club should they fail. Unfortunately for those folks, they didn’t.

Mark Teixeira joined the Yanks on an eight year deal that will put $180M into his bank account, and his poor start (.182-.354-.338 in his first 99 plate appearances) already had some questioning his ability to play in New York. Tex answered all the doubters in a big way, hitting .308-.388-.598 the rest of the way, tied for the AL lead in homers (39), runs batted in (122), extra base hits (85), and total bases (344). His defense at first was top of the line, whether he was snagging line drives, ranging to his right, or scooping throws from other infielders.

The playoffs weren’t kind to Teixeira, but it seemed like each of his hits came at a crucial time. He singled off Joe Nathan ahead of Alex Rodriguez‘s game tying two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth in Game Two of ALDS, winning the same game with a walk-off homerun in extras. Teixeira doubled in three runs to help mount a comeback in Game Five of the ALCS, and his homer off Pedro Martinez in Game Two of the World Series ignited the offense. His 5.1 WAR was the most by a Yankee first baseman since Jason Giambi‘s monster first season in pinstripes.

For the first time in history, a team handed out two contracts worth over $100M in the same offseason, and that means Tex wasn’t the only new star in town. CC Sabathia signed on for seven years and $161M, giving the Yankees a sorely needed front-of-the-rotation starter still in his prime. Just like Tex, Sabathia struggled early, posting a 4.85 ERA as the team lost four of his first six starts. After those first six starts, though, Sabathia was everything the Yankees hoped for and then some. He pitched to a 3.06 ERA with a .226-.281-.360 batting line against in his final 28 starts, completing at least seven innings in 22 (!!!) of those starts.

The regular season was a sign of things to come for Sabathia, who was the absolute man in the postseason. He beat the Twins to start off the ALDS, the Angels twice (once on short rest) in the ALCS, and put together two commanding performances (again, once on short rest) against the defending World Champion Phillies in the Fall Classic. Sabathia threw 36.1 IP with a 1.98 ERA in five postseason starts, knocking more than three-and-a-half runs off his career playoff ERA in the process.

As if Teixeira and Sabathia weren’t enough, the Yankees added another impact player in A.J. Burnett, who inked a five year, $82.5M deal. Given his questionable medical history, Burnett had the highest flame-out potential of the three big free agent signings, but he proved to be the team’s most durable starter. He made every start without incident and didn’t have to leave any games with health concerns (even Sabathia had his little run-in with biceps tendinitis against the Marlins), and pitched into the sixth inning in all but two if his 33 starts.

Burnett may have been Robin to Sabathia’s Batman, but he turned in the biggest performance of the season (and his career) in what was the team’s most important game of 2009, shutting down the Phillies in Game Two of the World Series to tie the series up at one heading to Philly. Sure, he was frustratingly inconsistent, but the Yankees do not get to where they ended up without him.

The Yankees didn’t just stop at the free agent market, however. They also added an impact player via a trade. Long before Teixeira, Sabathia, and Burnett agreed to come to the Bronx, Brian Cashman fleeced Kenny Williams imported Nick Swisher from the White Sox in exchange for Wilson Betemit and two disposable minor league pitchers. Slated to begin the year as the fourth outfielder, Swisher was pressed into full-time duty after Xavier Nady blew out his elbow, and did more than replace Nady’s production.

Swisher hit .249-.371-.498 with 29 homers, seeing the second most pitches per plate appearances (4.27) in the AL. His .869 OPS was the 12th best among all outfielders in the game, better than brand names like Ichiro, Matt Kemp, Bobby Abreu, and Nick Markakis. While Swisher’s defense in the outfield was adventurous at times, he was solid overall and turned in several spectacular, heads-up plays in the postseason.

It’s not often that a team is able to bring in four above-average players in one offseason, let alone two that are bonafide franchise cornerstones, yet that’s exactly what the Yankees did last winter. They flexed their financial muscle to grab Tex and CC, used tremendous foresight to target A.J. over the imminently declining Derek Lowe, and flat-out stole Swish in a shrewd move. All four players met or exceeded expectations, and all four were huge reasons why the season ended on the Canyon of Heroes.

Photo Credits: AP, Getty Images, AP

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2010 UZR Projections and the Yankees
Bailey, Coghlan named Rookies of the Year
  • Anthony

    Edited by RAB: Don’t post that garbage on our site. Read #11:

    http://riveraveblues.com/river.....uidelines/

    • radnom

      I heard it was Holliday for 90.

    • http://Youcan'tincreaseyourrange TLVP

      lol – a bit too early for anything, and i’ll belive that one when i see it

    • UWS

      Quick and ruthless. I like it.

    • Tom Zig

      SONNED

    • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD
    • http://www.kierstenschmidt.com Kiersten

      Man, I hate when I miss these things.

      • Tom Zig

        I know me to, I always am a day late and a dollar short.

      • UWS

        You didn’t miss much.

    • Anthony

      sorry I meant to write I heard they are going to offer him 80 mil when free agents can be offered contracts

      • Anthony

        Also didn’t help that after I heard that three kids from my school were talking about how Yanks just signed Lackey, obviously wrong as FA’s from other teams can’t be signed yet

  • A.D.

    Cash money struck in a big way last offseason.

    Toss in solid contribution/no risk deals with Hinske, Gaudin & Hariston, which were all able to contribute.

    • scooter

      I remember seeing Gaudin’s stats as a Padre, and I wondered WTF Cash was thinking

      Then someone here posted his FIP-ERA, remembered how he looked in Oakland, and realized I was wrong. Then Eiland improved Gaudin’s slider, and the rest was history.

      Hairston and Hinske were perfect pickups and huge upgrades on the bench – even if it meant bidding the great Cody Ransom adieu

      Given the interest in DeRosa, I wonder if Cash won’t simply re-sign Hairston to a 1 year deal. With luck, Pena or Russo could be ready to step in those utility shoes by 2011.

      On Holliday – a preemptive strike by the Yankees might not be a bad play – precisely b/c it pretty much forces the RS to re-up Bay at an inflated price

  • Reggie C.

    To think that I once thought Nady was going to out-shine Swisher at the plate … wow. Nady looked bad before the injury and simply never got comfortable.

    The Burnett contract still is a topic of divide, but he stayed healthy which should i’m now confident he can repeat going forward.

    • Reggie C.

      excuse the bad grammar.

      “… but he stayed healthy, which i’m now confident Burnett can repeat going forward.”

      • Bo

        Nady looked bad? he was hurt in week 1.

  • http://kyivpost.img.com.ua/img/forall/a/355/5.jpg Rose

    Even we were spending even more money in 2008 and not even make the playoffs…spending even less (albeit with long term contracts) to have a very very good chance to win the world series (and then doing so) with 3 guys out there like Tex, CC, and AJ…it was almost a necessity. We had lost a 20 game winner in a reinvented Mussina, 2 100 RBI guys, and we had no idea what our Ace (Wang) would be like or if Pettitte would return. Great moves by the Cashman, the dark knight.

    • http://www.workwithpete.com Pete

      Agreed. Everyone (see: the media) conveniently forgets that we had to replace Giambi & Mussina out of necessity, as well as Abreu & Pavano’s $$ coming off the books.

  • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD

    Every move Cashman made this season, including the in-season deals, went right. He showed great foresight and it got coupled with a little bit of luck and it led to great success. I have full faith in B-Cash moving forward.

    • scooter

      +28

      Was listening to a Mets-focused Hot Stove show last night, and the buzz was about Omar trying to save his job with big free-agent signings.

      My thought: what about trying to contend while at the same time build by aggressively playing in the international free-agent market… AND by spending money in the draft signing high-ceiling talent over slot? Then build a first-class minor league coaching staff

      Then I realized that I stole that plan from Cashman (circa 2005)

  • pat

    Heck, even extending Marte now looks like a good idea seeing as how he brought the pwn this postseason.

    • TheLastClown

      I thought Marte looked like a good idea the whole time. His career track record spoke to him figuring it out eventually.

      • radnom

        Yes he always had the talent, but shoulder injuries are tough to rebound from. Especially considering the volatile nature of relievers.

        If he didn’t significantly contribute at all this year (which was highly likely) I think it would be very reasonable to doubt how well he perform well enough in the next two year to warrant his contract.

        Given his health rebound at the end of the season + contribution in the playoffs, I would say that is looking good now.

  • Bo

    He finally signed the right type of guys. In their prime talents. Instead of wasting money on C level guys like Pavano and Wright. And older players like Johnson.

  • http://generationnot.blogspot.com/ Steve S

    I will say this, I still don’t love the AJ Burnett move but I don’t hate it as much as I did when it happened. I think what also deserves mentioning is that all these new additions owe Alex Rodriguez a debt of gratitude. In my mind it will be a long, long time before there is a guy that can generate that much attention and have that level of scrutiny placed on him. I think his presence on this team will always allow for free agents to have a bit of an easier time transitioning. The irrational hate for the guy by certain people has faded slightly but he takes away a lot of the heat on some of the new faces.

  • http://theyankeeuniverse.com Moshe Mandel

    Not only did all 4 perform, they all fit perfectly into the clubhouse, and instantly became fan favorites. It really was a spectacular haul.

    • theyankeewarrior

      Cashman definitely lived up to his name and his contract this off-season. However, I don’t think we should be comparing what he did in ’09 to what he did in past seasons. It’s not like he chose Pavano, Wright, Brown and Johnson over other guys that would have brought us rings. He consistently goes out and signs the best arms out there. Sometimes, theres just nothing on the market. But we should be thankful that we have a front office that is willing to take chances and eat money when they’re wrong. The Red Sox and the “genius” Theo simply pass on big contracts unless they are 95% for sure. Cashman would do that too if he didn’t have blank checks to work with. He plays to his strength, which is taking on money and (after 2005) making solid picks and trying not to trade his prospects away for fast-fixes.

      Here’s to bringing back as many of Damon, Mastui, Pettite, Cameron & Hariston on 1/yr deals as possible so we can binge-spend in NEXT YEAR’s FA CLASS.

      Hello Crawford, Halladay, Lee, Mauer etc.

      • theyankeewarrior

        Sorry Moshe,

        Didn’t mean to reply to your comment. This was supposed to be separate.

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