Of all the Yankee teams since 1996, the 2008 edition is one we would all most like to forget. For the first time since the pre-strike days of 1993, the team missed the playoffs, and they do so in a spectacularly unmemorable fashion with 13 starting pitchers and Darrel Rasner as their de facto third starter.
That year, the Yanks’ biggest issues went hand in hand. They were an old team, and they suffered through far too many injuries. Behind Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte (36) and Mike Mussina (39) were expected to anchor the pitching rotation. Around the diamond, Jorge Posada (36) would have manned the plate with Jason Giambi (37) at first, Johnny Damon and Bobby Abreu, a pair of 34-year-olds at the corner outfield positions, and Hideki Matsui (34) as the DH. After Posada and Matsui went down with injuries and the pitching turned sour, the team limped to an 89-73 finish.
Since then, we have witnessed a veritable age movement in the Bronx, and come Opening Day 2010, the Yanks’ roster will look nothing similar to the 2008 edition. Of course, the roster will still have its fair share of old men. Derek Jeter will be playing his age 36(!) season and Posada his age 37. A-Rod will turn 35 in late July; Mariano Rivera will be an ageless 40; and Andy Pettitte 38. But that’s it.
With the arrival of Curtis Granderson, the Yankees have become a team more focused on youth and athleticism than any Yankee team in recent years. Around the infield, we’ll see Mark Teixeira (30) and Robinson Cano (26). Nick Swisher (29), Granderson (29) and, as it stands right now, Melky Cabrera (25) will star in the under-30 outfield club. Even if the Yanks do something crazy — such as sign Matt Holliday as iYankees urges them to do — they would be bringing about a 30-year-old. We can’t forget that the Yanks’ Opening Day starter will be playing his age 29 season and that two other potential cogs in the rotation or bullpen will both be playing their age 24 seasons.
Thus, in the space of just two years, Brian Cashman has won a World Series and reestablished the Yankees as a team eying long-term dominance. This isn’t the one-and-done teams from the mid-2000s that seemed to be reliable on aging sluggers and weak pitchers. This is a deal that, if all the pieces fit properly, could make a good run of it over the next three or fours years.
More impressive though are the costs. To put this team together cost the Yankees a pretty penny in dollars and nearly nothing in prospects. Melky Cabrera, Robinson Cano, Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain are products of the farm system. Nick Swisher came from Chicago in exchange for Wilson Betemit, Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nuñez. Sabathia and Teixeira were free agents, and for Curtis Granderson, they had to give up Austin Jackson and Ian Kennedy.
To build a better club, to become younger and more versatile, the Yankees did not have to sacrifice two thirds of the Big Three. They kept the two guys with the best stuff, and the two guys with the highest ceilings. They still have a farm system with a few live arms, a few intriguing outfielders and a catcher carrying lofty expectations and a very big bat. That, my friends, is one extreme baseball makeover in very little time. It’s why Brian Cashman has been holding court in his hotel room in Indianapolis, and it’s why the Yankees probably aren’t quite through yet with their off-season plans.