Followed less than a week later by the stunning signing of Mark Teixeira, those major upgrades have renewed optimism on 161st Street, transforming glaring deficiencies into definitive strengths.
Adding Teixeira's stroke will help to restore some of the lost production from last year, but the Yankees' top priority was upgrading their starting rotation, Sure, they may be called the Bronx Bombers for a history of offensive prowess, but pitching still wins championships.
"We knew we were weaker in some areas than others," Yankees co-chairman Hal Steinbrenner said. "We're going to improve on those areas. We've done it every year and our track record shows that."
With a new Yankee Stadium set to open in April, the organization is optimistic that 2009 may finally be the year that they can talk about the elusive 27th World Series championship with conviction. Sabathia said he is ready for that challenge.
"I don't think anybody can put any more pressure on me than I put on myself," Sabathia said. "I expect to go out and pitch well and win games. That's what I'm here to do."
It didn't come cheaply, as Sabathia required a seven-year, $161 million commitment, Burnett a five-year, $82.5 million deal and Teixeira joined the pack with an eight-year, $180 million deal. With Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez on the field, the Yankees will be trotting out the four best-paid athletes in the big leagues come Opening Day.
No wonder Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that he likes his chances.
"When you add a Chien-Ming Wang and right now a Joba Chamberlain, you're looking at a very strong rotation," Girardi said. "That's what you have to have to compete in late October, a chance to win every day. The Steinbrenners and our front office were very aggressive and it's great to have them."
Season in Preview
A lot can change by Opening Day, but as 2008 becomes 2009, this is who is projected to take the field for the Yankees:
| LF||Johnny Damon|
| SS||Derek Jeter|
| 3B||Alex Rodriguez|
| 1B||Mark Teixeira|
| C||Jorge Posada|
| DH||Hideki Matsui|
| RF||Xavier Nady|
| 2B||Robinson Cano|
| CF||Brett Gardner|
| SP||CC Sabathia|
| SP||A.J. Burnett|
| SP||Chien-Ming Wang|
| SP||Joba Chamberlain|
| SP||Phil Hughes|
| CL||Mariano Rivera|
Despite the huge layouts, general manager Brian Cashman said the club remains on track to lower payroll for 2009 -- the idea is to spend more wisely, and continue to become more flexible and athletic.
"We had a lot of payroll come off last year, and it was always our intention to reinvest," Hal Steinbrenner said. "That's what we've done every year -- reinvest -- and try to get a good mix of young guys."
Teixeira's addition provides the offensive thump and protection that will help runs cross the plate in the new Stadium, after New York's lineup produced only 789 runs in 2008 -- good only for seventh in the American League.
Even before acquiring Teixeira, the Yankees believed that they would have better production from certain performers in their lineup, helping them get back to the neighborhood of 900-plus runs in 2009. The late addition can only help that cause.
A-Rod missed three weeks due to injury and struggled with runners in scoring position, and the switch-hitting prowess of Jorge Posada was missed greatly. Hideki Matsui battled injuries, while both Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera underperformed.
If the offense produces as expected, the new scoreboards across the street should have plenty of practice in lighting up crooked numbers. That'll leave it up to the pitchers, especially as the Yankees showcase their prizes in Sabathia and Burnett.
"This is a dream come true," Burnett said. "Whatever it takes, I think you're going to get that out of us. We're looking forward to it. It's going to be a fun ride."
Grading on a curve:
On a scale of one to 10, the Yankees get an 10 for identifying their top winter priorities and taking care of all three. Sure, the Yankees spent in huge numbers, spreading a combined $423.5 million among three players. But they did so completely within the rules of the game and have found a way to operate the way few clubs can. The Yankees cannot be penalized for writing huge checks just because other teams aren't willing to enter their arena.
Burnett, RHP Sergio Mitre, Sabathia, 1B/OF Nick Swisher, Teixeira.
IF Wilson Betemit, RHP Chris Britton, OF Justin Christian, RHP Jeff Marquez, RHP Darrell Rasner.
The Road Ahead:
The Yankees still have one more slot to fill in their rotation and are holding out hope that left-hander Andy Pettitte will choose to return to New York. Pettitte wants to come back, but his agents are advising him not to accept a large pay cut from the $16 million he earned in each of the past two seasons, not after a 14-win season. The Teixeira signing displaces Swisher from first base. He could be moved or the Yankees might consider trying to do something with Johnny Damon, Cabrera, Matsui or Xavier Nady.