Major Leagues: Aging Yankees have no choice but to spend
By Caulton Tudor
Raleigh News & Observer
Amid the New York Yankees’ extravagant $423-million holiday shopping spree, it’s easy for fans of less financially endowed teams to envy ó well, dislike ó baseball’s big spenders even more than usual.
It’s also easy to forget the fact that the Yankees finished eight games behind the Tampa Bay Rays in the final 2008 American League East Division standings and six games behind the rival Boston Red Sox, who claimed the wild-card spot, in the same division.
To take it another step, the Yankees, for all of their roster investments last season, needed an 8-2 run at the end of the season to stay ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays for third in the division.
The Yanks may be doing only what they have to do to survive among Major League Baseball’s most competitive cluster of teams. The woebegone Baltimore Orioles (68-93) were the only A.L. East team that failed to win at least 86 games.
The Yanks finished 89-73. That record would have left them in a virtual first-place tie with the Chicago White Sox (89-74) in the AL Central, and second (by 11 games) in the AL West. The Los Angeles Dodgers, a franchise that historically has thrown around its share of cash, won the National League West with an 84-78 record. The Milwaukee Brewers, out of the NL Central, qualified for the playoffs with 90 wins, only one more than the Yanks.
And when it comes to maintaining sound health, the Yanks are as vulnerable as anyone else. Actually, they were more so last year, when one player after another was injured. By season’s end, only two regulars ó infielder Robinson Cano and outfielder Bobby Abreu ó appeared in more than 150 games. Alex Rodriguez missed almost an entire month. Johnny Damon was in the lineup 143 times. Jorge Posada played in 51. Among the pitchers, only 40-year-old Mike Mussina (now retired) and Andy Pettitte, 36, started more than 30 times.
On paper, and certainly on the payroll, the Yanks come across as big and bad. In reality, they’re getting fairly old. Derek Jeter will turn 35 before the end of the ’09 season. Posada is 36 and Mariano Rivera 38. This is a team carrying a lot of mileage and one with a problematic farm system.
Sure, it’s easy to pull against them. But it’s not all that difficult to appreciate and understand their logic.