Don't hand that World Series trophy to the Yankees just yet
The Yankees have now signed the top two available pitchers and the top hitter
But it's still no certainty that the '09 World Series will run through the Bronx
But they've set the bar impossibly high, and odds are they will fall short
Perhaps you have a friend, as I do, who upon hearing the news that the Yankees had on Tuesday signed Mark Teixeira to an eight-year, $180 million contract, e-mailed: "That is the last straw for me. I am boycotting pro sports." Or something along those lines.
That sort of reaction, while somewhat rash, is also understandable. After this latest stroke of the Steinbrenner pen, the Yankees have now locked up the two top starting pitchers available on the free agent market, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, and the top hitter in Teixeira, and might not even be done yet; Hank and Hal won't have to rifle through the family's couch cushions to bring aboard, say, Manny Ramirez.
In the process, they've proven -- as if there was any doubt -- that baseball is now more economically imbalanced than ever before. They've proven there really is no such thing as "hometown loyalty" or "a hometown discount" in professional baseball (Teixeira, a Maryland native, spurned both the Nationals and the Orioles for the Yanks' dollars, and in retrospect there was never really much of a chance that the California-bred Sabathia would end up in Los Angeles, Anaheim or San Francisco).
And they've also invited intense public scrutiny upon themselves: just how is it that a team that required public funding to build its new headquarters, and constantly grovels for more of it during a time of recession, can somehow guarantee $423.5 million to three players in a single offseason? (That's a story that deserves far more space, and demands more time to investigate, than I can commit here).
I suspect that the largest gripe among all but the most faithful of Yankees supporters stems from the notion that the 2009 World Series, after the Teixeira signing, will now inevitably run through that Albert Speer-ian edifice on which workers are just now putting the finishing touches in the Bronx. Of that, though, I wouldn't be so sure.
Teixeira is clearly one of the finest young hitters in the game, but last season, which he spent with the Braves and then the Angels, he hit just one more home run than did the creaky incumbent whom the Yankees jettisoned after the season, Jason Giambi (Teixeira had 33, Giambi 32). Teixeira clearly will represent an offensive upgrade from Giambi -- he drove in 25 more runs (121 to 96) and exceeded him in OPS by .086 (.962 to .876) -- but he might not impact the offense, which still features a declining Derek Jeter at shortstop, an aging catcher in Jorge Posada whose effectiveness coming off an injury is unknown, and question marks (Nick Swisher? Melky Cabrera? Johnny Damon?) in center field, as significantly as you might think.
The Yankees' rotation should (make that, had better) be improved from 2008, with Sabathia and Burnett atop it, but can we say with any certainty that it's now pound-for-pound superior to the Rays' or the Red Sox'? I don't think so. And then there's the bullpen, which performed well as a group last season (its 3.79 ERA was seventh in baseball) but still doesn't contain any sure things besides Mariano Rivera -- and Rivera, who is now 39 years old, has to decline at some point, doesn't he?
The Yankees are now a position in which sports fans' schadenfreude is directed their way more than ever. What's worse, though, is that they've set an impossible standard for themselves: any result other than a 2009 World Series title will be viewed as a historic failure -- and if they do win the championship, well, they've got the four highest-paid players in the game, so that's just what they're supposed to do, right?
The odds are that they'll fall short, and that will prove once again that there are some things that money can't buy. Even in baseball.