Tuesday night's Red Sox win made it official: The Yankees will miss the 2008 playoffs, making this the first season in the Division Series era in which October will kick off without the Bronx Bombers. That's a reason for celebration in many quarters, and a cause for distress in others, but the team's failure to make the postseason inspires one question from everyone: What now?
The key thing to remember is that the 2008 Yankees are not a bad baseball team, and in fact, were MLB to send its top eight teams by merit alone, these Yankees would probably be included. They're tied for eighth in MLB in wins and winning percentage, and when you consider that they've put up their 86-71 mark in the toughest division in baseball history, that record understates their performance. At right are the best teams in baseball by third-order record:
No, the Yankees aren't a bad team, and in fact, they would probably have won four of the other five divisions in baseball, something you could say for the top four teams in the AL East. It's important that they not overreact to missing the postseason, which says more about their competitive environment, which included four of the top five teams in baseball, than about the Yankees themselves. (It also, as an aside, makes what the Rays did this year all the more impressive.)
Of course, an 86-71 mark (or 87-69) is still a bit below expectations. The Yankees' failure to reach the mid-90s in wins can be attributed largely to two areas: young players and injuries, with the former the primary reason. GM
The other big problem on offense was the injury to
The Yankees played the 2008 season getting sub-.300 OBPs from three lineup spots. That, more than any other factor, is why they're not going to play past Sunday afternoon. That, more than any other problem, is what they have to address in the off-season.
It won't be easy. The three years remaining on Posada's contract dictate that the team waits for him to rehab and hopes that he can catch at least semi-regularly. Cano now has a contract that pays him $25 million through 2011, and with his trade value basically nil, he almost has to be back as the second baseman. There are no viable center fielders on the free-agent market; the outfielders that are available are below-average defensively even on the corners and more middle-of-the-lineup types. Damon's limited time in center this season has confirmed that he's no longer an option as an everyday player at the position. Signing
The Yankees thus find themselves in a terrible bind on offense: What they need is OBP up the middle. What they have are flawed players with immovable contracts and significant questions as to what they will produce in 2009, and a market that offers little in the way of solutions.
In the same way that Cano and Cabrera took down the offense this year, with an injury to Posada finishing it off, the pitching suffered because two notable farm products failed to produce.
The Yankees' failure to score enough runs to win, while allowing about as many runs as expected, is why the predicted off-season emphasis on acquiring pitching is misguided. There's an assumption that the Yankees will sign
The risks on the market are far too great to justify the costs. Sabathia, 28, has thrown a ton of pitches over the last few years and will almost certainly struggle to manage his body as he ages.
Moreover, the Yankee bullpen was surprisingly effective, and while
This doesn't solve all of the short-term problems, most notably leaving the same hole in center field that existed all year, and assuming calculated risks behind the plate and at second base. The contract status of Posada and Cano make the latter problems intractable; you could conceivably offer Cano in a deal for the Orioles'
So, were I in charge, this would be your 2009 New York Yankees:
C: Posada, Molina
2B: Cano, Betemit
CF: Cabrera, Chavez
RF: Abreu, Nady
SP: Wang, Chamberlain, Mussina, Hughes, Kennedy, Pavano
RP: Rivera, Ramirez, Veras, Coke, Aceves, Giese