One week ago, the Yankees hit the two-year anniversary of their last playoff appearance.
Today, it’s the five-year anniversary of their last American League pennant.
It was on October 25, 2009 that the Yankees finished off the Angels and advanced to their first World Series since 2003. I vaguely remember it. I’d been on the job for about three weeks, I was spending my nights on a friend’s couch in Harlem, and Brett Gardner let me off the hook during the clubhouse celebration after soaking me a few days earlier at the end of the division series.
“I’ve been waiting a long time for this,” Mariano Rivera said. “We’re back.”
Yes, they were. And 10 days later the Yankees would win the World Series. It all seemed like a job well done. That offseason, the Yankees had retooled their roster by making a key trade for Nick Swisher and investing heavily in CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira. The immediate results were as good as could be expected. In that clinching ALCS game, they’d used three pitchers — Andy Pettitte, Joba Chamberlain and Rivera — each of whom was a success story from within the minor league system. The Yankees starting lineup that day included four home-grown players (another home-grown player came off the bench), two major trade acquisitions, two major free agent signings, and one international superstar who would go on to win the MVP of the championship round. It was a mix of smart player moves and effective player development.
“This is what it’s all about, man,” Pettitte said. “We made a commitment at the beginning of spring training about the team, and putting everybody else’s selfish things aside and just focus on the team, and we knew this would happen.”
Quotes like that always sound good when a team wins, just like multi-year contracts always feel good when they result in a championship.
Five years later, though, Swisher is gone, Burnett has been traded for pennies on the dollar, Teixeira’s numbers have fallen off drastically, and Sabathia’s steady workhorse reputation has given way to an overwhelming amount of uncertainty. It’s now clear that the Yankees player development — while still reaping the benefits of long ago drafts and international signings — was in the midst of a rough patch during that championship season. In particular, a fresh wave of impact position players was not on its way.
Today, there’s not a long-term contract on the Yankees roster — except maybe Brett Gardner’s — that doesn’t look like an eventual bad idea. That’s kind of the way it works, though. Long-term contracts are always risky on the back end, and there’s a hope for significant impact on the front end.
Five years ago, a major offseason investment paid off immediately.
Today, it’s a different story.
Associated Press photo