Yankee doodling leaves Jeter, Rivera hanging

Editor’s note: Yahoo! Sports examined the offseason of every MLB team before spring training. Our series was in reverse order of team quality and concluded at No. 1 with the New York Yankees.

2009 record: 103-59
2009 finish: First place, American League East
2009 final payroll: $220 million
Estimated 2010 opening-day payroll: $200 million

OFFSEASON ACTION

The Yankees had a very good December. Over two weeks, they acquired Curtis Granderson(notes) for Ian Kennedy(notes) (to the Diamondbacks) and Austin Jackson(notes) and Phil Coke(notes) (to the Tigers), re-signed Andy Pettitte(notes), acquired Javier Vazquez(notes) from the Braves (for Melky Cabrera(notes), among others), and signed Nick Johnson(notes).

In just that time, they’d almost certainly upgraded their rotation, taken a not unreasonable risk on Granderson, who might hit 40 home runs given his new ballpark, and put another left-handed bat and on-base machine at DH. It’s not all perfect, of course. Granderson is so helpless against left-handed pitchers he’ll probably be platooned, and the massive center field at Yankee Stadium isn’t for everyone. He might play more in left (though recent signings Randy Winn(notes) and Marcus Thames(notes) suggest Joe Girardi might patchwork the whole outfield). Vazquez has had a lot of seasons in a lot of places, none of them as erratic as the one he had at the old Yankee Stadium, when a lot of smart people decided he might not have the right personality for New York. And Johnson is a big lug who doesn’t run well and is prone to injury.

The Yankees, however, are so talented they only need most – or even some – of it to go right to give themselves a chance to repeat.

REALITY CHECK

This is somewhat strange and bordering on combative, but set against the backdrop of recent years in which they’ve thrown tens of (and just as often hundreds of) millions of dollars at Alex Rodriguez(notes), Mark Teixeira(notes), CC Sabathia(notes), A.J. Burnett(notes), Jorge Posada(notes) and Mariano Rivera(notes), and gladly took on the contracts of Nick Swisher(notes), Granderson and Vazquez, how do the Steinbrenners dig in on a precedent against early contract extensions now that Derek Jeter(notes) and Rivera have come due?

Club officials – Brian Cashman was the latest – cite team policy. But, there is policy and then there is Jeter and Rivera. The danger, you’d suppose, is the next career-long, Hall-bound, iconic Yankee might one day wonder why he isn’t offered the same chance at negotiation. That hardly seems dangerous. In a city where small distractions have the potential to go rogue and torpedo an entire season, the Yankees are fortunate Jeter and Rivera aren’t the sorts to let that happen, and neither is Girardi, whose contract is also up after the season.

In their clubhouse, they’ll miss Johnny Damon(notes) and Hideki Matsui(notes), two pros who handled being Yankees and thrived. But, given that, along with their sudden reluctance to run their payroll past $200 million and misguided adherence to company policy, the Yankees remain the class of baseball. Heck, if it’s not working they can always go out and get another outfielder. Like, Johnny Damon.


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Updated Friday, Feb 12, 2010