Breaking News:

Void in rotation mars Yankees’ offseason

Jeff Passan
Yahoo Sports

Editor’s note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the New York Yankees.

2010 record: 95-67
Finish: Second place, AL East
2010 final payroll: $215 million
Estimated 2011 opening day payroll: $201 million

Offseason action

Only the Yankees could have an offseason deemed quiet after they dished out $130 million, ensured that two Hall of Famers remained in pinstripes for the entirety of their careers and fortified their bullpen with the best reliever on the free-agent market. Such is life in New York, where everything concerning the Yankees is outsized, least of all expectations.

Which is why, yes, this offseason was more whisper than clang. The words that seeped from general manager Brian Cashman's mouth minutes after the Rangers bullied the Yankees in the ALCS – his team's need, Cashman said, is "always pitching" – look so unfulfilled now after the Cliff Lee(notes) mess. And considering the confidence with which the Yankees entered the offseason believing the might of their checkbook would overcome any urge Lee might otherwise feel, deeming it a mess is perhaps an understatement.

It wasn't just Lee spurning the Yankees that hurt; it was that his defection was to another East Coast team, to another big-money franchise, to another powerhouse built in the vein of the Yankees. The Philadelphia Phillies have taken the Yankees' mantra and done it even better. They churn out consistently good minor league prospects year after year while spending money like gangbusters, and their rotation is the sort the Yankees should have with a $200 million payroll, particularly considering only one of the Phillies' five starters is homegrown.

Right-hander Rafael Soriano(notes) and left-hander Pedro Feliciano(notes) will help a Yankees bullpen that could be a strength if David Robertson(notes), Boone Logan(notes) and especially Joba Chamberlain(notes) find consistency to match their stuff. With question marks permeating the Yankees' rotation past CC Sabathia(notes), bullpen depth could save their season – and a bullpen implosion could wreck it.

The lineup will look about the same as last season, with new catcher Russell Martin(notes) the lone exception. And if Martin's spiral from his tremendous 2007 season continues – he's now in that echelon where he's neither a good offensive nor defensive catcher, and the Yankees spent $4 million hoping one of the two returns – top prospect Jesus Montero(notes) will infuse them with another potent bat.

Nearly two-thirds of the Yankees' free agent booty this offseason went to retaining Derek Jeter(notes) and Mariano Rivera(notes), and it was money well-spent. The Yankees needed to keep Jeter, even as age has diminished his skills, and to do so at $51 million for three years when Jeter's camp started the negotiations at double that was a victory for the Steinbrenner family – especially if Jeter does indeed forgive and forget the arrows slung from the Yankees' camp during the contentious process.

As naked as the Yankees would've looked without Jeter, Rivera taking Boston's three-year offer would've been even more devastating. Because even at 41 years old, Rivera is the best at what he does, and in an offseason of disappointment, New York can take comfort in knowing "Enter Sandman" will strain through Yankee Stadium before the bottom of the ninth.

Reality check

Never again, barring a fluke-of-all-flukes season, are the Yankees going to be a below-.500 team, let alone down in the dumps for years at a time. Baseball likes to talk about its parity, and when it comes to teams competing for a championship, it's valid. Unstated is the fact that the Yankees would never flail along with five subpar seasons over 11 years as have their football counterpart, the Dallas Cowboys.

The disparity between the Yankees and the rest of the baseball bourgeois has shrunk; there is not much difference among them, the Red Sox and the Philllies. The gap between the elite and the rest is staggering, and so even as the Yankees compete in a division with loaded Red Sox and Rays teams and on-the-come Orioles and Blue Jays units, they may not always reign supreme, but they'll remain beastly nonetheless.

New York's lineup returns a 1-through-9 gauntlet, even if Jeter is aging, even if A-Rod isn't the player he once was, even if Curtis Granderson's(notes) power never manifested itself as the Yankees hoped, even if Nick Swisher(notes) turned in a career year. They scored 41 runs more than anyone else last year, and they will win dozens of games this year on the might of their bats alone.

How manager Joe Girardi handles the rotation will determine the Yankees' fortunes this season. Cashman hasn't given him much. Sabathia is an ace – and a determined one, it seems, coming in 30 pounds lighter. The rest are not. Phil Hughes(notes) needs to prove himself great over a full season. A.J. Burnett(notes) needs to prove the Yankees' lack of confidence in him is misguided. Ivan Nova(notes) needs to prove he's a major league pitcher. And, among the mishmash of Bartolo Colon(notes), Freddy Garcia(notes) and Sergio Mitre(notes), someone needs to prove worthy of a starting spot on a team that could contend for a championship.

The Yankees, too, could find themselves in third place. Boston is the prohibitive favorite after adding Carl Crawford(notes) and Adrian Gonzalez(notes), and the Rays' fortifying their lineup with Manny Ramirez(notes) and Johnny Damon(notes) gives them enough punch to complement a deep rotation. The AL East, meat grinder extraordinaire, is same as always.

Whether the Yankees can say the same about themselves this year, amid this shifting landscape, is something we'll find out soon enough.

Yankees in haiku
Opponents now know
How to get in Yankees' heads
Feed A-Rod popcorn

Next: Tampa Bay Rays