Let's put it another way: If the Yankees return next season with a roster not much different from the one they put together last year, and the Red Sox return without much improvement themselves, the Bronx Bombers can be reasonably confident that they will again be the team to beat in the American League East in 2010.
The Red Sox are reinventing themselves with pitching and defense. John Lackey and Mike Cameron are proof of that. But the Red Sox also lose a couple of big boppers in their lineup — Jason Bay and Mike Lowell are both likely on the way out, and for all the runs the Red Sox save next season, they're losing just as much production at the plate. Call it a wash.
So it would logically follow that all the Yankees need to do to keep their winning ways going is maintain the status quo, right?
Right. And that's what they're doing.
Brian Cashman put together arguably the best all-around team of this decade prior to the 2009 season, and it paid off in the form of a ring. One for the thumb. All he's got to do now is keep it together.
Re-signing Andy Pettitte was the first step. The Yankees figured that one out last week, agreeing to terms on Wednesday on a one-year, $11.75 million contract to keep him in Yankee Stadium next season.
That was a good move. Pettitte gave the Yankees 195 solid innings last season, and at 37, he's got plenty left to give the Yankees another healthy and productive season. With the arms of Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera, New York's pitching staff should be similarly solid to the 2009 staff.
The starting nine is just fine (not including certain off-the-field issues involving certain Academy Award nominees). The Yanks' infield is one of the best in history, and their outfield gained a young, dynamic Curtis Granderson.
All is well in the Bronx. The Yankees are in position to cruise to another AL East title, and they could be odds-on favorites to do more than just that. But the team isn't projecting any kind of contentment or complacency. No, that's not the New York way. Or it's not the Brian Cashman way, at least.
"We’re not a finished product," the Yankees' general manager told the New York Times last week after finishing off the Pettitte signing. "We have areas of need."
What are those areas? Not the rotation, that's for sure. Not the bullpen. Not the starting lineup … well, except for that small matter of re-signing Johnny Damon.
At this point, Damon is pretty much the final piece of the puzzle. The man was born to smack home runs over that short porch in right field. After dropping 24 bombs for the Yankees last season in what should have been a decline year, Damon should be begging to come back to Yankee Stadium for another decade. But it doesn't look like that's happening.
The word of the day is "stalemate" — both sides are making demands, and they're both refusing to meet in the middle. Damon and agent Scott Boras want at least three years, while Cashman wants considerably less risk than that. "I am definitely not in a position right now where I feel like I'm ready to do anything," he told MLB.com this week.
But the sad thing is, it's in both sides' best interest to set aside the petty haggling and get a deal done.
What's a few million dollars to the Yankees, who spent $206,811,689 on personnel this past season and watched it pay off in the form of a world championship? Damon is the last step toward reconstructing the perfect World Series favorite. How can they let a small contract dispute get in their way?
What's a few million to Damon, who's already made upwards of $100 mil in his career and is seeing his earning potential fade fast in his old age? Yankee Stadium is the ideal environment for a player in his mold. He's in the right place, he's likely looking at tons of money to stay there and he'd have to be a lunatic not to take it.
We all know where the Yankees stand in their offseason retooling effort. They're right there. They're one step away from being the big favorites again. That one step may involve Boras, but there's no step too big for a Yankee ballclub that's on the verge of greatness. The Yankees aren't a finished product, but they should be soon.
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