Rivera, Posada, Pettitte, and Jeter: The Only Yankee Champions Left

Perry ArnoldSenior Analyst IFebruary 20, 2009

It has been more than eight years since the New York Yankees brought their last championship trophy home to the Bronx.

From the teams that played in six World Series in eight years and won four of them, only four veteran players remain.

Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte are the only players who remain from the "Last Yankee Dynasty."

And they are all home grown players, having signed with the Yankees originally and come up through the farm system.

Of course, Pettitte left temporarily after the 2003 season to play three years in Houston before returning to New York for 2007. He recently signed a one-year contract to play for the Yankees again.

The other three have been constants, even though Posada was not involved in the first championship of this dynasty in 1996.

They are all, of course, aging. Rivera is 38. Posada will be 38 in August. Pettitte will turn 37 in June. Jeter will be 35 in the middle of the summer.

With each of the players, fans must realize that few years remain in their careers.

These four have almost always been clutch performers, steady under the extreme pressures of playoff baseball.

But the last Yankee appearance in the Fall Classic was six years ago, when they lost to the upstart Florida Marlins in 2003.

Prior to the 1996 championship, it had been eighteen years since the Yankees had last been kings of the hill.

Before the two year run in 1977-1978, it had been fifteen years since they had last won in 1962.

So history tells us that teams rise, triumph, age, and then decline.

Is the 2009 Yankee team strong enough to give these four veterans a chance for another ring? Sure, New York is as strong on paper as any team in baseball. But in any run for a title, all the pieces have to fall in place just right.

If the Yankees are going to compete for the ultimate baseball prize this year, they must have stellar performances from at least three of these four holdovers from the glory years.

Posada returns from season ending injuries in 2008 that required surgery to repair two problems in his throwing shoulder. The injuries affected his swing as well as his ability to throw from behind the plate.

Much of the Yankees hope depends on Posada returning to his old form, especially on offense. In 2007, he had his most productive year at the plate, and it is unlikely that he can return to those numbers.

But if he cannot catch regularly and add some punch to the batting order, the Yankees will have some of the same question marks that plagued them last year when the weak hitting Jose Molina became the regular catcher.

Closer Mariano Rivera also returns after a minor procedure to clean out his pitching arm. He has said that his arm is in great shape and there is no reason to think he will not be excellent again.

His 2008 performance was one of his best ever, making one wonder if he is like fine wine—improving with age. Rivera has always kept himself in great shape. The Yankees felt good enough about him to sign him to a three-year contract after the 2007 season.

But the years eventually have to take their toll, and the Yankees must hope that it does not begin this year, because they have no other proven pitcher who could take his role as closer.

Pettitte has had some arm problems for the past five seasons now, and 2008 was no exception. He never went on the disabled list in 2008, but he struggled late in the season when his arm was bothering him.

He finished last season with a 14-14 record and an ERA of 4.55. He went through protracted negotiations with the Yankees in this past offseason after he at first spurned an offer to come back for one year at a reported $10 million salary.

After finally agreeing to one year with a base reported at $5 million and incentives that could more than double that amount, Pettitte is figured by many to be the Yankees fifth starter.

That could change depending on whether he has a live arm this spring and what younger pitchers, such as Phillip Hughes, show in camp. If Pettitte does not break the starting rotation, he will be an important player anyway, as a spot starter and long reliever.

The Yankees have made it clear that they want to limit innings for Joba Chamberlain, who is expected to be a major league starter from the beginning of the year for the first time in his career.

Also, there has been talk that C.C. Sabathia should not be expected to eat as many innings as he did in Cleveland and Milwaukee, when he seemed to go into the playoffs with little stamina left.

Derek Jeter also had injury issues in 2008. Leg problems put him on the DL in the early part of the season. Later, hand injuries, while not taking him out of the lineup completely, did affect his hitting. He had to surge in the last two months of the year to finish at the .300 level again.

Jeter is unquestionably the face of the Yankee team and had great years in 2006 and 2007. For the Yankees to make a run at another crown, Jeter will have to play almost every day and produce as is expected of him.

Nothing is more certain than the uncertainty of a 162 game baseball season capped by a playoff series.

But if the New York Yankees have any hope of returning to glory, a great deal depends on these four men, who had the same roles when they last won it all.