Opening day was the first chance for baseball fans across the nation to see the NY Yankees off-season strategy come to life on the field doing what it is supposed to do—win ballgames...and in a dominant manner.
The Yankees spent the 2009 off-season doing what they always do—filling their roster with the latest round of high-priced free agents and, by doing so, maintaining the leagues highest payroll at just over $200 million.
Much has been written and analyzed about how much success all of this money would bring the Yankees. As they enter their new $1.5 billion dollar stadium, guaranteed was a return to championship caliber baseball, a return to the playoffs, and the recapture of the AL East crown from either the Red Sox or the (imposter) Tampa Bay Rays.
Over a half billion dollars spent on just four players supposedly guaranteed all of the above...at least that is what we all read all winter long.
But Opening Day wasn't about statistics, projections, or salaries...it was about reality.
For the New York Yankees...reality turned out to be...ugly.
The Yankees No. 1 pitcher CC Sabathia strutted out to the mound in Baltimore for an easy outing against the perennially inept Orioles, but reality set in—and the reality is, he got blown up. Sabathia gave up eight hits, six earned runs, five walks, and registered zero strike outs over 4 1/3 innings leaving with a 12.46 ERA to start the season.
What do you think Brian Cashman was thinking as he watched Sabathia load the bases over and over like he was putting kids on a merry-go-round? I think Sabathia's very large $161 million paycheck stub sitting in Cashman's wallet had to be poking his ass a little bit...
The Yankee bullpen came in and didn't help matters, giving up four runs and three walks.
What about the rest of the half-billion-for-success club?
Alex Rodriguez, the quarter million dollar man himself, sits on the disabled list rehabbing his hip, which doesn't seem to work as well as it did back in those steroid-enhanced "loosey-goosey days."
$180 million dollar first baseman, Mark Teixeira, also started the season with a thud. He went 0-for-4 with a walk, and was the only player in the No. 1-7 lineup to not register a hit against Orioles pitching. He did strand five base-runners though...
Again, this will obviously not be the case every day as Teixeira is a very good player—but all together it has to make Yankees fans a little nervous (and Red Sox fans a little happy) to see the Yanks open the season with a well-rounded 10-5 beating from the Orioles.
Should this trend continue, it obviously wouldn't be the first season where the Yankees spent a ton of cash in the off season only to under perform in the regular season and then the post season (...if they make it). It seems to have become the standard result that stems from this standard equation designed and implemented by the Steinbrenner's many years ago.
But will a Yankee lineup filled with $100-200 million superstars really perform below expectations? Well today was not a good indicator that they will do anything else but that.
If the Yankees are not suffering from a lack of talent, what causes them to struggle?
Could the difference on the field be the dreaded "clubhouse chemistry," which is often talked about as lacking in NY while conversely existing so well in Boston?
All reports are that Red Sox clubhouse chemistry has been rock solid since the end of last season, when the team removed the dread locked 'cancer' in Manny Ramirez as described by Red Sox closer Jonathon Papelbon, and as evidenced by Red Sox GM Theo Epstein, who pointed to the "significant increase" in runs scored per inning for the Red Sox over the last third of the 2008 season.
So is it team chemistry which can't be bought, or do the Yankees just continually pin their hopes on players they overpay for?
Either way, the roughed up Sabathia might be back at his hotel tonight wondering if he should have stayed in the National League which had treated him so well. (He was 6-8 last season in Cleveland before going over to the National League and registering an 11-2 record with a 1.65 ERA for the Milwaukee Brewers)
It's a long season, and while today, Opening Day, is just one day of it, it could be an indicator that the 2009 season may not play out as smoothly in the Bronx as many had predicted.