For the past decade, the New York Yankees have been notorious for big spending with limited results. Years of regular season dominance were parlayed with major playoff disappointment (see 2001, 2003, 2004, the list goes on).
Big name free agents were brought in and trades were made, often in a knee-jerk fashion after yet another playoff disappointment. Fans began to wonder, "Did the front office, led by Brian Cashman, actually know what they were doing?"
This young season, so far, has given us evidence for the contrary. After perhaps the most lavish offseason yet, the team is off on the right foot, leading the AL East by a half game headed into tonight's play.
The difference lies not in the players on the field (as the Yanks certainly have had the talent all these years) but rather in the clubhouse.
Class clowns like Nick Swisher and AJ Burnett have finally loosened the Yankees tense clubhouse, and the team has benefited greatly. CC Sabathia continues to exude his generosity, taking many teammates to a luxury box in Cleveland for a Cavaliers-Magic Conference Finals game.
Words like family, cooperation, and great guys are being thrown around in the media so much so that people are taking notice. Gone is the longtime Yankee corporate culture fostered by years of signings like Kevin Brown, Jaret Wright, Jason Giambi, etc.
Finally, it seems that Alex Rodriguez has conquered his New York demons punctuated by his steroid admission, not to mention his Madonna fling and ensuing divorce. He has found his niche with his new corner-infielder partner in crime, Mark Teixeira.
The signing of Teixiera, made late in the offseason as the Yankees were considered to be a dark horse candidate at best, has clearly been their best move. Not only has his switch-hitting bat added length to an already deep Yankee lineup, but it is his defense that is turning people's heads in New York.
Led by his stellar play at first base, perhaps the most important defensive position besides the catcher, the Yankees set the MLB all-time record of 18 consecutive games without an error. This newfound commitment to defense has set the tone for a recent streak in which the Yankees have won 19 of their last 25 games.
The pitching staff is clearly the flaw in the Yankee armor. The bullpen has been susceptible to collapse, as evidenced by Mariano Rivera's meltdown against Tampa Bay on Saturday.
However, the addition of Phil Hughes from the rotation will bolster the eighth inning role, and take stress of the overworked arms of Phil Coke and Alfredo Aceves. The starters, including CC Sabathia, Burnett, and Andy Pettitte have pitched well of late, keeping the Yanks in the game, even when they pitch poorly.
The offense continues to roll along, with Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon, Robinson Cano, Tex, and Posada all hitting above .300. If they keep up their recent play, it could be an October rematch with their old skipper Joe Torre against the Dodgers, clearly the class of the N.L.