As Mark Teixeira squeezed the last out of the 2009 World Series, Yankee Stadium erupted and the Yankees had ended their eight-year championship drought in dominating fashion. Now, nearly three months later, the Yankees appear ready to defend their championship.
The Yankees will feature many of the main players from their 2009 championship, with CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, and Andy Pettitte fronting the rotation and Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Derek Jeter carrying the offense. But turnover is inevitable and there will be two familiar faces missing from Tampa when the Yankee report for Spring Training in a few short weeks.
Gone are Johnny Damon's individual double steal and Hideki Matsui's World Series MVP. Both veteran outfielders provided the Yankees with well above-average offensive production and their fair share of typical Yankee memories. But building a team based on sentimentality never bodes well for future success.
Both men have certainly earned their spot in Yankee lore, but as they both enter the back end of their careers, Brian Cashman rightfully moved on. At age 35, both Matsui and Damon turned in rather fortuitous seasons. Both stayed relatively healthy and produced at a high level.
Expecting both men to continue such production and health at an age when most ballplayers begin to decline was something that Brian Cashman was obviously not thrilled with.
He traded Austin Jackson, Phil Coke and Ian Kennedy for Detroit centerfielder Curtis Granderson and brought back former Yankee top prospect Nick Johnson to replace Matsui as the team's DH. To top off his impressive winter, Cashman sent Melky Cabrera, Arodys Vizcaino, and Mike Dunn for Atlanta workhorse Javier Vazquez (above).
As a Yankee fan, seeing Matsui pull on his new Angel jersey was difficult. Seeing Damon do the same when he eventually finds a landing place will be equally difficult. But the prospects of what Granderson, Johnson and Vazquez can bring leaves me excited about the Yankees 2010 campaign.
Granderson is capable of being an elite player in this league, as evidenced by his 2007 season. Even if his 2008 and 2009 numbers are more indicative of the type of player he is, he still profiles as an above-average player for the Yankees on both offense and defense, something the Yankees haven't enjoyed since Bernie Williams' prime.
Johnny Damon has a swing tailor-made for Yankee Stadium, but so does Curtis Granderson. And Granderson offers defense and a team-friendly contract.
Nick Johnson has a long medical history, but further inspection into that claim shows that he doesn't have one degenerative medical issue, like the Yankees believe to be the case with Matsui's knees. A healthy season from Nick Johnson out of the number 2 slot in the Yankees lineup should go a long way to replacing Matsui's production.
And finally, adding Javier Vazquez's perennial 200+ innings will fortify a rotation that had only three starters they trusted throughout their 2009 postseason run. Worst case scenario, Vazquez is the league's best fourth starter—best case has him as a fringe No. 2 starter. Either way, he's a huge addition to the New York rotation and his acquisition was a steal by Brian Cashman.
With last season's new additions settling into New York nicely, this year's acquisitions should make this team better than it was last year. And the 2009 version was scary good. If everyone stays healthy, then 100 wins may very well be an underestimate of this club's ability.
When your only complaints about a team are that the leftfielder isn't an All-Star and the fifth starter may be better suited to the bullpen, you've got one helluva club.