On Dec. 13, 2001, the New York Yankees signed a 29-year-old first baseman, coming off a few great years on a small market team, to a seven-year, $120 million contract with a no-trade clause. Yankees fans across the nation rejoiced.
Here's what the Yankees have done each year since then: ALDS loss, World Series loss, ALCS loss, ALDS loss, ALDS loss, ALDS loss, third place in the AL East.
On Dec. 23, 2008, the New York Yankees signed a 28-year-old first baseman, coming off a few great years on small market teams, to an eight-year, $180 million contract with a no-trade clause. Yankees fans across the nation rejoiced.
What do the Yankees do now?
This is not meant to be a knock on Mark Teixeira. He's done nothing but put up fantastic numbers for the last six seasons. But surely, someone in the Yankees organization has noticed a pattern here... or maybe not? Is that really possible? Can the Yankees really spend over $400 million without looking at the facts?
The 1980s were the first decade since the days of Babe Ruth when the Yankees did not win a World Series. They were also the first full decade of the Yankees under the command of George Steinbrenner. When Steinbrenner was banned in 1990, fans at Yankee Stadium responded with a standing ovation.
Though he was reinstated in 1993, the time when he was gone gave Yankees management time to develop strong prospects. Heck, had Steinbrenner not paid a gambler for dirt on Dave Winfield, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, and other Yankees might have played their whole careers in other uniforms. A strong farm system in the early 90's resulted in championships in the late 90's. Here's the batting order for New York in Game four of the 1998 World Series, the final game of what was arguably one of the greatest seasons ever:
1. Chuck Knoblauch
2. Derek Jeter
3. Paul O'Neill
4. Bernie Williams
5. Tino Martinez
6. Scott Brosius
7. Ricky Ledee
8. Joe Girardi
9. Andy Pettitte
Out of those guys, four (Jeter, Williams, Ledee, Pettitte) had spent their entire careers with the Yankees up to that point. And that doesn't include Jorge Posada, who was often the starting catcher. But more important is the guys who weren't. Scott Brosius wasn't a perennial all-star. Tino Martinez wasn't a Hall of Fame type of player. In 1998, the Yankees understood that a team of all-stars doesn't win championships, and the success was replicated in 1999 and 2000.
And then, since 2001, we've had some major disappointments. Carl Pavano made nearly five million dollars for every win he got as a Yankee. All nine of them. Jason Giambi hit .260 in seven years as a Yankee. Was he horrendous? No. He hit plenty of home runs and drove in plenty of runs. Was he worth $120 million? Not by a long shot.
It's definitely a stretch to call Alex Rodriguez a disappointment, but he's the highest paid player in the league. He's expected to play like it, and he clearly doesn't take too kindly to playing in the spotlight. We'll see what he does.
The bottom line is, we'll have to see what happens with this year's round of big money acquisitions. Will CC Sabathia play like he did in Milwaukee, or will he shrink and shrivel in the bright lights of the Bronx? Will injury-prone A.J. Burnett be the next Mike Mussina or the next Carl Pavano? Will Mark Teixeira play like he has the last six seasons, or will he end up like Giambi?
If it's the latter for each of these guys, Yankees fans are in for a long ride over the next few years. Yankees fans expect championships, and what else is there to expect when you spend nearly half a billion dollars in the span of a month, in the middle of a recession? Can you blame fans for having high expectations?
The Steinbrenner family and the rest of the Yankees management doesn't seem to be familiar with the term rebuilding year. But if the big signings keep working out like they have been lately, the Yankees are going to have some soul-searching to do.
They're going to have to go back and look at what got them to 14 consecutive playoff berths and four World Series titles. And they're going to have to do it again. But as long as the Steinbrenners are around, that's not going to happen. The blind spending and blunt arrogance will continue in the Bronx.