New York Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman and team president Randy Levine said it was not the right time to discuss the plans for next season. When that last out was made Wednesday evening in the Bronx Johnny Damon and Hideki Mastsui could have seen their last days in pinstripes.
Yes the Yankees deserve the right to cherish and enjoy their nine year futility to get there again, the right to call them world champions of baseball, number 27 the most for any professional sports franchise. But in baseball, as we all know, it is getting harder to build a dynasty and win consecutive championships.
As they received their Keys to the City of New York on the steps of City Hall Friday, the owner Hal Steinbrenner and manager Joe Girardi made their commitment to the fans that they will be in the same place next year Easier to say than done, and they are well aware that the economics of baseball will keep them competitive, but for how long?
Matsui, the World Series MVP has been regulated to a designated hotter role playing with two wobbly knees that presents an issue. Damon, who had a season for the ages in the Bronx gets a year older The issue is will the Yankees be willing to give multi million dollar contracts to a team that looks to get younger and not older?
Matsui and Damon become the speculation as a short off-season begins. Spring training convenes down in Tampa Florida in about 94 days. Sandwiched in between are Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and pitcher Andy Pettitte. Now with five World Series rings they are the core of four so often discussed and associated with New York Yankees championship history.
Pettitte showed he is valuable as a postseason pitcher, now the all-time leader with 18 wins pitching the clinching games against the Twins in the ALDS, Angels in the ALCS and getting the win in the big one Wednesday over the defending champion Phillies. He becomes another project for Cashman and company. If not the Yankees, with all of their money will find and purchase another starter to work after CC Sabathia and A.J, Burnett.
There is no telling how much longer age will catch up to that core. Jeter still shows range at shortstop and always has quality at bats as the catalyst leadoff man. Posada overcame his injury plagued season of 2008, and there was already talk that he could be feeling the pain of a 162 game season and the long postseason.
Does Posada fit in the DH role, assuming Matsui is not re-signed? First base is not an option with Mark Teixiera, one of the half billion dollar acquisitions that Cashman purchased secured there for the long run. Rivera once again put a staple on being the best postseason pitcher of all-time.
Afterwards Rivera revealed he had painful ribs, probably because Girardi had to call on him twice for six-out saves. “I can go another five years,” said Rivera in the victorious and wild celebration, in that Yankees clubhouse early Thursday morning. Truthfully, how much longer can Rivera be, this dominating at 40 years of age?
As for Pettitte, he deserves the chance to return, that is if Cashman and company make the offer. They took a risk after the disappointing end of 2008 and Pettitte delivered with his one-year deal that included incentives. If Pettitte decides that the fifth ring is enough and returns home to Houston, the Yankees go shopping and become the lead runners to acquire free agent John Lackey of the Angels.
In the equation, again is Joba Chamerlain. He is much better coming out of the pen and if the Yankees play their cards right he could be groomed to be the successor for Rivera as the closer. And Phillip Hughes becomes the other option to start again, in the event Pettitte does not return, or becomes the set up man for Rivera as the Yankees begin their title defense and try and get number 28.
So the process begins now for Cashman and company in the Bronx. Matsui deserves that chance to be a part of possibly building another Yankees dynasty, as does Damon but for how much and how long?
The Yankees are World Champions again and anything less to them is a failure. They have to look at getting younger but why break up the nucleus of this 2009 team that may have been as good as the championship 1998 team that won 114 games?
Even with the Yankees it comes down to baseball economics.
Latino pride a part of Yankees world title and celebration: There they were in the victorious New York Yankees clubhouse, in the early hours of Thursday morning, and now world champions for the first time. A contingent of young Major League Baseball players of Latino decent, also celebrating their heritage with teammates down the Canyon of Heroes the next day.
“It was something special and a moment I will never forget,” said Ramiro Pena the 22-year old native of Monterrey Mexico. He got the call during the season off and on from Triple A and became a valuable contributor to this championship Yankees team. And though he was not a factor much in the Yankees six game World Series win over the Philadelphia Phillies, Pena is one of the elite few.
Getting the ring and calling yourself a world champion only happens to very few. “Yeah” he said in the champagne soaked clubhouse moments after the Yankees clinched their sports best 27th championship. “This is so special and for my people too it means so much.”
Extra special also for Pena because he celebrated with his mother and father in the clubhouse with the flag of Mexico draped around his body. He boarded the team buses in the Bronx early Friday morning after a long night of celebrating and then waved to the millions gathered along lower Broadway.
The Key to the City was also presented to Pena, along with all of his Yankees teammates on the steps of City Hall. “So awesome,” he said leaving the Yankees clubhouse Saturday morning for the last time. A desolate clubhouse now as players packed their bags earlier, or had their possessions shipped to their respective homes in what now becomes a very short off season.
Spring training will convene in Tampa Florida in a little less than 96 days. Pena is assured to be there and hopes to be a New York Yankee for the long haul. “I hope that can happen,” he said. “They are great teammates and helped me so much.” He batted .287 with 17 runs, six doubles and 10 runs batted in and filled in at third, second and short in three separate stints this season.
The veterans, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada, two of the “core of four” now with five World Series titles were used to the moment of a celebratory clubhouse and the victorious parade. Jose Molina, the catcher for pitcher A.J., Burnett had one ring with the Angels 2002 team But it never gets old, especially after taking the championship back home after nine years of futility for the core..
So there were those many moments the past few days for Pena, Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera, Alfredo Aceves, Damaso Marte, Sergio Mitre, Francisco Cervilli and Francisco Guzman to cherish the moments. They all represented a diversity of Latino pride from Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. All will now have stories to tell and are of the elite few who will proudly wear a ring that signifies the 27th World Series championship of the New York Yankees.
Perhaps we don’t understand the significance, those moments they will continue to cherish in the months ahead as they head home to celebrate with other family and friends who could not be with them. And if this is their only chance at championship fame, which is never a rarity when donning the pinstripes, well they represent the Latino population with plenty of pride and accomplishment.
e-mail Rich Mancuso: [email protected]