It's a whole new ballclub
As everybody knows, Andy Pettitte will not be returning to the New York Yankees in 2004. In all likelihood, he will be replaced by Kevin Brown. Also, Roger Clemens will not return to New York, although it sounds like he might actually return to the baseball field. Clemens has already been replaced in the rotation by Javier Vazquez.
I'm not going to spend a lot of time talking about whether or not I think the Yankees rotation is better today than it was at the end of the season. Aaron Gleeman made an excellent post today talking about the situation and Rob Neyer's column from yesterday was also about New York's new rotation.
Both Aaron and Rob think the Yankees are better off with Vazquez and Brown than with Pettitte and Clemens and I would have to agree with them IF Brown stays healthy. Given his injury history, that's a big if, but New York will still have a pretty good rotation even if Brown goes down.
However, despite the fact that the team may very well be better than it was before, many of the fans are unhappy. Mike Francessa sounded like he was on the verge of tears yesterday on "Mike and the Mad Dog." My best friend is a huge Yankees fan and he has a Tino Martinez jersey that he always wears for important games.
However, he wanted to get a new jersey, and he didn't know who to get. He doesn't want to follow the flock and get Derek Jeter and he doesn't really like most of the new Yankees. I attended game two of the ALCS with him and you may remember that Pettitte won that game to even the series. My friend said to me that if Pettitte re-signed with the Yankees, he would be purchasing a Pettitte jersey. Obviously, Pettitte did not re-sign, and my friend called me yesterday to ask if I was watching "Mike and the Mad Dog." So, I asked him whose jersey he was going to get now.
His answer: "I'm not getting any jersey for this goddamn team this year."
The problem, if you can call it that, is that Yankees fans have been able to have their cake and eat it too for a long team. They have had a very good, very expensive team, but it has been a largely homegrown team with a lot of players who are very easy to root for. Now the team is still very good and very expensive, but it is no longer largely homegrown and it is no longer stocked with players who are easy to root for.
There are only four players left from the four World Series dynasty: Jeter, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams and Mariano Rivera. Those four and Alfonso Soriano are pretty much the only homegrown players on the team.
The entire starting rotation has been shipped in either via free agency (Mike Mussina, Jose Contreras, David Wells and Jon Lieber) or trades (Brown and Vazquez). If Williams ends up moving to DH, then the outfield may be Gary Sheffield, Kenny Lofton and Hideki Matsui, which would take some getting used to from Yankees fans. And most New Yorkers seem to have very little affection for corner infielders Jason Giambi and Aaron Boone.
So, this isn't a team that most Yankees fans are going to get all warm and fuzzy about right away. Also, for the first time in a long time, most Yankees fans don't seem to be confident about the team. In the past, even when the Yankees struggled, their fans wouldn't worry because they could tell themselves things like, "We're the Yankees, we've got players who know how to win and they'll put it together."
I'm not saying that helps the team or hurts it, but if this Yankees team starts off slowly, they are not going to get a break from the fans or the media. And while I don't believe in chemistry or anything like that, things can snowball if an entire city gets down on a team and there are a whole bunch of new players who don't mesh really well.
I definitely think the Yankees are still the team to beat in the American League, but they are more vulnerable than they have been in the past. The team is very old and there are (or will be before too much longer) a lot of players who have never played in New York before. Also, the team doesn't seem to have the full support of the city behind it yet. Finally, it certainly seems like George Steinbrenner is running the show, and he hasn't always made the best decisions in the past.
One thing is for sure, recent events have made a statement I made earlier seem even more likely. Within the next five years, the Yankees will either collapse or have a payroll in the $300-million range...