The major league-leading $200 million payroll, the offseason spending spree and the roster that reads like an All-Star roll call suggest the New York Yankees will be back in the postseason hunt in 2009.
A team needs more than just talent and a hefty payroll to get to the playoffs, though. The 2008 version of the Yankees proved that.
That's why Yankees second-year manager Joe Girardi canceled a February workout and took his players to a pool hall for an all-day billiards tournament.
Team unity, thy name is Yankee.
"We're trying to stress togetherness and the need to come together as a team," Girardi said this spring. "When you bring in new people, as we do all the time here, it's important for everybody to feel like you're all on the same page."
The goal for the Yankees is simple: re-establish the dominance of the late 1990s, when they won four World Series in five years (1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000).
In 2008, the Yankees finished 89-73, eight games behind the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East and two games back of the archrival Boston Red Sox for the wild card. It broke the franchise's streak of 13 straight playoff appearances.
"I think mainly guys were just mad. I know I was mad - mad that we missed the playoffs and mad that I wasn't able to be here to help," said catcher Jorge Posada, who missed more than 100 games last season because of injury. "If you've been here for the past 10 or so years, like me ... you're used to making the playoffs."
To enhance its postseason chances, this offseason the team spent $423.5 million on starting pitchers CC Sabathia (seven years, $161 million) and A.J. Burnett (five years, $82.5 million) and first baseman Mark Teixeira (eight years, $180 million).
Because they didn't re-sign Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu and former Oriole Mike Mussina, the Yankees' overall payroll for 2009 actually decreased. But their expectations for making the playoffs are higher, if possible.
"There's always pressure here. If we'd made the playoffs [last year] and won the World Series, there would still be pressure to do it again," Girardi said. "Nobody in that room is happy with the way last year ended."
Sabathia and Burnett lead a rotation that includes two-time 19-game winner Chien-Ming Wang, two-time All-Star Andy Pettitte and young fireballer Joba Chamberlain. Last year, the Yankees' starters had a collective 4.58 ERA, ninth of 14 AL teams.
"I don't see how anybody could have a better rotation than what we have," Posada said. "I love our rotation."
Sabathia, the huge 28-year-old left-hander who was 17-10 for the Cleveland Indians and Milwaukee Brewers last year, hasn't pitched on such a large stage. But he's looking forward to his first start in pinstripes, Opening Day, April 6, at Camden Yards.
"Everybody's made me feel welcome, and I feel pretty relaxed, actually," Sabathia said in the spring. "I'm sure it'll get a little more intense ... and I'm sure there's going to be pressure. But I'm not worried."
The Yankees' offense, seventh in runs and third in on-base percentage in 2008, should get a boost from having Teixeira, the Mount St. Joseph grad, in the middle of the order.
New York won't have perennial Most Valuable Player candidate Alex Rodriguez (March hip surgery) in the lineup until at least mid-May. But Teixeira, for one, is confident the Yankees will be OK while A-Rod mends.
"You don't replace a hitter like that, a player like that," Teixeira said. "But we have plenty of guys who can knock in runs, and with our pitching staff, I think we're going to be right there. We'll hold down the fort until Alex gets back."
NEW YORK YANKEES
Manager: Joe Girardi
2008 record: 89-73
Estimated payroll: $200 million
Dan Connolly's predicted finish in the AL East: Second place
1. Derek Jeter, SS
2. Johnny Damon, LF
3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
4. Alex Rodriguez*, 3B
5. Hideki Matsui, DH
6. Jorge Posada, C
7. Robinson Cano, 2B
8. Xavier Nady, RF
9. Brett Gardner, CF
*Injured, out until mid-May
LHP CC Sabathia
RHP A.J. Burnett
RHP Chien-Ming Wang
LHP Andy Pettitte
RHP Joba Chamberlain
RHP Mariano Rivera
Friday: The talented Blue Jays are hoping to surprise the division.
Sunday: 2009 baseball season preview includes a story on the growing relationship between the Orioles' Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts, an analysis of the Orioles' pitching staff, a look at the national baseball picture and more.
Monday, 4:05 p.m.
TV: Ch. 13, MASN
Radio: 105.7 FM