The Yankees have finally figured out not only how to outspend the rest of baseball, but how to spend wisely. And the truth, hard as it may be for some to admit, is that the Yankees are one victory away from their first World Series appearance since 2003.
They have been an easy team to hate. They have thrown baseball’s payroll structure out of whack, coming into this season, for example, not only with the highest payroll in baseball, but more than $50 million bigger than the nearly $150 million payroll of the Mets, who ranked No. 2.
And the Yankee haters have been able to take joy in the fact that despite how much money they have spent, they haven’t been able to buy a world championship since 2000.
The Yankees have been home stoking the fireplace in late October while their archnemesis, Boston, has won two world championships since the Yankees last celebrated, and Philadelphia, St. Louis, the Chicago White Sox, Florida, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Arizona have all hung up a world championship banner, too.
The Yankees didn’t even get to the postseason last year, and they were victims of first-round eliminations the three postseasons before that. They only won four postseason games the last four years.
And then along comes 2009.
The Yankees not only spent more money than anybody else, but they spent it wiser.
General manager Brian Cashman and his lieutenants have, in the last few years, learned from their mistakes, and are ready to cash in.
Their pending clinch in the ALCS against the Angels underscores why the Yankees are prepared to return to the Fall Classic.
It was lefty CC Sabathia, a free-agent signee during the offseason, who dominated the Angels for eight innings in Tuesday’s Game 4 victory. On Thursday night it is A.J. Burnett, the other free-agent starting pitcher the Yankees signed last winter, who gets the chance to wrap up the AL pennant tonight.
And these are not postseason wonders.
Sabathia, given that seven-year, $161 million deal last offseason, is 3-0 with a 1.19 ERA in his three postseason starts, including that eight inning domination on only three days of rest on Tuesday, after a 19-8, 3.37 ERA regular season that brought him Cy Young consideration.
Burnett, who signed a five-year, $82.5 million free-agent deal, was 13-9 with a 4.04 regular season ledge before seeing the Yankees win his first two postseasons starts, even though he doesn’t have a decision to go with his 2.19 ERA.
What should scare the rest of baseball is after a run of free-agent blunders since their last world championship, which saw the Yankees waste multiyear deals worth multimillions on the likes of Carl Pavano, Kyle Farnsworth, Jaret Wright, Steve Karsay and Luis Vizcaino, the Yankees appear to have figured it out.
Knowing how to spend money is every bit as important as being able to spend money.
It is why a Tampa Bay, despite having the second lowest payroll in baseball, stunned the rest of the AL by winning the AL East a year ago.
It is why the Toronto Blue Jays stumbled into oblivion this year, under the guidance of recently dismissed general manager J.P. Riccardi, and deals like the seven-year, $126 million albatross he gave Vernon Wells.
And it is why this year, the Yankees are a win away from a best-of-seven showdown with NL champion Philadelphia — another team that showed it was willing to make that extra effort to add that missing ingredient to get a shot at becoming the first NL team to win back-to-back world championships since the 1975-76.
The Phillies landed Cliff Lee to fill out their rotation at the end of July when other teams balked, including the Dodgers and the Angels. Lee followed up, going 7-4 in 12 regular-season starts for the Phillies, but going 2-0 in the postseason starts and allowing only two earned runs in 24 1/3 innings.
The Dodgers, who Philadelphia knocked off in the NLCS, hemmed and hawed and found themselves stuck with the likes of Arizona giveaway Jon Garland, who didn’t even make the NLCS roster, and NLCS elimination loser Vicente Padilla, who Texas was so anxious to unload that it released him despite still having to pay him more than $4 million.
As well as Padilla did initially pitch for the Dodgers, when they needed him the most, on Wednesday against the Phillies, he gave up six runs and never retired a batter in the fourth.
The Angels passed on the price tag that Lee carried from Cleveland, hoping to outsmart Tampa Bay by taking on erratic Scott Kazmir. The Angels should have known better. The Rays, after all, were still in the midst of the AL postseason hunt when they unloaded Kazmir, who has given up nine runs in 10 innings in two postseason starts, both of which the Angels lost.
It has been an expensive lesson for the Yankees, who have led the majors in payroll for 11 consecutive seasons. During their five-year World Series drought, they opened the season with an average payroll of $197 million, more than any payroll ever paid by a team other their own.
This year, is appears the Yankees have learned from their past mistakes.