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The Yankees made the first big splashes of the Hot Stove Season with the $161 million signing of CC Sabathia and $82 million contract for A.J. Burnett. The signings were huge for the Bombers (and not just because of CC’s size) because they addressed their biggest weakness of the 2008 season.
The Yankees had the offense highlighted by Alex Rodriguez, Bobby Abreu, and Derek Jeter. The bullpen was solid with Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera at the back end of games. Their biggest issue was handing leads to those guys.
The Yankees allowed 727 runs, better only than Baltimore in the East. Their 4.28 ERA, 4.58 Starter ERA, and almost every other major pitching stat, was also second to last among the teams in the division. Their rotation last season consisted of Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte, who were the only starters to make more than 30 starts. Mussina has retired and Pettitte is an unsigned free agent, leaving a huge whole in what was a shaky rotation.
They were backed up by Darrell Rasner, Chien-Ming Wang, Sidney Ponson, and Chamberlain who all made over 10 starts. Rasner was unimpressive in his 20 starts, but in the rotation out of necessity. Wang, their potential ace, was hurt early in the season and missed almost three quarters of it. Ponson, a mid-season acquisition, was a Ranger castoff as he battled more off-field issues coupled with poor appearances. Chamberlain was an effective option, but was bounced between the rotation and bullpen.
Seven others started a game for the Yankees as inconsistency and ineffectiveness were the hallmarks. Promising youngsters Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy were both flops in their first season in the Bronx. Carl Pavano finished his Yankee career, wrapping up one of the worst contracts of all time.
Sabathia is the perfect solution to their problems as he can eat innings, completing 10 of his 35 starts, including five shutouts. Over his 253 innings, he struck out 251 and had a 2.70 ERA and 1.15 WHIP while going 17-10 for Cleveland and Milwaukee. He is durable, making at least 28 starts in each of his eight seasons, winning 17 or more three times for mostly poor teams. He is a bonafide No. 1 pitcher who will give the bullpen plenty of rest, making them more effective over the course of the season.
Burnett parlayed his best and healthiest season into a rich contract. The question with him has never been about talent, it has always been how many starts he will miss due to injury. He made 34 starts last season, a career high, and has made 27 or more only four times in his 10 seasons. His ERA of 4.07 was a touch high, but he did strike out 231 batters in 221 innings, both totals also career highs. The five years seems a little touchy for someone with the history of Burnett, but he will help solve the rotation problems as well as his numbers indicate he can have success.
With the Yankees addressing their most significant weakness, it will make baseball’s toughest division even tougher. If the teams beat each other up enough, the division as a whole could take a hit, allowing the Wild Card to come out of the Central or West. The two-headed monster the Yankees have now is formidable, but does not vault them to the top as the last three spots in the rotation still remain a question. However, the Yanks may not be done as rumors swirl they are interested in Derek Lowe as well. The Red Sox have the offense, especially if they land Mark Teixeira, to knock them around, but the Yankees’ moves are making for another fun summer.