It had been nine years since the New York Yankees tasted the champagne, but after missing the playoffs in 2008, they bounced back to win their 27th World Series title a year ago.
Last winter the Yankees did what they do best, and that is spend money. And spend they did, as they paid out a whopping $423 million for three players in CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira.
Armed with high expectations, things got off to a slow start last year for New York. The team struggled without Alex Rodriguez, who after an offseason of steroid revelations, missed the first month of the season recovering from hip surgery. The Yankees, though, caught fire once the three-time AL MVP returned and went on to win a major-league high 103 games.
The Yankees then steam-rolled their way through the postseason, sweeping Minnesota in the ALDS before waiting out the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in six games of the ALCS. New York was put to the test in the World Series, but in the end the Yankees were just too much for the Philadelphia Phillies, who succumbed in six games.
Surprisingly, it was Rodriguez who paced the Yankees offensively in the postseason. After hearing for years that he could not hit in the clutch, the third baseman batted .365 with six home runs and 18 RBI in his 15 postseason games.
New York had a quiet offseason by its standards, but did make some changes, most notably acquiring outfielder Curtis Granderson from the Detroit Tigers as part of a three-team blockbuster.
Having Granderson in the mix made a few other decisions easier, as the team did not meet the demands of free agent Johnny Damon and allowed World Series MVP Hideki Matsui to leave as a free agent for Anaheim. Not to mention starting outfielder Melky Cabrera was unloaded to Atlanta in the deal that returned pitcher Javier Vazquez to the Bronx.
Vazquez gives the Yankees four legitimate starters who could realistically provide them with 800 innings and 60-plus wins.
(103-59) - First Place (AL East)
Key Offseason additions
Curtis Granderson (OF); Chan Ho Park (RHP); Marcus Thames (OF); Randy Winn (OF); Nick Johnson (DH/1B)
Key Offseason subtractions
Johnny Damon (OF); Phil Coke (LHP); Hideki Matsui (DH); Ian Kennedy (RHP); Chad Gaudin (RHP)
When you talk about the greatest infields of all time, the 2010 New York Yankees will be in the discussion.
It is the same unit as a year ago, with the only difference being that Rodriguez will hit the ground running on Opening Day rather than joining the team a month into the season. Rodriguez, whose 2009 season was delayed because of hip surgery, is coming off another outstanding campaign and an even better postseason, as he quieted his critics with big hit after big hit in October.
Nobody benefited more from Rodriguez's return last season than first baseman Teixeira, whose struggles seemed to evaporate once A-Rod took his normal spot in the four-hole. Teixeira tied for the league lead with 39 home runs and topped the AL with 122 RBI while winning his third Gold Glove.
Second baseman Robinson Cano often gets overlooked with all the star power in the Yankees lineup, but he may turn out to be the best hitter of them all. After a down year in 2008, Cano hit .320 with 25 home runs and 85 RBI. However, he will have to hit better with runners in scoring position after hitting just .207 in such situations last season. He should get plenty of opportunities to improve on that number, as he'll slide up to fifth in the lineup behind Rodriguez.
Of course, the Yankee lineup all starts at the top with captain Derek Jeter, who last year became the franchise's all-time hits leader. The 35-year-old shortstop produced one of the finest seasons of his career in 2009, as he batted .334 with 18 home runs, 66 RBI and 107 runs scored.
The biggest non-story in Yankee camp this spring is Jeter's expiring contract. If anyone on the planet actually thinks he would leave the Bronx after this season, or that the Yankees would let him leave, they need to have their heads examined. Jeter will sign an extension at some point during the year that will make him a Yankee for the rest of his career.
Catcher Jorge Posada remained relatively healthy last season after an injury- plagued 2008 and belted 22 home runs with 81 RBI while hitting .285. He will turn 39 this season and will likely see more action as the team's designated hitter.
Speaking of the DH, the Yankees brought back one of their own in former farmhand Nick Johnson. He made his big league debut with the Yanks in 2001 but was shipped to Montreal two years later as part of the deal that landed Vazquez in the Bronx the first time.
Last year Johnson split time with Washington and Florida, batting a combined .291 in 133 games with a .426 on-base percentage while drawing 99 walks. He popped eight homers, collected 24 doubles and drove in 62 runs.
New York's biggest acquisition this offseason was the speedy Granderson, who was picked up from Detroit as part of a three-team, seven-player blockbuster.
Granderson played in 160 games for the Tigers last season and hit a career-low .249 despite belting a career-high 30 homers. He also drove in 71 runs, scored 91 times and stole 20 bases while making the All-Star team for the first time in his career.
The 29-year-old has struggled against lefties in his career, though, and hit just .183 versus southpaws a year ago.
The Yankees, of course, are hoping that Granderson reverts back to the form he showed in 2007, when he made history by becoming just the second player in the big leagues with at least 30 doubles, 20 triples, 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases in a single season.
Girardi, though, has yet to announce whether or not Granderson will be in left or center field.
Whichever position Granderson fills, Brett Gardner will be given the chance to play everyday and fill the other. Gardner split time with Cabrera in the outfield last season and hit .270 with 26 stolen bases. With this lineup, all Gardner has to do is get on base once in a while and play solid defense and he will stick around.
Right fielder Nick Swisher provided tremendous power from the bottom of the lineup last season, belting 28 home runs with 82 RBI. He has a tendency to be a little too aggressive at times in the field, often making it harder on himself than it needs to be.
Sabathia was worth his weight in gold for the Yankees last season, earning every penny of the $161 million deal he signed prior to the start of the year. After a slow start, the big lefty really got it going in the second half and ended the year 19-8 with a 3.37 ERA.
Sabathia, who was 3-1 in his five postseason starts, was every bit the workhorse the Yankees needed, as he ranked fourth in the league in innings pitched (230) and held opponents to the third-lowest batting average in the AL at .232.
No. 2 starter A.J. Burnett is the poster boy for inconsistency. At times he looks like the best pitcher in baseball, and at times he is just awful. Burnett battled his way to a 13-9 campaign to go along with a 4.04 ERA.
Lefty Andy Pettitte is back on a one-year deal after an injury-free 2009. Pettitte bounced back from the first non-winning season of his career in 2008 to go 14-8 with a 4.16 ERA a year ago. He also started every clinching game for the Yankees last postseason.
Last year the Yankees used three starters in the postseason because they had to. This year that shouldn't be the case, as they have a 2009 NL Cy Young candidate filling that fourth spot this year in the righty Vazquez. The 33- year-old won 15 games with a 2.87 ERA for the Braves last season.
Vazquez, who was an All-Star in his one year with the Yankees in 2004, has recorded 200 or more innings in nine of the last 10 seasons. He will also be looking to erase the bad taste he left in some Yankee fans mouths when he left, as it was Vazquez who served up the grand slam to the then-Red Sox member Damon in Boston's historic Game 7 win in the Bronx back in 2004.
You can make the argument that the Yankees' fortunes changed last season when they inserted right-hander Phil Hughes into the bullpen, where he was as valuable a setup guy as there was in the league and went 5-1 with a 1.40 ERA in 44 relief appearances. Hughes beat out a handful of candidates, including Joba Chamberlain, for the fifth starter job this spring.
Once the crown jewel of the organization, Hughes has shown flashes of brilliance in his limited time as a starter. He has also shown plenty of inconsistency, though, and is just 8-9 with a 5.22 ERA in 28 starts.
There are almost no words left to describe just how great Mariano Rivera is. The 40-year-old closer had another brilliant campaign in 2009, as he saved 44 games while pitching to a 1.76 ERA.
Rivera, who also surpassed 500 saves for his career last season, was again sensational in the playoffs, where he allowed just one earned run and worked more than one inning in six of his 12 playoff appearances.
Fans in New York have been clamoring for Chamberlain to return to the bullpen since he burst onto the scene in 2007. Armed with a 100 mph fastball, Chamberlain pitched to a 0.38 ERA in 19 appearances that season. All along, though, the plan was to make him a starter. Well after two seasons of dealing with the "Joba Rules" with him as a starter, Chamberlain will likely once again serve as Rivera's primary setup man.
New York's bullpen has a chance to be real good this season. Aside from the aforementioned duo, righties Chan Ho Park, Alfredo Aceves, Sergio Mitre and David Robinson will all be called upon at some point. If there is a weakness, it is the fact that Damaso Marte is the only lefty in the group. Girardi, though, thinks Robertson will be able to get lefties out, as he held them to a .189 clip a year ago.
Girardi's bench isn't as deep as it has been in recent years. Marcus Thames offers some right-handed pop off the bench and can also play the outfield. However, if the need arises Randy Winn will be the team's fourth outfielder.
Slick-fielding switch-hitter Ramiro Pena will serve as a jack-of-all-trades for Girardi in the infield. He can also play a little center field in a pinch.
Catcher Francisco Cervelli played an important role on last year's team and will serve an even bigger role this year as Girardi looks to curtail Posada's time behind the plate.
This is a team that is built to win in October. With Vazquez, the pitching staff is deeper than it was a year ago. The bullpen is as good as it has ever been, especially if Chamberlain is the pitcher he was in 2007. And that lineup is perhaps the best in baseball. If you want to find a negative, I guess you can point to the age on the team. Pettitte, Jeter and Rodriguez are all getting up there, Posada is 38 and you have to think that Rivera is going to slow down at some point, right? Honestly, though, that it is just nitpicking. Obviously injuries can derail any team, but no other team has the resources to overcome such injuries. This will be a 162-game exhibition for the Yankees until their season starts with what will likely be another deep run through October.