When the Yankees open spring training for pitchers and catchers today, a couple of familiar faces will be missing from the complex in Tampa, Fla.
No Jorge Posada, who announced his retirement last month. No A.J. Burnett, who has been traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for a pair of minor-leaguers in what amounts to a salary dump.
The Mets will open their camp a day later and about $50 million in payroll lighter than when they started last season. But more about the team from Flushing tomorrow.
For now, look closely at how the Yankees handled the departure of a potential Hall of Fame catcher and their one-time No. 2 starting pitcher and you’ll begin to understand why the Yankees are perennial contenders to win the World Series.
It’s no secret that the emotional Posada was upset by the way he was utilized (pushed out) last season by manager Joe Girardi and/or general manager Brian Cashman. There was talk about him finishing his career with another team, but in the end Posada retired as a Yankee in a dignified ceremony attended by best friends and legendary teammates Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera.
There were no harsh words, then or since. And any ruffled feathers have been smoothed over, at least in public.
Unlike Peyton Manning in Indianapolis, who has been told that the Colts will draft their new quarterback with the top pick in the NFL draft, there was no hot-shot rookie ready to take Posada’s job. In fact, the Yankees traded their young phenom Jesus Montero in the offseason to Seattle, which plans to start Montero behind the plate and bat him in the middle of the order.
The Yankees had long ago decided that Posada’s days as a catcher were over. And he didn’t fit the role that they want from the designated hitter spot in their lineup, a sort of roving rest stop for a couple of aging mega-stars.
In place of Posada, they’ll sign a part-time DH to bat from the left side. Raul Ibanez, a free agent who most recently played in Philadelphia, is the most likely candidate. And there’s also Eric Chavez, another free agent who the Yankees know quite well. He could play third base and allow Alex Rodriguez to get more at-bats as the DH. From the right side, both A-Rod and Jeter can expect more time at DH this year to save some wear and tear on their bodies.
No, the Yankees wanted Posada to go away – preferably as having played for only one organization – and they got their wish. The next time you’ll hear from Jorge will be around Old Timers Day, just the way the organization wanted it.
The Burnett case is even more telling of how the Yankees operate.
For decades, fans of other major league teams have complained that the reason the Yankees win is that they spend more than anyone else. Numbers don’t lie, they say, pointing out that the Yankees will again have the highest payroll in baseball this season.
But there’s more to it than spending. Sometimes you have to know when to cut your losses. The Yankees make mistakes like everyone else. But what sets them apart from other teams in professional sports is their willingness to erase those mistakes when they happen.
They probably held on to the underachieving Burnett longer than the George Steinbrenner-era Yankees would have, but in the end New York shed Burnett’s contract before it could turn into an embarrassment this spring.
There will be no stories written about whether or not Burnett would accept a demotion to the minor leagues if/when he lost his spot in the rotation. No stories about Burnett’s ability or willingness to pitch in relief.
How many times did Mets fans have to hear that Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo were still with the club only because ownership was unwilling to eat such large contracts?
Each of them stayed with the team way too long, denied someone else a roster spot and contributed next to nothing on the field as their playing days wound down. By the time both were finally jettisoned, it no longer mattered.
Neither Perez nor Castillo would have lasted a month in the Bronx. One-time Mets closer Armando Benitez only lasted two and a half weeks there before he was shipped out of town.
So the Yankees will open camp today for pitchers and catchers without any of the drama that would have been associated with either Posada or Burnett. It’s no longer the George Steinbrenner-era Yankees, all right. It’s just about baseball now, and that’s not a bad thing. Especially in February.