Keeping stars, Yankees look strong

Keeping stars, Yanks look strong

NEW YORK -- On the October afternoon the Yankees began cleaning out their lockers, there was just about as much uncertainty in the Bronx air as at any point in recent history.

Not only was the manager's office likely demanding a new tenant, but the Yankees had many key free agents who might have worn pinstripes for their final times when the Indians sprayed bubbly across the field -- Alex Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte among them.

Two months later, the Yankees can chuckle and bask in pulling off a clean sweep of keeping all four of those coveted players. That would have seemed a virtual uncertainty in the bitter moments after the American League Division Series loss.

"I'm not surprised the club stepped up," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said recently. "I think that's what the Yankees have always done. They have always stepped up and tried to give the organization -- the fans, the players in the room, the coaches, the managers -- the best players they can give them."

It wasn't inexpensive, but the Yankees considered it necessary. With Bobby Abreu also retained on a one-year option, the Yankees have committed more than $400 million to keeping the same components of a roster that lost in four games to Cleveland and has not escaped the first round of the playoffs since 2004.

"They're trying to build a good team," Abreu said. "We have a lot of veteran guys that know what to do. They have a lot of time in the league. I think the moves they wanted to do right now are the right moves to make the team stronger."

In the Bronx, optimism reigns, and for good reason. The Yankees still have the firepower to contend in the perennially strong AL East, retaining their thumpers and wielding so much offensive talent that veteran Hideki Matsui -- a 100 RBI man in four of the last five seasons -- might not even crack the starting lineup because of a roster crunch.

Appointed the franchise's 32nd field manager after an intense search, Girardi is inheriting a clubhouse with which he is intimately familiar, not only as a player but also having watched development up close as a broadcaster for the team's YES Network last season.

That means that, when Yankees pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 14, he'll need little introduction to the likes of Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy.

 Season in Preview
A lot can change by Opening Day, but as 2007 becomes 2008, this is who is projected to take the field for the Yankees:
  LFJohnny Damon
  SSDerek Jeter
  RFBobby Abreu
  3BAlex Rodriguez
  CJorge Posada
  DHJason Giambi
  2BRobinson Cano
  CFMelky Cabrera
  1BShelley Duncan
  SPChien-Ming Wang
  SPAndy Pettitte
  SPMike Mussina
  SPJoba Chamberlain
  SPPhil Hughes
  CLMariano Rivera
Schedules: Spring | Regular season
Tickets: Spring | Regular season
More previews:

The Yankees are not only banking on those talented young arms for their future, but also to help ensure the mission statement displayed broadly across Girardi's back -- No. 27 -- becomes a reality in the search for the franchise's 27th World Series title.

"Time will tell," Girardi said. "I mean, these kids are talented. There's no doubt that they are talented young pitchers.

"But they are being asked to perform at a high level, like all of the other players in that room were asked to perform at a high level at some time, whether it was Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera or Andy Pettitte or Alex Rodriguez or Robinson Cano.

"They are going to get a chance to take that next step."

Grading on a curve: On a scale of one to 10, the Yankees get an 8 for achieving the near-impossible in retaining A-Rod, Rivera, Posada and Pettitte. That would rise to a perfect score if they can end all the flirtation with the Minnesota Twins and finally acquire Johan Santana.

Arrivals: RHP Jonathan Albaladejo, RHP LaTroy Hawkins.

Departures: RHP Tyler Clippard, 1B Andy Phillips, RHP Luis Vizcaino.

The Road Ahead: The Yankees confirmed what everybody suspected and admitted that they haven't closed the door on a blockbuster trade for Santana. If that never comes to fruition, the team can go forward with its young core of pitching. Adding Hawkins to the bullpen mix replaces Vizcaino, but other than that, the Yankees may still want to bring in contenders to battle for roles in Spring Training. The Giants have already asked about Matsui, and with $26 million remaining and no clear-cut role, he could be a movable piece.

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.