A Brief Look At How The Yankees Championship Teams Were Built (Pt. 15)
by Paul Semendinger
In this article, we continue to look at how each of the Yankees’ championship teams were assembled. This article, focusing on the 2009 Yankees, is part fifteen in this series.
The statistics I will share in this exercise are the typical counting stats of the time - batting average/home runs/runs batted in (and for pitchers, wins, losses, ERA). These will serve as a quick guide to see how that player performed over those years. (I used Baseball-Reference.com to determine all these stats and the transaction data. Some other information came from the SABR Biography Project.)
Please note that this is not an exhaustive study, it is only a start. More and deeper research is welcome.
The 2009 Yankees
The 2009 Yankees went a remarkable 103-59 to win the American League East.
The Yankees then defeated the Minnesota Twins (3-0) in the Division Series.
The Yankees went past the LA Angels of Anaheim (4-2) in the American League Championship Series.
The Yankees then defeated the Philadelphia Phillies (4-2) in the World Series.
Catcher - The primary catcher was still the home grown Jorge Posada, a member of the “Core Four.” In 2009, Posada hit .285/22/81. 2009 was Posada’s last really good year. He retired after the 2011 season.
First Base - Free Agent Mark Teixeira came to the Yankees in 2009 and had a huge year batting .292/39/122. While Teixeira had some very good years for the Yankees (he would hit over 30 homers in each of the next two seasons plus one other), he never came close to a year like this again, never again batting over .256. After 2011, Tex was frequently injured and never reached even 125 games played in any season.
Second Base - Robinson Cano, a home grown Yankee, had a great year in 2009 batting .320/25/85. The next year, he put up almost identical numbers (.319/29/109). He was a superstar for the Yankees, but was offered a huge contract to play in Seattle after the 2013 season. One Cano left, the Yankees had a gap at second base for a least the next half-decade.
Shortstop - Home grown Derek Jeter, the greatest Yankees position player of this generation, had a spectacular 2009 batting .334/18/66. D.J. would play five more seasons, but hit over .300 once more (to be fair, in one of those non-.300 seasons, he batted .297).
Third Base - The Yankees acquired superstar Alex Rodriguez before the 2004 season. He came via a huge trade with the Texas Rangers that sent Alfonso Soriano to Texas. A-Rod was a bigger than life presence on the Yankees in this era. He had baseball’s huge salary and then the Yankees extended his contract in 2007. Rodriguez batted .286/30/100 in 2009 helping lead the Yankees to his one, and only World Series.
Left Field - Johnny Damon, one of the members of the Red Sox who ended the “Curse of the Bambino” in 2004, came to the Yankees in 2006. This season, 2009, was Damon’s last year in New York. He batted .282/24/82.
Center Field - Two home grown Yankees manned center field in 2009. Melky Cabrera played in 103 games here batting .274/13/68. Brett Gardner appeared in center in 99 games batting .270/3/23. If one had made a prediction in 2009 on which of these two players would have lasted on the Yankees, the smart choice might have been Cabrera who looked every bit the rising star, but he was traded after the season to the Braves in a deal that brought Boone Logan and Javier Vasquez (back) to the Yankees. Brett Gardner would just stay and stay and stay and become a leader over time - the current Yankee with the longest tenure on the team and the last remaining link to their last World Championship.
Right Field - Acquired from the Chicago White Sox, on November 13, 2008, in a trade for Wilson Betemit, Swisher put up solid numbers in 2009 (.249/29/82). A player with positive energy, he brought some fun back to the Yankees. he’d stay in New York through 2012.
Designated Hitter - Godzilla, the great Yankee favorite, Hideki Matsui had his last year as a Yankee in 2009. Matsui came to the Yankees from the Tokyo Giants as a free agent prior to the 2003 season. His seven years in pinstripes were great fun. Matsui batted .274/28/90 in 2009 and capped off his Yankees career with the World Series MVP Award.
Main Starting Pitchers:
This was a starting staff anchored by free-agent starters. Only four pitchers started more than 9 games for the Yankees in 2009. Of these four, all who started more than 30 games each, three came to the Yankees via free agency…
C.C. Sabathia - A free agent who came to the Yankees for the 1009 season. Sabathia went 19-8, 3.37 in 34 starts. He was the true ace of the staff. Sabathia would remain with the Yankees through the 2019 season.
A.J. Burnett - Another free agent who came in 2009, Burnett made 33 starts going 13-9, 4.04. Burnett wouldn’t last in New York. After going 21-26 over the next two years, he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates for two minor leaguers who never made it to the bigs.
Andy Pettitte - A home-grown Yankee who left the team (to go to the Houston Astros) and then returned, Pettitte was basically on the “year-to-year” plan in 2009. He made 32 starts going 14-8, 4.16. He would retire after the 2010 season but then he came back in 2012 for two final seasons.
Joba Chamberlain - Was he a starter or a relief pitcher? In 2009, he was a starter taking the hill for 31 starts. In 2009, Joba went 9-6, 4.75. It was the last season he’d be a starter. In 2010, he pitched in 73 games out of the bullpen. Chamberlain would sign with the Detroit Tigers for the 2014 season.
Main Relief Pitchers:
Mariano Rivera - A home grown Yankee. A member of the Core Four. One of the greatest of all time. Rivera pitched in 66 games in 2009. He saved 44 games. The Great Mariano retired after the 2013 season.
QUICK QUIZ… What Yankee pitched led the 2009 team in appearances?
Phil Coke - Pitched in 72 games for this team, the most of any pitcher. He went 4-3, 4.50. A solid lefty, he was part of a big three-team trade after the season that netted the Yankees Curtis Granderson.
Phil Hughes - Another home grown pitcher, Hughes appeared in 51 games in 2009. He went 8-3, 3.03. he was supposed to be the real deal. (So was Joba Chamberlain.) Hughes stuck with the Bombers through 2013 before signing with the Minnesota Twins as a free agent.
David Robertson - Another home grown Yankees relief pitcher, D-Rob had a solid 2009 going 2-1, 3.30 in 45 games. Robertson would be a solid Yankee pitcher for many years. He would sign with the White Sox for the 2015 season, but would return in a mid-season trade in 2017 with the same White Sox (along with Todd Frazier) in exchange for Tyler Clippard (and others).
Brian Bruney - This right-hander appeared in 44 games out of the bullpen in 2009. After two seasons in Arizona, he signed with the Yankees as a free agent before the 2006 season. Bruney was traded to the Washington Nationals in December 2009 for a minor leaguer.
Conclusion - The home-grown long-time players on these teams were still very important cogs in this machine. This was really their swan song, the last great year they had together.
The Yankees also had some very important home-grown role players who were very important parts of this machine. Of note, the bullpen was basically composed of home grown talent.
Free Agency, though, is what gave the Yankees the edge, bringing them the players that made the difference and put them over the top. The 2009 starting rotation was based on the arms of C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Andy Pettitte - all who came (or came back) as Free Agents. Mark Teixeira was a huge addition to the club as was Johnny Damon. Hideki Matsui came to the Yankees, also, because they were willing to spend big. Alex Rodriguez came in a trade, but had his contract extended because of the Yankees’ deep pockets.
While this team had a strong foundation of home-grown players, it was the organization’s willingness to spend, big, that netted then big stars and kept the home grown stars in pinstripes as well.
When the Yankees are willing to spend big, success often follows. This team is a great example of how that model works very well.