Hot Stove Report: The 2008-2009 Free Agent Market

The Yankees Land Biggest Names, While the Mets Hope to Solve Pitching Woes


Published: January 29, 2009

After being forced to face the disappointment of closing their respective stadiums for the final time last season without playoff appearances, the Yankees and Mets are desperate to rebound in 2009, though both face significant challenges. The Red Sox have gained the upper hand over the Yankees during the past several seasons, and the Mets have been unable to perform well down the stretch. As fans eagerly look toward the dawn of a new season, both New York teams are scrambling to assemble the last few pieces of their organizations before the spring training arrives.

The New York Yankees made the biggest splash this offseason with the signings of high-profile free agents C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and, most recently, Mark Teixeira.  Sabathia, a 28-year-old California native, has been impressive in recent years, winning the American League (AL) Cy Young Award with the Cleveland Indians in 2007 and leading an unlikely Milwaukee Brewers’ team to the playoffs last season. With a seven-year, $161 million contract, however, Sabathia will not immediately earn the adoration of Yankees’ fans. He will need to prove, in New York, that he can face the pressure of the type of rabid fan base and intense media scrutiny that was not as present in Cleveland or Milwaukee.

The Yankees second major signing, A.J. Burnett, is a bigger question mark. Though Burnett has been a solid pitcher when healthy, that hasn’t happened often.  The fact that Burnett went 18-10 last season with the Toronto Blue Jays is encouraging, especially since he faced AL East competition, but Burnett has had nagging problems with injuries throughout his career. His five-year, $82.5 million contract means the Yankees will be paying him until he is 37 years old. For an injury-plagued pitcher, that might be a cause for concern.

The Yankees also prevailed in the bidding war for first baseman Mark Teixeira, who was signed to an astounding eight-year, $180 million contract in early January. The Yankees have struggled since the departure of Tino Martinez to find a first baseman with both fielding and hitting talents. At 28 years old, Teixeira should establish himself as a core figure, both offensively and defensively, on the Yankees for the better part of the next decade.

While there are certainly concerns about the Yankees’ offseason signings, they have been largely well received. “I think the Yankees have greatly improved their team with the additions of Sabathia, Teixeira and, if he can stay healthy, Burnett, and I’m expecting them to make the playoffs, although I still think there’s going to be a fierce, three-way dogfight for the division title and wild-card spot between the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays,” said Robert Isabella, FCLC ’09.

The New York Mets came into the offseason with fairly obvious weaknesses: pitching—both starting and relief—and leadership. While an esoteric quality such as leadership is difficult to find through a single transaction, the Mets have done their best to alleviate their pitching problems, especially in the bullpen.  The Mets made a strong, early move for closer Fransisco Rodriguez. The 26-year-old Rodriguez had a record-setting 62 saves last season with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and should immediately solidify a bullpen, recently crippled by the loss of Billy Wagner to a serious injury to his pitching elbow.

Surprisingly, the Mets followed their signing of Rodriguez by trading for yet another prominent closer, J.J. Putz. The former Seattle Mariners closer has been impressive when healthy, but the 31 year old has significant injury concerns.

Unfortunately, the Mets have been unable to make significant progress in terms of their starting rotation. The addition of former Washington Nationals pitcher Tim Redding is positive, but the 30-year-old Redding isn’t projected to be much more than a fourth or fifth starter. Signing Ben Sheets or Freddy Garcia or re-signing Oliver Perez will be options that the Mets will examine before spring training.