Ridiculous amounts of money being thrown around, hundreds of games, and a World Series to eye up – it can only be a new baseball season, writes Sam Geoghegan
What a decade of baseball we’ve had. It started and finished with the New York Yankees becoming World Champions, though the Yanks were left experiencing a trophy drought in the intervening years. Two World Series appearances in 2001 and 2003 ended in defeat and to add insult to serious injury, their great rival the Boston Red Sox lifted their first championship in 2004 after an 86-year wait, and again in 2007.
The Yankees opened Free Agency last season by acquiring the three marquee free agents on the market, pitchers CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett and first baseman slugger Mark Teixeira, for a staggering combined fee of $423.5 million. These acquisitions, along with their already star-studded squad that includes captain Derek Jeter and third baseman Alex Rodriguez – the highest-paid baseball player with a contract worth $275 million – allowed them to become World Champions for a record 27th time in the first year at their new $1.5 billion ballpark.
This season however, their cheque book hasn’t been as busy. Outfielders Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui – the World Series MVP – have gone on to pastures new with the Detroit Tigers and the LA Angels respectively, with Curtis Granderson the only player of note to move to the Bronx.
New York’s other team, the Mets, have always lived in the shadow of their more illustrious and glamorous neighbour – yet the Mets have an excellent squad that was only improved with the signing of former Boston outfielder Jason Bay. Along with third baseman David Wright and shortstop Jose Reyes, Bay provides the Mets with an excellent offense for the forthcoming season. Coach Jerry Manuel is seeking a first playoff berth for the Mets since 2006 and hopes that injuries don’t hamper his hopes once again. Ace pitcher Johan Santana must stay healthy if the Mets are to challenge the Phillies in the National League.
Two-time defending National League champions the Philadelphia Phillies were involved in the blockbuster deal of the offseason. The deal involved four teams and nine players, in which the Phills had to part ways with award-winning pitcher Cliff Lee (who is now in Seattle with the Mariners) and a host of other top prospects in exchange for arguably the best pitcher in the majors, Roy Halladay.
A former Cy Young award-winner himself, Halladay has spent his entire career to date at the Toronto Blue Jays. Along with infielders Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, Halladay will lead coach Charlie Manuel’s chase for a third consecutive National League title.
The Dodgers in LA are the Phillies’ primary contender – and led by former Yankee manager Joe Torre and slugger Manny Ramirez, they should again be playing ball come October. LA’s other team, the Angels, are managed by Mike Scioscia, and although they lost a host of key players to Free Agency, Scioscia is such an experienced general that he should have enough talent at his disposal to guide his team to postseason play once more.
One of these players, pitcher John Lackey, has signed with Boston. The Red Sox now have possibly the best pitching rotation in all of baseball, with Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Tim Wakefield and now Lackey on their books. The latter’s arrival is a significant move for Terry Francona’s team as they look to quell the power offense of the Yankees in a hope that Boston might emulate their successes of 2004 and 2007.
It promises to be a fantastic and fascinating year ahead and what better way to start a season than with the champion Yankees facing their fiercest foe, the Red Sox, in Boston at Fenway Park