Baseball Prospectus’ Pre-season Projection: 99-63, first place
Actual record: 103-59, first place

A-Rod got his first ring, while Jeter, Posada, Rivera, and Pettite got their fifth. Can they all do it again?

Buster Olney of’s Take

What went wrong: With all the tickertape fluttering over the Yankees in their parade, it’s easy to forget that they actually did have some hurdles to overcome in 2009, from Alex Rodriguez‘s steroid stuff and hip injury to the loss of Chien-Ming Wang to the erratic showing of Joba Chamberlain. But mostly, everything went right, with CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira doing exactly what they were hired to do and immediately lifting the team to its 27th championship. The Yankees have an excellent core of players, a farm system that continues to improve, and, with the latest title, reason to believe that their already strong revenues will grow.

Biggest puzzler on the drawing board: They will likely retain either Hideki Matsui or Johnny Damon, but they have to patch and plug the back end of their rotation. Joe Girardi was heavily criticized for the rotation choices he made in the postseason, but internally, the Yankees felt they really had almost no options beyond the Big Three of Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Andy Pettitte; Chamberlain didn’t develop any consistency as a starter, and Wang and Ian Kennedy got hurt. The Yankees are expected to offer arbitration to Pettitte, and will probably again prepare both Chamberlain and Phil Hughes as possible starters next spring-but eventually, one or both will have to be locked into the rotation. Short of that, the Yankees will need to go out and get another starting pitcher, and while the Yankees really don’t have any hard plans to spend big money on free agents this winter, rival teams think John Lackey will be there for the taking for the Yankees, if they are willing to commit to a deal of five years for the right-hander. No matter what they decide, the Yankees will undoubtedly go into 2010 as the favorites to repeat as World Series champions.

The Baseball Prospectus Take

PECOTA predicted the Yankees to have the best record in baseball, and that was precisely what happened. It suggested that the pitching would be a bit better than it turned out to be, and the offense a bit worse. Instead, the offense exploded, leading baseball in scoring thanks to the addition of Teixeira, continued good work from Damon, big comeback years from Jorge Posada, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Nick Swisher, and Matsui, and an unexpectedly large contribution from Alex Rodriguez, who made a shockingly rapid and productive return from hip surgery and steroid controversy. They were also aided by a new ballpark that rewarded power, which the Yankees had in spades.

The Yankees were 13-15 without A-Rod, and had already gone 0-for-5 in games against the Red Sox. His return roughly coincided with the beginning of the team’s second in-season bullpen reconstruction project in two seasons, with Hughes excelling as the eighth-inning set-up man, a role that might have been too constricting for his talents but nonetheless solved the intractable problem of how to bridge the gap from the starters to closer Mariano Rivera, the best closer in baseball (as per expected wins added, or WXRL). The bullpen straightened out to the point that the unit as a whole also ranked first in WXRL. These changes helped the Yankees gel around the All-Star break, and they rolled from there, going 55-26 in the second half of the schedule and blowing past Boston.

The only remaining problem, which the Yankees never quite licked, was the starting rotation after the top three starters. Wang was ineffective, then lost to injury, while Chamberlain was inconsistent but serviceable, at which point the the second set of “Joba Rules” were applied and he completely fell apart. Fortunately for the Yankees, the sprawling postseason schedule allowed them to use the top three starters exclusively, and also let them lean heavily on Rivera when Hughes and the other relievers seemed to develop a case of stage fright. Between the deep lineup and the veteran competence of the starters and closer, the Yankees emergence from the postseason dogpile as champions was no surprise.-Steven Goldman, Baseball Prospectus

Key stat: 30.7

The Yankees are an old team, particularly among the position players; 30.7 is the average age of the hitters, weighted by playing time. The Yankees were the oldest team in their league and third-oldest in the majors. Posada tuned 38 in August. Jeter, entering his contractual walk year, will be 36 in June, and Rodriguez will turn 34 a month after that. Damon and Matsui, either of whom might be retained, will both be 36 next season. On the pitching side, Pettitte (unsigned) is going on 38, and Rivera-upon whom so much depends-will soon turn 40 and is also heading into his walk year. The Yankees have accomplished great things with this core of talent, but they may soon run the risk of having it age out from under them. Unfortunately, while their farm is on the verge of producing some useful players, very few prospects turn out to be a Jeter, Posada or Rivera, and that’s the level of talent the Yankees will soon need to replace.-Steven Goldman, Baseball Prospectus Rumor Central

Free Agency: If you think New York is incapable of landing the top free agent pitcher two years in a row, then you haven’t been paying attention to baseball since Shoeless Joe got in trouble. Bottom line, as Buster has told Rumor Central: most GMs think if the Yanks want Lackey, they can get him.

Depth Chart: So if Rivera can’t pitch forever, and Chamberlain seems perpetually tied to pitch counts, many think it’s time to simply let Hughes be a starter and keep Joba in the pen. Whatever happens, don’t think Girardi wants another season where it all seems in flux.

Who 2 Watch 4: Austin Jackson, CF

While Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner supply a solid-but-unspectacular center-field combination, at some point Austin Jackson is going to enter the picture as well. An outstanding athlete who turned down the opportunity to play hoops at Georgia Tech in order to pursue baseball, Jackson spent all year at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre while batting .300 with 24 stolen bases. Improved plate discipline and a bit more power could have him leapfrogging the current two-headed monster in short order.-Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

Draft recap

Signed: 27 of 49
Spent: Around $7 million
Hit: Slade Heatchott, CF (29th overall): He’s strong, fast, has no glaring weaknesses as an athlete, and has a plus throwing arm. The Yankees gave the Texas prep star Top 10 money, but if he fails at the plate, they could always explore a return to the mound, where he was equally scouted prior to this past spring.
Miss: Caleb Cotham, RHP (165th overall): He’s a worthy fifth-round pick, except that the Yankees handed him $675,000. Not that the Steinbrenners will ever worry about that kind of money, but they’re gambling on an arm that some see as a relief-only.-Jason A. Churchill,

The Bottom Line

The Yankees finally won an elusive fifth championship with a team built around Jeter and his aging cohort, with a manager who was once a teammate. They spent over $200 million to get there, but unlike past spending sprees, this one was intelligently conducted-bringing them Sabathia and Teixeira where they once were signing the likes of Carl Pavano and Doug Mientkiewicz and filling out the roster with reanimated cadavers like Ruben Sierra. They also refrained from throwing millions at (or trading prospects for) veteran relievers, even when the bullpen failed, which is usually the first resort of general managers more likely to end up as a talking head on a baseball panel show than on the winners’ podium.

The challenge for general manager Brian Cashman and Girardi in defending this title will be to do so without recourse to their financial means. The free agent market is weak, and their payroll may be testing even their generous limits. They’ll also need to do it without subtracting too much from the team’s strengths to help its weaknesses. For example, freeing up the designated hitter spot for Posada so the agile Francisco Cervelli can catch more often would perhaps be a moderate boon to the pitching and defense, but would effectively substitute Cervelli’s bat for Matsui’s, a huge downgrade. There is also the future disposition of starter/relievers Chamberlain and Hughes, and who among their many free agents to re-sign. Uneasy lies the crown; it will be a happy winter for the Yankees, but a hard one as far as the questions they need to answer.-Steven Goldman, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

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Thanks to this article series, I now know John Lackey would be a good fit for half the teams in the majors. Go ESPN!
The big test for every other team in the league will be to prevent the Yankees from signing Lackey. If the Yank's don't get outbid for Lackey, then nobody else is serious about this baseball thing and we should all start watching soccer. I don't begrudge the Yanks for doing their level best to win with the resources they have, but I do think they get off easy because nobody challenges them.
The article series next year could include the amount of money spent and players signed on the international market.
Posada can still catch and should do so until Romine is ready (or, after him, Murphy or Sanchez). Cervelli is a backup. Molina is history. Matsui or Damon should be resigned for one year to keep the DH spot warm for Montero. The other has to go. I love 'em both but we can't keep both Damon's arm and Matsui's knees around forever. After next year, Jeter should probably be an outfielder (although he should be kept at shortstop until he proves he can't play it anymore). Melky is a good 4th outfielder and Ajax can also provide depth. Swisher is OK; he played a helluva right field in the playoffs. Gardner is a goner. The Yankees must get younger. Their long term needs, other than pitching, are at shortstop and centerfield. They need to sign Chapman and make Hughes a starter. Let someone else sign Lackey; next year, Halladay will be available. I hope Girardi learned not to overmanage and never, I repeat, never, pinch runs for A-Rod again. That is all.
Kiss'Em Goodbye 2009 Season Not by Baseball Prospectus Richard Bergstrom's Projection: The Cubs win the World Series! Actual record: Wait till next year before listening to his projections. From the WBC to the World Series, nine months of baseball culminates in a non-baseball advertisement of how one fantasy team used Sigourney Weaver to combat aliens. Second verse, same as the first? A Sock Puppet from Elsewhere's Take: There was a lot of great plans for this season and while some teams overperformed and others underperformed, others remained with the status quo. Particularly disappointing was the lack of clutch-hitting by those who aren't clutch hitters, proven vets, or other term to describe their capability to be incapabale. On the other hand, kudos to the clutch-hitting done by clutch hitters, proven vets, and others deemed capable. Biggest puzzler on the drawing board: With an exciting new offseason to look forward to, expect a frenzy of moves as pretenders look to become contenders. However, don't be surprised if little happens due to new issues like the bad economy and outcries about how the Yankees bought the title for the first time ever. As always, stay tuned to in spring training for your yearly steroids "leak". The Non-BP Take: Is the new BP Annual out yet? *checks Amazon* Is the new BP Annual out yet? Key Stat: 100% One hundred percent of scheduled games that were not cancelled due to rain, snow, Selig, earthquake, terrorist attacks or gnats were played in 2009. Though the stat was close to my actual projection, I am unclear if my projection model is an accurate tool to use to predict the number of scheduled/non-cancelled games that will be played in future seasons due to small sample size issues that might regress into no meaning. My Rumor Central: Free Agency: I could say I heard she likes me, but she actually texted me. Depth Chart: Privileged info restricted to members. Who 2 Watch 4: SPAM. How much spam can a spam can can if a spam can could can spam? Draft recap: For all those people who drafted BJ Upton in the first round for your fantasy teams, you're still wrong. Of course, I drafted him first, which means I'm also wrong, and when two wrongs draft a Wright, who knows what's left? The Bottom Line: It's been an awesome year with a lot of new writers and features at BP. The Idol contest was fun and the tech team did a great job with updates to the site. The only downer was a lack of a Pizza Feed in Denver. Already looking forward to next year and another course of interactive discourse, but in any event, it was a great 2009 with a lot of stuff to talk about! Have a Happy Holidays and keep on commenting/flagging/negativing and subscribing! A transcript of this story would not appear on ESPN Insider.