Did the Yankees Buy a World Series?

At the start of the 2009 Major League Baseball season, the New York Yankees will have the highest paid first baseman, shortstop, third baseman, catcher, starting pitcher and relief pitcher in the history of the game. With a booming payroll that remains locked in luxury taxes, the big debate over the offseason has been if, finally, the highest paid MLB team will take home the World Series title.

The Yankees have made an array of big offseason signings including by far the two best available in this free agent market. First baseman Mark Teixeira and starting pitcher CC Sabathia cost a cool $341 million over a combined total of 15 years. This means for the next 7 years the Yankees will be paying $45.4 million dollars to only two players, more than the defending 2008 ALCS Champion Tampa Bay Rays entire payroll. The signings go along with trading for first baseman/outfielder Nick Swisher and plucking starting pitcher AJ Burnett ($82.5 mil over 5 years) off the free argent market. With all the noise made during the offseason, there is a lot of pressure for the Yankees to bring home a championship. Whether or not this dream comes to fruition, the Yankees have certainly improved their chances.

However, in baseball, no team has ever bought a title. In the last four years, the Yankees have made the playoffs three times and failed to win their first round series each of those times despite having the largest payroll each year. If the Yankees win the World Series this year, a lot of things will need to happen. First, the Yankees need to stay healthy. Health is a question mark for any team, and with the Yankees it will no doubt play a role in the outcome of their season because five of eight position players are 33 years old or older. Manager Joe Girardi is another question mark. He has a total of two seasons of experience to go along with zero playoff appearances. Girardi will be responsible for a very expensive team with a variety of big egos. The Yankees front office gave Girardi all the tools he needs, but the question remains: Will Girardi be able to put them all together?

Adding further difficulty to the Yankees run will be the AL East. Tampa Bay and Boston both came off strong seasons that ended in playoff births. The Rays advanced all the way to the World Series and have a very young team that should only get better. Meanwhile, the Red Sox have been the best team since the turn of the century, and despite losing Manny Ramirez at the end of last season, the Sox remain serious contenders. The Red Sox also have made noise of their own this offseason. With the additions of Brad Penny and John Smoltz, the Red Sox will have a pitching staff that will certainly be able to compete with the Yankees. The Yankees will most likely have to deal with a competitive division race that will not be decided until late in the year. If the Yankees survive that struggle, they will need to get hot at the right time to put together a World Series run.

While the Yankees have not guaranteed themselves a ring, they have completely dominated the free argent market this offseason and were able to take advantage of the payroll they shed with the end of last season, but despite their signings, the Yankees payroll this year will be under the payroll from last year. This spending, however, has come in addition to the opening of the new Yankee Stadium in 2009, funded by New York residents. The Yankees are now poised to be a dominant team, but if one were to bet on a World Series favorite, it would seem prudent to choose a team that does not play in a division where 90-plus wins could still miss the playoffs, unlike the Angels or Cubs, who should walk into the playoffs. Ultimately, if the Yankees want a World Series title, the payroll will help, but it will only take them so far.