Complacency not an issue for Yankees
Defending World Series champs won't rest on laurels of '09
TAMPA, Fla. -- As the Yankees reconvened on pristine practice fields basking in the afterglow of another World Series championship, one common thread of conversation revolved around how short -- but blissfully sweet -- the winter had been.
Take Derek Jeter, for example. For the first time in nearly a decade, the shortstop wasn't looking up from a restaurant table, making eye contact with a fan who wanted to know what had gone wrong and how the Yankees planned to fix it.
Those title-starved words had transformed into thanks and congratulations, and Jeter certainly wasn't about to talk anyone out of savoring the accomplishment. But if there was anyone in camp with the same mind-set, the captain made sure to deliver an important wakeup bulletin.
"The message is: Last year is over," Jeter said. "It sounds kind of harsh, but that's the bottom line. What we did and what we accomplished last year has no bearing on this season. I think it's a mind-set that you have to have in terms of staying hungry. To win a championship is tough enough, but to win in back-to-back seasons is even harder to do."
And that will be the $200 million question revolving around Yankees Universe this season. No team has hoisted a World Series trophy in consecutive seasons since 2000, when Joe Torre piloted the Yankees to their triumph over the Mets, the one matchup that George Steinbrenner could not have possibly swallowed had it gone the other way.
With a cast that has remained largely recognizable -- with a few notable tweaks -- it will be Joe Girardi's task to bring the Yankees back to the top of the mountain in 2010.
Girardi placed hammering out a consistent lineup at the top of his laundry list of concerns during the quietest Yankee spring in recent memory. Selecting a fifth starter was lower on the totem pole, as was organizing another team-bonding trip to a video arcade.
When someone wondered if complacency might be an issue, Girardi scoffed.
"I don't consider it a big issue, because I know the people in the room," Girardi said. "I think complacency comes down to character. And I really liked the character of our club last year, and what they showed during the course of the season when we went through adversity. It's mostly the same people. We have great leadership in that room, so I don't view it as being a huge problem."
Mark Teixeira said that the Yankees couldn't afford to rest on their laurels just because, well, they are the Yankees. Any dip in performance forecasts a difficult season in terms of media scrutiny and fan response, and even if the club played in Paducah, Teixeira said, the rush of the Fall Classic would be enough to get everyone churning in that direction again.
"Once you taste a championship and taste that victory," Teixeira said, "it just makes you want it even more. You realize it's everything you've ever hoped for."
New York Yankees
|Projected Opening Day lineup|
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That was the case for Alex Rodriguez, long regarded as one of baseball's top players and certainly its best compensated. Rodriguez's roller-coaster year ended with the acquisition of a World Series ring, one he plans to wear after such a long wait, and a freer right hip figures to allow him to be even more productive.
"I've never had more fun in my life playing baseball than I did last year," Rodriguez said. "If I do what I do and I stay healthy and I stay in the same frame of mind I was in last year, we're going to have fun this year."
Despite a changed cast that now includes All-Star outfielder Curtis Granderson, designated hitter Nick Johnson, No. 4 starter Javier Vazquez and bullpen arm Chan Ho Park, the journey won't be a cake-walk -- in fact, the American League East figures to be tougher than it was in 2009, when New York won 103 games.
"It's probably the toughest thing, to try to do it again," Jorge Posada said. "Obviously, everybody plays you a little different when we come into town or they come to New York. You have to be ready, because they're trying to get you. You're the world champions, you try to play a little better, you try to be on your toes and play your game. It's very challenging to do it again."
The entire starting infield from 2009 is intact, with Posada behind the plate and joined around the horn by A-Rod, Jeter, No. 5 hitter Robinson Cano and Teixeira. A slimmer Nick Swisher returns as the right fielder, speedy Brett Gardner stakes his claim to a starting job in left field and the bench is a little bit younger.
Nineteen-game winner CC Sabathia is ready to anchor the pitching staff and willing to take on a heaping helping of innings, saying, "I feel like I want to take the ball every time. I'm not worried about saving my arm."
That "team first" attitude will allow A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte to fall in line on a staff that could see four pitchers hit the 200-inning mark, with Vazquez continuing his interrupted Yankees career ahead of fifth starter-derby champion Phil Hughes.
In the bullpen, the Bleacher Creatures can expect to see some alterations, as Joba Chamberlain will head back to the role that once made him an overnight sensation. Last year's postseason standouts, David Robertson and Damaso Marte, will be among a cast trying to get the ball to future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera.
"To me, it's always a new year," Rivera said. "Whatever happened yesterday or last year is in the past. We have to focus on the present, and 2010 is a new year. We have to put the same effort -- or even harder -- toward a new season and try to do our best. I think we have a great team, a wonderful team. We just have to do it."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.