A fresh start: New players, new stadiums, new season

New York City has always been a baseball city come summertime. Whether you’re hopping on the subway or grabbing a bag of nuts on the street, you’re always somewhere near a pinstriped jersey or a blue-and-orange baseball cap. With all due respect to the Knicks and the Rangers, the Mets and Yankees own New York. They always have and they always will.

Last season, New York took a considerable blow to the heart with both teams missing the playoffs for the first time since 1994. When October came, baseball fans were forced to rake the leaves and clean their gutters, because their best excuse didn’t exist this year. A cold fall chilled our hearts for the past five months, but luckily, this is New York and losing isn’t acceptable here.

Both the Mets and Yankees had matching records last season of 89-73. While both were predicted to compete in the playoffs, neither did. With that, the two teams set out on missions this past offseason to make their teams the best in the game.

Any Mets fan could tell you last year the main reason they didn’t win was because of an underachieving bullpen. The team had a total of 29 blown saves for the year. The closer for most of the season, Billy Wagner had just 27 saves before going down for the season with an injury. So Omar Minaya, the Mets General Manager, went out and bought the all-time single-season saves leader Francisco Rodriguez, who will close out games for the Mets for the next three years with his new $37 million contract.

The dark horse for the Mets this year is reliever J.J. Putz who will pitch the eighth inning in front of Rodriguez. Putz was acquired in a three-team trade over the offseason, and quite possibly has the best stuff on the staff. 2008 was a limited year for him due to an injury, but if Putz can replicate any of his 2007 season of 40 saves and a 1.38 ERA, the Mets may just have the best backend of the bullpen in the National League.

Returning for the Mets after being re-signed are pitchers John Maine who went 10-8, Oliver Perez and first baseman Carlos Delgado off of his big year with 38 homeruns and 115 RBIs.

Every Yankee fan last season pretty much knew when they watched Sidney Ponson and Carl Pavano pitch in August with the season on the line, that it was pretty much over. Also, with 20-game winner Mike Mussina leaving the team for retirement, there were going to be big holes to fill.

So Brian Cashman, Yankees General Manager, decided to give the team a slight makeover, a $423.5 million makeover.

Most of the money was split between three very highly coveted free agents: starting pitchers C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett and first baseman Mark Teixeira. All three had big years in 2008 and will surely be under a lot of pressure to stand by their big contracts. Burnett was signed for five years and $82.5 million and Sabathia for seven years and $161 million. Both were deserving of their contracts after going a combined 35-20 in 474.1 innings. That’s a nice upgrade from the combined 12-7 Ponson and Pavano went in 2008.

Mark Teixeira, who replaces the disappointing Jason Giambi, might be the biggest asset out of the three. Teixeira is slated to hit third in the lineup, in front of slugger Alex Rodriguez. When word came out that the team had signed Teixeira, fans salivated at the thoughts of having such a powerful tandem in the lineup that they haven’t seen since Ruth and Gehrig.

Still, with the new additions to the team, the fate rests on the shoulders of young second baseman Robinson Cano. After a dismal year, the youngster needs to repeat his 2006 year in which he hit .341.Without a strong presence from the bottom of the order such as Cano’s, the Yankees may find themselves a little short this season in the juggernaut that is the American League East.

Clearly, the effort by both team offices has been put out in order to get back to the promised land that we saw in 2000 with the Subway World Series. With both teams heading into brand new stadiums this season, motivation should be through the roof. If these two teams have the same pride most New Yorkers do, they’ll avenge their collapses of last year and spare us from raking our leaves again come October.