Forget the Eulogies, What Now for Yankees?

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The final week of the 2008 season has been one long requiem for all things Yankee. On Sunday, Yankee Stadium closed it doors after 85 years. Two days later, the second longest string of postseason appearances was officially snapped. The eulogies have been written, but the game presses on.

Five days from now, the Yankees will finish their final game of the season at Fenway Park and they hurtle headlong into an offseason of transition the likes of which hasn't been seen in the Bronx in more than a decade. Moving across the street might be one of the smaller changes.

It's clear that the Yankees have fallen a step behind their hated rivals to the north. But they've also fallen behind the Rays and the Blue Jays and Orioles are improving rapidly. A massive payroll just isn't good enough on its own anymore.

That's a lesson the Red Sox learned back in 2006. Boston wilted down the stretch under the weight of injuries to Jason Varitek, Manny Ramirez and Coco Crisp and a woeful pitching staff and ended up winning a disappointing 86 games. That Red Sox team let Mark Loretta, Alex Gonzalez and Trot Nixon walk and replaced them with a prospect named Dustin Pedroia and free agents Julio Lugo and J.D. Drew.

This Yankees team never really got going because of significant injuries to Jorge Posada and Chien-Ming Wang and a patchwork pitching staff. It will probably wind up with a win total in the high 80s. It will let Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi walk this winter, and possibly Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina as well.

So what now? Given all the similarities, can the Yankees get back to the playoffs and beyond in 2009 as the Red Sox did last year?

There's every reason to think the Yankees will be back in the playoff mix in 2009. Posada's return to full-time catching duties should make them a much better club. It's widely anticipated that they will sign at least one of Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia, and it's possible they could sign both.

They should also get more from their young pitchers next year. Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy flopped spectacularly on the major league level in 2008, but Hughes especially is still highly regarded.

A World Series winner, though? That might be a bit lofty. Joba Chamberlain's full-time transition to the starting rotation will be delayed another year because of the shoulder injury he suffered in this one. Even if the club signs Sabathia and Teixeira, there will still be a hole somewhere in the outfield that can't be filled via the farm system.

And that's become the Yankees' problem this century hasn't it? The Yankees have not fully committed to getting younger. GM Brian Cashman has set them on the path, but he could leave this winter. Even if he returns, New York is not nearly as far along that path as Boston was coming into 2007. And if they sign Sabathia and Teixeira, they'll be younger, but not in quite the same way the Red Sox or Rays are -- even younger, cheaper and deep.

With the deep coffers the Yankees have, there isn't much of an excuse for them to not have one of the best farm systems in the game. And in fact they do have one of the better ones in baseball. But it is not nearly as robust as Tampa Bay's or Boston's. It might not even be better than Baltimore's at this point.

The Yankees are going to have to stockpile more than a bunch of promising young pitchers and a scant few impact hitting prospects to beat out the Rays and Red Sox going forward. With Cashman in charge, they'll get there, but it won't be quick and easy.

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