The Red Sox may be World Series Champs, but the Yankees are grabbing back pages all over the country as they have had quite a busy off-season. They have seen a change in ownership from George Steinbrenner to Hank and Hal Steinbrenner, his sons, and their manager, Joe Torre, was offered an extension and rejected it, calling $5 million with $3 million in bonuses an "insult."
Additionally, MVP-favorite Alex Rodriguez refused to answer phone calls from the Yankees, who reportedly were ready to offer him a record setting deal. (A- Rod then decided to upstage the biggest stage in the sport, by announcing that he will be opting out of his $252 million contract and become a free agent, news that upstaged Game 4 of the World Series.)
Most recently, the franchise has named Joe Girardi their new manager, after a three-horse race between Girardi, beloved Yankee Don Mattingly and first-base coach Tony Pena. These trends will continue this off-season - longtime Yankees Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada are also without contracts.
The Yankees are clearly a team in transition, and this starts at the top. Steinbrenner bought the team in 1973, but at 77 years old and thus lacking the fire and passion of years ago, he has passed along control to his sons Hank and Hal. Hank will control the baseball aspect and Hal will control the business side of the Yankees, with George overseeing operations.
Thus far, we have seen shades of George in Hank, who publicly blasted Torre after Torre called the Yankees contract an insult. Hank has been very critical of Torre, who he feels owes something to the Yankees organization and his father. Steinbrenner was heavily criticized for the hiring of "clueless Joe" after the 1995 season: until that point, Torre's career as a manager was anything but the track record he holds now. Now, Torre is seen as one of the best, which led the Los Angeles Dodgers to reportedly offer "Yankee money" to Torre.
Rodriguez, on the other hand, is and will always be about the money. Scott Boras, Rodriguez's agent, has surely contributed to this perception of A-Rod, but ultimately the final decision falls on the star. A-Rod will go down in history as one of the best to play the game; re-signing with the Yankees would have almost assured him of the cap he was to wear into the Hall of Fame. He would have been enshrined in Monument Park, and his number, 13, would have been retired among the other Yankee greats such as Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle and DiMaggio.
With priorities in his piggybank, however, his career will now be described in one word: mercenary. A-Rod has left every team he has played for in order to chase a bigger buck. His agent's announcement of his opt-out of his Yankees contract during the decisive Game 4 of the World Series brings another word to mind: classless.
During the 1996 World Series, it was Girardi's triple off of Greg Maddux that led the Yankees to their first Championship since 1978. It was Girardi who embraced David Cone on the mound after Cone threw the 16th perfect game in MLB history. And now it is Girardi who will lead the Yankees into the post-Torre era. Girardi adds some fire to a bench that the 68-year-old Torre did not have. He seems to be the best choice as a manager who has experience with a young pitching staff, as it's probable that the Yankees' rotation could have three rookie pitchers (Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, and Ian Kennedy).
This is just the beginning. Negotiations with homegrown closer Mariano Rivera and catcher Jorge Posada have yet to begin, but both players feel slighted by the refusal of extensions before the 2007 season. Is it possible that Derek Jeter will be the only one left from the Yankees dynasty entering Spring Training? Yes. Is it likely? Probably not. But one thing is for sure: these are not the same old Yankees of the late-1990s. But, they are still the Yankees, which means they will probably have the best odds to win the World Series in 2008.