Expectations for Yankees high once again

The New York Yankees' 2008 season ended unceremoniously as they failed to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 1995.

To say the season was a disappointment would be an understatement as colossal as the team's payroll, which exceeded $200 million. A plague of injuries to the starting rotation, coupled with the puzzling midseason transition of Joba Chamberlain from setup man to starter, was more than enough to seal the Bronx Bombers' fate.

The 2009 campaign figures to be much different, thanks in large part to a recession-defying shopping spree during the offseason that landed starting pitcher CC Sabathia ($161 million), starting pitcher AJ Burnett ($82.5 million) and first baseman Mark Teixeira ($180 million). With the trio's lofty salaries come lofty expectations, and all three will be relied upon to end the team's excruciating World Series drought - currently at an unbearable eight seasons.

With the acquisitions of Sabathia and Burnett and the return of Chien-Ming Wang from an injury, the Yankees' 2009 starting rotation has a much different look than last year's. The fourth and fifth starters, respectively, are 215-game winner Andy Pettitte and Chamberlain. If the starters can avoid the injuries from last season, New York is a virtual lock for a 100-win season.

Despite the team's monstrous payroll, however, they aren't without weaknesses. Alex Rodriguez will miss at least a month with an injured hip, leaving minor league journeyman Cody Ransom to play third base. Additionally, Bobby Abreu's departure opened a hole in right field, which will be played by the decidedly average Xavier Nady. Hideki Matsui's knee ailments have him cornered into the role of designated hitter, paving the way for Brett Gardner and Melky Cabrera in center field.

The Yankees have two potential Achilles' heels this season: defense and a shaky bullpen. The Bombers' lack of defense should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever witnessed Johnny Damon's throwing arm, but the biggest question mark is catcher Jorge Posada's surgically repaired shoulder. If Posada's defense wanes, stolen bases will become commonplace against New York this year.

As far as the bullpen is concerned, the Yankees failed to make a single improvement, electing to keep Damaso Marte as the setup man for future Hall-of-Famer Mariano Rivera.

The New York Yankees have all the pieces in place for a World Series run, but it will be interesting to see how hampered they are by defensive lapses, a questionable bullpen and the continued steroid allegations swirling around Rodriguez.