Since coronavirus is still running the world, we gotta dig deep to keep producing content for everyone to read when they’re taking a break from Tiger King. That has led to several “best of” type lists, and this article is no different.
Thanks to a great idea from Nick Kirby, I’m going to assemble the all-Yankee team from 2002 – 2008. Why those years? They nicely mark the end of the late 90’s – early 2000’s dynasty until the 2009 championship team. Sure, the team won the pennant in 2003, but otherwise this group of years is known as the high-offense but no pitching era.
The way I’m going to do this is pick an individual player and season for each position. For example, 2002 Derek Jeter for short stop is what we’re going for.
Catcher was obviously going to be Jorge, and ’03 was clearly his best season. This was his only season above 5 WAR, and he reached his career high in homeruns with 30. An easy pick for sure.
1B: 2002 Jason Giambi – .314/.435/.598, 41 HR, 122 RBI, 175 wRC+, 6.6 WAR
For context, this was the best non-Arod season during this timeframe. People seem to forget how great the Giambino was during his Yankee tenure, probably because he never won a championship. Yankee fans clearly do not appreciate Giambi as shown by this insane poll result:
People hated the contract, but Giambi was easily worth it and then some. Screw defense, dude could mash.
2B: 2002 Alfonso Soriano – .300/.332/.547, 39 HR, 41 SB, 131 wRC+, 5.6 WAR
This was the year Sori came 1 homerun away from a 40-40 season. Did you know Soriano hit 412 homeruns in his career? It seems nobody remembers that but he did. So far this team would suck defensively, much like those early 2000’s Yankees obviously, but this offense is definitely geared for the juiced ball era.
3B: 2007 Alex Rodriguez – .314/.422/.646, 54 HR, 156 RBI, 175 wRC+, 9.6 WAR
This was the easiest pick on the list. In fact, I would argue 2007 Arod was the best Yankee season in the 21st century and it isn’t even close. Reaching just under 10 WAR, Arod was out of his mind this year. On steroids? Sure. Incredible? Still yes.
Justin Morneau beating out Derek Jeter for MVP in 2006 is just criminal. Morneau barely had half the WAR Jeter did. Is Derek Jeter the best player to never win an MVP award? Maybe. Seeing him robbed of one in ’06 sucked at the time and still does.
This was the first pick I made that went against FanGraphs WAR. 2008 Jonny Damon ranks higher, but I’m making the executive decision to go with Matsui instead. Matsui was such an underrated player and it’s always great to get him on one of these lists.
CF: 2002 Bernie Williams – .333/.415/.493, 19 HR, 102 RBI, 146 wRC+, 4.9 WAR
The Core Four has always been a terrible name because it’s really a Fab Five with Bernie. This is the third 2002 entrant so far, and I’m starting to think the 2002 team was pretty damn good.
RF: 2004 Gary Sheffield – .290/.393/.534, 36 HR, 121 RBI, 141 wRC+, 3.8 WAR
Okay, so this is the worst defensive team of all time but who cares? Arguably the most feared hitter of all-time, Sheff was a monster at the plate. Check out Nick Kirby’s awesome article about Gary Sheffield while you continue to wait out the days until you can leave your home again.
Okay, so Robby wasn’t a DH at all, but the Yankees didn’t have a regular DH for most of this time. What I decided to do was take the next best season for a player I haven’t already used, and that’s 2007 Robby Cano.
SP: 2003 Mike Mussina – 17-8, 214.2 IP, 3.40 ERA, 8.18 K/9, 6.1 WAR
Finally inducted into the HOF last year, Moose was definitely the best pitcher on these early Yankees staffs. His ’02, ’03, and ’06 campaigns are all in the top 5 for Yankee pitchers during this time. Sure, Pettitte gets the glory for his World Series and postseasons and Roger Clemens is quite possibly the greatest pitcher of all-time, but Moose held these teams pitching together.
Mo was the easiest selection as always. He has 7 of the top 8 reliever seasons during this time, and the only way he didn’t have the top 7 was because Tom Gordon threw 90 innings in 2004 (gotta love Joe Torre’s inability to learn inning limits).
2005 remains the lone team not represented on this list. Which is surprising because that was a 95 win team. 2008 only squeaked in because of Mo. I didn’t expect 2002 to be so well-represented because all I remember about that team is losing to the Angels in the ALDS, yet that was a 103 win team that crushed the baseball.
Also, articles like these heavily rely on sites like FanGraphs. Earlier today, David Appelman wrote about the difficulties they are facing during this time. If you enjoy baseball, the Yankees, FanGraphs, or us, please consider helping sites like FanGraphs out if you can. They have infinitely changed the way I think about baseball, and I know I’m not alone in that.