Ten years later: A look back at the 2006 Yankees

The 2005 season was a disappointment for the Yankees. They were ousted from the playoffs in the first round by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and even worse, the ensuing offseason was up in the air because general manager Brian Cashman, a free-agent-to-be, was expected by most to bolt after the battles he had been having with owner George M. Steinbrenner’s so-called “Tampa Faction.” They were the ones who had orchestrated some of the more unpopular moves of the previous year and a half, including signing players like Jaret Wright to silly contracts.

After Cashman re-signed, with the promise of more autonomy in his job, the Yankees made a few moves. They signed Bernie Williams and Ramiro Mendoza to contracts and, much to Cashman’s relief, free agent Johnny Damon came over from the “idiot” Red Sox, signing a four year, $52 million contract. Cashman was telling anyone who would listen that he would be perfectly content with second-year centerfielder Melky Cabrera starting in 2006, but was secretly holding out hope that the Yankees could land Damon, and they did.

The majority of the moves that constructed the Yankees’ 2006 roster were made either during the 2004-05 offseason by the aforementioned Tampa Faction, or during the 2005 season via trades.

The 2006 Yankees were expected to be another overpaid, playoff bound, but not quite championship caliber team because of some deficits in their roster, and that’s exactly what they turned out to be. In fact, the 2006 BP annual’s prediction for the Yankees was, “Steinbrenner’s price-to-performance ratio keeps getting worse, but the galaxy of stars will be in the playoffs again.”

Heading into the 2006 season, the Yankees’ pythagorean record was predicted to be 95-67, which is the record they actually finished with the previous season. There was no question that they could hit, and their pitching staff was strong. The real question about the 2006 Yankees revolved around age. Their batters’ average age was 31.5 (oldest in the AL) and their pitching staff’s average age was 32.9 (also the oldest in the AL). Would it hold up to the rigors of a long season?

Here’s what the lineup looked like on Opening Day in Oakland on April 3:

Lineup PECOTA projections Proj. HR/RBI
Damon CF .290/.352/.423 13/69
Jeter SS .298/.365/.431 15/80
Sheffield RF .306/.392/.548 35/114
Rodriguez 3B .298/.391/.576 43/124
Giambi 1B .251/.395/.492 28/82
Matsui LF .289/.361/.464 20/92
Posada C .266/.372/.449 18/68
Williams DH .261/.335/.384 8/45
Cano 2B .283/.316/.425 14/72

As you can see, PECOTA was expecting another big year from 2005 MVP Alex Rodriguez and outfielder Gary Sheffield. It also predicted that second-year player Robinson Cano would have a nice season of work manning second base.

As for the pitchers on staff, PECOTA wasn’t kind to Shawn Chacon and a predicted 8-9 record with 4.84 ERA. Amazingly, his year was even worse than that and he finished the year on a different team. The starters were Mike Mussina (Projected 2006 numbers: 11-9, 4.08 ERA), Jaret Wright (Proj: 5-6, 5.07 ERA), Chien-Ming Wang (Proj: 9-9, 4.55 ERA) and Randy Johnson (Proj: 16-8, 3.19 ERA).

Johnson started the season opener for the Yankees in Oakland and Andy Phillips, Bubba Crosby and Kelly Stinnett (remember him?) were defensive replacements for Giambi, Sheffield and Posada. Johnson pitched seven innings and Tanyon Sturtze and Ron Villone relieved him to preserve a 15-2 drubbing of the A’s. Rodriguez and Matsui hit home runs, and Matsui was a perfect 4 for 4 at the plate.

Then, they lost four in a row and fans began to panic. Thankfully, the Yankees salvaged the last game of a west coast trip and headed into their home opener on April 11 with a 2-4 record.

In the home opener, on April 11, Chien-Ming Wang made a rocky start. He pitched six innings, which is normally fine, but gave up five runs on eight hits with only one strikeout. It’s a good thing his lineup, which was nearly a carbon copy of Opening Day with the exception of a switch at the bottom with Cano moving up to eighth and Williams moving down to the ninth spot, bailed him out. Both Jeter and Giambi had three RBIs and a home run each.

The 2006 squad was a tad streaky, and while a lot of those streaks featured a lot of wins, when they entered play on July 4 they were four games back in the AL East. They were also snakebitten by injuries, losing Sheffield and Matsui for extended periods of time. Both injuries happened within two weeks of each other, both involved the players’ wrists, they involved surgery, and they cast a pall on the season. Matsui broke his wrist while attempting a diving play during a game against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. Sheffield initially injured his wrist during an on-field collision, and after a trip to the DL and a brief return to the lineup, elected to have surgery. Giambi, who carried the team for the majority of the season, was also felled by a wrist injury in late August in Seattle and it affected the rest of his season.

In June, the Yankees drafted two familiar names: Ian Kennedy (1st round, 26th pick) and Joba Chamberlain (1st round, 41st pick) and in July, they traded for Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle while sending minor leaguers C.J. Henry and Jesus Sanchez along with Carlos Monasterios and Matt Smith to the Philadelphia Phillies. They also traded the struggling Chacon to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Craig Wilson.

The Yankees signed free agent Sidney Ponson in mid-July, but that experiment ended a mere 40 days later when he was released with one loss, no wins and  a 10.47 ERA in 16.1 innings.

Throughout the season the middle infielders, Jeter and Cano, were consistent at the plate and had a bit of a batting average battle. Jeter ultimately won, .343 to .342, and finished second in American League MVP voting to Justin Morneau of the Minnesota Twins.

Also having himself a nice season was another sophomore in Chien-Ming Wang. He emerged as the ace of the pitching staff, winning 19 games and finishing a distance second in Cy Young voting behind Minnesota’s Johan Santana.

During a now-infamous weekend in August, the Yankees, thanks to a couple of rainouts earlier in the season, were scheduled to play a five-game series against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. It was to be a doubleheader day on Friday, followed by single games on Saturday, Sunday night and Monday afternoon. The Yankees had dropped two of three at home to Baltimore with the finale in that series on Thursday August 17 a 12-2 drubbing which shrunk the Yankees’ division lead to just 1 1/2 games. The series in Boston would be a big one because it could either help the Yankees or really hurt them.

Around 4:15 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 21, the Yankees walked off the field at Fenway victorious after a 2-1 victory. They had just swept the five-game series and left Boston with a 6 1/2 game lead in the divison.

On Saturday, Aug. 26, the Yankees’ division lead was 5 1/2 games after a loss to the Angels. That’s the lowest it would be for the rest of the season. Their division lead only grew during September and they finished the regular season 10 games ahead of the second place Toronto Blue Jays. It was their ninth straight division win.

Not bad for a bunch of old, injured guys. Of course September did not come and go without without controversy. Sports Illustrated published a story written by Tom Verducci in which Giambi and manager Joe Torre let everyone know that they gave Alex Rodriguez some tough love during the season. Torre even had a closed door meeting with Rodriguez in Seattle during an August series. Of course, the story blew up and it had a rippling affect that the team carried all the way through the playoffs.

September also saw the return of Matsui and Sheffield to the lineup, but their reentry didn’t go as smoothly as the Yankees had hoped.

The 2006 Division Series matched the Yankees against with the Wild Card Detroit Tigers. It turned out to be an unmitigated disaster for the Yankees who won the first game of the series at home, then watched Joel Zumaya pitch out of his mind in relief during Game 2 and dealt with controversy when manager Joe Torre slotted Alex Rodriguez into the eighth slot of the lineup during Game 4 in Detroit. It wasn’t as if Rodriguez deserved to be batting higher, he was putrid during that series (batting .071/.133/.071), but the idea of 2005’s MVP batting anywhere lower than fifth, even in that high-powered lineup, was unheard of no matter how awful he had been at the plate.

But the contention didn’t last long because the Tigers sent the Yankees home after that controversial game in Comerica Park. It was ugly end to a disappointing season.

Some key players and their end of season numbers:

  • Rodriguez: .290/.392/.523 with 35 home runs and 121 RBI
  • Giambi: .253/.413/.558 with 37 home runs and 113 RBI
  • Jeter: .343/.417/.483 with 14 home runs and 97 RBI
  • Cano: .342/.365/.525 with 15 home runs and 78 RBI
  • Mussina: 15-7, 3.51 ERA
  • Cabrera: .280/.360/.391 with seven home runs and 50 RBI
  • Damon: .285/.359/.482 with 24 home runs and 80 RBI
  • Johnson: 17-11, 5.00 ERA
  • Wang: 19-6, 3.63 ERA
  • Wright: 11-7, 4.49 ERA
  • Posada: .277/.374/.492 with 23 home runs and 93 RBI


The 2006 Yankees, while essentially a letdown because of their early and uninspired playoff exit, still finished with a 97-65 record, scored 930 runs (5.74 a game – 1st in the AL), allowed 767 (4.73 a game – 6th in the AL) and showed everyone that even with major injuries to key players and even with some controversy in the clubhouse, a team is still capable of winning games on the field. They just happened to pick the absolute worst time to have a three-game losing streak.

Lead photo: Benny Sieu / USA Today Sports

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