Since their inaugural season way back in 1901, when they played out of Baltimore and were called the Orioles, the New York Yankees have won 27 World Series (two of which have come in the 21st century), which is 16 more than the second place St. Louis Cardinals. So to say that they are the most storied franchise in major league history would be something of an understatement.
Many of the greatest players of the 20th century were Yankees—including Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle—but the 21st century has seen its fair share of star Clippers, as well. That said, the Bronx Bombers haven’t been quite as dominant this century as they were in the previous, which saw the Yanks set the record for consecutive World Series wins with 4, from 1936-39, only to break it a decade later when they won 5 straight from 49-53.
Now in a rebuilding phase, after the retirements of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez, and soon Mark Teixiera, it might be a while before they find themselves in a position to win another championship, let alone consecutive championships, so let’s look back at what they’ve done so far this century by ranking the eight best and 7 worst Yankees since 2000.
15 Jason Giambi
Prior to this season, this spot probably would have gone to Mark Teixeira, who, in 8 seasons with the club, has over 200 home runs and over 600 RBI. But an abysmal 2016, which has seen him hover around the Mendoza line with a fraction of the homers and runs batted in that he usually puts up, bumped Tex from the list and made room for Jason Giambi. In fewer games than Teixeira, Giambi hit roughly the same amount of home runs and drove in roughly the same amount of runs, but with a much higher on-base percentage (.404 compared to .344).
His numbers began to tail off near the end of his time in the Bronx, but he continued to hit the long ball and get on base at a near league-leading clip into his late 30s, something Teixeira can’t say about himself.
14 Jorge Posada
Jorge Posada is right up there with Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey, and Thurman Munson when it comes to the greatest Yankee catchers of all time, and with 275 career home runs, he can already call himself one of the greatest offensive backstops in MLB history. After four consecutive All-Star selections, Posada finished third in AL MVP voting in 2003 when he batted .281 with 30 home runs, 101 RBI, and a .405 on-base percentage.
Along with Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and Derek Jeter, Posada made up one quarter of what was dubbed the “Core Four,” which together won five World Series, seven AL pennants, and 11 AL East Championships.
13 Andy Pettitte
Speaking of the “Core Four,” Andy Pettitte played 15 of his 18 big league seasons with the Yankees, compiling a record of 219-127 with an ERA of 3.94 and 2,448 strikeouts, making him the third-winningest pitcher in team history and the leader in Ks.
Pettitte might not have been as flashy as other 21st century Yankee starters (i.e., he never won a Cy Young and was only named to three All-Star teams), but his consistency and longevity earn him a spot on this list over guys like Roger Clemens and C.C. Sabathia.
Some have argued that Pettitte was only as successful as he was because he was on one of the best teams in baseball history, but that thought should be put to rest when you consider that he had one of his best seasons ever when he was with the Astros, going 17-9 with a 2.39 ERA.
12 Bernie Williams
On a team full of amazing hitters, Bernie Williams often stood out as the best, with a career batting average of .297 over 16 seasons, all with the Yankees. While his best seasons numbers-wise came in the 1990s, including a combined .340 batting average and .429 on-base percentage from 1998-99, he remained consistently productive into the 2000s, making back-to-back All-Star teams in 2000 and 2001 and helping the Yanks to their 26th World Series.
Derek Jeter gets much of the credit for the late 20th/early 21st century Yankees dynasty, which won 4 World Series from 1996-2000, but Bernie Williams was just as deserving of the nickname “Mr. November” for his postseason heroics, winning the ALCS MVP Award and ranking amongst the best in several playoff statistics.
11 Robinson Cano
Robinson Cano arrived in New York after the dynasty had ended, but he was able to help the Yankees win their 27th and final World Series in 2009, when he finished second in team batting with an average of .320 and chipped in with a then-career high 25 home runs.
Like Jeter, Cano began his career in the Yankees system and spent several successful years with the team, compiling a .309 batting average with 204 home runs and 822 RBI in 9 seasons while barely missing a game from 2007-2013.
At the moment, the Yankees are in dire need of a player like Cano—who remains one of the best middle infielders in the game, setting a new career high this season with the Mariners with 35 home runs—as they watch their playoff hopes dwindle with just a few games left in the season.
10 Alex Rodriguez (2004-15)
Say what you want about A-Rod, who might just be the most polarizing figure in the history of the sport, but there’s no denying that he’s one of the best to ever play the game, and certainly one of the best the Yankees have had in the 21st century. Not including this atrocious season (we’ll get to that later), Rodriguez had some of the best seasons, at least statistically speaking, of any Bronx Bomber ever, including a 2007 MVP campaign that saw him swat a league-leading 54 home runs and 156 RBI with a batting average of .314.
His time in New York might have been marred by steroid scandals, but it’s hard to argue with 351 home runs and 1,096 RBI.
9 Mariano Rivera
What can you say about Mariano Rivera that hasn’t already been said? With 652 career saves (most all time), he is the greatest closer in the history of the league, and possibly the greatest pitcher ever to take the mound for the Yankees. Among his many accomplishments are 13 All-Star selections, 5 World Series rings, 5 Rolaids Relief Man Awards, and a World Series MVP.
Believe it or not, his time with the Yankees didn’t get off to a great start, going 5-3 with a 5.51 ERA as a starter in his rookie season, but with a move to the bullpen and the development of one of the nastiest pitches ever, his famous cutter, he became the best relief pitcher of all time, leading the league in saves on three separate occasions and posting a career 2.21 ERA.
8 Derek Jeter
No other player in the 21st century—maybe even of all time—better encapsulated what it means to be a New York Yankee than Derek Jeter. Captain Clutch, as he was called because of his ability to deliver in key situations, never won an MVP like A-Rod, but he was consistent throughout his career, which earned him 14 All-Star selections, 5 Silver Slugger Awards, and 5 Gold Glove Awards.
His 3,465 hits in pinstripes put him far and above anyone else in Yankees history, but even more impressive is the fact that he’s played over 300 more games than any other Bronx Bomber, barely missing a game since his first full season in 1996 while playing perhaps the most important position on the field.
7 The Worst
7. CC Sabathia (2013-present)
Now on to the stinkers. And believe it or not, despite the fact that they have remained one of the best teams in baseball long after their glory days in the late 90s, there have been more than a few players who have threatened to tarnish the reputation of the famous pinstriped uniform. One of those players is C.C. Sabathia.
Sabathia is a unique case in that he easily could have made the “best” side of this list had he not continued to play for the team after 2012, his final All-Star season. From 2009 (the year he was traded to the Yankees) to 2012, he was one of the most dominant pitchers in the game, sporting a high-90s fastball that struck out batters at a rate of nearly one per inning. But 2013 on has been a completely different story, as he’s seen his velocity dip drastically while his ERA spiked to well over 4, not exactly what you’d expect from a guy who’s making $25 million a year.
6 Joba Chamberlain
Drafted 41st overall by the Yankees in 2006, there was talk that Joba Chamberlain could one day succeed Mariano Rivera in the role of closer. With a high-90s fastball and a nasty sweeping slider, he certainly had the tools necessary to do so, but he lacked the command or temperament to be trusted in late innings, walking 76 batters and leading the league in hit batters with 12 in 157.1 innings of work in 2009 after a stellar rookie season.
But the numbers don’t tell just how disappointing Joba the Hut was as a Yankee. Touted as the next big thing, he finished his career in New York with just 23 wins and 5 saves, and quickly went from being a fan favorite with all the potential in the world to a late inning liability who never quite lived up to that potential.
5 Vernon Wells
Vernon Wells represents one of many bad 21st century signings by the Yankees, who developed a tendency for acquiring players who were well past their prime. After 12 successful seasons with the Toronto, where he had a combined .280 batting average, he spent two miserable seasons with the Angels, seeing his offensive numbers decrease across the board, which makes his signing by the Yankees all the more bewildering, especially considering how they were taking responsibility for nearly $14 million of his remaining $42 million contract. And their gamble would not pay off, as his offensive output would continue to decline, batting just .233 with 11 home runs for the Yankees in 2013. Money not well spent, to say the least.
4 Travis Hafner
Speaking of players who were past their prime, Vernon Wells’s teammate that season, Travis Hafner, didn’t fair much better. But hey, at least he came with a much lower price tag.
Even with a relatively meager $2 million contract, however, Hafner still didn’t live up to his salary, playing in just 82 games for the Bombers and swatting 12 home runs with 37 RBI with a batting average of just .202, 109 points lower than his career best.
Pronk’s awfulness in a Yankee uniform might have slid by unnoticed had he not once been one of the premier sluggers in the game, hitting 42 home runs with 117 RBI while with the Indians in 2006. He’s just one of many examples in the past few years of the Yankees overpaying for over-the-hill players (see also: Vernon Wells, Andruw Jones, Nick Johnson, Randy Johnson, and Kevin Youkilis, to name but a few).
3 Stephen Drew
Even though Stephen Drew displayed above average power for his position, with 17 home runs in just 383 at bats in 2015, his .201 batting average and .271 on-base percentage has to make him one of the worst Yankees in recent memory. In two incomplete seasons with the team he had a combined batting average of .187 with a microscopic .609 OPS.
The Yankees had a chance to rid themselves of Drew’s terrible bat when he became a free agent at the end of 2014, yet for some inexplicable reason they opted to re-sign him to a $5 million contract—this despite the fact that he had a combined .162 average in 85 games with New York and Boston in 2014. The Yankees have no one to blame but themselves for this one.
2 Alex Rodriguez (2016)
Did we mention that A-Rod was a polarizing figure in New York? Had he retired before this season it would have been far less polarizing.
After returning from a lengthy suspension in 2015 and proving that he still had some gas left in the tank (33 homers worth, to be exact), he would go on to prove this season that the tank was completely empty. To take this vehicular metaphor a few steps further, A-Rod, sporting a spare tire, completely blew out his engine in 2016, batting exactly .200 with just 9 home runs, falling four short of 700 all time. By the end of his time in New York, manager Joe Girardi was benching Rodriguez in favor of much younger call-ups.
1 Kei Igawa
Yankees fans would love nothing more than to forget all about Kei Igawa, the Japanese import who was supposed to be their answer to Boston's Daisuke Matsuzaka. New York won the rights to negotiate with Igawa after bidding over $26 million on him, roughly $10 million more than the next highest bidder. They would then sign him to a five-year, $20 million contract, which turned out to be one of the biggest wastes of money in team history, as the Japanese southpaw would only see action in 16 games, for a total of 71.2 innings pitched, giving up 53 runs and 15 home runs for an ERA of 6.66 (a fitting number).
After his horrendous pair of seasons in the bigs, Igawa would toil in the minors for a few years before returning to Japan, disgraced but a few million dollars richer.