Welcome back to one of the best New York Yankees team blogs available on the web. Because of some circumstances beyond our control this site was non-operational for the past eight months. There was a thought of suspending the site entirely. But because of some 52 years devoted to the best franchise in sports history we felt we owed our fans the ability to stay up to date with the team on a daily basis. It is with that renewed commitment we will embark at looking at the team’s prospects for 2015.
The New York Yankees have faced two significant championship droughts in their most recent history.
The first was the end of the so-called Mickey Mantle Era in 1965 that lasted until Billy Martin managed the team to a loss to the Big Red Machine in the 1976 World Series. The 10 intervening years saw the team flounder with players such as Bobby Murcer, Roy White, Horace Clarke and Mel Stottlemyre.
George Steinbrenner purchased the Yankees in 1973 and he immediately rebuilt the front office with general manager Gabe Paul, who wrangled trades for players such as Lou Piniella, Graig Nettles, Chris Chambliss and Mickey Rivers. The Steinbrenner money brought in free agents such as Reggie Jackson, Goose Gossage and Catfish Hunter, which was added to a minor-league system that had already produced Thurman Munson and Ron Guidry.
The teams of 1977 and 1978 battled to consecutive World Series titles over the rival Los Angeles Dodgers, restoring the Yankees back to the pinnacle of baseball’s elite that they had not experienced since 1962. But this success proved to be short-lived.
During the strike-shortened 1981 season the Yankees qualified for the playoffs and faced the Dodgers again in the World Series. But they lost and the team soon again drifted into mediocrity. The team was unable to make the playoffs again until 1996 – a playoff drought of an astounding 15 years.
Through a parade of managers and general managers and an even longer list of failed free agents and personnel mistakes the Yankees rebuilt in the early 1990s through a farm system that very quickly produced Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera.
Meanwhile the team was bolstered by the trade of Roberto Kelly to the Cincinnati Reds for Paul O’Neill, the acquisition of first baseman Tino Martinez from the Seattle Mariners and the signings of players like Wade Boggs, David Cone, David Wells and Cuban star Orlando Hernandez.
Steinbrenner fired manager Buck Showalter after a very painful 1995 loss to the Seattle Mariners in the American League Division Series and hired Joe Torre. The rest was history as the Yankees managed to win four World Series over the next five seasons, a run of titles that has been unmatched in the modern era of baseball. In fact, Torre took the Yankees to the playoffs from 1996 until his firing after the 2007 loss to the Cleveland Indians in the American League Division Series.
Though the Yankees returned to prominence under manager Joe Girardi in the 2009 season with a World Series victory over the Philadelphia Phillies, the team has steadily declined. Age forced the retirements of all the “Core Four” (Jeter, Pettitte, Posada and Rivera) and the performance declined from such former stars as CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.
The team that enters the 2015 season is one that has age, long-term money commitments to fading players and a new mix of players that had to be procured on the cheap because of those commitments. The farm system has not produced a regular starter since Brett Gardner came up six years ago. The pitching staff has question marks all over the starting staff and the bullpen has lost its closer from from the past three seasons: 2012 (Rafael Soriano), 2013 (Rivera) and 2014 (David Robertson).
How did this happen?
Well, one reason is the declining health and eventual death of Steinbrenner. “The Boss” ran this club with a tough determination to make the franchise a jewel of Major League Baseball. The team had to win or managers or general managers went. Players had to perform or they would be discarded for better players. It was not always a successful process but the Yankees largely have been contenders for so long it is hard for fans to remember the bad stretches that began in 1965 and 1982.
The 4-0 loss to the Detroit Tigers in the 2012 American League Division Series may have marked an end of another chapter of success and the beginning of another long series of bad seasons.
It appears that the 2013 season may be one of those years like 1965 and 1982 and 2015 could be an extension of that futility. Transition with the Yankees is never pretty.
Another reason the Yankees are in this position is because Steinbrenner’s hand-picked successor Steve Swindal got caught up in a messy DUI incident in 2008 and then later a divorce from Steinbrenner’s daughter Jennifer. Swindal was bought out from the team and Steinbrenner’s sons Hank and Hal took the reins.
There was a very good reason that the elder Steinbrenner had selected Swindal instead of his own sons to run the team. Swindal was the most knowledgeable baseball man and conformed to Steinbrenner’s desire for excellence at all costs. The Steinbrenner sons did not have that same ability and the result has been obvious after the 2009 season.
After the team had invested millions in free agents such as Teixeira, Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, the team decided to hold general manager Brian Cashman to an austere budget to pare the Yankees payroll under the MLB’s salary cap limit that forced the Yankees to have to pay a tax.
From 2010 through the 2013 free-agent signing seasons the Yankees allowed all major free agents to go without much of an effort. Even Cuban and Japanese imports such as Yoenis Cespedes and Yu Darvish barely got a cursory look. The team was determined to either trade, use farm talent or sign cheap free-agent bargains. The team has fallen under the heft of its expensive guaranteed contracts and there is one in particular that has weighed on this team like an albatross.
That was the misguided decision in 2007 to re-sign then free-agent third baseman Rodriguez to a 10-year contract. The team still owes Rodriguez $60 million over the next three seasons despite the fact that age 39 he has not played more than 137 games in a season since 2007. Injuries, controversies and dabbling with performance enhancing drugs has basically reduced A-Rod to a mere shell of what he once was.
The Yankees have to hope he can regain some semblance of that magic because they are on the hook for his contract for three more seasons. Though Rodriguez may be planning to apologize to Yankee fans for his season-long suspension in 2014, he owes the fans an awful lot more.
If this team really does perform as badly as it looks as if they will in 2015 it will mostly be the fault of the Steinbrenner brothers, Cashman and him. It hard to see the sense of providing 10 years of big guaranteed money to someone who has always felt he is above baseball and the rules that govern it.
But here the Yankees are and no one expects Rodriguez to retire with $60 million coming his way. He will gladly hit .210 with 10 homers and 42 RBIs as long as those paychecks keep rolling in. His presence also poisons the clubhouse for the other 24 players on the roster. It is pretty obvious that A-Rod will not be out having beers with Sabathia or Teixiera. More likely he and his entourage will move in its own circles.
It is shame that a fine manager like Girardi will likely lose his job if this team plummets in the standings because none of this is his fault. For the past two seasons he has been patching this lineup with duct tape when it lost players like Rodriguez, Teixeira, Jeter and Sabathia for long stretches of time. It is miracle the team has contended at all the past two seasons given their weakened roster.
Though Girardi is virtually blameless the same can’t be said for Cashman, who is the longest serving GM in Yankee history.
He was given permission to sign free agents last season even at the risk of busting past the salary cap limits. But the whole key to Yankees 2014 season was the re-signing of second baseman Robinson Cano, who was the heir apparent to Jeter’s mantle as team leader and was the best player on this aging team. But Cashman chose to play hardball with Cano instead of treating him as a respected player.
When the Dodgers and Detroit Tigers looked elsewhere for help at second base last winter, Cashman figured that the market for Cano had dried up. So instead of negotiating Cano off his 10-year, $325 million request he went out an signed Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year, $275 million deal. Cano was livid because placing his numbers next to Ellsbury’s was an obvious mismatch weighted towards Cano. He felt he was easily worth $325 million in comparison.
He also was right. Ellsbury is a fine player but he is not in the same league with Cano.
So Cano shopped himself to the Mariners and they felt he was worth the price.
Cashman’s answer to Cano’s signing: He opted to cave in to Carlos Betran’s demand for a three-year deal and he filled Cano’s spot at second with former Baltimore Orioles star Brian Roberts.
The result was very ugly. The 37-year-old Beltran developed a painful bone spur in his right elbow in spring training and he ended up playing 109 games, hitting .233 with 15 home runs and 49 RBIs. Meanwhile, the 37-year-old Roberts played in 91 games and never could get even close to what he used to be. He ended up being released in midseason after hitting a woeful .237 with five homers and 21 RBIs.
Cano, meanwhile, hit .314 for a Mariners club that nearly made the playoffs.
Cashman’s miscalculation has placed the Yankees in a position where they enter the 2015 season with 31-year-old Stephen Drew as their starting second baseman after he hit .162 with seven homers and 26 RBIs with the Yankees and Red Sox last season.
So when the Yankees begin their complete fall off the cliff in 2015 it actually should be Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner who go and not Girardi. But I am not sure that is the way it likely will play out. I can see Steinbrenner firing Girardi and keeping Cashman. That is how those long championship droughts are born. Bad choices and bad luck equal bad results. (Did Casey Stengel say that?)
There will be some bright spots on this team. After all, the team is not completely devoid of talent.
It appears that Dellin Betances could be the real deal if he can maintain his control as a full-time closer. The signing of left-hander Andrew Miller gives the Yankees a second option as a closer and fills the void the team felt when they let Boone Logan walk in 2014.
The signing of Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka proved to be a very good decision. He was exactly what the Yankees hoped he would be in the United States until a small ligament tear was found in his right elbow in July. The Yankees are hoping rest and rehabilitation will prevent him from a more serious tear that will basically shelve him for two seasons. They are rolling the dice on it anyway.
It also was apparent that if Michael Pineda had not missed most of the season with a shoulder muscle injury that he would have established himself as a rising young right-hander.
But the rest of the rotation is a litany of question marks, hopes and prayers. The bullpen has been completely reshuffled and it is not clear what pitchers Girardi will have pitching ahead of Miller and Betances.
The offense? Don’t ask.
Recently a composite ranking of fantasy baseball players came out. Ellsbury was ranked No. 22, which makes him a third-round selection. The next highest Yankee position player on that list was Gardner at 109, which is an 11th-round choice. That is an grim indicator of how much the Yankees offense has fallen on hard times.
They require bounce back seasons from Teixeira, Rodriguez and Beltran as well as for second-year starting catcher Brian McCann, who stumbled his way through a 2014 season in which he batted .232 with 23 homers and 75 RBIs.
The biggest news of all is that for the first time since the 1995 season the Yankees will be without Jeter at shortstop. Because there was no one in the system groomed to replace him (Cashman again), the Yankees acquired 25-year-old Didi Gregorius.
His reputation is that he has a great glove, great range and a developing bat. His big weakness is left-hand pitching so he likely will have to share the position with great-field and no-hit Brendan Ryan, yet another player over 30.
The Yankees also have to hope Drew can recapture his magic at the plate and that third baseman Chase Headley is better than a .243 hitter that he was with the Padres and Yankees last season.
The bench has some veterans, of course.
Former Pirate Garrett Jones has been added as a backup first baseman, right-fielder and designated hitter. The Yankees also retained Chris Young, who is a poor man’s version of Alfonso Soriano with even more strikeouts.
If you think this sounds bad I am actually trying to sugarcoat some of it.
But, hey, the Kansas City Royals made the World Series last season and who could have predicted that? Of course, they did it with a team full of young players and an exceptional bullpen. They Yankees currently have neither of those two ingredients.
But I can say that Girardi will select the best 25 players this spring. He also will put out the best lineup he can on a daily basis. You can also count on him getting the team to outperform expectations as they have the past two seasons.
Whether it will be enough to win the American League East or qualify as a wild card is an open question.
In the coming days I will examine the players more in depth and take a look forward at spring training to go over who the Yankees will likely keep on the roster and what young players are poised to make a splash for the team in coming years.
I hope you enjoy the analysis. All I can say is I am glad to be back and let’s get ready to play ball!
RED SOX 5, YANKEES 1
What is about the Yankees and pine-tar incidents? But, to be even more to the point, does anyone see the hypocrisy within the two?
Michael Pineda (2-2) was ejected on Wednesday in the bottom of the second inning by home-plate umpire Gerry Davis for having a foreign substance, Davis said it was pine tar, on his neck. New York, trailing 2-0 at the time, went on to lose to John Lackey (3-2) and Boston in front of a national television audience and a paid crowd of 37,015 at Fenway Park.
The most famous pine-tar incident in Yankee history dates back to July 24, 1983 when George Brett of the Kansas City Royals connected for a two-run home run off Rich “Goose” Gossage with two outs in the ninth inning to turn a 4-3 deficit into a 5-4 lead.
Manager Billy Martin correctly pointed out to home-plate umpire Tim McClelland that Brett’s bat had pine tar within 17 inches from the top in violation of baseball’s rules. McClelland agreed and called Brett out, which set the stage of the famous scene where Brett stormed out of the dugout to confront the umpiring crew and he even bumped into a few.
I have been harboring this question since 1983 but why wasn’t Brett ejected and fined for that outburst? Odd.
Anyway, American League president Lee MacPhail sided with the Royals and their protest of the game and he made the teams play out the bottom of the ninth inning with the Royals ahead 5-4.
He basically was saying that the rule was correctly applied but that pine tar did not have any effect in helping Brett hit the home run.
Now some 31 years later, every baseball manager and pitcher will tell you that pine tar has no effect in a pitcher’s ability to throw a baseball. It simply provides an opportunity for a pitcher to gain a better grip on the ball. So if we are to invoke the “MacPhail Doctrine” to this case than Major League Baseball should reinstate Pineda from his ejection and order the Yankees and Red Sox to resume that game from that point he was ejected, right?
There is a definite double standard at play here.
I am not saying that Pineda was not naive to believe that the pine tar was not visible. But we have to accept his reasoning that after throwing a number of pitches out of the strike zone on a cold and windy night (gusts up into the mid-30s) that he was afraid he might hit somebody and injure them.
If pine tar made Pineda’s slider dive like a majestic eagle and made hitters look like Little League bench players, than I would be on the side of the ejection and the 10-game suspension he was handed. But, absent that, I think we should just replay that game as McPhail would have ordered if he were still in charge.
Red Sox manager John Farrell has now been put into a very dicey situation. The reason is that two of his pitchers, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, are widely known around the league for using pine tar when they are pitching. Buchholz was caught in a very widely publicized incident last season dipping his fingers to his left arm to get a better grip on the baseball.
The Yankees will be ready and waiting to have the umpires undress those pitchers down their jock straps should they suspect they are doing the same thing. So you may want to be careful and that phrase you reap what you sow comes to mind.
Of course, cheating and the Red Sox are pretty much synonymous. They just get better P.R.
David Ortiz was caught doing steroids but he is the Red Sox model held up to the kids in the community. He claimed that some doctor in the Dominican Republic gave him a shot and he did not know what it was. Huh?
Does anyone but me think it is extremely odd that in 2003 Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek and outfielder Trot Nixon hit their career highs in home runs? Varitek hit 25 and Nixon hit 28. In 2004, baseball instituted a new drug testing procedure and Nixon never hit more than 13 home runs in a season after that. Varitek’s power “faded’ suddenly also.
Sports Illustrated actually ran a story indicating that it was well known that both Varitek and Nixon were doing steroids but they were never named in any investigation or listed as failing any drug test.
But the only real reason they were not caught was they were fortunate that nobody in the clubhouse that witnessed it came forward to snitch on them.
So the Red Sox maintain this huge halo around them that seems to suggest that none of their players ever would consider cheating to gain an advantage on the field.
Now that they have fired the first salvo in 2014 at Pineda and the Yankees we will just see where that halo ends up by the end of this season. I am not really sure it will remain so high above their heads.
The Yankees will try to win their second series against the Red Sox on Thursday.
CC Sabathia (2-2, 5.19 ERA) will get the start for the Yankees coming off his best outing of the season. Sabathia held the Tampa Bay Rays to two runs (one earned) in seven innings to even his record on Thursday. He lost his start to the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on April 11 after blanking them over the first five innings.
Left-hander Felix Doubront (1-2, 5.48 ERA) will throw for the Red Sox. Doubront allowed two runs on five hits and two walks and seven strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings but did not get a decision against the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday.
Game-time will be 7:10 p.m. EDT and the game will be broadcast nationally by the MLB Network and locally by the YES Network.
“Choices are the hinges of destiny.”
– Pythagoras, Greek philosopher
ALDS GAME 3: KEY MOMENT
In the pivotal game of the Yankees-Orioles division series, manager Joe Girardi made one the boldest and ballsiest calls in major-league postseason history.
With his big power-hitter Alex Rodriguez 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in the game and 1-for-12 with seven strikeouts in the series, Girardi elected to sit the most dangerous home run hitter of this generation and replace him with a 40-year-old left-handed hitter to face the American League’s best closer this season in right-hander Jim Johnson.
The Yankees were down 2-1 and they were two outs away from being left down in the playoff series 2-1 to the upstart Orioles.
But Girardi was resolute in his decision. He told Rodriguez to sit and Ibanez to grab a bat.
Think of the blowback if Ibanez had failed. The New York scribes would have had a foot race to the clubhouse for reaction from A-Rod. Headlines would have blared “Joe Loses Cool By Subbing Raul” or “Joe Panics; Yanks Fall.”
That, of course, is the nature of the New York media. They are with you until you fail and then you are left out to dry. Billy Martin, Yogi Berra Dick Howser were folded spindled and mutilated by the headline hungry denizens in the Bronx Zoo.
But after Johnson had retired Ichiro Suzuki, the crowd on the one hand stunned and, on the other hand, hopeful with fingers and toes crossed routed on Ibnez as he lumbered to the plate.
“Raul had to come through,” Girardi said. “Raul had some kind of day for us today, and you have to make decisions sometimes that are tough decisions. But I just had a gut feeling.”
Ibanez had his share of travails this season, too.
In spring training, Ibanez hit in the first three weeks of spring training as if he just picked up a bat at age 40 and was giving the major leagues a try. It was if he could not hit a ball off a tee he was so bad. But Girardi told the press that Ibanez was a professional hitter his entire career and that he had faith he would turn it around soon.
Sure enough, Ibanez starting roping line drives all over the place at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, FL, and the wolves (the writers) were forced to stop baying at the moon.
Ibanez then became an integral part of the Yankees success this season. Forced into playing more outfield than he had expected in the absence of starting left-fielder Brett Gardner, Ibanez hit 19 home runs, drove in 62 runs and batted .240 in 340 at-bats this season for the Yankees.
Of course, Ibanez also fell into a severe slump in late August that bled into September. Once again, Girardi kept faith with his veteran outfielder/designated hitter. And again Ibanez rewarded the skipper.
Beginning with a Sept. 22 game against Oakland in which Ibanez entered the game as pinch-hitter in the fifth inning and he ended up hitting two game-tying homers, he went on a full-fledged tear in the final two weeks of the season. Ibanez went 15-for-37 (.405) with five home runs and nine RBIs down the stretch.
He also punctuated his hot streak with a game-tying two-run pinch-hit home run in the bottom of the ninth and a game-winning RBI single in the 12th in a must-win 4-3 victory the Red Sox on Oct. 2.
But those heroics on Sept. 22 and Oct. 2 were but a dress rehearsal for what he was being asked to do on Wednesday. It is one thing to pinch-hit for Casey McGehee (as he did on Sept. 22) or Eduardo Nunez (as he did on Oct. 2). It is quite another to pinch-hit for A-Rod.
That is pressure.
But Ibanez was able to cast it aside enough to concentrate on what he wanted to do: Get a Johnson sinker up enough so that he could launch it into the seats. Johnson provided it on the very first pitch and Ibanez took care of it.
The subdued but hopeful crowd of 50,497 seemed to rise as one while the baseball traveled on a low, line-drive trajectory towards the straightaway right-field. It rose well over the head of Oriole defensive replacement Endy Chavez and some five rows into the bleachers.
On the top step of the dugout cheering loudly was A-Rod.
“Maybe 10 years ago, I’d react a much different way. But I’m at a place in my career right now where team means everything,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t think there was anybody in the ballpark more excited for Raul than me.”
That home run, harkening Yankee fans back to the days of Bucky Dent, Reggie Jackson and Aaron Boone, allowed the Yankees to stave off what would have been a saddening blow to their playoff hopes. But Ibanez wasn’t having it.
The game remained tied until Ibanez’s next at-bat leading off the bottom of the 12th. Orioles manager Buck Showalter had opted to leave in left-hander Brian Matusz to face him.
Again, Ibanez was looking for a pitch up to drive. Matusz threw a chest high fastball but it was in the middle of the plate. Ibanez was ready and the sound so familiar to the fans rang out all over Yankee Stadium.
Ibanez, knew, Matusz knew and the fans there and those watching at home knew where it was going.
In one mere stretch of just two swings in two at-bats, Ibanez – should the Yankees advance to their 28th world championship – will be remembered in Yankee lore for what he did this evening.
While they are at it, they should also remember the guts it took for Girardi to push the correct button. Managers seem to get little of the credit and most of the blame in baseball.
This is not one of those instances. Girardi played his roster like a maestro and the music hit a real high note in the Bronx.