1. Does Joe Girardi and this team have anywhere to go but down?
In a lot of places, managers (and teams) can grade a season based on how it turned out. Did you exceed your win expectations and make a run at the playoffs? Did you actually get into the playoffs? Did you make progress elsewhere within the organization to where you now feel like you’re primed for a run in 2010? Grades can vary…maybe a B+, maybe an A, etc.
In the Bronx, it’s a pass/fail system.
Joe Girardi became the first Yankees manager since Buck Showalter in 1993 to fail to make the playoffs. And a third place finish in New Yorksimply isn’t acceptable, no matter how good the rest of the division is. But you’ve heard all this before. Will Girardi care about the media and fan scrutiny? Probably not a bit. Will he care when Hank Steinbrenner tries to channel his father’s 1970s idiocy? Yeah, maybe.
2. Did the Yankees spend too much this offseason?
Well, whose definition of “too much” are we using? The Royals? Then yes. But if you consider that over $90 million came off the payroll at the conclusion of 2008, well, maybe not.
The Yankees are moving into their new, billion-dollar ballpark which will bring them insane revenue (even in a depressed economy), they’re the most popular/recognized baseball team worldwide and they—to their credit—insist on dumping the trucksloads of money that they generate back into their team.
Sure, they’re still spending more than anyone else in the sport, but let’s not cry poor for other free-spenders like the Red Sox, Mets, Dodgers, Angels, Cubs, etc. The money is there—not all teams use it on players. Some use it to line their pockets or light cigars with (Peter Angelos, everyone in Baltimore is looking at YOU).
3. Do the Yankees now operate not to lose rather than to try to win?
Yes. What the spending did do was once again turn this into a “World Series or Bust” team. The Yankees used to reload—now they’re like that team in every sport that loads up on guys for that one title run, hoping that all the pieces come together THIS YEAR. Only they do that EVERY year.
And it has led to a feeling of anxiety for players, fans, etc. If they win it all, well, it’s a relief. And if they lose before hoisting the World Series trophy, well, then it was a flame-out of a year and an utter failure.
While I understand and respect the mentality of only accepting World Championships as a measure of success (the Yankees, for example, do not hang division title or wild card banners—only World Series), if it’s possible to take it too far, the Yankees have done so.
Whether this is the fans, the media or the Steinbrenner family’s fault (I go with the latter), it is fact. And this makes it less enjoyable to be a Yankee fan, so I would have to think it makes it less fun to be a player, too.
4. Will this be the best pitching staff in recent memory?
On paper, it looks like it could be. Sabathia, Wang, Burnett, Chamberlain, Pettitte, with Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy standing by. Yikes. If it were up to me, I’d move Chamberlain back to the setup role and make him the closer when Rivera retires. You save his arm that way and, frankly, there’s plenty of starting pitching there now.
Plus he was dominant out of the bullpen and possesses the makeup and 100-MPH fireball to be a bullpen assassin.
Alas, the Yankees don’t ever listen to me. And the games aren’t played on paper, as doofus extraordinaires like Chris Berman like to say. Injuries, collisions, running the bases, slipping, falling, fatness, jelly doughnuts, fights, HGH…just a few of the many things that can derail a pitching staff. I’ll let you figure out which ones could apply to whom.
5. Will A-Rod continue to be a head case?
Probably. But he’s the best head case the game has ever seen. And all this talk about him being an aloof chump and nobody liking him is really overblown. Sure, it’d be nice if he wasn’t so self-conscious and as sensitive as a flat-chested high school girl.
Yes, it’d be nice if he didn’t want to be Jeter—mainly because he’s far BETTER than Jeter. It’s possible Joe Torre’s book and other things will affect him during the season, but let’s remember that even when Rodriguez is having a “bad” season, you can count on 30-35 bombs, 100+ RBIs and a .280-.300 average. Take a look.
A-Rod is due for a monster year, though. In his odd numbered years since joining the Yanks, he’s had the following lines:
2005: .321 avg, 48 ding-dongs, 130 RBIs, 173 OPS+
2007: .314 avg, 54 taters, 156 steaks, 177 OPS+
47 more dingers brings Alex to 600 for his career and he won’t be 34 until July.
The Burning Question: Will the Yankees “rebound” from last year’s 89-win, non-playoff season and open the new Yankee Stadium in style?
It’s hard to not see the Yankees making it back to the playoffs. If they suffer a rash of injuries or if Hank Steinbrenner goes ballistic after a poor start and fires everyone in sight, maybe the Yankees falter. But the smart money says they win the AL East again and head back to the playoffs. Tampa Bay will likely have a bit of a letdown and the Red Sox simply didn't reload to the same degree as the Yankees.
Once there, though, as almost anyone knows, it’s a crapshoot of epic proportions. The Cardinals (2006)? The Phillies (2008)? Seriously? One never knows.