New York Yankees: 4 Critical Offseason Moves That Need to Be Made
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As the 2012 postseason has finally come to a merciful end for the New York Yankees, the organization must again prepare to look ahead. The season lasted a little longer than it did last year for the Yankees, of course. however, the Yankees would likely have traded the additional four games played for an early vacation if they had known they would have unraveled so quickly and so completely.
So we look ahead to yet another offseason where the Yankees, if recent history holds, will likely double down on their incessant focus on pitching, pitching and more pitching, all while their lineup continues to break down faster than the relationship between Alex Rodriguez and Joe Girardi.
Just as the 2011 season came to a very similar end, with the Yankees offense disappearing time and again in critical situations, the 2012 season ended with the offense demonstrating even more emphatically how impotent it is against above-average pitching.
This team, so perfectly designed to dominate mediocre regular season pitching, is simply not engineered to respond when runs need to be scored other than through a constant flow of three-run home runs. They don't hit, they can't run, they don't move runners over, they don't sustain rallies of any kind and they strike out more frequently than any playoff-caliber team has any right to.
All of these factors contribute to the need for truly meaningful changes, the kind of changes that aren't cosmetic or solely related to personnel. The change that is required for these Yankees starts at the top of the baseball organization and funnels down from there, sending the message that times must in fact change in Yankeeland.
Here are the four most critical adjustments required if the Yankees are to reverse a truly catastrophic downward spiral in the making.
1. Relieve Brian Cashman of His Duties
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The time, as they say, has come. While it can be argued that Yankees GM Brian Cashman has been hamstrung by large contracts, he isn't responsible for the most glaring example: the ill-advised, 10-year deal for Alex Rodriguez authored by Hank Steinbrenner after the 2007 season.
Tthe reality is that Cashman has mismanaged critical components of this team.
First, Cashman's insistence on acquiring and developing young pitching, at the expense of the development of positional players, has found the Yankees without a single positional player who can be called upon to step into the 2013 Yankee lineup to fill the voids that will be left by the departures of Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson.
And yes, they will both be leaving if there is any sense left in the universe. This does not even address what the team will need to do if Rodriguez is bought out and/or traded.
This almost pathological focus on pitching has, of course, positioned the Yankees to perhaps have three home-grown assets in the mix for 2013. Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova and David Phelps are all candidates. However, the reality is that none, with the possible exception of Hughes, has a robust enough resume to suggest that they can be counted on as a No. 2 or 3 starter.
Keep in mind as well that all of them are potential trade assets, diminishing the Yankees ability to supplement the rotation behind C.C. Sabathia, if Andy Pettite and Hiroki Kuroda are both in the wind.
The reality is that young prospects like Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos, Jose Campos and Michael Pineda are all unlikely to make any contribution to the 2013 staff.
Again, 2013 will likely see Hughes and Nova and perhaps David Phelps in the rotation, but none of the four prospects mentioned previously can be expected to step in and contribute next year due to injuries, at least not in the beginning of the season and more than likely not at all.
Part and parcel to this argument is the trading away of Jesus Montero to Seattle in the deal that brought in Pineda. While Montero did not have anything approaching a breakout season, he did hit 15 home runs and drove in 62 runs as a primary piece of the Mariners offense. He played more than half of the games in Safeco Field, notoriously known as a pitcher-friendly park. In fact, a quick look at his statistical splits makes it clear that he was a very different hitter away from home.
His overall numbers were somewhat similar to those posted by Miguel Cabrera, with whom Montero has drawn comparisons to in his first year in the league. Cabrera's first-year numbers were better than Montero's, of course. But keep in mind that Cabrera, unlike Montero in Seattle this year, wasn't by any means asked to be the centerpiece of the 2003 Marlins offense.
Put Montero in the 2012 Yankee lineup, with more protection and playing half his games in Yankee Stadium, and it is reasonable to suggest his numbers would look much different.
We don't know what Cashman's plans would be for the 2012 offseason, and perhaps he is in fact planning a purge of the 2012 lineup, jettisoning Swisher, Granderson, Rodriguez and Russell Martin in the process. This purge, if planned, could unfortunately not be accompanied by the promotion of any internal, MLB ready assets to supplement the lineup, because there aren't any, and the trade and free-agent markets are problematic for reasons of their own.
Regarding the free-agent market, well, there really aren't any positional players worth pursuing, at least not in terms of filling potential Yankee needs (http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2011/04/2013-mlb-free-agents.html). It is a collection of older players, and all of the younger options have red flags attached. Grady Sizemore is brittle, to say the least, BJ Upton has effort issues and Delmon Young cannot be considered a model citizen by any stretch.
Furthermore, the Yankees want to get under that magical luxury cap mark of $189 million. With roughly 58 percent already tied up in five players, there is little chance that a spending spree is part of any organizational plans.
As for the trade market, this is one of those tragic, best laid plans scenarios. If the Yankees are in fact considering an overhaul, then they will have to offer up some of the few MLB ready assets who can be considered attractive to other teams. Pitchers Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, David Phelps and even David Robertson come immediately to mind, as does Eduardo Nunez in terms of positional players.
If part of the overhaul includes making a play for a Justin Upton or Chase Headley, not only will the Yankees likely have to surrender one of the current MLB pitchers named above, they would also likely have to offer several minor-league assets who might impact the 2014 lineup. Those names include Gary Sanchez, Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams, Dante Bichette, Tyler Austin and several others. Nunez, of course, is also very likely to be included in any discussion.
In the end, Cashman placing all of his development eggs in the pitching basket has left the Yankees with few options on the trade front. The young, injured pitchers in the minors are not trade options right now, as it is unlikely that any teams will provide a worthwhile player in return for hurlers that may never return to the level they were previously.
The Yankees find themselves heading into the 2013 season with a lineup that is much older than it should be, a minor league system not ready to help in any meaningful way with either pitching or positional players and with a mandate to reduce spending.
This is the perfect storm, as they say, and Cashman is directly responsible for much of its formation. With that in mind, Cashman needs to go.
2. The Door Is That Way, Mr. Girardi
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The Yankees had a choice after the 2007 season between Joe Girardi and Don Mattingly to replace the outgoing Joe Torre. At the time, much of the talk centered around Girardi's savant-like baseball knowledge and his remarkable management skills.
He was smart, he was already a part of the Yankee family, had experience managing and was young enough to relate to all of the various generations represented in the Yankee clubhouse.
Mattingly was, of course, the prodigal son. He was the heir apparent to Thurman Munson, the stable, go-to warrior through all of the bad years between championship teams and, perhaps above all, he was groomed by Torre for the job. In the end, this final fact is likely what ended his chances at the time. To be candid, he may not have been the right choice regardless.
Five full seasons later and with more postseason futility that anyone would have anticipated back prior to the 2008 season, Girardi owns a World Series ring and three premature exits from the postseason. Mattingly is, at best, a middling manager who was incapable of turning the Dodgers' unprecedented, late-season spending convulsion into a success.
In other words, when considering the wealth of talent they've had to work with, neither of these gentlemen appear to have been as worthy of consideration for the job as they were given credit for. Considering that the selection process never had any other serious contenders, it's reasonable. in retrospect, to wonder how this was so.
Regardless of how we got here, the simple truth is that Girardi, despite his binders and corporate-level polish, has proven himself unfit to manage this Yankee team. For anyone paying attention, it may also be that his ability to manage any baseball team effectively should also come into question, such are the serious miscalculations that Girardi has become known for.
There was the time when he chose to rest Rodriguez and Brett Gardner and DH Teixeira, during an early August game in Tampa in 2010—a game with first-place implications that the Yankees ultimately lost 3-0. Teixeira's replacement at 1B, the newly acquired Lance Berkman, committed one actual error that led to a run and failed to get to a ball that Teixeira would have had no issue with, which also led to a run.
There was his epic mismanagement during Game 5 of the 2011 ALDS vs. Detroit. With the bases loaded and one out in the eighth inning, he chose to leave right-hand hitting Russell Martin in against a righty reliever down 3-2 in a game they would eventually lose by that same score. He chose this path with Eric Chavez, a lefty hitter, sitting quietly on the bench not so far from Girardi himself.
Another example was Game 1 of the 2012 season, with virtually no truly significant implications on the line, where Girardi decided that CC Sabathia, his true ace, should intentionally walk a batter to load the bases in order to pitch to lefty Carlos Pena. The batter that was walked was Sean Rodriguez, by the way, and Pena responded by launching a ball into the right field bleachers at Tropicana Field.
Why was this last scenario so egregious? Because it's Game 1 of the season, because it's CC Sabathia on the mound and because it's Sean Rodriguez being walked! What purpose could have possibly been served by asking your best pitcher to walk a weak hitting utility player in Game 1 of a season?
For a recent example of Girardi's strange ways, consider his indecipherable handling of Rodriguez during these 2012 playoffs. Rodriguez may be struggling mightily, however benching him for entire games, when one swing of his bat could tie a game or give the team a lead, seems to be overkill of the highest order.
There are more general issues with Girardi's management style as well, such as his hyper-reliance on his beloved binders and his inability to get more out of an offense stacked with superstars. It is these seemingly isolated moments across five seasons, however, that point to a strange sensibility possessed by Girardi that sees him often behave in ways that don't jive with accepted baseball practice.
This all contributes to the conclusion that the Yankees, reeling yet again as the result of another futile postseason effort, need better leadership in the dugout. Girardi is not what he was billed to be, and the Yankees cannot afford his brand of leadership with all of the changes that are sure to come.
3. Lower Ticket Prices
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What exactly do lower ticket prices have to do with anything? It's a reasonable question, but anyone who watched Yankee home games this postseason knows that the current rendition of Yankee Stadium is essentially a dead zone.
Long-time Yankees fans have been replaced by zombified dullards and martini-drinking socialites who appear to have no interest in the actual game being played. This is especially true in what has become known as the "tub," those field-level seats that extend from just beyond first base to just beyond third base.
Even in down times in the past, Yankee Stadium was loud when it should have been loud. In the early 1990s, when the team was primarily a collection of misfits and has-beens, you could still feel the Stadium shake when the team did well. There may have only been 20,000 or so fans, but you could hear them all the way to Connecticut.
Flash forward to 2012 and the transformation is complete. The novelty of seeing the new Yankee Stadium and spending astronomical funds in the process, coupled with a truly horrific economy, has kept the high-energy, grass roots fans away. They've been replaced by corporate season-ticket holders and debutantes who are sapping the place of all its energy and killing the aura of Yankee baseball in the process.
The blame, of course, falls directly on the shoulders of Yankee ownership. It was their decision to build this soulless abomination that ignores Yankee history and shuts out the very fans that allowed them to build it. It is a monument to greed, and a shameful legacy in every way.
The possibility that ticket prices will come down is remote, so remote that even suggesting the possibility feels like a fool's errand. The potential economic hole that this organization has dug for itself as the result of its misplaced vision for the new Yankee Stadium is epic, and this fascination that the team has with getting below the luxury cap payroll threshold of $189 million is not coincidental.
The knee-jerk solution has been to keep prices in the clouds, but reality begs for another approach.
More to the point, the most level-headed people in that organization have to know that they will not continue to grow their fan base with the expenses of going to a game being so out of reach to the average citizen. They must also know the fan base will dramatically shift over time as a result.
Add these realities together and you have less fans supporting the team, which equates to less merchandise being sold and television ad revenues going down as well.
The current path is not sustainable. Fans who cannot afford to spend $500 to $1,000 to bring their families to a game will spend incremental dollars on merchandise, of course, but If they don't take their kids to a game then the next generation of fans is threatened. This is the shape of things, and the only solution is to reverse the current economic strategy.
The first step is ticket prices. Bring back the fans who want to be there for the game, not for the social experience. They will buy tickets more frequently, purchase merchandise religiously and bring their kids to the game. It's a simple solution. So simple that it will likely never happen.
4. Hire Tino Martinez as the Next Yankees Manager
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Tino Martinez currently holds the title of Special Assistant to the General Manager in the Yankee organization. Yankee fans should only hope that the actual duties associated with the job are as lofty as the title itself suggests. If Martinez is indeed in the pipeline for more responsibility internally, and not merely window dressing to honor the teams of the 1990s, then the Yankee organization has quietly made a shrewd investment in their collective future.
It is shrewd because, above all other players, it was Martinez who ran those Yankee teams in the mid-to-late late 1990s. Paul O'Neill was the fiery one and a major influencer in his own right, but Martinez was the shop steward, foreman, confessor and drill sergeant all rolled into one. Additionally, it is no small coincidence that Derek Jeter was named captain in 2003, two years after Martinez had departed.
If you're ever curious as to just how influential Martinez was during his stay with the Yankees, a story relayed by Jeter years ago should put things into clear perspective.
Jeter, in discussing the structure and identity of those Yankee teams, made it clear that, upon returning to the dugout after making a mental error, the one person he feared making eye contact with most was Martinez. Not Joe Torre, Don Zimmer, Mel Stottlemeyer, Bernie Williams, player representative David Cone, borderline-'psychotic Roger Clemens or the aforementioned, exceedingly passionate O'Neill. It was Martinez who held those players accountable, who made sure they stayed sharp and respected the game.
It's difficult to say with certainty what kind of tactician Martinez would make as a manager, and there are no guarantees that he would even be interested in the job to begin with. With that said, though, it's perhaps more difficult imagining that Martinez would be anything less than stellar at anything he endeavored to try.
Martinez is the guy you want on your side, whether you're sitting in a dugout or a foxhole. He made the best Yankee teams of the past 40 years better just by glancing at his teammates a certain way, and that's a quality that cannot be taught nor, for that matter, found in any statistical analysis, no matter how sophisticated the numbers game has become.
If you're the New York Yankees, you have to think about the conditions under which Martinez becomes your next manager. It may not be this year or next, or even the year after that, but it has to happen at some point. Some things just feel right, and Martinez as manager feels more right than Joe Girardi as manager ever did, even more right than Don Mattingly as manager ever did as well.
Some things just feel right; so right that you don't even need a second look.