Why Not Even George Steinbrenner Could Rescue This New York Yankees Team
This is a preemptive article. I don't know when the next "What would George Steinbrenner do?" lamentation is going to come. Or why, for that matter.
What I do know is that we certainly haven't heard the end of these lamentations. I also know that the question itself is all wrong. It's not what The Boss would do.
No, with these New York Yankees, it's what The Boss could do. What could he possibly do to rescue this Yankees team from the peril it's facing?
Not much. The 2013 Yankees are in rough shape heading into the season, but the sort of rescue they need is the kind that even The Boss wouldn't be able to help them with.
If I had to take a wild guess, I'd say that the next "What would George do?" lamentation is going to have something to do with Derek Jeter. The longtime Yankees shortstop is aiming to be in the lineup on Opening Day, but his recovery from a fractured ankle suffered in Game 1 of the ALCS against the Detroit Tigers isn't going too smoothly.
Yanks general manager Brian Cashman admitted this week that Jeter could start the season on the disabled list.
"I just can't rule it out," said Cashman, via MLB.com. "We've got to do what's right for him. Whatever is right for him, it will be right for us."
If Jeter is forced to start the season on the DL, he'll join Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and now Phil Hughes (Bryan Hoch of MLB.com has the latest on him) on the list of prominent and well-paid Yankees who won't be there on Opening Day.
The injuries would render the lineup, in particular, much less scary than usual. Without A-Rod, Jeter, Granderson or Teixeira, the Yankees would field a starting nine consisting of spare parts, little home run power and even less star power. It will look nothing like a typical Yankees lineup.
And if it happens, somebody's bound to ask: "What would George do?"
My money would be on Joel Sherman of the New York Post, who asked the question in November after the Toronto Blue Jays pulled off their big trade with the Miami Marlins. More recently, he pondered what The Boss would have thought of Cashman's recent play to lure Chipper Jones out of retirement. Sherman hasn't forgotten how The Boss used to run things, and he's not alone there.
Beyond ranting and raving at the increasingly dire state of his team, The Boss wouldn't have much to do in response to Jeter starting the year on the DL alongside A-Rod, Granderson and Teixeira. It's not like he would have many options available. In fact, he could really only...
What could The Boss do to help the Yankees these days? Go out and acquire a new shortstop? And while he's at it, a new center fielder and first baseman?
From where, exactly?
At this point in the spring, the free-agent market couldn't be more barren. The list of available shortstops consists of guys like Jason Bartlett and Wilson Valdez. The list of available center fielders has only Scott Podsednik and Grady Sizemore, whose health is still a wreck.
The Yankees have already consulted the list of first basemen, and it was ugly enough to make them turn to a pair of retirees: Derrek Lee and Jones. They both said thanks, but no thanks.
The only free agent worth mentioning still looking for work is Kyle Lohse. The Boss probably would be interested in him after all that's happened to the Yankees this spring, but I presume that even he would understand that signing Lohse wouldn't solve what ails the Yankees. Lohse can't hit home runs, after all, and he had an ERA near 5.00 as an American Leaguer earlier in his career to boot.
With the free-agent market all dried up, The Boss would be forced to turn to the trade market to try to rescue the Yankees. And to this end, no prospect in the Yankees farm system would be safe. They would all be bait for potential high-profile trades. Anything to solve this mess, really.
Going this route, however, could do more harm than good.
There are deals the Yankees can make that would help them put their boat upright heading into 2013. Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau has been suggested as a possible stand-in for Teixeira if his wrist injury costs him the year.
The Twins are only going to give Morneau up for prospects, according to David Waldstein of The New York Times, but that wouldn't have concerned The Boss. He'd only care about the fact that he'd be adding a star-caliber player to a team in need of one.
But even if that deal were to be completed, he would still have to ask himself a question: Is one star player really all this Yankees team needs?
Of course not. The Yankees lost two stars over the winter when Nick Swisher and Rafael Soriano left as free agents, and they let a darn good player in Russell Martin walk as well. To replace these players, the Yankees loaded up on spare parts. They went into spring training weaker than usual, and they've only gotten weaker since, thanks to the dastardly injury bug.
As such, the Yankees wouldn't be in good shape until several high-profile trades were made, each of which would leave the team's farm system drier and drier. Even then, there would still be a problem.
We can discuss trades all day long, but the fact is that no amount of trades is going to fix the fundamental problem that this Yankees team is facing: It's old.
As in, older than usual. The aches and pains the Yankees have experienced in recent months aren't a dose of bad luck. They're a dose of reality, and reality isn't likely to leave the Yankees alone once the season gets under way. If Steinbrenner were here, he couldn't make the players age backward.
And there's a pretty major dilemma. The Yankees' championship hopes aren't totally doomed, but the age factor is the biggest reason their championship window is closing very rapidly. Giving the roster a boost via trades would only succeed in delaying the inevitable. Making the Yankees better in the short term isn't going to erase the fact that they absolutely must get younger for the long term.
For that, they need a strong farm system. ESPN's Keith Law thinks they have one now, and guys like Gary Sanchez and Mason Williams are generally seen to have bright futures.
Good. The Yankees are going to need them, and whatever other top prospects they can get their hands on. A return to the club's roots is in order.
The Yankees understood the value of player development when Gene Michael and Cashman were running the show back in the 1990s. Guys like Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera all graduated to the majors and became stars, and the Yankees used their financial might to make sure they were always surrounded by quality veteran players.
These many years later, it's easy to forget that the Yankees forged their dynasty from within and augmented it from without, not the other way around.
The train didn't go off the rails until after the Yankees lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2001 World Series. That's when they kicked up their superstar collection efforts, and Buster Olney noted in The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty (pages 319-320) that The Boss was the one who made it happen. After the loss to the D-Backs, Olney wrote that Steinbrenner "reverted to his old habits."
Those habits resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars spent on payroll, few top prospects graduating to the majors and only one World Series in 2009. That's a relatively small payoff for so much effort and money.
More and more each year, the Yankees are really feeling the "few top prospects graduating" part. The Yankees have been able to get by all this time because they've always had a strong core of talented players centered around Jeter who, while maybe not young, were at least still in their primes. That's not the case anymore.
The Yankees have one player who's still in the prime of his prime, and that's Robinson Cano. Take one look at the bodies around him on the Yankees roster, and it's never been more clear that the club is going to need a new core to build around in the very near future.
The Yankees have one of those growing down below, and it shouldn't be sacrificed to prop up a major league roster that would still have issues anyway.
If Steinbrenner were still alive and still at the controls of the Yankees, the smart thing for him would be to do what the Yankees are already doing. You can rest assured that Hal Steinbrenner, Cashman and the rest of the club's suits have their doubts, but they're not being hasty.
They know they have no free-agent options, and they know that they can't fix what ails the club through trades without compromising the team's long-term future. Given the circumstances, they can either go all in on the 2013 Yankees or take their chances with what they've got and wait patiently for a brighter future to arrive.
We remember The Boss as a guy who would have done things differently. We remember him as a guy who would have been all for the all-in approach. Rightfully so, given his rep back in the day.
It's the other half of that rep that needs to be considered whenever somebody asks what George would do. He was aggressive and relentless, but he wasn't always right.
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