Most Yankee fans have already tried their best to forget about the 2008 season. They've been re-focusing their attention on the NFL, NHL, NCAA, or something sports related that doesn't have to do with the Boston Red Sox playing in yet another American League Championship Series.
For the die hard fans, watching their division rivals duke it out for a chance to go to the World Series is a painful experience. While it is not a birthright to see the Yanks in the playoffs, over the past decade plus, seeing an electric Yankee Stadium in October has become a part of what makes autumn, autumn.
While the fans attempt to divert from agony of finishing third, they can only hope those responsible for the $200 million product that didn't make it are already hard at work on a plan to put the Yankees back where they belong—playing baseball in the fall.
That process starts with Hank Steinbrenner. What fans love about Hank is that he has his dad's passion for victory. He is willing to do what it takes to win, and he speaks his mind about his team.
What can drive fans nuts about Hank is that he is good at deflecting the attention of his team's poor performance and he likes to point fingers.
When the Yankees were eliminated, instead of talking about the task at hand and fixing the problems, he rambled on about Joe Torre, the Dodgers, and how they played in an inferior division.
While we all know that, Hank, it's not the time or the place to talk about it. Your job is simple—sit down with the brass in your Tampa office and start the architecture.
There are decisions to be made. Free agents to keep, free agents to let go, free agents from other teams to sign, and maybe some trades to be made.
It's time for Hank to close his mouth and start the evaluation process.
Yes, injuries hurt, but every team had key injuries and found ways to get around them. As we move into a pivotal offseason for the Yankees, here is what Hank Steinbrenner has accomplished and the mountain he has ahead of him.
Mission one for Hank—accomplished. He retained Brian Cashman.
This was a smart move. Cashman helped build the teams that were successful and feels accountable for where the organization has gone since. Cashman is the right man for the job.
He is great at deflecting attention from his players (remember ARod/Madonna; Andy Pettite HGH). Cashman puts himself at the front lines to keep the players focused on the task at hand.
Mission two for Hank—accomplished. He supported Joe Girardi's performance in his first year at the helm.
Let's not forget that this team won 89 ballgames. All minus a 19-game winner in Chein Ming Wang, minus 25 home runs and 100 RBI from Jorge Posada, minus meaningful contribution from Hideki Matsui, and through the very erratic play from Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera.
Girardi learned a lot about what it is to manage in New York vs. managing the Marlins. I think Girardi is still the right guy for the job.
Mission three for Hank—"The Offseason." Results are yet to be seen.
Steinbrenner and Cashman have lots of decisions to make.
What will make this task successful? Does he HAVE to spend $100 million on a front line starter? While it would be nice, they have to take a look at the pieces they have in place and find the right role players.
Would CC Sabathia solve a lot of problems? Of course! Combine him with the Wang we knew in 2007 and it's a great one-two punch. The question is, does CC want to pitch in the Big Apple? Rumor is he wants to go back to the West Coast. So guys like AJ Burnett, Ryan Dempster, Jon Garland, or a host of other combinations could come into play.
Surely we can expect the rotation will have a fresh look when we hit Tampa in February. Is it reasonable to expect the Mike Mussina of 2008 to pitch like that in 2009? Maybe, maybe not. At a minimum, he's earned a shot to prove it. They should re-sign Moose and not offer him a bum deal like they did with Bernie Williams.
The bigger decisions will come at first base and in the outfield. Will Posada catch again? Is a platoon option better than landing an expensive Mark Teixeira? Platoon for a year and hold out for Ryan Howard's possible free agency in 2010? Is Giambi the answer? Is Melky an everyday guy? Can Brett Gardner get on base enough to be an everday guy? Or do you make a trade for a CF?
There's a lot of work to be done that can make or break the 2009 season.
Mission four for Hank—Player Development. Again results have yet to be seen.
Look at the teams participating in the 2009 playoffs. They are all getting BIG contributions from young home grown guys the way the Yankees did in the mid to late '90s. Guys like Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, BJ Upton, Evan Longoria, Ryan Braun, Ryan Howard, James Loney, Kevin Youkilis, to mention a few.
The challenge is managing player development vs. free agent spending. It's hard to develop players when you don't get top draft picks each year. So of course it's reasonable to expect that the Brewers or Rays would eventually have a good ball club.
Sustaining that is of course a challenge, but Theo Epstein and the Red Sox have managed to balance both worlds.
It's time Hank and Cashman figure out that formula. How do we get back to finding the young Bernies, Jeters, Posadas, and Marianos of the world and balance them with the RIGHT free agents again? Again, a bigger mission that can only be evaluated in time.
But it's clear to all those Yankee fans what the mission is. Sure, 89 games in nice, but a 27th World Championship and parade down Broadway is nicer.
It's up to the front office to make the right decisions this offseason, then it's up to Jeter, A-Rod, and their new cast to make it happen in 2009.