New York Yankees: Are the Yankees Facing a Red Sox-Type Makeover?
Success certainly raises the bar, as the Boston Red Sox have learned.
Two World Series titles in the first decade of the new millennium made the Red Sox more like the New York Yankees than they probably care to be. As the payroll increased, so did expectations. When those expectations weren't met, the ax fell. First on manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein, and now on the core of the team expected to contend this season.
Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford are headed to Dodger town with their silly money contracts in one of the biggest trades in baseball history, according to the Associated Press via ESPN.
The Red Sox get James Loney and some prized Dodger prospects as they rebuild in the image of first-year general manager Ben Cherington. And the third-highest payroll in the major leagues behind the Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies just nose-dived like the stock market in the crash of 2008.
But should Yankee fans rejoice as the Red Sox raise the white flag and begin to rebuild?
Or are the Bronx Bombers facing a similar fate in 2013 or 2014?
The Red Sox aren't finished cutting ties with the glory days of the early 2000s. David Ortiz is probably spending his final months in a Boston uniform. John Lester may be on the trading block, and perhaps Dustin Pedroia too, even though he is a fan favorite.
No one knows whether Bobby Valentine will be back as manager.
The Yankees do not have the toxic clubhouse problems that initiated the dismantling of the Red Sox. Like their rivals, however, they are an aging team saddled with contracts that are weighing them down. They are also adhering to a philosophy that the free-spending days of George Steinbrenner are over and that the Yankees will have a payroll of $185 million going forward to avoid a luxury tax.
Most teams would salivate having that kind of money to spend, but in New york this represents belt-tightening.
Nick Swisher will be a free agent as will catcher Russell Martin. Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano will be entering their walk year in 2013.
And A-Rod and Mark Teixeira are being paid for production they don't deliver anymore.
The progress of the young arms in the farm system has been delayed by injuries, and there aren't any position players that appear to be ready to step into the lineup in 2013.
The Yankees have managed to keep winning, however, but the question is whether or not this will allow them to avoid the Red Sox's fate. Or is it simply delaying the inevitable?
Let's look at a few Yankees who may not be wearing pinstripes in the future:
Are Swisher's Days as a Yankee Numbered?
Everyone likes Nick Swisher.
He is a solid player who is considered great in the clubhouse and the type of personality to keep the Yankees loose.
Is this enough, however, to keep Swisher in a Yankee uniform after this season?
Swisher, who will be 32 in November, doesn't have superstar stats but is a reliable player who can play the outfield and first base. Although only a .255 hitter in his career, he averages more than 20 homers and is good for 70 to 80 RBI a season.
What is that worth on the free-agent market? We will all find out this winter.
The Yankees would probably like to re-sign Swisher but won't get in a bidding war involving money or term of contract. Because there are so few high-end free agents this year, Swisher might get more lucrative offers than he would usually command.
We probably are seeing the last of Nick at night in the Bronx.
Say It Ain't so Cano
There's no way the Yankees will be outspent for Robinson Cano.
He is their best all-around player, and one of the top 10 players in the game.
The question is what will it take to keep Cano in pinstripes, and what will that do to the Yankees' payroll flexibility?
Cano will be 30 in October and has one year remaining on his contract. It would be to the Yankees' advantage to sign him to a new long-term deal this winter and avoid having to outspend teams like the Red Sox when Cano becomes a free agent.
This will be his last big killing as a player, so Cano won't come cheap. What choice, however, do the Yankees have?
He is a career .300 hitter with power. He is the premier second baseman in baseball. He is one of the Yankees who is in his prime, not decline, and figures to continue producing at his current pace for several more years.
The Yankees won't ever contemplate trading him, but they can't risk losing him to free agency either. It's time to make a commitment to Cano and deal with the payroll implications later.
Have the Yankees Changed Their Opinion of the Grandy Man?
Have the Yankees changed their opinion of Curtis Granderson?
He has surpassed Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira as the team's biggest home run threat, so it doesn't appear that his future in pinstripes is in jeopardy.
The home runs, however, have come at a cost. Granderson has 32 home runs thus far, but he is batting only .240 and struck out an alarming 153 times. He is on pace to strike out almost 200 times.
Although he has stolen 20 or more bases three times in his career, Granderson has only eight steals in 2012. He has virtually stopped running to focus on the long ball.
If the Yankees pick up his option for 2013, Granderson will earn $13 million in his walk year. He is still only 31 and should be a major part of the team's plans going forward.
Would the Yankees trade Granderson for either of the Upton brothers who are younger, faster and capable of also hitting a lot of home runs in Yankee Stadium?
The A-Rod Albatross
We have heard all the arguments. Before he broke his finger, Alex Rodriguez was one of the more productive third basemen in the majors.
The trouble is that he is being paid to be the A-Rod of 10 years ago, a superstar, not just one of the better corner infielders in the game.
Would the Yankees have made the same trade with the Dodgers that the Red Sox did if it meant sending A-Rod to Los Angeles and saving the $114 million he is owed on his contract for the next five years?
At this point, we'd have to think that Brian Cashman would be tempted to pull the trigger to give the Yankees more payroll flexibility. Let's face it: Eric Chavez has produced numbers comparable to A-Rod, and he has approximately 160 fewer plate appearances.
It is hard to imagine that Rodriguez will be a Yankee for five more years and walk off into the sunset at 41 as a fan favorite. The reason to keep him is if A-Rod approaches the all-time home run record held by Barry Bonds. But since both have been linked to steroid use, does it really matter?
In spring training I proposed trading A-Rod and paying a chunk of his contract to the Miami Marlins for Hanley Ramirez. I was loudly chastised for that, but that trade doesn't look so bad now, does it?
Of course, the Marlins would have had to go along and bring a favorite son back to south Florida. The Dodgers have showed that more unthinkable things can happen.
A Slump or Is Teixeira in Decline?
Back in the good old days of 2009, money was no object for the Yankees. They signed free-agent Mark Teixeira to an eight-year contract worth $180 million. He appeared to be worth every penny, batting .292 with 39 homers and 122 RBI in '09, as well as winning a Gold Glove for his work around first base.
While the power numbers have remained consistent, which is probably a function of playing in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium, Teixeira's batting average is averaging 30 to 40 points below his first season in the Bronx.
After playing in at least 156 games in his first three seasons with the Yankees, Teixeira has missed time due to injuries this season, perhaps just the law of averages intervening or the fact he is getting older.
Teixeira still has 23 home runs and 80 RBI, but what has to concern management is that he is 32 years old and still has four more years and $90 million owed to him on his contract.
The contracts of A-Rod and Teixeira will make it difficult for the Yankees to stay below the luxury tax threshold, especially if some of the older spare parts start falling apart and the prospects in the minors don't develop quickly enough.
The feeling is that the Yankees would consider trading either A-Rod or Teixeira, even if it meant kicking in to pay some of the money they are owed.
Is It Time to Cash Out?
Theo Epstein defied the Curse of the Bambino and orchestrated two World Series titles in Boston.
When the Red Sox collapsed last September, however, Epstein decided it was time to move on.
The question is whether the Yankees can initiate a makeover with Brian Cashman as general manager or will it take a fresh approach?
Cashman is well-respected and has all those World Series rings. He also has had more money to spend than any general manager in baseball during his tenure in New York.
And with the blessing of the Steinbrenners, that has led to those over-inflated contracts paid to Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.
Cashman is rightfully being questioned about whether he did due diligence when he traded Jesus Montero to the Seattle Mariners for Michael Pineda, the hard-throwing right-hander who was envisioned as the next Yankee ace but has missed all of 2012 after undergoing shoulder surgery.
Now $180 million may be a lot of money for most teams, but it will prevent Cashman from spending his way out of bad trades and ill-advised free-agent signings. We're going to find out whether he can operate within the confines of a well-defined budget.
There will be no spending his way out of a bad decision.
Will Hal and Hank Steinbrenner trust in Cashman to steer the Yankee ship in the next few years?
Or is it the time to look for a front-office change in the Bronx?