When an early morning team meeting is needed just before facing a team 20 games under .500 in your own house, it might be time to start choosing pallbearers.
The New York Yankees won Thursday, a fine shutout against the Houston Astros, but let’s be real here: When this is the win a team hopes turns around a lackluster season, it’s just going to keep going in the same direction.
The Yankees, in Derek Jeter’s final season, are a wrap.
Losers of seven of their last 10 games, the Yankees are trying to cling to hope as their chances to make the playoffs have dwindled to 3.4 percent, according to ESPN.com. That is why they held a team meeting, minus the pitchers, before trying to salvage a win against Houston. But if you’ve been around baseball enough, you know those meetings do nothing to change a team’s fortunes.
They are a last gasp.
“Some of the position players got together and said, ‘Enough is enough,’” Chase Headley told reporters after the game. Meanwhile, Brett Gardner said the powwow was designed to “clear the air.”
So inspired by today's position players' team meeting, the Yankees, who have struggled scoring more than 3 runs, scored 3 runs. #clicheangle— Erik Boland (@eboland11) August 21, 2014
In victory as in defeat, the Yankees don’t hit, managing three runs in one inning and none in the other seven Thursday. Their 487 runs this season are good for 14th out of 15 AL teams.
When the offense has been this kind of dead, it’s hard to blame players for doing whatever comes to mind, like a team meeting. It’s the nature of desperation. The Yankees are nine games out of the American League East lead and four games out of the second wild-card spot with 37 games to play.
The offense has scored 58 runs and hit .230 this month, both second fewest on the Junior Circuit. The on-base percentage is dead last and so are the total hits in that span.
And because that hasn’t been enough to realistically drop the Yankees from the playoff picture on its own, the bullpen, a strength at one point, has the second-highest ERA in the league this month and the worst by more than two runs over the last two weeks. Part of that unit’s struggles has been the taxing number of high-leverage, stressful innings because the offense can’t separate or extend leads.
Together, it’s been a death sentence for a team that backed off its promise to be frugal and spent big to land high-profile free agents. And as many expected, it has not been enough to put them in position for even a brief cameo in October.
Their two big offseason prizes have simply not done the trick. Masahiro Tanaka was well on his way to becoming the AL Rookie of the Year and a strong Cy Young Award candidate, but an elbow injury has kept him off the mound since July 8. Jacoby Ellsbury has been barely above league average—109 OPS+—and before Thursday had hit .218 over the previous four weeks.
The other over-the-hill former All-Stars have been worse. Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann and Mark Teixeira have all either performed below league average offensively or haven’t been on the field enough to make major impacts.
Basically, the Yankees’ nearly $209 million payroll has done just enough to keep their heads above the .500 mark. And this mediocrity isn’t going away anytime soon. In fact, it could get significantly worse.
Part of the criticism about the offseason spending was that the team was still into Beltran and Teixeira for the next two seasons, McCann through 2018 and Ellsbury through 2020. None of those guys come cheap, either.
Plus there is some guy they call Alex who is owed $61 million over three years starting next season.
And in case you haven’t LOL’d enough at the previous two paragraphs, the farm system is not going to produce fruit anytime soon, and while the front office committed to spending massive amounts on the international market last winter, none of those players is certain to make a major league impact in this decade.
All of this makes a Yankee revival highly unlikely since every other team in the AL East is set up to better itself in the near future. All the while this Yankees team gets older, declines more and remains expensive as hell.
As for this season, all you need to know is the Yankees had a closed-door meeting to avoid being swept in their own cathedral by one of the worst teams in baseball.
That makes it safe to say Derek Jeter’s farewell tour has now become a procession.
Anthony Witrado covers Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report. He spent the previous 3 seasons as the national baseball columnist at Sporting News, and four years before that as the Brewers beat writer for The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Follow Anthony on Twitter and talk baseball here.