The 2013 Major League baseball season is nearing. Normally, this is a great time for me, as, baseball wonk that I am, I count down the days in Winter leading up to pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Camps. It’s an annual rite of passage, and as a fan of a perennial contender, it generally brings feelings of hope and unbridled anticipation.
So why do I find myself not really giving a shit for the first time in almost 25 years?
Here is the problem. It may sound like sour grapes, or the bitchings of a bitter, jaded asshole who has been spoiled for many years. But, mark my words, George Steinbrenner is rolling in his grave right now.
When we last saw the Yankees, they were being unceremoniously swept by the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS. In the halcyon years of Steinbrenner, this would be cause celebre for wholesale changes, time for an offseason spending orgy. But this team is not run by the Boss. It is run by his son, Hal, The Crock.
This team has wholesale flaws. And this offseason begged for changes across the board. The team is aging, especially the once vaunted offense. That offense performed at a historically anemic level in the ALCS. The pitching, while not getting any younger, is still well above average, with CC Sabathia anchoring a staff including the likes of old warhorse Andy Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda, 2012 disappointment Ivan Nova, and perennial underachiever Phil Hughes. These men performed admirably in the playoffs last year. In fact, in my lifetime, I cannot remember a better sustained run of great pitching pieced together by any Yankee team of the era. Sure, the heyday of Clemens, El Duque, Cone and Pettitte the younger was great to witness. The backbone of the Yankees latest dynasty was great pitching. But they did their jobs last year. The problem was a historically un-clutch offense.
The Yankee offense was a joke last postseason. Aside from Raul Ibanez and Derek Jeter, it was one of the more embarrassing spectacles this Yankee fan has ever witnessed. The 2012 Playoff Yankees made Tino Martinez look like the greatest clutch hitter ever. Hell, Ruben Rivera and Shane Spencer were embarrassed. Ricky Ledee threw up a little bit in his mouth. The only saving graces were Old Men Jeter and Ibanez. Ibanez particularly was a revelation after turning in a subpar, if expected for his age, 2012 regular season. So, friends, what do the Yankees do with a player who had an historic postseason, a man that provided unbridled joy to a fanbase that has become diseased by the ballpark they now inhabit? If this was King George, he would have locked up this great clutch bat, not seen in Yankee Stadium since Jim Leyritz. But this is a new regime with a new mission statement: win at all costs, as long as it doesn’t exceed $189 Million Dollars. Ibanez, as well as several key figures from the 2012 season, were allowed to walk without so much as a whimper from the Yankees front office.
Nick Swisher, your starting right fielder and massive clubhouse presence? Gone to Cleveland, replaced by the shell of Ichiro. Your starting catcher, Russel Martin? Jettisoned to the Pirates, with no offer from the Yankees to retain his services. Indeed, this offseason has been a carnival of follies for any Yankee fans foolish enough to stomach it, watching key player after key player leave the team and the team doing nothing to replace their voids.
It all comes back to this fricacta $189 Million edict from on high. I do not want to come across as a spoiled Yankee fan accustomed to throwing around money to sign anyone and everyone available. I guess that IS a tad bit true, but it is far from full discretion. I used to hate, HATE fans who stated that the Yankees bought their championships in the late 90’s. Really? What was the core of that team? Posada. Jeter. Rivera. Pettitte. Homegrown players. The others? Cone, O’Neill, Martinez, Brosius? All products of shrewd trades. The guys the team allegedly bought? Contreras, Irabu and their ilk were all busts that contributed almost nothing to the team. Kenny Rogers, for Crissakes. The Yankees were once the shrewdest cats in the game. Identify talent that will help your ballclub, obtain them, and, if they end up performing, pay them. The Braves of that era spent as much as the Yankees did. What, you think Smoltz, Maddux, and Glavine were bound by some undying loyalty to Bobby Cox and the Atlanta front office? HELL NO. Money talks. The Yankees were unfairly maligned at that time. When the Yanks did start throwing money around, following their epic seven game ALCS victory over the Red Sox and demise at the hands of the upstart Marlins? THAT was their downfall. Guys like Sheffield, A-Rod, The Big Unit, those guys failed to perform on the big stage. So I am not saying an orgy of Steinbrenner-esque spending is the solution.
The problem is this offseason has been a complete joke for the once mighty Bronx Bombers. They retained their best free agents to be: Kuroda, Pettitte, etc. The older ones, at least. But they have done NOTHING to proactively make the team any better than last season. My God, just look at the catching vacancy left by Martin. Sure, his hitting was barely above the Mendoza line, but Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli? Or Austin Romine? Those three are a black hole of inadequacy hitting at that position, formerly a Yankee strength with Posada back there. Ichiro showed some signs of life once traded mid season, but expecting him to replace Swisher is absurd, almost as absurd as relying on a slap hitting 40 year old to be one of your opening day outfielders.
So what were the Yankees great offseason signings? Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner. Both players, while outstanding in their prime, are well past it. I like Youkilis (it pains me to say), but asking him to play any position but first at this advanced stage in his career is suicide. He couldn’t last with both Sox clubs last year playing the physically demanding position, and it showed. Hafner? He has amassed 500 at bats precisely ONCE in his career, now on the back nine. Plus, he cannot play anything but DH. These are the two Yankee fans have to hedge their pennant hopes on?
The big problem again comes down to Hal Steinbrenner, and his $189 Million Cap. I am not for obliterating that number just for the sake of obliterating it. All I ask is that the Yankees field a contender. This team, as currently comprised, is on the fringe. Every team in the AL East, particularly the Blue Jays, has gotten better. The Yankees have recently found troubles selling their tickets, and seem shocked, SHOCKED at this fact. Listen, fans weren’t coming to the playoffs last season. You diminish the team, impose a soft cap, and expect the fans to come out en masse? In the span of six short months, the Yankees have become a laughingstock, a far cry from the blustery days of when the elder Steinbrenner ruled his organization with an iron fist and steely determination, as bad as the results may have been. At least with that generations Steinbrenner, you got the feeling he was trying to make the team better. This generation’s Steinbrenner, Hal, seems only concerned about the bottom line. And he is going to be shocked once this team opens up the season to empty houses, having turned off the attraction of the product to longtime Yankee fans, and I for one cannot wait to see it. You reap what you sew, Hal, and what you have sewed is a subpar product not up to the lofty standards Yankee fans have been accustomed to for 90 years.
At least I made it through this article without slamming A-Rod. That is coming, friends. That is coming…