Brett Gardner won a World Series ring as a rookie with the Yankees in 2009. He’s now 38 and contemplating retirement.
In a clubhouse where champions once seemed to sit at every other locker, Gardner is the last of his kind. Tuesday’s Wild Card Game loss at Fenway Park made it 12 years in a row without a title for the Yankees. It’s their longest drought since 1979-95.
They have been to the World Series once in the last 18 seasons. Ten other teams have been at least twice in that span.
“I think everybody kind of wants to know the answer to that,” Gardner said after the Yankees were again eliminated short of their goal.
Gardner’s answer is that the competition is better. The Astros, Rangers, Red Sox, and Royals have each won two pennants since 2009. The Rays won the American League last season and are a threat to repeat.
“It’s harder now than it’s ever been to make it to the World Series and to win the World Series,” Gardner said. “I think obviously the work that we put in over the course of the season, at the end of the day, it wasn’t quite enough.
“We all collectively from the top all the way down to the bottom, we need to obviously take these next few days, next few weeks, next several months and continue to look ourselves in the mirror and re-evaluate and get better and find ways to continue to push each other and try and get this team over the hump.”
The Yankees have made the postseason five years in a row but aren’t necessarily trending in the right direction, having won the American League East once in the last nine years.
That task won’t get any easier in the coming seasons. The Blue Jays are rising, the Rays have built a player development machine, and the Red Sox are on the upslope of their latest boom-or-bust cycle.
“Looking back to 2018 and 2019, I feel like it was a few teams that were truly capable, and really razor-thin between us winning the world championship and the Red Sox or the Astros,” manager Aaron Boone said.
“It’s not just the Rays and Red Sox and Astros anymore. It’s the Blue Jays. It’s the Central teams that are coming.”
Gerrit Cole also mentioned the uptick in competition.
“As a Yankee, certainly, you get your best punch from your opponents, whether it’s April or whether it’s October,” he said.
It’s hard to imagine any of the dynasty Yankees under Joe Torre making such tepid excuses. The Yankees are a franchise with every advantage. Other teams getting better is a weak rationalization.
The Yankees tried to spend their way to a pennant with players like Cole and Giancarlo Stanton, but it hasn’t worked. Now Aaron Judge is a year away from free agency and that’ll presumably add a third monster deal.
The Yankees also have to figure out what to do with Joey Gallo, who hit .160 with a .707 OPS in 58 games after being acquired from Texas. He is arbitration eligible for the third time and will get a significant bump from his salary of $6.2 million after hitting 38 home runs.
Counting the Wild Card Game, he was 2 for 27 to finish the season.
The Yankees have a business model built on star power. But even with Judge and Stanton, they were 10th in the American League with 711 runs and scored two or fewer 44 times.
“I think if it was something that was obvious, we would have put a stop to it or made an adjustment, whether it be in May or July or August,” Gardner said.
“I think it’s time to take these days and weeks and these next few months and continue to look ourselves in the mirror and find a way to get better — each and every one of us.”
Boone’s contract will expire later this month. If he is retained as manager — and that seems likely — his coaching staff could be revamped given the offensive regression of players like Gary Sanchez, Gleyber Torres, Gio Urshela, and others.
Boone has four years on the job. Within the division, Alex Cora (third season) and Tampa Bay’s Kevin Cash (seventh season) have done more.
The Red Sox have reacted to adversity with change. Chaim Bloom is their fourth head of baseball operations since 2011. Cora is their fifth manager. The Yankees have had Brian Cashman in charge since 1998 and Boone is only their third manager since 1996.
Cashman has had the full support of Hal Steinbrenner. But his staff could be changed to improve the balance between analytics and scouting.
The industry perception is that the Yankees have become too dependent on data and in some cases too attached to players like Sanchez, who has hit .201 with a .743 OPS the last four seasons and is a poor defensive catcher.
When the Yankees won the 2009 Series, Gardner expected more titles would be on the way.
“I don’t want to say take it for granted. But back then the team that we had in 2009 and going into 2010, obviously with the expectations we have for ourselves and the expectations our fans have for us and our owner and our GM, you think you’re going to go there every year,” he said.
“Each year that goes by that we don’t make it, that is obviously a little tougher. You just don’t know how many more opportunities you’re going to get. Again, I thought we had a really, really good team.”
Red Sox succeeded at trade deadline
The lesson I’ll take from this season will be to wait before passing judgment on Bloom’s decisions.
The Yankees and Blue Jays appeared to be big winners when the trade deadline passed. New York added sluggers Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo along with lefthander Andrew Heaney and lefty reliever Joely Rodriguez.
Toronto obtained a good starter in José Berríos, along with relievers Adam Cimber, Joakim Soria and Brad Hand and outfielder Corey Dickerson.
The Sox got Kyle Schwarber, who was on the injured list at the time, and relievers Hansel Robles and Austin Davis.
That Bloom didn’t land a starter seemed like a big mistake and while all agreed Schwarber was a feared hitter, he wouldn’t be playing for two weeks. Davis and Robles looked like moves for the sake of making moves.
But based on WAR as calculated by Baseball-Reference.com, the Red Sox did just fine.
Schwarber returned Aug. 13 and gave the Sox a .957 OPS, seven home runs and 18 RBIs. Robles, surprisingly, became a reliable late-inning reliever and while Davis wasn’t as effective, he was part of the bullpen mix.
Toss in Jose Iglesias and Travis Shaw and the Sox added 2.0 WAR to the roster from outside the organization after July 30.
The Jays added 2.0 and the Yankees 0.3.
Heaney had a 7.32 ERA and the Yankees were 4-8 in games he pitched. Gallo (0.4) and Rizzo (0.5) proved worth less than Schwarber (1.3) alone.
When Bloom said Schwarber was the best hitter who was traded, he was right.
Schwarber homered in the American League Wild Card Game and Robles pitched a perfect eighth inning. Gallo and Rizzo were 1 for 8 with one RBI as Rizzo homered. The Sox won the game, 6-2.
The Blue Jays may be the long-term winners as Berríos is under team control for 2022 and Cimber through 2024. But Toronto parted with two strong prospects in center fielder/shortstop Austin Martin and righthander Simeon Woods Richardson.
Schwarber’s plate discipline was something the Red Sox needed if only because it provided a good example to younger hitters. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a good fit for him next season assuming J.D. Martinez picks up his $19.35 million option.
But don’t underestimate Bloom’s ability to make it work.
A few other observations about the Red Sox:
▪ Of course you know that Gabe Kapler and Dave Roberts were teammates with the 2004 Red Sox. They also were teammates with the 1998 Jacksonville Suns, Detroit’s Double A team at the time.
Now they’re competing for a spot in the NLCS after Kapler’s Giants won 107 games and the Dodgers won 106 under Roberts.
“There aren’t too many days when I’m not reminded about 2004,” Roberts said. “Red Sox fans are everywhere.”
Kapler was 2 for 10 in the 2004 postseason. He was an outfield defensive replacement and was on the field when the Sox clinched the Series. He pinch ran for Trot Nixon in the eighth inning and caught a fly ball from Scott Rolen for the first out in the ninth.
Now he and Roberts are back in the spotlight.
“I really like Doc. Obviously known him for a really long time, saw him be an extraordinary teammate in Jacksonville,” Kapler said.
▪ Gary DiSarcina would be a good fit for the Sox as the manager at Triple A Worcester after Billy McMillon was fired.
DiSarcina, a Billerica native, worked in the Sox organization as a Single A manager from 2007-09 and field coordinator in 2010. He returned to manage Triple A Pawtucket in 2013 and was John Farrell’s bench coach in 2017.
DiSarcina joined the Mets in 2018 and was let go last week when manager Luis Rojas was fired.
Former Mets bullpen coach Ricky Bones could find a home with the Sox, too. Bones was Puerto Rico’s pitching coach in the 2016 World Baseball Classic. Alex Cora was GM of that team and thinks highly of Bones.
▪ Kiké Hernández on how to succeed in the postseason: “For me personally, I think it’s wanting to be in that spot, wanting to be in that situation … I think it’s envisioning yourself in that situation and wanting to be in that spot and being confident that whatever happens happens.
“I do a lot of visualizing and I always try to visualize myself succeeding in those situations and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But that’s what works for me personally.”
Hernández said playing with Justin Turner and Chase Utley in Los Angeles molded his approach.
“Whenever that big situation comes, they always seemed to be in control of everything,” Hernández said. “They never seemed to be panicking. They never seemed to be over-swinging or forcing anything.”
Padres still believe in Preller
Padres chairman Peter Seidler told The Athletic that A.J. Preller’s job is “as safe as a GM’s job can be.”
That’s good work if you can find it. In Preller’s seven full seasons on the job, the Padres have won one playoff series and have finished better than third once.
After firing Jayce Tingler, the Padres are looking for what will be their fifth manager under Preller, who missed on keeping Roberts in 2015, then made a big mistake in 2019 by hiring the inexperienced Tingler to manage a team with several big personalities.
But Seidler said selecting the next manager would be “100 percent” Preller’s choice.
The Padres need an experienced manager who will command respect in the clubhouse. But will Preller cede what seems to be complete authority over the team?
“It’s my job to get this right here over the course of the next few months,” he said.
The Mets took a run at Theo Epstein, as was expected. But it didn’t get anywhere. Fixing a moribund franchise is a been there/done that proposition for Epstein. Once baseball is ready to expand, look for him as part of an ownership group. Meanwhile, Milwaukee’s David Stearns still looks like the best fit for the Mets. Until Steve Cohen hires a new baseball boss, the Mets won’t be able to hire a manager to replace Rojas. If Alex Cora and A.J. Hinch got second chances, why can’t Carlos Beltran? The next manager will be the fourth in six seasons and that’s without counting Beltran’s brief offseason stint before he was fired in January 2020. As for Zack Scott, who technically still is the Mets GM, his drunk driving case will go to a non-jury trial Dec. 8. Scott has been on leave since his arrest Sept. 1 … Albert Pujols has played against four of the 10 postseason managers in playoff series during his career. As a member of the Cardinals, Pujols faced Dave Roberts and Gabe Kapler in the 2004 Series. Alex Cora was a Dodger in a 2004 Division Series against the Cardinals and Craig Counsell faced Pujols twice while a member of the Diamondbacks (2001) and Brewers (2011) … Justin Verlander, who turns 39 in February, remains intent on pitching into his 40s and will seek a multi-year contract as a free agent coming off Tommy John surgery. The Astros plan to make Verlander a qualifying offer … Mike Yastrzemski on watching Red Sox playoff games as a fan and now playing for the Giants in the postseason: “It’s kind of tough because one of them I was a fan, so I feel like I was much more emotionally involved. You ride highs and lows so hard as a fan, when you win a big game, when you lose a big game. As a player it’s completely different. You have to find a way to stay even-keeled. So it’s been a completely different experience, but both are so fun to be a part of and so intense that it feels like every game matters throughout the entire season. So it’s been really cool to see both sides of that and just be a part of it” … Former Red Sox infielder Deven Marrero, now in the Miami organization, was promoted from Triple A Jacksonville June 16, June 23, Aug. 3, Aug. 9, Sept. 3, and Oct 1. He was designated for assignment after the first five callups, cleared waivers each time, was outrighted and returned to the organization. In all, Marrero had 19 plate appearances and was 3 for 16 … The Cubs fired hitting coach Anthony Iapoce. Their next hitting coach will be the seventh in 11 seasons … Happy birthday to Brad Ziegler, who is 42. A righthanded reliever with a drop-down delivery, Ziegler appeared in 33 games for the Red Sox in 2016. He allowed only five earned runs in 29⅔ innings and struck out 31. Ziegler was acquired July 9 to help what at the time was an overworked bullpen and did just that. Ziegler played 11 seasons in the majors with four teams and made $38 million. Pretty good for a 20th-round draft pick out of Missouri State. Jonathan Aro is 31. The righthander from the Dominican Republic made his way to the majors in 2015 and appeared in six games before he was traded to the Mariners along with Wade Miley for Roenis Elias and Carson Smith. Both sides lost in that deal. Aro pitched one game for Seattle in 2016 and hasn’t been in the majors since. Miley lasted 19 games with the Mariners then was traded to the Orioles for reliever Ariel Miranda, who didn’t work out. Elias pitched in only four games for the Sox and Smith had an assortment of injuries and appeared in only 29 games over three seasons. He’s now out of baseball.