After the Yankees were swept by the Tigers in the American League Championship Series, we heard the phrase “train wreck” a lot. In Boston, we know all about train wrecks, and the New York Yankees are no train wreck.
They were awful when it counted most. They are an old team in need of serious revamping. But train wreck? All anyone has to do is look a little north to find the true train wreck, the Red Sox. That’s a 69-win train wreck, while the Yankees were a 95-win disappointment. So, please, let’s keep this in a little context.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman was asked if they’d have to get to Red Sox levels to retool this.
“Hope not,” he said.
The Yankees are old. Alex Rodriguez looked like a player who was just about done, but that has been said about him before and he has rebounded. He hasn’t rebounded to the form of his prime years but enough to justify being a middle-of-the-order hitter.
Of course, with a $29 million salary, he is the one who will picked apart for being benched and hitting .120 in the playoffs (3 for 25) while the Yankees hit .188 (.157 in the ALCS).
But there was also the Curtis Granderson nightmare; he hit .100 with 16 strikeouts in 30 at-bats. There was the Robinson Cano nightmare; in one stretch, he was 0 for 29. There was Nick Swisher, who hit .167. There was Eric Chavez, who made history with an 0-for-16.
The homers ceased.
The music stopped.
The train was a runaway, but a wreck?
“I would be surprised if they got as bad as Boston did,” said an AL general manager. “Don’t think they necessarily have to hit rock bottom like Boston to get better. We always said you can’t do that in Boston, but it happened. We always say that can’t happen with the Yankees, so I guess we’ll see.
“But I just see Brian Cashman trying to get this team younger while still competing. That’s what I think will happen.”
Speak to anyone in the Yankees organization, including Cashman, and they’ll mention trying to get some youth in the mix. Their strategy of bringing older, established players off the bench worked to a great degree. Nobody complained about 40-year-old Raul Ibanez getting big hits.
The problem the Yankees have — maybe a similar problem to Boston’s — is that they don’t have young positional players ready to take over just yet. The Red Sox can’t possibly be convinced that they have their catcher of the future in Ryan Lavarnway or their shortstop of the future in Jose Iglesias or their outfielder of the future in Ryan Kalish. The Yankees don’t have theirs, either.
While Rodriguez vowed that he would not waive his no-trade and will come back with “something to prove,” you can bet the Yankees will attempt to move the remaining five years of his contract. They will have to decide whether eating the majority of the contract and moving him is better than heading into another season with an aging player who has a degenerative hip that is not going to get better.
A team such as the Marlins or Dodgers may take the chance. Rodriguez is a Miami native who would be a draw there (as much as Marlins fans are drawn to games), while in Los Angeles, ownership has been willing to take on high-profile, high-priced players. If it’s at a reasonable cost, would the White Sox, Angels, and Rockies also bite?
The Yankees have been adamant about trying to get under the luxury tax threshold of $189 million, so the feeling is that Swisher will be let loose as a free agent, with only a one-year qualifying offer made so they can receive draft-pick compensation.
Granderson has a year remaining on his deal, but his swing is made for Yankee Stadium. While his hit-and-miss performance is frustrating, his 40-plus homers are impressive.
Cano said what was obvious: “We just didn’t hit.” As the future leader of the team, he sees that as the cause of the demise. But the Yankees also lost their present leader, Derek Jeter, to a broken ankle, and the effect of that showed. You wonder whether he will even be ready for the start of 2013 after surgery.
The biggest thing is that the Yankees need to bolster their starting rotation. CC Sabathia pitched a huge clinching game against the Orioles in the Division Series, but he ran out of gas against the Tigers, allowing 11 hits and 6 runs in 2⅔ innings.
If they have money to spend, they need to spend it on a pitcher. Like the Red Sox, they need another bona fide No. 2 type. They need a Jake Peavy or Zack Greinke, or they need to swing a deal for a Josh Johnson or Matt Garza. They also need to re-sign Hiroki Kuroda, who earned $10 million on a one-year deal. They’ll have to extend themselves there.
They will get Mariano Rivera back. How he’ll look after a year layoff is anyone’s guess, but the likelihood is that he will be fine, given his makeup.
I just don’t buy that Mark Teixeira, Granderson, Cano, Jeter, and yes, even A-Rod won’t be good players next season. Or that if Ichiro Suzuki returns, he won’t be a serviceable starting outfielder.
Maybe Cashman would love the same clean slate that Ben Cherington has. He praised the Red Sox profusely after they unloaded more than $260 million worth of salaries to the Dodgers, but it’s not easy to rebuild back to what you want to be. The rebuilding in Boston could be quick, or it could take a long time.
The Yankees still have good players who happened to slump together at the worst possible moment.
“Make no mistake, this was a bitter end to our year,” said Yankees general partner Hal Steinbrenner, “and we fully intend to examine our season in its totality, assess all of our strengths and weaknesses, and take the necessary steps to maintain our sole focus of winning the World Series in 2013.
“Great teams — and organizations — use disappointment as a motivation for future improvements and success. In the days, weeks, and months ahead, we plan to do what’s necessary to return this franchise to the World Series.”
I believe Steinbrenner. The Yankees will spend what they need to spend. They’re always good.
A train wreck? Don’t think so.
Apropos of something
Delmon Young is confusing.
What if a 27-year-old outfielder/DH who had just been named ALCS MVP was out there for the taking as a free agent? Would you jump? You have this talented hitter, but he has had off-the-field problems, a bad body, and has been inconsistent.
I went to one of my favorite National League talent evaluators who watched the Tigers a lot this year. He personally wouldn’t bite.
“I think he’s actually good where he is,” he said. “I think those guys there like Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder put him in a good place. They didn’t let him get out of line. I think he needs people to lean on him and stay on him, and those guys were perfect for him.
“He’s got great talent. You’re not the No. 1 pick in the 2003 draft for no reason, but he’s had trouble with his focus throughout his career. Every so often, he goes on a good stretch like he is now and you say, ‘That’s why Tampa Bay drafted him No. 1.’ And then he goes the other way and he looks lost and unmotivated.
“If he’s out there as a free agent I can’t in good conscience say, ‘Here’s one of my big middle-of-the-order hitters,’ because he’ll break your heart if you feel that way. I would consider him a complementary piece to my lineup. You need to take the pressure off him.”
When Young knocked in 112 runs for the Twins in 2010, everyone thought he’d take off from there. Like his former Tampa Bay teammate, B.J. Upton, he has a world of potential. But even the best scouts can’t determine where it goes as both players reach their prime.
“That’s where none of us are God,” said the evaluator. “It reasons that Delmon or Upton would become better players in that 28-32 years old range, but sometimes you just stay where you are. That’s the trick for any team taking a chance on either guy, and you have to decide, how much is that risk worth to you?”
Apropos of nothing
1. I don’t think the Giants knocked enough St. Louis hitters off the plate in the NLCS. They allowed them to extend their hands, and the Cardinals got good rips. Again, it comes down to, whatever happened to pitching inside?
2. I’m perplexed why neither Tim Lincecum nor Barry Zito likes throwing to Buster Posey.
3. If the Rockies are seriously considering Jason Giambi to be their manager, then Lance Berkman should be a managerial candidate as well when he’s through playing. Berkman is a bright guy with a lot to offer. He is a big Brad Ausmus fan and is rooting for him to be the Red Sox guy. Berkman, incidentally, would likely be ready to play for the Cardinals in the World Series.
4. Houston GM Jeff Luhnow deserves credit for drafting a lot of the players currently playing for the Cardinals.
5. Speaking of Luhnow, he is cutting scouts and slashing salaries in Houston. One of the best teachers in baseball, Matt Galante, who had been a special assistant to the GM, resigned after his salary was cut 40 percent.
6. Ausmus should be a managerial candidate in Colorado as well. Not sure that one would motivate him as much as Boston, though.
7. Felt bad for Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who had to watch his team fall apart at the same time he was burying his father. Rough week for a very decent man.
8. Great to catch up with Bridgewater’s Steve Balboni, who is an advance scout for the Giants and did fine work getting their hitters and pitchers ready for the regular season and playoffs.
9. Huge loss for the Rays that Gerry Hunsicker left the organization to go to the Dodgers as senior adviser of player personnel. Big coup for the Dodgers. Hunsicker was a huge force in all the top players the Rays have on the current roster.
10. Bobby Valentine will be doing some work for NBC Sports as an analyst for the World Series.
11. When I was a young reporter covering the Red Sox, nobody was nicer or more cooperative with me than the late Eddie Yost, who was their third base coach. Wonderful man. RIP.
Updates on 9
1. Brian Butterfield, third base coach, Blue Jays — The Portland, Maine, native is one of the coaches Toronto would like to retain if John Farrell goes to Boston, but he’s the one coach Farrell needs to have. Butterfield is a tireless worker and one of the best coaches in the business. (Also one of the most ardent Patriots fans.)
2. Dave Magadan, hitting coach, Texas — He chose the Rangers but had his choice of the Dodgers, Indians, Cubs, and Red Sox. Very much in demand. Who will be the next Sox hitting coach? They could try to get Chili Davis back after his stint with the A’s. Rudy Jaramillo is available. An interesting first timer: Matt Stairs.
3. Ike Davis, 1B, Mets — The big lefthanded power hitter, who is first-year arbitration-eligible, has often been linked to the Red Sox, though you’d have to ask why the Mets would deal him to Boston. Davis hit 32 homers with 90 RBIs but batted only .227. There definitely could be a fit with Tampa Bay, which could afford to give up a pitcher. Mets special assistant J.P. Ricciardi said he would be shocked to see any movement on Davis.
4. Johan Santana, LHP, Mets — Who would take on a $25.5 million deal for a 33-year-old, broken-down lefty? Someone who needs a warrior, a tough-minded guy for a year’s commitment. The Mets will dangle him, but nobody (except maybe the Dodgers) will take on the entirety of the contract. He wouldn’t be a bad fit for the Red Sox, because he’d be a great mentor and example for Jon Lester and Felix Doubront. Santana hurt his ankle late in the year and made just 21 starts, but he feels good about himself. No problems with his shoulder.
5. Jake Peavy, RHP, White Sox — We know the White Sox aren’t picking up the $22 million option, but what is a good deal for the 31-year-old righty? “Because he’s a warrior and a winner, you’d give him respect,” said an NL GM. “I would think a three-year, $36 million-$40 million deal shows him the respect. You’d have to have your doctors do a thorough job because he has a history. He was healthy this year, so does that mean the worst is behind him? Of all the pitchers out there, he’s the warrior. He’s the guy you’d love to have in the middle of your rotation pitching every fifth day.”
6. Ryan Ludwick, OF, Reds — Another righthanded power hitter in the Cody Ross mold who should get some looks in free agency if the Reds don’t pick up his $5 million option. Like Ross, he was one of the great bargains in baseball this season. His 26 homers and 80 RBIs came with a $2 million price tag. He is not expected to net as much as Ross or Nick Swisher because, at 34, he’s two years older.
7. Tim Lincecum, RHP, Giants — He will be available in trade, and it will be interesting to see who bites on the two-time Cy Young winner. The Giants insist his problems this season were strictly mechanical, but opposing teams wonder why his usual 96-mile-per-hour fastball was around 92 most of the season, and why his first-inning problems (28 runs) were the worst in baseball. Lincecum, 28, is due $22 million in the final year of his contract. Would someone take the gamble?
8. J.P. Ricciardi, special assistant to the GM, Mets — His contract is up, but he expects to return to the Mets. So far, Ricciardi said, no other organization has come knocking on his door to hire him as a GM or reasonable facsimile. He would like to return to the front office.
9. Jeff Bagwell, special assistant, Astros — Wouldn’t it be funny if Brad Ausmus got the Red Sox managing job and brought his old Astros buddy back as a hitting coach? Not far-fetched.
From the Bill Chuck files: “Pitching for the Marlins and Dodgers, Randy Choate set a record this season for most appearances by a pitcher without a decision. Choate appeared in 80 games. The previous record was held by Trever Miller, who appeared in 76 games for the Astros in 2007.” Also, “Billy Butler has 21 hits — the most by any batter — off Justin Verlander. Butler is hitting .396 off Verlander, yet he’s 3 for 29 (.103) against Scott Baker.” . . . Happy birthday to John Flaherty (45) and Bryan Corey (39).
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.