The One Punch Knockout and the New Yankees Reality

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The Yankees are in the midst of taking an accumulation of punches that place their 2013 hopes on the precipice of ending in December. The organization isn’t used to that; the rest of baseball isn’t used to that; and the media isn’t used to that; and the fans are definitely not used to that.

Let’s look.

The losses

None of the players who have departed the Yankees this winter are irreplaceable on their own. Nick Swisher just agreed to a 4-year, $56 million contract with the Indians. Rafael Soriano is still on the market. Eric Chavez, Russell Martin and Raul Ibanez all went to other teams. Individually, each would inspire a shrug from the Yankees of old and they’d simply spend money or trade for other pieces to replace them. But when you combine the weak free agent market with the combination of Yankees’ needs and that they’re not spending any cash to fill them, you have a mess.

When was the last time the Yankees didn’t retain players that they wanted to keep? They wanted to keep Martin; they wanted to keep Chavez; they wanted to keep Ibanez. Martin went to the Pirates—the Pirates!!! Chavez to the Diamondbacks; and Ibanez to the Mariners. Three teams with nowhere near the spending power the Yankees are supposed to have, nor the historically winning environment. Yet all three are gone. While, on the surface, it may seem that the Martin departure was the most shocking and painful, leaving the largest hole, it’s really Ibanez’s decision not to wait for the Yankees to make their offer that signifies how far the Yankees have fallen both perceptively and in fact.

It strikes of pure Yankees arrogance to tell Ibanez to sit tight and wait without any guarantees that they’re going to make him an offer and expect him to do it. The days in which players will wait for the Yankees are over. Ibanez had a job offer in hand and likely significant playing time with the Mariners or he could’ve waited out the Yankees for an offer that might never come.

Can anyone blame him for walking? And do the Yankees have a backup plan for any of these departures?

The replacements and retentions

Ichiro Suzuki was re-signed because the Yankees were left with few options other than him. If you listen to GM Brian Cashman’s politely uninterested tone when he was asked if Ichiro was going to be back, and amid the hemming and hawing, you hear everything but the word he really wanted to say—no. Eventually, though, they not only brought Ichiro back, but they gave him a two-year contract.

Cashman, who wants power hitters, is now faced with Ichiro in right field and Brett Gardner in left. These are not power hitters. Jason Kubel is available from the Diamondbacks and has one year remaining on his contract. As flawed a player as he is, he’s a power hitter that would fit neatly into the current Yankees’ lineup as something other than a fan-placating addition or 38-40-year old former star signed with an unsaid prayer that they have enough in the tank to get them through 2013. That said, Kubel is a platoon player who is at his best against righties. D-Backs GM Kevin Towers isn’t giving Kubel away, and considering what Ibanez took from the Mariners ($2.75 million) and what Kubel is due ($8.5 million), they’d have been better off keeping Ibanez. Defensively each is as bad as the other.

Who are they getting to fill the remaining holes at DH and catcher? A.J. Pierzynski signed with the Rangers on a one-year contract and the Yankees didn’t even make an offer to him. Francisco Cervelli is currently at the top of their depth chart at catcher. They’ve signed Kevin Youkilis to replace the injured Alex Rodriguez at third base, and they don’t have a bench.

These are the Yankees? Piecing and patching and praying?

And the talk that the Cashman tends to make big moves late in the winter sounds more desperate and hopeful than expectant.

The veterans and the human element

Will the Yankees’ players realize where the season is going if they’re at or below .500 in June or are far out of playoff position? Will they choose to live to fight another day?

The concept that they’re the Yankees and they never quit no matter the circumstances is convenient to the narrative, but is totally ignorant of the human element involved with older athletes who have their money and may not have the stomach (or the available “helpers”) to spend the last four months of a season mounting a heroic comeback.

Age is not a factor to be dismissed. Because the Yankees’ stars have such accomplished resumes, it’s reasonable to expect a certain minimum/maximum level of performance, but with age comes a natural decline. Players who are in their late-30s/early 40s and are coming off serious injuries as Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera are and as A-Rod will, can’t grind it out and put up the same effort on a nightly basis they did when they were 10 and even 5 years younger. Drug testing making it impossible to take amphetamines or any other form of chemical assistance renders a 40-year-old to being a 40-year-old with the accompanying aches, pains and inconsistencies.

If those veterans see the season is shot in July, they’re going to bail just as they did in the ALCS. What’s the difference between doing it three months earlier if continuing to push is little more than postponing the inevitable?

“Everyone wants to be a Yankee”

Yes. Everyone wants to be a Yankee as long as they pay the most money. When this chapter of Yankee history is fully written in a decade or so, the first domino to tip over in the Yankees downfall wasn’t the 2012-2013 winter and the failure to retain their free agents or to make significant improvements with younger players; nor will it be the $189 million payroll mandate to be met by 2014. It will be the winter of 2010-2011 when Cliff Lee shunned the Yankees and instead chose to sign with the Phillies.

Prior to Lee, when was the last time the Yankees avidly pursued a player, offered him the most money and were turned down? Greg Maddux comes to mind. Before that, who? When did the Yankees refuse to overpay to get a player they wanted even if that player was indifferent about being a Yankee and would’ve gone elsewhere if he had a choice like CC Sabathia?

First it was Lee. Then it was Carl Pavano right after Lee. Now they’re reduced to losing out on Martin, Chavez and Ibanez.

Players wanted to be Yankees, but it wasn’t because they were longing to play in New York, or they wanted to win a championship, or that they were hypnotized (as the Michael Kay wing of mythmaking would assert) by the pinstripes and “rich tapestry of history.” It was because of money.

It’s quite simple. Offer the most money, the players will come and say that they always wanted to be a member of whatever team it was that offered them the most money. When Bobby Bonilla did it with the Mets in the winter of 1991-92, he was called an opportunistic liar because he didn’t really want to be with the Mets. When Sabathia did it, he didn’t come for the money. He was concerned about the reputation in the clubhouse of being dysfunctional and miserable.

That concern was assuaged and he signed. Oh, and the Yankees paid him the most money.

With each passing day the Yankees new truth becomes clearer and clearer. Because they don’t have the cash to spend now, the players aren’t coming. As a result, this is the team they’ve put together—one that had it been built in 2005, would’ve been similar to the 1998 team that won 114 games and is considered one of the best in history. But the players they have today are not the players they were eight years ago. Those results are going to show on the field. Then they’ll show up in the newspapers with critical columns followed by disinterest; it will in the stands with empty seats; and on TV and radio with hosts reminiscing of the good old days or ignoring the Yankees completely.

Like a sculpture, it’s not the first chip that does the damage, but an accumulation. The Yankees cumulative age, lack of funds, and diminished reputation are chipping away at what they were. The foundation has been decaying for years. This is the end result. If it looks bad now, just wait until the season starts. Then the crumbling infrastructure will be obvious to all and the “it’ll all be okay,” delusion prevalent now will be mercifully end.

Reality has a way of sorting itself out.

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Armchair Analysis from Earth to Jupiter

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To highlight the madness surrounding the pigeonholing of players based on factors that have nothing to do with anything, below is a clip from this Joe Sheehan posting on Baseball Prospectus in 2004:

The Joe Mauer Express appears to be steaming down the tracks right now. The 21-year-old Twin has been named the game’s top prospect by both Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America, one of those rare confluences of agreement between the two that mark a player as a future star. ESPN.com had him on their main baseball page on Tuesday, and Peter Gammons wrote glowingly not only of Mauer’s skill, but of the high opinion in which the young catcher is held.

I think Mauer is currently a good baseball player. He’s shown offensive and defensive development in his three professional seasons, and while I still think the Twins should have taken Mark Prior in 2001–how different might their two playoff losses have gone with the big right-hander?–clearly it’s not like they ended up with a bum. Mauer is going to eventually be a productive left-handed hitter; comparable to Mike Sweeney, with maybe a bit more power and patience.

I just don’t agree that Mauer is a future star behind the plate, and it has everything to do with his height. Mauer is listed at 6’4″, and people that height or taller just don’t have long, successful careers at the catching position.

With the freedom of retrospection I can write pages and pages as to why Sheehan’s Mauer projection was ridiculous. Mike Sweeney? Mauer’s height? Mark Prior?

But I’m not referencing this to ridicule Sheehan. Instead, I want to highlight why the Mets’ new catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud shouldn’t be placed into a category due to discriminatory history or his height of 6’2”.

Joel Sherman makes a similarly broadbased statement regarding former Cy Young Award winners—like R.A. Dickey—who were traded for packages of prospects as if the past is a prologue to the future when developing baseball players who come in different shapes, sizes and ability levels. Matt LaPorta headlined the package the Brewers sent to the Indians for CC Sabathia. Justin Smoak was the main ingredient that led the Mariners to walk away from the Yankees’ offer for Cliff Lee and send the pitcher to the Rangers. The Zack Greinke return to the Royals from the Brewers has done little of note.

What this has to do with Dickey, d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard is a mystery.

Or maybe it’s not a mystery. Maybe this type of questioning is undertaken to blur the lines of critique and credit and provide the individual making the distinction some form of credibility for these judgments. This is not to undermine the factual nature of what Sheehan and Sherman wrote, but to show the flaws in the foundation upon which they’re built and the intentions of those who wrote them. Do they really believe this nonsense to be valid or are they appealing to a constituency by being contrary.

I’d hate to think they believe it, but considering their histories, I have a hunch they do. Unable as they are to provide analysis stemming from their own assessments, they have to find “things” like height and “comparable” deals that aren’t relevant or comparable at all. Theoretical science can make a case for anything if one chooses to search for individual occurrences or cherrypicked stereotypes to support it, but use your intelligence and decide on your own whether this makes sense or it’s outsiders digging through the trash for self-aggrandizing purposes.

In what other industry is such a negligible and disconnected set of principles taken as a portent of what’s to come? Sherman’s and Sheehan’s logic is akin to saying that because the Rangers made one of the worst trades in the history of baseball when they sent Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young to the Padres for Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka that GM Jon Daniels is a bumbling idiot; or that because Daniels made up for that horrific gaffe by trading Mark Teixeira to the Braves for a package that included Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison and Elvis Andrus that he deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame. Or that because James Shields was drafted in the 16th round by the Rays in 2000 means that the Rays’ 16th round pick last season, shortstop Brett McAfee, will turn into a breakout star as Shields did. Or that trading X first baseman for Y relief pitcher and Z young starter will turn into a Keith Hernandez for Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey heist for the Mets and dreadful mistake for the Cardinals.

Or that Mauer shouldn’t have made it as an All-Star catcher and MVP because he’s “too” tall. The same height argument is being made about d’Arnaud now and it’s pointless.

This is why armchair experts are sitting in the armchair and clicking away at their laptops and smartphones making snide comments without consequences simultaneously to experienced baseball people running clubs and determining the value of players; whether they’re worth a certain amount of money; deciding to keep or trade them in the real world. You can’t cover up a lack of in-the-trenches work and knowledge accumulated over the decades with random numbers and baseless statistics. It’s called scouting and it can’t be done with the above attempts to connect the dots, especially when one dot is on Earth and the other on Jupiter.

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Stages of Grief: A Guide to Mental Health for the Yankees Fan

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I’m here to help Yankees fans.

They may not believe that; they may think I’m being sarcastic or wallowing in the new reality of their predicament, but I’m giving them a truth that few are either able or willing to dispense. Be it from willful blindness, partisanship, salesmanship, or bottom line stupidity, the fact is that there’s a profound absence of honesty regarding where the Yankees go from here with an ancient core of stars, unheard of payroll constraints, failure to develop prospects, and a dimming brand.

I’m the therapist with impartial and non-judgmental analysis of how to reconcile the glorious past with the dark future.

Let’s begin.

The Stages of Grief

Stage 1: Denial and isolation

The belief that because the Yankees have made the playoffs in 16 of the past 17 years, that the success rate will continue regardless of personnel and competition is delusional. It can be argued, I suppose, that the injuries suffered by the remaining members of the “core four” Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte were circumstantial and had nothing to do with the advanced ages of all three, but injuries become more frequent and harder to recover from as an athlete ages especially today without the aid of extra little helpers such as pills and shots that have been banned by MLB. Jeter and Rivera both had significant injuries to their lower bodies and required surgery. Pettitte had a fractured fibula due to a batted ball.

Alex Rodriguez has reached the point that if he were a horse, he’d be euthanized. CC Sabathia battled elbow problems all season and also required surgery. Mark Teixeira pulled a calf muscle.

In athlete years, these players are not just heading downhill—they’re plummeting downhill. We’ve only seen A-Rod’s performance decline significantly, but expecting these players to still carry the load with backup troops such as Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes, and David Robertson who have been, at best, inconsistent is denying the inevitable.

There have been repeated references to GM Brian Cashman and his stealth “ninja” moves as if he’s a latter day assassin or spy. Except Cashman’s “ninja” move from 2012 included one brilliant and obvious deal for Hiroki Kuroda; one in which his Shuriken (or throwing star) left his hand and wound up being impaled in Michael Pineda’s shoulder. He made other lucky deals for Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez, and Ichiro Suzuki.

Cashman, when asked if it was possible that Eduardo Nunez would play third base to replace A-Rod, he did his Cashman “thing” by giving the obvious answer, “No,” and following it up with an exercise in hardheadedness when, instead of saying the truth of “Nunez has a stone glove and is scatterarmed,” he clung to his “Joba Chamberlain is a starter”-type blindness and said, “I’ve looked at (Nunez) as a shortstop.”

This isn’t denial. It’s an arrogance of little-man syndrome and from working for the “I’m never wrong,” George Steinbrenner for so long that if he backs down on anything, it’s a perceived sign of weakness. He may have looked at Nunez as a shortstop like he looked at Chamberlain as a starter, but clearly he didn’t see.

The “poor us” lament is inviting the eye-rolling and laughter from other organizations that for years have suffered through the Yankees superiority complex permeating their entire being through the media and fans. Nobody wants to hear it and they’re certainly not getting any condolence calls.

Recommendation: Stop crying. The team’s old and falling apart.

Stage 2: Anger

Blame is everywhere. From the Steinbrenners for choosing to limit the payroll for 2014 to $189 million and preventing the team from doing what they did when the acquired A-Rod in the first place—piling on; to Cashman for his failed trades and inability to develop viable prospects to replace the aging stars; to field staff, trainers, and doctors; to the players themselves for daring to age like normal humans, there’s a movement to find someone to toss overboard as a means of sacrifice to end the “bad luck” that is, really, life itself reverberating back on the team that has had so many moments of serendipity since its acquisition of Babe Ruth.

Recommendation: Understand that you’re entitled to nothing and there’s no one to be mad at. It was because of fan demand that there was never a serious plan for the future regardless of reaction from the outside (and inside) forces wanting stars at every position and results now! There will be no results now!!! This is what it is. And what it is ain’t good.

Stage 3: Bargaining

Had the Mets not agreed to a contract extension for David Wright, how long before the desperate Yankees fans would push the club to make a trade for the Mets’ star? Of if the Marlins hadn’t traded Jose Reyes to the Blue Jays, would there be advocates to trade for Reyes and move Jeter to third base? How about Chase Headley? Or Evan Longoria? Or Miguel Cabrera? Or someone, anyone who would have a semblance of star power that the Yankees must have simply because they’re the Yankees?

There are already fans clamoring for Josh Hamilton as there were those a year ago pushing for Albert Pujols to replace Teixeira; or demanding the acquisition of Zack Greinke and/or Cole Hamels at the trading deadline last season because Sabathia was missing a couple of starts with his elbow trouble.

There’s no deal to be made. The Yankees have so many needs and so few prospects remaining—with Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances both having flamed out; Jesus Montero gone for Pineda—that they have very little they can afford to give up and not much after that that other teams want. You’ll get someone else’s junk/bad contract for what the Yankees have to trade.

They were said to be looking at Yunel Escobar, which is something I’d desperately love to see because Escobar has forced two teams, the Braves and Blue Jays, to get rid of him and all his talent in large part because he acts like an entitled, immature brat with no baseball or common sense. Joe Girardi would put him in a headlock and drag him down the clubhouse steps by late April.

Kevin Youkilis? Something else I’d love to see, but I cannot imagine Cashman—even in his most idiotic, “Let’s bring Javier Vazquez and Carl Pavano back because I’m just that obstinate,” moments of woodheadedness going there.

Recommendation: Forget the stars. They can’t get them. They’ll re-sign Chavez and probably a roll of the dice type player coming off an injury like Mark DeRosa; a journeyman like Greg Dobbs, or (now this would be funny), Cody Ransom!!

Stage 4: Depression

Once it sinks in that there’s no Steinbrennerean January explosion of a maneuver specifically timed to take the headlines away from the Super Bowl; that they don’t have the ability to do anything significant to get better than what they are now, the fans will look at the rest of the AL East with the young Rays; the drastically improved Blue Jays; the Red Sox in a similar predicament with the Yankees, albeit with more money to spend; and the Orioles no longer a running gag and punching bag, and realize that the odds of a championship run are nearly non-existent; a playoff run is pretty much a best-case scenario, and finishing at or under .500 a legitimate possibility.

There will be the epitome of brainless fan who equates the Yankees with an unassailable monument that must be a World Series contender and calls a Jeter/Rivera injury a “tragedy” and compares the walk back to the subway after the games in which their totems were injured to a “funeral procession.” That fan will think that there’s a conspiracy against the Yankees. The rest will just get depressed, overeat and drink.

Recommendation: Head to Cheeburger Cheeburger and gorge; then go to a bar and start drinkin’.

Stage 5: Acceptance

For a vast majority, this won’t occur until September when the season is long-since shot. Yes, in January/February there will be concern, but hope; yes, in March/April/May there will be the past to look back upon as a lifeline; by June/July when the contending teams that are buying available reinforcements for a playoff run and the Yankees are conspicuously on the sidelines or—dare I say it?—selling will the horror come to life.

Then they’ll start the process all over again expecting there to be a 2008-2009-type reaction to a disappointing season by spending a ton of money to fill the holes. Except they don’t have any money to spend due to the $189 million limit for 2014. They can backload deals, but they also have to sign Robinson Cano and replace Granderson and perhaps Rivera and Pettitte. In addition, teams are no longer leaving their players available to the big market clubs. If you think the Yankees will turn around and trade for Andrew McCutchen, well, forget it because he’s signed and committed to Pittsburgh. The Yankees will, by then, be more likely to scour the bargain bin that will get them Daniel McCutchen instead of Andrew.

Maybe some fans will be fooled.

Recommendation: It’s acceptance. So accept it. The Yankees are old, can’t spend a ton of money, and are in trouble. A lot of it.

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The Yankees’ $189 Million Reality

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The mandate the Yankees are under to reduce their payroll to $189 million by 2014 isn’t a capricious decision designed for ownership to maximize profits and for the baseball operations to bolster their credentials in the industry by winning without the limitless payroll that was one of the important hallmarks of the club from 1996 on through 2012 when they won five championships and made the playoffs every year but one. It can’t be avoided: the Yankees won year-after-year, in part, because of their spending power. While it’s an easy argument to say that with George Steinbrenner gone and the more thoughtful and less maniacal Hal Steinbrenner holding the most sway over the pursestrings, the family is trying to line their pockets to a greater degree—a degree that was secondary to the Boss’s bottom line: winning. It’s also an easy argument to make that GM Brian Cashman wants to lower the payroll to get his share of the credit pie that has gone to the new age thinkers in baseball like Billy Beane, Theo Epstein and Andrew Friedman because they were either working under parameters that made it a necessity for them to find bargains, get lucky, or formulate new strategies to compete with the big spenders in baseball; or, in Epstein’s case, were trying to win with a souped up version of Moneyball using stats backed up by a massive payroll.

Both are probably, to a point, accurate. But the Yankees are trying to get under the $189 million threshold by 2014 for the cold hard fact that if they don’t, they’re going to have to pay a penalty of 50% for going over that amount. It also has to be understood that the Yankees payroll will not be permanently limited by that 2014 number. If they’re under $189 in 2014, by 2015, they’ll again be able to spend as the Yankees have spent in the past—with no concept of restraint—because the penalty will revert to the lowest level of 17.5%.

It’s short-term. What this means in the near future, though, is that there won’t be the headlong dive into free agency and by taking huge contracts off the hands of other clubs in trades because right now the Yankees must be cognizant of their payroll. There’s no getting around it.

There are methods to achieve this end. Some clubs, like the Athletics and Rays, let their players play under the constraints of the collective bargaining agreement where they can’t be free agents until they’ve accumulated six years of service time. Or they sign them to long-term contracts that are agreeable to both sides, buy out their arbitration years and perhaps the first couple of years of free agency giving the players a guaranteed payday they might not get if they don’t perform or get injured. This is a method to keep the youngsters they’ve developed.

The Rays have essentially ensured that their star Evan Longoria will be a Ray for the duration of his career with the long term deals he signed as a rookie and the extension he agreed to last week. It’s conceivable that Longoria cost himself an extra $100 million or more with the contracts he signed. That’s his choice and the Rays took on significant risk as well.

Teams can do as Beane did a year ago (and several times before) and clear out the house of veterans who are set to make big money in exchange for the best prospects they can get their hands on and restart the process over and over again.

Or they can do what the Yankees are doing by signing veterans in their mid-to-late-30s to 1-year contracts, pay them handsomely, and hope they stay healthy and perform up to what they were in their primes.

Because the Yankees are saying they’re serious about this “$189 million by 2014” statement and have always backtracked on prior payroll-limiting endeavors, there’s a belief in the Yankees universe that they’re biding their time and waiting; that they’ll open the checkbook once they realize that a playoff appearance is something to be earned and not a birthright and that they’re ill-equipped to win in 2013 and 2014 as they’re currently constructed; that it’s a matter of time before they pull the same trick they did when they acted as if they had no interest in free agent first baseman Mark Teixeira and the Red Sox were widely expected to sign him before the Yankees struck with lightning quickness and decisiveness getting the first baseman and keeping him away from the Red Sox. This completed the 2008-2009 shopping spree with Teixeira joining CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett to repair the failure of 2008 when they had again tried to lower payroll by going with homegrown pitchers and were rewarded with a missed playoff spot and indignation permeating their organization, the media, and fans.

Here are the numbers to understand the circumstances the Yankees are now in. Their guaranteed contracts for 2014 are as follows:

Alex Rodriguez—$25 million

Mark Teixeira—$22.5 million

CC Sabathia—$23 million

Derek Jeter—$8 million player option ($3 million buyout)

That comes to $75.5 million. There are the players who are movable and exchangeable with other similar contracts such as Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, David Robertson, and Eduardo Nunez. So you can figure that the rest of the starting rotation and filling out the bullpen won’t be super-expensive. Robinson Cano is a free agent at the end of 2013, is represented by Scott Boras and will want somewhere between $190-220 million. Ignoring the risk of giving a lackadaisical player like Cano such a massive contract, they’ll do what needs to be done to keep him with a backloaded deal.

With all of that comes the vicious truth that for 2013, the Yankees are not jumping in on Zack Greinke; they’re not signing Josh Hamilton; and they’re not trading for Justin Upton (his no-trade clause includes the Yankees, so they’d have to redo his long-term contract). They let Russell Martin leave when it was widely reported that they wanted him back when the Pirates—the Pirates—gave him 2-years and $17 million. These are the same Pirates that once functioned as a big league farm club for the Yankees to take their stars off their hands for whatever crumbs of prospects the Yankees deigned to give them.

Losing Martin isn’t that big of a problem, but their current catching depth chart consists of Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart, Eli Whiteside, and minor leaguer Austin Romine. They don’t have a right fielder with the pending departure of Nick Swisher and the talk of bringing Ichiro Suzuki back comes more from the fans, media and Ichiro himself than it does from the Yankees. Maybe—maybe—they’re downplaying possible interest in Mike Napoli and will sign him to a team-friendly deal in which he’s paid well for 2013, has a reduction in salary in 2014, and has a back-end raise in years 3 and/or 4. This would be done based on need and to keep up appearances as the club is under expanding ridicule and anger for their lack of action.

This concept that their offense is still good enough is ignoring that they don’t have a catcher; they don’t have a right fielder; they don’t have a DH; Jeter won’t repeat 2012; and A-Rod and Curtis Granderson spent most of the second half of 2012 in a fog. They can’t go into 2013 with an offense looking like it does right now and logically believe they’re title contenders.

The 2013 team is elderly by athletic standards and the days of a 35-43-year old player posting numbers better than he did when he was 28 ended with drug testing. As much as Yankees apologists refer to the annual playoff appearance and utter pompous statements of “World Series or failure,” extolling the self-proclaimed “specialness” of the Yankees brand, the reality is that the Yankees are currently, on paper, the third best team in the AL East behind the Rays and Blue Jays; are in the same predicament with the Red Sox of clinging to what was; and have a resurgent Orioles club glaring at them from their wing rather than their posterior.

Jeter and Rivera are recovering from severe injuries; A-Rod is breaking down physically and when he can play is a threat emeritus rather than a mid-lineup basher—and now it’s being reported that A-Rod needs more hip surgery and may miss part of 2013; they have to rely on Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte to anchor the rotation behind Sabathia, who is also coming off of elbow surgery and has a massive amount of wear on his tires.

Is all of this likely to yield the same results it has in the past?

These are the Yankees of today and for the next two seasons. They have money, but it’s tied up. They’ll spend it, but it’s not going to be for long term improvements via the not-so-free market until after the 2014 season. By then they might be dealing with two years of missed playoffs, mediocrity or, if things go worst case scenario, finishes at or under .500. There’s a sense of disbelief among the media and fan that this is the way the Yankees are doing business; that it’s a ruse and everything will go on as before once they’ve grown tired of teasing their fans.

Don’t say the worst happen because it just happened to the Red Sox and, to a lesser degree, the Marlins, Phillies, and Angels. No one thought the Red Sox would ever fall to the depths that they did in 2012 and it can happen to the Yankees in 2013-2014. Dynasties—including that of the Yankees—have collapsed before. It’s not farfetched to predict their downfall again because the pieces are in place and getting more entrenched by the day. In fact, it’s inevitable.

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Yankees Modern Art

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If it were 2002 instead of 2012 and the Yankees had been humiliated by getting swept in the ALCS, there wouldn’t be organizational meetings; statements pronouncing the job security of the manager and general manager; assertions that players who had failed miserably would be back in pinstripes. Since their four game meltdown at the hands of the Tigers, there hasn’t been the outraged lunacy in the organization that would’ve accompanied a George Steinbrenner team not simply losing, but getting swept.

They didn’t run into a hot pitcher. They didn’t walk into a buzzsaw lineup. They weren’t devastated by injuries to irreplaceable players to the degree that they should’ve gotten whitewashed. They didn’t lose a tough 6-7 game series and put up a good show while doing it.

They got swept.

Swept like leaves tumbling to the ground during the Fall season that is supposed to belong to the Yankees. Swept like ash from from one of Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland’s ever-present Marlboro cigarettes.

Swept.

Steinbrenner would’ve openly congratulated the Tigers, noting what a great job Leyland and GM Dave Dombrowski did, complete with the glare and unsaid, “And my staff didn’t.”

As capricious and borderline deranged as Steinbrenner was, he served a purpose in creating a sense of urgency and accountability for even the most seasoned and highly compensated stars. They’ve become an organization that tolerates failure and allows indiscretions and underperformance to pass unpunished. Would he have sat by quietly as the team spiraled in September? Would he have exhibited such passivity while the decisions made by the entrenched GM elicited one expensive disaster after another?

Passivity vs accountability is an ongoing problem for the Yankees and there is an in-between, but the Yankees haven’t found it. How is it possible that the GM is not under fire for his atrocious drafts, dreadful trades, and inflexible and unsuccessful development of pitchers? Is it lost on observers that the two teams that are in the World Series made it with an array of starting pitchers who were not babied in the way that Cashman decreed would be the method of acquisition and development for his pitchers—all of whom are either stagnant and inconsistent (Dellin Betances, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain), on the disabled list (Michael Pineda, Manny Banuelos, Jose Campos), traded (Ian Kennedy, Phil Coke), or failed completely (Andrew Brackman)?

Could the Yankees have used George Kontos this year? He’s a forgotten name, but appeared in 44 games for the NL champion Giants and was a useful reliever for a pennant-winning team. In exchange for Kontos they received Chris Stewart, a journeyman backup catcher for whom defense is supposedly a forte and whose numbers, on the surface, imply that he was “better” for the pitchers than starter Russell Martin. In reality, Stewart was CC Sabathia’s semi-personal backstop and 18 of Sabathia’s 28 starts were caught by Stewart. It’s easy to look “better” when catching Sabathia as opposed to Freddy Garcia.

If a team is limiting its payroll and can’t spend $14 million for a set-up man who could be the closer just in case Mariano Rivera gets hurt as they did with Rafael Soriano, they need to keep pitchers like Kontos who could help them cheaply. They can’t toss $8 million into the trash on pitchers like Pedro Feliciano, then look across town to blame the Mets expecting the usual cowering silence for the accusation. (At least the Mets replied for once and shut the blameshifting Yankees’ GM up.)

Firing someone for no reason is not the answer, but firing someone for the sake of change is a justifiable reason to make a move—any move. No one’s losing their jobs over this? The majority of the club—including Alex Rodriguez—is coming back? Cashman hasn’t been put on notice for his on and off field faults?

Manager Joe Girardi has lost a serious amount of credibility in that clubhouse coming off the way he buried the veteran players who’d played hard and hurt for him during his entire tenure. There wasn’t a love-fest going on with Girardi, but there was a factional respect for the job he did that was demolished with his huddling with Cashman in the decision to bench A-Rod.

What they’re doing in bringing back the entire front office, manager, coaching staff, and nucleus of players is saying that there was nothing wrong with the team in 2012; that a season in which, apart from June and September, they were barely over .500 and putting forth the thought that they’ll be the same, but better in 2013. How does that work? The already aging players are a year older, but they’ll improve?

No. That’s not how it goes.

If the Boss were around, there would be demands to do something. It might be a bloodbath, it might be a tweak here or there, it might be a conscious choice to get A-Rod out of pinstripes no matter the cost. But there would be something. Coming from his football/military background, it wasn’t a bullying compulsion alone that Steinbrenner had to fire people and make drastic changes when something didn’t go according to plan. It was a necessity. Occasionally that resulted in stupidity the likes of almost trading Ron Guidry for Al Cowens; of trading Willie McGee for Bob Sykes; of trading Al Leiter for Jesse Barfield; for firing highly qualified baseball men in the front office and as manager and replacing them with sycophants whose main function in life was to make sure the Boss got his coffee at just the right temperature.

Where’s the middle?

Questions would be asked rather than adhering to a plan that’s not working. There was an end to the threats. Now there don’t appear to be consequences. They’ve gone from one extreme to the other when, in his last decade in charge, there was a middle-ground (still leaning heavily to the right) when Steinbrenner was alive.

There have been calls for the Yankees to return to the “feel good” tenets of 1996 and the dynastic confidence of the cohesive and well-oiled machine of 1998-2000. It’s true that during that time there wasn’t an A-Rod magnitude of star sopping up a vast chunk of the payroll and making headlines in the front of the newspaper more often than the back, but those teams were also the highest-paid in baseball. There was no Little Engine That Could in 1996.

With the mandate to reduce the bottom line to $189 million by 2014, it’s not judging how the team failed as they did in 2008 by not making the playoffs, and buying their way out of it with Mark Teixeira, Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett. Players aren’t running to join the Yankees in quest for a championship anymore and the money isn’t as limitless as it once was, so the playing field is level and the venue no longer as attractive.

You can’t have it both ways and claim to be superior to everyone else while having loftier goals than everyone else and being more valuable than everyone else, then run the team the same way as everyone else. It can’t work.

But they’re keeping this main cast together. It’s Yankees modern art where losing is tolerated and the aura of the Boss is mentioned as a historical artifact like the dinosaurs. He really existed once. It seems longer ago than it actually was and it’s fading off into the distance with each passing day and each organizational staff member’s comfort to the point of complacency.

They’re complacent all right; they’re consistent too. Every year it’s the same thing with the same people, and they expect it to change in the next year.

Trust me, it won’t.

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Reality is a Bigger, Hairier Monster For the Yankees and It Bites

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In keeping with yesterday’s autopsy theme I began yesterday, the dissection and search for the proximate cause of the demise for the 2012 Yankees is still underway. The problem is that, unlike the old Jack Klugman show Quincy, there’s not a rapid resolution and those preforming the examination are inept (Joel Sherman); partisan and delusional (Mike Francesa); and inexplicably allowed to escape from their cages and take to the internets—specifically Twitter—to put on their preschool-crafted “GM hat” made of day old newspaper.

Regardless of editorials and revisionist history, that newspaper still says the same thing for the ALCS: Tigers defeat Yankees 4 games to 0.

Quincy used to find a bullet to solve the case. In this case, Francesa might find what he thinks is a bullet when it is in reality a chunk of McDonald’s cheeseburger from 1983. Amid all of this is the reality that no one is addressing the crux of the problems that led to the Yankees’ disintegration and all are living in a world in which the Yankees are champions on an annual basis with endless amounts of money and the myth of professionalism, dignity, and class so effectively pushed by the likes of Sherman and the YES Network whether true or not.

What it comes down to is this: Are the Yankees going to maintain the road they’ve been on for the past decade and try to spend their way out of trouble or will they learn from what’s happened to them and other clubs that have done the same things and failed miserably? Judging from the statements coming from the Yankees as to their course of action, they’re not going to do much of anything different.

And that’s not good.

Let’s take a look:

  • Players wanted to join the Yankees because they won and accorded said players a chance to win a title

The Yankees were able to get the best free agents and acquire players via trade because of several reasons that no longer apply. The Yankees have outspent the rest of baseball by a wide margin over the past decade and have one World Series title to show for it. In fact, they’ve only been in the World Series twice in the past decade. Players aren’t signing with the Yankees to go to the World Series anymore; they’re signing for a chance to go to the World Series and this now is an evident possibility in about 10-12 locations every year. If a player doesn’t want the scrutiny or daily pressure of expectations that come with joining the Yankees, they’re free to go to multiple other places.

  • The Yankees pay more money than anyone else and can trade prospects for disgruntled players who want to get paid

As the club is trying to get the total payroll down to $189 million by 2014, can they blow a similarly wealthy club like the Angels out of the water in pursuit of a Zack Greinke?

The Yankees’ contract situations in 2014 aren’t as debilitating as is portrayed. They’re going to have to deal with Derek Jeter (he has a player option for $8 million in 2014 that, due to incentives, will probably be higher but still declined by the player); Alex Rodriguez is owed $25 million; they’re going to sign Robinson Cano to a contract that will probably average around $22-25 million annually; CC Sabathia is due $23 million; Mark Teixeira will receive $22.5 million. Performances and the ravages of age aside, they can afford to bring in younger “name” players to try and hand over the mantle from Mariano Rivera, Jeter, and the others to a new breed.

The Yankees used to raid low-revenue/poor-market clubs for players. Now those teams are signing their foundation players to long-term, team friendly contracts. The Pirates with Andrew McCutchen are an example. There were Yankees dreamers and apologists in the media like Sweeny Murti saying the Yankees are going to get Bryce Harper as soon as he hits free agency. That’s not going to happen.

Even Justin Upton, who is available and signed to a long-term contract, took the precaution when he signed the below-market long-term agreement to get it in writing that he can block trades to teams like the Yankees specifically so he won’t go to a team that has the money to pay him, but wants to get a cheap star-level talent.

These high-end players are not available to only a few teams that can pay them anymore and, in many cases, they’re not available at all.

With the conscious choice to get the payroll down to $189 million, the financial chasm between the Yankees, the Red Sox, Dodgers, Angels, Phillies, Cubs and others is no longer as vast. Players won’t be going to the Yankees because of a higher offer if they can take a bit less and be in a place they prefer. Cliff Lee proved that.

As for the trades, what prospects do the Yankees have left that anyone wants? They dumped Jesus Montero for nothing; Manny Banuelos is out with Tommy John surgery; Dellin Betances had to be demoted from Triple A to Double A and was horrific in 2012; and David Phelps, Phil Hughes, and Ivan Nova are the types of pitchers that most clubs have and will trade for, but won’t give up anything other than a lateral-type talent.

  • The arrogance of ignorance—or vice versa

On his show yesterday, Francesa state authoritatively and matter-of-factly that Andy Pettitte will be back; that they’ll re-sign Ichiro Suzuki; and that Hiroki Kuroda will agree to a 1-year contract. He’s also consistently implied that Michael Pineda will be an important part of the starting rotation.

Neither I, you, Francesa, the Yankees, Pettitte, or anyone else knows whether the pitcher is coming back. No one expected him to retire after 2010, so to think that because he came back to pitch this season he’s going to do so again is speculation based on nothing. And don’t discount Pettitte’s own feelings on this matter. For all his down home country Southern politeness and Texas gunslinger attitude, along with the reverence to God and the New York Yankees (the 3 years in Houston with the Astros carefully edited from the narrative), he’s been far more calculating, cognizant and manipulative of circumstances than is commonly mentioned. If he looks at the way the team lost, the cumulative age, the injuries sustained by Rivera, Jeter, and Pettitte himself, and thinks the Yankees downslide is imminent, does he want to tarnish his legacy, return to a team that ends up as the Red Sox did, and possibly injure himself if he’s vacillating on the commitment necessary to pitch effectively at 41-years-old? He could decide it’s not worth it.

Who even wants Ichiro back? Has anyone looked at his decline and age? He played well for the Yankees in spurts, but he’s not going to want to be a backup player. GM Brian Cashman made the (somewhat disturbing on several levels) statement that he wants “Big Hairy Monsters” to hit the ball out of the park. Ichiro’s no big hairy monster, he’s a little flitting hobbit. Ichiro for two months as an extra player? Okay. Ichiro as a yearlong solution playing everyday? No.

I have a feeling that Kuroda’s going to turn around and go back to the Dodgers for a multi-year deal—the location he didn’t want to leave. Kuroda preferred the West Coast, but there were no landing spots for him. He joined the Yankees because they were a good bet for him to win a stack of games and re-bolster his free agent bona fides for 2013 and he did that and more. He’s going to accept a 1-year deal? After throwing 219 innings, with a 5.2 WAR; being a gutty, consistent, and mean presence on the mound; and behaving like a true professional who would’ve fit in perfectly with the Joe Torre Yankees of the late 1990s, why would he short-change himself to stay in a locale he didn’t really want to join in the first place?

And Pineda? He was pressured and tormented for his lack of velocity in spring training; he got hurt and had labrum surgery; and had been acquired for two of the Yankees’ top prospects. The return to effectiveness from labrum surgery is not guaranteed and judging by the Yankees failure to effectively develop pitchers, what makes anyone think they’re going to get 160 quality innings from Pineda? He’s a giant question mark that they cannot count on to: A) be healthy; B) pitch well and adjust to New York and being a Yankee.

  • A no-win situation and management question marks

Say what you want about Nick Swisher, but he played hard for the Yankees; he played hurt; he embraced the city and its fans and was rewarded with abuse because of his post-season struggles. Swisher made a mistake in complaining publicly about it, but if other players look at Swisher and his contributions to the Yankees over the years, why would they want to subject themselves to that if they have a choice of possibly going to a more relaxed atmosphere that, bluntly, probably has a brighter future than the Yankees such as the West Coast, Chicago, St. Louis, Baltimore, Arizona, or even the Mets?

This same fanbase that was weeping over the injury to Jeter and stupidly calling it a “funeral” and comparing it to a wounded warrior being taken off the battlefield were the people that booed him and referred to him as “Captain Double Play” in 2011.

Do players want to willingly sign up for that?

In that vein of player whispers, manager Joe Girardi’s treatment of A-Rod, Swisher, and others is not going to go unnoticed. If Cashman heavily influenced Girardi to bench A-Rod, the players are going to think Girardi’s weak and not in charge; if Girardi did it himself, they’re going to think he’ll abandon them during a slump after performing for him during the regular season.

Girardi’s contract is up after 2013 and a player might not sign to play for Girardi in particular, but they certainly didn’t sign to play for a different manager—many of the Red Sox will tell you how that turns out after the Bobby Valentine disaster.

How Cashman is not under fire is a mystery to me. If you look at his drafts and player development which have been, at best, poor; his pitching acquisitions and missteps; his failure to put together a quality bench; and his off-field embarrassments that permeated the organization, why is he never examined in an objective way to determine whether his negatives outweigh whatever positives he provides?

In short, the playing field has changed, but the Yankees’ blueprint is stagnant. It’s the same with less money to spend. How is it possible to maintain their annual playoff contention under these constraints of their own making and due to the changing landscape?

It’s not. But you wouldn’t be able to determine that through the biology class going on with the likes of Francesa, Sherman, and Twitter dismembering a frog like the oblivious amateurs that they are and believing they’re explaining to the masses while they’re indulging in the identical fantasy that has led to the unbridled panic that ensues when the Yankees don’t win the World Series. In case you hadn’t noticed, they’ve fulfilled that mandate once in the past twelve years. With the money they’ve spent, the demands on the baseball people, and the air of superiority they exhibit—by any metric—that can only be called a failure.

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Benching and Dumping A-Rod Doesn’t Fix This Mess

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For Alex Rodriguez, the only conceivable way this gets worse is if it’s discovered that it was in fact him who was fooling around with a woman during a September game in a filthy stadium toilet and that his attempts to conceal himself by wearing a CC Sabathia shirt worked for a short period of time before the truth eventually came out. Of course it wasn’t A-Rod, but that’s not the point.

The point is the truth or some perception of it.

Nestled among the generic, semantically fueled denials uttered by Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman is the truth, but you’ll have to dig to find it and also need to accept that it wasn’t the words that he said, but the manner in which he said them that conveyed the reality.

Like a politically-minded frontman whose power has ebbed; whose reputation is disintegrating like an old T-shirt; and whose job might be on the line, Cashman took the hit for the club when he denied the reports that the Yankees are looking to trade A-Rod and are willing to either swallow an exorbitant sum of money to do it or take another team’s head (and stomach, and backside) ache such as Heath Bell to make it happen.

You can read the updated story reported here by Keith Olbermann on his MLBlog. (Keith linked yours truly near the end of the original posting when talking about Yankees’ PR hatchet man Jason Zillo—my piece was about Zillo’s attempts to hinder NY Times Magazine writer Michael Sokolove from pursuing a piece about age and Derek Jeter.)

I believe that the reports are accurate and that the Yankees—with or without Cashman’s tacit knowledge—are greasing the skids to get A-Rod out of town no matter what. In addition to denying that A-Rod was being discussed in trades, Cashman also stated that his benching is purely baseball related.

Is A-Rod out of the Yankees’ lineup because of his hitting struggles? Is it because the club has had enough of him and his sideshow and is punishing him for the transgression that he supposedly asked for the phone number of an Australian model after he’d been removed from game 1 of the ALCS? Or is it a combination of everything that’s gone wrong with him since he was acquired in 2004?

A-Rod looks overmatched at the plate and it’s up to the club to determine whether it’s a slump or if they’re simply better off benching him because the players they use to replace him can’t do much worse. As for the allegation that he tried to get a date during the game—so what? It happens all the time and that it’s a point of contention with factions of the organization speaks to the elasticity of propriety. If it was 2009 and A-Rod did the same thing in Anaheim during the ALCS when he’d been pulled for a pinch-runner, no one would’ve said a word because he was killing the ball. In fact, the old-school Steinbrenner sons likely would’ve shook their heads as their father did at the antics of David Wells and other players who did “guy stuff” in what they perceive as a man’s world and laughed at A-Rod just doing what A-Rod and other men do when they spot a pretty girl. The stark contrast being that unlike 99% of the planet, A-Rod has the ability to try to get a date and make it happen.

If the Yankees are benching him as a punitive act, it’s somewhat laughable considering that Cashman himself had his own issues with a woman he met and dated because he’s the GM of the Yankees. If Cashman hadn’t had a card that said Executive VP and GM of the Yankees and instead worked as an usher at the stadium, he wouldn’t have gotten the time of day from the woman. She certainly wasn’t with Cashman for his ratty looks and dully monotonous vocal tones.

Cashman’s behavior was in fact far worse than A-Rod’s because it was Cashman who wrote a letter of reference for the woman with whom he was involved and did so on Yankees stationery. All A-Rod did was happen to be wearing a Yankees uniform when he supposedly put the moves on the model.

And looking at the picture below, can you blame him?

Players do this more often than the public realizes and it’s not a big deal for any reason other than that it’s A-Rod and he’s not hitting, so all is magnified and the piling on of reasons to get rid of him.

As for the supposed trade talks, Cashman’s denials ring hollow and the entire listening audience, if they’ve been paying attention over the past decade-and-a-half of Cashman’s reign, saw right through it. In his desperate attempts to spin the story, it would’ve been more honest and believable if he sat with his head tilted, gesticulated with his hands in a “yeah, yeah, yeah, even I don’t believe this BS fashion,” and literally said:

“A-Rod, blah blah blah. He’s not being discussed in trades, blah, blah, blah. No Marlins, bleh. Not benched because of off-field stuff or the model thing, yadda yadda yadda. This is a team and the team’s not playing up to capability, blahblahBLAHblah…”

At least it would’ve been honest.

I do expect A-Rod to be dealt this winter, but they’re not going to pick up the entire contract unless they’re getting good, useful pieces in return. Apart from that, it would be the Yankees picking up a chunk of the contract (that owes him $114 million from 2013-2017) and taking someone else’s nuisance and similarly bad contract such as Bell. But getting rid of one player doesn’t solve all the Yankees problems. The bottom line is that they’re not losing because of one player independent of salary, all-time great career numbers, and controversies on and off the diamond.

This entire mess began due to A-Rod’s slump and that he’s the easiest target, but none of the Yankees have hit and, unlike Robinson Cano, at least A-Rod hustles and appears to care. Unlike Nick Swisher, he’s not whining about the fans. And unlike Curtis Granderson, the 37-year-old A-Rod is not supposed to be in his prime as he’s seemingly striking out every time he steps into the batter’s box.

There’s no doubt that A-Rod’s a distraction, but in this case he’s one of convenience to shift the blame from the rest of the team being as bad or worse than him. If they get rid of him, they’ll still have a bucketful of age, expense, and decline to deal with and no singular object of revulsion to take the brunt of the ridicule. Then it will be piled onto the front office concerning what they’ve done to let this team decay. Then the underlying holes will be revealed and they’re not as easy to fix as paying someone off to leave.

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Yankees By The Mailbox

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Will the Yankees mail it in or will they put up a fight?

They know first-hand and on the wrong end that being down 3 games to 0 isn’t the end of a series, It’s laughable when a game is called a “must win” even when it’s not an elimination game. It’s in the same logical arena of “giving 110%.” It’s not possible. Of course it would’ve helped the Yankees’ cause to have won last night, but it wasn’t a “must” win.

Tonight is a “must” win, but I’m not sure that the Yankees collective hearts are going to be in it to make the commitment necessary to make this a series, let alone bring it back to Yankee Stadium. Deep down, they can’t think they can come back and win it with their pitching staff decimated, the lineup inert, and Justin Verlander looming for game 7 if, against all logic and reality, they get it that far.

The Yankees are not going to just give the series away and make it obvious that they know their fate, have accepted it, and are waiting for the guillotine to come crashing down, but with a veteran team that’s lucratively compensated and playing poorly, can they reasonably expect to win four straight games and then be ready to face one of two good teams in the World Series and win?

Even in the most predictable Hollywood scenarios it’s hard to envision, and in those scenarios like the one that actually happened against the Red Sox in 2004, there was still some momentum and a feeling of the series not being over. That comes from the players on both sides. The Red Sox of 2004 were not going to quit; they’d never won; hadn’t been together long enough to grow complacent; didn’t have these super-high priced items permeating the roster from top-to-bottom; weren’t old and exhausted; and put forth an effort in the face of defeat.

Can this Yankees team say any of that?

CC Sabathia threw 17 2/3 innings and 241 pitches within 5 days to lead the Yankees past the Orioles in the ALDS. His elbow has barked this season and he’s 32; the Yankees are going to need him in 2013. Is manager Joe Girardi going to push him that far again? Is Sabathia going to be willing to be pushed that far again in a cause that the sane factions of the organization know is ostensibly hopeless?

Nick Swisher (if he plays) is looking at free agency. He won’t receive the$126 million, Jayson Werth dollars he was implying he wanted earlier in the season, but someone will pay him a good chunk of change. Will he be willing to lay out or crash into a wall trying to make a catch when it’s not going to make a difference this season for a team that’s on life support, but might cost him his contract?

Alex Rodriguez is likely planning a nice long vacation to escape it all. The argument could be made that he began his vacation when the regular season ended.

Rafael Soriano is going to opt-out of his contract and command at least a 3-year deal from someone (maybe even the opposition Tigers). Will he agree to pitch 2 innings tonight if needed? And if they win, 2 innings tomorrow? 1 1/3 innings in game 6?  All to face Verlander in game 7? With Phil Hughes experiencing back spasms that forced his removal in the fourth inning, who’s pitching game 7? David Phelps? Are they going to deactivate Hughes and pitch Freddy Garcia? Against Verlander and that Tigers’ lineup?

Robinson Cano plays as if he’s entitled when there’s a viable chance of the Yankees winning a World Series, but what about now? Is he going to hustle tonight? Why would he all of a sudden decide to play hard especially if he and the rest of the team know they’re done and just want to go home?

Yesterday, when the Yankees’ lineup was posted, I was amazed and impressed that Girardi was willing to make such gutsy moves. I certainly wouldn’t have put Eduardo Nunez at shortstop (though I would’ve gotten him in the lineup), but it was a case of Girardi saying he’d seen enough of Swisher and A-Rod and wanted to try something else. That’s what it looked like anyway until GM Brian Cashman started talking.

In what was a masterfully Machiavellian job of inserting himself into the narrative, when Cashman said that the decision to bench these players and make these lineup maneuvers was made jointly between him, the manager, and the coaching staff, he effectively emasculated his manager in front of the world. Was Cashman trying to take the heat off the manager? Was he trying to exert his authority as he always wanted to do under Joe Torre and since the publication of Moneyball stated that the GM should dictate to the manager, not the other way around, to accumulate credit for himself? Was it both?

From 1998-2007, had Cashman walked into Torre’s office and said he wanted to discuss the lineup, trying to force the veteran manager who had become an icon into doing what he was told, Torre would’ve reverted from the calm, cool, conciliatory Papa Joe that everyone saw—that Torre wanted everyone to see in public—to the old-school baseball man that told one of his bosses, Randy Levine, to “shut the {bleep} up,” during a conference call in which the upper management was trying to tell Torre what to do with the players on the field. Torre would’ve either told Cashman he’d think about it; said he’d do it and then not done it; or told Cashman to get the hell out his office.

Cashman should feel the heat more than anyone else in this organization and it’s not a “the buck stops with me,” safety net that a boss says but doesn’t really mean because he knows he’s safe, but a job-on-the-line questioning of why the Yankees don’t have a super-utility player who can actually play defense and hit; or have a viable center field option to remove Curtis Granderson from the lineup; or the other ghastly moves—mostly with pitching—he’s made.

It’s already started.

The wheel of blame is spinning and everyone is trying to protect themselves. Once this is over (and it’s a great bet that it ends tonight), they’ll scurry to their positions, dig into their spot, and wait it out to see who’s going to be held accountable for their failure to live up to the mandate of World Series or bust. No one, including Cashman or Girardi, is safe. The fallout will be in the coming weeks, but for now it’s waiting out the inevitable.

The patient is not dead but like a suffering animal (or human), there’s a time to put it out of its misery; a time that it probably won’t fight and if it does, won’t have the strength to put up an extended amount of resistance. What it comes down to is who’s shouldered with the responsibility for this debacle.

There’s plenty to go around.

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The Yankees’ Problems Go Far Beyond One Fractured Ankle and a Blown Call

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So Nick Swisher’s gregariousness—long an irritant to opponents—is no longer charming to the home fans when he’s 4 for 26, lost a ball in the lights in right field, and they’re looking for someone, anyone to blame for Derek Jeter’s ankle injury no matter how ludicrous the shifting of responsibility is? Swisher is surprised and “hurt” by the fans heckling and booing him?

Indicative of the need for vast chunks of the fanbase to awaken to an unexpected and unforeseen reality, Swisher is the case study of how things truly are for the Yankees when the “magic” disappears or decides to shift its allegiance to another venue.

The search for reasons that there were blocks empty seats at Yankee Stadium for playoff games is a bunch of noise. No one can pinpoint exactly why it’s happening in spite of Randy Levine’s complaints or baseless theories. It could mean anything. In a poor economic climate, fans may not have the money to purchase the seats, pay for the parking, indulge in the concessions. It could be that some have become so accustomed to the Yankees being in the playoffs every year that it’s lost its specialness and they’re paying scant attention to the how and are making the unsaid statement of, “Let me know when the World Series starts.”

The World Series will start on October 24th and the Yankees still have time to be a participant. But barring a miraculous turnaround, they will instead be cleaning out their lockers while it’s going on. Some, like Swisher, will be doing it for the final time as a Yankee.

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t call for instant replay when it negatively influences you, but laugh heartily and say smugly, “Them’s the breaks!” when Joe Mauer hits a ball that was clearly fair and was called foul; or when Jeffrey Maier has become a folk hero and part of the “Yankees lore” when he interferes with a Jeter home run ball that wasn’t and may have turned the entire 1996 ALCS in the Yankees’ favor and been the catalyst for their dynasty. Jeter, after that game, was asked what he would say to the young Maier and with the remnants of his antiquated fade haircut still in place and in the formative years of being a Yankees’ hero, he said, “Attaboy!!!” with undisguised glee at the Yankees winning in a similarly unfair fashion as they’re complaining about losing now. Except the Mauer and Maier calls changed the games entirely and the blown call on Omar Infante was only made because Infante made a mistake rounding the base and that the subsequent Yankees’ pitchers couldn’t record one out to make the point moot.

It’s the condescension and self-indulgent arrogance that is currently reverberating on the entire Yankees apparatus from the front office, to the YES Network, to the sanctioned bloggers, to the media, to the players, to the fanbase.

We want justice when it benefits us.

We love the players as long as they perform for us.

We function with dignity and class as long as we win.

Players join the Yankees because they offer the most money and they win. But when a player says no as Cliff Lee did, it’s because he doesn’t appreciate the “privilege” of being a Yankee, not because he and his wife preferred Philadelphia or Texas or because his wife didn’t brush off the same abuse that is being heaped on Swisher now was being hurled at her (along with spit and beer) in the 2010 ALCS.

It’s a wonderful world to live in where there’s no responsibility and money can be tossed at every problem to solve it.

The reality hurts when it hits like a sledgehammer. This faux history and concept of invisible baseball Gods smiling on the Yankees is eliminated by the truth. It was the need for capital in a musical produced by Red Sox owner Harry Frazee that led to the selling of Babe Ruth to the Yankees. They started winning shortly after getting the best player in the game and it turned into a circular entity. The more they won, the more money they made; the more money they made, the more free agent amateurs wanted to play for them because they paid the most in bonuses and they won. It continued on through Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. The amateur draft was implemented in the mid-1960s and the Yankees collapsed. They began winning again through free agency in the mid-late-1970s and it started all up again. There was a long lull and lucky—not smart, lucky—drafts garnered Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte. Amateur free agents upon whom they stumbled and nearly dumped such as Mariano Rivera and Bernie Williams turned into stars. They drafted a skinny shortstop, Jeter, in the first round of 1992 and got a historic player. This talk I’ve seen of a method to the madness with “doing the most damage in the later rounds of the draft” is pure better-breeding, blueblood idiocy. Any team that drafts an infielder in the 24th round who develops into Posada, or a lanky lefty like Pettitte in the 22nd round—both in the 1990 draft—is lucky.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but don’t make it more than it is.

Jeter gets injured and rather than being treated as an athlete who happened to get hurt in the middle of a contest, on Twitter it morphs into “a funeral procession,” and those who laughed (sort of the way the Yankees laugh at the Mets and Red Sox when misfortune hits them), are “justified” to have been thrown over the railing at Yankee Stadium. Jeter is analogous to a “wounded warrior being carted off the battlefield.” No. He’s not. He’s a very rich athlete who got hurt. That this type of thing was said while there are actual soldiers being carted off real battlefields and coming back missing limbs, burned beyond recognition, or dead makes this type of comparison all the more despicable.

Yes. Murdering someone makes logical sense when things don’t work out for you. That’s the way 12-year-old, bullying mentalities think. “If I don’t get to play with your toy, I’m gonna break the toy so you can’t play with it either.” “If I don’t get to win, I’m taking my ball and going home.”

When Rivera got hurt, there was this identical dynamic.

There’s an impenetrable fortress of delusion among these fans who have known nothing but winning in their time as Yankees’ fans. They don’t realize that sports is a diversion and these are human beings doing a job. A true tragedy occurred in 2006 when Cory Lidle crashed his plane days after the Yankees had been eliminated by the Tigers. Days earlier, he’d been a guest on WFAN with Chris Russo and, when Lidle said he was enjoying a beautiful day in New York City with his daughter, Russo indignantly said something to the tune of, “Well, if I’d just lost a playoff series I wouldn’t be out enjoying the day.” Lidle replied, “What am I supposed to do? Sit home and cry?”

In the Jimmy Fallon movie Fever Pitch, as the Red Sox fell behind the Yankees 3 games to 0 in the ALCS of 2004, Fallon’s character is out drowning his sorrows when he spots then-Red Sox players Johnny Damon and Jason Varitek out having dinner. An epiphany hits him that they’re human beings who are doing a job and will then go out and live their lives after the fact and that includes going out and having a nice dinner. There’s no reason to cry; a tantrum won’t help; and there’s no hiding in their homes musing on what went wrong.

Because it’s a job.

This incarnation of the Yankees from 1996 to now has never had to do a rebuild. They never had to worry about money because George Steinbrenner, for all his faults, was willing to spend under the theory that success on the field would beget profit off it. And he was right. But now the Boss is gone and GM Brian Cashman is hell-bent on getting the payroll down to a reasonable level so the new luxury tax regulations won’t drastically increase the bottom line. Is it due to a mandate from Hank and Hal Steinbrenner? Or is it Cashman trying again to prove that he belongs in the fleeting upper echelon of GMs currently inhabited by the likes of Andrew Friedman and Billy Beane who are specifically there because of limited resources and their own cagey maneuvers that sometimes work and sometimes don’t?

Cashman tried to rebuild his farm system so the Yankees didn’t have to rely on the checkbook to save them. In 2008 that resulted in a missed playoff spot and was, as usual, covered by spending, spending, spending on Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett. They’re still seeking young pitchers with cost certainty and upside and have Manny Banuelos (Tommy John surgery), Dellin Betances (can’t throw strikes), Michael Pineda (acquired, abused, and on the shelf with a torn labrum), and Jose Campos (the invisible key who hasn’t pitched or been heard from since May).

Annual contention and a World Series or failure sentiment is a great roadmap to disappointment. As the Phillies, Angels, and Red Sox have proven, money doesn’t buy a playoff spot, let alone a championship. The Red Sox and Mets have proven how quickly it can all come apart.

That can happen to the Yankees.

As they age, they decline (Alex Rodriguez); get hurt (Jeter and Rivera); outlive their usefulness (Swisher, Curtis Granderson), and bear the brunt of the outrage that the championships are not being delivered as they were in the past.

Are they prepared to pay Robinson Cano the $200+ million he’s going to want as a free agent after 2013? While they’re trying to cut costs and know that Cano isn’t the hardest worker in the world and whose laziness will extract an increasing toll on his production when the game is no longer easy for him? Does Cano look effortless because he’s so good or is it that he doesn’t put in much effort? And how does that portend what a player like him is going to accomplish as he’s guaranteed an amount of money that he’ll never be able to spend is coming to him no matter how he performs? He doesn’t run ground balls out now in the playoffs, is he going to run them out when he’s 35 and has 5 years to run on a contract that the Yankees can look at A-Rod’s fall and know is disastrous? The days of a player putting up Barry Bonds numbers at ages 36-42 ended with increased drug testing and harsher punishments. A-Rod is a 37-year-old player and this is what happens to 37-year-old players regardless of how great they once were. They can’t catch up to the fastball, they have to start their swings earlier in case it’s on the way leaving them susceptible to hard breaking stuff and changeups.

There’s no fixing it.

The Yankees might come back and win this ALCS. To do it, they’ll have to beat the best pitcher in baseball, Justin Verlander, pitching at home as the Tigers have a 2-0 series lead. It can be done. The Yankees can still win the World Series. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that they do. Will it be enjoyed or will there be a la-de-da, “we win again,” attitude that has set the stage for this rickety foundation and imminent collapse?

How much cake can a fan eat? How many pieces of chicken parm can Michael Kay stuff into his mouth? Like Wall Street, how many yachts can they waterski behind? When is enough enough?

Whether your personal investment and fantasyworld of egomania lets you see it, win or lose this dynasty is coming down and it’s happening right before your eyes.

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ALCS Preview and Predictions—New York Yankees vs Detroit Tigers

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New York Yankees (95-67; 1st place, AL East; defeated Baltimore Orioles 3 games to 2 in the ALDS) vs Detroit Tigers (88-74; 1st place, AL Central; defeated Oakland Athletics 3 games to 2 in the ALDS)

Keys for the Tigers: Tack on runs and keep the game out of the hands of Jose Valverde; hold down the Yankees’ bats as the Orioles did; get runners on base in front of Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera.

Valverde has been terrible this year. Yes, he has a fastball and a split that can get strikeouts, but the hitters—and especially the Yankees—know to give him a chance to start walking people and he’ll oblige. His strikeouts were way down this year with only 48 in 69 innings. The Yankees will be supremely confident even if they’re trailing going to the ninth inning with Valverde coming in. The Tigers have the offense to put up big numbers and they’ll feel better en masse if they’re not placing the game in the hands of Valverde.

The focus was on Alex Rodriguez because he wound up being benched, but A-Rod was benched because the Yankees had options to do so. They don’t have that option with their other struggling hitters Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson. Nick Swisher isn’t going to be in the lineup every game if he doesn’t provide some offense early in the series. The Orioles did it with Joe Saunders, Jason Hammel, and Miguel Gonzalez. The Tigers are trotting out Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, and Max Scherzer. Maybe the more familiar pitchers will help the Yankees have better at bats.

With Fielder and Cabrera, the Tigers have bashers that the Orioles didn’t. If the Yankees are in a position where they have no choice but to pitch to one or both, they’ll do damage.

Keys for the Yankees: Hit; don’t hesitate to make lineup changes with Swisher or A-Rod; get similarly great starting pitching as they did in the ALDS.

Mark Teixeira is coming off of a calf injury that could’ve ended his season and is an injury that has a tendency of recurring even when it feels as if it’s back to normal. He’s running hard and his key stolen base set the stage for the Yankees to take the lead in game 5 against the Orioles.

Cano, on the other hand, is running at perhaps 60% of capacity. He does it because he’s allowed to get away with it. It’s unacceptable. I can deal with him struggling at the plate; I can live with an error once in awhile; but this attitude of, “I don’t have to run because I can hit better than 98% of baseball,” is a warning sign to the Yankees that they should think very long and seriously before handing Cano—at age 31 a year from now—a contract for 8-10 years at over $200 million. His laziness on the field could extend to off the field; what once came easy will no longer come easy; and if he’s not willing to run out a double play ball in the playoffs, then what makes anyone think he’s going to work hard off the field to stay in shape when his bat slows down and his reactions aren’t as quick?

He was actually worse that A-Rod in the ALDS because A-Rod has the excuse of age and declining bat speed. I had thought Cano would be mitigated because he wasn’t going to see any pitches to hit, but in the series with the Orioles, he saw plenty of pitches to hit. He just didn’t hit them.

Andy Pettitte, CC Sabathia, and Hiroki Kuroda are warriors; Phil Hughes has the fans and media acting skittish whenever he’s out on the mound, but he’s been able to handle the pressure games and do his job.

By my estimation, Swisher will get the first two games against Fister and Sanchez to see if he produces. If he doesn’t hit, by game 3 when Verlander is on the mound, Swisher will be sitting.

It was interesting that both Joe Girardi and Jim Leyland left their aces out on the mound in a game 5 when they definitely would’ve pulled them in favor of their closers in a less-important game.

What will happen:

The Tigers are not the Orioles. They’re not relying on a bunch of journeymen and youngsters. They’re trotting star power out there with Fielder and Cabrera. Austin Jackson and Quintin Berry are speed players who pose a threat on the bases. Alex Avila and Delmon Young have had big hits in the playoffs. With their starting pitching, they’re more capable of shutting out the lights on the Yankees than the Orioles. Sabathia is not pitching until game 4 after his complete game effort in game 5 of the ALDS against the Orioles.

Cabrera has brutalized the Yankees’ pitchers—link.

Fielder hasn’t been as successful, so the series is going to hinge on him and Young, both batting behind Cabrera.

Valverde has had success against the Yankees, but he can’t be trusted. Nor can Yankees’ closer Rafael Soriano who, despite pitching well against the Orioles, has not been trustworthy in playoffs past. Both Leyland and Girardi will be inclined to leave their starters in the game rather than entrust a close game to questionable bullpen arms when they can help it. Joaquin Benoit has been shaky for the Tigers and David Robertson gets himself into trouble seemingly for the sake of getting out of it and that’s not going to work with Cabrera and Fielder.

I don’t see how A-Rod, Swisher, and Granderson will suddenly rediscover their strokes against better pitching than they saw in the Orioles series. I have no idea what to expect from Cano.

Leyland has bounced the Yankees the two times he’s faced them in the playoffs and with the Tigers lineup performing better than the Yankees and an even matchup on the mound, the Tigers will stop the Yankees again.

PREDICTION: TIGERS IN SIX

ALCS MVP: PRINCE FIELDER

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