The Latest Yankees Injury: First The Jokes, Then The Reality

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Mark Teixeira has a strained right wrist and will be out for 8-10 weeks.

Considering the age permeating the Yankees’ roster, Joe Pepitone would fit right in.

When Brian Cashman broke his right fibula and dislocated his ankle skydiving and doing his Flyin’ Brian act that turned out to be Flyin’ Brian Landin’ and Breakin’ His Bones, I compared him to George Costanza, a fictional former Yankees’ employee on Seinfeld. As an organization, the Yankees are playing out the Seinfeld episode in which Elaine starts acting like (and gets identical results) as George. “I’ve become George,” she exclaimed. Well, the Yankees have become the Mets. “We’ve become the Mets!!!” Expect to hear that soon. Only it’s worse. The Mets, in recent years, have grown so accustomed to bad things happening that it’s just sort of there like a goiter. With the Yankees, though, they’re expected to be in the World Series every year. The fans have deluded themselves into thinking that they should be treated as if they won the World Series the year before even if they got bounced in the first or second round of the playoffs or, perish the thought, didn’t make the playoffs at all. History must be altered; facts must be twisted; truth must be ignored—all options are on the table to maintain the alternate reality.

A panic-stricken Mike Francesa wants them to trade for Justin Morneau. This is based on the Twins rebuilding and that Morneau will be available. What he’s missing in his desperation is that while it’s logical that the Yankees, because of fan demands and ticket prices, can’t put a team with the likes of Dan Johnson at first base and Juan Rivera/Matt Diaz or some amalgam of rookies in left field joining a lineup with a catcher who might as well not even bring a bat to the park, the Twins are in a position of having to fill a new ballpark of their own and to put up a pretense of trying to be respectable, at least in the beginning of the season. There was a similar dynamic with Francisco Liriano a couple of years ago that the Twins were going to trade him to the Yankees before the season started. Why? Because the Yankees needed an arm? And this was while the Twins were expecting to actually compete for a playoff spot.

Yankees fans and apologists in the media still don’t get it. They don’t understand that the Yankees don’t get whatever they want. You’d think it would’ve sunk in by now, especially after Cliff Lee told them to take a hike, but it’s still not getting through. Also, immediately after this story broke, a fan called into Francesa’s show and said he wouldn’t be surprised if this Yankees team doesn’t make the playoffs.

Doesn’t make the playoffs? Here’s a clip for you:

Not only is this current configuration not making the playoffs, but without Curtis Granderson and Teixeira for extended periods; with Alex Rodriguez gone ‘til who knows when; with Derek Jeter returning from a serious injury; with the age on the pitching staff, they’re lucky to be a .500 team.

There’s not going to be a Morneau trade to the Yankees. It had better sink in that this is the future that they mortgaged for so long, kicking the need to rebuild down the road with Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera maintaining performance and staying healthy at an almost supernatural rate. Last year, all three got hurt. Now Teixeira, A-Rod and Granderson are out. Now, with the age on this team and the inability for older players to take special potions, pills and manufactured concoctions to get on the field, this is what happens to players of a certain age. They get hurt and they’re out for extended periods. They can’t play as well as they once did, nor can they recover as rapidly from the wear-and-tear of the games. It would be fine if the Yankees still had an offense that could possibly account for the age and decline of their core players, but they don’t. They made a conscious and stupid decision to let Eric Chavez and Raul Ibanez leave. Could they use those players as backups now?

All of a sudden, the absurd and uncharacteristic cheapness is spinning around on them and immediately blowing up in their faces. Fans are going to demand something drastic that’s not going to happen. They’d better get accustomed to the way things are and how they’ll be for the next two seasons. The type of player that will be available to them to play first base for the next couple of months is identical to the faceless cast of retread characters they have manning the outfield in Granderson’s absence—I’m talking about the Daric Barton-type from the Athletics. Barton has put up good on-base numbers when healthy, but he’s always hurt and makes Jason Giambi look like a Rhodes Scholar.

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2013 Yankees.

Get used to it and brace yourself. It gets worse from here.

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Anatomy Of A Yankees Swoon

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The Yankees, their fans, and the media that covers them on a daily basis are all wallowing in denial, excuses, self-pity, delusion, and desperation. The team itself still has time to save its season, but they’re well on the way to joining the Red Sox and Mets in the lore of historic and embarrassing collapses that, for the Yankees with their payroll and superiority complex, will surpass those of teams past.

Let’s take a look at what’s going on with the Yankees and the likelihood of steering out of this spiral.

Injuries and lack of depth

This is the batting order they presented last night against the Rays:

1. Derek Jeter-SS

2. Curtis Granderson-CF

3. Nick Swisher-1B

4. Robinson Cano-DH

5. Alex Rodriguez-3B

6. Raul Ibanez-LF

7. Jayson Nix-2B

8. Chris Dickerson-RF

9. Chris Stewart-C

And pitching, Freddy Garcia.

This is the starting lineup for one of the latter days of spring training, not for a pennant race in September against a younger, faster, healthier Rays team in direct pursuit. On the heels of journeyman Steve Pearce batting cleanup, Eric Chavez having to play almost every day after A-Rod got hurt, Ibanez playing too much, Swisher having to play first base in place of Mark Teixeira, and using Garcia and David Phelps in the starting rotation, is it any wonder the 10 game lead has been extinguished?

No one wants to hear about injuries. No one wants to hear whining about the umpires or a “woe is me” lament. No one cares about the Yankees problems. They’re scouring the bargain bin for the likes of Pearce and Casey McGehee and expecting to move along smoothly without a hitch. A 4-A player doesn’t stop being a 4-A player just because he puts on a Yankee uniform.

Non-issues become problems when the team’s losing

Cano’s repeated incidents of nonchalance weren’t an issue when the team was winning, so it can’t be referenced as one when they’re losing. The Yankees let Cano’s jogging around go because there wasn’t much they could do about it and it was okay with a 10 game lead. Now that the lead is gone, it’s not okay? It doesn’t work that way. Jeter runs out every ground ball, why can’t Cano?

In a similar vein, manager Joe Girardi wasn’t scrutinized heavily for his occasionally strange strategic decisions when the team was star-studded and rolling unstoppably toward another division title with an eye on the World Series. Once the decisions actually make a difference not just in a game, but in the standings and the team is in danger of falling out of the playoffs completely, there’s ludicrous speculation about his job security if they complete this collapse.

Girardi, like most of the other 2012 Yankees, has never been in this pressurized situation during the season. In 2008, it was known by September 1st that, barring a miraculous comeback, they weren’t making the playoffs. In 2009, they won 103 games. In 2010, the biggest decision they had was whether or not to try and win the division or accept the Wild Card. In 2011, they coasted late in the season and played a lineup similar to the one they’re currently playing and allowed the Rays to sweep them and overtake the Red Sox (something I don’t hold against them).

Now they have to play and they have to win. When Girardi was in a pressurized situation of the post-season in 2009 and his maneuvers were important, he was found wanting. He made odd and panicky pitching changes and ill-thought-out lineup and in-game moves. That Yankees team happened to be talented enough to overcome Girardi’s overmanaging and win the title.

I don’t blame Girardi for this stumble, but it’s now that he has to maintain control of the ship and not grip the handles too tightly, but his volcanic eruption last night that resulted in an ejection and his snippy replies to questions in post-game press conferences indicate a growing tightness that will permeate the team.

Personnel gaffes

The Yankees and GM Brian Cashman have made it clear that they no longer intend to purchase every star on the market to have at least 2 players who could be or have been All-Stars at each position. They want to get under the luxury tax when the draconian measures to restrain salaries come into effect and it shows on the field. They didn’t pursue Cliff Lee when the Phillies were listening to offers on him; they didn’t make a substantial package available at mid-season to get Justin Upton; they weren’t avidly chasing any of the available players who might’ve been able to help them drastically. Instead, they traded for Ichiro Suzuki and got him for nothing. Ichiro can still catch the ball in the outfield and steal a base, but he’s hitting identically with the Yankees as he did with the Mariners: lots of singles and no on-base skills with an average hovering around .270.

These in-season acquisitions come after consecutive winters in which they wasted money (Pedro Feliciano); signed fill-in veterans and scrapheap denizens (Russell Martin, Ibanez, Andruw Jones, Chavez); and gave away assets (Jesus Montero) for literally nothing (Michael Pineda and the “key” Jose Campos).

This is not to suggest Montero would be a significant contributor to the Yankees in a Yankees uniform—he’s been okay learning on the job behind and at the plate with the Mariners—but he was something other teams coveted; they could’ve traded him for a known commodity rather than going the cheap and “controllable” route with Pineda.

Hiroki Kuroda was a great signing.

The Yankees vaunted young pitching that they developed with it in mind that they wouldn’t spend tons of cash on other teams’ abused arms? That’s not working either. Phil Hughes is an okay big league pitcher, but he’s a 3rd or 4th starter that you can find on the market. Joba Chamberlain is a bottom-line disappointment. Ian Kennedy wasn’t good for the Yankees; they received Granderson for him making it a win. Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos, Campos, Pineda—where’s the next Andy Pettitte? A Yankees’ pitcher they brought through their system and turned into a top-flight starter?

Seeking solace

Teams, fanbases and media members who’ve experienced a collapse have all done the same things. They look at the schedule; they lean on one another looking for positive reassurance; they repeat the mantra of “Everything’s gonna be alright” with the unsaid, “Isn’t it?” as an addendum.

Mike Francesa had Yankees beat reporters Sweeny Murti and Mark Feinsand on as guests and it was something of a sycophantic think-tank in which the schedule was seen as the Yankees friend and the three discussed not what the consequences would be if the Yankees missed the playoffs or that increasingly real possibility, but how many games they would recover and win the division by.

Michael Kay sounds so disconsolate that he can barely stomach a third piece of chicken parmesan.

Fans are clutching each other as if they’re in a prayer circle looking towards the heavens wondering why the Baseball Gods that have smiled so consistently on the Yankees hath forsaken them.

It’s not a conspiracy. They’re just not very good.

Meteorology

It wasn’t a stand-alone instance that the Mets and Red Sox collapsed in 2007 and 2011. There was a perfect storm that assisted greatly in the fall from the playoffs. The Mets kept losing to the Phillies and blew their lead, but would’ve made the playoffs if not for the Rockies ridiculous hot streak in September that launched them from also-ran to the World Series.

The Red Sox had a blazing hot Rays team chasing them and the Yankees who didn’t play their regulars in the last series against the Rays.

Now the Yankees, even with the extra Wild Card available, are in an American League with 8 teams for 5 playoff spots. If they fall from first place, there’s a good chance that falling from playoff position will come immediately after.

Studying the schedule is meant to be a calming device, but it’s not. Referencing games against the Blue Jays, Red Sox, and Twins is a stretch as well. Mets and Red Sox fans can tell Yankees fans all about the futility of studying the schedules during a swoon such as this. The 2007 Mets consistently lost to the horrific Nationals; the 2011 Red Sox were undone by the then-terrible Orioles; the Yankees lost 2 of 3 to the Blue Jays just last week and the Red Sox would see vengeance and a salvaging of their dismal season by taking part in the Yankees downfall.

The Yankees can’t count on other teams helping them to get them into the playoffs. They have to win a few games themselves—something they’re not doing and with this lineup, may not be capable of doing.

Clinging to the past; reaching back for the stars

This Yankees team finds itself chained to a past that’s not going to return. Still reliant on Jeter to be the star; waiting for Pettitte to return and save the day; blaming their stumble, ridiculously, on the loss of Mariano Rivera—they haven’t replaced them and are finding out how truly hard it is to do so with hardened veterans who’ve been through the battles and come out on top.

Rafael Soriano has been at least as good as Rivera would’ve been during the season, so the absence of Rivera is not a viable reason for the way they’ve played. The idea that Soriano’s shift to the closer’s role hindered the set-up area is ignoring how thoroughly unreliable Soriano was as a set-up man.

While Jeter has had a renaissance in 2012, that can’t last forever. What are they going to do then?

What are they going to do when Pettitte is retired and stays retired? If Rivera can’t be as effective as he was prior to his knee injury or can’t come back at all?

They don’t have ready replacements as was the intent when they “developed” their young players and the players they have now are feeling the heat they never expected to feel to make the playoffs when they joined the Yankees.

Sign free agents? They’ve openly said the vault isn’t as open as it once was and they’re on the hook for a ton of money for A-Rod, Teixeira and CC Sabathia for the foreseeable future. Make trades? Does anyone want those prospects who’ve leaped backwards and been hurt this season?

There is no endless dynasty. The Yankees of the 1960s came undone because they failed to adapt to the draft and their stars got old all at once. The same things that happened to other teams that collapsed like the Mets and Red Sox are present with this Yankees team and they’re not so easy to gloss over when the team doesn’t win. In fact, they become more stark; they become the foundation for a slide that takes years to recover from.

I happens to everyone. And whether the Yankees recover from this in time to make it to the playoffs and even win while there, that’s not going to stop the inevitable reality. This is a sign of the beginning of the end and it will be pointed to as such when things really come apart, sooner or later.

Right now it looks like sooner.

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