In the coming days, if it hasn’t happened already, Hal Steinbrenner is going to have a sit-down with Brian Cashman to assess this latest disappointing Yankee season, the 12th straight since they last appeared in the World Series despite having the highest or second-highest payrolls in baseball in all but two of those seasons. During that time, the Tampa Bay Rays, in Hal’s own back yard, have been to the Series once and could very well make it a second time this year, despite payrolls about one-third of the Yankees’.
By this time, one would have to assume one of the questions Hal has for Cashman is: “How do you explain this? How can this team down here in Tampa, which draws 15,000 fewer fans a game than us and has only one long-term contract of $50 million, be so much better than us?” Hal should also want to know how the Yankees under Cashman have sunk millions of dollars into their analytics operation, and are also being so thoroughly out-analytics-ed by the Rays. Another question Hal might want to ask Cashman: Why are the Rays so much better at spotting talent on other clubs – particularly pitchers where the heart of their seemingly endless pitching staff (Tyler Glasnow, Shane Baz, Drew Rasmussen, Luis Patino, Pete Fairbanks, Andrew Kittridge, J.T. Chargois, Jeffrey Springs. J.P. Feyereisen, Nick Anderson and Matt Wisler) plus the majority of their starting lineup (Randy Arozarena, Austin Meadows, Yandy Diaz, Mike Zunino, Joey Wendle, Ji-Man Choi and Manuel Margot) were all acquired in trades?
By contrast, at the trading deadline, two of Cashman’s three acquisitions – the strikeout machine Joey Gallo and mediocre lefty Andrew Heaney - were total busts and Hal would be entirely justified in asking his GM why his people didn’t do a better vetting job about their ability to play in New York?
These are all reasonable questions for Hal as he and Cashman decide the fate of Aaron Boone and how this mess of a Yankee team Cashman put together – so lacking in athleticism and fundamentals – can be fixed. Because if Hal is satisfied that Cashman’s analytics team is doing a good job – even though the Rays are a better team at almost every position except right field and maybe DH, and he hasn’t hosted a World Series in 12 years despite consistently high payrolls of $180 million or more - then it really doesn’t matter who the Yankee manager is going to be next year.
In his parting words after the wild card loss to the Red Sox last Tuesday, Boone incredibly said: “The league has closed the gap on us.” For 12 years? He added, “We’ve got to get better in every aspect.” And in that, he was certainly right.
Winning baseball teams are traditionally strong up the middle, and right now the Yankees can list catcher and shortstop as their two primary offseason needs while they continue to delude themselves that Aaron Hicks – who’s played all of 493 games in six seasons for them – is the answer in center field. They also need a left fielder, a first baseman and at least one more quality starting pitcher (which they hope will come from within), all the while wondering if Gerrit Cole might actually be somewhat less of a $324 million ace without the benefit of the sticky stuff.
With all these pressing Yankee needs, it is rather amusing that so many media types are already beating the drums for Hal to extend Aaron Judge a year before he can be a free agent. These are the same people who, last spring, implored Steve Cohen to lock up Francisco Lindor to a megabucks 10-year contract without the benefit of having seen how he would perform in New York. Cohen, who must have forgotten he was the richest man in baseball, acted like a small market owner afraid he might be outbid for his star player in free agency, and Hal would be doing the same with Judge, who will be 30 next year and has played only two full healthy seasons for the Yankees. As George Steinbrenner always maintained, when you’re the Yankees, there’s no upside in signing players to long-term contracts before absolutely necessary. With the exception of Goose Gossage (and that wasn’t about money), the Yankees never lose players they want to keep.
Meanwhile, it remains to be seen if anyone, other than a couple of coaches, is held accountable for this latest championship-less Yankee season. Cashman has one year left on his contract and he’s fortunate that he’s always been considered part of the Steinbrenner family. But if Hal truly cares as his dad did (and there is some doubt about that) he should give Cashman an ultimatum this winter to re-examine his analytics department and drastically change the complexion of this team - and that once again finishing a distant second or worse behind the Rays with their payroll one-third of the Yankees’, will leave him no choice but to change direction and clean house with his baseball operations.
The best thing about the Dodgers beating the Cardinals, a team with 16 more losses than they had, in the NL wild card game was not setting up the series with the Giants that everyone (outside of St. Louis) wanted. Rather it was quieting down the rabble crying out for the wild card games to become two-out-of-three series. The temptation for MLB is surely there – more TV loot – but as proved once again this year, there is nothing more exciting than sudden death baseball. Max Scherzer said it best when asked if the Dodgers were upset being a wild card after winning 106 games: “No. You have to win your division. We didn’t win our division. There’s no crying in baseball.”…Baseball lost its oldest living former player when Eddie Robinson passed away last Monday at age 100. Eddie, who was a friend, was indeed a baseball treasure who, besides hitting .268 with 172 homers as a first baseman for seven major league teams including the 1948 world champion Indians and 1955 American League champion Yankees, was a general manager for the Braves and Rangers and worked tirelessly to improve the pension benefits for retired players who played before 1945. Right to the end, he was actively engaged in baseball. In a phone call from his home in Fort Worth a couple of months ago, he told me he was trying to organize the left-handed hitters to protest against the shift…Truth be told, up until about a month ago, I had no idea what an NFT (Non-Fungible Token) was, and I still don’t quite understand why people are paying thousands, even millions of dollars to collect them. But it got my attention when Wade Boggs announced last week he was partnering with an NFT company, Firma Pro, to develop unique sports memorabilia NFTs. For the uninitiated, NFTs are digital photos or artwork that are downloaded and stored in people’s personal collections. For starters, Firma Pro is working on an NFT of Boggs’ five batting titles. “I’ve been watching the NFT market,” Boggs said, “and I’m excited to now be a part of it.”