See, that’s not nice. I shouldn’t use that title. I suspect Buster Olney, whose writing (if not baseball analysis acumen) I esteem highly, did a great job on a book of the same name, but I never read it.
Good or bad, the book’s title captures a phenomenon that sweeps The Baseball World every few years. It’s more than schadenfreude, more than wishful thinking. Everyone wants to see the Yankees’ dynasty, the last true sports dynasty, one now nearly 20 years old, draw a rattling breath and die.
It hasn’t happened yet. In the last decade, the Yankees have survived an historic collapse at the hands of their arch rival; the disgrace and disappearance of four star-caliber players (Roger Clemens, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Andy Pettitte); the accelerating decline and/or eventual retirement of five more (Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Bernie Williams, Mike Mussina); and the death of their reformed, beyond powerful owner.
In 2012, they kept the ship afloat despite losing Mariano Rivera, Brett Gardner and Michael Pineda for the season; Rodriguez and CC Sabathia for six weeks apiece; and all the pixie dust Ivan Nova seemed to have had on hand.
On Saturday night, Derek Jeter broke his ankle on a ground ball to his left. As soon as he went down, one could feel the Yankee Stadium crowd–usually the only bunch of yahoos bold enough to refute the rumors of the Empire’s imminent demise–tense up. About three dozen guys in the upper deck actually lost that trademark wise-guy Yankee-fan accent at that moment. Their voices changed, squeaks and all. Jay-Z started rummaging through his closet for Dodgers hats. The Yankees were already on the rocks, but when Jeter went down, it was over. The Tigers swept them, and baseball fans everywhere began dancing on the pinstriped grave.
It’s too early for that, folks. Maybe The Jeter Yankees will never dominate again, but all told, it would be awfully surprising if the 2013 Yankees were anything short of the pre-season favorites. This division, something else they overcame throughout their dynastic ascent, the deepest and most imposing in sports history, is no longer what it was. The Red Sox are not going to bounce right up off the mat. The Blue Jays have another year before realizing a lot of the gains they have been banking since the start of the Anthopoulos administration. The Orioles… won’t win 93 games next season. Let’s just agree on what we can agree on. The Rays have as fascinating and challenging a winter ahead as New York does.
Forget everyone else, though. Consider the Yankees in a vacuum. What do you have here?
Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Jeter and Gardner will be back in starting positional roles next year. Sabathia, Pineda, Phil Hughes and Nova figure to be in the Opening Day rotation. Rivera, who had planned to retire before his injury, now says he wants to be back. David Robertson, Rafael Soriano, Boone Logan, David Phelps and Joba Chamberlain will fill out the bullpen. Of the current role players, Eduardo Nunez and Chris Stewart have a chance to be back as bench filler.
That’s 18 players, who will cost a combined $165 million or so. They still need a starting catcher, right fielder and DH; a mid-level starting pitcher; and some competent insurance against further injury to Jeter or Rodriguez. To make a long story short, the Yankees are not getting under the luxury-tax threshold in 2013. Therefore, expect them to be aggressive in filling these holes.
Either Russell Martin or A.J. Pierzynski will probably start behind the plate for them next year. Of Torii Hunter, Melky Cabrera and the incumbents (Swisher and Suzuki), someone will fill right field. Eric Chavez was so good (albeit in an extremely accommodating platoon role, wherein he faced right-handed pitchers in 88 percent of all plate appearances) that he might be back.
On the mound, New York can choose between bringing back Hiroki Kuroda, or buying low on any of a half-dozen high-upside starters (Scott Baker, Erik Bedard, Jorge de la Rosa, Edwin Jackson, Francisco Liriano and Brandon McCarthy). With one of each of those sets of available players in tow, there would be no divisional opponent who could head into 2013 with a better shot at winning than New York.
This is how it goes. Teams with lots of money and smart personnel in the executive suite don’t have just one shot at this. The Yankees lost in the 2012 ALCS, and looked bad doing it. That doesn’t mean they’re dead. It just means they get a head start on the winter, and that they won’t have any afterglow problems, like being forced to hold on to bad players because they’re playoff heroes. You lose some flexibility when you win the World Series. It’s the winner’s curse. Warts are smoothed over. Fans think you’re perfect.
Perfect can be the enemy of better. Moves like letting Raul Ibanez go become harder. The Yankees aren’t perfect. Everyone sees that now. So they have a chance, over the next six months, to simply get better.Next post: The Draft, the CBA, and Free Agency on MLB’s New Frontier
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