Sunday, October 12, 2014

For One Last Moment

           The 2014 Yankees kept afloat for most of the season, but ultimately the lack of offense that plagued the team the entire season became they're undoing in September and for the second consecutive year, they're left out of the playoff picture.

           It marks the first time since the 1992 and 1993 seasons that the Yanks went two years in a row without making the playoffs in which fans grew so accustomed to that in recent years they haven't bothered selling out the Stadium in the early rounds. Perhaps this turn of events will force Yankee fans to appreciate the postseason more and not look back at early exits in the past as complete failures. With the team too far out of even a Wild Card spot, the narrative for the remaining weeks of the season were 100% focused on the retirement of Derek Jeter.

           Though things were getting out of hand with Steiner Sports Memorabilia looking to sell off anything remotely connected with Jeter, short of used toilet paper, fans were soaking it all up and came out in big numbers to the ballpark to say goodbye to The Captain. In fact, probably more people were willing to see him at the Stadium in a non-playoff year than would've shown up if the team was still in the playoff hunt and Jeter wasn't retiring.  The second half of the season for Jeter was getting very ugly at the plate, but as the final week of the season came around the bend, Jeter's bat started to heat up and he treated fans to one last magic moment in a career that's been littered with them.

           Yankee Stadium had a buzz that night; a flashback to the atmosphere of the old stadium across the street when the Joe Torre Yankees were in 'World Series or Bust' mode. By the first pitch nearly every person was in their seat, something seldom seen these days, and smartphone lights and camera flashes were popping off all night. Many wondered if Jeter would do something special in his last game at Yankee Stadium; a dramatic homerun seemed unlikely since he had already hit one earlier in the week and with his limited homerun power in 2014, it appeared mathematically impossible for him to hit another in such a close timeframe. He did come close in the first inning, banging a RBI double off the wall. Later on, he hit a grounder to short which was thrown away as an error and caused two runners to score to give the Yankees a lead. Everything was going as planned against the Orioles by the top of the 9th inning with a 5-2 and the reliable David Robertson on to close it out, then one of those 'mystique and auro' moments from the old stadium came down from the skies to send Jeter off in style. Robertson actually blew the save on a pair of homeruns and set the stage for Jeter to bat in the bottom of the 9th with one out and the game-winning run waiting on second base.

           Orioles manager Buck Showalter was playing for the top seed in the American League and was in no position to have to let Jeter get to hit. With first base open and the lefty-hitting McCann on deck, the ABCs of managing would've led Buck to intentionally walk Jeter and then bring a lefty out of the pen to deal with McCann - trying for a doubleplay at best. Under the circumstances of that most likely being Jeter's last at bat at Yankee Stadium, the fear of getting crucified in the media (or killed in the parking lot) forced Buck's hand of leaving his righty in there to give Jeter another full at-bat. Jeter didn't wait long to take advantage of the gift his first big league manager gave him, he smoked the first he saw opposite field in typical Jeter fashion and brought home the game-winning run.

           For those who make light of Jeter's career; basing his good fortune and fame solely on the fact he played for loaded Yankees teams, here he was with a non-playoff squad with a pathetic lineup on his last home game, and with the pressure to make the night special, Jeter came through going by going 2-5 with 1 run scored and 3 RBI (including the game winner), oh, and turned a nifty doubleplay in the field as well. It's probably difficult for all baseball fans to come to grips that he was the best all around shortstop of the modern era without track marks or a move to third base.

           Once the s%its and giggles of Jeter's Farewell evaporated into the ozone, it was time for Joe Girardi and the Steinbrenners to crack down on the under-performing team that fared no better than last year's injury-plagued and under-performing collection. Content from a clubhouse meeting leaked out to the press in which Girardi expressed displeasure with the team not executing in key spots and for some players, not being in the best of shape. The press got wind of this accusation and went to the clearest fat culprit, Carlos Beltran, for comment, but he shrugged the whole thing off and with his wife recently experiencing a miscarriage, the feisty media called off the dogs.

          Though these are highly-paid professionals who have been doing this for quite a number of years in the Majors, then a whole squad of them don't hit, there has to be changes for change-sake and hitting coach Kevin Long was shown the door. In addition, 1st base coach Mick Kelleher was also given the boot, likely a front office swipe at Girardi for the team's failure. Girardi inked a new four-year deal last offseason and without Girardi's brilliant maneuvering in 2014, the team certainly would've been well below the .500 mark. Still, when a GM or owner can't fire a manager, the next way to get revenge for a bad season is to fire members of the manager's staff. The Steinbrenners apparently don't blame Brian Cashman for the misfortunes and miscalculations of recent years, they inked him too this week to remain as Yankees GM for the next three seasons. Cashman has been masterful in his scrapheap work of finding hidden gems and all the big money pick-ups (Sabathia, Teixeria, Tanaka, McCann, Ellsbury, Beltran) were a go from across the whole front office. In addition, the Alex Rodriguez contract was completely a Hank Steinbrenner production. Cashman was willing to let A-Rod leave the pinstripes when he opted out of his deal after the 2007 MVP season. Plus so far, a few muscle pulls aside, it seems like the Yankees got the better part of that Pineda-Montero trade.

          With Derek Jeter out the door and Masahiro Tanaka going into 2015 with a partial-tear in his elbow which can rip at any pitch, the main drawing card is going to be the return of Alex Rodriguez from his one-year suspension and the war of words against the Yankee front office in 2013. To his credit, A-Rod did the right thing and kept out of sight and out of mind during while serving his suspension, and in no way tried to steal any headlines towards the end of the regular season when the spotlight was on Jeter. Before his contract renewal, Cashman reported that he did have a dialogue with A-Rod and all signs point to him returning to finish out the 3 years and $60 million left on his contract. At age 40, coming off two hip operations, a rash of nagging injuries, and a power zap from a lack of PEDs, its doubtful A-Rod will be able to man thirdbase with any type of regularity, so in addition to finding a new shortstop, Cashman is going to have to spend this winter looking for a reliable third baseman too. Chase Headley would be a strong candidate to return, although his bat was nothing special and Stephen Drew was barely a .200 hitter at short, so its doubtful the Yanks will be requesting his services any further.

          Cashman will have to make tough decisions on Hiroki Kuroda (if he's not retiring), Brandon McCarthy, and biggest of all, the closer - David Robertson. Scoring runs was a difficult task in 2014 for the Yankees, and its hard to image how Cashman can make things significantly better when the lineup is going to be about the same:

CF - Ellsbery
LF - Gardner
C - McCann
1B - Teixiera
RF - Beltran
DH - Rodriguez
3B - ???????
2B - Prado
SS - ???????

         Since there's not going to be any dynamic third baseman or shortstops that are labelled "game-changers" available on the free agency market, there's nobody the Yankees can snag who would make that big an offensive impact. Colorado would gladly handover Troy Tulowitzki to the Yanks, but his bloated contract and injury-prone body is the last thing Cashman needs to add to a roster that has about five other players in that same boat. That means the answer is going to have to come from in-house or Cashman is going to have to pull out something very clever in the trade department. As for the Victor Martinez chatter in that he would be perfect for the Yankees; he too is a DH and in his late thirties, that role is already claimed by A-Rod and Beltran.

Position: 84-78 (2nd place AL East - Baltimore Orioles Division Champ)

- Dellin Bentances is one of the best relievers in baseball and possible future closer 
- Brett Gardner surprised many this season with his power display, though his average dipped during the second half. 
- Martin Prado is a solid veteran to have going into 2015 who plays multiple positions 
- Jacoby Ellsbury had a decent season and didn't suffer the major injury many were expecting with his reckless style of play. 
- Masahiro Tanaka took the baseball world by storm and in his word his elbow feels fine, but a partially torn tear is a ticking time bomb. 
- David Robertson proved there is life after Mariano Rivera and look for the Yanks to resign him either for 1 year or 3 years max. 
- Though they won't admit it, the Yankee front office has to be smiling that Robinson Cano and his new team didn't qualify for the postseason either. 

- Mark Teixeira popped out 22 homeruns, but his average dipped to a pitiful .216 by season's end. The strength in his surgically repaired wrist should be greater next year, but he'll also be 35 and he has a history of racking up nagging injuries. 
- CC Sabathia will be returning from knee surgery and the reduced weight has him missing spots in the strikezone. With the money the Yanks are paying him they'll trot him out there every 5th day, but fans are going to keep him on a short leash. 
- Carlos Beltran was never the same player in 2014 after he crashed into that wall in Tampa and the bone spurs in his elbow didn't help much either. He had surgery to clean up the elbow after the season, but he's the main cause the offense was putrid. He was supposed to come in here to slot into the Number 3 hole and crank out 25-30 homers and drive in 90 RBIs. He never got on a role and as a result the offense never got going. 

Foul Tips:
- The Yankees have no idea what they're going to get out of Alex Rodriguez in 2015. Can he even hit 20 homers? 
- Brian McCann got off to a miserable start and was also responsible to the weak offense, but he at least gathered himself and had a bigger second half finishing with a .232 BA with 23 homers and 75 RBI. 
- Ivan Nova should be back from Tommy John surgery around July, but how effective will he be? 

           There is a rather exciting postseason going on with the Kansas City Royals surprising the baseball word by taking a 2-0 lead on Buck Showalter's Orioles in that best of 7 series, but for Yankee fans its football season......