NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — George Steinbrenner would have issued a public apology.
After leading the league in wins this year, the Yankees didn’t just lose to Detroit in the AL championship series. They got swept in one of the more humiliating moments in the team’s history.
The four-game wipeout made headlines — A-Rod’s benching, Derek Jeter’s injury, Robinson Cano’s slump. But it also revealed serious cracks in the foundation, showing a team full of aging All-Stars at the plate, in the field and on the mound that suddenly seems a long, long way from championship caliber.
“Obviously, we’re all getting older,” Andy Pettitte said Thursday night after the season-ending 8-1 loss to the Tigers.
Jeter broke an ankle near the end. Mariano Rivera busted a knee back in the spring. The Yankees transformed baseball’s bruisers into the Bashed Bombers, closer to AARP years than MVP seasons.
“I don’t care if it’s old. I care if it’s good,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. “There’s some old guys that are good. Andy Pettitte is good. Raul (Raul) Ibanez turned out to be really good. He’s old. But at the end of the day, these guys are really competitive, they’re good at what they do, they’re great professionals and if you compare that to the remaining choices, despite their ages, they look really good.
“Hiroki Kuroda is an older player. Ichiro Suzuki is an older player, and these guys contributed to that win column despite their age. And why? Because they were better than any of the younger guys we had choices for. So I’m not going to apologize for it. We go there, and we are old. If you’re old and still good, then it’s not an issue.”
Pettitte has hinted he’d like to return after coming out of retirement in 2012, but will sit on the decision.
“I would love to think about it maybe for a month or so, think about what I want to do, definitely not jump to a conclusion,” he said. “It’s a huge commitment at this stage of my life.”
Easily the oldest big league team at the season’s start, they’re on track to start next year with a 38-year-old shortstop with limited range coming off ankle surgery (Jeter), a 43-year-old closer returning from knee surgery (Rivera), a 37-year-old third baseman overpowered by right-handed pitchers (A-Rod), a 40-year-old left-hander who missed nearly three months because of a broken ankle (Pettitte) and a 38-year-old right-hander who topped the team in starts and innings (Hiroki Kuroda).
Their postseason star was a 40-year-old outfielder (Raul Ibanez), their center fielder struck out 195 times (Granderson), their left fielder played just 17 regular-season games because of an elbow injury (Brett Gardner) and their catcher hit .211 (Martin).
“It’s difficult. It’s disappointing. It’s not where we want to be,” Cashman said. “I’m very surprised.”
Their .188 postseason batting average was the lowest ever for a team that played at least seven games. Alex Rodriguez took the brunt of the blame.
Owed $114 million over the next five seasons, Rodriguez became the world’s most expensive pinch hitter during the ALCS, a platoon player against left-handed pitchers on a team facing four righty starters.
“I’ve never thought about going to another team. My focus is to stay here. Let’s make that very, very clear,” he said. “Number two, I don’t expect to be mediocre. I expect to do what I’ve done for a long time.”
After this debacle, trade talk could turn serious. The Yankees likely would have to eat 50 to 75 percent of what Rodriguez is due, but they may focus on the millions saved rather than the millions spent.
Back in 1981, after the Yankees took a 2-0 Series lead against the Los Angeles Dodgers and lost four in a row, George Steinbrenner issued one of his most famous statements, saying: “I want to sincerely apologize to the people of New York and to the fans of the New York Yankees everywhere for the performance of the Yankee team.”
Hal Steinbrenner, who succeeded his father as controlling owner, is less impetuous. He wants to get the team under the $189 million luxury tax threshold in 2014.
Sending one of their lineup’s senior citizens to finish his career in Florida would be a start.
After failing to win the World Series for the third straight year, there will be a slew of decisions. Exercising $15 million options on Cano and Curtis Granderson are a given, as is signing Rivera for 2013. They’ll likely try to persuade Pettitte to pitch another year and attempt to re-sign Kuroda and possibly Ichiro Suzuki, whose bat was among the few with a sign of life.
Swisher seems set to depart and Ibanez could be one older player too many. Rafael Soriano, who filled in for Rivera, could turn down a $14 million salary for next year, terminate his contract and become a free agent.
“Every year the roster changes,” Cashman said.
“Certainly now’s not the time to talk about what we can or will be doing, or want to be doing,” he added. “We didn’t want our winter to start just yet. Unfortunately, it’s coming sooner than we wanted.”
By now, the front office knows it needs an injection of youth. The wipeout may speed the turnover.
“We got a team of Hall of Famers, superstars,” Cano said.
And by the time a player is almost certain of enshrinement in Cooperstown, it means the end is a lot closer than the beginning.
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