By Jason Keidel
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Putting a postmortem on the Yankees has become quite familiar.
Twelve of the last thirteen seasons have ended without the hardware that has become a Bronx birthright. Ever since Larry Lucchino gave us the ominous but rather fitting moniker of “Evil Empire,” the Yankees have been largely unable to spend their way into the World Series.
But this year feels different, and not just because their bats sputtered to historic tones. More than the galling, .180 batting average this postseason, there was clear deterioration, if not exhaustion, on the roster.
Everyone wants Kevin Long’s scalp for the slump. Yet I heard no one complain when the Bombers blasted 245 homers this year on their way to 95 wins. Joe Girardi was a genius for benching A-Rod for Raul Ibanez in the ninth inning, yet he was a fool for doing it again, despite all the evidence that Rodriguez couldn’t hit high school pitching.
Listening to a beleaguered Girardi talk to Mike Francesa last night, you sensed that he had no answer for a team in a titanic, collective malaise. Connie Mack couldn’t have fixed the fissures in their lineup.
A-Rod looks like a crumbling, former juicer paying a karmic tax, and the bill is long. His incessant maladies, joints crumbling under the weight of massive musculature, could serve as a template for the old board game, “Operation.” Be sure that if the Yankees can jettison A-Rod with some reasonable recompense, they will. And if they don’t, they’re stuck with an aging, brooding star whose halcyon days are galaxies behind him.
Despite going 0-for-30 last week, Robinson Cano is just about the only sure thing the Yanks have. Mark Teixeira is increasingly consumed by the injury bug, and Russell Martin is little more than a serviceable catcher. Jesus Montero was supposed to be the future behind home plate, until he was traded for Michael Pineda, who arrived at spring training fat and hurt.
Nick Swisher will be gone. But who takes his place? What about the bench? For all his heroics, Ibanez is 40. Andrew Jones is worthless. The Yankees need an injection of young limbs, which means at least a partial rebuilding of the roster, which means trouble for next season.
Jeter turns 39 next year. Mo turns 43 next month. Ichiro turns 39 next week. Andy Pettitte is also chronologically challenged (see: old).. The club will probably pick up Curtis Granderson’s $15 million option, and then watch him hit .240 with 40 homers. Jeter’s ankle injury isn’t considered career threatening, but at his age everything is career threatening. Even if healthy and happy, the Yankees’ lineup is stuffed with big bats and ample strikeouts: something premier pitching staffs feast on in October.
The Yankees have all the signs of a squad in serious transition, if not decay. While CC Sabathia pitched brilliantly for most of the playoffs, he struggled during the regular season, and his weight and workload will one day devour him. Pettitte could leave the game for good. Hiroki Kuroda was a godsend, and a fluke. Phil Hughes has never lived up to his titanic billing, and the two “Killer B” pitchers in the farm have yet to spawn any real fruit. The bullpen is among the best in baseball, but some starter has to get the team to the seventh inning.
Tampa still has splendid pitching. Baltimore should only improve under Buck Showalter. Toronto might just figure things out. There’s a palpable pall over the Bronx, and rightfully so. You could argue that, currently constituted, the Yankees won’t reach the playoffs in 2013. Given Hal Steinbrenner’s newfound frugality, where will the new blood emerge sans the new bucks?
Even more distressing were the swaths of empty seats at Yankee Stadium. And that’s because it’s not really Yankee Stadium, but rather an embellished martini bar, perfect for the wine-and-cheese, Abercrombie crowd with cell phones pinned to their ears for six innings, waving at the nearest camera.
The difference between the old, blue-collar fan across the street and the new, white-collar creature who couldn’t name one player from the ‘80s other than Don Mattingly is stark. The Yankees have an identity crisis on and off the diamond. And it’s hard to fix with that exclusive two-grand per seat horseshoe curling from first to third, velvet ropes separating fans from followers.
The Yankees have far more questions than answers, which is foreign ground for the most successful team in the history of American sports. So is missing the playoffs, which could be their new home next year.
Do you think the Yankees will make the playoffs next year? Let us know in the comments section below.