By Sweeny Murti
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Ring out the old, ring in the new.
The Yankees haven’t actually followed this New Year’s ideal as we hit the first month of the New Year and the last month of the offseason. (Pitchers and catchers report in just six weeks.) Most of what the Yankees brought back is the old (Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Hiroki Kuroda, Ichiro Suzuki). Even a new piece (Kevin Youkilis) is just a placeholder, they hope, for the old — Alex Rodriguez. And there’s Derek Jeter too, battling back from a serious injury and entering the year in which he turns 39.
For the Yankees fan, it’s meant a certain amount of handwringing and a lot of “What the #$&% is Brian Cashman doing?” tweets sent my way. The problem, as most fans see it, is that the Yankees are not getting younger and they aren’t getting better.
That last part is certainly half true, and it might be completely true. But it isn’t all black and white, and it isn’t as easy to fix as some folks want to believe. The problem is that getting younger doesn’t automatically make you better. Here is what Cashman said last month when asked if he was concerned about the age of his roster as presently constituted:
“I’d say you’re always concerned about it, but I’m not concerned about it when you look at the alternative. The alternative is getting younger, a younger player that just isn’t very good. You can maybe run him out there for 162. He won’t get hurt, (but) he’s not gonna help you.”
For a team that needs to get to the postseason every year, the proven track record of a veteran can be a lot more helpful than a roll of the dice on an unproven rookie. And keep in mind, the Yankees have taken huge steps to get younger when needed in recent years, signing CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira as free agents and trading for Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson. Every one of them was under 30 when they became Yankees. But they also had veteran status and an expected level of performance.
The pursuit of those players at those times also underscores the Yankees’ aggressive mentality, which has certainly been lacking this winter. The goal of knocking 10-20 percent off the payroll by next year has curtailed that a little, but so has the equation of available players for available slots. In a weak free-agent market where the top two players (Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke) were imperfect fits with inflated price tags, the Yankees passed.
The Yankee fan’s rallying cry has become WWGD (What Would George Do?). The answer, most fans feel, is that Boss Steinbrenner’s head would have exploded before he let those guys and the newspaper headlines get away. Here is another quote from Cashman last month on this subject:
“Historically we get aggressive when there’s a vacancy. We’re not aggressive when there is no vacancy. That’s really the true story. Not ‘The Boss would have done this’ or ‘The Boss would have done that.’ Well I was operating with The Boss under those previous circumstances, and I can tell you that that’s the way it was.
“I don’t feel like it’s all that different now, either. I think we might be a little bit more methodical, but I think that we are aggressive and big-game hunters when the timing is right and the circumstances are right. I don’t think we do it just to do it. Even though we had done that maybe in the 1980s and in years past, I don’t think that’s been a part of our culture for quite a while.”
It resonated with me that Cashman seemed to be hearing the fears and complaints of the Yankees fan, but rather than make impulsive moves to appease them in the winter, he had reasoned explanations and an eye towards the real goal –making sure that the fan is appeased in the summer and fall. That gets harder to do every year, of course, when first place in the standings is simply met with “Let’s see how they do in the postseason!”
If the season began today it would be easy to say that Cashman has not done an adequate job this winter. He has pieced together a team similar to last year with many key contributors that are simply another year older and/or coming off significant injuries. I still have the feeling that Cashman has a deal in his sights that can impact this team in a big way. I just wish I knew where it was coming from.
And beyond that, I can poke a few holes in every other AL East team if you want me to: The Blue Jays are better on paper like the Red Sox and Phillies were two years ago and the Angels and Marlins were last year. They still haven’t won 90 games since their last World Championship in 1993. The Orioles now have the pressure of repeating what they did a year ago when it seemed at times like smoke and mirrors and endless good luck. The Rays have to replace B.J. Upton and James Shields, and will count on Evan Longoria being healthy the whole year. The Red Sox have to go worst to first.
In Cashman’s 15 years as GM, the Yankees have averaged 97 wins a year. And I’m quite certain that I’ve gotten plenty of “What the $#%& is Cashman doing?” questions every year. It seems, though, that the man has a way of getting his team to October every year, which — as I’ve stated many times recently — is like taking a team to the NCAA Tournament every year. Sprinkle in a few titles and you’re Coach K or Jim Calhoun — a legend.
Listen, I don’t disagree with everything you guys have been saying all winter. I’ll admit that I’m as skeptical of what the Yankees can do in 2013 as most of you. I’m just willing to let it play out a little longer before I make final judgement.
After all, isn’t that what ringing in the New Year is all about?
Follow Sweeny Murti on Twitter @YankeesWFAN.
How would you grade the Yankees’ offseason thus far? Do you foresee any big moves coming in the next month? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…