By Ernie Palladino
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There’s a lot to be said for stability at the top.
The Giants proved that in 2006 when, against all outside advice and speculation, they stuck with Tom Coughlin for just one more year despite his prickly nature, the locker room unrest, and a totally uninspired 8-8 record that was followed by a first-round playoff exit.
All he did was reward that faith with a Super Bowl win the following season, and then another in 2011. You wouldn’t know it from this year, but much of that came about because of ownership’s patience.
This brings us to the Yankees, a franchise which has turned “Win Now” into a creed, and whose late, former owner hardly embodied the patience and steadfastness of the Giants’ owners. They say some apples don’t fall far from the tree. But in this sense, at least, Hal and Hank Steinbrenner not only have fallen from Papa George’s limbs, but have rolled down the block. And maybe that’s a good thing.
Re-signing Joe Girardi to a four-year, $16 million deal was absolutely the right thing to do, even after a non-playoff season. With so many holes to fill during the winter, all the Yanks needed was instability at the top. The worst thing they could have done would have been to jettison Girardi, or worse let him go to the Cubs. Had that happened, they would have let go of a winner the players enjoy playing for.
As it turned out, Girardi had enough of a track record to maintain his attraction in management’s eyes. Sure, it would have been nice to make the playoffs this year, even as that last wild card. But just the fact that this battered, limping, elderly squad stayed in that race for so long showed something about how Girardi’s players regarded him. They could have packed up in late June. Let the whole thing go down the tubes. Instead, they kept playing and, while it wasn’t always pretty or even offensively productive, they still finished eight games above .500.
It was a horrible year by pinstripe standards, but still far from what happened at Citi Field. Girardi kept his team together despite having to pencil the Zoilo Almontes and David Adamses of the world into his lineups.
It turned into a season every Yankees fan would rather forget. And, yes, he might have served himself better had he given up on failed starter Phil Hughes a little earlier, or maybe tied CC Sabathia to a shorter leash, or allowed Hiroki Kuroda to pitch a few fewer innings so he wouldn’t look like a tired, old plowhorse in September. But those were guys who were paid handsomely to produce, and they didn’t. So it wasn’t all Girardi’s fault.
Thus the confidence and the patience from on high, exhibited when Hal acceded to Girardi’s demand for a fourth year on the deal. Plain and simple, Boss the Younger thought it worth the extra $4 million to keep him around.
This whole outlook could change next October if the Yanks once again miss the postseason. Or maybe not. It all depends on what kind of talent they hand Girardi. The free agent market is fairly slender this year, so they might have to make a few trades. And, let’s face it, no matter who steps into the closer role, it’s not going to be some Mariano Rivera clone. He’ll be a lot nearer to human than the otherworldly Rivera ever was.
But let’s be optimistic. Let’s say the Yanks do bring in some bats, and Derek Jeter returns to something approaching the Jeter of a couple of years ago, and they find a third baseman to replace the sure-to-be-suspended Alex Rodriguez. Then the re-signing of Girardi will pay huge dividends because of his proven ability for coaching talent.
If none of that happens, well, sometimes even the best of moves backfire.
Right now, though, stability at the top was the way to go. The Yanks probably paid a little more for that than they wanted. But in the end they found the right guy — the guy they had all along.
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