By Sweeny Murti
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These are not the 1996 Yankees.
I hope I’m not bursting anyone’s bubble here. I understand the comparison being made, how this heralded group of prospects can lead the Yankees to another fistful of championships. But let’s just slow your roll. Is that how the kids say it? These kids have potential, a lot of it. But to ask them to be another version of the Core Four is just too much to throw out there right now.
Even Joe Girardi, who was on that 1996 team, knows the key difference between those Yankees and the 2017 Yankees. It’s about where they were coming from.
“The ’95 Yankees were very good and were in the playoffs,” Girardi said Tuesday. “Last year, we didn’t make the playoffs.”
Not only that, but they have played only one playoff game — nine postseason innings — in the last four years. These Yankees are still in the process of dropping their excess baggage, paying more than $20 million this year to both CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez, only one of whom can help the team.
The 1996 Yankees would have fired their first-year manager, Joe Torre, if he hadn’t made the playoffs. The 2017 Yankees have such different expectations that even if this team wins only 80 or 82 games and misses the playoffs for the fourth time in five years, it will be considered a success given the nature of this roster. And not only will the manager not get fired, but he and the general manager, Brian Cashman, will be given contract extensions.
My thought was that this team might more closely resemble the 1971 Yankees, who boasted a trio of young stars in the making — 25-year-old Bobby Murcer, 24-year-old Thurman Munson, and 22-year-old Ron Blomberg. Murcer had the best year of his career in ’71. But Munson, coming off being Rookie of The Year, dropped off to what would be the worst of his nine full seasons with the Yanks. And Blomberg hit well while splitting time between Triple-A and the majors, but never became the star one would expect from a first overall draft pick.
The 1971 Yankees went 82-80. Munson and Murcer both had more big league time heading into that season than any of the current Yankees future stars have. And both had very good careers. But it’s worth noting that Munson is the only one that won a World Series ring and that took six more years.
This will be an exciting year to see the progress Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, and Greg Bird make in the major leagues. But remember, they haven’t played full major league seasons yet, six-month grinds that will test their mental and physical stamina. They haven’t been around the league long enough to fight off the adjustments being made to them, and then do it again.
It will be an exciting time to follow the minor league seasons of Gleyber Torres, Jorge Mateo, Clint Frazier, and James Kaprielian. But we’ve already seen many times what injuries and/or competition can do and how they affect the progression to the big leagues. To think any or all of them will be playing at a high level in the big leagues before this season is over … sure, it’s possible … but it’s unlikely.
It would be a remarkable thing to see this team in legitimate contention in September, but to expect it to happen would be foolish. This year is about dreaming on the future, and the veterans will play an important role in helping show the young kids how to win games and get through the grind of a season.
The Yankees have their eyes on being the Yankees again. But if they make a run at anything this year it won’t be because they are the 1996 team revisited. There is a different destiny in store for this group. And the fun part will be watching it unfold, even if there are some setbacks along the way.