If you’re a fan of the New York Yankees, you spent the remainder of Tuesday evening and all of Wednesday, trying to forget how the team’s improbable run to the American League Wild Card game ended with a thud. Even in a postgame interview, GM Brian Cashman admitted what we’ve all seen and known: this team literally quit playing competitive baseball on August 1st.
Where do you start? Can you point the finger at Mark Teixeira‘s season-ending leg fracture to remove a potent bat from the lineup? What about Brett Gardner hitting only .206 after the All-Star break? Alex Rodriguez, as much as he could and should be considered for AL Comeback Player of the Year, simply wore down, and with it, his average plummeted to the mid .250’s. Did manager Joe Girardi finally lose the pulse and ear of his team? For the past sixty some-odd days, it appears so, and Tuesday night’s failure to even make an effort proves that some changes need to happen in the Bronx this winter.
Again, where does a team begin that has the third-highest payroll in all of baseball? Unfortunately, not much money is coming off the books this winter, but those that are leaving, won’t be missed. Start with Chris Capuano. A journeyman who is at the end of the line, and had more bad outings in 2015 than any of us would like to remember. Brendan Ryan. The all glove/no hit utility infielder spent most of the season on the disabled list, hit for average a bit, but shouldn’t be on this team. There is a mutual player/team option that will determine whether he returns in 2016. Stephen Drew. Ahh yes, the target of so many angry Yankees’ fans. While he might have only hit .201, he did blast 17 bombs and play Gold Glove-caliber defense in his first full year at second base. He’s the perfect buy-low candidate to become the new Yankees’ utility infielder. A solid glove with some pop off the bench, who can play second, short and third. Finally, there’s Chris Young. His success against Dallas Keuchel kept Jacoby Ellsbury on the bench Tuesday night. While he’s a solid platoon guy, and could possible be back on another one-year deal, is he worth keeping while super prospect Aaron Judge gets one more year of seasoning at Triple-A?
Don’t go jumping and hollering, demanding the Yankees go all-in for David Price, Ben Zobrist, and Zack Greinke. The need simply isn’t there. The front four of the rotation is just fine. Led by youngster Luis Severino, who by the way, if you project his 11 starts out to 30 (or a full season’s worth), he’d be looking at 15 wins. Michael Pineda showed flashes of brilliance, while staying mostly healthy. The two guys the Yankees need to keep an eye on are Masahiro Tanaka and Nathan Eovaldi. Tanaka came back and showed no real ill-effects from a partial tear in his UCL that sidelined him last season, but he did suffer a tired arm and a pulled hamstring. Eovaldi was on cruise control until elbow inflammation shortened his season. The Yankees’ rotation didn’t have one single pitcher toss 200 innings or more in 2015. That means the bullpen was taxed.
Speaking of the bullpen, Joe Girardi (or whomever is managing this team in 2016) needs to find reliable relievers aside from Justin Wilson, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller. There were high hopes for “The Strikeout Factory” Jacob Lindgren, but an injury ended his season before he could make much of an impact. Expect him to be a force when he becomes healthy. While Chasen Shreve‘s overall numbers look solid, it was a tale of two pitchers in 2015. He needs to become a better second half pitcher to remain a reliable option out of the Yankees bullpen moving forward.
So where do the Yankees look to improve in 2016? The battle for the fifth starter’s slot in the rotation should be interesting. You’ll be looking at C.C. Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Adam Warren as the primary candidates. Say what you will about Sabathia, but before his alcohol-related departure from the team, he pitched quite well from mid-August until the end of the season.
What about second base? If the Yankees want to stay young and cheap, Rob Refsnyder is the guy. In 47 plate appearances, he hit .301 with a pair of bombs. Don’t forget about trade deadline acquisition and former first round pick Dustin Ackley. While he was a failed project in Seattle, he showed signs of rejuvenation once he was healthy in the Bronx. In 57 plate appearances, he hit 3 home runs, drove in 11 and hit .288. Not bad for a bucket of baseballs. This could be a spring training battle to keep an eye on.
There’s been talk of sending Greg Bird back to Triple-A once Teixeira returns healthy. That would be a mistake. Given how Tex broke down physically, and how A-Rod wore down, the ideal plan would be to use Bird as your everyday first baseman, and make Tex and A-Rod a straight lefty/righty platoon at DH, while mixing in Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann when guys need the day off. A team that scores runs, and lives on the long ball (Bird hit 11 in 157 at-bats), can’t just send a guy back down that has proven himself at the big league level.
The Yankees could use a piece of their big league roster for either bullpen depth or farm depth in the way of John Ryan Murphy. While he might be able to start for some teams, the guy who needs to be on the Yankees’ roster as McCann’s backup, is Gary Sanchez. Last year, Sanchez had attitude issues that landed him in his minor league manager’s doghouse, but the 22-year-old put that behind him, and posted a very solid 2015 between Double-A and Triple-A, by hitting 18 home runs, driving in 62 and hitting at a .274 clip. This young man IS the future behind the plate for the Bronx Bombers, and he needs the experience now.
Finally, what should the Yankees do with manager Joe Girardi? During the game, long time supporters of the manager even had seen enough on social media. Comments such as “He’s lost the team” “They don’t play hard for him” and “He’s being outmatched” came fast and furious with each gut-wrenching inning. Sometimes a new voice is needed to re-energize and older group. It’s well known Girardi is a far cry from the Joe Maddon and Terry Francona types of the game, and he lives and dies with his little black binder. A better manager might have found a way to dig the Yankees out of their August swoon, and their complete collapse the last two weeks of the regular season. Perhaps not.
Not many people expected the Yankees to even have a winning record, let alone reach the postseason. Maybe Girardi should be considered for AL Manager of the Year. Most likely not. What happens behind the scenes between now and next February when pitchers and catchers report, will determine if this was a last hurrah for these elderly and inexperienced Bronx Bombers, or if it’s just the start of a rebuild on the fly, and better days lay ahead.