You could say they were doomed from the start, but that isn’t even the beginning of the problems that the New York Yankees faced this year and moving forward.
For only the second time since 1995, there will be no playoff baseball in the Bronx. They finish with their worst record since 1992. Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera say goodbye after 19 wonderful seasons, most of them together here in New York. Clearly, one of the greatest eras of the most storied franchise in sports is over.
A lot of people will blame the plague of injuries for the Yankees not playing October baseball, and I don’t blame them. The Yankees used a franchise and possibly a major league record 56 different players over the course of the season as a result of 22 players landing on the disabled list 28 total times.
To sustain that many injuries and still win 85 games and miss the playoffs by a few games is pretty amazing, a testament to a brilliant managing job by Joe Girardi. However, it doesn’t really matter, because the goal for the New York Yankees every single year is to bring home a World Series championship, and missing the playoffs is unacceptable and a failure at all levels of the organization.
Honestly, the source of the problem is in the Yankees’ front office. This team was poorly equipped to begin with, and perhaps on purpose. They forced themselves to cut payroll to avoid the luxury tax for the 2014 season, which limited their options. However, instead of going for smart moves, like going in house or scouting the trade market, they signed aged and injury prone players like Ichiro and Vernon Wells (both on the hook for another year!) and Travis Hafner and Kevin Youkilis for large money. Thus they allowed themselves to be significantly downgraded at catcher and in the outfield after letting Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, and Nick Swisher walk.
With their weakest lineup in 20 years, the Yankees surprisingly got off to a 30-18 start, but soon swooned for much of the summer, falling to one game over .500 and seven games out of a playoff spot in early August, with the season defined by being embarrassed by the lowly Mets and White Sox and being unable to beat the Red Sox or Rays. The offense continued to stink, and even the pitching, especially CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes started to decline.
However, they turned it around – again – and climbed to within one game of the second Wild Card in the middle of September, highlighted taking three of four from Baltimore. Still, their constant inability to beat Tampa Bay or Boston did them in, and the Yankees will watch October baseball from the couch.
Statistically, this was a very mediocre team, particularly on offense. They ranked 16th in runs, 24th in batting average and 26th in OPS and 27th in OPS+. After leading the majors with 245 home runs last year, the Bronx “Bombers” hit the second least in the American League, a 101 decrease. Of course, what else could you expect from a lineup that trotted out the likes of Ichiro Suzuki, Vernon Wells, Chris Stewart, Eduardo Nunez, and Lyle Overbay every. single. day?
On the pitching side, it wasn’t much better. They only had a 102 ERA+ on the year, ranking dead in the middle of the majors. However, when you go by individual performance, Hughes and Sabathia may be the two biggest reasons why the Yankees missed the playoffs, pitching to ERA+’s of 78 and 85 respectively, both in the bottom five in ERA in the AL. Hughes set a major league record for fewest innings pitched in 29 or more starts with 145.2 IP. Even Hiroki Kuroda turned into a pumpkin near the end of the season, allowing 34 earned runs in his final eight starts (46.2 IP)
This offseason is extremely important to the Yankees for the sake of their immediate future and the blueprint for the next age of dominance. A lot has to change this winter. There is already talk of clearing house at some levels of the organization, particularly in player development, which has been totally slacking in the past couple of years.
This is a necessary step. Over the past seven years, the Yankees minor league system has produced just five everyday players for the Yankees (Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Brett Gardner, David Robertson, and Ivan Nova), and none of them overly fantastic with the team with the exception of Robertson and probably Gardner. Only three first round draft choices since 2003 have reached the big leagues. With the age on this team, that is absolutely unacceptable. New blood in the farm system is a must.
Unlike last year, the Yankees have to make the right, sensible moves to better prepare for the grind of 162. Assuming Derek Jeter opts in his $8 million player option, the Yankees will have seven players under contract for about $95 million (not including arbitration cases, of course). Of course, $25 million could be freed up if Alex Rodriguez is suspended for all of 2014, so it could be actually $70 million, well below the Yankees’ target payroll to get under the luxury tax.
To start, the Yankees should do what it takes to get rid of Vernon Wells, as they’re on the hook for just $2.4 million for him. They should not give in to Robinson Cano’s ridiculous demands ($305 million?!) by haggling with him until he caves or they decide to let him walk. If nobody else wants to pay him, it could help their leverage. If not, say goodbye. They can’t afford another dumb contract. They also have to find a way to resign Curt Granderson, whose value was killed by two freak injuries that knocked him out for 101 games, as they can’t afford to continue to give Ichiro and Wells regular at-bats. They really can’t.
With Andy Pettitte retired and Hiroki Kuroda and Hughes unlikely to return, the Yankees are desperate for pitching. The only guarantees to be in the rotation are Sabathia, who had a 4.78 ERA, and Ivan Nova, who enjoyed a rebound from a rough 2012, winning AL Pitcher of the Month in August and allowing just 48 earned in 139.1 IP.
The only possible and most realistic help for the rotation in house is Michael Pineda, who has yet to throw a play a game for the Yankees two years after being traded from the Mariners for Jesus Montero. The best options in the free agent market are Matt Garza, who struggled in Texas after a trade with the Cubs, James Shields, whose option will likely be picked up by the Royals, and Ricky Nolasco, an average at best pitcher in his career with the Marlins but picked it up with the Dodgers this year.
In other words, the outlook isn’t pretty. Plain and simple, the Yankees need to re-commit themselves to developing talent in the minor leagues. Both the positional and pitching talent is very lacking in the upper levels, with the more talented players like Rafael DePaula and Gary Sanchez a few years away. An 85 win campaign this year may be the best the Yankees got moving forward unless something really crazy happens this winter.