Wishing ill on the New York Yankees might be good for the soul but it is, ultimately, pointless. There are only so many creative insults one can lob toward the Bronx that won’t be instantly silenced by a cold, dispassionate utterance of the unofficial Yankees mantra: count the rings.
Worse yet: counting the rings can and does stop any good natured ribbing dead in its tracks. No team can argue more success, both in the last twenty years or the long history of the American League, than the New York Yankees. Few teams can claim a better nucleus of homegrown players than the authors of the last 18+ years of Yankees, all best known for their work in pinstripes.
Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, and Jorge Posada up the middle. Andy Pettitte on the hill in October, Mariano Rivera taking over late, baseball’s all-time leader in playoff games pitched. Since 1995, these are autumnal constants for baseball fans.
The Yankees have weathered the departure of most of their “golden generation”, the core of stars and near-stars that back-boned the Yankees to World Series titles in 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2009, not to mention claiming the AL pennant in 2001 and 2003. All told, the Yankees only missed the postseason once in the Wild Card era – 2008. While the Yankees spent big on free agents and took on more and more salary to keep that machine running, the Yankees always featured that collection of well-known names.
The Yankees are, barring a miracle, poised to add a second playoff-less season to their unbelievable ledger of regular season triumphs. Not officially dead yet but, as they prepare to battle the Rays in Tampa Bay, the Yankees wildcard hopes are riding off into the sunset, following two more of their most recognizable stars.
The Yankees 2013 wildcard pursuit lasted much longer than it seemed possible. What looked to be a lost season kept alive first by unexpected good play from scrapheap finds then by incredible pitching performances and finally life support sustained on incumbent stars returning from injury. After ten years of pundits predicting the aging Yankees to fall, it finally (sort of) came true. As far as falls go, around 85 wins and a glimmer of postseason hope on September 24th isn’t as steep as it could be.
But time ran out on the Yankees in 2013, just as it ran out on the career of Andy Pettitte and, of course, Mariano Rivera. Much like the current edition of the Yankees, these two players can hold their heads high as brilliant careers draw to a close.
With Rivera’s celebrated departure from the game and Andy Pettitte walking away from the game during the same season in which Derek Jeter plays just 17 games and one with a very long suspension looming over Alex Rodriguez, the 2014 edition of the New York Yankees will look much, much different than any point over the last generation.
Which isn’t to dance on the Yankees grave and welcome a return to the bad old days of Roberto Kelly and Melido Perez. The Yankees have the financial heft to make sweeping changes seemingly overnight, as witnessed before the 2012 season when the Yankees signed Hiroki Kuroda and engineered a trade for Michael Pineda seemingly overnight.
The Yankees hugged the $189MM luxury tax threshold closely this season, with an eye to this crucial offseason in addition to the tax implications on their bottom line. Even as they free up very significant dollars ahead of 2014 (only $89 million committed for next season excluding arbitration settlements.) The pending suspension of Alex Rodriguez will greatly effect how they’re able to proceed this coming off-season. Bidding on top import talents or selected free agents could hinge on the number of games Rodriguez does or does not receive after his appeal hearing, thanks to the difference in on book or off book money if he misses the whole year or just a portion.
Fundamentally, next year’s Yankees will be a very different club. One that most evolve and can expect significant overhaul on its big league roster. Pettitte and Rivera will be lost to retirement. Two players who were supposed to bridge the old guard with a dynamic future, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain are all but assured to leave via free agency. Hiroki Kuroda, Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson can also test free agency, though one is less likely to leave than the others. Plus the raft of veteran quick fixes like Travis Hafner, Lyle Overbay, and Mark Reynolds will all search for work after the World Series ends.
Before Brian Cashman and his team tackle the tall task of rebuilding the Yankees, they spent a few minutes celebrating the past. Retiring Mariano Rivera’s number and gifting him immortality was a nice gesture, inclusion of Those Grandpas Who Look Like the Guys In Metallica notwithstanding. Given the Jeter uncertainty, the Alex Rodriguez mess, the Pettitte second act retirement, even the off-chance that Robinson Cano might depart, this long and well-deserved ceremony for Mariano Rivera might signify not just the end of the Rivera’s career, but a Yankees epoch.
The Yankees will be good because they’re the Yankees – they’re good every year, almost by accident. Many fans bristled when they failed to make significant upgrades this past winter, hoping instead for stopgaps and return to health from their extremely veteran core. On the field, they’ll find the best talent and put it in the best position to succeed (read: depositing shallow fly balls into the right field porch.) The will always be The Yankees and they will, maddeningly, always be competitive.
Time for the most powerful club in baseball to turn the page – decisively. Given their recent (sparkling) history, there is no reason to doubt they will do just that.