By Michael Parente
Everyone has that annoying Facebook friend who wastes half his day rehashing old motivational quotes more commonly reserved for those tacky framed portraits of mountains and sunsets found hanging on the wall of your boss’s office, something about Michael Jordan missing 100 percent of the shots he doesn’t take or how 99 percent of failures come from people who have a habit of making excuses.
Brian Cashman should have both quotes branded in reverse print on his forehead so he can see them every morning when he brushes his teeth in the bathroom mirror. Barring a Hollywood finish in the next few days, the New York Yankees will miss the playoffs this season for the first time since 2008, and they have no one to blame but themselves, not injuries, not Hurricane Sandy, and certainly not any other excuse Hank, Hal and the rest of the Steinbrenner brain trust would want you to believe is the reason behind this year’s miserable finish.
Instead of retaining key players and making moves that would’ve helped the team win games – see every move made by Ben Cherington and the division champion Boston Red Sox – the Yankees decided to dumpster-dive for marginal, washed-up talent in hopes of a.) saving money to avoid a fat luxury tax bill and b.) bridging the gap until their wounded warriors returned from the disabled list.
The fact they were so adamant their 39-year-old shortstop with the broken ankle, 38-year-old third baseman with the bum hip and their declining, 33-year-old first baseman with the bad wrist would eventually save the sinking ship we all knew was about to set sail in March was either a tremendous lack of foresight by the front office or the best acting job this side of Bryan Cranston.
It’s become increasingly evident George Steinbrenner’s sons don’t care as much about winning as their old man did despite saying all the right things to the press. “The Boss” would throw money at whatever problem the team had in order to fix it and, despite some hilarious first-round playoff exits during the final stretch of the Joe Torre era, the plan worked more often than not. Say what you will about those expensive Yankee teams that failed to win in 2004, 2005, and beyond, but at least they had their foot in the door. Would you rather enjoy the ride to the postseason, win or lose, or watch a team with Chris Stewart behind the dish watching fastballs sail to the backstop with no chance of making the playoffs? Think about that next month while the bearded Red Sox navigate their way through a Yankee-less October.
Cherington and the Red Sox completed one of the most epic single-season turnarounds in 2013 – this year’s team won 95 games and a division title after finishing dead last with 69 wins last season – by spending money and cleaning house on the free-agent market. They signed outfielders Johnny Gomes and Shane Victorino, reliever Koji Uehara, catcher Mike Napoli and shortstop Stephen Drew, all of whom made key contributions this year and could’ve made key contributions for the Yankees had New York shown the willingness to spend and reload.
The Yankees could’ve used a catcher after letting the Pittsburgh Pirates of all teams outbid them for Russell Martin. Instead of chasing Napoli, who has belted 23 home runs this year and almost single-handedly buried the Yankees earlier this month, the Yankees decided to break camp with steroid cheat Francisco Cervelli (whose steroids didn’t do much to improve his .710 career OPS) and the boring journeyman Stewart. And it’s not like they have the next Thurman Munson waiting in the wings, either; disappointing prospect Austine Romine has slugged a flimsy .296 through 60 games. Even an off year from Napoli – at least by his own standards – trumps whatever the Yankees’ backstops have put together this season combined.
The Bombers could’ve used outfield help, too, after losing Nick Swisher to free agency, and every team needs quality arms out of the bullpen, so there’s no excuse for not taking a flyer on Uehara and doing something other than making sure aging veterans Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte were around for the 2013 farewell tour.
While the Red Sox were out spending reasonable dollars to make their team better, the Yankees filled the newspapers with false promises. “We’re not done yet!” said Hal Steinbrenner in January, shortly after the team added oft-injured third baseman Kevin Youkilis. No, Hal, the impending doom didn’t sink in until after you broke the bank with the acquisition of prehistoric fossils Vernon Wells and Travis Hafner.
In the midst of his sporadic “spending,” Hal also tried to justify the Yankees inactivity by reminding us that entering 2013 only one championship team in the past 10 years had a payroll higher than $189 million. What Hal conveniently left out was the fact that one team was his 2009 Yankees, who reloaded after missing the playoffs the previous year by adding C.C. Sabathia, Swisher, Teixeira and A.J. Burnett, essentially sweeping up every free agent on the market that winter.
Developing a farm system is so 1996. No one does it that way anymore. The Yankees won in 2009 by reloading and the Red Sox did the same thing this year. Don’t kid yourself into thinking they leaned on the veteran leadership of David Ortiz and Jon Lester. They won 95 games this year with the deepest roster in Major League Baseball fueled by an aggressive offseason most insiders balked at until they realized just how great a job Cherington did in changing the losing culture of the short-lived Bobby Valentine era.
Coming from someone who can’t stand to watch more lethargic, penny-pinching by the Steinbrenners next year, here’s hoping Boston does well enough in October to motivate the Yankees to go back to doing what they used to do best, which was outbid everyone for the best talent and give their fans a product worth spending their hard-earned money on.
This year’s clunker had less to do with injuries and more to do with the team placing a higher premium on getting under the luxury tax threshold than on doing what it took to win ballgames. Not having Jeter, A-Rod, Curtis Granderson and Teixeira for most of the season hurt, but so did having Lyle Overbay, Wells, Youkilis and the aging Ichiro Suzuki in the lineup on a nightly basis.
If you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take, you sure as hell miss 100 percent of the free agents you let sign elsewhere. Fewer excuses and more spending would be a welcomed change in the Bronx this winter. Let’s see if the front office gets the message.
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