New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi will have his hands full next season and I’m not referring to just making lineup choices and rotation moves. Girardi’s handling of Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson created a precedent for which he’ll now be held accountable and goes beyond results on the field.
Benching Rodriguez three times in the Yankees nine-game playoff run and pinch-hitting for him in three of the games he started sets the tone for more of the same should A-Rod begin to slide at the plate. He also proved that he’d follow suit with others who were not performing like Swisher and Granderson. Any inaction in similar situations in 2013 will come with questions. Similarly, actions taken will bring more questions about each player’s status with the club.
Before anyone suggests Girardi was handling things differently because it was the playoffs and the circumstances called for it, take a moment to think that stance through. Another season has come and gone and the Yankees are searching for answers. If extended slumps come to fruition mid-season next year and the Yankees are suffering in the win-loss column because of it, expect Girardi to pull the trigger. I hate to state the obvious, but if the Yankees can’t win enough games to reach the postseason then their season is considered a disappointment. So, yes regular season victories are every bit as important in the quest for the World Series title.
It is also easy to see that Girardi could have many of the same players returning next season and let’s face it they are not getting any younger. The age itself is not an issue if the players are producing, but if they begin to slide the Yankees typically have someone who can step in for more than just a few games. Their payroll allows for a roster littered with guys who have plenty of major league experience. In the past the makeup of the bench was deemed an insurance policy for injury, now it is likely to expand to slumping players.
Girardi held his final press conference of the 2012 season yesterday. In it he claimed he would not change any of his decisions to bench Rodriguez and rightly suggested that A-Rod’s struggles against right-handed pitching were a season long issue. Rodriguez hit .256 with a .717 OPS in 356 plate appearances in the regular season against righties. His struggles extended into the playoffs where he was 0-for-18 with 12 strikeouts against right-handers.
Girardi suggested he will likely need to speak with Rodriguez during the offseason to mend fences. Rodriguez has been saying the right things ever since he was benched, but we have to assume his pride was affected in some way after sitting out the final two ALCS games. If Girardi gets to a point during the 2013 season where Rodriguez or any other Yankee regular is in a dismal slump, he’ll now be held to the standard he set in the 2012 postseason. Fans and media will expect him to make moves in an effort to jump start the team and they won’t be relegated to Rodriguez.
Swisher will likely be gone and it is possible that Ichiro Suzuki will be signed to take over right field duties. Suzuki had a nice run with the Yankees including a productive postseason. But he was coming off a year and a half of less than stellar play in Seattle. He’ll be 39 in 2013 so there is a chance he’d fall back into a stage of decline next season. If Suzuki begins to struggle against lefties, would Girardi have any problem sitting the future Hall of Famer? I don’t think he would.
Granderson has become an all or not hitter. There is value to the type of production Granderson can provide but extended poor performance could lead to more days off than he’s used to. It’s possible if Granderson continues to maintain the approach which nets home runs at rate of almost one-fifth the number of strikeouts than Girardi will pick some days to sit Grandy where he feels he doesn’t match up with the opposing pitcher.
Derek Jeter‘s circumstance is a bit different. It may not be about performance considering his unexpectedly productive 2012 season. Instead, he’ll be coming off ankle surgery and another year of aging under his belt. Expect Girardi to take more opportunities to rest Jeter, a player who insists he is fine so long as he can walk. That gritty attitude is great for a clubhouse, but doesn’t help the team if the issue is worse than he lets on. It stands to reason that if the Yankees didn’t need wins each and every day over the course of the final month of the 2012 regular season that Jeter would have rested in more games than he did. Each game he played at shortstop and lunged at the first base bag in an effort to beat out a ground ball put more pressure on the sore ankle until it could not take it anymore. This is a situation that will be handled with the utmost care so that Jeter is available and 100% should the Yankees reach the 2013 postseason.
These are the more obvious areas where Girardi’s handling of superstar players is going to be tested. He said each of this moves in the postseason were extremely calculated and not a fly by the seat of his pants decision.
I made decisions based on the season, a month, what I’d seen. For me to go back and say I would have changed anything; these weren’t just, ‘Let me go off the top of my head and make a decision.’ These were things we evaluated a lot before we made our decisions.
He’s created an avenue for himself to make these types of decisions now without looking back and without regard to the player’s feelings or perceived status. He has acquired the ability to manage above the specter of what his players have done in the past. Girardi can now look at each player’s recent performance and ask, ‘What has he done for me lately?’ He’s got a binder full of information and it won’t be used solely on relievers in the 2013 season.