As Yankees fans, we have been so used to making the playoffs every single year, with an (unrealistic) view of winning a World Series at the conclusion of every season. For those of us who lived through the 1996-2003 years, this seemed a realistic goal. But in light of the fact that there is incredibly increased parity, and money in baseball, this basic expectation looks more and more ludicrous every year. With the 2013 season drawing to a close and the Yankees fight for their playoff lives- realistically, two losses could end the hunt for October- it’s important to take a look at this season with a little bit of perspective.
For starters, the Yankees headed into the 2013 season with huge question marks around their rotation. CC Sabathia was coming off an elbow cleanup that, by his own admission, has messed with his off-season throwing program, leading to the worst season in his career (13-13, 4.90 ERA, 28 homers allowed). Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte, while stalwarts in 2012, are over the age of 36; how much could really be expected of them anymore? As for Phil Hughes/Ivan Nova/David Phelps/Vidal Nuno/etc., I have one word: woof. The expectations were mediocre at best as all combinations have their issues- extra base hits, inability to put away hitters, the homers allowed, the lack of big-league experience, the high pitch counts. The list goes on and on.
That the Yankees have somehow managed 51 wins out of their starters, who collective have gone 51-58 with a 4.19 ERA is a minor miracle of sorts. Particularly in light of the fact that a diminished lineup meant that the team could not slug its way out of an early hole due to a bad start. This rotation was successful due mostly to dumb luck in 2012; in 2013, that luck began to run out. Adding fuel to the fire was the questions surrounding key contributors, Alex Rodriguez Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter each making their ways back from significant injuries.
Another bugaboo for the team has been injuries. As we saw with the Boston Red Sox last season, injuries can take even the off-season favorite and make it a laughing stock (Bobby Valentine antics aside). Has any other team been so close to a post season berth having no true starting catcher, a long-suffering ace, no starting first baseman, shortstop, third baseman or center fielder? This season has been a never-ending injury carousel. Brian Cashman has finally, in my humble opinion, taken the leap from being a GM with a large wallet to being a smart, savvy, fiscally-conscious front office manager.
The “Plan B Crew’, the duct tape and glue solutions- Kevin Youkilis, Vernon Wells, etc.- are the makings of an “I Love Lucy” episode- but they have worked. To add insult to injury, Cashman has had to go to Plan C- injuries have so ravaged the team that the Yankees have had 11 (!!!) third basemen alone. Lyle Overbay, Alfonso Soriano, Brent Lillibridge, David Adams. They have each served their purpose, even if they didn’t blow the doors off the building. The fact that Cashman (and Joe Girardi, who also deserves a ton of credit) has the Yankees competing and in the thick of things all season is a minor miracle.
Finally, perhaps it’s time for Yankee fans to be a little more realistic. I know it may be hard to hear, but come on, folks: the Yankees aren’t the toughest team in town. They aren’t even the richest team in the league (hello, Dodgers). The spending sprees of years past have now led to players with bloated contracts, far past their primes, on the payroll for several more years (and yet there are still fans screaming for the $200 million contract for Robinson Cano, but I digress).
Moreover, TV contract money, though first pounced on by the Yankees, is nearly universal throughout baseball. It’d be shorter to list the teams who do not have a major TV network contract at this point, giving each front office a huge influx of cash that previously had been available to major players like the Yankees, and to a lesser extent, the Red Sox. [Note: it’s also worth pointing out that the Red Sox ownership has a vested interested in English Premier League team Liverpool, which is a pretty big deal and financial investment; on the whole, the Sox ownership has a pretty diversified portfolio, so no one can exactly go out and accuse them of being “cheaper” than the Yankees.] The Yankees aren’t the premiere team anymore.
As far as on-paper talent, it can be argued that other teams- the Rangers, the Blue Jays, the Angels, the Dodgers all have equally talented roster. Moreover, some teams are locking up their young super stars (Buster Posey of the Giants, Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs) with long-term, lucrative deals long before free agency, meaning that any of those prized free agents Yankees fans have always counted on are no longer an option. It’s time to face the facts that the rest of the pack has caught up with the Yankees in those respects.
All in all, regardless of what the next two weeks will bring, the Yankees season was a success when looked at through the prism of the obstacles at hand: the general atmosphere of baseball, the injuries, the question marks. Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman deserve a lot more credit than they will get if the team fails to make the playoffs. The Yankees have done remarkable things with the unfortunate hand dealt to them. Yankees fans, we all have to take a step back and not miss the forest for the trees. It’d be sad to not make the playoffs, true. But is it the end of the world? Not by a long shot. So as we wait with baited breath to see what the next two weeks hold, remember: it’s all about perspective.