Earlier this month, Joe Girardi re-upped with the New York Yankees on a 4-year deal after missing the playoffs for just the second time in his tenure as manager. As only the second manager for the Yankees since 1996, Girardi’s tenure has been less glorious than Joe Torre‘s time in the Bronx, and with multiple teams eyeing, Girardi had a ton of leverage heading into negotiations. However, while Torre’s legendary time in New York was marked by the budding star play of Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera, just to name a few, Girardi’s lineup is different. His features stars, yes- but those well beyond their prime years, meaning the hardest part of Joe Girardi’s tenure is still to come.
Joe Torre had the benefit of being manager coming off many years of dysfunction and ineptitude in the Bronx. He also had added bonus of having a roster full of young talent. For those keeping score at home, though the Yankees were generally a young team, they were also a group of players in, or close to, the prime playing years. The Yankees teams of the mid-late 90s were built around young talent . The youth of the lineup was also a critical reason that they were remarkably healthy.
Agreed, there was a group of players- say, Scott Brosius- who way outplayed expectations upon arrival. That said, all players were still in the thick of things, able to positively contribute without having to manage the issues of breaking down and declining play.
Girardi doesn’t have that luxury. He is forced to manage a core of players- Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez- well past their prime. Significant injuries sidelined each of those players at least for 60 days this past season. Further, the declining play of each of those players has been the back-page story of the New York papers for the last several seasons.
Sabathia was dreadful in 2013; Jeter missed all but a handful of games a year removed from fracturing his ankle; Teixeira has been progressively sliding downward since his first season in New York. In addition to not getting the same amount of production from his players, Girardi must manage the egos with it- resting players when other, younger players might help the team more; benching, reconfiguring lineups to leave out or drop in the batting order former All Stars making millions a year; and finally, dealing the the off-the-field drama (looking at you, ARod) that seems to follow the Yankees these days.
It will likely only get worse as each player continues to age, and play begins to decline. While the Yankees are only beholden to the $189 million cap next year to avoid a luxury tax, the fact remains that these lost-past prime players will still be in the fold for the next four years. It will continue to get harder to put injury-prone, non-producing players in the lineup every day, and then be asked to win a championship.
Joe Torre is a legend, and deserves his hero status in New York. And while it isn’t easy to win four championships in five years, and his accomplishments are worthy of the gold standard, Joe Girardi shouldn’t be compared to his predecessor- it simply isn’t fair. The talent and circumstances available to Girardi are incredibly different that Torre. While the mantra in New York- win or bust- has never changed, Girardi has a markedly harder job than the manager of the mid-90s. For Joe Girardi, the negotiations are over, now that he has returned as Yankees manager- but the hardest part is yet to come.