by Brett Klein
The New York Yankees can proudly boast their 27 World Series championships as the most titles won by any sports franchise, and that cannot be taken away from them.
They are an enduring symbol of taking pride in excellence and satisfaction in domination. But is it time to rethink the team-assembling strategy that has garnered them just one World Series championship in the last 11 seasons?
I am aware that to the majority of MLB teams, just one championship would make decades (and in the Cubs’ case, more than a century) of suffering finally worth it, but this is the Yankees. This is World Series or bust every season.
Granted, the Yankees owned the MLB as recently as 2009, when they shredded the competition en route to a World Series slugfest with the Phillies, which they won in six games.
However, before that season, and more importantly, in the last three seasons, we have seen the same old story that culminates in eventual postseason failure.
When the Yanks moved into the new Yankee Stadium in 2009, their home run totals skyrocketed, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing except for the fact that it has seemingly curbed their ability to manufacture runs the old-fashioned way. The Yankees struggle to get men into scoring position and come through with a critical base knock in the playoffs, when every at-bat is scrutinized by all journalists, fans and Twitter trolls.
Let’s face it, though. The Yankees are rich. They are ridiculously rich, and this undoubtedly gives them an advantage over teams with significantly lower payrolls, but under no circumstances does it guarantee World Series victories, which has been all too evident the past three seasons.
Using their outrageous wealth, the Yankees’ strategy in putting together a team is to lure expensive star free agents to the Bronx with lucrative and lengthy contracts. In all fairness, that was largely what enabled them to snag C.C. Sabathia and Mark Teixeira in the winter of 2008, who contributed greatly to title No. 27. However, this approach is finally looking somewhat outdated as their roster advances in age.
This postseason, in their two series with the Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers, the Yankees hit .188, the lowest team average in playoff history with a minimum of seven games.
It was absolutely unfathomable that this group of so-called “Bronx Bombers” could instantaneously become the least potent group of bats to ever venture into the postseason. The Yankees were uncharacteristically massacred and embarrassed by the Tigers in the American League Championship Series, getting swept in four straight, one of which I was both fortunate and unfortunate enough to sit through at Yankee Stadium.
Alex Rodriguez, with still half of his ten-year, $275 million deal hanging over his head, seemingly lost the ability to understand his objective when stepping to the plate, going 3-for-25 in the playoffs with 12 strikeouts. Similarly, beat writers and fans alike were seriously considering the notion that center fielder Curtis Granderson needed glasses, because he seemed to swing at every two-strike pitch in the dirt as if he couldn’t see the ball.
It would be impossible to detail the extent of the rest of the Yankees’ struggles without an entire other article. All Red Sox fans are obliged to laugh to their hearts’ content—to my chagrin—in spite of their own team’s pitiful season.
Against Detroit, the Yankees scored just six runs. Perhaps more telling than the fact that this team, with a payroll of more than $197 million, could barely score is the fact that five of the six runs came in the ninth inning and via a home run. The Yankees led the league this season in homers, blasting 245 in total, which caused their dependency.
Their subsequent struggles highlight the fact that playoff baseball is not won solely on the long ball, but rather with fundamental and clutch hitting.
Perhaps this past decade is enough to get the Yankees to reconsider their ways.
Although the Oakland A’s lost to the Tigers in the division series, the A’s won 94 regular season games with a payroll of just $55 million. In the National League, the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals battled for a trip to the World Series with teams built largely from the ground up, with home-grown players from their minor league teams, and payrolls approximately $80 million lower than that of the Yankees.
Former minor league Cardinals Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso came up with big hits time and again, while established Yankees stars looked overmatched at the plate.
The length of the contracts that the Yankees dole out to their players has also come highly into question, especially in the case of A-Rod, and has begun to cause conflict heading into this decisive offseason. Rodriguez still has five years and $114 million left on his contract and, after being benched three times in the playoffs, may have played his last game as a Yankee.
But where to send him? Who wants an aging third baseman who can’t hit right-handed pitching and whose contract will be up when he is 42 years old?
This offseason will be absolutely crucial and franchise-defining for the Yankees, more than the casual fan might realize.
Not only does the front office have to decide who to bring back and who to let go—or roughly kick out the door in some cases—they must define the direction and modus operandi of the ball club for the possibly turbulent years ahead.
Should they knock down the whole structure and build from the ground up or merely make renovations?
For sure, a major priority for the Yanks will be to get younger and faster, moving away from their current surplus of sluggish power hitters in spite of 40 year-old Raul Ibanez’s legendary playoff homers.
Yankee legends Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera should return from injuries in time for next season, but after this dismal display of baseball that the Yankees exhibited this postseason, it may just be time for a radical shakeup in the Bronx.