By Brad Carroll
For the second straight year, New York Yankees fans had to say goodbye to one of the greatest players in the history of baseball, as Mariano Rivera retired last season and Derek Jeter hung up his cleats for the final time this past Sunday. And for the second straight year, the Yankees sent off two of their greats without a playoff appearance.
That's the state of the New York Yankees right now, a shell of their former championship contender selves, unable to even make a playoff run to properly send off two Hall of Fame players in their curtain calls. The Yankees didn't even come close the last two seasons to making the playoffs.
Prior to the last two seasons, the Yankees had missed the playoffs just once over an 18-year span. The last time the Yankees missed the postseason for two straight seasons was back in 1992-93.
So, what has gone wrong?
It starts with general manager Brian Cashman, who has made one or two great decisions with far too many terrible ones. Cashman is likely to get a contract extension before his current deal runs out at the end of the month, as there really aren't any other known alternatives out there to take his place. But based on recent decisions alone, Cashman deserves to get fired.
Just look at the players the Yankees will be saddled with next year and beyond. Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and Carlos Beltran are a drain on the entire roster. Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann had nice seasons, but nowhere near to the level of the contracts they were given. Brett Gardner was at least close to the player Ellsbury was, for a fraction of the price.
Trading for Martin Prado worked, but why in the world he thought Stephen Drew was worth adding is beyond anyone with a baseball IQ. If Drew is brought back next season that might be reason enough to fire Cashman on the spot.
The only free agency deal Cashman can take credit for is signing Masahiro Tanaka. The Japanese import is the ace of this team, if he can stay healthy, and is worth the $22 million he will make next year and several years after that.
How bad has Cashman done recently? Put it this way, Alex Rodriguez will only be the third highest paid player on the team next season. He's actually tied with Tanaka for third, behind Teixeira and Sabathia. Right behind A-Rod and Tanaka is Ellsbury.
The only thing that saved this season from being a complete waste was the final games of Jeter, and especially his final Yankee Stadium appearance, which was magical to begin with and ended in the most unbelievable way possible. For Yankees fans, this season will always hold those memories.
Here are our five choices for those who made this season bearable, and five from the other side, those we'd like to forget from this lost year.
In the coming days, we will take a look at the current Yankees roster and play Pay Him or Slay Him, as in who should stay and who should get out of town. Also, we'll have our Yankees Shopping List soon as well, with the players the team should target to finally break their postseason-less streak and get back to October baseball in the Bronx.
Derek Jeter: The captain didn't have the greatest season. he actually had a bad season statistically, but he'll forever be remembered as one of the greatest players of all time. More importantly, he'll be remembered as one of the greatest Yankees of all time. In a season of disappointment for the team, it was Jeter that made the last two weeks of the season mean something. Without his final homestand, Yankee Stadium would have been a ghost town. But Jeter made the Stadium rock again, possibly for the first time since the new place opened, when the real fans were forced out in favor of corporate seats with people who couldn't care less about the team. Jeter's final game at the Stadium was beyond special, as he singled home the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning for a storybook ending. If it was made into a movie, people would scoff at it, saying nothing could happen that perfectly. But it did on that night. Jeter finished his final season batting .256 with five home runs and 50 RBI. Starting with his final homestand and ending in Boston, Jeter went 14-for-38 (.368) over his last 10 games played, with four doubles, a home run and 10 RBI. Jeter's final single against the Red Sox Sunday was special as well, as it allowed him to finish his career with a .310 batting average. Jeter knew the right time to walk away, but he will still leave a huge hole at shortstop for the Yankees next season. The fact the Yankees could be looking to add Hanley Ramirez or Troy Tulowitzki at shortstop tells you the type player a Jeter replacement must be. Nobody is as big a star as Jeter is.
Masahiro Tanaka: He quickly became the ace of the pitching staff this season as a rookie, and if it wasn't for a small ligament tear in his pitching elbow, Tanaka most likely would have started the All-Star Game and would have been in the Cy Young conversation. He had an amazing start to the season, with an 11-1 record and a 1.99 ERA. But he struggled in his next four starts and then ended up on the disabled list for more than two months. He returned for two starts at the end of the year, allowing one run in 5.1 innings in beating Toronto and then was roughed up for five earned runs in just 1.2 innings in a loss to the Red Sox. The best news from those last two starts was Tanaka didn't feel any pain in his elbow, which means Tommy John surgery won't be necessary, at least for now. The Yankees desperately need Tanaka to be healthy next season so he can lead the rotation. The Yankees found out life with and without Tanaka this season. Life with him is a whole lot better. He'll be worth every penny of the $22 million the Yankees will pay him next season.
Dellin Betances: We don't mean to brag (alright, yes we do), but in last season's wrap-up to the Yankees season, we wrote Betances should be the set-up guy out of the bullpen, even though he barely got a shot in the big leagues prior to this season. We took it a step further and said if David Robertson struggled as the closer early on, Betances should be the one who takes over that job.
"Dellin Betances should be with the big league club next year, with the opportunity to be a set-up man in the bullpen. If he proves himself early, and David Robertson struggles as the closer, Betances could be the guy. He struck out 108 batters in 84 innings at Triple A last year, and while that has no bearing on what he could do as a closer in the big leagues, it should get him a look as a key member of the bullpen next year."
Well, Betances was simply outstanding this season out of the bullpen. He was so good, the Yankees should either let Robertson go this offseason, or demote him to the eighth-inning role and give the closer's job to Betances. He set the Yankees single-season strikeout record by a reliever, with 135 in 90 innings, besting Rivera's former record of 130. Betances broke Rivera's record in 20 less innings. In 70 games, Betances had a 1.40 ERA and 0.78 WHIP. He was 5-0 with a save and 22 holds.
"He's been awesome for us all year," Jeter said after Betances set the strikeout record. "It seemed like Mo pitched two innings every time toward the middle to end in '96. Dellin has been doing the same thing. He has pitched a lot of innings. The thing with him is that anytime he gets guys on base he's capable of getting out of trouble because he can strike guys out."
Betances sure sounds like closer material to us.
Michael Pineda: After much debate, Cashman was finally vindicated at the end of this season for the trade that brought Pineda to the Bronx for Jesus Montero (as the main pieces). Before this season, injuries have made the trade a toss-up, as Pineda hasn't been able to prove himself on the field. Montero actually played well right after the trade, but has become a disaster in Seattle since, to the point where he was sent home after a run-in with a scout during a minor league rehab assignment. Montero has fallen so out of favor with the Mariners, they just might offer him back to the Yankees free of charge. It's obvious now the Yankees are better off with Pineda, even though there is no real way to tell how Montero would have progressed in New York rather than Seattle. Pineda proved at the end of this season, if he can stay healthy, he and Tanaka would be a dangerous 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation. Pineda was just 5-5 in 13 starts this season, but he got no run support at all. He had a tremendous 1.89 ERA and a 0.83 WHIP, which are Cy Young-caliber numbers. After returning from a back injury, Pineda allowed two runs or less in seven of his eight starts. He struck out 40 and walked just four over that span. Yes, there was his suspension for using pine tar in a game against the Red Sox at the beginning of the year, and it was a dumb move to even put himself in that position. But Pineda is a building block for the Yankees. He just needs to stay healthy for a full season.
Brett Gardner: He's the Yankees nominee for the Hank Aaron Award, which is given to the outstanding offensive player in each league. Gardner has no shot to win it, but it does show what Gardner did this season for the Yankees. He was third on the team in home runs and fourth in RBI. He hit .256 on the season with 25 doubles, eight triples, 17 home runs, 58 RBI and 21 stolen bases. Gardner's success made it even more baffling why Cashman chose to sign Ellsbury to a monster deal in the offseason. Ellsbury is a better player than Gardner, but considering the money, Gardner is way more valuable. But there's nothing to do about that now. If Gardner can raise his average by 20 points next season, he would be a vital part to an offense that needs a major jolt.
Brian Cashman: We broke down Cashman's many missteps at the top of this column, and it's the reason he leads off our "down" list for the season. Cashman struck out on signing Teixeira, Beltran, Sabathia, Ichiro Suzuki, Kevin Youkilis, Matt Thornton, Brian Roberts, Kelly Johnson, Travis Hafner, Lyle Overbay in the past three years alone. He did make a good trade getting Martin Prado, but failed with his move for Drew this year. The best trade he made the last two seasons was getting Alfonso Soriano from the Cubs. But even that one was basically forced on him by his superiors. The big-money deals given to Ellsbury and McCann still carry huge question marks. And he allowed Robinson Cano to leave via free agency. Sure, Cano wanted a ton of money, but ask yourself, would you rather have Ellsbury and Beltran right now or Cano. The answer should be clear. Cashman will get a new contract, but he certainly doesn't deserve one.
Mark Teixeira: He was the highest paid player on the team this season and will be next year and the year after as well, barring any more big-money signings. Two more years of Teixeira is a painful reality for Yankees fans. Teixeira is downright awful right now, and is an injury waiting to happen. He's simply been a gigantic bust after signing a ridiculous eight-year deal before the 2009 season. In his first six years with the Yankees, Teixeira has a batting average of .253, which is 30 points lower than he had with Texas, 42 points lower than he had with Atlanta and 105 points lower than his one-season average in Los Angeles. He hit just .216 in 123 games this season, with 14 doubles, 23 home runs and 62 RBI. That follows a season where he played just 15 games because of injury. Teixeira also carries around the stigma of being a horrible postseason player for the Yankees. Two more years? Say it ain't so.
CC Sabathia: The former ace has broken down so quickly he's gone from an invaluable member of the rotation to a guy nobody wants to see as one of the five starters. Sabathia started just eight games this season, looking terrible for the second straight year. He was 3-4 with a 5.28 ERA, allowing 10 home runs and 58 hits in 46 innings in a season shortened by injury. The year prior, Sabathia was 14-13 with a 4.78 ERA. In 2012, he had a 3.38 ERA, so his decline has come suddenly. Sabathia's next step in recovery from a knee injury will be throwing off a mound this offseason, which should come in about 2-3 weeks. He expects to be ready for spring training. At that point, Sabathia may be in line to be the team's fourth or fifth starter, behind Tanaka, Pineda and possibly Ivan Nova and Hiroki Kuroda.
David Robertson: As a set-up man, there are few better relievers than Roberston. As a closer, there are a ton of better pitchers than Robertson, including one in the same bullpen he resides right now. Betances should be the closer next season, with either Robertson leaving via free agency, or agreeing to return to his set-up role. The latter is unlikely, however. The Yankees won't be missing much if he leaves. In his first season as closer, Robertson had 39 saves, but had five blown saves and five losses. He pitched to a bloated 3.08 ERA. Robertson nearly ruined Jeter's last night in the Bronx as well, as he blew a 5-2 Yankees lead in the top of the ninth inning. His blown save did set up the ultimate send off for Jeter to win it in the bottom of the ninth inning, but let's not overlook the fact Robertson choked in the biggest game the Yankees played all season. If he can't handle that pressure, how will he handle it when the Yankees return to the postseason. Mariano Rivera he is not.
Carlos Beltran: Signing Beltran for three years was beyond stupid. We said it when it was being discussed, we said it when it happened, and we'll say it again now. Beltran is old, fragile and done as a big-time player. Yet, Cashman gave him $45 for three years. OK. Beltran batted .233 in 109 games, with 23 doubles, 15 home runs and 49 RBI. He underwent surgery on his elbow Tuesday to remove bone spurs and will be out for about 12 weeks. He'll be 38 years old less than a month into next season. Nice move, Cashman.