Joe Girardi and managing the transition

Reynolds and Ryan express interest in returning to the Yankees
DePaula makes Baseball America's South Atlantic League prospects list
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

Whether they want to actually acknowledge it, the Yankees are in the middle of a rather significant transition. A historic era in team history has come to an end with the recent retirements of Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte, and soon enough Derek Jeter‘s retirement will make that transition complete. The ties to the dynasty years are fading away and a new era of Yankees baseball is being ushered in.

That transition could occur in any number of ways. It could be smooth, it could be painful, it could be a little rocky … chances are it will be all of the above at one time or another. Up until this season, it had gone rather well for the Yankees. The team remained competitive after through the entire 2000s and into the early 2010s before things fell apart this year. As Brian Cashman said during yesterday’s press conference, they’ve “been really fortunate for a long time to avoid what happened this year.”

For the last six years, Joe Girardi has been tasked with managing the team through this transition. He was at the helm when Hideki Matsui had to become a permanent DH and when Johnny Damon had to be told he was no longer a center fielder. Most notably, he had to phase out Jorge Posada, first by taking him out from behind the plate and then by taking him out of the lineup on an everyday basis. As fans we sit back and think that’s easy — just take Posada out of the lineup because he stinks. It’s not that easy though. Managing isn’t just about making the lineup or changing pitchers, it’s about managing people.

“You learn how difficult it’s going to be,” said Joe Girardi to David Waldstein, referring to the end of a star-caliber player’s career. “It’s sensitive because they are competitive. It’s what makes them who they are. It’s a will to find a way to overcome anything that’s in your way, whether it’s a bad shoulder or a bad back or cranky elbow; whatever it is, they are used to finding a way, and that’s what made them great.”

Joe Torre had to deal with the end of Bernie Williams‘ career and, for the most part, Girardi had it easy with Rivera and Pettitte. He had to cut back on Andy’s workload a bit, making him an 85-90 pitch starter instead of a 110-115 pitch starter, but that’s it. Mo was elite and Andy was rock solid right down to the very end. Matsui and Damon both became free agents before the real ugliness started. Posada was tough for a number of reasons, like his ineffectiveness and who he was and what he meant to the organization.

“In a sense, you almost feel like you’re protecting them against themselves,” added Girardi while talking to Waldstein, “which is difficult because you know they want to be out there all the time. But if you are going to keep them productive through the course of a long season, you could have to protect them, and that’s not always what they want to hear.”

It appears the Yankees have another Posada-esque situation on the horizon, only about a million times worse. Jeter, who is already well past the usual expiration date for shortstops, turns 40 next June and missed just about the entire 2013 season with leg injuries. It was the thing Cashman said they were fortunate to avoid for so long. The Cap’n is broken down. Taking him off shortstop and out of the lineup against right-handers is an obvious move to make on paper, but Derek Jeter the person has to be managed as well.

“I expect him to play and I expect him to do everything in his power to get back to the form that he had in 2012,” said Girardi to Waldstein. “He has a lot of strength that he wants to gain back in his legs and have a normal off-season, and it should be good for him … It could be difficult. Only time will tell how tricky that situation becomes. We all know he wants to be out there every day. And that’s what I love about him, I do. But it doesn’t make it any easier.”

Up until now, Girardi has handled the team’s transition from the dynasty years to … whatever the hell is coming next … about as well as could possibly be expected. The Jeter situation is going to require extra-special care not only because it’s Derek Jeter and he can be a bit of a pain in the ass, but also because he’s the last tie to the dynasty years and a generation of baseball. That’s an iconic page to turn. It’s not a situation any ol’ manager can handle either, at least not handle properly. Girardi has shown he can manage that transition these last few years and he’s by-frickin’-far the best man for the job. His contract negotiations are about much more than pitching changes and second inning sac bunts. He’s essential for getting this team through the next few years.

Reynolds and Ryan express interest in returning to the Yankees
DePaula makes Baseball America's South Atlantic League prospects list
  • JLC 776

    Great article and thanks for giving some credit to the ‘soft skills’ that Girardi has.

    I always hate it when people judge managers and coaches on only one degree of their job. Making lineup decisions or pitching changes is only the very tip of the iceberg of what Girardi does. Sure, you can criticize ‘the binder’ from time to time, but you have to respect the leadership that he brings to the clubhouse.

    Think of it this way. As fans, we are quite tuned into the changing landscape of the team. The fading talent, the questionable replacement level call-ups, and the egos of former superstar veterans now becoming role players. Obviously, the team and Girardi see this as well and actually have to deal with it. It should be a testament to his leadership that we don’t hear constant excuses for the team’s performance – everyone is focused on winning and getting the job done with the tools at hand and no one has cried about injuries, poor acquisitions, or a barren farm.

    Anyway, bring him back. I’d much rather have his steady hand then yet another question mark for 2014.

  • Vern Sneaker

    Gradually the Yankees have stopped being an elite team and are now just another team among those who are competitive every year for the making the playoffs. This year injuries cost us the extra 7 wins we needed; otherwise, I think we’d be playing now. Jeter will be the shortstop until he breaks down again — because he’s Jeter and the Yanks won’t mess with him. Tex will play first until he breaks down again. Cano wil sign for mega-bucks and be terrific until he isn’t in a few years. The rest of the team is meh, or worse, with a very few exceptions. Not much help from the farm system for a year or two.

    Cashman needs a really good winter!

    • Robinson Tilapia

      We can’t expect any team to remain on the “elite” level forever. Eventually, age happens, mistakes happen, other teams happen, etc.

      The difference between the Yankees and other teams are that the Yankees will forever have the resources to do what they can to get back up there quicker. That still doesn’t mean that those resources can’t be misused. They went 18 years between championships despite having an owner who would supposedly spare no expense.

      • Vern Sneaker

        Agree with all of that. We’re lucky fans to have had such an amazingly long run and my guess is that the competitiveness will continue but without the “greats” for a little while.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          Time to reload and reinvent. Funny how some folks think that’s an easy job. :)

          • MannyGeee

            Butbutbutbutbut teh Rayz and teh Cardnalz!

            • Robinson Tilapia

              The Rays and the Cardinals can both eat a bag of dicks.

              • MannyGeee

                So much bag of dick eating!

          • Vern Sneaker

            I wonder what RAB commenters would have sounded like (assuming they stuck it out) from ’65-’75 and ’82-’93. Let’s hope we don’t have another long drought!

            • MannyGeee

              They would have clamored for Sparky Anderson

            • Robinson Tilapia

              I’m not sure unfertilized sperm and egg have the ability to talk.

              • cr1

                Tilapia — famed for devouring and eliminating mosquitoes!

                • Robinson Tilapia

                  Is that true, actually?

                  • cr1

                    Yes. According to recent artical in the Guardian, anyway.

                    • cr1

                      Article, obviously.

                      I am losing my English.

            • RetroRob

              …and they would have declared Bernie Williams an overrated prospect when he first arrived, failing to live up to expectation, some even agreeing with Mel Hall that Bernie with Mr. Zero.

              Fans are fans.

          • JLC 776


      • Kenny

        I agree with the general point here about elites and how they rise and fall, and so on. Still a lot turns on what people mean by “elite.”

        From about 1926 through 1964 the Yankees were pretty much an elite team, if you look at how they finished each year. Were they regularly competitive–1-2-3 in standings, let’s say (although this can be argued).

        There could also be an argument about the war years, 1944-45 and the first post-war year, ’46 (when they still finished 3rd); but those were tough years all around, not just for the Yanks, with many of their stars in the service and guys playing who might not have had a shot before.

        So, in that period, 26-64, a really long time, they were as much of an elite team as any in baseball history. People say the mid-1990s – 2009 Yanks were unrepeatable. But that 38 year run from 1926 through 64 is pretty magnificent, with all those 1 or 2 or 3 finishes. Their record was 62.3% against the AL! That number would have got them into the post-season this year. It also suggests something of how effective an organization they ran in those years.

        I probably could have gone back to 1921, but 1925 screws it up. Wasn’t that the year of the Babe’s bellyache, when they nearly hit bottom. Also, there’s the problem of “post-seasons,” all those additional steps that the 1995 and after Yankees had to face to get to a WS. This in itself may make the most recent period difficult to repeat.

        Another variable: the Depression. If I remember right, it forced Connie Mack to sell off the one team (1929-1930-1931) that could go toe to toe (and win) against the Ruth-Gehrig teams. But even then the Yankees were their #1 competition.

    • NYPLATOONS 85 Wins Ding Ding

      I don’t expect the team to be elite but there comes a time where you need to set yourself up for the future. As you said age in baseball happens but the Yankees seem to run out there other teams players that they themselves gave up on.

      This team needs to stop looking back and finally go forward. Stop mention Jeter, Bernie, Posada and Mo every single day. It’s timer for some new youth and the future to take over. But the Yankee brass has failed in that department and now just gather scraps to lead the poor Yankees.

  • LarryM Fl

    Mike the article was well written. It brings out the features of Girardi that make him the best man for the next phase of the transition. He has played, coached and managed this team and the foundation of core players. He knows them. What makes them tick so to speak. If Girardi did not have a track record of phasing the core into different roles or toward exit. You would wonder if he is too close to the situation.

    I saw the tears in his eyes with Andy and Mo during the last week of play. He loves and respects these guys but still can manage a team to win or at least play through the entire season. My only reservation might be him employing the younger players in place of Ichiro or Stewart who probably will not be with the team. Guys such as Romine, Nunez and Almonte need some playing time to judge completely if they are the next group. But I want him back even with some suspect moves which were minimal.

  • Frank

    Girardi has been a calming influence on this team and has done an excellent job during his tenure as manager. This season probably being his best. That said, I have no doubt he’ll be back. Money will not be an issue. As for Jeter, Girardi’s job could be made easier if Jeter puts his ego aside and acknowledges he’s not the defensive player he was, thinks of the team first, and agrees to be a PT SS and more of a FT DH.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    I’m surprised you’re taking such a pro-Girardi stance here right now. I don’t disagree that Girardi’s done about as good a job as can be expected. I’m also not taking this “we need to keep him” stance at this point. I’d like to keep him. I don’t think he’s the only man who can guide this ship correctly, despite knowing that managing the New York Yankees is a significantly different job than managing any other team in sports.

    If anything, the past few years may have been the foot of the hill. We are now on that hill. This is the start of the hardest part of the transition. Perhaps adding “new manager” to that transition is too much. Perhaps it’s also the best ever time to do so, if that’s the direction taken.

    I don’t read much into the current situation. His contract is up. The media will play up the “does he stay? does he go?” card, as we expect they would. It doesn’t feel any different to me, though, than anyone whose contract is up. It’s nervewracking and, after years of the circus that was managing this team under Papa Bear, we’ve had close to two decades of only two men managing this team.

    The Yankees know they’re in transition. One of the many things I like about Brian Cashman’s public persona, though, is that he’s not about to sit there and wallow about anything.

  • Mister D

    We should hire Jeter as manager and tell him its because we know he’d be amazing at being a manager and be real complimentary and nice and he’ll be like ok I guess I can do this then we’ll be like ha gotcha you’re manager but there’s a clause that says you can’t play shortstop any more when you’re managing and you can’t not manage so I guess that solves the shortstop thing then we should sign Manny Machado and move him back to shortstop and I think the team will be a lot better next year because we’ll also get some pitching and other hitters too but that’s the most important part of the plan and I think it should work good.

    • Jobu

      Kids, this brings me to my next point – don’t do crack.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        I’m pretty positive he was joking. He’s a frequent commenter with full control of all his faculties.

        • Mister D

          And even when I do play that game, I can’t help but spell and capitalize most things right. OCD and parody are forever at odds.

      • Shittyshittybangbang

        Leg…., officially pulled, from the hip socket ! Mister D, your jocularity ! ….,

  • Darren

    Mike, you’re letting the good job Girardi did this year with a diminished lineup cloud your memory of how he handled the Posada transition.

    He absolutely couldn’t have handled Jorge any WORSE than he did. Soft skills? Give me a break.

    Really looking forward to Girardi benching Jeter for the first time against the Red Sox on a Sunday night.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I’ve never seen Darren and my mother-in-law at the same place at the same time. Hmmm.

      My mother-in-law is convinced Girardi holds long grudges and is still mad the Posada stole his sweet precious.

      • Eduardo VeggieTales Nunez

        That’s my theory too…..

    • MannyGeee

      Seems like a stretch. How should the manager have handled his last season?

      • Robinson Tilapia

        With a light tickle underneath the nuts.

        • RT’s Mom In Law (formerly Darren)

          Sonny boy, you stop posting on that stupid Yankee machine and go change a diaper!

          Also, no nut tickling was needed for Jorge, but it did seem like Girardi went out of his way to pick the absolute worst time to bench him and drop him down in the order. If he didn’t have a grudge, than he’s an insensitive dummy.

          As far as benching the Jeter, please get back to me when the proposed replacement is someone with a little more baseball skill than Eduardo Nunez or Brendan fuckin Ryan. It’s not just disloyal calling for the Captain to be benched, it’s incredibly stupid from a baseball point of view.

          • Robinson Tilapia

            I laughed…..especially at “Sonny boy.” We’ve suddenly relocated me to Alabama, apparently. :)

            I’m not going to say Posada was handled perfectly, but I will say that it’s the perfect example of what Mike was alluding to above. This is hard, and it’s quite easy for Joe Realist Fan to come on here and say that there should be no sentimentality in personnel decisions, that Pretend Craig Kimbrel should have closed for the Yankees in September, etc. It’s much harder to put that into play.

            I’m not looking to bench Jeter, but I’m certainly looking at having the best possible caddy for him in case he can’t play at the level we want him to, or at all, next season.

            • Darren

              I couldn’t agree more with the last sentiment about having a good caddy. But I would hate for Jeter to get Royce Clayton’d after all he’s done for the organization.

          • RetroRob

            Strangely, I agree with much you say!

    • Captain

      and when that Jeter benching is a good thing, people will still complain.

  • The Lime

    Nice post, Mike. This is basically an article about classical economics versus behavioral economics, something that gets swept aside with the heavy focus on analytics. Very nice work.

    • John Maynard


  • MannyGeee

    For the record, Girardi is a good manager, IMO. He manages people (both in uniforms and with microphones) well, and he uses a nice (even if not optimal) mix of analytic and ‘gut’ when making moves. Maybe a little heavier on the book than I’d like some times, but better than Joe Torre’s method.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Agree completely.

  • Gonzo

    % he manages for the Cubs next season? 1%? 10%? More?

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I’d say low, but there’s definitely a chance. 30%?

      • Caballo Sin Nombre

        I’m having trouble deciding between 100% and 0%. I’ll let you know in a few weeks.

    • RetroRob

      I think he would like to return to the Yankees, no question, and if there was no Cubs position open I’d say it was 100%. The lure of the Cubs to him from his time as a player there to the fact that it’s home might be a powerful draw. It would be a tough team to take over at the start, but he probably has faith that Epstein and company will have a good core of players coming. And he may think the Cubs have a better chance of being good in three years than do the Yankees. Helping them win a World Series would be hard to resist.

      Yet I still say it’s less than 20% he leaves for the Cubs, yet there is the possibility.

    • JLC 776

      I think that’s the key question. It’ll be interesting to see if Chicago gets an offer out before Cashman locks him up, or if Girardi and his agent wait to see what both sides offer. But I’d definitely say Chicago probably has a chance, but they’d probably have to offer up more money to lure him away.

      Call it 20%.

  • Cacique and Destroy

    We’re moving from the Dynasty years to the Dysentery years

  • Vern Sneaker

    Torre’s last six years (’02-’07): 1 pennant, 4 division titles, 1 wild card. Girardi’s six years: 1 championship, 2 division titles, 1 wild card, 2 no playoffs. Both, I think most would agree, qualify as good managers (different strengths and weaknesses). The difference is the players.

    • cr1

      Wouldn’t it make more sense to compare Torre’s first six years with Girardi’s first six years?

      … unless there’s some unexpressed agenda?

  • RetroRob

    When you write, “Whether they want to actually acknowledge it,” I’m guessing you mean acknowledge it to fans. They are more than aware they are at a transition point.

  • WhittakerWalt

    I really hope we don’t have Jeter trying to play SS every day. That would be a suicide pact. Even Ozzie Smith saw his role diminished in his last year of playing, and he was Ozzie Smith.
    So none of this “Jeter plays SS because he’s Jeter” nonsense.

    • gc

      Ozzie never hit like Jeter. If Jeter can still hit, then he’ll be in the lineup one way or another. There aren’t many shortstops available who can hit AND play defense right now for the Yankees to pick up, so if Jeter’s still reasonably productive as a hitter, he’ll be playing in the field. Maybe not every day, but a lot.

      • WhittakerWalt

        That’s an enormous IF.
        And I’m obviously not talking about hitting when I bring up Ozzie Smith. He was replaced by Royce Clayton because LaRussa felt Ozzie couldn’t get it done defensively anymore. Ozzie actually ended up out-hitting Clayton that year.
        Jeter could very likely have zero range next year. If that’s the case he would have to hit like his 1999 self to make up for that.

  • Lukaszek

    People overestimate how bad Posada was during the final years. He hit very well in 2009. In 2010 he didn’t hit as well but was still very clutch, including some dramatic homeruns in Tampa and two grand slams vs Houston (who were still a decent team back then). Shit only started to get bad around May 2011.

    • WhittakerWalt

      He could probably still hit better than Chris Stewart, even now.

      • cr1

        Good point.

        Actually he could probably get up off his couch, go straight to the field, and hit better than any cátcher we currently have, as well as quite a few from other teams.

  • Dick M

    Well said Mike.

    On balance, Girardi gets good marks for sure.

    Is he the right guy for the transition is a fair question though. We’ve got to find a way to get younger. His handling of Romine makes me wonder a bit.

  • Nick Social

    Aside from ego, wouldn’t it make sense to move Jeter to 3rd?