When the Yankees’ season comes to an inevitable end following Sunday’s game against the Astros, Alex Rodriguez‘s appeal will finally begin. The process is set to begin on Monday and is expected to last several sessions. A-Rod‘s legal team, MLB officials, and arbitrator Frederic Horowitz held preliminary meetings earlier this month, but Monday marks the official start of the appeal.
According to union head Michael Weiner and various reports, it’s possible a ruling may not come until November or December. That would be bad. The Yankees want to know what’s going on with their third baseman as soon as possible so they can plan their offseason accordingly. They don’t have to pay Rodriguez during his suspension, so they’d save a considerable amount of money and would have to decide where (or if, I suppose) they’ll spend it. The non-tender deadline is in late-November and the Winter Meetings are in early-December, and you can be sure the team would like a resolution before then.
Horowitz can do one of three things. He can uphold the original 211-game suspension, overturn it completely, or reduce the number of games to whatever he decides. This isn’t an either/or thing. Based on the mountains of evidence MLB claims to have against A-Rod, it’s widely believed he’ll end up serving some kind of suspension. We just don’t know what. The standard ban for first-time offenders — which Alex is — is 50 games, so his legal team will probably argue the extra 161 games are an excessive punishment for allegedly impeding the investigation. There’s no collective-bargained document that deals with that kind of stuff, so MLB pulled that “161 games” number out of thin air.
As far as the Yankees are concerned, there is a best and worst case scenario for A-Rod’s suspension. That goes beyond planning their offseason, I’m talking about on-field impact in 2014 and beyond. Even if the hearing is held on Monday and they get a ruling on Tuesday, it could still be bad for the Yankees. Let’s break down the various scenarios.
Best Case Scenario: 162-Game Suspension (or more)
The Yankees have made it very clear they don’t like Rodriguez and want him gone. Can’t tarnish that otherwise pristine New York Yankees legacy, after all. A suspension that causes Alex to miss the entire 2014 season would effectively end his career. He’s had a hard enough time staying on the field due to various injuries in recent years, and even though he’s shown these last few weeks that he can still be an effective player, it’s hard to imagine any player returning at from a year-long hiatus on the cusp of their 40th birthday and being effective. Well, any player other than Andy Pettitte, I suppose.
If A-Rod is banned for all of next season, the Yankees will save his $25M salary and boy would that go a long way towards helping them get under the $189M luxury tax threshold. They would also know they need to find an everyday third baseman for 2014, not a short-term stopgap. There would still be three years and $61M left on Rodriguez’s contract after he returns in 2015, making a buyout much easier to swallow from the team’s point of view. That’s a lot of money to eat, but it’s pretty much a sunk cost already. A-Rod isn’t marketable and his on-field value is dwindling. Knowing he’ll miss all of next year is the best thing that could happen to the team.
Okay Case Scenario: 50-Game Suspension (or less)
It won’t be less, but I’ll throw the qualifier in there anyway. Horowitz could decide Rodriguez deserves the same 50-game ban as every other first time offender and nothing more, which means he would return to the team sometime in late-May. The Yankees would save approximately $7.72M in salary, but that would be almost completely negated when he hits the six homers needed to trigger the first $6M milestone bonus in his contract. Minimal savings.
The team wouldn’t be rid of Rodriguez, but they would be getting him back early enough in the season that he could have a meaningful impact. The suspension is a fixed number of games, so the Yankees would know exactly when he’d be returning. There’s no setback during a suspension. They could dig up a short-term third baseman without having to break the bank and then move forward with a regular lineup when A-Rod returns. Yeah, they wouldn’t save much money against the luxury tax threshold, but some savings are better than no savings.
Worst Case Scenario: 100-Game Suspension
Since no one thinks Horowitz will completely overturn the suspension — it’s certainly possible, but it would be a huge surprise — the worst case scenario for the Yankees would be a ban somewhere in the middle of 50 games and 162+ games. A hundred games is a nice round number and has been rumored as a possibility. A 150-game ban has been rumored as well, but for all intents and purposes that would be the same as a 162 (or more) game suspension.
If Rodriguez gets 100 games, the team would save about $15.44M in salary less the inevitable $6M homer bonus. I think we can all agree $9.5M or so is a nice chunk of change, but the team would also have to look for another permanent third baseman. Jayson Nix and Eduardo Nunez can’t hold down the hot corner for another 100 games like they did this year. We’ve seen that movie, we know how it ends. At the same time, the Yankees would also have to plan for A-Rod’s return, either at the hot corner or at DH (which figures to belong to Derek Jeter). Sixty-two games isn’t much time to make a significant impact on the team’s playoff chances either. With a 100-game ban, the team gets a nice amount of savings but the combined headache of a) having to find a third baseman, b) waiting for Alex to return, and c) not having him return into time to do anything meaningful.
* * *
The Yankees have a lot of questions to answer this offseason. More than any other offseason in recent memory, by frickin’ far. The A-Rod situation might be the most problematic because it’s completely out of their hands. They’re at the whim of the appeals process. The team doesn’t know how long they will be without their third baseman or how much money they’ll save. That’s no way to go into an offseason, but it’s the approach New York will have to take. Unless ownership decides to scrap the plan to get under the luxury tax threshold next season (lol), their offseason will be held hostage until Rodriguez’s fate is decided.
Tuesday night’s Mariano Rivera bobblehead fiasco was perfectly symbolic of this current soon-to-be-officially-eliminated Yankees team. Something went wrong and the organization was completely unprepared for it, so they slapped together a quick fix devoid of any real planning and hoped for the best. The Yankees in a nutshell.
I spent the fourth through ninth innings in line for the bobblehead — after waiting about an hour to get in the door in the first place — so I can’t really talk about the game all that much. I did see Hiroki Kuroda get knocked around in the first inning (again), and, from what I understand, a bunch of guys hitting in the middle of New York’s lineup after being released by real contenders because they weren’t good enough made outs in big spots with men on base. The Yankees in a nutshell.
The bobblehead thing was a complete disaster. Apparently the truck carrying the bobbleheads to Yankee Stadium broke down, so they had to hand people vouchers when they walked through the door. Then, in about the second inning, they announced the bobbleheads could be picked up at Gate Two. One location for 18k bobbleheads. I got on line near the Lobel’s stand in right field and it snaked all the way up the ramp, around the grandstand, then back down the ramp. We were on line for more than two hours.
The staffers directing traffic weren’t much help and were rude more often than not. I heard more than a few of them tell people they were welcome to cancel their season tickets if they were unhappy. Great sales pitch, eh? At least attendance didn’t drop this year or anything. The Yankees didn’t make an announcement about giving people free tickets or anything after they missed the game waiting on line and I don’t expect them to. Customer service has never been their strong suit.
Anyway, go to MLB.com for the box score and highlights. One more Yankees loss or one more Indians win will officially eliminate the Bombers from postseason contention, so expect it to happen soon. Phil Hughes will make what is almost certainly his final start as a Yankee on Wednesday night. David Price will be on the bump for the Rays.
This series with the Rays could have been a lot more meaningful had the Yankees not gone into their recent tailspin. They’ve lost six of their last nine and ten of their last 17 games, which simply wasn’t good enough in the ultra-competitive AL wildcard race. There were too many other good teams in the hunt and they’ve buried New York.
So, instead of this series being about pushing the Rays and trying to claim a postseason spot, the Yankees are basically playing spoiler. Competing because they’re professionals and have pride. These are the only three home games left in Mariano Rivera‘s career and that, to me, is the story of the series. I’ll be at the game tonight collecting my Mo
bobblehead voucher, but as much I as I want that sucker sitting on my desk, I’ll happily trade it to see Rivera pitch live for what will likely be the final time in my life. That really freaking sucks. Geez.
Anyway, here is the lineup that will face lefty Matt Moore:
- CF Ichiro Suzuki
- DH Alex Rodriguez
- 2B Robinson Cano
- LF Alfonso Soriano
- 1B Mark Reynolds
- 3B Eduardo Nunez
- RF Vernon Wells
- SS Brendan Ryan
- C Chris Stewart
And on the mound is right-hander Hiroki Kuroda. He’s got a 5.33 ERA (3.99 FIP) in his last eight starts and opponents are hitting .300/.347/.510 against him during that time. Kuroda, who was a legitimate Cy Young candidate as recently as mid-August, has turned each of the last 217 batters he’s faced into something resembling 2011 Cano (.302/.349/.522). Good grief.
It’s chilly but an otherwise clear night in New York. There’s no threat of rain or anything like that. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05pm ET and can be seen on My9. Enjoy.
As expected, Phil Hughes will start tomorrow in place of the injured CC Sabathia. It’s unclear if Hughes and David Huff will work in tandem as usual, or if they’ll be split up. I guess it depends on whether or not he’s needed in relief. The Yankees need to come up with a starter for Saturday unless they plan on throwing Hiroki Kuroda on short rest. Brett Marshall and Adam Warren could be options for that game. · (5) ·
This had the potential to be a huge, season-defining series. Instead, the Yankees have lost six of their last nine games and are holding onto a microscopic chance — 0.3% according to Baseball Prospectus — of making the postseason. Their tragic number is three
meaning they could be eliminated this series even if they sweep.
What Have They Done Lately?
The Rays just buried the Orioles by sweeping a four-game series in Tampa. That series included two walk-off wins, one of which came in the 18th inning. Tampa has won nine of their last 12 games and is 87-69 with a +42 run differential. They are two games up on a wildcard spot and five games up on New York.
At 4.3 runs per game with a team 108 wRC+, the Rays have their best offensive team in a few years now. The days of scratching across a few runs and relying on the pitching are over, for at least one year. OF Desmond Jennings (111 wRC+) is nursing a minor hamstring injury and may sit out a few games as a precaution. Other than that, Tampa’s healthy.
As usual, manager Joe Maddon’s lineup revolves around 3B Evan Longoria (128 wRC+). 2B/OF Ben Zobrist (114 wRC+) always seems to punish the Yankees and OF Wil Myers (131 wRC+) has proven to be a tough out in his relatively young big league career. OF Matt Joyce (115 wRC+) and 1B James Loney (116 wRC+) have both been productive this year while 2B/OF Kelly Johnson (104 wRC+), OF David DeJesus (100 wRC+), DH Luke Scott (108 wRC+), and SS Yunel Escobar (101 wRC+) have been closer to average.
The Joses — Lobaton (109 wRC+) and Molina (76 wRC+) — split catching duties while OF Delmon Young (93 wRC+) and UTIL Sean Rodriguez (106 wRC+) will see time against lefties off the bench. OF Sam Fuld (52 wRC+) is more of a defensive replacement than anything. Maddon’s bench also includes C Chris Gimenez, IF Tim Beckham, and OF Freddy Guzman thanks to September call-ups. Remember Guzman? He was on the Yankees playoff roster in 2009 as a pinch-running specialist. Only appeared in two games though, both in the ALCS against the Angels.
Starting Pitching Matchups
Tuesday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. LHP Matt Moore
You’d never know it based on win-loss record and ERA, but the 24-year-old Moore has pitched almost exactly the same this year as he did during his rookie season last year. Here, look:
|Strikeout Rate||8.88 K/9 (23.1 K%)||8.68 K/9 (22.8 K%)|
|Walk Rate||4.11 BB/9 (10.7 BB%)||4.31 BB/9 (11.3 BB%)|
|Homer Rate||0.91 HR/9 (8.6% HR/FB)||0.90 HR/9 (8.8% HR/FB)|
|Ground Ball Rate||37.4%||39.1%|
The rate stats are essentially identical. Kinda neat. Also goes to show how much a 36-point drop in BABIP can help a pitcher’s record and his ERA. Anyway, Moore has seen his fastball velocity drop off this year, but he still sits comfortably around 92-93 mph with his two and four-seamers. His low-80s slurve — it’s more slider than curve at this point — and low-80s changeup are both legit put-away pitches. The Yankees have seen Moore a whole bunch of times since he broke into the league in late-2011, including four times this year. The good news is that each of those four starts has gotten progressively worse: one run in eight innings in April, one run in six innings in May, three runs in six innings in June, and five runs in five innings July. Would be cool if that trend continued.
Wednesday: TBA vs. LHP David Price
A triceps problem earlier this year really hampered the 28-year-old Price, but he’s been excellent the last three months and has a 3.43 ERA (3.07 FIP) in 25 starts overall. Both his strikeout (7.33 K/9 and 20.4 K%) and ground ball (45.0%) rates have taken big step downs this year, but his walk rate is a career-low (1.37 BB/9 and 3.8 BB%) and his homer rate is in line with his career norms (0.79 HR/9 and 8.8% HR/FB). Price is still the same fastball-heavy guy he’s always been, using mid-to-high-90s two and four-seamers as well as an upper-80s cutter approximately 70% of the time combined. He’ll backdoor that cutter to righties for called strikes and there’s nothing they can do about it. Unhittable pitch. A mid-80s changeup and upper-70s curveball round out his arsenal. The Yankees and Price have seen plenty of each other over the years, so there are no surprises.
Thursday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Alex Cobb
Cobb, 25, is in the process of emerging as the next great homegrown Rays ace. He’s got a 2.90 ERA (3.39 FIP) in 21 starts while missing a whole bunch of time after taking a line drive to the head. You probably remember that. Scary stuff. The combination of his strikeout (8.58 K/9 and 23.5 K%), walk (2.84 BB/9 and 7.8 BB%), and ground ball (56.0%) rates is elite, and he’s pretty good at keeping the ball in the park too (0.86 HR/9 and 15.9% HR/FB). Cobb is a changeup master, using low-90s two and four-seamers to setup his fading mid-80s put-away pitch. He’ll also throw an upper-70s curveball that can be absolutely filthy when it’s on. That pitch has really helped him this summer. Cobb has faced the Yankees a few times since breaking into the league three years ago and he tends to pitch very well against them — they’ve scored four runs in 22.1 innings against him this season (1.61 ERA).
Maddon had to really work his sore relievers hard during the Orioles series, and not just because of the 18-inning game. Closer RHP Fernando Rodney (2.85 FIP) was off yesterday but pitched in three straight and four of five days before that, including two innings on Friday. Setup man RHP Joel Peralta (3.66 FIP) has pitched the last two days, three of the last four days, and four of the last six days. LHP Wesley Wright (4.05 FIP) and RHP Jamey Wright (2.99 FIP) have appeared in each of the last two days and three of the last four. Wright is just a lefty specialist though, so he only faced a batter or two each time out.
Setup LHP Alex Torres (2.40 FIP) and LHP Jake McGee (3.41 FIP) both had two straight days off before pitching yesterday. RHP Roberto Hernandez (4.59 FIP) has taken over as the long man while LHP Cesar Ramos (3.96 FIP) is more a multi-inning lefty than a specialist. Trade deadline pickup RHP Jesse Crain (1.52 FIP) was just activated off the DL yesterday — the trade was structured so that the more he pitched for Tampa, the better the player to be named later would be — and has yet to appear in a game for Tampa. LHP Jeff Beliveau, RHP Brandon Gomes, RHP Jose Lueke, and RHP Jake Odorizzi round out the expanded roster bullpen.
The Yankees were off yesterday and are in fine bullpen shape. They haven’t used a single reliever other than David Robertson or Mariano Rivera since Thursday. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for the exact details. For the latest and greatest on the Rays, I recommend The Process Report and DRays Bay.
The final week of the regular season is upon us. To make the postseason, the Yankees need to win each of their final six games while the Rays, Rangers, and Indians win no more than two of their remaining games. Or something like that. Let’s see the Bombers hold up their end of the bargain before we start worrying about everyone else. Mathematically, the Yankees are still alive. In reality, they’re done. Such is life. Here are some random thoughts.
1. I’m not quite sure what the Yankees are supposed to do during this final week. I want them to play kids — Zoilo Almonte, J.R. Murphy, Dellin Betances, and Cesar Cabral, specifically — but mostly because I can’t bear to watch guys like Ichiro Suzuki, Vernon Wells, Chris Stewart, and Joba Chamberlain any longer. Six games won’t tell us anything about the kids, or least not anything that should change our minds about their long-term potential and possible role in 2013. I’ve just about hit my limit with Ichiro and Stewart and Joba though. They’re unwatchable and there’s something to be said for having a watchable team. Forget looking at it as a fan, I can’t imagine all those companies paying big advertising bucks aren’t so happy with their bang for the buck this year. So please, for my sanity if nothing else, play some young players these last six games and make them interesting.
2. A team official told Erik Boland the return of Phil Hughes for next season “can’t be ruled out,” which is true of pretty much every free agent, really. That seems especially true for Hughes though because the Yankees will have an awful lot of pitching questions to answer prior to next season. If the price is right, the Bombers should definitely look to bring Phil back. The question is what’s the right price? He’s got a 5.07 ERA and 4.53 FIP in 143.2 innings this year, which is by far his worst (mostly) healthy season as a full-time starter. Hughes has alternated ~2 WAR seasons with ~0 WAR seasons since moving into the rotation four years ag0 and you’d be hoping for a rebound by re-signing him. A qualifying offer is out of the question at this point, but would one-year at $4M work? Maybe push it to $5M? I’m a) not terrible confident in the team’s in-house options, and b) in favor of adding as much pitching depth as possible this winter, so I’d definitely bring Hughes back for a year at $4-5M. The problem is he’ll probably get more on the open market — all it takes is one team to overpay.
3. You know how teams who have nothing left to play for — either because they’ve already clinched their postseason spot or have already been eliminated — will trot out a skeleton crew lineup in the final game of the regular season? I wonder if the Yankees will do that on Sunday. If they do, I’d probably use a lineup along these lines:
- CF Ichiro
- 3B Eduardo Nunez
- LF Wells
- DH Mark Reynolds
- 1B Lyle Overbay
- RF Zoilo
- 2B David Adams
- SS Brendan Ryan
- C Murphy
That … looks dangerously close to their regular everyday lineup, no? The only legitimate starting-caliber MLB players who would be sitting in that scenario are Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, Alfonso Soriano and Alex Rodriguez. There aren’t that many position player call-ups this year. Hiroki Kuroda lines up to start that day, but since he’s out of gas, the Yankees could start Brett Marshall and have him thrown three or four innings before a parade of September call-up relievers take over. I suppose that depends on what they do to replace the injured CC Sabathia this week.
4. With the understanding that the best team doesn’t always win the World Series, which postseason team do you think is most dangerous in a short playoff series? A lot of people will probably pick the Red Sox because they wrecked the Yankees (twice) in recent weeks or the Tigers because hey, they won the pennant last year, but I think it might be the Reds. Johnny Cueto is back from his third lat strain, so manager Dusty Baker will have two aces (Cueto and Mat Latos) and a damn-near ace (Homer Bailey) in his postseason rotation. Their lineup is crazy deep — particularly with guys who work deep counts and make pitchers to throw a lot of pitches — and their bullpen is really underrated behind Aroldis Chapman. Sean Marshall is back from the DL, lefty Manny Parra dominates same-side hitters, and Sam LeCure and J.J. Hoover are as good as any right-handed setup tandem in the game. Not big names, but big results. The Reds are probably going to have to play a wildcard play-in game, which could derail their season in an instant, but that is definitely not a team I want to play in a best-of-five or best-of-seven series.
Baseball America has started publishing their annual top 20 prospects lists for each of the 16 minor leagues this week, and the series continued today with the Rookie Gulf Coast League. Ninth overall pick OF Austin Meadows (Pirates) topped the list, predictably. The Yankees landed six (!) players in the top 20: C Luis Torrens (#10), 3B Miguel Andujar (#11), SS Abi Avelino (#13), 2B Gosuke Katoh (#15), RHP Luis Severino (#17), and SS Thairo Estrada (#20). LHP Ian Clarkin didn’t not have enough innings to qualify.
In the subscriber-only scouting report, Baseball America says Torrens “has a sound hitting approach and a loose, easy swing with good hand-eye coordination” while lauding his ability to recognize breaking balls and power potential because “his swing generates loft.” He is rough around the edges defensively, mostly due to a lack of experience — he moved from shortstop/third base to catcher last year — but his arm is strong and accurate. The Yankees gave Torrens a $1.3M bonus as their top international signing last summer.
Andujar “did a better job recognizing breaking pitches and taking a better hitting approach to use the whole field” this year than he did at the same level last year, though the write-up says he’ll sell out for power and still needs to improve his approach. “Avelino has a mature hitting approach for his age, with good barrel awareness that allows him to use the whole field and the discipline to not expand his strike zone,” said Baseball America while also cautioning that his lack of power has some concerned about how his bat will play at the upper levels. “At shortstop he has a good internal clock, shows smooth hands and footwork along with an above-average arm,” they added.
Katoh, who led the GCL in homers (six) and was second is SLG (.522), was described as a “difficult out” because of his “plate discipline and bat-to-ball ability … (he) works the count, uses the whole field and has plus speed.” Baseball America says his defense at second is a plus despite not having the arm for short. Severino “sits in the low- to mid-90s and has reached 98,” but can get radar gun happy at times. His changeup has jumped ahead of his slider, but the latter still shows signs of being a put-away pitch. Estrada, who is praised for his defense, is also said to have “excellent instincts and is an advanced hitter for his age. He has good bat control, makes plenty of contact and has a good hitting approach.”
Six prospects in a league top 20 list is an awful lot, though the obvious caveat here is that this is rookie ball. It’s the lowest level of domestic minor league baseball and literally every team has interesting prospects this far down. These six guys — I’m a fan of Avelino and Severino, in particular — are going to be real important to the Yankees going forward and not just because they might be able to plug them into the lineup down the road. Developing into trade bait would be a big help as well.
Anyway, the next league top 20 of interest to Yankees fans is the Short Season NY-Penn League, which will be released on Friday. 3B Eric Jagielo will definitely make that list while OF Michael O’Neill, OF Brandon Thomas, RHP Rookie Davis, and RHP Gio Gallegos are on the fence.
It’s the final off-day of the regular season. Three games against the Rays and three games against the Astros are up next, and barring a miraculous late-season surge, an offseason of … who the hell knows what will follow after that. I could see very big changes this offseason or very minimal changes this winter. Neither would surprise me at this point. I really have no idea what to expect from the team and the front office this coming offseason.
Anyway, here if your open thread for the night. The Mets and Reds are playing (Harang vs. Cueto), plus MLB Network will air a game later tonight. Who you see depends on where you live. Raiders-Broncos is the Monday Night Football game. There’s also some preseason hockey on somewhere. Talk about any of that and more right here. Go nuts.
Mariano Rivera will conclude his remarkable career very soon. The farewell tour has basically come to an end. Unfortunately, once he leaves, he’ll take his patented cutter with him. The greatest closer of all time will presumably hang up his mitt on his own terms, and upon retirement, will instantly join the epic names of Yankee lore. The last #42 in Major League Baseball will depart from the game with dignity and grace. New York fans – baseball fans everywhere, really – will collectively mourn as a man of such notable modesty off the field leaves behind a career that can really only be defined as stellar on it. Statisticians, baseball analysts, fans, and bloggers alike will try to do Mariano’s numbers justice, but they’ll all fall short. His achievements speak for themselves at this point. Two decades of sustained dominance is simply nuts.
So, rather than dissecting Mo’s career (or even trying to digest it for that matter), I want to write about a bit of nostalgia that recently came to mind. The game I remembered occurred back in August of 2010. The Yankees were squaring off against their divisional rival, the Red Sox, naturally. I remember it being one of those dog-days of summer where it was swelteringly hot out; it was the kind of utterly disgusting heat that caused the $10 stadium beer (that should have, at the very least, been ice cold) to taste warm and unsatisfying almost immediately. Our legs felt like they were peeling off the outfield bleachers – which not coincidentally, was right were my wife (then girlfriend) and I were sitting – every time we shifted in our seats.
A rather ineffective John Lackey started for Boston while former-rotation-stalwart, CC Sabathia, took the mound for New York. The game went about as smoothly as it could have despite the Sox taking an early 2-0 lead after Victor Martinez homered and Mike Lowell snagged another RBI. I believe it was Lance Berkman who worked the walk and it was Curtis Granderson who brought him home. Ramiro Pena (yeah, he was still in the lineup) ultimately drove in Granderson on a ground out. It wasn’t until about midway through the game though that the combination of Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, and Jorge Posada (yeah, they were around then too) finally broke the score open. Heading into the ninth inning, the Bombers led 5-2. Despite the blistering heat and general lack of Red Sox momentum the stadium was still full. The game wasn’t over. This was late summer baseball between divisional rivals. My wife and I waited. Everyone knew what was going to happen next.
Queue the iconic Enter Sandman riffs. My wife pointed excitedly as Mariano trotted to the mound in his usual unassuming way. I watched with anticipation as I had so many times before; I had seen Mariano take the stage for the better part of my life and he’s never failed to impress me with his calm demeanor on the mound. Moments later, Victor Martinez grounded out on what was probably three pitches. One out. Adrian Beltre hit a pop fly a few pitches later. Two outs. Boston fan-favorite, Mike Lowell, ended the game with a weak fly ball to center field. In anticlimactic fashion, the game was over. That was it. The Yanks won 5-2. There were no loaded bases or late game two out heroics. The Yanks just exchanged a few high-fives between the pitcher’s mound and home plate as is their custom. The Sox unceremoniously slunk back into the visitor’s locker room. Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York captured the speakers.
It wasn’t one of Mariano’s most notable performances by any means, nor was the game particularly critical to season’s outcome for either ball club. It was really just the opposite actually. Mariano simply notched another save. The team benefited from one more stress free afternoon, and New York fans everywhere enjoyed another day of quality Yankee baseball. Really, it all felt quite routine. But it was special for me nevertheless. It was the first time my wife experienced the new stadium, the first time she got to check out Monument Park, and the first time she saw the World Series trophies in the Yankee Museum. More significantly, it was her first time seeing Mariano pitch live. I remember her watching his performance in disbelief. Mariano dismantled the heart of the opposing team’s lineup like he’s done so many times before – that is to say, with brutal efficiency. We loved every minute of it.
As for Mo, it was just another save for the record books. There weren’t any fist pumps following the third out. There weren’t any silly superstitious antics or rituals. There were no invisible arrows flung into the atmosphere, excited shrieks, or violent fist pumps. There was only Mo’s humbling ability to shut opposing batters down and bring happiness to Yankees fans everywhere. From the moment he made his presence on the field known, it was basically a foregone conclusion that he was going to do his job, and do it as well as he always had. But that’s the beauty of Mo, really. He’s a security blanket like no other. He brings peace of mind to everyone. Hell, even the opponents seem to take solace in knowing that if they fail against Mo, it’ll be because they’re supposed to. On the rare occasions where things go astray, we find ourselves more bewildered than disappointed.
Mariano Rivera, as he had done so many times before, finalized another awesome experience that afternoon at The Stadium and on that particular occasion, my wife and I got to experience it in person together for the first time. I doubt that we will ever get to see someone perform so brilliantly and so constantly in our life time again. There have been so many memorable Mariano moments both before and after that game against the Red Sox, many of which are certainly far more significant to the team’s glorious history. That’s the one that happened to pop into my mind though, and I’m happy about that.
Thank you for all the wonderful memories, Mariano. We’ll miss you and we wish you a happy, fulfilling retirement.
I’ve never really been fond of the term “Core Four.” Not because it’s cheesy or because I hate pretty much everything, but because I feel it’s disrespectful to every other player who had a role in the dynasty years. I’m talking about guys like Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez, David Cone, Paul O’Neill — the guys who were on the field celebrating Mariano Rivera‘s career yesterday. Even more recent players like Hideki Matsui, Robinson Cano, and CC Sabathia deserve to be any kind of “core” talk.
The Core Four or whatever you want to call it is no more at this point. Jorge Posada retired two years ago and both Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte will play the final games of their careers within the next week. Derek Jeter is still hanging around and figures to return next year — I have a very, very, very hard time thinking he would go out with a disastrous 2013 being his final season — but otherwise all the on-field ties to the dynasty years are gone. Even if Jeter does return next season, it’s hard to think he’ll be the same player he was just last year, nevermind 1996-2001.
The homegrown core of those dynasty years is not something we’re ever going to see again. Not in our lifetimes. The collection of players who came up through the farm system in the 1990s was historic, more than once in a generation stuff. Just think about it this way: if you were building a team today, from scratch, what types of the players you would target to build around? In no particular order, they’d be:
- A switch-hitter center fielder who hit for average, power, and got on base.
- A switch-hitting catcher with power and patience.
- An elite offensive shortstop who had all the intangibles associated with being a franchise cornerstone.
- A workhorse left-handed starter.
- A durable reliever who was unfazed in the biggest moments.
Those are the five guys you’d want to build your team around, right? Strength up the middle and strength on the mound. Now imagine not only drafting/signing and developing those five guys all at once, but imagine all of them having careers long enough that they turned into this:
- A borderline Hall of Fame center fielder.
- A borderline Hall of Fame catcher.
- A first ballot Hall of Fame shortstop.
- A borderline Hall of Fame left-hander.
- A first ballot Hall of Fame closer and the greatest reliever in baseball history.
That’s the core that came up through the Yankees’ farm system all at once in the 1990s. It’s a historically great crop of players that you’d be thrilled to develop over the span of 25 years, nevermind in just five or six years. In recent memory, I think only the Phillies — Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Cole Hamels — come even remotely close to developing such a high-end core in the same period of time.
The development of that five-player core is not something the Yankees or anyone can repeat. You can’t fire that idiot Brian Cashman and replace him with that genius Gene Michael, wait five years, then have another core with those caliber of players. It doesn’t work like that. The Williams/Posada/Jeter/Pettitte/Rivera core is a combination of both great scouting and historic luck. I’ve been using the word historic a lot because that’s what this is. There’s no other way to describe these guys individually or as a five-player unit.
As amazing as that development was, you know what I find just as fascinating? With the exception of Jeter, all of those guys were dangerously close to being traded at one time or another. Bernie was rumored to be involved in separate deals for Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, and Jeff Blauser, among others. The Yankees originally wanted to include Posada in the Tino Martinez trade with the Mariners before relenting and giving up Russ Davis. Mariano was almost dealt for Randy Johnson, Felix Fermin, and David Wells at different times. Pettitte was on the trade block all throughout his first tenure in pinstripes it seemed, and the most notable rumor involved the Phillies and Adam Eaton. All it would have taken was one “yes” to dismantle the core of a dynasty.
Rivera and Pettitte saying goodbye to the Yankee Stadium crowd yesterday was about more than just saying goodbye to the fans. It was saying goodbye to one of the greatest runs in franchise history, a historic era that featuring five World Series titles and seven pennants in a 14-year span. We watched Jeter reach 3,000 career hits, Pettitte claim the team’s all-time strikeout crown, Bernie become the all-time leader in postseason RBI, Posada play in more playoff games than any other catcher in history, and Rivera save more games than anyone else in baseball history. It has been a privilege and an honor to watch all five of these guys — as well as anyone else who helped out during the dynasty years — but like everything else at one time or another, this great era of Yankees baseball has reached its end.