An appreciation of simple, unchanging jerseys

No interlocking NY on Ruth's jersey, one of the few changes in Yankees uniforms through the years.
No interlocking NY on Ruth’s jersey, one of the few changes in Yankees uniforms through the years.

Aside from a few league-wide holiday exceptions, you know what jerseys the Yankees will wear game in and game out. They’re the jerseys they’ve worn as long as most of us have been alive. Even before our time, the design hasn’t change much.

Contrast this to nearly every other team in baseball.

Just across town, the Mets have six different jerseys, with four different caps. They’ve even made changes to their home jerseys for the 2015 season. Yes, there are games where they wear those digital camouflage jerseys. It’s hard not to feel embarrassed for them.

(And yes, I understand that the Mets and Padres have donned camo uniforms for military appreciation events. The thought is there. The execution, not so much.)

The Twins also recently changed home jerseys. The new jerseys don’t look bad, but they don’t look like much of an upgrade. As you might imagine, Twins fans aren’t in love with the change. Some of that is disliking change in general — we got that around these parts lately. But it’s hard to see the point of this uniform change.

The Twins and the Mets are far from the worst offenders. The San Diego Padres have changed their primary uniforms — not including all their alternates — 12 times in their 45-year history.

My apologies for even bringing this up, but there were the sleeveless jerseys in the 90s and 00s. No teams still wear those, do they? Sheesh.

The idea of classic, unchanging jerseys crossed my mind when watching the Jets play the Steelers this week. It seems that NFL teams go through uniform changes every year, but the Steelers have stayed consistent for decades. Yes, they have the throwback bumblebee jersey, but they come out once a year and are a nice homage to a different era. How many other teams have stuck with the same jerseys throughout the years?

The point of this is that there really is no point. I appreciate that a Yankees jersey I buy now will continue to be the jersey they wear on the field next year, 10 years from now, and presumably until baseball dies out. Buy an authentic one, and it’ll almost always be someone’s jersey.

Just another perk of being a Yankees fan, I guess. We don’t have to worry about the team introducing some embarrassing alternate jersey.

Editorial: Maybe It’s Not For You?

A quick thought on the whole Derek Jeter retirement media blitz and the criticism associated with it by pundits who simply want their voice heard.  Maybe all of this just isn’t meant for you.  Maybe the fans are the target audience (as well as people who consume products)?  Maybe there’s a time and a place for your negative voice, but for the love of baseball let some of us just enjoy it.  Take your rants about selfishness and put them aside for a few days and just let people who want to celebrate the man’s career do so.

Image Courtesy of USA Today Sports
Image Courtesy of USA Today Sports

A patch, a t-shirt, a commercial … is it really all that damning?  Consider that at some point blind love for the game might have been part of your life, but you’ve changed your focus on drawing attention to yourself.  I understand many people want to push their agendas to increase page views, TV or radio ratings but the general negative sentiment seems so opposite to what we’ve seen of people in the past regarding Jeter.

Bloggers, loudmouth TV chat show hosts, you name it have spent the last few weeks jumping and stomping all over the thing some of us are simply trying to enjoy, saying goodbye.  Derek represents a lot to some of us and stomping on other’s enjoyment seems just as selfish as anything these pundits complain about.  What’s the point?  To have a voice louder than the fans?  You already have that, people probably pay you to have it.  But there’s really no need to keep making others feel like they are lesser people because you don’t gather the same joy from saying goodbye as we do.

Some of these thoughts are disorganized because by trade I am not a writer/blogger.  I am also not stating that one shouldn’t speak negatively of Derek Jeter.  But to be honest I think I share many people’s opinion when I say, “Shut up and let us enjoy.”  This isn’t for you, because you’re not a fan anymore.

Postseason or no postseason, Yankees need to make big changes this winter

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Barring some kind of Derek Jeter farewell tour miracle, the Yankees aren’t going to the postseason this year. They’ve dug themselves too big a hole without enough games remaining to climb out of it. That’s life. They’re not going to play in October because their play from April through early-September says they don’t belong there. If you’ve watched them at all this year, you know how hard it is to envision them stringing together enough wins to jump three teams and make up five games in the second wildcard race.

Now, even if the Yankees do somehow manage to sneak into the postseason, this year needs to be something of a wake-up call for the team’s decision makers. I mean, last year should have been the wake-up call, but instead the Yankees doubled down on the only thing they know how to do: spend money. They tried to spend their way back into the postseason — spend their way back in while letting their best player and one of the five best in the world walk away, remember — and it failed. Miserably. They’re probably going to lose more games this season than they did last year despite their offseason spending spree.

The season is close enough to being over that we can say, with certainty, the first year of the Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran contracts were disasters. There aren’t enough games left on the schedule to change that now. The Jacoby Ellsbury and Masahiro Tanaka deals have worked out more than fine, at least until Tanaka’s elbow started barking, but McCann and Beltran have not. When you sign a 30-year-old catcher to a five-year contract, you’re doing it under the assumption Year One will be the best. Year One is over now and the Yankees aren’t getting it back. It’s gone. Beltran’s deal is less damaging because it is shorter term but it still hurts. A lot.

For decades the Yankees conducted business the same way they do right now. They bought the best free agents available (or tried to, anyway) and by and large it worked. Free agency started in 1975, they won titles in 1977-78, had more wins than any other team in the 1980s, and dominated baseball in the late-1990s and 2000s. When you’ve got more money than every other team and you can simply buy the best players, why wouldn’t you do it? That’s the advantage of being based in New York.

That financial advantage is shrinking, however, and it has been since the luxury tax was implemented back in 2003. Aside from last year’s $228M outlier, the Yankees have had an Opening Day payroll in the $180M to $210M range since 2004. The average Opening Day payroll of the other 13 AL clubs (not counting the new-to-the-AL Astros) has steadily risen from roughly $60M to just over $100M during the time. Keep in the mind that MLB’s biggest payroll increases over the last few years belong to NL teams — the Dodgers, Giants, and Nationals, specifically. The payroll gap between the Yankees and everyone else isn’t what it once was.

Furthermore, free agency itself has fundamentally changed as teams lock up their best players to long-term extensions years before they’re eligible to hit the open market. The days of landing an in-his-prime star every winter are gone. It was only six years ago that the Yankees were able to pluck a 28-year-old CC Sabathia off the market to satisfy their pitching needs. Nowadays? Forget it. There’s a reason Masahiro Tanaka landed the fourth largest pitching contract in baseball history without ever playing an MLB game. His age. Impact players in their prime are no longer available for just money.

For years we’ve justified huge money long-term contracts by saying you’ll live with the ugly part at the end for the immediate return now. Well, the Yankees have hit the ugly part. They’re at the ugly part of their long-term deals with Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira. McCann and Beltran didn’t provide the immediate return either. That has left the team not just with unproductive players eating up a big chunk of the payroll, but little flexibility to replace them. Realistically, what are the Yankees going to do with Teixeira? Nothing. They’re going to grit their teeth and run him out there until his contract ends. That’s the only option.

The Yankees are caught in a cycle of relying on free agency to remain in contention. When the 2008-09 Sabathia/Teixeira free agent class started to fade, there was the 2013-14 Ellsbury/Tanaka class. The Bombers missed the postseason last year and responded the only way they know how, by spending money. The players they invested in did not provide the desired impact — back to the playoffs! — and that means the Yankees are going to do what now? Agree to another $400M worth of contracts this winter? That only continues the cycle with no guarantee of a return to contention, as we’ve learned this year.

Free agency is no longer a one stop shop that can turn a team around in a winter. That doesn’t mean it isn’t useful, it obviously is, but it can’t be everything for the Yankees going forward. Not anymore. The game of baseball has changed these last few years but the Yankees have stayed the same and they’re being left behind. The standings don’t lie. The farm system needs to be more productive, the free agent signings they do make have to be better, and the trades have to be smarter. Remember when they added Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson, both smack in the primes of their careers? Those moves were awesome. Taking on a bunch of money to get Vernon Wells? Not so much.

Personally, I believe the Yankees need to do a better job of focusing on depth, from the top of the roster to the very bottom. No more bad players. No more Brian Robertses and Ichiro Suzukis, who we all know aren’t going to work out the day the contract is signed. Those types of moves have to stop. I know it’s much easier said than done. Believe me. Also, the Yankees should absolutely bury the competition whenever another Tanaka or Jose Abreu comes along. That’s where you flex your financial muscle in free agency. Not tacking on a third year so you can outbid the Diamondbacks for 37-year-old Beltran.

I don’t believe any team with a huge payroll should ever have to endure a prolonged rebuild and, frankly, even if the Yankees wanted to tear it all down, they have little to move anyway. They’ve painted themselves into a corner and getting out won’t be easy or particularly pretty. There is a very strong likelihood things will get worse before they get better. Is Brian Cashman the man to turn things around and get the Yankees back on track? I don’t know but I really have a hard time believing he is at this point. He’s been running the show for an eternity and a different voice may be in order. That doesn’t guarantee improvement, mind you. A new GM could make things even worse, especially if ownership brings in a figurehead GM they can walk all over.

Look up and down the roster and there are five, maybe six players I can buy as being part of the solution and the next great Yankees team: Tanaka, Ellsbury, Dellin Betances, Michael Pineda, Brett Gardner, and maybe Martin Prado. I’d add David Robertson to that group if he wasn’t due to become a free agent in a few weeks and I can’t bring myself to include McCann in that group after the season he’s had. The Yankees’ entire team-building philosophy is going to have to change if they want to get back to being a perennial contender because the game is telling them it has to change. Their old way of doing business is painfully outdated and this winter is the time to start getting back up to speed, postseason or no postseason.

Yankees aren’t out of it, but it gets harder to see them contending with each passing game

Yup. (Patrick McDermott/Getty)
Yup. (Patrick McDermott/Getty)

I know it doesn’t come across on RAB and especially on my Twitter feed, but I try to be optimistic when it comes to the Yankees’ postseason chances each year. Go ahead and laugh, but as long as they’re still mathematically in it, then they have something to play for and I have a reason to remain invested in the season. We’ve been very lucky as a fanbase because we haven’t seen a whole lot of truly meaningless baseball over the years.

The Yankees lost a heartbreaker to the Orioles last night, again failing to protect a small lead and losing ground in both the AL East and wildcard races. They are essentially out of the division race now — eight games back with 43 to play isn’t insurmountable but it might as well be, and last night several Yankees even conceded it was time to focus on the wildcard — and will instead have to hope they can sneak into the second wildcard spot for the right to play a winner-take-all game with a trip to the ALDS on the line. That’s better than not making the postseason in my book.

These Yankees though … man. They have given me very little reason to believe they are capable of making the type of run they need to make to get into that second wildcard spot. If the Tigers and Mariners go only 22-22 the rest of the way, the Yankees need to go 25-18 just to tie. That isn’t taking the Royals and Blue Jays (and Indians) into consideration either. Their best 43-game stretch this year was 24-19 done twice, from Games 3-45 and then again from Games 60-102. That’s when they had Masahiro Tanaka taking the ball every fifth day and an effective Adam Warren alongside Dellin Betances and David Robertson in the bullpen.

Now though, the Yankees don’t have Tanaka and don’t have an effective Warren. The offense’s performance has also been flat out unacceptable — “We put a lot of money into the offense, and they have been, as a whole, inconsistent. It’s been a problem. And it needs to change,” said Hal Steinbrenner to Dan Barbarisi yesterday — but outside of Brian McCann, I’m not sure you can say anyone in the lineup is having a shockingly bad season. Carlos Beltran putting up a 99 wRC+ a year after having a 131 wRC+ may be unexpected, but it’s not totally surprising at age 37. Jacoby Ellsbury has a 108 wRC+ in 2014 and a 109 wRC+ for his career. Mark Teixeira? Derek Jeter? Disappointing but not outside of what we could have guessed before the season.

Warren looks like he’s out of gas, Shawn Kelley looked good for a few weeks but has been roughed up big time in two of his last three outings, and others like Chase Whitley and David Huff are not guys anyone wants to see in a big spot. The bullpen ran into a similar wall at the same time last year and it’s probably because the Yankees played so many close games earlier in the season and forced these guys to throw a lot of intense innings. Betances seems to have avoided burn out (last night’s solo homer notwithstanding) but others aren’t so lucky. Playing catch-up in a postseason race with only two reliable relievers and a patchwork rotation is a bad, bad combination.

The Yankees aren’t hitting and they aren’t pitching well either right now, plus they don’t even control their own destiny anymore. They’ll need help from some other teams these next few weeks to sneak into that second wildcard spot. To quote Joe Girardi, it’s not what you want. They dug this hole for themselves by letting too many winnable games slip away, mostly because of the offense and the utter lack of an impact hitter, and with each game that passes, they look less and less like a contender.

I really want the Yankees to get to postseason in Derek Jeter’s final season, especially since they didn’t get there in Mariano Rivera‘s final season dammit, but this team doesn’t look like they have what it takes to make that run at all. They’re technically still in it, yeah, but they’ve given me little reason to believe. It really, really sucks.

Let the shakeup start with Soriano

Soriano strikes out
Lot of this going on lately. (Elsa/Getty Images North America)

The Yankees are bad right now. They weren’t bad the whole season. They might not be bad in a week or so. But for the past few weeks they’ve been pretty bad.

When the going gets rough, people want a shakeup.

“If George were alive [insert desired shakeup here].”

…because George presided over nothing but winning teams, and they definitely didn’t build the 90s dynasty while he was out of the picture.

A shakeup sounds great. It means that ownership is taking action to correct a problem. Mistakes were made, and someone is to blame. Someone has to pay.

Where would such a shakeup start with the Yankees?

Brian Cashman? He’s the one who built this roster. Why should he get a free pass for its poor performance?

Perhaps Cashman has worn out his welcome with the Yankees. I’ve always been a fan, but there could certainly be some Stockholm Syndrome aspect to that opinion. But is the time now to fire him?

Absolutely not. What would that accomplish? The draft is tomorrow. The Yankees have spent months preparing. It’s not as though you can just let them draft guys and then fire everyone. (Because if you fire Cashman, you fire the entire front office essentially.) They still have to sign those guys.

Hell, when the Cubs finally fired Jim Hendry, they kept him on for nearly a month after making the decision. Why? Because a new general manager — or worse, and interim GM — would probably fare worse than the guy they were firing in dealing with the roster at the trade deadline.

A new GM is rarely, if ever, a savior. He or she might bring a change of philosophy, but it can take years for that philosophy to make a difference on the field. A new GM will not turn around a team that is underperforming.

Cashman’s contract is up after this year. If they want to get rid of him, they have the opportunity to do so soon enough. (Although as Buster Olney said on the podcast, there is every indication that the Steinbrenners will opt to bring back Cashman even if the Yankees miss the postseason.)

There is one thing the Yankees can do to shake things up, at least a little bit.

They can DFA Alfonso Soriano.

Getting Soriano at last year’s trade deadline worked wonders. He went on an immediate tear, and kept the Yankees relevant for a month longer than they had any business being relevant. But his role diminished early in the off-season, when they signed Jacoby Ellsbury. Unless they traded Brett Gardner, Soriano would have to DH or play out of position. Signing Carlos Beltran meant DH, a non-position Soriano had vocally opposed in the past.

The Yankees have four outfielders once Carlos Beltran is healthy. Both Kelly Johnson and Yangervis Solarte have some experience playing out there, so they can act as emergency options. Zoilo Almonte can come back up at some point and be the fifth outfielder if the Yankees feel they need one.

We know Soriano can go on ridiculous hot streaks. Mike and I discussed that on the latest podcast. But can you really count on that happening this year, given how absolutely terrible he’s looked? His lone hot streak this year lasted 12 games, during which he hit four doubles and three homers. In the other 41 games? Nine doubles and three homers.

The Yankees can’t exactly afford to wait on Soriano at this point. They need to turn around a stagnant offense. Getting improved production from Brian McCann, Beltran, and Jacoby Ellsbury would help. Keeping Mark Teixeira healthy would help as well.

You know what else would help? Replacing the least productive starter with someone who is potentially very productive*. Replacing Soriano at DH with Kendrys Morales, a process they can start as early as Friday, could jolt an offense that has struggles going on a month at this point.

*Sorry, they’re not replacing Jeter. Cry about it if you want, blame everyone for letting it happen. Just understand that you’re arguing with reality.

There isn’t much the Yankees can do with the current roster. Is there anyone who should be getting less playing time — other than Jeter, who I mentioned, and McCann, who is in a similar position? Brian Roberts? With whom would you replace him, and would it be enough of an upgrade to the offense?

The Yankees lose little by replacing Soriano with Morales. It costs them some money, but there will be a return on that investment.

Like Morales or not, he’s the most efficient and potentially effective upgrade at this point.