The End of a Historic Era

(Maddie Meyer/Getty)
(Maddie Meyer/Getty)

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.

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Game 156: Mariano Rivera Day

G.O.A.T.
G.O.A.T.

Unless the Yankees make a surprising run to the postseason, Mariano Rivera‘s playing career will come to an end one week from today. He announced his plans to retire before the season and has been on a year-long farewell tour, receiving gifts from opposing clubs and in turn spending time with fans, stadium workers, and team employees at every opportunity. I highly recommend this Ian O’Connor story on Rivera’s interactions with those people this season. Truly inspiring stuff.

The Yankees have chosen to celebrate Mo with a pre-game ceremony on this day. The exact details are a mystery, but the team has announced that Monument Park will not be open to public before this afternoon’s game. That’s unusual. Perhaps they’re unveiling a plaque or re-retiring #42. Or both. Dan Martin reports Metallica will be at Yankee Stadium — something we first caught wind of last month — so I have to think a live rendition of Enter Sandman is in the works. Joe Torre, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, and Jeff Nelson are among those who will be in attendance according to Mark Feinsand. Other than that … who knows? It’s a great big mystery.

Today is going to be a very bittersweet day. Rivera is my all-time favorite Yankee and I can’t wait to see what the team has in store this afternoon. They always knock these celebrations out of the park. Just think back to Hideki Matsui‘s retirement earlier this year or the final game at the old Yankee Stadium. I’m totally bummed out that Mo is retiring but I’m glad he’s walking away on his own terms. Most players are forced out, unwanted by all 30 clubs. Rivera is anything but. He’s a historically great player and a first-class person. There will never be another like him. It’s been a pleasure watching him for the last 19 seasons.

The pre-game festivities are scheduled to start at 12:30pm ET and YES will indeed carry them. They might also be broadcast on MLB Network and/or MLB.com, but don’t hold me to that. First pitch for the series finale between the Yankees and Giants is scheduled for 1:05pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and TBS nationally. Here’s the lineup that will face right-hander Yusmeiro Petit:

  1. RF Ichiro Suzuki
  2. DH Alex Rodriguez
  3. 2B Robinson Cano
  4. LF Alfonso Soriano
  5. CF Curtis Granderson
  6. 3B Eduardo Nunez
  7. 1B Mark Reynolds
  8. SS Brendan Ryan
  9. C Chris Stewart

Oh, and by the way, Andy Pettitte is making the final Yankee Stadium start of his career this afternoon. He announced that he will retire after the season a few days ago. It’s very fitting that he and Rivera will both walk away from the game together given their career-long connection. What an amazingly awesome and sad day. Enjoy all of it.

The Yankees and 2013’s Major Awards

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

This has been a long and occasionally painful season, but it’s still hard to believe there are only ten games and eleven days left on the regular season schedule. The Yankees are three games back of the second wild-card spot in the loss column and their chances of making the playoffs are remote — 3.4% according to Baseball Prospectus — but they do still have a chance. A very small one, but a chance nonetheless.

Soon after the end of the regular season, the BBWAA crew will vote on the various major awards. The playoffs aren’t considered even though the official announcements aren’t made until sometime in November. The last Yankee to win a major award was Alex Rodriguez back in 2007, when he took no prisoners en route to his third MVP. It usually takes that kind of otherworldly season for a Yankee to win a major award because there is some voter bias. At least lately there has been thanks to the dynasty years and all those division titles.

This season doesn’t figure to be any different. The Yankees don’t have a 2007 A-Rod or a 2001 Roger Clemens on the roster, but they do have a handful of players who will garner at least some consideration for the major awards. At this point of the season, it’s hard to think anything that happens between now and Game 162 will change the voters’ minds. Let’s look at which Yankees have a shot at the various awards.

Most Valuable Player
The team’s only serious MVP candidate is (who else?) Robinson Cano. He’s hitting .311/.383/.514 (141 wRC+) and is top ten in the league in both versions of WAR. Obviously his chances would greatly increase if the Yankees sneak into the postseason, but even if they don’t, Cano should get a fair amount of love because he was New York’s only real offensive threat for most of the season. Fairly or unfairly, the voters do take that stuff into consideration. It’s the whole “he had no protection!” idea.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Alfonso Soriano could get some votes because of his huge production following the trade — Jack Curry wrote about this last week — but I have a really hard time seeing that unless he swats like, six more homers from here on out and the Yankees win a wildcard spot. I’m sure it’s happened plenty of times before, but the only time I can remember a midseason trade pickup getting serious MVP consideration was Shannon Stewart in 2003. He hit .322/.384/.470 (127 wRC+) in 65 games for the Twins following the deal while Minnesota went from 7.5 games back to winning the division by four games. The narrative was pretty strong.

I suppose Mariano Rivera could draw some honorary down-ballot votes in his final season, which would be kinda neat. He’s received MVP votes in nine different seasons and has finished as high as ninth in the voting (2004 and 2005). This hasn’t been Mo’s best year — he’s still been pretty great by normal closer standards — and he doesn’t really deserve MVP votes, but who knows what’ll happen. Could A-Rod get a tenth place troll vote or two if they made the playoffs? That would be a riot. Ain’t happenin’ though.

Cy Young
Unless Rivera gets some going away votes — unlikely since this ballot only goes five players deep — the Yankees’ only Cy Young candidate this year is Hiroki Kuroda. He led the league with a 2.33 ERA as recently as August 16th, but he crashed into the fatigue wall this week and is no longer in the mix. Kuroda, who now has a 3.13 ERA and 3.49 FIP in 189.2 innings, could steal a fourth or fifth place vote from a New York writer. It would surprise me though. There are a ton of worthy Cy Young candidates in the so-called Junior Circuit this year.

Rookie of the Year
Do you know who leads Yankees rookies in the FanGraphs version of WAR this season? Melky Mesa at 0.3. He came to the plate 14 times before being released. The Baseball-Reference version is a little kinder and has Adam Warren in the lead at 0.9. Either way, I think you get the point. They don’t have a horse in this race.

Comeback Player of the Year
Finally, an award a Yankee might actually win. Rivera is coming back from his knee injury and has the whole retirement thing going for him, which is probably enough to get him the popular vote regardless of his performance. Mariano is an icon and we’ve already seen how beloved he is around the game, by opposing players and writers alike. I hesitate to call him a shoo-in, but I think you have to consider Rivera the overwhelming favorite here.

There’s a chance Brett Gardner could get some Comeback Player of the Year love, but I would expect all the Yankees-related votes to go to Mo. Eric Hosmer, Scott Kazmir, John Lackey, and Ervin Santana figure to be Rivera’s primary competition. So yeah, his to lose I think.

Manager of the Year
I wrote about Joe Girardi‘s Manager of the Year chances way back in May, and obviously a lot has changed since then. The Yankees were exceeding every possible expectation at the time and we were still expecting guys like Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter to come back and be productive. That didn’t happen and the team faded in a big way during the summer months. They’ve been trying to climb out of the hole for a few weeks now.

Even if the Yankees don’t make the postseason, I think Girardi’s going to get a fair amount of Manager of the Year support because the roster has been decimated by injuries. This wasn’t one or two injuries, this was half the lineup. In some cases their replacements got hurt. It’s not an accident the Yankees have used a franchise-high 56 different players this year. That wasn’t out of the kindness of their heart, they needed all of the warm bodies. Girardi has managed to keep the team in the hunt right down to the final two weeks of the season and that’s pretty remarkable.

Furthermore, I think Girardi has done a masterful job of handling the A-Rod situation. That could have easily been a big distraction — and it was for a while as the two traded barbs through the media — but he’s kept it contained and a non-issue for a good month now. It would have been very, very easy for that whole situation to blow up and become a major daily issue, but Girardi made sure it didn’t. I don’t think he will win the award — John Farrell has the worst-to-first thing going for him — but he’ll definitely get votes and could finish as high as second on the ballot. There isn’t a ton of competition for the award this year.

Rivera, Robertson nominated for sportsmanship and community service awards

Mariano Rivera has been named one of six finalists for the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award, the MLBPA announced. The award is given annually “for outstanding on-field performance and off-field contributions to the community.” Past winners include Chipper Jones, Curtis Granderson, and Jim Thome. The other five finalists are Chase Utley, Carlos Beltran, Adrian Gonzalez, and former Yankees Raul Ibanez and Nick Swisher.

In other award nomination news, the Yankees announced that David Robertson has been named the team’s Roberto Clemente Award nominee. That award is given annually to the player who “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.” Derek Jeter, Ron Guidry, and Ken Singleton are among the past winners. Each team’s nominee can be seen here, and the fan voting opens tomorrow. Congrats to both Rivera and Robertson. They do a ton of work for charity and in the community and they deserve to be recognized for it.

O’Connor: Girardi will ask Rivera to reconsider retirement

Via Ian O’Connor: Joe Girardi said he will talk to Mariano Rivera after the season just to make sure he definitely wants to retire. “He’s made it pretty clear that he doesn’t want to [return], but I always say, you know, January rolls around and sometimes you have a different feel about what you want to do,” said the skipper. “I’m sure I’ll talk to him at some point in the offseason, and I’ll tell him when the season’s over, ‘Take a month. Take a month and a half, two months, and make sure this is really what you want to do. Because once you do go, it’s hard to come back.'”

Rivera, 43, has been as good as ever this season, going 40-for-45 in save chances with a 2.12 ERA (3.09 FIP). I don’t think it’s a question of whether Mo could come back next year and be effective, it’s a question of whether he actually wants to go through the grind and be away from his family for another year. Rivera was pretty adamant this would be his last season when he announced his retirement plans — he even acknowledged last year would have been his final season if not for the knee injury — and I have no reason to think he’ll change his mind. Not after the season-long farewell tour and all the going-away ceremonies the Yankees have planned for later this month.

Announcement: Mariano Rivera t-shirt giveaways with @BaldVinny

GOAT T42 Bald Vinny Giveaway

In honor of Mariano Rivera‘s final weeks with the Yankees, we’ve teamed up with Bleacher Creature king Bald Vinny for a series of t-shirt giveaways this month. As you probably know, Bald Vinny leads the roll call from the right field bleachers every home game and sells his original t-shirts outside Yankee Stadium. His entire product line is available online at Section203.com.

Starting this Friday and continuing with each of the next three Fridays, we’ll be giving away one of Bald Vinny’s original Mo-themed shirts through a Twitter contest. It’s very simple. All you have to do is follow both @RiverAveBlues and @BaldVinny on Twitter, then be the 42nd person to retweet the official giveaway tweet. There will be remainders galore before the actual giveaway goes live each Friday afternoon. You have to follow both RAB and Bald Vinny on Twitter to be eligible to win, no exceptions. People affiliated with RAB and Bald Vinny are not eligible to win and repeat winners are not allowed either.

We’re giving away two different shirts as part of the giveaway: two G.O.A.T. shirts and two T-42 shirts in whatever size the winner needs. We’ll start with the G.O.A.T. shirt this coming Friday and alternate each week. If you don’t want to wait for the giveaways, you can head over to Bald Vinny’s store and use the discount code RAB20 to receive 20% off your next purchase. Good luck.

SPECULATION!: Metallica may play at Mariano Rivera tribute night

The Yankees are going to have what figures to be a massive pre-game tribute to Mariano Rivera on September 22nd, celebrating his Hall of Fame career on the final Sunday home game of the season. As it turns out, Metallica will be in New York to play at The Apollo (!?) on September 21st with no scheduled appearances in the following days. A live performance of Enter Sandman sure sounds like something that could happen on Rivera’s tribute night day, but obviously nothing is confirmed. This is probably something the Yankees want to keep under wraps. Anyway, that’s out there now. (h/t NYDN)