The Yankees lost another series, this time to the Mariners in Seattle. They have completed the collapse of their former nine-game lead on the 1-seed in the American League and look destined for another early postseason exit.
1. The Derek Jeter documentary is depressing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fantastic, but it’s depressing. I know I was spoiled as a Yankees fan growing up during the ’90s dynasty, thinking going to the World Series every year was normal. (It wasn’t normal). But as enjoyable as it is to look back at the career of my favorite player (an everyday part of the Yankees from when I was nine years old until I was 28 years old), it’s depressing.
It’s depressing because of what the Yankees were and what they have become. When you listen to Jeter or Bernie Williams or Jorge Posada or Mariano Rivera or Andy Pettitte or Tino Martinez or David Cone talk about their obsession with winning and doing whatever it took to win, it’s a far cry from the Yankees I root for today. This week, Aaron Hicks told The Athletic, “If I’m a guy that’s in the lineup, cool. If I’m not, it is what it is.” Hicks is in the middle of a seven-year, $70 million extension and doesn’t care if he plays or not.
2. Everything about these Yankees is the complete opposite from those Yankees. Most importantly, the Yankees are no longer owned by someone whose entire life revolved around winning every single day on the field, off the field, in the media, in trades, in free-agent signings. Even if George Steinbrenner didn’t always make the best decision, every decision he made was made because he truly believed it would help the Yankees win.
These Yankees are owned by George’s son. A son who wasn’t even supposed to run the team. The original succession plan was that George would leave the team in the hands of his son-in-law, instead of his own two sons. Why? Likely because of the result we see today. (George knew what would happen if penny-pinching Hal got a hold of his Yankees.) But George’s daughter and her husband got divorced and the team ended up where it is now: with Hal.
In the 15 years since George was last involved in the day-to-day operations, Hal has kept the payroll essentially the same as it was when he took over. Sure, in 2022, the Yankees have their highest payroll in team history around $240 million, but it’s only increased by $12 million overall in a decade. Have the Yankees’ revenues only increased by about $1.2 million per year? Have beer prices, concessions and merchandise stayed stagnant for the last 10 years?
In keeping with the status quo, Hal has continued to employ Brian Cashman as the team’s general manager, a position he has held for now 25 years, despite producing one championship in the last 21 years and one World Series appearance in the last 18.
3. Cashman too has operated with the status quo. This past offseason he had a chance to walk away from the manager he wrongfully hired. Instead, he gave him a new three-year deal with an option for a fourth year, despite producing four straight early postseason exits, culminating in a fifth place finish in the American League in a season in which the Yankees were the odds-on favorite to win the pennant.
“As a team and as an organization, we must grow, eveolve and improve,” Hal said upon announcing Boone’s next contract. “We need to get better. Period.”
Nothing says “We need to get better” like bringing back the same manager who has never won anything as a manager, just like he never won anything as a player. And nothing says “grow,” “evolve” and “improve” like bringing back the same roster. Cashman has doubled and tripled and quadrupled down on the status quo with the roster, running it back time and again with the same core and the same overall roster that hasn’t been good enough for five straight years.
On that roster the Yankees have a washed-up, 36-year-old third baseman owed $48 million who was suspended earlier this season for controversial comments. They also roster two pitchers who were suspended for violating the league’s domestic violence policy. Yes, 15 percent of the Yankees’ pitching staff has been suspended for domestic violence. When Aroldis Chapman became a Yankee after his suspension, Hal said, “Sooner or later, we forget, right? That’s the way we’re supposed to be in life.” I didn’t forget. And when Domingo German was suspended for half a season, in order to remain a Yankee, Hal said, “I have to absolutely feel comfortable that he deeply, deeply regrets and is sorry for what he did, and I absolutely have to be comfortable with the fact that he’s turned his life around.” Once Hal realized German would be starting pitching depth making around the league minimum, he was comfortable that German had turned his life around. The roster is littered with scum and fringe major leaguers, taking up roster spots because of money owed and to help with roster manipulation.
4. The Rangers so badly didn’t want to roster or play Isiah Kiner-Falefa that they gave $500 million to Corey Seager and Marcus Semien and traded Kiner-Falefa to the Twins. The Twins then turned around, knowing the Yankees’ wild infatuation with Kiner-Falefa and fleeced Cashman by having him agree to take on Donaldson’s $48 million for 2022 and 2023. After ridding themselves of Donaldson’s ridiculous salary, they gave that money to Carlos Correa, who the Yankees should have signed to the same exact deal he got with the Twins.
The Yankees didn’t sign Correa or any of the available free-agent shortstops in the best free-agent shortstop class in history. Partly because of top prospects Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza, and partly because of Hal’s reluctance to exceed the various luxury-tax thresholds.
“I’ve got a lot of partners and banks and bondholders and things like that, who I answer to,” Hal said after passing on all the free-agent shortstops. “We do have two incredible prospects that I am excited to give a chance to.”
The problem is those prospects are ready to be given a chance, and yet, Kiner-Falefa continues to play every day even though he has the same amount of home runs as me. After Aaron Judge and DJ LeMahieu, Kiner-Falefa has inexplicably played in the most games by any Yankee this season (101) with a .265/.311/.312 slash line.
5. A month ago, Hal Steinbrenner talked to the media and defended his decision to not sign a free-agent shortstop.
“I didn’t spend $300 million …,” Hal said. “But I think most people are pretty happy with Isiah and the job he’s done.”
Hal thinks all Yankees fans are idiots, and to his credit he’s right. He’s like the owner of a cigarette company telling its customers cigarettes are safe. Don’t worry about all the warnings and the data. If the owner says everything is good, it’s good. If he says winning a championship is his priority as he uses the luxury-tax tiers as imaginary salary caps and only allows his front office to fill needs from anywhere other than the top shelf, then who is anyone to argue. Keep investing your time and money and energy into lies and a diminished product.
Hal doesn’t care if the Yankees win the World Series. It doesn’t drive him like it drove his father. If the Yankees happen to come across a championship, like Hicks said, “Cool.” And if they don’t, like Hicks also said, “It is what it is.” Hal Steinbrenner isn’t going to lose sleep over the Yankees not winning the World Series.
6. Peraza has a 1.008 OPS at Triple-A since June 11. (Volpe has a .942 OPS at Double-A since May 28.) In seven minor-league seasons, Kiner-Falefa had a .679 OPS. (Again, he’s not a major leaguer.) When is Peraza getting the chance Hal is so “excited” to give him? Don’t be surprised if he doesn’t get it until 2023, after his service time is screwed with enough that his eventual free agency gets pushed back. Because a delayed free agency means savings, and a penny saved tomorrow is more important than a championship today for the Hal Steinbrenner Yankees.
The faction of Yankees fans who think the organization knows best and that if they don’t think Peraza is ready then he’s not ready are fools. We’re talking about the same front office that thought Clint Frazier and Miguel Andujar projected out to be too valuable to trade away for Gerrit Cole prior to the 2018 season. (Frazier was released for nothing this past winter and the only time Andujar gets called up is when seven players go on the injured list). We’re talking about the same organization that thought Eduardo Nunez was going to be the heir to Jeter at shortstop and scoffed at the idea of trading him to the Mariners for Cliff Lee with the Yankees lined up to potentially win back-to-back titles. (They ended up releasing Nunez for nothing four years later.) Sorry if I don’t think the Yankees know what they’re doing when it comes to position player evaluation and development.
7. Look around the field. Anthony Rizzo? Brought over via trade and then re-signed as a free agent. DJ LeMahieu? Signed as a free agent. Donaldson? Trade. Hicks? Trade. Giancarlo Stanton? Trade. Jose Trevino? Trade. Matt Carpenter? Free agent. Kiner-Falefa? Trade. Gleyber Torres? Trade. Andrew Benintendi? Trade. The only everyday position player the Yankees drafted and developed is Judge, who is on his way to winning AL MVP and could very well leave as a free agent.
Ten years ago this week, the Orioles called up Manny Machado at age 19 and changed his position midseason from short to third because they needed help. Two months later they were in the postseason for the first time in 15 years and took the Yankees to a winner-take-all Game 5 in the ALDS. The year after that, the Red Sox called up 20-year-old Xander Bogaerts for the final weeks of the season and had him play third base because Will Middlebrooks wasn’t cutting it with his 17 home runs and .696 OPS (numbers Kiner-Falefa could only dream of). Bogaerts helped the Red Sox win the World Series.
8. Peraza isn’t the only one unnecessarily playing at Triple-A. Ron Marinaccio was unbelievably sent down a few days ago as was Clark Schmidt because they both have options remaining. And because Albert Abreu doesn’t have options he gets to remain a Yankee.
The Yankees traded Abreu to the Rangers in the offseason. He pitched 8 2/3 innings (walking 12!) for the on-pace-for-91-losses Rangers before they said ‘Fuck this!’ and traded him to the Royals for a 21-year-old, Single-A pitcher. The on-pace-for-100-losses Royals let him pitch 4 1/3 innings (allowing 11 baserunners) for them before they also said ‘Fuck this!’ and designated him for assignment. So the Yankees gladly took him back.
Abreu could be a useful bullpen arm as a depth piece who eats innings and sees the mound in lopsided games. The problem is the Yankees have always thought of him as more. It’s as though Cashman is still trying to prove he didn’t fuck up by paying Brian McCann to play for the Astros (and help beat the Yankees in the 2017 ALCS) in exchange for Abreu. In his mind, if Abreu works out, then that double McCann hit to put the 2017 ALCS on ice won’t hurt as much.
Compounded in that issue is that Boone trusts Abreu the same way Joe Girardi trusted Luis Ayala in 2011. (If you remember Girardi used Ayala twice in the 2011 ALDS before using David Robertson once.) Abreu was in Boone’s inner circle lsat season all the way until the final weekend of the season when he lost the Yankees Game 160 of the season, which helped the one-game playoff take place at Fenway Park.
After Abreu blew Wednesday’s game in Seattle, his last four appearances have been entering a 6-6 game and allowing two runs, facing three batters and retiring one, turning a one-run deficit into a two-run deficit, and finally, allowing the go-ahead, two-run home run in the seventh to the Mariners. After King’s injury, Marinaccio became the Yankees’ second-best reliever. Since that injury the Yankees have treated Abreu as if he’s King. As for Schmidt? All he has done is excel in every role the Yankees have used him in this year: starter, long man, middle relief, extra innings. Schmidt has been an unsung hero for the 2022 Yankees.
9. There are currently four players to feel good about on the Yankees: Aaron Judge, DJ LeMahieu, Jose Trevino and Nestor Cortes. Luis Severino, Michael King and Matt Carpenter would also be on this list, but they’re all on the injured list, and Clay Holmes would be on this list if knew where his sinker was going when it left his hand for the last three weeks. Marinaccio and Schmidt would be on this list too, but they’re currently in Triple-A, wasting away and throwing meaningless pitches at a level they have already proven to be too good for.
The Yankees could have more likable players on the roster, if they weren’t always passing on top-tier talent like they did most recently at the trade deadline. The Yankees continue to pass on the most talented players in both free agency and trades. Even when they traded for Stanton after he forced his way out of Miami, they still cut payroll by about $50 million that offseason. They got within one win of the World Series and decided to cut back rather than put their foot on the gas. Since then … Justin Verlander in 2017? Can’t take on that salary. Let him go to Houston and single-handedly swing the ALCS like Lee did with the Rangers seven years prior. Manny Machado? Pass. Bryce Harper? Don’t even set up a meeting. Nolan Arenado? Can’t take on the money of the best third baseman in baseball in his prime in a straight salary dump when the organization makes more money than any other team in the league. Freddie Freeman? Eh, let’s go with Rizzo. He’s cheaper. Verlander as a free agent? Can’t give him a second year on his deal (but the Astros happily did). Luis Castillo? Nah, we’ll get Frankie Montas. Juan Soto? Benintendi will do.
The Yankees have had endless opportunities to add superstars for either money (the resource they make more of than any other team) or prospects (players who will almost certainly never match the production of the player they are being traded for and who might never even make the majors.) They have passed and keep on passing.
10. I thought about all of this early Wednesday morning as I laid in bed around 2:30 a.m. shortly after the Yankees were shut out for the second time in four days and had officially blown their former nine-game lead for the 1-seed in the American League. I laid there thinking What the fuck am I doing rooting for this team? For this manager? Run by this general manager and this owner? But 14 hours later I was ready for the series finale, having talked myself into thinking Wednesday afternoon’s game would be different. It wasn’t.
Rizzo, who had missed five straight games with back problems and who wasn’t available to pinch hit 14 hours earlier in any of the four extra innings played, was now able to start and bat third. (The Yankees would have been better off had he sat out on Wednesday as well.) Benintendi, who the Yankees traded for as a rental for two months was given the day off (even though his time as a Yankee is finite) because the left-handed Robbie Ray was starting. So the left-handed Rizzo can play against a lefty, but not the left-handed Benintendi? Is the Yankees’ new everyday left fielder going to sit in the playoffs against lefties? What if the Yankees play the Mariners and face Ray?
Leading 3-2 in the seventh inning with the tying run on first and no outs, Boone removed Nestor Cortes in favor of Marinaccio. I mean, in favor of Schmidt. I mean, in favor of Abreu since the other two are in Triple-A, so Abreu can be in the majors. Two batters later the Mariners had a 4-3 lead after Abreu gave up a two-run home run. After the game, Boone said he used Abreu in that spot because Abreu “was rested.” Good reason!
10. In the ninth, trailing 4-3, Boone used Benintendi as a pinch hitter for Andujar, who has produced two of the Yankees seven hits over the last two days. Benintendi struck out on three pitches. And because he hit for Andujar, Boone let Kiner-Falefa and Kyle Higashioka hit for themselves. The inning was over in eight pitches.
At least the game’s early start time allowed for it to end in time for dinner. I wouldn’t have to waste another night watching the Yankees limp to another loss, their 25th in their last 47 games since June 19.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!