Oh, hey, I’m alive. And I remember how to work a computer and dashboard! So what, pray tell, could come along to rouse me from hibernation. Well a fantastically inept 18 inning loss, a relatively epic meltdown, and accusations of real-life Rachel Phelpsing will do the trick just about every time.
Now, given the amount of criticism I devoted to Plan 189 over the winter, it should come as no surprise that I agree that the Steinbrothers horrible, no good, very bad, half baked profit maximizing scheme is the biggest culprit when it comes to looking for an explanation for both an anemic offense and a depressed fan base. At best, Hal Steinbrenner really did believe that “you can be just as good on a $189 million payroll, never mind how much of it is already under the bridge” line he’s been pushing for the better part of a year now, at worst the team’s front office thought that their fanbase was a group of captive marks who would pony up their cash and leisure time no matter who was filling out those pinstriped uniforms. Either way, it appears that they were wrong on both fronts. Yes, the Yankees are mostly holding their own at 37-29, on pace to win 91 games and sitting tight in the second wild card spot. But they aren’t exactly sitting comfortably in that spot. They’re currently three games better than their run differential predicts they “should” be, they have the third worst offense in the American League by wRC+, and their pitching staff can’t reasonably be expected to be much better than they’ve already been this year. Oh yeah, and there’s still just under 60% of the season left to play, so only looking at the win-loss record over what is still, in some sense, an arbitrary stretch of time doesn’t necessarily tell you much of anything.
So now the question turns to blame, specifically who deserves it, and in what proportion. Brian Cashman put this roster together with some obviously dubious moves over the winter, but he was also hamstrung by bosses who wanted to implement draconian cuts in the team’s payroll in the expectation that they could make eight figures worth of free money out of the bargain. The truth, vanilla though it may be, is that there’s ample criticism to level at all parties here. Cashman may be something of a sympathetic figure within the organization these days, but the fact remains that he’s presided over a farm system that simply hasn’t produced enough in the way of useful assets, despite a much ballyhooed increase in focus on that area of the organization since the middle of the last decade, and took his preference for aging former All-Stars to almost comical heights this year.
That said, the elephant in the room remains the abrupt and unnecessary austerity plan, without which it’s entirely reasonable to think the Yankees would be in much better shape today. Sure, injuries to Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, and Alex Rodriguez would still be pretty darn difficult to paper over, but if business was operating as usual in Yankeeland, I’m fairly confident that the Yankees would be significantly better off at catcher and in the outfield with Russell Martin and Nick Swisher still with the team, and may have even chosen to more aggressively pursue another pitcher over the winter. But with the luxury tax mandate in effect, that simply wasn’t possible, and Cashman likely would have come out looking pretty bad even if he hadn’t hitched his wagon to Ichiro and Vernon Wells.
The question now, as I believe I predicted it would be back in December, is how ownership will react to their scheme blowing up in their face. Looking at the team’s roster, it seems fair to say that they need a third baseman, at least one outfielder, and a catcher. And another starting pitcher wouldn’t hurt either. And while it won’t be easy to fill all of those holes, obviously, the team’s ability to absorb the money other franchises want to be rid of means that they ought to have the ability to bolster the roster at the margins without breaking much of a sweat, if they want to.
These days, that’s an awfully big “if.”