It’s not often that someone within the Yankees organization earns national praise for their management or leadership. The common belief is that for $228 million, the Yankees have enough veteran talent on their payroll to manage themselves. But in recent years, teams like the Phillies, Mets, Dodgers, and Red Sox have built mammoth teams and payrolls that were hardly capable of making the playoffs. There’s no denying that money helps the Yankees, but in Bud Selig’s MLB, the dollar doesn’t take you quite as far as it used to. Most sensible fans realize that the last decade and a half of Yankee dominance is more than ownership writing a paycheck.
Despite the exuberant 2013 payroll, this Yankee team has been one of the weakest in recent history. You could take the stance that the team was built on pitching, and while Hiroki Kuroda has emerged as the team’s top starter, CC Sabathia‘s elbow surgery has dropped him from ace to mid-rotation starter. Meanwhile, Andy Pettitte has been shaky in finding the proper workload, either drawing injury from overwork, or showing a lack of control from underwork. Phil Hughes has been a complete disaster. Without Michael Pineda, a slew of young pitchers have found time in the final rotation spot, from David Phelps, to Vidal Nuno, the Yankees have finally found some quality starts out of one of their homegrown arms, Ivan Nova.
Even in the rotation, where Mariano Rivera and David Robertson head a stable back end, new and young players have stepped up. Shawn Kelley, Preston Claiborne, Adam Warren, and David Huff have moved from relatively unknown pieces to valuable relievers. It takes an entire front office to find these players, but Joe Girardi‘s bullpen and rotation management has been superb. Through platoon splits and his binder, he’s found each reliever the right opportunities, and avoided overuse.
Even with strong pitching, injuries and regression have left a lot to be desired. A team can’t win on pitching alone, and that’s evident in the fWAR rankings, which have the Yankees ranked 6th, directly between the White Sox and Rockies.
The amount of players we’ve seen at different positions this season remains outrageous. Yet Joe Girardi has successfully dealt with a team record 54 players this season. Injuries to Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, Travis Hafner, and Kevin Youkilis forced him to balance playing time for older players like Ichiro Suzuki, Vernon Wells, and Lyle Overbay. And it hasn’t been just old players he’s had to figure out, Eduardo Nunez, Austin Romine, David Adams, and Zoilo Almonte have combined for 674 plate appearances.
And when injuries happened and Girardi played with a limited bench, he found ways to keep getting outs. We saw Robinson Cano at shortstop, Mark Reynolds at second base, and Vernon Wells was a third baseman, second baseman, and first baseman.
Joe Girardi has done a fantastic job of dealing with the onslaught of injuries, maneuvering around a limited bench, and finding the proper playing time for both young and old players.
And then there’s Alex Rodriguez and Francisco Cervelli. Having two drug suspensions on an already limited team is tough, but when one player is the highest paid player in the game and you’re a team in the biggest baseball market in the world, well I can’t imagine it’s easy. But outside of Rodriguez’ initial return, the drug conversation has been silent. I’m sure many of you even forgot that Cervelli was suspended at all. The only time Rodriguez’ PED suspension became a problem on the field was when Ryan Dempster purposefully hit Rodriguez in August. But Girardi corrected that quickly, he took the punishment, defending his player on the field, and ultimately taking a fine that was twice as much as Dempster’s. When Dempster hit Rodriguez, Girardi didn’t retaliate with a fight or hitting a Red Sox, he verbally defended his player and turned Rodriguez into the victim.
Whatever happens over the next two weeks will determine whether or not the Yankees make the playoffs, but I think we have enough 2013 games under our belt to start calling Joe Girardi the Manager of the Year. He’s dealt with injured players, old players, young players, and an incredible number of players. He’s protected them from the New York media, and he’s turned an evil steroid user into the underdog. Often have I wondered how hard it is to manage a team, what a baseball manager really does. Girardi’s job hasn’t been easy, but he’s made it look that way. I think it’s time he wins Manager of the Year.