The dust is starting to settle on the Yankees’ early exit from the 2006 postseason. Billions of words have been/are being/will be written on this topic, and for once it seems justified. The Yankees failure in the ALDS is a topic absolutely ripe for dissection and analysis. Herein I will add my own comments to the discussion.
The Yankees performance in the 2006 playoffs was a top-to-bottom, organization-wide failure. True, they Yanks won 97 games and handily took first place in the AL East; better, they dominated and buried the Red Sox with a 5-game sweep back in August. Jeter had an MVP year, Wang pitched like an ace, Melky made a nice contribution, and Cano’s star ascended. But all those things, while entertaining and better than the alternative, are pretty hollow when the team is dominated in the first round of the playoffs. The main problem throughout the season, which manifested itself in the playoffs, was starting pitching. A team with a $200 million payroll could not put together a pitching rotation that could win consistently in the regular season, a problem only exacerbated in the postseason as better hitting teams become the opponents. You need only look across the diamond at Detroit, whose young fireballers (Verlander, Bonderman, Zumaya) showed their club’s ability to draft & develop young pitching to see the contrast. The Yankees have tried to buy pitching, at an exorbitant premium (Wright, Pavano) over the last several years, and it hasn’t worked. They have paid for the downside of pitchers’ careers, rather than the upside and prime. So you wind up with a bunch of creaky older guys who you can’t count on to start, let alone finish games, and that in turn puts more pressure on the bullpen. Which forces you to go buy middle relief at exorbitant prices (Farnsworth?), and when you find a reliable arm out there (Mendoza, Sturtze, Proctor) you use it until it falls off. Over the past several years, the front-office (not Brian Cashman individually, but the full braintrust), has failed the team and the fans by chasing quick-fix solutions that didn’t really exist, with a cascading effect.
They have done a better job assembling a lineup, though the clock is ticking there too. Sheffield, for example, has delivered over the past few years despite being past his prime age-wise. But now he is a 38-year-old man without a position recovering from a broken wrist, when his wrists are his livelihood. Jason Giambi had a productive season, but is also breaking down before our eyes, and his contract will remain on the books going forward as well. Hideki Matsui is a good player but also past his prime, and watching him play the outfield reminds one less of Joe DiMaggio and more of a dog playing fetch. Johnny Damon had a nice season, but if you look closely at his numbers you see that without his career-high in homers he was really pretty average out there, and he too is banged up and on the downside of his career. Posada and Jeter, once part of the Yankees strength up the middle (including Bernie as well) are a year older, and the shelf life of a catcher leads you to believe that Jorge could fall apart any year now. Cano is a good, young player who is coming into his prime – this is the type of player the Yankees should be investing in long-term, but they don’t have many of these in the pipeline. You could argue that Melky Cabrera is another, though he won’t crack the starting lineup next year without major changes and probably he’s more of a fourth outfielder in the long run.
Then there’s A-Rod. I believe I’ve defended him in this space before, and I know I’ve defended him in conversation. To me the question always comes down to, how would you replace him? He’s a .950-1.000 OPS guy at 3rd base – not many of those to go around. But this IS the Yankees, and at this point Alex is more of a distraction than he’s worth. For everyone’s mental well-being, it’s time for him to go, even if you have to suffer an enormous hole in the lineup. He absolutely disappeared in the series, seeming mentally beaten before the games even began.
Which brings us to Mr. Joe Torre, for whom I have the utmost respect but who had a miserable playoff series as a manager. From moving ARod down in the lineup for game 1, which instead of taking pressure off ARod actually had the reverse effect, to lifting him to 4th for game 2 and dropping him to 8th in game 3; to starting Sheffield at first base; to starting Bernie in game 3; to his complete mismanagement of the pitching staff (pulling Wang too early and Mussina too late; pitching Johnson in game 3, not using Wang in game 4); for these sins Torre is to blame.
Are these enough to cost him his job, as is being reported lately? Well…this isn’t the first postseason where Torre has made some questionable to horrible moves in the playoffs (remember Jeff Weaver pitching in Game 6 a few years back?), and it’s now been 6 straight years the Yankees have made the playoffs and failed to win the World Series. There comes a point where there is more to be gained from making a break (see Rodriguez, Alex) than enduring the ongoing psychodrama going forward. This actually might be the time to bring in the opposite personality, the Billy Martin to Torre’s Bob Lemon – for example, Mr. Lou Piniella. This Yankee team does seem to have lost its fire and its disdain for losing, and an injection of Piniella or another more fiery personality could be the ticket to coax this aging group of veterans to the promised land one more time.
But the reality is, this team IS an aging group of veterans. Expensive ones at that. Brian Cashman and company have a LONG winter ahead, and probably a long couple of years, working to rebuild the franchise and bring it back to where it was. Because right now, it looks like a poorly constructed conglomeration of past-its-prime talent, from the players to the manager. What the Yankees need to do going forward is change the mission statement; winning the World Series cannot be the focus next year. Rather the focus should be rebuilding the talent pipeline, starting with Philip Hughes, the only top pitcher in their organization. His development into a major league starter at the right point in time should be the priority, not "winning now". Because the "win now" mentality has given us 6 years of postseason failure, none more egregious than that experienced this year.