Brian Cashman can’t afford to let this crisis go to waste.
The sweep of the New York Yankees by the Detroit Tigers was so all-encompassing that the Yankees general manager has been presented with something he’s seldom had: freedom to do whatever it takes without risk of retribution from ownership or the fan base.
Robinson Cano’s horrific postseason slump means naught. He’s the next great Yankees player and he’ll be around forever. Curtis Granderson’s slump doesn’t negate his value to the Yankees, whose offensive philosophy is, as Cashman reminded reporters this week, built on home runs. Nick Swisher’s free-agent exit is now assured ... which brings us to Alex Rodriguez. Doesn’t it always?
A word to the wise: celebrate if you must the Tigers’ 8-1 win on Thursday, which signalled New York’s exit from the playoffs, but bear in mind that the Yankees were in first place in the American League East, either tied or alone, in each of the season’s final 114 days, their longest stretch since 2004. They did not, in other words, creep into the playoffs.
Re-tooling won’t be easy, coming as it does against the backdrop of a new luxury tax in 2014 that gives handsome revenue-sharing rebates to teams that stay under the $189-million (all currency U.S.) threshold.
But the Yankees have just three players under contract past 2013: CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and, of course, Rodriguez, who has five years and $114-million left on his contract. Those are three big tickets, but it’s not unmanageable for this franchise.
Second, the pitching is hardly in crisis. Going into Game 4, Yankees pitchers had a 2.25 postseason earned-run average, their lowest since 1961. The starters were 2-3 (2.37) and had held opponents to a .204 average. Hiroki Kuroda, who is free-agent eligible, has earned a multiyear deal. He has proved he can pitch in the post-season and he, Sabathia, a healthy Michael Pineda – who missed the season with shoulder surgery but will still be just 24 years old on Opening Day – Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova and, possibly, Andy Pettitte leave the Yankees in fine shape.
Closer Mariano Rivera should be back after being sidelined since May with knee surgery. He’ll be 43, but don’t bet against his bread-and-butter cut fastball still having life. David Robertson is his heir apparent, and he’s the only pitcher in baseball history to have averaged at least 10 strikeouts per nine innings pitched in each of his first five seasons.
But in acquiring Pineda, the Yankees bid adieu to their top offensive prospect, Jesus Montero, and if there is another core four on the minor-league horizon to match Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Pettitte and Rivera, it isn’t readily apparent.
The Yankees’ top pitching prospects had injury-plagued seasons, with Dellin Betances finally throwing again after developing shoulder tendinitis and Manuel Banuelos, a fast riser, sidelined for 2013 after Tommy John tendon-transplant surgery.
As for Rodriguez, who has a full no-trade clause in his contract? The Los Angeles Dodgers have money – lots of it – and are keen to put together baseball’s version of Show Time. Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, the New York art dealer, is a Yankees season-ticket holder and has a relationship with Yankees ownership. Miami is Rodriguez’s hometown, the Marlins need to do something with impact after the glow of a new stadium was diminished by a dysfunctional, underachieving team, and on South Beach, Rodriguez will find blondes a-plenty to keep him occupied.
Keep in the mind that the Marlins brokered a trade in 2002 involving the Colorado Rockies and Atlanta Braves in which the Rockies unloaded one of the worst contracts in baseball history, the remaining $85-million and six years of an eight-year, $121-million deal with pitcher Mike Hampton. When the teams were done, prospects had been shuffled around and the payroll hit was spread three ways, and as Joel Sherman of the New York Post noted: the contracts of Marlins Jose Reyes and Heath Bell roughly cover the cost of the remainder of Rodriguez’s contract.
There are ways around an impossible situation. Like art, beauty can also be in the eyes of the beholder when it comes to judging baseball players. Even A-Rod.