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Posts Tagged ‘Girardi’

As the Core Four’s careers wind down, can the Yankees keep a smile on their faces?

Earlier in the week, we suggested that Joe Girardi’s legacy as Yankee manager would depend on how he shepherds the Yankees’ core of aging veterans through the twilight of their respective careers. Making the task even more challenging for Girardi is that he played alongside these legends during the primes of their careers. As a result, you couldn’t blame the Yankees skipper if he allows sentimentality to play at least a small role in how he handles this precarious issue.

Although Girardi has been very diplomatic on the subject, Brian Cashman has not. According to recent comments, it seems that if the Yankees’ general manager has his way, sentimentality will have no impact on how the team treats its veteran stars.

We’re not going to be interested in retaining players because of future milestones. The stars don’t put fannies in the seats. Wins do. If it’s a bad team, people will stop showing up by July. They’ll go to the beach.” – Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman, quoted in the New York Times, October 29, 2010

Rob Neyer called Cashman “his hero” for the above statement, but as a lifelong Yankee fan, I find it somewhat disturbing, especially because it can’t be dismissed as tough talk. We’ve already seen this sentiment put into action with how the team handled the end of Bernie Williams’ career. Following the 2006 season, Joe Torre still seemed inclined to have the popular centerfielder play a role on the team, but Cashman refused to relent and only offered Williams a non guaranteed invitation to Spring Training.

Yeah, it would be tough for me if you had to say goodbye. I sense he feels confident that he can still play this game. It’s tough for him to feel wanted if it means getting spot on the 40-man roster at this point in time because there’s no room.” – Joe Torre, quoted by AP, February 18, 2007

In other words, Bernie Williams never really retired. The Yankees effectively ended his career.

At the time, most Yankees’ fans seemed fine with the decision because Williams’ talents had obviously declined. I, however, was not. Although winning is clearly the number one mission statement, the Yankees should be about more than just one bottom line. George Steinbrenner was famously quoted as saying the only thing he cared about more than winning was breathing, but under the Boss, the Yankees’ organization placed great emphasis on promoting a family culture. Once a Yankee, always a Yankee so to speak. Much was made of Steinbrenner’s itchy trigger finger, but the truth of the matter was being fired or released from the Yankees just meant a reunion would soon be in the planning.

Make no mistake about it. Before Steinbrenner took over, the Yankees reputation had always been as a very bottom line organization. Even Babe Ruth was jettisoned when he no longer was the Sultan of Swat. And, to be sure, that philosophy probably played a role in the franchise’s perennial success. Having said that, the Yankees shouldn’t have to choose between winning and placating their veteran stars. After all, the team’s history is defined by more than just wins and losses, but also the men who make them possible.

The decline of legends like Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera (well, maybe not Mo) is inevitable, and at some point, the Yankees will have to move on. However, they don’t need to do it in such a cutthroat way. In the case of Bernie, there was no reason for not giving him a guaranteed deal. Even if the money was a concern, would the Yankees really have been worse off with Williams taking the roster spot of guys like Andy Phillips, Josh Phelps and Kevin Thompson? Luckily, Bernie’s relationship with the Yankees remains strong, but it would have been a shame had the result of the team’s decision been estrangement from one of its homegrown stars.

Do we really follow sports only to watch a winner? If so, why not jump from bandwagon to bandwagon? Although many casual fans do take that approach, the diehard’s attachment to a team stems more from its history than its prospects for future success. Because of their financial advantage, the Yankees can have their cake and eat it too. As a result, the team shouldn’t feel the need to abide by Branch Rickey’s famous advice about trading “a player a year too early rather than a year too late” when handling its Hall of Fame core. The Yankees can still win while catering to their stars. The end doesn’t always justify the means, and in this case, the cost of winning in the future doesn’t have to involve turning away from history.

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According to numerous published reports, Joe Girardi and the Yankees are in the process of finalizing a three-year contract extension worth around $9.5 million. The wisdom behind retaining Girardi is certainly debatable, especially after a postseason that featured so many questionable decisions, but what is clear is the Yankees have adopted a philosophy of managerial stability.

Joe Torre's departure cast a shadow, but Joe Girardi managed to step out from under it (Photo: Reuters).

Being the man who replaces “the man” is always an unenviable task, so the fact that Girardi survived his initial three year deal is accomplishment enough. After 12 successful years under Joe Torre, it wasn’t difficult to imagine a scenario in which Girardi failed under the weight of the comparison, especially after the team did not make the playoffs in his first season. Instead, Girardi rebounded and now appears on his way to another three seasons behind the manager’s desk at Yankee Stadium.

Even if Girardi only serves one day of his new contract, he will surpass the tenures of the three other men who were called upon to replace legendary figures in the team’s history. Ralph Houk only lasted three years after replacing Casey Stengel (Houk would return for an eight year tenure starting in 1967), who like Torre was “pushed out” after serving as manager for 12 seasons. Miller Huggins also lasted 12 years at the Yankees’ helm, but his replacement, Bob Shawkey, only survived one. Finally, no one left a bigger imprint in the manager’s chair than Joe McCarthy, whose 16 seasons as skipper is a franchise record. Bucky Harris followed McCarthy, but was gone after two seasons.

No one lasted longer as Yankees’ skipper than Joe McCarthy, whose 16 year tenure as manager is a franchise record.

Incredibly, the Yankees have only had one instance in which the tenures of two consecutive managers lasted at least four years: an honor held by Buck Showalter (1992-1995) and Joe Torre (1996-2007). If Girardi survives the term of his contract, he would not only squeeze his way into that grouping, but also become only the sixth Yankees’ manager to serve in the role for six consecutive (full) seasons.

From 1973 to 1991, the Yankees had 12 different men serve as manager over a span that included 19 different regime changes. By comparison, the recent era of stability (three managers in 19 seasons) is dramatic, although it does pale next to the span from 1918 to 1960 in which the team had only five skippers (aside from interims required by Huggins’ and McCarthy’s deaths).

Being Yankee manager did not provide much job security under George Steinbrenner's early days as owner.

It remains to be seen just how long Joe Girardi will last at the Yankees’ helm, but if he remains successful, the climb up the franchise’s managerial ranks might not take that long. In retrospect, that reality makes earlier speculation about Girardi bolting for the Cubs’ job seem even more implausible. In this new era of stability, Girardi has a unique opportunity to leave his mark on the franchise’s storied history and its hard to imagine any scenario in which he would willingly pass that up.

Then again, Girardi’s ultimate legacy might not be defined so much by wins and losses, but how he deals with the twilight years of an aging core of Hall of Famers. Just like McCarthy with Babe Ruth, Stengel with Joe DiMaggio and Houk with Mickey Mantle, Girardi could be called upon to shepherd Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera through the inevitable end of their prolific careers. That task is easily the greatest challenge of Girardi’s second tour of duty, and it could be the one the determines whether he has a third.

Yankees’ Most Tenured Managers, by Games

Manager Yrs From To G W L W-L% Avg. Finish
Joe McCarthy 16 1931 1946 2348 1460 867 0.627 1.7
Joe Torre 12 1996 2007 1942 1173 767 0.605 1.2
Casey Stengel 12 1949 1960 1851 1149 696 0.623 1.3
Miller Huggins 12 1918 1929 1796 1067 719 0.597 2.2
Ralph Houk1 11 1961 1973 1757 944 806 0.539 4.1
Billy Martin2 8 1975 1988 941 556 385 0.591 2.2
Clark Griffith 6 1903 1908 807 419 370 0.531 4.1
Buck Showalter 4 1992 1995 582 313 268 0.539 2.4
Joe Girardi 3 2008 2010 486 287 199 0.591 2
Bill Donovan 3 1915 1917 465 220 239 0.479 5

1 Houk served two separate terms as manager: 1961-1963 and 1967-1973.
2 Martin served five separate terms as manager: 1975-1978, 1979, 1983, 1985 and 1988
Source: Baseball-reference.com

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The Yankees backs are now officially against the wall as they face their first real “must win game” of the season. You can break out all the clichés because they finally apply. After losing their third straight game to the Rangers, the Yankees are now precariously teetering on the edge of elimination.

There's no place for AJ Burnett to hide after giving up a crucial three-run HR to Bengie Molina in the sixth inning (Photo: Getty Images).

When Joe Girardi announced his starting rotation, the situation the Yankees now find themselves in wasn’t hard to fathom. Nonetheless, the Yankees still had a chance to win game four, as evidenced by the 3-2 lead they carried into the sixth inning. Unfortunately, a combination of poor hitting with men on base and a series of curious managerial decisions combined to give the Rangers another commanding victory in an ALCS that Texas has absolutely dominated.

The first five innings of the game featured numerous twists and turns and plenty of surprises, but perhaps none more so than the initial effectiveness of AJ Burnett. Over the first two innings, Burnett used a mid-90s fastball and off the table curve to retire all six batters, including three on strikeouts. Being the enigma that he is, however, Burnett still managed to give up two runs in the third despite having his good stuff. The Rangers’ rally in that inning consisted of a walk to David Murphy after being ahead 0-2 and then a HBP against Molina, who was squaring to bunt, both of which were followed by a series of infield grounders that eventually lead to the both runners crossing the plate.

The Yankees’ offense seemed as if it might break out of its series long slump against Tommy Hunter when Robinson Cano gave the Yankees a 1-0 lead with a homerun that just got over the ball in right. On the play, several fans made contact with Nelson Cruz’ glove, but the umpire ruled that the right fielder did not actually have a play on the ball. Later in the inning, controversy reared its head again when Lance Berkman hit what looked like the Yankees second homerun of the inning. After a replay review, however, the ball was ruled foul and the second run was taken off the board.

After Burnett gave up the lead in the top of the third, the Yankees scored single runs in the third and fourth to regain the advantage. In the later frame, however, the Yankees had a chance to do much more damage, but an Elvis Andrus diving play with the bases loaded turned a two run single into an RBI fielder’s choice that nabbed the advancing runner at third. At that point, the decision to start Francisco Cervelli proved most costly as the anemic backup catcher was dispatched on three pitches. By forgoing an opportunity to use Jorge Posada, Girardi forfeited a valuable scoring opportunity. The Yankees failure to capitalize would also foreshadow the play that eventually led to the team’s demise only two innings later.

In the bottom of the fifth inning, a lead off double by Derek Jeter and walk to Curtis Granderson seemed to put the Yankees on the brink of breaking open the game. When Mark Teixeira worked the count to 2-0, the entire Stadium probably had visions of a long fly ball landing into the leftfield bleachers. Unfortunately, Teixeira’s series-long struggles continued, but this time the Yankees’ rally wasn’t the only victim. As he has repeatedly done in the postseason, Teixeira rolled over on an outside fastball and hit a potential groundball double play to third base. Sensing his fate, and perhaps venting his frustration, Teixeira busted out of the box and ran as fast as he could to first base. As things turned out, Teixeira’s hustle wasn’t really needed because Young rushed his return throw to first, but that was only evident after the Yankees’ first baseman had collapsed at the bag with what was later diagnosed as grade two strain of his hamstring, an injury that ended his season at least one game prematurely.

Once Teixeira went down, it seemed as if the air was taken out of the Stadium. And, what little was left, dissipated when Alex Rodriguez also continued his series-long slump with an inning ending double play. Although the Yankees exited the inning holding onto a 3-2 lead, you couldn’t help but feel that the game, and perhaps the series, had been lost in the fateful inning.

When Rangers’ starter Tommy Hunter got into trouble in the fourth, Ron Washington quickly called to the bullpen and was rewarded by the strong pitching of Derek Holland, who went 3 2/3 innings and only gave up one hit. Unfortunately for the Yankees, Girardi was not as prescient. Despite getting a strong five innings from AJ Burnett, the Yankees’ manager decided to tempt fate with his erratic righty who had not pitched in nearly three weeks. Sure enough, Vladimir Guerrero led off the sixth with a line drive single to right. In fairness to Burnett, the single probably would have been caught by someone like Greg Golson, but for some unexplainable reason, Girardi opted to use Marcus Thames in right field when Nick Swisher was pressed into duty at 1B. Burnett did rebound to get the next two batters, but on the second out, a fly ball to deep center, Cruz, who reached first on a fielder’s choice, advanced to second. Instead of going to Boone Logan, his lefty specialist, to face David Murphy, Girardi then committed a baseball cardinal sin by putting the go ahead runner on base with an intentional walk. Sure enough, the Yankees’ manager was made to repent on the very next pitch as Bengie Molina deposited a first pitch fastball into the short porch in left.

Although the score was only 5-3 in the sixth, the combination of Teixeira’s injury, the Yankees inability to come through with a big hit and Girardi’s managerial blunders seemed to raise a collective white flag. Even when the Rangers tried to give the Yankees new life by loading the bases on walks in the eighth, they couldn’t even take advantage by scoring a single run. Finally, in the ninth, Girardi waived a real white flag by bringing in Sergio Mitre, who promptly gave up long HRs to Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz to put an end to any hopes for another miraculous comeback.

The only positive about Girardi’s ill conceived pitching rotation is the Yankees now have C.C. Sabathia in game five. If the ace lefty can continue his dominance at Yankee Stadium, it’s actually not hard to imagine a path that leads back to a game 7. The only problem, however, is what waits at the end of that road. The Yankees are far from done in the series, but the team now not only needs to reel off three wins a row, but they must overcome Cliff Lee to do it. Normally, the vision of Lee on the mound in a deciding game would be enough to send chills down the collective spine of an opposing lineup, but for the Yankees, there’s now no one else they’d rather see.

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As if the decision to start AJ Burnett in game four wasn’t controversial enough, Joe Girardi has compounded his decision by substituting Francisco Cervelli for Jorge Posada.

Apparently, the decision to go with Cervelli was predicated on the need to make AJ Burnett feel more comfortable, which on the surface seems to have some merit. After all, AJ Burnett had a 4.66 ERA in 129 1/3 innings thrown to the Yankees’ backup, compared to a 7.28 ERA in 38 1/3 innings thrown to Posada. In reality, however, the samples are much too small to draw any meaningful conclusion. Instead, going with Cervelli is essentially enabling Burnett’s fragile mental state and providing excuses for his inability to perform.

Make no mistake about it…unlike last postseason with Jose Molina, the Yankees are not getting much of a defensive upgrade with Cervelli. In fact, Cervelli has thrown out even fewer attempted base stealers than Posada (14% to 15%), and managed to top Posada’s error total by a whopping five. With 13 errors, Cervelli actually led the Yankees in errors (Posada was second with eight), so no one should expect him to serve as a deterrent to the Rangers’ running game.

Where the Yankees lose the most in the exchange is with the bat, even though Posada has struggled mightily over the first two rounds of the playoffs. Still, Posada is always one at bat away from making a huge impact, so Girardi has effectively downgraded the lineup by one weapon at a time when it needs as much firepower as possible.

Even factoring in the drop off on offense, you could probably still make the case for giving Cervelli a game, but that ignores the impact the move may have on the clubhouse. As a result, the decision to go with the Burnett/Cervelli combination has the potential to become Girardi’s waterloo. You can guarantee that Posada will not be happy with Girardi’s decision, and many others in the clubhouse probably feel the same way. If the Yankees lose because Burnett doesn’t pitch well and/or Cervelli has a bad offensive game, the grumblings could get very loud.

Francisco Cervelli vs. Jorge Posada

  Inn WP PB SB CS E Burnett ERA
Cervelli 727 35 2 55 9 13 4.66
Posada 679 1/3 32 8 72 13 8 7.28

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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One day after blowing a five run lead in the final three innings, Ron Washington vowed that if his team was presented with the same opportunity again, they would not let it get away. Sure enough, by the time the seventh inning rolled around, the Rangers had built another five run lead, and this time proved their manager prophetic.

I would like to be in the same position again and see what happens. I would like to get in the position of just having to get six more outs, and next time, we’ll probably get it done. We didn’t get it done last night, and we all take credit for that.” – Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington, courtesy of LoHud Yankees Blog

Phil Hughes walks dejectedly back to the dugout after being lifted in the fifth inning (Photo: Getty Images)

It’s easy to see why Washington would relish the opportunity to be in the same situation, but the actions of Joe Girardi made it seem as if he too was eager for a reprise. What else would explain why Girardi allowed Phil Hughes to give up seven run and 10 hits over four-plus ineffective innings, especially coming one night after he lifted his veteran ace after the fourth inning?

Hughes’ afternoon actually started out quite impressive, as the young righty struck out the side in the first inning. In that frame, the Rangers did push one run across the plate, thanks to a leadoff infield single and three stolen bases, two of which came when Jorge Posada mistakenly threw to second base on an obvious double steal. Ironically, Josh Hamilton, who was running from first, wound up advancing too far before stopping, but instead of tagging him to thwart the play, Robinson Cano tried to nail Elvis Andrus at the plate.

From the onset, the right handers in the Rangers’ lineup seemed intent on taking Phil Hughes to the opposite field, but for some reason both he and Posada never adjusted. Over the next three-plus innings, six of the nine Rangers’ hits were struck by righties taking an outside fastball or cutter to right field. What’s more, five of those hits went for extra bases. If every Yankee fan didn’t know that Nick Swisher’s number was 33, they should now.

Once again, despite being down 5-0 in the third inning, the Yankees seemed to be very much in the ballgame, especially considering that Rangers’ starter Colby Lewis was in and out of trouble in the second and third. The Yankees finally broke through for a run in the fourth when Lance Berkman singled home Cano, who had doubled to lead off the inning, but the inning came to a sudden close when Berkman went too far past first and was tagged out in a rundown. Nonetheless, the seeds of another comeback seemed as if they had been planted.  

Instead of cutting his losses as he did with Sabathia in game one, Girardi allowed the inexperienced Hughes to take the mound in the fifth, despite the lack of any sign that he had adjusted to the Rangers’ game plan. Two runs later, the deficit was now at 7-1, and any chance at an encore was abated.

The Yankees last gasp came in the sixth inning, when the hot hitting Robinson Cano hit a 430-plus foot homerun deep into the right field upper deck. Otherwise, the Yankees failed to put much pressure on the same Texas bullpen that coughed up yesterday’s lead.

Coming into the game, the spotlight was on the Rangers’ ability to bounce back from a historic collapse, but they answered the questions with flying colors. Now, the doubts surround the Yankees, whose starting rotation and middle of the lineup have both struggled over the first two games. If not for the managerial gaffes of Washington in game one, the Yankees could be looking at Cliff Lee down two games to none. Even at 1-1, the specter of Lee in game three has shifted the burden over to the Yankees, especially on the heels of Hughes’ disastrous start.

Because of the decision to go with Phil Hughes in game 2, the Yankees can no longer use Sabathia for three games and Andy Pettitte for two games on full rest. Considering that the Rangers have had more success against righties (.772 OPS vs. .718 versus lefties), that seemed like an optimal configuration. Instead, the Yankees are now in a position where they will have to beat Lee in at least one game and still get a win from AJ Burnett. Although it’s impossible to know how Pettitte would have pitched had he started game 2, the turning point of this series could wind up being the fact that he wasn’t given the opportunity.

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