For the Yankees, start with Joe Torre. After a 12 year run that started with four World Series championships in five years and ended with three straight losses in the ALDS, the Yankee manager won’t be fired, but only because his contract has expired. He just won’t be rehired.
Torre knows it, too. After getting eliminated by Paul Byrd and the Indians on Monday night, Torre was no longer talking about “we” when he referred to his soon-to-be former team, but about “the Yankees” and “they.”
“They have a great future,” he said of the Yankees. And the way he said it, with a catch in his throat, you knew that he’s not going to be part of it.
The question is, who else isn’t going to be part of it? What about Alex Rodriguez, who hit a solo home run in the Game 4 loss — his first postseason RBI since 2004? Will he be back? Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer in the history of the game, is a free agent, as is All-Star catcher Jorge Posada and right fielder Bobby Abreu. Roger Clemens, too, is a free agent, but he’s not going to be part of the Yankee future; he won’t be part of any team’s future.
My guess is they’ll sign Rivera for two years — the last one in the House that Ruth built and the first in the House that Luxury Suite Rentals and Licensing Fees is Building. They’ll groom Joba Chamberlain, the late-season rookie call-up who was such a big factor in the Yankees' mad dash to the playoffs, as Rivera’s replacement.
Then there’s A-Rod, who will declare himself a free agent and then ask the Yankees for $30 million a year — minimum — to come back. He’s been fabulous in the regular season and much less so in the postseason. The Angels are said to be drooling over him.
I say let him go and go after Mike Lowell, the Boston third baseman and free-agent-to-be. Lowell is a gritty player who won’t be a problem in the clubhouse — or the tabloids. He’s also a good hitter and a superior RBI man.
Get rid of Mike Mussina, and roll out a rotation next year of Andy Pettitte, Philip Hughes, Ian Kennedy, Chien-Ming Wang and a pitcher to be named later.
(Figure the Yankees will do everything possible to get Johan Santana when he becomes a free agent in 2008 — or sooner, if the Twins want to deal to get something back for him.)
A first baseman who can hit would be a nice addition. But do those things, and it’s not a bad team; it is, in fact, a very good team.
But it’s not enough just to dump Torre and keep sending so many bloated salaries and the aging bodies that go with them on the field. And it’s not just losing to the Indians — a great young team — that proves that.
Over the past seven years, the Yankees have spent well over a billion dollars in salary, and have two fruitless trips to the World Series, one postseason that stalled in the ALCS, and four first-round defeats to show for it.
Meanwhile, teams built on youth and enthusiasm as making all the noise. In the National League, the two teams playing for the right to go to the Series are the Diamondbacks and Rockies. In the American League, it’s the big-money Red Sox and the Indians, whose total payroll of $62 million isn’t even a third of what the Yankees spend.
The Yankees need to take a cue from what’s working. They don’t need to spend so much, but they do need to spend more wisely. And they need to decide who’s going to lead the team into the next generation.
It will be hard to find a man more respected and loved than Torre. He’s a fine and caring human being who did maybe his best job of managing this year when he held together a team that was 14.5 games back and playing terribly and brought it all the way back to the playoffs.
But as he’s often said himself, the playoffs aren’t enough for the Yankees, not with the money they spend and the history they have. Any year that doesn’t end with a World Series title is a failure. That’s the company line.
But who will replace him? Will it be, as some rumors have it, Tony La Russa, who is expected not to come back to St. Louis? Or Don Mattingly, the Yankee legend who was Torre’s bench coach but is unproven as a manager?
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