2013 will rightfully be remembered as Mariano Rivera’s final season. He announced his intent to “hang ’em up” at a press conference during spring training, and has not backed down from those statements. This truly is it for the greatest relief pitcher in baseball history.
So, as the calendar flips to September, all eyes will be on Mo as he and the Yankees try to will their way into the playoffs. It will take a big, and possibly historic run for the team to do so, but no matter how far the Yanks go, we are all experiencing the final weeks of Rivera’s legendary career.
Two players who have been through it all with him are of course Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte. Aside from Andy’s three-year stint with the Houston Astros, the trio have been together for their entire adult lives. Starting out as fresh-faced minor leaguers who became fan-favorite youngsters of the late-90’s dynasty, the “Core Three” are now grizzled, battle-tested veterans in the twilight of their careers.
While Rivera has made it clear that his future in baseball extends no further than this fall, and Jeter seems intent on at least playing one more season, Andy Pettitte appears very uncertain if his days in pinstripes are numbered.
Or, if he wants them to be, that is.
Andy has had quite a frustrating 2013 season. Pettitte picked up right where he left off in 2012 by having a strong start in April until back issues forced him to go on the disabled list and miss two weeks. When he returned, he was not the same pitcher, allowing 38 runs in 68.1 innings in June and July. Many people believed he was done, some suggesting he should be removed from the rotation. He has since rebounded with four straight quality starts, but certainly cost the Yankees and himself a fair share of wins during the dog days of summer.
When he came out of retirement last year, it wasn’t just because he got the “itch” to go back out and play. Pettitte has always been a competitor and his sole focus is winning. Had he not been effective in 2012, it’s likely he wouldn’t have come back. But, thanks to his injury-shortened season and glimpses of ace-like performances, Andy decided to give it another go this year.
Even though he has rebounded, he still isn’t the same. He runs out of gas very quickly once he hits 85 pitches, and has gotten extremely lucky with players popping up or completely whiffing on easily hittable breaking pitches left up in the zone. Yet, (and though it has almost become a cliche) it is true that 85 quality pitches from Pettitte is better than what they’ve gotten out of Phil Hughes, CC Sabathia, and even Hiroki Kuroda as of late.
Still, Andy will turn 42 years old next June, and he is one awkward delivery away from another injury. He is that fragile. Does he really want to return next year, knowing he will be extremely limited as far as the leash he is given in each start? And, to ask the even bigger question – is it worth it? The Yankees are no where near World Series contention, even if they do make it to October or come into next season with a somewhat formidable team. And surely all that is on Pettitte’s agenda at this point is winning it all. He has come back, he has pitched well for the most part, and certainly has assessed any regrets he had about retiring back in 2011.
That’s why I just can’t see any reason for Andy to want to pitch in 2014, and right now I don’t think he will. He has a had a long, successful Major League career, and his comeback has been better than I think any of us expected. But at some point, every player eventually comes to the realization that it is time to walk away. Andy thought he had after the 2010 season, but I think this winter he truly will “hang ’em up” for good.
So, while we all relish each time Mariano Rivera jogs in from the bullpen to “Enter Sandman”, we should also take pleasure in watching the final starts that ol’ number 46 makes this season. Because like Mo, he is almost certainly in his final weeks with the New York Yankees.
The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.
The last verse of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’” can perfectly be applied to the current state of baseball’s most championed franchise, the New York Yankees.
Yes, the team has continued to make the playoffs and be perennial contenders, but things haven’t been the same and the times surely began to change when the “dynasty” era of Yankees baseball came to a crashing end on July 13th, 2010.
This of course was when George Steinbrenner passed away due to a massive heart attack at the age of 80. His death came just two days after long-time public address announcer Bob Sheppard, known as “The Voice of God”, passed on as well at the ripe old age of 99. Two seemingly immortal figures of the organization were gone in a flash.
Admittedly, both legendary men had disappeared from the public years prior. Due to deteriorating health, Sheppard could no longer muster the strength needed to do his job, as he announced his last game in person on September 5th, 2007. He would later officially retire in November of 2009.
The Boss, on the other hand, made the decision himself to step down as the day-to-day operator of the team. On November 20th, 2008, his sons Hal and Hank Steinbrenner officially became the co-owners of the Yankees, with Hal becoming the managing general partner as well.
George had faith in them, so everyone else did too. And Hal gave no reason to think otherwise when he went out and signed CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixiera all to huge free agent contracts during his first winter as the owner of his dad’s most prized possession. Spending in excess of $400 million, the phrase “like father, like son” held true when he put the Yankees in a position win the World Series in 2009.
Which they did on November 4th, 2009, with George Steinbrenner watching from his home in Tampa, Florida. The Yankees defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in six games to capture, what seemed like, an elusive 27th championship since losing the 2001 Fall Classic to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Sitting high up in the grandstands that night, I can recall, “Boss, this is for you!” displayed across the Yankee Stadium jumbo-tron. And it was true – the Yanks had won this for George. They sensed his morality and Hal wanted to ensure that if his dad’s life was coming to an end, one of his last memories could be watching his Yankees win the World Series, as George once said that breathing is the only thing better than winning.
So, when The Boss did pass on eight months later, the Bombers were the defending champions and in first place, which was probably the only way he could envision leaving the earth.
And it was that day, as I said, when times really started to change. The Yankees lost control of the AL East and settled for the Wild Card in 2010, losing in the ALCS to the Texas Rangers. Of course, the Yankees had far worse seasons under The Boss’ reign, but you really felt his absence, especially in the following offseason. The Yanks attempted to sign lefty ace Cliff Lee to a contract similar to the one Sabathia received, yet they couldn’t quite close the deal as Lee went back to the Phillies.
Once Cliff spurned the Yankees, the team didn’t know what to do, and most probably were looking back on some foolish moves made once The Boss stepped down as the team’s owner. On December 9th, 2009, the Yankees traded two of their most highly touted prospects, Austin Jackson and Ian Kennedy, in a three-team deal to get Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson. New York had decided to sacrifice its future for immediate success, something that George had been turned away from doing for years.
Now, there is no denying that The Boss had looked into, and nearly pulled the trigger on, trading the Core Four and other players such as Bernie Williams and Robinson Cano early in each of their respective careers. But when George felt the need to upgrade the team for a particular season, there were guys like Buck Showalter and Gene “Stick” Michael to convince him to hold onto the future stars.
Buck was, of course, fired by George after 1995, and Stick left his position as vice president of the team in 2002. It can be argued that with their departures, went the genius scouting of the Yanks that they had lacked for decades, and once again are in need of. As mentioned, with the Granderson trade, the Yankees mindlessly dealt top prospects for what will turn out to be a three-year rental of a potent, yet strike-out prone outfield bat. Meanwhile, Jackson has become one of the best lead-off men in the game with the Tigers, and Kennedy was an N.L. Cy Young candidate in 2011 with Arizona.
That trade, along with the one for Javier Vazquez weeks later, are moves that wouldn’t have happened if The Boss and his “cabinet”, if you will, were still here. They had the guts to stand up to George and tell him he was wrong, and he had the trust in his advisors to realize that and pull back or prevent any franchise-altering moves to go down. In the three years since he died, there’s already been a slew of those types of trades, and not for the better. Don’t even remind me of the Montero-Pineda deal, which, while we can’t judge quite yet, certainly hasn’t benefited the Yankees at all.
At the same time, while trading away and failing to develop solid prospects, the Yankees haven’t dipped back into the free agent market for any impactful players either. This has left them to piecemeal together their roster over the past few years, signing players off the scrap-heap and simply getting lucky that they actually perform well. The Yanks ran out of such luck towards the end of 2011, resulting in a disappointing ALDS loss, and in 2012 Derek Jeter broke his ankle and the team was subsequently swept out of the ALCS.
While consistently making it into October is universally considered a successful streak of seasons, every year since George Steinbrenner died, it just feels like the franchise is pushing itself farther and farther away from a championship. Although 2013 can perhaps be considered a fluke season considering all the injuries, the Yankees are in a dire situation for the future. Their top prospects are either just drafted or still in the lower levels of the minor league system, and their lone star is Robinson Cano, who is an impending free agent. Their headlining talent of the past such as Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and CC Sabathia, are all either injured, aging, and past their primes, or perhaps a combination of all three. Relying on them to be key contributors at this point is downright foolish, and won’t garner the results the team may hope for as far as October appearances are concerned.
A reluctancy to spend, coupled with an ignorance to focus on developing the farm system, the Yankees have little to offer their fans that would make them, first of all, return to Yankee Stadium and turn their TVs back on to the YES Network. And second, sense a 28th world championship soon to be won.
You may blame it on the scouting. You may blame it on the front office. Heck, you may blame it on the baseball gods giving the Yankees hell for the first time in decades. But the fact remains that since The Boss passed away three years ago today, things haven’t, and probably never will be the same.