Let’s imagine the New York Yankees send Alex Rodriguez — and, oh, $50 million — to the Miami Marlins for Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell and John Buck.
This probably represents a best-case scenario for the Yankees. A-Rod is due $118 million over the remainder of his contract; Buehrle, Bell and Buck will earn a combined $77.5 million during their deals. By including more than the $40.5 million difference between the obligations, the Yankees will allow the South Florida franchise to save money — which, undoubtedly, is part of the Marlins’ goal. The Yankees, meanwhile, will liberate themselves from the perpetual A-Rod controversies while procuring a veteran starting pitcher (Buehrle) capable of replacing Andy Pettitte if he should retire.
Even in that overly optimistic — and probably fanciful — scenario, would the 2013 Yankees be a decidedly better team than we saw in their American League Championship Series flop against the Detroit Tigers?
The answer is no.
And that’s why this promises to be a fascinating offseason in the Bronx.
If anything, A-Rod’s teammates owe him a gigantic thank-you card, complete with personalized notes from those who joined him in the Lower Mendoza District during the postseason: Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano and Eric Chavez. It’s hard to obscure the struggles of that many hitters, but a pathological inability to hit right-handers while drawing the largest paycheck in the sport — amid in-game flirtations with a bikini model — does have that effect.
Clearly, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman built an excellent regular-season team. The Yankees won the most games in the American League this year, just like they won the most games in the American League last year. But now the Tigers have eliminated them short of the World Series in consecutive Octobers. According to the justifiably irrational expectations of Yankees fans — world championship or bust — the roster is ripe for demolition.
As usual, the Yankees’ most obvious shortcomings during the postseason have been interpreted as their primary areas of need. Already, the drumbeat has started: Swisher can’t return in right field. Granderson should be traded so the Yankees can sign Michael Bourn. An outfielder with a high on-base percentage— Shin-Soo Choo via trade, Torii Hunter through free agency — must be brought aboard.
But that assumes the strengths of the 2012 Yankees will remain the strengths of the 2013 Yankees, a notion that falls somewhere between naïve and foolish.
Derek Jeter, whose .333 batting average was the best of any Yankee in the postseason, will have surgery Saturday to repair his fractured left ankle. The Yankees don’t expect he will be ready to play until February or March, and that’s if everything goes according to plan. Jeter turns 39 midway through next season. Under the circumstances — the surgery, the rehabilitation, the advanced age for a shortstop — what are the odds that he duplicates this season’s impressive .791 OPS? It’s far more likely that Jeter’s 2013 will resemble his 2010, the year that had everyone wondering if he was finished.
Of note, the Yankees were 2-4 this year — including the postseason — during games in which Jeter didn’t play.
The Yankees’ pitching staff was sensational during the playoffs, with a 2.76 ERA that would have been good enough for them to reach the World Series — if not win it — had their lineup produced as it did during the regular season. But the question is: How many pitchers will be able to sustain that performance, if they are around at all, in 2013? Pettitte and de facto ace Hiroki Kuroda are free agents. CC Sabathia labored through two stints on the disabled list, raising doubt about his future durability.
And then there is closer Mariano Rivera. He figures to return after his season-ending knee injury in June. But he will be 43 next season. What if 2013 becomes the year when his cutter stops cutting? The benching of A-Rod will seem like a trifling matter to manager Joe Girardi, if he’s faced with the dilemma of how to handle the decline of a legend truly revered by Yankees fans and throughout the sport.
The Yankees will be good next year. They always are. The franchise’s run of 17 postseason appearances in 18 years — the only such stretch in major-league history — is underappreciated, even by its own fans. Cano didn’t forget how to hit. Granderson, for all his flaws, hit one fewer home run than Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera. Thanks to their resources, the Yankees usually find a way to address their needs — as they did with the Kuroda signing and Michael Pineda trade on the same day last offseason.
Still, this will be a delicate winter for the organization — for reasons that begin, but hardly end, with Rodriguez. Many of its paying customers are disaffected, as evidenced by copious empty seats at Yankee Stadium for postseason games; the show of apathy was even more surprising than the ALCS sweep. The Yankees had the oldest roster in baseball this year, and it’s folly to think the aging core is going to get better as time goes on. Maybe the fans realized that before the front office.
So, yes, the Yankees should try to trade A-Rod. Eat money, take on bad contracts, do whatever it takes. But they can’t stop there. If they do, they will be in the same position next October, staring at unflattering headlines in the New York tabloids as they watch someone else win the World Series.