Friday, October 13, 2023

The Yankees Are on The Clock...


Hal Steinbrenner (Photo Credit: New York Post)

Hal Steinbrenner’s Moment to Shine…

At least your team made the playoffs.

I have heard countless Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers fans complaining about the extended days off for MLB teams with the best records (from the end of the regular season to the start of the AL/NL Division Series), delays that the fans feel contributed to their teams’ lackluster play. Considering Major League Baseball, for the most part, has been over since the first of October for Yankees fans, there is no sympathy or pity for their ousters. The cries of the Braves and Dodgers fans are simply an attempt to find excuses. At least their teams made the playoffs. How they performed…poorly… is on the teams, but not by how much rest they were able to get between games. 

I legitimately thought the Braves, armed with this year’s NL MVP (to be), would steamroll the NL contenders and the AL champion en route to a well-earned and deserved World Series championship. It felt like 2023 was their year. Alas, the Philadelphia Phillies thought otherwise and brought their A-game to October. It helps to have one of the best players in the game, Bryce Harper, but the Phillies showed they wanted to win more than the Braves did. Not sure if the Braves fell into the trap of thinking they just had to show up to win, I know it is more complicated than that, however, they go down as just another great team with an early exit. A team that history will soon forget. 

Credit the Los Angeles Dodgers for contending every year, but their lack of October success (setting aside the COVID-shortened year of 2020) is startling. The Dodgers have a strong farm system, but letting quality players walk like Corey Seager, Trea Turner, Cody Bellinger, and Justin Turner was eventually going to catch up with them. I get the need to plug in younger, cheaper talent, but as Bryce Harper showed this week, some guys know how to win. Corey Seager has it and so does Trea Turner.  You need a strong mix of veterans and youth. The Dodgers' problem was pitching so maybe letting hitters leave in their primes (well, Justin Turner might be outside of that range) was not the cause for their demise. For all his flaws, Phillies President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski showed he knows how to build a team for October. Meanwhile, Dodgers President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman showed that while he is better at analytics than the Yankees, his efforts prove futile when the calendar turns to October.  Old School Baseball 1, Analytics 0. I know that is not an accurate statement, but it is a general perception of Dombrowski versus Friedman. 

For all the changes fans want the Yankees to make, they will have hard competition from other teams trying to figure out how to do better. 

As for the Yankees making changes, I will have to see it to believe it. I am not convinced they will make a concerted effort to build a team capable of challenging the Baltimore Orioles in the AL East. Everyone likes to say just make it in the playoffs, and worry about the rest later, but the Yankees, at least over the past decade have not shown an ability to create October excitement outside of Joe Girardi’s final ride in 2017 that shortened by banging trash cans. I always want to win the division first and foremost. A Wild Card spot is a nice consolation prize if Plan A does not work out, but I will never look at a Wild Card as a goal.

There has been much talk about firing General Manager Brian Cashman or canning Manager Aaron Boone, but the man on the spot is Managing General Partner Hal Steinbrenner.

Mike Axisa included this paragraph in his RAB Thoughts post today on Patreon:

“Hal’s priority is keeping his investors happy and his loyalty is to his 29 business partners. As long as the Yankees are making money and reasonably competitive, he’s happy. Winning a World Series would be icing on the cake, but clearly, it’s not the No. 1 priority. It hasn’t been in some time. I think Cashman has lost his fastball, but I also think he’s gone along with Hal because hey, if the boss wants to lower expectations and make my life easier, who am I to argue?

Note: If you do not subscribe to RAB Thoughts (for only $3 per month), you are missing out. Mike Axisa is absolutely one of the best. His work is consistently elite. 

RAB Thoughts | IndependentYankees analysis (formerly: | Patreon

Getting back to Hal Steinbrenner, I have always questioned Hal’s commitment to the Yankees. It was so obvious when he was younger, that he was not interested in the Yankees (at least from an outside observation from afar). Hearing people complain today about George Steinbrenner’s grandchildren getting into the family business, most notably, Steve Swindal, Jr., I am excited the younger Steinbrenner relatives have interests in the team. They are the organization's future assuming the Steinbrenner Family never sells the team. I do not see Hal Steinbrenner wanting to deal with the Yankees when he is in his 60s or 70s. He will be ready to turn the team over to more interested, younger hands at some point. I want the younger Steinbrenner’s to get as much experience as they can, and if they can bring along their grandfather’s competitive spirit, all the better. 

Axisa’s comment about Hal’s desire to keep his business partners happy rings so true. Profitability is the goal, not the World Series championships. Championships are a nice byproduct, and one would think championships would create greater profitability, but in Hal’s view, you start with the money first.  Controlled results. Hal has shown a willingness to spend (see Gerrit Cole and Aaron Judge) but conversely, he has allowed poor contracts that prevent the team from making better moves. The most recent example was Brian Cashman’s acquisition of the downward-trending Josh Donaldson and his excessive contract under the belief there was something still in the tank.  I would be upset if I paid California gas prices only to find the tank empty. Hal’s strength is his loyalty to his workers. His weakness is his loyalty to his workers. Both can be true. He needs to find the right balance and make hard decisions when appropriate. The Yankees Front Office must be held accountable. Why is it that every Cashman move lately seems like they backfire? He has had his successes, but the failures clearly outweigh them. Something is broken in the Yankees organization, and Hal Steinbrenner needs to fix it. It goes back to General George S Patton's quote: “Lead me, follow me, or get the hell out of my way.”

There have been calls for Manager Aaron Boone to get tougher. That’s wrong. Hal Steinbrenner needs to get tougher. It starts at the top, and the effective changes must originate from Hal’s office. Grabbing a free-agent Japanese pitcher or a free-agent outfielder who spent a year in Chicago is not the effective change the team needs. Those players can be part of the plan, but the Yankees need to change how they view players and how those players collectively fit into the larger puzzle. The 2023 Phillies, much like the 2017 Yankees, show a team camaraderie that was made possible by bringing in the right mix of personalities and talent. Donaldson evidenced the Yankees have not valued character as part of their decision-making process. 

So, this winter is about more than acquiring a few players that you think can push the Yankees to a few more wins. There needs to be a philosophical change in the organization and how they determine a player’s worth.  Fire Brian Cashman…do not fire Brian Cashman. That is not really the point. I am not happy with Cashman, but the Yankees’ problems go deeper than Cashman. Fix the root causes of what led to the downward spiral.

Realistically, the Yankees should be as successful in the regular season as the Dodgers. They have the resources. I get that you do not need a $300 million payroll to win a World Series, but why is it so wrong for fans to question the dollars spent? The Yankees have made bad financial decisions. They need to own those decisions and ensure they do not happen again. If Hal is unable to control his business partners, he will never win. So, his first step would be to unite the ownership group to move the franchise forward. Identify the flaws in the organization and create a master plan for success. Hal should evaluate everyone, including himself. Who is part of the future and who is holding it back?

I am not convinced the Yankees will contend in 2024 but I want Hal Steinbrenner to make me, to make us, believe in the Yankees again. On its current path, the team will be an AL East bottom feeder for the foreseeable future. Nothing like wasting the best years of Gerrit Cole and Aaron Judge. I want to be excited about the Yankees again. Hal, your move.

As always, Go Yankees!

P.S. Please be sure to check out Bryan Van Dusen's 2024 Offseason Plan!