Not so quiet at Stadium
It was not as quiet at Yankee Stadium Monday as you might think. Sure, the stands were empty, which is something the Yankees do not like at this time of year. Noise could be heard from several machines on the field as sod was being replaced and the infield configuration changed to accommodate off-season events such as concerts and a pair of college football games.
There were also the sounds emanating from the interview room where general manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi began to address the challenges facing the Yankees in the off-season. The first order of business is that of Girardi himself. Cashman said he would meet with Girardi’s agent Tuesday to begin negotiations toward a new contract.
In discussing the team, Girardi said, “I don’t want to get into specifics when I don’t have a contract. Halloween is when my contract is up, so we’ll see if I’m a pumpkin.”
That was a joke. Rest assured that Girardi will be back. He wants to stay, and Cashman said the Yankees want him to stay, too.
That was the not the case with pitching coach Dave Eiland, who became the first off-season casualty. Cashman opened his session by announcing his decision not to retain Eiland.
“It has nothing to do with how we pitched in the playoffs,” Cashman said. “He is not being blamed. He is a good pitching coach who should have no problem getting another job.”
Cashman added that the reason was “private” and did not elaborate. The GM declined to say whether Eiland’s leave of absence in June for personal reasons was a factor.
The other piece of news to come out of the day was that Andy Pettitte had groin and back tightness in his American League Division Series start in Game 2 against the Twins. That was the main reason Girardi decided not to start him in Game 2 of the AL Championship Series in Texas and went with Phil Hughes instead. Girardi said that Pettitte’s condition was such that he wasn’t sure the lefthander could have been in position to start Game 5 of the ALDS had that series been pushed to the limit.
That decision proved fatal for the Yankees because it set up Hughes for Games 2 and 6 in the ALCS at Rangers Ballpark In Arlington, both of which he lost. I supported Girardi’s decision at the time because of the reasoning that he had put forth of having Pettitte go up against the Rangers’ Cliff Lee in Game 3 and, if necessary, Game 7, but in hindsight it hurt the Yankees.
That alone did not seal the Yankees’ faith. As poorly as they pitched (6.58 ERA), they hit even worse (.201) and were victimized by a hot team on the come, a franchise in a rejuvenation mood under the watchful eye of Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, the team president.
“They dominated us at every level of the game,” Cashman said. “We led the league in scoring and run differential, but you’d never know that if you watched us in that series. Texas was a locomotive that we couldn’t withstand. Our starting pitching that had been a strength became a weakness. We didn’t see the real Yankees, but the Rangers had a lot to do with that.”
So now the Yankees have to re-fuel. Beyond Girardi, contract negotiations will center on three quarters of the “Core Four” – Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter. For the second straight year, Pettitte is contemplating retirement. Rivera is 40 and showed some cracks during the season but remains head and shoulders over closers in the game. As for Jeter, there is the specter of a .270 regular season and .231 post-season that may be indications of advancing age.
Jeter will turn 37 during the 2011 season, and the question was raised about how long he will remain a shortstop.
“It is not something to get into now,” Girardi said. “I’m not assuming he is going to change positions. I still think he can play at a very high level.”
Girardi acknowledged, however, that Jeter as well as his long-time teammate Jorge Posada will have to be spelled on occasion more often.
“We played Derek more than we wanted,” Girardi said. “He has always played a lot of games, but we had stretches this year where he played 17, 18 days in a row and in one period 27 out of 28 days. We needed to play him every day when Alex [Rodriguez] was out. We found out with Jorgie that three games in a row [as a catcher] might be his limit. It will be important for Jeet and A-Rod to have DH days.”
“You look old when you don’t play well,” Cashman said. “We didn’t look old against Minnesota the week before. Texas made us look old.”
Both men pointed out that the Yankees have strived to get younger over the past year and are not old in the outfield with Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner or on the right side of the infield with first baseman Mark Teixeira and second baseman Robinson Cano. Cashman said that catching prospect Jesus Montero will get a shot at making the club in spring training. Eduardo Nunez will also likely blend himself into the infield picture.
Cashman tried to trade for Lee in July and almost had a deal. The lefthander can be a free agent at the end of the World Series. The Yankees are hoping his friendship with CC Sabathia will be an asset in their pursuit. Until then, Lee has unfinished business beginning with his start Wednesday night in Game 1 of the World Series. How Texas fares in the franchise’s first trip to the big dance in its 50th season may have a lot to with which way Lee leans in an off-season that has yet to begin for him but already has for the Yankees.