MLB – UNCERTAINTY LOOMING FOR YANKEES FANS

I’m a Yankees fan and I feel insecure about the future. 

There, I’ve said it.  It’s hard to admit a thing like that. Frankly, I’ve never really felt this way before.

As a lifelong New York Yankees fan and someone in their 40s, I’ve only ever known feelings of hope and security when a new season was on the horizon.  This is due to the late George Steinbrenner, former principal owner, who took over leadership of the team in 1973 until his death in 2010.

While Mr. Steinbrenner was known for being contentious & forthright, his aggressive style of leadership, combined with his fervent passion for winning and open pocketbook brought results.  Under his reign, the Yankees won 7 World Series Championships (1977, 1978, 1996, 1998-2000, 2009) and 11 pennants (1976-1978, 1981, 1996, 1998-2001, 2003, 2009).

Yes, there was the stretch from 1981-1995 when the Yankees did not win any championships.  But, those teams had good players (Mattingly, Winfield, Henderson) who gave them a legitimate chance to win every year.  In fact, the team had the highest percentage of wins in the 1980s over all other MLB teams despite obvious lack of success.

For the fan base, while George was owner, there was always a sense of confidence that at least the team would try to find the best talent and pay for them.  “Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing,” he once said.  There’s a lot of comfort in that statement.

But, now, this hope and security seems to be slipping away thanks to a new cost-cutting philosophy of the organization via George’s sons, the owners of the team since his death.  Reportedly, the team intends to cut its payroll below $189 million by 2014 (down from $210 million in 2012), the monetary threshold at which the team could take advantage of luxury tax incentives in baseball’s Collective Bargaining Agreement.  The result – no big trades for superstar players this off-season and short-term contracts for past peak veterans.

Brian Cashman, Yankees GM, tried to reassure us, “We’re still the Yankees. We’re still going to outspend everybody else. That’s not going to change. We’re still going to be there for our fan base and try to make sure every year that they have legitimate hope that this can be a special season. That’s never going to change.”

Well, maybe not this year, or next.  But, soon change will come.

How can it not when the average age of the current Yankees player is 33 years old? (Teixeira is 32 yrs old; Cano 30; Jeter 38; ARod 37; Youkilis 33; Granderson 31; Ichiro 39; Pettitte 40; Rivera 43; Kuroda 37; Nix 30; Miller 30).  Sure, age isn’t everything in this modern era of fitness & health, but most of the offense (except Cano & Jeter) was in decline last year.

The team also seems resistant in signing young fresh players to long-term deals.  Instead, the team acquired aging players like Youkilis for 1 year.  And, they signed contracts with Chamberlain, Pettitte, & Rivera for only 1 year.  Ichiro also signed a 2-year deal.

Then there’s the talent that went to other teams.  The Yanks let full-time catcher Russell Martin go to the Pirates who outbid them and are now left with two back-up catchers.  Further, they failed to sign free agents like Josh Hamilton (OF), Zack Greinke (P), BJ Upton (OF) or Rafael Soriano (P), who may have helped the Yankees be a better team and fill obvious holes in staffing for 2013 and beyond.

What makes me most nervous about all of this is that other teams in the American League seemed to have smelled blood in the water.  The Toronto Blue Jays for example, had a blockbuster deal acquiring the best talent of the Miami Marlins.  They also obtained R.A. Dickey, Cy Young winner, and the only remaining knuckleballer in the majors.  I don’t think this is mere coincidence.

Also, the Kansas City Royals seemed to have suddenly come up for air after 27 years of losing seasons.  The team recently traded their top prospect, outfielder Wil Myers and three others to the Tampa Bay Rays for starters James Shields and Wade Davis. General manager Dayton Moore defended the trades by saying, “the way you develop a winning culture is by winning major league games. It’s time for us to start winning at the major league level.”  With the Yankees a weaker team, it certainly helps his cause…

Alas, the problem is not as much the reduced payroll to me, but more the lack of young players and abundance of short-term contracts.  How can I not worry when most of the Yankees infield has/had major injuries looming and the other players do not have contracts beyond the next two years?

Luckily, rumors have it that there is young talent ready to be brought up within the next couple of years from the Yankees farm system.  It would make sense then that the team hopes to let the blockbuster contractual mistakes from the past cycle down while the prospects come of age.  Still, there is no certainty in this theory.

Listen, I’m sure there are a lot of people right now who are sarcastically holding little air violins in sympathy for me.  I get it.  I’ll just have to adjust to the possible loss of comfort, security, and confidence I have grown accustomed to as a Yankees fan.  It certainly was fun while it lasted.

Thank you for the good times, George Steinbrenner, wherever you are.

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