The Yankees: One, big, happy family

Instead of disciplining Jorge Posada, the Yankees should thank him. Instead of browbeating Derek Jeter, the team captain, for supporting his teammate, the Yankees should thank him.

Because all the time spent this week discussing the Yankees’ dysfunction — Posada refusing to bat ninth, Jeter refusing to scold his friend — distracts from the real crisis affecting the team: They’re old.

Not aged-with-wisdom or better-for-the-experience old. But crabby, broken-down, get-off-my-grass nasty old.

Remember the Yankees’ 2009 party, when they won the World Series? This is the morning after, with guests who won’t leave and huge contracts among the refuse that needs to be cleaned up.

The Yankees’ average age is nearly 31 years old, and that doesn’t include Eric Chavez, who is on the disabled list, where he has spent most of the last four seasons. Only 9 of their players are younger than 30, and most of them — Eduardo Nunez, Boone Logan, Francisco Cervelli — are either relievers or roster filler.

(By comparison, the Red Sox’s average age is only .2 younger, thanks in part to 44-year-old Tim Wakefield. But they have 12 players younger than 30, and more of theirs — Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, Daniel Bard, Adrian Gonzalez, Jed Lowrie, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury — play more important parts.)

The Yankees have lost six in a row and 10 of their last 13. Like the Red Sox losing their first six, or the Rays scoring eight runs in their first six games, that won’t last. But what will endure is the disproportionate return on the Yankees’ investment in many of their players. Consider:

  • Alex Rodriguez, age 35, is getting $32 million this year. For that, he’s hitting .242 and has two extra-base hits in his last 65 at-bats. He’s had oblique and back injuries this year, and hip problems in the past. He used to the best player in baseball; though he’s still paid like it, now he’s only the best third baseman in New York until David Wright’s back heals.
  • Derek Jeter will be 37 in June and is getting $14.7 million after a contentious contract negotiation, complete with his boss suggesting a position change is in Jeter’s future. Last year was the worst of Jeter’s first 15 in the majors; this year is even worse than that. He’s hitting .255 and has five extra-base hits in 153 at-bats. He’s had hip problems. And despite his .312 on-base percentage, he’s as immovable from the leadoff position as the monuments are from the Yankee Stadium outfield.
  • Pitcher A.J. Burnett is 34 years old and getting $16.5 million. He was worth it in 2009, but since then he’s 14-18 with a 4.96 ERA. He’s thrown 34 home runs since the start of 2010, or one every 7 innings, and three Monday night to undo a would-be Yankee win over Tampa Bay.
  • Rafael Soriano is 31 years old and getting $9 million to set up 41-year-old Mariano Rivera (who is immune to aging, apparently). Soriano has been neither good (15 innings, 15 hits, 11 walks, nine runs) nor healthy — his elbow is being checked out on Tuesday. He’s already had two redshirt seasons due to injuries; GM Brian Cashman, who said he was against the Soriano signing when it was announced, best not smirk if Soriano has another.
  •  And lastly, Jorge Posada is 39 years old and being paid $13 million to not catch. Problem is, he’s not hitting and not happy, either. He’s batting just .165, and is homerless in his last 55 at-bats after hitting six in his first 54.

You can argue that some of the Yankees’ woes are seasonal — that all of the above will hit or pitch better. Perhaps true. Of course, you can also argue that Curtis Granderson (slugging .643 when his career average is .488) and catcher Russell Martin (seven home runs in six weeks after hitting 25 the previous three seasons) won’t be able to sustain their paces either. Or that 37-year-old, 265-pound pitcher Bartolo Colon is a hamstring waiting to be pulled.

You can argue that Yankee management was defending the Yankee way and tradition and all those world championships won, as it seemed to imply in its public pronouncements, when it forced Posada to grovel and apologize. Though, that seems a mite silly, given that Jeter and Posada are responsible for more of it than this regime is.

Yes, Posada’s pouting was unprofessional, but certainly understandable. And perhaps we’ll look back at May and point to it as the turning point of the Yankee season — like Billy Martin’s fight with Reggie Jackson in the dugout in 1977 or Martin’s firing in 1978.

The Yankees have talent and they have resources, and they have Jesus Montero in the minors (although let’s not be too quick to identify him as the panacea for all that ails the Yanks; he’s hitting .336 in AAA, but has just 6 walks and nine extra-base hits in 122 at-bats, and questions about his catching persist).

They could still win what is as yet a mediocre division. They could call up Montero and return pitcher Phil Hughes from the DL and look younger and better. But it’s looking more and more like the aging process is hitting the Yankees as it hits all of us — they’re a tad slower, a tad more brittle and a tad less talented than they used to be. And a lot more pugnacious.

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