The Yankees won’t be in the 2013 playoffs, and now the question is when they’ll be back, and with whom.
The failure to make this year’s playoffs is the ending to a TV mystery you solved halfway through the show. As hard as the Yankees tried to surprise — Alex Rodriguez fighting his suspension, Alfonso Soriano slugging 17 home runs in a third of a season, Mariano Rivera pitching multiple innings five times in the final month — this day was always as inevitable as Eduardo Nunez booting a ground ball.
The 2013 Yankees were valiant. They just weren’t good.
Of the top nine teams in the American League heading into play Thursday, the Yankees are the only one to have scored fewer runs than they’ve allowed. Even the Los Angeles Angels, who have won two fewer games than they’ve lost, have scored more runs than they have allowed.
Not the Yankees. They’re 10th in the AL and 17th in MLB in run differential at minus 23. Criticize manager Joe Girardi if you want, but baseball-reference.com’s Pythagorean formula says the Yankees should be 76-81, not the 82-75 they are after Wednesday’s elimination. The only team that has outperformed its Pythagorean formula by more than the Yankees is the Phillies, and at 72-86 (compared to the 65-93 the formula says they should be), no one noticed.
That’s not good news for next year. But good fortune is all not all the Yankees might be missing in 2014. They also won’t have Rivera and Andy Pettitte, unless the retirees change their minds, or Rodriguez, unless an arbitrator changes MLB’s. They might not have Robinson Cano, who’s a free agent, and they most assuredly won’t have 4-14 Phil Hughes, whose exile will do something to balance the equation. They may have Derek Jeter, but he’ll be 40 in June (though Jeter on one leg is probably still better than Brendan Ryan on two), and they’ll presumably have Mark Teixeira back at first, but he’ll be 34 and hasn’t had an OPS of more than .846 since 2009.
The farm system is average — ranked 14th in the midseason by Bleacher Report and in the preseason by John Sickels at minorleagueball.com — and none of its premier prospects did any better in 2013 than the major league team. Catcher Gary Sanchez hit .253 and slugged .412 at two stops, Tyler Austin regressed to six home runs, Mason Williams lost 207 points of OPS and Rafael De Paula’s ERA rose more than three runs after a midseason promotion.
You can be sure the front office has two things: means (good) and dysfunction (not so good). Hank Steinbrenner insists on players GM Brian Cashman doesn’t want (the Sorianos) and nixes others (Nate Schierholtz) he does. It makes Cashman just another skyscraper on the block.
None of that bodes well for the Cano negotiations, which began with ESPN reporting that Cano, age 30, wants $305 million over the next 10 years. Does that sound familiar?
The Yankees don’t have much choice — imagine their 2013 lineup without Cano. Think the Mets, only worse.
And yet there’s at least two strikes against awarding such a long-term, expensive contract — A-Rod and the Angels’ deal with Albert Pujols. Two years in, the latter seems like a typical California fiscal situation — diminishing returns for a huge expenditure.
The Yankees will be absent in the playoffs this fall for only the second time in the last 19 seasons; they made 13 in a row from 1995-2007. That’s the best performance of any team in baseball over the last two decades — the Braves made it 14 straight from 1991-2005, but unlike the Braves, the Yankees did more than just show up. They won five World Series to the Braves’ one (two head to head).
Buster Olney wrote a wonderful book on the heart of those years, The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty. The title referred to the Yankees’ Game 7 World Series loss to Arizona in 2001, the year — but for 2009 — the Yankees stopped winning the World Series.
We have to wonder if 2013 will be the year they stopped making the playoffs.