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Blame Game

God-tier Yankee gif

As I’m writing this, it’s Saturday afternoon and the Yankees are losing 8-0 to the Mets. Taijuan Walker, whom the Yankees were linked to in the offseason, is throwing a no-hitter. I was frustrated with the Yankees before today and now, well…

If there is any silver lining to this–a thin one at best–it’s that we’re lucky that a middling, near-.500 team is so frustrating to us. We could be Pirates or Royals fans. But, to twist the old Spider-Man saying, with great expectations comes great responsibility. The Yankees expected themselves to be championship caliber this year. We expected them to be championship caliber this year. So far, that hasn’t happened. And with each passing day, each week with another embarrassing loss (or set of losses!), it looks less and less likely, no matter how much we here have tried to be positive.

When he spoke to the media, Hal Steinbrenner said–however ineloquently–that the blame lies with the players and, loathe as I may be to agree with him, he’s right. The players, for the most part, haven’t played well enough. Aaron Judge has been great, as has Gerrit Cole. Giancarlo Stanton has also performed well. But those are the stars, the leaders of the team both literally and metaphorically. The other players haven’t played up to snuff, including DJ LeMahieu and, to an extent, Gio Urshela. This also goes for Gleyber Torres, whom Randy spoke about at length on the podcast. Jordan Montgomery hasn’t been consistent. Even at the minor league level, Deivi Garcia has been a colossal disappointment and the rotation is feeling his absence.

Despite the fact that the Yankees looked like a 95+ win team on paper, there were some question mark players coming into this year and almost all of them have answered those questions in the negative. Brett Gardner looks done. Clint Frazier has taken his opportunity and fallen with it rather than run with it. Jameson Taillon–despite many mitigating circumstances–hasn’t been reliable. Corey Kluber and Darren O’Day had/have been effective, but injured. Justin Wilson, when not injured, has been bad. Very bad. The only player who’s answered questions about himself is Gary Sánchez (we love to see it; haters are mad, etc.).

We all have frustrations with the front office or coaching staff, which I’ll address, but they aren’t the ones on the field playing poorly. Simply put, the players need to play better.

Those question marks and their continued poor performance reflect poorly on the coaching staff. While Gary is definitely a triumph for them this year, the regressions of Torres and Frazier are downright tragedies. The same could be said of Garcia’s regression, but that’s a different coaching staff. The team has been in an offensive malaise for most of the year and while it’s on the players, mainly, to break out of that, the coaching staff seems to have made few adjustments to players who need them. Aaron Boone and his staff generally present a calm, relaxed front, which is usually a good thing in a long baseball season. But that attitude hits a lot differently when the team is just a game above .500 rather than comfortably winning the division (remember what that felt like?).

Beyond the on-field staff, the front office should accept some blame here, too. Again, we thought this roster would be good enough to win a lot and, obviously, so did the front office. But it’s clear the team is too right-handed. It’s clear the gambles for Taillon and Kluber, while certainly defensible, did not pay off. It’s clear that building a solid rotation beyond one ace eludes Brian Cashman and his team. It’s clear that the team did not have good enough depth on the position side.

Yes, the Yankee right handed hitters are, generally, good enough against right handed pitchers. Yes, Taillon and Kluber had bankable upside. Yes, you hope not to have to use depth. But the Yankees’ bets in these areas did not pay off this year. The Yankees’ roster construction has become stale and rigid and easy to beat. For proof of that, look no further than this excerpt from a piece by Lindsey Adler:

Let’s go over that again: “I’ve been writing the same game plan against the Yankees for years.” That’s embarrassing. That’s an indictment on the organization in ways I can’t even describe. It speaks to an absolute arrogance in the Yankee front office that their way is superior and will never be altered. Again, yes, the Yankees have been incredibly successful for damn near thirty years, but maybe some processes need to change. Maybe some ideas need to be rethought. Maybe some changes have to happen.

To say the Yankee organization is rotten would likely be an overstatement, but let’s borrow another cliche since we already did one up above: a fish rots from the head. Hal Steinbrenner can’t play the games. He doesn’t do what the baseball operations department does. But he has the final word. Regardless of what his words may be, he doesn’t back them up with actions, at least not fully. Yes, the Yankees have signed Gerrit Cole and traded for Giancarlo Stanton, but as Bobby is quick to point out, the team has twice (!) cut $50MM in payroll during what should’ve been a slam dunk championship window. The team spends near the bottom of the league when it comes to payroll as a portion of revenue. The team has hardly budged in its spending from 2004. At least as much as the team has tried to win a championship on the field, its also tried to win Hal and company the luxury of not having to pay the luxury tax.

If Michael Kay is to be believed, the Yankees passed on Michael Brantley and Kyle Schwarber, two players who could’ve helped the Yankees for a multitude of reasons, because of cost and roster ‘constraints.’ That excuse is further proof of organizational arrogance and a pennywise, pound foolish attitude in the front office and ownership respectively. Those two things should almost never be a factor for a team as smart and as wealthy as the Yankees. They’re so smart, though, that they outsmart themselves and don’t lean on their biggest advantage nearly enough: money.

The team eventually did push three across against the Mets–woo!–but fell 8-3 on a rainy Saturday. Another dull-looking loss that has many rightfully questioning the team’s competitive spirit and determination. There’s not much time left (for Christ’s sake, [today’s] the Fourth of July!) to turn that on and I fear it might be impossible to do so.

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15 Comments

  1. Steve

    Hal may be the worst owner in the league now that the Wilpons are gone.

  2. Cary

    Right now the right move for the Yankees is to sell off whatever pieces that can be unloaded to contending teams.

    Returns should be prospects. Not high-end free agents. It’s been proven time and time again that payroll doesn’t win championships. Obviously the Marlins might disagree but by and large you can get to the World Series if you do all the little things right.

    Money isn’t the solution to your problems. It only lets you carry your unhappiness around in style.

  3. Cary

    Matt, really good article. One of the best I have read this year. You didn’t mean it but you hit me right in the gut.
    “If there is any silver lining to this–a thin one at best–it’s that we’re lucky that a middling, near-.500 team is so frustrating to us. We could be Pirates or Royals fans.”

    I happen to be a Pirates fan, an A’s fan, a Reds fan and a fan of the game and yes, definitely the Yankees have been my favorite team for years. Probably 48 or 49 years to be exact as I’m 55 and I definitely liked the Yankees from early age.

    I think your assessment is pretty baller. The only thing I know at this point is that this is not Yankee baseball that we are witnessing. In order to get me to stop attending Yankee games and give up my legends tickets, More than likely it would be pandemic related. But this is a pandemic in and of itself, the Yankees are a pandemic.

    The level of play now is contagious and things are very messy on the field and off the field. We hear a lot of excuses we hear a lot of cheap talk and ultimately we watch games just get out of hand. The wanted Yankees farm system is useless. There are lots of good players that could be potentially helping this team but upper levels of management for whatever reason don’t discard garbage and bring up somebody with a pulse.

    Park, Amburgey..etc & lots of other guys who really didn’t even get a chance to get acclimated like Chris Gittens & Estevan Florial. People can argue that these guys are not ready but then I would counter with the fact that the people that they would be replacing are sub .200 hitters, most of whom can’t even play replacement level defense.

    All I can say is, nice article Matt. Your effort to cover the team even in such disturbing and upsetting times is much appreciated and hopefully the pen will win out over Hal Steinbrenner.

  4. MG309

    Trade Chapman, Torres and Voit for as much as you can get and put players on the field who at least play a game without mental errors. This is the worst Yankees team I’ve seen in my 65 years of being a fan when it comes to making the right play, just embarrassing

    • Cary

      Agreed & I wonder what Hal Steinbrenner would say to you after 65 years of loyal fandom? Apparently we don’t matter enough.

      • F**k Hal, it’s just another case of a no nothing pencil pusher being given a major league franchise because there was no one else.

        And I’m sick and tired of hearing about how ‘George’ would do something to pull the team out of this-he was at the exact opposite end of the spectrum from Hal but the results would still be the same, the only difference was that he had Stick Michael in charge while he was suspended and, on a scale of 1-10, Stick was way above 9 and Cashman is in the low 3’s and a baseball executive.

        Kay is increasingly becoming a Yankees management apologist-today it was ‘you can’t blame Boone, he brought his closer in with a one run lead’. You mean the guy who has lost 5 mph on his fastball, completely lost the plate, and somehow thinks throwing his crappy slider is the answer? The guy who follows up a high fastball that Alonso missed by a foot with about the worst slider I’ve ever seen from a major league pitcher?

        Boone is a 3rd generation major league player who is now a manager. If he doesn’t know that Chapman isn’t going to get anyone out the way he’s throwing the ball then he’s a f**king idiot, period. And that ‘pitching coach’ who got the job without any prior experience in that role with another team is a complete joke as well.

        And then Kay overwhelms you with meaningless statistics about how Chapman’s last 9 games have been awful-they have been awful, you moron, no one in their right mind needs to look at any number to know that when he literally can’t get an out.

        It costs me nothing when the Yankees lose, I make nothing when the Yankees win, so, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter other than I’ve been a fan my whole life, have seen all of the great teams since the mid-50s, and am just embarrassed

    • Esteddardban Florial

      Nobody wants Chapman. The clown can’t even throw a strike. And when he does he hangs a slider after just blowing a fastball past the hitter. I agree, this is the worst Yankee club I’ve seen in 80 years.

      • Cary

        This is very true but many of us have been writing for over a month that he should have been treated already so, “Sorry,” [Hamlet] said, rubbing his temples. “I don’t know what came over me. All of a sudden I had this overwhelming desire to talk for a very long time without actually doing anything.”
        – Jasper Fforde

  5. Esteddardban Florial

    Boone had the game won if he just stuck with Green. Instead he puts in Chapman and it predictably ends in a loss. They could have easily straightened him out in a blowout. Aren’t these must wins?

    • Cary

      Without watching today’s game I can almost imagine what happened based on your commentary. Really bad in-game management, sounds like anyway…

      Putting Chapman into any kind of high leverage situation right now is literally a joke. It’s like lighting a cherry bomb, putting it in a mailbox and expecting it to go out. Not happening.

  6. This team is fundamentally flawed. The ‘leaders’ Judge and Stanton are part of the problem. They fail when it matters most. Michael Fishman and his stats have paralyzed the players who look confused.

  7. dasit

    good time to take a breath and remember that we have been spoiled for decades. 5 games back of the wild card at the all-star break is a great year for many fan bases (seattle)

    • Cary

      Very true words of wisdom dasit. It’s also a good time to follow minor league baseball. I’ve been watching Scranton and Somerset on a daily basis and I haven’t watched the Yankee game now and over a month.

  8. Brent Lawson

    I would disagree about the coaches, manager, executives, and owner escaping responsibility for the current Yankee situation . Players play the game and have a direct responsibility for the game, but it is the team hierarchy that has put them in this position.
    With no succesful minor league system in place,
    Bad coaching, inexperienced manager and an executive hierarchy which is non- performing, the players have no chance.

    • Cary

      Brent, are you implying that the Yankees don’t have a successful minor league system? FYI they’re doing pretty good this year, last I looked.

      I imagine what you really meant is that the team is playing very bad defense, they’re running the bases poorly, they’re giving up crazy contact and they’re not suppressing runs to save their lives. Couple that with the fact that they can’t score enough runs and it’s a real problem.

      If this team was bashing people to death, the kids with the iPads would be very happy. Obviously, that’s not the case and nor has it been really because the team hasn’t done anything in the postseason.

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