"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

The Wild and the West

Looking at the Yankee roster as the season drew to a close, I didn’t figure this to be a particularly active offseason. Sure, the Yankees needed to solve the Alex Rodriguez riddle, resign Posada, and Rivera, and hope Andy Pettitte would want to come back, but beyond that, first base and the bullpen were all Brian Cashman had to worry about. That was before the team half-assed a contract for Joe Torre and wound up having to change managers, told heir-apparent and favorite son Don Mattingly that he wouldn’t be getting the job after all, and then had Rodriguez bolt town before even beginning negotiations with the team on a contract extension (and, by the way, that’s a done deal, he’s officially filed for free agency). And the latest? Pete Abe broke the story last night that the Dodgers are planning to can Grady Little and hire Joe Torre, and that Mattingly is expected to tag along as Torre’s bench coach (remember that Donnie’s son Preston was drafted by the Dodgers last June). Tyler Kepner and Murray Chass have more in the Times. Throw in the Red Sox’s second championship in the last four years (which sounds like a bad punchline from Back to the Future II), and my head is spinning.

So now the Yankees have to rebuild their coaching staff (Ron Guidry and Joe Kerrigan are not expected to return, Larry Bowa still has an offer to coach third in Seattle, and who knows who else might want to follow Torre to L.A., by which I also mean Rivera and Rodriguez) and find not only a third baseman, but replace Alex Rodriguez’s production (which is actually impossible, but they could compensate with gains on the other side of the ball, which brings it back to the bullpen and the promise in the starting rotation). That likely means a trade is going to happen, and not a small one. Who’s expendable? Melky Cabrera? Ian Kennedy? Alan Horne? Austin Jackson? Perhaps. Who’s not? Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes for sure.

Oh, and Joe Girardi, the man the Yankees have decided to hire as their new manager? He still doesn’t have a deal. Jon Heyman (the man who broke the news about both Girardi’s hire and Rodriguez’s opting out) says the Yankees and Girardi are close to a three-year, $6 million deal, which is up from the $4.5 million/3-year deal initially rumored. Thing is, Girardi’s got the Yankees by the tail. Torre’s pissed, Mattingly issued a statement that reads like a concession speech, and both are likely headed for sunny L.A. The news is out that Girardi’s been offered the job, so unless the Yankees want to burn a third bridge by reopening their search, they pretty much have to pony up and pay the man.

The length of the deal obviously isn’t the issue here. The Yankees wouldn’t offer Joe Torre a second year because they were obviously tentative about moving forward with him, which isn’t an issue with Girardi, and there’s no need to hide that fact. The money is interesting, however. The initially rumored $4.5 million would have been just less for three years than the base salary offered Torre for a single year. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. That Girardi has them up to $6 million total, thus $2 million per year, already makes him one of the six-best paid managers in baseball (tied for fourth with Willie Randolph and Bruce Bochy behind Lou Piniella, Bobby Cox, and Jim Leyland). It will be interesting to see if Girardi can break that tie and if he can push the total value of his contract closer to the $7.5 million Torre earned in 2007 alone.

Of course, what he gets paid won’t affect Girardi’s ability to manage the team, but the fact that the zoo is overtaking the Bronx once more could. Girardi played for the Yankees during their period of greatest calm and stability. He won World Series in his first year in New York and two more before leaving as a free agent after the 1999 season. As a coach, he was here only for 2005, when Alex Rodriguez was an MVP and the Yankees squeaked past the Red Sox to win the AL East. He hasn’t seen the ugliness, but he did have some of his own down in Miami. Girardi claims to have learned from his negative experience with the Florida front office, but I still worry about how he’ll handle even something as simple as another slow start like the ones the team has had in two of the last three seasons. Not because Girardi can’t rally a team–he did a great job with the Marlins, who took time to coalesce like the Bad News Bears–but because of the heat he’ll get from all comers if the team doesn’t come out of the gate looking like the 1998 Yankees all over again. Under ideal conditions, I think Girardi would be the best man for the job, but right now the conditions are far from ideal. Here’s hoping Brian Cashman can help restore order by the time pitchers and catchers report in mid-February. That’s three and a half months and, contrary to what I expected, they’re going to be wild ones.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver