The whole scene at Yankee Stadium Thursday night — Mariano Rivera’s spontaneous tears of emotion on Andy Pettitte’s shoulder as Derek Jeter stood next to them, smiling broadly, cast amid the earlier backdrop of Robinson Cano and his agent Jay-Z demanding an outlandish 10-year, $ 305 million contract (and no hometown discounts) — said it all about what the Yankees have been about these past 17 years and what they’re about to be for the foreseeable future.
Class turned to crass.
Let’s start with the class because that’s a much more pleasant topic as this Yankee season — and era — comes to a solemn and sad end in Houston Sunday. There was a reason those 1996-2001 Yankee teams were so special, and it wasn’t just because of the four world championships and five American League pennants. They were a bunch that exemplified “team” and selflessness (kind of like what Joe Girardi did Thursday night when he removed himself from what could have been the most memorable moment — and photo op — of his managerial career and turned the duty of taking the ball from Rivera for the final time at Yankee Stadium to Jeter and Pettitte). And, with the exception of Pettitte’s admission of using HGH in 2002, they conducted themselves with class and dignity on and off the field. In short, they were a team that was easy to root for — unlike, for example, the classless “Cowboy Up,” “Idiot” Red Sox of Kevin Millar/Manny Ramirez & Co. in 2004. And lastly, there was the endearing homegrown factor about them. Other than Paul O’Neill, the core players on those teams — Rivera, Jeter, Pettitte, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada — all came up through the system, grew up with us, and, again with the exception of Pettitte, remained Yankees for their entire careers. It says something else about them, too, that, when their time was up as Yankees, they chose not to go someplace else just for an extra paycheck. To Yankee fans, they were more than just five players, they were part of the family.
There will never be another team like this one, at least as far as winning four championships in five years. At the same time, they remain a lesson about the importance of a homegrown nucleus to a championship team. As this one got old, the Yankees did not have a new one to replace it, and now as they go into the offseason with myriad holes to fill in both the starting lineup and the pitching staff, they are forced to do so via the free-agent market because of the long-time failures of their player development department. They point to the Red Sox’s last-to-first reversal of fortune this year, accomplished mostly through several hole-filling free-agent signings (outfielders Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp, first baseman Mike Napoli, shortstop Stephen Drew and closer Koji Uehara) and conclude: There but for $ 50 million-$ 60 million, plus a reduction of nearly $ 100 million (hopefully including most or all of Alex Rodriguez’s $ 25 million) go we. But you can’t overlook the fact the Red Sox core players — Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz — are all homegrown, as are right fielder Daniel Nava, third baseman Wil Middlebrooks, No. 4 starter Felix Doubront, reserve outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and likely 2014 starting shortstop and top prospect Xander Bogaerts. In addition, the Red Sox have a stable of highly rated, hard-throwing starting pitchers on the cusp of Fenway Park delivery, along with Garin Cecchini, another third baseman, and catcher Blake Swihart, who both had standout seasons at Double-A and Single-A, respectively, this season. So in terms of player development, the Red Sox are far ahead of the Yankees and thus primed for a sustained run of success.
David J. Phillip/AP
Andy Pettitte, who was part of the classy Yankee teams, tips his cap to the Houston crowd after being honored on Friday.
Of course, in Cano, we are also talking about a homegrown player, and one the Yankees desperately need to keep — for the same reason they are in this predicament. He is their lone All-Star-caliber productive player, and they have no one coming in the system to replace him. But that is not to say they should grossly overpay in years and dollars. That his starting point is 10 years/$ 305 million tells you his agent, Jay-Z, is confident he’ll find that One Dumb Owner willing to mortgage his team’s future by strapping it with a payroll-choking, untradeable contract 3-4 years down the road. No hometown discount here. This is all about the money. In making their initial offer, equivalent to the Mets’ eight-year, $ 138 million contract with David Wright, the Yankees demonstrated to Cano they were treating him as a franchise player. The $ 17.75M annual average value for Wright was considerably more than the $ 13.75M in Pedroia’s new eight-year deal with the Red Sox — in which Pedroia agreed to a hometown discount because he had no interest in playing anywhere else.
Now you can certainly make the case that, statistically, Cano is a better player than his Red Sox second base counterpart, even though Pedroia has an MVP award to his credit and other intangibles like running every ground ball out and being acknowledged as the Red Sox team leader. According to Cano, however, he is a $ 17 million per year better player than Pedroia, and a $ 13 million per year better player than Wright. That’s absurd. It’s fairly obvious what his actual AAV market should be: somewhere around or slightly north of Wright’s deal.
Nevertheless, the Yankees apparently came back to Cano’s reps, after they rejected out of hand the Wright deal offer, with six- and seven-year feelers worth $ 24 million per. If they did, you have to wonder, why? At this stage, they are only bidding against themselves. Have they not learned the lesson of their panicked, misguided 10-year, $ 275 million signing of Rodriguez back in 2007, when absolutely no other team had any interest in him?
Andrew Theodorakis/New York Daily News
The Yankees have no one coming in the system to replace Robinson Cano.
Putting this in better perspective in terms of overall value to the franchise: In his entire career, Rivera earned $ 169,441,825, which is slightly more than half as much as Cano is demanding. But in no way is Cano a player people pay to see, the way Rivera and Jeter have been. Can you ever imagine an outpouring of love — from a sold-out Stadium in an otherwise meaningless last home game of the season — for Cano as there was for Rivera Thursday night? Statistically he may be the Yankees’ best player right now, but he’s not and never will be that kind of a player, and the Yankees need to remember this when they start worrying about that One Dumb Owner.
IT’S A MADD MADD WORLD…
— In case you missed it while you were getting caught up in the long farewell to Mariano Rivera, another old Yankee who goes on and on, 42-year-old Jason Giambi, became the oldest player in baseball history to hit a walk-off homer. He did so, pinch-hitting, to lift the Indians over the White Sox on Tuesday. The player whose record he broke? Why his own, of course, a blast on July 29, also pinch-hitting, also against the White Sox.
— One of the worst-kept secrets in baseball was realized Friday when Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria fired his longtime baseball operations chief, Larry Beinfest. Loria and Beinfest have been at odds for years, and Loria has been making all the Marlins baseball decisions for a while now. Whoever is hired to replace Beinfest had better be prepared to be nothing more than the front man announcing trades and signings, but also the man who will get the blame when any of them go wrong.
SAY IT AIN’T SO…
“It’s tough. I feel like I’m hanging out there. If somebody is sitting in this seat tomorrow, they’re going to be in a decent situation going forward.”
— Eric Wedge expressing his concern last week about the ominous silence from above about his status as Seattle Mariners manager.