Now that Yankee Stadium has staged its final game, the players, coaches, Front Office and owners have nothing else to divert their attention.Â Up until now, their minds could be fixed on Sunday 21st and sending the stadium off in style.Â The harsh reality of missing out on the play-offs, confirmedÂ by Boston’s win yesterday,Â could be placed to one side, but not any longer.Â Their relative failure this season has to be assessed and a plan put in place to get them back on track in 2009.Â
Whenever a sports team falls below the standards expected of it, the focus initially turns to the manager.Â He’s the one who carries the can for wins and losses, as the recent sacking of Ned Yost graphically illustrates.Â Joe Torre was always going to be a hard act to follow, even for another ‘Joe’ already part of the Yankee family.Â Torre won the World Series in his first year with the Yankees in 1996 and never failed to miss the postseason during his twelve years at the helm.Â Girardi immediately put an end to the sequence, but it would be more than harsh to pin the blame on him for that.Â
The Yankees failed to reach the World Series in each of Torre’s final four years at the club, showing that Girardi was not merely walking into a World Championship waiting to happen.Â Undoubtedly they would have had a shot at adding to their twenty-six victories if things had fallen more kindly this season, but they didn’t and not through any great fault on the new manager’s part.Â Although a repeat in ’09 will see Girardi back in the announcer’s booth, he should get a pass for the lack of success in ’08.
Which puts GM Brian Cashman under the spotlight at the time when his current contract is about to expire.Â
According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the Yankees’ opening day payroll for its 25-man roster was the highest in their history (therefore the highest in MLB history) at $209,081,577 (Â£112.5 million).Â Other teams may look on with envy at the money Cashman has at his disposal, but money doesn’t guarantee success even though the fans and, most importantly, the owners often think it should.Â That puts Cashman under a lot of pressure, something which he has handled with remarkable calmness throughout his tenure.Â
When money is seemingly no object, there are no excuses for not making a deal for a top quality player.Â Most other teams can hold their hands up and say ‘we couldn’t afford it’, but that’s not often the case with the Yankees.Â With the way this season has panned out, you could certainly question whether Cashman made a big mistake by not securing the services of Johan Santana during the off-season.Â Who could blame a Yankee fan walking away from the cathedral on Sunday from dreaming about a different ending, one with Johan Santana in pinstripes and the Yankees walking off the field for the final time holding the World Series trophy aloft?
Add in the seasons that Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Melky Cabrera (one of the rumoured trade packages) have had in ’08 and you could see it as an extraordinary mistake.Â
Hindsight is a wonderful thing though.Â Santana would have helped to cover for Chein-Ming Wang’s absence, but he couldn’t have made up for the absence of Jorge Posada for long periods, the DL trips by Matsui, Damon and A-Rod, and the disappointing year by Robinson Cano to name but a few of the factors that contributed to their downfall.
No, the Santana deal is gone now and it’s time to focus on the future.Â Cashman has steered the ship extremely well in the past and the Steinbrenners have made it clear that they want him to continue.Â If he does decide to stay, he will have plenty of resources at his disposal to make the necessary changes.Â Giambi’s $22m club option for 2009 will be turned down, as will Pavano’s $13m option and possibly Damaso Marte’s $6m option.Â Abreu, Pettitte and Mussina are all out of contract and while the could be useful at the right price, the Yankees will have no qualms about looking elsewhere if they think they can do better.Â
It’s been a tough year for the Yanks, yet few would be surprised to see Cashman turn things around.Â With the financial flexibility to pursue top free agents over the off-season (Sabathia and Burnett being two front runners), a strong core of quality players already in place, improvement expected from their young talent, a new stadium to reinvigorate the organization and the competitive fire stoked by a winter brooding over a disappointing season just gone, their absence from the post-season might well turn out to be a one year blip.