The Yankees wake up this morning at the halfway point of the 2013 regular season. All things considered, it could be said that it's a positive that they sit 42-39 and still very much in the thick of things in both the AL East and Wild Card races. After all the injuries they suffered and with the way they went about replacing those injured players, there were many who signaled this season as the start of the rebuilding process and predicted a last place finish in the division. A closer look at the last month of play, however, reveals numbers and outcomes much more predictive of that end result than a playoff berth. The Yankees left Baltimore losers of 5 straight, owners of some of the most hideous offensive statistics in recent memory, a -16 run differential that's much more telling about how they've played than their W-L record, and with no signs of relief or hope for a turnaround in sight.
Simply put, the Yankees are a dead stick right now. They're a hollowed out husk of what they used to be and what they were expected to be as recently as last season. The big, bad pinstriped bullies on the American League block have been reduced to a pitiful little pipsqueak, subject to getting pushed around and embarrassed by any other tougher team who takes them on. There's next to no fight in this team right now, and that's not a commentary on the effort they're putting in but rather the overwhelming lack of talent on the current roster and the resulting inability to generate anything substantial on the field with that talent.
For years we heard about "The Yankee Way" as the explanation for this franchise's continued success. It was a combination of smart, tough, good fundamental baseball supplemented by an overabundance of power the booming payroll supplied. The Yankees beat teams up with power, patience, and occasionally good pitching on the field, and they beat them up again with their checkbook and cutthroat business approach off the field. If they needed to add a player, they did so seemingly without a second thought and it usually ended up being a player that fit the traditional "Yankee Way" mold to a tee. These days, beating a team up on the field is the rare exception more than the rule, and more often than not we're hearing or reading about the players the Yankees aren't interested in rather than the ones they're targeting.
Both the game and the business of baseball has shifted dramatically in the last 5 years, and the seeds for that shift were likely sewn farther back than that when the Yankees were still running the show around MLB. Gone are the days when they could trade for the big name they needed mid-season or just wait to sign him to the biggest money deal he could get in the offseason. Teams are now locking up their good young talent early, recognizing the value in keeping those players around longer at team-friendly prices instead of selling them off to New York for a new haul of prospects. Gone are the days where the mere mentioning of the Yankees in connection to a player caused a near panic in the streets among other GMs competing for that player's services, even if that reported connection was nothing more than a ruse. Hell, gone are the days where the Yankees are even mentioned in connection with a player period. These days it's more rumors of who they aren't connected with and why than anything else.
And the Yankees aren't getting pushed around by another team who's suddenly risen up to their level of payroll and front office aggressiveness. No, this scaled back, timid approach to building and improving their roster is self-inflicted. While all the other teams are spending more to save their best players earlier in their careers, the Yankees are willingly choosing to spend less on whatever is left. They've resorted to handing out minuscule contracts to replacement-level players and bailing on any trade that could cost them a top prospect, even though their farm system isn't and hasn't been churning out blue-chip Major Leaguers for quite some time.
Even when they do turn out a good one, that success is usually found in another uniform. The prospects the Yankees have chosen to hold onto over the last 5 or so years have done very little. The ones they've let go have generally done well for themselves. They can't develop, they won't sign or trade, and as a result here they are, floundering in 4th place in their division while the rest of baseball points and laughs at what's become of the once mighty, once feared Yankee juggernaut.
In a way, the Yankees set themselves up for this turn with their past success. They were so much better than every other team and had so much more money to spend that they forced the rest of baseball to find a new way to beat them. That new way is the business model that many teams today are following, preventing the Yankees from whipping out their checkbook and poaching away the players that they worked so hard to build. Yet the fact remains that the Yankees have fallen behind the times in the baseball world. They got complacent and lazy following their formula. The "Yankee Way" has gotten stale and outdated, like so many other things in baseball before it, and this team before you on the field is the perfect visual representation of that. There's no power, no patience, no payroll, no prospects, and quite frankly, no hope.
The Yankees have rested on their laurels for too long while the rest of baseball got its act together, and now they're paying the price for it. The Yankee Way, for all intents and purposes, is dead.
P.S.- Sorry if that reads like a Lupica column. I tried to do a live blog for the game last night and it was just so depressing to watch that I couldn't even really get into it. This is the mindset this current team has put me in and I'd like to think I'm not the only one.
(Photo courtesy of the AP)