It Could Be Worse: A Season Post-Mortem 1980s Flashback

1. The stunning-for-NY boredom of consistent mediocrity. I think of the 2010s Yankees as a high-drama team: repeated wild card runs; Jeter’s and Rivera’s final years; A-Rod’s everything; and the occasional brilliance-before-flameout of so many young starters (Nova, Hughes, Pineda, Eovaldi, Severino). But their 2013-16 results – win totals of 85, 84, 87, and 84 – have been just so stagnant. And those teams weren’t even that good: their average annual run differential has been just +9, so they’ve really been, on average, only an 82-win team. That’s not only boring; it’s also stunningly disappointing for a team that spent the prior 17 years so consistently on top.

2. My 80s/early-90s PTSD. I vaguely remember the Yankees’ great 1978 and 1981 teams, but it wasn’t until the mid-80s that I was old enough to follow baseball more seriously than with “yay!”/“boo!” That was a sad time to start following the Yankees. Between their 1981 World Series and the 1994 team that was great but lacked a post-season due to a strike, the 1982-1993 Yankees averaged 82.8 wins, earning no post-season play. Steinbrenner built those teams by acquiring already-high-performers in their late-20s to mid-30s; a few were long-term successes (Winfield, Henderson, Boggs), but more had just 1-2 good years left (Jesse Barfield, Danny Tartabull, Don Baylor, Scott Sanderson, Rick Rhoden…), or – all too often ­­– had zero left in the tank (Cecil Fielder, Omar Moreno, Mike Witt, Steve Trout, Andy Hawkins, Dave LaPoint…). With so many newly acquired stars so quickly declining, the Yankees kept needing to scrounge up more aging stars, and then those guys would decline too. The team finally stopped keeping up with that treadmill, suffering sub-.500 records from 1989 to 1992. So when I see a 2013-16 team averaging 85 wins with a true quality of probably 82 wins, a mild PTSD flares up, and I hope we’re not in for years of 80something-win mediocrity followed by dropping below .500.

3. Little hope for 2017, but more long-run hope. I’m trying to remind and convince myself to get over my '80s PTSD and be more optimistic about the team the Yankees transformed into in late 2016. They beefed up the farm system by dumping several of their stars; they released (A-Rod) or substantially benched (McCann) aging stars to make room for ripe prospects; and Cashman’s post-season post-mortem declared an unwillingness to fill the team’s (many) holes by trading prospects. The 80s vintage move would be multi-year deals for “home run champ Mark Trumbo” (age 31) and “proven vet C.J. Wilson” (age 35) -- or, worse, a trade of several top prospects for some starter just a tick better than Wilson. I feel odd cheering for the 2017 to be left weak and hole-riddled. But thanks to Cashman’s unwillingness to sell off future stars and future budget for a few more wins in 2017, I’m heartened that we’re not in for a repeat of the 80s. The 2017 team won’t be a winner, but it could be tons of fun to watch -- because it’ll be the team that sorts out which youngsters really have the chops to be a part of the next winning Yankee team in 2018 or 2019.