How to fix the New York Yankees
Here we are again. Welcome to my annual requiem on the premature death of another Yankees season. For the fifth straight year, the pinstripers lost in the playoffs, extending their championship drought to 12 seasons. Such is life in the Bronx these days, with mediocrity baked into the DNA of a once-proud organisation.
Every winter, we say the same things. Every winter, we write the same obituaries. And every winter, nothing changes. Year after year, we call for change following another humiliating postseason exit, but those in charge do not seem to care. If the Yankees remain borderline relevant, competing in a couple big games each October to boost revenues, ownership’s headline objectives are placated, and we just keep running it back. The outcome of those games, and to whom the Yankees regularly lose, barely seems to matter.
This year, for instance, Boston ended our season yet again – for the second time in four Octobers and the third time since 2004. Mixed with recurring defeats to Tampa Bay and Houston, Yankees fans are bored at this point. They are embarrassed, insulted and drained. Many have given up, in fact, sick to the stomach from a generation of entropy. The need for change is long overdue.
Nine days passed between the Yankees’ ignominious dénouement at Fenway Park and the slightest soundbite from any team official. Finally, yesterday, we learned that three coaches – Phil Nevin, Marcus Thames and PJ Pilittere – have been released, while Brian Cashman and Aaron Boone are still hanging on tenterhooks. That we are yet to receive a formal press conference featuring those responsible for a hideous playoff loss, over a week after it happened, is disgraceful. It speaks to the way Yankees fans are taken for granted by senior management, and that sticks in the gut of diehard rooters.
Accordingly, there is little else we can do but sit and ponder, sit and brainstorm, sit and tinker with hypothetical decisions like armchair general managers. Indeed, the Yankees’ perennial underachievement has spawned a new October tradition among bloggers and podcasters: sharing 10-step plans for fixing a broken ballclub. I have mostly abstained from that practice, even amid mounting dissatisfaction, but the time has come to share my vision for rebuilding the Yankees. I have exhausted all other avenues and angles to report on this team, parading the same regurgitated narratives of disingenuous obsolescence. So here is my Hail Mary attempt at rekindling Yankee pride. Add it to the growing pile.
My 10-step blueprint for fixing the New York Yankees
1. Soul-searching with Hal Steinbrenner
First and foremost, before this organisation does anything, Hal Steinbrenner has to decide whether he still has the heart for this anymore. Does he have the appetite to carry on and give the Yankees what they need in terms of leadership, motivation and resources? If he does, great – let’s go. But if he does not, the team must be sold, because his passive approach is not good enough.
Ultimately, the Yankees need to do some serious soul-searching to clearly define what they want to become over the next decade and beyond. What is the organisational philosophy? Can we balance analytics with a winning culture? Where is the identity? In the absence of a franchise sale, only Hal Steinbrenner can answer those questions and plot that subsequent journey. Without an overarching vision, any project is bound to fail, and the same is true in sports.
My plan: I want Steinbrenner to sell the team, ideally, but that is unlikely to happen. Therefore, Hal needs to recommit to the Yankees and crystallise a concise vision for what they are trying to achieve. We need a hybrid approach to baseball operations, hiring the best minds from both extremes of the scale – scouts and statisticians alike. The Yankees should leverage their vast financial advantages in areas that do not contribute to the luxury tax bill – namely, in human resources, by hiring the brightest executives around.
2. Modernise the power structure
Most successful baseball franchises adhere to new-age hierarchies that feature a president of baseball operations and a general manager, flanked by assistants. There is also usually a head of business operations, creating focused power structures that emphasise specialisation. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Yankees do not jive with the modern zeitgeist here, relying instead on Hal, Cashman, Randy Levine and Lonn Trost vaguely guiding the franchise on a whim. Such an arrangement has never really worked, and it is time to tear it asunder.
My plan: Fire Levine, Trost and Cashman. Reshape the organisational chart, introducing presidents of baseball operations, business operations, analytics and player development. Have a general manager working underneath the incoming baseball operations figurehead, and formalise other tangential departments to create a cohesive ethos.
3. Hire a president of baseball operations who has won the World Series
Once upon a time, the Yankees only hired the very best candidate for any particular job, be it general manager, designated hitter, bullpen catcher or team chef. That is no longer the case, however. Anybody can work for the Yankees nowadays. The only prerequisites are a willingness to keep your mouth shut and act like a puppet for the established hierarchy. That has to change.
The Yankees must return to a situation where proven winners feel honoured to work in the Bronx, regarding it as the pinnacle of their careers. Certain criteria must be met – winning a title somewhere else, preferably – before anybody earns their pinstripes.
This ideology, so passionately espoused by George Steinbrenner, must begin from the top, with a president of baseball operations who has won the World Series. When that is the Yankees’ ubiquitous aim, it does not make sense to pursue anybody who has never achieved it.
Cashman has had more than a fair crack at this. He has been in charge of the Yankees’ baseball operations for 24 years, spending more than $4.1 billion on player salaries. It is time for somebody else to bring fresh impetus and new ideas to the table, and that somebody else needs to be a proven champion.
My plan: A few candidates spring to mind here. Theo Epstein is available, if the Yankees want to go big. They should also look around the league, luring predatory winners to the Bronx as once they did so well. John Mozeliak interests me, as do Dave Dombrowski, Brian Sabean, Mike Rizzo and Dayton Moore. People who have won, in other words, rather than people who have displayed a fleeting aptitude in baseball video games. I would speak to Theo first and see if he is willing to join the Yankees, before moving on to Sabean, Dombrowski and Mozeliak.
4. Hire an experienced general manager with a winning pedigree
While most general managers are now glorified gofers, deferring to their presidents of baseball operations, the Yankees should use their cache to attract elite talent from other front offices. Ultimate decision-makers in smaller markets should be targeted as spokes in the bigger Yankee wheel. That way, when paired with an accomplished boss, New York can create a tandem of knowledge and power unequalled across baseball while weakening their rivals simultaneously.
My plan: Speak to Mark Shapiro, Chris Antonetti, AJ Preller and David Stearns. See if the prospect of working for the Yankees could lure them from their lofty positions in smaller markets. If they demur, talk to shrewd front office veterans like Ned Colletti, JP Ricciardi, Josh Byrnes, Neal Huntington and Jason McLeod. Heck, see if Derek Jeter would come home from Miami. Be ambitious here, because the rewards could be huge.
5. Say goodbye to Aaron Boone and hire a proven manager, rather than a front office puppet
The Yankees have undoubtedly regressed during Boone’s four years in the dugout. Following successive 100-win seasons to kickstart his managerial career, Aaron has overseen a rapid decline, to a point where the Yankees barely even made the wildcard game this year.
Boone is a nice guy, but his lack of baseball acumen is startling, as evidenced by the Yankees’ disastrous defence and baserunning in 2021. At this point, it is almost cliché to call Boone a front office puppet, and a new manager is desperately needed, preferably with winning experience. The Yankees’ core players need a relatable pilot, and Aaron Boone is not that guy. His contract is up, and it should not be renewed.
My plan: There are many terrific candidates to replace Boone, including Bruce Bochy, Buck Showalter, Mike Scioscia and Ron Washington. The analytics ideologues would probably wet themselves at the thought of such ‘traditionalist baseball men’ being considered for the position of Yankees skipper, but these guys know how to run winning baseball teams, and that is what we desperately need. The Yankees could also consider plundering other teams to hire an accomplished manager. Terry Francona, Mike Matheny, Don Mattingly and Ned Yost strike me as ideal targets, but they are unlikely to be considered.
Likewise, if the incoming manager must be a new-age figurehead, as the anoraks insist, then how about Jorge Posada? Few people bleed Yankee pinstripes like Jorge, who is currently an advisor with the Marlins. Carlos Beltrán, Miguel Cairo, Hensley Meulens, Terry Pendleton and Curtis Granderson would also be good fits with the Yankees’ core, while Jason Giambi might be worth a look, too.
Willie Randolph should be considered using the Boone yardstick. John Farrell and Bob Melvin may warrant an interview, as well. In short, there is a huge list of managerial candidates who could improve the Yankees immediately, and the organisation would be foolish not to explore that pool.
Personally, I would begin my search with a call to Kansas City about Matheny, gauging their interest in a deal, before moving on to Scioscia, Showalter and Bochy. Any of those candidates would light a fire under these entitled Yankees and quickly provide the dugout leadership that is sorely lacking.
6. Overhaul the coaching staff
The ousting of Nevin, Thames and Piliterre must be the start, not the end, of an organisational overhaul. I mean, seriously, where do the Yankees even find their coaches? Carlos Mendoza and Reggie Willits? What are we doing here?
The Yankees need to re-engage with the greatest players in their recent history, creating a sustainable pathway through retirement and into coaching. If this franchise really is a family, do not let the most cherished members find success elsewhere. Have them teach the Yankee Way, inculcating winning expectations into future generations. Stop hiring second-rate staffers.
My plan: Grab Miguel Cairo from the White Sox. Offer Beltrán a way back into the game as a coach. Give Jason Giambi a chance to teach hitting. Get David Cone onboard. Bring Willie Randolph back from the abyss. See what plans Curtis Granderson has for the future. Nick Swisher, too. Make Jorge Posada an offer he cannot refuse. Check on Mariano Duncan and Jeff Nelson. These people are true Yankees, and we can still benefit from their exceptional expertise.
7. Build the spine of a winning ballclub
All winning ballclubs are strong up the middle, and every great Yankees team is built on a championship-calibre spine. Crafting that next great spine needs to be the team's top priority. Answers need to be found for several recurring questions.
Who is the shortstop in 2022 and beyond, for example? Do they still believe in Gleyber Torres as a second baseman? If so, where does that leave DJ LeMahieu – at first or third? And, in turn, what does that mean for Anthony Rizzo, Luke Voit and Gio Urshela?
Is it time to move on from Gary Sanchez behind the plate? If so, who will replace him? Where, exactly, will the Yankees find an upgrade at catcher? Who, meanwhile, is the everyday centre fielder – Aaron Hicks? Has time finally run out for Brett Gardner? And how do you fit Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Joey Gallo in the same lineup?
This, dear readers, is what life is like inside the mind of a Yankees fan. The same conundrums emerge every year, and we never find workable solutions. After months of meditation, Cashman typically does something unexpected and inconsistent with the wider strategy, kicking one problem down the road while creating several more to worry about. This is the vicious cycle of Yankee deterioration, and the time has come to hit pause and decide, once and for all, exactly what the future holds in these crucial areas.
My plan: Stick with Torres but reduce his playing time to a backup role. Move LeMahieu back to second base, where he is a defensive whizz. Look at signing the Seager brothers – Corey and Kyle – for shortstop and third base, phasing out Urshela. Persist with Gary Sanchez because, quite frankly, there are few better options on the market. Give Hicks one more chance to stay healthy, but sign a decent backup outfielder to replace Gardner.
8. Define the cornerstones of your next great team
Once a winning spine is in place, the Yankees need to earmark the cornerstones of their next great team. Those who are not cornerstones or part of the spine can be discarded – traded, ideally, to recoup value. The Yankees have to get serious here and cut ties with the serial under-performers who undermine their attempts to win a ring.
My plan: Aaron Judge is a cornerstone, so extend his contract. Giancarlo Stanton is a cornerstone, so stop complaining about him. Gerrit Cole is a cornerstone, so he needs to act like one. LeMahieu and Torres are also building blocks, in my opinion, as are Jordan Montgomery, Nestor Cortés Jr., Jonathan Loáisiga and Clay Holmes.
Unlike most Yankee fans, I also believe Joey Gallo will be a long-term asset in the Bronx, and we should embrace him as such rather than ostracising him for predictably inconsistent results. Elsewhere, I’m done with Gardner, Aroldis Chapman, Domingo Germán, Jameson Taillon and Corey Kluber. Please get rid of these guys already.
9. Build the floor before designing the ceiling
Modern championship baseball teams are defined more by their floors than by their ceilings. As the Yankees have discovered, a team can be laden with headline-grabbing stars, but if they do not reside at the apex of a solid undergirding structure, the entire framework is likely to collapse. Here, the Yankees need to seriously alter their approach by coveting a diverse range of ballplayers as opposed to simply hoarding sluggers.
The Yankees need winners, leaders and snarling ballplayers in the truest sense of the word. They need salty veterans and cultural figureheads who will police the clubhouse and preach a relentless hunger to their teammates. We are talking about unheralded players with great fundamentals – athleticism, contact skills, altruism, durability and defensive expertise. Guys like Kiké Hernández, Christian Vázquez, Kyle Schwarber, Alex Verdugo, Michael Brantley, Joc Pederson and Gavin Lux, who are currently driving their teams through October. Guys like Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez, Scott Brosius, Graig Nettles, Lou Piniella and Billy Martin in bygone Yankee eras. These are the cogs that turn the championship wheel, and the Yankees need to swallow some pride in chasing them.
My plan: Fuse the expertise of scouts and data analysts to sign the kind of cheap, under-appreciated accent pieces that seem to illuminate the postseason every year. Looking at the upcoming free agent class, I would target guys like Pederson, Schwarber, Dexter Fowler, Jurickson Profar, Joe Panik, Kevin Pillar, Brock Holt, Delino DeShields, Billy Hamilton and Jackie Bradley Jr. in this guise. Their stats are not great, but they are baseball players, and that is what the Yankees need.
10. Supplement the team with elite champions
All too often, the Yankees have started with this step and worked backwards, attempting to reverse-engineer the championship process by shoehorning as many stars onto the roster as possible. Such an approach certainly has a place in the Yankees’ doctrine, and the team should invest a good portion of its revenue in roster enhancements, but the right kind of superstar must be targeted. The Yankees need champions, not celebrities, and there are plenty available this winter.
My plan: Re-sign Rizzo, who is the prototypical Yankee. Add Max Scherzer and Zack Greinke in free agency. Speak to Justin Verlander. Yes, they are between 37 and 38 years old, respectively, but they are elite winners, akin to when the Yankees added Roger Clemens, David Cone and Randy Johnson in a previous age. The Red Sox acquired Curt Schilling when he was 37, too, and look how that turned out.
Clayton Kershaw would also be welcome, although the Dodgers will likely bring him back. I’m also intrigued by Kris Bryant in addition to the Seager brothers, seriously good players from the Jeter school of comportment. There are plenty of options out there, quite frankly. The Yankees just have to be bothered enough to spend the money we routinely give them.
Final thoughts on the Yankees heading into winter
Of course, it is now generally considered uncouth to discuss firing people, while brainstorming potential replacements for those positions is similarly frowned upon. Yet, this is what the Yankees have driven us to. The only way we can maintain sanity and hold interest in this team is to ponder possible saviours.
It comes to something, quite honestly, when you consider Alex Rodriguez a viable alternative to the present malaise. Just last week, in fact, I had a dream that A-Rod and Starbucks impresario Howard Schultz formed a consortium to buy the team. That I was disappointed upon regaining consciousness and discovering it was not real articulates the depths of our current plight.
To wit, the Yankees have won one World Series title in 21 years, yet another sign of their diminished power. The dynasty days now seem impossible to recreate, redolent of another team, in another era, in another stadium, playing another game. Only time will tell whether the Yankees can rescale that ominous mountain, but the odds do not look great. And neither do the imposters in pinstripes who continue to ruin our summers.
⚾ ⚾ ⚾
- A stream of consciousness on the Yankees' disastrous 2021 season
- Another poor offseason breeds familiar uncertainty for the Yankees
- Déjà vu all over again as Yankees lose 2020 ALDS to Tampa Bay Rays
- Yankees lose 2019 ALCS to Astros on Game 6 walk-off by José Altuve
- Yankees lose 2018 ALDS to Red Sox as dream season turns sour
- Yankees lose ALCS Game 7 heartbreaker to Astros
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Ryan Ferguson is the author of Conflict: The Yankees, the Red Sox and the War for My Heart, available now in paperback and Kindle formats through Amazon. Click the link below to get your copy now!