Choosing Yanks over Cubs, Girardi takes the harder job

Scott Halleran

The Cubs' path out of the woods is clearly demarcated. The Yankees may have a harder road.

Late Wednesday afternoon the Yankees announced that the Joe Girardi free-agent drama had been resolved before it had even begun: the manager, who would have reached the open market upon the expiration of his current contract on October 31, has signed a four-year extension to remain with the Yankees. Possible suitors, including Girardi's hometown Cubs, will now have to look elsewhere.

Girardi has opted for the prestige, job security, and the salary ($4 million plus bonuses) that come with wearing the pinstripes, but in some senses he has taken on a job that will be more difficult than the task he would have faced in Chicago, one that will be more threatening to his reputation. The Cubs are a mess, their season having been far more discouraging than their 66-96 record would suggest due to retrograde seasons by Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, and Jeff Samardzija. Nevertheless, they have a healthy pile of prospects rising in the minors and an intelligent front office; their future is far from assured, but it's reasonable to be bullish about the long term. In the short term, Girardi would have been in a no-lose situation: if the team stayed in place he could have pointed to the ongoing rebuilding, whereas if the team unexpectedly took off he would have looked like a genius.

The Yankees' situation is, in its own way, far darker. We can't know what alterations the team will make in the offseason, particularly with Hal Steinbrenner sounding like he's still committed to reducing payroll, but as things stand now there are far more questions than answers. The club will have at least a dozen free agents this winter, but the players that are under contract are hardly more projectable even though their identities are known. Going position by position:

Pos

Player (2014 Age)

The Riddle

1B

Mark Teixeira (34)

Missed almost the entire season with an injury to his right wrist; production had declined in four straight seasons.

2B

Robinson Cano (31)

Free agent.

3B

Alex Rodriguez (38)

Could be suspended anywhere from 50 to over 200 games, has had more lawsuits than games played this year.

SS

Derek Jeter (40)

Missed almost the entire season with ankle injury, probably can't play the position regularly  even if healthy.

C

Chris Stewart (32)

Stewart is a non-tender candidate; could be replaced by Francisco Cervelli, who between injuries and demotions has 63 major league games in the last three years and has yet to show he can hit.

OF

Brett Gardner (30)

Value depends on interplay of hitting, baserunning, and fielding; if he's the best bat in your outfield, as he was for most of the season, you're in trouble.

OF

Alfonso Soriano (38)

Thanks to hot hitting with Yankees had his best season in five years; regression with the bat seems likely and he's a net negative on the bases and in the field.

OF

Ichiro Suzuki (40)

Is somehow signed for one more year. Can still run and field but has lost just enough speed to destroy his batting average -- he hit .305 on grounders through 2010, .248 over last three years.

DH

Vernon Wells (35)

Listing Wells here because he's signed, but the playing time will more likely devolve on any of the oldsters above. Curtis Granderson (32) and Mark Reynolds (30) are also possibilities but are currently unsigned.

SP

CC Sabathia (33)

Experienced a decline in effectiveness as his fastball velocity dropped off; second half ERA was 6.08.

SP

Ivan Nova (27)

Has yet to get through a full season in the big league rotation, but the surest thing the team has got at the moment as well as its youngest player of any quality.

SP

Hiroki Kuroda (39)

Free agent; went 1-7 with a 5.40 ERA after July.

SP

Adam Warren (26)

Was a solid if home-run prone long man, likely no more than a back-end starter.

SP

David Phelps (27)

What goes for Warren applies to him. Phelps and Warren are listed here in lieu of what will likely be a veteran import or two, a bid by a back-end rotation prospect like Nik Turleym or a return by the forever-recovering Michael Pineda. Of the incumbents for these two spots, Andy Pettitte retired and Phil Hughes is a free agent and almost certainly gone after a disastrous season.

CLOSER

David Robertson (29)

A great setup man, but great setup men don't always make great closers, especially when they're following a Hall of Famer.


The tunnel out of his mess is crowded by the wreckage of the team's upper-level prospects, most of whom had disappointing seasons.  Gary Sanchez, Mason Williams, Tyler Austin, Slade Heathcott, and Manny Banuelos were ineffective, injured, or all of the above and will need to reestablish their bona fides to put any pressure on the greybeards in the bigs. It seemed as if the team had a promising draft, but the players selected in June are likely years away from having an impact on the New York roster.

The problem is that if the Yankees aren't going to spend on free agents, lack veterans who would bring a return in trade, and don't have ready prospects, every route towards improvement is foreclosed. Even were that not true, the club would still be quite old and praying for an unlikely number of rebound seasons.

The Cubs job would have been difficult -- any job that defeats the efforts of more than a century must be definition be termed difficult -- but the path out of the woods is clearly marked, even if it means more losing in the near term. The irony is that Girardi would probably not have greatly added to or detracted from the timetable or altered the path; the outcome is dependent on the players, first, last, and always. In remaining with the Yankees, Girardi offers continuity and a connection to multiple championship teams that is now down to Derek Jeter as far as the active roster goes, but he doesn't change the outlook for New York any more than he would have in Chicago. Until he has the horses, he's going to be more of a symbolic presence than an effective one.

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