When Joe Girardi sat down for yesterday’s press conference, his first question was big picture. Looking back, how would Girardi assess the season?
“It’s obviously short of what we set out to accomplish in spring training,” Girardi said. “But I also think this club did a lot of good things. …”
Girardi was predictably positive, which might not be spin so much as the manager’s personality. Girardi’s a glass-half-full kind of guy, and he went on to lay out some of the positives that he sees when looking back on the season. These are Girardi’s words in italics:
Can’t look back on the Yankees season without recognizing that they were crushed by injuries. Turns out, Dave Robertson stumbling down a single step in spring training was a warning of things to come.
Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, Michael Pineda, Brett Gardner, Mariano Rivera, CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira each missed significant time with injuries this season. That’s two setup men, a closer, three starting pitchers and three lineup regulars. Eric Chavez, Ivan Nova and Derek Jeter spent shorter stints on the DL.
How well the Yankees filled those gaps is worth some debate. Eric Chavez, David Phelps, Rafael Soriano and Ichiro Suzuki were outstanding replacements. Cory Wade, Dewayne Wise and Derek Lowe had their moments. Andruw Jones, Freddy Garcia, Casey McGehee and Steve Pearce were ultimately disappointing.
Big picture, though, Girardi’s right. The Yankees were wrecked by injuries, and in the course of a 162-game season, did a good job making up for those losses to finish with the best record in the American League.
“We had pitchers join us that weren’t in spring training with us who played significant roles. We lost starters, other people had to step up. We saw a young man like Phelpsy do a lot of different things for us over the course of the season, whether it was an inning of relief, long relief, a start. We saw a guy like Cody Eppley, who wasn’t with us in spring training. Ibanez had to play the outfield a lot more than we expected.”
It’s tied to the injuries, obviously, but several players did get far more significant playing time than expected, and that could impact the way the Yankees handle the fringes of their roster going forward.
Eduardo Nunez’s defensive short-comings opened a door for Jayson Nix, who proved far more valuable than his limited spring training exposure suggested. He’s a reliable glove at three infield positions, and he was pretty good in the outfield when the Yankees used him there. For a guy in that role, he can hit a little bit. Given Nunez’s defensive limitations and Jeter’s ankle injury, Nix might be worth keeping going forward.
The injury-shortened bullpen left opportunities for Eppley and Phelps. Eppley was an end-of-spring-training waiver claim and Phelps was the last man to make the roster out of camp, but both were trusted with big spots late in the year. Eppley is limited, sure, but he was pretty good as a sixth-inning guy who can generate a groundball. Phelps suddenly looks like a legitimate rotation candidate, somewhat – but only somewhat – easing the loss of Manny Banuelos to elbow surgery. Clay Rapada might also have earned a second season as a strictly left-on-left specialist.
Late in the year, injuries opened a little bit of playing time for Nunez’s return and Chris Dickerson’s first big league at-bats of the season. Nunez’s postseason served as a reminder that his bat is still valuable, and Dickerson built off his strong Triple-A numbers to make himself at least worth a spot in the conversation about the Yankees outfield depth next season. Based on the players currently under team control, you’d have to consider Dickerson the Yankees starting right fielder at the moment.
“I mean, there were a lot of good things that really happened this year. You end up winning more games than anyone in the American League (than) any club, so I thought we did a lot of good things. But I think we’re all disappointed we didn’t accomplish what we wanted.”
Here’s the thing about looking back with positivity: That positivity has to end at the postseason. Pitching was terrific in the playoffs, and maybe that’s worth a positive spin, but the pitching staff is also preparing to lose Andy Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda and Rafael Soriano to free agency.
Ultimately, the postseason created very real questions about this offense, and the despite the large sample size of the regular season, the complete lack of offense in playoffs has stirred a passionate debate about whether a team built for the regular season is necessarily best suited for the postseason. Guys like Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano left themselves open to severe criticism, and Nick Swisher seemed to lose his spot on some fans’ wish lists for next year.
There’s nothing wrong with looking back at the Yankees regular season and finding a list of positives — perhaps it’s part of Girardi’s job to do so, and the Yankees have to consider some of those bright spots as they move forward – but any attempt to see the positive has to end with the negative reality of October. Girardi’s right to say this club did a lot of good things, but he’s also right to say the team fell short of expectations.
Associated Press photos