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The easy target

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Joe Girardi is not going to win Manager of the Year. We already know that. We knew it even before his name was left out of the three finalists announced last week. We knew it when the Orioles and A’s stunned the American League, and we knew it when the Yankees showed holes.

The Baseball Writers Association of America will announce its Manager of the Year winners tonight, and simply having the best record in the A.L. isn’t enough for a Yankees manager to win Manager of the Year.

But I still think Girardi had a pretty good year.

Having the best record in the American League is one thing, but it’s another to do it with the team’s closer, third baseman, first baseman, left fielder, No. 3 starter and No. 4 starter* all missing significant time with injuries. That’s to say nothing of the team’s ace going on the DL twice, a platoon DH having an unthinkably bad season, and the supposed-to-be somewhat-regular utility infielder being shipped to the minors because he couldn’t field a grounder.

Obviously a lot of things went right for this team — Derek Jeter’s resurgence, the bullpen rising to the occasion, Hiroki Kuroda pitching like an ace — but considering all that went wrong, 95 wins was no easy task. And surely Girardi deserves some credit for reaching that number.

[3]So why is he second-guessed at best and despised at worst?

It’s partially because it comes with the territory. Second-guessing a baseball manager is easy, and it’s especially easy in a market full of opinions from so many radio hosts, TV personalities, local columnists, national columnists and every beat writer, fan and critic with a blog and a computer. Second-guessing a manager is part of what we do.

It’s partially because of Girardi’s personality. He’s loyal and patient in an arena that’s often aggressive and reactionary. For better and for worse, winning is the only thing that matters here. And when the Yankees lose — a game, a series or a season — it’s easy to come up with solutions that might have been better. Call-up a prospect. Change the lineup. Use the bullpen differently. Give a starting pitcher more rest (or less rest). It’s not vital that these alternatives be proven effective, it’s enough to think they might be effective.

This particular season, I happen to think Girardi was second-guessed and occasionally despised because he lacked options.

Andruw Jones kept playing despite terrible numbers. But until Ichiro Suzuki started hitting left-handers late in the year, there was no one on the roster who seemed to be a viable alternative. The late-inning relievers were overused. But the rest of the Yankees bullpen consisted of two specialists and a rotating cast of multi-inning relievers. Cory Wade helped out early and Joba Chamberlain helped late, but the only real constants were Rafael Soriano, Dave Robertson and Boone Logan. The Yankees didn’t hit in the postseason. But these were the same guys who played very well down the stretch, and when Girardi made a change, it was to insert hitless Eric Chavez and not-nearly-prepared-to-play-everyday Brett Gardner.

Look, there’s nothing fun in defending A manager. The fun part is ripping him, making up scenarios that might have worked and comparing those fantasies against his unproductive reality. But it’s not always a fair way to criticize.

Is Girardi a perfect manager? Absolutely not. I happen to like that he goes by the book — I appreciate that he’s able to explain every move, whether I agree with it or not — but I recognize that the binder mentality sometimes gets him into trouble, and Girardi has a secretive way about him that makes him evasive. But on the whole, I think he does a good job with the pieces in place. I think he’s a good man who is, at the very least, respected by the players in that clubhouse. I don’t think he’s the reason the Yankees lost to the Tigers.

Girardi doesn’t deserve to be Manager of the Year. But that doesn’t mean he had a bad year.

With that said, feel free to rip away…

* I’m guessing that, in a perfect world, Andy Pettitte and Michael Pineda would have been the Nos. 3 and 4 starters.

Associated Press photo