Monday, September 30, 2013

Girardi: Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?

The Yankees season is finally, thankfully, over. It was a rough year between injuries, incompetence, early moves that looked brilliant, but then ended with a crashing thud, and just 85 wins and a third place finish (tied with Baltimore) in the AL East.

The last Yankees team to win 85 or less was the 1992 squad that won 76, but that was when the Yankees were on the brink of refueling and remaking the squad into a perennial contender. The 2013 squad finished 12 games behind division-winner Boston and six games out of the wild card.

The current squad, which I predicted would finish third AND get a wild card spot, is in complete disarray. That includes the managerial position since Joe Girardi's contract is up.

It's remarkable to think that after all of the tumult caused by George Steinbrenner in the '70s, '80s, and '90s, there have been only two Yankees managers in the last 18 seasons. The Yankees used to average two managers per season.

But now there could be a change and a lot of that will depend on the Yankees approach to the future and the fact that the Chicago Cubs fired manager Dale Sveum Monday morning.

Girardi said he would not take long to make his mind up about what was best for "his crew" - his wife Kim, son Dante and daughters Serena and Lena. The decision could be based on discussions with Cashman, who is a big advocate of Girardi's, as to the team's direction in 2014.

Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera are gone. Derek Jeter will be coming back again from a messed up ankle and other leg maladies. Alex Rodriguez could miss the whole season due to a suspension. Hiroki Kuroda, the ace for most of the season, may retire. Robinson Cano could leave via free agency. There will be more players leaving than returning.

My hunch is that Girardi leaves; that no longer having Pettitte and Rivera, two of his old teammates and most reliable players, will have a major influence. The biggest influence in his decision, however, could be a return to his native state.  Girardi was born and raised in Peoria, attended Northwestern University,  and played for the Cubs on two occasions (1989-1992, 2000-2002) after being drafted by them in the 5th round in 1996. He would love to be the guy that brings the Cubs back to the World Series for the first time since 1945 and to skipper them to their first World Series championship since 1908.

Girardi needs to look carefully at the Cubs team and organization as well. Chicago won five more games this year than they did in 2012 and still only came away with 66 wins. The team does not have stars. First baseman Anthony Rizzo put together a .742 OPS this season with 23 HR and 80 RBI and could emerge as an upper echelon player. The second most productive player was Nate Schierholtz, who hit 21 home runs and posted a .770 OPS, but will be 30 before next season.

Shortstop Starlin Castro came up in 2010 with a lot of hype, but after three consistent years with an OPS around .750, he regressed to a .631 OPS this year and stole just nine bases in 15 attempts.

No Cubs pitcher had double digit wins. The top three in the rotation - Jeff Samardzija (8-13, 4.34 ERA, 1.348 WHIP), Travis Wood (9-12, 3.11 ERA, 1.145 WHIP), and veteran Edwin Jackson (8-18, 4.98 ERA, 1.460 WHIP) are nothing special, though Wood's record would have been better had the team averaged more than three runs in his starts. (Wood had a 4.4 WAR.)

The top Cubs prospect Javier Baez had a tremendous year split between advanced 'A' ball and Double-A (37 HR 111 RBI 20 SB), but it's not likely he'll join the big club to start the 2014 season. Four of the six players (pitchers Justin Grimm, Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop, and first baseman Mike Olt) acquired in deals for pitchers Matt Garza and Scott Feldman haven't fully tapped their potential yet. To put it simply, the Cubs are very much a work in progress.

Girardi, of course, could also take some time off and join one of the networks as a part time announcer, a job he's held before.

So let's say Girardi does leave; who becomes the next Yankees manager?

Tony Pena - Interviewed for the 2008 vacancy along with Girardi and Don Mattingly. He's been Girardi's bench coach since 2009 after three years as first base coach. Pena managed the KC Royals from 2002 until May, 2005 when he resigned. During his tenure in KC, Pena won the AL Manager of the Year award in 2003. At 56 years of age his thinking is more old school than the number-crunching style that Cashman prefers.

Willie Randolph - Always a fan favorite, Willie played for the Yankees from 1975-1988 and was a coach with them for 11 years after he retired as a player in 1992. He managed the cross-town Mets for over 3 1/2 years before he was fired during the 2008 season. Randolph brought the Mets to within inches of the 2006 World Series, but the team lost the 7th game of the NLCS to the St. Louis Cardinals. He finished second in the NL Manager of the Year voting to Girardi, who was at the helm of the Florida Marlins.

A year later the Mets had a seven game lead in the NL East with 17 games to play, but went 5-12 to lose the division title to the Philadelphia Phillies and missed the playoffs completely. After his dismissal from the Mets, Randolph coached with the Milwaukee Brewers (2009-2010) and Baltimore Orioles (2011).

Dave Miley - The former Cincinnati Reds (2003-2005) manager just completed his 8th season as manager of the Yankees' Triple-A squads in Columbus (OH) and Scranton, and has managed in the minors for 24 seasons. It would be nice to see him get another shot in the bigs after all this time. Miley won the International League Manager of the Year award in 2007 and 2012, when Scranton had no home park due to renovations.

Dave Martinez - The Rays bench coach for the past six seasons, Martinez has interviewed in the past for managerial jobs in Houston, Toronto, and Cleveland. He is highly thought of and respected by his peers. His tasks in Tampa include alignment of the Rays' defense, and baserunning and bunting instruction.

Trey Hillman - Might have had a shot at the Yankees job in 2008 had he not already been hired as manager by the KC Royals. The 50-year old managed in the Yankees minor league system from 1990 to 2002 and had three years of managerial experience in Japan before taking the KC job. The Royals fired him after a 12-23 start in his third year at the helm. The team had won 75 and 67 games the prior two years. Hillman is currently Don Mattingly's bench coach in Los Angeles.

Brad Ausmus - The veteran of 18 big league seasons as a catcher (and five years in the Yankees' minor league system), Ausmus is one of the names brought up most when discussing MLB management opportunities. That includes the now-vacant Cubs position. Ausmus, whose mother is Jewish, managed the Israeli baseball team in the preliminary qualifying tournament for the 2013 World Baseball Classic. They were beaten by Spain in the finale. That has been the extent of Ausmus’ managerial experience.

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