“Don’t suck entirely” – Hal Steinbrenner
“Sorry boss, I let you down.” – Yankees GM Jim Melichar
When I walked into the boss’ office at 1 E 161st St on Monday October 2nd, I expected the worst.
“Sit down, Jim.” said Hal.
I knew it was going to be bad. There was only one realistic goal this year and I had failed. Not to mention the only player he wanted to see retained, Michael Pineda, was lost for most of the season due to injury and when he came back was pissed off to be sitting in the clubhouse in the middle of what he could see was going to be a long rebuild. By the time Pineda returned from the DL, not even Alex Rodriguez remained.
Alex had been hanging around the Bronx, desperately trying to reach 700 homeruns, but ultimately would be given his unconditional release stuck on #680 after hitting only .190/.269/.298. Media reported fan backlash, but if that was true, you couldn’t tell. That’s what a 97 loss season will do though – cripple your fanbase. Perhaps ticket prices had already done that first . . .
“I still want you to extend Pineda Jim. He’s been loyal to us.”
He repeated that, twice, I nodded that I understood (he asked me if I understood, twice).
Shit, I can’t extend Pineda. He doesn’t even want to play here. At least I can blame him when I fail Steinbrenner this time I thought to myself.
The 2017 season was a full-on train wreck. In the back of my head I knew it had to happen, but I didn’t envision it being this bad. This pitching staff became a mess early on. Raisel Iglesias was lost for the season with a torn UCL on 4/17. Young rookie phenom Kyle Zimmer, part of the Tanaka trade two years ago would see the DL nearly every month of the season, finally succumbing to shoulder surgery in August and is just now starting to think about rehabbing. Allen Webster and Andrew Cashner were part of a clubhouse revolt against the new manager, who had put them both in the bullpen to start the season. While they each eventually found their way into the rotation due to the injuries that plagued my pitching staff, Cashner has already gotten paid and knew it and Webster solely wanted to log enough innings as a starter to push his arbitration number upward.
Foltynewicz, relying solely on his plus-plus fastball, could never really locate any of his other pitches and spent part of his year trying to figure things out in the bullpen.
The same can be said of Lance McCullers Jr. who battled his command the entire season, mostly out of the bullpen trying to provide some semblance of relief to a New York starting staff who were constantly being pummeled. After a ho-hum start to his season, and not enough pitching jobs to go around, I sent Lance back to AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to work on his command. While there, he got so angry at me that he started a brawl and was suspended 5 games. It seemed like that was the turning point for him as he settled in and started 17 games for the Railriders, compiling a 2.30 ERA in 94 innings and notching 86Ks against only 34 walks. When I brought him back to New York I explained that he would have to prove he had matured and gained some control over his fastball by working out of the bullpen. In reality both the minor league option and the bullpen move were to benefit the front office with control time and salary. Lance came back and over the course of 34 innings out of the bullpen in July and August would only give up 6ER while striking out 40 batters and walking only 18.
Ian Kennedy, who was brought in as a rotation stabilizer, and damn it, I explained to him before the year started that we were pushing for a 3 year turn-around, turned on me instead. Kennedy showed up in my office just prior to the All-Star break requesting a trade. Said he couldn’t hang around for 3 years just to see if he could get a ring in his final season with us. I told him to put on his big boy pants, take the ball every 5th day and eat the innings I brought him here to eat. He’s still pissed at me, and rightfully so. Our defense was so awful his WHIP and ERA ballooned to career highs. I think he started charging the infield $50 for every routine groundball they couldn’t get to. What a greedy bastard, he’s making $15M per year.
Two waiver wire bright spots were Chad Billingsley and Jesse Chavez. Chavez was released by the Orioles in Spring Training and he came in and filled the back of the bullpen admirably when Jordan Walden developed the inability to get anyone out. The guy is a head case. He thinks he’s mad? I’ve got a closer being paid $21M through the next two presidential terms that’s got a 5.something ERA and a 1.7something WHIP.
Billingsley was picked up off the street on a minor league deal but was pressed into duty, well because no one else could pitch. He actually showed signs of the form he displayed with the Dodgers in his early 20s. He started five games for us, going 7+ innings in 4 of his 5 starts putting up a stellar 0.96 WHIP despite going 1-2. Just as soon as he was here, he was gone, a torn rotator cuff ended his season and likely his career.
I’d talk about the bullpen, but if I did Hal might hear me and realize I actually should have been fired. As I began to think about the 2018 season, I realized I’d need to let Cashner, Pineda, and Kennedy lead the rotation and let the young lefty Sean Manaea, the hard-working McCullers and the talented Kyle Zimmer battle it out for the last 2 rotation spots. Dealing Folynewicz and the disgruntled Allen Webster became top priorities for the offseason. I’m going to pray that Walden puts it back together next year.
If I thought the pitchers had turned on new manager Elio Sarmiento, that was nothing compared to the shit-show Justin Upton & Co. brought to the clubhouse. From Day 1 Upton made it clear he was going to show up, take his at-bats and go home. Nothing more. Coming off an MVP season the year before, Upton could see there was nothing here for him and wanted out. He talked about it daily. He’d swing by Elio’s office on a weekly basis asking if I’d dealt him yet. He and Domingo Santana had a side-bit on who could break the Yankees team strikeout record first. It was ugly. It killed me to let these two jokers take at-bats for us, but I’d have to wait until the offseason to dump these headaches on another team. Didi Gregorious, while playing stellar defense for us also wanted out of town. He said it was he or Elio. For now I’m loyal to them both. We’ll see how 2018 plays out.
On the offensive side of the ball, with all the problem children I had inherited, I was more than willing to dip into our minor leagues to see if anyone could do the job better than the some of players that clearly wanted out of town. Conrad Gregor, our 1B, quietly had a nice season. Triple-slashed .270/.348/.454 with 66 walks against only 95 strikeouts. Jim Cobb came up and DH’d for us and filled in admirably once we let A-Rod go. He might not have set the world on fire, but he got valuable experience and at-bats with the big club.
Our last bright spot was catcher Tomas Telis. All this kid does is hit. Literally. He doesn’t walk (10 times) or strikeout (34 times) in 267 plate appearances. We’re going to give him the bulk of the starts next year, especially against LHP and hope that top prospect Luis Torrens can come up and take the 2nd catcher job out of spring training and maybe half of the at-bats against RHP.
Our two veteran speedsters, Dee Gordon and Jacoby Ellsbury had solid 2 and 2.4 WAR seasons and will be back up the middle for us in 2018 – unless Hal tells me otherwise. Jacoby doesn’t want to play through the rebuild, but I told him when you sign a 10 year contract you’re going to have to work through the ups and downs, so get comfortable. You win some and you lose some, right? Did I mention that Matt Carpenter had a 6.9 WAR season in Cincy? Shit.
At the end of the day, when I walked out of Mr. Steinbrenner’s office, I knew I was both on the hot seat and comfortably in control of this Yankees rebuild. He won’t refer to it as a rebuild, he calls it “getting ****ing better prety ****ing quickly”. I’m on it sir, I assure you. The Yankees will be back to rule the East, I just hope I’m here to see it.