Alex Rodriguez is right. There haven’t been too many opportunities to say that this year; his bid for the Mets veered into shamelessness and his once-sprightly TV work has soured into silly, completely wrong fixations on home runs as “empty calories” and bunting as comfort food. But Rodriguez is on the money with his complaint that his old team — the one he led to its sole title in the last two decades — outsmarted itself on the way to yet another early exit from the AL playoffs.
Rodriguez delivered a tremendous rant on Wednesday, after the Yankees fell behind 2-1 in the ALDS, two days before they were eliminated on Friday night. “You’re No. 1 in payroll with $240 million, you have to play your game. You’ve done it for over 120 years, you have 27 championships, you’ve done it as an alpha, you’ve done it the old-fashioned way,” Rodriguez said. “The players start saying (gestures to David Ortiz), ‘Papi, what are we doing?’ You start spending so much time trying to figure out how to outsmart the Ivy Leaguers (in Tampa), that’s not your game. Don’t play Jeopardy. Play baseball …
“We used to say, Papi, if a manager can stay out of the game, that would be great. Now we have to say, front offices stay out of the game. Frustrating.”
He was talking about the Yankees’ disastrous decision to piggyback Deivi Garcia and J.A. Happ instead of just starting Masahiro Tanaka in their Game 2 loss to the Rays, which will loom large in the Yankee fanbase all winter. (As Rodriguez correctly pointed out, there is zero chance that Aaron Boone had anything to do with that decision. The Yankees are run by the man who famously told Rodriguez to “shut the f--- up.”) I’m less interested in relitigating that — or Rodriguez’s millionth heel turn, this time into an anti-nerd crank — than the core righteousness of his point: The New York Yankees shouldn’t have to do this.
Whether Tanaka started Game 2 or 3, the Yankees were planning on getting two more do-or-die playoff games with some permutation of the Garcia-Happ-Jordan Montgomery slopfest. They survived one of those games, they got crushed in the other, and Tanaka, Cole and the bullpen had their margin of error reduced to zero. It didn’t work out.
Maybe they would have lost to an excellent Rays team anyway, considering Tampa Bay very nearly tagged Gerrit Cole in Game 1, shelled Tanaka in Game 3, and was able to shut down the Yankees’ offense in Game 5. And Cashman’s defenders would point out the bad injury luck for James Paxton and Luis Severino. But any plan that relied on those two staying healthy wasn’t a very good one to begin with, and there was plenty of pitching available at the trade deadline anyway.
Instead, the Yankees tried to beat the Rays at their own game, and failed miserably. The only reason that the Rays play the game that way in the first place is that they don’t have the Yankees’ willingness to spend. If the Rays invested an extra $150 million in payroll to match the Yankees, you can bet they wouldn’t be furiously scrambling to come up with workarounds that disguise their roster limitations. The Yankees shouldn’t have those same limitations! And inevitably a team that is used to planning with them will be better at it, as was clear when Garcia appeared to not fully understand the plan and Happ was not remotely comfortable with it.
This is now the second straight year that the Yankees crashed out of the playoffs because their starting pitching wasn’t good enough. Again, Cashman might say that last year’s dejuiced ball and this year’s surprisingly compressed schedule would have changed their deadline approach; again, I’d respond that the Yankees should be impervious to marginal changes in conditions.
It’s tempting to laud the Yankees for being the most aggressive spenders in baseball, and compared to the union-busting Rays and A’s and noncompetitive Red Sox, they are indeed the good guys. But the Yankees bank so much more cash than every other team that they can’t be compared to the rest of MLB; they can only properly be compared to themselves. And the post-2009 Yankees are hoarding more profits than they ever have; as of 2018 they actually spent the lowest percentage of revenue on players of any team in baseball. The World Series drought isn’t quite a coincidence.
This was a likable Yankees team, one that would have been a blast to watch against the Dodgers in the World Series. Instead, the AL will be represented by either the skinflint Rays or the loathsome, McKinsey-optimized Astros. You can thank the Steinbrenners for that. Again.
©2020 New York Daily News