The 2021 New York Yankees season is over. And I find myself being more angry than sad. Normally, I’ll be upset and dwelling on our season-ending loss for about a week before moving on. However, this time around, I immediately went to what went wrong and what we need to change moving forward. And while yes, the offense put up a measly two runs in the Wild Card Game and Gerrit Cole laid an egg, this is not all on the players. They definitely deserve a share of the blame, but this is a problem from the very top to the very bottom of the organization. It is a flawed organizational philosophy.
This year’s team was never going anywhere. As a die-hard Yankees fan, of course, I was rooting for them to win the World Series. But did anyone realistically think we had a shot? Sure, many Wild Card teams have made runs and the Washington Nationals even won it all from that position in 2019. But we all know how bad this team can be when they’re cold, and they always are cold right after a hot streak. They won seven in a row just a couple of weeks ago just to finish the season 2-3 in their last five games. Not terrible, but we all knew a swoon was incoming.
This season has been a rollercoaster. They were 41-41 on July 4, having just dropped the first two games of their series with their crosstown rival the New York Mets. At this point, I was thinking: “Just get into the playoffs, whatever it takes. Just get in.” Then a month later, they reeled off a 13-game winning streak and sat relatively comfortably in the first Wild Card spot by a couple of games, and then I thought: “We’re gonna get the first Wild Card! Heck, let’s even go after the Tampa Bay Rays for the division, we’re only four games back!” Then shortly after they lost seven in a row, fell out of a playoff spot altogether, and I was back to: “Just get in!” Then they won seven in a row and were two games up for the first Wild Card and I once again was dead-set on having home-field in that do-or-die game. And of course, the finale was when we needed one single run and barely got that to walk it off against the Rays to get into the dance on the final day of the regular season. I mean, just look at these stretches throughout the season:
This is by far the most inconsistent, under-performing team I have witnessed as a fan. At least from 2013-2016, we expected them to be mediocre. The 2021 team was supposed to win the division and challenge the Los Angeles Dodgers as the best team in the league. We didn’t even come close to that. We were very close to flat-out embarrassing ourselves and not making the postseason at all. So who deserves the blame? Everyone. More specifically:
It starts from the top. Yes, the players didn’t perform, but this organization has been in limbo the past few years. We are more concerned with avoiding the luxury tax than we are with winning. We’ve had four seasons to build on the 2017 team that was one win away from the World Series. Sure, we won 100-plus games in 2018 and 2019, but we’ve actually never gotten as close to the World Series as we did in 2017.
Look, I understand where Hal Steinbrenner is coming from. He’s a businessman, this is his money – I get it. But if you say the goal is still to bring a World Series to the Bronx, you’re not showing a whole lot of urgency.
What about Brian Cashman? I actually am not fully sold on axing him as general manager. I think he is a good GM. And there are things that he is good at that we as fans can’t even begin to understand. For example, he surely has built up some great connections with other GMs, agents, and the like. He is respected around the game. That must help when it comes to talking with free agents, making trades, and more. But at the same time, I also agree that we need a change of scenery. Whether that means moving on from Cashman or simply changing to organization’s philosophy, I don’t care. I just know that changes have to be made, including at the highest level of the team.
While I don’t know if every coach outside of Matt Blake will be let go, I wouldn’t be mad at that.
I understand that the “home run or nothing” is our approach (we hit home runs, we win; we don’t we lose), but that just isn’t going to cut it. While many of our players are built like that, there are some who aren’t and still haven’t performed. DJ LeMahieu regressed, Gleyber Torres regressed, Gary Sanchez didn’t get any better after a putrid 2020, the list goes on. Plus, the Rays struck out the third-most in the entire league as a team and scored the second-most runs.
Do all of our offensive troubles fall on Marcus Thames? I don’t know the inner workings of what a hitting coach is doing on a daily basis, but surely he has to shoulder some of the blame. Yes, DJ may have been playing hurt for some of the year, but he is a contact-first type of hitter whose average plummeted. Yes, Gleyber started hitting better once he moved back to second base, but did playing shortstop really have that much of an effect on his offense? And what happened to Gary? This is the man we touted as a top-three catcher in the entire game after his first couple of seasons, and now he very well might be considered one of the worst.
Phil Nevin? The Yankees got thrown out 22 times at home this year. That was tied for the most in the majors. That has to fall on the third-base coach.
And of course, Mr. Aaron John Boone. I don’t understand why people who are in the industry such as Buster Olney and Jon Heyman are so quick to defend Boone based on things such as his winning percentage as manager:
In Aaron Boone's three full seasons as manager, the Yankees have averaged 98 wins in the regular season.
Some folks/fans up in arms about Cashman and Boone after Yankees lost. Cashman isn’t going anywhere; beyond BC having a year to go, they make the playoffs almost annually and he has 4 rings as GM. As for Boone, he has .601 win percentage and is beloved by Cashman and the players.
I’m sorry, I respect these writers, but for those who watch this team on a daily basis, you know how many bone-headed moves Boone has made. How many times did he leave in a reliever too long? How many times did he punt a game by bringing in a mop-up reliever when we were only down two or three runs? How many times did he change the lineup, never allowing guys to have some consistency? How many times did we hear the same quotes over and over and over again after tough losses? And don’t even get me started with him needing until September to realize that Gleyber was more comfortable on both sides of the ball when he was at second rather than short.
I’m not saying Boone is the worst manager ever, but he definitely cost us a couple of wins. And that could have cost us a shot to be playing in the ALDS. Is he a great communicator? Sure, I’ll give him that. But there still has been a disconnect somewhere, and it’s been going on since he took over. I don’t know if that’s a disconnect between him and the front office, between him and the players, or even between him and us fans. But he is not getting his message across. Or he is getting across the wrong message. Either way, with his contract up, Boone should not be brought back as manager. I’m sorry Hal if it means you have to go through an exhausting search for a new manager, but that’s just what you have to do sometimes. This team needs a new voice in that locker room.
Listen, this is what it all comes down to, the players with the great stats on the back of their baseball cards underperformed. And it wasn’t just one or two guys – it was nearly everyone.
Since he started on Tuesday I’ll start with Cole. He is our ace. I am not denying that. He is one of the best pitchers in the game and will vie for a Cy Young next year as he did this year. But I don’t know if it was the sticky-stuff crackdown or the hamstring injury, but he didn’t have it down the stretch. And that’s not what the Yankees are paying him $36 million for. There are two possibilities here:
His hamstring was still bothering him
If Cole’s hamstring was still an issue, then it is understandable why he pitched so poorly in September and into October. However, if he truly was still hurt, someone has to sack up and take him out of starting the Wild Card Game. I don’t know if that needed to be Boone or Cole himself, but if he was hurt then you should have expected that he was going to be bad in the Wild Card Game. Our bullpen was fully locked-and-loaded, and even if you have to start Corey Kluber for an inning or two, it gives you a better start than starting a hobbled Cole who has shown no ability to pitch well with the hamstring injury. If Cole was injured and had dominated down the stretch, that would be a different story. But that didn’t happen. However, the day before the Wild Card Game Cole was asked point-blank about how he feels, and he said he was healthy, which leads to the second possibility:
Cole was just bad
This scenario is probably more alarming. If Cole was truly healthy in Tuesday’s game and down the stretch, then what happened? Because that is was an ace-like performance. Sure, even the best have rough patches, but Cole’s rough patch was extra bad and it included a couple of mediocre teams. We need Cole to be more consistent.
Of course, this is not all on Cole if you look at the season as a whole. Cole will probably finish second in the AL Cy Young race. Simply put, the players need to be better. It is shocking that Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton finally put up a season where they were both healthy for a majority of the year and this is the result. Outside of those two guys, the only other player who started the year on the team and had an above-average wRC+ with more than 50 plate appearances was Luke Voit. Anthony Rizzo had a 113 wRC+ in his time with the Yankees, but that’s it. Everyone else was average or below-average.
Joey Gallo was very bad for the Yankees outside a small few-game stretch. Yes, I believe he is a good player and it’s nice we have him under contract for another year, but it goes back to our hitting approach. It only works if you execute it well, and we don’t. Look at Gallo’s numbers in 2021 before and after the trade:
Moving to Yankee Stadium didn’t help. Maybe it will next year, but this year it didn’t.
We’ll be here forever if I go through each player’s faults. But the overall message is that changes need to be made from top to bottom. And they are tough changes. They won’t be easy to make, and so I’m not sure if they will be made.
But even if you look at it from a players perspective, here is what you need:
Figure out first base
Need a shortstop
Add a reliable starter
Add another contact bat
I’m sure there are other things I am missing, but it’s unrealistic to think that they can accomplish everything in one offseason. The only part of the team that I actually have no complaints about is the bullpen. That appears to be the only well-built area. Chad Green and Aroldis Chapman had their hiccups, but they are still very good relievers and with the emergence of Clay Holmes, Jonathan Loaisiga, Wandy Peralta, and Michael King, they do not have to shoulder as much of the load moving forward.
The Yankees are broken. There need to be significant changes this offseason, both in terms of the on-field and off-field personnel. I don’t like being reactionary, but this is something that has been stirring in all of us for a good part of the past few seasons. It’s time to makes changes. It’s time to fix the philosophy. It’s time to win a World Series.