Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Dealing With Aging Stars

I've been thinking a lot about the rest of the Yankees team lately, and what they need to do to win in 2011. By the "rest" of the team, I mean everyone but the back of the rotation, which dominates a lot of the conversation. But the Yankees have other things to think about, obviously.

One of the most important, in my opinion, is the way they handle their aging stars. The Yankees are about to enter one of, if not flat out the most unique periods in sports history in this regard. I doubt there have been many scenarios in sports history where a single team has had the sheer number and caliber of stars on the back side of their careers that the Yankees do. Rivera, Posada, Jeter, Rodriguez, and possible Pettitte followed by Sabathia and Teixeira. And it's not just that they have these players in swan song scenarios, on the last year of deals or something like that. They are meaningfully committed to them and need to use them properly in order to get the most out of them in order to help the team win.

This process has to start in 2011. These are all players who have been used to dominating and playing in premier roles and premier roles only. Batting at the top or middle of the order, pitching at the top of the rotation, closing games. They all are or at one point were amongst the best in the game. Those kind of players typically don't take to role changes kindly, but role changes is exactly what the Yankees have to be willing to do. They can't continue to utilize these players in the same ways they always have based on their name and reputation. It has to be based on their performance and what they earn.

In addition to not playing them in any particular role out of habit, the Yankees have to continue to be more and more careful about not playing them a particular amount out of habit. It has to be a player by player analysis, and the Yankees have started to do a good job with this. But they need to keep going. With some if not all of these players, less will be more at some point. Playing them less and keeping their bodies fresh will actually result in better total production in less playing time and more wins for the team.

I certainly don't want to make this situation is the same for all of these players. It's not apples and apples across the board, much more apples and oranges. Certainly Sabathia and Teixeira aren't even at this stage yet, I only included them above because the nature of their contracts makes it possible that it will be a consideration for them at some point as well. For the others, that time is upon us, if not in terms of role, certainly in terms of playing time. For some of them, it's both.

I think the greater concern is the role issue. The Yankees can't bat Jeter leadoff or Rodriguez cleanup because that is what they've mostly done for a long time and that is what everyone is used to. They have reached a stage where they have to earn those spots just like everyone else. And I'm not saying that they won't. Hopefully the will. But the Yankees can't try to hold on too long if they don't. That goes for all of them. I'm also not saying the Yankees won't do this.

I hope they do. And they really have to, because this is likely to be a continued consideration for quite some time for them. They are going to be trying to win with aging stars on the roster who may be anywhere on the spectrum from still a star to just a contributor. In order to balance all of this successfully, it's essential that the Yankees base decisions mostly - not all, because there is something to be said for experience, especially when the lights get brightest, but mostly - on what the players are currently, not what they used to be and not what the totality of their careers says about them. The aging stars have to be treated just like everybody else in this regard.


the gm said...

Really the only time this kind of thing has come to a head was the infamous Bernie Williams saga of 2007. As HYD was in its infancy when the s*** went down with that guy, we don't have any particularly notable conversation about that. Bottom line is, Cashman didn't want him back because he wasn't going to help the team. He was replaced at his locker by a "scrub pitcher," and this turned off a whole bunch of people, from our outspoken commenter FTB, to Joe Torre, to a host of columnists from New York.

It seems like Cashman is trying to cut down the tree again by popping his mouth off about Jeter changing positions. It's going to hurt some feelings. It's going to compromise nostalgia and comfort levels based on constancy for pretty much our entire baseball-watching lives. But if the old guys are just given their jobs year after year after year, you have an old-time baseball game team. You don't have a competitive baseball team.

Cash's job is to put together that competitive baseball team. And he's not letting feelings or egos get in the way.

TimC said...

I think this links back a bit to some recent posts and comments about old/new managers. The problems that PF hopes the Yankees can avoid are often resolved from the top down. First, the executives that brought in the guys go, then the manager, and finally, the players, with the big-name alpha dog types holding the clubhouse door open for the lesser guys. Now, most teams are not the Yankees and therefore it might need to happen differently, but I do think that if the Yankees do go down the wrong of sticking to their guys for a year or two too much it may spark some major reshuffling atop the organization.

On a broader note, this particular hurdle of being loyal to guys for too long is probably the first reason for the failure of a good coach or manager and is probably as much a culprit for the idea of a 'three-year' rule for effective coaches or a 'new manager effect' on winning. In other words, the underlying effect of these service time trends for managers is probably explained by the inability to cut guys loose when it is time to go.