When Spring Training opens, most media coverage around the league tends to stress the “hope springs eternal” angle of the start of a new season. Every team has the opportunity to begin anew, and for at least a few weeks, all fans can dream that 2011 will be the year that their team is the last one standing.
In New York, however, the tone tends to be different. With the Yankees expected to contend every year, Spring Training is spent coming up with reasons to believe that the club will fail to meet the goals set for it by a demanding fanbase and relentless media members. The doubts about the club seem to be more prevalent this offseason than in years past, as some pundits do not even see this team fighting for a playoff spot, let alone a championship. Keith Olbermann’s screed in which he compares the Yankees and Mets qualifies as one such negative slant:
This team is going to compete with the Red Sox and Rays? This team is going to compete with the Blue Jays who off-loaded the Vernon Wells contract. This team is going to compete with the Orioles in their Buck Showalter Honeymoon Year.
Olbermann cites worries with Derek Jeter, the catching situation, and the rotation as reasons to be wildly concerned about the 2011 iteration of the Yankees. I do not want to get into each of these concerns, as I am sure you have heard plenty on these matters already and will continue to hear about them until the games begin and we get some answers. What I do want to try and ferret out is the underlying explanation for the pessimism that marks Olbermann’s article and has begun to spread amongst Yankees fans. Why are so many people down on the Yankees?
I think that the reasoning is obvious, and has little to do with the actual makeup of the team. Yes, the Yankees have flaws, but similarly flawed Yankee clubs made a number of postseasons in the mid-2000′s. The Yankees are coming off a 95 win season, and lost just one key member (Pettitte) while adding a number of solid secondary pieces (Soriano, Martin, Jones). For people to be doubting their ability to make the postseason requires something more than a roster with a few flaws. Rather, it is the way that the Yankees got to this point that has so many fans worried about their postseason prospects.
The Yankees began the offseason by getting embroiled in a contract dispute with Derek Jeter, a PR disaster that ended with a contract that was too long and a sour taste in the mouths of all the parties involved. Meanwhile, the Red Sox improved significantly by adding Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, establishing themselves as the likely division favorites.
Next, Brian Cashman declared pitching to be a priority, but Cliff Lee spurned the Yankees’ offer and chose Philadelphia, Zach Grienke went to the Brewers for a fairly underwhelming trade package, and any other legitimate option (Kuroda, Westbrook) went off the board too early for the Yankees to move or was Carl Pavano. When Andy Pettitte retired and the Yankees began taking shots on retreads, a rotation that was seen as a priority had actually gotten worse. As the final indignity, ownership decided that bolstering the bullpen would help ameliorate the rotation problems, which lead to Randy Levine overruling Brian Cashman in order to sign Rafael Soriano to an absurdly large 3 year deal.
The result of all of this? A roster that is still projected to win 90+ games, and that can contend for the division if AJ Burnett can bounce back to 2009 levels or if one of the youngsters/retreads can pitch well at the back of the rotation. Yet the way the Yankees got to this point was ugly and unsettling, with front office infighting, free agent disappointments, and battles with franchise legends marring the hot stove season. The uncomfortable nature of this offseason has led some to underrate the club and assume that these Yankees are not built to contend. A closer inspection of the team shows that perspective to be rooted in emotion and perception rather than reality, as the Yankees have not gotten significantly worse than they were in 2010. With Spring Training starting today, it is time to put aside the disappointments of the last few months and objectively look forward to 2011. It should be another exciting, contending season in the Bronx.
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