Maybe it is here. Perhaps the 10-game lead was the aberration and this is more real than a mirage. The bill for all the Yankees' aging players may have arrived.
For years, we have known that at some point these long-term contracts were going to come due. No matter players’ resumes, age -- especially with PEDs reduced in the game -- is now a huge factor.
Despite what is going on now, I still am sticking with my pick that the Yankees will win this division. But players in their mid-to-late-30s are going to regress and get hurt -- save for Derek Jeter this season. Let’s take a look at this theory -- and ask this question: Is it about to get better or worse in future years?
Mariano Rivera: It is a common refrain to say that the Yankees haven’t missed Mo, but even though Rafael Soriano may be the team’s MVP and has been as good -- maybe even better -- than Mo would have been this regular season, losing the 42-year-old Rivera has impacted the bullpen depth. If Soriano and David Robertson were splitting up the seventh and eighth inning, maybe the Yankees’ pen in the middle innings keeps a couple of these games closer and they have a few more wins.
Alex Rodriguez: A-Rod is 37 and regressing. He can’t make it through a whole season and when he is on the field, he is only good, not great or elite. He has five years left on his contract. He will take up a lot of payroll and the Yankees know they must keep another capable third baseman on the roster because A-Rod can’t be counted on at this point in his career.
Mark Teixeira: Teixeira is just 32 so he should be in his prime. He is the player they most miss, because he has been their best run-producer. Especially against left-handed pitching, where the Yankees have been crushed of late. Even as important as Teixeira is, his trend lines are going the wrong direction; especially against right-handed pitching.
CC Sabathia: Sabathia’s contract goes four more years with an option. For the first time in his career, he was on the DL twice in one season. One of the injuries was an elbow. The Yankees called it minor, but we will see long-term. The question on Sabathia after all his mileage: Will he be dominant over the life of this contract? He is 32. If you were to predict, how many of you would say yes?
Curtis Granderson: Of all the culprits for this slide, Granderson might deserve the most blame. He is supposed to be in his prime. Mr. I’m-Not-A-Home-Run-Hitter either homers or strikes out. In his past 24 games, he is hitting .167. He has four homers and 25 strikeouts in 72 at-bats. That is more than a K every three at-bats. Yikes. Granderson is 31 and the Yankees are really going to have to think hard about offering him a big deal prior to him becoming a free agent after next season.
Andruw Jones/Raul Ibanez: After a lot of playing time, these guys are looking very tired. The Yankees' theory of signing former stars for their bench has worked well at times. But there may be a little problem with this, when they play too much, they wear down. Ibanez, 40, is hitting .162 in his past 24 games. Jones, 35, has .114 in his 14 games the past four weeks.
We could go on and on about this, but the Yankees’ serious problems may just be starting because they don’t have any top-flight position players in the upper levels of the minor leagues. Their big-time prospects (Mason Williams, Tyler Austin) spent most of their season in Single-A. Pitching wise, you all know about Michael Pineda, but Manny Banuelos only threw in six games and Dellin Betances got dropped a level.
Like I said, I still think this team wins this division. Their final 10 games are against the Twins, Blue Jays and Red Sox. But there is reason for concern. Maybe good reason. It could turn out that this nosedive is more of a beginning than an end.