NEW YORK -- The morning after the end of the 2012 season, which concluded with a humiliating ALDS sweep by the Detroit Tigers and Derek Jeter in a cast, I got a phone call from a buddy of mine, a very knowledgeable guy who works in sports television.
"Get ready for a 20-year drought," he said.
At the time, the drought -- assuming we are counting by World Championships -- was only in its third year, and as much as I respect my friend's knowledge, I thought, quite frankly, that he was nuts.
Well, three more years have passed since that conversation, two of them without meaningful October baseball, and the latest just ended after the baseball equivalent of a Broadway flop that closes on opening night. I'm beginning to think maybe that guy wasn't so crazy after all.
The Yankees' ring-less streak is now six years and counting, the mere blink of an eye for most franchises but approaching eternity for this one -- remember how people freaked out during that barren period between 2000 and 2009? And while I seriously doubt it will be another 14 years before the Yankees win another World Championship, I can pretty much predict with certainty that the drought will reach at least seven years.
That's because unless something drastic is done during the offseason, the 2016 Yankees are going to be no better than the 2015 Yankees.
Once again, they have very little roster flexibility because of contractual obligations in key areas, and even once four of the oldest and costliest members of the team -- Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and Carlos Beltran -- are off the books by the end of 2017, another half-dozen horrible contracts are waiting to take their place.
As of now, every single position on the field, with the exception of second base, is spoken for and paid for through 2016.
Teixeira, who carried the offense for four months but missed all but two of the past 45 games, is done after next season. So is Beltran, who, incredibly, posted the highest batting average among Yankees regulars, an underwhelming .276. Rodriguez, who performed above and beyond anyone's expectations but faded badly down the stretch, is signed through 2017, when he will be 42. So is Sabathia, whose future is very much in doubt because of a combination of physical ailments and treatment for an alcohol addiction.
Once they are gone, the Yankees will still be saddled with the contracts of Chase Headley, Brian McCann, Andrew Miller and Brett Gardner through 2018, and Masahiro Tanaka and Jacoby Ellsbury through 2020. Ellsbury's deal, incidentally, has great potential to replace A-Rod's as the most hated contract in sports, especially since his own manager didn't think he was one of the nine best players he could put on the field for Tuesday's AL wild-card game against the Houston Astros.
So what real hope do the Yankees have for dramatic, or even slight, improvement next year?
Joe Girardi, in his annual post-mortem at Yankee Stadium on Friday, indulged in the kind of woulda-coulda-shouldas that are always the currency of losing managers at the end of a failed season.
"If guys would have had some of the offensive numbers that they had in the first four months in the last two months, I think we substantially would have had more wins," Girardi said. "I think it's possible we would have won our division. I know that didn't happen and those are reasons that we have to sort out as an organization, probably more me as a manager. If you look at that, we won 87 games. Our division winner won 92? We had some guys who really had some tough second halves. If they had the same second half as the first half, I think it's a much different story."
This, of course, is the same manager who routinely defends players going through extended slumps by pointing out that the baseball season is a series of ups-and-downs and that it is nearly impossible to expect players to perform at the same level, whether high or low, for 162 games. So even Girardi knew that his answer to why the Yankees would be better next year was fundamentally flawed, and perhaps even intellectually dishonest.
The truth is, Girardi probably got as much out of this roster as anyone could have, even given some questionable lineup and bullpen decisions over the pressure-filled final weeks of the season.
A-Rod, Teixeira and Beltran gave their best at the plate this season, and it wasn't good enough. Like all of us, they will be a year older next year. Can we honestly expect them to match 2015, much less improve upon it?
Same goes for Ellsbury, who did nothing this year to disprove his reputation for being injury-prone and quite a bit to promote the suspicion that while he can be a very good player, he is rarely a game-changer. Gardner continues to puzzle, with his excellent first half and invisible second half, his penchant for striking out and his inexplicable failure to exploit his great speed on the basepaths. Headley, who the Yankees opted to sign for four years, had a statistically worse season than Yangervis Solarte, the younger and much cheaper third baseman they had traded away to acquire him in 2014. McCann had a better second season in pinstripes than his first, but also faded badly in the second half. Only Didi Gregorius finished up 2015 a better player than when he started, but he will never be the kind of player to carry a team the way his predecessor could.
The rotation, of course, is full of question marks, from Tanaka's elbow to Michael Pineda's inconsistency to Ivan Nova's ineffectiveness. Nathan Eovaldi looks like a keeper, but he's no Max Scherzer, at least not yet. Miller had an excellent season, and so did Dellin Betances and Justin Wilson. But after that, who do you really trust?
The solution is not an easy one, and it probably involves moving a few pieces to free up roster spots. Maybe the Yankees could package a Gardner, a Nova and an Adam Warren for a right-handed power bat for the outfield, or if they wanted to get really daring -- and admit a mistake -- they could approach the Seattle Mariners about taking back Robinson Cano, who certainly would fill the void at second base. David Price, Johnny Cueto and Scott Kazmir, among others, will be on the free-agent pitchers market, and should be looked at. So will Ben Zobrist, Daniel Murphy, and perhaps, Chase Utley.
Clearly, Brian Cashman has his work cut out for him this winter, and while there are minor spare parts that can be added here and there to the bullpen and the bench, there's no argument that something significant needs to be done, or that the 2016 Yankees will be substantially the same as the 2015 Yankees.
And so the drought will be at seven seasons, and counting.