Commentary

Exit the aging Yankees

After a humiliating ALCS sweep, it might be a while before the gray Bombers return

Updated: October 19, 2012, 10:36 AM ET
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

DETROIT -- Now that the Yankees have been swept away in such ugly fashion -- "embarrassing" is one word CC Sabathia used for the final 8-1 loss to the Tigers, while "hard to stomach" is how general manager Brian Cashman described the four losses -- this is the $200 million question:

Did Derek Jeter's postseason career come to a painful end when he collapsed to the infield dirt with a broken ankle late Saturday night in Game 1?

Seriously. The Yankees have played in every postseason but one since 1995, becoming as much an October prime-time fixture as the Treehouse of Horror episode on "The Simpsons," a steady stream of negative campaign ads and Christmas commercials. But they also have an aging roster that probably couldn't adjust to the Tigers' pitching simply because they couldn't figure out how to work the new-fangled video equipment to review their at-bats.

[+] EnlargeCC Sabathia
AP Photo/Paul SancyaCC Sabathia and the Yankees have plenty of reasons to hang their heads.

Hey, who's the wise guy who replaced the Sony Betamax?

"The energy, I think, was sucked out of us," Alex Rodriguez said of the Yankees' miserable performance against the Tigers in the American League Championship Series. "You can take the whole season and say, this is the one guy, let's blame him, let's get him, let's put the coffin on him, let's knock his ass out. But at the end of the day, I just felt that the wind has been sucked out of us the last two weeks."

Get used to it, A-Rod. That happens when you get older.

Rodriguez is 37 but has missed nearly 200 games the past five years with various injuries, while his production has declined so much that the Yankees pinch hit for him in Game 2 and didn't even start him the final two games of the series. Jeter is 38 and must undergo surgery for a fractured left ankle that is estimated to take five months to heal.

Mariano Rivera turns 43 next month and is coming off a season-ending torn MCL in his right knee. How will he come back, especially at his age? Can Andy Pettitte, who has already retired once, stay healthy and in top form at age 41? Will the Yankees re-sign Hiroki Kuroda, who will be 38?

Nick Swisher is a relatively young man at 32 but is a potential free agent. So is Ichiro Suzuki, who turns 39 next week and has lost several steps even if the July trade to New York revitalized him for a couple of months. So is Raul Ibanez, who was the only star this postseason but also is 40 years old and struggles against left-handers.

"A lot of people are pointing to this team, and saying we're old and that's the reason we're not getting anywhere," Cashman said. "I'm like, 'Hey, we got there and we are old.' You know, if you're old and still good, it's not an issue."

It's not an issue until suddenly it is.

Yes, the Yankees won 95 games this year but an old baseball team is like a car running low on gas. You can still drive 100 miles an hour as if nothing is wrong ... until the fuel tank runs dry and your ride comes to an abrupt end, usually when it's raining and you're miles from a gas station.

I saw this happen up close with the Mariners, who won 116 games in 2001 but haven't been to the postseason since thanks to a roster that got old quickly and was not supplemented through quality draft picks.

[+] EnlargeRobinson Cano
AP Photo/Paul SancyaRobinson Cano finished a disappointing 1-for-18 in the ALCS.

Arms get tired as you get older. Bat speed slows over the course of a season, and you look overpowered in October. Injuries are more frequent and take longer to heal. Australian bikini models turn you down and report your bad behavior to the New York tabloids.

Yes, Robinson Cano, despite his baffling postseason, remains an elite, MVP-caliber player while Sabathia still should have several good seasons left in him (although there are a few lingering questions about his elbow). The Yankees are a better team than they looked in the ALCS, in which they scored in only three innings and never led.

And, Rodriguez says, "I will be back [next year]. And I will have a lot to prove. And I will be on a mission."

Well, maybe. But maybe not. Despite A-Rod's promises or what Cashman says about looking for good players and not necessarily young players, the team's age puts a giant question mark over its future.

The Yankees will not tumble the way they did after 1964 when they went a dozen years before returning to the postseason (ahhhh, the good old days). There are two wild cards and 10 teams total in the postseason now, as opposed to just two World Series teams in the 1960s. There also is free agency now, which will always keep the Yankees relevant.

So, much to the joy of broadcasters and the irritation of fans outside New York, the Yankees will be back in the postseason. But looking at the aging roster, it's possible Jeter will be retired with a wife and three kids before it happens.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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