Pressure could pop Girardi out of N.Y.
As he enters walk year of his contract, manager must avoid being 2013's fall guy
There are at least eight Yankees players on the current roster who don't know for certain where they will be playing in 2013.
And one Yankees manager who cannot be sure exactly whom he will be managing.
Is this any way for Joe Girardi to enter the walk year of his contract?
Asked at his Yankee Stadium news conference Wednesday if he felt any pressure heading into the 2013 season knowing he is on the last year of a three-year deal, Girardi said, "No. The pressure, as you see, I put on myself, because I expect us to win every day, and as you know, I get a little grouchy when we don't, so that's probably not going to change whether I have a contract or not."
But because the Yankees have an organizational policy of not negotiating with players -- or managers or GMs -- during the season, the pressure on Girardi is likely to mount, especially if the 2013 Yankees struggle during the season or -- heaven forbid! -- appear headed for an October without playoff baseball in the Bronx.
"I don't expect it to change, and I don't expect to ask it to be changed," Girardi said of his contract status. "I understand how it works here, and I'm OK with that. I'm expected to do my job, and if I do my job, things take care of themselves."
While you might take issue with some of his lineup decisions -- I still can't quite figure out why Alex Rodriguez was benched for three playoff games when there were others (Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano) who performed as badly as he did or worse -- you certainly can't fault the manager for the Yankees' ignominious exit from this year's postseason, being swept by the Detroit Tigers in the ALCS.
Girardi had built-in excuses this year, starting with the injuries to Michael Pineda, Brett Gardner and Mariano Rivera and ending with the inexplicable inability of his high-priced and high-powered lineup to hit the baseball when it needed to most.
But at some point, the excuses will run out and Hal Steinbrenner's patience will wear thin.
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Even if the Son of Boss doesn't have his old man's hair-trigger temper or knee-jerk response to losing, you've got to figure that if the 2013 Yankees finish the season as listlessly as the 2012 Yankees did -- and the swaths of empty seats in the ballpark grow emptier -- someone is bound to take the fall.
And as with any baseball team, there's no easier fall guy than the manager.
Already, the Yankees have had a preliminary post-mortem on the season, and soon, the front office honchos will head to Tampa for their annual organizational meeting, at which bad things sometimes happen. It was at one of these following the 2007 season that the Yankees made Joe Torre the offer he very much could refuse.
No such thing will happen to Girardi this winter, nor should it. But next year? Well, as The Boss used to say to Torre, "You'd better be right."
Which means, you better win. Or else.
That may be even tougher next year than it was this year.
Heading into the winter, it is conceivable -- I didn't say "likely," but conceivable -- that the Yankees could be looking for a new catcher, a new right fielder, a new third baseman, a fill-in shortstop, two or three starting pitchers and a closer.
Russell Martin, Nick Swisher, Hiroki Kuroda, Ichiro Suzuki, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera are free agents; the club has options on Cano and Granderson, and Rafael Soriano has a player option for next year. No one can say for certain that Derek Jeter or CC Sabathia will be ready when the season starts, and although I think it is highly unlikely they will find a taker, it is hardly a secret that the Yankees would love to move Rodriguez and his 800-pound gorilla of a contract.
That is why when Girardi was asked Wednesday if he thought the Yankees had the makings of a championship team as currently constituted, he had to give a painfully honest reply.
"As many free agents as we have right now, no," he said. "I'm not saying we couldn't have won a world championship with the team we had a week ago, but we have a number of guys that could possibly not be with us next year. There's a lot of players that we have to decide what we're going to do, but I believe that when spring training starts next year, we'll be a championship-caliber club."
Gazing into my crystal ball, I can assure you Swisher will not be back, nor will Jones. The Yankees will definitely pick up the option on Cano, are likely to re-sign Martin and will try to bring back Kuroda and Ichiro on short-term deals. Pettitte, of course, is always welcome, but there is a school of thought that says the Yankees might not pick up Granderson's option, or pick it up and then trade him.
Girardi was strangely cryptic on Rivera -- "Mo probably wants to play" -- but that uncertainty coupled with Rivera's age (he will turn 43 in November) makes it almost imperative that the Yankees knuckle under to Soriano and his agent, Scott Boras, when the opt-out inevitably comes.
And although Girardi seemed sure Jeter would be ready for spring training, the prognosis of the surgeon -- four to five months' recovery time -- puts his availability for Opening Day 2013 at least slightly in doubt.
So there's a lot of uncertainty for Girardi as he heads into what could be a make-or-break season for his tenure as manager of the New York Yankees.
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According to Girardi, his conversation with Hal went well and he feels no pressure to deliver in 2013 what his team failed to provide in 2012.
At the same time, he recognizes that this winter -- unlike last year, when the Yankees believed all they needed was a minor tweak or two to improve upon their first-round KO by the Tigers in the 2011 ALDS -- will be hectic and perhaps even tumultuous.
"Sometimes quiet's a bad thing, right?" he said. "There's been other years here where there has been a lot of stuff going on in the offseason, and we've done just fine. We'll manage that, and things will fall into place, like they do every spring training. By March 31 it's going to fall into place."
But it's not next March 31 Joe Girardi needs to worry about. It's the one after that.