The images coming from Yankee stadium the last couple of nights are shockingly similar to those shots seen on TV in the nineties and more recently as former powerhouses Leeds and then Newcastle were, at the time, shockingly relegated from the English Premiership. Fans sitting alone and in groups, complete shock and dismay etched across their disbelieving faces.
The worst part for Yankee fans is, this may just be the start of a gradual decline into, gasp, mediocrity. The signs are all there and many challenges lay ahead for the Yankees.
2009 may well have just been a false dawn.
This hypothesis is based on two simple facts. First, the Yankees are top-heavy with late thirty (and even forty) something players all earning mammoth salaries. Secondly, the Yankees have used most if not all of their immediately viable young talent to obtain said highly paid and now ageing superstars.
Take a look at the players occupying crucial positions on the Yankees. Their catcher is 39 years old and earning $14 million. 39 years old! Posada is in serious decline, and it's no shock that he is at odds with several pitchers on the Yankee roster, over pitch selection and in game tactics. Mostly they are probably just dismayed at the number of pitches in the dirt he no longer gets to. Their shortstop is 'enjoying' the worst year of his admittedly fine career, Jeter is now 36 years old and earning $23 million. As they say, what do you call a ground ball to Jeter's left? A single! Never before has that been more true, as Jeter struggles both in the field and at bat.
Their third baseman, A-Rod, is 36 years old, and a self admitted long-term steroid abuser. You can expect his body to start falling apart shortly, probably in the next year or two. The Yankees are trapped into a long term $33 million a year salary to him. That’s an incredibly prohibitive figure.
The pitching situation is possibly even grimmer than any of the above.
Burnett (33), Pettitte (38), Rivera (40!), Wood (33) and Sabathia (30) are on a combined salary of $80 a year. That is a stunning figure for five players all over thirty. Burnett is a head case, and ‘fresh’ off a pathetic (for a guy earning his wages) 10-15 season. Pettitte and Rivera combined are almost 80 years old. Sabathia is lovingly listed at 280lbs in the Yankee media guide. The last time he was 280lbs was probably in high school.
Possibly scariest of all for Yankee fans is their immediate rivals in the AL East are very, very young and talented. The Rays are built around a core of young talent, and the Red Sox have started to follow suit, with exciting players like Pedroia, Lester, Bucholz and Bard.
The Yankees issues will come to a head the moment the last pitch is thrown in the ALCS, barring some kind of miracle Red Sox like comeback. Their 40 year old closer and 36 year old shortstop are out of contract, and the Yankees basically have no choice but to sign them up, and reward them for many, many years great service.
The problem is, although they basically have to do that, it's only going to exacerbate the issues. The Yankees are going to be actually getting older, and more expensive, by doing what their demanding fans are going to insist on, keeping Rivera and Jeter in pinstripes.
It's no longer a case of age and massive, prohibitive salaries catching up on the Yankees, from the looks of this 1-3 hole the Rangers have them in, the decline is already underway.
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