The Yankees aren’t scary anymore. In the 1990’s and early 2000’s, the Bronx Bombers were an evil empire, led by George Steinbrenner, that crushed the hopes of any team that dared challenge them. They were an all-powerful and deep-pocketed dynasty that had won five World Championships, seven pennants and 13 AL East titles. But the Yankees have fallen from their pedestal.
In 2013, they failed to make the postseason for just the second time since 1995. This year, they are competitive, but are hindered by issues like age, health and an inability to hit in the clutch. In 2012, the team as a whole hit an astounding 245 home runs, though that number went down to 144 in the following year.
About two thirds of the way through 2014, they have managed just 101. For a club that has traditionally been home to legendary sluggers like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Mickey Mantle, that is shockingly few. There are many reasons that help explain the Yankees’ fall from greatness, but age and the lack of a good farm system in particular come to mind.
A team built on aging stars
Out of all the starting position players on this team, not one is under the age of 30. Derek Jeter has been one of the greatest players of all-time, but he is 40 years old and about to retire. Mark Teixeira, 34, has 19 home runs, but is batting just .229. A career .276 hitter, the last time he hit over .256 was 2009. 30 year old catcher Brian McCann was signed in the off season for $85 million, and is batting a disappointing .236 with 12 home runs. Even the usually consistent outfielder/DH Carlos Beltran, another free agent signing at 37, has just a .248 batting average. Finally, former ace CC Sabathia, 34, struggled mightily in his first eight outings, then underwent season-ending knee surgery.
Earlier this week, the Hall of Fame Class of 2014 was enshrined in Cooperstown, New York. This year only three eligible players received the necessary 75 percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America. This is following a year in which no players where voted in.
A lot has been written and said about the 2014 inductees: Frank Thomas, Greg Maddux, and Tom Glavine. All three were certainly deserving, and made the cut in their first year of eligibility. Glavine and Maddux each won more than 300 games and were dominant for extended periods. Meanwhile, Thomas hit 521 home runs and was a premier slugger for most of his career. Aside from obvious choices like these, however, one has to wonder what a player has to do in this day and age to earn baseball’s greatest honor.
The steroid pariahs
As baseball attempts to move past the steroid era, it is evident that the game as a whole does not want to reward those who chemically enhanced themselves, or are widely suspected of having done so. Several years ago, players like Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire became HOF eligible for the first time. Many speculated that their past misdoings would affect their chances, and they were right.
Last week during the All-Star break, there were a lot of comparisons between two great players: Derek Jeter and Mike Trout. The main storyline was the retirement of Jeter, the face of baseball for the last twenty years. But the secondary story was understandably intertwined: the emergence of Trout as his replacement.
Personally, I am one of Trout’s biggest fans. Over the last three years, he has probably been one of the best, if not the best, in baseball. However, when considering who the face of baseball is going to be in 2014 and beyond, there’s another player who should get consideration: Clayton Kershaw.
The case for Kershaw by the numbers
The point here is not to take anything away from Mike Trout, but rather to recall how amazing Kershaw has been. The Dodgers ace was called up in 2008 and struggled at times, putting up an ERA of 4.26, but from 2009 to the present, his numbers have been out of this world. In 2009 and 2010, his performance saw drastic improvements as he posted ERAs of 2.79 and 2.91, respectively. During those years, he was a great young pitcher taking the majors by storm, but he had yet to take his place as the best pitcher in baseball.