As the 2018 season draws to a close, thoughts turn back to the Yankees decision to retain two veterans during the past offseason. It appears now that the sun is setting on both players, bringing pause to reflect on the impact their departure will have on the team.
The dictionary defines the word stalwart as “a loyal, reliable, and hardworking supporter or participant in an organization or team.” No Yankees players fit that description better than the two oldest tenured veterans on the team, CC Sabathia and Brett Gardner.
Yankees fans will recall the choices presented to the team last winter. Sabathia’s contract was up, and he entered the offseason as a free agent. His statements at the time left no doubt he wanted one more season in New York. When the Toronto Blue Jays stepped into the picture and appeared to have a standing and severe offer for Sabathia’s services, Brian Cashman, to the delight of many Yankees fans, acted quickly reigning him in with a one-year contract worth $10 million.
Brett Gardner, the Yankees left-fielder dating back to their 27th World Championship in 2009, had one year left on his contract through the current season. His skill set did not appear to be dramatically on the decline, and despite numerous rumors about the Yankees willingness to trade Gardner, a deal was never consummated. Again, the reception from most Yankees fans was positive when Gardner was retained.
But as we know, the law of gravity strikes quickly with athletes, and what goes up must come down. For the most part, both Sabathia and Gardner appear to have hit a wall from which there is no hurdling over.
If you need the numbers, I’ll give them to you in a minute. But anyone who has watched these two Yankee giants perform over the past month or so can see the decline with their own eyes. The zeal for the game of baseball has never been higher. Brett Gardner still reminds of an ex-marine with the look of a warrior every time he steps on a baseball field. And CC Sabathia still presents an attitude on the mound that says “I’ll get you out with stuff I don’t have any more, just watch and see.” But our lying eyes tell the truth in the numbers…
Brett Gardner – The Numbers
CC Sabathia – The Numbers
No doubt the Yankees were hoping for more production from both players, especially in the crunch of September when the Oakland A’s are launching an all-out attack on the Yankees for the top Wild Card spot.
Soon, the Yankees will need to pare down again to 25 active players for the playoffs. Serious discussion is taking place among the Yankees brass as to whether or not either player will make the cut. One side sees Andrew McCutchen as the better choice in left and Lance Lynn as the fourth starter behind, Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ, and Luis Severino, assuming the Yankees make it beyond the shootout against the A’s.
But as Yankees fans know, this is a team in the making. Go around the diamond, and the number of players who have zero playoff experience jumps out at you. Yankees Rookie of the Year candidates, Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar are untested. McCutchen is three years removed from a losing Wild Card game, and even Giancarlo Stanton has never reached the ultimate stage.
A basic baseball tenet is you go with the players who got you here. And if that’s the case with the Yankees this season, no one can argue against the fact that both Gardner and Sabathia have a lot more to do with where the team is over the long haul than either McCutchen or Lynn.
And if you want to carry the thought further, then Greg Bird gets the nod over one-month wonder Luke Voit, and Austin Romine is a runaway starter over the hopeless Gary Sanchez.
These are weighty decisions for the Yankees to make over the next two weeks and (hopefully) beyond. In the playoffs, experience rules, and the “what have you done for me lately” (barring injuries) gets thrown out the window. CC Sabathia, just as he did last season for the team, will pitch the game of his life for five innings as if his life indeed depended on it, if given the opportunity.
And Brett Gardner will foul off an excruciating number of pitches just as he did last year (Video Below) leading to a Yankees rally against Cleveland. Or, he’ll come up with something else that doesn’t appear in the boxscore to contribute to a team win. That’s not saying McCutchen couldn’t do the same, which is the reason why the Yankees will sign him to replace Gardner during the offseason. But the time now is Gardner’s, and he will not disappoint.
All of which is to suggest that we should be rapt with our attention on these two wily veterans from here on in, knowing these are the last few times we will see CC Sabathia and Brett Gardner wearing the Pinstripes.
Aaron Judge and Didi Gregorius are poised to carry the mantle of leadership passed on by both players. In the Yankees tradition, that’s the way it’s always been.
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Reflections On Baseball