When George Steinbrenner made his infamous statement
prior to game 3 of the ALDS I decided to wait and see. At that point, I was still holding out hope that the Yanks would pull the series out. If they had, we'd be talking about the ALCS, and not Joe Torre's future, but such is life, and it's about time I got my thoughts out there, so here goes.
First of all, Joe Torre cannot be fired. Well, technically, he can. They could sign him, then fire him. But logically, he cannot be fired. He's not under contract. What we're talking about is whether Joe will be brought back, on a new contract, to manage the team next season, and possibly beyond. Now that we have that out of the way, there's one more distinction we need to make. The question, "Does Joe Torre deserve to be brought back to manage next year?" is a completely separate issue from, "Is Joe Torre the right guy to manage this team next year?" They are wholly unrelated, and the answer to the first really shouldn't influence the second at all. No one seems to realize this when they talk about Joe's future. I think too many people get caught up on the obvious answer to the first question, and never even think about the second, which should be the Yankees' priority.
Obviously, Joe deserves to be brought back. He's won four titles for this team, he was at the helm for one of the great turnarounds just this year. His players love him, even opponents have spoken out in his defense since the end of the ALDS. Joe Torre deserves to manage the Yankees until he calls it quits. That's not debatable. Unfortunately, baseball is a business, as we're reminded all too often, so what he deserves doesn't stand up to the bottom line. For the Yankees, the bottom line is winning. This brings us to the all important second question.
I don't think I can accurately answer whether Joe is the right guy to manage this team next year until I know what the 2008 Yankees are going to look like. Early in the season, I wrote a long post
about how 2007 was actually a rebuilding year for the Yankees. I know it sounds ridiculous, and it's a tough sell with a $195 million payroll, but it's true. The only signings they made were short-term, big money deals for pitchers. Patchwork signings, because with a payroll that large, you have to make the postseason. Because the nucleus of the team is old, and getting older, and the young players were a year or two away, at the most. It was done by design, Clemens for this season, Hughes would replace him next year. Pettitte and Mussina for this season and the next, only to be replaced by Joba, Kennedy or any of the other young arms waiting in the wings.
Injuries accelerated the process, Hughes, Kennedy and Joba all made their debuts ahead of schedule, and showed they're ready now. Brian Cashman stayed the course through a trading deadline which saw a big bat at first base (Teixeira), and what was thought to be a top-line reliever (Gagne) moved. The Yankees could've had either player, or both. But it would've cost them either Hughes or Chamberlain. If they were in the "Win this year, at any cost" mode that we've all come to know and loathe, those deals would've been made. They weren't, because this team is building for the future.
This off season will tell us exactly how committed to that plan they are, and more importantly, if they believe the future is now. Jorge Posada, Bobby Abreu, Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez and Mariano Rivera could all be gone by the beginning of 2008. Posada, Clemens and Mo are unrestricted free agents, A-Rod can opt out, Pettitte has a player option and the team has a $16M option on Abreu. Those players represent 89 years of experience, and they could all be gone. I don't think they will all leave, but some of them will. This is the conundrum for the Bombers. If these players are back, and the team is going to try to slowly transition in the youth movement, then Joe is absolutely the best man for the job. I'll get to the why in a minute. If, however, most of these guys are gone, then I think this is probably a pretty good time to find Joe's replacement.
With a locker room full of high-priced veterans, the manager's main function, and Joe's specialty, is finessing egos. He does this by shielding his players from the media, communicating with them about playing time, and showing loyalty and respect to the veterans who believe they're owed more than your average player. Torre's calm demeanor, and absolute faith in his veterans permeates the team. There was no panic from the Yankees this year when they opened with a 21-29 record, because there was no panic in their skipper. You can throw out his in-game management style, it's pretty much irrelevant at this point. A baseball roster made up of perennial all stars and future hall of famers requires a psychologist more than a strategist.
On the other hand, a roster with three starting pitchers under 23, a 25 year-old number three hitter, a 23 year-old centerfielder and really only a captain in his thirties, a different personality altogether is needed. They need a motivator and a teacher. I just don't think that's Joe at this point of his career. I can see it in Mattingly, he'd teach these kids the right way to play the game, and he'd be in the unique position of being able to relate to Cano, Cabrera et al when they face the pressures being a star in the Bronx can put on a player. Mattingly would be growing up as a manager along with his young team. Joe Girardi is another good candidate. He's already shown what he can do with a few young bodies in Florida last year.
So, to sum things up, if the 2008 Yankees look a whole lot like the 2007 Yankees, Joe Torre should be at the helm, and no one else. But, if the 2008 Yankees are a younger team, without the familiar veterans, it's probably time for Joe to move on. Of course, we're kind of getting into a chicken/egg debate here. If Joe goes, some of those players will probably follow because they don't want to play for a team that won't have Torre. That's why this coming week is so critical for the Yankees. They need to sit down, as an organization, and decide how far they're willing to go with this rebuilding process in 2008. The first decision should tell us how the rest of the offseason is going to play out. If Torre comes back, don't expect too many changes in personnel. If he's gone, expect next year to be a fun, energetic and probably frustrating season, at times. A new era will officially begin, and not in name only.
Personally, I don't ever want to see Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada or Joe Torre wearing another uniform. I think they should bring all three back, but still move one step closer to the youth movement in 2008. The vets have a lot of knowledge to pass on, and the mixture of youth and experience is exactly what the team needs to get back to the promised land. I'd like to see the Yanks try to move Mussina (which won't be easy, he has a no-trade clause), re-sign A-Rod and keep this core together for one more year.