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After living through the 80s and early 90s as a Yankee fan, I thought I'd experienced the lowest of the low. Honestly, the 2008 Yankees haven't been nearly as bad on the field as those teams were. The Steve Trout days were brutal, but were they as painful as this season? I don't know. To see a team with the highest payroll in the league under-perform to this degree is both demoralizing and enraging. The number of f-bombs I've dropped at the TV over the past 146 is unprecedented.

I reached the end of my rope after game two of the Sox series in August. Others have come along slowly. Some (Girardi) still haven't. The Yankees suck. Plain and simple. They've looked gutless at times, pitiful at times, downright lazy at times, indifferent at times and bad most of the time. They've lost games in every manner possible. It's been a year to forget, and while the ultimate question needs to be how will they change things for 2009, the first thing we need to do is figure out what went wrong in 2008.

In the coming weeks and months there will be plenty of finger pointing, and there's plenty of blame to go around. The time for excuses has come to an end. It's time to hold everyone accountable for this travesty, after the jump I'll take a look at the guys who will take the heat and try to winnow the list down and assign responsibility, if I can.
Let's start from the top and work our way down:

Hank Steinbrenner

While Baby Stein's words may have been plastered on the covers of papers all season long, his impact on this team was negligible. He was probably responsible for A-Rod coming back to town, but beyond that, he talked a big game while letting Cashman have his way in almost every situation. The Johan Santana debacle during the Winter Meetings is a good example. It's assumed that Hank (and Hal) could've over-ruled Cashman's plan and thrown a package at the Twins they had to take. It didn't happen.

Hank's press antics are probably a thorn in the side of the players, manager and coaches, so possibly he's hurt the team morale. Otherwise, he hasn't really had much to do with the success, or lack thereof, of this team.

  • Overall Effect: Negligible. He's a blow hard, but how much damage can you really do when you only attend a couple of games all year long.
  • 2009 Outlook: Hank will be here, obviously. Whether or not he asserts himself, or even has the power to, remains to be seen.

Brian Cashman

This is dicey. If you want to take the short view, Johan Santana is 13-7 for the Mets, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy have combined for an 0-8 record and spent more time on the DL than on the 25-man roster. Melky Cabrera, the other potential piece to the Santana deal, was also demoted to AAA due to his lack of production.

I was a big proponent of the youth movement, still am. Trading away prospects for Santana and then having to pony up $120M+ for an extension didn't make sense to me. The Yanks would've been trading away two or three of their best prospects (or so we thought at the time) for the right to negotiate with Santana. While Johan's numbers are more than solid for the Mets, he isn't exactly pitching in a stacked division. This non-trade was a huge bust for Cashman in the short term. Only the development of Ian Kennedy or Phil Hughes into a front-end starter will even it out.

Cashman's performance during the season was a mixed bag as well. At the trade deadline he made three deals, two of them significant. Acquiring Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte for Tabata, Ohlendorf and Karstens was highway robbery. Not only did Nady give them the bat they needed, but Marte and Nady are both under contract for next year as well. Trading Farnsworth for Pudge was probably a necessary move, especially considering Farnsworth's performance for Detroit, but it hasn't been a clear cut winner. Pudge has been putrid, and removing Farnsworth from the bullpen seemed to throw the depth chart out of whack for a period of time, although I think that had more to do with Girardi than Cashman. The third move was a head scratcher. Cashman traded Alberto Gonzalez for a pitching prospect, which in a vacuum isn't such a bad deal. The only problem is the Yanks were left with zero organizational depth at short behind Jeter. If the Captain had gone down with an injury Betemit would've been the starting short stop, and no one wants to see that.

After the deadline, however, Cashman dropped the ball. Or, more accurately, he just stopped playing. The Yanks were in position to block several waiver wire moves which improved teams they were chasing. In years past, they wouldn't have hesitated. This year, they didn't put up a fight. Apparently it wasn't worth the monetary risk for a slim shot at the playoffs.

  • Overall Effect: Huge. Getting Santana would've obviously improved this team in 2008 a great deal. Only time will tell if it was a historical mistake.
  • 2009 Outlook: Cashman's contract is up. The Steins have said they want him back, but no word from Cashman yet. Personally, I bought into what he was doing. This team got old fast, he's trying to infuse youth while still remaining competetive. I'm not sure it's fair to condemn him based on the first year of the plan. Honestly, I won't shed a tear if he's replace, though. I'd understand the move.
Joe Girardi

I've taken some heat for my "impatience" with Girardi this season and honestly, I don't see how other fans can remain patient after watching this team play all year. Let me take a step back here. If you've read my reaction to this Yankee team with no context, you'd think they were 20 games under .500 and just a horrible team. That's really not the case. They're 8 games over .500, which isn't a horrible record especially when you consider the injuries, and the improvement of all the other teams in the division. It's not horrible, but it's also far from acceptable. When you have the highest payroll in the league, you have to make the playoffs otherwise you're the New York Knicks and no one wants that.

Now, back to Girardi. His insipid tinkering with the lineup, which he was ordered to stop when Matsui returned, coupled with his idiotic bullpen management in the second half of the season along with moronic in-game managerial decisions exacerbated the Yankees woes. You're going to hear a ton of excuses made for Girardi. All the things that were out of his control conspired to stack the deck against him, etc. I don't disagree. It would've taken an excellent manager to take this team, with all of these problems, to the playoffs. I think that's a fair statement. The reason that I want Girardi gone has little to do with the win/loss record, and everything to do with how he performed in the few "must-win" games this team played after the break.

Without fail, Girardi choked when the season could've turned on a single game. Whether it was leaving Damaso Marte in to throw 42 pitches against the Rangers, sitting Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi against the Twins, letting Melky Cabrera swing away in an obvious bunting situation in the 9th, bunting instead of stealing with Justin Christian, the list goes on.

There are some people who become better versions of themselves when more is at stake. Others can't get past the pressure and the easiest of decisions becomes a monumental undertaking. Girardi falls into the latter category and I want him gone because eventually this team will get back to a game that matters and I have no confidence in Girardi's ability to make the correct decisions in those games.

  • Overall Effect: I'd say he cost the Yanks anywhere from 3-7 games with bad managerial decisions.
  • 2009 Outlook: Hank said he'd be back next season. Some think that means trouble for Girardi. I think he'll be here because they don't want to admit they made a mistake choosing him over Yankee legend, Don Mattingly last Summer. 
Injuries

The picture of the wheel is of Gene Monahan, the head trainer, but he isn't to blame. This team is old. Plain and simple. Old players get hurt. The sad irony of the situation, however, is probably the biggest injury didn't happen to an older player, but their 28 year-old ace, Chien-Ming Wang.

Take a look at this list:

  • Posada - Done for the season on July 19th, after spending all of May on DL and parts of April and June as well.
  • Wang - Done for the season on June 15th
  • Matsui - Missed 46 games on the DL.
  • A-Rod - Missed 20 games due to injury.
  • Damon - Missed 11 games on the DL.
  • Hughes - Went on the disabled list on April 29th, never returned to the Majors.
  • Joba - Missed over a month with shoulder tendinitis.
Injuries gutted this team. It was a shame, but injuries are part of the game and while a small market team can't recover from a few key injuries, a team with the resources the Yankees have (and use) should be able to. The Red Sox were no less ravaged by injuries, not to mention losing a Hall of Famer via trade, yet they were able to hold it together and get back to the playoffs. The injuries were part of the problem, but placing the blame solely on bad luck is like hiding your head in the sand. This team's problems run much deeper than health and the organization needs to realize that when they set their offseason priorities.

  • Overall Effect: Great
  • 2009 Outlook: While none of the Yankee injuries should linger into next season, their effect will be felt in the young pitchers. Neither Joba, nor Hughes was able to reach his innings limit for the season, meaning they're both going to run into problems next year. 
We'll tackle the players in part 2 some time next week.