George Steinbrenner was still alive and calling the shots the last time the Yankees fired their manager in the middle of the season. Stump Merrill replacing Bucky Dent after a 18-31 start in 1990 didn’t change anything for those Yankees, who went on to lose an American League-high 95 games.
Two generations later, the Yankees have gone from World Series favorites to massively underachieving with a 31-29 record that has them fourth in the American League East heading into a two-city road trip that begins Tuesday night in Minnesota. They were just swept at home by the Red Sox, they’ve dropped 10 of their last 13, their usual powerhouse offense has become a daily train wreck and their baserunning has been atrocious.
The Yankees need to fix their mess ASAP to save the season.
Introducing Yankees Insider: Get exclusive news, behind-the-scenes observations and the ability to text message directly with beat writers
What will general manager Brian Cashman do?
Options include shaking up the roster with a blockbuster trade. There have been rumors Arizona’s switch-hitter center fielder Ketel Marte, a .382 hitter through 23 games this season, could be had for a huge return of top prospects.
A bolder change would be Cashman doing something that he’s never done by changing managers in-season. Could Aaron Boone be in trouble?
“My instinct is no,” ESPN’s Buster Olney said Monday on Michael Kay’s radio show. “In Brian Cashman, that’s not been the culture since he took over as general manager, but Hal Steinbrenner was at the stadium the other day. He heard the boos. If any change is going to be made during the year, it’s got to come from Hal.”
George’s son has been a million times more patient since he took over as managing partner in November 2008, but continued Yankees struggles this season combined with a potential attendance drop once Yankee Stadium can be full again later this month perhaps could lead big moves.
“I haven’t seen anything where Hal is someone who’s going to push for midseason change or a shakeup,” Olney added. “That doesn’t seem to be his M.O., but we also have not seen a Yankees offense this bad basically in our lifetime where you have the lowest runs per game since 1972, the lowest batting average since 1968. They lead the major leagues hitting into double plays. They lead the major leagues in outs on the bases. It’s really bad.
“If Hal Steinbrenner was going to step out and shake things up, maybe this would be the circumstance that he would do it.”
Or maybe Steinbrenner will do what he always does and reevaluate the entire organization after the season.
It’s unknown if Steinbrenner even would approve the Yankees making deals that would push the payroll above the $210 million luxury-tax threshold. They’re currently at $202 million, according to spotrac.com, so taking on Marte’s prorated $6 million salary probably is doable.
But Kay brought up a good point on air saying, “You have so many areas that have to improve and you only have so much money to do it. If I’m Hal Steinbrenner, the way this team is playing, you want me to go over the threshold, lose draft picks and get taxed, as well. He’s in a little bit of a corner here, and it’s not fair to him because he’s given them everything that (Cashman) wanted and there’s the team that they put together.
“Are you going to go over the tax threshold for a team that is not playing well? What has this team done that Hal Steinbrenner should go over the threshold? Do they seem like they’re close? No.”
Trading for Marte could be a big spark to the Yankees’ lineup, which expects to get another boost in the next couple of weeks with 2020 home run champ Luke Voit due to return from an oblique injury. Marte is a young player at 27 who would bring power, speed, lineup balance plus versatility as someone who plays shortstop and second base as well as center field. He has an All-Star season on his resume, too, as he hit .329 with 36 doubles, 32 homers and 92 RBI in 144 games in 2019.
“I do think they need more balance to their lineup,” Olney said. “There’s no question. And whatever deals they make in-season, if they’re able to make deals in-season, it’s got to be to improve the athleticism and to improve the left-handed balance. I’ve thought this for years.
“I know the Yankees had a lot of success against right-handed pitching last year, but I’ve had enough conversations with managers, pitching coaches and pitchers on other teams. Privately they will tell you that they find the Yankees’ lineup to be very pitchable with a lot of guys who are really similar. I think they have to change that. Ketel Marte would be the type of player that we’re talking about. The .376 batting average, switch-hitter … He’s got a really affordable contract (with club options for 2023 and 2024 at $10 million and $12 million, respectively), which is more relevant than a lot of years with the Yankees because they don’t want to go above the competitive balance tax threshold.
“They have to make moves to make more balance in their lineup. I think they thought Aaron Hicks was going to provide that. That obviously is not happening. They bet on a lot of right-handed hitters. That’s not happening. They have to get more balance.”
Get Yankees text messages: Cut through the clutter of social media and text with beat writers and columnists. Plus, get breaking news, exclusive insight and analysis every day. Sign up now.
Our journalism needs your support. Please subscribe today to NJ.com.