With the beloved Andy Pettitte retiring, the aging Posada serving a DH role, Jeter hitting 37 years old this June and coming off his worst statistical season, and Rivera hitting 40 – one needs to get a little excited. Yes, I said excited. The Yankees and their 4 winning teams from 1996-2000 had a lot in common. Their names, in no particular order, were Posada, Pettitte, Jeter, Rivera & Bernie Williams. Also probably the last Yankees to ever wear 20, 46, 2, 42, and 51. Yes, Posada wasn’t the true backup catcher (only 8 games and bat .071) in 1996, but he was there. The core was in place of this young blossoming talent that was drafted or originally signed by the Yanks.
In the early 90’s, the Yankees raised a few solid players and used their funds and a few other prospects as trade bait to build completely around them. With the exception of Tino Martinez and Paul O’Neil, I think you can argue that these “home grown players” have always been the most popular with the fans. Something is just so awesome about saying that you were at the stadium during someone’s rookie season. Then you watched him win a world series - or two - or five. And now, that you are currently watching what may amount to be the last meaningful season, pitch, or at bat of that player. Every time you have seen a player make any play over their entire career – it was for your favorite ball club (let’s forget Andy went to Houston for awhile – like a divorced mother my friends just told me Andy was “away on business” for those three years). While we’re not there yet with Jeter, Posada, or Rivera just yet (knock on wood), we just watched Andy throw his last pitch in pinstripes. The good money is on him getting the biggest ovation at old timer’s day this season.
Before I continue, let me first say that I will miss these guys more than you will. I tend to talk about past games I’ve been to or seen. A lot. Nothing means more to me as a fan than showing someone I not only care now, but I have cared for as long as I can remember. I am so impressed with old timers who say they’ve watched the greats and were at games during the ’61 season where Maris hit home runs. With that said, I am excited to see these current guys go out with their rings, their hall of fame careers, and legacies that I will tell to my children like my father has told me tales of Mantle, Munson, and Jackson. Now, I will say that I am possibly more excited watching some of these kids play than I am watching the same old guys win another series. Yes, I would rather both. It would be great if the old guys and the new guys can win another series. And I know that the odds are that prospects, even when solid players in the minors, aren’t going to be your next franchise player and future hall of famer. Cano, Gardner, Hughes, Nova, Montero and even still Chamberlain look as if they can be the beginning of a new young core.
Cano you may say is not in the same category as the others. True. But neither was Bernie Williams. Bernie was the senior officer of that group. A link to the Mattingly era where a trip to the playoffs was unheard of. He was the one to show success before the other kids showed up to the party. He showed them that it could be done. You can achieve respect from fans and other players as a young player if you just keep working and getting better. Hughes is getting better as he ages and his consistency and longevity over the course of a full season will hopefully improve. We were hoping for Joba to be the next closer, but it seems the Yankees and/or his eating habits have retarded his progress. Still, he has the potential to be completely lights out for the long haul. If he can find that slider every time out and still not fall too much in love with it, he is almost unhittable. Gardner is the only one left with moderate big league success. While he is a completely different breed than anyone else we’ve seen come up in recent times. He definitely has tools the Yankees love. Only batting .280 or so this spring, his OBP is at .500. Who goes to spring training to practice taking walks? I love it. Much less is known about how Nova and even Montero (who may or may not see much action this season) our stud catching prospect will turn out. Nova can turn out to be a solid starter, and Montero could be better than Posada. They both can also fizzle as soon as they get their chances only to be known as the latest to not be able to hack it. (Side note – Nunez looks like he’ll be a fun replacement for Jeter if they don’t trade him and let him blossom. Ramiro Pena has to feel the heat behind him as the utility guy)
All I know is that I am excited to see a lot of these kids get a chance to really shine. I love World Series wins just like the next guy. The Yankees may not win a series this year, but we will definitely see some guys get their shot to show their hunger to make the future brighter. OR, knowing the history of this team, we’ll see Montero, Nova, and Hughes packaged up for another ace in the rotation. However, it seems as if (GM) Brian Cashman and the Yankees know that they can’t buy an entire team – they have to raise part of it too – or else I’m sure most of these kids would be gone. I really just think the organization has to get more realistic and stop saying every year is a goal to win the series. We had that luxary for awhile. Now it is their job to build a young enough team from our guys and some spare parts to try and repeat the success of the last decade and a half. I am not saying lose games for it, they can afford not to. Just don't go selling the future just yet.