“What would George Steinbrenner do?” What a ridiculous question


There’s no sense in sugarcoating it. The Yankees are playing terrible baseball right now. They have lost seven of ten and the offense is in the crapper. Of course it’s early yet, and unless you believe that the Orioles are going to continue to win one-run games all the time and put up big offensive numbers despite striking out a ton and never walking, the Yankees should be back in this thing eventually. But yes, things are bad at the moment.

But no matter how bad things get in the Bronx, could we please dispense with the hacky “If George Steinbrenner were alive he’d …” rebop?  I’m lookin’ at you Wallace Matthews:

This was the kind of night when, in the old Yankee Stadium, George Steinbrenner might have commandeered the PA system to apologize to the fans and maybe offer them a rain check to a future game … In another era, “The Boss” might have grabbed the microphone and apologized for this one, and then stormed into the office to fire someone.

These days, you’ve got to hope the Baby Boss, in his own quiet way, is cooking up something similar.

Yes, because the Yankees’ post-1995 success was totally built on knee-jerk firings as opposed to Steinbrenner, for once in his life, not messing with that which smart baseball people put together. What would George Steinbrenner do?  Probably a bunch of stupid, poorly thought-out things that did way more to generate back page headlines than improve the baseball team. That’s what Steinbrenner would do.

But  sure, if you want to go back to the days when Bob Lemon, Gene Michael, Clyde King and Billy Martin ran around a revolving door and the team didn’t win squat, go right ahead. But that’s not what made the Jeter-era Yankees successful.

The 2012 Yankees are a slumping team that, I suspect, will stop slumping soon and begin crushing the ball again. It’s also possible, on the other hand, that, yes, it’s a team that is suddenly feeling its age and said slump is less aberration than it is the new normal.

But whichever of those things it is, firing people and doing dumb angry things will not help. This is the team Joe Girardi has, and its particular personnel and contractual composition do not make it amenable to quick or easy fixes. You can’t can Girardi and resurrect Billy Martin, nor can you trade A-Rod and Teixeira for Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw.  To suggest otherwise is to abdicate anything approaching reasonable analysis in favor of mindless yammering.

2018 Preview: Texas Rangers

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2018 season. Next up: The Texas Rangers.

The Texas Rangers had been, more or less, the class of the AL West for several years, but that came to an end last year. Injuries, a bad bullpen and underachievement doomed them early and before all the leaves were on the trees the Astros had all but locked up the division. There were some bright spots — Adrian Beltre notched his 3,000th hit and Joey Gallo emerged as the 40-homer threat many have long thought he might be — but otherwise it was a bad year for the Rangers.

Will it be another bad year? Hard to say no, though there is a lot more upside with this club than with a lot of other sub-80 win teams from 2017. For that upside to pay off, however, the Rangers are going to have to win a lot of bets.

The outfield is a good place to begin looking for that upside. Nomar Mazara has not yet put it together over the course of a whole season, but he has shown some promise and could be poised for a breakout. Delino DeShields may not be what many thought he might be a few years back, but he’s got wheels and can get on base. Left field is being kept warm for top prospect Willie Calhoun who came over in the Yu Darvish trade and is having his service time manipulated, but he’ll be up soon. He’s expected to rake. Whether he can hold the position or, rather, will have to take at-bats away from Shin-Soo Choo at DH is an open question.

The infield needs a couple of fairly attainable things to happen for the lineup to really be a plus. First, it needs Adrian Beltre to be healthy and to show that he has at least some gas left in the tank. I have learned over the past 20 years to not bet against Adrian Beltre, ever, so Father Time will have to prove me wrong. It also needs Rougned Odor to snap back into shape after a lost-in-the-woods 2017. I hate the phrase “he’s better than that,” but he really is better than that. Elvis Andrus is Elvis Andrus and that’s fine. If Gallo can cut down on the K’s even a little bit and mix in a couple of more base hits to go with all of that power he could be an MVP candidate. In order of likelihood, I put it (1) Beltre being Beltre; (b) Odor bouncing back; and (c) Gallo cutting down on strikeouts, but if just two of those things happen the Rangers lineup will be in good shape.

There are a lot of question marks with the starting pitching and a couple of lottery tickets. Yu Darvish is long gone, but Cole Hamels remains at the top of the rotation. The problem is that Hamels had his worst full season in several years last year and it may be that all of the miles on his odometer are catching up with him. The biggest offseason pickup for Texas was Mike Minor, who had a monster comeback season with the Royals after multiple years lost due to arm injuries. That monster year came out of the bullpen, though, so it remains to be seen if he can move back to the rotation and remain both impressive and durable. He’s one of the lottery tickets, although one with much better odds than, say, the Powerball. He’s like a scratch-off with some risk but a decent shot at some winnings.

A longer shot is Matt “Mega Millions” Moore. The one time top prospect of the Tampa Bay Rays is still somehow just 28, but he’s coming off a lousy year in San Francisco, in which he led the NL in both losses and earned runs while plying his trade in a pitcher’s park. I guess you can be a silver-lining guy and say he’s durable again or you could do that thing where people look at a one-time phenom and imagine that he has at least one full-promise year in him, but it’s not super likely either. Martin Perez and Doug Fister round things out. You basically know what you’re getting out of those two at this point: competence, but not necessarily any shot at greatness. Bartolo Colon is knocking around and he’ll likely get some starts at some point. He always gets starts.

The bullpen was a mess last year. It’s not clear that it’ll be better this year, but it’ll certainly be more interesting, as Jon Daniels went out and signed Tim Lincecum and gave him a big league deal from which to launch his comeback. He may challenge for the closer role, though Alex Claudio has it for now. Matt Bush will look to recapture 2016 form as a setup guy. Jake Diekman should be back to full strength after a mostly lost 2017 due to colon surgery. Not a great group, truth be told, even if they will be fun to watch at times.

Overall, I think the Rangers are better than bad but the pitching is a big problem and they need too many things to go their way to count on being good. If everyone stays healthy and more than half of the guys who struggled last year return to form or fulfill potential, hey, it’s a pretty interesting group of players. A group which, while not good enough to challenge Houston, could be in the mix with the Angels and the Mariners to be a Wild Card representative.

If most of those bets don’t pay off, though, it’s gonna be a long year. I’m a risk averse gambler, so I’m going to hope to be pleasantly surprised, but I predict that the upside will remain out of reach.

Prediction: Fourth Place, AL West