KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The most fascinating Yankees offseason in decades officially arrives Monday.
And front and center will be the process of sifting through the detritus of a lost season, which ended Sunday with a 5-2 loss to the Royals. That brought the curtain down on an 82-80 playoff-less season, the franchise’s first since 2016.
Some team hierarchy — not all, but it will include manager Aaron Boone and general manager Brian Cashman — are to meet early this week in Tampa with managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner, who has been described the last couple of months as “irate,” “angry” and “[ticked] off” by how the season unfolded.
Boone, who has one year left on his contract, isn’t likely to find out about his job status this week unless he takes the unlikely step of digging in his heels with an unwillingness to accept any of the changes likely to occur this offseason.
And that — organizational changes and how widespread they will be — is where the real palace intrigue lies.
In late August, Steinbrenner told The Associated Press in Tampa that he plans to do a “deep dive” into every aspect of the organization, even bringing in an “outside company to really take a look at the analytics side of what we do.”
That yet-to-be-publicized independent company, which won’t be recommending personnel changes in its findings, is expected to begin that work this week.
The process will take time. Those inside say it will be rigorous and comprehensive, with no section of the organization going without scrutiny.
Steinbrenner’s comments hit home inside Mike Fishman's extensive analytics department, which has gradually accrued almost absolute power over all facets of the franchise the last five to 10 years — everything from player acquisitions to player health to player development. That has contributed to the marginalization, or outright jettisoning from the organization, of those at all levels who have had the audacity to question the group’s methods and/or decisions.
The group, which in the words of one club member is collectively “scared to death” by Steinbrenner’s comments, likely had those feelings amplified upon hearing about Aaron Judge’s comments on Sunday.
“I think on the analytics side, the information and resources the Yankees provide are great,” Judge said. “It's about how we use them and how we value them. An aspect that we maybe need to look at again."
Judge, very much like the previous captain, Derek Jeter, didn’t go much further. Airing organizational dirty laundry is in neither player’s DNA. But Judge, who said in spring training that among his goals upon signing his nine-year, $360 million free-agent contract was “building” a relationship with Steinbrenner, assuredly will offer far more when he speaks to the owner, with whom he’s had consistent dialogue throughout the season.
It’s not difficult to speculate on some of what Judge might discuss. Such as: the information disseminated, what’s truly relevant among the vast amount of information that is disseminated and, perhaps most important, the manner in which it’s disseminated. And that’s not even getting into player development.
For years, words such as “arrogant” and “condescending” have received a healthy workout inside the organization, including in the clubhouse, in describing interactions with many — though not all — who have decision-making sway in the analytics department.
All of it could be overlooked, and was, when the Yankees were a perennial playoff team. And though there hasn’t been a World Series title, or berth, since 2009, they’ve done far more winning than not.
That success engendered plenty of self-congratulatory how-smart-are-we backslapping — warranted in some cases but just as often unwarranted — from the analytics/data science wing.
But as this season devolved into failure, many of those — especially some in positions of influence who bring to mind the old line about President Lyndon Johnson that he could “strut while sitting down” — have lost their strut.
As one club insider put it to Newsday in August: “They’re never wrong. Never. It’s always someone else’s fault.”
Indeed, as public criticism mounted this season, members of the department have found fault with others outside its sphere. Longtime scouting director Damon Oppenheimer, the pro scouting department in general and bench coach Carlos Mendoza have been among those in the crosshairs.
But the independent company auditing the organization is sure to discover this: Oppenheimer enjoys a sterling reputation among his peers in amateur scouting. The pro scouting department is considered “top of the line” in the industry, according to one rival AL executive. Mendoza, well-respected in the clubhouse, is seen outside the organization as not only a terrific instructor but potential manager material down the road.
It all recalls the oft-used John F. Kennedy quote: “Victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan.”
Whatever outside firm Steinbrenner hired certainly has its work cut out for it.