The Yankees have failed to make the playoffs in three of the last four years, but don’t tell Joe Girardi it’s time for the organization to move on from the annual World Series-or-bust mantra that George Steinbrenner articulated for so many years.
“No,” Girardi said before a 5-2 loss to the Orioles concluded the Yankees’ season Sunday. “I think you should always set your goals high. I don’t think in life you can be satisfied with just making the playoffs.”
His message for Yankees fans?
“We will do everything we can to bring a championship here next year,” Girardi said. “That’s everyone’s job in this organization.”
The future, veterans such as CC Sabathia and Brian McCann said Sunday, is “bright.”
This season was one of transition, and the Yankees — staggering along at .500 before the Aug. 1 trade deadline — engaged in a sell-off after general manager Brian Cashman was given the go-ahead by managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner.
The youth movement long discussed finally was at hand, and top position prospects Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin were thrust into the lineup.
Judge and Austin had their moments — Austin had a few more than Judge, whose ballooning strikeout totals became a concern before he suffered a season-ending oblique injury — but Sanchez quickly became the face of the movement.
And a phenomenon.
Though the 23-year-old finished the season in a 2-for-29 slide, he still produced a .299/.376/.657 slash line, 20 homers and 42 RBIs in a two-month span. Sanchez hit his 20th homer in his 51st career game, tying Wally Berger of the Boston Braves (1930) for reaching 20 career home runs the fastest.
“Gary is the starting catcher here. He’s going to be that for a long, long time,” said McCann, whom Sanchez supplanted as the starter in early August and who very well could be on the trading block in the offseason.
Sanchez achieved his impressive numbers in 53 games, making it natural to speculate on what he might be able to do over a full season. Girardi, for one, hopes those expectations don’t get out of hand.
“My hope is the expectations aren’t so large that no matter what he does, he can’t reach those expectations,” he said. “But I think you can expect a talented player and a good player to go out there and produce for us.”
Sanchez didn’t seem concerned. “It will be fun to have a full season, stay healthy and see what happens,” he said through his translator.
Sanchez’s work helped the Yankees, also assisted at times by rookie pitchers Chad Green and Luis Cessa and steadiness from veterans such as Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka, go 17-11 in August to climb back into wild-card contention. As of Sept. 10, the Yankees were one game out of the second wild card, two games out of the first wild card and three games out of first place in the AL East. Then a 3-11 stretch dropped them from a season-best 76-65 to 79-76 before they won five of their final seven games.
“We have a lot of talent here,” Sanchez said. “We have a lot of young players here; we also have veterans here that I believe is a good combination. The last couple months, we played good baseball. We want to keep doing that. I don’t know who’s going to be here, who’s not going to be here. That’s up to the front office. But whoever is here, I’m pretty sure it’s going to work out and we’ll make something good happen.”
Girardi, who is entering the final year of a four-year contract but isn’t worried about job security (Steinbrenner is among his biggest boosters in the organization), is counting on it.
“Our kids are going to do a lot of great things,” he said. “These guys are going to do a lot of great things and I believe they’re going to win championships.”