LOS ANGELES -- Only a matter of minutes after the Yankees had been eliminated by the Astros in Saturday night’s Game 7, Joe Girardi faced the first question about his future in pinstripes.
The details of the 4-0 loss already were reduced to an afterthought, scattered amid the rubble of the ALCS that collapsed at Minute Maid Park, where the Yankees blew two chances to earn a trip to the World Series.
To dwell on this team’s shortcomings, however, was pointless in the final evaluation, considering how much progress was made in the Bronx, and so quickly. It also would be a mistake to minimize Girardi’s contribution despite the Game 2 brain-lock during the Division Series, which his players bailed him out from.
Can the Yankees continue on this upward trajectory without Girardi? Sure, it’s possible. The minor-league system is loaded, and after getting to within one win of the World Series this season, Hal Steinbrenner should have no problem upgrading the current roster with an eye toward dipping under the $195-million threshold for the luxury tax in 2018.
But the Yankees still are better with Girardi at the helm. He’s an experienced game tactician who already knows the strengths and weakness of the next generation, an important asset for this group to go deep in the playoffs again. Girardi knows what’s there. And listening to him after Game 7, he sounds as if he wants to stick around to shoot for No. 28.
“There are things we need to get better on, and that will be a focus,” Girardi said. “I’m extremely proud of this group, what they’ve accomplished to this point. But I think there’s more. And that’s the motivating factor.”
Notice that Girardi did use “we” when talking about the Yankees, rather than what he had done earlier in these playoffs, which was separate himself from the team during interviews about the franchise’s future.
When Brian Cashman held court after Game 7 in the visitors’ clubhouse, he was vague on the Girardi subject, mostly because the GM also is a free agent. Retaining the manager might be premature before finalizing his own extension, which will be only a matter of time.
“I think everybody did everything they possibly could to try to be the last team standing,” Cashman said. “The future is never promised. That’s why you try to do everything you can in the present.”
During this postseason drive, Girardi was more emotional than in years past, showing a side that he rarely puts on display. The blazing media assault after the Game 2 collapse in Cleveland helped spur those feelings. More than once, he was on the verge of tears, which was startling to those who cover him regularly.
But when asked repeatedly about coming back, Girardi never came right out and said he wanted to or hoped to. His standard reply involved him huddling with his family, then deciding as a group what he should do, the same plan of action every time his contract expires with the Yankees.
It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that he will decide to walk away, that a decade as Yankees manager, with one ring on his resume, is enough. It’s an incredibly demanding job, and maybe, at age 53, Girardi believes his family needs him more — or that a less all-consuming position, say in TV, would allow him to balance both a career and family life in what is closer to equal proportions.
From our standpoint, it’s tough for Girardi to step down now, with the Yankees already established as a World Series contender for next season and many years to follow, based on their deep collection of prospects and financial might. It’s like 1996 all over again, and instead of Girardi playing at the dawn of that pinstriped dynasty, he’ll get to manage another Golden Age for the franchise. That is not an opportunity many people get.
The other determining factor, as always, is money. Girardi almost certainly will push to become the game’s highest-paid manager, a title currently owned by the Cubs’ Joe Maddon, whose annual salary bumped up to $6 million after last year’s World Series victory. Girardi’s expiring deal paid him $4 million annually, so that’s a significant raise, and yet probably worth it to the Yankees, a team not shy about spending cash for another shot at a title.