Even though the Mets and Yankees share this town, I don’t spend a lot of time following the Yankees. I’m very much immersed in the Mets, including this blog, and there is basketball, and football, and movies, and music, and you can’t do everything. That’s not to say I have no idea what goes on with them; I don’t live in a cave either, but I don’t have the ability to reflect on them too much. They are not my problem, and it’s hard enough the last few years worrying about the Mets. However, once a year, during the Subway Series, there they are, all over my radar. Now that those four games are over, before I forget about them again, I wanted to discuss the two franchises, and where they are heading. The fact is they do play here, and it’s naïve to think that what goes on in the Bronx has zero to do with the New York Mets. They are fighting for eyeballs, and customer dollars, all the time.
Right now, when you look at wins and losses, not much separates the two teams. Neither team leads its Division, but neither is buried, either. Both hover around the .500 mark. But watching both play all week, these teams seem like they have met all right, but at a fork in the road. I’m not so sure where the Mets are heading, but at this time in history I’m happy they are not following the Yankees.
The Mets have now gone through years of retrenching. Partly by design, and surely partly through necessity, the team has focused on younger players in the system. When you look up the middle, rookies Wilmer Flores and Travis d’Arnaud are the current choices at catcher and short, and second-year man Juan Lagares patrols center. The starting rotation includes a second-year player in Zack Wheeler, and a fresh call-up in Rafael Montero. The staff also now includes three more young hard-throwing pitchers, Familia, Mejia, and deGrom. Time will tell whether these guys have the goods to succeed in the majors, and there are very fair minded doubts that the current owners will keep them together for any length of time. So, yes, there are no guarantees. But the path is clear; a young foundation is in place. Mets fans will get to find out now whether it is made of bricks or straw.
Then there are the Yankees. Now, I’m generalizing here, so bear with me Yankee fans, but Yankee fans are a different cat. They have been bred to be a different cat.
The Yankees sell Championships. They are not shy about it. They announce the total World Championships attained over and over. It’s everywhere you look. And since George Steinbrenner showed up, which is forty years ago already, they have been very clear with their fans that if the team does not win it all, the whole exercise is a waste. The Yankees brand is built on being the best. Not maybe, not hopefully. The expectation is to be the favorite, to be what all the other teams are chasing. Everything else is sold as beneath them.
Now look, they have won a lot, those rings they toss around are real, and you go up to Cooperstown, everywhere you look there is a dude on a plaque with a Yankees cap on. Facts are facts. And those facts have created a beast of a brand, the Yankees are now worth billions and billions of dollars. But that brand is a beast and it must be fed. And make no mistake, the Yankees have done everything they can to keep it alive. The Yankees have shown a willingness to spend whatever it takes to have star players and a realistic shot at winning another Championship every year. The downside of the constant pursuit has been that the effort in the Bronx has very little emphasis on the future. It can’t, the annual stakes are too high to take a deep breath. The team is making so much money that when they see a small dip, the inclination is to quickly double down and go for even more proven veterans to quickly rebound. While the Mets have been trying to build a foundation, the Yankees keep redoing the bathrooms and painting the rooms. All of a sudden you look at them and wonder if they can continue to patch and plug their way to glory without a real fall. Cracks are showing that might topple the whole thing.
Derek Jeter is saying goodbye right now, right behind Mariano Rivera last year. They were the final Yankees left from the last real build of the team from the ground up. Given the nature of the collective bargaining agreement, it is hard to purchase young talent. When you look at the Yankees you still see a lot of true stars. Old ones. When I see Carlos Beltran or Mark Teixeira at bat I’m not dismissive of them. But it’s fairly obvious they are not the players they once were either. CC Sabathia, Ichiro, Soriano, and Brian Roberts are additional Yankees who would be a worthy new “Core Four” for the team, if only it was 2004. It’s not.
When I look at the overall roster, I see what the record is showing, a .500 team. Due to the latest spending splurge, this is not a bad team. I would take Tanaka, Ellsbury, and McCann on my team right now, that is for sure. But those guys are surrounded by some crappy players, too, as $200 million doesn’t go as far as it used to in America. Twice this week the Yankees started pitchers that I had never heard of, and I didn’t see anything from them to think I need to read up.
Where does it all go from here? After twenty years of consistent winning, it’s hard to bet against the beast. It’s also very hard to bet against $200 million. But when I look at that roster, I just can’t see a rosy future. It is hard for any team to win forever. I honestly think the rest of this decade will be cruel to the Bronx Bombers. Maybe they can grab a Wild Card here or there. A lot of teams make the playoffs these days. But I could just as easily see them having some honest to goodness under .500 seasons. And for a franchise that expects to generate massive revenue every year, that would be very interesting to watch. It could get ugly for a while.
This leaves the Mets positioned perfectly. If they do the right things, they have a chance to gain some real market share in this massive market. Yankee fans have not been bred to be loyal; they have been bred to expect nonstop excellence. That could translate to real defections. I’m not about to declare that the Mets will turn over a full fan base, or take over New York overnight, but there is no way that some Yankees fans won’t start shopping around if their team stumbles. That’s the agreement they were sold.
Will the Mets do those right things? I wish I was more confident on that front than I am on the Yankees heading south, but I can’t quite get there. I keep seeing Fred Wilpon when I close my eyes, and worse, Jeff. So we’ll have to see on that. I am confident on this.
Empires fall, folks, even evil ones.