- Last Updated: 9:22 AM, October 18, 2012
- Posted: 1:29 AM, October 18, 2012
DETROIT — In the offseason of 1998-99, following their winningest season of all time, the Yankees faced a significant decision: Who would be their third baseman going forward?
They could re-sign free agent Scott Brosius, their World Series Most Valuable Player and a 1998 All-Star. Or they could promote their top prospect Mike Lowell, who proved himself that year at Triple-A Columbus.
You know the direction they chose, and you know that Brosius was the starting third baseman for a team that qualified for the World Series each of the next three seasons — after which point he retired.
But what if the Yankees had gone the other way? If they had bet on Lowell, they would’ve had an above-average third baseman through at least 2004, which means that they would’ve passed on ... wait for it ... Alex Rodriguez, when A-Rod became available in the 2003-04 winter. Instead, Lowell excelled with the Marlins, who acquired him from the Yankees for three young pitchers who flopped.
There’s a lesson to be learned these many years later, one which the Yankees have learned and applied better more recently and to which they must adhere once again. They can’t make forward-thinking decisions if they overemphasize what they see in the postseason.
“These guys are better than this. And you’ve seen it, and we’ve seen it,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said yesterday, before the Yankees and Tigers American League Championship Series Game 4 at Comerica Park was postponed by rain. “It is just a very poor short sample. We have a lot of guys that got cold at the wrong time, and it looks bad. But ... this is not a reflection of who they are.”
The Yankees have become more attuned to dissecting and projecting than simply grasping to postseason results. Remember in 2009, when Hideki Matsui won World Series MVP honors and Johnny Damon played great? Cashman let both of them go, and three years later, both are out of baseball. In the interim, neither player came close to matching what he gave the Yankees in ’09.
Robinson Cano broke a mind-blowing, 0-for-29 slump with his ninth-inning single in Tuesday night’s Game 3. He has been brutal in the postseason. But exercising his $15 million team option for next year is a slam dunk, trading him is unthinkable and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Yankees still engage Cano on a long-term extension to keep him out of free agency a year from now.
Nick Swisher? He’ll be a free agent this winter, and you can bet on him playing elsewhere in 2013. However, if his fourth straight terrible postseason has done anything, it has lowered his market value — because some anxious owners probably would have been excited over a great October — and increased the likelihood, still slight, of Swisher returning to the Yankees.
Alex Rodriguez? There’s plenty going on there, as always, yet there’s reason to think, based on his 2012 regular season, that he can still provide some value (if nowhere near what he’ll be earning) next season.
Curtis Granderson? His benching last night had as much to do with his erratic 2012 season as a whole, replete with homers and strikeouts, lacking in walks and doubles, as his shaky October. He might be a trade candidate this winter, once the Yankees exercise his $13 million team option for next year, although he for sure won’t be sold low.
With each player, his October performance will be among the last factors the Yankees examine.
After conceding his many hitters’ struggles, Cashman said, “But these are also the guys that got us the best record in the American League and put up ... one of the highest run totals in our league. So they’re also the reason for a lot of good that’s taken place. ... Is that a true snapshot of what their contributions are and who they are as player? It’s not.”
Cashman will keep that in mind as he moves forward this winter, blocking the emotion out of his evaluations and trying to make the best decisions for the future. Losing in the postseason isn’t fun. But if you make decisions based on postseason results, then you’ll wind up missing October altogether.Follow @NYPostsports