The warning sirens have been going off for a week in New York City. Panic time might not be far off for the Yankees. The Bronx Bombers are nursing a 4-8 record after Sunday’s loss to the Baltimore Orioles and are off to their worst start in over a decade.
Currently basement dwellers in the AL East, New York was supposed to be a lock for the World Series and a World Championship after it signed Randy Johnson and Carl Pavano in the offseason and raised its player salary to over $200 million.
So far the revamped rotation has struggled, as has the Yankees aging bullpen. New York has a team ERA of 5.42 and their starters, who make a combined $65 million, are a measly 2-5 on the year.
The Yanks were supposed locks in 2004 as well, when GM Brian Cashman snagged Alex Rodriguez from the Boston Red Sox and signed slugger Gary Sheffield from the Atlanta Braves. So far A-Rod has never looked comfortable and his switch to third base last season coincided with a three year high in errors.
Gary Sheffield has by far been the better deal. Though he is squarely in the middle of the steroid controversy, the 17-year vet was an AL MVP candidate in 2004, producing 36 homers and 121 RBI while batting .290, getting the timely, Yankee-esque hits that A-Rod has failed to produce.
However Sheffield suffered a rather unfortunate hit last Thursday which has been the subject of constant debate and countless SportsCenter replays. In the now-infamous play, a fan reached out and apparently struck Sheffield’s face as he went to field a triple in right field.
Sheffield reacted by shoving the fan and cocking his fist, but the Yankee right fielder managed to restrain himself long enough for Fenway Park security to capture the fan and eject him from the ballpark.
The controversy surrounding the incident has overshadowed the fact that the Yankees are starting to look their age. A depleted farm system has wrecked havoc on New York’s roster, leaving manager Joe Torre with a bunch of overpaid stars who simply aren’t getting the job done right now.
Age can creep up on a team quickly. Take the Seattle Mariners for example. They won a record-tying 116 games in 2001, only to lose 99 games just three years later in 2004.
The Yankees certainly qualify as old. Of New York’s 10 regular position players, only Alex Rodriquez is under 30, while the average age of the Yanks every day players is 34.
The situation with starting pitching is worse, with two 40-year-olds and an average age of 35. Even closer Mariano Rivera is scarier in weird Nike ads than in the bottom of the ninth now, with two blown saves against the Red Sox already this year.
No one is writing the Yankees off yet, but even Evil Empire boss George Steinbrenner is frustrated. He issued a harsh statement through the media after Sunday’s loss to Baltimore, demanding that Torre get his players to start performing. The truth is, New York may just be in for a really long summer.