EPSTEIN: The Yankees haven’t experienced a losing season since 1992. How should fans too young to remember names like Mel Hall, Eddie Whitson, Andy Hawkins, and Brien Taylor prepare for the possibility that the bottom drops out in 2013?
GEORGE: After seeing those names listed, I’m rapidly thinking that this entire exercise is a sadistic venture on the part of Met fan Epstein to take joy in suffering of Yankees fans pondering the aimless late ’80s to early ’90s era. One interesting point about that period, though, is the year 1993 — the last time the Yankees and the Red Sox missed the playoffs. Considering how good Toronto and Tampa look in the East, that could possibly happen again in 2013.
BENSON: Whoa, I don’t remember any of those names. I came of age as a baseball fan in the waning years of the Mattingly era, so a losing Yankees season has literally never been on my radar. The question is, will fans fork over top dollars to see a lousy team in a nice new (and expensive) stadium? I think Mets fans have answered that question resoundingly over the last few seasons.
KLEIN: We didn’t know we were bad back then, or at least we tried to forget. This will sting more if they’re sub-par — probably like the post-Mantle, Shea years. Hurting more because we had so much plenty so recently.
GEORGE: Guy brings up a great point: There’s a whole generation of Yankee fans who’ve only known playoffs every single year and a World Series appearance every three years (on average). The team has only missed the playoffs once since 1995 — and they won it all the year afterwards. We could be heading into alien territory for many in Guy’s generation.
BENSON: And the 2008 playoff miss was sort of appropriate. A somber benediction for the old stadium. They certainly christened the new stadium appropriately the next year, though.
EPSTEIN: Yes, Robert, I am a long-suffering Mets fan who, in order to compensate, readily embraces schadenfreude. So if a playoff spot doesn’t materialize this season, would finishing ahead of the Red Sox give you any measure of comfort?
KLEIN: Yes. Yes. Also, yes.
BENSON: I tend to think that Red Sox fans fixate on the Yankees more than the other way around. New York fans’ primary concern is winning, and any torment that Sox fans may experience is just an added bonus.
That being said, Boston sucks.
GEORGE: To paraphrase an old Far Side cartoon: “It’s not enough that the Yankees do well, the Red Sox must also do very poorly.”
EPSTEIN: Now we can’t do this interview without including a hypo: Fast forward to a few days before the July 31 trade deadline. The club is one or two games under .500 and six games removed from the second wild-card berth. Cashman calls you looking for advice: Should he try to deal some of the regulars whose contracts expire at the end of the year?
BENSON: I’d say, “Thanks for the call, Brian. First off, I genuinely appreciate all the great memories and phenomenal teams you’ve helped construct, but the Yankees desperately need to get younger and faster. Don’t push the panic button and act rashly to salvage one season. The franchise needs an overhaul, so let’s think strategically and long-term. Also, as an act of selflessness, I’ve reduced my advising fee from the usual amount to season tickets for life. Leaving them at Will Call is fine.”
KLEIN: I’m with Guy on this. The Yankees franchise can no longer define itself by wild-card berths that would only lead to early playoff exits. Brian, you know what you have to do, which is build a new plan, one that will take a good chunk of years to come to playoff fruition.
GEORGE: Agree 100 percent.
The Yankees need to get younger and healthier on the entire infield except for second base (I include catcher). Outfield’s not much better. If they could get value for Curtis Granderson, I’d send him on his way. In fact, of the entire current lineup, Cano (who will be tough to sign) is the only must-keep. Otherwise, it’s sadly time for a five-year plan. Indeed, Jason and I had this discussion at the conclusion of the playoffs last year. I was hoping they would begin the overhaul then, instead of the stutter-step they took (and even that backfired, considering they would have been better off trying to retain Martin).
EPSTEIN: Should the Yankees go all out at season’s end to re-sign Cano, age 30, the current face of the franchise? What if the free-spending Dodgers, who look likely to need a second baseman in 2014 and beyond, offer Cano $225 million over nine years? What if it’s $250 million over ten years?
BENSON: Scott Boras is going to make this painful for the Yankees, but I think they need to re-sign him. He’s a bona fide star, he’s home grown, he’s popular with the fans. Do you really want to start a “five-year plan” without him? The problem with these ultra long-term deals is the prospect of diminishing returns. Part of the drill, I guess.