It's no secret that Hal Steinbrenner was disappointed with the Yankee farm system after what happened in 2013. The Yankees had a rash of injuries and when the minor leaguers got the chance to help out, they weren't exactly very helpful. Surprisingly, despite his unhappiness, no major changes were made to the organizations. They added roving baseball instructors like Jody Reed, Mike Quade and Trey Hillman to help prospects with various parts of their game, but neither Mark Newman or Damon Oppenheimer were really punished for failing at what they're supposed to be doing – finding and developing players. It was all quite head-scratching.
If you want to look for someone who was truly unhappy with what the farm system offered the big league club, it might be Joe Girardi you should be looking at. Long has he had the reputation for defending his players to the bitter end, no matter how bad they are or how much they might struggle at times. It seems that what he says in front of his team and to the media is much different than what he says behind closed doors, though. In a recent interview with The New York Post's Joel Sherman, Hal revealed how Girardi really felt:
When Joe and I had a conversation at the end of the season, even before he agreed to come back, he said, ‘Look, I got guys coming up here who don't even know how to run the bases, guys coming up that don't know how to bunt. Something is clearly being missed at some levels.'
That's very un-Girardi-like to admit that his players are not good at doing things since he's defended Jayson Nix and Eduardo Nunez for years. While we all felt the unhappiness with the farm system meant they needed to change something in order to develop better prospects, apparently it all had to do with Girardi's comment about their lack of fundamentals.
The obvious question you're going to ask is who could he be talking about. In 2013, the Yankees went through many different position players in an attempt to fill injuries and then replace those injury replacements when they went down in turn. Out of the 'guys coming up,' assuming he's talking about internally developed players, since that's the context the quote was taken from, it could be any of David Adams, Austin Romine, Zoilo Almonte, Melky Mesa, and Corban Joseph. Two of them are no longer in the organization and the rest were never really given much of a chance to make the Opening Day roster this spring. It's probably safe to say that, according to Girardi, these players weren't exactly "playing the game the right way."
People already think that Yankee prospects are a joke. When one is considered valuable, like Gary Sanchez, the lack of depth in the system makes him seem like he's benefitting from no competition around him. Whether that's true or not, it's the perception the organization gives off; that they have no one of consequence, and the guys they do have are massively overhyped. Now something like this, even if you think bunting is stupid, will only make the farm system look worse. Being good at bunting doesn't make you a good player, but things like running the bases are baseball fundamentals, and when you don't have top-tier talent, any little thing you can do well will help.
Besides bunting and running, there's an even bigger issue here that actually needs to be given more attention, and it's the fact that this kind of confirms that there really is no accountability inside the Yankees organization. Sure, these minor parts of the game are not going to turn anyone into legitimate prospects, but if the coaches and instructors are not teaching their players how to run the bases the right way, what exactly are they doing?
This leads to a bigger question of whether or not Mark Newman should be held responsible for essentially neglecting a part of the developing process. He oversees development, he presumably hires coaches and plans out what the organization will teach and what they won't. For all we know, bunting and baserunning could just be the tip of the iceberg and Yankee prospects aren't being instructed on how to do incredibly more important things, like pitch recognition or timing, or whatever. We don't know, but it's clear that at least Joe Girardi knows that something isn't right.
Expanding the instructional textbook to include baseball basics is not what I would consider much of a development for a farm system that hasn't produced many position players in the last few years. They're already behind the curve, so now maybe they're back to zero, at best. I suppose adding fundamentals into the curriculum could allow potential depth to be a little more useful, but it isn't going to transform middling prospects into everyday players. Hal Steinbrenner says he expects an improvement this year, but I don't think that these changes will really bring about anything better than what we've already seen. He says that firings are possible, but I think we're already there. We've been there for awhile now and it's time to finally act.
I know that Newman and Oppenheimer have been around since his dad was in charge, but it's time for Hal to see that it's his team now and when employees don't do their job, they should be replaced. Of course, firing people isn't always the solution, but it doesn't look like not firing people is the solution either. Clearly it's time to get some new people in to change things up and try something else. They would have the opportunity to outline exactly what they want from their minor league pipeline because what they have right now is clearly not working and they know it. I think.