In his New York Post column this weekend, George A. King III suggested that if the Yankees "don't get to a series" this year - meaning if they fail to advance beyond the Wild Card game for a fourth straight season - Joe Girardi's job could be in jeopardy. King doesn't claim to base his opinion on any insider information, but the question is one he won't be alone in asking if the Yankees get off to a slow start.
When it comes to the Yankees and managers, many people still think it's 1988. Based on the kind of job Girardi has done during his lengthy tenure, and on how the organization has operated for the past generation, it's a safe bet that he'll be around for at least the next two years. Girardi's seat is cool as can be.
2016 will be Girardi's ninth season as Yankee skipper. Since replacing Joe Torre in 2008, he has a record of 735-561 and he's sixth on the club's all-time wins list. Sure, there was a time when leading the Yankees for ten straight years was about as likely as an Aroldis Chapman eephus pitch, but those days have been long gone, not only in the Hal Steinbrenner era, but at the tail end of the George Steinbrenner dynasty, too. The Yankees have employed only three managers in the past 24 years. In the previous 24, they had twelve, three of whom were hired at least two separate times.
So while the Yankees will probably never shake the reputation they earned in the turbulent 70's and 80's when they chewed through managers like Mariano Rivera chewed through bats, they're now a club that likes to keep guys around a long, long time. In Girardi they have what seems like a perfect fit for what they're currently trying to accomplish. He's a big picture manager - cognizant of overworking relievers, believer in innings and pitch limits, rests players to a point that can be frustrating to fans.
Whether you're on board with it or not, the Yankees have become a big picture organization. They passed on big ticket items again this winter, this time eschewing any Major League free agent at all. They're chasing a vision of fiscal restraint, long-term flexibility and building from within.
It's been a while since the Yankees had the kind of off-season where they could say to a manager "we gave you everything you could ask for...win or else!" Even two winters ago when they spent over $450 million on Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran, they were doing so on the heels of losing Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Andy Pettitte and Rivera.
In the Yankees three-year downturn where they've suffered win totals in the 80's and have gone a combined 0-1 in the playoffs, they've still outperformed their Pythagorean win expectations by a total of plus twelve. This isn't a team that's underachieved. It's a team whose most important players in 2016 - Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira - are the same two as in 2009. The Yankees top priority of late hasn't been "win now," so to fire Girardi for not winning now would be absurd.
Where it doesn't make any baseball sense to move on from Girardi during or after this season, it doesn't make any financial sense either. Girardi is owed $8 million - $4 mil per season - through 2017. Even when they spent more frivolously, the Yankees have never been fans of paying people not to work.
The last time they let a manager go with time left on his contract was Stump Merrill after an horrific run from mid-1990 through the end of '91. Even Stump wasn't so much fired as reassigned. He spent the '92 season as a roving minor league instructor and managed in the Yankees' system in '93 and '94. It's a lot easier for a manager to make a good team worse than a bad or mediocre team better. There's no one out there who'd have the kind of positive impact to justify paying both Girardi's salary and his next year.
Obviously, Girardi isn't manager for life. If 2016 and 2017 are both disappointing, age and injuries will probably be the main culprits, but there's still a good chance he won't get offered a new deal or that he might decide on his own to move on. With a big chunk of the current roster set to turn over by the end of 2017 - Teixeira, A-Rod, Tanaka, Beltran, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi and several others could all see free agency by then - 2018 might be a natural time to change things up. There's really no reason to think much about it between now and then, though, because the Yankees probably won't.