Recently I traveled to New York City, visiting for the weekend. Though I obviously was not there for a Yankees game, the team was constantly on my mind. Of all the things I wanted to buy in the city that seemingly has everything, I kept returning to a Didi Gregorius shirsey (shirt jersey). My interest in Gregorius has always been apparent, but, for obvious reasons, skyrocketed when he joined the Yankees. I’m not sure if it’s the dazzling defense, amazing name (which also has a connection to my own, Greg), or excitable personality but I’m simply drawn to him as a player and person. All that I wanted out of my trip to NYC was a Didi shirsey, and surprisingly to me there were none to be found. The Yankees website has one for sale that I’ll now likely purchase but I couldn’t find a single one in the streets of Manhattan or The Bronx.
Finally, my patience dwindling, I simply asked a store clerk, "Where is Didi?" The response I got spoke volumes. "We don’t got him yet. Yankees gotta prove themselves," said the employee. At first I simply responded with frustration and exited the store to continue my search. But later that night as I thought about that comment I realized how much weight it holds. The New York Yankees do "gotta" prove themselves. It’s not just Didi Gregorius. The entire 2015 Yankees team has to prove themselves. This team has a lot to prove.
Of course other Yankees teams in the past have had question marks. However, there has always been the anchor for the team to cling to and fans to believe in. There’s always been the Derek Jeter. There has always been something to hang the hat on, something to check the box on, to push to the back of your brain because it was handled. But this year, though there are obviously returning pieces and excellent talents, there seemingly isn’t that anchor. There are individual players that have already proven themselves as elites in MLB. I’m not saying Jacoby Ellsbury is in the same position as Gregorius in that he needs to prove his worth to the team, but the organization as a whole is in a new mindset, a new era, if that’s not too hyperbolic.
In a way, the Yankees are in a transition period. That doesn’t mean they can’t compete—they certainly are serious contenders. It also doesn’t mean they’re transitioning like the Houston Astros. But they are, in a way, transitioning to normalcy. There is no more hiding behind the Core Four. No more relaxing in Derek Jeter’s shadow. There’s no more Farewell Tour to share the spotlight with. No more suspension to keep the media fed.
The offseason philosophy also shows this transition. Rather than going big on David Robertson, knowing they had Dellin Betances to close, the Yankees went to the second-tier grabbing Andrew Miller to bolster the bullpen. That was a smart move. That’s the right move. That is the new Yankees. They further proved this with the Headley signing. Rather than sacrificing their mission to get better defensively and sign Pablo Sandoval or attempt to get more out of Alex Rodriguez than what’s left in the tank, they chose the better option in Headley. He makes the most sense for the Yankees and his signing further validates an organizational shift. It’s a shift to normalcy.
The last shift comes within the fans. It seems that expectations have been rationalized. We all know not to expect Gregorius to be Jeter and understand where he is valuable and where he needs to improve. We can accept him batting near the bottom of the order but producing in the field. We’ve been pleasantly surprised with Rodriguez’s spring but won’t quickly forget how we felt before spring when he had potential to simply be dead weight. We’ve also now seen Brian McCann in Yankee Stadium and understand the short porch isn’t that short for him. We’ve come to terms with CC Sabathia no longer being an ace of a staff. Our expectations have been fairly scaled back, rationalized to the team that’s actually on the field.
All of this doesn’t mean the Yankees are looking at a down season. It doesn’t mean they’re starting over. It simply means they’re looking towards a different season. The last few years seem to have been a humbling experience, and this is the detox. It’ll be a liberating change for the organization. As long as they’re the New York Yankees there will be abnormal pressure, but I think this season will be the closest to normal in years. And that’s a good thing. New York Yankees "gotta" prove themselves. For the first time in years, this team has that fresh start. That blank slate. They have that chance.