Thursday, October 10, 2013

Yanks Face Challenges, Girardi Says

Skipper Resigns for 4-Year Deal but has Work to Do
By Rich Mancuso
BRONX, NEW YORK, OCTOBER 10- Joe Girardi said family was a major decision in re-signing a four-year deal, reportedly at $17 million to continue as manager of the New York Yankees. He also admitted, the challenge guiding a team that is considered the most high profiled in sports weighed in the decision.
And the challenge will be an important part of a task that begins now for Girardi and GM Brian Cashman. The offseason moves of dealing with free agency, trades, and who will play a role on 2014 at Yankee Stadium will be many as the Yankees look to get back in the postseason picture after failing to get there this season. 
They finished the 2012 season with an 85-77 record, fourth place in the AL east and missed the post season for the second time in 19 years. The Yankees not playing baseball in October is not the same and Girardi knows that feeling. He wanted to be a part of this ride another four years. There was never a stage of getting to talk about the Chicago Cubs about their managerial vacancy or returning to the broadcast booth.
Girardi is a Yankee and he wanted it to stay that way. Reportedly, he is the second highest paid manager in the game and second only to Mike Scioscia of the Los Angeles Angels.
“I wouldn’t have come back if I didn’t think we could win a championship,” commented Girardi in a late afternoon media conference call. The manager admitted he is not used to being home this time of year, and his wife and three children played a major role in his decision.  
Girardi had been hinting about moving on after a difficult season. His team sustained one injury after another including a significant amount of playing time missed by Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez.  In total there were 56 different players on the roster, 27 with stints on the disabled list including first baseman Mark Teixeira.
“There a lot of holes to fill,” he said, referring to the loss of players to free agency, and of course the retirements of all-time saves leader Mariano Rivera and one of the top five all-time winning pitchers, Andy Pettitte.
There were also numerous reports that the Chicago Cubs were looking to offer Girardi a huge deal to manage there, but his current contract that concludes at the end of this month prevented any of those talks to proceed. Girardi, a native of nearby Peoria Illinois, and a former Cubs player, said there were never any talks with the Cubs.
“I have fond memories,” he said about days with the Cubs, adding those were special but his time in the Bronx as a player and manager of the Yankees have been special also. Girardi managed the Yankees to their 27th world championship in 2009, finishing with a final 103-57 record in the second year of his contract that was set to expire.
However, this past season was the most difficult to deal with in his managerial tenure. Injuries to key players compiled, youngsters called up from Triple-A as replacements were still learning on the field. Girardi used what he had available that kept the Yankees in the hunt for a second American League wild card until the last week of the season.
“It was a big family decision,” said Girardi about his return to the dugout in the Bronx. “They wanted me to continue what I was doing. There was never a lot of thought of me not coming back. I just had to make sure.”
Yankees ownership wanted to get the deal done soon. This will be a busy offseason for the organization having to fill voids at many positions and trying to stay at the salary threshold of $189 million. There is also the realization that Girardi returns for the first time without Rivera, Pettitte and Granderson in the outfield who is a free agent.
Two of the “Core Four” of those five Yankees championship teams, Rivera and Pettitte, under then manager Joe Torre and Girardi, threw their last pitches and had emotional goodbyes in the Bronx.
“It’s a special place to manage,” commented Girardi, “because of the atmosphere, the history of the organization and putting on the pinstripes. Think of the things I went through this year, Mariano and Andy….that’s special.” He admitted that there were tears when Rivera threw his final pitches at Yankee Stadium and, when Pettitte and Jeter came to the mound removing him from the game.
When asked about what has to be done in order for the Yankees to fill those voids and get back to the postseason, he said, “I always know the Yankees will do their best. We need these kids to develop and play a role. You just can’t go out and buy every free agent at every position.”
He always knew he would come back, that’s why other possible managerial interviews were never set, and as Girardi said, “Coming back was not contingent on having any more of a role.” In other words, this is a job that Girardi sees as maybe his last in a managerial capacity, at least for the next four years.
He did say, this was a year of challenges and learning more how to be a manager. There was that adversity from April to September, including the never ending saga of Alex Rodriguez and a steroid controversy. And there are uncertainties about Rodriguez, in the lineup, come April with his hearing and appeal of an impending full season suspension.
Yes, it is a special place to manage. The first phase of this busy offseason is complete for the New York Yankees bringing back the manager who wants to be here. Filling in the holes to play baseball again in October remain.
“I want to be back of being on top and that is important to me,” says Girardi. And with him still in the managerial chair, providing the holes are filled, he will once again have that opportunity.
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