By Ernie Palladino
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Brian Cashman rebuilt a Yankees farm system that has presented Joe Girardi with a much-needed supply of young blood.
That's a good thing. But one more item needs tending to: a contract extension for the manager, himself.
Girardi, you see, is going into the final year of the four-year deal he signed in 2013. The Yankees have made it their practice for quite a while now not to get into contract extensions for front office and coaching staff members until late in the game. But it's generally never good to have a lame-duck manager around. And given recent and past developments with the team, it seems unfair that Girardi should have to manage this year without some sort of security.
Not that Girardi needs it. If he does come free at season's end, some team will pick him up. His consistent winning records, built mainly with aging stars, should make him a marketable commodity for anyone looking to get on the good side of .500.
But answer this: After all the Yanks have done to refresh what was a staid old lineup, shouldn't Girardi be the one to lead the new breed of pinstripers down the road? If new crop standouts Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, and, later on, the Clint Frazier and Gleyber Torres show championship mettle, shouldn't the Yanks want a sure thing managing them?
Finding a new skipper brings uncertainty and risk. Girardi isn't perfect, and he can downright drive fans and upper management crazy with his adherence to the computer spreadsheet. His personality falls well short of predecessor Joe Torre's charisma, as does his overall record of one world championship and one pennant since his 2008 succession.
But Girardi has done plenty else to prove he's the right guy. He steered the Yanks through the steroids minefield Alex Rodriguez planted. He posted above-.500 records with old and broken veterans like Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter, and didn't mess up the bullpen riches bestowed upon him after Mariano Rivera retired.
As many challenges Girardi has met in the past, this year might represent his greatest. The act of starting over can prove traumatic for any franchise. The Yanks may be no different. The kids may not win. For the first time in Girardi's tenure, they could finish south of even as normal growing pains combine with unfulfilled expectations of certain youngsters.
Which one of the newer crop will reveal himself as Quarduple-A rather than major league material is anybody's guess. But odds are slim that every youngster will turn into a star.
That being said, the Yanks probably won't make the postseason this year. Yet, they have currently put their manager in a position where record alone could determine his future here.
Real bad, in fact, considering management handed him yet another challenge over the weekend when franchise president Randy Levine under-characterized Dellin Betances after Aroldis Chapman's setup man LOST his arbitration hearing. On the hook now for the organization's preferred $3 million, Levine said the $5 million Betances asked for was reserved for elite closers, those who work the ninth inning and pick up saves by the dozen.
"Dellin didn't have that record," Levine said. "The agent took him to a case in effect like me saying, 'I'm not the president of the Yankees, I'm an astronaut. I am not an astronaut, and Dellin Betances is not a closer.'"
That prompted Betances, who has closed, to hint that he may place himself under a self-imposed innings limit by refusing to go in before the eighth inning. For someone who likes flexibility in his relievers as much as Girardi, that could cramp his style considerably.
Besides, if Chapman goes down, guess who will step into that role again? An angry, slighted Betances.
Making Girardi operate as a lame duck with that pile of issues is something he'll remember if the Yanks stick to the status quo the whole season.
The Yankees should act now before the regular season comes.
Give Girardi a two-year extension.
See what he does with the new crop. By 2019, all should know whether he has turned this team into a true contender or whether he has outlasted his welcome.
Sending him into the open market at year's end will certainly cost them more to sign him back.
But even worse, they will risk losing the right guy to manage the new crop.
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