Joe Girardi could pass himself off as a magician. No, seriously. A magician.
The production he has squeezed out of an aging, at times decrepit Yankees’ roster this season is near miraculous. With injuries to Mark Teixeira, Brett Gardner, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Kevin Youkilis and Curtis Granderson, the Bronx Bombers have turned to players who have either been primarily backup players for organizations or whose prime years are now in the rearview mirror: Lyle Overbay, Jayson Nix, Eduardo Nunez, Vernon Wells and Travis Hafner.
Despite all this, New York finds itself just three games out of the final Wild Card spot in the rough-and-tumble American League East. Many have come up with their own respective reasons and explanations for this success, but for me, it simply comes down to the man at the helm: Joe Girardi.
Utilizing a franchise record 55 players this season, the calm and cool demeanored Northwestern alum has been the steady hand at the tiller of a team that could have easily fell victim to injury, scandal and age. So what’s next for the man who has led the Yankees over the past six seasons?
That’s something that only Girardi knows. The Yankees have not yet even begun discussions of a contract extension, which hardly means much, given the Yankees’ stance on not negotiating during a season. That being said, if New York brass doesn’t lock up their manager promptly, there are several other intriguing options at hand; namely the Washington Nationals and the Chicago Cubs.
Nationals’ manager Davey Johnson is retiring at the end of the 2013 campaign, and unless his club pulls a Houdini and sneaks into the second National League Wild Card slot, it has been a largely forgettable year for the veteran skipper. Coming off a postseason appearance last fall, the Nationals were heavy favorites to represent the N.L. in this year’s Fall Classic. Despite this, they enter play on Monday with 79-70 record, which has been greatly helped by a recent surge that saw the Nats go 8-2 over their last ten ball games.
Would the Nationals want to have Girardi? I can’t see a situation where that question would be answered with a ‘no.’ He has a veteran’s presence in the clubhouse and in the dugout, and brings a quiet intensity that could help spark a young roster back into contention in 2014, behind the likes of Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and company. Girardi was in talks to join Washington prior to his tenure in New York, and reports stated that then-General Manager Jim Bowden heavily preferred Girardi to Johnson, but was overridden by ownership (Ken Rosenthal/Fox Sports).
That being said, the Girardi family has an intense emotional connection to the city of Chicago, and more specifically, the Chicago Cubs.
Both Girardi and his wife Kim attended Northwestern University, and shortly thereafter, he was drafted in the fifth round by the Cubs in 1986, making his major league debut just three short years later in 1989. In his 15-year playing career, Girardi played for the Cubs, twice, in addition to managing the Marlins and the Yankees. He’s won several World Series titles, (four to be exact) – three as a player and one as a manager in New York. His resume is, to say the least, impressive.
The Peoria, Illinois native would take the job of Dale Sveum, who has one year remaining on his contract with the Cubs. In my opinion, Sveum has served his purpose, but is unlikely to be a long-term candidate to remain at the helm of a team that is seeking its first World Series championship in over a century.
With the farm system in full blossom and another top-five draft pick coming up in next June’s MLB Draft, the future is bright for the organization. One of the major pieces missing is a quality manager, ready to build from the ground up and restore a storied franchise to its former glory.
Joe Girardi is that man.