I'm not sure when it is I basically decided the Red Sox' season was over. If I had to guess the series that sealed it, it would be the split against the Indians at the beginning of August. While I hadn't exactly been confident going in, ending that series six games back (instead of a very realistic four) and without Kevin Youkilis was likely the nail in the coffin.
Coldly analytical type that I am, it was hard to overlook a six game deficit with so little time remaining. After all, it was not simply a matter of the Red Sox playing their hearts out, but of the other teams collapsing. While both have struggled some lately, it doesn't seem like they're ready to go away in any sense of the word, leaving the Red Sox the same distance from a playoff spot two weeks later.
Still, that's not enough to convince everyone. Hope still exists. Just ask J.P. Ricciardi.
"I would be very concerned if I were the Yankees," Ricciardi said. "That club is really starting to look old to me, and I think that the next five or six weeks we've got left is really going to be crucial on the Yankees more than anything. The Red Sox know which spot they're in. They know they just have to go out and play well. The Yankees are actually looking at, 'Hey we're in the playoffs right now. We can't let this slip away.' "
Now, far be it from me to suggest that anyone should ever listen to J.P. Ricciardi when it comes to baseball, but in this case, the man has hit on something. Just not what he thinks he has. I don't think the Yankees are suddenly going to break their collective hips and limp to the finish line while the Red Sox dash ahead -- the win percentage numbers needed for that are pretty staggering, really -- but the fact remains that these guys are old. Very old. And this upcoming offseason could really prove their undoing in the immediate future.
With fan favorites (and that's putting it lightly) Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera heading into free agency, the Yankees are going to have to make a decision. Speculation abounds the contracts these two will require, but generally it seems like it's going to cost the Yankees a lot of money, possibly over as many as four years if they want to avoid the unpleasantness of seeing either player in another uniform come 2011. Money well spent? It's hard to imagine.
At 35-years-old, Derek Jeter is a shortstop coming off a career year and starting to look his age more than ever, but don't think that's going to make the captain accept some kind of pay cut. Unfortunately for the Yankees, the fact of the matter is that Jeter hasn't even been worth his contract (by WAR) these last ten years outside of 2006 and 2009 thanks to his often suspect defense. And if this year is any indication, the Yankees could be looking at $20 million going a slap-hitting corner outfielder that has lost the power he needs to draw walks come the next few years. Hardly an ideal situation.
While Mariano isn't showing the same signs of age (far from it -- he's having an amazing year), closers are almost as a rule overpaid, and it's always a gamble to give someone north of forty a multi-year contract extension, much less for as much cash as Mariano can demand.
Add that to a possibly already-declining A-Rod raking in a smaller team's payroll until 2017, A.J. Burnett's albatross contract, C.C. Sabathia's longevity concerns, and even the unimpressive Curtis Granderson's $10 million a year, and the Yankees are walking a serious tight rope here.
While it's not likely that the Yanks are about to implode this year, they'll always have to be wondering about next year if they do give Jeter and Rivera the contracts they expect. Their team is constructed like something of a tower of cards right now, and unless they're willing to up the financial ante to even greater heights should the situation call for it, it's one that could come crashing down any year now.