The 2023 Yankees season has been so aggressively mediocre that fans missed a key detail in a weekend series against the Marlins: It’s been 20 years since Miami turned a miraculous Wild Card run into their second World Series title.
Looking back, of course the young, upstart, not-supposed-to-even-be-here Marlins slew the mighty Yankees. They won with balanced youth top to bottom. The Bronx Bombers, in contrast, looked old save for Derek Jeter, rookie Hideki Matsui, and young slugger Alfonso Soriano.
Patterns even held after the World Series too. The Marlins celebrated their second unprecedented championship run by … selling off their championship roster for spare parts. Remember, these were the bad Jeffrey Loria years.
The Yankees, instead of getting younger on the mound, traded their best young player in Soriano. All for over a decade of Alex Rodriguez and one championship ring to show for it.
Fast forward to today, and the Fish have hooked the Yanks again. This time thanks to an epic Sunday meltdown that saw the Yankees squander a 7-1 lead and a much-needed series win. All at the hands of a young, homegrown roster that got one over on a team of aging veterans.
That’s because in the 20 years since what was, in hindsight, an incredible series, neither the Yankees or Marlins have changed. They are both middling teams with “upside” as their middle name. The difference now is that it’s become harder for the Yankees to masquerade as an annual contender.
New York insists on continually drowning itself in the faux-“Yankee Way,” hopelessly trying to recapture the Core Four’s magic. Only certain minor league prospects get real chances. The rest are moved either at the trade deadline or in the offseason for whatever hole needs filling.
And Miami? Well, they’re building something despite not being a great team. They’re a year and maybe a piece or two away from being legit Wild Card contenders. There’s no overhanging threat of blowing it all up once the team starts getting better and, in turn, more expensive.
I’m not one to drop names but I can’t help but think back to my talk with Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench. The Big Red Machine’s veteran backstop spent his whole career playing for a team whose player development system seemed foolproof. But according to Bench, the Reds were just using common sense.
“The teams that have the best minor league systems are usually the ones that sustain [success] for a long period of time,” he said. “The only way you can improve is when your minor league system brings you wealth and brings your more excitement and some offensive numbers.”
Miami seems to have gotten that message, gradually giving more and more at-bats over time to guys like Jazz Chisholm Jr. Like Bryan De La Cruz and Jesus Sanchez. Making a shrewd trade for a pure contact hitter in Luis Arraez, who’s currently leading MLB with a .367 batting average. They have no fear letting a locked-in Sandy Alcantara pitch deep into games.
And the architect of these new ways in Miami? That would be general manager and veteran executive Kim Ng. She’s overseeing a full-blown culture change while the Yankees keep plodding along.
The twist in this story? Ng was Yankees general manager Brian Cashman’s assistant in his first four years on the job. In a way, the two have literally grown up in the game together. The only difference is that Ng understands that building sustained winners takes time and patience.
Granted, so does Cashman. Were it not for his convincing Hal Steinbrenner to sell at the deadline in 2016, Gleyber Torres would not be a Yankee.
Except since then, he’s also developed such a trust in his approach that his refusal to lose borders on pathological. He’s clearly doing something right with the Yankees’ farm system. Having seven prospects in Baseball America’s Top 100 confirms that.
Have we really reached a stage of history where the Miami Marlins, of all teams, are a smoother operation than the mighty Yankees? Perhaps things have changed in 20 years after all.
In the meantime, the Yankees are last in the AL East and five back of the final Wild Card. Miami, on the other hand, holds the final spot in the NL.
At the very least, maybe Ng can send her old boss a postseason postcard.
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