NEW YORK — Hank Steinbrenner says too much blame is being directed at Alex Rodriguez for Detroit’s sweep of the Yankees, and won’t address whether the slumping star will be back in New York next season.
“He was just one of quite a few that just had a bad time at the plate,” the team’s co-chairman said Friday during a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “So is it fair to accuse him of everything but the Kennedy assassination? No, it’s not fair, but we’ll see what happens from this point on.”
The Yankees owe the third baseman $114 million over the next five seasons. Rodriguez, who has the ability to block trades, was benched for three games in the playoffs and pinch hit for in three others. A-Rod said he wants to stay in New York.
“I’m not going to get into that at this point,” Steinbrenner said.
A person familiar with the situation said the Yankees want Rodriguez to focus more on baseball and less on being a celebrity, and hope he’ll come to grips with the idea at age 37 he no longer is the player who won three MVP awards and needs to set realistic goals. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team did not want to its views attributed publicly.
With a major league-high $222 million payroll, the Yankees expected nothing less than their 28th World Series title. But Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, Russell Martin and Eric Chavez combined to hit .110 with eight RBIs and 57 strikeouts in nine postseason games.
“It was something to not be very pleased about,” Steinbrenner said. “Everybody is kind of a bewildered and a little angry, too. But that’s natural.”
His younger brother Hal, the team’s managing general partner and boss, issued a statement combining praise for the team and disappointment. He cited numerous injuries the Yankees overcame to win the AL East with the league’s best record at 95-67.
“We fell short of our singular and constant goal,” he said. “Make no mistake, this was a bitter end to our year, and we fully intend to examine our season in its totality, assess all of our strengths and weaknesses and take the necessary steps needed to maintain our sole focus of winning the World Series in 2013. Great teams — and organizations — use disappointment as a motivation for future improvements and success. In the days, weeks and months ahead, we plan to do what’s necessary to return this franchise to the World Series.”
Yankees closer Mariano Rivera had a season-ending knee injury in May, ace CC Sabathia went on the disabled list twice, left fielder Brett Gardner missed almost the entire season, Andy Pettitte was out for nearly three months and shortstop Derek Jeter broke an ankle in the ALCS opener.
“We may have fallen short yesterday but we never feel sorry for ourselves and never make excuses,” Hal Steinbrenner said.
Among the position players, only Jeter (38), Raul Ibanez (40) and Ichiro Suzuki (38) had good postseasons at the plate. Mark Teixeira batted .281 but drove in just one run.
“Eventually, obviously we’ve got to get younger at some point. Every team does,” Hank Steinbrenner said. “But it wasn’t age that did this this time. That’s what has us kind of bewildered, because you’ve got to remember, Ibanez and Jeter did just fine. They’re the oldest.”
New York’s pitchers had a 2.76 ERA in the playoffs — more than a run below its 3.85 during the regular season.
“Our pitching was really good,” team president Randy Levine said. “We didn’t hit. Why didn’t we hit? I don’t know the answer to that. I think that this is a team of well-known professional hitters who, top to bottom for the most part, except for a few guys, didn’t hit.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with age,” he added. “I don’t think it has anything to do with type of hitters that were in there. You had guys who were contact hitters who went cold, guys who were home run hitters who went cold and guys who were a combination of both who went cold.”
Hank Steinbrenner said the team remains committed to lowering its payroll by 2014 to get under the $189 million threshold for the luxury tax, which uses average annual values. Under baseball’s new labor contract, teams under the threshold that pay revenue sharing money would get some of those dollars back.
“We’ll still do more than any other team would do to win, but at some point with the new rules it’s going to become imperative to be a little more fiscally conservative,” he said. “That’s where we’ve got to rely on our young players, and we’ll still be able to get players when we need them now and then.”