The Yankees in Free Fall

Joe Torre seems to be heading for Los Angeles, Alex Rodriguez is available to the highest bidder and the fates of Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte have yet to be determined. This is hardly the way to start a new era in Yankee history.

After a glorious run of championships, the Yankees are in disarray. The team’s fortunes are in the hands of George Steinbrenner’s two sons, Hank and Hal, and his son-in-law, Felix Lopez. The team’s patriarch is said to be in declining health. The decision to hire Joe Girardi as Mr. Torre’s replacement instead of Don Mattingly, one of George Steinbrenner’s favorites, may or may not have been a smart move, but there is no denying its significance: A new generation is in charge of the Bronx Bombers.

One could hardly expect such a momentous transition to be smooth. But one might have hoped for fewer bumps. The decision to make Mr. Torre an offer he could easily refuse only added to the chaos. With the Yankees already in transition, why did the younger Steinbrenners dismiss a beloved manager who won them four World Series rings in a dozen years?

On the heels of Mr. Torre’s departure came word that Mr. Rodriguez and his publicity-mad agent, Scott Boras, have decided to exercise an opt-out clause in Mr. Rodriguez’s contract. Hal Steinbrenner has said the team will not negotiate with Mr. Rodriguez as a free agent—the Yankees wanted to extend the third baseman’s contract and give him a substantial raise without having to compete for his services. So the Yankees have painted themselves into a corner. They either have to replace one of the game’s greatest players, or go back on their word and try to outbid other teams to keep Mr. Rodriguez, who is looking for at least $30 million a year.

In the meantime, three of the Yankees’ stalwarts—Messrs. Rivera, Posada and Pettitte—are not signed for 2008. Without them, the Yankees face uncertain prospects next year, their final season in historic Yankee Stadium. That simply won’t do. The Yankees cannot open their new ballpark in 2009 with a team in decline. Now that they’ve hired a manager, they have to sign their closer (Mr. Rivera), their catcher (Mr. Posada) and one of their better starting pitchers (Mr. Pettitte).

Since Mr. Torre arrived in 1996, the Yankees and their fans have become accustomed to winning. The new generation of Steinbrenners apparently consider it a given that the team will make the playoffs every year. That is both a foolish assumption and a laudable ambition. But as many teams know, spending money guarantees nothing.