Starr: How to Fix the Yankees

Don't weep for Joe Torre, America. He has had an extraordinary successful tenure—a dozen years, every one in the playoffs, with four World Series titles and six American League championships—that could land him a spot in Cooperstown. And since there is no shortage of teams that could use a class act and a steady hand, Torre can almost certainly quickly land another managerial gig.

Still, it seems clear that after three consecutive first-round exits in the postseason Torre's time with the Yankees has run its course. Despite the vulgar way George Steinbrenner goes about his business—in this case with a gratuitous ultimatum—most Yankee fans will welcome a managerial change, if with a tinge of sadness.

And so might Torre, though he seems incapable of admitting it. All these years in what remains—even as sportswriters write about the mellowing of the Boss—"the Bronx Zoo" have clearly taken a toll on him. Managing the Yankees may be the only job that ages you faster than the American presidency. Through much of this past season Torre appeared numb and, at times, soporific, incapable of summoning up the requisite emotions on those occasions when they might be useful in energizing his team.

Still, Steinbrenner, with his continued faith in the equation that payroll equals championship, is sadly out of touch. That formula is no longer guaranteed in baseball's new millennium, as seven different champions in the last seven years attest. Other teams with big payrolls—the Mets and Dodgers this year, the Red Sox and Angels last year—have failed to make the playoffs. Torre's perfect record in reaching the playoffs with the Yankees should not be regarded as the inevitable outcome of the team's high salaries but as a credit to how he managed, despite ample distractions, to keep his team's eye on the prize.

Now, even as the playoffs move on without New York, and New York almost certainly moves on without Torre, the Yankee story will be fascinating. The team faces huge decisions beyond who will be its dugout leader next year. Two of New York's longest-serving stars, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada, are free agents, and the team has a $16 million option on outfielder Bobby Abreu, who put up very good numbers after a wretched first half that helped bury the team behind the Red Sox in the A.L. East. An even bigger decision looms for Alex Rodriguez, a shoo-in for American League MVP but a postseason bust in all four of his years in New York. A-Rod can opt out of the last three years of his 10-year, $250 million deal. Finally, the Yankees' most reliable big-game pitcher, Andy Pettitte, can also leave.

A primer on the Yankees past and a prescription for the team's future:

Sentimental Journey: For all the Boss's bluster, the Yankees are the last team in Major League Baseball to traffick in sentimentality. They cling tenaciously to the past (exemplified by Bernie Williams's too-long tenure) because the team can afford that luxury and has been slow to recognize that it has come at the expense of the future. Now we'll see if they've learned anything. The Yankees pretty much have to sign Jorge Posada, even though he's 36, as first-rank catchers are so rare. But unless the fading Rivera is willing to sign a one-year deal, which is unlikely, it's time to bid goodbye to the greatest closer in the history of the game. Plenty of pitchers can close (surely the Yankees noticed Cleveland journeyman Joe Borowski closing them out of the playoffs), and Joba Chamberlain may soon be ready to become a dominant closer to rival Boston's Jonathan Papelbon.

True Grit: The Yankees champions of Torre's early years couldn't match up with the most recent teams' array of superstars, but they boasted players like Paul O'Neill, Scott Brosius and Joe Girardi, whose hard-nosed baseball produced big-time results. The current incarnation has a grit deficit.

Captain Jeter: Derek Jeter's captaincy has been earned on the field, and one disappointing series does nothing to diminish his reputation as one of baseball's greatest big-game performers. Still, he leads only by example and is too nice a guy to kick some of the butt that Torre was already stroking. Jeter's not the man to jolt the Yankees out of their lethargy; someone else must step up.

Division Winners: The Yankees, with a lineup loaded from top to bottom, were supposedly built to win championships. But in reality they were built to win division titles. Great hitting mashes those mediocre starters from Tampa Bay, Baltimore and Kansas City. But come playoff time it tends to be pitching that prevails, even against the mightiest lineups. As a team the Yankees hit .228, .246 and .253 in their past three playoff series. Repeat after me: pitching trumps hitting in the postseason.

Starting Pitching: The Yankees' starting pitching simply hasn't measured up to that of its rivals in each of the last three playoffs. Which is odd because the team has the money to pretty much land every pitcher it has pursued, some of whom the Red Sox also coveted. The Yankees were either bad judges of talent or they were unlucky. Perhaps both. But these big-money acquisitions have either been total flops or at least significant disappointments.

Bullpen: This is one area in which Torre will not be missed. The Yankee manager would go to the well far too often with whichever reliever he deemed reliable at the time, and team management and fans alike fear Chamberlain's mighty arm would surely be ruined by next August if Torre were still making the bullpen calls. Of course, that's one more hidden cost of the pressure to win the division every year. Torre wound up treating every game as if it were a must-win situation. Sometimes you have to be willing to lose with your less-than-best in May so that your best can do their job come October.

Farm System: Working with Steinbrenner's win-now mandate, the Yankees have been unable to develop a farm system that produces young talent. Indeed, they pretty much stripped it bare, trading for short-term fixes and overpriced and often overrated veterans. That approach is finally changing. Next year should see Chamberlain, Philip Hughes and Ian Kennedy all taking key roles, with more pitching in the pipeline.

Show A-Rod the Door: Sure, it's his choice, but the Yankees could certainly give him a nudge. He did put up huge numbers, but the Yankees didn't need all of them. It's kind of like they used to say about Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks, after back-to-back MVP seasons in '58 and '59, when the Cubs finished sixth both seasons. Couldn't they have finished sixth without him? A-Rod is the modern equivalent, an MVP who can't propel his team out of the first round of the playoffs. And I bet they could get that far without him. Say goodbye, put Wilson Betemit at third base, make infield defense a priority (that means no more Giambi at first) and spend A-Rod's money shoring up the pitching staff. While Steinbrenner might not be able to handle it, sophisticated Yankee fans would likely tolerate a year on the outside of the playoffs if they sensed the team was building the nucleus of a new champion.

League Championship Predictions: I hope somebody noted that I went four for four in the first round though, frankly, I thought the picks were pretty easy. Not so this round, which should produce—and TBS and Fox pray it does—some more competitive series.

Colorado Rockies vs. Arizona Diamondbacks: Never bet on a streak to end. The Rockies have been playing with playoff pressure since mid-September. And they rolled over a Phillies team that was almost as hot down the stretch. These two teams could be called the anti-Yankees, homegrown and filled with young talent. Still, I find it hard to believe in a team that hit .250 and, as the Diamondbacks do, relies on A.L. castoffs like Eric Brynes and Tony Clark for significant hitting contributions. Matt Holliday and Todd Helton, however have no trouble convincing me. And the Rockies have other guys, like Troy Tulowitzki, Brad Hawpe and Garret Atkins, who are swinging hot bats. Pitching usually rules, but the weak Arizona bats will make Colorado pitching come up aces. Rockies in seven.

Cleveland Indians vs. Boston Red Sox: These are two pretty comparable teams that produced identical records. Both have three hitting stars and a lineup that is more pesky than powerhouse. But all the key matchups seem to favor the Red Sox. Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez vs. David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez in the middle of the lineup: Hafner and Martinez are formidable, but Ortiz and Ramirez are all-timers and on fire. C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona vs. Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling as 1-2 starters: Sabathia and Carmona are nasty, certainly possessing better stuff than the aging Schilling. But Beckett has already won a World Series seventh game, and Schilling has the best postseason winning percentage in history. Joe Borowski vs. Jonathan Papelbon as closer: no contest! Borowski led the league in saves but, remarkably, with an ERA over 5.00, about three times higher than that of the Red Sox star. Throw in the home-field advantage and Boston wins in six.