Joe jump-starts Yankees' offseason

NEW YORK -- For the first time in a long time, the Yankees have filled a vacancy with the best available man for a job.

When's the last time they did that? Try 2009.

Girardi wasn't technically a free agent -- that was still three weeks away -- but the Yankees could not have done better than bringing him back as their manager. And Girardi could not have done better for himself, had he decided to wait until the end of the month so he could shop around a little bit.

If this is a clue to how this Yankees' offseason is going to go, I'd say it is off to a pretty good start.

Because the last time the Yankees had a hole to fill and found the right guy, it was five winters ago. That winter, they had three holes to fill and hit a three-run homer with CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and, yes, A.J. Burnett. That paid immediate dividends with a World Series, the first in nearly a decade, the following October.

Since then, they've gotten into the habit of settling for less than the best. Last winter, Hal Steinbrenner sat on his wallet so long that, by the time he decided to open it, the only players left on the shelf were Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay.

Not so this winter. Stung by their poor and injury-ravaged 2013, the Yankees decided what they wanted and went out and got it.

And who could blame them?

Unlike Phil Hughes, Curtis Granderson, Joba Chamberlain and Boone Logan, Girardi had a pretty good walk year. Finding a way to hold his depleted roster together, parcel out his bullpen arms and maintain a level of confidence in his clubhouse, Girardi kept the Yankees, against all odds, in the playoff hunt until the last week of the season. His 2009 World Series notwithstanding -- the result mainly of the high-priced, healthy talent he had been given over that winter -- bringing the 2013 Yankees in at a respectable 85-77 might have been Girardi's finest managing job of all.

And, besides, had the Yankees let Girardi walk, with whom were they going to replace him? Joe Torre? Lou Piniella? Yeah, 15 years ago maybe. An interim guy like Tony Pena or Larry Rothschild? Not in this town, with this media, this fan base, these expectations and that payroll, even if it is eventually reduced to $189 million.

The guys you might consider -- Mike Scioscia, Terry Francona, Jim Leyland, Joe Maddon -- are not available, and the guys who are available you don't want. Bobby Valentine, anyone?

No, clearly Girardi was not only the most convenient choice, he was the best choice.

You might not agree with all of his in-game moves -- I certainly haven't at times -- or with his sometimes-reflexive reliance on numbers and righty-lefty matchups, but there is no disputing Girardi is an intelligent baseball man of high character who has the respect -- if not the unbridled affection -- of all his players.

He's never going to be Torre, who was like a father figure to the young generation of Yankees that grew into the Core Four. He's never going to regale the media for 45 minutes with tales of Bob Gibson and Tim McCarver, or dazzle and befuddle us with a blizzard of Stengelese. In fact, he will often frustrate those of us who need answers from the manager twice a day, every day, from February to October.

But Girardi's decision to return for four years adds some needed stability in what promises to be a period of flux for the organization. The old guard is leaving. Only Derek Jeter remains from the dynasty of 1996-2003, and no one can be sure what he will bring to the table next season. Same goes for Sabathia and Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez, among others.

But the Yankees can be sure of what they have in Girardi.

He proved to be as good as his word -- he said he liked managing here, it wasn't about the money (if it was, he'd have waited out his contract) and it would come down to what was best for his family. Fortuitously, what was best for the Girardi family is likely to turn out to be what's best for the Yankees, too.

They know he is an honorable man, a man who had a lot more leverage than he chose to use in this situation. Had he waited until Nov. 1, he would have likely had three offers on his desk to choose among -- from the Yankees, the Chicago Cubs and the Washington Nationals.

Indeed, Girardi was in the rare position of being someone the Yankees needed more than he needed the Yankees.

He easily could have held them up. Instead, he chose to hold them together.

At the beginning of what promises to be a long and difficult winter, the Yankees start off by getting themselves the best possible man for the job.

Hal Steinbrenner, who had a lackluster 2013, starts off 2014 by touching them all: Good man. Good manager. Good move.

Good start to the offseason.