Tuesday, October 10, 2006

New York, New York

A lot can change in a couple of days. When I began this post on Sunday night, this was the draft of the opening paragraph:

The New York Yankees of 2007 will look very different from the team that slunk off the field in Detroit on Saturday afternoon. How different remains to be seen, but we have almost certainly seen the last of some big names in pinstripes.

Now, I’m not so sure. There will certainly be changes. Starting pitchers Cory Lidle, Sidney Ponson, and Jaret Wright are unlikely to be brought back. Bullpen arms Tanyon Sturtze, Octavio Dotel, and Ron Villone are all free agents, with Villone being the most likely returnee due to the premium put on left-handed relievers. The team also holds an option on Mike Mussina, and it is unclear as to whether or not he will be brought back.

Around the diamond, utility men Miguel Cairo and Craig Wilson could be brought back if they agree to minor league or low guarantee contracts. Gary Sheffield’s option shouldn’t be picked up, especially with a crowded outfield (Damon, Matsui, Abreu, Cabrera).

With the exception of Gary Sheffield, none of these guys could be considered big names. Two days ago, it looked like two of the biggest names on the team – manager Joe Torre and reigning MVP Alex Rodriguez – were on the outs. Now, Torre is certainly coming back, and management says that ARod is staying too. The question of whether or not they should stay is an entirely different story. I say no on both counts.

Torre, the Yankees skipper for the past 11 seasons, and the most successful man to handle the job since Casey Stengel, should nonetheless be given the pink slip. While in many ways this move would make him the scapegoat for years of poor front office decisions, and poor performances from his stars in the playoffs, there are legitimate reasons why he should be replaced. His handling of the bullpen was questionable, as was his constant juggling of the batting order. In particular, his treatment of Alex Rodriguez is shameful for a manager. I’m normally the last person to defend ARod, but Torre’s comments to Sports Illustrated about the star’s demeanor were damaging, and inappropriate for any manager to make. Furthermore, while it would be foolish to blame Torre for ARod’s post-season struggles, it would also be imprudent to ignore the fact that his constant shifting of his star around in the batting order, culminating with a humiliating demotion to the 8th spot in Saturday’s game, almost certainly did a lot to damage ARod’s already fragile psyche.

That brings us to Alex Rodriguez. There have been rumors for the past number of months that the team would explore the option of trading him this off-season. If they choose that direction, there will be no shortage of suitors (the Angels and Cubs are expected to be at the start of the queue), and given the barrage he’s taken from fans, the front office, and the media, no one would blame ARod if he wanted out. He has a hostile relationship with the fans, and on the heels of this season, management too. I’m not convinced that the relationship in either case can be repaired, so it’s best to just cut losses and move on.

Texas is still paying a portion of his salary, so whoever picked up ARod would be on the hook for $64 million over 4 years, assuming that the Yankees didn’t pick up a cent of his deal. That’s a great deal for the best regular season hitter in the game. Who knows? Maybe getting away from the media circus in the Big Apple will help him concentrate and succeed come playoff time.

As for the Yanks, they need to stop building their club like it’s a softball team, and begin to strengthen their defense and pitching, which was the key to their dynasty in the late 1990s. ARod may not fetch an all-star or the top prospect in the game, but he could bring in 2-3 very good pieces. That’s good enough, since the Yankees are not short on firepower with or without him. Buster Olney gave an example of what he could fetch – a trade with Anaheim could bring in Ervin Santana, Chone Figgins, and a b-level prospect (Jeff Mathes maybe?). New York would lose offense, but they would add a great young arm to their rotation, a fast, defensively-sound player who can contribute all over the diamond, and a young catcher to apprentice under Jorge Posada. Which Yankee team are you going to bet on come playoff time, the one with ARod or the one with those three players? I know my answer.

Ditching ARod (and whatever other overpriced veterans they can) might hurt for the next season or two, but if they don’t move away from the Sheffields and Giambis and back towards the Brosiuses and O’Neills, they’re never going to get the Boss one last championship. In my playoff preview, I likened the Yankees to the Indianapolis Colts, since neither club is built according to the post-season formula, and neither club (in this decade) can get over the hump. Most of the Yankees veterans come off the books this year or next, which gives them a great opportunity to rebuild the club in a hurry. It will be interesting to see if Cashman, Torre, and company are up to the task.

Predictions for the LCS:

Only 1 of my 4 picks for the divisional round panned out (the Mets). So let’s try this again:

NLCS: Mets over St. Louis in 6
I don’t have a lot of confidence in either team’s pitching staff, so I’ll go with the team who has a better lineup of hitters.

ALCS: A’s over Tigers in 6
I have concerns about both teams. The A’s are missing their starting double-play combo, and despite what the ALDS may have told us, Marco Scutaro and D’Angelo Jimenez are a long ways away from being Bobby Crosby and Mark Ellis. My concern about the Tigers is that after seeing them celebrate their ALDS win like they had just won the World Series, I think they’re in for a big emotional letdown. I think that far outweighs Oakland’s injury woes, so let’s go with the A’s winning to set up the long awaited rematch of the 1973 World Series.


At 6:43 PM, Blogger Black Dog Hates Skunks said...

Good post Alex.

Your take on the Yankees is pretty bang on. When they were augmenting their homegrown talent with the odd trade or free agent signing (as the Wings, Avs and Devils did in the NHL) then they won. When they tried to buy an entire team (like the Rangers) then they failed.

Mike Lupica has had interesting commentary on the Torre situation - he loves Torre and always has been a big booster but he is calling for his ouster - partially based on mistakes Torre has made and partially due to the fact that the team needs a kick in the ass.

Mussina has always been an A1 pussy and this year's debacle proved it again. If they bring him back it will show that its a case of same old same old.

Sheffield is definitely gone.

I would bet on ARod going as well. Notrade clause or whatever - he has to go to change this team's personality.

I'm not a Yankees' fan and their annual failures bring me great pleasure. Year after year you look at the names they bring in. And year after year a combination of hard throwers, superior defence and scrappy hitting seems to do them in.

Love it!

At 8:40 PM, Blogger Alex said...

Wow. That's quite the letdown the Tigers are having tonight. I should really just stop making predictions.

At 10:30 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

Typical Zito with the early runs. GAH!

This was a great post, Abboud. I agree that putting ARod into the 8 hole was a mistake, but I also think, as I've said before, that ARod has Knoblauched since coming into New York. He can't handle the pressure, and I think he'll get worse. If I was him, I'd leave.

At 12:04 AM, Blogger Avi Schaumberg said...

And for precisely that reason (the ability to handle the pressure) I'd try to keep Sheff. I know it's not going to happen, but in an outfield of Sheffield, Damon, Abreu and Matsui it's Damon who should be the odd one out.

But let's face it: despite a batting collapse in the division series what the Yankees really need is pitcher or two under the age of 35. An Ervin Santana might crumble under the pressure (see Vazquez, Javier); I'd be inclined to sign a slightly more mature veteran, either through free agency or a deal.

At 3:11 PM, Blogger Avi Schaumberg said...

This Cory Lidle plane thing is unbelievable. I don't know what to say.


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