Sunday, October 16, 2005

Yankees are Bound for Chaos

By John Shea from the San Francisco Chronicle:


Not only are the Yankees the first $200 million baseball team. They're the first $200 million baseball team with flaws.

The American League Championship Series is in progress without the Yankees, who appeared in six of the past seven ALCS. Or the Red Sox, who took the Yankees to seven games in back-to-back ALCS thrillers.

How to explain the premature elimination of teams that ranked 1 and 2 in payroll?

Easy. They ranked 22 and 24 in pitching.

Only the Diamondbacks, Rangers, Rockies, Reds, Devil Rays and Royals had worse team ERAs than the Red Sox (24th). The Yankees (22nd) barely finished ahead of the Orioles. When it came to the game's most important ingredient, the two biggest menaces ranked among a wasteland of feeble teams.

We were fooled into believing they'd overcome their mound deficiencies because of their explosive lineups, the Yankees with their long string of All-Stars and the Red Sox with their powerful middle of the order. But when the four remaining postseason teams ranked in the top five in ERA, we're reminded that pitching rules.

It's easy to blame Alex Rodriguez for his .133, no-RBI playoff, but Mike Mussina and Randy Johnson were largely responsible for fumbling away the playoffs to the Angels. The bullpen had no middle relief, and relying on Shawn Chacon and Aaron Small -- a combined 17-3 despite their mediocre pasts -- was never the intention for a team that gambled and lost on Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright.

Defense was also a problem with both the Yankees, who had below average defenders at several positions, and Red Sox, who committed the fourth most errors and turned the fewest double plays in the AL.

Even though the Red Sox took a bigger step backward -- from winning it all to winning not a single playoff game -- it's the Yankees who are in a far more chaotic state. The Red Sox had a good run and appeared satisfied, knowing how hard it was in 2004 to win their first title in 86 years.

It's a different story for the Yankees. Their manager, perhaps contemplating whether he wants to follow through with the final two years ($13.1 million) of his contract, went into hiding. Their pitching coach, no longer willing to take the owner's abuse, resigned. Their most expensive player ($25 mil is what A-Rod averages) called himself a "dog." Their general manager, actually in tears after the playoff loss, could be on the verge of joining a less stressful team. Their owner, a madman, is close to pushing the red button.

So what's next for the bullies-turned-weaklings? They'll say goodbye to Bernie Williams, Tino Martinez, Kevin Brown and probably Tom Gordon, who can be free agents, and they'll re-sign Hideki Matsui to another three-year deal. Other players remain under contracts with which the Yankees are stuck, but they need to upgrade their defense (first by adding a competent center fielder) and create bullpen depth, and they'll need to figure out a rotation that incorporated every down-and-out pitcher but Kirk Rueter.

Brian Cashman, whose contract as Yanks GM expires Oct. 31, is a candidate to replace Ed Wade as the Phillies' GM.

But first, Joe Torre. Remember, that $200 mil doesn't include the manager's deal (or the $50 mil-plus the Yankees had to pay for revenue sharing and luxury taxes), but Torre always was the valuable voice of reason in a tumultuous environment, helping to shelve constant distractions and turn the focus to winning. But where is he now?

While Torre usually addresses New York's teeny media corps within a day or two of the season, he has gone underground, saying he won't resurface until the coming week. In the meantime, his closest confidants have been taking turns taking shots at George Steinbrenner, whose public praise for the Angels and manager Mike Scioscia was viewed as a vicious slap at Torre. Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre went out swinging, just as Don Zimmer did two years ago.

Perhaps it wouldn't be such an issue if Torre hadn't promised in early August -- after Steinbrenner ripped him for how he was using his bullpen; Torre let Alan Embree pitch to Paul Konerko, a mistake -- to respond to all criticisms after the season. The Yankees were 5 1/2 games out of first place at the time and went on to win the AL East by a tiebreaker. But in the end, despite an eighth straight division crown, the Yankees failed for a fifth straight year to win the World Series.

Torre is doing himself no favors, leaving others to speculate about his future and whether he'll quit or be fired, possibly to be replaced by all-too-available Lou Piniella. Piniella got more out of Rodriguez in the postseason than Torre did -- A-Rod hit .340 in 15 Seattle playoff games. Torre's absence goes against what he always resembled, a composed, resilient leader who stood up to the endless pressures, and it hints that he finally might have cracked.

But he won't walk away from $13.1 mil, even if it means laboring through two more years of George's ire. Nothing will change. Steinbrenner will continue to add expensive players, without acknowledging the team concept that prevailed in the late '90s. A-Rod, the Big Unit, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield, all lured by the money and an easier path to a championship, proved unequal to the sum of their parts.

Don't feel sorry for Torre, 65, who accepted the terms along with the millions. He became a Hall of Fame manager only after Steinbrenner hired him, and now he's worn down and losing more confidants. Isn't it amazing how a $200 million machine can be so broken?

2 comments:

Coop said...

Hey Yankee Despiser...I'm surprised you haven't written on A-Fraud's Uncle situation yet...looking forward to your piece on that.

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