Thursday, June 30, 2005

Selfish Sheff Screws Junkees

My goodness, how selfish can these Junkees get? Once again, Gary Sheffield has proven why he's one of the biggest jerks in the game. The loser here is not the Schmets, who can presumably get more offense elsewhere; it's the Junkees.

Gary Sheffield has essentially made himself untradeable. And when you think about it, the Yanks don't have too many other guys as trade bait. Nobody wants Bernie, Brown, or Giambi. Pavano and Moose are overpriced. Posada is an aging, expensive catcher. The Junkees can't afford to lose Shemp. And even Cano may be untouchable, considering that the alternatives at second are No-Mack and Rey Sanchez. The only options are the few prospects in the Junkees' system.

So Sheffield has just made it much harder for the Yanks to get a much-needed centerfielder. So next time Bernie boots one, the fans oughta boo Sheffield.

I know Sheff's put up some impressive numbers, but after all this, the Yanks clearly screwed up in not going for Vlad Guerrero. And now they're stuck with Sheff.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Thoughts on Cameron-for-Sheffield

- I'd be very surprised if George even lets this one happen. After all, he was one of the guys that brought Sheffield in before last season. And considering that Sheff has put up some pretty good numbers as a Junkee, I don't think he'd be ready to give this guy up. If George has his way, the ones to go will be Wang and Cano (it would be interesting to see if the Mets have interest in Cano, considering how Kaz Matsui has flopped). I know Yankee fans are getting all horny over these kids, but if George has his way, they'll be gone in a couple of months. Fans forget that if not for Stick Michael (whom George respected), guys like Bernie, Jeter, and Mariano would have gone the way of Drabek, McGriff, and Buhner.

George has been funny this year, sometimes looking tough, and at other times looking soft. If this trade talk gets serious, we'll have to see what side of George shows up.

- Some idiot at headlined the piece about the trade as "Yankees look to add more offense." And how exactly will getting Cameron do that? A lifetime .250 hitter? A guy who hit .231 last year? I know Cameron is putting some good numbers this season, but based upon the guy's track record, can you really believe he'll keep it going all season long? Cameron will be a huge boost in terms of defense, there's no question about that. But in a lineup with Womack, Tino, and Sierra, do the Yankees need more potential holes? This lineup couldn't do a thing last October at the end of the ALCS. Trading a borderline HOFer for a .250 hitter will not help the cause.

Only reason I can see losing Sheffield not being a big deal is as follows: name me a big hit this guy has had as a Yankee. Don't try to think too hard.

- Funny how the Yanks want Miguel Cairo as a throw-in to the deal. First, I'm not sure why the Mets would want to give him up. He's a very useful player, especially considering how bad Kaz Matsui's been. But if the Mets are that desperate for a bat.... Looks like the Yanks are searching for PR again. Perhaps a player from when they could still contend will draw some more fans to the park.

Pray for a Wild Central

Even though the O's pulled out a great win last night, I'm starting to lose hope. All those injuries have caught up to them, especially Bedard's, as the pitching has gone south. With Boston starting to pull away with the lead, it's time to focus on the wild card.

This looks like it might be the first year that the AL wild card will come from the Central. The O's and Twins were in a tie for the WC lead after last night. And if the O's continue to go south, the Twins better pull way, way ahead of the Junkees in the wild card lead. They still have a great team, great defense, and one of the best pens in the game. I'm hoping Johan Santana has a second half like he had last year. If that's the case, the Twins will be in good shape, no matter how good the White Sox do.

And sitting just one game behind the Twins are the Indians. I picked this team to win the division, so I admittedly felt stupid when they were awful in April and May. But they've come together lately and started hitting. Wickman, Rhodes, and Betancourt lead a pen that's much improved since last year's disaster. And they've got a pretty good rotation. Sabathia and Clifton Lee haven't been great this year, but still might heat up. Ex-Junkee Westbrook has recovered from a terrible April; he's had 7 of 8 quality outings recently.

So for a Yankee-free October, I'm rooting for these guys to win. And it makes the Tribe beating up Foulke easier to swallow.

Can Somebody Tell Me Why Wang Is So Great?

I don't understand the hype. His ERA is 4.26, which would rank 30th in the AL if he qualified. As I've pointed out before, his strikeout per nine inning ratio is an astonishing 3.36. So why the heck are Junkee fans making him out to be the next Ron Guidry?

I will grant you this - he is better than Carl Panavo this year. No question about that. And he's certainly superior to Sean Henn. But when you hear Junkee fans call WFAN and say, "Oh, they better not trade him! He's untouchable!" I say, why?

Also, he's only given up 6 gopher balls so far, but he's allowed 4 of those home runs in his last 2 games. I guess when you pitch for a $200 million team that will score you 7 or 8 runs a game, when you give up only 4 or 5, you look impressive. But come on, people. I'll be shocked if he's still in baseball by 2007.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Lousy Ending to a Great Weekend

I've said it before, I'll say it a hundred times: the Mets are going nowhere till they fix that bullpen. Looper isn't much better than Jose Mesa. Beinfest and the guys down in Florida knew what they were doing when they made Urbina the closer in '03 instead of this guy. They sure wouldn't have won it all with Looper closing games out. And Heilman didn't help the cause much either, while Hernandez narrowly escaped another blowup like last time.

That said, the weekend till that 8th inning was great. The Yankee defense is worse than I've ever seen it. Aside from Jeter, Posada, and maybe Cano, everyone out there now is terrible. Shemp can't come back soon enough. Maybe if he took some days off, he could come back sooner. Bernie is awful. Womack is like Chuck Knoblauch in the outfield. Sheff's range is shot, A-Rod can't play third, and Giambi showed again last night that even Mike Piazza is better at first. Meanwhile, Tino's turned into Doug Mintkiewicz - all-field, no-hit. And this kid Reese is the latest sign of panic by the Junkees. To me, he's more Andy Phillips than Robby Cano.

And even though RJ pitched well last night, the health concerns are starting to arise. I knew this 42-year old would break down sooner or later. How many more times can he gut out a start like last night? We'll find out.

As for tonight, the Yanks go back to Baltimore. With a struggling Carl Pavano going up against a great-hitting club, the conventional wisdom is in favor of the Orioles, which is never a good thing. After disappointing series against the Jays and Braves, the O's might be starting to crash. Then again, everyone thought the same thing when they got swept by Detroit a few weeks back.

And even if the O's do go down, the Sox are kicking butt again, with Curt Schilling now the most forgotten man in Boston.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Post's Vaccaro on the Travails of Small-Market Clubs

Although watching the Junkees self-destruct this year has been nothing short of incredible, the fact remains that their $200 million payroll is still screwing up the game. Mike Vaccaro of the Post has more (and look out for the Despiser echoes throughout):

YOU think you have problems, right? You're a Mets fan and are experiencing that familiar sinking feeling that goes along with watching a team that isn't good enough to seriously contend but really isn't lousy enough to drop like a stone into the withering halls of irrelevance? You're a Yankees fan who acts each day like a dissatisfied Ferrari customer, wondering why your pricey dream machine can't take curves as easily as advertised?
Well, those are your laments, and you're entitled to them.
But I got a pretty good eyeful of the other half a few nights ago, and a pretty good earful, too. Maybe you don't care about the other half. That's certainly your right. Maybe the complaints of small-market denizens ring hollow in the ears and the souls of those of us who get to see and feel the power of big-market commerce every day. I'm not here to say you should lose one ounce of sleep over the perennial plights of the Royals, the Pirates, the Brewers. It's your prerogative to blissfully ignore them.
They're used to it. They've grown accustomed to it. They even accept, to a certain extent, the fate to which they've been sentenced under the laws that presently govern the sport. Still, it's one thing to gaze with detached pity at these small-town fans from the safe remove of a thousand miles. It's another to look in their eyes.
"All I want," one woman told me, "is one more September where it feels the way it used to feel around here."
"All I want," her husband said, "is to have a June that feels that way."
I had spent the evening as the face of the big-market behemoths that terrorize small-market teams like the Royals. My buddy Joe Posnanski, who writes so eloquently about these matters and others for the Kansas City Star, invited me to sit at a panel in his town alongside Muzzy Jackson, the Royals' assistant GM, and Bill James, the wonderful baseball author, godfather to generations of SABR acolytes, consultant to the Red Sox and a lifelong Royals fan. The topic: "Can the Royals Win?"
You might think that years of losing (the Royals have had one winning season since 1994, have lost 100 games two of the past three years and are well on the way there already this season) would have beaten the populace down, would have stripped them of their ardor and their passion. And yet, there wasn't a seat available when we started the discussion inside the Negro League Baseball Museum, a magnificent showplace in the heart of Kansas City's historic downtown. It's the one lesson to remember from all of this: Royals fans care just as deeply as Yankees fans about their team.
It's just not quite as easy to actually be a Royals fan.
There is a misperception that small-market teams hate the Yankees. They don't. Actually, Kansas City is a wonderful example, because the people there would like nothing more than to be able to hate the Yankees again, the way they did in the '70s and the '80s, when the franchises shared equal footing, when the Royals and the Yankees engaged in a rivalry every bit as bitter and every bit as arresting as what the Yankees and Red Sox have now, with George Brett playing the part of David Ortiz, lurking around every corner with malice in his heart.
Here was the big problem, though.
Much as we tried, much as we wanted to send the folks home happy, this was the message the folks probably took home with them, the answer to the panel subject:
No way in hell.
Jackson was nice enough to outline the Royals' plan to rebuild their way back into contention, sounded dozens of positive notes, and the fact is the team does have a sensible, reasonable plan that echoes the way the great Indians teams of the '90s were built - go young, identify cornerstone players, lock them up through the early years of free agency. That's the small-market mantra, and it's helped teams like the Brewers, Pirates and Indians compete, and it's helped the Twins thrive.
It works well ... when it works.
When it doesn't? You wind up where the Tigers were the past few years, wondering how in the world they wound up with the likes of an untradeable Bobby Higginson, or where the Rockies are now, stuck with a Todd Helton contract that is every bit the organizational millstone that Jason Giambi's is.
"We have a plan," Jackson said. "But we also have a very, very small margin for error."
And that's the problem. New Yorkers knew three years ago that we would soon see Carlos Beltran in our midst (even if most of us guessed the wrong borough), because he is precisely the kind of high-watt star the Royals can never hope to keep. For all his struggles this year, New Yorkers might want to keep an eye on KC's wonderful young pitcher, Zack Greinke, who, by the time he's eligible for free agency after the 2009 season, might look quite splendid in one of the new ballparks due to rise that year - either the new Yankee Stadium (built by Kansas City firm HOK) or the new Shea Stadium (likely to be built by Kansas City firm Ellerbe Becket).
And on it goes.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Tease 2 Officially Done

So, the Yanks have done it again. After winning 6 straight against the half-decent Cubs and Pirates, people thought the Yanks were finally putting it all together. Tim Marchman of the New York Sun said in his Monday column that "Yankees are for real," as he was very impressed that the Yanks hit Oliver Perez, Carlos Zambrano, and Glendon Rusch pretty well.

But after the loss against Tampa Bay and then when they were down 10-2 early on Tuesday night, I thought things were over. Then, when the Yanks punished Tampa 20-11, I thought, so maybe they'll lose one, but they look like they're back anyway. But after the last two games of the series, it's now safe to say this team is back in the toilet.

The starting pitching was awful this series. How can you let yourself get beaten by guys like Jorge Cantu and Jonny Gomes? All 4 starters were terrible. Sean Henn's 7 walks were all too reminiscent of Steve Trout, RJ and Pavano were giving up tons of dingers, and even the usually reliable Wang stunk it up. Are batters starting to figure the guy out?

And on the hitting side, again the Yanks couldn't get them when they needed them. Bernie and Sheff were good in sparking Tuesday's comeback, and Shemp deserves credit for making Monday night's game a close one, but other guys didn't do a whole lot. A-Rod had another clutch shot that night, turning an 18-11 game to a 19-11 game. I'm sure that made Snorre breathe easier. But when the Yanks lost a close one the night after, A-Rod had nothing to give. What else is new?

The Yanks are lucky that the Mets are also in a funk now. Although the Mets will probably screw things up like last time, I like their chances in this one. They trot out Pedro tonight, then face Henn and then Johnson, whom they knocked around last time.

And Boston is starting one of those hot streaks like last summer. Their pitching is starting to come together, especially with Wells and Wakefield heating up. Go Sox!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

NY Times' Murray Chass on Junkees' Shoddy Rotation

I'd like to think of this as a companion piece to the one I posted:

It's Money for Nothing as Yanks' Starters Labor
WHEN the season began, the Yankees' starting rotation was a $64 million unit. The 2005 salaries of the five pitchers exceeded the entire payrolls of 14 teams. The pitchers, however, have vividly demonstrated the adage that you don't always get what you pay for.
The question the Yankees have to ask themselves is whether they paid for the right pitchers; in other words, did they spend their money wisely?
Throughout the Yankees' World Series championship seasons, which are fading in George Steinbrenner's memory, Manager Joe Torre credited their pitching with being the team's foundation. Last year, Torre and others said poor pitching undermined the Yankees' effort. Starting pitching, then, became the No. 1 priority last winter.
At the start of the season, Torre was convinced that the front office had done a good job and achieved its quest. "Coming out of spring training, it was the best I've ever had," he said earlier this week.
But look at the best now. Before last night's games, 123 major league pitchers had made a minimum of 10 starts. Ranked by earned run average, Randy Johnson (3.51) was 33rd, Mike Mussina (3.82) 45th, Carl Pavano (4.53) 76th and Kevin Brown (5.48) 104th. Jaret Wright has been on the disabled list for two months with a 9.15 E.R.A. in four starts. Johnson got knocked around last night by the Devil Rays, but the Yankees' bats bailed him out.
Earned run average doesn't tell the whole story, but the bigger the numbers, the more difficult task a team's hitters have in winning games.
The rotation could have had a different look, but the Yankees made their choices and are stuck with them.
"We had eight guys we were looking at and settled on Wright and Pavano," General Manager Brian Cashman said. "Pavano was the one guy we definitely wanted. The other was who we could get a deal with."
Pavano has also been the biggest disappointment, looking too often like those pitchers the Yankees chewed up and spit out - Jeff Weaver, Javier Vazquez, José Contreras.
"Pavano isn't throwing like he threw in our league," Dusty Baker, the Chicago Cubs' manager, said after the Cubs battered him for six runs in five and a third innings last week.
Torre acknowledged that Pavano did not throw well against the Cubs.
"Pavano has given us good and not so good," Torre said. "He's probably been the least consistent. The other day he wasn't good. The two previous starts he was.
"It gets to the point where he overstrides and pushes the ball, and his velocity suffers. He's healthy. It's a matter of getting him as comfortable as we can get him."
Pavano, who has a 4-5 record, was also pursued last winter by the Boston Red Sox. They lost him to the Yankees, but they turned out to be the winners (again) because they turned around and signed Matt Clement, who has an 8-1 record and a 3.48 E.R.A. The Yankees originally had mild interest in Clement, but they had none at all after they signed Pavano to a four-year, $39.5 million contract.
David Wells offered his services for a third term with the Yankees, but they rejected him. Eric Milton ignored their three-year, $18 million offer, which turned out to be beneficial for the Yankees; he has a 7.82 E.R.A., tied for last in baseball.
The Yankees offered Wright $21 million for three years, and he grabbed it. The two sides did not sign a contract immediately because the Yankees were concerned about his medical exam. Wright became concerned that the Yankees would withdraw their offer. They would have been better off if they had withdrawn it, because Wright went down with a shoulder ailment after only four starts.
The injury should not have surprised the Yankees. They signed the 29-year-old Wright off his impressive season with Atlanta last year (15-8), but it was the first season since 1998 - his first full season in the majors - in which he started 32 games.
A disabled-list player waiting to happen, Wright is only now in the early stages of a comeback. Yet the Yankees had high hopes for him. "Jaret Wright had the best spring of anybody," Torre said. "It's unfortunate that he broke down."
Should they have anticipated the injury possibility? "Yes," Cashman said. "The organization was willing to take that chance."
In signing Wright and Pavano and desperately trading for Johnson, the Yankees shed two free-agent pitchers, Jon Lieber and Orlando Hernández, who between them won 22 games and lost only 10 last season.
The Yankees wanted to re-sign Lieber, on whom they held an $8 million option, but they badly miscalculated in their attempt.
"We didn't think that he was worth $8 million," Cashman said. "Our plan was to not exercise the option and re-sign him to what we hoped would be a two-year deal at $6 million a year. It didn't work out at all. The market exploded."
Cashman acknowledged that he still could have signed Lieber for the same contract Philadelphia gave him, three years and $21 million, "But we chose not to."
The Yankees also chose not to give Hernández the two-year contract he received from the White Sox. "I talked to him about one year with a vesting option for a second based on health, but he was looking to get at least a two-year guaranteed deal, so we turned another way," Cashman said.
Lieber has an 8-6 record with the Phillies. Hernández has a 7-2 record with the White Sox and is on the disabled list.
Of the starters the Yankees have, Cashman said, "We need more from all these guys." Then he added, "It's a work in progress."
For $64 million, it should be a finished and highly polished product.

Junkees' Achilles Heel From '04 Still Remains

After the Yanks' historic collapse last fall, the conventional wisdom was to blame the loss on the pitching. After all, Brown and Vazquez were awful, Mike Mussina was inconsistent, and the fact that Jon Lieber came out of nowhere to become the #2 starter just shows how the Yanks were desperate and lacked depth.

So Steinbrenner went out there and decided to get some pitching. After all, what better way to fix the rotation than by getting Pavano, Wright, and Randy Johnson? With almost half a year gone by and over $30 million invested for this year, the results are not much better than last year. Let's have a look:

- The Junkees' starters have a 4.64 ERA this year, fourth-worst in the league. The only three teams below the Junkees? Seattle (1 point below, at 4.65), KC, and Tampa Bay (with a Coors-esque 6.04 mark), teams that are long gone from the pennant race. Not good company.

- The Junkees' starters batting average allowed? A startling .292, worst in the AL (even the D-Rays are slightly better at .288). When you give out hits like hot cakes, you won't win too many games. The only teams worse are the Reds (.302) and Rockies (.296). But last I checked, Yankee Stadium was not known to be the kind of hitters' park those two play in.

- With an OPS allowed of .779, the Junkees trail only Tampa Bay and KC in that department.

- With a little help from RJ and Pavano, the Yanks' starters have surrendered 51 HR, fourth-worst in the league.

How does these numbers compare to the Junkees' '04 performance?

- The Junkees' starters ERA was 4.82, which actually was 6th-best in the league.

- The BAA of .274 wasn't great, but ranked the Junkees in middle of the league (7th best to be exact).

- Last year's Junkees were also homer-happy: their 133 HR allowed tied Texas for 3rd-worst in the league.

- They also had a 1.36 WHIP (walks+ hits/ IP), third-best in the league. In '05, their 1.42 WHIP is 5th-worst in the AL.

Basically, the Junkees last year had a decent, though not a great staff. But for the playoffs, you need more than just a decent staff. This year's team has an awful starting staff, ranking with the likes of KC and TB in many categories. And though some of the numbers look better this year (like the ERA), keep in mind that run-scoring is down in this post-juiced ball era.

Looking at the individual performances: Pavano has just been awful, reverting to his pre-'03 form. You gotta be able to mow down the Rays, the way the Junkees did in '04. Johnson did well against a couple of NL teams, but struggled bigtime against the Rays the other night. So much for the John Flaherty experiment. Mussina is okay, but hardly the dominator many expected him to be when signed after '00. And if Wang keeps pitching well, Jaret Wright will be the next Sterling Hitchcock after he comes off the DL: a $7 million mop-up man.

And when you consider that a) ex-Yankees Lieber, Vazquez, and Halsey are doing pretty well this year, and b) Clement and Pedro, other free-agents from this past winter (whom the Yankees easily could've had), are doing very well for their new teams, it looks like Cashman has made things worse since '04. And the fact that even after dishing out millions to RJ, Pavano, and Wright he still might have to spend a lot more on Clemens is simply ridiculous.

But the way things are going for the Yankees right now, they probably wish it was '04, warts and all.

Piniella Was Teaching Owner a Lesson

All the pro-Yankee newspapers are celebrating the Junkees' offensive barrage, where they scored 20 runs. Nevermind that Randy Johnson stunk up the joint. Forget that Proctor, Stanton, and Sturtze were ineffective, right?

Wrong. Wow, the bats woke up, they say.

I say, a agree with Warner Wolf. His take was this: Lou wants out because the owner is stingy. So he left Nomo in to get rocked in the 5th, even though the guy was clearly losing it, giving up 6 consecutive hits. Then in the 8th, he left Travis Harper in to get bombed. Why? Because the owner was at the stadium, and Lou wanted to say, "If you don't give me pitchers, this is what you're going to get."

So Junkee fans, don't get too excited. Do you think the Yankees can come back from 10-2 against the White Sox in October? Against the Angels in the ALDS? Versus the Red Sox in the ALCS?


Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The All Ex-Yankee Team

I wanted to do this for a while, but beat me to it. Click here for a link to their roster.

Yankees Back to Themselves

I got nervous for nothing. I'm so paranoid, that a 6-game win streak against the Pirates and Cubs gets me all meshuga. What for? They come back out against Tampa Bay and stink up the joint. (No references about Henn laying an egg, please.) Henn stinks - that's all there is to it. Quantrill has been lousy all year, and I don't know why they haven't released him. If you'll notice, he only comes into blowout games. Even Rivera walked a couple of guys!

It was almost another here-we-go-again game, but luckily, there haven't been to many this year, except the Pirates game last week when Jose Mesa blew a save (shocking, I know).

So let's see....

-It looks like the Tino Martinez experiment is over. I don't think they expected him to be hitting .226. Boy, doesn't that hot streak when he was hitting all those home runs seem like a looooong time ago?

-Love those reports that the Yankees are shopping Tony Womack. Any team stupid enough to take Mr. .549 OPS gets what they deserve.

-As Manny pointed out, nice of Shemp to wake up with his team in third place.

-I was surprised to see Bubba Crosby in there, albeit as a pinch runner. I thought he had fallen off the face of the earth.

-Enough about Giambi being hot lately. Yeah, I know he's hitting over .300 over his last 12 games or so, but the guy is still on pace to hit 12 dingers this year, so let's take it easy, please.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Yankee Hot Streak May Not Be All That Bad

The Cubs and Pirates are not great teams, but these guys aren't the A's and M's. Beating up on Oliver Perez and Carlos Zambrano is no small feat. But let's see if the Yanks can do any better against their division rivals over the next few weeks. Let's see if RJ can dominate against some AL clubs, and whether Shemp has turned into the new Bernie Williams: three weeks cold, one week hot.

But even if this streak lasts, some good may come out of it. If the Yanks are in the hunt come July, they'll be looking for help. No matter how well they do till the trading deadline, you can be damn sure even the new George will want some trades to be made. And that means one thing: fewer youngsters, more aging veterans, and a bleaker long-term situation for this team. And all those Junkee fans going crazy about Wang and Cano can kiss them goodbye.

Even if the Junkees made some trades, I wouldn't worry about them getting better. The last mid-season deal to help the Junkees was David Justice in '00. (No, I don't count Aaron Boone in '03 for two reasons: a) if not for Grady Little, the guy's a nobody. b) he disappeared in the World Series). So even if they make a deal, there's no guarantee that it will get them anywhere.

So maybe a Yankee hot streak now isn't such a bad thing. Especially if they follow it up with a collapse in August or September.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Interesting Theory on the New George

This one from the Newark Star- Ledger:

Concern for legacy has softened a frail Boss
Sunday, June 19, 2005
BY DAN GRAZIANO Star-Ledger Staff
Still waiting for George Steinbrenner to fire somebody over the Yankees' lousy first half?
Keep waiting.
Yes, you could go broke quickly trying to predict Steinbrenner, so a disclaimer is necessary here. But this isn't the Steinbrenner of 1978.
People close to The Boss say that, ever since he collapsed during Otto Graham's funeral in Sarasota in December of 2003, Steinbrenner has been afraid he doesn't have much time left. In his rare public appearances, he seems frail and relatively feeble. Short walks from the Yankee Stadium elevator to his car after games are difficult to watch as he struggles just to keep his balance while walking. He will turn 75 next month, and he suddenly looks every bit of it.
What does this have to do with the job security of Yankee coaches? Plenty. Steinbrenner is just as concerned now with his legacy as he is with winning the World Series, hence care he takes in no longer putting himself in position to say something crazy or stupid for the back pages of the tabloids. A man concerned about his legacy isn't going to want the firing of a beloved New York sports icon like Joe Torre, Mel Stottlemyre or Don Mattingly to be one of his last memorable acts.
Now, should the Yankees miss the playoffs with a $205 million payroll, all bets are off. You'd still have to think Torre is safe because of the $12 million or so left on his contract after this year. Brian Cashman, who's in the final year of his deal, could be gone if the Yankees aren't playing in October, but it's not a sure thing.
After all, when he had that conference call a couple of weeks ago, Steinbrenner asked Torre what he needed - as in, "Would you like me to spend some more money to bring in more players to help you?" Doesn't sound like a guy who wants to fire his manager.
A kinder, gentler George? Sure looks that way.

Raissman Wrong On Revenue Sharing

I usually like Raissman's takes on the game, but in Friday's column, the guy was off. He was defending the Yankees' use of revenue sharing money for the new stadium. I'll give Raissman's arguments in italics, and follow them with my responses.

The only people who are not going to be happy about this are the other teams who may get just a little less revenue-sharing money," Levine said with a laugh.
He had it half right. For if you picked up the newspapers or listened to sports-talk radio yesterday, it was abundantly clear some pontificators find it problematic that the Yankees can now deduct ballpark construction costs from gross revenues, which means they may be completely out of the revenue-sharing business.
"... It's the Royals and the Devil Rays and the Pirates (who are going to be paying for the new Yankee Stadium)," ESPN Radio's Mike Greenberg said yesterday on his morning show. "This is a tough day for competitive balance in Major League Baseball."
Cue the sad violin.
Greenberg's lament was echoed in other media quarters.
It's not surprising. After all, these are the New York Yankees. Anything George Steinbrenner does for the betterment of his team, and its fans, is always bad for baseball, right?
Still, hearing this latest media whine begs a few questions.
Where was the outrage when the suits who own the Pirates and Brewers pocketed Yankee revenue-sharing booty while they were building their own stadiums?

Well, let's look at how much these teams got in revenue sharing: let's say about $20 million. So if their payroll would go from $40 to $60 million, would they still have the chips to compete with teams like the Junkees, who spend more than double that amount? No way. Spending that cash on players would give them a few more wins. But getting 79 wins instead of 73 isn't going to get you the pennant. Also, it won't attract new fans to the park, which may be what ultimately brings home more revenue. You have to admit that a 73-win team at brand-new PNC Park will bring home a lot more money than a 79-win team would in Three Rivers. So in a way, they spent wisely.

Now, the only issue is, what about after the stadium is built? Aside from stadium debt, what about spending more on the team then? We'll hit that soon.

And what about all the teams who stashed Steinbrenner's revenue-sharing cash and spent little or nothing on players (just ask Lou Piniella)? They have the nerve to actually charge admission to see absolute garbage.
See, it's easier to look the other way - and laugh - when it comes to sad-sack losers, even ones who are stealing money.
Not even Bud (Nutty Professor) Selig, who once owned a baseball team (oh my, wasn't it the Brewers?) ever seemed too concerned about how the revenue-sharing cash was being spent.

The fact is, the Devil Rays tried the high-spending approach, bringing in stars like Juan Guzman, Greg Vaughn, and Fred McGriff. The approach flopped. And unlike the Yankees, small-market teams cannot afford to just throw around money every time they made a bad deal! The Yanks are the only team that can afford to spend about $50 million on three ripoffs in Giambi, Bernie, and Brown, who's at home again on the DL. Small-market teams have no margin for error.

The only way that teams like Tampa Bay can afford to compete with the Yankees is if they spend enough to cover for the inevitable bad signings. But unless you're in a huge market with the YES Network and all, can you really afford to spend $100 million? Especially considering that even then, a winning team is no guarantee? Considering that a full ballpark is no guarantee?

Besides, stinky teams have a very hard team convincing star players to join them. The Tigers were criticized for giving exorbitant contracts to I-Rod and Magglio Ordonez. But would those guys have been willing to join a perennial loser like Detroit for less than what they got? Highly unlikely. Players don't like hanging out on a constant losing team, and will only risk that by getting more than they would from a winner. So for a cheap team to even start spending money involves making risky investments, and when a guy like Ordonez goes on the DL, doesn't contribute, and doesn't attract more fans, the team is screwed.

Revenue sharing is a nice idea in theory, but turning a $40 million team into a $60 million team has little effect when there's a $200 million juggernaut out there. And when other owners know this, you can't blame them for pocketing the money they get. So ultimately, the Despiser is right in calling for a salary cap. That's the only way things will ever get fair and even.

But because Cashman has screwed up so much, the playing field has got more even to the point where small-to-mid market teams have more of a chance to compete. After seeing the Yankees flounder this year, a small-market owner is wrong for pocketing the money. Perhaps some of the cheapskates will begin spending more, seeing that they may have a shot. But George is preventing that from happening. I understand that the guy is playing by the rules. (And I give him credit for wanting to build a new stadium instead of staying in the ugly dump the Yankees now play in. I don't care about the aura, the mystique, Ruth, DiMaggio, or whatever. Yankee Stadium right now has the charm of a parking lot.) But there's no way in hell that you can say what he's doing is good for the game.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Tony No-Mack Latest Selfish Junkee

Seems to me that Tony Womack is turning into the 2005 version of Kenny Lofton. A signing by the Junkees that looked stupid from day one, a veteran that doesn't have much left, and a guy who turns out to be a real pain in the clubhouse. Not to mention they both lead the league in steals many years ago.

Key word there, "many." Who the hell is Tony Womack to complain? If A-Rod started griping about 3rd base (I sure wouldn't put it past him), it wouldn't be right, but perhaps (and I know I wouldn't) one can make the case that a star player deserves some respect. But who is Womack to say anything about where he plays? The guy's in a 4 for 40 slump and barely gets on base. This is the same guy who was getting cut left and right in '03. And he's complaining about where he wants to play? He should be glad the Junkees were dumb enough to sign him instead of Miggy Cairo!

Seems like this pattern doesn't end. Jason Giambaby didn't want to go to AAA and fix his swing. Randy Johnson complained about the number of days between starts, even while Wang was pitching better than he was. And Shemp Matsui refused to sit, even though he was mired in a long, long slump. No wonder these selfish Crankees are where they are in the standings.

Joel Sherman: Junkees Should Rebuild

Early last week, I was thinking about how if Cashman wasn't such a buffoon, he'd see that his team needs some youth and put guys like Sheffield, Womack, Posada and others on the trading block. But it was before the Junkees really got bad, so i thought it was too early for such a piece. And in Sunday's Post, Joel Sherman made the same suggestion. I was away for a long weeekend and couldm't put this up sooner, but there are some good ideas here.

PERHAPS what is best for the Yankees is that they play worse. Maybe the only way to save them in the near future is by performing so horribly over the next seven weeks that even George Steinbrenner becomes convinced to sell rather than buy at the July 31 trade deadline.
The Yanks' yearly mandate is to win a title, but nearly 40 percent of the way into the 2005 schedule, does anyone see a championship team? Now, let's be careful. On July 2, 2003, Florida was .500 (43-43). Last year, on July 1, Derek Jeter went flying into the stands, the Yanks swept Boston and the Red Sox (42-36) were cast yet again into the dustbin of history. Of course, the Marlins and Red Sox are the past two champs, symbols of just how long the season really is.
But here is the thing, perhaps the worst free-agent class ever is looming. So the trade market must provide some answers for the Yanks in the rotation, bullpen, first base and center field. And the Yanks are going to have the same problem then that they do now - a lack of alluring prospects to deal for players such as Milwaukee's Lyle Overbay or Toronto's Vernon Wells.
This is not advocating rebuilding. This is about moving into better position to win it all in 2006 than this disjointed, aging group is currently in for 2005. Steinbrenner has $200 million-plus invested and a greater sense of mortality, a combination prodding him to win now more than ever. So he may never bail on this season, no matter how bad it gets in the next month and a half.
However, while saying dispatching veterans is "not something I am looking to do," GM Brian Cashman also said, "I'm not looking to make our issue even worse by trading prospects for veterans. That is not a recommendation I would make." Translation: He recognizes the problems of a graying roster and a depleted farm system not just for now, but moving forward.
The Yanks could begin to reverse that problem by becoming sellers. Considering how badly teams are seeking late-inning help, Tom Gordon would have a big market. In the NL East alone, the Mets, Marlins and Braves would all have interest. Could the Yanks convince Hideki Matsui to waive his no-trade clause in exchange for a promise they will pursue him aggressively as a free agent after the season? Is it worthwhile to trade Jorge Posada a year early rather than a year too late? It might be worthwhile to learn how much Texas and Arizona would give up. Should the Yankees wait for age or contract issues to bite them on Gary Sheffield? What would the Cubs surrender for him, for example? It is a delicate balance between creating more holes to fill and providing the future resources - financially and in prospects - to address them while reducing the age of the roster.
And here is the thing, the Yanks have already budgeted for these players and so if a club with a deep system such as the Braves cannot afford Gordon or Matsui, the Yanks can pay the salaries in exchange for better prospects. It would be like having a second draft. And maybe the Yanks need that to deepen their system. There was wide condemnation of the how the Yanks drafted last week within the industry, specifically that they shied away from St. John's closer Craig Hansen for a high school shortstop (C.J. Henry) from a state (Oklahoma) that one AL executive said, "does not produce many good big league players."
One executive and one agent who spoke to the Yanks said they did not pick Hansen because his agent, Scott Boras, wanted a major league contract for between $4 million and $5 million. An AL East executive said, "You have a $203 million payroll and this is where you draw a financial line in the sand, by not taking a guy so good he could be helping you by this September, who could be Mariano Rivera's successor and, worst of all, you left for your worst enemy [Boston] to pick. When he is throwing 97 mph fastballs by Derek Jeter, what are they going to say?"
Damon Oppenheimer, who ran the Yankee draft, said this was "not an issue of signability" and that Henry was atop the draft board when their pick (17th) came (Boston took Hansen 26th). Oppenheimer said: "It is rare to get a guy who plays in the middle of the diamond with tools, athleticism and makeup, plus we got a top-of-the-line closer (J. Brent Cox, U. of Texas) in the second round."

The Tease, Part 2

Let the Junkee fans go ga-ga over last night's win. Let them watch it starry-eyed as another YES Classic. Let them think that Juice-on Giambi will now return to his MVP form. let them think that this team is finally waking up.

Where have I seen this before? Was it just a few weeks ago, when the Junkees were beating another team with a fraction of their payroll, the Oakland A's? When Mike Francesa couldn't shut up about the wall and "crescendo" that the Yankees were building up? When suddenly, the whole team went on a hot streak?

This past Yankee swoon was much more satisfying than the April swoon, and not just because the games in June are a bit more important. For me, the pleasure was seeing all the arrogant Yankee fans ready to pipe up and think they'll cruise to another October, and quickly lose 17-1 to the Sox, and then have the Royals shut them up. And that hot streak, which they were all making a huge deal about? Just a tease. Tino's comeback? Just a tease. Robby Cano as the next Derek Jeter? Just a tease.

So maybe the Yankees will sweep the lowly Pirates. Maybe they'll win a few against a Cub team ravaged by injuries. Maybe they'll even come within a few games of first place. But Yankee fans should know better than to get too excited. Those who forget their mistakes are condemned to repeat them.

And when you think about it, you can't get too excited about last night. Beating Jose Mesa? A guy who will go down in history as one of the only guys to post 300 saves with over a 4.00 career ERA (terrible for a reliever)? Come on. Mesa personifies the joke that the "save" stat is. Let's see Giambi beat BJ Ryan, or Francisco Rodriguez, or Oliver Perez tonight. Then come back to me.

And the last time the Yankees won a series against a team over .500? The first Boston series. Opening day. Been a while, folks.

And anyone notice the O's are still in it (having just swept Houston), even in mid-June? Think they'll fade soon? When, after they get Bedard, Lopez, and Matos off the DL?

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Meaningless Shutouts from Mussina

I know, give the guy some credit - he beat shut out the Pirates for his second shutout of the season. Fine. Thing is, this has been Mussina's M.O. since joining the Yankees - a stellar performance or two, followed by a couple of horrid starts. Sure, at the end, his numbers are impressive, but I'd rather have a guy who'll give up 2 or 3 runs a game CONSISTENTLY, than a guy who'll pitch a shutout when his team scores nine runs, but give up 5 the next time. Take out the 18 innings against the A's and the Pirates, and the guy's ERA jumps from 3.89 to 4.88.

Manny and I give him props for Game 3 of the '01 ALDS, but otherwise, where's the big game? If this trend continues, I think it'll be fair to say that the Mike Mussina signing was a bust.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

More Meaningless Homers for E-Rod

Another big deal, this time about A-Rod's 400th HR. But last night was all too reminiscent of many of A-Rod's HR as a Yankee - coming in a blowout, and merely helping the Yankees avoid getting swept by a team with a fraction of the payroll.

Derek Jeter has far fewer HR than A-Rod, but even the biggest Yankee-hater must admit that, over the years, the guy has come through in clutch. From the infamous Jeffrey Maier HR in '96 to his HR in Game 4 of the '01 WS, the intangibles man makes his hits count. But A-Rod, gaudy numbers and all, has yet to hit one in a big spot.

Remember that game against the Angels, when he smacked 3 bombs? Too bad he couldn't do anything the next two games of the series, when the Yanks lost a couple of close ones. And too bad he couldn't help the Yanks win a series they used to sweep easily. And too bad he couldn't hit anything to help the Yankees avoid their collapse last year in the ALCS.

After all, the dynasty Yankees didn't win by turning 8-3 games into 11-3 games. They didn't worry about milestones, consecutive-games streaks, or any of that junk. The only numbers they worried about were wins. And the results showed.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Johnson-Vazquez Deal Looking Like a Dud

It must have been around this time last year that a Yankee fan I know predicted that the trade bringing Javy Vazquez to the Bronx for Nick Johnson and Juan Rivera would go down as one of the best trades in Yankee history. This was back when Vazquez was pitching lights-out for the Junkees and Johnson was still trying to stay healthy for more than three weeks at a time.

But like many Cashman trades, which look good at the time they're made, has turned out to be a big mistake. The only thing Vazquez brought the Junkees was a rapidly-aging Randy Johnson (which also cost them Brad Halsey), while Vazquez has finally returned to old form down in Arizona. (Apparently, Mel Stottelmyre couldn't fix whatever mechanical flaws he's cleared up with the D-Backs. If I'm a Junkee fan, I'm hoping Mel is canned by George very soon.) And while the Yankees suffer from a Tino-Giambaby black hole at first base, Nick Johnson is looking the healthy OBP machine (fingers crossed) he was supposed to be long ago. I wonder what that Yankee fan is thinking now.

Speaking of Johnson, today's New York Post had a story about him by Brian Costello. Here 'tis:

WASHINGTON - There are several noticeable differences in Nick Johnson now that he's playing in Washington rather than the Bronx.
For one, he now sports a beard - a big no-no in the land of George Steinbrenner. His stature in the clubhouse also is much different. Instead of being a bit player in the Yankees parade of stars, he is one of the marquee names on the Nationals. But the biggest difference is the amount of time he spends in the trainer's room.
For the first time in his career, Johnson, 26, has remained healthy through the first two months of the season, and the clean bill of health is paying dividends. Johnson leads the team with a .338 average, he's reached base safely in 55 of 57 games and ranked second in the NL in batting with runners in scoring position (.435) through Monday.
Oh yeah, he also had the Nationals in first place in the NL East.
In last night's 2-1 Washington victory over Oakland, Johnson accounted for both runs with a two-run homer.
"He's having the type of season I think the people in New York thought he could have," Nationals manager Frank Robinson said.
For years, the Yankees touted Johnson as their star of the future. Blessed with a keen hitting eye, sweet swing and good glove, Johnson appeared primed to take his place in the infield as a prospect in the late 1990s. Injuries always seemed to get in the way, though. He missed the entire 2000 season and good chunks of the '02 and '03 seasons.
The Yankees dealt him after the '03 season to Montreal in the Javier Vazquez trade. After a year of adjusting to his new team, Johnson is having the type of season many anticipated. On Monday, he was named NL co-player of the week after hitting .545 with four doubles, one triple, five RBIs and posting a .642 on-base percentage and an .818 slugging percentage. He also scored in each of the seven games last week.
"We all knew if he could get healthy he could have a breakout year and here it is," Nationals general manager Jim Bowden said. "He's played gold glove defense at first base and he's become an impact hitter and one of the best left-handed hitters in this league."
While others are crowing, Johnson is taking his success in stride. Don't expect him to gloat over the Yankees' struggles. The Californian is less talkative than a mime in a monastery. "I was upset but that's part of the game," Johnson said of trade. "It happened. I was hoping I would come up through the organization and be able to stay there but that's part of it. Life goes on."
Johnson is careful not to say anything critical of his former team, saying he believes they'll snap out of their funk.
"It's not like them," he said. "They've got a great team over there. They have great players and they still can play."
For now, though, Johnson is not worried about the Yankees. He's too busy trying to keep the Nationals on top of the standings.
"It's been a long time since I've been healthy," he said. "This is what I want to do - to be able to go out there everyday and have fun and play baseball."

Sheff and A-Rod Starting to Scuffle

Part of the reason the Junkees have been so bad lately is that their core guys are stinking it up. It's hard enough to win when you have a lineup with scrubs like Cano, Womack, Giambi, and Tino. But when A-Rod and Sheff struggle, you know you're in trouble. Over the past week, Sheff is 4 for 23, a .174 clip. A-Rod is in a 5 for 24 slump, good enough for .208.

Again, the Yanks' lack of depth glares out at you here. Even with Manny batting .230 for a while, Boston was able to keep winning ballgames- they had other guys to pick up the slack. The O's have 3 starters on the DL (Matos, Lopez, and Bigbie) and are still in first. The Yanks, aside from the blessing in disguise of Jaret Wright's injury (which basically gave them Wang), haven't had to face the adversity that the O's and even the Sox have (with Wells and Schilling doing DL stints). You wonder how bad things would be if the Yanks had players on the shelf like these other teams.

And with a bunch full of guys like Russ Johnson and Rey Sanchez, the Yanks have nobody to fill in for the struggling starters. Forget Clemens- these Yankees need some bats. Because if they can't hit against the Brewers and Royals, then forget about October.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Lifetime Records Against.... Who Cares?

Could somebody please explain to me how "Randy Johnson is 16 and 4 lifetime against the Brewers" means anything?

I bet he got some of those wins in 1990, when he was with Seattle. So what if he beat Jim Gantner and Robin Yount? The last time those two played, The Wonder Years was the #1 show in America! And if he beat them in the mid-'90s, during the Fernando Vina era, or when the Brewers had the John Jahas and Kevin Seitzers of the world, how does that indicate how he'll do against them in 2005? I don't understand it.

If you want to tell me that Carl Pavano is 5 and 1 against them this year, okay, that's something. But the fact that Mike Mussina beat them by striking out Matt Mieske three times (in 1997), come on! Dumbest stat in all of baseball.

RJ Continues to Stink Up Joint

Two more homers given up by Randy Johnson - to the Milwaukee Brewers, no less! Come on, you've got to love it! Every time I see him mess up, I replay in my mind John Kruk's prediction: "Randy Johnson will win 30 games this year." Considering that a starter gets about 33 starts per season, and Randy's had 12 (and missed one), he only had about 20 left, so unless we see him come in in the seventh inning, he's not even sniffing 20.

Yesterday was another example of the old men not being able to do anything when they had opportunities. The only speedster is Tony Womack, but the guy can never get on base! His OBP is .296, but even more laughable is his .284 slugging percentage. Hey Snorre, how'd moving Womack to left field work out for you?

For all the talk about the greatness of Robinson Cano, he's only hitting .245. Shemp is still a joke, and can anyone remember the last time Ruben Sierra came through in the clutch?

Okay, I'll give props to the Yankees who are doing their jobs: E-Rod (at least offensively, although never in a huge spot), Jeter, Sheffield, and Posada (although he could do a better job throwing out runners).

The pitchers who are doing well include Sturtze (although I don't know why Junkee fans went crazy for him last year, when he sported a 5.47 ERA), Rivera, and Mr. Wang.

Pavano, by the way, has allowed more hits than any other pitcher in the majors, and he looks to add to the total on Tuesday against the Brewers. Stay tuned, fellow Yankee despisers! This is turning out to be a season to remember!

Monday, June 06, 2005

Hunter Helps Junkees' Slump Continue

All he did was get beaned. But Torii Hunter probably won this game for the Twins, just by getting into Brown's head. Heck, even he's been saying the beaning he received from Brown was likely unintentional. But he knew Brown has a quick temper, and took full advantage. And once Brown got riled up, he was shot. I think Hunter knew what he was doing when he started jawing at Brown. It was a brilliant tactical move that paid off big.

Things looked bleak an inning before. When Brent Abernathy battled for 11 pitches during his at-bat, only to end up striking out, I thought, "here we go again. The Junkee fans will get so excited about Brown." And in the end, all went the Twins' way, with Sturtze, Groom, and Quantrill helping to put it out of reach. And now Junkee fans are worried about old man Tom Gordon's health. What a shocker that was. And with both the O's (without Brian Roberts) and Red Sox (in an '04 ALDS rematch) winning 2 of 3, it was quite a weekend for Yankee-haters.

-- After dropping two of three to Minny, the Yankees have only won 3 series against teams with records above .500: the opening series against Boston, the two-game sweep of the Jays, and the Schmets series. For those Junkee fans who still think this October's a lock, even if they make it, it sure won't be pretty.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Great Lupica Piece on Snorre

Torre should be accountable whether Yankees win or not
The Yankees have a record of 28-27 after last night's extra-inning victory against the Twins, one that will be treated like their latest most important victory of the whole season. They have this record with one real injury of note, to Jaret Wright. The Mets have a record of 29-26 after starting out 0-5. They won't have Steve Trachsel until July, they have seen injuries to Kris Benson and Kaz Ishii, they didn't have Mike Cameron, their right fielder, until May. They are a better team than the Yankees so far, and a more interesting one, at about half the price, and not nearly the same expectations. You tell me who's having a better year so far managing his team, Joe Torre or Willie Randolph?
You tell me who's done more with what he has.
We always talk about the underachieving players on this Yankee team. With the exception of Bobby Cox of the Braves, who seems to have a job for life, and maybe Tony La Russa, there isn't another manager in baseball who wouldn't be hearing plenty from his owner for a season like the one the Yankees are having.
The Yankees were supposed to win 100 games with this group easy. To get to 100 wins now, they have to play 72-35 the rest of the way. They get swept by the Royals at full power. They lose three of four to the Devil Rays earlier. Now we're supposed to believe the only relevant data is when they won 16 of 18, mostly against the Mariners and A's. This is the kind of thinking that says that the Yankees are still the team to beat, even if they haven't won the World Series since 2000. John Sterling was still telling us on the radio last night about the burden the Yankees carry, having all these teams get up for them the way they do on the road.
We found out last October what happens with the genius and grace of Torre, his abilities as a manager of people as well as players, when his team doesn't hit in the clutch or pitch well enough. Now we are finding out again. We talk about the owner, the general manager, the players. The manager? Never. We know they are Torre's Yankees when they win. How can they not be when they lose?
Shouldn't this be the kind of season when Torre really earns all that money?
He said after his conference call with George Steinbrenner the other day that everybody on the team had to do better. He didn't exclude himself. Nor should he. He can't get as much credit as he does, from me and everybody else, when the Yankees win and none of the blame when they lose. It is worth repeating that there is no other coach or manager in professional sports who could have walked away from last year's American League Championship Series without a scratch on him, but that's what Torre did.
It is a good thing that Terry Francona, who outmanaged Torre last October the way he outmanaged Mike Scioscia and Tony La Russa, doesn't have a $208 million team playing the way the Yankees are playing lately. Francona basically hasn't had his ace, Curt Schilling, all season. His team hasn't been a lot better than the Yankees. But it has been better.
This is not to blame Joe Torre for what is happening. It would be nuts. There is way too much going wrong for the 2005 Yankees. But it is clear that on reputation and record and popularity, he has reached the exalted place that only the truly untouchables reach in his profession:
We always look everywhere except at him when things go wrong the way they have gone wrong recently.
The idea that the Yankees have to go out now and not just get another pitcher but the best pitcher in baseball - Roger Clemens - with a payroll like this is more than somewhat amazing. Even all those who waited for the rest of the American League to fall over dead because the Yankees were beating the A's and Mariners have to admit that.
At some point, because this is a Parcellian world of sports, where you are what your record says you are, you would expect Steinbrenner or somebody to ask, hey, who's managing these underachievers? Except it never seems to happen. Just more evidence that Torre is the most popular sports figure in town, at least this side of the great Wellington Mara.
You see how this all goes. When Joe calls a team meeting and the Yankees win, we talk about how they got the message. He called one in Baltimore earlier in the season and the Yankees proceeded to go 7-11 in their next 18 games, and nobody really remembered the team meeting in Baltimore, and how it did nothing. When he changes the batting order and the Yankees win, we talk about his hunches. When he puts Russ Johnson in there and the Yankees lose, there are much loftier themes to discuss after the game.
Nobody is jumping on Torre for Randy Johnson or Carl Pavano or the shell of Jason Giambi. You know the deal: He can't swing the bat or throw the ball. He is also the highest-paid manager in baseball history on the highest-paid team, and one third of the way into the season, he doesn't have a set team or a set batting order and how does none of this come back to him?
I have known Torre since he was a player with the Mets. I thought he got a bad deal, way back in the day, when Frank Cashen got rid of him and I have said before that when Torre finally does leave the room at Yankee Stadium, it will be like 100 guys left the room. A long time ago, when an old friend named Robert Wussler was Ted Turner's No. 1 guy in Atlanta, I told him that they were nuts to hire Eddie Haas to manage the Braves if an old Brave like Torre was available. I like him a lot and respect him. He will probably get the Yankees out of this the way he has in the past.
Still: They can't be Torre's Yankees only when they win.

Three K's in Two Games for Yankee Starters

Yankee fans are all excited that Wang pitched a decent game on Saturday, but I'm sorry, one strikeout in seven innings is not going to get it done most of the time, especially when you're going to have Bernie in the outfield (which is why the Junkees probably put in Womack, Matsui, and Sheffield). Now admittedly, because he doesn't strikeout a lot of guys, he doesn't give up many homeruns, the Jones three-run shot notwithstanding. I bet that's also why Flaherty was in there, to curb the running game.

Mussina on Friday night struck out two in six innings, but he looks done to me. Washed up. This is what Mussina has done since becoming a Yankee - okay, maybe he was decent in '01, but since then - he throws soem lousy ballgames, then pitches a gem or two to make people think he hasn't totally lost it, and then goes back to being subpar. I don't know if I want a guy like that in my rotation. Sure, he was brilliant against the mighty Oakland Z's and the Tigers, but against the Red Sox? Bad. Twins? Bad. Seattle? Bad. Angels? Bad. I'm sorry, I can't be impressed by a guy who pitches about as well as Steve Trachsel. He's got 47 K's in 73 innings. Hmmm....

Thursday, June 02, 2005

See, I Told You So: Tino's Gone Ice Cold

Seems like just yesterday Tino was the hottest thing in New York. He was hitting them out non-stop, getting curtain calls every hour, and was a sort of harbinger of the return of the dynasty days to the Bronx. And he was making Don Mattingly look like the Leo Mazzone of hitting coaches.

A few weeks later, the streak is gone. Tino has returned to his old form, a 37 year-old washup on his last hurrah. He's 0 for his last 13 and 3 for his last 30. In that span, his average has plummeted from .284 to .245. His last HR? May 15 against Oakland. After knocking 'em out of the park every night back in early May, Tino has gone over two weeks without a dinger.

And with the Yankees' only other 1B option being the horrific Jason Giambaby, the team is once again in trouble. That stretch where the Yanks batted .342 for the week is a distant memory. With Cano (4 for his last 32 (.125)) and Posada (2 for his last 14) also struggling, holes are opening up throughout the lineup. Over the last 7 days, the Yanks have batted just .223. Too bad Clemens can't hit.

Best Feeling Since Last Year's Choke

Now, I don't know if anything will ever beat the Junkees' choke last October. But you gotta admit this series came close.

The Royals couldn't beat anyone this year. Heck, they hadn't swept anyone since August '03. They hadn't swept the Yankees at home since 1990, in the glory days of Tim Leary and Jesse Barfield. But after 3 games of the $40 million Royals taking on the $200 million Yankees, the Royals have pulled off the improbable.

In one sense, this series sweep beats the choke because Boston had a competitive team. To get beaten four in a row by guys like Schilling, Pedro, Manny, Ortiz, Damon, and the rest is somewhat forgiveable. After all, the Red Sox are full of solid major league-caliber players. But when you go up against a team like the Royals, one of the worst teams in recent memory, and can't pull a win out? When you're facing guys like the the mighty Ruben Gotay, Shane Costa, Terrence Long, Zack "0-6" Grienke, Ryan Jensen, etc.? To lose three straight to such a team is nothing short of pathetic.

They may not be 11-19 this time, like after the Tampa series, but the Yankees have once again hit rock bottom.

More Stats Prove Yankees Struggles

Shemp Matsui is hitting .261 with 4 home runs. So he's on pace to hit 12 for the year, and more telling are his on-base percentage of .320 and slugging average of .399. I'm sorry, but those are lousy numbers. For a catcher, they're decent, but for an outfielder? And I don't want to hear about his pace for 112 RBI. That's just luck. All told, he's tied for 61st in the AL in OPS. To put things in perspective, he's tied with the mighty Scott Hatteberg, and is behind such greats as Jeremy Reed and Jorge Cantu.

Tony Womack, to be fair, is even worse. He's 88th in the AL with a .603 OPS, thanks mostly to his slugging average of .297. Hey, Cashman, great move getting rid of Cairo, who's hitting .295 by the way.

Jason Giambi is still at .234, with no sign that he will ever get back to mediocrity.

And for all the talk of Bernie Williams heating up, he's still slugging only .378. Maybe benching him was the smartest thing Snorre has ever done.

Robinson Cano is a poor man's Jose Reyes, with his .272 on-base percentage.

On to the pitchers. We start off with RJ, who's give up ten home runs so far. He's on pace to serve up 31 when all is said and done, and as for John Kruk's prediction that he'll win 30 games this year, how's that working out?

Mike Mussina's given up 78 hits in 67 innings. Worth $20 million? What do you think?

Carl Pavano's been even more impressive, with 84 hits allowed in 64 innings. Are you sure you'd rather have Pavano than Clement?

As for ERAs, Quantrill = 6.53. Groom = 6.59. Stanton = 7.36.

And I know Junkee fans are excited about Wang, but one stat that sticks out for me is this: He has 14 strikeouts in 37.2 innings. That's a lousy ratio. That means that most of the balls are getting put into play, which leads to good things for the other team: errors, misplays, runners moving over, and grounders finding holes. So it's only a matter of time before he stinks up the joint.

Come to think of it, it's amazing that the Junkees are two games above .500!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Back to Old Struggles for Junkees?

Sometimes, I just love being wrong. I thought the Yanks would score 10 runs in this one. They ended up with just one, unable to score against D.J. Carrasco. RJ gave up another long HR, this time to Emil Brown (no, I've never heard of him either) and still has yet to be the dominator everyone expected. And suddenly, the Royals, a team that's been compared to the '62 Mets, are on the verge of sweeping the series from the Junkees, who perhaps can again be compared to their 1965 counterparts.

Maybe the Yanks win tomorrow night and then start showing up against Minny. But if they have trouble with the AL's worst club, can you really expect them to do well against one of the AL's better teams? Then against the Brew Crew, with a surprisingly good pitching staff thus far? Against St. Louis, the NL's top club?

Over the past four games, the Yanks have looked like that $200 million laughingstock we saw in April. Can't get a hit in the clutch. The occasional baserunning mistake. E-Rod looking like Pat Kelly out there at 3rd base. Tony Womack reverting to pre-'04 form. And bad starting pitching. This series has been all too reminiscent of that 4-game set against Tampa Bay.

Hey, maybe May was more of a fluke than April. Let's see where these Yankees go in June.

-- Hard to know who to root for in the excellent Baltimore-Boston series, but seeing Wade Miller and Sidney Ponson both have great starts against good-hitting teams is encouraging.

Another Great Vazquez Piece: The Times' Jack Curry

Resurgent in Arizona, Vazquez Puts Pinstripes Behind Him
Javier Vazquez never wanted this. He did not want to leave the Yankees, did not want to be unloaded on the Arizona Diamondbacks and did not want his baseball life to be disrupted. Vazquez adored the idea of being the future of the Yankees, even if the present had been sour.
But Vazquez knew the drastic change was coming last winter. Everyone knew it. George Steinbrenner, the Yankees' principal owner, longed to acquire Randy Johnson, and Vazquez had faltered during his first season in New York. So Steinbrenner considered him the perfect pawn.
Four and a half months later, Vazquez has adjusted to a new home, and his career has taken an interesting twist. Vazquez has slightly better statistics than Johnson does, and Arizona, which won 51 games last season, has a better record than the Yankees. The Yankees would have snickered at the mere suggestion of Vazquez's outperforming Johnson if it had not already happened.
"A lot of people go through slumps," Vazquez said. "I just happened to have mine at a bad time, the second half of last year and in the playoffs. But that year is over. I worked hard in the off-season to come back. Thank God, I'm pitching well."
After Vazquez sprinted and did agility drills in the outfield yesterday, he sat in the third-base dugout at Shea Stadium and actually spoke fondly about New York. He still owns a home in Closter, N.J., still considers several Yankees his friends and still studies the box scores. Right now, those box scores have Vazquez at 5-3 with a 3.65 earned run average and the erratic Johnson at 5-3 with a 3.99 E.R.A.
When Vazquez tried to determine why he was 14-10 with a 4.91 E.R.A. in 2004, he was stumped. Maybe he should have thrown more fastballs or tweaked his delivery or been more confident.
"You go through periods where you don't know what you're doing," he said. "You can't find yourself. You're not in a rhythm. Obviously, being in New York, it magnifies everything."
After rambling a little more, Vazquez said: "I just can't explain what went wrong. I'm past that now, though. I'm here, and I'm happy."
Before the Yankees traded Vazquez; pitcher Brad Halsey, who was brilliant with seven scoreless innings in a 7-0 victory over the Mets last night; catcher Dioner Navarro; and $9 million to Arizona, Vazquez called Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman to inquire about his tenuous status. Vazquez also told a Puerto Rican newspaper that the Yankees would rue it if they traded him.
"I still trust in my abilities, and if the Yankees trade me, they'll regret it," Vazquez told the paper, La Perla del Sur.
The Yankees thought enough of Vazquez to sign him to a four-year, $45 million contract extension after obtaining him from Montreal in December 2003. But the Yankees soured on him once they had the chance to add Johnson and, they thought, close the gap with the Red Sox.
Vazquez is 5-1 with a 1.92 E.R.A. in his last eight starts, prompting Arizona Manager Bob Melvin to call him unbelievable. Yankees Manager Joe Torre has not called Johnson unbelievable very often. Melvin said Vazquez is shrewd enough to not even ponder imitating Johnson.
"He realizes there's only one Randy Johnson," Melvin said.
Because Vazquez was dealt while he had a long-term contract, he can formally demand that the Diamondbacks move him after the season. If Vazquez makes the demand and the Diamondbacks do not trade him, he can become a free agent March 15.
Vazquez has been perturbed by speculation that he would definitely seek a trade, since he never wanted to go to Arizona. Although he acknowledged that he has said he would prefer to pitch on the East Coast, to be closer to his native Puerto Rico, he stressed that he would rather "be on a winning team here than a losing team on the East Coast."
But what about a winning team on the East Coast? If Vazquez continues to excel, he knows he could be attractive to several teams. While the Diamondbacks would surely not want to trade Vazquez, who turns 29 in two months, he could force them to do so.
"I talked to ownership when they made the trade, and they know how I felt and they know what my options are," he said.
As Mark Grace, a former major leaguer who is a television analyst with the Diamondbacks, heard Vazquez discussing New York, he playfully said: "Did he tell you how much he hated New York? He tells me that all the time."
Vazquez laughed at Grace's comments, waited and then said, "We've got great announcers, man."