Saturday, April 23, 2005

Yanks still awful

It is now official: Jaret Wright is the worst free agent pitcher signing since . . . Chan Ho Park. But Park actually pitched well and Wright was again horrendous before leaving the game today with a shoulder injury.

Here is where the Yankees went in the tank: in 2002 the Yanks traded Ted Lilly and some dross (Jason Arnold, John-Ford Griffin) to Oakland; the A's moved Carlos Pena, Franklyn German and Jeremy Bonderman to Detroit, the Tigers shipped Jeff Weaver to the Yanks. Weaver was a decent pitcher on a crap team; Lilly had been a decent pitcher on a good team and had less than 1/4 the price tag. Lilly could also pitch in high-pressure games in NY (his best outing is still a one-hitter loss to the 2001 M's in Seattle against Freddy Garcia and Seattle's ton of overachievers) and gives the RedSawx fits (9 shutout innings in the 2003 ALDS). So the Yanks gave up a future #3 caliber starter who came cheap for a potential #2 whose contract had huge salary escalations.

Weaver was a washout. Poor enough in 2002 to be banished to the 'pen in the playoffs; awful enough in '03 to be shipped out. This time to the Dodgers for Kevin Brown. Brown is expensive, inconsistent and often-injured. He had a great '03 campaign in LA (pitcher's park, NL) and was OK until his first injury spate in NY. Thereafter, he was an unmitigated failure.

In the offseason, the Yanks had no takers for Brown, so they're stuck with his contract. He stinks, but he has hope: he has actually pitched well after his early shellings this year so if he can start the game warmed up, he could be acceptable.

The Yanks had an $8 million option to keep Jon Lieber, the man who went 7-1 down the stretch last year, was the Yanks' second-best pitcher in the playoffs and actually baffled the RedSawx even before Lieber locked in and had that great stretch run. Lieber could pitch in NY. Once the Mets set the elevated market of $7,000,000/season for #3-#4 quality starters, the Yanks had two options: go for a younger pitcher at the 7m/yr mark or exercise Lieber's option. They took the first choice and it has been a disaster. Our friend Chris often told us last year that we'd like Jon Lieber and he was right. Then he said we'd regret losing him, and Chris is 2-for-2. The Phillies are happy with their signing.

Here is the problem: the Yankees cannot distinguish need from preference. That is, Brian Cashman cannot do so. Thus, their desire to get Arod led to the monster trade with the Rangers even after it became obvious that the RedSawx would not get him. Thus, the Yanks coughed up a very good young pitcher with appreciable upside for a pseudo-established starter in Weaver -- a trade that made no real sense at the time and is even worse in retrospect.

The Yanks also cannot distinguish recent history from track record. Thus, the Yanks paid ridiculous money to Steve Karsay in the 2001-02 offseason for a man whose injury history was in the accident-waiting-to-happen category. Thus, the Yanks picked up soft-tossing Chris Hammond after a one-season freak result of a 0.95 ERA. Thus, the Yanks signed Wright.

This year's team is 7-11 (3-3 since Mount Steinbrenner rumbled) and if they win tomorrow they'll have the same 8-11 record they did last year after Boston came through the Stadium and whitewashed the Yanks. But this year's team is worse: only 5 times in 18 games have the Yanks held their opponents under 5 runs (5-0 record, 2-11 otherwise). The pitchers don't battle the hitters sharply, the hitters are having poor at-bats, the bullpen is offal. Even in getting smacked the last two times against Bawstin last April (3-2 in 12 innings, 2-0), they fought hard -- Brown and the relief corps held the Sawx to 1-21 with RISP in that extra inning game; Javy Vazquez pitched very well on three-days' rest in the 2-0 loss. This team doesn't have even that much fight (Moooooooooooose nearly choking a 4-run lead Thursday, Wright barely getting through the fifth with a 13-run lead last Monday).

Early in the college hoops season I said to myself that Syracuse didn't have IT -- the Orange's weak effort, lack of muscle and lack of desire against Ok. State convinced me that the team lacked an intangible need to win. These Yanks have that same problem. And if it continues, the team will end up with different leadership in the front office next year.

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