Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Yankees 2005 Post-mortem

The Monk will attempt to give a reasoned response to a disappointing season, in contrast to some of the stupider things that have already appeared in print (See MSNBC.com's JT the Brick -- talk about ignorant knee-jerk reactions). Simply stated, this team may have cost nearly $210 million, and the ridiculous contracts Big Stein wrote to the cajones-deprived (Sheff, Johnson, Arod, Gordon, Brown, Wright, et al.) certainly didn't pan out, but the Yanks that made the playoffs were not a $210 million team. Consider:

The Yanks went into the season with more than $30M in dead weight in Brown and Bernie Williams. They took a ridiculous 21M risk on Jaret Wright, which failed (debit = Cashman). They took a risk on Pavano, who should succeed if he regains his arm strength. They took a risk on Johnson, who basically paid off for the division title but nought else. But the big decisions that have reshaped and damaged this team were made much earlier.

Go back to 2002: desperate for additional hitting after getting dominated by two Hall of Fame pitchers at the top of their games in the WS, Big Stein places an order for Giambi, and gets him. The Yanks' defense takes a hit, their flexibility on offense takes a plunge. Giambi played well and hard for 2002 and 2003 and revived a devastated career after the '05 All-Star Break. But a healthy Nick Johnson may have been a better option.

Again in 2002: wanting another "top" pitcher for some unknown reason, the Yanks trade rising young starter Ted Lilly (who KILLS the RedSawx and can pitch in the clutch) for much higher-priced and lower-upside Jeff Weaver. Weaver busts, and gets turned into Kevin Brown -- a worse bust.

In 2003, the Yanks trade Brandon Claussen to get Aaron Boone. Boone has one good at bat, and a terrible time otherwise. Claussen becomes a better-than-average starter at a hitter's dream ballpark.

In 2004, the Yanks let Wells, Pettitte and Clemens go; trade for Javy Vazquez, Brown and ARod, sign Sheffield instead of Guerrero; Sheff has great year with help in lineup, Guerrero has better year with no help in lineup. The GRIND IT, do what's necessary ethic gives way to bloopandblast baseball. Vazquez loses his mind, Brown's insanity resurfaces, Mooooooose shows age, Gordon honks in postseason, Yanks collapse.

Notice a pattern?

The saving graces of the Yankees 2005 season were Aaron Small, Shawn Chacon, Chien-Ming Wang and Robinson Cano. It became obvious early on, when Wright was wrong and Pavano iffy, that this year would be a rebuilding year. And the Yanks should treat it as such.

The team still has huge crappy contracts for '06: Sheff, Giambi, Posada, ARod, Mooooooose, Johnson, Wright, Pavano. Of those, two are moveable (Sheff, Posada) and one could be (Wright). The Yanks lose two big stiffs (Brown, Williams) but have to pony up for Matsui (according to Scout.com, the Yanks can renew Matsui's contract before November 15).

So where does that leave the Yanks for next year? Actually, the pitching could be in good shape if they don't meddle too much. Johnson will be back, and he showed that he still has it by stifling the hard-hitting AL East down the stretch. Pavano's shoulder should recover. Wang is a poor man's Hershiser and can dominate with his sinker. Chacon is young (27), tough and can pitch in The Bronx. Moooooooooooose is a bit of a cipher -- if he can regain the 93 mph heat, he'll be top-of-the-rotation material. He never quite had that this year. That's a winning starting five, as Wang and Chacon proved in this year's ALDS (3 ER in 13 IP combined). Mo is Mo. Who do they look to add? Simple: B.J. Ryan -- lefty closer for the Orioles who can set up for Rivera and be the Yanks' closer if Mo retires in the next 2-3 years. The Yanks can also try their luck with Jason Schmidt and/or Mark Redman when their teams decline their options and offer Scott Elarton a long relief role.

As for hitters. I expect the Yanks to do something stupid, like go after Johnny Damon, thereby continuing a tradition of centerfielders who can't throw (Mickey Rivers, Rickey Henderson, Bernie Williams). My preference = trade Posada for a good glove man and relief pitcher, sign Ramon Hernandez who has a good arm, is younger than Jorge and can bop a bit (12 HR as 3/4 time player in the hitters' abyss at Petco).

Time to start thinking about actually PLAYING at this time next year, and how to make it happen.

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