We’ve come to a point this season when writers can analyze where a team has been, and visualize where they’re going.
Writing about the Phillies, it helps to step away and put things in a context, and it's always beneficial to check out what the Yankees are up to.
Theoretically, the Yanks are a team with no obstacles. No obstacles but themselves. Their choices play out like an Aesop Fable with morals at the end of each story.
The Bombers are the bratty child that never learns its lesson. But what is the lesson? That money can’t buy happiness? Some say it can’t, but it certainly has in the past.
Because I’ve invested oodles of time studying and analyzing the Phils, I wanted an outside blogger’s opinion of the Yankees. I chose Larry Mahnken’s Replacement Level Yankees Blog, because it’s the first and best I’ve seen. The site is written by a group of writers, and for this interview, I e-mailed Sean McNally.
Setting things up, remember the team brought in high-priced pitchers Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright to fortify the rotation, and because of injury and whatnot, that hasn’t happened as planned. It’s been a mess, quite frankly.
The team has stayed in the hunt by scrapping out quality starts from a number of replacement-level pitchers, going lately with a mostly-veteran mix of Mike Mussina, Shawn Chacon, Aaron Small, Al Leiter and Johnson.
The Yankees aren’t alone in this patchwork process. Other teams, specifically the Braves, are getting by with a ton of rookies mixed throughout the lineup. Even the Phils have worked through a major injuries with rookies Robinson Tejeda and Ryan Howard.
I found McNally’s insights fascinating and was anxious to pass them along. For readers, it's especially useful because of how it relates to the situation with the Phillies, Charlie Manuel, Ed Wade, and the choices everyone is making.
JW: If the season ended today, what lessons might the Yankees take away from 2005? Will they ever be more responsible with their spending?
SM: What will the Yankees take away? The short answer is not nearly enough. What should they take away? That is a more interesting question.
The thing that many Yankee fans and observers are going to take away is that Joe Torre, for all his good press clippings over the past decade, is not a strong tactical manager. Between his poor lineup construction and cover-your-eyes bad bullpen and pitching staff usage.
At this writing, the big three TanGorMo (ed. Tanyon Sturtze, Tom Gordon, Mariano Rivera) have appeared in 51, 61 and 51 games respectively. Gordon's on pace for 82, which would be a career high. Tanyon Sturtze, in his first full year in the pen, has already set a career high in appearances and is projected to appear in 69 games (his previous high was 40 games). Rivera, who with the exception of two weeks has been as good as he's ever been, is also on pace for 69 appearances, just five off his career high which he set last year.
Torre's refusal to use other potential contributors - Felix Rodriguez, Buddy Groom, Steve Karsay, Paul Quantrill, et al - and the organization's refusal to bring up bullpen reinforcements that might actually make a difference like Colter Bean or Jason Anderson as opposed to mediocrities like Mike Stanton and Wayne Franklin have exacerbated this problem.
The rotation's woes are not surprising. Johnson's age plus moving to a league with nine hitters and not eight, along with Wright and Pavano's injury history. The patchwork done by Wang and Chacon especially has been a pleasant surprise and could wind up helping the Yankees long-term.
However, the rotation problem highlights a poor track record when it comes to roster construction. It's easier to buy offense on the free agent market - it's much harder to identify good, available pitching. In the past the Yanks have cycled through a number of potential rotation stalwarts - Weaver, Brown, Vazquez, et al. and all to a degree have flopped on Broadway. In the future, the team should focus on developing its own pitching, a track which it seems to be taking with regard to Phil Hughes and other prospects in the low minors.
JW: Do you think GM Brian Cashman should be blamed for the problems in the rotation?
SM: Yes and no. It's obvious Cashman is not the final authority in roster decisions. Steinbrenner is one of several men behind the curtain - pitching "guru" Billy Connors and the rest of his cracked baseball committee in Tampa have far too much sway in the construction of the team.
The Yankees were at their zenith based on the team Gene Michael built in the early 1990s when Big Stein was suspended and augmented by Cashman's moves in the late 1990s.
After the 2001 World Series however, Steinbrenner seems to have taken a more direct interest in the team, and to it's detriment. Sheffield v. Vlad, the Giambi signing (though it's not as disastrous as it could have been), the Unit trade, etc.
The Yankees were better when they were letting the baseball people make the baseball decisions.
JW: Should the Yankees have resigned Jon Lieber this offseason, or even Esteban Loaiza, both having solid seasons for the Phils and Nationals respectively? (ed. That’s what prompted me to write this, since they were head to head on this night).
SM: No. And No. The Yankees should have never acquired Loaiza, instead they should have retained Contreras, who while inconsistent has dominating stuff. Lieber is a trickier question. I would have preferred they kept El Duque of the departing starters, but c'est l'vie.
Ideally (even with the Johnson trade), the current Yankee rotation would have looked like this: Johnson-Mussina-Contreras-El Duque-Chacon. The team could have then used Wang and Small and perhaps a lesser-light free agent like a Paul Byrd or Kevin Millwood in the rotation in case of injury or whatnot, and at a discount.
Lieber got paid like a No. 2 starter last year and he's decidedly not that any more, and he certainly wouldn't be that later in his contract.
I certainly would not have signed by Wright and Pavano. That money could have gone into a centerfielder, or better bench help.
JW: Finally, can the Yankees catch the Red Sox?
SM: In the short run, this season, I think they can. But I am less optimistic that they will. They need to catch Oakland first - run down the car in front of them first.
If they do, with the ravaged rotation, the mismanged roster, et al, as a fan it will be the most satisfying postseason berth since 1995.
Over the long-haul, I think the Red Sox are probably better equipped. Both rotations have serious, serious questions - but the Yankees are more locked into theirs right now. Both presumably will be shopping for at least one new outfielder and bench bats. I just think right now the Red Sox are better equipped to make those sorts of long-term decisions.