Thursday, March 31, 2005

Tim Marchman (NY Sun): 2005: The Year the Junkees Collapse

Every year I preach that the Yankees are about to collapse, and they never do. I'm sticking with my preaching - the Yankees are about to collapse, and don't look like a 90-win team to me. They're horrible defensively, old and injury-prone, and boast a lineup consisting of five superb players and four mediocrities.
This strangely built $200 million team is as thin as a dime. I count nine potential Hall of Famers on the roster, but no one else on the team is very good, with a few exceptions like Hideki Matsui and Tom Gordon. The contrast with the Red Sox, who have three superstars and 22 solid players, is stunning. The Yankees have no sixth starter, no credible reserves in the infield, the outfield or behind the plate, and several regulars who could be among the worst at their positions in baseball.
The Yankees' underlying statistics were those of an 89-win team last year, and it's not clear that they got much better over the off-season. The real improvement, of course, was bringing in ace Randy Johnson, who represents a marked improvement over Javier Vazquez. But I'm not clear how that does more than offset the terrible Tony Womack and the continued disintegration of the team defense. This team looks to me to be clearly inferior to the Red Sox.
I pointed out last year that the Red Sox resembled the late-1990s Yankees more than any other team, and that the Yankees were coming to resemble the late-1990s Red Sox or Dodgers, weighted down with horrible contracts and structured without any apparent attention to depth or situational play. That's even truer today. Talent will make up for bad design, but this Yankees team is nowhere near as good as people think. For all that, they could well win 101 games again.
Joe Torre, Manager
The slow erosion of Joe Torre's managerial performance is an unremarked-upon but significant factor in the recent relative decline of the Yankees. He's still one of the best in the game, but his inability or unwillingness to solve the team's DH/CF/1B circus by simply settling on clear roles for his players had consequences in the 2004 postseason, as did his severe overuse of relievers Paul Quantrill and Tom Gordon, who wore out down the stretch. It's not like Torre to let problems fester or to overwork his pitchers in June without an eye to October, and this is one year where they Yankees can't afford these kinds of mistakes if they expect to finish atop the division.
The Yankees don't really have a bench. Ruben Sierra is a perfectly fine pinch-hitter, and John Flaherty isn't a problem as a backup catcher unless Jorge Posada misses significant time. Other than that, there's nothing. Rey Sanchez is a no-hit, used-to-field utility infielder on a team that has a no-hit, no-field second baseman and two iron men on the left side of the infield; a second baseman with a bat is what is needed. Perhaps prospect Robinson Cano will come up mid-season to fill the role. In the outfield, Bubba Crosby brings nothing to the table; what's needed is a superior defensive centerfielder to caddy for Bernie Williams. With such clear and specific needs for the bench, the assemblage of this group of players is a failure on the part of Yankees management. It's not like Williams's inability to field or Womack's inability to hit are well-kept secrets.
You'd have to think Mariano Rivera is going to stop being Rivera at some point, but he gives no sign that it's going to happen soon. Even the two blown saves against the Red Sox in October were hardly meltdowns. Worries about his durability are probably overblown; if there were any signs of him being overworked during the end of last season or the playoffs, I'd like to know what they were. Last year, opponents hit.269 against him with none on, .181 with runners on, and .139 with runners in scoring position
Tom Gordon and Paul Quantrill were simply overworked last summer. Quantrill pitched 95 innings and sported a 6.19 ERA in August and a 10.50 in September; Gordon's 89 innings probably contributed to his 6.97 October ERA. This was, again, a consequence of the Yankees' complete unwillingness or inability to find room in the vaunted $200 million budget for, say, a decent lefty specialist or long reliever. For some reason Mike Stanton has been brought back; perhaps he and Tino Martinez can get hitters out by radiating clutchness at them.

Monday, March 28, 2005

No Schilling, No Problem

Much to the Junkee fans' glee, it looks like it will be David Wells taking the hill come Opening Night. I say, let them get excited. And I'll be rooting for the Sox, but if the Yanks come out on top, I'm not gonna lose any sleep over it.

As John Sterling reminded fans incessantly in '98, the Yanks started out 0-3 and 1-4, at which point of course, George Steinbrenner panicked. And at the end of the day, the '98 Yanks still turned out to be one of the best teams in ML history (although the bragging about 125 wins was ridiculous. No team till '95 had 11 postseason games to win, and till '69 all they had were four games; and it's true, the Yankees had more chances than these other teams to lose in the playoffs, but to include postseason wins in their tally is just silly; back in '86, nobody talked about the Mets' 116 wins).

And last year, had Rivera held on in Game 4 of the ALCS, the Sox' wins in April would have proven totally worthless. And even with the Sox winning it all, nobody cares much for those April wins anyhow (and thankfully no one cares for that awful June series when Ortiz did his best Buckner imitation and Jeter made that catch in the stands, part of the $18 million intangibles package).

So I'm looking forward to Opening Night and games that count, but I'll keep it all in perspective. I don't care if Schilling's not there in April. I want him in October, good and ready to send the Junkees packing once again.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

2005 Season: Let's Get It On!

As the biggest Yankee despiser on Planet Earth, you would think that I would want the offseason to last forever, to savor the 2004 ALCS collapse. Well, it was sweet (still is), but enough is enough - I want to see the Junkees embarrass themselves again in some meaningful games. I want to see Bernie Williams running back to the centerfield wall chasing balls that flew over his head. I want to see Randy Johnson and Kevin Brown sitting on the bench in their windbreakers waiting to come off the 15-day DL. I want to see Derek Jeter attempt those Rey Ordonez deep-in-the-hole throws to first only to have the ball sail into the seats. I want to see the Daily News discuss how Carl Pavano can't handle the pressure in the big city. I want to see a Peter Gammons report about how Jaret Wright misses Leo Mazzone. I want to see Shemp Matsui in an 0-48 slump, but Snorre refuses to bench him because of that meaningless 1300-game playing streak from Japan. I want to see Tony Womack come up to the plate in August with a .225 batting average and have Junkee fans rue the day they let Miguel Cairo get away. I want to see who this year's T. J. Nitkowski will be, a journeyman middle reliever picked up off the scrap heap because Mike Stanton can't record an out.

Oh, let the games begin.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Despiser Echo Syndrome? Yanks Start to Show Age

A few months ago, my compadre the Yankee Despiser predicted that this year's group of Yankees would go the way of the '04 Mariners - a solid veteran team that would suddenly break down physically. Personally, I disagreed- hence my prediction of another Yankee AL East championship (to be followed by another playoff collapse). But with Rivera, Bernie, and Jeter hurt, it looks like things may begin to be shifting the Despiser's way. Perhaps these injuries really are minor and the Yanks will be healthy and solid again. But perhaps they're a sign of things to come.

In today's Daily News, Anthony McCarron has a piece about the Yanks' beginning to show age. Despiser, you may be right yet again.

Besides, teams full of veterans don't usually win it all. One notable exception? The '01 Diamondbacks with the likes of Matt Williams and Mark Grace. But keep in mind they came awful close to losing. And if Cashman had gotten Mo some decent middle relief to avoid all those two-inning saves, and if the Yanks would've kept the infield back when Gonzalez hit, or if Mo doesn't make that error, things would've turned out a lot different.

Besides, the one huge factor the D-Backs had going for them was as good a 1-2 punch as we've seen recently, in Johnson and Schilling. (The Yanks don't have a rotation close to that caliber (Pavano and Wright are question marks and Moose is declining).)

And the same holds true for the veteran-filled '04 Red Sox. Their pitching was simply dominating. They had one clear ace in Schilling, and once guys like Pedro and Lowe stepped it up, they were unstoppable.

And the Yankees really are older than the Sox. The Yanks have a ton of 35+ guys on their team: Johnson, Mussina, Brown, Rivera, Sheffield, Bernie, Tino, and Womack. Plus, Posada is 33, which is old for a catcher, and Jaret Wright is an injury risk, too.

The Sox do have some 35+ers in Wells, Schilling, and Timlin (I don't count Wakefield because he's a knuckleballer, and those guys usually pitch forever, and Embree, a lefty specialist, also doesn't count - think of how long Jesse Orosco pitched!). But of all the other regulars, the oldest is Bill Mueller at 34; plus the Sox have OBP king Kevin Youkilis in case Mueller goes down.

The Yanks may be in trouble here. I sure wouldn't mind that.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Whatever Happened to Yankees-Mets in Spring Training?

As I've said before, I don't care much for spring training games. But since '97 when the Yankees and Mets have gone at it during the regular season, they've stopped having exhibition games. And I really don't know why. Are they afraid it would take away from the regular season matchups? They have Yankees-Red Sox, and that doesn't take away anything from the regular season matchups. If anything, it's one of the few spring games that actually draws a crowd. So why not Yankees-Mets?

Why am I so fixated on Yankees-Mets? Why do I care? One reason: it would be another thing for George to worry about. HE's already panicking over the Yanks 1-5 record, and wouldn't it be sweet for the Junkees to lose to the Mets just to really get him going! The Yankees-Mets matchuos in the past have provided for some memorable moments, such as George getting mad at Frank Cashen for calling the Bronx "Fort Apache" and George going postal on Mike Griffin, who blew a Yankee-Met spring training game. (See Bill Madden and Moss Klein's excellent "Damned Yankees" for more on those incidents.)

It's gotta be that George was behind this, somewhere. He gets enough stress seeing the Yankees play the Sox and his Tampa rival D-Rays (I think George is the only loser out there who stresses over Yankees-D-Rays games). A few losses to the Mets in the preseason, and he might fire a few more secretaries. But I want my Grapefruit League subway series, especially now that the Mets are competitive. The spring could use some more action.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Who Cares About Spring Training, Except....

I'm sure all the Yankee fans are excited about winning last night, as well as Jason Giambi's home run. I guess when you can't win the ones that count in October, you may as well get excited about the meaningless games in March. And take after King George and panic at the slightest sign of Yankee struggles.

After the first game last week, a Yankee fan I know was getting all excited about "The Grand Tanyon" Sturtze's performance. As a Sox fan, I have no idea who's pitching which spring training game. And in no way do I care. These games are meaningless, unless you're one of those "Baseball America" types who like watching all the prospects. And for a Junkee fan, that must be torture, watching that wretched farm system in action. My concern in the exhibition season? I just hope and pray no one on the Sox gets injured, and wait till April to start watching the games.

And Jason Giambi's home run last night? Meaningless. This is spring training, and either he's facing minor league pitchers who have nothing or experienced pitchers usually toying around with some new pitch or something. Let's see Giambi get a big hit in October. The only ones that come to mind are his 2 HR in Game 7 of the '03 ALCS. And if not for Grady Little, those go down not meaning a whole lot (and even with Grady, all anyone remembers is Aaron Boone.) But of course, Yankee fans made a big deal about Giambi's April grand slam against the Twins in '02.

So if Winfield was Mr. May, I guess that makes Jason Giambi Mr. April. And maybe after last night's performance, he's graduated to Mr. March. Now let's see a meaningful performance from Giambi, post-juice.

Friday, March 04, 2005

More Arrogance

From the NY Post:

March 4, 2005 -- TAMPA — It was the type of pageantry — and lineup — most major-league teams can't muster for a real Opening Day.
Even with Randy Johnson, Gary Sheffield and Jorge Posada missing with injuries, the Yankees rung in the exhibition season in their kind of style yesterday.
Airborne parachutists brought the first ball into Legends Field. An enormous American flag was unfurled in center field before the national anthem, and fireworks exploded beyond right field.
And in a show of military might (and the franchise's clout), a flyover from two F-15 jets topped off the pre-game ceremony.

- These losers ought to give it a rest; it's a spring training game, dammit! Nobody cares, it's meaningless. These guys think they're God's gift or something. Pathetic.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Players I'm Rooting For This Year

1) Jon Leiber - the Yanks cheaped out on their most consistent starter of '04 (okay, that's not saying a whole lot), and went for Jaret Wright instead. Dumb move. Lieber has been able to pitch without the tutelage of pitching magician Leo Mazzone. Wright looks like another John Burkett, just with fewer innings pitched due to injury. I hope Leiber makes the Yanks regret cheaping out on him.

2) Mike Lowell - this guy makes my list every year, thanks to one of Brian Cashman's many boneheaded moves. Lowell should be helped by the addition of Carlos Delgado to the Marlins' lineup. Lowell doesn't get much recognition, even though he hits at least 25 HR annually. Current Yankee 3B A-Schmuck might put up better numbers, though I'd love to see how he'd hit in that pitchers' haven in Florida.

3) Jose Contreras - who lost the hype faster - Contreras or Hideki Irabu? Unlike Irabu, there should be life for Contreras after New York, especially will fellow Cuban El Duque on the Pale Sox. I'd love to see this guy finally live up to his billing. He better win 20 games.

4) Carlos Beltran - the Yanks cheaped out on this guy, instead going for a 41-year old pitcher and a guy with one good season and not much of a track record. (Carl Pavano) We all know Beltran will do better than Bambi Williams; but I'm hoping his numbers kick Williams'. And I'm hoping he catches all those balls that Bernie can't get to, and gets a few clutch hits that the Chokin' Crankees could've used. Those Junkee fans will be begging for Beltran -- if the Mets keep underacheiving, they might be able to trade for him in a few years. And that better not happen.

5) Javy Vazquez - he had one bad half-season, and the Yanks said "sayonara." He didn't want to pitch on the west coast, and the Yankees couldn't care less. I respected Vazquez for saying "you'll regret it" when the Yankees traded him, especially since they treated him like dirt (or slightly better than one of George's secretaries). Vazquez, unlike Pavano, has a track record; from '00-'03, his highest ERA was 4.05, while Pavano's best was 4.30 in '03 (not to mention his 6.33 whopper in '01). Vazquez will have better numbers than Pavano this year, and the Yanks will regret it. Go Javy!

AL Central Preview

Wow, I haven't done this in a while. But I've still got 5 divisions to go.

1) Cleveland Indians --Before you start thinking how crazy I am, let's look at some numbers. This team won 80 games last year, while blowing 28 saves. If they win 10 of those games, they'd have 90 wins last year. Not bad, eh? And there's reason to believe they'll get better this year. Veteran additions Aaron Boone, Alex Cora, and Kevin Millwood add depth. Millwood, along with C.C. Sabathia, Jake Westbrook (3.38 ERA last year) and Clifton Lee provide a solid, though unspectacular, rotation. The bullpen should improve behind a healthy Bob Wickman and newcomer Arthur Rhodes. The team batted .276 last year, and as the young players like Casey Blake, Grady Sizemore, and that Jhonny guy (who spells it funny) keep improving, that number will go up. They'll get knocked out in the first round, but the Tribe is back.
2) Minny should make a run for it again. Santana and Radke lead the rotation, and they should have a healthy Joe Mauer behind the plate. But they'll miss Guzman and Koskie, and I see Joe Nathan as another Jeff Zimmerman: good closer for a year, but not long-term material. A close second for these guys.
3) The Chicago Mets will bumble into third again. They'll contend till early August, when El Duque will tire and that'll be the beginning of the end. The Sox are doing their best '82 Yanks imitation, losing sluggers like Carlos Lee, Jose Valentin, and Magglio Ordonez and getting speedsters Podsednik and the Japanese second baseman Iguchi. The pitching should do well (go Jose Contreras!), but the lineup has lost some depth. And the White Sox always find ways to screw things up. Plus, those hitters strike out way too much.
4) Tigers- another big signing in Magglio brings this team closer to relevance, but not much. The pitching is still a mess, even though Bonderman and Nate Robertson look promising. Percival and Farnsworth boost the pen, but this team doesn't quite have it yet.
5) Royals - back in their 5-month run in 2003, everyone was talking about what a genius Tony Pena was. Everyone's been real quiet since then, however. This team has made their share of mistakes, like signing Mike Sweeney to a long-term deal, but unlike the limitless payroll team in the Bronx, KC has no margin for error. They can't just buy another player after they make a mistake. The Royals may not be baseball's best-run team, but they're clearly a sign of the Yankees' negative impact on the game.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Randy the Risk

A few columns ago, I predicted that the Big Jerk, Randy Johnson, would have a solid regular season, but break down come October. Everyone's making a big deal about his injury now, and I agree that it's being overblown. Perhaps this is a small injury that they're nursing because it's only spring training. And maybe after this Johnson will be totally healthy and pitch incredibly for the rest of the year.

But alternatively, maybe this is the start of an injury-riddled year for a pitcher who's had such years in the past. And maybe my prediction was a few months too late.

Everyone talks about RJ's incredible '04 numbers (including Randy himself), but let's not forget his injury-filled '03 campaign. And this guy isn't any younger than he was back in '03.

So my point is, Brian Cashman is no genius for getting this guy. And there's no guarantee that RJ will bring the championhip back to New York. There's no guarantee he'll be healthy come October. Okay, the trade was a big deal, but not worth getting too excited about. The guy's an injury risk. And he just proved that again yesterday.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The New York Crankees - Newday's Jon Heyman

Great piece in the Newsday by Jon Heyman on the Yankees' chemistry, or lack thereof. Click here for the full deal.