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.

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