Thursday, June 16, 2005

Joel Sherman: Junkees Should Rebuild

Early last week, I was thinking about how if Cashman wasn't such a buffoon, he'd see that his team needs some youth and put guys like Sheffield, Womack, Posada and others on the trading block. But it was before the Junkees really got bad, so i thought it was too early for such a piece. And in Sunday's Post, Joel Sherman made the same suggestion. I was away for a long weeekend and couldm't put this up sooner, but there are some good ideas here.

PERHAPS what is best for the Yankees is that they play worse. Maybe the only way to save them in the near future is by performing so horribly over the next seven weeks that even George Steinbrenner becomes convinced to sell rather than buy at the July 31 trade deadline.
The Yanks' yearly mandate is to win a title, but nearly 40 percent of the way into the 2005 schedule, does anyone see a championship team? Now, let's be careful. On July 2, 2003, Florida was .500 (43-43). Last year, on July 1, Derek Jeter went flying into the stands, the Yanks swept Boston and the Red Sox (42-36) were cast yet again into the dustbin of history. Of course, the Marlins and Red Sox are the past two champs, symbols of just how long the season really is.
But here is the thing, perhaps the worst free-agent class ever is looming. So the trade market must provide some answers for the Yanks in the rotation, bullpen, first base and center field. And the Yanks are going to have the same problem then that they do now - a lack of alluring prospects to deal for players such as Milwaukee's Lyle Overbay or Toronto's Vernon Wells.
This is not advocating rebuilding. This is about moving into better position to win it all in 2006 than this disjointed, aging group is currently in for 2005. Steinbrenner has $200 million-plus invested and a greater sense of mortality, a combination prodding him to win now more than ever. So he may never bail on this season, no matter how bad it gets in the next month and a half.
However, while saying dispatching veterans is "not something I am looking to do," GM Brian Cashman also said, "I'm not looking to make our issue even worse by trading prospects for veterans. That is not a recommendation I would make." Translation: He recognizes the problems of a graying roster and a depleted farm system not just for now, but moving forward.
The Yanks could begin to reverse that problem by becoming sellers. Considering how badly teams are seeking late-inning help, Tom Gordon would have a big market. In the NL East alone, the Mets, Marlins and Braves would all have interest. Could the Yanks convince Hideki Matsui to waive his no-trade clause in exchange for a promise they will pursue him aggressively as a free agent after the season? Is it worthwhile to trade Jorge Posada a year early rather than a year too late? It might be worthwhile to learn how much Texas and Arizona would give up. Should the Yankees wait for age or contract issues to bite them on Gary Sheffield? What would the Cubs surrender for him, for example? It is a delicate balance between creating more holes to fill and providing the future resources - financially and in prospects - to address them while reducing the age of the roster.
And here is the thing, the Yanks have already budgeted for these players and so if a club with a deep system such as the Braves cannot afford Gordon or Matsui, the Yanks can pay the salaries in exchange for better prospects. It would be like having a second draft. And maybe the Yanks need that to deepen their system. There was wide condemnation of the how the Yanks drafted last week within the industry, specifically that they shied away from St. John's closer Craig Hansen for a high school shortstop (C.J. Henry) from a state (Oklahoma) that one AL executive said, "does not produce many good big league players."
One executive and one agent who spoke to the Yanks said they did not pick Hansen because his agent, Scott Boras, wanted a major league contract for between $4 million and $5 million. An AL East executive said, "You have a $203 million payroll and this is where you draw a financial line in the sand, by not taking a guy so good he could be helping you by this September, who could be Mariano Rivera's successor and, worst of all, you left for your worst enemy [Boston] to pick. When he is throwing 97 mph fastballs by Derek Jeter, what are they going to say?"
Damon Oppenheimer, who ran the Yankee draft, said this was "not an issue of signability" and that Henry was atop the draft board when their pick (17th) came (Boston took Hansen 26th). Oppenheimer said: "It is rare to get a guy who plays in the middle of the diamond with tools, athleticism and makeup, plus we got a top-of-the-line closer (J. Brent Cox, U. of Texas) in the second round."

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