Pitching Judgment Has Been Spotty for the Yankees
JACK CHESBRO, Lefty Gomez, Herb Pennock, Waite Hoyt, Red Ruffing, Whitey Ford, Catfish Hunter and Phil Niekro are Hall of Famers who pitched for the Yankees. These players have also pitched for the Yankees: Hideki Irabu, Jeff Weaver, Kevin Brown, José Contreras, Javier Vazquez, Jon Lieber, David Wells, Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright.
In the latter group are pitchers the Yankees acquired in recent seasons in the belief that they would pitch productively but who in most instances did not, whom the Yankees mostly discarded and who, in some cases, have fared better elsewhere.
"I think you have to look at each pitcher on an individual basis," said Brian Cashman, the Yankees' general manager. "Guys like David Wells have done very well here. There are guys who have been very good elsewhere and have come here and done poorly. Some guys, like Shawn Chacon, have come here and pitched better. Guys like Jon Lieber were good before they came here, while they were here and after they left. Then there are guys we had big hopes for and had high expectations for, and they moved on and rebounded."
For the most part, though, the recruited pitchers have been major disappointments, beginning with Irabu, a Japanese import whose only lasting contribution to the Yankees was Jean Afterman, the team's assistant general manager, who previously worked with Irabu's agent.
Contreras, Weaver, Brown and Vazquez also turned out to be hugely disappointing. Pavano and Wright joined that group last season, though injuries clouded their status.
"I think if they're healthy, they'll contribute," Cashman said of Pavano and Wright, whom the Yankees signed as free agents. "You can certainly judge whether we should have signed Jaret with his injury history, but that's a different issue."
It nevertheless goes to the Yankees' judgment, which has not been very good with some of the other pitchers.
When they acquired Weaver in 2002, he had pitched for Detroit for three and a half seasons, and he had had three and a half losing seasons. The Yankees thought he would pitch more successfully for a better team, but he was only a .500 pitcher for them (12-12 in a season and a half) and didn't produce a winning record until this year with Los Angeles (14-11).
The Yankees traded Weaver to the Dodgers for Brown, who was five years into a seven-year contract and would be 39 years old in his first season with the Yankees. He spent 23 weeks of his 52-week tenure with the Yankees on the disabled list and had a 14-13 record. He had won at least 14 games in a season seven times in his career.
Contreras was a Cuban defector whose signing with the Yankees prompted Larry Lucchino, the Red Sox' chief executive, to call the Yankees the Evil Empire. Contreras, though, was no Darth Vader. When he struggled halfway through the 2004 season with a 5.64 earned run average, the Yankees traded him to the Chicago White Sox, who helped Contreras rediscover the talent that had made him a star in Cuba, and he helped them win the World Series this year.
He compiled a 15-7 record, won his last eight regular-season starts, then posted a 3-1 postseason record.
"Sometimes we might be too quick to judge because of the New York mentality; the patience level isn't there," Cashman said.
"Like with Jon Garland with the White Sox. He had a lot of potential and then last season he developed. Could a guy like that succeed here? We've been guilty of that. We've been guilty of pitchers' not handling the situation. Sometimes pitchers get hurt; sometimes guys have come here and thrived."
Vazquez did not thrive in New York. Instead, he was another of those the Yankees believed had pitched with mixed success for a losing team (Montreal) and would do better for them. One year after giving up three promising young players for him, the Yankees traded Vazquez to Arizona in the deal that brought Randy Johnson to the Bronx.
After pitching no better for the Diamondbacks than he did for the Yankees, Vazquez demanded a trade last month, and last week the Diamondbacks traded him to the White Sox.
"Vazquez was really streaky last season," Cashman said. "But his strikeout-to-walk ratio was tremendous. He still has ability. I think it was a very good move for the White Sox."
Lieber pitched well for the Yankees in 2004, especially down the stretch, but they miscalculated his market value as a free agent and lost him to Philadelphia, where he had a 17-13 record. The Yankees could have also signed Wells a year ago; he offered his services for a third term with them, but they passed.
"We wanted to get younger," Cashman said. (so you went and got Randy Johnson, right? -MO)
Instead of taking Wells, a 41-year-old pitcher who had compiled a 34-14 record in each of two previous two-year visits, the Yankees signed Pavano and Wright and watched as they pitched themselves onto the disabled list, each missing more than half the season.
Not all of the pitchers the Yankees have acquired have been bad. Johnson, Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina have won for them, but over all their record is not good.
Offering reasons for the failure of others, Cashman said: "Some could be New York-oriented, some maybe we were too quick to judge, some we made mistakes on our assessments. I think it's the whole rainbow."