Thursday, June 14, 2007

Reality Check For Yankee Fans

Great piece in the New York Sun by Steven Goldman, giving some important perspective on the Yankees' winning streak. With another easy Yankee win and Boston currently getting ripped by the Rockies, it's always good to remember that weeks like these will pass. We'll be back to normal soon.

And I think the Mets will bring it this weekend. They've been cold, the Yanks have been hot, but they'll step it up a notch against the Yankees. My prediction? Mets, two out of three.

Anyway, here's Goldman's piece. A couple of interesting points he mentions: Mussina's Ks have been declining, and Jeter has been very ordinary as of late.

"By the time you read this, the Yankees will either be in the middle of an eight-game winning streak or have won seven of eight games — a nice showing for a team that had struggled, either way. But whether the Yankees can sustain that pace or something like it and ultimately upend one or both of the wild card leaders, Detroit and Cleveland (they are currently tied), or the AL East-leading Red Sox will depend on general manager Brian Cashman's ability and willingness to summon reinforcements, both from inside the organization and out.

The "inside" refers to the bullpen. The Yankees need help in that area, but they have internal options, including the porcine but productive Chris Britton and the indie league find, Edwar Ramirez (the changeup artist has struck out 62 double- and triple-A hitters in 34.1 innings). On the other hand, the Yankees may or may not have the will to try those options and cut bait on familiar but pointless vets such as Luis Vizcaino, Ron Villone, and the exasperating Kyle Farnsworth. A hallmark of the Cashman/Torre administration is to accept poor but predictable performances rather than risk failure by chasing improvements — despotic rulers rarely have innovative subordinates — and no one wants to stick their neck out for a policy if it means getting your head chopped off.

The Yankees also have the internal resources to compensate should Mike Mussina prove to have reached the rapid decline phase of his career, which seems likely from his declining strikeout rates. With luck and smart management, the team can develop enough pitching this year that they won't be trading for any Shawn Chacon types for years to come.

The Yankees are hitting .316 AVG/.393 OBA/.501 SLG this month, which would seem to suggest that the offense has finally clicked and no enhancements need be considered, but it's unlikely the Yankees will sustain this pace over the hundred games still left on the schedule. What we're seeing is an 11-game hot streak, not a new Murderer's Row. The Yankees might stay hot to some degree, with help from their cast of pedigreed hitters, but they won't stay this hot for long. Bobby Abreu will not hit .488 during the rest of the season and finish with a batting average of .401.; the balance of Alex Rodriguez's June might look more like his May; Derek Jeter, whose meager six stolen bases in 11 attempts could be the first signs of the 33-year-old's declining speed, might continue to hit .261/.333/.391, as he has this month, and the durable Jorge Posada could get hurt, leaving the Yankees with a month or more of Wil Nieves 0-fers.

Not all of those things will happen, but some of them will, in addition to other unforeseen occurrences. When they do, the Yankees will need other hitters to pick up the slack. That will mean acquiring a first baseman, a designated hitter, or both — the Yankees have problems at both positions, and the answers, to put it plainly, don't reside in the organization.

As a DH, Johnny Damon makes for a fine gimpy centerfielder. Despite a recent hot streak, he's hitting .239/.314/.304 in June and .255/.359/.321 as a DH. The average hitter at the position is batting .260/.352/.432. First base is a joke; the Yankees have enjoyed some short-term gains from Miguel Cairo's singles and his middle-infield ability with the glove, but Cairo is a career .267/.315/.359 hitter and eventually the singles will dry up, and the Yankees will need big league offense from the position. Awaiting the return of Doug Mientkiewicz is not a serious solution.

The big fish in the likely trading pool are the Rangers' Mark Teixeira and the Reds' Adam Dunn, with a resurgent Dmitri Young bringing up the rear. But the potential catch of the day could also include any number of less desirable Royals (Mike Sweeney, who hasn't hit) and White Sox ( Jermaine Dye, who hasn't hit and doesn't fit New York's needs).

Unless the Yankees land Teixeira, a two-time Gold Glove winner currently on the disabled list with a strained quadriceps, they will have to accept less than stellar defense at first. Dunn is the worst left fielder in the game today and a largely untried first baseman — reviews of his time at the position have not been kind. Young is a very big man with a very small glove. Sweeney is a miserable first baseman who hasn't logged any real time at the position in years. Of course, if the Yankees accept that they have a problem at DH, they can find room for an offense-only player.

The good news is that they may be able to do both. The Yankees' pitching depth is now so good that they may be able to match up with a trading partner without ever bringing a Phil Hughes into the discussion. The Yankees could be this year's Cinderella team, but they're going to have to get someone to give them a glass slipper to complete their miracle comeback."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

TCM loses and the Mets are up one on the series.