Sunday, June 24, 2007

Humiliation

I'm trying very hard not to overreact to the recent failures on the West Coast. My gut tells me that this is the most humiliating series of losses in recent Yankee history, but memories can be short when a team leaves these things in the past with a stretch of excellent play. The thing is, the Yankees have rarely been in a position in the standings where each June loss is as important as they have become now. The 5 losses in 6 games that we just endured to the Rockies and Giants saw the Yankees outscored by an average of 5-3. The pitching wasn't Johan Santana, but it wasn't Jose Lima either. It was the hitting.

The humiliation of the final loss in San Francisco comes from watching a $200 million team starting Melky Cabrera, Miguel Cairo, Kevin Thompson, and Wil Nieves. It comes from the desperation that saw Roger Clemens enter the late innings in relief, only to give up another run. Is this the kind of team that $200 million buys? The Yankees are experiencing the same 2007 that the Red Sox endured last season. One of the sport's highest priced teams playing like a 3rd place plodder. The frustration comes from not being able to put your finger on one major problem. It's endemic. The pitching has been mediocre most of the time. The hitting has fizzled far too often. The pen has been shit on enough occasions that you wonder if they will ever be able to get another out. The free agents signed to big money just a few years ago are now reaching that point in their careers when the big money that we spent to outbid everyone else is now being spent on past their prime, broken down, stiffs. Most of the players on the club have made inexcusably bad fielding errors at one point or another, and some more than others. (I'm talking to you Melky and Derek.) The manager looks asleep half the time, and clearly has outstayed his welcome in New York. Not that he's THAT bad, but he's been in the job too long.

I'll never give up on the season. There's a lot of baseball left, and we've seen what this group is capable of, but I think the 2008 Yankees need to look a lot different than this team. Even if, by some miracle, the Bombers win the Series this year, the signs are all there. You can't count on a team of aging players to stay consistent. They are just as talented as they were in their salad days, but they are old. They can't do it everyday anymore. Consistent are A-Rod, and Jeter, and Posada. The rest, not so much. The pitching is especially guilty of this, but you can hardly blame a pitcher for getting old.

Cashman gets a lot of blame for this, and may pay with his job eventually. The thing is, I looked at the deals he's made over the last couple of years, and the deals that Theo Epstein has made and it's hard to figure who has been better. Theo was the goat on the hot seat last season, but he looks like Boy Wonder again. Cashman was lauded as a genius for the young pitching he acquired for castoffs, but is now fighting for his job in the killing fields of June baseball. Epstein was killed for Beckett, while Hanley Ramirez turned into Miguel Tejada II and Anibel Sanchez threw a no hitter. Now Beckett is a Cy Young candidate and he is getting pats on the back. Matsuzaka was a costly move that has panned out more often than not, but didn't come without detractors. Lugo and Coco Crisp have joined J.D. Drew as dead weight in the Red Sox lineup, but the best record in baseball will help people to remain blind in their love for Theo.

Cashman signed Pavano, so he gets a big strike. He admits that the Pavano deal was one of the greatest learning experiences of his career, and I think we all know how much he regrets it. The Damon deal looked like the work of a genius as it robbed Boston of its heart and soul, while kicking the Yankees offense into nuclear overdrive last season. Now it's the anti-Beckett for Cash Money. A deal that looked great, which has turned into a huge dud. Unlike Theo, some of the other moves that Cashman has made haven't been so awful, but get a lot of scrutiny now that things have turned so bad for the team. Humberto Sanchez is out with Tommy John surgery while Sheffield is mashing for the 1st place Tigers. In the short term, that deal looks like a boneheaded move, but when Sheff is wearing out his welcome and on the verge of retirement, we might just see Sanchez a big part of the Yankees resurgence.

Likewise, people knocked Cashman for not getting enough for Randy Johnson. I wanted Micah Owings, and he is contributing this season as a starter for the D-Backs, while Ross Ohlendorf is on the minor league DL. Alberto Gonzales has been awful at Scranton and will soon lose his job as Attorney General. The thing is, Randy Johnson wanted out. He wanted to go to Arizona to be near his family and held most of the cards. The D-Backs aren't stupid and they also know that he's 90-years old and coming off back surgery. We got what we could get, and now Unit is on the DL with another herniated disc. It's over for him probably, and we have a few decent prospects for what amounts to a bag of bones and an attitude. Luis Vizcaino may have something to contribute before it's all said and done.

Signing Bobby Abreu last season was genius. Watching him crap himself for over a month, makes it look awful. Another anti-Beckett move that isn't as bad as it looks right now. Kei Igawa hasn't been very good, and we spent too much money for him, but I highlighted in a recent post that his numbers against good teams have been excellent. He's had 3 hideous outings, 3 great outings, and one so-so. If he turns out to give us a 4.50 ERA and a handful of innings, it's a poor deal that won't kill us. The main killer for the Yankees is the horrendous bench that Cashman put together. With a $200 million payroll, Cash tried to skimp on BUC and utility infielder and frankly first base. All of those things have flopped. With injuries to Damon, Giambi, and Minky we've been exposed. Melky is occasionally great, and often WAY overmatched. He's an everyday player for this expensive club. Cairo has been called into duty as a regular and he's junk. Look at the numbers. Andy Phillips? Kevin Thompson? WIL NIEVES??!! These are Yankees?

I'm all for giving minor leaguers a chance to fill in where needed, but it's out of control. There aren't Cano and Wang waiting in the wings to save us as they did those years ago. There is talent, but it's still working it's way up. Can we kill Cash for this philosophy? Yes, maybe. It's horrible in the short term, and potentially very good long term. If we end up winning 4 out of 5 World Series with Wang, Hughes, Chamberlain, Tabata, and company we'll forget about this season. If not, this will be an ugly mark on Yankees history that rivals anything we've ever endured given the payroll and the profile.