Friday, June 22, 2007


“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice… Let me disclose the gift reserved age.”—T.S. Elliot


Have you received the death notice? Did you attend the funeral? Did you send flowers or make a charitable donation? I hope so. Because in case you missed it, the 2007 Yankees died. The experts declared it. Time of death: late May.

The Yankees cannot resurrect the magic of 1978, WFAN’s Yankee correspondent Sweeny Murti wrote (“This is Not That 70's Show,” May 29, 2007). The New York Post’s Joel Sherman advised the Yankees to start investing in tomorrow (“Cut-Bloat Biz, 05/30/07). John Heyman of SI.Com titled his article on the first installment of the ‘07 Subway Series, “Dead Yankees Have Issues” (May 18, 2007). While an anonymous scout informed The New York Daily News’s Yankees beat reporter Mark Feinsand that the Yankees won’t “pull this out... This is not a good team,” and described Bobby Abreu as “a piece of garbage.” (“Scout Rips Yankees” June, 1, 2007).[1]

The press corps even consulted a doctor to confirm the diagnosis. Dr. Rany Jazayerli calculates that the Yankees will finish 80-82: 20 games out of first place in the AL East and 9 games in back of the wild card winner. (Wild Card: Yankees Down, SI.COM, June 1, 2007) A deduction that has about as much scientific validity as Marx’s prediction that capitalism would perish. The Good Doctor relies on the customary failure of teams which falter in April and May to qualify for the playoffs. Of course, his premise betrays an obvious fallacy. Few teams that founder in April and May in years past are very good in the first place-- few of them, that is, rival the 2007 Yankees in talent, payroll, experience, and above all, in the aberrant rash of injuries they've suffered. (In April and May, 6 Yankees starting pitchers spent time on the disabled list: Wang, Mussina, Pavano, Karstens, Rasner, and Hughes.)

Now, baseball reporters, I concede, are a myopic and morbid lot to begin with. Each game demands a compelling story line. And what better than the sudden, unexpected death of the wealthy and powerful to furnish a climatic plot, wrenching pathos, and riveting drama? Still, a collective reprimand is in order. Before you publish an obituary, it is customary to wait for a corpse. But New York’s baseball scribes seemed eager to sign the Yankees’ death warrant with the body warm and a pulse still audible.

Well, if 20 games in June can illustrate any large truths about a team’s fate, it is as follows. The reports of the Yankees’ demise are greatly exaggerated.

To be sure, the body has not yet experienced a full recovery. Whether it will or not, only time will tell. For now, Yankee fans can take heart however, that the cancer is in remission.


Perhaps, it was only natural that the Yankees 14-game deficit last month would recall to many 1978. In fact, to illustrate how fickle the tabloids are, when the Yankees closed the division gap to 9.5 games on June 12th, The New York Daily News’s back-page read, “Spirit of 78.” God forbid! Beware the scribe’s comeback fantasy. It’s the death wish narrated in reverse.

In any case, the analogy to ‘78 is inapposite. The ‘78 Yankees were 14 games out of first-place on July 20th (and in an era without the wildcard, besides). Only the Baseball Gods’ intervention delivered them. Jehovah visited six plagues upon Boston. As the Red Sox lost Luis Tiant, Bill Lee, Jim Rice, Jerry Remy, Dwight Evans and Rick Burleson to injury. To embellish upon something Otto von Bismark once said, “God has a special providence for fools, drunks, the United State of America” and, it would seem, the New York Yankees.

As Americans celebrate the Spirit of ’76 every summer so should Yankee fans cherish the Miracle of ‘78. (I highly recommend reading Roger Kahn’s October Men to his end.) However, we shouldn’t confuse history with prophecy. That is, the Baseball Gods aren’t likely to stage the Resurrection twice in one century. Red Sox Nation would have to sustain injuries not only to its Reich’s Marshall Curt Von Schilling but to Jonathan Papelbon, Manny, Pedroia, Lugo, and J.D. Drew as well to portend a Second Coming. In other words, if the 2007 Yankees fall 14 games out of both the division lead and the wild-card race in late July, start praying.


Still, recollection of the recent past should have chastened those eager to draft death notices in May.

Just last year, the Minnesota Twins won the AL Central despite being 25-33 on June 7th, 11.5 games behind the first-place Detroit Tigers and 11 games behind the Chicago White Sox in the wild-card race. In fact, as late as August 7th , the Twins were 10.5 games behind the Tigers.

In fact, the ’07 Yankees-- with the MVP season Alex Rodriguez is having and their switch-hitting catcher Jorge Posada challenging for the batting title—bear an odd resemblance to the ’06 Twins led by Morneau and Mauer. Perhaps, Wang and Pettitte can’t match the dominance Santana and Liriano achieved in the second-half of the season. But the Yankees top four starters are every bit the equal of Santana, Liriano, Silva and Bonser. And for all the confident assertions that the Red Sox won’t collapse because their starting pitching is too good, ask yourself the following question. Are Beckett, Dice-K, Von Schilling, and Wakefield really better than the ‘06 Tigers rotation of Rogers, Verlander, Bonderman and Robertson that went 19-31 over the last seven weeks of 2006? Is the bullpen of Timlin, Okajima, and Papelbon stronger than the Tigers’ late-inning triumvirate of Rodney, Zumaya, and Jones was last year?

A few other recent precedents that should hearten Yankee fans:

  • In 2005, the Yankees were 10-14 on April 31st and 39-38 on June 30th-- 5 games behind the Red Sox in the AL East. On June 30th, they also were in 5th place in the wild-card standings, 3.5 games behind the then wild-card leading Twins. The Yankees finished with 95 wins that year and won the AL East.

  • In 2005, the Indians also happen to have had a wretched start in an AL Central race that the White Sox appeared to clinch in May. The Indians were 42-35 on June 30, 2005, 11 games behind the White Sox and 9.5 games behind them as late as September 7, 2005. Yet by September 22, 2005, the Indians had closed that lead to 1.5 games. In fact, had the Indians not lost three straight games the last weekend of the season, they would have qualified for the Wild Card, not the loser of that final Red Sox-Yankees series.)

  • On May 30, 2005, the Houston Astros were 19-32, in 12th place in the wild card standings, 10.5 games out of 1st. (On June 30th, they were 35-41 and in 9th place, 6.5 games out.) The ’05 Astros, of course, eventually won the wild-card and the NL pennant.

  • On May 30, 2003, the Florida Marlins were 26-31 on May 31st, in 8th place in the wild-card standings, and 8.0 games behind the wild-card leader. On June 30, they were 42-42 and 5.5 games behind the wild-card leader. The ’03 Marlins, as we all remember too well, won the wild-card and went on to beat the Yankees in the World Series.

  • Finally, in 1995, in the 144 game strike-shortened season, the Yankees were 26-31 on June 30th, 7 games behind the Red Sox in AL East. That lead increased to 16 games, incidentally, on August 28th. In fact, as late as August 31, 1995, the Yankees were in 7th place in the wild-card standings and 9.5 games behind the Angels, the team they overtook to make the playoffs for the first time in 14 years.

To be sure, no one should conclude from the history I list above that the Yankees necessarily will recover fully from their spring coma and qualify for the playoffs. Remember: history isn’t prophecy. However, the so-called baseball experts who wrote the Yankees off on Memorial Day should be ashamed of themselves. Many of them have covered baseball for decades. By now, they should know better: April and May do not a season make.


True, the Yankees’ recent play bodes well. Pitching, as always, is winning’s keystone. And if the team’s starting rotation stays healthy, Wang, Pettitte, Mussina, and Clemens will join the company of the AL’s three elite starting staffs—the Tigers, the Angels, and the Red Sox. (The Indians won’t deserve mention among this group until Paul Byrd, Cliff Lee, and or Jake Westbrook match Sabathia and Carmonas’ performances thus far.)

Nonetheless, the Yankees’ inability to find a reliable starter to fill the fifth spot in the rotation will continue to plague them unless Igawa can replicate his recent success at AAA or Philip Hughes heals more quickly than anticipated. Ordinarily, a team can flourish despite having an erratic fifth starter. But the Yankees abysmal start foreclosed that luxury. For the Bombers to entertain designs on the AL East, they’ll need a quality start every fifth day to overcome a seven to nine game deficit. And lest you think the Wild Card is a desirable consolation prize, keep this in mind: if the Yankees qualify for the playoffs via the Wild Card, they’d likely have to travel 3,000 miles to open a five-game series against the one team they can’t seem to beat-- the Anaheim Angels. Certainly not an enviable proposition, albeit a more desirable one, I suspect, than not making the playoffs at all.

Four other players whose performance holds the key to the Yankees success or failure are Abreu and Damon, on offense, and in the bullpen, Vizcaino and Farnsworth.

The Yankees owe their June revival, at least offensively, largely to one player-- Bobby Abreu. Through 17 games in the month of June, he’s batted .403 with a .523 OBA, 2HRs, 12RBIs, and 4SBs. More importantly, he’s averaged 5.72 pitches per at-bat. Both the number of pitches Abreu sees and his perpetual presence on-base, in turn, have catalyzed A-Rod. In fact, the two players’ statistical vicissitudes coincide: each thrived in early April and in June and foundered in May. Because of Abreu’s discriminating eye, A-Rod, while on-deck, can evaluate almost the entirety of an opposing pitcher’s repertoire, identifying his pitches’ speed, break, and location and gauging the quality of his stuff. (All the more critical for a batter like A-Rod who likes to outthink pitchers and to guess what they intend to throw him.) What’s more, with Abreu on-base, opposing pitchers can’t walk A-Rod or throw him pitches out of the zone. Abreu, accordingly, is the pivotal hitter in the Yankees lineup, as the third batter often is. Indeed, whether he thrives or falters in the second-half of the season will go a long way into deciding the Yankees fate.

Damon fulfills a similar role. He’s the lineup’s catalyst, enabling them to hit-and-run, to steal bases, and to generate runs via speed. He enhances Jeter’s strengths in the way Abreu helps A-Rod. With Damon on first, the first-baseman has to hold on him on the bag. This expands the hole between first and second and allows Jeter to maximize his in-side out swing to go to right-field. Damon and Jeter’s importance as catalysts will only increase if Giambi remains on the DL for all or most of the season. Without Giambi, the Yankees will have to generate runs through “small-ball” rather than homeruns. Indeed, at the moment, A-Rod is the only Yankee with a double-digit home run total. Posada has hit 9 and Matsui has 8.

Which makes the recurring injuries that have sapped Damon’s power and bat speed so troubling. As they’ve proven, the Yankees can win without Giambi. But to lose Damon to a prolonged stint on the DL or to chronic, nagging injuries which effectively accomplish the same result will deal them a mortal blow. It’s no coincidence that the Yankees’ offense has sputtered in games when Melky Cabrera leads off. No hitter with a .308 on-base percentage belongs in the leadoff spot. (In fact, his numbers, when batting a lead-off, are even worse. During his career, Melky has batted lead-off in 37 games. In those games, his is batting .185AVG with a .222OBP. Why Torre continues to bat him in the one-hole notwithstanding certainly confounds me. )

It might behoove the Yankees then to place Damon on the DL to allow his strained oblique muscle and aching calves to heal and to acquire a DH or an outfielder who can alleviate the loss of Damon’s production. The Oakland A’s just designated Milton Bradley for assignment. He would fill this role adequately. Besides, because the A’s have only 10 days to trade him, the Yankees also wouldn’t have to surrender much.

Sure, Mark Teixeira would make an excellent addition to the lineup, strengthen their infield, and insure the Yankees’ against the gaping hole A-Rod’s possible departure in the off-season could leave. (Look for my forthcoming post about why the Yankees otherwise cannot afford to let A-Rod opt-out of his contract.) However, if the Rangers insist one or more of the following prospects-- Philip Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, or Jose Tabata—then the Yankees should (and probably will) decline. No team should yield premiere young pitching prospects for a player who qualifies for free-agency in a year and, because he’s a Scott Boras client, won’t forgo it by signing a contract extension. (One certainly should take such a risk on a player who has intimated he wants to play for the Orioles some day.) Still less, should the Yankees mortgage their future by squandering young pitching talent because their farm system is so deficient in promising position players; worse, their major league roster is old. Of the starters the Yankees play everyday only Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera are under 32. (A-Rod turns 32 on July 27th)

On the pitching side, if Vizcaino and Farnsworth can solidify their respective roles and pitch consistently, the Yankees’ bullpen will evolve from a liability into strength. Farnsworth’s role is critical for the obvious reason that he pitches the 8th inning and sets-up Rivera. At the moment he has a 4.76 ERA, a 1.58 WHIP and opposing batters are hitting .261 against him. If these stats don’t improve, the Yankees are going to have trouble winning 90+ games.

Vizcaino, on the other hand, is the Yankees best insurance against Torre’s tendency to overuse Proctor and Bruney in the innings before Farnsworth and Mo. As Vizcaino’s past four outings demonstrate, when he can throw his slider accurately and with the necessary tilt, he paralyzes left-handed batters. If he continues to excel, Vizcaino enables Torre to limit Myers, in late inning situations, to that one power left-handed bat most productive lineups boast-- an Ortiz, Hafner, Carwford, or Morneau, for example-- that can wreck a game. And it would give Torre something of the versatility and flexibility to mix and match pitchers that the combination of Graeme Lloyd and Mike Stanton conferred in the late 90’s.


To qualify for the playoffs, the Yankees will have to garner approximately 95 wins. Since the wild card’s inception, only three AL wild-card qualifiers have fallen short of the threshold:

  • (i) the ’96 Orioles won 88 games;
  • (ii-iii) ’98 and ‘99 Red Sox won 92 and 94 games respectively; and
  • (iv) the ’00 Mariners won 91 games. (I exclude the ’95 Yankees because the strike truncated the season to 144 games.)
  • The AL wild-card qualifier won 95 games in ’06, ’05, and ’03.
  • In ’97, ’01, ’02 and ’04 respectively, the wild-card winner earned 96 wins, 101 wins, 99 wins, and 98 wins.

Now, history, to reiterate, isn’t prophecy. In fact there’s good reason to argue that this year the AL wild-card winner won’t need to reach 95 wins to qualify because there's greater parity throughout the AL than years past. The AL Central has three good to very good teams, the Tigers, Indians, and Twins. Even the White Sox can win 80+ games if Konerko and Dye begin to hit and GM Kenny Williams doesn't dismantle their major league roster. (Let's hope not; the Red Sox have 7 games remaining against the White Sox.) While in the AL West, Oakland and Seattle each could win over 85 games.

At first blush, one might conclude, that this hurts the Yankees because more teams could contend for the wild-card. But the strength of the West and the Central division actually helps the Yankees. First of all, it dramatizes the weakness of the AL East, by comparison. The Yankees’ current record of 35-35 would place them in 4th place in either the Central or West; they sit, however, in 2nd in the AL East. And with the unbalanced schedule, it’s the AL East teams the Yankees play 18-19 times. The corollary to which is that the AL Central and AL West teams each have to play their division rivals 18-19 times, which, in turn, should diminish their overall win totals and thereby reduce the number the Yankees would have to garner to surpass them. With Cleveland, Minnesota, Detroit, and Chicago, on the one hand, and Anaheim, Oakland, and Seattle, on the other, all knocking each other off, the Yankees might not have to earn 95 wins to qualify for the playoffs, after all. And even if they do, they still have an advantage over AL Central and West teams because the weakness of the AL East makes the drive to 95 all the easier. I list below the remaining games the Yankees have against their AL East division rivals.

  • Baltimore 15 games Estimate (11-4)
  • Toronto 14 games Estimate (9-5)
  • Tampa 14 games Estimate (10-4)
  • Red Sox 6 games Estimate (3-3)
  • {Royals 10 games [Estimate (7-3)]}

The Yankees play 43 games against division opponents who are 80-117, .406; and if you include the Royals, 53 games (that's 58% of their remaining schedule) against teams with a combined won-loss record of 109-161, a winning percentage of .403

Compare this to the wild-card leading Cleveland Indians's remaining schedule.

  • Detroit 11 games
  • Minnesota 13 games
  • Chicago 12 games

Cleveland plays 36 games against opponents who are 107-92, .537


How to get to 95 wins?

Let assume for argument’s sake the Yankees go 37-16 (.698) against the Orioles, Blue Jays, Devil Rays, and Royals. That would give them 72 wins. They will need to win 23 more games against the opponents listed below.

  • Angels 6 games Estimate (2-4)
  • Detroit 8 games Estimate (5-3)
  • Cleveland 3 games Estimate (2-1)
  • Mariners 3 games Estimate (2-1)
  • A’s 3 games Estimate (2-1)
  • Twins 4 games Estimate (2-2)
  • Giants 3 games Estimate (2-1)
  • Red Sox 6 games Estimate (3-3)
  • White Sox 3 games Estimate (3-0)

That means they would only need to go 23-16 (.590) in the above 39 games to win 95. Not an impossible prospect, by any means. And as I argue above, this year the Yankees might be able to qualify for the wild-card with less than 95 wins.

The Yankees may not make the playoffs in the end, but start planning their funeral at risk of your own.

[1] I hope whoever this “scout” is he’s soon out of a job. Abreu’s revival this month suggests that not only is he a poor judge of talent but that he also evidently can’t distinguish between a slump and skill erosion. What’s more, calling a playing a “piece of garbage” is, quite frankly, the kind of crude, artless locution one expects to hear from the demos’ renowned Yankees critic, Jerome from Manhattan, not from a so-called baseball professional.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007



The New York Yankees won’t admit it of course. But the Red Sox victorious bid of $51.1 million for the negotiating rights to Daisuke Matsuzaka dealt the Yankees a mortal blow. Not only had the Yankees targeted the Seibu Lions’ pitcher as the cornerstone of their annual off-season remodeling; they actually began planning for the acquisition over a year ago. The Yankees anticipated the strapped Lions would ransom Japanball’s crown-jewel before he absconded in 2008 via free-agency and charged Assistant GM Jean Afterman with arranging the preliminaries. Evidently, during the last 12 months, Afterman has done little else. The Yankees, reportedly, dispatched her to Japan last year to appear at Matsuzaka’s starts, to oversee his scouting, to apprehend their baseball league’s esoteric posting system, and to reinforce the Yankees’ overall operation in the Pacific Rim. (The latter’s overhaul actually began in August with the firing of vice president of international scouting Lin Garrett and Pacific Rim scout John Cox.)

The Yankees’ inflated bid of $26 million for the consolation prize, Kei Igawa, a pitcher scouts estimate to be no better than a 4th starter in the U.S., only attests to how much losing Matsuzaka must have rankled them. The Igawa sum bears Steinbrenner’s reactionary trademark. Behind it, imagine King George decreeing an Edict of Tamp-a: “I don’t care how much it costs. I don’t care if he’s lamer than the Fat Toad. DO NOT LOSE AGAIN.”

The largesse meted out for Matusaka and Igawa underlines an added irony. While needy Japanese franchises liquidate two of their greatest national treasures to ravenous Americans, only 15 years ago the roles were inverted and it was the profligate Japanese who were buying up a debt-ridden America’s treasured assets and resources. In 1992, a Japanese company even tried to buy the Seattle Mariners, awakening that old American bugaboo, the Yellow Peril. Opposition only dissipated after Nintendo agreed to confine their stake to a minority interest.


Still, few could fault the Yankees, or Afterman herself, for that matter, for the unavoidable hazards and extravagant sums a blind auction invites or for failing to anticipate the Red Sox’s unprecedentedly exorbitant bid. The question is can and will the Yankees respond. Notwithstanding league-leading run production from their lineup the last three season, a feckless starting rotation has plagued the Yankees and by in large, has accounted for their failure to reach the World Series. And following their disappointing post-season defeats, each off-season they've attempted to acquire pitchers to redress the deficiency. Alas, not a one has proved equal to the task. To illustrate, from the starting pitchers the Yankees have obtained since 2002-- Jose Contreras, Jeff Weaver, Kevin Brown, Javier Vasquez, Esteban Loiza, Carl Pavano, Jared Wright, and Randy Johnson— the team has gotten a single win. (Vasquez in Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS, in which surrendered 4 runs in 4.1 innings) In fact, since Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, Yankee starters, in the post-season, are 2-7 with a 5.73 ERA and 0-3 with a 10.38 ERA when facing elimination.

With this off-season's weak crop of free-agent pitchers, the burden of securing this chronic Achilles Heel would have presented the Yankees front-office with a daunting challenge regardless. But factor in two consecutive first round defeats; a beleaguered, nearly fired manager in his contract’s final year; an aged, erratic rotation composed of a 43-year-old undergoing major back surgery, a 38 year-old who is 1-2 with a 5.29 ERA in his last three post-seasons starts, a cipher who in April ’07 will not have pitched a regular season inning in 22 months, a 40 million-dollar foreign import whose performance no one can gauge definitively, and a 26-yr-old with a reconstructed rotator cuff who pitched 230 innings last year--- factor in these imponderable and the Yankees’ principal shortcoming looks less like a minor, exposed weakness at the outer reaches of an Empire’s extremities than a conspicuous pregnability in the soft, bare underbelly. And now, add to this weakness losing Matsuzaka besides-- their best hope for dramatically improving their rotation-- to their fiercest rival no less and the Yankees’ vulnerability suddenly appears less ominous than dire. Compare the current opening-day starters the Yankees project for the 2007 season: (1) Wang; (2) Mussina; (3) Johnson, assuming he can recover by then, but Karstens or Rasner perhaps; (4) Pavano; and (5) Igawa with the Red Sox likely arsenal of: (1) Schilling; (2) Matsuzaka; (3) Papelbon; (4) Beckett; and (5) Wakefield/Lester/Clement. (The Yankees’ rotation actually suffers by comparison to the Blue Jays’ 1-2-3 of Halliday, Burnett, and Chacin, let alone to the Red Sox’s.)

Of course, as the infamous fall of “Murderers’ Row Plus Cano” instructs, the games aren’t played on paper. Matsuzaka could turn out to be the Red Sox’s version of Jose Contreras or Hideki Irabu; while Igawa could exceed expectations , transcending with gumption and craftiness what he lacks in stuff. What's more, Jonathan Papelbon’s dominance as a closer may not translate into consistency as a starter. Or Curt Schilling may show the wear of age. Or Josh Beckett may confirm that he in the AL East he is no better than the pitcher with the 5.01 ERA he posted in 2006. But don’t count on it. Even if Matsuzaka doesn’t achieve the dominance the Red Sox last $75+ million dollar pitching investment, Pedro Martinez, parlayed into the Red Sox’s first World championship in 86 years; even if Matsuzaka’s performance more closely resembles that of a 3rd starter than an ace; even if they trade Manny Ramirez and they anoint the unproven Craig Hansen their closer-- even then, the team that won more games than the Yankees through August last year and still totalled 86 wins, despite a freakish rash of injuries that decimated their pitching staff and their lineup. (Neither Lester, Papelbon, Wakefield, or Clement pitched past September 1st; while Ramirez, Ortiz, Varitek, Crisp, and Nixon all spent significant amounts of time on the bench or on the DL) If Papelbon and Matsuzaka only provide them 8 to 12 more wins than last season's counterparts, Kyle Snyder and Julian Taverez, they alone will, catapul the Red Sox into contenders for the AL East crown. (Whether the Red Sox can find someone to parallel Papelbon's dominance as a closer will determine how many of those 8 to 12 potential wins Boston's bullpen, in turn, surrenders.)

What seems so strange, so uncharacteristic, so alarming, is less that the Yankees have not retaliated by signing a major free-agent pitcher (or acquired one via trade) than that they, thus far, seem content not to. With the Red Sox dramatically improving their pitching rotation and the Yankees at least a year away from their pitching prospects fully ripening and handling a full season’s workload, ‘07 doesn’t seem like the ideal year for the front-office to adopt a fiscal restraint plan. Perhaps one should take Cashman’s current profession of satisfaction with his pitching rotation no more seriously than his insistence last year that Bubba Crosby was the Yankees future center-fielder. Perhaps Cashman harbors some grand master plan to land a premiere starter that only awaits the right moment to emerge. Still, the reports that the very free-agent pitcher the Yankees covet most has expressed more interest in the warmth of the Texas hearth to the heat of the Bronx klieg lights is worrisome. And however much Andy Pettitte stirs nostalgia for a glorious Yankee past he nonetheless turns 35 in June. At best, Pettitte is not the same pitcher the Yankees foolishly allowed to sign with Houston three years ago; at worse, his better days are behind him.

The Yankees also can pretend Scott Proctor will evolve into an effective starter after he pitched 100+ innings in relief and has undergone two MRI’s this off-season, after complaining of elbow pain. They further can pretend that they can plug Karstens or Rasner into the starting rotation in April and elevate Philip Hughes and/or Humberto Sanchez mid-season or that beneath Kei Igawa’s average stuff lies the guile and mettle of an ace. And it’s true anyone of the foregoing could acquit themselves of Jared Wright’s role as a fifth starter, if not markedly exceed his showing. But all the optimistic boosterism can’t conceal that the Yankees starter were sixth last year in the AL in ERA and their bullpen, eighth. Nor more dramatically, can it conceal gaping void at the rotation’s front-end.

Mike Mussina is no longer a 2nd starter nor is Randy Johnson, even healthy, and where Carl Pavano figures, even if he manages to pitch 150+ innings, is anyone’s guess. Although if you extrapolate from Pavano’s 100 innings in 2005, his statistics uncannily resemble the performance in the AL East of another starter from the 2003 Florida Marlins’ championship rotation. In 2005 Pavano pitched 100 innings for the Yankees, went 4-6, with a 4.77 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, surrendering 17HRs. While in 2006 Josh Beckett pitched 204 innings for the Red Sox, went 16-11, with a 5.01 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, yielding 36 HRs. When doubled, the latter almost equals the former. In other words, a Pavano who actually completes a full season is still no better than a 3rd starter and perhaps better suited as a 4th starter. Another cautionary note: while the Yankees expect Chien-Ming Wang to duplicate his success last year and to seal his coronation as the Yankees’ ace, further circumspection is warranted. Chien Ming Wang, remember, underwent rotator-cuff surgery in 2001; spent two months on the DL in ‘05 with related shoulder soreness; and threw 230 innings last year, 115 innings more than the year previous. A total that should unnerve the Yankees.

As Tom Verducci recently observed on, in his article “Follies of Youth,” young pitchers who exceed the innings they pitched the previous season by 30 or more usually suffer injury and/or underachieve the following season.

"When I've looked at major league pitchers 25-and-younger who were pushed 30 or more innings beyond their previous season (or, in cases such as injury-shortened years, their previous pro high), I've been amazed how often those pitchers broke down with a serious injury the next season or took a major step backward in their development…For example, let's look at the Year-After Effect for the Class of 2005, the young pitchers who were pushed beyond the 30-inning threshold that season: Matt Cain (+33.1 innings at age 20), Francisco Liriano (+34.2 at 21), Gustavo Chacin (+35.2 at 24), Zach Duke (+44.1 at 22), Scott Kazmir (+51.2 at 21) and Paul Maholm (+98.1 at 23). Liriano (elbow), Chacin (elbow) and Kazmir (shoulder) all suffered significant injuries. Cain (+1.82), Duke (+2.66) and Maholm (+2.58) all saw dramatic rises in their ERAs… Even breakout young stars took a step back because of the YAE, such as Kevin Millwood (+78.1 in 1999), Dontrelle Willis (+52 in 2003), Horatio Ramirez (+34 in 2003) and Mark Prior (+67 in 2003)… The bottom line: a dramatic increase in innings on a young pitcher elevates the risk of injury or a setback to their development.”

All this means that the Yankees, under the best case scenario, are set to enter next season with a ‘1’ starter, two ‘3’ starters, and a 4th. The yawning void still remains the second spot; where the Yankees need a pitcher who can approximate the AL Champions' second starter, Kenny Rogers’, numbers last year. (Finding someone of Liriano’s caliber would be too much to expect.) In 2006, Rogers pitched 204 innings, went 17-8, with a 3.84 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP. (Or if you regard Rogers as the Tigers’ ace and Verlander their 2nd starter, then the Yankees need a 2nd starter who can throw 186 innings, go 17-9, with a 3.63 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP.


The problem is that the most readily obtainable pitcher fitting this profile is the very one the Yankees don’t want or more accurately, don’t wish to pay-- Barry Zito. Over the last two years Zito has averaged 225 innings, a 3.84 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 15 Wins on A’s teams that scored 4.76 runs per game, 6th in the AL, and 9th in the AL in ’05 and ’06 respectively. (The Yankees, by comparison scored 5.47 runs per game in ’05 and 5.74 rpg in ’06.) From Zito’s numbers the last two years, one can extrapolate ’07 season totals almost identical to those Rogers posted in 2006. (Extrapolating from Zito’s career statistics would project an even better season in ‘07.)

To be sure, the financial hardship other teams have courted by signing 30-year-old pitchers to long-term contracts-- Kevin Brown and Mike Hampton come immediately to mind-- would suggest the Yankees should shun one who demands seven years, even if he only turns 29 this May. But a five year contract for a healthy reliable pitcher who consistently throws 200 innings each year is another matter entirely. Is Zito worth paying between $15 million and $18 million a year for five years? Maybe not in the abstact, no. But the market isn't calibrated in the abstract. And in a buying frenzy where Randy Wolf and Adam Eaton command $8 million annually; Gil Meche and Ted Lilly $10-11 million; and 34-yr-old Jason Schmidt, almost $16 mil. So before dismissing a five year, $18 million per offer to Zito, consider how much the Yankees paid Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina in both ‘05 and ‘06: $16 and $17 million, respectively, both years. (This year the Yankees’ Doddering Duo will earn $16 and $11.5 million, respectively.) However, after ’07 the Yankees have Johnson’s $16 million to reallocate and after ’08, Mussina’s 11.5 million and Pavano’s 10 million as well. Under such circumstances, a 5-year, 90 million dollar contract for Zito that is back-loaded to reflect the payroll flexibility the Yankees gain after ’08 strikes one neither as wasteful nor myopic. In fact, it would mean that as of the ’09 season, the Yankees would owe a financial committment to ONLY one 10 million-plus pitcher. (Wang won’t be a free agent before 2010 nor will any of the prospects the organization promotes in the interim. )

YES play-by-play man, Michael Kaye, an otherwise astute baseball commentator, albeit one prone to strident and dogmatic prejudices, has pronounced Zito unworthy of the 2nd starter mantle and $17 million-dollar-a-year salary. Kaye adduces (i) Zito’s ineptitude in Game 1 of the ’06 ALCS (conveniently diminishing the comparative weight of the gem Zito pitched in Game 1 of the ALDS against Johann Santana); and (ii) his historically mediocre outings against the Yankees, during both the regular and post-seasons. But Zito’s career post-season totals actually belie Kaye's judgment.

• In the postseason Zito is 4-3 over 44.3 innings, with a 3.25 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP. (Before faltering in last years’ ALCS, Zito’s post-season statistics were even better: 4-2 over 40.67 innings, with a 2.43 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP.)

Compare Mike Mussina and Randy Johnson’s career post-season statistics.
• Mussina: 7-8 over 135 innings, with a 3.40 ERA and 1.08 WHIP
• Johnson: 7-9 over 121 innings, with a 3.50 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP

Zito’s career post-season numbers, then, rival either’s. It’s more informative however to weigh Zito’s recent post-season performance against the Doddering Duo’s recent post-season numbers. And here, it is not even close.

• As a Yankee, Randy Johnson, post-season stats are 0-1 over 13 innings with a 6.92 ERA and a 1.77 WHIP
• During the same period, Mussina is 1-2 over 15.3 innings with a 5.29 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP
• As a Yankee, Mussina, in the post-season is 5-6 over 92.3 innings with a 3.80 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP.)

Like Johnson’s, in other words, Mussina’s post-season numbers have regressed as he’s aged. Which is a further reason why Zito’s relative youth is so appealing; 200 innings doesn't exhaust a 30-year-old nearly as much as a 40-year-old, come October.


George King, The New York Post’s Yankee beat reporter, can fantasize to his heart’s content about a deal for Dontrelle Willis—a fantasy wherein Humberto Sanchez and Melky Cabrera represent the Yankees greatest sacrifices. (See “Yan-Kei,” November 29, 2006.) It’s a bracing fantasy, but alas, not one likely to be realized this side of consciousness. The Marlins have affirmed, repeatedly, they do not intend to trade Willis. What’s more, five or six teams, beginning with the Dodgers, Angels, and Tigers, have more and better prospects to offer. Either of the Yankee pitchers the Marlins would exact, on the other hand, Hughes or Wang, are the very two players the Yankees cannot afford to relinquish under any circumstances.

A more prudent and feasible option is Mark Buehrle. Of course, one has to wonder how earnest White Sox GM Kenny Williams was earlier this off-season when he announced his readiness to trade one or more of his starting pitchers to open a slot for Brandon McCarthy, especially after he traded Freddy Garcia. His sincerity may very well have been conditioned upon the Yankees receptivity to trading A-Rod; and fortunately, the Yankees aren’t. Still, Buehrle earns $9.5 million in ’07 and is entering the final year of his contract. And the White Sox may not have the resources or the desire to re-sign Buehrle if he expects a contract equivalent to the one Zito will sign shortly.

Why should Yankees pursue Buehrle? Well, first of all he is 27-year-old lefty, who like Zito has pitched over 200 innings each of the last six seasons. And secondly, Buehrle boasts career statistics every bit the rival of Zito’s. In fact, the two pitchers’ numbers, uncannily, mirror each other.

• Zito: 102-43 W-L, over 1,430.3 innings, with a 3.55 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. Opposing hitters facing him have a .235BA and .311OBA. Zito averages 6.90 Ks per game.
• Buerhrle: 97-66 W-L; over 1,428 innings, a 3.83 ERA and 1.26 WHIP.

Opposing hitters facing him have a .268BA and .312. Buehrle average 5.22 Ks per game.It is true Buehrle had a lousy season last year. He was 12-13 with a 4.99 ERA and 1.45 WHIP. However through June of ’06 he was 9-4 with a 3.22ERA. His July numbers were indeed truly abysmal: for the month, Buehrle went 0-5 with an 11.45 ERA. And if you ignore July for a moment as an anomaly, his statistics for the year are 12-8 W-L with a 4.00 ERA, not awe-inspiring, of course, but much closer to his career averages. In fact, other than 2003 when Buehrle had another unrepresentative, if hardly awful, season, going 14-14 with a 4.13 ERA and 1.35 WHIP, Buehrle’s other seasons have to win over even the most skeptical critic.

• 2001: 16-8 with a 3.29 ERA, 1.07 WHIP
• 2002: 19-12 with a 3.58 ERA. 1.24 WHIP
• 2003: another anomalous year, 14-14, a 4.14 ERA, 1.35 WHIP
• 2004: 16-10 with a 3.89 ERA, 1.26 WHIP
• 2005: the championship year, 16-9, a 3.13ERA, 1.18 WHIP

And while Buehrle only has pitched about half the post-season innings Zito has, Buehrle‘s statistics also impress. In October, Buehrle is 2-0 over 23.66 innings, with a 3.42 ERA and 0.97 WHIP.

Apart from the obvious problem of convincing the White Sox to part with Buehrle is the added one that Yankees would have to sacrifice valuable players in return. (For this reason alone, signing Zito via free-agency ranks the superior option.) Buehrle shouldn’t command the king’s ransom Dontrelle Willis would. Unlike Willis, Buehrle pitched poorly last year, and in ’07, enters his contract’s final year. On the other hand, this complicates a trade for the White Sox pitcher as well. Do the Yankees want to surrender premiere players for a pitcher who could defect at year’s end via free-agency? And if not, would Buehrle agree to a long-term extension? And if so, how much cheaper would he prove than Zito? Can the Yankees sign him for markedly less in the wake of a sub-par season? (It might behoove the Yankees accordingly, to pursue Buehrle now, before Zito signs, allowing the Yankees to set the market, rather than Zito to do so.) Would the White Sox even allow the Yankees to negotiate with Buehrle before the teams finalized a trade? And what would the White Sox want in return anyway?

Well, the areas the White Sox, evidently, wish to reconfigure are the bullpen, center-field and 3rd base. Ken Williams, evidently, is eager to promote, 3B prospect, Josh Fields and as a consequence, has flirted this off-season with trading Joe Crede. Yet The White Sox don’t have the luxury of remaking the other two areas with players from inside the organization, and the White Sox center-field position and middle-relief beg improvement. Brian Anderson hardly filled Aaron Rowand’s shoes in center field last year. What’s more, the White Sox’s bullpen could use a few capable arms to complement closer, Bobby Jenks. In fact, Neil Cotts’ recent departure only exacerbates an already suspect middle-relief corp.

Accordingly, were I Cashman I would offer, with some regret, but offer I would, Scott Proctor, and one of the following three prospects: Eric Duncan, J.B Cox, or Kevin Whelan. With the stipulation, of course, that the White Sox permit the Yankees to negotiate a long-term contract extension with Buehrle; and Buehrle, in turn, accepts. Would the offer suffice? Probably not, but it might offer enough to pique the White Sox’s interest and to foster further discussions.


With the addition of one pitcher, the Yankees’ rotation would rise from mediocre to formidable, if not exactly exceptional, overnight. A second-starter of Zito or Buehrle’s caliber would displace Mussina and Johnson to the third and fourth slots respectively, where their numbers equal, if not surpass, their divisional counterparts. Mussina, at 38, may have difficulty matching the likes of Daisuke Matusaka, AJ Burnett, Justin Verlander, or John Lackey. There’s no reason he wouldn’t outperform Josh Beckett, Gustavo Chacin, Nate Robertson or John Gardner however. The same principle applies to the Big Unit. The Yankees would reap a number of ancillary benefits as well.

First and foremost, it ensures them against catastrophe should Randy Johnson or Carl Pavano not recover from injury to pitch an entire season. (Although, in Johnson’s case, he might benefit from beginning his season in May or June, as Roger Clemens did last year.) With this loss of either Johnson or Pavano, the fifth slot would open for Igawa, Karstens, Rasner, or Hughes. And in so doing, it would alleviate the pressure and strain these rookies otherwise would face if the Yankees had to depend upon them through an entire season. Witness what happened last year when injuries constrained the Red Sox to thrust rookies John Lester and Craig Hansen prematurely into integral roles during a playoff race.

Secondly, it allows the Yankees to keep Scott Proctor in the bullpen to anchor the 7th, 8th and 9th innings. That the Yankees would consider weakening an already suspect bullpen with such a move may indicate that Cashman is more attuned to the deficiencies in his starting rotation than his public statements grant. (Last season, the Yankees ranked sixth in the AL in starters' ERA and eighth in the AL in bullpen ERA)

Though Farnsworth showed flourishes of greatness last season, he hardly inspired confidence as a set-up man-- not with a back prone to incapacitate him suddenly and a fastball whose speed and potency plummets when he appears on consecutive days. And Mariano Rivera’s idle September, healing from elbow tendonitis, only dramatized how desperately the Yankees need a set-up man with the constitution and stuff to close an occasional 9th inning. Such a set-up man would enable the Yankees to confine Rivera to less than 70 innings per season, to eliminate his three-plus-out saves, to prolong his career and to groom his potential successor. Whether Bruney can play this role is an open question. However, one thing is certain. Bruney only strengthens the bullpen and represents an improvement over last year’s staff if Proctor remains a reliever. Because with an aging pitching staff unlikely to give the Yankees more than the 6.0 innings per start Mussina, Johnson, Wang, and Wright averaged in 2006, either Bruney or Farnsworth will have to fulfill Proctor’s role as the 7th inning specialist, squandering the added depth Bruney otherwise would confer. This also means that if the Yankees sincerely intend for Proctor to revert to the starting role the organization once envisioned for him, Cashman will have to reinforce the Yankees middle relief from within or through trade from without.



Pointing fingers and assessing blame following post-season losses is an ignoble and time-honored Yankee tradition, dormant during the championship years but more recently, resurgent. Alas, where frustration seeks an outlet and failure demands a scapegoat, reason evaporates and an obvious truth gets lost. The Yankees have become victims of their recent successes-- of an extraordinary string of four championships that defied the odds and often eluded explanation and was all the more remarkable for seeming so easy and effortless, so seamless and inexorable. And as fans, we, in turn, have fallen victim to expectations so high that modest success looks like failure, victim to the collective delusion that given sufficient talent and desire a baseball team should win a championship every year and that anything less is a failure of will or nerve or management.

But no player can will performance, no matter how talented, now matter how great his prior accomplishments. Still less can a team. If they could, no great hitter would suffer a slump and every great pitcher would throw a perfect game. Statistics only measure probability; or as Derek Jeter observed last Saturday, “The game isn’t played on paper.” Every pitch of every at-bat accordingly is crucible on to itself, singular, un-predictable, inimitable. No magic formula can reproduce success.

Accordingly, the 2006 Yankees didn’t lose because they didn’t play hard enough or because they didn’t want to win badly enough. They didn’t lose because stars don’t perform under pressure and role players do or because of some missing, magical chemistry. They didn’t lose because of a stoic clubhouse; and they didn’t lose because of a tense clubhouse. They didn’t lose because Joe Torre played this one and not that one, or because he placed this one fourth in the lineup and that one eighth. NO, the Yankees lost because they lost. They lost because over a four game stretch between October 3, 2006, and October 7th, a less talented lineup outperformed a more talented one. It is, at once, that simple and that arcane. Hold everything else constant, and re-play the games tomorrow and a different result, no doubt, would ensue, and we would be no wiser or closer to an explanation.


Now, this isn’t to say, a geriatric owner who spends $200 million a year on players in his frantic effort to win one more ring before he succumbs to oblivion cannot exercise some control over his franchise’s fate. If a payroll of All-Stars doesn’t guarantee a championship, it certainly enhances your prospects for one. Nonetheless, the allocation of money, of course, is as important as the amount expended. And the irony of the Yankees’ predicament is that, far from reflecting their team’s prodigious talent, the $200 million dollar payroll instead may be a measure of its shortcomings—the Yankees desperate effort to compensate with productive, albeit expensive, hitters for a deficiency money cannot so easily rectify: aging, and increasingly mediocre, starting pitching.

The availability of productive, all-star caliber position players through trades and free-agency each year enables teams willing to spend money to increase their run production. Pace Carlos Lee, Bobby Abreu, Carlos Delgado, Rafael Furcal, Ramon Hernandez, Troy Glaus, Lyle Overbay, Alfonso Soriano in 2006 alone. Pitching, however, is another matter entirely.

The Yankees have had such difficulty resolving their pitching woes through their financial might because other teams, realizing great pitching’s importance and scarcity, have begun to sign young, premiere hurlers to long-term contracts before they qualify for free-agency. Blame Brian Cashman all you want but the trade and free agency markets, of late, has been bereft of first-rate pitching talent.

In 2002, the Yankees signed Jose Contreras, in 2004, Carl Pavano—the two best pitchers, then available. Neither paid dividends. In 2003, they traded for Javier Vasquez and Kevin Brown; in 2004, for Randy Johnson. Altogether, the lot of them has won a single post-season game: Vasquez, in Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS in which he received the win but nonetheless surrendered 4 runs in 41/3 innings, the final score 19-8.

And this futility only illustrates why acquiring another team’s starter is always a second-best option to cultivating your own and underlines the Yankees’ greatest problem. Not since Andy Pettite in ‘95 has the Yankee farm system harvested a pitcher deserving of the mantle of a One, Two, or Three starter. (Ted Lilly rates no better than a fourth starter and the Yankees’ international scouting signed Chien-Ming Wang, as they did Contreras.) And Boss George-- in the foolish arrogance that is the flip-side to the prodigal spending and zeal for winning Yankee fans cherish—let Andy Pettite walk. And perhaps in the only truly misguided decision of Brian Cashman’s otherwise impressive tenure, he traded Ted Lilly for Jeff Weaver, a nullity, who, in turn, was traded for clubhouse cancer, Kevin Brown.

The Yankees, in other words, have to return to building their pitching staff from within. Cultivating your own starting pitchers offers multiple advantages. First and foremost, they’re younger and cheaper than some other team’s undesired chaff or free-agent defection. A young, homegrown, draft-reared pitcher grants a team his first six years, often his most productive at that, at a bargain cost, freeing payroll for addressing more urgent and immediate needs. Secondly, it affords an organization the opportunity to observe a young pitcher’s maturation, gauge his temperament, evaluate his “stuff”, control his pitch count and physical development, and measure his promise—the opportunity, in short, to make a far more informed projection of his success in the majors than the much smaller sample given a scout’s desultory reconnoitering of another team’s farm system. The Yankee gravity chamber starts at the Single A level and the pitcher who can flourish on Staten Island’s first floor is the most likely to reach the Bronx’s summit.


The ignominious defeat Verlander, Bonderman, Zumaya, et. al inflicted on the Yankees further emphasizes the priority pitching should assume. An object lesson, incidentally, the Yankee recent championship teams offered to anyone who’d have heeded it. Much has been made of the ’96 through ’01 teams’ chemistry, their profusion of role players, their resilience, tenacity, and fire compared to the phlegmatic overpaid stars of today. Nonesense: all of it.

The Yankee successes during this era began and ended with pitching. Built on a rotation of four premiere pitchers (Pettite, Cone, Wells/Clemens, and El Duque), the Yankees dynasty subdued lineups in the ’96 Orioles, the ‘98 Indians, the ‘99 Rangers, and ’00 Mariners that rivaled, if not equaled, those of the post-‘03 Yankees. Because if you beat Wells or Cone in Game 1, the Yankees threw Pettite at you in Game 2; if you defeated Pettite in Game 2, they threw El Duque in Game 3 and Clemens in Game 4.

Compare, by contrast, the vulnerability of a 2004 rotation of Vasquez, Lieber, Brown, and Mussina; a 2005, of Mussina, Wang, a 42-year-old Randy Johnson, and Shawn Chacon; or 2006, of Wang, Mussina, a 43-year-old Johnson, and Jared Wright. As Tom Verducci observes on that since Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS, Yankee starters are 2-7 with a 5.73 ERA, including 0-3 with a 10.38 ERA when facing elimination.

Still, the ’06 ALDS does more than merely exemplify the cliché that “good pitching will stop good hitting” no matter how many all-star hitters a lineup sports, it also shows why, to quote Joe Torre’s maxim, “It all begins with pitching”. For if hitting can compensate for pitching mediocrity over 162 games, it is considerably less likely to do so in a five or seven game post-season series when a lineup faces the best starting staffs the league has to offer. In fact, during the post-season, when the pressure intensifies and each at-bat can mean the difference between advancement and elimination, middling pitching actually risks neutralizing your own lineup’s greatest strength, as the Yankees’ uncharacteristic impatience against Rogers and Bonderman testified.

During the 2006 regular season, the Yankees lead the American league in runs scored largely because of a methodical, patient approach at the plate that netted them a league leading .363 on base average, 649 walks (second behind the Athletics’ 650), and forced opposing teams pitchers to throw, on average, 152 total pitches per game.

However, once Randy Johnson and Jared Wright yielded 5 and 4 runs in Games 3 and 4 respectively, they neutralized the Yankee hitters’ greatest strength. The Yankee lineup abandoned their strict regiment of taking walks, forgoing balls and swinging exclusively at strikes—either because the stress and dire urgency of overcoming a 4 to 5 run lead in critical games made them overanxious or because 4 to 5 run cushions enabled Rogers and Bonderman to challenge the Yankee batters with strikes and to stay ahead in the count or both.

To illustrate, the Yankees stellar .363 OBA during the season dropped to .204OBA in Game 4 and a .212 OBA in Game 3. Secondly, the 152 total pitches per game Yankee batters normally saw fell to 126 in Game 3, and 109 in Game 4. Finally, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, Detroit pitchers threw first-pitch strikes to 65.5 percent of Yankee batters, over 8% points above the 57.2 percent the Yankees encountered during the regular season. As much as the Tiger’s pitching quelled a vaunted Yankee batting order, then, the Yankee pitching staff made an equal contribution to the lineup’s failures.

In contrast, the miracle comebacks of the Yankees championship years derived largely from the ability of the Yankees starting rotation and bullpen to contain deficits to a run or two-- three, at the absolute maximum. (The one and only glaring exception to this pattern occurred in Game 4 of the ‘96 World Series when the Yankees overcame a 6 run deficit.)

• Game 3 of the ’96 ALDS, Rangers led 2-1 in the 9th inning; Yankees win 3-2
• Game 1 of the ’96 ALCS, Orioles led 4-2 in the 7th inning; Yankees win 5-4
• Game 3 of the ’96 ALCS, Orioles led 2-1 in the 8th inning; Yankees win 5-2
• Game 1 of the ’98 WS, Padres led 5-2 in the 7th inning; Yankees win 9-6
• Game 3 of the ’98 WS, Padres led 3-0 in the 7th inning; Yankees win 5-4
• Game 1 of the ’99 ALCS, Red Sox led 3-2 in the 7th inning; Yankees win 4-3
• Game 2 of the ’99 ALCS, Red Sox led 2-1 in the 7th inning; Yankees win 3-2
• Game 1 of the ’99 WS, Braves led 1-0 in the 8th inning; Yankees win 4-1
• Game 3 of the ’99 WS, Braves led 5-2 in the 7th inning; Yankees win 6-5
• Game 2 of the ’00 ALCS Mariners led 1-0 in the 8th inning; Yankees win 7-1
• Game 6 of the ’00 ALCS Mariners led 4-3 in the 7th inning; Yankees win 9-7
• Game 3 of the ’01 ALDS tied 0-0 in the 4th inning; Yankees win 1-0
• Game 4 of the ’01 WS, Arizona led 3-1 in the 9th inning; Yankees win 4-3
• Game 5 of the ’01 WS, Arizona led 2-0 in the 9th inning; Yankees win 3-2
• Game 7 of the ’03 ALCS, Red Sox led 5-2 in the 8th inning; Yankees win 6-5


The Yankees pitching predicament, however, isn’t as bleak as the alarmists have implied. The late season performances of Jeff Karstens and Darryl Rasner should buoy Yankee fans—even if we should abide that age-old warning about not judging players by how they perform in April or September. As should the rave reviews the Yankees top pitching prospect Philip Hughes has earned. The recent emergence of J.B. Cox, Huston Street’s successor at the University of Texas, and Tyler Clippard offer cause for optimism as well.

Let’s hope, nonetheless, the Yankees have learned from the Red Sox’s recent travails that danger awaits an organization which elevates young pitchers before they’ve fully ripened in the minor leagues or developed sufficient arm strength to pitch 200 innings. Cashman’s refusal to promote Hughes, thus far, in addition to the organization’s decision to cap his innings this year at 150 bode well. The flip side, of course, is that the Yankees cannot expect Hughes (or even Karstens and Rasner) to pitch a full season in 2007, let alone, to have conserved ample arm strength to prosper in the post-season.

Accordingly, the off-season presents the Yankees with a formidable but not insuperable challenge for 2007. They have to manage to bridge the gap between a future rotation of younger pitchers not yet able to handle a full season’s workload and a current rotation of tired, aging veterans too exhausted to pitch effectively during the postseason. The bridge’s cornerstone will hinge on whether the Yankees can obtain an effective, reliable 2nd starter, if not a 3rd starter as well, to follow Chien-Ming Wang in the rotation.

As Randy Johnson’s dreadful performances in Game 3 of the 2005 and 2006 ALDS demonstrate, the Yankees cannot rely on him, at 43, to pitch any more consistently or effectively than a 4th starter would perform. Meanwhile, Mike Mussina-- if the Yankees chose to re-sign him for two years at an annual salary markedly less than the $19million he made this year-- could assume the more deserved role of a 3rd starter. (If the Yankees and Mussina cannot strike a mutually agreeable arrangement, the organization should pursue Andy Pettite with the promise of more years and more money than the Astros will offer.)

To secure a 2nd starter the Yankees have one of two options: (i) wring him from an infertile or unripe crop inside the organization—a crop comprised of Pavano, Karstens, Rasner or Scott Proctor (ii) acquire him from without, either by signing Japanese pitcher Matsuszaka or Barry Zito. (The Yankees evidently think about as highly of Jason Schmidt as he does of NY: that is, not much.)


Then of course, there’s the third option, the latest fashionable bromide to arise from the media echo chamber: Trade A-Rod. And like all groupthink and herd piety, it should be distrusted because it stems more from professional conformity and facile opinion than the deliberate analysis and reasoned conclusions that follow from weighing the evidence.

Can A-Rod excel in the post-season as a Yankee? Of course, he can. From Game 1 of the 2004 ALDS through Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS Alex Rodriguez went 14 for 33, a batting average of .422. To conclude he cannot depends, quite simply, on selective perception-- the much remarked statistic that from Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS through Game 4 of the 2006 ALDS, Alex Rodriguez has gone 4 for 45, a batting average of .090. But if you extract an almost identically sized unrepresentative sampling from Derek Jeter’s post-season statistics, for example, you could arrive at the same conclusion. Between Game 1 of the 2001 ALCS and Game 7 of the World Series, Jeter went 6 for 44, a .136 average.

(It is worth observing that outside New York, A-Rod’s post-season statistics are as impressive as his regular season numbers. Over his two appearances in the post-season with Seattle ’97 and’00, A-Rod went 18 for 51, a .353BA, with 3HRs and 8 RBIs. A-Rod’s career post-season numbers, then, are 36 for 129, a.280BA with 6HRs and 16RBIs. By contrast, compare Derek Jeter’s career post-season numbers-- a sampling size 3.6 times larger than A-Rod’s-- are 142 for 462, a .307BA, 16HR, 47RBI’s. If you extrapolate A-Rod’s career post-season numbers for an identical number of at-bats, Jeter only surpasses A-Rod in batting average.)

So which is the real A-Rod? The A-Rod of the 2004 ALDS or the A-Rod of the 2005-6 ALDS. The MVP of the 2005 season who batted .321 and hit 48HR’s or the merely very productive A-Rod of 2004 and 2006, who hit for a combined batting average of .288 and averaged 35.5 HR’s per season.

Answer: both and neither. Alex Rodriguez has been a Yankee for a total of three years. Accordingly, he hasn’t amassed enough post-season plate appearances to allow anyone to determine definitively which is the representative performance-- 2004 or 2005-6. The same applies for his regular season numbers.

But apart from the caprice and pre-maturity any judgment about A-Rod’s hospitability to New York entails, his currently depreciated value militates against trading him at this juncture, even assuming, for the sake of argument, he would waive his no-trade clause-- is that at this juncture. The relentless jeering and media criticism has so diminished A-Rod’s standing; no team would relinquish sufficient young pitching to deserve the Yankees’ consideration. Alongside Albert Pujols, A-Rod has the best career average regular-season statistics in baseball, but the Yankees would not receive a package commensurate to what the player with the 2nd greatest statistics in baseball has accomplished.

I trust Cashman’s insistence that he does not intend to trade A-Rod reflects this wisdom. Indeed, any GM in baseball who would trade a player of A-Rod’s caliber, as some in the media have advocated, for Irving Santana and a prospect should be dismissed on the spot. Of course, if the Angels want to trade Irving Santana, Francisco Rodriguez (a.k.a. K-Rod) AND Chone Figgins; or if the Tigers want to trade Zumaya, Verlander or Bonderman, and Brandon Inge for some package including A-Rod and Scott Proctor, the Yankees should consider it. However, neither the Tigers nor the Angels, naturally, would entertain such deals, even if the Yankees and A-Rod both could agree. All of which means an A-Rod trade will provide talk show fodder for the next four months but Alex Rodriguez, in the end, will play for the Yankee in 2007.

Actually, if the Yankees are intent in unloading some of the excess offense for pitching, they should consider exercising Sheffield’s $13 million option and then trading him to another team. Of course, once news leaked that the Yankees were contemplating the possibility, Sheffield's very public remonstrations and threats to retire reduced his value somewhat. However, a small-market franchise desperate to increase its offensive production might consider Sheffield worth the risk nonetheless because his contract includes between four to five million dollars of deferred salary. And at 9 million for a year, Sheffield is a bargain. With the Cubs and Astros expressing interest, Cashman just might be able to acquire someone like Bobby Howry or Chad Qualls. Or if the rumors and Tim Purpurra has given up on him, perhaps, in the logic of trading one risk for another risk, Cashman could parlay Sheffied into Brad Lidge. A fanciful prospect, I concede.

Alternatively, Jason Giambi turns 36-years-old in January. And the tendency of his health to deteriorate over an entire season (in both 2003 and 2006, injuries prevented him from playing in October) both diminishex his post-season production and confines him to the role of DH. Giambi has two years remaining on his contract at $21million per year. If the Yankees agreed to defray $10million of the remaining $42 million owed Giambi, a team desperate for hitting might cede an able, young arm for him. Giambi also has a no-trade clause but he lives in Las Vegas and hails from Southern California. He just might agree accordingly to a trade to the Angels or Dodgers, each of whom has an excess of quality young pitching in their farm systems.

Finally, the Yankees, evidently, are contemplating moving Scott Proctor into the starting rotation next year, a move that would necessitate their signing an imposing reliever like Justin Speier to assume Proctor’s bullpen role. Yet with the 100+ innings Proctor pitched in relief in 2006, the Yankees cannot expect him to transition seamlessly into a starting role anytime soon. In fact, the recent experiences of Yankee relievers Steve Karsay, Paul Quantril, Tom Gordon, and Tanyon Sturtze casts into question Proctor’s likely efficacy as a reliever in '07, let alone a starter. After Karsay amassed 88 innings in relief for the Yankees ’02; Quantril, 95 innings in ’04; Gordon, 90 and 80 innings in ’04 and ’05 respectively; and Sturtze 78 innings in ’05; each reliever was, at best, less effective the following season, or at worse, suffered major injuries that ended or curtailed his season. Indeed, at this writing Proctor already has complained of elbow soreness and has undergone testing for bone chips, thus far negative, and has sought a second opinion from arm expert, Dr James Andrews-- surely a bad omen for his future health.

The Yankees will have to bolster their bullpen this off-season, then, notwithstanding Proctor’s future role, signing or re-signing, two or more reliable relievers from a contingent which includes free-agents Octavio Dotel, Ron Villone, Justin Speier, Denys Baez, and perhaps, Eric Gagne, if the Dodgers chose not to re-sign him by December 7th.


Although the media's post-mortem included its share of hand-wringing drivel about the team's ailing, aging talent, the Yankees actually have a nucleus of position players in their prime who they can rely on to produce offensively for the forseeable future: Jeter is 32; A-Rod, 31; Matsui, 32; while Damon and Abreu turn 33 in November and March respectively. (And replacing 38-yr-old Sheffield with 33-year-old Abreu, for this reason makes Cashman's July trade the greatest Yankee mid-season acquisition since they obtained David Cone in '95) While Cano, of course, is 24, and Cabrera, a future starting outfielder, younger still. If the Yankees can continue then their recent trend of elevating one minor league prospect a season capable of producing and contributing in the Bronx, they will excel in run production for the years to come.

Of course, if the reports of the Yankees impending senility have been greatly exaggerated, age does afflict them, nonetheless, in two critical areas. Although Jorge Posada earned well-deserved kudos for his superb year offensively, and even more notably, defensively, he turns 36 next August. And catchers' skills tend to decline early, relative to other position players, and suddenly besides. Worse, the Yankees traded Posada's expected replacement Dioner Navarro in the Randy Johnson trade and don't have anyone in their farm system poised to ripen to fill the need.

Then, of course, looms just over the horizon the darkness no Yankee fan can suffer to contemplate: life A.M., that is, Life-after- Mariano. This past September we all glimpsed the void that the Indispensable Yankee's retirement, one day, will leave behind. And it's a future that's positively terrifying. It perhaps only exaggerates a little to liken it to a future without a father, for the Great Rivera, has acted as that kind of protective and reassuring presence in the 9th inning for Yankee fans over the last ten seasons. The franchise never will replace him. The best they can hope for is to groom a successor worthy of the mantle.

Cashman's challenge in the short-term is obvious-- dramatically improving the starting rotation. This means acquiring a 2nd starter behind Wong through a trade or free-agency; salvaging productivity from Carl Pavano; and re-signing either Mike Mussina or Andy Pettite for as long as it will take for Philip Hughes to pitch 200 innings a season.As if this didn't present a taxing enough challenge, the long-term will demand even more of Cashman. First, he will have to find successors to Posada and Rivera; where the task of replacing either alone will prove burden enough. Secondly, he will have to replenish a barren farm system, despoiled through a decade of consumptive trades and incompetent drafting. The Yankees pitching crop at the Double and Triple A levels, over the last ten years, until very recently, has been paltry, at best: a scarcity for an organization as great as the Yankees, and with their resources besides, is deplorable, especially when compared to the wealth of young pitching the Angels, A's, Dodgers, Cubs, and Tigers have developed and reared.

A high draft position, or first-round picks lost to free-agent compensation, can only excuse so much ineptitude. Not when the Athletics select Rich Harden in the 17th round or Tim Harden in the 6th (since traded to the Braves); not when the Tigers select Joel Zumaya in the 11th round; nor when the Yankees chose Dave Walling (who?) in the 1999 amateur draft's first round and the Angels pick Lackey in the 2nd and what's more, sign Ervin Santana and Francisco Rodriguez as amateur free-agents. The Yankees can expect three to five more years of optimal productivity from their nucleus of Jeter, A-Rod, Damon, Matsui, and Abreu. Whether Cashman can build an equivalent arsenal of pitching to complement them will determine whether this core wins one or more championships or whether the franchise squanders their talent. And while Cano, Cabrera, and Tabata suggest great future promise, should Jeter, A-Rod, and Matsui, especially, finish their career without them garnering another championship, the Yankees will have wrought a tragedy of Ruthian dimensions



As I watched the Detroit sun set on the Yankee 2006 season, some small part of me died inside. And if I exaggerate it is only because bereavement is about as close as I can come to describing just how distraught this loss has left me. What’s more, I suspect, somehow, I’m not alone. If on a different frequency, perhaps, I speak for you.

For those of us who are devoted fans—for whom summer evenings and Yankee baseball are synonymous, for whom the players’ performances and the seasons’ vicissitudes affect us as the fortunes of family, for whom the Game at day’s end distracts us from life’s stresses and disappointments and inhabits our dreams -- for the passionate and zealous among us the abrupt end of the baseball season can sicken the heart and leave behind a void. But this year’s resounding defeat in the ALDS at the hands of the Tigers brings a torment entirely its own.

Losing four games in a row to the Red Sox in ‘04 afflicted us, sure; but like a slow and debilitating disease, the protracted decline, however excruciating, at least afforded its loved ones the opportunity to prepare ourselves to say good-bye. And then of course, we could console ourselves that just the year before we’d stolen life from death to throttle the very same enemy and that the score had only evened.

Losing to the Angels last year, of course, hurt too. But like the graying middle-aged man stricken with cancer before his time; the patient who nonetheless battles the pernicious disease for a decade and manages to prolong his life against expectations and even to live a richer, fuller existence in the bargain before succumbing; the Yankees resiliently triumphant late pennant run to salvage a dying season gave us a September thrill to assuage the grief of a terminal October.

Losing this year to the Tigers however dealt the shock and disbelief, the trauma and agony to which only the sudden, inexplicable death of young, vibrant, healthy man can compare. He runs four miles every day. He eats three square meals. The doctor declares him fit to live until 90. And then one day, out of nowhere, he keels over and expires. And to compound our grief, the doctors really don’t know why. Some suspect it’s the arms; others tell us it’s the heart; still more, blame a deficient mind and temperament. He didn’t enjoy himself. He spent too much and earned too little. He couldn’t stand the pressure of his environment. He didn’t believe in himself.

The greatest lineup ever assembled, the prognosticators said, and we believed them. No one can pitch to them, they said, and we believed them. Isn’t baseball about scoring more run than the opposition? Well who can outhit this team? And so, we believed ESPN; and we believed WFAN; and we believed the sportswriters and the newspapers and the ballplayers of Octobers past. THIS Yankee lineup was unstoppable. THIS Yankee team could not be pitched to. THIS Yankees team was going to return the Trophy to its rightful owners.

But we loved ones know the patient better than the experts. We lived with him through spring training, through summer’s dog days, through the triumphs and travail of a 162 days and evenings. And even if we allowed them to fool us, deep down, we’ve always suspected the reason. The aneurysm that an aging, tired, overworked and debilitated pitching staff lodged in the brain, swelling on hubris and hype and self-delusion, got bigger and bigger until, in Detroit, it exploded and left us to mourn over the corpse and to point fingers.