Wednesday, November 7, 2007


"Hell hath no fury like a Steinbrenner scorned"

Villify him, if you will. Deplore him, if you must. Renounce the mercenary temptress who stole your affections and trampled your heart.

After all, you embraced him and he rebuffed you. You defended him and he betrayed you. You let him seduce you; and then when you offered him millions to stay, he spurned your calls.

But then, please, let the indignation, recrimination, and malice subside. And then, once you've shed the scorned lover's bravado; once your wounded pride has healed, ask yourself whether your beloved Yankees can prosper without him?

Because if you're honest with yourself, if you eschew the temptation to overconfidence and self-deception; you'll have to confront the stark reality. The Yankees cannot win a championship next year without A-Rod's production. Worse, the remedies readily available for assuaging A-Rod's loss can cripple the Yankees more, in the end, than the loss itself.

Alas, A-Rod and Boras knew exactly what they were doing when the AL MVP voided his contract: the Yankees need A-Rod far more than A-Rod needs the Yankees. And all the threats King George's Men issued over the past three months only reaffirmed where the balance of power rested. For an ultimatum is a sure sign of weakness. More dangerous still, ultimatums invite defiance or reprisal.

Reveal to A-Rod once or twice the consequence of opting-out and the Yankees, perhaps, deter him. Repeat the threat multiple times, as the Yankees' hierarchy did, and you almost certainly provoke him. Because no one can acquiesce to an ultimatum without surrendering his self-respect. A-Rod only demonstrated that he was less desperate to remain a Yankee than the Yankees were to retain him.

As well they should have been, because A-Rod is no less indispensable to the Yankees future than the Yankees other free-agents, Rivera, Pettitte, and Posada and perhaps, more so.

Lose Mariano and the Yankees, at least have Joba Chamberlain to stanch the bleeding. (Not that the body still won't ache.)

Lose Andy Pettitte and the Yankees can turn to their farm system's one surplus commodity-- young pitching. Or they can wait a year; and with the bonanza of elite starters likely available, the Yankees can go shopping and purchase a substitute in the marketplace. (Following the 2008 season, Santana, Sabathia,Sheets will be free-agents. And if their team don't exercise their options and Peavy and Lackey will join them and Burnett, too, if like A-Rod, he exercises his opt-out.)

Lose Posada? Well, the Yankees will suffer and profoundly at that. In fact, of the dynastic threesome, the franchise can afford to lose their catcher least. Nonetheless, a catcher as prolific as Posada is an anomaly, more windfall than necessity, in the long run. All else remaining the same, the Yankees would survive with Jose Molina, Yorvit Torrealba, or Michael Barrett behind the plate for a year or two until either Francisco Cervelli or Jesus Montero, their two top minor-league catchers, displaces him.

But tragically, all else is not equal. Because with the player responsible for 17% of their runs last seaason, the hitter who accounted for 14% of their total bases, the bat that comprised their sole source of right-handed power, the Yankees refuse to negotiate. It's one thing to shun a player because his price exceeds his worth. Quite another, when pride, spite, and stubborness forestall rational decision-making. But this is precisely what the Steinlittles current stance betrays. They've ostracized A-Rod in a fit of pique. Did A-Rod court banishment, by refusing, when he did, to discuss an extension? Of course, he did. But Scott Boras is the Godfather of agents. With him, it's never personal; it's only business. Would that the Steinlittles emulated him. Because in their vindictiveness, the Steinlittles harm themselves above all.

Have the Yankees record-breaking attending records induced complacency or overconfidence? Do the Steinlittles honestly believe they will draw 4,000,000 fans with the Yankees languishing in third place on September 1st? (Sure, 50,000 fans may attend Yankees Stadium's final farewell ceremonies, but ask Larry Lucchino how many fans braved muggy September nights in 2006 after the Red Sox fell out of playoff contention.)

And a forlorn September is precisely what the Yankees now face. Indeed, A-Rod's departure, if irrevocable, threatens to push the Yankees to the precipice of mediocrity, the lesser of all the teams they barely surpassed to make the playoffs this year-- a slightly more expensive, slightly more productive incarnation of the '07 Blue Jays or Twins. Because whether the Yankees' front-office acknowledges it or not, the Yankees, during the last four years, have grown increasingly dependent on A-Rod's production. As such, his loss leaves a void the size of a crater and the most readily available means to fill it would require the Yankees to dig themselves deeper into the hole, by relinquishing the young pitching prospects which hold their future's foundation.

Their Yankees farm system is barren of major league ready offensive talent. Their two best hitting prospects, Tabata and Austin Jackson, are outfielders and still years away from burgeoning. The next two years' class of free-agent 3B is a middling lot: with the 34-yr-old, pull-hitting Mike Lowell leading the '07 class and what will be a 33-year-old, oft-injured and steroid-tainted Troy Glaus leading it in '08. While the one major-league player who could both play 3B and approximate A-Rod's production is Miguel Cabrera, who would cost them Hughes, Kennedy, or Chamberlain, one of the very young pitchers upon whom the Yankees future depends.


So why can't the Yankees just stick Joe Crede or Wilson Betemit at 3B and rely on their young pitching to carry them? After all, didn't the Yankees contend for six championships in nine years with Charlie Hayes, Scott Brosius, and Aaron Boone at 3B?

Well first of all, Chamberlain, Hughes, Kennedy, and Wang have hardly proven they're the equal of Cone, Clemens, El Duque, and Pettitte just yet. Neither Hughes nor Chamberlain has exceeded 140 innings in a single season . And Ian Kennedy has started a sum total of three major league games, all in September, no less. Sure, the Yankees budding three, with Wang, could burgeon into a modern day incarnation of Cuellar, McNally, Palmer and Dobson, the Orioles Fab Four. Then again, it's possible, if unlikely, Chamberlain-Hughes-Kennedy could no more meet the enormous expectations that now saddle them than could the Mets' notorious triumvirate of Isringhausen, Pulsipher, and Wilson.

The real flaw in the Brosius fallacy however is that it fails to account for how much the current lineup's complexion differs from its championship-laurelled predecessors. From '96 to '03, the Yankees only asked their third-baseman to field his position because they received consistent, and widespread, production from CF (Bernie), 1B (Tino), and DH (Fielder, Justice, Chili/Strawberry). Even the '96 through '00 teams, founded on their pitching had 3 or more players that hit 19 or more home runs. '96 (Bernie, Tino, Fielder/Sierra, O'Neil ) '97 (Bernie, Tino, O'Neil); '98 (Tino, O'Neil, Strawberry, Bernie, Brosius, Jeter ); '99 (Tino, Jeter, Bernie, O'Neil, Chili) '00 (Posada, Bernie, Justice).

Now, the Yankees receive little offensive production from 1B and CF and considerably less from their DH.

Remember: The 2007 Yankees were not the 2004 team when A-Rod's 36 HRs and 106 RBI's complemented Gary Sheffield's 36 HRs and 121 RBI's and Hideki Matsui's 31 HRs and 108 RBIs (and even Bernie William contributed 21 HR and 70 RBIs). Nor were 2007 Yankees were not the 2006 team when A-Rod's 35 HRs and 121RBIs reinforced Jason Giambi 37 HR's and 113 RBI's.

The 2007 Yankees were a collection of left-handed singles and doubles hitters; a 36-year old switch-hitting catcher with a career season; a right-handed SS, if among the best clutch hitters in history, who doesn't hit for power; and the AL MVP and best all around player in baseball, Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez.

Subtract A-Rod and the Yankees's lineup suddenly looks very ordinary-- bereft of power, right-hand deficient, wanting at the infield corners, regressing at the outfield corners, old and overloaded at DH, and in general, entering the first-stage of decline -- a series of 33+ yr-old veterans whose most productive seasons have passed them by.

Damon, Abreu, Matsui and Giambi all regressed this year, with the latter two's erosion the most disconcerting because they're the only other two hitters who hit for power.


Refusing to negotiate with AROD because in opting-out, he cost the Yankees $21 million dollars-- an amount less than Kei Igawa's posting fee; a sum less than Roger Clemens '07 salary; a total equivalent to Jason Giambi's '08 income-- means the Yankees face on the following two options.

1) Mortgage the future and relinquish Ian Kennedy, Melky Cabrera, and (Humberto Sanchez or Alan Horne or Ross Ohlendorf) for Miguel Cabrera.


2) Concede '08 as a rebuilding year. Take the risk that no team acquires Santana and signs to a long-term deal before the '08 season concludes. And hope that the Yankees can sign him and another Boras' client Mark Teixiera for the money they would save on A-Rod.

Either entails considerable risk. Far more risk, that is, than offering $280 million dollars over 8 years for the best player in baseball.

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