Monday, October 09, 2006

The Yankees: A Post-Mortem

Normally I want to watch my team end its season, win or lose. Watching a team fail gives me closure, and although it's hard, I'd rather be there as they go down. But I must say that I'm glad the Yankees lost on Yom Tov. I realize Detroit is a good team, but there is no excuse for the Yankees to score only 3 meaningless runs in two of the most important games. Something has to give. It's hard to describe how an offense this loaded with talent, with this much diversity (the Yanks were at the top of the league in stolen bases and home runs), with this much experience, could fold so quickly and easily. The Yankees didn't even put up a fight.

I don't want to diminish Detroit's accomplishments against the Yankees and over the course of the season -- they did lead the majors ERA in a division with the Indians, White Sox and Twins -- but we have to expect more from a team with all-stars at every position.

What needs to be done? I'm not sure firing Torre is the answer. Looking at the big picture, we can take solace in the fact that during Torre's 11 year tenure in the Bronx the Yankees have made the playoffs 11 times (including winning the division 9 times, including 8 in a row), won the championship 4 times, won 6 pennants, and played in the ALCS 7 different years. Not too many teams would look askance on winning the pennant more than half the time during a manager's stay.

But this is New York and these are the Yankees. "Just" making the World Series (something they haven't done in three years) is not enough. George Steinbrenner expects championships, and who can blame him? He ponies up the cash for the biggest payroll in sports history, and merely coming close is not a good enough return on the dollar.

So what am I looking for the Yankees to do? I have a few recommendations (none of which call for trading A-Rod unless we can get a big-time pitcher in return).

1) Shore up the bullpen. With the exception of Rivera, who is still great but getting up in years, the bullpen is inconsistent and mediocre. Farnsworth was a mistake from the start, and while Proctor isn't bad he cannot be the key setup guy for a championship team. Villone, Myers, and Bruney are adequate, but they need a big-time pitcher in the pen.

2) Get another big name starter. The two biggest names on the block are Barry Zito and Jason Schmidt. Rumor has it that Schmidt wants to stay on the West coast, so Zito is the big pitcher left. There will be a bidding war for one of Scott Boras' most recent clients, but when it comes to money, the Yankees always prevail.

The question is whether they should go after Zito at all. Although he was great in the beginning of his career, his numbers tapered off until his resurgence. Moreover, he has played his whole career in a pitchers park, so we can't really project anything from those numbers.

Nevertheless a few factors portend future success in the Bronx. Zito is a lefty and while overall the Stadium is a hitter's park, lefties do substantially better because of the deep power alleys in left center. Furthermore Zito pitched relatively well in the playoffs and doesn't seem like the type of pitcher who will wilt under the New York spotlight.

Zito is a risk, but there's no choice. With the exception of Wang, the Yankees don't have a single reliable pitcher on the staff. Mussina is getting old and Randy Johnson is done. Maybe Philip Hughes is the answer, but something proactive must be done.

3) Do not pick up Sheffield's or Mussina's option. Maybe bring them back at a lower price, but if they leave, thank them for their time and send them off. The aging superstar cannot play a major role in the Yankees' resuscitation.

There are no easy answers, and nothing I've said here is novel. The lineup is unbelievable and the defense is adequate. But what they need is pitching because pitching is what gets it done in the playoffs. And the playoffs is where the Yankees' failure is most evident.

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