Saturday, February 23, 2008

Spring Training Time

Longtime readers of this blog (and by longtime, I mean, last October) will remember that the first blog of AND A PLAYER TO BE NAMED LATER, was about the off-season plans of the Yankees. And, I am happy to say, three of the four suggestions I recommended, the Yankees followed. The only suggestions they didn't take, or couldn't accomplish was trading Damon and Farnsworth—and frankly, I'm fine with that. If Damon comes back healthy and Girardi can screw Farnsworth's head on a little tighter, so much the better.

The Yankees also, miraculously followed my advice to not mortgage the future for Johan Sanatna. Not that I don't believe old Johan wouldn't be great in pinstripes—he may very well have been—just that we have a bunch of talented, inexpensive young mold-able starters with a former catcher as a manager and guider. Why not leave well enough alone and not overspend for once?

Yet despite keeping the core players in pinstripes, having a bunch of young talented pitchers, and, oh yeah, A-Rod, Jeter, Cano and all the players who led virtually every offensive category last year, almost every expert and talking head seems truly down on the Yankees. The Sporting News wrote this for the Yankee offseason: "Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada and Mariano stayed. But sticking with three inexperienced starting pitchers isn't the Yankee way." The Yankee way? So it would have been better if we had dropped some Barry Zito type money on an aging pitcher? One sports annual wrote that the Yankees begin "well behind the Red Sox." wrote this: "They didn't add much, but retaining irreplaceable parts in Rodriguez, Andy Pettitte, and Jorge Posada kept the winter from being a complete disaster." Complete disaster? Another had the obligatory high salary comment implying, should a team be better after spending $200 Million?

Hold on a minute. Yes, the Yankees came in second place to the Red Sox last year for the first time in a decade—not at all an embarrassment. But after the terrible start they had when half their starters and bullpen were injured, the Yanks went 56-28 from July 1st on. The Sox went 46-34 in that time. And after the injury-decimated 21-29 start, the Yanks only finished 2 games behind the Sox. And it's not like the Sox went out and signed Torii Hunter and Miquel Cabrera. So let's cut out all this disaster talk.

Yes, all is not pie in the sky for the Yankees. To start, the bullpen is still shaky, though they did get Latroy Hawkins and Jonathan Albaladejo to help out. But while their might not be surefire, ace-type quality, there sure is quantity in the pen. The hope is that new manager Girardi can mold something from all that clay. My guess is the former catcher can make the best of it.

A second worry is the rotation has a whole lot of "ifs." Is Andy Petitte going to be able to put aside all of the HGH mess and focus on getting guys out? Can the youngsters pitch for an entire year well enough? Is Mike Mussina the 8.87 ERA pitcher he was in August, or the 3.49 ERA pitcher he was in September?

But frankly, who's rotation doesn't have questions? Every town in baseball is asking question of its rotation. Is Schilling done? Is Dontrelle able to pitch in the American League? Is Jered Weaver going to load the bases every inning like he did last year? Etc, etc, etc.

But that does bring us to a legitimate concern for the Yankees; and that is that the rest of the AL elite got much better. Detroit got Miquel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis from the Marlins without disrupting their main ballclub at all. The Angels got Torri Hunter to play center and protect Vlad Guerrero in the lineup. They also got Jon Garland from the White Sox to give them six legitimate starters. The Indians got a ace bullpen man from Japan in Masahide Kobayashi. The Blue Jays not only have a nice pitching rotation and bullpen, but they got the left side of the Cardinals infield in Scott Rolen and David Eckstein. Seattle got Eric Bedard to anchor their rotation. Heck, even the Rays got Matt Garza to join Jamie Shields and Scott Kazmir in giving the Rays a nice starting 3. They also have some more talented youngsters like Evan Longoria and Reid Brignac coming up soon.

That said, let's not forget we're dealing with the Yankees here. They have the best batting corp in the majors, where batting .280 means you might get demoted. They had the third best fielding percentage last year. And for all their pitching woes, they can't possibly have the injuries they did last year. They have three youngsters who can flat out pitch. And, possibly most importantly, they won't have to worry about Carl Pavano.

The X Factor is Joe Girardi. A well-documented baseball guru, Girardi was the right guy for this job. A "manager on the field" who helped Petitte and Rivera when they were youngsters (not to mention Posada behind the plate), he guided the Florida Marlins when they put a AAA club on the field in 2006 (with a budget of $14 million dollars) to a 78-84 record. They contended for a wild card spot up until a week and a half left in the season. For that he was awarded the NL Manager of the Year.

Whereas Joe Torre was 'Unemotional Joe," Girardi is full of vinegar. He once threw Scott Olsen against the dugout wall. He will make the Yankees work and he will teach the young pitchers how it gets done. And that's where I think the hire of Girardi will pay off the best. Girardi was great at controlling a pitcher when he was calling the game, he was good at getting the best out of young player in Florida, and he will pay off for the Yankees' youngsters. When you are putting so much faith in your young pitching staff, why not hire a guy who's known for aiding young players along?

So, all said, I see at least a 95 win season, and if they remain relatively healthy, over 100. Girardi's tough, but sensible approach worked wonders with a 14 million dollar team. With the Yankee's lineup of all-stars, who's to say he can't take us all they way to the Series?


Pete S said...

Welcome back, P-Cat.

The Yankees are fine. It would be nice to have another veteran pitcher or two to start or bolster the pen, but during the summer opportunities will present themselves. As long as they are not going to make deals out of desperation (and the discipline they showed this off season is evidence that they will not do that) then they will have a better idea of their needs and make the right move if needed.

You're right, P-Cat, the Yankees are a threat as they have been for years.

Pete S said...

P-Cat - this excerpt is from an article about LaTroy Hawkins in the NY Times this morning. I seem to remember you making the same point about the Yankees. If only the Times were as quick as you...

"He has not started a game since the end of the 1990s, and only three right-handers — David Weathers, Mike Timlin and Todd Jones — have made more appearances in this decade. The Yankees signed Hawkins for one year and $3.75 million in December, a deal most significant, perhaps, for what it was not.

Hawkins, 35, was the most prominent player the Yankees imported this winter. They did not lunge desperately for another team’s star. There was no introduction for Hawkins at Yankee Stadium. There was not even a conference call with reporters.

The Yankees have been burned in recent seasons by some of their splashy free agents, especially relievers. Since losing the 2001 World Series, they have signed six relievers to multiyear deals. Four — Steve Karsay, Chris Hammond, Paul Quantrill and Mike Myers — were gone before the end of their contracts. A fifth, Kyle Farnsworth, has not performed to expectations.

The other was Tom Gordon, who departed as a free agent after two seasons. The Yankees received two draft picks as compensation, and used them on Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain, major building blocks for their future.

The Yankees liked Hawkins, who pitched last season for the Rockies, because he signed for just one year and did not cost them a draft pick. The Yankees let reliever Luis VizcaĆ­no sign with Colorado, gaining a high draft choice in the process."