Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Time To Pay The Pitcher...I Mean Piper

So close, yet so far away. As of this writing, the Yankees are four and a half games out of first. Hardly Mount Everest (or the 1951 Giants, whatever floats your boat). But it might as well be 400 games with the way they’re pitching. In the dandy days of Andy, Roger and Boomer, quality starts were almost a forgone conclusion. Stringing five or six of them in a row was not uncommon. Now it’s shocking if they can get two in succession. The Yankees will only go as far their arms will take them. And if the season ended today, their arms would taking them to the nearest golf course.

People are going to compare this to the bad old days of the 1980's. Nothing could be further from the truth. Back then, King George III courted every big slugger to come here but gave up on traded young arms such as Jose Rijo and Doug Drabek. Today, the focus has been pitching. Going after young arms such as Vasquez, Weaver, Wright and Pavano, the Yanks were trying to build their staff of the future. Unfortunately, it’s failed miserably. Wright and Pavano have been on the shelf for several months with shoulder injuries. Weaver was thought to be Bombers future ace. But he had a 50 cent head to go with his Million Dollar arm. Vazquez started the first half of 2004 well, but folded in the second half because he hid an arm injury. They trade him and Brad Halsey for Randy Johnson...whose hanging sliders make DHs salivate. All of these moves were universally considered good ones when the Bombers made them. Yet, they’ve all (at least for now) failed. Sometimes you can do the right thing and still be wrong.

But all these moves are symptoms of what truly ails the Pinstriped ones. Mortgaging off the future to win right now. When you give up young prospects to get an established player, there’s a chance that that move is going bite you in the hind parts. Brad Halsey has developed into a solid starter for Arizona. Jake Westbook (traded to Cleveland for David Justice) was an all-star last year for Cleveland. Neither of them is Nolan Ryan, but with New York’s offense, you don’t need them to be. You just need someone to keep you in games. Something that the Yankees aren’t sure they’re going to get from day to day.

Shawn Chacon has been a pleasant surprise for the team. So has Aaron Small. But both are unproven commodities for a pennant push. Al Leiter has the big game resume, but lacks big game control. You never know what you’re going to get from the Mad Scientist Mike Mussina. On Monday, he allowed only two runs, but threw over 120 pitches to get out of the sixth inning. The SIXTH INNING!! Performances like that are going to wear your bullpen out by October.

Which brings up another issue with this team. Torre is having to sacrifice certain games so as not wear Sturtze, Gordon and Rivera out. Tuesday was a perfect example. With the score 1-0 Chi-Sox, Alan Embree got out of the 8th without allowing a run. Rather than pitching Gordon or Rivera, Torre decides to go with Embree for the top of the 9th. Paul Konerko crushes a homer on a 3-2 pitch, and the White Sox win 2-1. People will second guess Torre for staying with Embree. But it was the right move, even though it failed. Rivera and Gordon were in the top three in appearances last year (former Yankee Paul Quantrill was number one). Last year’s collapse versus Boston was more about the Yankee bullpen tiring than anything else. If the Yanks want to go deep into October, they need those guys healthy. Sometimes you have to pick your poison and hope your body develops a tolerance. That’s what Torre is having to do with his middle relief.

The point of all this exercise isn’t to second guess. It’s to point out that everything has a price. You might not have to pay now, but eventually you will have to pay. The Baseball Gods demand their tithes in a timely fashion. Payment for the Yankees is due. And it could be the 2004 and 2005 season. Sounds fair for 4 championships in 6 years.


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