Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Departed

That's the the name of the movie, that I saw after that debacle that I will not speak of on Saturday night. Best movie of the year and the best thing Scorsese's done since GoodFellas, by the way.

It's also what we'll be calling this season, Joe Torre and a host of other characters who helped make this debacle that I will not speak of possible.

Please forgive me if I'm sounding a little redundant from you might have read or heard this weekend. I've only picked up one paper and that was the Daily News Monday morning.

The irony was not lost on me that Jeremy Bonderman, the prospect thrown in to make the Ted Lilly-Jeff Weaver happen for the A's and Yankees; was the pitcher who possibly ended the Joe Torre era in the Bronx. Hopefully, the same prospect that made A's GM Billy Beane throw a chair through a wall when they picked him will end Oakland's season as well.

I've been a fan of Bonderman for a couple of years now. Jim Kaat used to say that if you've lost 19 games and they keep throwing you out there...then you must be pretty good. He was more than just "pretty good" on Saturday. He spinned a gem with nasty hard stuff that left the Yankee hitters baffled all afternoon. He more than anyone showed the world what the Yankees are right now. A richer AL version of the Atlanta Braves.

That's right. An idiot can see the parallel between the two teams. Start up a dynasty with smart trades, free agent signings and homegrown players. Dominate for over a decade because of pitching. Go the big bopper approach when the core of the staff gets old. Try to stay competitive with retread pitchers. Fail miserably early in the playoffs in successive years. The big difference between New York and Atlanta is money, so they can afford the big ticket free agents that might be available. That gives them the veil of being a championship contender, but not the horses need for a sustained run.

This is what quality pitching does for a team. It not only affects the opposing offense but the opposing pitcher as well. When your guy is putting zeroes on the board, it forces the other guy to do the same. If the other guy is bigtime, then you have a pitcher's duel. If not, then he presses a bit, tries to make too fine a pitch and you have what happened on Saturday. Bonderman was playing with house money. Leyland told him, hey, throw your best stuff, dare them to hit it. Challenge them early in the counts.

When a guy with his stuff, a mid-nineties fastball and biting slider, decides to do that, you're in for a long day unless you have a ace to respond in kind. Jaret Wright is no ace. I can't kill him for being what he is. A number five starter or a long relief guy. That's all he is right now. Maybe if we had the Wright of 1997 we might have had a chance. But that guy is long gone.

There have been questions about bringing back Wang on three days rest. Not holding him for a possible game 5. That's a question that I'll address later when I talk about Torre. But I will say this, Wang has never pitched on three days rest so it's hard to say that how he would have responded in that situation. But I'll deal with that a little later.

What happened in Detroit was not an accident. You have a rotation of young arms and a veteran pitcher who was willing to play mentor. You have a lineup that absolutely destroys bad pitching. And you have a battle-tested manager who runs a game and a clubhouse as well as anyone. As I said wrote recently, they didn't win 95 games by accident.

This Yankee debacle was six years in the making. When your minor league system only develops one quality starter in 10 years (Andy Pettitte....Wang was an international free agent) it's going to come back to haunt you. You can't continue to go to the free agent well and not expect to get burned. At some point, you're going to have to develop arms from your own system. A free agent or trade, here or there, is fine. The Mike Mussina signing was a good one for the most part. So were the moves to get Key, Cone, Clemens and Wells. But you can't keep throwing money at the problem. At some point, your scouts and farm system have to develop some arms to step in and carry the load.

It's so frustrating to see the A's, Tigers and Twins with all of these strong young arms. While we have to keep going to these retreads. You know they're going to go hard after Zito. But unless they offer him a ridiculous amount of money, I think he goes to the Mets. Think about it, he still has a chance to play with a perennial contender, he's reunited with his old coach Rick Peterson and has a chance to become a potential hall of famer facing those DH-less National League lineups. Plus, the atmosphere that Omar and Willie have created in New York is much looser than the one in the Bronx. Something that might be very appealing to Zito's West Coast flakiness.

Or he might go ahead and stay in Cali and go to the Padres or Dodgers. All the NL benefits without the East Coast drama.

But even if they do get Zito....Does a rotation of Wang, Zito, Moose (if he resigns), Johnson and Pavano (assuming he's there) put any fear in your heart? With this team's offense, it's probably good enough to stay competitive during the regular season. But what happens in the first round next year? If there is a first round, that is?

What makes the arms issue even more depressing is that Phillip Hughes, their one stud pitching prospect, is being brought along at a snail's pace. According to Bill Madden, scouts who've seen Hughes in Trenton, think he's ready for the majors, but for some reason he's still in Double-A. He was shut down after less than 150 innings of work. He should have finished the season in Columbus. Instead, Hughes is going to probably start there next year, rather than possibly getting a chance to break into the rotation. The rest of our arms are at least three years from being away.

As for the talk about Torre and the lack of intensity from the team. Well, Torre's always been stoic and his cool demeanor under fire was perfect for past Yankees teams. I don't know if it's the right approach for this one. Those nineties teams was full of young, hungry scrappers and established veterans who had no trouble getting in your face and say that you need to step it up. This team has a captain who refuses to even embrace the best player on the team during his troubles and apparently only want to be captain for players he likes. And when Torre does make moves to motivate Alex, like batting him sixth and eighth, they come off as clumsy and obvious.

Giambi shouldn't be the one telling Torre that he's coddling Rodriguez. Just as Giambi shouldn't be the one telling Alex to get big hits and that they need him. He's not good enough and he still has the stigma of being a cheater. But the problem with this team is that unfortunately, they take their cues from Torre and their captain. Two of the coolest men in baseball. Unfortunately, when you need a fire lit under your ass, cool isn't going to get it done. And if Jeter or Torre won't do it, then noone else will.

I agree with Larry Bowa when he says that if you need motivation to play in the playoffs, that you probably need to hang it up. He's right. But there's nothing wrong with letting the men know what the stakes are and articulating what it means if they lose. I'm sure the kids on the 1980 US Hockey team knew how important it was to win a gold medal. But it didn't stop Herb Brooks from telling them before their final with Finland, that beating the Russian will have meant "nothing" if they don't win the gold medal.

I know, I know. I'm dancing around the obvious question. Should Joe Torre be fired? My heart wants to say no. But when I look at the results, my head says something else. A manager can mean the difference between 10-15 wins a year. I look at this team and I say, as flawed as it might be, there was no reason why they should have lost to the Tigers. Even with their pitching limitations, the Yankees should have won this series in no less than four games. I said the same thing last year in Anaheim as well as in 2003 and 2004. Each time, the Yankees faced an opponent that they should have beaten, but for some reason did not. In each case, I thought there were things that Torre could have done to spark the team and put them in a better position to win.

Yes, the team has to perform, but in some cases, the manager has to make moves that put his team in the best situation to win. And in the playoffs, you have to get the win when it's there. Worry about tomorrow, tomorrow. If you go into with that mentality, your troops will do what they have to get it done. Look at the Red Sox in 2004. They did what they had to get across the finish line. They paid for in 2005, but they got their one. The Mets with their pitching limitations are doing it now. The Yankees need that sort of reckless abandon in the playoffs. They had that in 1996. And I'm sure they'd answer the call again if the manager were to make the call.

So as painful as it is to admit, I would not be sad to see Torre go. It's time. Grace under fire is fine, but we need someone who's not afraid to manage by the seat of his pants every once in a while. Torre used to do that when he had Zimmer by his side. Zimmer was insane but he knew the game as well anybody. Now it's almost like managing by numbers.

Having Wang go in game four is a huge risk. But if you're facing elimination, you have to go with your best guys because oblivion is just around the corner. Tomorrow be damned. Everyone's on deck, we'll figure out game five when we get there. That's what I loved about Francona in 2004. F**k playing it safe.

Say what you want about LaRussa, he's never been afraid to manage his game and noone else's. He's always thinking of a way to outfox his opponent. Does he overdue it on ocassion? Hell yeah. Does it blow up in his face sometimes. Hell yeah. But you don't win over 2,000 games in the big leagues by just being lucky.

Same with Bobby Valentine. The mind games got old, but his teams were always better because he was managing him. I don't think you can say the same about Torre.

As for what I would do about the 2007 Yankees; here's a little sampling.

If you're going fire Torre and bring in Lou, fine. But do it quickly. Don't make this out a long drawn affair. Torre deserves more respect than that.

If I were Lou, I'd fire Mazilli and make Larry Bowa my bench coach. Bowa is probably too crazy to manage the Yankees but he would a helluva number two man.

I would have a serious heart to heart with Carl Pavano and Randy Johnson. With Carl, to get inside his head to see if he really wants to pitch here. With Randy, to see if he's going to be healthy enough to help this team next year. If I found either of them lacking....buh-bye. I'd see if I could buy either of them out. If it means shelling out 20 or 30 million dollars and throwing the salary cap out of whack for a year, I'd do it. Luxury Tax be damned. The sooner they're gone, the better.

I'd see about signing Wright and Mussina. but for a reduced rate. And only if Wright would agree to come out of the bullpen. He's of no use to us as a starter anymore. But he has the stuff and makeup to be a pretty good reliever. With Moose, he'd be coming back as a back of the rotation guy. He's never been a ace. Always a good number two. Now he's a number four starter on a good staff. Aces aren't six inning, 100 pitch guys. He's a little better than Glavine at this point of his career. But not by much. If either of them had a problem with what I offered, I'd kick them to the curb as well.

I would invite Philip Hughes to Spring training to see if he's ready. If he is, he's coming up with the big club. He might get knocked around a little bit at first. But so did Melky. The seasoning would do him some good. If he's not quite ready, then I would start him off in Columbus and throw the pitch counts out of the window. He needs to learn how to get out of his own jams when he's tired. And you can't learn that by only going five innings.

I'd have Guidry and Billy Connors work with Wang to learn an out pitch. At the end of the year, he seemed to be fiddling around with a slider and changeup to strike guys out. That's what I'd have him working on all winter. Maybe play some Winter ball to fine tune some things. They say he has an amazing aptitude to learn pitches so I would definitely test that. He won 19 games this year. But to be a true ace, he has to be able to strike out more than 76 batters over 218 innings. If he's able to average two more k's a game, that's over a 140. Not exactly Clemens, but it is about what Tom Glavine has averaged over his career. And Wang throws much harder than Glavine ever did so he could quite possibly average even more. Then you have an ace. An anchor for your rotation.

If someone blows you away for A-Rod, do it. But do not give him away. If the Angels were willing to offer Ervin Santana, another top arm in their system and Scott Shields. I might listen. But nothing less than that. If you put him on the block, you let everyone know that unless they're willing to part with blue chip arms, there's no discussion. And noone who isn't either major league ready or a year away at most. No long term projects.

If A-Rod does stay. Then I'd sit A-Rod and Jeter in a room and have them hash out whatever BS needs to be discussed. No more coddling. If Jeter's going to be the captain, he's going to have to be the captain for everyone, not just the guys he likes. I might just take the captainship away just to send a message. That everyone is on notice.

I'd make Proctor the eight inning guy and Farnsworth the seventh. I'd also monitor his back in the off season and early spring training. If he goes lame again, cut him a check and tell him to bounce. It's quite clear that this guy is not heir apparent to Mariano. But Proctor has the stuff and the makeup to possibly fill the void if you don't blow his arm out. I'd also make it a priority to rebuild my bullpen. Myers and Villone are fine. And I like what I saw out of Bruney and Veras. I'd have Wright as my long relief or fifth or sixth inning guy. If he doesn't want to do it. Show him the door. When you see what Detroit, Chicago and Anaheim have done with their pens, there's no reason why we can't do the same.

I'd show Sheffield the door. I don't think he's as bad as some folks in the media have portrayed him. I just don't think he fits in with what the team should look like. He's 38 years old and a liability on defense. We don't need another DH.

I'd find a spot for Melky Cabrera. I don't know what kind of player he's going to be. But I want to find out. He's exactly what we've been missing the last couple of years.

I'd plan on Cano being my second baseman for the next 10 years. But only if a front-line starter isn't available. And I'm talking a proven commodity all star. Not Jeff Weaver.

There's not much you can do with Giambi. He just clogs everything up because he's a defensive liability. So I'd probably platoon him and Matsui at DH to get them both some rest and to get Cabrera some at bats.

As for the rotation, well, the early returns say it would probably be, Wang, Pavano, Johnson and Moose. Which is the reason why any chip you can use for pitching you should use. It's also the reason why Hughes starts in Columbus, but as soon as he's ready, I'm bringing him up for seasoning.

The long and short of it is that I'm willing to sacrifice 2007 for the future. I'd rather not make the playoffs than lose like that again.

Thank god for the Giants on Sunday.

9 Comments:

Blogger Ed in Westchester said...

Darth

I understand the points about Torre perhaps not being the right guy for this team, but I think the issue is not only him, but many members of the coaching staff.
Mattingly first. He was without a doubt a great hitter. What people sometimes fail to realize is that just because someone is a great hitter, does not mean they will be a great hitting coach. Look at Charlie Lau, the guy was awful as a player, but a great coach. I know, Donnie Baseball and all that, but are these guys listening to him? When the Yanks dominated, they worked pitchers. Not anymore. He needed to sit with A-Rod and get him out of his funk. Maybe he did, if so, he failed. Christ, Rick Down was fired for similar failures. (I hate Rick Down by the way).
As for pitching, Guidry. Confession time, I loved Guidry when he played. Yes, I am a Met fan, but Gator was the man. Same issue, great pitcher, can he coach? Can he get The Big Unit to change? Can he teach Wang that out pitch?
Bowa is a nut job. He might be a good #2, but if Lou is there, do they really need two maniacs?
They need better pitching. The hitting is there obviously, but Jaret Wright was a mistake, Mussina is 38. Unit is hurting. Wang is young. Pavano is, well, Pavano. Get Hughes in, try to trade for other arms if they can (Myers from Philly perhaps?).
It will be interesting to see how this offseason plays out.

2:06 AM  
Blogger beezermess said...

Darth....

It is time the New York Yankee$ go by way of the pre-lockout $trangers. It is time to cut the fat in more ways than one. Torre is not the issue; the issue is the $25 million dollar cry-baby names A-Bum. If you have to eat some of the salary to trade him, then do it...He would be perfect for the West Coast and the Angels have a ton of what the Yankees don't have...PITCHING!!!!!!!
I do not care what their lineup does, you need starting pitching...
My idea...
1. Randy--GONE
No point to have a 43-year-old pitcher who gave you two average seasons...he is not healthy and he is at the end of the line...Thanks for coming Randy.
2. Moose--STAYS
Though he blew the lead in game 2, he is the ACE and deserves the chance to finish out is career in Pinstripes and if it wasn't for him early in the season, you would not have made the playoffs.
3. Wang--Sign him to an extension.
Any pitcher who throws 95 MPH and a Sinker needs to stay.
4. Jaret Wright, Carl Pavano and the rest of the starting rotation no named Philip Hughes--GONE!!!!
Cut you losses (or sue the bastard for his money since he has not pitched-Pavano) and get younger...and realize that if you want Zito, you will overpay for him. But he is 28 years old...
The Twins, Tigers, White Sox, Angels and Athletics all have Studs in their rotation that are in the range of 25-31. Those are pitchers you need to get....That is why they will be your major problems for the next 10 years.
Hopefully this perspective helps you deal with the depression...
By the way you can watch the best third baseman in New York on Wed.

2:58 AM  
Blogger Darth Marc said...

Moose is not an ace. He's a solid number three or four. But not an ace. I'm not resigning him at $17 million.

I think Guidry can teach Wang that outpitch, as I said, he has been working it into his routine the last couple of starts and during game one of the Tigers series. Johnson is old, Guidry can't do a thing about that.

Giambi's turn around was a result of Mattingly. You can't blame Don for what happened this weekend. I think he can coach.

I like Bowa's passion as a number two. I do. I know Phillies fans will think I'm crazy, but maybe you need someone light a fire under some asses.

3:20 AM  
Blogger Ed in Westchester said...

beezermess - while part of me is pleased to see recognition for David Wright, I temper it. He has quite a way to go before he is the hitter that A-Rod is, at least in the regular season. He also has to cut down on the errors.

Good point on the Ranger comparison. Spend wisely, don't just sign the big star or the guy who has a good playoff.

As for A-Rod, the Yanks only pay $16 m, not a hefty pricetag for the Angels, who want to improve the team and will spend to do so.

I agree with Darth - Mussina is not an ace. He is a #3, much like Tom Glavine is for the Mets at this point. A good pitcher who is a good fit for the middle of a rotation, not the front end.

It will be interesting to see what the offseason holds for Johnson. Is his back bad enough to require surgery?

Darth - not saying the Don and Ron can't coach, just think there should be questions raised. Why should Joe get all the heat? Those two are directly responsible for the two areas that failed them. As for Randy being too old to learn from Ron, Glavine learned from Peterson, albeit late last season. Randy should try the same. Even Ron had to change as he got older.

6:42 AM  
Blogger Darth Marc said...

I would make Johnson my fifth starter next year....contract be damned. Try to fill the middle of rotation between Wang and him. Pavano is a possility if he gets his balls back from Alyssa Milano or whoever the hoochie of the month is with him. Pettitte is a free agent as well so I'd see if he would come back for a year in the Bronx. There are some possibilities out there. I just don't to face another Jaret Wright game four scenario.

Johnson as a number five on a tight pitch count means that you conserve his bullets for a stretch run. It's clear that he can't go 100 plus in successive starts so you watch him.

Preferrably I'd rather him retire and spend that money on a younger arm, but that's not going to happen.

8:32 AM  
Blogger Ed in Westchester said...

I see George decided not to fire Joe.
I give him until June if they falter next season.

10:01 AM  
Blogger kigogal said...

Darth,

Sometimes I think you should be the #2 man in the Yankee bullpen!

I'd for sure get rid of ARod, Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano and Gary Sheffield. From there I'd focus on getting my starting pitching solidified and figuring out the coaching situation. I thought Mattingly showed some greatness as a hitting coach. Guidry I liked. Mazzilli I don't like and Bowa I agree is a nut job.

I'm glad Torre is sticking around.

4:29 PM  
Blogger Darth Marc said...

I would only trade Alex if I could get a frontline starter and prospects back. A friend of mine suggested exercising the Sheff's option and then trading him to someone in need of a bat who has pitching in return. Sheff is still capable of hitting 30 homers a year and would be a good DH. We have to start getting some chips back.

3:34 AM  
Blogger Ed in Westchester said...

Darth - sad news on Lidle. Just a shame.

1:43 PM  

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