Sunday, April 29, 2007

Plenty of Blame

Big Stein is hovering. Torre is on the hot seat. But what about pitching coach Ron Guidry, leading a pitching staff last in baseball in Quality Starts, in the bottom three for Team ERA, and last in Team Saves. Obviously, the injuries have contributed, but the pitchers who have pitched have been terrible. How about GM Brian Cashman, who built this team, leaving it vulnerable to these problems?

Let us stay with Cashman a second, and review some of his decisions. Over the past year he set out to cut payroll, rebuild the farm system, and continue to put the best team on the field. Contradictory goals. Here are the key decisions over the past season:

  • Pass on Daisuke Matsuzaka and free-agents Ted Lilly and Barry Zito stating long-term, big money contracts for pitchers are too risky. OK, I buy that.
  • Trading Jaret Wright, Gary Sheffield, and Randy Johnson, for low-priced minor-league pitchers, another step in the right direction.
  • Sign Kei Igawa, an unproven, seemingly middle of the road Japanese starter, to a four-year $20 million contract, plus a $20+ million dollar fee.
  • Shell out almost six million a year for Kyle Farnsworth before 2006, a pitcher who has never lived up to expectations.
  • Trade for Bobby Abreu, starting the downside of his career at 33 years old, and then paying him $15 million.
  • Sign Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina to one-year contracts, veterans near the end of their careers.
  • Hand over centerfield to Johnny Damon, another aging superstar.
  • And even though it was before the new doctrine started, someone is responsible for Carl Pavano.

Scanning these moves, we see that Cashman is true to his word. Cashman is stocking the minor leagues, also refusing to trade any prospects for big name players, not doling out long-term contracts to pitchers, and refusing to get into free agent bidding wars. However, the Igawa move needs some explaining. A knee-jerk to Boston’s Dice-K signing? Abreu and Farnsworth? And I know everyone loves Abreu, and we traded very little to get him, but I still think the Yanks could have done something more creative and used that money for two quality starters.

Therefore, his track record is good, but not great, over the past year or two. Problem is, the scorecard will not be official until the prospects he has held, see Phil Hughes and Jose Tabata, and the prospects he has obtained, Humberto Sanchez, Ross Ohlendorf, et al., get to the majors and perform. In the meantime, the big club is extremely old, not deep, and still expensive. There in lies the problem, without saying as much, the Yankees are attempting to rebuild, but the fans and management still expect to win now. As I mentioned this is contradictory, and hard to pull off. If Cashman has full control, as they say, he needs to go full out with rebuilding, and set the expectation that there will be a one or two season lull while laying the foundation.

My gut says Cashman is on the right track, he just needs to get fully committed to the rebuilding program, so no more Kei Igawa or Kyle Farnsworth signings, and we, the fans, need to prepare to miss the playoffs at some point. Then Cashman must put the coaching staff in place to nurture a young team, not Joe Torre’s forte.

If you want to blame the current predicament on someone, it is probably Cashman, who left the 2007 team vulnerable. However, he did it with best intentions for the long-term health of the franchise. If you want to rebuild, there will be losing seasons. Check out the Indians and Oakland, both endured down times while building the minor league system, and have emerged as sustained powers. If the Yankees can do that, with the resources they have for adding free agents, they will be unstoppable. However, if they keep trying to win now, while rebuilding, well, look no further than the Knicks. A scary proposition.

For now, I will save my thoughts on moves and methodology I hope to see employed for another column. Chime in with your thoughts. Is it Cashman, Torre, the players, Steinbrenner, whose fault is 2007? And is it worth losing to rebuild?


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