Yanks winning with the team they have, not the team they want

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Yankees working to correct the market

Back in 2004, Donald Rumsfeld, the then-Secretary of Defense, uttered his now-infamous words about the U.S. Army in Iraq. “As you know,” he said, “you have to go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you want.” While I’m loathe to ever think about Rumsfeld these days, as I ponder the Yankees and their nine-game winning streak that has rejuvenated a season many had written off, his words ring true with the Yankees.

Take Johnny Damon, the Yankees’ once and former centerfielder. When the Yankees signed Damon in December of 2005, we knew we were getting an aging, banged-up player who could still hit and cover ground in the outfield but could never really throw. The Yanks were okay with that. Fast-forward to 2007, and Johnny Damon has, in effect, turned into Bernie Williams. I don’t mean that in a good way.

Heading into today’s game, Damon has been a non-factor on this team. He’s dealt with a variety of aches and pains this season, and his defense and throwing arm have gotten so shoddy that he has, in effect, lost his starting job to Melky Cabrera, a far superior defensive outfielder. When (if?) Jason Giambi returns from the DL, Torre will have to sacrifice outfield defense if he wants Damon’s bat in the lineup. And that’s probably turning into a big “if” these days.

As Bobby Abreu, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui have, with help from Melky and Robinson Cano, carried the Yankees for the month of June, Johnny Damon hasn’t done much of anything. Damon this month is hitting .220/.291/.280, and he has just one home run since May 13. Johnny Damon 2007 is, so far, a far cry from the 24-HR Johnny Damon 2006.

Looking ahead to the next two seasons, the Yanks and Damon are wedded to each other no matter what. Much like the Bernie Williams situation, the Yanks have a banged up outfielder well on the wrong side of 30 showing drastic signs of decline in the field and at the plate. But it didn’t have to be this way.

Flash back to 2004. The Yanks had just lost an epic ALCS to the Red Sox, and Carlos Beltran had just wowed the world with his performance in the NLCS. At the time, the Yanks had Bernie who would turn 36 before Opening Day 2005, and everyone around them knew they needed a centerfielder. Why not Carlos Beltran?

To me, this will stand as one of the most infuriating unanswered questions of the early 2000s. Carlos Beltran, as a free agent, said he would take a pay cut to play with the Yankees. Even when he had a contract offer from the crosstown New York Mets on the table, he still told the Yankees he would sign on to play in the Bronx for less than he could get on the open market. And the Yankees never even made that offer.

Some will say it was the money. The Yanks would have been on the hook for Bernie’s 2005 salary and Beltran’s 2005 salary. Bernie would have been one expensive bench player. But I don’t buy that. In 2004-2005, the Yanks doled out millions for Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright and a Randy Johnson contract extension. Somewhere, somehow, the Yanks could have spent some money for Beltran. It would have been money well spent.

Others may say the Yanks were wary of Beltran’s health and drive. He’s been maddeningly inconsistent on the Mets, missing games to injuries and not showing the same speed he flashed when he stole 40 bases three years in a row. I don’t buy it. You don’t pass up on a then-28 year old over questions of intangibles, not after the show he put on in the NLCS.

Outside of the decision to go with Gary Sheffield over Vladimir Guerrero (and yes, I recognize that Vlad may not have been willing to play in New York) and the decision to let Andy Pettitte walk after 2003, the Beltran non-move stands out like a sore thumb. The Yanks with Carlos Beltran would be an even more potent team. The Yanks with Johnny Damon have what will quickly become a problem on their hands. As they did with Bernie by the end of his deal, they will be paying too much for a player with declining skills.

Now, this isn’t to take away from the amazing run the Yanks are on. I’m loving every minute of it. But as the Mets come to the Bronx this weekend, it’s hard not to think about what could have been with Carlos Beltran and the Yankees.

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Yankees working to correct the market
  • monkeypants

    You miss the real reason that balked at Beltran–it was not the money or the drive, they were scared off by his demand for a seven year contract. Since the last Bernie and Giambi contracts (both of which really bit the Yankees hard at the end) they have signed almost all players to contracts of 4 years or less. Sure, a seven year contract to a 28 y.o. in his prime seems like a pretty good gamble, but then so did a seven year contract to a certain 29 y.o. coming off his best season in 1998.

  • anthony from the bronx

    The yanks did not make a play for Beltran because they did not want people to say that they were buying a championship. They had just got randy and they did not want to go over $200 mil. at the time everybody assumed he was coming here. Boston was hoping that the yanks would make the moves that they did. their fear was Beltran not randy. Boston knew that Randy at best could only help win every 5th day. Bernie was 3 years in decline. Giambi was coming off another bad year and was not getting any better. Beltran was 26 then not 28. he could beat you everyday with his bat, speed, and glove. nobody bid on Beltran because he wanted to be a yank and we had a need. Matsui, Beltran, Guerrero. That should be our outfield.

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  • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph P.

    Anthony, every time someone mentions Matsui-Beltran-Guerrero, I shed a tear.

    Seriously, though, I’ve been saying this since it happened: Beltran + Vazquez > Randy

  • http://www.riveraveblues.com Ben

    the yanks didnot make a play for beltran because they didnot
    want people to say that they were buying a championship

    I don’t buy that. When have the Yankees ever balked at spending money on a player because they were concerned about what other teams may have been thinking? Never, as far as I know.

  • http://www.riveraveblues.com Ben

    it was not the money or the drive, they were scared off by his demand for a seven year contract.

    Then why not try to negotiate him down to five years with a two-year performance-based option? That was never even on the table.

  • Rich

    The real reason that they didn’t offer Beltran a contract is that there was enough money budgeted for either RJ or Beltran. George wanted RJ, even though Cash wanted Beltran.

    That is the incontrovertible fact.

    The length of contract was irrelevant. To wit, they never even counter offered Boras’s offer of a discount.

  • ReverseCarpetbagger

    While the money argument is there, and even a luxury tax argument, I shake my head when I see the Yanks sign the Rocket. Can’t be mad at the Pavano deal because, at the time, it looked like a good deal. Wright? Nothing like signing a guy who has one good year after arm trouble. Kevin Brown? Sure, let’s find father time in his hospital bed and trade for him.

    With Andruw Jones in the free agent class this year, do you think he’s worth taking a look at or is the “Melk” man going to be manning center for a while? Could work out with Giambi if Damon could play first.

  • http://www.riveraveblues.com Ben

    I’ve thought a bit about Andruw Jones, but there are some warning signs. He turns 31 right after Opening Day 2008 and will probably want one of those “rest of his career” contracts that carries him through age 36 or 37. He’s never been as good as we all thought he would be, and this year, he’s hitting .215/.318/.417 so far. Of course, he could turn it around, but I would be wary of Jones. By the end of that deal, we could be getting the same level of production from Melky for a lot less money.

    But I would love to see the Yanks offer a two- or three-year deal to Ichiro.

  • Rich

    I don’t want Jones or Ichiro. No more big money long term contracts to players who are on, or about to embark on, the downside of their careers.

  • Rich

    Pavano’s record was mediocre when they signed him. His ERA was basically league average or worse (often a lot worses) except for 2004 and 2000, when he only had 15 starts.

    It was never a good deal.

  • http://www.riveraveblues.com Ben

    I don’t want Jones or Ichiro. No more big money long term contracts to players who are on, or about to embark on, the downside of their careers.

    Good point. Maybe “love” was too strong a word. I wouldn’t be too averse to the Yanks making a play for Ichiro. There are better options though.

  • Mike K

    Who comes off the Yankees books this year? (Provided no one is traded). If I am thinking of it correctly, Abreu and Pettitte both have options but after that, no big contracts come off

    (Pettitte’s being a player option, which I would like to believe that he would pick up and did the Yankees pick up Abreu’s option for next year?)

    I wouldnt worry too much about getting a big name like Ichiro or Andruw Jones in next year. Next offseason, they should focus on adding good bullpen arms and assume you will get better by virtue of Hughes and Cabrera getting better. And obviously, if A-Rod wants to re-work his deal, do whatever you can to get him back.

    After that, Giambi comes off the books and they will have saved a boatload cash with which to throw at Santana. I foam at the mouth thinking of a Santana-Wang-Hughes front-end of the rotation.

  • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph P.

    Mike, make sure you include Joba in that fantasy rotation.

    Technically, Abreu, Pettitte, Mo, and Po come off the books. I expect the latter two to re-sign and Pettitte’s option to be picked up. Abreu is kinda strange. I don’t think the Yanks should pay him $16 mil next year. Now that we’ve seen him at his best and his worst, though, I still think he could be useful.

    It depends on how much money/how many years he’s looking for. You just can’t give him many years or much money, because we all know what his worst looks like, and it’s pretty damn ugly.

  • anthony from the bronx

    THE YANKS DID NOT WOULD NOT SIGN BOTH JOHNSON AND BELTRAN
    THE MONEY DID MATTER LENGTH OF CONTRACT WAS NOT DEAL BREAKER
    THEY DID NOT WANT TO HEAR ABOUT OVER KILL AT THE TIME WE WERE
    THE ONLY ORG OVER 100MIL GEORGE DID NOT WANT TO GO THAT HIGH
    LISTEN IN ONE REGARD WE WERE LUCKY THE ORIGINAL DEAL FOR R J
    INCLUDED CANO ARIZ.DID NOT FEEL THAT CANO WAS THIS GOOD
    IMAGINE CANO ON DIAMONDBACKS WHAT A DIASTER TRADE IT COULD HAVE
    BEEN THAT MUCH WORSE

  • Rich

    Signing Vlad instead of Sheff, as Cash had wanted, would have helped too.

  • http://www.riveraveblues.com Ben

    Vlad over Sheff would have been a much better idea. I agree. The reason I didn’t harp on that one though is because of Vlad. It seemed fairly clear at the time that he never had any intention of signing in New York. He didn’t want to face the scrutiny and the pressure (see: Johnson, Randy). I would love to see Vlad in a Yankee uniform, but I think we had a much more realistic shot at Beltran than we did Vlad.

  • Rich

    Fair point. The only thing I would have liked to have seen is that they should have made him turn down their offer before moving on to Sheff.

    Beltran was a Yankee for the taking, and as I alluded to above, who knows what type of counteroffer he might have accepted.

  • anthony from the bronx

    THE OFFER WAS 100MIL OVER 7YRS
    BOROS CALLED THE YANKEES AFTER THE METS OFFERED 119 OVER 7YRS
    HE GAVE THE YANKS A DISCOUNT BELTRAN WANTED THE YANKS
    HE DID NOT WANT TO BE THE MAN
    WITH THE YANKS HE WOULD HAVE BELNDED IN