The realities of youth movements in New YorkBy
This is a guest post by frequent commenter Steve S.
I guess I am writing this in order to be contrarian because I partially believe it and part of me wishes it weren’t true. For the past three seasons, prior to the Johan Santana trade I was a firm believer in the youth movement. Especially with regard to the apparent failures of free agent pitching and those acquired by trade.
In 2004, I thought Cashman was brilliant in avoiding Curt Schilling and acquiring Javier Vazquez (sidenote: Yankees gave up way too quickly on that one), especially considering Arizona’s demands for Schilling (ed. note: Nick Johnson and Alfonso Soriano). By 2005, I was convinced that Randy Johnson on a short deal was the right move, especially considering the fact that they managed to hold on to Wang and Cano in the initial trade deadline fervor. I admit I was concerned about Pavano and no one in their right mind expected Jaret Wright to work out.
As I was saying, I was a firm believer in developing pitching and the necessity to do it. Part of it was that these guys were failing, but what made convinced me was the way these guys were melting. Even Arod to an extent had been affected (thankfully his physical talent was able to overcome some of the mental difficulties). All of these guys seem to not just fail with respect to difficult expectations, but they weren’t even performing up to their normal standards. Contrary to popular belief Randy Johnson actually did well, but it was as if the minute he arrived here he went from stud pitcher to good pitcher with fundamental flaws in his delivery and his makeup. Javier Vazquez was great for the first half and then completely folded in the second half. Pavano, who most knowledgeable fans would have predicted a four ERA and probably between 10-15 wins, couldn’t stay on the field — and I say knowledgeable fans because anyone who expected this guy to be anything more than a number three starter hadn’t paid attention. And this is all when the farm system was barren of top pitching prospects.
So when Wang came up and succeeded it became apparent that the Yankees needed to change their course. Because starting pitching through free agency and trades had dramatically changed since 1996. You couldn’t go get David Cone, David Wells or Roger Clemens to front the rotation. So when I saw the reports on Phil Hughes I salivated, and his continued success made me long for this change in philosophy. However, I missed something that has now become apparent to me. This whole New York phenomenon regarding the unrealistic expectations of fans and the media and to an extent the organization is fundamental and isn’t just limited to superstars or free agents. It extends to these kids now. Whoever gets to the forefront becomes public enemy number one because there are so many revisionists out there.
This leads me to the current situation. Brian Cashman has done a remarkable job with restoring and righting this thing because the reality was that the Yankees couldn’t realistically continue down the path they were on forever. Especially in light of every small to mid market team locking up their young players to long term deals so early on (thank god for Scott Boras or else the hot stove would be so boring). As we can see one month into this, people are more than just squirming; there is a wholesale panic out there. And while it is not justified, the reality is that it is having an effect.
Ian Kennedy has been awful, but as everyone has noted here, there are glimpses of improvement. The only issue becomes how is this affecting him mentally. His comments before being sent down were the best portent of his ability to handle adversity in the New York media. And his performances have not even come close to what he was able to do in the minor leagues. Which leads me to believe that he might just be feeling overwhelmed. I think we all forget, and its even more prevalent now in age of sabermetrics and closely following the minor leagues, that these guys are human and they cant always perform the way the back of the baseball card or baseball reference.com says they should.
The same may unfortunately apply to Joba now since people are foaming at the mouth at this midseason change. If he stumbles at all, people will have the ignorant reaction to restore him to the bullpen. I’m saying this all now and acknowledging that hindsight is 20/20. I was one of those people who celebrated these moves. But now I’m starting to get weary because I fear what all this can do to these kids and this organization. I never expected people to be so quick to judgment, but I should have. And what I hate to say is that Brian Cashman should have to. By basing so much of this year, the year after the Red Sox won their second World Series in four years, on these kids the Yankees may have put the Arod target on the “Big Three’s” backs. And there is no telling if in this market, with this much money invested, whether the Yankees can fully execute this plan. The Red Sox had a third place finish; what would happen in New York if the Yankees crumbled in late August and finished in third place? The White Sox survived a year of John Danks and Gavin Floyd being awful, and now they are reaping the rewards. Could that happen in New York?
I just hope Brian Cashman has the backbone and the longevity to carry this plan to fruition. And more importantly, I hope these kids can survive this kind of scrutiny, because if they do flop, it’s going to set things back, both because the organization might start avoiding the youth again and because they might invest in what has become an even worse free agent market. And I think the blame falls on the fans. Not just on the impatient fans, but for those of us who lose sight of the intangible reality of playing in New York and the fact that these kids can sometimes mislead us when they are pitching in Scranton or Trenton.