Is it just me, or has the first few days of Spring Training set the expectations for the Yankees rather high? Sure, many of us can see through the media spin on the events of the past week or so. But even at that point, we’re seeing players do things, rather than just saying them. It’s a careful balance that the Yankees have executed perfectly so far. And I have to say, it has me more excited about this season than I have been in any year I can remember — though I’m fairly certain I say that every year.
First, we heard about the pitchers who showed up early. Joba, Phil, and IPK in particular were there before they required to, which is always reassuring. We also heard about Shelley Duncan showing up to work on his first base skills with Tino Martinez. And, Cap’n Jetes was there early, too. But he resides in Tampa, so it only makes sense for him to be around.
Then we heard about Brian Bruney losing weight. Good news, for sure. If anything, it shows that he’s at least a bit motivated. It’s certainly better than him showing up in the same physical shape as last year, and spouting off lines about his determination to make the team. PeteAbe also noted that Mike Mussina checked in lighter, which spoke to his off-season conditioning. We also heard about Kyle Farnsworth being less bulky, but then it was revealed that he dealt with a rather nasty staph infection last month.
A-Rod spoke to the media today and didn’t say anything too groundbreaking. Jose Canseco was simply wrong, but A-Rod, like every other Major Leaguer, still expects drug questions. He’s not talking to his agent Scott Boras, and he wants a World Series ring. Wake me up when a player says they don’t want a World Series ring; that would be some real news. · (9) ·
Via Baseball Musings comes a complementary piece to my farewell to Joe Torre: According to reports out of Yankee camp, Joe Girardi is really cracking the whip this year, and so far, both the veterans and young kids in camp in Tampa are responding well.
As John Harper writes in the Daily News, the Yanks went with Girardi over Mattingly to bring some discipline to what the Front Office had viewed as a lax team:
That was part of the reasoning for choosing Girardi over Don Mattingly as the new manager. After all the years of Joe Torre’s calming influence, Cashman and the Yankee brass wanted someone who would be a little tougher on players.
And although Girardi has downplayed it, his first camp has included considerably more running for the pitchers and catchers than Torre’s camps, and the same is expected today for the first full-squad workout.
Meanwhile, in a piece in The Post, Jason Giambi talks about how Girardi’s demands made him work harder this offseason. Girardi, as Pinto at Musings points out, knows that a good offense will outweigh the benefits of a good defense and wants Jason Giambi at first base. Giambi responded in turn, and it seems that, right now, the players are willing to show deference and respect to someone who isn’t much older than they are and has their attention. This can only be good news for the Yankees.
Everyone’s talking about change these days. Presidential candidates on all sides of the aisle want change. Baseball officials want to change the perceptions of a drug culture surrounding baseball. And, hey, there’s a new manager in New York, and things have changed.
Now, as you can pretty well guess based on the headline, I’m not about to write some nostalgic piece pining for the days of Joe Torre or noting how weird he looks in Dodger blue. Today, in my office, a few people were commenting on Torre’s appearance in a Dodgers hat, and to me, it wasn’t that big of a deal. But then again, I signed off on Joe Torre shortly after midnight on Thursday, October 21, 2004.
In the comments to Mike’s short piece about Torre’s appearance on ESPN’s Sunday Conversation, opinion seemed divided on Joe Torre and whether he should be considered the “right” person to manage the 2008 team or should have been let go long enough. It seems now that the writing was on the wall for longer than we thought.
Yesterday, in a piece that nicely complements the ESPN interview, Torre talked with Paul Hagen of the Philadelphia Daily News about his tenure with the Yankees. Here’s what the man once dubbed Saint Joe by the New York press had to say:
The last 3 years were difficult. I think it started probably with losing to the Red Sox. Because that becomes a mortal sin,” he said. “And even though the Red Sox were obviously a very good team that year, we got lucky early. They didn’t play well. Then we had two leads in Games 4 and 5 we couldn’t hold onto.
“Since that time, it may be a little too strong to say [the Yankees] wanted to make a change. But for me it wasn’t as comfortable. It could have been self-induced. I don’t know. Last season was very uncomfortable, especially with the bad start we had. There were a lot of questions and stories I had to address.
“I’m sure it took its toll on me, but when you walk into the clubhouse and all of a sudden the players aren’t sure what they should say, what they shouldn’t say, your coaching staff, that made it doubly uncomfortable for me. I just think over the last few years it was gradually getting to the point of not being a helluva lot of fun. The baseball was still fun, but aside from that…”
I know that Joe Torre wasn’t responsible for the way the team played during that 2004 ALCS, but his decisions impacted the game. He decided to all but ignore Kenny Lofton on the bench; he decided not run on Jason Varitek while the Red Sox catcher tried and failed to catch Tim Wakefield’s knuckleballs. He decided to allow Tom Gordon to pitch to David Ortiz in a pivotal at-bat late in game 5. Sure; hindsight is 20-20, but I vividly remember screaming at the TV while the games were played. It is just as easy to second-guess Torre for his managing during the ALCS as it was then, and my critiques have not changed.
Meanwhile, Torre’s impact on the team grew to the point where he openly feuded with key players. He played favorites with the bullpen; he gave guys like Miguel Cairo way too many at-bats long after they ceased being usable. In fact, Brian Cashman had to step in and trade Joe Torre’s guys away from the Yanks because Joe kept using them despite obvious ineffectiveness.
It was, in other words, long past time to go for Torre in 2007. It was well past time to go for Torre in 2005, but his saintly status kept him on.
Now, I know this sounds harsh. That’s the problem with taking an unpopular opinion, and it certainly understates Torre’s impact on the Yanks. His 1173-767 career New York record (.605 winning percentage) and his 12 straight playoff berths have long earned him my admiration. He did a masterful job handling the Yankees in the late 1990s with Don Zimmer at his side and always dealt well with the media even after Zimmer left.
But there was something about the way 2004 unfolded that seemed to bode ill for the future. Torre’s trust in his team was gone, and a lot of people started viewing his moves with skepticism.
I love Joe for what he brought to the Yankees; I don’t expect Joe Girardi to duplicate 12 years of unparalleled Major League success. But there comes a time for every team and every manager when they part ways. The 2007 split was far from ideal, and both the Yankees and Torre didn’t seem to handle it well. It was, in fact, a rare misstep for Torre who didn’t come out looking too sympathetic one way or another.
I’ll miss Joe for what he symbolizes — the winning ways of the Yankees during my high school years in the late 1990s when the Yankees were supposed to win the World Series because that was the way things were. I’ll wish him luck in Los Angeles and hope that the eventual mediocrity won’t tarnish his Hall of Fame credentials.
But I will look forward to the next Joe Era, the one of Girardi, the one in which players come to camp ready to compete and ready to get along better with their manager. It won’t be perfect, but it’s something new. And the Yanks have needed something new since that fateful night in October of 2004 when I sat alone and watched history unfold incredulous and shocked.
“I’m ready to go out there and prove to everyone that I’m still a pretty good player. I’ve been pretty consistent over my career. But when you talk about good players in the league my name hardly comes up and I don‘t think that’s right. I need to go out there and show them.”
Peter Abraham notes that Damon looks like he’s in great shape. This is, needless to say, great news for Yankee fans. Damon got off to a terrible start last season and didn’t really hit his stride until August when his nagging injuries cleared up.
Meanwhile, over the last few seasons, the Yanks have started the year 9-14 (2007), 13-10 (2006), 10-14 (2005) and 12-11 (2004). If they could get out to a fast start, the team’s winning ways would take some pressure off the pitching. Make no mistake about it; Johnny Damon atop the Yankee lineup will be a major factor in that potential success.
For those among us interested in the ongoing battle between the Bronx and the Yankees over the promised community funds, the story heated up a bit over the weekend. Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez reported that Yanks President Randy Levine faced some tough talk from members of the New York Assembly over promised constructions and community money that had yet to materialize. Today, the paper reports that the Yanks will begin to dole out the promised funds in April, more than 18 months behind schedule. When all is said and done, if the Bronx gets its park land and money, the borough pols won’t care when it landed in their coffers. · (1) ·
Why else would he call them “the so-called ‘Big Three’? Anywho, Hoch has a great piece up at milb.com about the Yanks newfound approach to building from within. It contains a brilliant quote regarding the Proctor-Betemit deal: “Our people were right,” Cashman said. “We had Proctor in other forms. It was just that [fans] didn’t know the names yet.” Word up. · (9) ·
The guys over at Project Prospect posted their list of the Top 150 prospects, with seven Yankees making the cut. James at YanksBlog gives you the rundown on those guys, so I’ll just refer you to his post. I’m glad Braves lefty Jeff Locke got some love at #89, that kid’s a dynamo sleeper. I’m also glad they knocked Dan Cortes of the Royals (#126) down a peg, the guys at BA were touting him like he’s the next Felix Hernandez, despite only having one good pitch.
Update: I meant to link to this yesterday, but it slipped my mind. BA ranked the 30 farm systems based on how close their talent is to the bigs. The Yanks came in at number 2. That’s a good thing. · (9) ·
I was thinking aloud on this one this morning, so I thought I’d bring it to you guys for a public review. Keep in mind that this is a best case scenario. It’s assuming that no one completely bombs or gets injured for more than two weeks or so. So let’s break this down:
Andy & CMW: 33 or 34 — so we’ll say Andy with 33 and CMW with 34.
Mussina: 28 — could be more if he’s effective, but he does have a tendency to wear down.
IPK: 28 — at 7 innings a start, that brings him to 196, right around his projected goal number.
Hughes: 22 — at 7 innings a pop, he’d be at 154, or right around his goal.
Joba: 8 — could be 10, could be none.
Add ‘em all up, and we’re looking at 153 starts, so that’s nine that have to be filled by the likes of Igawa, Karstens, Rasner, Wright, White, Marquez, and Horne. Not too shabby.
Of course, there are a couple of further caveats to the above list, foremost being Joba. Going back to the 2003 Johan Santana parallel, he could make as many as 18 starts, but I think the Yanks will use him a bit more liberally out of the pen early on than the Twins did, and will transition him to starting later on. As I’ve said, even if he opens in the pen, the team would be wise to give him a spot start in each of the season’s first three months, so he’s not completely unused to starting.
Hughes is a tough call. He threw 146 innings in 2006, so he could probably go decently over the 150 cap we’re hearing about. I probably wouldn’t go more than 160 with him in any event, though 165, 170 shouldn’t be out of the question.
And, of course, Mussina’s 28 starts depend wholly on his effectiveness. Hell, if he could hit 30 starts, that would be amazing. Even at a 4.40 or 4.50 ERA, he could carry value.
Playoffs are another concern. This is why I see the Yanks keeping Hughes to around 145 innings during the regular season. It’s also why I don’t see Joba making more than eight starts, 10 tops. They want these guys to be able to pitch in the playoffs. This is why Mussina is that much more important. If he can eat 30 starts, he takes the pressure off the younger guys, allowing the Yanks to free up innings for playoff time.
Then again, in this year’s AL, the playoffs aren’t any kind of guarantee. The Yanks will be fighting with Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Anaheim, and Seattle for four spots. And even then you don’t know if a dark horse like the Rangers will emerge as competitive.
The overall message, though, is to not listen to the mainstream media. The Yanks look fine in terms of starters as of this moment. If something changes along the way, I’m sure we’ll discuss it. But it need not be met with panic.