Yesterday sucked SUCKED! An 18 inning loss is grueling enough in its own right, never mind the not-so-insignificant matter of the offense seemingly going on long term hiatus. I think Mike’s rant yesterday was a very candid reflection of how a lot of us (including myself) feel after watching some of these excruciating losses too – and frankly, there was a lot of truth in what he wrote. With that being said, and maybe this is just me optimistically rationalizing, I think a few points have to considered in addition to what was said. So…here goes.
The offseason was awful. I didn’t feel particularly confident with any of the moves that they made other than the re-signing of Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda. Downgrading Nick Swisher for Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki (each for two years no less) also hurt quite a bit. However, I think it’s important to remember that while those two have been big contributors to the outfield’s woes, they are not the complete cause for this situation. While Mike interpreted the offseason as NY hubris, I see it as more of the culmination of frugality and unfortunate circumstance.
Curtis Granderson’s injuries were both fluky and that put the team in a difficult spot. It’s tough to stomach both OF corner spots being offensive voids; realistically, it probably should have only been one spot that made us cringe. The offense would be more tolerable as a whole, if some of these guys were used as they were intended to be – in other words, as situational hitters coming off the bench…not starters. Eventually, Grandy will return and his presence in the lineup can’t be overstated. He hits for power and offers a middle of the lineup bat that the team sorely needs. We’re seeing some of these guys become exposed. I give Brian Cashman the benefit of the doubt when I say they were never intended to be used as they are now.
The same argument can be made for Kevin Youkilis and Lyle Overbay. Youkilis was a super expensive health liability from day one designed to replace another super expensive health liability – he was also a sheer desperation move. And while Overbay has been performing admirably, he’s not Mark Teixeira nor will he ever be. Teixeira’s injury was unexpected, as was the timing of Alex Rodriguez’s second hip surgery. Even if the team had wanted to find an adequate replacement for both, it would have been difficult due to the timing of the injuries themselves. The point here is that while the offseason was awful in hindsight, that outcome was partially unavoidable I think. Frankly, a team cannot survive long-term when so many starters are on the DL. High impact players are just not in great supply on the free agent market, and trading for them is a bear. Fortunately, reinforcements are on the way as these guys recover and one can only hope they’ll be effective upon return.
I don’t really want to spend too much time discussing the farm system because I think that’s a pretty complicated topic – one that most certainly deserves its own post. I will say this though. The team hasn’t had an opportunity to acquire a ton of super high-end talent in the draft because they win a ton and those picks really don’t fall that far down the food chain. One can make the argument that the team hasn’t maximized the draft picks it has had, or that it hasn’t developed those players as well as they could. I won’t argue either of those points. What I can say though, is that prospects fail way more often than they succeed, and on some level, it makes sense to me that team hasn’t reaped the benefits of internal replacements as much as one would hope. Having a “Core Four” come up through the system is insanely difficult and insanely rare. I’d assume fans of most other teams are probably saying the same thing about their organization’s prospect failure rate too.
While the Yankees haven’t had too many game-changing prospects (we’re talking first round top ten talent, they have found a lot of guys who have tangibly helped the team. You’re seeing it right now on the pitching side of things. Warren was magnificent last night. Phelps has been great. I think Claiborne has been really fun to watch. And guys like Ian Kennedy, Austin Jackson, Jesus Montero (who was a headliner in the Minors mind you) have helped the team in a big way via the trade (I’m assuming Michael Pineda eventually contributes – go ahead, and call me an optimist). Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain are topics of perpetual disagreement, but it’s inarguable that they are big league talent. Hughes can probably slot into the rotation right now for A LOT of teams and Chamberlain is a very good reliever. Not every pitcher can or will be Felix Hernandez or Mariano Rivera. That doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable in their own right though.
Do we have the best farm system? Absolutely not. Do we have one that is able to help the Big League squad overall? I contend that we do. It just may not be as much as we would like. But who knows, maybe some of these young players coming up through the system will become the next great name to wear pinstripes. I for one am really excited about Rafael DePaula and Gary Sanchez. Despite some drab numbers, I am also a huge fan of Mason Williams. These guys have the potential to be really helpful.
I do believe Mike’s post was spot on when he said the team lacks direction. It is hazy, at least to us. We don’t know the Steinbrenner’s agenda with certainty, nor do we know Cashman’s master plan to keep the team in contention assuming he has one. And this team may not be a championship caliber team. Frankly, I’m not sure any of that matters though, at least for the time being.
The idea shouldn’t necessarily be to win the championship every year because that’s an absolutely unattainable objective and a ludicrous measuring stick. The goal should be for the team to put its self in the position to win a championship every year. And the first step of giving the team a chance to win it all is to contend in their division and ultimately reach the playoffs. They are currently in contention — and I don’t expect that to change — and they can reach the playoffs (especially now with two wild card spots). It sucks watching the team lose, but perspective helps mitigate the nausea.
Are the Yankees the best team in the American League East? Right now, no. Are they the second? Quite possibly. Look around at their competition. They’re all flawed too; Ken Singleton did a nice job summarizing those weaknesses the other day. Are they better than the Tigers or the A’s? Probably not at this point. Are they better than the teams vying for a Wild Card spot in those divisions. I think so. We’ve seen what happens in the playoffs. Games are not played out as planned on paper and the damn San Francisco Giants end up winning it all. Get to the playoffs, and worry about the rest when the time comes. For what it’s worth, at least the Yankees have the pitching to give them a chance when it counts.
I was in the camp that was hoping the team could simply stay afloat while it weathered the injury-bug storm. They have done this, mostly admirably. They aren’t bludgeoning teams and they aren’t the dominant force that they have been in years past. But they are still around and better then much of their competition in the league. Ultimately, the team will need to decide how it’s planning on handling the austerity budget topic. It will have to carefully trapeze through the challenge of staying competitive perennially while simultaneously retooling. Given some of the terrible contracts already in the books, maybe they ultimately turn into the Phillies or the Angels as Mike cautions. Right now, though, I think this team still has plenty of opportunity to have a successful season and we shouldn’t write the future off quite yet either.