State of the Yankees

With the major league baseball season one quarter of the way finished, it seems like a natural place to evaluate the Yankees so far. They have made lots of headlines this season. From their rash of injuries to Roger Clemens joining them to their last-place start to A-rod’s almost record breaking April, the Yankees sure are a never ending fountain of media fodder. Here’s my take on the season so far. Please note: I use “we” and “the Yankees” interchangeably.


Standings
As of May 17, the Yankees are 18-21, second place in the American League East Division, nine games behind the Boston Red Sox. They are one-half game ahead of Toronto and one game ahead of Tampa Bay and Baltimore. In the Wild Card race, they are six games behind Detroit, with Chicago, Seattle, and Oakland also ahead of them. Not a very good start.

To be honest, I’m not scared of the Red Sox. They have had a great start, and have arguably the best starting rotation in baseball, but they always fold late in the season. The Yankees have overcome nine game deficits before. What I am scared about is the Yankees beating themselves. If our pitchers keep getting hurt and our batters keep slumping, we don’t have a chance. The Red Sox inevitable fold won’t matter if we fold too. The Wild Card will be tough – Seattle and Chicago will fade, but Detroit and Oakland always play us well.


Personnel
We have a great team on paper. Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and A-Rod are legitimate All-Star starters. Jeter is continuing his hot hitting of 2006, Posada is playing lights-out in a contract year, and even though A-Rod has had a cold May, he still leads the majors in homeruns and RBI. Jeter and Posada are 1-2 in the league leaders for batting average, too. I really don’t see any other legitimate All-Stars, though – Giambi, Damon, and Matsui have been plagued by injuries and poor starts, and Bobby Abreu and Robinson Cano look lost at the plate.


Our pitching has been anything but All-Star caliber. Mike Mussina, Chien-Ming Wang, Phil Hughes, and Carl Pavano have all been on the DL, and we have started ten different pitchers – six of them rookies. The Yankees also lead the league in relief appearances. Mariano Rivera hasn’t been himself (two blown saves, 6.59 ERA). He will get on track, but will our aging pitching staff? Our rookies aren’t seasoned enough to pitch us to the playoffs. Will 44 year-old Roger Clemen’s arrival help at all? We shall see.


Strengths
Our hitting, definitely, but recently it has been nonexistent. We lead the league in runs, second in batting average and hits, third in total bases, and fifth in homeruns. But on the last road trip, we could have gone 6-0 if we actually hit the ball. Don’t believe me? Friday – got shutout by Seattle 3-0, won Saturday, lost 2-1 Sunday, lost 5-3 in the first game Wednesday, won the second game, and lost 4-1 Thursday. Our pitching, but they pitched very well on this road trip. Now we have a brutal schedule with the Mets, Red Sox, and Angels waiting.


Can I call our pitching a strength though? No. We are 25th in ERA, dead last in saves (with a whopping three), and 29th in strikeouts.

Needs
First of all, we need to get healthy. We haven’t had a full roster all season.


We also need pitching. Roger Clemens will join the team in late May or early June, which will help, but he can only pitch once every five days. We still need to bolster our rotation to eat up quality innings to give our bullpen a rest.

Second of all, we need to start hitting consistently. Our leadoff hitter is only batting .256, only three guys are hitting above .300, and four guys have more than 25 strikeouts. That’s just not going to cut it.


Payroll
This past offseason, the Boss took a step back and let our GM Brian Cashman do the work – unloading overpriced, underachieving old guys like Randy Johnson and Gary Sheffield for younger, cheaper talent. Even the Royals spent more than we did. We still have the highest payroll, but most of that is taken up with A-Rod, Jeter, Giambi, and Mussina. We cut our payroll, while teams like the Red Sox and Mets increased their payrolls by $20 and $15 million, respectively. That doesn’t include the $50 million the Red Sox payed just to have negotiating rights to Dice-K Matsuzaka. Other teams are starting to spend as much as the Yankees, but there is still room to spend less and get better value.


Minor Leagues
With the Yankees AAA affiliate, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, in town here in southeastern Virginia this week, I have been able to go to three of the four games (all for free with Chamber season tickets, woohoo!). Andy Phillips, who was the backup first baseman for the Yanks last year, is on fire while playing 1B, 2B, and 3B. 1B Shelley Duncan is leading the league in HR with 11, and is also hitting for average. CF Kevin Thompson, who saw a decent amount of time in the bigs last season, also is having a good year. The problem is, Giambi, Phelps, and Mientkiewicz have first base locked up, and no other everyday positions are open. Trade bait?


What to Do
Lots of rumors have been swirling about Joe Torre’s job security as manager. I never thought he should be fired for the Yankees slow start this year, but now I’m not so sure. In Thursday’s game against the White Sox, with Johnny Damon getting a day off, Torre started the woeful Bobby Abreu in the leadoff spot, which is one of the dumbest moves I’ve seen from Torre in a long time. Abreu is only hitting .236 and has a terrible OBP of .303 to go along with 36 strikeouts. Not a great leadoff option.


As far as personnel and what moves to make, I would like to see Cashman unload some high salary players who are not producing like Giambi and Damon. Move them for some good young starting pitching like Randy Wolf of the Dodgers or Rich Hill of the Cubs. We don’t need Giambi’s sub .250 average and Damon’s sore pinky toe and strained calf. If A-Rod hints at leaving after this season, Cashman should try to unload him for some stellar young starter like Matt Cain. Carlos Zambrano has been rumored to come to the Yankees as well. Robinson Cano is the third baseman of the future for the Yankees, and once he moves to the hot corner, Andy Phillips can come in and play second.


Do whatever it takes to get rid of Carl Pavano. This guy has no stones, no backbone, no guts. He has recently been dubbed “American Idle.” He signed with the Yankees for four years and $39.95 million after a great 2004 season, in which he went 18-8 with a 3.00 ERA with the Marlins. His stats so far as a Yankee? He made 17 starts in 2005, didn’t pitch at all in 2006 (started out on the DL with a sore buttocks), and has made only two starts this season. In 19 career Yankee starts, he is 5-7 with a 4.76 ERA. Doctors are now recommending him for Tommy John surgery, which would require 12-18 months of rehab, guaranteeing that he would never pitch for the Yankees again. The Yanks are urging him to rehab the elbow without surgery, but Pavano is leaning toward going under the knife (I’m not surprised). 19 games. $40 million. Just over $2 million per start. That’s almost more than how much Roger Clemens, the greatest pitcher of our era (and perhaps ever) will get paid for half this season. Pavano is perhaps the biggest waste of money in all of professional sports. No work ethic. The Yankees need to cut him immediately. Good riddance.


Anyways, to sum it all up, Roger Clemens will help, the Yanks should unload Giambi and Damon for young pitching, immediately cut Carl “American Idle” Pavano, and get the bats and pitching going at the same time, and we should make a run at the playoffs.

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