Please check out the Hippeaux's weekly posts at SNY affiliate, It's About The Money.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The World Series is next week! But who cares?!? Let's talk about the Yankees.

The Indians and Red Sox have reached the winner-takes-all moment in a series which featured, among other things, a seven run 11th-inning explosion, back-to-back-to-back homers, and the 35th stolen base of a postseason career. All are historic firsts.

The Rockies have won 21 of their last 22, including seven straight in the playoffs. They're headed to their first World Series.

But, naturally, most of the baseball headlines are concerned with the Yankees off-season plans. Will A-Rod opt-out? Will Joe Torre still be welcome in the Bronx? What part will Hank and Hal Steinbrenner's reclusive younger brother, Huck, have in the day-to-day baseball operations of the franchise? Does Jorge Posada look more like David Schwimmer or a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle?

Well, I have nothing more to say about the postseason at present, except that I'm enjoying it more and more the further it moves inland, so I may as well hop on the bandwagon. Obviously, I've got no insider information (despite my close relationship with Don Mattingly's second cousin). As one of the many Yankee-haters who will be watching the headlines of the next several weeks maniacally anticipating the worst fate for all things pinstriped, the best I can offer is what I hope will happen.

Brian Cashman & the Steinbrenners, the barbershop quartet auditioning for the next season of The Next Great American Band, will finish their secretive rehearsals in Florida and, unwilling to go back on George's word, fail to offer Joe Torre a reasonable contract, perhaps belittling his accomplishments during a widely-publicized press conference. You know, "He hasn't really proved himself in this millenium."

Against the recommendation of Cashman and others, the Steinbrenners will replace Torre with current bench coach, Don Mattingly, assuming that this offer of moderate stability will prevent an all-out desertion by the potential free-agent class that includes Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Alex Rodriguez.

Rodriguez will, predictably, opt-out and end up on the West Coast, probably in San Francisco. Mariano Rivera will follow, perhaps even joining the same team.

At this point, probably around December, the Stooges will begin to get anxious, as it dawns on them that they may actually end up with a worse team in 2008 than they had in '07, and one without an experienced manager or a confident clubhouse to help them overcome their annual spring slump. Hank and Hal don't want to give their father yet another reason to call them losers. They pick up the option on Bobby Abreu. They convince Pettitte to hang on for another year. And, in order to prevent Posada from defecting to the Mets, they offer him way more money than he's worth, something in the neighborhood of three years and $35 Million. (Cashman starts having Javy Lopez nightmares.)

Still, even with three dynastic (a.k.a., old and overrated) pieces of the puzzle in place (Posada, Pettitte, Jeter), the roster seems to have gaping holes in it. The Red Sox have lost next to nothing as they shore up their rotation with Clay Bucholz and Dontrelle Willis (in return for Coco Crisp and a prospect). Suddenly, as desperation fuels fantasy, members of the weak free-agent class begin to look tempting. The heroes of yesteryear, men who have haunted them in postseasons past: Schilling, Rogers, Lofton, Piazza, Glavine, Colon, Jones. Who could possibly replace A-Rod? Maybe, with rested knees and a revitalized lineup around him, maybe Barry Bonds? Who could possibly replace Rivera? Maybe Eric Gagne? Who could possible replace Roger Clemens? Well, maybe the Rocket has another year in him after all? They sign player after player on whim after whim, regardless of price, priority, or position. Melky Cabrera is once-again relegated to reserve duty. Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes are forced to fight over the one remaining spot in the rotation (Joba Chamberlain is, as Hank promised, inserted as the fourth starter). Out of necessity, Johnny Damon learns to play third base. As usual, the bullpen gets overlooked.

The season starts well. The Steinbrenner boys strut around the yard, the Yankees are still atop the division at the end of May. But, the tide turns. Leads are blown, repeatedly. Injuries plague key players. They stumble into the All-Star break around .500. Still, they say, "better than last year."

Chamberlain loses it in the second half, overworked and under-prepared. Posada's average dives toward .250. One after another, players land on the D.L. Without Torre's steady hand, the cookie crumbles. Even Jeter begins to look anxious at the plate. He argues with umpires, drops double play balls. Yankees fans wonder aloud, "Didn't he use to have more range on his right?" Only Robinson Cano lives up to expectations, exceeds them even. He smiles and, beginning to look more and more like Alfonso Soriano (if Soriano could really play second base), contemplates his looming free agency.

At the end of the year, the Yankees make a grand push. They finish above .500 for the 16th consecutive season. The Red Sox win the division. The Blue Jays finish second. Mattingly is summarily dismissed, like many great Yankee players before him (Martin, Pinella, Berra, Michael), he failed to live up to the Steinbrenner conception of managerial greatness. Torre, having taken a year off to work as an ESPN commentator (ala Pinella and Dusty Baker), is offered $8 Million to return. Instead he takes a job in St. Louis, as La Russa's bench coach.


That's what I hope will happen and, no matter what your loyalty, I think you'll agree that it isn't an entirely absurd prediction. The much more difficult question is, what should happen?

Even in the best of circumstance, with nobody looking over his shoulder and only moderate expectation, Cashman would have a hell of a lot of work to do this offseason. He has three potential holes in his everyday lineup (first base, third base, catcher), as well as a clusterfuck at designated hitter (Damon, Giambi, Duncan). He is probably looking at three rookies (or, practically rookies) in the starting rotation (Chamberlain, Hughes, Kennedy) and only one reliable arm in the bullpen (Vizcaino). And, like I said before, his fiercest rival in the division (the team with the best record in baseball in 2007) only loses one contributer (Schilling).

It won't happen, but the Yankees should commit to rebuilding, with or without Torre. Unlike teams like Pittsburgh or Kansas City, this would probably only take them a year, during which they would still be respectable. This would mean letting Posada, Rivera, Clemens, and Rodriguez go. Cabrera, Duncan, Betemit, Kennedy, and Hughes would all be expected to take on everyday roles. Perhaps they acquire underrated, lower-tier guys to shore up first base (somebody like Adam LaRoche), catcher (maybe Micheal Barrett), and closer (say Borowski or Dotel).

At the end of 2008 they will be relieved of their huge contractual commitments to Giambi, Abreu, and Mike Mussina. There will be a much stronger free agent class, probably including marquee guys like Johan Santana, C. C. Sabathia, Mark Texeira, and Vladimir Guerrero. Most importantly, perhaps, they will have a better sense of what they need. Are Hughes, Kennedy, and Chamberlain all dependable starters? Can either Duncan or Betemit be valuable day in and day out? Do they have any other valuable prospects on the horizon?

The next Yankees dynasty is not far off, will they have the patience to wait for its arrival? Or will they compromise it in order to win 90 games next year?

No comments: