— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Friday, May 06, 2005
New York Yankees Preview
Where do the Yankees go from here?
When you fail to plan, you plan to fail
I’m not sure who said that, but it applies apparently to the 2005 Yankees. If I had written my 2005 New York Yan-kees preview and turned it on time, I’d look pretty foolish right now. I’d have predicted a march to 100+ wins and deep into October. Now if this team gets there, it will be an achievement, perhaps the crowning one of the Torre administration.
However, the team now stands six games below .500 for the first time under Torre (Last time was midway through the 1995 season, in which, by the by, they made the playoffs. However, the core of this team seems to have aged before our eyes, and at $200 million, there’s little financial flexibility to fix it and with a farm system nearly devoid of upper level prospects, it seems like the sun is setting on Joe Torre and his immortals.
So how did we arrive at this point? Well, let’s start in the fall of 1998.
The Yankees signed third baseman Scott Brosius to a three-year $15.75 million contract after his first year in pin-stripes resulted in an all-star appearance, a .300 average and a World Series MVP trophy. This blocked an interest-ing young third baseman in Mike Lowell.
Lowell was shipped to Florida ostensibly for Ed Yarnall, Mark J. Johnson and career minor leaguer Todd Noel, none of whom would make an impact with the Yankees.
That offseason also saw Bernie Williams signed to his current contract – a seven-year, $87.5 million pact – while on the left coast, the Dodgers were busy inking Kevin Brown to an absurd seven-year, $105 million deal.
During the 1999 season, the Yankees signed 17-year-old Wily Mo Pena after MLB voided his contract with the Mets the previous year.
The 1999 team was essentially the 1998 team, minus David Wells and plus Roger Clemens. The team did nothing to improve itself at the deadline, simply reacquiring 1996 hero Jim Leyritz from the Padres in what would become a recurring theme.
In 2000, the team again made very few changes in the offseason, save one. The Yankees dumped Hideki Irabu on an unsuspecting Expos franchise for pitchers Jake Westbrook, Ted Lilly and Christian Parker. The team did shuffle leftfielders, bringing in Rock Raines and Roberto Kelly for looks, but ultimately went with a combination of Shane Spencer and rookie Ricky Ledee in the position.
The 2000 regular season would see the Yankees acquire David Justice in June at the cost of Ledee, Westbrook and fellow hurler Zach Day. The Bombers would make more moves before the deadline, plucking Denny Neagle and Mike Frank from the Reds for Yarnall, Drew Henson, Brian Reith and Jackson Melian. The team would also add Luis Polonia, Glenallen Hill and Jose Canseco during July and August.
After three straight World Championships, the Yanks resigned Paul O’Neill in November 2000, as well as inking Mike Mussina to his six-year, $88.5 million contract. The Yanks would also hand the second base gig to a young wiry-strong speedster named Alfonso Soriano.
The team would also bring Henson back into the fold, trading Wily Mo Pena to the Reds for the erstwhile Dallas quarterback and Michael Coleman.
The Henson-Pena swap was the first really in a series of moves that would show an utter disregard for the farm system and the future at the expense of the moment.
Later that year, farmhand Damaso Marte would be flipped to Pittsburgh in favor of Enrique Wilson. D’Angelo Jiminez would be sent to San Diego for Jay Witasick. And all those moves, and some remarkable comebacks in the Bronx would be undone by a Luis Gonzalez lineout that Torre managed into a loss in Game Seven of the World Series.
After the Yankees scored 14 runs in the seven game series, and finished a distant fifth in runs scored, the club deemed that it needed more offense.
O’Neill and Brosius retired, Tino Martinez took his bat and ball and went to St. Louis, Chuck Knoblauch took his miserable throws to Kansas City before retiring. Justice was traded to the other New York club for Robin Ventura. Steve Karsay was inked to a four-year, $17 million deal on Pearl Harbor Day, and that wasn’t even the big one.
After narrowly escaping the A’s in the 2001 playoffs, the Yankees signed away 2000 MVP and 2001 runner-up Jason Giambi to a seven-year, $120 million deal adding punch to the lineup.
The team also added John Vander Wal and Rondell White in the offseason to man the corners around Bernie Wil-liams. The Yankees also called up Nick Johnson, an on-base machine to split time between first and DH with Giambi.
During the season, the Yankees added what was supposed to be the next great Yankee ace – Jeff Weaver – in a three-team deal that saw Ted Lilly and minor league outfielder John-Ford Griffin go to Oakland and Jeremy Bonderman and Franklyn German go to Detroit.
To say Weaver was a washout on Broadway is an understatement, as he pitched to an ERA of 4.04 and 5.99 in his time in New York, including two disastrous appearances in the playoffs where in allowed three runs and recorded just 11 total outs.
During the season, the 2002 Yankees had a revolving door in right field, a door that include Enrique Wilson, who anecdotally so butchered a fly ball that the Yankees acquired Raul Mondesi’s silly contract from the Blue Jays for a Double-A reliever of no consequence.
The team flamed out against the Angels in the Division Series, leading to more roster changes.
New York reached deals with Jose Contreras and Hideki Matsui, the two premier foreign free agents on the market in December 2002, as well as signing Todd Zeile and Chris Hammond.
The 2002 offseason also brought Jon Lieber to the team on a two-year contract, with an option for a third year and John Flaherty into the fold. The search for bullpen help also sent Orlando Hernandez to the White Sox for Antonio Osuna.
The Yankees shuffled through 2003, bringing in a variety of relievers (Armando Benitez, Jesse Orosco, Jeff Nelson, Felix Heredia, Gabe White, Jason Anderson) with no real sense of a plan.
The team also ridded itself of Raul Mondesi, by exiling him the desert for David Dellucci, Bret Prinz and Jon-Mark Sprowl, thus opening things up for an interesting platoon of Dellucci, Juan Rivera, Karim Garcia and Ruben Sierra, who was brought back in June of that year.
The trading deadline was also a busy time for the Yankees, swapping top pitching prospect Brandon Claussen and lesser light Charlie Manning to the Reds for Aaron Boone. Boone pushed Robin Ventura out of town, sent to the Dodgers for Bubba Crosby and Scott Proctor.
Bob’s kid was a mess in New York, effectively demonstrating that his 2003 breakout half was completely the result of Great American Ballpark.
Despite its warts, the 2003 team played the great seven game series of all-time versus the Red Sox and then failed again to win the World Series as the upstart Marlins bested them in six games.
More changes were in store for the team, Luis Sojo, White, Osuna and Wells are sent packing. Roger Clemens announced to the world he was retiring, then signed with Houston soon after rotation stalwart Andy Pettitte did.
The team resigned Boone, Wilson, Sierra and Heredia, and made a couple of big trades.
First, the team acquired Montreal ace Javier Vazquez for Nick Johnson, Juan Rivera and lefty Randy Choate. Then the team gave up on Jeff Weaver, getting back Kevin Brown’s ludicrous contract. To soften the blow on the Dodg-ers, the Yanks sent $3 million, Bryan Myrow and current Dodger closer Yhency Brazoban to Los Angeles.
The Yankees did a good job of identifying their 2003 weaknesses and signed Paul Quantrill and Tom Gordon to two-year contracts to solidify the bullpen. In addition, the team was shopping for a rightfielder to provide offense and close the nearly two-year revolving door of Paul O’Neill replacements.
The two front runners were 34-year-old Gary Sheffield and 27-year-old Vladimir Guerrero. After being scared by Vlad’s balkly back, the Yanks signed Sheffield, who has been nothing short of excellent for the Yankees in his time in the Bronx. The Angels signed Guerrero, and all he did was win the MVP last season.
The Yanks brought in Tony Clark and Travis Lee to caddy for Giambi, who while off his MVP-type numbers had put up consecutive 40-homer, 100+ RBI campaigns in 2002 and 2003. Lee would hurt himself and be out for the year and Clark would play nicely, though not spectacularly throughout the season.
In addition, in the offseason, Aaron Boone was released after blowing out his ACL playing basketball in violation of his contract. This opened even more of a sucking chest wound at third base. At about the same time, the Red Sox had tried and failed to reach an agreement to send Manny Ramirez to Texas for Alex Rodriguez.
ARod was coming off an MVP award on a last-place team and was one of the game’s brightest stars and far and away its best shortstop.
Sensing an opportunity, the Yankees moved Alfonso Soriano and a player to be named to Texas for ARod, who stunningly agreed to play third for the Bombers, thus not upsetting recently installed captain Derek Jeter.
The team also signed Kenny Lofton to caddy for Bernie Williams, who was increasingly becoming a defensive liability.
During the year, starting pitching would dog the team. Mussina would struggle through his worst season in pin-stripes, Brown started well but ran out of gas and predictably got hurt, and upon coming back was horrible, Lieber started poorly coming off Tommy John surgery, but closed well, Contreras would struggle before ultimately being shipped to Chicago for Esteban Loaiza and Javier Vazquez was great in the first half and an utter disaster in the second, leading to comparisons with Ed Whitson and Weaver.
The team shuffled Brad Halsey, Alex Graman, Sturtze, Donovan Osborne and Jorge DePaula before certified Yan-kee hero Orlando Hernandez returned to dazzle batters with a wide array of floating, spinning, dipping, twirling pitches.
The team once again surpassed the 100-win barrier, but by the time the playoffs rolled around, its once rock-solid bullpen was gassed and the team spectacularly collapsed in the ALCS, dropping four straight games to the eventual world champion Red Sox in a seven game series loss.
After the loss, and before this season, the Yankees decided to cut Jon Lieber loose by not exercising their $8 million option on him for 2005. The team also signed pitchers Jaret Wright from the Braves after one good season to a three-year, $21 million deal (the same exact contract Lieber signed with the Phillies) and Carl Pavano from the Marlins to a four-year, $39.9 million deal.
In addition, the team shipped the malcontented Lofton to Philly for live arm Felix Rodriguez and brought back former Yankee hero Mike Stanton from his exile in Queens, for the low, low cost of Felix Heredia. The Yanks did keep Sierra and Sturtze, but made one big offseason move. Tino Martinez also made a cameo appearance in the Bronx to split time with Giambi, who had a lost year in 2004 and was later outed as a steroid user during the BALCO investigation. The team also inexplicably signed Tony Womack to a two-year contract.
To patch its leaking rotation from 2004, the team went out and got Randy Johnson, whom it had failed to acquire during the season at the deadline. The cost was high – Vazquez, Halsey and minor league catcher Dioneer Navarro.
Why go through all this? Just to make Yankee fans crazy? No.
For the building stage of the latest dynasty, the Yankees made moves with a plan, bringing in Paul O’Neill, bringing in Tino Martinez to replace Don Mattingly, etc… for the past two seasons, and even beyond that, the Yankees have had no discernable plan other than to win that day, week, month, year and when that didn’t work, tear up the plan and go in another direction.
Consider, if a few thoughts had been given to the future, the 2005 Yankees would be younger, healthier and proba-bly better.
Don’t like Kevin Brown? Fine, the team sticks with Ted Lilly, who has acquitted himself just fine in Oakland and Toronto as a No. 3, 4 or 5 starter.
Need a new centerfielder? Move Wily Mo Pena from 25th man on the bench into the lineup.
Shaky bullpen? No problem, introducing Damaso Marte.
Giambi not doing it for you? Say hello to Nick Johnson.
Undoing some of the moves the Yankee brain trust made could have yielded this lineup.
C – Jorge Posada (developed by and resigned by the Yankees)
SP – Mike Mussina
Bullpen – Jake Westbrook, Zach Day, Paul Quantrill, Tom Gordon, Yhency Brazoban, Tanyon Sturtze, Mo Rivera
The team could also bolster its lineup with prospects like Brandon Claussen, Dioneer Navarro, Robinson Cano and Eric Duncan in the minors.
Now, all teams can do this “what if” game, but in just five years the Yankees have turned over so many players, the question needs to be asked – does the organization have a plan, and if so what is it?
So what of the rest of 2005? Well, there’s one real chip left – Eric Duncan – and a bunch of arms in the low minors, but even if the Yankees wanted to cash them out, most of the top free agents to be at on contenders and unlikely to be available at the deadline. So this team is going to turn itself around on its own merits.
Can they do it? Well, only Jeter, ARod and Sheffield are at their career norms. Matsui and Posada are badly off theirs, but age and track record suggest they probably aren’t completely done. Giambi and Martinez appear to be the walking dead right now – neither of them are hitting well and based on age, track record and leaked grand jury testimony, its unlikely we’ll see them hit like they once did.
Bernie Williams is likely finished. Sad as it is to say, a bad elbow and bad knees make for a virtual death sentence for a skills first, instincts second centerfielder.
QuanGorMo is probably still gassed, and might rebound later this year. Brown can’t get it done anymore, Wright is predictably hurt and has been predictably ineffective when healthy. Mussina has gone from Hall candidate to crafty righty in a shockingly quick manner, but still can be effective. Johnson is old, ornery and apparently missing a foot on his fastball, which shouldn’t hurt him too much (despite what John Kruk says) because Johnson’s always used the heat and Mr. Splitty as compliments to his slider, which he threw 41% of the time last season according to the Bill James Stat Book.
The Yankees need to play .660 baseball from here on out to win 100 games again, which is probably the minimum needed to make the playoffs this year with the Jays, O’s and Red Sox in their division and the White Sox currently playing like a house afire. Right now, its still in the category of unlikely but not impossible.
However, the franchise needs to take a good hard look and decide where its going. What’s the plan, because it has been the failure to plan ahead that’s brought them here.
ZiPS Projections are not playing time predictors; they