20 December 2004

I Love It When a Plan Comes Together

I'm 30 today.

30. There arrives with the advent of any such milestone a unique opportunity for retrospect upon one's life. Other life milestones I've seen:

17 (driving age in NJ),
18 (Selective Service),
21 (something, I forget...)
25 (lower car insurance!),
27 (the last cubic age before retirement...maybe that's just me)

...but 30 seems like a different animal. You want to be able to point to something and say, "Yeah, I did that before I was 30!" and not have people laugh at you behind your back over it. The "American Dream", according to Trivial Pursuit, is to be a millionaire by the time you're 30. Personally, my dream is to be out of debt by the time I'm 40, but I'll have to let you know how that goes. (Trivial Pursuit should probably update that question, if it's still in the box.)

Actually, I'm fairly happy with my lot in life thus far: I've got a house, a wife, a dog, a college degree and a modicum of success in my profession, having recently had an article I wrote on Scanning Acoustic Microscopy published in a significant trade journal. (The online version is members-only, but if by some odd chance you're interested, email me and I'll send you a copy.) Even my hobby makes me a few bucks on the side. Most hobbies actually cost people money, like paintball or collecting airplanes.

On the other hand, where I have five fingers and a new watch, a "Merry Birth-mas" present from my lovely wife, many of my greater dreams have yet to be realized. For example, I probably have little hope of ever being paid a living wage to write about baseball, and even less of actually playing it professionally. Therefore, I find myself still seeking vicarious joy through a bunch of total strangers, most of whom, coincidentally, are or will be millionaires by age 30: The New York Yankees.

Thankfully, if I had little cause for celebration in mid-October, the events of this offseason have brought be considerably more reason for joy, or at least hope. Let's review some of these, shall we?

* Perhaps the biggest prize, or at leas tthe most accomplished pitcher, of this season's free-agent market, was Pedro Martinez. At one time or another, various rumors had him staying with Boston, or fleeing Beantown for one of about a half-dozen different spots, including New York. New York, of course, is exactly where he wound up, except that he's wearing kinda tacky blue and orange, instead of the classic navy and white. For Yankee fans, this deal represents the best of all possible worlds: Pedro has been excellent throughout most of his career, but seems to be essentially a 6-inning pitcher who's variously described as a primadonna, a jerk, and several other things I wouldn't repeat in mixed company. In Boston, he might have experienced a resurgence that could have haunted the Yankees for years to come, especially if he beat them in the playoffs for once. As a Yankee, there was perhaps even more possibility of catastrophe, as martinez might not have experienced a resurgence in his pitching dominance, but rather in his shoulder injuries, making him a $13 million/year disaster.

But now, as a Met, even if Pedro's great, it won't likely affect the Yankees, as the Mets collectively aren't good enough to make it to the postseason, at least not yet. And if his shoulder craps out? Better yet, if only for all the "I told you so"s that Yankees fans can dole out to their cross-town rivals.

* Considering the dearth of left-handers in the Yanks' rotation in 2004, the Yankees had been considering signing 39-year old Al Leiter, who hasn't pitched in the AL since 1995, for something like $8 million bucks, possibly for two years or more. Leiter's certainly not the worst pitcher on the market, but his impressive ERAs have been helped significantly by Shea Stadium, and he hasn't exactly been the consummate workhorse throughout his career, pitching over 200 innings only once since 2000. Thankfully, the Marlins are now on the hook for that money, so he's not the Yankees' problem if he flops.

* Another lefty, and another aging ex-Yankee, David Wells signed with the Boston Red Sox. Wells was another possibility to fill the Lefty Void at Yankee Stadium, but at his age, and in his shape, he's a pretty high risk to flop as well. Amazingly, Wells somehow got the same $8 million that Leiter received from Florida, but for two years at $4 mil each. And he's two years older than Leiter is! David ought to fire his agent and hire Al's. Once again, not the Yankees' problem.

* The Yanks actually did sign Jaret Wright, who got three years and $21 million, essentially that Jon Lieber received from the Phillies. Sure, Wright's got a history of arm trouble, but so did Lieber, and he's six years younger. When you look at it that way, it's not so bad.

* New York also reeled in one of the biggest catches of the Free Agent market, ex-Fish Carl Pavano. Coming off an 18-win, 3.00 ERA season in 222 innings of work, Pavano was clearly the best bet of the market, and the Bronx Bombers got him. Also 28 years old, Pavano and Wright shave off quite a few years from the Yanks' rotation, considering that they essentially replace the 34-year old Lieber and the 59-year old Orlando "Old Duque" Hernandez, who thankfully rejected the Yanks' arbitration offer last week.

This helps the Yankees' future considerably, especially given the fact that Kevin Brown is still a Yankee, and will be 40 next year, and that 28-year old but kinda sucky Javier Vazquez is likely to be on the next plane to Los Angeles, where he will undoubtedly experience a Weaver-esque resurrection to his career, or at least his strikeout rate. Ironically, Vazquez was the Yankee rotation leader in innings pitched, wins, starts, assists, double plays and strikeouts, but they're getting rid of him. This is because he also led the team in losses (10), homers allowed (33), runs (114), earned runs (108), wild pitches (12), hit batters (11), balks (2) and partriges in pear trees (1). The other irony, and perhaps the more amusing one, is that Vazquez had roughly the same type of season as Phillies' lefty Eric Milton, as my colleagues at the Replacement Level Yankees Blog pointed out a few weeks ago, when the Yankees were actually considering trading for Milton.

Vazquez's departure is predicated upon the Dodgers' front office people getting up off their butts and submitting the paperwork for the deal that everyone already knows about, which will send Randy Johnson to the Yankees, Vazquez to the Dodgers, and half the population of Los Angeles County to Arizona, which as I understand it is where they wanted to go in the first place.

First place, however, is something the Diamondbacks will not be sniffing for a very long time. Despite spending $78 million over four years on Troy Glaus and Russ Ortiz, the D-Bads are, well, bad. Really bad. Their 111-loss season in 2004 marked the worst season in the National League since 1965, and the second worst record in either league in that 40-year span. A thirdbaseman and a pitcher will not make up for that, especially if you're about to trade away a much better pitcher you already had.

That too, however, is not the Yankees' problem. The Yankees' problem is getitng this deal done so that they can go buy the best centerfielder on the free agent market, Carlos Beltran. Beltran will give them perennial All-Stars at every spot in the lineup except 2B, where rookie Andy Phillips, who hit .318 with 26 homers playing 3B for AAA Columbus last year, and apparently has hit well at virtually every level of the minors. The only other question mark in the lineup is Jason Giambi, and it seems that they can afford to carry him, if it takes a while for him to regain his form.

And so it appears that the Evil Empire is once again poised to make a run at the World Series, and to begin the long run of success that will eventually merit them the title:

Team of This Century, Too.

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