03 May 2005

Do the Yankee Shuffle

My mom is worried.

Two days ago, after hearing all about the woes of the New York Yankees on sports talk radio on my way to work, and the alleged plan to cure said woes, I received an email from said Maternal Yankee Fan describing the myriad of lineup and roster changes as well as her own panic over the state of said team. Said mom was not wrong to worry, though said Yankees may be. At the least, the Yankees may be overreacting to an otherwise appropriately worrisome issue.

On the other hand, the Bronx Bombers have done nothing in the last two days to assuage those fears. In fact, "bomb" is exactly what they did yesterday, losing 11-4 at Tampa. As I write this, the team is down 10-8 to those same Tampa Bay Devil Rays, a team that had lost eight straight games coming into Tuesday night. Strike that, 11-8. The same team that currently sports a 9-18 record, good for (wait for it...) 28th best in the majors! Yep, KC and Colorado are jealous. Wait, that 11-8 is a final score.

In an effort to shake things up, the Yankees released Steve "Ow, My Elbow" Karsay, who had pitched a grand total of 12.2 innings in 2004 and 2005, all for the low, low price of six million dollars. Per year. If he clears waivers (and gosh, I can't imagine why the other 29 teams wouldn't want a guy who makes roughly $1 million per inning pitched...) Texas may pick him up, with the Yankees paying the sunken cost of Karsay's contract. As it works out, that's still only about half of what the Rangers are paying Alex Rodriguez to play for the Yankees, so maybe that wouldn't be so terrible.

Karsay's release made room for AAA 2B Robinson Cano, who hit well at AA Trenton in 2004, but struggled a little upon his promotion to Columbus. This year he was hitting much better at Columbus, and has gone 3 for 8 in his first two games with New York, though he made a costly error tonight. Of course, Cano has gotten eight at-bats as a secondbaseman because the regular second baseman, Tony Womack, is playing left field. Interestingly, the Baseball Prospectus projections for these two players in 2005 are:

Womack: .261/.303/.353
Cano: .255/.298/.389

Nearly identical, don't you think? Except they're not, because the 22-year old Cano makes the major league minimum, and has some "upside", whereas the 35-year old Womack has nowhere to go but down from his 2004 career year, and makes $2 million for each of the next two seasons.

Anywho, Womack is playing left because Hideki Matsui, currently hitting only .243 himself, mired in an 8-for-53 slump and homerless since April 8th, is playing center field. And center field, as you know, is avilable because Bernie Williams and his .247 batting average, .312 slugging percentage and gimpy throwing elbow are riding the pine. If this truly is the end of the line for Bernie as a starter, he deserves a better epilogue than I can compose in the short few minutes I have available right now. However, I am not yet convinced that we have seen the end of Bernie's starting days in CF. A little time, a little health, and maybe Williams returns to continue to build on his legacy as, far and away, um...the third or maybe fourth best centerfielder in Yankees history. You could do worse.

Until he's healthy, Bernie will serve only as a part-time DH, one of about six guys who help fill that role for the Yankees these days. Jason Giambi is the usual DH, but the "H" may be a bit of an overstatement in his case. Giambi's apparently got his batting eye, with a .394 OBP, but is "hitting" only .208, has only 6 RBI and hasn't homered since April 19th. Giambi was signed to his seven-year megadeal as a recent MVP firstbaseman, but after a season of injuries, infections and inklings of inappropriate usage of controlled substances, Jason's been reduced to a full-time DH, and a lousy one at that. The Yankees actually went out and signed re-tread Tino Martinez, a fan favorite and erstwhile hero of the Yankee franchise, but a firstbaseman whose best offensive years are far behind him, and whose most valuable asset is his glove, which is a little like carrying a relief pitcher because he knows a lot of good card games to play on those long road trips.

Rookie Andy Phillips hit .318 with 26 homers at AAA Columbus last season, but is off to a .160 start with the big club this year, after an 0-for-5, 5 strikeout performance on Tuesday night. If 0-for-4 with 4 K's is the "Golden Sombrero", what the heck did Phillips do last night? On the other hand, here's another interesting projection comparison from Baseball Prospectus:

Tino: .267/.350/.444
Andy: .263/.326/.456

Yet again, almost identical statistical projections, but 37-year old Tino is costing them almost $3 million this year, while Phillips, in his prime as a hitter at age 28, will make the MLB minimum. Not a good use of resources.

Amazingly enough, despite the offensive woes of several key players, The Yankees currently rank 4th in the majors in runs scored, behind only Boston, Baltimore and Texas, since Jeter, A-Rod, Sheffield and others are hitting reasonably well.

The real problem has been the pitching. The Yankees' 5.08 team ERA is better than only Tampa Bay in the AL, and the Reds and the Rockies (who both have a pretty good excuse given their home ballparks) in the NL. Randy Johnson's got a slight groin injury that might turn into a much bigger problem, and he was the "good" starter at 2-2 with a 3.74 ERA. Carl Pavano and Mike Mussina have not been great, but at least have given their team a chance to win once in while, which is more than Kevin Brown (8.25 ERA) and Jaret Wright (9.25!) could say. Wright's on the DL with a bum shoulder, and Brown ought to be on the DL, as in "Don't Let" him pitch anymore. Rookie Chein-Ming Wang pitched pretty well on Saturday against the Blue Jays, but AA starter Sean Henn didn't impress anyone tonight, giving up 5 earned runs in fewer than three innings. I guess he'll be going back to roost in the 'pen in Trenton.

Worse yet, they don't have a lot of options in the minors to replace these guys if they get hurt and/or continue to suck. Pete Munro? Wayne Franklin? Not gonna happen. These Yankees are in it for the long haul, because the franchise isn't equipped to replace them, and their contracts make them untradeable. They may be mediocre, they may be bad, they may just be working out the kinks on the way to another division title, but don't expect the roster to turn over much more from here on out. So keep worrying, Mom.

Ladies and gentlemen...your New York Yankees.

Like them or not.

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