05 August 2008

Yankees Trading Deadline Review: It's Over

I know I'm a little late to the party on this stuff, but I was on vacation for a week and a half or so, and never got a chance to comment on all of this. Frankly, with the splendor of Yellowstone Park and the Grand Tetons in front of me, somehow the importance of the 2008 Yankees' postseason hopes seemed a bit small in comparison. Of course, now I'm back home, and my priorities have been set straight.

So now I'm back and I don't recognize half of the faces of the players on my favorite team. Well, I recognize some of them - I mean, who's been paying any attention at all to baseball for the last 15 years and doesn't know Ivan Rodriguez by sight? - they just don't look right in Yankee uniforms is all.

Fortunately, in the case of Pudge, all we gave up was Kyle Farnsworth, who, while having a decent year to date (for once) was bound to fall off the table at some point. To wit, he gave up two homers to the Rays a couple of nights ago and blew a save. Brian Cashman was selling high with Farnsworth, who had a 4.44 ERA as a Yankee entering 2008, but managed to put up a 3.65 this year.

I-Rod, on the other hand, is on the tail end of his Hall-of-Fame career, and despite the way Brian Cashman has talked him up in the wake of this deal,

“In theory I think we upgraded offensively. Pudge is obviously still having a
tremendous year, one of the top catchers in the game today."

I beg to differ. Pudge is hitting close to .300, but with no walks and no power. He's on a pace for about 50 Runs and 50 RBIs. After Brian McCann, Joe Mauer, Russell Martin, Geovany Soto, Dioner Navarro, Ryan Doumit, and (before they got hurt) Jorge Posada and Victor Martinez, you could say that Pudge was "one of the top" catchers. That's roughly the top third or so of major league catchers, and maybe his defense pushes him into the top 25% or so, but that's a pretty generous definition of "one of the top" and that's about all I'm willing to concede.

Still, the main idea here was that Pudge would be an imporvement on Jose Molina, not Jorge Posada or Brian McCann, and that he is. According to Baseball Prospectus, Pudge had been worth about 3.4 Wins above replacement to date, while Molina was at about 2.3, most of that via his defense. Pudge brings comparable defense along with a bat that, if nothing else, at least is not a total zero. He should be worth something like one to two wins over Molina from here on out, but no more than that.

The other "big" move by the Yankees was to pick up Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte from the Pirates for prospects. Not that these two are likely to make you want to rush out gotickets and drop $500 on a couple of seats to the next game, but they're both solid, useful role players.

The Yankees gave up Jose Tabata, who was tabbed the Yankees' "Centerfielder of the Future", but since that future wasn't likely going to happen before 2010 or 2011, and since he was hitting .248 in the Eastern League, Cashman decided to take his chances with guys who can play now.

The other three given up in that deal, Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens and Dan McCutchen, are all righty pitchers who may grow up to be useful major leaguers someday, but all of whom have some kind of significant strike against them. Ohlendorf struggles with his weight and has had arm problems in the past. Karstens is a finesse pitcher whose lack of a good fastball leaves him with only the slimmest of margins for error, and McCutchen, though successful in the minors to date, has no true out pitch. Twenty years from now, he may prove to have been the best of the three, but even that is likely to be a #3 or #4 starter for about four or five years, tops.

In return the Yanks got Nady, who was hitting .330 with Pittsburgh, and amazingly did even better after joining the Yankees, winning AL Player of the Week honors for hitting .385 with 3 homers. With his "swing hard in case you hit it" approach, he won't keep that up, but if he can hit .285 with a little power and some walks, as his career averages suggest he can, the Yankees can plug him into left field every day while Hideki Matsui and/or Johnny Damon are injured.

Marte is a lefty who strikes batters out, and has posted solid ERAs in every year since 2002. And he's no LOOGy, being nearly as effective against righties (.716 opponent OPS) as he is against southpaws (.581). His acquisition allowed the Yankees to get rid of LaTroy Hawkins, who was inexplicably wanted by the Houston Astros, or at least their GM, Ed Wade. The Yanks gave up some cash and got a minor league 2B named Matt Cusick, who's got patience but not a whole lot else in his repetoire.

Other Acquisitions:
My younger brother has a theory. In college, he suspected that his school must have had the Worst College Football Player in the country. His reasoning was this:
1) He went to the University of Rochester, an excellent school academically, but for athletics, it (ahem...) competes in Division III, the lowest division in the NCAA system, against teams like Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Salisbury Steak State University.
B) The Rochester football team was, at least during my brother's tenure there, the worst team in its sad division. (They went 5-31 overall from 1996-1999, and had to "rally" to a 3-6 record in his senior year to do that.)
Therefore, the guy at the end of the Rochester bench, a guy who was not good enough to play on the worst team in the worst division in college football, was likely the de facto Worst Player in College Football.

On a related note: Richie Sexson.

Sexson was bad enough to get released by the worst team in the league, while still owed over $5 million for the rest of the year, and somehow I doubt that all he needed was a change of scenery. Besides, the guy's like eleven feet tall, which means that all the pitcher has to do is make sure the ball gets to the catcher, and it's a strike. Sexson has been used mostly as a pinch hitter, but if he gets more playing time than that, something is very, very wrong in Yankee Land.
I hate to say it, because he's only nine days younger than I am, but the dude is washed up. Shelley Duncan or fellow ex-Indian, ex-Mariner (and singer/guitarist) Ben Broussard could be just as bad for (probably) less money. Juan Miranda (25 years old and hitting .306/.394/.460 in AAA this year) might even be a little better. At least he'll make some contact.
Another bit of jetsam pulled from the drink, perhaps more literally than that metaphor would normally suggest, is Sidney Ponson. Ponson has been surprisingly good so far, or at least useful, but it's probably just a matter of time before the other shoe drops and he turns back into a pumpkin. I'm pretty sure those two metaphors don't actually work together, but you get my drift.

In summary, while I'm glad that the Yankees have played a little better of late, and are at least competitive most of the time, I think they made a classic blunder. They took their July hot streak as a harbinger of a big turn around, when maybe it was really just a streak. Thinking that the whole team was turning around, they tried to fill a few of the remaining holes, and fill them they did.

But at what cost? Granted, among those they gave up, only Tabata was thought to ever become a star, and that was a long way off if it ever happened at all. However, some of the others who got traded might have filled holes cheaply here and there in the next few years. The safer play was to cut bait, to sell their high priced players in the last years of their contracts and try to stockpile talent for the future, like the Oaklands have done, but "safe" is not a word in the Yankee lexicon, and "rebuilding" is something they do in Kansas City.

Even if Robbie Cano really has turned it around, and even if Johnny Damon is healthy and productive for the rest of the year, they still have the streaky Giambi and suddenly aging Derek Jeter going out there everyday, not to mention Melky Cabrera and his sub-.300 OBP. Is it really reasonable to think that a team with only two proven starting pitchers, one proven reliever and and a patchwork lineup can oust either the Red Sox or the Rays from playoff contention? I don't see it happening.

Mark my words: The dynasty is over.

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