Sunday, November 19, 2006
At the end of every hard day, people still find a reason to believe:
After the disaster of 2004, 2005 seemed like the Yankees' year. A re-ignited rotation of Chien-Ming Wang, Aaron Small, Shawn Chacon; the furious left-right-left-right punch of Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui and Alex Rodriguez; the full-spectrum dominance of Mariano Rivera. A brilliant September down-to-the-wire contest with Boston saw the Yanks go into October with heads held high. Then the Angels knocked them out in the ALDS.

2006 looked even better. There could be no more talk of a weak rotation with Wang winning 19 games, Jaret Wright unexpectedly overperforming after the All Star break and Mussina putting up career numbers. (RIP Cory.) What's more, for the first time since the days of Jeff Nelson and Mike Standon, no bullpen in the AL was better: Kyle Farnsworth, Brutal Brian Bruney, a healthy Octavio Dotel, Mike Myers KOing Big Papi in the 7th inning of Boston Massacre II: Game Five, Ron Villone as your dark horse and a certain Scott Proctor, overworked, demanding the ball, and dominant. We lost Hideki Matsui and saw the rise of Melky Cabrera, the future (with Robi Cano) of the franchise. We lost Gary Sheffield and picked up the explosive Bobby Abreu. We ran away with the AL East for the first time in half a decade. Then the goddamn Tigers knocked us out in the ALDS.

What went wrong? There's no simple answer. Somehow, over the last two seasons, the perennial contenders appeared uneasy with October baseball -- that's my simplest explanation, and it's unsatisfactory. But now longtime GM Brian Cashman is coming up with a new approach: don't let the Yankees be the Yankees. It might be the most audacious gamble Cashman has taken since taking over for Bob Michel, who rebuilt the Dynasty.

[UPDATE: Thanks to commenter Delicious, I am reminded that Bob Michel was a House GOP leader. I was thinking of Gene Michael, who was GM in the early 90s during the Showalter era and who was a GM removed from Cashman. Sorry.]

What Tyler Kepner of the New York Times is reporting is that Cashman is inclining against his typical off-season manuever of buying up the premiere available free agents and concocting outlandish trades for the marquee players of his competition. I don't need to recite the names: Johnny Damon in 2006, Carl Pavano and Randy Johnson in 2004, Alex Rodriguez in 2003. Now, Cashman is being stunningly economical, according to Kepner. He's building from within the system, privileging hoped-for future stars like Phil Hughes, who is slated to take Randy Johnson's rotation spot in 2008. Cashman wants to go young: Hughes will join farm-system-to-big-league stunners like Melky, Cano and Bruney. The acquisitions so far from the Wright and Sheffield trades have all been green relievers. On one level, it seems like overcompensation for the 2003-2005 bullpen drought. On another -- the level of strategy -- it seems like a team retooling without opting to drop a season. That would never be acceptable in the Bronx.

There are some notable caveats here. First, Cashman tried to drop 30 mil on Daisuke Matsuzaka and Theo Epstein outbid him. I can't tell whether Cashman's bid was serious, but it seems reasonable to assume that it was, since Matsuzaka's super-agent, Scott Boras, insisted the bid be blind. Second, as everyone has endlessly commented, 2006 is a pitiful year on the free-agent market: Barry Zito and Jason Schmidt are the best American pitchers out there. The biggest trade so far has been the Sheffield trade -- you know, someone dished away from the Yankees. If ever there's a year to focus on the young and the testless -- without fear of Steinbrenner's interference -- it's this one.

I'm a big Cashman fan. His performance in showing confidence, with Torre, in Cabrera and Andy Phillips after the Matsui & Sheff injuries was inspiring. The Yankees made by far the best trade-deadline shuffles in bringing Abreu and Cory Lidle to the team, boxing out their adversaries and protecting the farm system. It could be that all of these young relievers are trade bait for when someone's ready to bolt. But to me, and I don't think it's simple Yankee fandom talking, Cashman was GM of 2006. Now we learn if he'll be GM of 2007.

[FURTHER UPDATE: Eric Alterman writes to correct my Springsteen. The line in the hed from "Reason To Believe" is "At the end of every hard EARNED day..." I regret the error. Bruce once asked to meet my mom when we were working the food-donation booth for City Harvest at the final show of the Boss's 2000 Madison Square Garden homestand. When she obliged, Mom, bless her, promptly squealed, "OH MY GOD? IS THAT LITTLE STEVEN????"]
--Spencer Ackerman
A re-ignited rotation of Chien-Ming Wang, Aaron Small, Shawn Chacon;

You're funny.

Also, Newt Gingrich took over from Bob Michel. Gene "Stick" Michael was the Yankee GM (although I believe Cashman succeed Bob Watson, who hired Torre).
Blogger Delicious | 2:20 PM

Oh crap. Right you are. Been a long time since I dug out Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty. And you're going to shit on the 2005 rotation?
Blogger spencerackerman | 2:24 PM

Cashman was GM of 2006

Dombrowski? It's always disappointing to find one with whom I agree on so many things has the crucial character flaw of being an MFY fan. Too bad that couldn't have stayed at TNR as well...
Blogger Pooh | 3:17 PM

spencer, spencer, spencer: the name of the game is starting pitching. if you came into 2005 or 2006 with an expectation that the yanks had the starting pitching to win it all, you were misleading yourself.

i've noted this before: yankee playoff starting ERA since being up 3-0 on the red sox: 5.82. it's no accident that their post season record is 3-10 since then, and no accident that that was the post-season starting ERA. the bare minimum to be considered a competitive major league staff is for your starters to average 6 innings.

for the last couple of years, the yanks have had a bare minimum competitive staff.
Blogger howard | 4:05 PM

No bullpen in the AL better? You mean the Detroit bullpen? the A's bullpen? the Angels bullpen? Or the best bullpen in the AL, the Twins?

The Yankees would be fortunate to be considered the fifth best bullpen in the AL.

No talk of a weak rotation? Jaret Wright was slightly worse than league average, which is certainly an improvement, but nothing to be excited about. Randy Johnson was terrible, and whatever came after Wang/Mussina/Wright/Johnson was worse. The rotation was bad.

The Yankees, relative to the other AL playoff teams, was all offense and no runprevention. Which of these rotations do you like the best:


The only reason the Yankees rotation wasn't the worst in the AL playoffs by a large margin was because Francisco Liriano's elbow fell apart. It isn't even close. It was a truly great offense, but the Yankees had no pitching. They are also a *terrible* defensive ballclub, with a left side of the infield that one an underserved Gold Glove while being the worst unit in the league. It was an upset when the Tigers won the ALDS, but it wasn't anything monumental; the Yankees were a bit better than Detroit, but not by a large amount.

I don't so much mind fans of the MFYs. Clueless fans of the MFYs on the other hand ...
Blogger J. Michael Neal | 4:29 PM

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Blogger Fibercement | 3:08 AM