Thursday, June 30, 2005

Ryan Adams Gold

It's been an interesting season to be in New York. Of the year's great plot lines (the out-of-nowhere Nationals, the dumb-luck fortune of Ozzie Guillen and the White Sox, the competitive eating career of John Kruk), the Mets and Yankees certainly have to rank near the top. It's been a fascinating experience to watch first-hand as the Metropolitans have danced back and forth over the line of legitimacy while the Yankees try desperately to just stay above water. The fact that both clubs have essentially the same record is startling, both in terms of historical standing and fan perception. Met followers are pleased as rum punch, sensing that if Beltran can get right and Piazza can start hitting (former, likely; latter, impossible), their club might ride Pedro to the playoffs. Yankee fans however have been on a manic-depressive spree that would give Tom Cruise pause. They lose two and insist every coach be fired, then win one and state proudly that they're going all the way. The reality seems however, as we get closer and closer to the All-Star break, that these are .500 teams. And you don't need Rob Neyer to tell you that clubs like that aren't going anywhere.

The Yankees just released Paul Quantrill and Mike Stanton, two pitchers who haven't effectively gotten outs for over a year. But make no mistake, while fans should be pleased to finally see some initiative from the front office (what exactly took so long?), the chance that their replacements are an improvement is no better than random. If Scott Proctor and Colter Bean are the answer, then what is the question? There was a long-standing belief in New York that the Yanks were just having bad luck. Established veterans with impressive track records didn't all lose their skills at once. No one could be blamed, and after a win streak we'd all forget about this nonsense. Well, they had that streak and went right back to stinking. A streak that was, let the record show, born and bred almost entirely on the shoulders of Tino Martinez, a has-been mediocrity who was supposed to play twice a week. Without Bambtino's (throw up in mouth) miraculous home-run stretch, the NYY's season would be over right now. That's right, O-V-E-R. And The Ninth fakely apologizes, but who said good players aren't supposed to get old?

Whether the fault lies with Cashman, Georgey Fats, or the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, this is not a well-built club. Bernie Williams is done, everyone saw it last year. Giambi has gotten worse every year, and Matsui and Posada have never been more than very solid guys. The Womack and Jaret Wright signings were a joke, and sure, Pavano was bad luck, but Wang's emergence has evened that out. So this was a team, from the beginning of the year, that would need to be carried by Jeter, ARod, RJ and Sheffield, quite a feat with a lousy defense, good if not spectacular rotation, and awful bullpen in tow. Quantrill, Stanton, and Karsay were the rare trifecta of being extremely old, extremely bad, and extremely over-paid. Only wild arrogance or gross negligence would not have considered this a problem. Why wasn't it addressed? And who, may I ask, thinks it's wise to build a club with 4 DH's (Giambi, Bernie, Tino, and Sierra), none of whom are particularly good at hitting? Designated or not. New York radio Gods Mike Francesa and Chris Russo have pointed out, and accurately so, that no one saw this coming. The Yankees, therefore, shouldn't be held accountable. Fine. Ok. Vegas set their win over/under at 101, so they have a point. But very early on it was clear that something was up. The Yankees were not great, and we the viewer must have missed something in our pre-season evaluation. We realized our error, so why the heck didn't Brian Cashman? The flaws now seem obvious, shouldn't an astute baseball mind have picked them up a month earlier? Rob Neyer (second mention) pegged New York to win no more than 90 games season. How did he know it if the pros didn't?

The Yankees are now backed into a corner. Because they have no prospects, they're forced to consider trading valuable major leaguers, of which they have precious few, for reinforcements. Sheffield for Cameron. Cano and Wang for Clemens. These are on the table, and they might not be enough. And truly, realistically, how dare they even speak of such a thing? What other club in baseball would sit at .500, 6 games and two teams back of first, and rebuild for a stretch run? The Mets won't, I promise you that. Although jeez, Minaya sure is stupid. The Ninth rescinds its promise. The only way, the ONLY way the Yankees make this interesting is if the gentlemen currently on the roster manage to play much better than they have. The only legitimate candidates for that are Pavano and Johnson, two guys who have failed somewhat without explanation. But I'll tell you what, I wouldn't hold my breath. This is a club that seems to have gotten comfortable with losing, a notion so foreign to recent Yankees it's shocking to say. But after every surge there is a recession, and it's getting a bit late it the day for that. Brian Cashman will certainly maneuver, and the Yankees probably have one or two good stretches left in them, but this is a club that was built to fail. And it may be, finally, that they do just that.

We'll get to the Mets another time.