06 January 2005

Randy Johnson to the Yankees...

Today, I wore my Trot Nixon home jersey, at least in part as sympathy for him. Randy Johnson has finally pretty much been delivered as a Yankee. I wanted to avoid the blunders of actual news outlets who fell all over themselves to reward RJ to the Empire, but having agreed today to a 2-year, $32 million dollar extension, the 41 year old is a Yankee. Bud approved the deal (hmm- didn't he say he was going to avoid "huge cash transactions in deals" going forward after the A-Rod deal?), Johnson approved it, Vazquez is, apparently, going to Arizona and passed a physical.

So, over the next three seasons, The Yankees will pay $25 million dollars a year (total Devil Rays payroll- $35 million) for Randy Johnson's ages 41, 42, and 43. In addition, they gave up a young, imminently talented pitcher (who was obviously hurt and compromised by the worst pitching coach in MLB- MelStott) and one of their remaining two decent prospects- catcher Dioner Navarro. If there was any doubt, there no longer is- the Yankees have the most absurdly bad minor league system in major league baseball- maybe ever.

Meanwhile, Jeter, Posada, Giambi, Mussina, Williams, Gordon, Quantrill, Brown, Wright, Pavano and even, to some extent, Sheffield, are all signed to awful, immoveable contracts, Giambi's competing with Mike Hampton's for the worst in baseball history.

But all that? Doesn't matter. Not to the Yankees. They'll spend the money like 25 mil on Johnson, and not be affected. It does not matter to them. All that matters is the relative talent involved in a trade over the next two-to-three years, maximum. As long as it pays off in the short run, they don't care about the cost or the need to fix it in the long run. This is exactly that type of move.

Why? Because Randy Johnson is still the most dominant starting pitcher in the major leagues, and was bested in performance last year by Johan Santana alone. At the age of 40, Johnson threw 245 innings, much, much more than anyone on New York's staff last year. Add to that the QUALITY of those innings- 290 Ks, .90 WHIP, .197 BAA, 2.60 ERA- and you have a dominant, immensely valuable pitcher. Everyone remembers the perfect game.

Was it shitty and selfish to hold his current organization over the coals in order to go to one team? Yeah, it really was. But the Yankees just don't care about stuff like that, and honestly, they probably shouldn't. They need to win, so they get the best players. In these last few years, just so happens they're all assholes. So what? (I'll tell you "so what," BSM. They all like to talk about how classy and great they are- how "World Class" they are. It's their fault. If you're an asshole, you're an asshole, but don't tell us how GREAT you are!)

The Yankees now, in 2005, are MUCH better. They went from having a really mediocre rotation (Mussina, Brown, Wright, Pavano, ??) to having one with a dominant ace, a great #2, and some overpriced question marks. Better than the alternative.

But just so you know- he has NO cartilage in his right knee. None. Bone-on-bone. He uses synthetic injections to get him through the year. I'm just sayin'...

One interesting note is how the pursuit of Johnson- which stretched across the entire offseason- precluded them from seriously upgrading any other position in which they had a serious need. They got worse at 2B, they got a bad pitcher in Wright (for some strange reason) and an overrated one in Pavano. CF is still a serious issue (Bernie is now likely the worst defensive CF in the AL) and 1B will be manned by... Tino Martinez.

Randy Johnson makes them better, but he doesn't guarantee them anything, nor does it make thing easier. They'll have inevitable holes to fill during the 05 season, and very, very little to offer save their ability to assume yet another bad contract.

Hey, a new world order- Randy Johnson, sans the #51 (Bernie), goatee, and mullett.


In related news, Larry Mahnken (who writes for Replacement Level Yankees Weblog) has a stellar piece at Hardball Times about the fallacy of the Yankees' moves this offseason being anything but bad. Let's take a look at a few choice parts of the piece.

Oh, sure, they had a problem in the rotation; it was old, it was fragile, and Javier Vazquez, Jose Contreras and Esteban Loaiza had regressed severely from the previous season. They'd absolutely have to take care of that, so they traded for 41-year-old Randy Johnson and signed Jaret Wright (who had averaged 39 innings over the previous four seasons and has a career ERA of 5.09) and Carl Pavano (and his 4.21 career ERA). Just for good measure, they let their two most valuable starters from the previous season, Jon Lieber and Orlando Hernandez, walk as free agents. Brilliant! The departing trio would cost $22.5 million in 2005 to the newcomers' $33 million, but hey, nice things cost money.

Emphasis mine. I point it out because, especially when considering how soon and quickly the Yankees swooped in and snagged Wright (WILDLY overpaying him in the process), I still don't understand the signing of Jaret Wright. Better pitchers were available, and healthier ones to boot- the Yankees apparently made no effort to quell the rumors that Wright's shoulder failed his first physical! And they signed him after the second opinion anyway! Looking at his career numbers, it is tough to see what they saw in him. A good 2004 in which he played for Leo Mazzone against the NL. He's never thrown 200 innings in his career, he's topped 135 twice (04 and 98), and his career-best ERA+ outside 2004 was 107.

Seven million for him over three years? I can't wait for Papi's first AB against him. Ditto Pavano, a guy we once scored 10 runs off of- and he failed to get an out. He'll be average, the Sox will light him up, and $10 million per is moronic. Moving on...

While they were busy solidifying the rotation, they made time to increase their bullpen depth. The first thing they did is re-sign Tanyon Sturtze, who had mastered the repeatable skill of coming into a blowout, giving up a couple of runs, and then having the team come back behind him. He was also pretty good for a few weeks at the end of the season, so his career 5.23 ERA should be of no concern to them, nor should his career 6.13 ERA as a reliever.

This whole Yankee thing, the "Joe Torre trusts Tanyon Sturtze" thing is not only mind-boggling, if true, it's cause for dismissal of Torre. I mean, Tanyon Sturtze. Tanyon Sturtze! And it just gets repeated...

He was good in middle relief for the Yanks down the stretch...

No! He wasn't! He was BAD!

They made a couple of trades, shipping The Run Fairy, Felix Heredia, across town to the Mets for Mike Stanton, who had been a key cog in the Yankees' late-90's bullpen. However, Stanton's ERA in Shea was a deceptively low 3.16, he had allowed 44% of his inherited runners to score, and lefties had a .796 OPS against him. That was good enough for the Yankees, though, and they eschewed free agent lefty-killer Steve Kline and instead traded Kenny Lofton for righty Felix Rodriguez.

This was really odd. I would have bet serious money the Yankees would have squatted down and rained golden showers of cash on Kline before anyone could get a word in edge-wise, and boom- late inning solution to Ortiz/ Nixon/ various other lefties in AL. Instead- they try getting creative, and go with Stanton?! When exactly did Cashman become a bad GM? Or is it that he just isn't really the GM any more?

I also don't get the Lofton/ Rodriguez trade. Rodriguez sucks, and they don't need him even a little. Why not just nab a good prospect for Lofton?

Now, of course, there wasn't much wrong with the lineup, but some tweaking needed to be done. After the injury to Aaron Boone and trade of Alfonso Soriano to Texas for A-Rod, the Yanks had a hole at second base which Enrique Wilson widened, and then Miguel Cairo surprisingly filled. Now, Cairo's season was obviously a fluke, so they'd want to find someone more reliable to fill that hole. They found their man in Tony Womack, whose OPS was 29 points lower than Cairo's in 2004, 11 points lower over his career, and who is 4½ years older, to boot. But he does bring more speed than Cairo, and his .319 career OBP will fit right into the Yankees' leadoff spot. The Yankees expect him to repeat his success from last year, when he scored a whopping 91 runs (a total bested by only 58 other players last season), while batting in front of Larry Walker, Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds -- no mean feat.

The Tony Womack signing is, by far and away, the weirdest signing of the 2004/ 05 offseason. It's as if they said, "nah, let's get worse. I want to. 'Good' is overrated, and this will at least make it a challenge for us."

I mean, this is the Yankees- endless cash, limitless resources- why Womack? Am I crazy to wonder if it had a little something to do with the performace Womack had in Game Seven of the 01 Series? In other words, have they gone completely sports-talk-show host stupid on us?

They'd need a new first baseman, too, since they have no idea what they're going to get from the deflated Jason Giambi next year. They could have grabbed Richie Sexson or Carlos Delgado, but why settle for a tall freak or a Commie traitor when you can inject some Mystique and Aura in the person of Tino Martinez?
Martinez should be good for some average offense and solid defense, but most importantly will inspire the Yankees to reach the same heights they did in the late 90's, all for the low price of $3 million.

...and it's not like Delgado was even swiped out from under their nose, either! Delgado would be a MONSTER at Yankee Stadium. Tino Martinez? It's like they're that guy trying to start things back up with their ex-wife by wearing clothes they wore when they were with said ex-wife. Of course, now the clothes are pretty out of style and don't really fit anymore. Tino seems like a nice guy, but there's a reason they unceremoniously ushered him out of town years ago. He's not very good or youthful any more.

All that was left to do was to find a replacement centerfielder. Certainly they weren't planning to keep Bernie Williams out there, were they? They can't be that stupid, can they? They do understand he's costing them almost five wins a seasons with his glove, don't they? Right?

Well, apparently not, because it appears that they aren't going to do anything to replace Bernie Williams. They are apparently not going to make an offer to Carlos Beltran, because his asking price is too high. Derek Jeter at $20 million this season is fine, but Carlos Beltran at $17.5 million... pass.

Beguiling. If the stuff about their passing on Beltran is true, then I'm mystified. They took their holes- 2B, CF, and 1B, and just simply mildly stepped up (from Olerud to Martinez) at 1B. The others, they got appreciably worse. Because of money? Huh? You're the Yankees- spend. Can we now stop the praising "George spends a ton of money, because he wants to win" shit then? What a miser!

Sure, Beltran's going to be overpaid, but so is Jeter... and Posada, and Brown, Mussina, Karsay, Rivera, Giambi, Martinez and Williams. Oh, and Wright, Pavano and Womack, too -- they would have been better off keeping Lieber and El Duque for $5 million less.

This is where the Yankees draw the line? After several foolish moves that improve the team not a lick, and one blockbuster move that improves them a bit (but probably not as much as everyone expects, and perhaps not at all), they decide that signing Beltran, who embodies an improvement of more than five games right now, and is an investment in the future of the franchise as well, is too much?

Uh, ditto.

What has become of the Yankees, the team that built a dynasty with intelligent moves and sustained it with their millions? They've deluded themselves in to believing things that aren't true, they've bought into their own hype, and they've discarded rational analysis. They didn't win in the 90's because they had chemistry and character and Mystique and Aura; they won because they fielded the best team in baseball.

This isn't the downfall of the Yankees; they still have too much talent for that to happen. But the Yankees are playing Russian Roulette with their personnel decisions. They passed up on Vlad Guerrero last offseason for the aging Gary Sheffield, and they're eschewing Carlos Beltran for a diminished Bernie Williams. They try to fill holes with mediocre players who can't possibly fill them. They're trying to reassemble the Yankees of seasons past, four years after they had to retool because that core was in decline. They keep putting more bullets in the chamber. With $200 million at their disposal for players, it should be impossible for the Yankees to die, but every time they pull the trigger on a decision like the ones they're making this offseason, they pull the trigger on the gun, too.

With all the money they have at their disposal, it is a godsend for MLB that they use it so poorly. A team with $200+ mil to spend on a payroll in a year... with a great, (Epstein, Beane, Schuerholz, Shapiro) crafty GM... would win every single year. The strangest part? No one is talking about it. In fact, I just read something from Buster Olney (arguably one of the most innately awful baseball analysts I've ever read) that stated the 05 Yankees will be their best team since 98 (so?) because they improved their pitching and defense. He gets paid to write that down.

Mike and the Mad Dog another example. Fatass was praising the Yankee moves today, and when a caller had the audacity to make the very legitimate claim that Bernie's defense being left unimproved was a BAD thing for the Yanks, his response was a classic:

"How many plays did Bernie cost the Yankees defensively against the Red Sox in the playoffs this year?" Emphasis mine. Of course, the caller couldn't string two more subsequent sentences together, and so he looked wrong when Fatass would repeatedly cut him off to ask the aforementioned question over and over.

Of course, the issue with Bernie is his range, which isn't specifically observable so much as, for instance, grass growing isn't observable. But whatever. My point is- they seem to be getting all this praise for their offseason moves, but with the exception of the risky Johnson trade, they seem to have made their team both more expensive, and... worse.

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