"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

I’m Really Glad to Be Here…

When was the last time the Mets and Yankees held boffo press conferences on the same day? What I want to know is: Who will get the back pages of the News, Post and Newsday come tomorrow? Will they split? What? Any predictions? (I’m guessing that both will have a blurb on the front page of the Times.) Cliff Corcoran, recently back from bacation, offers his take on the Johnson deal:

Yes, Johnson is 41 years old, but he’s shown no sign of slowing down. Remember that Nolan Ryan, an inferior pitcher (just one 30+ RSAA season in his career) with a similar career path, posted a 138 ERA+ while striking out 203 men at age 44, and that Roger Clemens, who is more than a year older than Johnson, posted a 145 ERA+ while striking out 218 men this past season. And, yes, Johnson’s right knee conjures up memories of Andre Dawson as he’s had all the cartilage removed and has to receive lubricant injections before every start. But, frankly, that doesn’t really bother me. Johnson was easily the best pitcher in the NL last year pitching on that knee, which is on his plant leg, not his push leg. What’s more, Johnson doesn’t rely on his legs the way fellow aging fireballers Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling do. Rather, he uses his height and long arms to sling-shot the ball to the plate using an upright delivery. Both Vazquez’s and Johnson’s contracts last through 2007 and I believe that, despite Johnson’s age and knee problems, it is not only possible, but actually likely that he will out-perform Javy Vazquez over those three seasons.

…The Yankees have sent the future packing in an attempt to guarantee themselves a championship in 2005 (in a broader sense, the Yankees traded Halsey, Navarro, Juan Rivera, Randy Choate and Nick Johnson and cash for Randy Johnson). And that’s how this trade must ultimately be judged. The addition of Johnson puts the Yankees closer to that elusive 27th World’s Championship than any other player in baseball would have (after all, Barry Bonds can’t pitch). Should Johnson deliver a championship to the Bronx by 2007, the trade must be seen as a success. Otherwise, barring the complete collapse of all three of the players they sent to Arizona, it must be seen as a costly failure, something that just might come to describe the Yankees as a whole before too long.

Over at Baseball Prospectus, Joe Sheehan isn’t thrilled about the moves the Yankees have made this off-season:

Vazquez makes $36 million over the next three years. The Yankees have spent an additional $7 million a year, plus a decent catching prospect, plus staff filler in Halsey, for what may or may not be an upgrade. Vazquez had a lousy second half, and bore too much blame for the Yankees’ inability to reach the World Series. A year ago, there’s no way anyone would have dealt him straight up for Randy Johnson. Is it possible that the two players have diverged in value that much in the course of one year?

No, it’s not. The Yankees have once again thrown a large amount of money at a situation without actually solving it. Signing Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright didn’t improve the rotation as much as it added payroll, and the additions the Yankees have made on the hitting side–Tony Womack and Tino Martinez–are an embarrassment. The Yankees have more than $100 million in new contracts this winter, pushed their 2005 payroll well over $200 million, and they still have Bernie Williams patrolling center field.

That last point is the salient one. The Yankees have been in need of a center fielder for at least three years. Williams, great in his day, has seen his defense decline past inadequacy. Worse still, he’s coming off his second straight season of an EqA in the .270s, not only driving his overall value down but making it less likely that he can be an asset as a DH.

Though they aren’t in exactly the same situation, I’m reminded of what Bill James wrote about the Bombers in the 1988 Baseball Abstract:

The New York Yankees are trapped on a treadmill. Although they have not won anything since 1981, the Yankees have the best winning percentage of any team during the decade, or should I turn that around: although they have the best winning percentage of any team during the eighties, the Yankees have not won anything since 1981. The are acutely aware of this, and so the winter of 1987-1988 was spent in frantic preparations to make the 1988 team season the season in which the great nucleus of this team is surrounded by a cast good enough to lift the Yankees…onto the championship rung. there is an irony in this, for it is exactly this philosophy that creates the treadmill from which the Yankees are so anxious to escape.

…The problem with the Yankees is that they never want to pay the real price of success. The real price of success in baseball is not the dollars that you come up with for a Jack Clark or a Dave Winfield or an Ed Whitson or a Goose Gossage. It is the patience to work with young players and help them develop. So long as the Yankees are unwilling to pay that price, don’t bet on them to win anything.

I don’t know that what James wrote is exactly true now, but in general, his point is right on. Eventually, this treadmill effect will burn the Yanks like it did in the eighties. That’s why some writers are understandably upset that the team didn’t sign Beltran. He would be keeping them young. It’s hard to believe that the Yankees will replace Bernie Williams with someone nearly as good or as young.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver