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November 23, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

Hey, that was fast. I'm back.

Okay, it wasn't fast, I didn't have cable or the internet for two weeks, and had to rely entirely on the newspaper for baseball news, and in a minor league city in the offseason, that is pretty much half a page, if that.

I don't seem to have missed anything big in the last couple of weeks, the BBWAA picked the right AL ROY (for the wrong reasons), the wrong NL ROY, the right MVPs, and probably the right Cy Young Award winners. Not really much to bitch about. 5-7% of anonymous steroid tests came back positive this year, I don't see this as being at all a problem, I was actually expecting it to be higher. I do notice that the media has blown this waaaaaaaaaay out of proportion, probably because they have a need to be outraged about something. I also agree with Rob Manfred for the first, and likely last time, when he told the Olympics to basically shut the hell up. Baseball cannot and should not be held to the standard that the Olympics are held to, or want to be held to. They are not events of the same nature, and not run with the same motives. Baseball is an industry, the Olympics are a competition. The people who run Baseball have a financial investment in the specific competitors, the people who run the Olympics do not. And, of course, steroids do not threaten the integrity of the event in baseball as they could in the Olympics. The goal in baseball is not to be the fastest or strongest. Steroids affect the record books for individual achievements, but no more, and probably much less, than park effects, equipment changes, training practices, and segregation. It's not worth getting outraged about, especially when the known usage is so small.

As expected, the free agent market is moving slowly. The Yankees want Andy Pettitte back, and I think they'll get him back, but serious interest from Houston and token inquiries by the Red Sox to drive the price up means he certainly won't be a bargain. It seems likely that they'll be bringing in Gary Sheffield, too, which is a move that I'm not particularly excited about. Sheffield is a great hitter, there's no denying that, but he's at a point in his career where a decline is likely in the next few seasons, and possibly a large one.

On the whole, I'd say adding Sheffield is a good move, but not a great move. It adds offense to a position where they got little last season, but it doesn't address the team's real needs: defense and starting pitching. It makes them better, but it leaves them vulnerable.

I'd rather have Guerrero, but if the Yankees seriously aren't interested in bidding on him, Sheffield is probably the best choice, Mike Cameron being the only other outfielder I'd have any real interest in. He addresses one of the Yankees' primary needs, would likely hit much better than he has in the past couple of years once outside of Safeco, but his offense is still far inferior to Sheffield's, and while younger than Sheff, he is still entering his decline period. Looking ahead, if the Yankees have any interest next year in pursuing Carlos Beltran, the pieces would fit together better with Sheffield out there instead of Cameron.

The Yankees also seem likely to cut ties with as many faces from last year's bullpen as possible. I think they would have been fine going into 2004 with the same bullpen as the end of 2003, but most of those pitchers have probably lost Joe Torre's trust, and seeing how difficult it is for a young reliever to earn that trust from Torre (I think Rivera only stuck because he never gave up any runs), the front office would probably be best served bringing in a few "proven" relievers, who might not actually be any better than what the Yankees had or have in the minors, but are more likely to get used.

It seems to me that after this offseason, the Yankees might be a little better, they might be a little worse, or they might be the same, but they're not going to be much better, and they're not going to be much worse, which to a degree, is good. But Boston will probably be better, if not much better, Oakland is probably already better, and Toronto is making moves in that direction. The Yankees are still on top of the heap, but they're not alone. Ten years ago, that would have sounded great--at least they were on top--but after having been all alone for a few years, being able to walk around in your underwear and leave dirty dishes in the living room, it feels kind of cramped with someone else there. It's still pretty good, and the lease is still in your name, but it was a lot better before.

* * *

Oh, and I'd like to thank The Score Bard for sticking me in his Periodic Table of Bloggers. I'm Lawrencium. I think I've got a new nickname now. That's awesome.

November 21, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

I've been without internet for a while, so I haven't been able to update the blog. I still don't have internet, I'm at the library writing this. I'll be back when I'm back online, I don't know when that will be. It's very frustrating.

Just wanted you all to know that I'm not dead. I'll let you know if I ever am dead.

November 6, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

Seems there was some controversy over my most recent entry. Mostly because it wasn't very well written. Well, sorry about that, there was a lot of premise behind some of the things I was trying to write, and I didn't do a very good job of showing the premise.

That's why professional writers have editors, folks. Sometimes what you write sucks.

The first thing I'd like to clear up is that I wasn't taking a swipe at Randolph and Down when I said that maybe Soriano hadn't been coached well, but rather I was showing that it's possible that Soriano is capable of playing second base, and is capable of discipline at the plate, and the assumption that he must be lazy seems to me to assume that the coaching he's recieved is excellent, and discounts the possibility that maybe Randloph and Down are more suited for working with veterans than teaching young players. I'm not saying that's the case, but rather that I think it's unfair to say that Soriano must be lazy. He may well be, though.

I also seemed to be advocating two contrary positions, that the Yankees should keep Soriano and keep him at second base, and then that they should trade Soriano and Nick Johnson. Actually, I was saying that if the Yankees do keep Soriano, they should keep him at second base, and that while I would like to keep Nick Johnson, sometimes trading a favored player is best for the team. I'm not saying that they should be traded, but rather that there are circumstances under which I would trade them.

Let me make it clear: I'm opposed to trading Soriano for Beltran without making any other moves. If you make that trade, you've done the same thing as moving Soriano to the outfield, except Beltran is a better hitter at this point, and at least you know he's going to be a good defensive player (while Soriano might be awful). You're also moving Matsui to right and Bernie to left, and you have to look for another second baseman, and you can't sign a big-hitting outfielder.

I'm opposed to trading Johnson for Vazquez on it's own. You can then move Williams to DH, and in addition to signing a power hitting right-fielder, you can add a center fielder. Say, Mike Cameron. But you've essentially traded an excellent young hitter for an older hitter of questionable ability. Now, THAT would be a Steinbrenner early 80's move.

Nor do I think Johnson for Vidro would be a fair trade for the Yankees, but if you've made a Soriano for Beltran trade, and signed Guerrero or Sheffield, you've got an extra player. You're not going to be able to move Bernie, making either Johnson or Matsui expendable. Obviously, I'd rather have Johnson, but he's also the one who's more tradeable, and the one who is more likely to get value in return. I'd rather have Vazquez, because Vidro, while a solid hitter, isn't very good defensively. I'd rather have Castillo, who isn't as good a hitter, but does make up for some of Jeter's defense. But, if you're going to trade Johnson under those circumstances, you trade him to fill a hole, which in this scenario would be the rotation or second base. The other option is to bench either Bernie or Matsui, keep Johnson, and sign Castillo, which also works, but then you're only allowed to sign one more Type A free agent, and you have to depend more on Jeff Weaver, Jon Lieber or Jorge DePaula to fill out the rotation--and you're again forced to bench one of your best hitters in National League parks.

See, these moves I've proposed aren't meant to stand on their own, rather, they are a plan to not only improve the team, but make the pieces fit better. Can you honestly say that the team I've proposed at the end of the previous post (even if you remove Lowell and replace him with Boone) isn't better than keeping the same lineup and adding Guerrero? The offense might not be as good, but the defense would be far better, and the addition of Vazquez makes the rotation at least as good, of not better than it was this year.

Nobody should ever be considered untouchable, everyone should be available for the right price. The risk of trading away a good young player is that they will become great, and the risk of not trading them is that they won't become great, and the player you passed up would have helped you tremendously. I think these moves, done in tandem, would help the Yankees tremendously, both next season and in the seasons to come.

I also didn't address the situation with Beltran's contract: he's represented by Scott Boras, who prefers to have his clients file for free agency, to drive up their value, and he's eligible for free agency after 2004. There's two concerns here: 1) the Yankees could trade for him, then lose him as a free agent, and 2) the Yankees could also sign him after 2004 without making a trade, and still have Soriano. As for the first concern, it's not one. If the Yankees want to keep Beltran after 2004, they're going to keep Beltran, and not being able to sign him before he becomes a free agent would save them some payroll next season. As for the second concern, it's nice to try to have your cake and eat it to, but it doesn't help the Yankees at all next season, and they might need the help. And, of course, there's the possibilty that some other team could sign (or trade for and sign) Beltran next year, leaving the Yankees looking for other alternatives, and ones that might not be as good as the choices they have this offseason.

The Yankees are a very good team, a team that won the pennant. But they're old, they're deeply flawed, and while other teams can usually settle for that, the Yankees cannot. It's always been that way, the Yankees were never allowed to settle for anything but the best, the city won't stand for it. This offseason offers the Yankees to not only become a better team, but a more rounded team, with fewer weaknesses. There are risks involved in change, but there are risks involved in staying the same, too. If the Yankees don't make any moves, and just grab a right fielder, a starting pitcher, and work on the bullpen, I won't be upset--they'll be better than they were in 2003, and probably the best team in baseball. But they will have missed an opportunity to become something much better.

November 4, 2003

Second base--and second thoughts
by Larry Mahnken

Sorry for no update for the past few days. I took the weekend off, and then some stuff came up yesterday. There wasn't much news over the weekend anyway, the Yankees declined their options of Gabe White and Antonio Osuna, which wasn't at all surprising. Osuna was ineffective in the second half, and didn't make the postseason roster, and even if the Yankees want White back (I'm not sure if they do or not), $3.5 million is a bit pricey for a middle reliever. They could probably resign him for less than that.

Also, they named Don Mattingly the hitting coach, Willie Randolph the bench coach, Lee Mazzilli the third base coach, and Luis Sojo the first base coach. I think all of these are solid decisions, getting Randolph off of third base might be an important positive improvement next season, and it likely means that Randolph will soon be the first black manager of the Yankees. I don't know how Mattingly will be as a hitting coach, but 1) he's a man that the players will respect, and listen to, and 2) let's be realistic, he's the type of hitter we hope Soriano becomes. Sure, it would be great if he became Hank Aaron, or Sammy Sosa, but more important than walking is that he stop striking out on bad pitches. Mattingly didn't walk, but he didn't strike out, because he swung at pitches he could hit, and hit them hard. Soriano can succeed with that approach.

And speaking of Soriano, let's move on to my overview of where the Yankees stand at second base.

While there were several disappointing offensive performances this postseason, the most putrid was that of Alfonso Soriano. For the entire playoffs, Soriano batted .225/.267/.296/.562, with one homer and a postseason record 26 Ks. Unlike Aaron Boone, his home run was meaningless, and didn't absolve any of his prior sins. Overall, Soriano did very little to win any postseason games for the Yankees, and much to lose them.

For some people, this was an "I told you so" moment, because it showed Soriano's hackiphilia at it's worst. For others, it was an eye opener, as they finally realized how fatal Soriano's flaw could be. Soriano became on of the main scapegoats this postseason, and many have called for him to be traded, or at least moved to the outfield.

As those of you who read "Moneyball" know, one of the reasons the A's have been successful is that they look at what a player can do for them, rather than what they can't do for them. What's important is not their style of play, but whether they can help the team win, and if they can, then they're worth having.

Alfonso Soriano is a player who can help the Yankees win. Yes, he has tremendous flaws in his game, he swings at everything, and not even the most stringent Soriano apologist is going to say that he's a good defensive player. From what I've read, it appears that the Yankees are blaming Soriano for these flaws, saying that he's lazy, and doesn't work hard to change. Perhaps, but perhaps it's poor coaching, too. Maybe Willie Randolph is good at tweaking infielders who are already good, but can't teach someone to play second. Maybe Rick Down could recognize flaws in the swing of an established player, but couldn't teach a kid how to look for his pitch. I get the impression from what I've heard and what I've seen that the Yankees have approached Soriano's plate discipline by demanding results, rather than pushing the process, saying that they want him to walk more and get on base more. And so he takes pitches. Not balls, just pitches, because you can't walk if you're swinging. And you'll walk more with this approach, but you'll also strike out looking a lot, and you won't hit the ball. Let me emphasize once again: the goal of plate discipline is not to draw walks, it's to get a good pitch to hit.

But even if he doesn't learn plate discipline, he's still got strengths: he's got tremendous power, and fantastic speed that he utilizes very well on the basepaths. But he's not a leadoff hitter, and perhaps not even a middle of the order hitter, either. Perhaps part of the problem with his hitting approach this year was that there were no palpable consequences for his hacking, he was inked at the top of the lineup, and if he was dropped down, he'd always go right back up, no matter ho he was hitting.

I'm wary of trading Soriano, or moving him to the outfield. If you make him an outfielder, you're risking the possibility that he'll be a lousy one, you're lessening his offensive value, and precluding yourself from adding another outfielder, one who can field well or hit great, and you have to sign a second baseman to replace Soriano, probably one who can field well, but with an inferior bat. If you trade him, you risk the possibility that Soriano could improve, and become a Hall of Fame caliber player. That's a risk with every transaction, but this one more than others, because he's halfway towards become that type of player.

If the Yankees are "stuck" with the same infield next season, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, but some improvement would be nice. I previously advocated retaining Soriano, and also was opposed to the idea of trading Nick Johnson, but in the past few days, I've rethought those opinions.

See, with Johnson I've fallen into the trap of being loyal to a player over the best interests of the team. As a fan, there's nothing wrong with that, but I shouldn't have let it color my analysis. Johnson is already a fantastic hitter, and a good defensive player, whose flaws (catching low throws) can be corrected with good coaching (hey, if the A's turned Scott Hatteberg into a "Picking Machine", they can make Johnson better, too). I am almost positive that he will, if he stays healthy, become an elite offensive player. You don't want to give away the next Jason Giambi.

But if you've got an opportunity to make the team better overall, you have to take it. Yes, Johnson's a great hitter, but the Yankees already have Jason Giambi locked up at first base for several more years, and with Bernie Williams and Hideki Matsui in the fold next season, it would be nice to move one of them to DH to open up centerfield and right field for improvement.

And so, I conjured up this plan of action for the postseason, that involves trading both Johnson and Soriano, as well as maybe signing the full limit of 3 Type A Free Agents. At first, I wondered whether the Yankees would be willing to increase their payroll to do this, but I've decided 1) whenever you ask how high the Yankees' payroll can go, the answer always seems to be "higher", and 2) If they don't make these moves, and they don't win, or nearly lose, George will spend money next offseason anyway. If he's going to do it next season, it would be wise to do it now, when it's a buyer's market and there are some excellent players available.

1) Re-sign Andy Pettitte. Above all else, this is the most important move for the Yankees to make this offseason. Houston's trade of Wagner worries me, because it may free up the payroll room needed to sign Pettitte, but the Yankees clearly need Andy back in the fold next season.

2) Trade Alfonso Soriano to Kansas City for Carlos Beltran. This is a move that Kansas City seems open to, and I think it would be a good move for both teams. Beltran is a better player than Soriano, he gets on base more, runs just as well, and while he doesn't have as much power as Soriano, he is an excellent defensive center fielder. For Kansas City, trading for Soriano makes sense, though. Beltran is about to become a free agent, with almost zero chance of coming back, while Soriano is just entering his arbitration years. Soriano fills a need for the Royals at second base, and you can also see him having great offensive seasons at Kauffman Stadium. For the Yankees, it improves their outfield defense, and also adds a player who moves the lineup along, something Soriano does not.

3) Trade Nick Johnson and Jeff Weaver (and pick up most of Weaver's salary) to Montreal for Javier Vazquez or Jose Vidro. This is tricky. First of all, I think this would be a good move on the part of the Expos, they'd be getting someone who will probably be a great hitter (and in three years, major trade bait) and basically two risk-free seasons of Jeff Weaver, who can and has been a very good pitcher, for one of their prospective free agents. However, Minaya probably doesn't appreciate Johnson's value, and Weaver is seen as almost damaged goods, and even if the Yankees paid his entire salary, the Expos might think they're doing the Yankees a favor merely by taking him. If there's any way to make this trade, if there's a prospect somewhere the Yankees' farm system that Minaya would take, make the trade, because freeing up DH is crucial, and using Johnson to fill a hole in the rotation or second base is, as well.

4) Sign Vladimir Guerrero. It might be tough to get him to come to New York, and you might have to "settle" for Gary Sheffield (horrors!), but if there is any way, any amount of money that can get Vlad to New York, do it. He's not only great, but he's young, and if you have him in right and Beltran in center, you've gone from having a hideously bad outfield defense to having a good one, while improving your offense, too.

5a) If Johnson is traded for Vazquez, sign Luis Castillo. Now, Luis Castillo isn't exactly the Yankees' type of offensive player. He has no power, hits the ball on the ground, and most of his value is tied up in speed. But, he does get on base at a good rate (because of his speed), and his defense is excellent, which is the key here. Adding Vlad allows the Yankees to take an offensive hit at second base, and Castillo's defense helps close up that hole in the middle infield, and makes Jeter's defense almost bearable. This move would make the Yankees' infield defense, on the whole, okay. If the Marlins non-tender him, signing Mike Lowell and moving Boone to second might be a good move as well--or even non-tendering Boone and signing both Lowell and Castillo, but that would be too much.

5b) If Johnson is traded for Vidro, sign Bartolo Colon. No, he's not an ace. Yes, he's going to get overpaid. But he's a very good pitcher, and basically, you're trying to replace Roger Clemens. I might even make this move if they traded for Vazquez, but again, that would be superfluous.

Then move Bernie Williams to DH, where he can stay healthy and hopefully return to his 2002 form, or at least near there. Also, since Bernie hits lefties better than righties, and Matsui vice-versa, you can platoon them in left in NL cities, without losing much offensively (perhaps gaining something).

You've improved your offense, you've improved your defense, and you've built an excellent rotation--and I've advocated keeping the bullpen intact for the most part, re-signing White and Heredia, bringing up Choate and Bean, and looking to the return of Karsay for improvement. The key is making the trade with Montreal, which will be tricky, but I think it can be done.

Of course, none of it will be. I expect the Yankees to sign Sheffield, Colon if Pettitte leaves, overpay a relief pitcher, and have all the same problems next year they had this year.

BTW, here would be the Yankees' lineup and rotation, if they made all these moves (and made the Vazquez trade, not the Vidro trade, and all the superfluous ones, as well, if Lowell were non-tendered)

SS Jeter
DH Williams
1B Giambi
RF Guerrero
C Posada
3B Lowell
CF Beltran
LF Matsui
2B Castillo

SP Mussina
SP Vazquez
SP Pettitte
SP Colon
SP Contreras

Yeah, that would be wrong. Am I evil for envisioning a way that the Yankees could assemble that roster, without "screwing" anybody over?

October 31, 2003

Looking forward: First Base
by Larry Mahnken

After the Yankees lost the fourth game of the World Series, Joe Torre juggled the lineup, benching Alfonso Soriano and playing Nick Johnson instead of Jason Giambi. When David Wells had to leave after one inning, the bullpen gave up six runs, enough to hold of New York for a 6-4 win. Soriano and Giambi came in to pinch hit in the later innings, though Giambi was inexplicably sent to the plate with nobody on in the ninth, instead of the bases loaded in the seventh. After the series, some of the blame for the loss was directed towards Giambi, who some claimed "begged" out of the lineup--although other reports are that Torre pulled him after seeing him limping. Jon Heyman and Mike Lupica have played this up as a character flaw, Lupica wrote that an another Yankee said that Paul O'Neill would have hidden the injury from Torre. Therefore, Jason Giambi is not Paul O'Neill, and thus is not a winner. Gotta dump him.

Jon Heyman actually suggested that. He also said that Giambi went from "zero" to "sub-zero" this postseason. Because he didn't actually hit those two home runs off of Pedro.

Giambi didn't have a bad postseason by any standard except the one he's set for himself. He only hit .237, but he had a .357 OBP and a .849 OPS--including those 2 HRs vs. Pedro. Derek "Clutch" Jeter had an .856 OPS this postseason. Giambi did fine. But he usually does better. Hell, he was better last season, with a 1.071 OPS in the ALDS.

Why didn't he do better this postseason? Well, it wasn't his character, it was that knee, which has been bothering him all season, and contributed greatly to his worst offensive season since 1998. Of course, he was still one of the five best hitters in the league, but if he had been healthy, his batting average would have been closer to .300, and his OPS would have been around 1.000. Perhaps Giambi might have had surgery on the knee earlier in the season had Jeter, Johnson and Williams not been injured, and perhaps have come back strong for the postseason, but it wasn't an option that they could afford (and he probably wouldn't have fully recovered this season, if ever).

The media needs to label someone as the goat when expectations are not met, and I guess Aaron Boone and Alfonso Soriano weren't enough for them. But not only is Jason Giambi not one of the things that's wrong with the Yankees, he's one of the things that's right with them.

Sure, it would be nice if he wasn't locked up through his decline, but if that's the price you need to pay to have one of the best hitters in the game in the middle of your lineup, I think it's one worth paying. Unless the injury to Giambi's knee is much worse than currently believed, his OPS should be above .950 again next season.

Problem is, Giambi isn't a very good defensive player--not so much with catching the ball, but with throwing it. Defense isn't a crucial asset for a first baseman (although Shredder at Baseball Primer has pointed out that winning teams seem to usually have good defensive first basemen, but it's probably just a coincidence), but it makes it likely that Giambi will be the Yankees' designated hitter as long as Nick Johnson is on the team. In yet another unexplained correlation, Giambi's career OPS is .116 higher as a first baseman than as a DH, and was .205 higher in 2003. I don't claim to know why this is, or if it's real. Nick Johnson was better at first base than at DH this season, too, so I don't think it's worth playing Giambi at first base to find out.

As for Nick Johnson, I think he is going to be a great, great hitter, and he's already a pretty damn good one. His .894 OPS was third among American League first basemen this season, behind only Carlos Delgado and Jason Giambi, and his .318 EqA was ninth in the league, tied with Jorge Posada and Frank Thomas, better than Magglio Ordonez, Bret Boone and David Ortiz.

And Johnson is only 25, he's likely to get better than that. Earlier in the season, he was better than that, leading MLB in walks, and prompting Billy Beane to call him "another Jason Giambi". But then he broke a bone, and missed nearly 2½ months. The injury didn't seem to affect him, he was dominant with a 1.024 OPS in August, but was dreadful after that, putting up a dreadful .708 OPS in September and a .634 OPS in the postseason. But as terrible as that was, it doesn't concern me tremendously--good player have bad slumps sometimes--what does concern me is his odd proclivity for getting hurt, especially in the hands. He's missed time in three of the past four seasons with hand or wrist injuries, and I don't know whether it's bad luck or a harbinger of things to come. If Johnson stays healthy, I think it's likely that within the next two seasons, he'll be putting up numbers similar to those that Jason Giambi has put up in the past five. And even if he doesn't improve, he gets on base more than 40% of the time. I think I can live with a decade of that.

If the Yankees want to add a bat on the bench (and I think they should), they should keep switch-hitting International League MVP Fernando Seguignol on the roster. His huge numbers in AAA probably had a lot more to do with having mastered the minors rather than anything else, but he's a pretty good hitter--probably better than Ruben Sierra--has good power, and can fill in adequately in case Nick Johnson does get hurt again. He's certainly be better than last year's backup first baseman, Todd Zeile.

The Yankees don't need to make any moves at first base, and there's probably not any moves they can make that would make them better there, anyway. If the Yankees could get Carlos Beltran for Nick Johnson (they can't--Mike Sweeney), then I'd say claim Manny Ramirez and make that trade. It's unlikely the Yankees will get equal value for Nick in a trade, so I'm against them making any moves with him other than that one, and I don't think they will.

October 30, 2003

Manny Ramirez a Yankee?
by Larry Mahnken

Art Martone, the brilliant sports editor of the Providence Journal , reports that the Red Sox have placed outfielder Manny Ramirez on irrevocable waivers. That means that if a team claims him, and has a higher waiver priority than any other team that claims him, they've got him. The Red Sox can't pull him back.

The Yankees are currently discussing whether or not to claim Ramirez. On one hand, it might seem like a no-brainer, Manny Ramirez is one of the best hitters in baseball. He's due nearly $100 million over the next five seasons, and it will cost the Yankees more than that because of the luxury tax. If the Yankees take Ramirez, it means that a) they won't be signing either Vlad or Sheffield, b) they won't be improving their defense, and c) they're basically giving Vlad to Boston.

While Ramirez is overpaid in the current market, and it does hurt them in some ways, it does mean that they don't have to give up a draft pick to sign a right fielder, whatever that's worth. I really don't know whether the Yankees should claim Ramirez, I guess it depends on whether or not they think they can sign Vlad. If they can, then I'd let Ramirez pass, but if they're unsure, then I'd grab him.

Interestingly, if the Yankees do grab Ramirez, it places an enormous amount of pressure on Boston to sign Guerrero. The Red Sox are not the only team that's going to be trying to sign him, and MLB might want to keep him in Montreal to increase the resale value of the Expos. It should be interesting to read the media reaction once this gets out.

Update: ESPN's Buster Olney is reporting that the Yankees will not claim Ramirez. We'll see how accurate this report is.

Looking forward
by Larry Mahnken

So, I took a few days off. I needed a few days off.

It hurts to lose. It doesn't matter how often your team wins, losing still hurts.

Well, it's time to move on. The Yankees lost, the lost to a team that they're better than, and a team that they played better than. They were in control of the series, and had a chance to put the Marlins away, but they couldn't get the big hit, Joe Torre put the wrong pitcher into the game, David Wells's poor work ethic caught up to him at the worst time, and then they were dominated by an excellent young pitcher, and they didn't do what was needed to get him out of the game. More than being beaten, they lost, and it sucks.

It happens. That's the way the postseason works, that's the way baseball works. There's changes that need to be made, but an overhaul would be a bit extreme. They didn't lose because of some character flaw, but because they didn't get hits at the right time. The Yankees could bring in the best player at every position, and it still could happen again.

But changes need to be made, improvements need to be made. The don't need to be made because the Yankees lost the World Series, they would need to be made even if they won. Boston is going to get better, Toronto is going to get better, and if the Yankees stay at the same level, or get worse, making the playoffs is not going to be a sure thing. If they want to make the playoffs next season, if they want to win a title next season, they're going to have to make moves to get better.

Over the next few days, I'm going to outline what I think the Yankees should do in the offseason with their roster. For Bryan Smith's Wait 'Til Next Year blog, I answered some of his questions, and I caught some flak from a couple of Primates for my comments that the Yankees should try to sign not only one of the big free agent outfielders but also one of the big free agent pitchers. I didn't make this suggestion because having the best players on the Yankees is "some kind of birthright", but because I think the Yankees have as much right to sign those players as everyone else. It doesn't matter that the Yankees have won more of their fair share of World Championships, it's still fair for them to try to win more. (By the way, the Yankees would have to go over 620 years without a title to balance the scales. Seriously.)

I don't expect the Yankees to make most of the moves I suggest, and they might not make any of them. They might not even be the best moves: feel free to contribute your ideas in the comments.

Today, I'll look at the catchers:

The Yankees have Jorge Posada signed for the next few years (he can void his contract after next season, but with him being due at least $21 million over the final three years of the contract, it's unlikely that he'll do that), so they don't have to worry at all about a starting catcher. Posada was the best offensive catcher in the American League in 2003, and a legitimate MVP candidate. At 32, a decline is inevitable, and his defense is not strong, but he should still remain one of the top catchers in the game, and be a huge asset to the team.

Where the Yankees have room to improve is with their backup catcher. John Flaherty filled that role this past season, and while his OPS looked pretty good for a catcher, that was mostly because of his 2 HR game in Baltimore this August, for the most part, he was the same weak-hitting catcher he's always been. Joe Torre has always liked the glove men as backup catcher, so they might bring back Flaherty or someone like him, but it's important to remember the price the Yankees paid for having him on the roster. In Game Four of the World Series, the Yankees pinch-ran David Dellucci for Jorge Posada when he was the tying run on first with two outs. It was the right move to make, that run had to score. But when that run did score, they had to put John Flaherty into the lineup. Flaherty came up twice in extra innings, went 0 for 2, and the Yankees ultimately lost the game, and the series. If the Yankees had a good hitting backup catcher, they might have won the game, and if they had won that game, they would almost certainly have been World Champions.

A better hitting catcher would have helped the Yankees during the regular season, too. When Flaherty gave Posada a day off, it left a hole in the Yankees' lineup, and often they would have to bring Posada in to pinch hit and catch when the game was close in the late innings, and Flaherty came up in a clutch spot. The lack of production from Flaherty might also have dissuaded Torre from giving Posada enough time off, and while Posada kept hitting in the second half, he was also an offensive zero in the ALDS and World Series (though he was great in the ALCS). A better hitting catcher might give Posada a game off a week, and keep him fresh for October, and also help him maintain his offensive value for a couple more seasons.

My suggestion would be to sign free agent catcher Todd Pratt, who played with Philadelphia the past couple of seasons. Pratt isn't much with the glove, but he can hit quite well. He likely can be signed for about the same the Yankees were paying for Flaherty this past season, and in addition to giving Posada time off without being a major hit to the lineup, he can also be used as a pinch-hitter.

The factors that decide whether the Yankees can bring in Pratt are whether Philadelphia brings him back (and if he wants to come back), and if Joe Torre is willing to have a backup catcher who can hit but not field. I think it's likely that he'll go back to Philly, and even if he doesn't that the Yankees will bring in another weak-hitting catcher. The Game Four situation is unlikely to happen again next year, and it didn't really cost the Yankees the World Series by itself, anyway, so backing up Posada with a similar player to Flaherty won't kill them, but the benefits of a player like Pratt: more rest for Posada, less of an offensive hit when Posada sits, and a deeper bench makes it, in my opinion, a move that would make the Yankees a better team.

October 26, 2003

Not with a bang, but a whimper: Florida 2 , New York 0
by Larry Mahnken

Since becoming a hardcore Yankees fan in 1991, I have seen my favorite team win four World Championships, six American League Pennants, make the playoffs nine consecutive years, and be robbed of a playoff appearance and a possible World Championship by the strike. I came in just as the Yankees were climbing out of the cellar (although I had always been a fan, just not devoted), and I witnessed their entire rise to glory. I have, most definitely, been spoiled.

Maybe I take defeat harder than the average fan, because it's something that I haven't been used to. Maybe all fans take defeat as hard as I do. In 1995, I was miserable, because of how they lost, and how sure I was at the time that they'd never win a title. '97 was, at the time, depressing and frustrating, but I've since buried that loss, as they followed it up with a perfect season, and two more titles after that. I was miserable again in 2001, because of how very close they were, and the manner in which they lost it. Last season was more rage than anything else, as they got their brains beaten out by the Angels. This season, the beat the Twins fairly handily, which I expected. They had their hands full with the Red Sox, which I also expected, and at the moment when I was sure they were going to lose, they won, and I was joyful. Now they've lost the World Series, and I'm not angry, I'm a bit sad, but mostly, I'm frustrated.

The Yankees were the better team in this World Series. The better team does not always win a short series though. The Braves were better than the Yankees in '96, the Indians were perhaps better than the Braves in '95. The Yankees defeated two superior teams in the 2001 American League playoffs, before falling to a team that they were fairly evenly matched with. They beat a team that was probably better than them in the ALCS. The 1960 Pirates beat the Yankees, the 1953 Yankees beat the Dodgers, the '54 Giants beat the Indians. The '69 Mets beat the Orioles, the 1906 White Sox beat the 116-win Cubs. I could go on and on about how often the inferior team wins a postseason series. That the Marlins won this series does not make them the better team. But that also doesn't matter, because they did win the series, and they do get the trophy, and the rings, and the flag to fly. And that, in the end, is what matters. Goliath didn't go home and say, well, I lost to David, but I still know that I'm stronger than him! Because he was dead. Dead men don't gloat, and pennant winners who lose to inferior teams in the World Series don't gloat, either.

I won't write much today about how and why the Yankees lost--I probably won't write much about that for quite a while. They played poorly, they failed to capitalize on the many, many opportunities they had, while Florida seemed to capitalize on every one they had. They were only outplayed in one game--last night's game, but they gave away three games in the first five, and did themselves in.

And so that's it, the season is over. The Yankees will go out and sign one or two big free agents, probably make a trade. Assuredly, some mediot will write about how the Yankees have ruined baseball with their buying of titles, and how small market teams can't compete, yadda yadda yadda. Of course, a small market team won in 2001, and a mid market team whose lease makes them essentially a small market team won this year, and of course, Bud Selig has stopped preaching the doctrine of competitive imbalance and is trying to take credit for the success of Florida, saying the new CBA made it possible (it did no such thing). Whatever. People who write that should be fired. It never was true, and now the irrefutable evidence of it's falsity exists. Small market teams can compete just fine; small payroll teams can compete when the circumstances are right. Go ahead and let the Yankees buy up the free agent market. Take note: the Yankees didn't sign a single premier free agent from 1996-2000. Since signing Mike Mussina in late 2000, they haven't won a single title.

The Yankees won't collapse. They're old, they're declining, but 1964 isn't just around the corner. The collapse will be a few 85-win seasons, just out of contention--if, of course, it happens at all. They'll contend for a title again next year, but it'll be tougher. Boston and Toronto will be better, and the Yankees might not even make it out of the East.

But let's talk about that tomorrow, or next week, we've got a few months to bitch before they play again. The 2003 season is over, but the Replacement Level Yankees Weblog isn't out of stuff to write--I think. Especially with the Yankees, you know that there will be a lot to talk about in the offseason. Although I hope to, I might not be able to write everyday, but I'll try, and I'll keep the site regularly updated, and I'll write about any important story involving the Yankees (and some that don't).

I started this blog as a way to put my opinions about my favorite team and sport out there for people to read. Some of you liked my style of writing, some of you liked my analysis, and some of you hated me, although I'm not sure why I'm worth hating. I thank you all for reading, and I hope that you return regularly during the offseason, and that I can make your visits here worthwhile. I'd like to offer special thanks to some people who have particularly encouraged me in my writing: Art Martone, Jay Jaffe, Alex Belth, Aaron Gleeman, "Repoz", and everyone in the Yankees Game Chatters on Baseball Primer this year, all of whom I consider my friends. Also, I'd like to mention Dan Szymborski, who didn't actually do anything, but who said I've never mentioned him on the blog. Well, now I have.

I'd also like to give personal thanks to my friends and family: Dad, Mom and my sister, Beth; I love you all. My friends Stef, Bella, Mikey, Kosko, Chrissy, Tyler, Rob, Bill, and Jeff Patrick, who hates baseball with a passion, and who I'm sure will torture me mercilessly about the Yankees' loss, but has encouraged me in my writing nonetheless.

Sorry for all that personal crap that you likely don't care about, and if I forgot to mention you, well, now you know that I don't care. Just kidding. If I forgot you, I'm sorry.