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December 8, 2004

Out With the Old, In With the Crap
by Larry Mahnken

When George Steinbrenner got suspended in the early 90's for paying a gambler to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield (a noble endeavor, if ever there was one!), Gene Michael was given free rein over the organization. He built the team up as he saw fit, and by 1993, only three seasons after having the worst record in the American League, the Yankees were challenging the Blue Jays for first place all year.

Michael had put together his team based not on reputations and tools, but performance. The Yankees lineups in the 90's were built around the sabermetric principle of getting on base -- that's not to say that they were a sabermetric organization, but rather that they grasped one of the key principles of the theory, that the most important thing for an offensive player to do is not make an out.

As the century rolled over, and the A's became an openly sabermetric team, many looked at the Yankees and pointed out that they had been doing many of the same things already. To Michael Kay, that meant that they A's were copying the Yankees, because to Michael Kay, that's the way the world works. To some statheads, that meant the Yankees were a sabermetric organization. Well, they weren't quite, but they were not that far removed. To the Yankees, performance mattered, which absurdly enough, doesn't seem to be the case for a lot of teams.

If that's still the case for the Yankees, they've developed a severe case of myopia. To kick off the free agent season, they've made two ludicrous signings, Jaret Wright and Tony Womack. And they paid good money for this, too.

Of course these signings are going to be lauded in the media. And not just the New York media, but around the country, where analysts are often just as myopic as, oh, let's say the Mets. And here's why:

Jaret Wright: 15-8, 3.28 ERA
Tony Womack: .307, 91 Runs Scored, and he's a smallish middle infielder, so he must be a good defensive player!

And here's why they aren't good signings:

Jaret Wright: 2-5, 7.35 ERA, 5.12 DIPS
Tony Womack: .226, .558 OPS -- .415 OPS with THE ROCKIES!!!

Jaret Wright: 2-3, 15.71 ERA, 6.50 DIPS
Tony Womack: .271, .678 OPS

Jaret Wright: 2-2, 6.52 ERA, 5.05 DIPS
Tony Womack: .266, .652 OPS

Both of these players had the best years of their career last season, and it wasn't even close. Wright's best ERA before last season was 4.38 in 90.1 innings in his rookie season. He hasn't cracked 4.70 otherwise. Womack's career year last year still only mustered a .734 OPS, he's only reached .700 two other times -- .700 with Pittsburgh in 1997 and .702 with the Dbacks in 1999. That's it. Wright has a career 5.09 ERA, Womack has a career .681 OPS, and no, Womack's not a good second baseman.

Even if Womack, at 35, somehow repeated his 2004 next year, he wouldn't be adding anything to the Yankees, and while at 29 it's possible that Jaret Wright has found himself, it's more likely that Leo Mazzone got to him. Now Mel Stottlemyre gets to him.

The one non-negative that I can see from the Womack signing is that when he inevitably doesn't hit, Torre will almost be forced to give Robinson Cano a chance to play, and that may well pay huge dividends for them in the long haul.

If these signings are going to be the cornerstones of the Yankees' 2004-05 offseason, then it's going to be a long season in the Bronx. They'll be depending on a lot of things that went wrong last year going right next year. If they can pull off a Randy Johnson trade and sign Carlos Beltran, they should be stronger going into the season, but with Wright and likely Milton forming the creamy filling of their rotation, they're going to need the new deep bullpen they're assembling, and they'll probably be winning and losing a lot of slugfests.

The money they've thrown at Womack and Wright and that they're likely to throw at Milton, would have been better spent on someone like Matt Clement, or if they wanted to spend a little more, Pedro. Coming into 2004 they looked to have a rotation that could dominate the game, but it didn't work out. The 2005 rotation's upside looks to be that the middle of the rotation might not get the crap beaten out of it by everyone.

This is not how you spend $200 million wisely. This is not how Gene Michael would have done things. I suspect that it's not how Brian Cashman wanted to do things, either.