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April 11, 2005

by SG

Granted, it's way too early to start panicking yet, but there are some troubling things already apparent on the 2005 Yankees. Most sabermetrically aware fans are aware of the litany of missteps that were undertaken in building this team, but it's worth re-hashing with the way they've stunk it up over the last five games.

With the Yankees starting rotation struggling mightily last year, it made a lot of sense to try and rebuild it. The Yankees went after the best available pitcher in Randy Johnson, which still appears to be a good choice although the price was high in dollars and in talent surrendered. Johnson was good in his first start, bad in his second, but the major concern with him is his health, and so far that does not appear to be an issue.

In addition, by locking up Johnson for two more years and $32 million, they are again putting themselves in the position of being stuck with a large contract that they won't be able to do anything with.

The second key piece added was Carl Pavano. His low strikeout rate was a legitimate cause for concern, especially considering the fact that he was leaving the National League for the American League, but he was great in his first start and was ok in his second until he got struck by a line drive. The latest news is that he suffered a very mild concussion, and he should be ok to make his next start. Pavano has had a long injury history but appears to have put it behind him at this point.

The third piece added was Jaret Wright. Wright has always had a world of talent, but never put it together until last year under the tutelage of the best pitching coach in the game, Leo Mazzone. The Yankees did what they do "best", buying high on a basically unproven commodity, due to the advice of their scouting group in Tampa. Wright's effectiveness is certainly an open question, as he was lousy in his first start, and has a troubling injury history.

In addition, Kenny Lofton was traded for Felix Rodriguez. Rodriguez is not a bad pitcher, but he became the 12th man on the pitching staff. There is no excuse for a team to carry more than 11 pitchers, and Lofton would've been a good fit on this team as a platoon CF and 4th OF. Trading Heredia for Stanton was a good move, but Stanton is not really a lefty killer and if that is the role that he will be used in I doubt he will be very effective.

After working on their pitching staff, they went after the lineup next.

Despite a defense that ranked amongst the worst in baseball by most statistical measures, the Yankees failed to make any moves to address it. I will not bash Bernie Williams because he has had a great career and is one of my favorite players. The fact that he is still the everyday CF on this team is a reflection on the team's management, from the owner on down, and not on Bernie. There was a young superstar CF who would've been an upgrade on offense, defense and just entering his prime on the free agent market, and the Yankees chose to ignore him. If this was because they've reached their reasonable payroll limit, that's fine, they still have a tremendous financial advantage over all other teams. It just points to how stupidly this team has been put together. A bigger long-term problem is that there does not appear to be a viable option for CF over the next few years on the free agent market, and the Yankees have one of the worst rosters in baseball as far as attractive trade chits.

In addition to ignoring Beltran, the Yankees replaced Miguel Cairo, who's not a great player, but had a good year last year, with Tony Womack, who's not a good player but had a good year last year. Womack typically scores poorly in defensive metrics, makes out 68 % of the time, and has no power. They also brought back Tino Martinez for a last hurrah, who was not bad last year but is 37 years old and could (and apparently has) fall off a cliff at any time. With someone like Andy Phillips rotting away in the minors, what was the purpose of this move?

Compound these bad personnel decisions with Joe Torre's management, and it could lead to bad things. When Ruben Sierra is batting cleanup, when the bench has four players not fit to play major league baseball, and when a manager overuses a reliever when he has a seven man bullpen, he is hurting the team. Torre has gone away from what made him successful as the Yankee manager earlier in his career. This is the man who found a role for Mariano Rivera, and helped to break in Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada(stupidly, but still), and Andy Pettite. However, now he manages ultra-conservatively. The way he ran Quantrill, Rivera and Gordon into the ground last year was probably a big factor in the bullpen's struggles in the second half and the postseason. He appears to be doing the same thing with Sturtze now.

So now, you've got an old, declining core on offense. You have zero depth on offense or on the pitching staff. You have a manager who's becoming more and more of a liability, and you have no flexibility to do anything about it.

Maybe I'm being overly pessimistic, they haven't even played 10 games yet, but this team is not fun to watch right now. I also get the sense that these guys are not a team, and appear to be having no fun on that field. There are very few guys on here whom I would root for if they weren't wearing Yankee uniforms. I like the Yankee core (Rivera, Posada, Jeter, Bernie). I like Matsui, who exemplifies quiet professionalism. I'd like to see Giambi bounce back but I'm not as much of a fan of his as I was prior to his steroid admission, and I wouldn't be surprised if he never gets unhinged. Alex Rodriguez has a world of talent and ability, but there's no denial that he's been a disappointment so far in his Yankee career. Other than that, I'm either ambivalent or dislike most of the rest of this team. A few wins might change things, but man, what a bad stretch.