Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Final Indignity Of 2008 May Be Yet To Come For The Yankees

  • Would any one of the following be worse than the others, or would it all simply
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    morph into different scenes in a full-on nightmare?
A 10 1/2 game deficit in the division and an eight game deficit in the Wild Card standings with twenty-one games to play pretty much seals the Yankees fate as a non-playoff team this year. Even with that, there are still ways for the nightmare to get even worse. With today's comeback win over the Rays, the Blue Jays have an identical record with the Yankees at 75-66; by season's end, there's a very real possibility that the Yankees aren't just going to miss the playoffs, but they may end up in fourth place in the AL East behind the Rays, Red Sox and the Blue Jays; but it gets worse.
By season's end, there's every chance that the Yankees are going to not only be watching the playoffs on TV for the first time since 1993, but that they'll have to watch their most hated
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enemies in the Red Sox and Mets still playing, and also the manager that they kicked out the door to Los Angeles, Joe Torre, as he manages the Dodgers. If Torre coaxes this dysfunctional Dodgers team into the playoffs while the Yankees and their hand-picked replacement, Joe Girardi (who had been waiting in the wings for this opportunity since he was fired by the Marlins and turned down every other chance he got to manage) finishes the season with a record of, say, 87-75, what is that going to say about the decision to insult Torre with that one-year contract offer?
The arguments to let Torre go are well-known and some of them have reasonable validity. It may very well have been time to go in a new direction with someone younger who has a different voice especially since the team was going forward with their young pitching; it could be that Girardi will eventually be a better strategic manager than Torre was and that he was the perfect choice as they transition from a team that spent tons and tons of money on free agents and turned their focus on developing players of their own. They may even begin a new dynasty in the next year or two, but the fact still remains that the jury on Girardi----on and off the field----is still out.
His strategic gaffes have cost the Yankees several games this year and could have cost them several more; he's far too sensitive to criticism and his relentless positivity no matter the circumstances may wear thin to veterans who see reality and don't want to hear the manager talk about how the team "battled" or "never gave up"; they're eventually going to want to hear
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him say something to turn things around or unload on them when they deserve it. And the fact still remains that if the Yankees do end with a record of around 87-75, Girardi will only have won nine more games than he did in his sole year managing the Marlins in 2006 in which he won Manager of the Year and was fired; the difference being that the Marlins payroll for 2006 was $15 million and the 2008 Yankees began the season with a payroll of $209 million. Suffice it to say he's not going to be winning Manager of the Year in 2008 for the same fourth place finish that he achieved with the Marlins because it's not going to be seen as an achievement; in fact, it'll be pretty embarrassing considering what he had to work with.
  • Dodgers 7-Diamondbacks 2; speaking of Torre:
For the three and a half years that Willie Randolph managed the Mets, it was always an open question why he made so many pitching changes when they didn't appear necessary; in
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today's Dodgers-Diamondbacks game, it became clear that it wasn't something that Randolph came up with on his own; it was a learned behavior from the manager he worked for with the Yankees from 1996 through 2004.
Torre has always been very free with his bullpen and his track record of success served as a shield to any criticism that may have popped up for some of his maneuverings, but in today's game I had to stop and wonder what it was he was trying to prove as he pulled two relievers in the ninth inning with leads of seven and five runs, and had to bring his closer in to finish a game that shouldn't have been so complicated.
With that 7-0 lead going into the top of the ninth inning, Torre brought in a September call-up, rookie lefty Scott Elbert; Elbert promptly loaded the bases with one out when Torre made his slow amble to the mound to relieve Elbert with 34-year-old journeyman righty Jason Johnson.
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Johnson got the second out before he walked Chris Young and gave up a two-run single to Justin Upton; out went Torre again, this time to call for his closer Jonathan Broxton. Broxton struck out Miguel Montero to end the game.
To get three outs in a ninth inning which began with the Dodgers leading 7-0, Torre needed to use three different pitchers; it reminded me of Randolph's overmanaging the Mets as he always seemed to want to install at least two extra bullpen mounds in every ballpark so he could have four relievers warming up at the same time. If Torre didn't trust the rookie Elbert, he should have had Johnson start the inning; and if he wanted to make absolute sure that the game never had any chance to get out of hand, he should have started the inning with Broxton and all of this "strategy" would've been unnecessary.
  • Tony La Russa's "power play" and the possibility of becoming a GM(?):
Buster Olney linked an article by Joe Strauss in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that suggests that Cardinals manager Tony La Russa expects the Cardinals to spend some money this off-season, but it also suggests that La Russa is also entertaining the idea of becoming a general manager----Article.
There's no question that La Russa is going to try and get the Cardinals front office to spend
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as freely as they did in his earlier years as their manager, but their reluctance to spend on big name free agents or to acquire anyone of substance to help them contend this year indicates that they're going to let La Russa bloviate about how he wants some expensive veteran help and then go along their merry way signing reclamation projects like Kyle Lohse and hope that La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan can turn someone else into a 13-game winner.
The Cardinals were widely expected by many (including me) to fall to the bottom of the NL Central division. It's been La Russa's strategic wizardry that has kept the Cardinals in contention, but the fact that the team desperately needed some help in the bullpen as they shuttled one pitcher after another into the closer's role and GM John Mozeliak did nothing indicates that they're not going to spend any more money this off-season on any players of note. They have a lot of money coming off the books, but that doesn't mean they're going to take it and put it right back into the team for 2009.
La Russa's going to want them to sign Francisco Rodriguez, which they won't do because K-Rod is going to be coming off of a 60-save season and will want at least $15 million a year
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for five or six years. La Russa's going to want them to sign Orlando Cabrera, which they won't do because Cabrera's going to want somewhere in the $50-60 million range on a five year deal. La Russa's going to want them to go after A.J. Burnett, which won't happen because Burnett is going to be coming off his career year with close to 20 wins and will be in heavy demand as he asks for $100 million, and probably gets it. La Russa's kidding himself if he thinks these things are going to happen because he's demanding them. The Cardinals are going to wait to see where the big name free agents go, then they're going to sift through the remnants and pick at the bones for the most inexpensive pieces they can find because that's the way they do business now.
As for the La Russa as GM idea, it won't work. Much like Lou Piniella was kicked upstairs to be the Yankees GM during one of George Steinbrenner's attempts to fire a popular manager without really firing him to avoid the vitriol he received when he fired Yogi Berra (both times he replaced the former manager with Billy Martin), Piniella tried to be a GM for a few months, decided he didn't like it and resigned. (He replaced Martin as manager a short time later.)
La Russa is not a front office guy; he's not a guy who's going to be happy wearing a suit
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and watching someone else manage his team in a far inferior fashion than he could. He's a baseball managing lifer. Like his friend Bill Parcells, the rush of the field will never be replaced by anything no matter how hard he tries. (I know Parcells is running the Miami Dolphins as team president, but I think a major part of him still wishes he had the energy to go back on the field and run the whole show from top to bottom.) So this is, to me, an empty threat designed to give the Cardinals front office the idea that their Hall of Fame manager might leave if the opportunity presents itself; but with the way they're now running that storied franchise, I get the idea that the ownership wouldn't be all that bothered one way or the other if La Russa was their manager or not; in fact, they might be relieved to get out from under his salary and hire someone for a bargain-basement contract who'd just be happy to have the job and do as he's told without complaint.
La Russa will manage the Cardinals next year; it'll be the same sort of team with the same sort of payroll as this year, and then after 2009, the two parties will go their separate ways and La Russa will go to a big spending team to take one more shot at winning another title without having to beg for in-season help; and it'll probably be best for all involved.

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