I’ve been moving the past week and could only follow from afar with some brief comments, but what a week for the Red Sox. After losing two of three to the Yankees, they jumped right back with four straight wins while the Yanks have helped by dropping the same number.
In the process, an interesting role reversal has taken place.
Once again, Red Sox fans are more confident in the Yankees than Yankee fans. This happened last October (when thankfully the YFs’ fears were well-founded), and it’s happening again.
With a 13.5-game margin separating the two, Sox fans are cautiously optimistic — feeling confident about their chances but mindful of past missteps. In a Boston Globe blog entry inviting readers to rub the Yankees’ failures in YFs’ faces (something I’m not sure is really worthwhile — every loss is enough for me), the author still takes care to caution entrants not to tempt the baseball gods.
Yankee fans though have given up the ghost. It’s over. Not only will the Sox win the East, the Yankees probably won’t even win the Wild Card. These are never things wary SFs would say about the Yankees, but YFs are jumping ship in numbers I have never seen (of course, I’ve also never seen the Yankees this far out of first since the Sox’ primary rival for first place were the Blue Jays).
Bronx Banter has an excellent round-up of links, with Will Weiss saying that for the first time, his Yankee-beat friends are reporting the atmosphere of the team is pessimistic. I feel particularly bad for Brian Cashman, who appears to be at least the equal of Theo Epstein, yet took over a worse situation and has bosses that are far less understanding.
When the Sox hired Epstein, the previous ownership group was only incompetent, leaving Dan Duquette to run a big-market team with small-market money. The result was Duquette’s building of a strong farm system that developed enough solid prospects to ultimately land Pedro Martinez (his crowning achievement) and Curt Schilling (up there with the Ortiz signing as Epstein’s).
Epstein in 2003 took over a good ballclub, one that the year before had enough talent to rocket to a start exactly as good as the 2007 club over 50 games before imploding into tiny bloody pieces. His task ultimately was to turn that club into a winner built from within while using the pieces already in place. As Seth Mnookin tells it in Feeding the Monster, Epstein briefly abandoned that plan in 2004 when the opportunity arose to trade for and sign Schilling, believing — correctly, as it turned out — that the aging Red Sox had only one year left to fulfill the promise blown by Grady Little in 2003.
Sure enough, the 2005 Sox showed their age toward the end of the season, with players like Kevin Millar and Johnny Damon slumping. Epstein had to rebuild while still maintaining the high expectations. It was a balancing act that led to the confrontation with Larry Luchino and the soap-operatic 2005-06 offseason. In 2006, Epstein returned and attempted to make the Red Sox younger and better from a long-term perspective while still making the playoffs.
Nevertheless, the short-term approach suffered. The Red Sox were devastated by injuries and youngsters called up too soon to fill the gaps failed as they learned on the job. However, the long-term investment (along with short-term cash for guys like Matsuzaka) in youth, especially young pitching, appears to have paid dividends. Not to say the Red Sox haven’t been players on the free-agent market, because they have, but the goal seems to be to avoid depleting the farm system to trade for and sign aging stars past their prime.
The past two years, Cashman finally has had control over the development of the Yankees. But the situation he inhereted is much worse. Instead of a few aging stars, the Yankees were loaded with them. Instead of a fairly strong farm system, the Yankees’ was barren. Another Moneyball-style GM was faced with transforming a team without sacrificing the short-term.
It appears to be failing in New York, as well. The tightrope was barely negotiated by Epstein, and for a short while he left the job because of it. Cashman’s job also appears to be in jeopardy, but he started with far fewer resources — and a boss who simply does not understand the philosophy. Although Epstein clashed with Lucchino, John Henry philosophically always was on the general manager’s side. Cashman has no such luxury with George M. Steinbrenner III.
Losing Cashman would be nothing short of a long-term disaster for the Yankees, a team that should be no more than two years away from being younger and more fearsome than the aging, lackluster listing ship before us today.