Tale of Two Teams

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.

25 comments… add one
  • Man, I was with you ’till that last paragraph. Then…jibberish.

    Regular_Brad. May 29, 2007, 5:30 pm
  • also….pay attention to yankee road attendance numbers. not the draw they used to be. figure merch numbers have to be down too. i think mr. hillenbrand said/wrote it best…”this ship is sinking, every man for himself. play for your contracts.”

    sf rod May 29, 2007, 5:53 pm
  • 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.
    Nice post, Paul. I think it’s perceptive and even-handed, and I hope that our YFs readers give you a fair shake with it.
    Another thing: to be fair to Steinbrenner, based on all the rumors that have been bandied about, he seems to be acutely aware of his own mortality – John Henry is younger and this is a luxury that the Boss doesn’t have, his youth. Allowing Cashman to implement a longer-term plan may have been the correct and bitter pill to swallow for the organization, but not the right medicine for a man who may rightfully believe he can’t wait out that long-term plan. So that makes this off-season’s allocation of control (to the GM) a paradoxical decision, perhaps, leaving control in the hands of someone who might be willing to endure the hardships of down years (as I suppose the intelligent Cashman understands happen, not unlike Theo) that the man who owns the team can’t afford. And it is a decision that can’t necessarily be corrected on the fly.

    SF May 29, 2007, 6:00 pm
  • I wonder if the difference between John Henry’s style of ownership and George Steinbrenner’s is a reflection of the wealth of the owners.
    George is wealthy, no doubt, but I wonder if the Yankees are his largest asset, as compared to his shipbuilding fortune. Henry, in contrast, is fantastically rich- he’s a billionaire many, many times over- and the Sox are just a part of that empire.
    Maybe Henry is more comfortable being hands-off, and allowing his asset to grow naturally, like a venture capital investment.

    Ayuh - SF May 29, 2007, 6:02 pm
  • As Mnookin describes it, Henry approaches baseball just like he approached his investments — looking for trends through data, which is why he likes Epstein and why, I think, he trusts Epstein so much to be so hands-off. Plus, Epstein has one thing Cashman doesn’t, and that one thing certainly fosters a lot of trust — the ring.

    Paul SF May 29, 2007, 6:09 pm
  • If there are Yankee fans jumping ship good riddance! I for one am here for good.
    As for all the articles and posts, they are on point. This team is awful right now. Step one the Yankees need to remove the Sox from their sights and concerns. Just focus on getting healthy and playing better baseball. I won’t crucify this team, it’s owner or Cash for a season that doesn’t provide an AL East title, but I will be pissed if we continue to play this tedious brand of ball. Torre has this team sleep walking and I hate it. Once this team gets back on track, then we can talk about games out and so on. For now start providing your fans a decent game to watch. I pay a lot of money for tickets and spend a lot of time watching and right now I would rather watch the Brewers or D’Backs.

    Triskaidekaphobia May 29, 2007, 6:44 pm
  • Plus, Epstein has one thing Cashman doesn’t, and that one thing certainly fosters a lot of trust — the ring.
    Cashman has ringS, Paul.

    SF May 29, 2007, 6:47 pm
  • “Epstein has one thing Cashman doesn’t, and that one thing certainly fosters a lot of trust — the ring.”
    If you’re talking about the WS ring – Cash has 3. He took over in ’98.

    Andrews May 29, 2007, 6:49 pm
  • I’m not jumping ship either, Trisk.
    Hard to believe such a talented group of hitters suck so bad at the plate right now, though. Disgusting b*llsh*t to watch.
    Whether it happens in time to make a playoff run or not, I will be very surprised if they don’t at least start hitting close to what was expected preseason.

    Andrews May 29, 2007, 6:53 pm
  • D’oh! Forgot Cashman had been around that long. Something tells me Stein considers those HIS rings, though.

    Paul SF May 29, 2007, 6:53 pm
  • Yes, they’re his. He paid for ’em, just like John Henry.

    Andrews May 29, 2007, 6:54 pm
  • “I feel particularly bad for Brian Cashman, who appears to be at least the equal of Theo Epstein, yet took over a worse situation…”
    ’98 team: won 125 games, most in history; WS title
    ’99 team: won WS
    ’00 team: won WS
    ’01 team: lost in 7th game of WS
    Yeah, Paul, poor Cashman really took over a terrible situation…

    Andrews May 29, 2007, 9:40 pm
  • 3 WS titles (exactly half your team’s total, in it’s ENTIRE HISTORY) in his first four years on the job – but you’re right, that’s a terrible situation…

    Andrews May 29, 2007, 10:06 pm
  • ITS entire history. “It’s” = it is. Its = possessive pronoun.

    Devine May 29, 2007, 10:10 pm
  • Talk about your trollish behavior. Everyone knows, Andrews, except apparently you, that Cashman did not have control of this team until he finally demanded it from Steinbrenner. When discussing the fact that Cashman has done little with the Yankees since the Michaels teams disbanded, the defense of Yankee fans is that he has not had the chance to prove himself with Steinbrenner pulling the strings (choosing Johnson over Beltran for example). At the time Cashman took full control, the Yankees had no farm system, and a stable of aging, overpaid stars. Since Cashman was on the job since 1998, apparently you’re willing to give him the credit for that? If so, then I take back that he is at least the equal of Epstein because under your own scenario he clearly would be not.

    Paul SF May 30, 2007, 2:10 am
  • That’s a bullshit argument.
    So, Cashman gets no credit whatsoever for the WS titles? You actually think that George was running the whole show? Granted, Cashman had to live with Steinbrenner’s demands for certain players, and with the involvement of the Tampa group. But to say he was just a figurehead GM for all those years is really stupid.
    By your logic, then I guess Theo didn’t really become GM of the sox until 2006.He doesn’t get credit for ’04?
    No matter how you slice it, winning the WS is the objective for every team in MLB. If a depleted farm system (and consequently a down peroid) is the price of the Yankees’ success over the last decade, IMO it’s worth it.

    Andrews May 30, 2007, 1:08 pm
  • If a depleted farm system (and consequently a down peroid) is the price of the Yankees’ success over the last decade, IMO it’s worth it.
    The Yankees’ success had nothing to do with their (up until very recently) depleted farm system. You don’t have to have one without the other. The Angels won the series a few years back and have been competitive, yet their farm system remains tremendously productive. Poor drafting and player scouting was the biggest factor in the Bombers’ league famine. The Yankees haven’t traded blue chippers who have accomplished much in other cities, so it’s not possible to argue that they traded all their best players away in order to keep the Major League team strong. The Yankees have done a relatively poor job drafting in the Cashman era, despite having looser signing limitations and a financial advantage in the draft. This isn’t trolling: I think they’d probably admit that themselves.
    Not giving credit to Cashman for the first three rings is unfair. On the same token, cheering Cashman’s new and total control over the team would certainly weaken a position that he deserves significant credit for those teams, and acknowledging this inconsistency of credit-giving isn’t wrong. Conventional wisdom (from YFs that I know) is that Stick Michael was the main architect of those late 90s squads, though Cash certainly should not be taken out of the equation. He deserves credit for his work during those years, no doubt.

    SF May 30, 2007, 1:23 pm
  • At any rate, it is telling that I go out of my way to credit Cashman and say his loss would be detrimental to the Yanks and at least one YF has to turn it around on me. Damned if you do; damned if you don’t.
    Either Cashman was in control of the team during the World Series years, then decimated his own farm system and traded for and signed Giambi, Johnson, Sheffield and the other overpriced, overpaid guys Yankee fans were so angry at in recent years, or he wasn’t, and can only truly be measured by what he’s done since gaining full control of the team — which has no rings since he gained that control (considering he’s not had much time, I wouldn’t fault him for that). In the first case, I would say losing him is not that big a deal for the Yankees. I don’t know a single Yankee fan who believes this scenario — except, I guess, Andrews.

    Paul SF May 30, 2007, 2:22 pm
  • i know it was a big deal to compare our teams japanese pitcher imports about two months ago. igawa found a mound to throw from last nite and produced 5 innings of 8 hit 4 run ball against toledo. tonite matsuzaka faces another team from ohio. hopefully he’ll fair better. it’s a little early to make a statement as to who’s more impressive. i’ll holdout judgement till after the all star break. was igawa a cashman signing?

    sf rod May 30, 2007, 2:54 pm
  • Hard to believe that you know how much input or control Cashman had over the team during the WS years, Paul when you didn’t even know how long he had been GM.
    ” Damned if you do; damned if you don’t.”
    Choose the latter option, please.
    I agree with most of what you said SF. While Stick was the main architect of the late ’90’s teams, there were major changes in ’98, Cashman’s first year – Brosious and Knoblauch were among his first signings. He also brought on El Duque and signed Soriano.
    ” The Yankees haven’t traded blue chippers who have accomplished much in other cities”
    Some of the players they have traded include Eric Milton, Mike Lowell, and Wily Mo Pena.

    Andrews May 30, 2007, 3:32 pm
  • I stand by my “Yankees haven’t traded blue chippers” comment, more specifically for this decade. Wily Mo hasn’t accomplished much, Milton was solid for a window of time, and Lowell was traded many years ago, in 1999. Ironically, this was done to re-stock the minors with pitching – Cashman himself made the deal and it turned out to be a poor one. The idea that the successes of the Yankees have compromised their ability to draft well, trade smartly for young players, or develop talent is flawed, that’s the main point.
    Here are some clips from the Times’ story on the Lowell trade, from 1999.
    The Yankees traded one of their top infield prospects, Mike Lowell, to the Florida Marlins yesterday for three minor league pitchers in the latest effort by General Manager Brian Cashman to restock the organization’s pitching.
    In return for Lowell, the Yankees received three highly rated young pitchers, each of whom was involved in a previous trade that involved a big name. Ed Yarnall, a 23-year-old left-hander, was a part of the Mets organization until he was shipped to the Marlins in the package for Mike Piazza. Mark Johnson is a former first-round pick of the Houston Astros who was sent to Florida in a trade for outfielder Moises Alou. And Todd Noel is a 20-year-old right-hander who was a first-round pick of the Chicago Cubs in 1996, then was traded to Florida last season for the reliever Felix Heredia.
    Executives with other teams gave the Yankees high marks for this trade, saying all three pitchers possess excellent potential and could develop into good major league pitchers.
    ”Yarnall throws from the side and can be very deceptive,” one executive said. ”He had some problems with his back last year, but I don’t think that’s a long-term concern.
    ”One of our scouts who saw Johnson said he has a very good slider and has a good feel for pitching, and figures that he could develop into a No. 4 or No. 5 starting pitcher in the big leagues at some point. Noel has a good fastball, and if he can develop a breaking ball, he might be the best of the three when it’s all said and done.”
    Cashman has been trying to replenish the organization’s pitching in recent months, after the Yankees became somewhat thin in this area last year. Last February, the Yankees traded their top minor league pitcher, Eric Milton, to Minnesota as part of the deal for the second baseman Chuck Knoblauch. During the summer, another prospect prized by the Yankees, Luis Delos Santos, struggled and was demoted to Class A, and Ricardo Aramboles, a hard-throwing right-hander, suffered a major elbow injury.

    Full article here, Times Select:

    SF May 30, 2007, 3:52 pm
  • Interesting, thanks for the link.

    Andrews May 30, 2007, 3:58 pm
  • “The idea that the successes of the Yankees have compromised their ability to draft well, trade smartly for young players, or develop talent is flawed, that’s the main point.”
    You make a good point.
    However, others traded were: Ted Lilly, Jake Westbrook, Nick Johnson (even though he wasn’t really still a prospect)and Juan Rivera. All traded to keep the ML team strong. All in all, you can’t say that this group “didn’t accomplish much” in other cities.

    Andrews May 30, 2007, 4:31 pm
  • Certainly it’s a complex issue, Andrews. I think you’d probably have to look deeper at each trade of each player. Some trades involve prospects traded for proven talent that will be under control for a more extended time period, some for just a few months. Some trades involve prospects traded for more prospects. Some trades involve trading proven talent for more prospects. The cumulative effect is hard to measure without a more exhaustive accounting.
    For example, Lowell was traded for three prospects – he was blocked at third by Brosius, who went on to play three more years for the Yankees. It’s a bit off to think that the trade of Lowell had any negative impact on the Yankees and their depth, considering his utility was replaced and he was traded for minor leaguers. You can criticize that deal because Cashman didn’t get good players back, not because it compromised depth. Nick Johnson was traded for Javy Vazquez, who was then traded for Randy Johnson, who was then traded for minor league pitching. Hard to criticize trading a first baseman for a proven ML pitcher, particularly with Giambi at first base blocking Johnson (at the time of the trade, that is), and also when the end result was, again, an attempt to replenish the system. Westbrook was traded with Ted Lilly to the Yankees for Hideki Irabu (wow, what a bad trade for the Expos!) and was then traded for David Justice in ’99. This trade helped win the Yankees a World Series, so in this case your point about trading youth to serve the big league squad has some pertinence, but even with that being the case the Yankees still had depth at pitching that trading a guy like Westbrook, who was not going to last in the organization, didn’t really harm their minor league depth significantly. In all three cases, none of the trades can be shown to have negatively impacted the Yankees’ ability to keep their farm system stocked. From my standpoint, that is mostly about the draft, not about trades. Each year teams add dozens of players through the draft and free agent signings at no cost to their team other than dollars, this is the most direct way to keeping a system healthy, through intellligence, scouting, and, of course, luck. Trades can do it, but I think it is the really rare trade that successfully restocks a team’s depth or, conversely, brutally hamstrings an organization.

    SF May 30, 2007, 4:58 pm
  • “brutally hamstrings an organization.”
    Why did you have to use the “H” word?? :)

    Andrews May 30, 2007, 5:15 pm

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