Want to talk about the Yankees’ likely near-future? Or just want to talk about anything other than Manny Ramirez? You’ve come to the right place.
As for the Yankees: this year has felt to many YFs like a transition year – one in which young talent would be preserved, cultivated, and given a shot to come up rather than traded for the latest aging superstar in a win-now-at-all-costs maneuver and therefore one in which the October prospects might not be so great. In a gratifying way, the Yankees seem to have held true to this strategy even while making significant mid-season moves that undoubtedly improve their prospects for playing in October, even if only marginally.
It is inarguable that Xavier Nady and Pudge provide better offensive punch than Brett Gardner and Jose Molina while not hurting the team defensively. And Damaso Marte addresses the need for a left-handed reliever while filling (if not improving) the hole left by the departure of Kyle Farnsworth – a guy who Cashman dealt at what is by far the highest-value-point he has reached since he donned pinstripes. Thanks to Girardi’s/Eiland’s disbursement of the bullpen workload and the results it has produced, the pressure for Marte to step up will be eased by the strong seasons being had by Veras, Ramirez, Robertson, and the expected return of Bruney.
At the same time, the Yankees have not let go of a single talent that seemed likely to be part of the Yankees’ plans in the coming 2-3 years. Kennedy and Hughes are still here, Cano is going nowhere, and additional arms like Melancon are on their way up. Tabata had become a disappointment and, even if he is to develop into a major league talent, this would appear at least 3-5 years away at best. Karstens was a nice spot-starter but nothing special. LaTroy was a flat-out disappointment and journeyman in any case. And no one would call Kyle a young talent, despite the fact that Girardi and Eiland had gotten more out of him than he had ever given to the Yankees before.
So why is it only a marginal improvement in the prospect of October-baseball in the Cathedral?
The Yankees are better poised to make a run to be sure, but the biggest shortcoming of the team – starting pitching – has not changed one bit. Can veterans Pettitte and Mussina keep up their levels of performance and can Joba continue his young mastery? The latter seems more likely than the former, but even if both hold true, we still have Sidney Ponson taking the mound every five days. After a nice first start against the Mets, Ponson has compiled a tidy 7.84 ERA in his last 4 starts for the Yankees. And Darrell Rasner, despite his gutsy efforts, has no better than a 4.92 ERA in his 14 starts with the team. If you take out his first four starts and just look at the past ten, that ERA shoots up to 6.37. Even calibrated for their low-men-on-the-totem-poll #s 4 and 5 spots in the rotation, these performances will not do it and place impossible pressure on both the offense, the bullpen, and the top three starters.
So the Yanks are better placed than they were a week ago undoubtedly, but their biggest need goes unaddressed probably because it really can’t be this year. At least they have not sold the farm or the future while making the team better for this year and their moves should mean a more exciting August-September for YFs, even if not October. And this is baseball – strange things happen. Hughes or (admittedly less likely) Wang may make it back in time to contribute to the stretch-run, Tampa Bay may collapse (unlikely), Matsui may come back and be a monster, or the Yankees may simply figure out for the first time in years how in the world to beat the Angels (yes, also unlikely), who they play more (10 times!) than any other team between now and the end of the season.
I for one would prefer to see Ian Kennedy in either Rasner’s or Ponson’s spots (preferably Ponson’s), as the kid has – in 39.1 IP at AAA Scranton W-B – compiled a 3-2 record with a 2.06 ERA and I think it’s time for him to face ML hitting again. That certainly would not solidify the rotation, but I don’t see it as likely to be worse than what the other two are giving and it is the best way for the kid to develop. And if a Washburn deal can be made that doesn’t include top prospects, that would be fine too, but as that seems increasingly unlikely, it seems we have now what we will have for the coming months. (those who oppose Washurn, please first consider that the alternative appears to be more Sidney).
And as the Yanks begin tonight a tough stretch of 7 vs. LAA, 3 vs. Minnesota, and 4 vs. Texas, the re-jiggered line-up and bullpen will undoubtedly have plenty of high-pressure opportunities to produce right away.
In short, after all the deal-making, we can certainly say that this inspires confidence:
Even while we admit that this does not: