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An Open Memo To Brian Cashman
July 24, 2008 - John Whittaker
To: Brian Cashman, New York Yankees general manager.
From: The Whitless Wonder, special adviser appointed by Yankees fans
I'm sure you're busy, what with the trade deadline coming up next week, the Yankees once again in contention in the American League East and the Steinbrenner phone on your desk ringing off the hook.
I'm sure George and Hank Steinbrenner are already planning what to do to you if the team breaks its streak of 14 straight years in the playoffs by not making a big move at the break to secure a playoff spot. In fact, I've already heard the names of Brian Fuentes, Jason Bay, Xavier Nady, Jarrod Washburn and Jose Vidro popping up as potential targets.
I want the team to win as much as anyone, but I think the course you charted by holding on to prospects rather than trading for Johan Santana earlier this year is a good one. It's probably time to let old contracts come off the books and build around another group of hungry, younger players. If it helps, feel free to use this memo as you battle Big Stein and the Beer Stein over the next week
A few points that you might be able to use:
1. These Are Your Father's Yankees -- In real people terms, they may be young men. But, in baseball circles, running Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu, Johnny Damon, Mike Mussina, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Hideki Matsui and Jason Giambi out to the diamond every day is like the Senate trotting Strom Thurmond out for votes six months out of the year. Each of those players has done well this year, but there is little future for them, even for Jeter, which seems almost sacreligious to write.
Matsui can't stay healthy. Damon was streaky in his prime, has trouble staying healthy, and couldn't outthrow Tim Wakefield in a speed pitch booth. Jorge has battled shoulder problems. Do you think younger players would be a little more durable? Me too, which is why adding more older players doesn't help your team that much.
2. Perpetuating Mediocrity Caused The 1990 Yankees -- The 1990 Yankees were putrid. Horrible. Beyond stink. Here's what happened. George Steinbrenner, desperate to recapture the glory days of 1977-78, tried for years to get the biggest stars while constantly changing what he wanted the Yankees to do offensively. Rickey Henderson, Dave Winfield, Don Baylor, Jack Clark, Mike Witt, Mike Easler, Mel Hall, Steve Balboni (the second time), Ken Phelps, Rick Rhoden, Tommy John (who I loved), Phil Niekro, Joe Niekro, are just a few of the players to draw a Yankees paycheck from 1984 to 1991. The result - 0 championships, 0 playoff appearances, and a 67-95 record in 1991 under the immortal Stump Merrill and Bucky Dent, who was a better hitter than a manager (visit www.baseballreference.com to appreciate this joke).
That team's roster included these immortal players: Bob Geren, Alvaro Espinoza, Oscar Azocar, Roberto Kelly, Steve Balboni, Mel Hall, Kevin Maas, Matt Nokes, Hensley Meulens, Wayne Tolleson, Jim Walewander, Tim Leary, Chuck Cary, Andy Hawkins, Steve Adkins, Jimmy Jones, Mark Leiter, Alan Mills, Clay Parker, John Habyan and Rich Monteleone. Whew! Thank God you had nothing to do with that assemblage of talent, right Brian? You'd be working for the Pirates right now.
Signing free agents makes great newspaper copy in December and January, but can lead to teams that are horribly put together - like this year, with three mid-30s outfielders, two of whom are injury prone, one of whom refuses to go to the wall to make a play, all of whom aren't putting up the same numbers they did three or four years ago. Kei Igawa's $40 million contract is a good deal only when compared to that Carl Pavano signing. He's made a whopping 17 starts over four years and actually missed time because he bruised his butt.
Remember Gary Sheffield, who hit fine for two years before getting hurt, complained about how he was used, called Joe Torre a racist and was traded for 50 cents on the dollar. Javier Vazquez, who was a harder throwing, righthanded version of Kenny Rogers,a guy who couldn't pitch in Yankee Stadium in the playoffs. Throw that one back at George - he loved those two when he signed them.
Sometimes, the grass is greener in your own park, with guys who learned to play the way you want them to play, rather than with guys who have learned other teams' bad habits -- I'm looking at you, Bobby Abreu, Johnny Damon, Richie Sexson, LaTroy Hawkins and even Hideki Matsui.
3. The Yankees Won't Get Better Until Steinbrenner Steps Away -- This proof is in the historical pudding. One thing Joel Sherman's book, Birth of a Dynasty, shows is that the crying, blubbering, softer George Steinbrenner everybody saw when the Yankees won four championships in five years was like seeing a soda machine in the middle of a desert - a mirage. He's still a prick and a meddler. And, we know from the past six months that Hank Steinbrenner is a chip off the old Stein-block.
The best Yankees front office work was done when George Steinbrenner was suspended from baseball for hiring a gambler to dig up dirt on his team's second-best player and future Hall of Famer, Dave Winfield. It was then that Gene Michael and Buck Showalter developed a 500-page manual to guide minor league player development, found Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada, signed such key players as Jimmy Key and John Wetteland, and traded Roberto Kelly for Paul O'Neill. Many of those moves likely wouldn't have happened if Steinbrenner had his way -- they didn't make enough news. Of course, you remember this since you worked in the front office at the time.
And, if you go back to the 1977-78 championship teams, the big personnel moves were made by Gabe Paul, who talked Steinbrenner out of trading Mickey Rivers and Ron Guidry, without whom the team wouldn't have won those two championships.
When Hank gets suspended by Bud Selig for hiring Tony Soprano to dig up dirt on Derek Jeter, I'll know more championships are on the way because the blowhards got out of the way of the baseball people. Until then, the best thing the team can do is hang on to young players that could help in the future. Which brings me to my next point….
4. Let Young Players Take Their Lumps -- It's easy to say the Yankees bought championships in the late 1990s, but look at the young players the organization developed - Bernie Williams, Pettitte, Jeter, Posada, Rivera, Robinson Cano, Pat Kelly, Randy Velarde, Jim Leyritz, J.T. Snow, Scott Kamieniecki, Bob Wickman, Russ Springer, Sterling Hitchcock, Gerald Williams, Russ Davis, Ramiro Mendoza, Mike Lowell, Shane Spencer, Ricky Ledee, Alfonso Soriano, Jake Westbrook, Nick Johnson and Ted Lilly, to name a few.
All of those players either played rolls on championship teams or were dealt for significant pieces to championship teams.
When Bernie Williams first came up, he was a timid, shy kid from the Dominican Republic who constantly made the wrong play, and who was miscast as a leadoff hitter. As he grew, his defense got better, he put on 20 pounds, and became a feared cleanup or number five hitter who won a batting title and could hit with power from either side of the plate. Steinbrenner wanted to trade him every other week.
Wonder if he's saying that about Melky Cabrera or Phil Hughes?
5. There Is Young Talent In The Bronx, And Payroll Coming Off The Books -- The jury's still out on Brett Gardner, but take a look at some of the talent making its way through the minor league system: Jose Tabata, an outfielder who can hit for average and who has great speed; Alan Horne, a solid right-handed pitcher; Austin Jackson, another outfielder; Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy, a couple of right-handers who didn't make their mark this year due to injuries. Joba Chamberlain is only 22 years old. Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera are both young. There have been flashes of competence from pitchers David Robertson and Ross Ohlendorf.
And, a lot of money comes off the payroll when these players contracts expire: Jason Giambi, Mike Mussina, Bobby Abreu, Kyle Farnsworth, LaTroy Hawkins, Mike Mussina, a $1.95 million buyout on the decomposing Carl Pavano, and Richie Sexson. Nearly $80 million in payroll comes off the books. And, while some of those players could be useful at a lesser salary - namely Farnsworth and Giambi - this means the Yankees can be a player for a young free agent like they should have been for Vladimir Guerrero a few years ago. You remember - Guerrero going to the Angels because George Steinbrenner really, really wanted Gary Sheffield and the Britney Spears-type baggage that went along with him? Remember that glorious chapter of Yankees history?
6. Look At What You're Getting In Return -- Let's bring this back to some of the names at the top of this memo: Brian Fuentes, Jason Bay, Xavier Nady, Jarrod Washburn and Jose Vidro. Bronson Arroyo and A.J. Burnett are also on the radar screen, according to several Web sites.
If Brian Cashman trades anyone not named Kei Igawa for Washburn and/or Vidro, he's even dumber than Hank and George Steinbrenner think he is. Washburn can only get out Yankee hitters, for some reason, and Vidro is a 300 pound designated hitter (on a team that already has four guys vying for DH at-bats) who can't play the middle infield anymore and is hitting about .250 with no power.
Jason Bay wouldn't be a terrible addition, but at what cost? He's 29 and in the third year of a four-year, $18.25 million contract. Since he's hitting .289 with 20 home runs, he's probably looking at a sizeable pay raise when this contract runs out after next season - say four years at $7-8 million a year. When the contract's over, you're looking at Bobby Abreu all over again, without the spare tire and aversion to the right field wall. Is that worth giving up prospects?
Xavier Nady's hitting .327 with 12 homers and 56 RBI ä which are nice numbers, except when you consider he was a prime prospect five or six years ago, has been traded four times, and was traded by the Mets, who have been trotting Moises Alou out to the outfield, because they didn't think Nady would hit as a full-time player. Is this a guy worth trading prospects for? No, since he's giving the team numbers almost the same as Bobby Abreu, whose contract comes off the books after this season.
And, in a typical Steinbrenner-driven move, Arroyo and Burnett are on the list. Arroyo has been hit harder than General Motors this year, but George is telling you about the kid who dominated the Yankees when he came up with the Red Sox. Never mind those missing miles an hour from his fastball - he has those hip cornrows. And, Burnett has a great arm that he can't keep healthy for an entire season. The only way you trade for Burnett is if the Blue Jays throw in Dr. Frank Jobe in the deal, because he'll be on call 24-hours a day. Isn't one $40 million pitcher who spends most of his time on the disabled list enough?
Does the bullpen actually need help? I'd argue no ä especially not with Jose Veras throwing well, Kyle Farnsworth holding his own in the eighth inning, and David Robertson and Edwar Ramirez holding down the seventh inning. And, isn't Mariano Rivera still on this team? Why trade when such positions can be filled in-house? Worried about next year? Brian Bruney, who was lights-out early this year before he got hurt, and Jonathan Albadalejo, who was throwing well before hurting his arm, are both back for spring training.
There are holes to fill this year ä losing Posada hurts, the outfield hasn't hit as well as it should have, and who knows how long Mike Mussina can stay hooked up to the juvenation machine and contend for the Cy Young Award.
I know George is getting antsy -- how did he take paying Robinson Cano a full season's wage after he took the first three months off, by the way? How many times did Hank threaten to send Cano to Bavaria in exchange for some cream pies?
My professional recommendation is to take the red Steinphone off the hook, send George to the shuffleboard court and Hank to the nearest pizzeria, and stick with the kids. You've won with less before. That 1996 championship team didn't have all-stars at every position -- we started Charlie Hayes and the Pillsbury Dough Fielder in Game 6 of the World Series, for Pete's sake, and David Weathers and Graeme Lloyd were pitching key innings from the bullpen.
I presume my check will be in the mail. I'm paid by the word.
The Whitless Wonder
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Brian Cashman looks a little frazzled right now. Good thing he has The Whitless Wonder to help!