Monday, October 29, 2007

Rock Bottom

So, the idea is that we could have a new Yankee manager by tomorrow, so let's look at the world that Joe Torre's successor will inherit.

The Boston Red Sox are the World Champions, for the second time since 1918. For the second time in the last four years, they've cut through the National League's representative like a bad Taco Bell burrito. The question about the Red Sox isn't whether they've got a great team or whether they deserve those championships, it's what the heck happened in 2005 and 2006? Seriously, what happened those two years? How on Earth did this freakish monster of a team fail to reach the World Series both years, much less fail to make the playoffs, last year?

Josh Beckett turning into scrub last year was the cruelest form of false hope for Yankee fans. Think about it: if a new, young Yankees acquisition had the 2006 that Beckett had (5.01 ERA, big drop in strikeout rate in his shift to the harder league), what would happen to him? It's not a rhetorical question. It's almost exactly what happened to the Yanks with Javy Vazquez in 2004 (14-10, 4.91 ERA, K/9 dropped into the sixes). You turn up that kind of turkey of a season in pinstripes, they ship you off in disgrace, to a losing team, eat almost all the salary they spent giving you a huge contract extension when you were acquired, and get someone even more hyped and dump another salary extension on him. One crap season here means you're garbage, never to be trusted to win again. Don't like Vazquez? Look at Jose Contreras, or Jeff Weaver--same story.

You could argue that none of those guys was as good as Beckett, and you might be right. But then again, all of them--Contreras, Vazquez, even Weaver--have gotten rings over the last four years.

Well, Beckett had his one crap year in Fenway, and they didn't send him to the glue factory, didn't ship him off to Atlanta for John Smoltz, or somesuch. He stuck around, and this year, Beckett was everything that Boston was promised last year and then some. Effectively, he was the reason that the Red Sox season wasn't over when they were down 3-1 in the ALCS. Now he gets his second ring of the 21st Century.

But wait, it gets worse. The Red Sox are loaded with prospects; Beckett isn't going anywhere, and neither is David Ortiz. (Ortiz, by the way, doesn't turn 32 until next month. He's younger than both Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. I shouldn't be surprised, but doesn't it feel like he's been plaguing us forever?) With Pedroia, Ellsbury, Youkilis, you have a relatively young, home-grown core to back Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. It's a damned nightmare.

The other challenge that the next Yankee manager faces going into next year, is that they have to face the Red Sox juggernaut without the presumptive AL MVP. Showing his usual impeccable timing, Scott Boras announced mid-game during Game 4 of the World Series that Alex Rodriguez has elected to opt out of his contract with the Yankees. Here's how Boras explained the decision:
"Alex's decision was one based on not knowing what his closer, his catcher and one of his statured pitchers was going to do," Boras said. "He really didn't want to make any decisions until he knew what they were doing."
Well, I wouldn't call Mariano Rivera "his" closer, or Jorge Posada "his" catcher. The possessives imply some sort of leadership on Alex's part that was never in evidence during his Yankee tenure. I'm not even sure what the hell a "statured pitcher" is, other than faint praise for Andy Pettitte. But it sure sounds like Alex made a decision, here, doesn't it? And that decision means, that if the Yankees hold to their word, A-Rod's career in pinstripes is over. Rodriguez has thrown out the Yanks' exclusive negotiating window (which could have stretched as far as ten days after the end of the World Series), and tossed away the millions the Rangers were going to pay the Yanks on his existing contract. Brian Cashman has said for months that if A-Rod opts out, they won't bid on him.

I hope they hold to their word. I'm sure that if the Yanks opened the vaults (say with 10 years and $300 million), Alex would return. Heck, it might even make sense, locking him up for the bonanza that'll come as he pursues Bonds's home run record, keeping him out of the hands of a league competitor like the Angels or the Red Sox, who could ride A-Rod to a period of dominance. I don't begrudge the man his money, or the fact that he's chosen to exercise a contractual right at a time when his leverage couldn't be any greater. I don't think it's greedy to demand to be paid what you're worth, or to have that determined by the market.

Nonetheless, if Alex Rodriguez is in the Yankee lineup come opening day, I will be there booing as hard as I can. Not really booing Alex--I've never been a big fan of that--but booing the Yankees organization. Because for all I accept Rodriguez's contractual rights, this announcement--opting out without so much as meeting with management, hearing an extension offer, or even allowing the Yankees to announce their new manager, first--was a giant wad of spit in the Yankee organization's face. If they come crawling back to sign Alex now, it would be just as humiliating as it would have been for Joe Torre if he had accepted the one-year contract the brain trust offered him.

It's demeaning. And if anyone in the Yankee organization, from the elder Steinbrenner on down, has any self-respect, it's a game they won't play. So screw you, Alex. I absolutely loved having you on this team, and I really wanted you to win a ring in pinstripes. I don't blame you for the fact that it didn't happen. But now you've opted out, so there's the door. Don't let it hit you on the way out.

The new Yankee manager will just have to do without you. I wish the new manager--be he Mattingly or Joe Girardi, as Sunday's rumors held--a lot of luck. He'll need it. I'd love to wish Alex good luck, too--but there's just too much..."uncertainty" about his status for me to do that.

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