Season done, speculation just beginningTorre's exit from the Bronx seems likely
THE SONG IS OVER, THE BEAT GOES ON
There will be plenty of time to let this latest loss sink in. For now, some quick reactions, and then we can spend the rest of the winter tearing into the various issues of rebuilding that surround this club. As always, the Pinstriped Bible/Blog doesn't end when the Yankees' season does. Baseball is a year-'round business and we'll keep rolling on, straight through spring training.
The big takeaway from the ALDS loss is that Yankees pitching has been unexceptional since 2003. If you want to know the difference between the Joe Torre Yankees 1996-2003 and the 2004-2007 version, cherchez les pitchers. Let's use a simple measure like park-adjusted ERA. A figure of 100 is average. Above that, 101 and up, is above average. Below that, 99 or less, is below average:
|YEAR||ERA+||AL RANK||YEAR||ERA+||AL RANK|
Who have the Yankees faced in the last four postseasons? The 2004 Minnesota Twins (ERA+ 117, 1st); the 2004 Boston Red Sox (116, 2nd); the 2005 Los Angeles Angels (114, 4th); the 2006 Detroit Tigers (117, 1st); the 2007 Cleveland Indians (109; 3rd). It really is that simple, and despite the owner's latest salvo, there's little another manager could have done to fix it. Sure, some of Joe Torre's bullpen decisions could drive you mad, but those were basically done on the margins of problematic pitching staffs. Carl Pavano was not going to pitch for Tony LaRussa either. Kyle Farnsworth would not have been a strong setup man for Lou Piniella.
With a little luck, the Yankees might have survived the first round the last few years, as they did in 2004, but they haven't gotten luck. Instead, the results have approximated what they deserved. The matchups were uneven in every case.
This was the result of the Yankees' front office, and specifically the owner, sleeping on duty. For years, ownership would not put the same money into drafting and player development that it did into free agency. Belatedly, after the debacle of Pavano and Jaret Wright, that money started flowing and the farm system sprung to life as if struck by lightning. Prior to that, the Yankees were not only the worst drafting team in baseball, they wouldn't use their financial advantage to persuade hard-to-sign players to join the team. Their failure to sign Mark Prior in 1998 is symbolic of this. Prior wouldn't get away today, but a whole generation of potential Yankees pitchers wound up on other teams.
This is significant because four rotation spots were turned over after the 2003 season. Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, David Wells, and Jeff Weaver went on their way, leaving only Mike Mussina behind. At the time, I wrote about how this would have been a death-stroke for many a team, and in many ways, the Yankees weren't able to duck the blow. They've been able to maintain a strong offensive core throughout this period, but the pitching staff has never recovered. The manager was as much an innocent bystander to this as you or I. Given a strong offense and subpar pitching, the team was just good enough to reach the postseason, and even, in 2004, win 101 games in the regular season. But when it came to the playoffs, when it came to facing strong teams, matching aces against aces and offenses that weren't as strong as the Yankees but perhaps almost as strong, the Yankees were at a disadvantage every time. There is nothing mysterious about this.
This offseason is going to be a dangerous one for the Yankees. The temptation to go for the quick fix, be it firing the manager or trading a bevy of prospects for yet another Pavano will be strong. If the manager is let go, and that alienates players undecided about returning, such as Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte, the team will be hard-pressed to replace them, hard-pressed to replace A-Rod because .300 hitters with 50-home run power aren't common. Hard-placed to replace Posada because even if he drops a quarter of his production next year, he'll still be twice as good as any other backstop they're likely to get. Hard-pressed to replace Rivera not because he's the closer, but because he's a good reliever and the Yankees don't have enough of them. Hard-pressed to replace Pettitte because the rotation is going to need a veteran leader who can actually pitch.
And alienating them is a real possibility. In his postgame press conference after Game 4, Torre strongly suggested that he is not considering retirement, regardless of what the Yankees do. Should he not accept George Steinbrenner's typical "consultant" sinecure, he could go elsewhere, and some of those Yankees could follow him. Philadelphia, which drew three million fans this year and can be assumed to have a few dollars, could use a manager, third baseman, catcher, and closer. They're going to need a general manager, for that matter, as Pat Gillick is retiring. Sure, it probably won't happen, but it could.
The decision as to replace the manager is a simple one, and it has little to do with the loss of this division series. If the Yankees have a candidate for the job who is sure to be better, they should hire him. If they don't, there are many, many managers worse than Joe Torre. If Torre should be replaced, let's hope whoever comes in has a good hand with young pitchers and a great deal of patience. For the Yankees, winning is not about tactics at this stage. It's about managing the roster and successfully establishing the next generation of pitching stars in the majors.
We'll get into these decisions in more detail as the offseason progress and the news rolls in. For now, I have a few more thoughts on Joe Torre's likely demise in today's New York Sun. As I have every year since the good old 1990s, I'd like to thank you for spending part of your baseball season on this feature and your grateful host. I hope I've both entertained and challenged you in equal measure. As I said above, we'll be continuing daily throughout the offseason, and I hope you will continue to join me for more baseball talk, plus a little bit of almost everything else.