The fallout from Torre's departureJoe Torre' successor will have a major challenge ahead of him
After giving my from-the-hip reaction to the firing yesterday here at YES, I followed up in today's New York Sun. Passage to which I'd like to draw your attention:
The Yankees tried to have it both ways in presenting the illusion of a legitimate offer. They can now say if Mariano Rivera or Jorge Posada or Mr. Season Ticket Holder looks askance "Hey, he always could have taken us up on the deal." It remains to be seen if anyone will buy the argument. Even if they don't, it may not matter: Yankees' money talks louder than loyalty. You don't see Brian Cashman resigning over the way Torre has been treated. Chances are, the stars go to the highest bidder which is, inevitably the Yankee organization.
Torre was treated very shabbily by the Yankees. As I said in the Sun piece and here at YES on other occasions, the crime is not in letting Torre go. If the Yankees felt it was time for a change, swell. That's their prerogative, and they may not be wrong to exercise it. You can make strong arguments either way. That said, have the guts to do it cleanly, and don't try to fool Torre's fans both on and off the field (that is, the coming free agents) into believing that he quit. Don't avoid a face-to-face meeting and make Torre put you on the spot by volunteering to come talk to you. Don't wait two weeks to decide what you want to do, as if you're choosing between unpalatable options. Don't insult the man by suggesting he needs performance-based incentives. He gave you 12 good-to-great years. If you want to make a change, do it with respect, not third-grade subterfuge.
Why was Cashman, supposedly Torre's friend and loyalist, a party to this? Cashman is well-respected in baseball and would not be unemployed for long should he ever choose to leave New York. Is being general manager of the Yankees important enough to be worth one's honor?
JOE TORRE II (EVERYONE ELSE)
Given the offer to Joe Torre, whoever takes the job now is nuts. Though unrealistic expectations of Yankees managers isn't exactly news, this latest development ratchets up the pressure to a new level. Unless the new guy gets a better offer than Torre did, such as a two-year guarantee (which would underscore the organization's true lack of interest in retaining Torre), the writing is on the wall at the outset: the minimum satisfactory result for 2008 is making the ALCS. Anything less than that and maybe you lack sufficient motivation to do the job, or you deserve a pay cut.
The best a manager can do is get his team to the playoffs. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, most seasons, and even the vast majority of games, don't turn on whether the manager called for a bunt or if he brought in Mike Myers in the sixth inning instead of Kyle Farnsworth. The bulk of them are resolved according to which team gets a three-run homer in the third at the same time that their starter is giving them six good innings. That's really it. The manager's primary impact is in selecting that starter, putting together a lineup capable of having that big inning, and fostering an atmosphere of professionalism and commitment in which those things are more likely to take place. If the manager takes you to the playoffs and Chien-Ming Wang gets blown out twice in a five game series and your hitters fall before the awesome power of Paul Byrd, what the heck is the manager supposed to do? Waive his magic hammer at the sky and call down the thunder to smite the opposition?
Firing the manager on the basis of his performance in one game, whatever the import of the game, rather than what he did over the previous six months, is a draconian standard, one that's ultimately self-defeating. Torre's sole mistake, which in his press conference this afternoon he fessed up to, was not making some effort to get control of the Them-game. Why an insect attack should be treated as anything different than a sudden downpour of rain is a question that deserves asking, not just of Torre but of the umpires (umpiring this postseason has been an ongoing, not very funny joke). George Steinbrenner reportedly felt that was a capital offense. Again, it's a high standard.
Yankees upper management should be wary of the posture they're forcing on the next manager. The 2008 team will have a young rotation, full of starters that have to be handled carefully. A Roger Clemens can make a 130-pitch start. Doing that with Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, or Ian Kennedy would be foolish. Yet the manager's interest, as dictated by ownership's expectations and incentives, will not be in building a healthy team for the long term, but in winning now, no matter what the costs. This will be an expensive proposition for the Yankees in the long run.
JOE TORRE III (THE TIMING)
When Casey Stengel was let go after the loss of the 1960 World Series, he was perplexed not that he was let go, but that they didn't do it the year before. The 1959 season was the first and only season of the Stengel era that could have been rated an out and out failure. Even in 1954, the other season that Stengel's Yankees failed to make the playoffs, the team had won 103 games. The 1959 team went 79-75, and Stengel had to admit that sometimes he was literally sleeping on the job. He would have understood, he said, if he had been fired after that, but he couldn't really get his head around getting canned after reaching the seventh game of the World Series.
During his press conference this afternoon, some of Torre's comments seemed to imply some of the same confusion over timing. Torre was not at his best in 2006, particularly in getting the most value from the team's biggest asset, Alex Rodriguez. He clung too tightly to Bernie Williams, gave Miguel Cairo too much playing time, couldn't establish a first baseman, and presided over the Gary Sheffield-to-first-base stratagem that visibly misfired. Firing him last year would have correlated more closely to real-world events than to do so after this season, when it could be argued that Torre did one of his best jobs in helping the team rebound from a miserable start despite a fairly hopeless pitching staff.
JOE TORRE IV (THE SUCCESSOR)
What does Don Mattingly know about handling young pitchers? That is the key to next year's campaign, and probably the next 10 if the three youngsters aren't established in 2008, the Yankees will snap back into these Kevin Brown-Randy Johnson- Clemens quick fixes that haven't paid off.
Have the Yankees yet noted that Leo Mazzone is available? If the manager who comes in isn't a vet, he'll likely need a strong assistant in the pitching department. Look for the writing on the wall: when Stengel came in, the Yankees gave him Milkman Jim Turner, an excellent pitching coach. When Yogi Berra was hired, they fired the great pitching coach Johnny Sain and didn't replace him. Technically Whitey Ford was the replacement, but he was still part of the starting rotation and had other things on his mind. Watch to see what kind of support the new manager gets.
JOE TORRE VI (THE RIGHT QUESTION)
In his presser today, Torre said that when he went to Tampa, he "asked if they wanted me to manage the club and why." That second question, why, is all and everything. I don't know if the Yankees have asked themselves that question in a long time (or the unspoken finish to Torre's question "or why not"). A change should be made when you have a better alternative, not for its own sake or because you're made at someone.
JOE TORRE VII (THE RIGHT UNDERSTANDING)
Asked what his main advice to his successor would be, Torre said that the main thing he knew when taking the job was that he had to "insulate" the players from ownership's pressure tactics. Incredible as it seems, Torre was the first manager of the last 30-plus years to understand that this was the key to the job. Before Torre, the team spent more time on Billy Martin's nightlife, the length of Don Mattingly's hair, or whether Lou Piniella was accessible to the owner by telephone than it did on winning.
Torre was not John McGraw or Whitey Herzog on tactics. He did not have Earl Weaver's sense of strategic priorities, but as Oliver Wendell Holmes said of Franklin Roosevelt, he had a first-class temperament. When we see what comes after, we're going to miss the guy...
...And hey, George: Herzog and Weaver lost some postseason series too.
TUESDAY, October 16: Posted at 6:15 p.m. ET
THE JOE TORRE HOSTAGE STORY, DAY #712
It has now been nearly two years since the Yankees lost in the first round of the 2007 playoffs, and the question of managerial succession still has yet to be resolved. Some would argue that the question of who will manage the Yankees in 2008 is only of academic interest, given that it will be 2010 in a matter of days. Meanwhile, reporters camped out at Legends Field in Tampa have learned that the negotiators may have sent out for pizza six months ago.
OTHER STUFF THAT I HAVE DONE AT NIGHT WHEN FEW ARE WATCHING
(PLUS JOE TORRE)
I chatted on the usual esoterica during last night's ballgame. Here's the transcript.
Over in the Sun, I praised Joe Torre and buried Dusty Baker.
I realize I've been all over the map on Torre this year. It could be I'm just feeling guilty, but the truth is that aside from the fiasco of the 2003 World Series I've always been a strong Torre supporter. In the heat of the race it's easy to get caught up in small in-game decisions and lose track of the big picture-a picture that should have included Brian Cashman and the roster that Torre was given. I criticized the shortcomings of that roster all of last winter. Once the bell rang on the regular season, there was no reason to shift responsibility for its failures to Torre.
My other major criticism of Torre coming out of 2006 was that he mishandled the Alex Rodriguez situation, piling on his best player instead of protecting him. Torre and Rodriguez had a rapprochement this year and the results speak for themselves.
Thus I revert to saying what I've always said: there are better Xs and Os guys than Torre, but that's only a component of the manager's job. The bigger part is deciding who plays, where, and when. It's not doing any harm by bunting and running yourself out of innings. It's maintaining a professional approach. You have to give Torre strong grades on those things; a better pitching staff would solve a lot of the in-game stuff.
You can argue that another manager would have gotten more out of the 2004-2007 staffs, but that's mostly wishful thinking.
YE OLDE POSITION BY POSITION REPORT CARD THING
FIRST BASE (.284/.350/.419): The bulk of the playing time here went to Doug Mientkiewicz and Andy Phillips, but there was also quite a bit of Josh Phelps, Jason Giambi, Wilson Betemit, H.R. Haldeman, Eddie Cantor, and John Barrymore mixed in. The average AL first baseman hit .267/.348/.443 this year, the average NL first baseman (who had among their number Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard) hit .284/.365/.481. Altogether, Major League gatekeepers hit a home run once every 25 at bats. The Yankees got one homer every 35 at bats.
The overall numbers were soft, and would have been softer still if Mientkiewicz had not unexpectedly come to life in September, batting .429/.510/.619. It was nice to see, given how much he had struggled early on and how bad the other defenders were, especially Jason Giambi, but Minky's September wasn't something the Yankees can count on going forward. The free agent class won't have a great deal to offer in terms of replacements. There are no stars, only the old, unproductive, or used up. The Yankees don't have a good option in their farm system, so unless they can make a trade for a regular it's going to be another year of mix and match.
ROBINSON CANO, 2B (.306/.353/.488): It was a huge, huge year for Cano. His overall numbers were not quite as good as they were in 2006, but he was more selective, maintained his power production, hit into fewer double plays per times at bat, played in almost every game, and continued to improve his defense. For the second year in a row, the main negative was that he slept through the first half, hitting a light .274/.314/.427. In the second half, he shot up to .343/.396/.557. If Cano could just find some consistency, he could win an MVP.
TO BE CONTINUED: With A-Rod and Jeter...
TUESDAY, October 16: Posted at 6:15 p.m. ET
I think that If the Yankees had been better in 1990, I would have paid more attention to them and less to that girl and I wouldn't have taken that trip and gone to that place and did that thing that led to that problem. Forget personal responsibility: the consequences are on Don Mattingly's bad back.
CHAT WITH THE PINSTRIPED BIBLE GUY
I'll be doing a live in-game chat at Baseball Prospectus.com during the Red Sox-Indians game. Drop by at 8PM tonight for the big hoedown. All questions welcomed-playoffs, Yankees, Charles Dickens, we do it all.
THE JOE TORRE HOSTAGE DRAMA, DAY #324
And speaking of Don Mattingly, reports had him telling a member of the Steinbrenner family-perhaps cousin Cletus, alternatively described as "gifted" and "unusual" (every family has one)-that he didn't feel ready to manage the Yankees. Mattingly's agent has argued that this is untrue, and that what Mattingly meant to say was that he didn't feel ready to manage the Middle East peace situation.
YE OLDE POSITION BY POSITION REPORT CARD THING
JORGE POSADA (.338/.426/.543): Not many 35-year-old catchers have hit .338. In fact, if you use a fairly liberal standard for a full season (400 plate appearances), only Gabby Hartnett's .354 at age 36 in 1937 tops Posada, and he didn't play nearly as much as Posada did, taking 405 turns at the plate to Jorge's 589. That Posada had never come close to hitting .300 before, made this season a constantly rewarding surprise. One kept waiting for Posada to revert to his career norms, but he never did. Posada had two months under .300, but was close to .400 in both May and September, and at no time was he less than spectacularly productive.
Using the magic of Clay Davenport's translated stats, which put all players in the same place at the same time, we can see where Posada's best hitting season ranks with those of the other great Yankees catchers:
Posada wasn't as good at throwing out runners in 2007 as he was in 2006, but that's a minor, minor complaint. He had what was in all likelihood the greatest hitting season by a catcher in Yankees history, and along with Alex Rodriguez kept the team afloat during the dark days of May.
We'll visit another position each day. Tomorrow, fun with first basemen.
TO THE MATS WITH READER MAIL
1: BRIT LIT
Loved the reference to the B&W film version of "A Tale of Two Cities." Guess it is a good thing I stayed awake during 8th grade English class... even though long winded overwritten Charles Dickens didn't help.
Actually, it was a reference to the book. Hollywood wasn't dumb enough to monkey with the ending to ToTC, which is the best part of the story. Charles Dickens, or Darles Chickens, as Monty Python once put it, did his share of overwriting, in part because his books were serialized and he was being paid by the mile. I find that if you keep this in mind when reading him, you can see the spots where he's padding and rapidly skim forward to the action. I don't think this is any big insult to Dickens, as his strength was in comedy, caricature, and dialogue, not in description or the kind or psychological realism that requires real attention to setting. That in mind, the books fly along, because Dickens has an incredible menagerie of grotesques in each book, and you keep wondering how he's going to top the last freak that came on stage. The only exception to the rule is female romantic leads. Waaaay over-sentimentalized to the point of being unreal. The women are so flawlessly perfect as to be impossible.
I haven't read all 14 novels. I hope to. ToTC is actually shorter Dickens and good, but not his best. I recommend "David Copperfield" as a better starter.
2: THE INNINGS ON THE BEACH
The yanks are clearly counting on their young pitchers to carry some of the starting load next year (barring a trade for Johan Santana or some such). But, I'm concerned about their innings totals. Neither Joba nor Hughes threw much beyond 120 innings this season, I don't think. Bumping them up to 180 - 200 innings next year, plus a potential post-season run seems unwise. Is it just too early to worry about that, or will the Yanks need to get creative and figure that plan out now so they can better lay out their offseason needs? What could they do? Have Kennedy, Hughes and Joba somehow rotate through two rotation slots? Have a six-man rotation? Put them in the pen for part of the season? Start them at AAA and cap their innings down there? Thanks!
Here is my short answer. That the Yankees are going to take the wraps off these pitchers and embrace youth (which ain't necessarily a sure thing), is a good thing, not a bad one. You can't keep these guys slabbed in Mylar forever, just admiring them like object d'art. Like bananas at the supermarket, these items are always heading for their expiration date. At some point, you have to risk using them. This innings total thing is not and cut and dried as we sometimes make it out to be. Yes, high innings totals tell on younger pitchers more than they do on the older types, but it's not just how many innings you throw as how many pitches and when. In other words, innings are a blunt tool with which to monitor pitcher usage. If Chamberlain throws 200 innings next year but is held to a pitch count of 100 or 110 (I'm picking these numbers arbitrarily) it's probably not as bad as if he throws 180 but sometimes throws 120 or 130 pitches in back to back starts.
The other thing we have to understand is that injuries are a product of many factors besides innings or pitch counts. They are also rooted in genetics, mechanics, conditioning, even the weather when a pitcher performs. In other words, some pitchers are going to get hurt no matter what you do. Baseball teams should do what they can to minimize the aggravating factors that are in their control, but there are limits to what they can do.
MONDAY, October 15: Posted at 3:21 p.m. ET
The story seems to be turning in Mr. Torre's favor, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. The first thing to note is this weekend's declaration that the Steinbrenner boys are in charge. That development seems to reflect something that we had every reason to suspect from the outset, which was that the Boss was shooting from the hip when he spoke to Ian O'Connor, and voiced things that do not necessarily reflect the consensus of the organization -- and that consensus now matters more than ever. The decision to continue with Torre or not is being made now. Steinbrenner's comments were premature.
What remains now is a kind of interview process, one to which Torre, Don Mattingly, and any other contender should be subjected to. The questions would go something like this:
1. As you know, the Yankees don't go through rebuilding phases. We rebuild and win at the same time. How do you envision this happening?
2. As manager, who would be in your starting rotation?
The second question is more important than the first. If the answer is, "Well, I think we're a little short. We can probably get one of the kids in there, but we should probably sign a free agent like Carlos Silva as veteran insurance, maybe see if Jon Lieber is healthy again," then that fellow should be thrown bodily over the castle parapet. If the answer is, "Andy Pettitte, Chien-Ming Wang, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy, not necessarily in that order," that manager should be bussed on both cheeks and considered strongly for the job.
During Torre's "farewell" press conference, he talked about the franchise's future, and seemed to regret that he wouldn't be around to establish the kids in the big leagues. In his long career -- Torre has now managed over 3800 games -- he doesn't have a long legacy in terms of young players established in the game. If he's willing to commit to this as his last service to baseball and the Yankees, there's no reason not to bring him back. I realize his tactics and bullpen usage frustrate the heck out of many of you, and you know they frustrate me as well, but you have to keep tactics in perspective. It's a very small part of the game, and in Torre's case, it's also very difficult to separate tactics from who he's had on the team. If Brian Cashman is going to give Joe a choice between Baby New Year and Methuselah, then the Yankees can't pretend to be shocked when Torre inevitably chooses the latter. If Cashman gives Torre a bullpen centered on Kyle Farnsworth, Torre is going to pitch Farnsworth. It's not that Torre doesn't realize Farnsworth has problems, but that he's stuck with him, and the nature of the workload in the bullpen is that he has to keep trying to fix him. The alternative is to play shorthanded, something that has its own possible risks and consequences. Given that situation, the idea of fixing Farnsworth and his 98 MPH fastball is always going to be more appealing than trying to get Colter Bean and his 81 MPH fastball established in the big leagues.
(Maybe Torre wanders about the offices of Yankee Stadium telling whoever will listen that they'll take Farnsworth off the roster over his dead body. That would be a different matter and a legitimate grounds for making a change. Managers have been known to lose perspective this way, and there's no solution other than a forcible separation of them from their love-object.)
As far as the rest of Torre's tactics are concerned, he's benign. The Yankees bunt a little more than they should, but not so much that it has become a problem. He used to hit and run compulsively when Don Zimmer was his bench coach, but he seems more selective now (if still above average). The Yankees steal bases but they do so successfully. Benign may be damning Torre with faint praise. There are many other managers who cost their teams runs in a way that Torre does not.
Like many last-chance managers, and the Yankees were very much Torre's last chance, Joe doesn't like to wait around and lose. He'll always play the hot hand. He doesn't have the patience born of confidence and job security to let a rookie hit .125 for a month with the understanding that the outs will pay off down the road. Given we're talking about the Yankees, who under the Steinbrenner ownership has consistently preferred to eat its own young rather than nurture them, and you understand why Torre will never be Captain Youth Movement.
That's without even considering what a sentimental guy Torre is, and how loyal he can be to his longtime players. This is a place where Brian Cashman could be more assertive in tempering Torre's weaker impulses (I wrote extensively about Cashman's culpability in the last few failed campaigns in the New York Sun last week -- no one seems to be talking about his failings).
Torre, with Ron Guidry and Joe Kerrigan on his coaching staff, is almost certainly better positioned than a Don Mattingly to establish Hughes, Chamberlain, and Kennedy in the rotation next year. Mattingly was a great hitter and fielder and a dedicated professional, but until we see he has a good touch with pitchers, he doesn't get the same benefit Torre and his coaches do.
The trick for the Yankees is for the organization itself to commit to the coming youth movement and then make it explicit to the manager that as much as winning, his mission is to set up the Torre Yankees 2.0, Torre's Kids. Accomplishing that, he can retire with honor, and much as Casey Stengel did from 1961-1964, watch the system that he built go on winning without him. That would be a better way to go out than this desperate scratching and clawing after one more ring. It would be one more thing that Torre has accomplished, something new. The Yankees need to get him to imagine that, to have him pretending to look back in a wistful Sidney Carton, "Tale of Two Cities" kind of way: "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."
Put THAT on your plaque in Cooperstown, Joe.
We begin the annual position by position review.