SportsProf

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Yankees

Okay, so I'm a bit late, but I wanted to gather my thoughts. Here they are:

1. I respect George Steinbrenner, Joe Torre, most of the players and the Yankee tradition. It's the Yankee fans that can drive you nuts, personified by New York sports talk show host Mike Francesa of "Mike and the Mad Dog" on WFAN in NYC. His calling the Yankees "the varsity" and implying that everyone else is lucky to be in a league with them have always been a bit much. Memo to Mike: Where the *@^&%$ has the varsity been for the past five years?

2. Was A-Rod really the problem, or basically the lightning rod for a concept that friends at work referenced (and which they heard on the fan): "The roster designed to draw 4 million fans isn't necessarily the roster destined to win a World Series." Put differently, where's the Tom Lawless, the Bernie Carbo, the John Lowenstein? Nowhere to be found, that is. Hard to have great chemistry in that clubhouse with a bunch of high-salaried players wanting, or used to, marquis idol status.

3. What happened to the great Yankee bullpens? The better bullpen in NYC (and best in the Majors) is across town, and Mariano Rivera is at the end of a brilliant career and has an iffy wing. He wouldn't have been able to pitch more than 1 inning a game, and the set-up guys aren't nearly as good as when they had Jeff Nelson and Mike Stanton. If a starter goes 6 innings, who gets the starter to Mariano?

4. What will the Bombers do for starting pitching next year? Randy Johnson needs too many joint transplants to make a meaningful contribution, and it's doubtful the Yankees will exercise the club option on Mike Mussina, who can still pitch. Chien-Ming Wang is very good, but who will join him? Carl Pavano? Jaret Wright? With the questionable bullpen and a depleted starting rotation (and outside Barry Zito, not much out there in free agency to help), the Yankees could drop behind both Boston and Toronto in the NL East.

5. Will the Yankees move A-Rod? Rumors have been flying about A-Rod's future, especially with the return of Joe Torre, so the off-season in the Bronx should be interesting to say the least.

6. Does the Varsity have one more World Series in it with Jeter captaining the team? Derek Jeter is a great player, a Hall of Famer, but the lineup didn't come through in the clutch, the team is aging (two seasons ago it was the oldest lineup in baseball, and now it has to be close), and I think that the odds are against it. It seems that you need a mix of young, mid-career and old players, thoroughbred starting pitchers, crafty veterans, long men in the bullpen having career years and a closer who is at the top of his game. That's not the Yankee roster, and it's hard to build chemistry when each of your starting position players has made an All-Star team but your bullpen is populated with people who are not comparable in ability.

7. As for Yankee fans, be patient and be thankful you have an owner who will try to do everything it takes to win a World Series. Most cities don't have that type of owner, and you should hope that when the Boss is gone, those who succeed him feel as compelled to win as he has felt.

Bottom line: The Yankees will somehow be in the hunt next year.

Even if their payroll approaches $250 million.

"Excellence," a one-time Nobel prize winner once said, "cannot be bought. But it must be paid for."

For the Bronx Bombers, that's an interesting thought. Paid for how? Through patience? Through developing pitchers? Through developing position players? Through realizing that you don't have to have $10 million plus players at each position and that it could be okay to have a Jeff Conine, a Jamie Moyer on your bench?

The off-season, and the hot stove model that comes with it, will be very compelling indeed.

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