Revisiting Yankees' Decision to Let Matsui, Damon, Etc Go
Before the season started I wrote this article http://bleacherreport.com/articles/338598-steinbrenner-and-cashman-will-regret-letting-damon-matsui-and-wang-go basically stating that the Yankees made some, at best, curious personnel decisions in the offseason.
Now as the season is coming to a close, the Yankees, despite having the best record in the league like I predicted, are running into all sorts of problem that could potentially cost them the championship. George Steinbrenner (r.i.p.) would go all out, but his sons are p*ssies who got rid of Damon, Matsui, Austin Jackson, Chien-,ming Wang, Ian Kennedy, and Melky Cabrera after last season to lower the payroll despite huge profits from winning the championship and continual support from the recession-stricken fan. Instead they threw 5 million down the drain for Nick Johnson instead of paying Hideki 1 million more (he would have a better season in hitter friendly yankee stadium so would damon so their production at this point is really beside the point) and traded for Curtis Granderson, who couldn't even produce in hitter friendly yankees stadium. Moreover, they traded Austin Jackson for him, who is having a better season than granderson and is way cheaper (not to mention under team control for 6 more years) and had to let Damon walk to pay for granderson's overpaid ass. The guy has no plate discipline and can't hit lefty. I know Damon can't field center, but both Gardner and Jackson can. Could Ian Kennedy be any worse than Javier Vazquez is this year? Phil Hughes second half swoon looks like Joba Chamberlain part 2. They mishandled another great prospect while Clay Buchholz is a Cy Young candidate and led the AL in ERA despite pitching in the AL East. Their insistence to gamble on unproven players and to slash payroll just might cost them the championship this year. They were even forced to trot out Juan Miranda and Marcus Thames at DH and Ivan Nova, Dustin Mosley and other triple-a fill in in the rotation because Vazquez has been so ineffective.
At the time, I lobbied the Yanks to sign Jim Thome over Nick Johnson. Thome only got 1 million, which was what the Yanks paid for Randy Winn (DFA soon after the season started. I rather the Yankees keep Chien-Ming Wang around to rehab and hopeful for a comeback in 2011. After all, you can never have too much pitching.) and Nick Johnson got 5 million.
I got a lot of heat for the article I wrote, but a lot of my prediction turned out to be prophetic. Let's revisit.
1.They overpaid for disable list mainstay Nick Johnson (5 million) when they could have kept Matsui for around the same price. Johnson is not your average DH/1B. He lacks power and constantly gets injured. With Texeira on board, Johnson, who can only play 1B, will have no choice but to play full-time DH. Better DH options such as Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye, Carlos Delgado, Russell Branyan, and Gary Sheffield could all be had for considerable less money and Johnson is as big an injury risk as all of the aforementioned, yet they let Matsui go and replace him with Johnson out of all people. Hell, if you want to save money, why not just let Juan Miranda take over at DH?
Hindsight: My preference was Matsui for the sake of continuity and clubhouse chemistry. Matsui even made a few cameos in the outfield this year. Production and price-wise, my preference was Jim Thome and I strongly felt they overpaid Johnson mainly because he came through the Yankees minor league system (same political reason for bringing back Marcus Thames). I was totally on the money on this one. Johnson played 24 games and 72 at-bats before getting hurt and is out-for-the-season (what a surprise). Great 5 million investment. The Yankees ended up having to play Juan Miranda for stretches or shifting Posada there and starting light hitting Cervelli until trading for Lance Berkman, who is having a poor season himself. Matsui is having a down year, but I think he would had done better if he were still playing in hitters friendly Yankees Stadium. Moreover, he did play around 20 starts in the outfield this year. Jim Thome is having a beast season especially down the stretch. Jermaine Dye and Gary Sheffield, still unsigned, would be a huge upgrade as well. Delgado is not over his hip surgery and his career might be over. Heck, even Branyan already slugged in 23 homers with no lineup protection and spending half a season in pitcher's park Safeco Field. He could had been for a fraction of the price and could very well hit over 40 bombs in Yankees Stadium.
2. Javier Vazquez is great in the NL, but already prove to be mediocre in the AL, especially against the star studded lineup of AL East foes. No one knows if Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes can cut it as a starter for a full season either. Both could very well flame out as starters and become career-long relievers.
Hindsight: Vazquez is even worse than his first go-around with the Yankees back in '04 and was recently removed from the rotation. Chamberlain is having a horrible season after getting mismanaged by the Yankees. Hughes seemed to have proved me wrong by making the all-star team during the half, but he is sputtering down the stretch just like Chamberlain last season and like Chamberlain, he has an inning limit that is hindering him. I would like to see Chamberlain given another chance to start especially if Vazquez and Hughes continue to struggle. He's too talented to be just a middle reliever after the acquisition of Kerry Wood.
3. To add insult to injury, they added another weak bat in Randy Winn to their mediocre, power-starved outfield. Both newly-acquired Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher cannot hit for average. Granderson probably is best suited to be a platoon player given that he clearly cannot hit lefties. Winn has never been great and at this point of his career, hit for neither power or average. Both Brett Gardner and Winn (and maybe Swisher as well) probably should not be starting for a major league team.
So they gave Winn 1 million (when they could had used in on Thome, Wang, or Sheffield), but DFA'ed him 29 games and 61 at bats later. He batted a whooping .213 with a OPS of .595. I rather they went after Jay Gibbons. Winn showed last year that he had nothing left. A lot of dumb pundits protected 35-40 homers for Granderson and I was never sold. I wanted them to keep developing Austin Jackson and if he doesn't make the team right out of the gate, start Gardner at center (or Melky, if they didn't trade for Vazquez). The money saved for Granderson could had been used to keep Damon or possibly Matsui. I missed the boat on Swisher, thinking last year was a fluke and Gardner outplayed by expectation, but still they wasted a lot of money for almost zero production. They had to go out of their way to trade for Kearns when they could had avoided this whole mess.
4. To make matters worse, the Yankees are classless and cheap enough to not resign AJ Burnett's personal catcher, Jose Molina, a savvy veteran who calls a great game. Their bullpen, except for Mariano Rivera, are full of minor league free agents, failed starters, and retread.
First off, the bullpen, David Robertson was absolutely dreadful in the first half. Chamberlain has been bad the entire season. Aceves has been injured. That's the problem with trusting a bunch of unproven arms. They had to trade for Kerry Wood to solidify the bullpen and sign Chad Gaudin, who doesn't even belong on a big league roster at this moment. I don't understand their obsession with Sergio Mitre either. They could had called up Ivan Nova a long time ago instead of wasting money on Mitre.
Molina is having another great year while Cervelli had his moments with some timely hitting as the backup catcher and by all account a likable guy and cult hero in the Yankees Universe, there's no way that his .649 should get 239 at-bats. Maybe with the Royals, but not the Yankees. Posada is too old to play that many innings at catcher and he has spent a lot of time playing DH due to Johnson's injury. As a result, the Yankees need to have a backup catcher with more power than Cervelli (Ramon Castro? Chris Snyder? Jarrod Saltalamacchia? David Ross? Ryan Doumit?) just throwing some options out there.
5. Why sign Winn and Johnson when Jermaine Dye, Gary Sheffield, Felipe Lopez (dude can play pretty much everywhere.), Garrett Anderson, Brian Giles, and Russell Branyan can all be had for cheap? Why not bring back Damon or Matsui? Why leave your bullpen in tatters when proven reliever such as Chan Ho Park, Kiko Calero, David Weathers, Jeff Weaver, Kevin Gregg, Russ Springer, Chad Bradford, Guillermo Mota, Ron Mahay, and Joe Beimel can't even find a major league contract? Why have question marks in your rotation when you can either bring back Wang or sign Pedro Martinez to a very reasonable contract?
I missed the boat on Wang. It doesn't appear he will make it back this season. But the Yankees have so many holes right now, they pretty much have to hit their way out of trouble and make CC Sabathia carry them on his back. I lobbied the Yankees to upgrade their infield utility players because I really don't consider Ramiro Pena a major leaguer. At least they had Jerry Hairston Jr. last year. Felipe Lopez could be had on the cheap. He could had given Jeter, A-Rod, and Cano a breather every now and then not to mention his experience at playing corner outfield. Gregg, Beimel, Mahay, and Mota all are having solid seasons and is an upgrade over what the Yankees had pre-Kerry Wood. I really wanted them to sign Braden Looper as well. Sure he had a horrible season in 2009, but most forgot that he was a closer and a solid reliever before making the transition to a starter at age 33. Stick him in the bullpen and start him when Pettitte got injured. He's an upgrade over Mosley/Gaudin/Mitre trio.
Having Mosley toss 50 innings and Ivan Nova potentially in the playoff rotation never would have happened if they went after Pedro Martinez or kept Ian Kennedy. They would have solidify the back end of the bullpen after Pettitte's injury and Vazquez/Burnett's ineffectiveness. Hell, I wouldn't mind seeing Jarrod Washburn in the Big Apple. He was a Cy Young candidate at the all-star break last season before injuries limited his effectiveness down the stretch in Detroit. He couldn't had been worse than Vazquez, Burnett, and the aforementioned Mosley/Mitre/Gaudin trio. They brought back Mitre to serve as the swingman, but he couldn't even hold up a rotation spot when Pettitte got injured.
Overall, my prediction proved to be prophetic. Whether the Yanks can win it all this year remains to be seen, but if they do win it all, it would not be because of savvy moves by Brian Cashman.
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