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Saturday, October 23, 2004

WHAT WENT WRONG?

So, it's St. Louis v. Boston. Am I the only one who's disappointed by this match-up? Oh sure, two great teams, blah blah blah. Whatever. It means nothing to me emotionally. But I'll watch for the pure pleasure of the sport.

I was really hoping Houston would pull through. The more I saw this team, the more I loved them. As brilliant as Gagne was in 2003, Brad Lidge has raised the bar a notch higher. (That Lidge won't win the Cy Young this year says more about the relative quality of durable starting pitching this year compared to last.) Rivera, Foulke, Gagne, and now Lidge... I can't explain this emergence of the super-closer. As good as Eckersley was a decade ago, he never had a season remotely as good as what we've seen from these guys. I've always had a soft spot for Lance Berkman (not merely because he's the most devastating hitter in my High Heat 2003), and getting Beltran mid-season only capped the deal. Postseason home run record or not, don't let the hype fool you: Beltran is not the player Bonds was in his Pittsburgh days. But he's a hell of a talent, and a reminder that even pre-2001 Bonds' are really once in a lifetime phenomenons.

As much as everyone else hates the Yankees, I hate the John Henry Red Sox. Schilling's season-long heroics aside (this is a man who walked around in spring training in a Bosox jersey with "RUTH" emblazoned on the back), this $118M club somehow manages to pawn itself off to America as "underdogs", and further feed into the rest of baseball's hatred of the Yankees. Forget that John Henry used his connections with Seligula to underbid his way to baseball ownership. But when a trade for A-Rod was all but done, Henry wouldn't pony up the extra couple of million it would have taken to land the All Star. (A-Rod, desperate to play for a contender, was willing to significantly restructure his contract. In the interests of the rest of their clients, however, the Players Union wouldn't consent to the discounts.) That Henry and team president Larry Luccino then cried foul when Steinbrenner and Cashman swooped in and got the deal done on the up and up was the last straw for me. Say what you will about Big Stein. The man wants to win.

At the end of the day, the 2004 Yankees clearly didn't get particularly good value for their $180M. When at least 10% of that salary doesn't see a single pitch in the postseason, you can't expect to win it all in a four-game-sweep. But ultimately it was the pitching woes of Javier Vazquez and Kevin Brown that sunk the team.

The Javier Vazquez thing I don't understand. He started the year unlucky (bad results despite good peripherals) and then just plain sucked. Despite Giambi's health woes, I'm still not sure the team wants Nick Johnson back. (Would it really help to have two 1B on the DL?) But the Yankees thought they were getting a 1A starter to compliment Mussina at the top of the rotation. So much for that. Mussina also started the year on a shaky foot, but ultimately righted himself. What the Yankees can expect from Vazquez in 2005 is a total question mark.

The Kevin Brown thing is even worse. I know a lot of Yankees fans have resorted to questioning why they were so eager to run Jeff Weaver out of town last year. Weaver did have a decent season with the Dodgers, but nothing so spectacular that he wouldn't fit in just fine in the Cards' rotation. But it's revisionist history, folks. The real question is why the hell the Yankees traded for Weaver in the first place? Giving up on Ted Lilly was inexplicable at the time, and I think it's grown to become Cashman's single worst mistake as GM, and symbolic of how a team can spend $180M and not make the World Series. Not just because Lilly has blossomed into an "All Star"--whatever that means. But because over the past couple of years Cashman took a promising $350,000 lefty and turned him into an inconsistent $6M righty which he then swapped for a $16M aging hothead without ever getting substantive anything in return. Look at it this way:

Lilly 197.3 IP, 1.6 SNVA
Weaver 220.0 IP, 0.7 SNVA
Brown 132.0 IP, 0.9 SNVA

(OK, I should clarify so that I'm not accused of omitting all the facts. The Jays actually paid Lilly $1.9M this year, not $350,000. Yeah, that changes everything.) We can debate whether Brown or Weaver actually had the better season, but one thing is certain. The Yankees would have been much better off with Lilly starting Games 3/4 and 7.

David Ortiz, however, wants to thank you, Brian.

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