I’m going to start this post with a statement: Injuries to Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte, or really any of the Yanks regulars outside of Jeter, regardless of their severity, could be the best thing for the Yanks. Now, before you comment, let me explain.
Everyone and their brother has written about the Yanks penchant for signing “former” all stars and aging superstars. Yes, they’ve put a lineup on the field at various times over the past 6 years that reads like an All Star roster. Yes, they’ve gotten old, they’ve gotten bloated, the rest of the league has caught up to them in the postseason, and passed them. All of these truths are self-evident.
What’s not so apparent is that this very tendency toward the old has led to an infusion of youth. That youth movement is the reason the Yankees have remained perennial contenders for the title, and it’s also the reason why they remain the gold standard for major league baseball as a whole.
The logic may seem convoluted, but signing aging players, on the downside of their careers has made the Yankees younger, and better. Those injuries have led to extended playing time for younger players, players who weren’t even highly touted within the Yanks organization. These players have become the foundation of the new New York Yankees. Chien-Ming Wang, ace of the staff, was brought up as a last resort when the Yanks rotation faltered due to injuries. Robinson Cano, all-star second baseman, was handed the job as a stop-gap, it was assumed that the Yanks would address the position with an in-season trade. Scott Proctor, forced into heavy innings when the aging bullpen broke down.
Last year, the Yankees were playing lackluster ball when Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield caught the injury bug. They were 19–15 when Melky Cabrera entered the lineup. Losing your #3 and #6 hitters would cripple most teams. The Yankees, however, finished the season 78–50. They subtracted upwards of 60 home runs and 220 rbis from their lineup, and somehow improved. The reason: desire. When you put a team full of aged, over-paid veterans on the field day-in and day-out a complacency settles in. They put their numbers up, they win games, but each day bleeds into the last, each game another paycheck. When Melky Cabrera joined the Yanks last year, he reminded everyone on the roster that they were playing a game. Games are supposed to be fun. Even if you still get paid when you lose, losing isn’t fun, and should be avoided at all costs.
I liken it to the effect bringing a new puppy into a family can have on an older dog. Youth energizes, excitement and desire are contagious. I’ve spoken, at length, about my belief that it’s essential to the Yanks’ season to get Melky Cabrera into the starting lineup, not only for his statistical contributions (his OBP and defensive skills are both impressive), but also for his intrinsic value. It’s no coincidence that the Yankee bats went to sleep in the postseason when Melky wasn’t in the lineup. It’s no coincidence that the team seemed lifeless out there, outside of Jeter. They were lifeless. The Yanks made a mistake in messing with the on-the-field chemistry heading into October. They’re repeating that mistake going into April this year.
Back to the statement I made to start this post: Injuries to Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte, or really any of the Yanks regulars outside of Jeter, regardless of their severity, could be the best thing for the Yanks. The Yankees have made a concerted effort to stockpile young talent. The Randy Johnson, Gary Sheffield and Jaret Wright trades have stocked Columbus with top-level pitching prospects. The rebuilding is in full effect, but the Yanks are trying to accomplish it while the big club keeps on chugging utilizing the old formula (experience over youth). This half-measure is going to lead to another A.L. East crown, and another early exit from the playoffs.
If this Yanks team is going to translate talent into rings, they need the fire and energy only young players can bring. So, Chien-Ming Wang’s stay on the disabled list opens one spot for a young gun to come up and give the Yanks a shot in the arm. Other injuries will surely follow, and slowly but surely the young kids will get a chance.
As much as the Yanks would like to baby Phil Hughes, he’s going to be needed in pinstripes sooner, rather than later. And this is by all means a good thing. You have to take the good with the bad when you’re talking about unexperienced baseball players. Melky misplayed a couple fly balls when he first came up. He looked overmatched his entire first stay in the Bronx, but he learned from it. You can’t learn how to face down Manny Ramirez with the tying run on second in Columbus. Hughes, Karstens, Ohlendorf, Sanchez, Whelan and Claggett are the future of this team, bringing them up now will give the Yanks, and their fans, something to rally behind. So, while you never wish an injury on anyone, I’m certainly not torn up by Wang’s stay on the D.L., and I’m not dreading a possible stint for Pettitte, nor a prolonged stay for Pavano.
The front office has started to embrace a rebuilding philosophy ostensibly, now it’s time for that philosophy to be put to the test on the field. Starting Melky Cabrera in left field over Hideki Matsui is not the “safe” move. It’s not a move a team with the largest payroll in baseball is going to make, not when they have to justify that payroll in wins, but it’s the best thing they could do. If the Yanks infuse this roster with the talented youth they’ve accumulated and groomed, those precious wins will start coming in late October again, when they really matter.