So the first Yankee Roundtable has completed its circle, and the ball is back in my court. Be sure to check out parts 1-4.
And now for the questions from Stop Mike Lupica:
1. Who do you see as the biggest threat to the Yankees in the East next year? Alot of people in the media want to play up the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, but don't you think the Blue Jays are the real threat? Or do you think the Sox can make up the ground they lost to the Jays last season?
I don't know if you'd consider this short-sighted, cynical, realistic or stilted, but until a team other than the Red Sox finishes ahead of the Yanks, or is at least within arm's length in September, I'm not going to consider them a threat. It's been 10 years since any of the other teams in the A.L. East has put a contending team on the field, and I don't think that's going to change this year. The D-Rays are a joke, and probably will remain so for as long as they exist. The Orioles ownership and front office have no idea how to compete in today's game and while Toronto is somehow coming up with resources, I don't think they're making smart moves with that money. Halladay's a stud, Wells is too, they overpaid for B.J. Ryan, even though he turned out to be a good acquisition, and the A.J. Burnett signing was disastrous up to this point. Glaus is basically this generation's Rob Deer. I like Reed, I don't like Rios, Catalanatto would be a nice guy to have off the bench, but this year he's going to have to play the field I guess, cause there's no way Frank Thomas is going to play the field on turf. Speaking of Thomas, that money was thrown down the drain. I will be beyond shocked if he puts up numbers anywhere near last year's, in fact, I'll be shocked if he doesn't go down with a leg injury by the All Star break.
In a nutshell, if the Yanks have a threat in their division it's the Sox, but this year I think Boston has more question marks than they did last year, and I'm expecting them to sputter and flop.
2. What would you do to improve this season's team? What do you feel are the weak spots that need to be worked on?
Right off the bat I'd put Matsui at first, and Melky in left, and I'd leave them there. First base is not a difficult position to play, Matsui can handle it, and Melky makes this lineup much more dynamic (hit and run, bunt, run), he's the Yanks best outfielder, and he brings an enthusiasm to the lineup that just isn't there when he's on the bench. I really think the biggest reason the Yanks sputtered against the Tigers is that Sheffield and Matsui were shoehorned back into the lineup for the playoff run. The Yanks played their best ball when Melky was in there.
Unfortunately, I think there are a lot of weak spots on this team. We can begin with starters 4&5. I have zero confidence in Pavano, and who knows what to think of Igawa. There was nothing more painful than watching Jaret Wright waddle out to the mound every fifth day last year knowing the bullpen was going to get killed even if he pitched his best game. Now, the Yanks are going into the season with potentially two guys at the back of the rotation who are going to do the exact same thing. Beyond Proctor and Farnsworth, who is Torre going to trust in the bullpen? Where's the bat off the bench? Look at the teams that won the rings, you had Strawberry, Chili Davis, Rock Raines, Glenallen Hill or Jose Canseco coming off the bench in key situations. Does Andy Phillips strike fear into an opposing pitcher? Of course, there really isn't anyone but the first basemen to pinch hit for, but it's still an issue.
And the last issue is Purple Lips himself. The situation with A-Rod is beyond repair as far as I'm concerned. The fact of the matter is that the next 8 months are nothing but 240+ days for A-Rod to be criticized and there's absolutely nothing he can do lessen it until next September/October. It's only going to get worse, and he cannot handle it. I will be shocked if he doesn't opt out after this season, and this story is only going to gain momentum as the season wears on.
3. Where do you see Cashman taking this team in the long-run? Is he (re)building the foundation of the team, and, if so, is he betting the future of the team on these young prospects (Hughes, Sanchez, etc) or is he going to go out and get a free agent after the season, like a WIllis or a Zambrano?
I'll answer the second part first: I pray to God the Yanks don't go out and sign either of those guys, but especially Willis. D-Train pitches in one of the best pitcher's parks in the majors, in the National League, in front of zero fans, with zero pressure. He doesn't strike people out, and he will not succeed against American League lineups. Zambrano's got good stuff, but he's pitched for pitiful Cubs teams basically his entire career, in a "who cares if we win" atmosphere. And if he becomes a free agent the price is going to be way too high for him.
What I think Cashman is doing, is following the Stick Michaels play book on building a champion. The core of the team will come through the farm system, and free agent signings will be good players who fit a need, like Knoblauch was (before he self-destructed), not the best available players every year for the most money. The difference between the Yanks now, and where they stood in 1995 is that Cashman has Jeter, in the prime of his career as his main building block. In 1995 Mattingly was on the way out, so the team had to start from scratch.
By no means am I saying this team cannot win. What I am saying is that the key additions they need to make to do it this year should come from within. Hughes, Sanchez whichever ones progress the most in the early season should be up, with this team cementing themselves as the future of the franchise. They do not need to go out and trade any of their chips away for a middling national league pitcher. I'd rather they finish out of the playoffs than go down that road. With all of that being said, there is one guy I would LOVE the Yanks to go after when he becomes a free agent, Carl Crawford.
OK, that's going to wrap up Blogs By Fans' first roundtable discussion. In the coming weeks we're going to launch a new a new conversation called "The Vault." This stems from something Brandon and I have been doing for years. Everyone is going to make predictions on the upcoming season and they're going to be kept in "The Vault," at the All Star break we'll take them out and see who was on the money, and who was thinking with his heart, rather than his head (I'm looking at you Mike), then we'll have a postmortem after the season to compare our predictions and ridicule Mike for picking Piazza as comeback player of the year. Stay tuned.