Monday, October 09, 2006

Bill Madden: Clearing house has a nice ring

The New York Daily News
October 9, 2006

Ain't this rich: A-Rod must go

Are Gary Sheffield, Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi part of the problem or the solution for Yankees?

Embarrassed as Joe Torre must be over the ugly events in Detroit, I'm not sure if any manager, be it Lou Piniella, Casey Stengel or John McGraw, could have evoked the necessary passion and grit from this Yankee team as currently constituted.

Since 2001, they have added superstars every year - Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi, Hideki Matsui, Gary Sheffield, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, Johnny Damon - all of them coming here for huge money, looking to ride the coattails of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams, the holdovers of the championship years, to an easy ring. It hasn't happened and they're the primary reasons it hasn't happened.

This division-series disaster was merely the culmination of this failed hire-a-mercenary policy, which was a product of necessity due to the 12 straight barren drafts by the Yankee player development department. Combined, Mussina ($19M), Giambi ($20.4M), Sheffield ($10.8M), Rodriguez ($21.7M) and Johnson ($15.7M) accounted for $87.6 million of the Yankees' roughly $200 million payroll.

In the aftermath of his 1-for-14 against the Tigers - which was the follow-up to his 2-for-15 against the Angels last year - A-Rod said he had "no one to blame but myself" for his abysmal postseason performance, but then added he believed he was "part of the solution."

No, A-Rod, you're the major part of the problem. And even if A-Rod's guy, Piniella, should be the new manager, the Yankees should not delude themselves into thinking that would be the solution. As much as Piniella may have liked A-Rod in Seattle, he won 116 games the year after A-Rod left.

No, what the Yankees need to do with A-Rod is to get him out of here for his and their own good, use him as their chip to rebuild their pitching staff. They should dial up Angels owner Arte Moreno and see if he's interested in making a variation of the deal he tried to make for Miguel Tejada at this summer's trading deadline, the one that was to include 24-year-old power righthander Ervin Santana.

Or if not the Angels, then the Chicago White Sox, who have a glaring need for a shortstop and all sorts of excess power pitchers plus a prize third-base prospect in Josh Fields.

For the Yankees to have any chance of getting back to the World Series, they must address their starting pitching, which sabotaged Torre as much as his hitters against the Tigers. In that regard, their own Philip Hughes has the stuff to be a dominant starter but has been held back by Yankees minor league pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras, who had him on gradually receding pitch counts all summer, then shut him down at 146innings.

Scouts who saw Hughes at Trenton this summer agreed he's ready for the big leagues now and even Yankee officials on the major league level, Gene Michael for one, were dismayed that Hughes wasn't allowed to finish the season at Triple-A. Now, as one scout told me: "This kid is a stud, but what good is he going to do them if he's been programmed to pitch five innings? They're turning him into Jaret Wright."

Durable front-line starters are what the Yankees need to even get to next year's postseason.
Mussina, 37, and Johnson, 43, each a loser in his start against the Tigers, have run their course here. It was essentially the same for them a year ago when they came up small against the Angels, who bounced the Yankees out of the first round.

These are supposed to be your aces, folks. That's why George Steinbrenner is paying them the big bucks. And that's why whoever is the Yankee manager next year shouldn't have to be burdened with them.

Mussina, a free agent, won't be re-signed, and Johnson, who vowed a couple of months ago he wouldn't pitch the final year of his contract if he wasn't physically capable of meeting his high standards, ought to be taken up on that. The Yankees should encourage him to get that back surgery this winter, collect the insurance and wish him well.

Giambi, despite his 37 homers and 113RBI in the regular season, was a no-show - literally - when Torre needed him most against the Tigers. After going 1-for-8 over the first three games, he asked to get a cortisone shot for his shoulder, rendering him unavailable for the deciding Game 4.

That's why his comment, "I came ready to play and Joe wanted a different look in there," was so unbelievable. The fact is, Giambi is a defensive liability at first base and, as a DH, he is blocking Melky Cabrera from playing since that's where Matsui would be best suited. But good luck trying to move Giambi anywhere.

As for Sheffield, 1-for-12 with one RBI as a failed first baseman against the Tigers after a failed division series against the Angels, he has a $13 million option for '07, which he says he hopes the Yankees will not pick up. One would have to believe they won't be tempted.

In his three years in Tampa Bay, Piniella lamented the ownership's payroll constraints, but as Torre could tell him, big salaries don't necessarily translate into big-time postseason players.

Originally published on October 9, 2006

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