Thursday, September 11, 2008

There's Always Next Year

I sit down writing this piece with a strange blend of emotions.

First, I must obviously take note of the date. It's September 11, 2008. Seven years have passed since the most terrifying day in my existence. Nothing will ever come close to touching the amount of fear and heartbreak that I felt that day. I remember the little details about that day and the night before. The night before, I was sitting three rows behind home plate with my Spanish teacher and two friends at Yankee Stadium. On the way to the game, I heard that Incubus song with the line "whatever tomorrow brings, I'll be there." Obviously, I thought nothing of it. Looking back now, nothing was more appropriate. The game was rained out. I went home and watched the Giants win Monday Night Football against the Denver Broncos. Ed McCaffery broke his leg. My friend Phil told me what happened in Mr. Epstein's World Themes class. I thought it was just an accident, then he told me it was two planes crashing into the towers and I knew something was wrong. Throughout the day, we got little updates over the loudspeaker or by using a computer. I remember my school's principal, a little elfish looking woman we all loved to make fun of, coming over the loudspeaker when I was in learning center (read: study hall) and telling us that the towers collapsed. Suddenly, my math homework didn't seem too important. I put my head down and began to cry. I remember a tear falling onto the lens of my glasses. I remember going home and seeing the full destruction of what happened. My mother had the day off and went to the beach, since our beaches at home have a fantastic view of the city. It was a beautiful day and everything was clear as could be...except the smoke. She and my sister were out doing some errand at some point. I was sitting outside, tired of seeing the news coverage. I looked at a big oak tree in our yard when they pulled in and pointed to it. "That's all that's left," I said. "Some pieces of metal about that big."

My late grandfather was sitting in traffic on the George Washington Bridge. He was taking his pigeons to the Vince Lombardi Service Station on the New Jersey Turnpike to let them fly back home for training for their race that Saturday. That race didn't happen. Nothing did. I didn't know anyone personally who died, just one of my father's customers. Regardless of that, I'll never forget that moment, that day, that event in which 3,000 people died in a matter of hours. I aspire to teach and I don't quite know how I'll explain to my students what happened on that day. How can someone who was either too young to remember or not born appreciate what happened that day? I liken it to my parents and aunts and uncles trying to tell my generation about what happened when JFK was shot, or my grandparents telling us about when Pearl Harbor was bombed. Maybe we understand that it was a moment of incredible terror, but we don't fully appreciate what happened.

Now, onto baseball....

The Yankees are beyond the point where the final nail is in the coffin. The coffin is six feet under, the dirt is being piled on, and the eulogy is starting. A eulogy is exactly what this final home-stand for Yankees will feel like. It was supposed to be a celebration of greatness, but now it will just be a mourning of mediocrity.

When I think about the prospect of the Yankees missing the playoffs, I think of the Dashboard Confessional song "The Brilliant Dance," specifically the first few lines:

"So this is odd. The painful realization that all has gone wrong."

Everything has gone wrong with the Yankees this season. The young pitchers didn't pitch, the young hitters didn't hit, and even the veterans didn't hit--much. The offense still shows flashes of brilliance, but compared to the juggernaut it was last year, it is nothing. Missing a bunch of players hurts. A lot. But injuries cannot be fully blamed for this year's mishap. So, with a strange feeling, I look forward to the offseason and what I think next year should look like.

First, there is the issue of free-agency. The biggest names for the Yankees who will be free agents are:
Mike Mussina
Andy Pettitte
Ivan Rodriguez
Jason Giambi
Bobby Abreu

Of those, all of them could be gone. And I have advocated that. Why not? The Yankees could use the draft picks from those players to sure up the farm system. The farm system has gotten much better, but it never hurts to have more prospects. However, in recent days, I've been re-thinking my position. While the Yankees are in a situation in which rebuilding might have to be an option, getting picks makes a lot of sense. The first round of the draft could just be the Yankees and Brewers alternating picks. But then it hit me, the Yankees are going to need to keep at least one of these players. Mike Mussina has pitched well enough to earn himself another year with the Yankees, and I think that will happen, despite the fact that it is not incredibly necessary for him to come back. A veteran player in the rotation is nice, but he would just be blocking the spot of some younger player the Yankees could season. I see this no playoffs thing as a trend, not an aberration. If that's going to be the case, why not get some of the young guys to develop in the process? I mean, what's the point of having prospects if we're never going to test them? The longer we wait to to that, the worse off we'll be in the future.

The one player the Yankees need to keep is...Bobby Abreu. Yes his defense is absolutely awful, but his bat is great and it fits the Yankees style of play. When they traded for Xavier Nady, the Yankees were pretty much saying that Bobby Abreu would only be a Yankee for the rest of this season, then it would be so long. I thought along those lines, too. In the last few days, though, I've seen the error in that thinking.

Nady's hot start had us all thinking he was going to mash like this for the rest of the year. Well, no. Xavier Nady has had a great season, no doubt. However, it's been incredibly fluke-ish. His fantastic first week with the Yankees seemed to grant him a grace period, but his last calender month of baseball has been pretty crappy.

Since August 11th, Nady has posted this as his hitting vital:

.257/.303/.434/.737, 5 HR, 17 RBI, 33 SO, 7 BB.

Slumps happen, but a 33/7 K/BB ratio is unacceptable. Why does a bad month mean he shouldn't be the everyday outfielder for the Yankees next year? Why does this justify my feelings that he shouldn't replace Abreu? Well, that alone doesn't; but Xavier Nady's career as a whole does. He's a .282/.337/.462/.799 player for his career. Is that bad? Hardly, his OPS+ comes in at 110. He's had a fantastic season, but his numbers have slowly climbed down from the incredible start he had with the Pirates and with the Yankees. Abreu is a much more solid hitter than Nady.

So instead of picking one or the other, the Yankees really should do both. But, Matt, you say. That leaves a horrible logjam in the outfield. In the words of Lee Corso: not so fast my friend. This post is running long. I'll get into it in my next one, which should come tomorrow.


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