There are three things to consider when assessing the deals that were made over the past few days. The first, of course, is how much your team has improved. The second is how much your rivals or key competitors have improved. The third and last, is how much the rest of the competition has weakened, i.e. who will be a weaker opponent.
Brian Cashman and his Yankees would probably take a realistic look at this season and consider themselves AL East contenders and Wild-card contenders. I guess it’s tempting to bang your fist on the nearest table and scream that the Wild-Card is not an option; that it’s division or bust. But that’s just emotion talking. That’s not really an intelligent way to approach things. So considering that the Red Sox are priority one, with the White Sox and Twins a close second, followed not-as-closely by the Blue Jays, the early outlook looks pretty favorable for the Yanks.
Abreu first. The most important thing is that he’s an upgrade over Andy Phillips. In my perfect world, Giambi would go back to first, Bernie would DH and Abreu would get slotted in right. On days you want to rest Bernie, Wilson plays first and Giambi DH’s. The problem with this is that I know Joe Torre is going to get very comfortable with Wilson or Phillips at first, and Bernie is going to lose at bats. It’s not that I’m against Bernie getting more down time. Sure, Bernie is my favorite player, but if they can upgrade, fine. But not if it’s to get Craig Wilson and Andy Phillips more at-bats. Because I’m not believers in either one of those guys. Abreu, again, is an upgrade from what we’ve got right now. My issue with him will come next year. There certainly doesn’t appear to be room on this team for Abreu and Sheffield, and Abreu is not the player Sheffield is. He’s just not. He doesn’t scare you as much, and he strikes out way too much. Sheffield doesn’t strike out a lot. Abreu’s got a nice OBP, but he doesn’t strike me as clutch. So next year we will be taking a step down. A huge step down if Sheffield ends up on the Red Sox aiming at the monster. But that’s next year. For now, Abreu makes the Yankees better. And we didn’t lose anything. The Chacon/Wilson deal is not as definitive, for me. It would have been fine if the Yankees had immediately dealt or optioned Phillips. But there was Joe Torre, insisting that Phillips was still “very much a part of this team.” Why? He is instantly unnecessary. I also hate to see Chacon go, in a way. I still have to believe that, unless there is a physical issue, somewhere in there is the guy that was money last year. He was 4-1 this year, albeit not a great 4-1, when he got that bone bruise, and he’s been garbage ever since. I don’t get it. But they got Lidle, who is competent. He just needs to follow the same formula – keep the Yankees in the game; their bats will win it for you most of the time. So we’ll see.
The Red Sox did little or nothing, the White Sox made some small moves, and the Twins didn’t make a big splash either. So all-in, the Yanks came out looking pretty good.
The third element has gone and reared its head right up already. There were the Indians, sitting with a 2 run lead in the bottom of the ninth at Fenway, but with no Bob Wickman to close it. So what happened? What else. The Big HGH himself, yet again. Shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. This is the Red Sox, circa 21st century. They are always second-best and never good enough to be in first in the standings when all is said and done. But they have a pocket full of miracles. It’s how they stay close. Witness two out of the last three games at Fenway. Always Big HGH and Manny bailing them out. It makes them exciting. You have to give them that. No wonder they have sold out almost 300 straight games and the media has fallen in love with them. They are as exciting as anything you’ll ever see. And because of the Wild-Card, they get their shot in the playoffs. The problem is you run out of miracles. They got their one ultimate miracle in ’04 coming back from 0-3, so big it was the only time it ever happened in the history of the game. But you’ll only get one of those. If you’re not the best team, you’re not going to win plural championships. And the Red Sox have never been the best team.
So Big HGH to the rescue again. Every time I see the guy come up, I wonder. In the post Landis, post-Gatlin, post-Bonds era, how are the Red Sox fans going to feel when this guy gets exposed one day? It has to happen. He’s right in his ultimate glory prime, so he can’t fade away like McGwire or Sosa or Raffy. Sooner or later, they’re going to get him. The guy who played for six years in the Homer dome but could never hit more than 18 bombs in a season. The guy who was cut by the Twins after his tenure there, only to reappear as an overnight ultimate Super-human in Boston while the Twins clubhouse people were (and are) whispering that his hat has gone up two sizes. And he’s supposedly still only 30 years old. Right. Not even the Red Sox front office believes that one. In the tradition of Soriano, Edgardo Alfonzo, El Duque and countless others, the “birth records were misplaced.” But what will the Boston fans say? Do they try and justify it, the “everyone was doing it” approach? Or do they point the finger back at the Yankees – Giambi, Sheffield, and who knows who else? Tough to say. But the Yanks never won a World Series with Giambi and Sheffield, so that’s a tough sell. At least not yet. Besides, in the Winston Churchill, RAF spirit of “never has so much been owed to so few by so many,” David Ortiz was the 2004 playoffs. Period. So it will be tough. I think that’s probably part of the reason the Red Sox and their fans are failing to notice the emperor’s new Red Sox uniform. There’s too much at stake.
So the new-look Yankees will take the field tomorrow night. The standings have leveled off, and not because anybody has been playing any better than anybody else. Just because the schedules have started to flatten. All of these teams are very evenly matched, so I expect that things will grind from here on in. Hopefully the new guys get their uniforms dirty early.