Memo to Steinbrenner

Sam Killay of Raystalk can hardly contain his exuberance as the Yankees make a fatal blunder.
Leave it to King George to miss the point.
I’m not going to talk about the embarrassing (but appropriate) temper tantrum that newest Yankee Randy Johnson threw in the middle of Manhattan today. I’m not going to run another fluff column on Steinbrenner’s ridiculous payroll, because I trust you’ve read a few of those already–or if you haven’t, then you could have. Easily. They’re all over the place.
I’ve got just one little point to make about Randy the Yankee. A very humble observation of mine.
RJ will make no difference for the Yankees in 2005.
And it’s not because I think he’ll have a bad season. I mean, let’s face it, at this point in his career Johnson doesn’t have bad seasons. The man is a menace: strikes out everybody, walks nearly nobody, gives up precious few hits, all with superhuman stamina. Nor do I even think that Johnson will be impeded by injury. He’s over 40 years old and has no cartilage in his right knee, but he pitched more innings last year than anybody in all of baseball except for Livan Hernandez of the Expo … umm Nationals. That’s proof enough for me: Johnson will be fine in 2005. Healthy as a young ox (or insert the cliche of your preference here).
And he’ll still make no difference for the Yankees.
And no, I’m not crazy.
OK, let’s start at the beginning.
Question: what is the purpose of Steinbrenner bringing Johnson to the Yankees? For what singular reason is this last, ultimate step being taken?
Answer: Steinbrenner wants to win the World Series as many times as possible before he dies. He wants to leave behind a legacy of winning. He isn’t content with the late-’90’s supremacy his Yankees held over all of baseball–rather, he thirsts for more. He’s irritated by the fact that he hasn’t won a World Series since 2000. Most of all, he’s outraged by losing to hated foe Boston in humiliating fashion in this year’s ALCS. Therefore, he has acquired the best pitcher in baseball.
That’s the long version. All those specifics … bah, I bore myself. Let’s break it down into something simpler. Suffice it to say that Johnson is now a New York Yankee for two reasons, 1) to win the 2005 AL pennant, and 2) to win the 2005 World Series.
But let’s face facts. The Yankees are already a juggernaut. Even without a healthy Giambi. The heart of their order is as good as it gets. The back of their bullpen was already devastating and got much better with the addition of Felix Rodriguez. Their starting pitching, which is their so-called Achilles heel, is still very good. Johnson is a god, Mussina pitched magnificently in 2005 once his injuries were behind him, and Kevin Brown remains serviceable. Pavano is a darned good #4, and you could do worse than Jaret Wright for a #5.
Which means that the 2005 version of the Yankees should easily be just as good as the 2004 version. And I don’t think I need to remind you that the 2004 Yankees won 101 games, not to mention the AL East crown.
But if the Yanks just wanted to win the AL East again, they didn’t need Johnson. Like I said, they brought RJ on board for two reasons, and two reasons only: beat the Red Sox, win the World Series.
Yeah, I guess I should point out that I’m assuming the Red Sox will win reach the ALCS again in 2005. What can I say? Nobody in the Central or West is going to win the Wildcard, so we’re the early favorite. And chances are pretty good that we’ll be facing the Angels in the first round again. The Angels have improved themselves this offseason, but not enough to matter. Hey, fun fact, the Red Sox are 6-0 against the Angels in our last 6 meetings.
So it’s Yanks and Sox again in next year’s ALCS. Round 3. The Yanks bring back Moose and Brown, both of whom pitched in this year’s ALCS. Pavano takes over as the natural spiritual successor to Javier Vazquez–the latest expensive flavor-of-the-month. Wright takes the place of El Duque.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but the Red Sox offense still has the advantage to this point.
And then there’s one final double-switch to make, RJ for Lieber. So what kind of numbers does Johnson have to best in the ’05 ALCS?
Lieber, ’04 ALCS: 14.1 IP, 12 H, 5 ER, 1 HR, 1 BB, 5 K. 3.14 ERA.
Lieber was brilliant against the Red Sox in the postseason. Not a lot of strikeouts, but the lack of K’s didn’t matter because Lieber was allowing less than a baserunner an inning. Yeah, that’s a .91 WHIP, if anybody’s keeping score.
Almost Johnson-esque, no?
Or, if you didn’t catch the full implication the first time, let me put it another way: by acquiring Johnson, Steinbrenner has plugged a hole that didn’t exist.
RJ will make no difference for the Yankees in 2005.
Here’s the part I love best, though: not only has King George plugged a non-existent hole, but he’s done so at a very high price, too. That’s Steinbrenner for ya. That’s his style.
Jon Lieber wasn’t the problem. Lieber wasn’t the reason the Yankees didn’t win the World Series this year. Lieber wasn’t the reason that the Yankees didn’t beat the Red Sox. Blame it on an overworked bullpen. Blame it on the choking of the so-called Second Coming of Murderer’s Row. Blame a lot of things. But replacing Lieber with Johnson does nothing to help the Yankees achieve their ultimate goal.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, if you’re thinking short-term, then RJ is a big deal. He’ll help the Yankees beat the Devil Rays a few more times this season. Maybe he’ll even help the Yanks challenge the all-time single-season Wins record. And he might even beat the Red Sox a few times in the process.
What difference does it make? The AL West and Central won’t be able to produce two solid contenders each, meaning that if the Red Sox win only 90 games this year, we’re still pretty much a lock for the Wildcard.
And as we all know, once we get to the playoffs, all bets are off.
We will get to the playoffs in ’05, and we will beat the Angels. The Yankees will win the division and beat the Twins–or some other AL Central patsy–in the ALDS.
And then the real fun starts.
I liked our chances in ’03. I really liked our chances in ’04. And I really really like our chances for ’05.
Poor Steinbrenner. He just doesn’t get it, does he?

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