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May 5, 2008

Transaction of the Day

Backing Away from the Abyss

by Christina Kahrl


NEW YORK YANKEES
Team Audit | DT Cards | PECOTA Cards | Depth Chart

Optioned RHP Ian Kennedy to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Triple-A); purchased the contract of RHP Darrell Rasner from Scranton (and Wilkes-Barre); transferred RHP Brian Bruney from the 15- to the 60-day DL. [5/4]

There's no gloating in any speculation that we are at the dawn of a return to a terrifying past that few survived and most lament. This latest meltdown of a prize of Yankee prospectdom calls to mind those glum years when my best friend from college and I spent a few too many summers reviewing the relative merits of the Yankees' pitching choices: the creeping base-filling horrors of Sam Militello, the consonant-heavy mystery of Kevin Mmahat, the tasteful relative anonymity of Jimmy Jones, or the awful surprise lurking behind the seemingly harmlessly-monikered Jeff Johnson. He did it out of need, the normal compulsion of fandom at a time when being a Yankees fan was anything but fashionable; I bore with it out of camaraderie, knowing full well that he'd sat through my, "But what is Bill Mooneyham for?" crisis that I always found a lot more interesting than Camus. It beat asking equally dangerous existential questions, such as why someone had put Andy Hawkins in the Bronx, and to what foul purpose.

No, the fall of Ian Kennedy isn't quite freighted with that much agony; a bad month doesn't top a bad decade. What's more troubling is what these kinds of failures might contribute to, what sort of in-house friction accrues to stoke the simmering idiocy bubbling in the brains of Hank Steinbrenner as the Bossling strives to inherit his father's mantle, and how that might lead to even more senseless actions. Destructive reaction in response to modest disappointment was ever the way of the original Boss in the '80s, before he was wisely bound up to keep him from doing too much more damage to himself and his franchise. (Would that the shipping industry was similarly sensible in its oversight, I suppose, even if it might have spared us the odd wacky commodore.) Lest we have some new gibbering explosion that leaves the long-suffering Brian Cashman fulfilling yet again his duties to a capricious master, someone must remind the Child Boss of the wisdom of Helmuth von Moltke: "No plan survives contact with the enemy." Didn't the Boss send his kids to Culver Military Academy, as his father had in turn sent him long beforehand? Or is that place only good for rum, sodomy, and the lash, and a bit overly light on the rum?

So, the Kennedy kid struggles, and so too did Philip Hughes, and while there was all sorts of speculation over what might be wrong with the latter, that's New York for you-why settle for reinventing the wheel when it comes to coverage when you can gussy it up and spin it with an elaborately unnecessary gesture? Kennedy didn't get the star treatment, he merely took beatings; no rum for him either, I guess. More troubling for Kennedy was the absence of the command that's supposed to be his watchword, as he walked more men than he fooled in four out of five starts.

If this grab bag of observations and whimsy strikes you as fanciful, it's no more than the doomsayers deserve. The Yankees have been in worse predicaments, whether as recently as a year ago or as far back as 1948, when a third-place finish with a veteran team seemed a harbinger of doom to a lot of the Fourth Estate sages. Folks, these are the wages of normal fandom-talented young pitchers can break your hearts. They can also inspire and reward hope, and when you have as much talent in a single cadre as the Yankees can employ, Kennedy included, there's no reason to get overly upset over the current state of affairs. There is nothing-nothing-about the current scenario which says that the Yankees are dead.

Take the situation in the rotation. Even with Hughes on the DL and Kennedy banished to Carville's wasteland, most of the bet that the Yankees made in March is still there: beyond the kids, Chien-Ming Wang has to be an ace, and Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina both have to have something left. And generally speaking, there's no reason to doubt the other legs on that particular propositional tripod. Wang, Mussina, and Pettitte have done decent work, with Wang delivering six quality starts in seven, Pettitte three in six while working his way back from injury, and Moose three in seven. That isn't great, but 12 in 20 isn't the end of the world from the more experienced component of the rotation, and it's more than survivable when you've got a generally solid offense.

It's that last proposition that is more genuinely in danger. Life without Jorge Posada at catcher, or life with a merely mortal Derek Jeter as a hitter, making his defensive inadequacy so much less affordable, or the absence of any resolution to the team's first baseman-lessness... adds up to much more troubling questions than what Melky Cabrera's upside might be, or wondering when-not if, when-Robinson Cano will get out of his slump, or enduring Alex Rodriguez's temporary absence. Even with the problems it's endured, you're still talking about a team good enough to rate fifth in the league in the early going. Even when Morgan Ensberg fails them, even if it turns out that Posada can't catch, there are obvious solutions, like trading for a veteran catcher and putting Posada at first. How hard would it be to go the Clint Courtney route and really go Evil Empire on baseball by adding some appropriately loathsome backstop, somebody like A.J. Pierzynski (once somebody notifies the White Sox that they really are dead) or Michael Barrett (the Padres self-diagnose well enough to already know they are). I know, it would be the end of the world-except that it would involve a first baseman with a .380 OBP and a .500 SLG who didn't move like a spavined crab in the field. That certainly isn't like settling for Tino Martinez, not by a far sight.

To bring this full circle and return to the rotation's temporary ills, the challenge in the immediate present is pretty straightforward. Pettitte and Mussina have to do a little better than delivering quality starts half of the time. In the fourth slot, you could do worse than Rasner, and if he earns his keep, he stands a great shot at becoming an asset in the fifth slot once Hughes is ready to come back, or once Joba Chamberlain might be ready to move into the rotation; by that point, if Mussina isn't pitching better, there's too much at stake for contractual considerations to trump performance. To help carry the burden, the bullpen certainly has its share of promise; beyond the quartet already doing good work, there's the chance that Jonathan Albaladejo's slider and Edwar Ramirez's changeup are individually amazing-enough pitches to make each of them set-up assets.

If not, who loses a pennant on the question of who their fifth or sixth reliever is, and how well they do? Perhaps a team with as many individually understandable setbacks as these Yankees have, but that's still not enough to get worked up over. Last I checked, you won't find the Götterdämmerung on the calendar, so let's not get ahead of ourselves and schedule it.


Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

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