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Successful sports franchises tend to fall in one of two ways. Injuries and
age may take their toll. Far more dramatic and frustrating to fans, though,
is the team that begins to smoke its own dope: after years of having
transactions work out in its favor, the team starts to interpret luck as
skill and assume that past successes will be repeated regardless of the
quality of moves the team makes.

I speak specifically of the Yankees, whose luck-drenched run at the top
appears likely to end despite the golden opportunity presented to them by
the Red Sox, who can’t seem to stay healthy or excise the deadwood from
their lineup.

Many successful teams recognize that the end is hurrying near and will try
to grab the brass ring one last time, usually by importing
"proven" talent to scrape into the playoffs. These attempts rarely
work, and leave the team worse off for the immediate future beyond the
last-gasp season. However, the Yankees’ gambles last year paid off
handsomely; the team won its third straight World Series and didn’t give up
much future talent in the trades it made to get there.

A smart and self-aware team would look at that season and say, "Well,
we squeezed every last drop out of that roster, so now it’s time to work the
next generation into the lineup and plan for the future." The Yankees,
however, appear to have started to believe their own hype. "Maybe 2000
wasn’t the last year for the championship core; maybe 2001 is instead, so
let’s shore up the roster for one last run." If you do that too many
times, of course, you end up like the 2000 Orioles: all veterans and no
future.

The Yankees began this self-immolation last week
by trading D’Angelo
Jimenez
,
one of the minor leagues’ best middle-infield prospects–albeit
one with a scary freak injury in his past–for a middle reliever who had a
career ERA over 5.70 before this season. Granted, Jay Witasick is in
the midst of an incredible season, but he’s just another failed starter
proving that middle relievers are really easy to find. Meanwhile, down in
Columbus:


PITCHERS           W-L   ERA   G SV    IP   H   R  ER  HR   BB  SO
Ricardo Aramboles  1-3  3.04   4  0  23.2  26  11   8   2    4  14
Mike Bertotti      1-2  3.11  18  0  37.2  33  17  13   3   23  43
Domingo Jean       1-3  2.73  26  2  26.1  30  10   8   1   10  28
Brandon Knight     6-4  3.66  13  0  86.0  79  39  35  11   29  79
Brandon Reed       1-2  3.48  24  1  33.2  27  18  13   2    8  30

Brandon Knight, the one starter and the one prospect of the bunch,
probably belongs in the Yankees’ bullpen, cutting his teeth on major-league
hitters in preparation for a shot at a starting role next year. Reed nearly
made the Tigers’ bullpen in 1999, but spring-training injuries held him
back. He boasts a big-breaking curve ball that’s tough on right-handers.
Either one of these guys could do 80-90% of the job that Witasick will
do…and the Yanks would still have Jimenez.

Now the Yankees’ dark side has struck again. Let’s look at some numbers:


               Player A                    Player B

Year    AVG   OBP   SLG   EqA       AVG   OBP   SLG   EqA
1998   .305  .352  .504  .291      .265  .351  .405  .279
1999   .275  .335  .457  .263      .292  .393  .454  .301
2000   .274  .312  .427  .245      .283  .366  .385  .268
2001   .207  .261  .332  .217      .255  .337  .342  .260

So, which guy would you prefer to have in left field (assuming these were
your only two options)? Would you go out of your way to sign Player A if you
already had Player B? Of course not. But that’s what the Yankees did,
bringing back Gerald Williams–a player so awful that the majors’
worst team released him–and putting Chuck Knoblauch squarely on the
trading blauch…er, block.

Williams will exacerbate the Yankees’ primary offensive problem of
impatience. No Yankee has more than 36 walks right now, and Knoblauch ranks
fourth on the team with 29. Gerald Williams has never drawn more than 34
walks in any major-league season.

Even worse, the Yankees seem inclined to deal Knoblauch for more veterans,
rather than trying to use him to restock the farm system, even with grade-B
talents. Part of the problem is that the Yankees waited too long to deal
him, and their patience with Knoblauch this year hasn’t paid off at the
plate. But Al Martin is not going to help this team now and he’s
certainly not going to help them later.

Keith Law is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by
clicking here.

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