My pal John Goalder has a theory that everything in the world can be summed up in three words. Everything. Sometimes it takes some thought to do it, but I haven’t completely disproven him yet. For the 2004 Yankees, we can certainly sum them up in three words: Good. Expensive. Fragile. (John, however, says “Not a juggernaut.”)
If Joe Torre gets to write the above lineup on his card 130 times this season and gets 30 starts from each of his five starters, it will be a long season in Boston, but the odds of this happening look more like Powerball than baseball. I’ll be interested to see if any other team has as many red lights this season. It’s odd to see, but the most recent addition to the team–the misplaced third baseman–looks like the best bet for a healthy season.
While several members of this team will be faced with daily questions about their involvement with BALCO, that did not factor into this Report. While use of ergogenics can often have a detrimental effect on health, I cannot in any way quantify those without a specific factual basis. Like much of the media, feel free to wildly speculate.
Jason Giambi enters the season coming off significant knee surgery. Like his pal Mark McGwire before him (and J.D. Drew as well), Giambi had surgery to clean up his patellar tendon. Inflamed and riddled with loose bodies, Giambi fought through the pain in his knee to have a season that most players would be happy to have. Add in back problems and an infected eye and Giambi’s season is a testament to his talent and tolerance. The questions he faces in 2004 are can he play the field and remain healthy, and is he headed down the same path as McGwire, forced out of the game soon after his peak? I can’t imagine that he’ll be able to walk out to first more than 125 games, making Tony Clark and perhaps Travis Lee more important.
If Giambi is forced to DH more, it will cut into the at-bat opportunities for Bernie Williams. Moving there will reduce the wear and tear on his knees and arthritic shoulders, but replacing him with the anemic and oft-injured Kenny Lofton is one of those moves that doesn’t improve the team unless they happen to alternate when they’re injured. Both figure to keep Gene Monahan a busy man.
Both Gary Sheffield and Derek Jeter are low yellow lights. Jeter is significantly bumped up due to his decision not to have corrective surgery on his shoulder and thumb, but the odds of him getting crushed by a catcher again are admittedly low. Sheffield has a tendency to get hit by pitches, including during last year’s division series. Many think a Mark Prior pitch broke his hand, but that it was covered up as he faced free agency. I cut the factor in half due to the uncertainty. Both Sheffield and Jeter are likely to miss some time due to various maladies, but neither reaches the threshold that predicts significant non-traumatic injury.
Jorge Posada is an interesting yellow. Catchers start at such a high level of risk that even the slightest injury history can push them up to a yellow, but Posada has always been a rock. As his age advances and the number of times he squats and takes the typical abuse of the position accumulates, he is less likely to maintain that level. He’s just a slight yellow, but the system is the system and he is an increased risk.
On the mound, this team is no less fragile. Anyone that wants to take the over on Brown starting 30 games can get action. It’s simply ludicrous to plan for that. The Yankees don’t have the eight-deep starters that they had last year meaning when one goes down, they won’t have a David Wells, Jeff Weaver or Jose Contreras to fall back on. Instead, they’ll either go to the well with Jorge DePaula and Donovan Osborne or shop for more help.
With Javier Vazquez coming off a heavy workload while he was an Expo, he’s a bit of a concern, but he’s also on the cusp of crossing that invisible line from “risk” to “horse.” Jose Contreras continues to adjust to the lifestyle and workload of America. The lesson that Tommy John surgery isn’t what it once was still isn’t getting out. Jon Lieber was ready to pitch late last season, but there was no place for him. The additional rest is nothing but a plus and Lieber figures to return to his 2001 form. He’ll outperform every projection you see on him.
In the pen, Mariano Rivera always goes through one period a year where his arm has some sort of trouble. He always comes back, but the time he misses and the way Torre is forced to use him, combined with age, gets him a yellow. Not included on the lineup but significant is the loss of Steve Karsay. A perennial red light, Karsay is making a slow recovery from rotator cuff surgery and doesn’t figure to be ready by Opening Day, if at all. Tom Gordon and the rest of a deeper Yankee bullpen will make Karsay’s loss less significant, but Torre is a manager that likes to go with “his guys” so this isn’t going to help.
At the price this lineup costs, nothing short of a ring will satisfy George Steinbrenner and Yankees fans. If they can bring another World Series to the Bronx, the MVP may be the Yankee medical staff.