The 2006 season is over for the Yankees, but there will be more opportunities to come…starting next spring. The "knee-jerk" reaction to fire Manager Joe Torre after losing to a team that was considered the best in the American League for almost the entire season, is absurd. The Yankees have a formidable hitting line-up, but those line-ups have rarely won championships. In the post season, great pitching will beat great hitting almost every time. The Detroit Tigers beat the Yankees with a pitching staff that shut down "Murders Row and Cano" for more than 20 innings, while their hitting nibbled away at Yankees pitching like all teams did throughout the season. Here is the difference between the regular season and the post season. During the regular season, teams can afford to lose a few games here and there (even go into a "slumps"), because there are 162 games to play and make-up for it. In the post season, wins are precious and the strategy for winning changes from being able to score runs over the long season to keeping the scoring down so that a couple swings of the bat can get you back on top. Hitting is the key throughout the regular season, but pitching will win the championship. So why have the Yankees spent most of their $194 million salary this season on hitting, when the most dire need has been (for the past few years) pitching? If anyone should be replaced, it should be General Manager Brian Cashman, who is responsible for upgrading this teams weaknesses in the off season. During his tenure (1997-Present), the pitching staff has steadily declined…especially in the area of middle reliever. When the starting pitcher’s struggle, there are no consistent reliever’s to limit the damage in order to give the hitter’s an opportunity to get them back on top for Mariano Rivera to seal the deal. GM Cashman has had the largest payroll to get the pitching help "required" to win in the post-season, but has instead focused on getting more hitter’s for a line-up that has consistently gotten them to the post season. Until the Yankees commit themselves to going after great pitching (like they had with David Cone, Jimmy Key, etc) in the late 90s, they will continue to finish the post season without a Championship. Joe Torre can only use what the ownership gives him and so far he has achieved the success equal to the talent provided. Until he gets the pitching that this team has lacked since their last championship in 2000, they will continue to make it to the post season and come up short. Joe Torre has the respect of his players, the city and fans everywhere, but when will he get a General Manager who understands what it takes to win in the post season?
Here is my solution. Keep Joe Torre until he wants to leave. Give Brian Cashman one more year, but with the goal of getting two new "proven" starting pitchers (depending on who is available at the end of the season) who are peaking or in their prime (not past it) and three new "proven" middle relievers (again, depending on who is available) that are also peaking or in their prime. The biggest shake-up needs to be focused on the hitting line-up. Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Bobby Abreu, Hideki Matsui, Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera and Bernie Williams should stay. Period. This is the heart and soul of the Yankees offense. I would trade or release Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Randy Johnson and Jason Wright, while looking to the farm system to bring in "home grown" players, like we had in the mid-90s, because that formula won championships. All others are suspect and on the bubble. As for Joe’s Assistants, all MUST stay. Don Mattingly, Ron Guidry and the others can get the job done, but only with the right players. It’s time to get back to the fundamentals of the game. Looking back on the history of the game, we have seen this time and time again. The 1927 Yankees had "Murderers Row," but they also had great pitching, which had four players with 18 or more wins and low ERA’s. Hitting to win the season, but pitching that won the Championship. In the World Series against the Pirates that year, they never gave up more than 4 runs and kept it close. Great hitting did the rest. That is baseball…Yankees style. We saw that same line-up in the late 90s when they won three straight championships. The hitting is there and did its job getting to the post season (even if it could have done it without all the overpaid players on the roster), but the pitching gave up the 3-1 lead in Game 2 and failed to keep Games 3 and 4 within reach. Had the Yankees pitching staff prevented the late rally in Game 2 and kept the scoring to 2 runs or less, this series most likely would have gone to the Yankees.
I choose to look back on this past season and Yankee history for one purpose: To get it right in 2007. What’s done is done and we must learn from the same mistake that has been made the past few years of not acquiring outstanding, solid pitching, in order to win it all next year. Jeter and Rivera only have a few more "great" years left and we can’t afford to waste another season on winning the division, but having an early exit from the playoffs due to the lack of solid pitching. They deserve to have as many opportunities as other Yankees Legends, but until pitching gets as much attention (if not more) than the hitting and fielding, their efforts will be in vain. I don’t have all the answers, but every year since 2002, I have complained about the loss of pitching and each year the issue isn’t addressed adequately. It is time to change strategy, not Manager.