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Why Brian Cashman Shouldn't Boast

Brian Cashman and the Year of Ibanez
There is an excellent quote from Brian Cashman in Nick Cardafo’s latest Boston Globe column (via MLB Rumors). Cashman isn’t worried that so many Yankees are senior citizens:

Brian Cashman: A satisfied man. (AP)

"They’ve been saying that ever since I’ve been around… They said it after 2001. They said it after we were reshuffling in 2003, and in 2004, my therapist said I wasn’t supposed to talk about it. After 2009, we can’t be winning with older guys...So I’ve always heard it. As long as we’re winning, people can keep saying it."

I’ve been one of those saying it, so it’s fair that I acknowledge that Cashman is correct that we the-Yankees-are-aging doomsayers have largely been so many Chicken Littles. But for 2008, the Yankees have continued to make the postseason, so we have been wrong… sort of.

First, Cashman has spent an awful lot of money to field teams that were unable to, in most cases, make it past the first round of the playoffs. Since the still-painful (at least to me) World Series loss to the Marlins in 2003, the Yankees have made the postseason seven times and exited in the first round four times. Some of the reason for that included thin or superannuated starting rotations, the result of a failure to develop young pitching, and frequently poor defenses, because old guys don’t have range—in the nine seasons in question, the Yankees have three times ranked second in the league in defensive efficiency and five times ranked between 10th and 12th. That reflects on the pitching staff, putting an added burden on it, one that it hasn’t always been equal to—the 2004-2007 teams were merely average in the strikeout department, in part due to Wang’s presence.

More importantly, though, is that two factors have helped the Yankees overcome their aging core: the first was the continued ability of Derek Jeter to perform at a high level relative to the class of shortstops, if the not the league as a whole, into his mid-thirties. The second was the unexpected development of Robinson Cano into an MVP-level player. The secret of the Cashman-era Yankees has always been offensive strength up the middle. Throw in two more: Jorge Posada’s remaining a valuable hitter until he was 38, and the ageless excellence of Mariano Rivera. With the exception of Cano, still at his peak despite a truly horrible season with runners in scoring position, the other three factors are going, going, or gone, and they are going to prove awfully hard to duplicate. At that point, the normal rules about aging might just begin to apply.

Posada is retired. Rivera is gone for the year and there is no knowing what he will be like when he returns. Jeter set the world on fire in April, but has hit only .266/.318/.338 over the last seven weeks and hasn’t hit right-handed pitching since 2009; from 2010 through 2012, his splits are .342/.407/.511 against southpaws, .263/.323/.333 against right-handers. In May-June of this year, the main problem has been that he hasn’t seen enough action against the lefties, but in truth he has struggled even against them, at least by his own standards, hitting .283./.333/.415 against them in 53 at-bats, versus his now-typical .260/.313/.312.

Overall, Jeter has played terrifically for a shortstop of his age, especially given that historically most shortstops of his age haven’t been able to define themselves as shortstops, having either retired or been pushed to some other position. The average major league shortstop is hitting .257/.310/.375 this year, so even if the Captain hits .266/.318/.338 the rest of the way, there is only so much complaining one can do (although those shortstops are probably playing better defense than he is, so maybe you can).

The point is, Cashman is right to boast that his team has consistently overcome its greatest flaw, but to bray too loudly about this, to boast, borders on hubris given that they have only overcome it to a certain, limited extent, and more importantly, those factors that have allowed them to overcome it were something of a historical fluke, and not one for which Cashman can take credit.

It is particularly bad form to scoff at the value of youth this year. In the year of Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, the Yankees have Raul Ibanez. That alone should suggest that humility is called for; those players will be lighting up scoreboards years from now, when the Yankees are still trying to figure out how to replace players long since retired.

Why I Like Youkilis to the White Sox

Gordon Beckham: On the comeback trail, but more help was needed. (AP)

White Sox third basemen have to this point batted .167/.243/.224. That’s even worse than Yankees left fielders (.200/.280/.358). Youkilis has been a lot more fun at Fenway (.303/.399/.508) than on the road (.270/.376/.465), but that latter figure is productive on its own, and if it somehow were not, it still puts what the White Sox have now in the shade. Youkilis has hit only .234/.341/.390 at US Cellular (91 plate appearances), but again, the White Sox have been feasting on roadkill at the hot corner, so even a diminished, degraded Youkilis qualifies as filet mignon.

The Pale Hose play in a very winnable division. In a world where the Indians can drop two of three games to the Astros over the weekend and the Tigers can yield the same to the Pirates, there is no excuse not to try to seize the moment. The White Sox are the only team with a positive run differential at the moment, and therefore the only team that should have a winning record. The division should be theirs by right.

That they only lead by a half-game right now is indicative of a few things, among them that the Indians have won more games than they have any right to as well as the fact that Sox manager Robin Ventura had trouble identifying his closer early. Most of all, though, it’s testimony to the way keeping even one replacement-level player in the lineup can cost a team in a close race. It is entirely fair to attribute a one- or two-win deficit at the end of the season to the failure of a team to put a player at each position that came within hailing distance of mediocrity.

The White Sox have had a few players like that this year, though one of them, second baseman Gordon Beckham, has bounced back from a miserable April to hit .274/.322/.447 over the last seven weeks. But Shortstop Alexei Ramirez hasn’t made much progress on raising his .236/.259/.288 averages, and then there was third base. Any of these might have kept the White Sox out of the postseason fun despite exemplary pitching from Chris Sale and Jake Peavy, great seasons from Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski, and comeback years from Alex Rios And Adam Dunn.

To his credit, Kenny Williams saw the solution to at least one of his problems and grabbed it, despite the fact that it’s June 25 not July 31. There is no time like the present, particularly when the cost is not high.

Oatmeal for Cliff Corcoran
Was talking to the great Clifford Corcoran during the heat wave we recently experienced in the Northeast, and the two of us were thinking back to the days when the New York Giants wore black flannel uniforms during day games and wondering how players didn’t simply expire from heat stroke. I speculated that Fred Snodgrass had his famous dropped fly in the 1912 World Series because he was close to passing out.

During that talk, I recalled that Ty Cobb had a recipe for making it through those overheated days. I recalled that it had oatmeal in it, but the rest of the details escaped me. Cliff found the idea of an oatmeal beverage amusing, though as it turns out, oat-shakes aren’t exactly uncommon—my good friend Cee Angi often speaks highly of a Chicago version from a Costa Rican restaurant called Irazu (not Irabu, you wags). In any case, here is the Cobb anecdote I recalled, related by the catcher Ray Hayworth in the book Baseball Between the Wars by Eugene Murdock:

"You’d lose eight or nine pounds on one of those [hot] days, but you’d gain it back by the next day. Ty Cobb used to have a mix that he put together. We were playing in Washington—it was awful hot in Washington—he’d have the trainer take a sack and fill it full of oatmeal and put it in a bucket of ice water, and cut up a lot of lemons and oranges and put them in there, and we’d drink that. It was good and it strengthened you. It didn’t make you sick like plain ice water might. A number of teams did that."

I think I’d go with the shake from Irazu, but Tyrus R. didn’t have that option.