Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Point (Or: On Team Chemistry)

The point of that entirely too long spiel? It’s a reminder of the emotional roller coaster that the Yankees have taken us on since last winning a World Series. So many expectations went unfulfilled, which went along with a plethora of transactions that defied all logic. I’d say we’re accumulating some baggage, but that would just further the notion that Yankees fans are the spoiled rich kids of baseball.

I’d try to debunk that reputation, but 1) the spoiled rich kid always says he’s not a spoiled rich kid and 2) it’s not exactly the furthest thing from the truth. I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing. I enjoy the off-season parade of pitchers that audition for a gig in the Bronx, usually giving us the pick of the litter. And I can negative sentiment towards us. I’d be bitter, too, if I were a fan of another team and one of my favorite players bolted for New York because they offered him the biggest paycheck.

But there’s always the counter-argument: had Steinbrenner owned the Royals and turned them into the Evil Empire, you wouldn’t hear fans in the Kansas City area complaining about the lack of a salary cap. Any fan would appreciate an owner who keeps up a constant influx of star talent. Of course, that guarantees nothing in baseball, but it has kept the Yanks in the picture since ’95 (’94, really), which is more than any team other than the Braves can say. And for that we are appreciative.

Another nugget to be taken from the three-part epic: the teams from ’02 through ’04 weren’t exactly the most likeable. The Raul Mondesi Experience was a complete disaster, from his on field play to his derogatory clubhouse presence. As I pointed out earlier in the week, having Mondesi in right field was comparable to using Shane Spencer, save for Mondesi’s (empty) power threat.

Alfonso Soriano was fun at first for the sheer shock of seeing such a lanky fellow belting home runs at such a fantastic pace. But his novelty wore off fast, as his complete lack of plate discipline became so aggravating at times that it often overshadowed his bulky power numbers. By the time he was getting on a plane to Texas, I really didn’t care for Fonsy at all. And no, I’m not just saying that because he was being shipped out of town.

I had high expectations for Rondell White entering the ’02 season, and with good reason. It’s not like they just plucked a random outfielder from thin air; he had hit .300 for three straight years, and was coming off a .900 OPS season. But then he pulled the Great Bronx Choking Act. We all witnessed his average dip to a career-low .240, and couldn’t even manage a .300 OBP (.288). Add his mere 14 dingers, and you have a flat out bust. Mel Hall never even had a season this pitiful.

Thankfully, we were able to pawn him off on San Diego once we signed Matsui. And while the Yanks didn’t receive much in compensation, I think not having Rondell on the team was compensation enough.

Even as this season began, the team wasn’t very affable. A-Rod was a dick; Randy was too full of himself to understand the word humility; Bernie and Jorge were too old; Womack was a loser who anted up in a contract year; Sheffield was a distraction; Jaret Wright was an injury waiting to happen; Pavano was another loser who cruised through a contract year; Kevin Brown failed us in more than one instance in ’04; Giambi was a juicing bum. So it made sense that the team got off to a crawling start.

The team now, however, is much more likeable. And yet all the accusations in the previous paragraph are pretty much still true. It’s just that everyone seems to be putting their massive egos aside for the good of the team. That, my friends, is the definition of an affable squad.

This bodes well not only for the remainder of ’05, but it should set up the ’06 team nicely as well. The team has a good chunk of money coming off the payroll, and George gets to nix the luxury tax because he’s building a new stadium. This should equate to a decent splash in free agency and/or trades over the offseason. Hopefully the Yankees braintrust can figure out that bringing in a guy with a questionable personality could undo everything that the team has built this season.

Thankfully, there aren’t many turds on the free agent list, so the boys in Tampa might find this offseason tough to screw up. As far as trades go, the only name that should be remotely attractive to the Yanks at this point is Torii Hunter, who would bring not only his quick legs and nifty glove, but a boatload of intangibles should the Yanks pursue him. And no, I wouldn’t be opposed to shipping Melky as part of a Hunter deal. But I digress.

The Yanks should take note of exactly where they stand as a ballclub right now, because this kind of attitude over a 162-game season with this lineup can easily translate to a ‘98-esque run.