Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Cold Calling

The most noticeable trend for the Yankees this winter has been "failing" to sign big name free agents, even though they technically have been in the hunt for many of them. And I put "failing" in quotes because it might not be much of a failure at all after everything is considered.

The folks over at NoMaas.org have spearheaded this new campaign, railing against Joe Torre’s phone calls to prospective free agents. Even SG over at Replacement Level jumped on the bandwagon, publicly hoping that Torre doesn’t place a call to the newest target, reliever Octavio Dotel.

Remember, though, that Torre isn’t just saying, "hey, kid, we like you and want you to be on the Yankees." According to him, "The only reason I talk to players is not to talk them into coming to New York but just to let them know that, yeah, New York is different. But it's exciting ...".

I penned an article a few weeks back entitled On Free Agency, in which I talked about "guts" as an imperative trait for success in New York. It seems like these phone calls are screening out guys who don’t have the mental makeup to succeed amidst amplified pressure. So why are people complaining then?

Simply put, it’s because we’re spoiled as Yankees fans. Each winter it seems the team lands another big name free agent. So after being spurned by the top guys this year, disappointment is only a natural reaction. And when there’s someone in direct line for blame, we can all wag our collective fingers at him. But I just can’t hop on the "blame Torre" bandwagon.

In fact, these phone calls that apparently deter free agents from taking up residence in the Bronx are much more beneficial than harmful. The Yankees have a solid core of starters coming back, a core that grew as a team as the 2005 season progressed. In April, they were a collection of egos trying (and failing for the most part) to win ballgames. But by September, they were a group of guys fighting for each other. Sure, the bowed out in the ALDS, but that was following a September where every game was, in essence, a playoff game.

The last thing the Yanks need is a guy with a questionable makeup coming in and disturbing the balance. Sure, I wanted to see Brian Giles in the outfield for the next few years just as much as the next guy. Problem is, he never wanted to leave San Diego. I’m sure the second Kevin Towers muttered the words “30 million,” Giles put pen to paper. And while the Yankees would benefit from his bat, how would his desire to still be in San Diego affect his play and the team? Or how about Nomar, who everyone seemed to warm up to once talks got serious?

Look, the Yanks already have a high-powered offense, so adding another big bat isn’t of the utmost concern. If they can sign someone to take the bulk of the time at DH and/or right field, so be it. But it’s not a real necessity. To start the season, I’d be fine with Andy Phillips, Bernie, and Giambi rotating in the DH slot. Remember, the market for players will get better as the season progresses. No one really knows where they stand now; they’ll know better come June and July.

My message to Joe Torre: keep calling potential free agents, and keep warning them about the perils of New York. If after that they think they can handle it, I’d welcome them to the team. But if they hear Torre’s speech and think the Bronx isn’t for them, well, then I guess I’m happy Joe made the call. Nothing worse than a guy that folds under pressure.

The more I think about it, the less worried I am about the 2006 Yankees.