Monday, June 05, 2006

The Bottle No Longer Contains Lightning


I know it didn’t/won’t happen because of the current pitching woes, but Aaron Small should have been handed his walking papers following the game. The worst part of it all is that I don’t think anyone will disagree. The best part, I guess, is that Shawn Chacon appeared healthy in his start with Trenton, leaving viable the option of him throwing on Friday. And, when that happens, Small or Erickson should be gone. Not only because they’re demonstrably the worst pitchers on the staff, but because the only other option is the demotion of Matt Smith, leaving him zero options. Considering Smith has allowed zero runs in his six innings thus far, I think he has established his superiority.

This week could become a problem with the bullpen, as Torre is prone to overmanage. No one is particularly well rested, so a blunder here or there could prompt Torre to use another starter on his throw day. And if things get that bad against Boston…

[MORE]Things could be looking up in the near future, as Octavio Dotel will work back-to-back games again. His target return date is currently June 15th, which can’t come fast enough. I’m assuming they’ll continue the ridiculous trend of carrying 12 pitchers, meaning 7 relievers. Our optimal bullpen: Mo, Farny, Dotel, Proctor, Villone, Smith, and Myers. When you add in Randy, Moose, Chacon, Wang, and Wright, well that’s a full pitching staff, room for Small and Erickson be damned. Of course, one will probably make the cut with Smith returning to Columbus, which, as previously stated, is insane because it means that the next time he’s up, he’s up for good, lest he clear waivers – which would never happen.

The other question tossed around of late: for whom will the Yankees trade to replace Sheff and Matsui? Obviously Melky will fill Matsui’s role until further notice. But Sheff may be out for the rest of the year, leaving a gaping hole that Bernie Williams cannot begin to fill. You can forget about Terrance Long – I’d rather have Kevin Reese on the roster at this point. However, Kevin Thompson was impressive this weekend, especially to these eyes. Not only did he collect a few hits, but he wasn’t afraid to take pitches. Give him more starts in right field, and you just might see an adequate replacement and a surefire No. 9 hitter. If I’m filling out the lineup card, this is my 5-Days-A-Week team:

1. Damon – CF
2. Jeter – SS
3. Giambi – DH
4. A-Rod – 3B
5. Posada – C
6. Cano – 2B
7. Cabrera – LF
8. Phillips – 1B
9. Thompson – RF

These guys can hit. Other than Cano and to a lesser extent Phillips, they can take plenty of pitches. There are no automatic outs in the order, and the core is strong enough to carry the lineup. And to change things up, I wouldn’t mind seeing Bernie take Phillips’s or Thompson’s place a few days a week. Best of all, the six though nine hitters are all below the age of 30! Imagine that!
Once again, since we’re mostly familiar with Torre’s thinking, it’s safe to assume that Terrance Long will be filling Thompson’s spot, putting an automatic out in the nine slot. Why, oh why, Joe, must you insist on giving up a sure out every nine batters? Why not insert Thompson and give yourself a fighting chance? At least he’ll take pitches. And if he draws a walk, he’s probably the team’s best bet on the basepaths.

This will set the team up well for the August/September stretch. Cabrera and Thompson, given proper playing time, should be into their grooves. By that time, we should have either Matsui or Sheffield back (I think it’s decently safe to bank on the return of one of the two), meaning Thompson can slide to the bench. And you know what he becomes? An actual asset late in games, whether for pinch-hitting, pinch-running, or defensive purposes. But he won’t be effective if he rots away on the bench when he should be patrolling right field.

The whole point of this rant is that the Yankees aren’t in particularly terrible shape. They have nine guys on the roster who are worthy starters (you can make the case against Thompson, but I think he’ll be a productive player), four decent starters, a veritable ace, and a bullpen that, properly used, will be among the league’s best. And all of this is in the absence of Sheffield, Matsui, and Pavano, all of whom were expected to be big parts of the 2006 team.

We’re just a few smart managerial decisions away from having a very solid team.