Monday, February 16, 2004
Updated: February 20, 12:23 PM ET
If you look hard enough, there are flaws
By Jayson Stark
TAMPA, Fla. -- Now that the first $185 million team in history has added the best player in baseball, it's safe for all of us to predict that the Yankees will have a better record than the Brewers.
Possibly even the Pirates.
But this is our chance to assure you, the American public, that the Yankees still are not guaranteed to win the World Series, with or without Alex Rodriguez. They will be required to play out the season. And so should the other 29 teams.
No denying A-Rod is great and all that. But there is still a lot of stuff that could happen to prevent the Yankees from winning. Really.
Granted, not all of it is especially plausible. But it could happen. So we've been chosen by the Citizens for Competitive Balance to present the A-Rod column everyone but the Steinbrenner family has been waiting for, the ...
TEN REASONS THE YANKEES STILL WON'T WIN (MAYBE) (POSSIBLY):
1. They need more All-Stars
True, the Yankees have acquired seven former All-Stars this winter. True, there are now up to 17 different players on this roster who have made at least one All-Star team. True, they're now in position to start a lineup in which eight of the nine spots in the batting order are manned by All-Stars.
But the question George Steinbrenner has to be asking himself right now is: Are they absolutely, positively sure that's enough?
How can these Yankees possibly be asked to go to war with a non-All-Star second baseman every single night? It's so un-Boss-ian. Heck, isn't Jeff Kent available? Or Bret Boone? Or Joe Morgan?
And how can the Yankees possibly be expected to win when 40 percent of the starting rotation will be manned by non-All-Stars? (That's Javier Vazquez and Jose Contreras, by the way.) Sheez, the Red Sox have three starting pitchers (Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Derek Lowe) who have started an All-Star Game. So this, clearly, is dangerous, dangerous territory the Yankees are treading in.
2. They need more $100 million men
Before Albert Pujols (obviously another future Yankee) came along, eight players in baseball history had signed contracts worth $100 million or more. Shockingly, four of them don't play for these Yankees (Mike Hampton, Junior Griffey, Todd Helton and Manny Ramirez).
Not that the Yankees wouldn't be interested. So watch those New York tabloid headlines closely this spring. We predict a sighting, one of these days, of this one: "Hampton: I'd play second for Bombers."
3. Kevin Brown is a physical wreck
On one hand, Kevin Brown can be one of the most intimidating pitchers alive. On the other hand, what are the odds that, when the Yankees get to October, Brown will even be able to get to the mound?
Brown is 39 years old. And remember, over the last four years, he has missed approximately 46 starts with injuries, visited the disabled list seven times and had some kind of problem with his back, elbow, groin, neck, Achilles tendon, finger and abdominal muscles. Which means, by our calculation, the only part of his body he hasn't injured is his right eyebrow.
During the winter meetings, after the Yankees traded for Brown, we asked a baseball man familiar with his medical history what the likelihood was of Brown making 35 starts this year. The answer: "Zero."
So who's waiting in the wings if Brown does break down? David Wells? Nope. Sterling Hitchcock? Nope. Brandon Claussen? Nope. Ron Guidry? Incorrect. At this point, it would probably be Donovan Osborne, whose last big-league start came during the previous millennium.
Oh, there's a remote possibility the Yankees would just trade the entire roster of the Columbus Clippers for Randy Johnson. But maybe not.
4. Who knows about Jon Lieber and Jose Contreras?
And then there are the Yankees' fourth and fifth starters.
Lieber was tremendous once. But he hasn't thrown a big-league pitch in a year and a half.
Contreras has astonishing stuff. But his next major-league start will be his 10th. And as we know, the history of Cuban pitchers who come to America is a little troublesome. (For details, see: Prieto, Ariel.)
It's certainly possible the Yankees could have the best and deepest rotation in baseball. But it's also possible that they'll have to go out in July and trade for not just Randy Johnson but Matt Morris and Tom Glavine, too.
Except could they, even if they wanted to? They've been assuring folks lately that they have plenty of prospects to trade if they need to. But other teams continue to suggest that's far from true.
5. The Curse of Don Zimmer
Beware of any team that lets the beloved Don Zimmer stomp angrily out the door. That's what we say. And darned if the Yankees didn't do exactly that last winter.
So irony of ironies, which team will the Yankees be facing on opening day in Tokyo? It would be those pesky Devil Rays, new employer of that very same Zimmer.
How do they know the sight of the hated pinstripes out on that field won't so enrage Zimmer that his neck won't bulge, he won't go charging out of the dugout to wreak his final revenge and he won't then be thrown to the ground by -- oh nooooo -- Alex Rodriguez?
The shame of it. The embarrassment. The potential for international crisis. The rise of the Curse of Zimmer. Could happen.
OK, probably won't. But could.
6. The Curse of Janet Jackson
The Yankees haven't won a single World Series since that Janet Jackson Super Bowl fiasco. You could look it up.
All right, so they haven't played any, either. But the facts are the facts.
And how do we know there isn't something more tangible to that curse of Janet Jackson?
How do we know that A-Rod won't be attempting to put on his uniform on opening day when a horrible "wardrobe malfunction" causes him to get tangled up in his shirt and then, in an attempt to break free, tear every ligament in his elbow?
Could happen. Hey, we said "could."
7. They could flunk chemistry
Forgive us if we've made this point before, but these are not Scott Brosius' Yankees. Nor are they Paul O'Neill's Yankees. Nor, in fact, even Ramiro Mendoza's Yankees.
The Yankees of 1996-2000 were polished and selfless and seamless. Every piece fit together. Every personality meshed into the big, ego-less picture.
But these Yankees have just four players remaining from the last bunch of pinstripers to tour that Canyon of Heroes. (That's Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera.)
And they keep injecting players into their potentially tenuous mix whose reputations don't quite include rave reviews for their selflessness. Gary Sheffield, Kenny Lofton, Ruben Sierra and Kevin Brown may be more talented than the guys they replaced. But "low-maintenance" wouldn't be the way anybody would describe them.
And now add A-Rod, a guy who always aspires to be well-behaved and properly motivated -- but also one who will be looking for constant validation and reassurance that he's living up to all his advertisements.
What happens the first time the owner rips one of these guys on the back page? What happens the seventh time? We don't know the answer to those questions.
What happens if Williams doesn't take to Steinbrenner's Bernie-as-DH scenario? What happens if the owner decides one night that A-Rod should be his shortstop and points that Tampa-based finger at Jeter? We don't know the answer to those questions, either.
And can a lame-duck manager, even one as accomplished as Joe Torre, keep all those egos soothed? It's no slam dunk.
8. Steinbrenner's health worries
Speaking of the owner, suppose that fainting episode this winter wasn't just some freak event? Suppose he's up there in the owner's booth again some night, slapping palms with Billy Crystal and Paul McCartney, when he passes out again?
And suppose, this time, he awakens, slightly delirious ... and announces he needs to step down temporarily ... and that he feels it's best if he passes the reins of the mighty Yankees to ...
The surviving cast members from "The Apprentice," whom he'd met while filming a very special episode, and they "seemed like such nice, bright young men and women"?
And suppose they mistakenly sell the team at a flea market, in a pressure-packed episode, in a desperate attempt to raise cash and not get fired? And suppose the new owner, Marcus P. Gentry of Staten Island, says, "Wait. I'm paying this team $190 million, and they just split a doubleheader with the Tigers?"
OK, so it probably wouldn't go exactly like that. But a downturn in Steinbrenner's health easily could change everything. And, as we all know, there's only one George.
9. How do we know A-Rod is cut out for New York?
Sure, it may sound ridiculous to suggest The Best Player in Baseball can't adjust to life in New York. But how do we know he can?
He has just engineered a trade that has been compared to the Babe Ruth deal. He has agreed to change positions -- to a position he has played for exactly one inning in his life.
He has never dealt full-time with a city remotely like New York, New York. He has never dealt with an owner remotely like George M. Steinbrenner III.
His stats will not be helped any by his departure from hospitable Arlington, Texas, where he has batted .332 and slugged .660 lifetime. And he will be the high-profile centerpiece of a team that is expected to go about 142-20.
If they don't win, if he doesn't hit 40 homers, if he causes any kind of second-guessing (even innocently) of the man who leads these Yankees (Jeter), if he shows up on the wrong page of the New York Post, how do we know how he'll react -- and how the other members of the Yankees kingdom will react?
We don't know. He doesn't know. Nobody knows. Until he proves he can.
10. He isn't exactly replacing Fernando Tatis
Finally, we might want to mention something here. A-Rod is, no doubt, an upgrade over just about anybody in any team's lineup. But he's not a massive offensive upgrade over the guy he's replacing in the Yankees' lineup -- Alfonso Soriano.
Only six players in the whole sport have outhomered Soriano over the last two years. Only two have scored more runs. No one has spewed more extra-base hits.
Even more fascinating, if you factor out A-Rod's Texas stats by comparing the numbers of these two guys just on the road, you discover something shocking:
Soriano has more road homers (45 to 44), many more runs scored (133 to 108) and a much higher batting average (.311 to .279) than A-Rod over the last two seasons. Hmmmm.
OK, so A-Rod is a much tougher out against certain pitchers in certain situations. And he's undoubtedly a better defensive player than Soriano, even at a new position.
But does he make the Yankees a vastly better offensive team? Does he make them a surefire, guaranteed, take-it-to-Vegas lock to win it all?
Sorry, friends. That's a knee-jerk conclusion. But it's not an accurate conclusion. Even if it turns out there was no such thing as that Curse of Don Zimmer.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Click here to send Jayson a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.