Another day, another long-term, big-money pitching contract. First Sabathia, now the perpetually-injured Burnett. And, in order to help us understand the significance of last week’s acquisitions, Hank Steinbrenner commented, "A rising tide lifts all boats.”
Gotta love a good idiom.
Unfortunately, however, I don’t think that Steinbrenner went with the right one. When the phrase was originally coined by JFK, it was a reference to the economy. I can't imagine Steinbrenner is trying to imply that anyone other than C.C. and A.J. are going to benefit financially from this most recent insane expenditure of obscene amounts of money. Maybe what he meant to say was that the early bird catches the worm. (Of course, by early, I mean rich, and by worm I mean sought-after pitcher.) Or, more likely, it may just be a local usage of this particular idiom that’s commonplace amongst the people who come from Steinbrenner’s original hometown—the seventh circle of hell.
While I'm no, uh, idiom analyzer, if I had to guess, I would say that Steinbrenner is probably suggesting that, like a tide helps a boat, signing awesome players helps a ball club. Well, Hankus, that’s duly noted, but let me answer your idiom with another idiom: Slow and steady wins the race.
The veracity of my idiom probably depends on how you define “the race.” If “the race” is a 2009 World Series ring, then slow and steady may not be the solution. It may be more about the rising tides and the boats. However, if “the race” can be defined as the effort to build a solid, energetic cohesive ball club with potential for long-term growth, then slow and steady might actually be the way to go. Remember, the Yankees of the late nineties? That team was slow and steady. And it was also the last team of Yankees that actually played like a team.
Last year Cash decided against signing Santana and opted, instead, to hold onto Hughes, Kennedy, and Melky. After a combined no-win record for the two young pitchers and an abysmal season for Melky, that experiment has been deemed a failure. You know which other experiment was initially deemed a failure by the Steinbrenner formerly known as El Jefe? The Bernie Williams experiment. Had it not been for the intervention of Buck Showalter, Bernie would have been 86’d in ‘95. Fortunately, however, someone had the good sense to let him develop.
Melky is set to be sent to Milwaukee in a trade for Mike Cameron. (Though, as the days wear on, the agreement appears to be on the verge of collapse.) Cameron is a solid center fielder and was also thought to be potentially instrumental in luring C.C. our way. (In case the extra $20 million didn’t do the trick.) I like Cameron and don’t have strong objections to the trade on his account, but I just can’t help but feel as though we haven’t quite given Melky his fair shake. That he has the potential to develop into a player worth holding onto. And one, I might add, who’s significantly younger than Cameron.
As for Hughes and Kennedy, as it stands, they aren’t going anywhere, but having just paid such enormous sums for both Burnett and C.C., it’s hard to imagine that we’ll hold onto both. And for what? So that we could lock ourselves into two huge money multi-year contracts after having just been released from the bondage of one that has been for several seasons the bane of our collective existence?
You know what I say to all this? I say stop. No Pettitte, no Lowe, no Sheets. With a solid four-man starting rotation of Sabathia, Burnett, Wang and Joba, we ought to allow Hughes a shot in the number 5 slot and keep Aceves and Kennedy around on the back burner in case he flounders. Or for when Burnett inevitably ends up on the DL. Reports from Arizona and Puerto Rico suggest that neither Hughes nor Kennedy are worth writing off just yet. And let’s not forget that these are young guys—22 and 23 respectively. The idea that a young player is only allowed a season or two to prove his worth is borderline preposterous. Not everyone is Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera. Some players need time to settle in, hone their skills, adjust to the pressure. And what better way to take some of last year’s pressure off these guys then to allow them to alternately fill the number 5 slot in such a stellar rotation?
Look, I appreciate the tides and the boats and everything. And far be it for me to, well, look a gift horse in the mouth. I get that we have just signed two of the most coveted starting pitchers in the game. And I know that when trying to build the most solid team you can, all you really have to go on is your prospects' numbers. However, at the risk of sounding like Buzz Bissinger, I can’t help but think that there is an unquantifiable benefit to a player whose entire experience of the game is predicated on his relationship with his team. While players are always invested in doing their best, in winning the shiny stuff, I have to believe that there is an added significance for those players who have been brought up by their ball clubs.
Take Yogi Berra. He wasn’t merely a great catcher or a great player; he was a great Yankee. I think that the inevitable consequence of his tie to the Bombers was that, in a way, his pride in his team transcended his desire for personal success. A great team is more than simply the sum of its parts. It requires nine players on the field, not only striving for individual greatness, but with the ability to work well together.
Think that’s a sappy, sentimental, unrealistic load of hooey? Just sign Manny if you want to prove me right. A great player, if ever there was one, but I give him until the All-Star break before he has created a completely toxic and disruptive atmosphere in our clubhouse.
A rising tide may lift all boats, but one bad apple also spoils the bunch.