A month ago, I wrote that the Yankees GM, Brian Cashman, needed to get off his duff and get to work retooling the Yankees roster. While I would like to take credit for the moves he made since, I doubt that had anything to do with it. But, other than a bolt-from-the-blue move (hello, Max Scherzer?) or some work on the roster fringes, Cashman has revamped the Yankees for the 2015 season. Now the question is, can the rebuilt squad contend?
First, a caveat: at this point of the year, a team would have to be facing serious problems to think they couldn’t contend. Between parity and the two wild-cards in each league, even seriously flawed teams have to think they have at least a puncher’s chance at earning a playoff spot. Even with the problems the Yankees face heading into 2015, contention is a definite probability. But then again, on paper the Marlins, Mets and Brewers are all contenders, too. No, these are the Yankees and what I’m talking about is actually being a force to reckoned with come October.
Well, the short answer is: probably not. It isn’t for lack of talent. The “back of the baseball card” theory of talent evaluation would lead you to believe that, if everything breaks right, the Yankees could win 105 games and sweep into the playoffs a prohibitive favorite to win it all. But there are too many questions, too many “ifs” and too many aging players on this roster to truly believe that will happen. Here’s a short list of things that need to break right:
*CC Sabathia‘s knee is fully healed and doesn’t bother him at all. In fact, it turns out the bum knee has been his problem for the past three seasons and he turns in a vintage 20 win, 200+ inning, 200+ strikeout season.
*Masahiro Tanaka‘s right elbow doesn’t reach home plate before one of his splitters some fine June afternoon.
*Ivan Nova comes back from Tommy John surgery with new found command and focus.
*Michael Pineda proves that last season wasn’t just a pine-tar induced haze and becomes the pitcher the Yanks thought they were getting when they sent
the jar of mayo Jesus Montero to Seattle.
*Reports of Nathan Eovaldi developing a killer change up to go along with his 96 mph fastball are true and he realizes the promise that made scouts drool.
*Dellin Betances turns into the kind of closer that makes fans say, “Mariano who?”
*Rob Refsnyder plays an acceptable second base and hits around .290, while fellow rookie Jose Pirela turns into the type of super-sub Yankee fans were expecting to see from Martin Prado.
*Mark Teixeira stays healthy enough to play 140+ games and stops trying to hit every pitch into Hoboken.
*Didi Gregorius hits left handed pitching well enough, and Chase Headley’s back stays strong enough, to keep Brendan Ryan glued to the bench.
*Carlos Beltran plays less like Carlos Danger and more like Carlos Beltran.
*Alex Rodriguez realizes his time has passed and retires. Before Spring Training opens.
And that’s a short list of things that need to happen for the Yankees to be a major force this year. I actually think Pineda will be fine, that Eovaldi will prove to be a steal, that Refsnyder and Gregorius will develop into a very good keystone combination. I doubt any of the rest of the things listed above happen: Tex is a shell of the player the Yanks signed 6 seasons ago, Sabathia seems fated to being a sub-.500, over 5.00 ERA type pitcher these days and even if Nova comes back strong, he’ll remain the enigmatic headcase he’s been for the past 3+ years. Beltran is entering his age 38 season battered from his injury history. And sadly, A-Rod will never walk away from the $60 million still owed him, even if he’s hitting .150 without any homers on the ledger. As for Tanaka, the type of injury he’s nursing should have been addressed with surgery last summer, not the wing-and-a-prayer approach both he and the team are taking.
If things really go bad, the Yankees are looking to get 150 or more innings from an old Chris Capuano, and in all likelihood shuttle guys like Chase Whitley in and out of the rotation during the season. We’ll probably get to see the MLB debuts of stud prospects like Bryan Mitchell and Luis Severino, a year early. Meanwhile, the cache of aging and injury prone players leaves Joe Girardi filling out a line-up card with Ryan, Gregorius, Pirela, Chris Young, Austin Romine and Mason Williams all starting for extended periods. If you want to say “yuck,” feel free. (You’re also excused if you’re unsure who those guys are. Trust me. They’re baseball players.)
That’s the conundrum facing both the Yankees front office and fans this upcoming season. Everything goes great, 95 wins and a division title. Everything goes wrong, 65 wins and the Hal is asking the Astros for directions out of the basement.
With everything that’s been making headlines this week, there certainly isn’t a shortage of things to write about. Heck, it takes me almost three hours each morning just to get through the barrage of news articles that find their way into my email and the topics cover everything from government malfeasance to the hyper-partisan Congressional environment through miscellaneous popular interest items. But there was one headline of which I’m betting the vast majority of you are unaware.
The other night, the city council in New York City voted to effectively end the NYPD’s “stop-and-frisk” program. They took this action for three reasons, two of which are political (the Council Speaker, once considered a shoo-in in the upcoming Mayoral election, is suddenly trailing human joke Anthony Weiner and the Justice Department is opening a probe on the practice) and one fiscal (the city just lost a lawsuit from the NYCLU). Current mayor, Michael “Mao” Bloomberg has already threatened to veto the new legislation – but in NYC, the Council can override a mayor’s veto and they have the votes to do so.
The stop-and-frisk program is a wonderful example of what happens when what seems like a reasonable idea at one time can later morph into a heinous overreach of government authority. The roots of the program are found in former Mayor David Dinkins’ “Clean Halls” program. That program aimed to reduce crime in NYC’s infamous public housing projects by giving police expanded to authority to stop anyone found in the buildings or grounds and ask for ID; if the person stopped couldn’t prove they lived there, they were arrested for trespassing and escorted away. It was an admirable effort that worked reasonably well in removing trespassers and also found more than a few fugitives.
It was so successful that Mayor Mike expanded it to all public spaces. That led to the idea that the police could catch even more bad guys and maybe even prevent crimes by allowing the police to not only randomly stop people, but check them for contraband. This was all premised on the idea that the police would have reasonable cause before accosting ordinary folks and searching them.
Has the program actually reduced street crime? The NYPD attest that it has, pointing to the reduction in violent crimes since 2002, when the program began (from about one violent crime per 44 residents) to the present day one per 76. But nationally, there has also been a marked reduction in violent crime during the same period: from one per 320 Americans to one per 480. It’s just a cursory examination of the numbers, but it may be that the national reduction in violence is as much responsible for New York’s drop in crime rate as the stop-and-frisk program.
To further damn the program, the NYPD’s statistics show that the program may have been more trouble than it was worth. It was found during the NYCLU case that the stop-and-frisk policy is a violation of the Fourth Amendment, despite the city’s claim that officers were only allowed to stop people who presented with a reasonable expectation that they were involved in some type of crime. Yet, the city’s own data show that although some 4.4 million stops were made, only 6.26% resulted in an arrest and another 6.25% resulted in a summons issued. Those are pretty pitiful results, especially when compared with the fact that over 28% of the incidents resulted in police using force to effect the stop.
So why put the program in effect in the first place – and why keep it going for more than a decade, when there is no discernible proof that it served it’s intended purpose? The answer to the first part is simple enough; New Yorker’s love their city – but they hate the high crime rate. To turn on the evening news or pick up a copy of the New York Post is to be bombarded with lurid tales of rape, murder, muggings and general mayhem. Although they’ll never admit it, most live in constant fear of being assaulted and with a reason. Those crime statistics still paint a pretty grim picture; a picture of a city whose crime rate is nearly 6 times worse than the national average. And as I’ve discussed before, where people are afraid, they’re also willing to cede to the government their rights. New Yorkers are especially axiomatic of this “nanny state” mentality. When they feel threatened they demand the government do something, anything, regardless if rights get trampled in the process – because, after all, it’s the other guy’s rights being trampled. It is, in short, the same mentality that allowed dictators like Adolph Hitler and Josef Stalin to ruthlessly pursue their bloodthirsty agendas.
As to why it took a class action lawsuit and the threat of federal intervention to bring it to an end, one only has to look at the cottage industries that grew and depend on stop-and-frisk. The mayor, who at one time harbored Presidential aspirations, became synonymous with both this civil rights violation and by crusading against the Second Amendment rights of his subjects (as well as the evils of tobacco, carbonated beverages and trans-fats). He routinely uses the number of weapons seized during the stops-and-frisk as evidence that his anti-gun crusade would work, if only the rest of the country would follow his lead. There is NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly, whose career depends on keeping those crime stats dropping and can hardly walk away from the program he most credits for the decline in violent crime. There are the rank-and-file officers, who after decades of ridicule and abuse by the citizenry, have found themselves for the past 12 years in a position of absolute authority. After all, who’s going to argue with a NYC cop who has the ability to stop you, detain you and search you anytime he wants? There are surely others, as well; like all major operations that are rooted in skirting existing law, corruption certainly follows.
The lesson that I wish New Yorkers (and everyone else) would take away from this episode in their history is this: even trying to exchange their freedoms for their safety was an abysmal failure; their crime rate is still far higher than people who live elsewhere. It is proof that liberty is not a currency that can purchase safety.