Rivals in Exile: Looking Back

Ben Jacobs: Well, Larry, now we’ve really got ourselves a rivalry. I mean, we’ve been talking all year about how the Red Sox vs. the Yankees is the greatest rivalry in sports and I think we were right, but it was different from all the other great rivalries (Lakers-Celtics, Dodgers-Giants, Redskins-Cowboys, etc.) in that one team almost always won when it counted.

The two teams and their fans could get riled up whenever they played each other, but those on the Yankee side could always fall back on Yogi Berra’s “Don’t worry, we’ve been beating these guys for 80 years.” I know the Red Sox had finished ahead of the Yankees plenty of times, but they had never before gone head to head with the Yankees and come away with the prize (division title, AL title, whatever) before. They had also never, as far as I know, denied the Yankees a spot in the playoffs before, while the Yankees had denied them a spot in the playoffs.

Now, everything’s changed. The Red Sox won the World Series, and they did it at the expense of the Yankees, and in the most humiliating fashion possible. I think the rivalry will forever be altered now. No longer can the Yankees and their fans look at the Red Sox as some amusing nuisance that they don’t really need to worry about. Now the Red Sox are a legitimate threat to the goals of the Yankees, each and every year.

It should be interesting to see how that plays out in the near future. Before we get too far into the future, however, let’s take a look back at the season that just ended. Aside from losing that ALCS to the Red Sox, what were the most disappointing aspects of this season for the Yankees in your mind? What really bothered you about what the Yankees did this year?

For me, with the Red Sox, there were a few things that I didn’t like. They all kind of get swept away because of the World Series win, but they were certainly things that weighed heavily on me while the season was going on.

The first was the Nomar Garciaparra situation. As you know, he was my favorite player and I was clinging to the hope that he would re-sign with the Red Sox this off-season. As the season went on, it become obvious that that wasn’t going to happen, but I still hoped they’d keep him for the season and maybe win a World Series with him before he left the organization.

The World Series obviously happened, Nomar staying around to be a part of it did not. At the moment, the joy of winning the World Series overwhelms me, but I’m sure there will be plenty of times when I see my Nomar jersey hanging in my closet and am saddened that things couldn’t turn out differently between him and the Red Sox.

The other thing that really bothered me was the mystery of Byung-Hyun Kim. I was ecstatic when the Red Sox traded Shea Hillenbrand for Kim last year. Here was this 24-year-old reliever who had posted a 2.52 ERA in 182 innings the past two years and was having decent success as a starter and all we had to give up to get him was an overrated third baseman who was taking playing time away from both Bill Mueller and David Ortiz. After the season ended, there was somehow this sentiment that Kim had done poorly with the Red Sox, but he finished with a 3.18 ERA in 79 1/3 innings.

I thought he had had a darn good season, and I was pleased when the Red Sox locked him up 2004 and 2005 for $10-million, feeling he could be a very effective starting pitcher. But then he had an injury at the beginning of the season, and then he struggled when he returned to the rotation, and then he went down to Pawtucket in early May and we didn’t see him again until late September. Now, I have no idea what his role is for next year. Is he going to be kept as a reliever? Are they going to try and put him back in the rotation (doubtful)? Are they going to pay some of his salary and try to trade him? I really had good feelings about Kim and I’m disappointed things went so badly there.

I guess those are the two biggest things for me. The continued decline of Derek Lowe during the regular season and the loss of “ace” results and mentality for Pedro Martinez bothered me too, but not nearly as much. If the Red Sox hadn’t won the World Series, I think the Nomar and Kim situations would have bothered me for a long time.

Larry Mahnken: Well, first of all, congratulations on being able to celebrate your team’s World Series Championship for the first time. Second, I really think that the effect on the rivalry is quite the opposite of what you think it is. Rather than improving the rivalry, I think this kills it.

Not right away, of course. Sox fans are going to have their fun for the next couple of seasons, taunting the Yankees for their ALCS loss and throwing in some “2000″ chants for good measure, but without the 1918 aspect, the interest in the Red Sox by Yankee fans is going to fade.

For decades, the Yankees weren’t just the team that beat the Red Sox, they had to be the team that beats the Red Sox. Now that responsibility is gone. Soon enough, the Red Sox will be just another team.

I could be wrong on that, we’ll see over the next few years, but I think that eventually, just like every other team in baseball, the Red Sox will have a one-sided hatred of the Yankees.

As for 2004, I am quite disappointed with how it turned out, obviously. Despite 101 wins and the AL East title, this team did not live up to its potential, not during the regular season, and especially not during the postseason. There were injuries, which are to be expected, but there was also a significant drop in performance by some of the team’s key players which couldn’t have been expected.

First and foremost is Alex Rodriguez, who had a very good year, but a down year by his high standards. He didn’t hit as well as he had previously — even after adjusting for parks — and his performance declined noticeably in the clutch, something he’d never done before, and I don’t expect him to do again. He adjusted very well to third base, made some spectacular plays, and his presence there, I think, helped Derek Jeter improve his defensive value — not so much that he at all deserved the Gold Glove, but enough so that he’s not a liability, his ALCS performance excepted.

Javier Vazquez was another disappointment. Vazquez was one of the best pitchers in baseball with the Expos, but was, at best, an average pitcher with the Yankees, and was simply dreadful after the All-Star break. I can see two causes for his drop-off in production, both of which I could see coming into 2004.

The first is a possible injury. Vazquez had been worked hard in Montreal in the past few seasons, and perhaps that work caught up to him in 2004 and he pitched with some sort of undisclosed injury in the second half. That would be bad, because he remains uncertain in the future if that’s the case.

But the other possibility is that his poor mechanics finally caught up with him. The mechanical flaws in his delivery were obvious in October, and those same problems were the downfall of several Yankees pitchers this year and in recent seasons. The retirement of Mel Stottlemyre might go great lengths towards improving the Yankees’ pitching.

And then there was Kevin Brown, who started the season so spectacularly before injuries started to keep him on the sidelines. I don’t think his broken hand had anything to do with his poor ALCS performance, but it was obvious that he was unable to do anything to slow Boston’s bats. Perhaps his pitching style was suited to Boston’s hitting style, or perhaps the Yankees tried to make him pitch to the Red Sox in a style that was not his own, but whatever it was, it didn’t work.

I don’t think the Yankees should be desperate to get rid of Brown, especially if they’re looking to replace him with the likes of Eric Milton, but they shouldn’t look to him as an ace anymore. He’ll have to earn his way back to that reputation, and it may be too late at 40.

The Yankees should still be a very, very good team in 2005. Mike Mussina was brilliant down the stretch and in the postseason, and I think he’ll be back to form next year. I think Vazquez will rebound, and if Steve Karsay is healthy all year, they should have a stronger bullpen, and a better rested one.

Derek Jeter’s overall offensive contribution will be back to what it’s been in recent seasons, A-Rod should improve, and I honestly believe that Giambi will be back next season, and an offensive plus — though probably never again the great hitter he was from 2000-2003.

The Yankees go into 2005 with some questions about their rotation, a need for lefty relief in the bullpen, a centerfielder and a second baseman. There are outstanding possibilities for the Yankees to make themselves both better and younger in filling those spots, but I fear they might be making some crucial mistakes — preparing to pursue David Wells and Eric Milton, for instance. Will they make those mistakes? I don’t know, but even if they do, they’ll still be very, very good. Hopefully, that’ll be good enough.

BJ: It’s funny that you think the Red Sox hatred of the Yankees will become one-sided, because I thought it already was to some extent. I know plenty of Yankees fans hate the Red Sox, but I don’t think it was the majority. And I certainly don’t think the Yankee fan’s hatred of the Red Sox was nearly as passionate a thing as the Red Sox fan’s hatred of the Yankees.

Obviously, the intensity of the rivalry will be partially determined by what happens over the next four or five years. If the Yankees win two championships in the next five years and the Red Sox only make the playoffs once or twice and don’t reach the ALCS, then the rivalry will probably taper down a little bit.

But what if the Yankees go another five years without a title? And what if the Red Sox knock them out of the playoffs (or prevent them from reaching the playoffs) four or all five times? And what if the Red Sox win another championship or two of their own?

If something like that happens, I have a hard time believing the hatred in the rivalry will be one-sided on the part of the Red Sox. Regardless of what happens, I think the rivalry will be heightened by what happened this October.

I guess the reason is something you touched on. You said that the Yankees had a responsibility to beat the Red Sox, and now they don’t. I think the Yankees and most of their fans felt they had a right to beat the Red Sox, and that right was taken away from them. I think that’s what will make them care about the Red Sox more than they used to, if not as much as Red Sox fans care (cared?) about the Yankees.

As for what went wrong for the Yankees, I think their biggest problem may have been off the field. You already mentioned Stottlemyre, and I’ve heard a lot of Yankees fans express similar sentiments. The other part of the equation is Joe Torre.

Now, you can’t take away from what Torre has done with the Yankees. He’s probably punched his ticket to the Hall of Fame by leading New York to four titles in five years. But I think you also can’t deny that he did a bad job this year.

Specifically, with the bullpen. I know he didn’t have much to work with besides Mariano Rivera, Tom Gordon and Paul Quantrill, but he worked them mercilessly. To me, at least, it seemed like he continued to use them in situations where he didn’t really need to. He also never gave anybody besides them a chance to pitch in important situations until he somehow settled on Tanyon Sturtze late in the season.

He also just seemed overmatched at times in the playoffs and in some important spots in the regular season. He made strange choices and it was like he was afraid the Yankees were going to lose instead of confident they were going to win.

I don’t know if he’s just run out of steam or if he’s had a bad year, but I wouldn’t be confident that Torre is an asset on the bench any more. Maybe I’m overreacting or just plain wrong, but that’s the impression I got.

You mentioned the players who underperformed, and you’re right, but they were pretty much offset by players overperforming expectations. Jon Lieber, Orlando Hernandez, Hideki Matsui, Miguel Cairo and John Olerud all did more than you could have hoped for.

LM: I’d hardly say that they offset the failure of others to meet expectations. Jon Lieber did better than many of us thought he would, but not appreciably better than he had for the rest of his career. He was coming off of Tommy John Surgery, but he had started pitching again last fall, so bouncing back shouldn’t have been that surprising. Hideki Matsui was just doing what he had been doing in Japan again, and while the rest of those players exceeded expectations, the loss of Jason Giambi alone negates all of it.

Joe Torre did make some poor decisions in October, but they were almost born out of necessity. The ineffectiveness of the starters, the utter lack of any relief pitching beyond “QuanGorMo”, and the Yankees’ inability to open up and hold big leads very often all year forced him to keep going back to the big three, and Boston’s late-season surge forced him to keep using them down the stretch. Paul Quantrill’s loss of effectiveness forced him to use Gordon and Rivera exclusively, and by October, both were showing the signs of wear. I do disagree with some of the moves he made in Games Three, Four and Five of the ALCS, but if the Yankees had spent some of their $181 million on a deeper bullpen, then these problems might not have arisen.

This off-season, the Yankees are going to start paying for some of the short-sighted moves they’ve made in recent seasons. As their payroll approaches $200 million, they are starting to lose some flexibility, their oversized contracts to Derek Jeter and Jason Giambi are going to start hurting them, and while they may be able to sign Carlos Beltran, they won’t be able to corner the market on whatever it is they want. The challenge is going to be to avoid signing mediocre veterans to fill the holes they can’t fill with stars, and find players with actual value.

Kevin Brown might not be what the Yankees thought he’d be, and he’ll never be worth $15 million, but the Yankees will probably be better off keeping him as a fifth starter than trying to dump him on another team and signing another player while paying for Brown. Those types of moves, and who to bring in to fill out the roster, are the decisions the Yankees face this winter. The Red Sox face moves of a different nature, as much of their roster is free to leave. Will they try to keep together the roster that broke the 86-year slump, or try to move on to the next generation of Red Sox?

…Ugh. I just heard Mel Stottlemyre decided to come back… Well, they’re screwed.

BJ: Regarding the Yankees’ payroll, I think we’re about to see this off-season whether they really do have unlimited funds. If they go after Beltran and a couple pitchers, their payroll will be well over $200 million and they’ll need to pay a ton of luxury tax because of multiple violations. Brian Cashman was on Mike and the Mad Dog after the playoffs, and he said that they stretched things pretty thin this year. I don’t know if he was telling the truth or just trying to temper expectations for some reason, but it’ll be interesting to see if they can go and sign everybody the media and fans seem to expect them to sign.

As for the Red Sox, all this talk about how the Red Sox have 16 free agents is a little overblown. If the Red Sox don’t sign a single one of their free agents, they will return seven of the nine members of their starting lineup (with holes at shortstop and catcher), three of the five members of their starting rotation and the top three members of their bullpen.

Boston really only has four important free agents — Pedro Martinez, Jason Varitek, Derek Lowe and Orlando Cabrera. I think they’ll re-sign the first two and replace the latter. As for everybody else, they may try to bring back guys like Doug Mirabelli, Gabe Kapler and Pokey Reese, but it’s not a huge problem if they can’t. And the rest of their free agents are guys like Ricky Gutierrez, Ellis Burks (who’s retiring), Scott Williamson (who’s out for the year after his second Tommy John surgery), Terry Adams and Pedro Astacio.

So, the 2005 Red Sox will look very, very similar to the 2004 Red Sox. They’ll still have a top four of Johnny Damon, Mark Bellhorn, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. They’ll still have Curt Schilling at the top of the rotation and Bronson Arroyo and Tim Wakefield in the middle of it. And they’ll still have Keith Foulke at the end of the bullpen, with Mike Timlin and Alan Embree setting him up.

There are some important decisions they need to make, but anybody who’s expecting the Red Sox to rebuild or something after winning the World Series because they’re losing so many free agents is a little crazy. The Red Sox are going to go into next season with a roster capable of winning 95 games and favored to make the playoffs, maybe win the division.

Whether the Yankees or Red Sox get top dog status at the start of the year (which doesn’t really matter at all) will depend on how the Red Sox fill out the rest of their rotation and how much the Yankees are able to do with all the bad contracts they already have. Celebration time is over for me, now it’s time to get excited about the off-season and finding out the moves that will provide the final shape for these two teams.

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