Six Cold, Hard Questions For The Yankees

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On the same night one of the last pitchers the Yankees developed and practically utilized—Andy Pettitte—took the next step in his comeback attempt with a minor league start in Trenton, two pitchers upon whom they’re relying to maintain contention under the new luxury tax mandates were terrible (Phil Hughes) and heading for surgery (Michael Pineda).

The pompous arrogance of the organization, their media wing and fan base all but disappeared in favor of maudlin whimpering, melancholy sadness, silence and the ever-present spin-doctoring to twist matters into a favorable view of blamelessness.

There’s no defense. Only damage control.

To compound the irony, Pineda’s surgery is going to be performed by the Mets’ team physician Dr. David Altcheck.

In the past the fact that Dr. Altcheck is a respected and renowned specialist would’ve been shunted aside by a Yankees’ support group to laugh at this fact if the sequence of events were happening to anyone other than the Yankees.

Reality rears its ugly head and convenient fodder for jokes—the Mets’ team doctor—is suddenly off limits.

But is it ugly? Or is it what it is without discretion, intent or preference?

Let’s take a look at some of the burning questions regarding the Yankees, Michael Pineda and another disaster in the reign of Brian Cashman that can’t be glossed over by lukewarm distractions from that cold, hard reality.

Was Pineda hurt when the Yankees traded for him and did the Mariners know it?

It’s possible.

Anything is possible.

But I doubt it.

If he was hurt, it was probably an injury that would only have been discovered had the Yankees or Mariners been looking for it. Pineda was examined for the shoulder pain that shelved him and robbed him of his velocity in spring training and nothing was found. It was when the Yankees did a more comprehensive examination following his last spring rehab start that they found the labrum tear.

The Yankees have made ghastly errors with Pineda, but ignoring a possible injury isn’t one of them.

Even if he was damaged goods, it’s irrelevant. What’s done is done.

How are the Yankees at fault?

The same arguments that allocate the blame on the Mariners and Pineda can also be shifted to the Yankees.

Much like their signing of Pedro Feliciano and holding the Mets responsible for Feliciano’s shoulder injury by saying he was “abused”, it’s a reluctance to own up to anything for which they can be negatively perceived. It’s cultural and has created this litany of failed pitching prospects.

They’re more worried about what will be thought of them if the pitchers get hurt than they are in having the pitchers do well and evolve as Yankees.

Pineda showed up to Yankees’ camp overweight, but it wasn’t as if they made the trade in October and Pineda stopped exercising and started eating. The trade was made in January weeks before pitchers and catchers reported. Did he suddenly get fat from the day of the trade to his appearance in Tampa? In two weeks?

I think not.

If he hadn’t shown up fat for the Yankees, he would’ve shown up fat for the Mariners.

GM Brian Cashman, immersed in his own egotistical bubble, was the person who publicly castigated the Mets for Feliciano’s injury after he gave Feliciano $8 million to come to the Yankees.

He scurried away when the Mets, for once, fought back.

The trade of Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi for Pineda and Jose Campos made sense. Pineda pitched well for the Mariners last season and his second half struggles and supposed velocity decline weren’t drastic enough to dissuade them from making the deal. They examined him and found nothing wrong.

But the aftermath is a different matter.

Almost immediately, the Yankees propped up the inclusion of Campos as the biggest factor as if a 19-year-old in A-ball would validate any eventuality. Cashman told Jim Bowden that the trade will have been a mistake if Pineda doesn’t develop into a top of the rotation starter. They complained about his weight. When he got to camp, they constantly referenced his velocity—or lack thereof—as if they were waiting for him to launch 98-mph fastballs in early March.

Could Pineda’s attempts to throw harder before he was ready or while he was ailing have contributed to the overstressing of his shoulder and gotten him hurt worse? Did the Yankees place an unfair onus on him? Did running him down affect his mentality when he became a Yankee?

You tell me.

Why are they clinging to this “developmental” strategy?

Cashman’s comments following the Pineda diagnosis were expected as he said various permutations of, “We don’t regret it and we’d do it again.”

This is understandable if he’s spouting a line to protect himself and his organization for making the trade and doesn’t truly believe it. Only a lunatic would say he doesn’t regret making this trade after the Pineda injury.

Like the Yankees’ ridiculous limits, rules and regulations they’ve placed on every pitcher since Cashman took complete command as the top-down boss of the organization, they’re clutching to them in a death-grip as if any admission that they might’ve been wrong is a sign of weakness that would lead to anarchy and revolution.

What would disturb me is if Cashman doesn’t regret making this trade; if he believes that the Yankees method of development that has all but destroyed Joba Chamberlain, has Hughes on the verge of a demotion to the bullpen or minors, and led them to trade away Ian Kennedy were the right things to do.

If Cashman is under the impression that Pineda’s injury was a result of the Mariners using a different strategy of nurturing their pitchers than the Yankees, then the problem isn’t a simple mistaken projection, but a foundational blind spot and inexplicable egomania.

Pettitte didn’t graduate to the majors under any limits and he’s the last starting pitcher the Yankees have signed, built and utilized on their own over the long term.

Looking at his minor league numbers, he was allowed to pitch as a youngster. He accumulated innings, durability and resilience. He learned how to get in and out of trouble without a random number or overactive management to bail him out. He got to the majors in 1995, was a large factor in the Yankees’ playoff berth and threw 175 innings. He wasn’t abused, but he wasn’t babied either.

In 1996 at the age of 24, Pettitte logged 240 innings and won 21 games. Apart from some expected injuries, on an annual basis, he could be counted on for 200+ innings not counting playoffs. He never had Tommy John surgery nor did he have major shoulder surgery.

Now they’re counting on Pettitte to replace the lost Pineda.

Are the Yankees rationally examining these studies they constantly refer to in keeping their pitchers healthy? Or are they blindly sticking to what’s not working just because?

Do Ivan Nova and Chien-Ming Wang prove the righteousness of the Yankees’ methods?

No.

If you mention Nova as a pitcher the Yankees developed and who’s doing well, you need to check the backstory. Nova was not a prospect. They thought so little of him that they left him unprotected in the 2008 Rule 5 draft. He was selected by the Padres and returned to the Yankees.

Nova wasn’t babied because they didn’t think much of him and weren’t overly concerned about the perception from the masses if he got hurt. Now he’s a ruthless competitor who, in spite of their continued disregard for him with threats of demotion and non-existent expectations, is a lifesaver for them.

Wang wasn’t considered a prospect either, but out of necessity they recalled him in 2005 and he blossomed.

Are you seeing the trend?

Pitchers who are left alone become useful. Those who are stuffed in a cookie-cutter mold of paranoid “protective” services turn into Hughes and Chamberlain.

Is the Yankees position on pitching understandable?

It was.

Once.

If they have experts in the medical field versed in sports and biomechanics making recommendations; if they’re listening to experienced pitching coaches and baseball people; if they’re copying what clubs like the Red Sox have done to develop their young pitchers Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, then you can say it was worthwhile to try and build their own starters under the auspices of the innings/pitch counts.

But it hasn’t worked.

One would think that they’d stop and say they have to try something else; that they’d realize that the Rangers, Giants and Mariners have chosen a different and successful route with their pitchers; that perhaps greater flexibility and individual attention is in order.

Sometimes these pitchers are going to get hurt. They’re going to flame out.

But if the Yankees or any other team gets use from them, what’s the difference?

Which is better? Having the pitcher healthy and ineffective like Hughes or using him until he breaks down—as the Diamondbacks did with Brandon Webb—and getting a spurt of greatness that resulted in one Cy Young Award that could easily have been five?

Will this sink in?

If sports talk radio existed in the early 1960s to the degree it does now, we’d be hearing the same forceful pronouncements of a neverending empire; an inevitability of the Yankees’ dominance.

But the Yankees’ reign of terror ended in 1965 in part because they were oblivious to the decay from age, mismanagement and didn’t adapt to the new way in which baseball did business with a draft, divisions and Yankees’ “mystique” disappearing.

By the mid-late-1960s they were a laughingstock and other teams took joy in their humiliation after years of bullying, condescension and abuse.

You don’t think it could happen again?

It’s the circle of life. Dynasties fall and they’re aided and abetted by a blanketed stupidity that has fomented this nightmare of pitching miscalculations.

If they continue down this road, it’s going to get worse and judging by what’s being said and done, they’re not changing anything anytime soon.

They made their own mess and have taken no steps to clean it up.

It’s downhill from here.

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