2002-10-12 / Sports

‘Fat’ Yanks May Begin Diet With Clemens

Baseball Columnist
By Bryan Hoch

Baseball Columnist

One thing’s certain – you don’t want to be the poor sap hanging around George Steinbrenner’s office this week. Just days after mystique and aura came up short for a second straight season, trampled in a sea of celebrating Angels, Steinbrenner declared that the Yankees will "trim the fat" this offseason.

But don’t be fooled by that adjective, the word "fat". The cusp of the Yankees’ moves to slim down a $140 million payroll may come with the departure of the 40-year-old pitcher who’s in better shape than most of the young guns appearing at major league ballparks today – Roger Clemens.

‘The Rocket’ is just seven wins away from the magical 300 mark and is due to collect $10.8 million from Steinbrenner’s bank account next season, whether he takes up residence in the Bronx or not. Now that Clemens has exercised an opt-out clause in his contract and has effectively become a free agent, the Yankees face a dilemma with too many arms for five rotation slots.

It’s believed that Clemens would like to stay with the Yankees and continue wearing the pinstripes he pretended to detest as a member of the Red Sox in the 1980’s and 1990’s, including his tenure on the club that steamrolled the ’86 Angels in their last ALCS appearance before this one.

But the fact remains: just on their major league roster alone, the Yankees have six pitchers – not including Clemens - who could likely step into the upper echelon on most major league teams.

Orlando Hernandez has made it clear that pitching in relief is not his preference, as has Sterling Hitchcock, and it was a running joke how Joe Torre could turn to his bullpen and call upon 26-year-old Jeff Weaver, the former (as in earlier this year) Tigers ace.

We all know Steinbrenner has no problem with shelling out money for a winner, but when the team loses – especially in the embarrassing fashion that it did, falling in the first round to a collection of mostly unknown Angels – look out.

The Yanks aren’t particularly concerned with keeping Hitchcock around, who is in the second year of a two-year, $12 million deal, but Bombers brass is exceptionally fond of Hernandez, even after he and catcher Jorge Posada did their best Rocky-and-Apollo Creed impressions in September. They’re also not about ready to throw in the towel on Weaver, even after he failed to impress coming in from Detroit.

With such depth, the Yankees only have a brief amount of time to consider: how much is it really worth to watch Clemens’ won-loss odometer tick over to 300 under an interlocking ‘NY’?

Just Getting Older

While a great majority of the concern coming into the Yankees’ seventh consecutive playoff appearance centered around the status of closer Mariano Rivera and whether or not Alfonso Soriano could join baseball’s illustrious 40-40 club – he didn’t – few thought to consider what might be the state of the Yankees’ rotation.

Indeed, it’s safe to say that most were lulled into a false sense of security concerning what the guys would do with the game ball in the postseason, proven veterans that they are. But the Yankees’ vast playoff experience, considered one of their biggest advantages coming into the Division Series, proved to be their downfall as experience became synonymous with another intangible: age.

For the Yankees, the lasting image of this postseason will be the pummeling that 39-year-old David Wells took on Saturday, standing helplessly on the mound at Anaheim’s Edison Field while the upstart Angels batted around to put up an eight-spot on the scoreboard.

But the inability of Wells, a 19-game winner this season, to stymie the Angels in Game Four was far from the only reason that New York headed back to the Bronx alone this weekend. Allowed an opportunity to shine on the national stage, Anaheim rose to the occasion and scored five or more runs in each of the four games of the ALDS.

Wells’ outing was by far the worst of any Yankees starter, but Andy Pettitte allowed four runs in three innings in Game Two and Mike Mussina lasted only four innings in his Game Three start, allowing four runs. Even in the game the Yankees did win, lighting up the sky on Bernie Williams’ dramatic eighth-inning Game One home run, Clemens started and coughed up four runs in 5-2/3 innings.

Tally it all up, and the Bombers’ ineffective pitching rings up to a total earned run average of 8.21 in the Division Series. Now, as the Yankees turn their attention toward regrouping for a return attack in 2003, that bloated set of digits is too big to ignore.

Bigger and Bigger

Steinbrenner’s "fat" analogy could not be more accurate. This season, the Yankees bulked up like Louie Anderson at Thanksgiving dinner, gobbling up whatever tasty morsels wandered into sight.

How valuable was it, really, to have added Raul Mondesi (earning $12.5 million in Yankee dollars for this year and next) from the Blue Jays when the duo of John Vander Wal and Shane Spencer likely could have accomplished the job?

Above that, Torre still seems hesitant to pull the trigger on Steve Karsay (signed for four years, $22.5 million prior to 2002) in close situations – see leaving Hernandez out to dry in Game Two, where Garret Anderson and Troy Glaus got the best of the righthander – and we all know the Yankees couldn’t be too pleased with what they got from outfielder Rondell White for their $10 million investment.

It became apparent this year that the Yankees were gorging themselves to overcompensate for the departures of players like Paul O’Neill and Tino Martinez. Now that the final results are in, Steinbrenner knows better than anyone just what that cost.

The feast met its huffing, puffing end Saturday in Anaheim. For this roster, it’s treadmill time.

Bryan Hoch can be reached at bryanhoch@yahoo.com.

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