Will Eduardo Nunez Haunt the Yankees?
Will Eduardo Nunez Haunt the Yankees?
With the Mariners in town to play the Yankees this weekend there are a ton of common stories to talk about. You could remember the rivalry of the late-90s or perhaps the 2001 Seattle team that won 116 games but was extinguished by the Yanks in the ALCS. The most obvious storyline seems to be the recent Jesus Montero-Michael Pineda deal. With Pineda on the shelf with a bad shoulder and Montero homering Friday night, it’s natural for the media to fan the flames by second-guessing Brian Cashman. Even on a night where Montero goes hitless, Hector Noesi, also part of that deal, pitched against his former team, which provides yet another reminder.
For me, the real connection between these two teams is a player that now performs 90 miles south: Cliff Lee. The Phillies lefty was the object of the Yankees eye during the 2010 season and into the offseason. Just a day after Lebron James joined Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade in South Beach to form an NBA “Dream Team,” Brian Cashman thought he’d created his own dream starting rotation when acquired Lee from Seattle for a package centered on Montero. The Yankees would have a second ace that would make them unbeatable on their way to another World Championship.
We all know how that didn’t come to fruition. After a handshake deal, the Mariners looked at medicals of second base prospect David Adams and decided he was too much of a risk to pull the trigger. They asked for Eduardo Nunez, who was playing second, third and short in Scranton at the time, to replace Adams. Brian Cashman balked and the deal was dead. Lee wound up in Texas and came up big as he won two games against Tampa in the ALDS and pitched a gem against the Yankees in Game 3 of the ALCS, essentially putting the Rangers in the driver’s seat in the series.
Since then it’s been the Rangers, not the Yanks, who’ve been the class of the American League. They have rode the wave of that 2010 pennant and look poised this year to win the AL for a third straight season. The Yankees appear to be a team in flux, as their expensive stars have showed signs of decline, experienced their closer suffer a career-threatening injury and have seen their young players disappoint.
Eduardo Nunez is one of those disappointments. After a solid run as the starting shortstop last June when Derek Jeter was injured, Nunez has struggled defensively. So much so the Yanks could have capitalized the E in his last name on the scoreboard. After 14 errors at shortstop in 2010, Nunez had another 5 (4 at short) this year. The Yankees, ironically, sent him down on Friday before this series with Seattle.
So was it worth passing up one of the best pitchers in the game in 2010 for Nunez? He undoubtedly has talent, but appears to be so limited defensively that his career could be compromised or short-circuited all together. Maybe the Yankees still would only have Lee for a half-season in 2010, but I would imagine they had a better opportunity to keep him away from Philadelphia if he spent some time in pinstripes. Even if he still wound up in Philly, there is probably a good chance it’s the Yanks, not the Rangers, facing the Giants in the 2010 World Series.
I am not a proponent of recklessly trading away prospects. The Yankees have been held up by teams for their top prospects when trying to deal for second-tier veterans (Jarrod Washburn and Ubaldo Jimenez come to mind). You can’t justify giving up top prospects for middle-of-the-rotation pitchers, but Lee is a different story.
The Yankees arrogance got in the way of the Cliff Lee trade. They believe they were still good enough to beat anyone without Lee. They also probably believed they could blow away Lee in the offseason. They felt they would have their “super-rotation” eventually. The Phillies stepped in and squashed those plans, leaving the Yankees scrambling for a starter ever since.
Any other team tries to win a title now because they understand how rare it is for the opportunity to arise. The Yankees tradition and recent history of success has intoxicated them into believing the postseason is a guarantee. Even after they missed the playoffs in 2008 they were able to sign the best pitcher (CC Sabathia) and hitter (Mark Teixeira) that offseason to make up for it. “Wait till Next Year” takes on a different meaning in the Bronx since most believe the Yanks start most seasons in the ALDS.
Things have changed in baseball. The economics of the game have hurt teams like the Yankees and Red Sox. If they want to outspend everyone going forward there is a luxury tax to make it more punitive. There is now a budget of $189 million in the Bronx, and long-term deals to Alex Rodriguez and Teixeira make it difficult for the Yankees to import whomever they want. There is actually talk they won’t be able to afford both Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano when they hit free agency after 2013.
Imagine if the Yankees hit a drought similar to what they experienced from 1978-1995? The fans were squeamish about not winning a title for nearly a decade after 4 in 5 years. But what if 2009 is the last one for a while? The Orioles and Blue Jays are better. Tampa continues to churn out a winner every season. The Rangers are the class of the American League, and teams like Anaheim and Detroit aren’t afraid to spend money. Even the gap between the AL and NL seems to have tightened. The new slotting rules in the amateur draft make it difficult for the Yanks to even fix their problems internally. You have to be even smarter and more efficient than usual in the new economic world of M.L.B.
Winning a pennant is difficult. When you have a golden opportunity in front of you it’s important to seize the moment. You don’t let “maybes” get in the way. You certainly don’t let Eduardo Nunez be the reason you turned down acquiring arguably the best pitcher in the game at the time.
It could be that Nunez becomes the bane of the Yanks existence if 2009 becomes the last World Series championship for a while.
That, not Jesus Montero, probably will haunt the Yanks for years to come.
Sunday, 13 May 2012