With Torre back, Yanks need to change roster

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
The blame does not solely rest with Joe Torre. Most of the blame should go to George Steinbrenner, the owner who threatened to fire Torre. It is Steinbrenner who created the Yankees' dysfunctional culture, established the standard that a season only is a success if it ends with a World Series title.

Such an approach is unrealistic for any club, even one as filthy-rich as the Yankees. It leads the Yankees to acquire expensive, accomplished individualists with little regard for the overall mix. The Yankees' four world championship clubs under Torre did not boast superstars at every position. But they weren't robotic collections. They were dynamic teams.
So, perhaps the best thing to do is change the players, purge Alex Rodriguez, purge Gary Sheffield, stop lusting after iconoclasts such as Randy Johnson and oddballs such as Carl Pavano. That, however, was not the only possible solution. Torre has enjoyed an 11-year run. His steady hand would have been missed. But his dismissal would have been justified. Sad and somewhat unfair, but justified.

For six consecutive seasons the Yankees have failed to fulfill their mission statement, failed to win the World Series. In the past three seasons, they've fielded the three highest payrolls in major-league history, yet suffered one postseason ignominy after another. The historic collapse against the Red Sox. The first-round elimination by the Angels. Another first-round knockout by the Tigers.
Flawed as each of those teams was — the Yankees are forever short on pitching — it's reasonable to hold Torre accountable for the repeated postseason failures. He was always better at ego management than game management, but now both are in question. At the very least, the Yankees might have benefitted from a new voice.
Maddening as Rodriguez can be, he represents Torre's greatest failing this season. Yes, A-Rod can be phony and self-absorbed. Yes, many of his teammates find him insufferable. But Torre always found ways to incorporate divergent personalities, from David Wells to Darryl Strawberry. After the 1998 season, he was so confident in his touch, he even lobbied the Yankees to sign Albert Belle. But in the end, rather than protect Rodriguez, he further isolated him.
It wasn't right for Torre to reveal details of a private meeting with Rodriguez to Sports Illustrated. It also wasn't right for Torre to play lineup roulette with Rodriguez in the postseason. Torre could argue that his decision to bat Rodriguez sixth was based on performance. But eighth? That was an unnecessary dagger, further intensifying the heat on Rodriguez when the Yankees' entire offense was crumbling. Sheffield, of all people, stood up for Rodriguez, saying that batting A-Rod eighth in an elimination game created a distraction. It's an excuse, and sort of lame. But for once, Sheff is not off-base.
Yet, Torre's missteps didn't end with Rodriguez; it just might be that Torre, like the Braves' Bobby Cox, has developed into a better manager for the regular season than the postseason. Torre's decision to play Sheffield at first and Hideki Matsui in left was widely interpreted as a choice of offense over defense. But in sitting left fielder Melky Cabrera until Game 4, Torre not only robbed the team of a player who contributed in both aspects, but also supplied energy and soul.
Cabrera ultimately might be nothing more than a fourth outfielder, but the Yankees had more life when he was in the lineup. Torre knew it, too, saying that Cabrera, 22, and second baseman Robinson Cano, 23, are like kids who just enjoy playing in the streets. The politics of the situation might have prevented Torre from benching Sheffield or Matsui in favor of Cabrera; Sheffield's volatility, in particular, likely was a concern. But in the past, Torre was always adept at navigating such minefields.
The most well-founded criticism of Torre — his one clear flaw as a manager — is his over-reliance on relievers he trusts. Maybe his bullpen never was quite deep enough, but Paul Quantrill, Tanyon Sturtze, and Tom Gordon are among the relievers who became worn down as Yankees. Scott Proctor led the majors in relief innings pitched this season. Bank on it — he won't be as effective in 2007.
And yet, hiring Lou Piniella — or any other manager, for that matter — would only have given rise to a new set of problems. Piniella can be hard on pitchers, hard on young players. Perhaps he could have salvaged Rodriguez, who was almost like a son to him in Seattle, assuming the Yankees believed that A-Rod was even worth salvaging. But if Piniella were perceived to be too pro-Rodriguez, he would alienate a significant portion of the clubhouse.
The bottom line is that a managerial change would have accomplished only so much. General manager Brian Cashman knows what must be done — he has steadfastly refused to trade top young players and taken a more rational approach to spending since gaining more authority last off-season. It's Steinbrenner's mission statement, his championship-or-bust mentality, that is the problem. The Yankees need to acquire younger players, more athletic players, better team players. They need to get back to where they were in the late 1990s, when Joe Torre had the kind of players who made a manager look good instead of nearly getting him fired.