Why the Yankees won't it at all (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday March 20, 2007 11:46AM; Updated: Tuesday March 20, 2007 4:07PM
4. Franchise turnarounds are common.
Of course, the frequency of quick turnarounds makes pennant race predictions more difficult than ever. Before last season SI asked the 30 general managers to rank the top 10 teams in baseball. Six stuffed shirt GM's, perhaps confusing the exercise with leaking classified nuclear armament information, refused to take part. Of the 240 votes cast by the 24 GM's that participated -- not sportswriters, mind you, but the top talent evaluators in the game -- not a single one was given to the Detroit Tigers, the eventual AL pennant winner. Oh-for-240.
Moreover, of the top 10 teams identified by those GM's, six didn't even make the playoffs (White Sox, Red Sox, Angels, Braves, Indians, Blue Jays). GM's are no better at picking winners than the rest of us.
5. Experience is overrated.
Look at it in a broader sense: The past five world champs combined have used only four regular position players older than 32. (This excludes DH's, considers the player most frequently used at each of the eight fielding positions and uses July 1 of that season to determine a player's age.) That's 40 players, and only four of them were older than 32: Tim Salmon, then 33, of the 2002 Angels, Bill Mueller, 33, of the 2004 Red Sox, and Jim Edmonds, 36, and So Taguchi, 36, (largely a reserve in October) of the 2006 Cardinals.
The Yankees' 2007 lineup flies in the face of this trend, with six position players (plus DH Jason Giambi, 36), at least 33 years old this July: Jorge Posada, 35, Bobby Abreu, 33, Johnny Damon, 33, Hideki Matsui, 33, Derek Jeter, 33, and Doug Mientkiewicz, 33.
So that brings us to the 2007 Freeway World Series. The Angels are loaded with everyday talent in the sweet spot of their careers, from ages 23 through 32. Once Juan Rivera recovers from his broken leg to return Garret Anderson to DH duty, the Angels will not put a player on the field older than shortstop Orlando Cabrera and center fielder Gary Matthews Jr., both of whom are 32. Howie Kendrick, 23, is a multiple-time batting champion ready to break loose. Vladimir Guerrero, 31, is an MVP player in his prime. And Los Angeles is loaded with young players in reserve to plug any holes, including Erik Aybar, 23, and Brandon Wood, 21.
The Angels are fortified with a large enough inventory of pitching to allow starters Bartolo Colon and Jered Weaver to slowly work themselves back into shape. The bullpen, led by the nearly unhittable Rodriguez, is among the game's most reliable.
The Dodgers may be pushing their luck with Nomar Garciaparra, 33, Jeff Kent, 39, and Luis Gonzalez, 39, in the same lineup, but I'm betting those players will need to be replaced for health reasons at various times during the season and Los Angeles will be the better for it. It won't be a bad situation to get more at-bats for Matt Kemp, 22, James Loney, 22, and Andy LaRoche, 23. The Dodgers, too, have pitching depth to withstand the usual attrition that forces every team to fill about 25-30 starts beyond their original starting five.
Will I be right? Who knows any more? Last year I had the White Sox and the Cardinals in the World Series. If you're looking for sleeper teams, the Indians and Diamondbacks could get there if their young players pop at the same time. The Tigers might be even better than they were last year, though I worry about fatigue hitting their pitchers, coming off a seven-month season, just as it seemed to hit the 2006 White Sox. The Mets, like St. Louis in recent years, are dangerous because they put three or four MVP-quality players in the lineup every day, mitigating the shortcomings on the rest of the roster.
Fact is, it's never been harder to pick the teams to beat and, as the Yankees should understand by now, never harder for the best team to win.