Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The wheelin' and dealin' Yanks

That Brian Cashman is a sneaky little critter, isn't he?

With Jorge Posada resting in a hospital bed mere hours after surgery, the Yankees general manager completed a deal that produced a brand-name replacement at catcher in Pudge Rodriguez.

You see that one coming? Heh, me neither.

It cost New York a maligned but ultimately important part of its bullpen in Kyle Farnsworth. As unpopular as the right-hander is around these parts and just about everywhere else, you couldn't help but feel for him after Wednesday's win, standing at his locker with tears in his eyes as he spoke with the media about his sudden Bronx departure.

Say what you will about Farnsworth, but he played a key role in this Yankees team turning their season around in the past month. Sure, his inconsistencies helped dig the hole as well, but he was always accountable and he always took the ball. I'm not saying the Tigers got the better of the deal here, but I am saying that Farnsworth can be a very effective reliever at times. You just better know the right times to use him. In a related story, it's quite possible Jim Leyland is about to go from eight to 12 packs of smokes a day.

With Rodriguez, the Yanks won't need a how-to manual. He'll get plugged in as the starting catcher and probably bat eighth in the lineup. Jose Molina -- who performed gamely in Posada's absence but was ultimately too limited offensively -- returns to his rightful place at backup.

It's important to note here that Pudge is in the option year of a $50 million deal he signed with the Tigers in 2004. In other words, the Yanks have control of him for this season only before he's back on the market. Before I knew this, all I could think of was Posada waking from his surgery to see the ESPN ticker before proceeding to break the necks of six doctors and 11 security guards, Seagal-style.

Knowing Pudge is a rental makes this deal highly logical for the Yankees. Rodriguez, 36, will fill the void for Posada and then in all likelihood be on his merry way. While his offensive skills have eroded -- he's batting .295 with five homers and 32 RBIs in 82 games -- Rodriguez still plays a mean catcher and the hope here is that the Yanks will hit on one of those veteran rejuvenation kicks through October. Undoubtedly, Pudge will then sign a $40 million deal with the Dodgers where he will proceed to gloriously shit the bed. But for the Yanks, there is no downside here on the position player end. In Pudge, they've upgraded undeniably at catcher, not to mention they got a guy who earned a ring in '03 by beating the Yanks. If you can't beat 'em, trade for 'em.

Whether the bullpen now takes a step back depends on the guts of the remaining members. The bridge to Rivera will remain strong as long as Ramirez, Veras and Marte continue to pitch up to their standards. The return of Brian Bruney may prove to be a lift as well. If you're a Yankees fan, you can't now start talking yourself into saying the bullpen is screwed with Farnsworth gone when you spent the last three seasons bitching that he was the reason it sucked in the first place. Take a step back and examine Farnsworth's entire contribution, not just what he produced in the last two months. The bullpen will survive, and even if it doesn't, I don't want to hear the dudes who wore "Anybody But Farnsworth" T-shirts to the Stadium telling me that Cashman messed up.

That said, you can't go as far as saying this deal is a total slam dunk. Playing devil's advocate, Farnsworth was a key contributor in what had become one of baseball's best 'pens this season. Will his departure mess up the chemistry of the group? Relief pitchers are beastly creatures of habit, after all. It won't take long to find out if this puts the Yanks over the hump, or if it just creates more obstacles in an already exhausting season.

"We are robbing Peter to pay Paul here and I hope it works out," Cashman said Wednesday.

That makes two of us.

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