Here’s to the Losers

Thanks for the Memories, You Yankee Role Players. Now Get Out of Here.

So what do these guys have to do? For Torre, this has to be a different kind of spring training. How about teaching these guys to, as they say, handle the bat a little? Time and time again, another mini-rally died because, say, Jorge Posada or Bernie Williams or whoever couldn't get a bunt down or otherwise advance a runner. If Bernie Williams gets a bunt down in the sixth inning, that Tino Martinez single probably scores two runs, and this might be a happy recap. Bunting's hard, you say? Hell, if Andy Pettitte can get down a bunt against Randy Johnson, as he did in Game Two, you would think that All-Star sluggers could figure it out, too.

And Torre needs a setup guy. No, Mariano Rivera's not going to do a Donnie Moore. Given his blessed lack of self-awareness, I probably lost more sleep over the loss than he did. But because of Rivera and Byung-Hyun Kim, the six-out save will probably be about as common as a three-hour game. Which means that the Yankees need a guy who can do in the eighth inning more or less what Mariano did in 1996, when he was Wetteland's Luca Brasi. Mike Stanton? I don't think so. The logical choice is Mendoza, who, believe it or not, this postseason was more unhittable than Rivera.

Cashman's challenge is even more profound than Torre's. All four corner positions are up for grabs, and how he fills them will determine the team's destiny. First base? Unless Tino's willing to re-up for, say, two years—and why would he?—the Yankees have to hand the job to Nick Johnson. He's a potential Gold Glover, he's got a career on-base percentage of .448, and he'll work cheap, freeing up cash. Cashman should spend that cash on DH Jason Giambi, who is simply the best hitter in the American League (.342, .477, .660) and could post Exorcist-scary numbers at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees have proven over the years that you can't overpay for greatness, and Giambi is great and more. Third base? Bye-bye, Brosius. Once a Gold Glover, Scott provided the Series' best moment with his bat and its worst moments afield. Bill Mueller of the Cubs could be a fit. Right field? As Clemenza said to Sonny, "Paulie? You ain't gonna see him no more." The conservative choice is David Justice and Shane the Scab Spencer. More enticing is Cliff Floyd, who's every bit as good as Bobby Valentine thinks he is, or Moises Alou, who's posted an on-base percentage over .406 during the past three seasons.

Left field? Barry Bonds is probably a dream. Johnny Damon is a nightmare: a leadoff hitter who doesn't hit for power, hit average, draw walks, steal bases effectively, or catch the ball. In other words, he's Chuck Knoblauch redux. Floyd or Alou would plug the gap nicely, but prospect Juan Rivera couldn't be any worse than ol' Knobbie.

In short, even Yogi will tell you it's really over for the Yankees. Sunday marked the worst on-field moment for a Yankee fan in two generations. But let's look not behind, but ahead. The core of a championship team will remain intact—Jeter, Bernie, Soriano, Posada, Mariano, and the starters —but the supporting cast, thankfully, will have more turnover than Law and Order. If you remember what happened after the last time the Yankees lost in the playoffs—114 wins—it's not unreasonable to assume that this isn't the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning. So let's hold hands and say it together: The Yankees are dead. Long live the Yankees.

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