2005 and 2021
by Mike Whiteman
April 18, 2021
The Yankees stink.
Really, they do. They aren’t hitting; they look bad in the field. The starting rotation aside from Gerrit Cole is mediocre. The players look apathetic and lethargic. Fans are frustrated and up in arms, questioning if we’re looking at a lost season.
While it has been a while, we’ve been here before. Remember 2005?
Like this year’s edition, the 2005 Yanks were coming off a postseason disappointment (in this case a historical one) and then put together what looked to be a suspect plan during the offseason. Noting the problems in the 2004 pitching staff, the team moved forward to revamp the rotation, adding 41-year old Randy Johnson in a trade, and free agents Carl Pavano, who had a 4.21 career ERA but coming off a career year, and the oft injured, career 5.09 ERA hurler, Jaret Wright; also off a career year in 2004.
To fortify an already potent lineup, General Manager Brian Cashman brought back old friend Tino Martinez, and added old nemesis from the 2001 Diamondbacks Tony Womack to solidify the second base position that was in flux after dealing Alfonso Soriano for Alex Rodriguez before the previous season.
A great plan, right? Just roll them on the field and watch them win.
Well, not so fast. The team got off to a bad start. A terrible start. By the end of April the team was 10-14, in fourth place, 6.5 games behind the first place Orioles. It was early, but things didn’t look good at all.
The question for a club in a situation like this: do you wait it out, assuming the players will play out of the funk or do you make changes? The decision can make or break a season and cost people jobs if things don’t work out. Cashman must have seen something significantly flawed with his team, because he decided to act. The GM promoted pitcher Chein-Ming Wang from the minors on April 30 and second baseman Robinson Cano on May 3. Wang took the spot in the rotation left by the injured Wright, and Cano moved Womack to left field, pushing Hideki Matsui to center field for the ailing and ineffective Bernie Williams.
The changes didn’t immediately change the fortunes of the team, and they actually sunk to an 11-19 record and last place tie with Tampa Bay. It sent a message and seemed to help shake things up, and from those depths came a ten-game winning streak which moved the team over .500. They scrapped along for the rest of the first half of the season, falling under .500 again in early June, but improved to a 46-40 mark at the All-Star break.
At that point, Johnson had a 4.16 ERA. Wright hadn’t thrown a pitch since April. Pavano, later nicknamed “American Idle” pitched poorly and injured his shoulder in June, not returning that season or the next.
Cashman constantly tinkered with the pitching staff that summer, picking up Al Leiter, Darrell May, Tim Redding, Shawn Chacon and Alan Embree in small deals or free agent signings. In fact, the team ran twenty eight pitchers to the mound in 2005. He particularly struck gold with Chacon (7-3, 2.85 in Pinstripes), who along with unheralded offseason pickup Aaron Small, (10 – 0, 3.20 after his promotion out of desperation in July) basically saved the staff and likely the season.
The patchwork staff held together, and the bats came alive as the team ran off a 46-27 record in the second half. Cano was the real deal, Jason Giambi bounced back from a poor 2004, Alex Rodriguez was the AL MVP, and the team was second in runs scored in the AL. Williams eventually won his center field job back, and Womack found the bench. Cashman and manager Joe Torre rode this cast to the AL East division title in a tiebreaker over the Red Sox. Unfortunately, the good momentum didn’t carry over to the postseason, as they lost the Division Series to the Angels.
Any lessons to be learned? Well, Cashman didn’t hesitate to act when the team was down. Moving his original choice of second basemen to a position he never played previously and indirectly bumping a franchise icon wasn’t a move for the weak-hearted. Promoting Cano to the starting lineup was a bold move. Cashman also wouldn’t be denied in his pursuit of pitching upgrades.
So basically, Cashman acted, and it helped the team recover and salvage a season.
The question in front of him now: does he need to act again in 2021?