Thursday, October 18, 2007

Way To Go Joe

It's now been seven years since the Evil Empire lifted the World Series trophy as the undisputed kings of the baseball world, a fact that was not lost on Yankees ownership who all but guaranteed that manager Joe Torre would be the scapegoat of another post-season loss.

That Torre seemed on his way out of New York was not overly surprising given the fact that anything short of a World Series win is considered a failure by the Yankees. What was surprising was the manner in which a man who has led his team to the playoffs every year since being hired and won four titles along the way was treated.

Ask anyone who has spent any time around Torre and they'll most likely gush over his class and dignity as a man and as the leader of a team. In fact in the 12 years since Torre has been the man for the Yanks, I don't think I've ever heard a negative word uttered in his general direction.

That is of course except for the jabbing of Yankees brass and the constant threats to fire a man who has done nothing short of define an entire generation of Yankees baseball.

Shouldn't he be above all this? I'll tell you right now that if Torre had managed the San Francisco Giants for the last 12 years and did as much winning as he's done, they would have erected a statue of the man right next to the one of Giants legend Willie Mays.

That's why it brought a giant smile to my face when the news came down on Thursday that Torre had turned down the one-year offer from the team to return for a 13th season. No longer will Torre be jerked around by his unappreciative bosses, and I say good for him.

The bottom line is that the Yankees, whether they know it or not, need Torre a lot more than he needs them and I applaud the man for finally saying enough is enough.

What's interesting is that the Yankees seem poised to enter another period in their history where they will be led by younger, up-and-coming players, much like they were when Torre took over in 1996.

Back then it was the likes of a Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams and Tino Martinez who carried the Yanks to four World Series wins in five years led by the steady hand of Torre.

Now with the Yankees focusing more on building from within as they did in the mid-90's it'll have to be guys like Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera, Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain who lead the Bronx Bombers back to the top of the heap. Only this time they'll have to do it without arguably the best manager in the game.

The Yankees, as usual, brought this on themselves as instead of building teams in the image of their leader they went the mercenary route in what can only be described as a blind rage over losing in the 2001 and 2003 World Series to two expansion teams (D-Backs and Marlins respectively).

Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Jason Giambi, Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano, Bobby Abreu, the list goes on and on of guys brought in with the express purpose of delivering a championship and yet it was the scrappy, defense and pitching first teams of Torre's first few years that brought home all the hardware. Funny that.

So the question now is what's next for the veteran skipper? He could be great on television either as an in-game or studio analyst, but something tells me a man with his type of competitive nature will find it hard to stay away from the game he's given his entire life to.

My suggestion would be for him to go the TV route for a year or so and then take over for Joe Maddon as the manager of none other than the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Sounds crazy I know, but bear with me.

This past year Baseball America ranked the Rays as the top overall organization in terms of talent in the minor leagues. That after four straight years of being in the top ten of those rankings.

Like the Yankees in 1996, the Rays in say 2009 will have a plethora of young talent with major league experience at their disposal and what better guy to hand the reigns to than Torre whose opening day roster could look something like this:

C - Dioner Navarro - Interestingly a former Yankee top prospect, didn't have the best year but is only 23 and is loaded with talent.
1B - Carlos Pena - Swatted a career-high 46 home runs in 2007 at 29 years old.
2B - B.J. Upton - Hit .300 with 24 HRs as a 22-year-old in 2007. Played centerfield in 2007, and could move back there if Rocco Baldelli can't get healthy.
3B - Evan Longoria - One of the game's top 10 overall prospects who could be the Rays opening day third baseman in 2008 at age 22.
SS - Reid Brignac - Another of Tampa's big time prospects who has been compared to Jeter because of his skills, leadership and makeup. Look for him in 2009.
LF - Carl Crawford - Will be 27 come 2009 and the team has club options on his contract for both 2009 and 2010.
CF - Rocco Baldelli - Will also be 27 in 2009 and if he can overcome a string of injuries could return to his form of 2004 when he hit 16 HRs and stole 17 bases as a 22-year-old.
RF - Delmon Young - All Young did as a 21-year-old in 2007 was play in 162 games while hitting .288 with 93 RBIs. One of the game's brightest young talents.
DH - Akinori Iwamura - The Japanese import hit .285 this year with a .770 OPS and could fill in at three of the four infield spots and left field if someone needs a day off.

SP - Scott Kazmir - At 23 Kazmir has established himself as one of the top lefty starters in baseball. If they can re-sign him he could be Torre's new Pettitte.
SP - James Shields - 25-year-old Shields is the perfect compliment to Kazmir, would form a killer short-series duo for Torre. All he did was post a 184/36 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2007.

I don't know about you, but if I was a manager with a proven track record of success with young players and a bit of a bone to pick with a divisional rival I would be begging for the Tampa Bay job.

Not to mention the fact that signing a guy like Torre would probably accelerate plans to get the Rays out of the dump that is Tropicana Field as well as attract a few top flight free agents to sure up the bullpen and provide depth to an already talent-laden roster.

Who knows what the future holds, but for my money Torre is one of my all-time favorite coaches right alongside guys like Bill Walsh, Tyrone Willingham and Mike Krzyzewski.

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