Thursday, February 13, 2014

With tears and speeches, the Yankees will be seeking a bridge to the Cito Culver Era

Here we go again... "Ladies and gentlemen, we direct your attention to the Monument Park in center field..."

Historically, the Yankees haven't always blessed retiring icons with pennant-quality supporting casts. Mickey limped away in 1968, with Horace Clarke, Steve Whitaker and Andy Kosco setting the table. Elston and Babe both went out in Boston. Most maddening was the fate of Mariano: Last winter, the Steinbrothers donned poor-mouths, gutting the team with a payroll limit they later scrapped. All that pain - for nothing. It's like a fat lady who diets, loses two pounds, then starts binge-eating again. If they had signed Russell Martin, who knows... Mariano might have pitched for a ring...

Ahh, don't think such things... why torture yourself?

So now looms the finale for the last great Torre-era Yankee, and the front office has yet to identify one-half of the infield. Last year, the team received an incredible performance from Mariano, more than anyone had a right to expect, yet they couldn't even get him into the fake one-game playoff. And Jeter is staring into the same empty October fate. Even if he defies Father Time and plays competent SS, this team could finish fourth - or worse.

Oh well, there's always those three-Kleenex final speeches.

OK... so let's look beyond Jeter for a moment. For better or worse, the Yankees are about to enter The Cito Culver Era, a post-Jeet period marked by a stream of so-so shortstops, none of whom who ever touch our whoopie buttons as he did. I believe that one of these players will be Cito Culver. Yes, THE Cito Culver.

Cito is the blogosphere's go-to whipping mule for the Yankee farm system's failures, which are epic. Ever since he was chosen in the first round of the 2010 draft, he's been publicly pied by the so-called scouting experts, who wanted someone else. (In hindsight, they always wanted somebody who is now a star.) In some cases, it's almost as if they want Culver to fail, so they can rage about how right they were. I've seen condemnations for him being in his third year at Single A. Well, yeah, in a way - if you consider the Gulf Coast League, the Atlantic Coast League and the Florida State League all in Single A. But nobody else in baseball does. Culver has steadily progressed. But hey, it's fun to berate a guy named Cito Culver. It almost rhymes with Renal Failure.

Culver will play this year at Trenton. He will probably hit .230. But he will field his position. Next year, he could be at Scranton. He will probably hit .230. Culver could become the Yankee SS in 2016. He will probably hit .230. He may never be an all-star. He certainly will never be Derek Jeter. But, hey a .230 hitting SS is about 50 points higher than Brandon Ryan is going to do, and right now, that's our SS if Jeter pulls a hammy.

Before Jeter re-defined our view of the position, a light-hitting, good-fielding SS was par for the course. The Cito Culver Era - with or without Cito Culver - will probably be marked by batting averages between .230 and .270. But that's competency, not failure.

Meanwhile, we face another potentially awful farewell year. God save me. Two injuries to key players, and we're the Titanic. Considering our ages and brittle bones, it's hard to imagine the Yankees without a MASH unit set up in the bullpen. Recently, there has been a clarion cry for the team to sign Stephen Drew, as a stopgap. I think Jeter's announcement will add to those calls.

But rest assured, our owners have a strategy. Hal Steinbrenner has a number in mind. And we can feel assured in knowing he'll stick to it - for a while, anyway. He can be cheap now, then piss the store later. That's how the Yankees did it in the years after Mickey. Hey, in my book, you know what I called those years?

The Horace Clarke Era, of course.

No comments: