On the occasion of Alex Rodriguez's third American League MVP award and with his contract negotiations by now presumably in the seventh-inning stretch, this is a good time to consider what it is A-Rod so desperately desired to come back to.
The New York Yankees have lost 13 of their last 17 playoff games and basically dismissed their iconic manager because of it, and they just spent nearly $400 million to put the same product back on the field, only with potentially less pitching.
Assuming Scott Boras can get Rodriguez's contract through the seventh and eighth innings – outs the Yankees well know are the stubborn part of any game – next year's Yankees are looking again like the team that no longer does October with assurance and vigor.
Indeed, assurance and vigor have gone the way of Mystique and Aura, capricious mistresses last seen on Curt Schilling's arm.
So, for the seventh consecutive winter the Yankees are working their way back from something less than a parade. This time, they do it as the second-best team in their division, a three-hour train ride from the trophy that once was so routinely theirs they should have claimed naming rights.
Yes, the champion – again – is in Boston. The manager is in L.A. The ace of the staff – in standing if not numbers – is in Houston. Roger Clemens is, too.
It wasn't easy, and it definitely wasn't pretty, but neat and clean wouldn't necessarily be the Yankee way. Everything in the Bronx is a crisis, or perceived as such, or represented as such, and it all eventually wends its way back to Cashman's office inside Yankee Stadium.
"Basically, we're trying to move toward something, which is toward a championship," Cashman said Monday afternoon. "Time will tell if we're moving closer to that."
The Yankees will again be the offense that led the game in runs and batting average and on-base percentage, and that's why they re-upped Abreu, A-Rod and Posada, typically their three, four and six hitters. Hideki Matsui ought to be over his knee issues and Jason Giambi is – can you believe it? – in his walk year, meaning if he can stay upright and has anything left at all, we'll know it by July.
Which leaves, well, you know.
The Yankees didn't pitch that well again. They haven't been among the top five earned-run average staffs for four years, and in those four consecutive playoff series losses have had an ERA under 5 once. Their ERA against the Cleveland Indians this October was nearly 6.
Chien-Ming Wang was assumed to have matured into a No. 1, then pitched poorly twice in the playoffs. Andy Pettitte is home, choosing between a hammock and Yankee Stadium. The Clemens era has run its course. Mike Mussina is winding down, if not already wound down.
If they were to brave a move to enhance their starting pitching – and, really, since Chamberlain is going to the rotation, the seventh and eighth innings are of equal importance – it would only get done if they freed up at least one of Chamberlain, Hughes and Kennedy. Cashman wouldn't budge when the Texas Rangers insisted on Kennedy (or Melky Cabrera) for Eric Gagne, and presumably would hold the same line should Johan Santana, Danny Haren or Eric Bedard, to name a few, become available.
If Cashman is concerned, he wouldn't reveal it in words or tone.
"Look how good we've done," he said, "with guys who've done it a long time."
"What difference does it make if they're 21 or 31? Or 41?" he said. "It is what it is. You just go by ability. At least these guys are building on a factor they'll benefit from."
Hughes had a 2.73 ERA in September (beware the September numbers) and was terrific in two AL division series appearances against the Indians.
Chamberlain was sensational when not shellacked in insects.
Kennedy was great in three September starts, against Tampa Bay, Kansas City and Toronto.
"The bottom line," Cashman said, "pitching lets you get over the hump. We just have not pitched as well as our ability has suggested."
While Rodriguez spent Monday waiting for his new 10-year contract to be finalized, he went on about his New York Yankees, why this was so important to him, what he expects out there across the next decade or so.
"It's my third MVP," he said, "and I'm here to say that I would trade all three for one world championship. I wouldn't think twice about it. The only reason we play this game, the reason I came to New York and the reason I have unfinished business in New York is because we haven't won a world championship with me being there."
Him being there will help. The Yankees had better hope he brings his bat, though. Mystique and Aura don't have big-league fastballs.