Monday, May 16, 2005

Karsay cut

The New York Yankees released pitcher Steve Karsay Thursday, possibly bringing to an end the career of one of the Indians' shooting stars of the 1990s.
At the age of 32, it appears the storm of injuries just became too much for the hard-throwing righty to endure anymore.
Karsay came to the big leagues as a prodigy of sorts in 1993. He was one of the highly-regarded prospects in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, which knows a thing or two about good pitching. The Blue Jays system has also yielded the likes of Al Leiter and David Wells.
Karsay wasn't long for the Jays, however. He was sent to the Athletics in a package for Rickey Henderson in 1993.
In Oakland, he took a while to mature into an everyday starter. When he did, however, it wasn't with glowing results. He started 24 games for Oakland in 1997, but amassed a 3-12 record with a 5.92 ERA. The main reason: his pitching elbow was starting to unravel.
Karsay needed Tommy John ligament transplant that year, and was subsequently traded to Cleveland in the off-season.
(Trivia question: Karsay came to Cleveland in a three-team trade involving two pitchers who never pitched for the Indians in a regular-season game. Name them.)
Karsay had a meager introduction into the Cleveland system in 1998, going 0-2 in a handful of appearances. But the next year, he blossomed into a money man for the back of Cleveland's bullpen.
In 1999, he went 10-2 in 50 games, 47 of them out of the bullpen. He had 68 strikeouts against 30 walks as one of the primary set-up men for closer Mike Jackson. But shaky starting pitching overtaxed the Indians bullpen that year, and by the end of the season, Karsay and his pen-mates did have much left to give.
The pitching staff presided over one of the more embarrassing postseason collapses in recent baseball history, as the Tribe wasted a 2-0 series lead against Boston in the first round. The three-game collapse contained a 23-7 rout in Game 4.
With Jackson departed via free agency in 2000, Karsay became the closer to start the season. Like his then-teammate Paul Shuey, Karsay always made ninth innings an adventure. He converted a career-high 20 saves that year, but also blew nine.
His inconsistency led general manager John Hart to trade for Bob Wickman in July 2000, placing Karsay back in a set-up role, which made him at least privately unhappy. To his credit, he gave full effort as a set-up man and appeared in 72 games that year.
In 2001, Karsay was part of one of the best bullpens in baseball. The Indians spent most of the season chasing the Twins, and Karsay, along with Wickman, Shuey and Steve Reed kept them relatively close.
But it didn't stop Hart from making a bold, and ultimately bad, move. In late June, Hart (with the blessing of current GM Mark Shapiro) traded Karsay and Reed to Atlanta for the one and only John Rocker.
Rocker got some saves for the Indians, but his temper and thick-headedness turned out to be worse than anybody could have imagined. He alienated many of his Cleveland connections within weeks, and was a piece of background scenery by the time the Indians took on Seattle in the playoffs. Rocker was traded to Texas in the off-season.
Karsay pitched a career-high 88 1/3 innings in 2001, with 83 strikeouts against 25 walks and a 2.35 ERA.
His performance that year earned him a lavish contract from none other than George Steinbrenner.
When the Yankees opened their considerable pocketbook for yet another off-season shopping spree, they offered Karsay a four-year, $28 million contract.
It was an obscenely large contract for a set-up man, and a blatant example of Steinbrenner flaunting his team's financial girth. Steinbrenner would get his comeuppance, but unfortunately, it was at the expense of Karsay.
Karsay was solid for the Yankees in 2002, going 6-4 with a 2.86 ERA. But then the injury bug bit again, this time in his shoulder.
He missed the entire 2003 season with shoulder problems, and was never really the same afterward. After managing just 13 appearances last season and this season, the Yankees decided to eat the remainder of his contract and designate him for assignment.
If this is indeed curtains, Karsay's career will probably be forgotten to the baseball population at large. He didn't have much of an impact in Toronto, Oakland, or New York, and just stopped for a cup of coffee in Atlanta.
But in Cleveland, he did make a difference. He carved a niche, saving the bullpen on many nights, closing, setting up, even starting a few games.
He wasn't on World Series teams like Omar Vizquel or Jim Thome, but in Cleveland, he should never need a ticket to get into Jacobs Field.

1 comment:

Zach said...

Mike Fetters and Ben MacDonald. It was the Marquis Grissom deal, made possible because the Indians re-signed Kenny Lofton. McDonald didn't pitch for anyone though, as I recall. He was injured and finished.