Reality is a Bigger, Hairier Monster For the Yankees and It Bites

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In keeping with yesterday’s autopsy theme I began yesterday, the dissection and search for the proximate cause of the demise for the 2012 Yankees is still underway. The problem is that, unlike the old Jack Klugman show Quincy, there’s not a rapid resolution and those preforming the examination are inept (Joel Sherman); partisan and delusional (Mike Francesa); and inexplicably allowed to escape from their cages and take to the internets—specifically Twitter—to put on their preschool-crafted “GM hat” made of day old newspaper.

Regardless of editorials and revisionist history, that newspaper still says the same thing for the ALCS: Tigers defeat Yankees 4 games to 0.

Quincy used to find a bullet to solve the case. In this case, Francesa might find what he thinks is a bullet when it is in reality a chunk of McDonald’s cheeseburger from 1983. Amid all of this is the reality that no one is addressing the crux of the problems that led to the Yankees’ disintegration and all are living in a world in which the Yankees are champions on an annual basis with endless amounts of money and the myth of professionalism, dignity, and class so effectively pushed by the likes of Sherman and the YES Network whether true or not.

What it comes down to is this: Are the Yankees going to maintain the road they’ve been on for the past decade and try to spend their way out of trouble or will they learn from what’s happened to them and other clubs that have done the same things and failed miserably? Judging from the statements coming from the Yankees as to their course of action, they’re not going to do much of anything different.

And that’s not good.

Let’s take a look:

  • Players wanted to join the Yankees because they won and accorded said players a chance to win a title

The Yankees were able to get the best free agents and acquire players via trade because of several reasons that no longer apply. The Yankees have outspent the rest of baseball by a wide margin over the past decade and have one World Series title to show for it. In fact, they’ve only been in the World Series twice in the past decade. Players aren’t signing with the Yankees to go to the World Series anymore; they’re signing for a chance to go to the World Series and this now is an evident possibility in about 10-12 locations every year. If a player doesn’t want the scrutiny or daily pressure of expectations that come with joining the Yankees, they’re free to go to multiple other places.

  • The Yankees pay more money than anyone else and can trade prospects for disgruntled players who want to get paid

As the club is trying to get the total payroll down to $189 million by 2014, can they blow a similarly wealthy club like the Angels out of the water in pursuit of a Zack Greinke?

The Yankees’ contract situations in 2014 aren’t as debilitating as is portrayed. They’re going to have to deal with Derek Jeter (he has a player option for $8 million in 2014 that, due to incentives, will probably be higher but still declined by the player); Alex Rodriguez is owed $25 million; they’re going to sign Robinson Cano to a contract that will probably average around $22-25 million annually; CC Sabathia is due $23 million; Mark Teixeira will receive $22.5 million. Performances and the ravages of age aside, they can afford to bring in younger “name” players to try and hand over the mantle from Mariano Rivera, Jeter, and the others to a new breed.

The Yankees used to raid low-revenue/poor-market clubs for players. Now those teams are signing their foundation players to long-term, team friendly contracts. The Pirates with Andrew McCutchen are an example. There were Yankees dreamers and apologists in the media like Sweeny Murti saying the Yankees are going to get Bryce Harper as soon as he hits free agency. That’s not going to happen.

Even Justin Upton, who is available and signed to a long-term contract, took the precaution when he signed the below-market long-term agreement to get it in writing that he can block trades to teams like the Yankees specifically so he won’t go to a team that has the money to pay him, but wants to get a cheap star-level talent.

These high-end players are not available to only a few teams that can pay them anymore and, in many cases, they’re not available at all.

With the conscious choice to get the payroll down to $189 million, the financial chasm between the Yankees, the Red Sox, Dodgers, Angels, Phillies, Cubs and others is no longer as vast. Players won’t be going to the Yankees because of a higher offer if they can take a bit less and be in a place they prefer. Cliff Lee proved that.

As for the trades, what prospects do the Yankees have left that anyone wants? They dumped Jesus Montero for nothing; Manny Banuelos is out with Tommy John surgery; Dellin Betances had to be demoted from Triple A to Double A and was horrific in 2012; and David Phelps, Phil Hughes, and Ivan Nova are the types of pitchers that most clubs have and will trade for, but won’t give up anything other than a lateral-type talent.

  • The arrogance of ignorance—or vice versa

On his show yesterday, Francesa state authoritatively and matter-of-factly that Andy Pettitte will be back; that they’ll re-sign Ichiro Suzuki; and that Hiroki Kuroda will agree to a 1-year contract. He’s also consistently implied that Michael Pineda will be an important part of the starting rotation.

Neither I, you, Francesa, the Yankees, Pettitte, or anyone else knows whether the pitcher is coming back. No one expected him to retire after 2010, so to think that because he came back to pitch this season he’s going to do so again is speculation based on nothing. And don’t discount Pettitte’s own feelings on this matter. For all his down home country Southern politeness and Texas gunslinger attitude, along with the reverence to God and the New York Yankees (the 3 years in Houston with the Astros carefully edited from the narrative), he’s been far more calculating, cognizant and manipulative of circumstances than is commonly mentioned. If he looks at the way the team lost, the cumulative age, the injuries sustained by Rivera, Jeter, and Pettitte himself, and thinks the Yankees downslide is imminent, does he want to tarnish his legacy, return to a team that ends up as the Red Sox did, and possibly injure himself if he’s vacillating on the commitment necessary to pitch effectively at 41-years-old? He could decide it’s not worth it.

Who even wants Ichiro back? Has anyone looked at his decline and age? He played well for the Yankees in spurts, but he’s not going to want to be a backup player. GM Brian Cashman made the (somewhat disturbing on several levels) statement that he wants “Big Hairy Monsters” to hit the ball out of the park. Ichiro’s no big hairy monster, he’s a little flitting hobbit. Ichiro for two months as an extra player? Okay. Ichiro as a yearlong solution playing everyday? No.

I have a feeling that Kuroda’s going to turn around and go back to the Dodgers for a multi-year deal—the location he didn’t want to leave. Kuroda preferred the West Coast, but there were no landing spots for him. He joined the Yankees because they were a good bet for him to win a stack of games and re-bolster his free agent bona fides for 2013 and he did that and more. He’s going to accept a 1-year deal? After throwing 219 innings, with a 5.2 WAR; being a gutty, consistent, and mean presence on the mound; and behaving like a true professional who would’ve fit in perfectly with the Joe Torre Yankees of the late 1990s, why would he short-change himself to stay in a locale he didn’t really want to join in the first place?

And Pineda? He was pressured and tormented for his lack of velocity in spring training; he got hurt and had labrum surgery; and had been acquired for two of the Yankees’ top prospects. The return to effectiveness from labrum surgery is not guaranteed and judging by the Yankees failure to effectively develop pitchers, what makes anyone think they’re going to get 160 quality innings from Pineda? He’s a giant question mark that they cannot count on to: A) be healthy; B) pitch well and adjust to New York and being a Yankee.

  • A no-win situation and management question marks

Say what you want about Nick Swisher, but he played hard for the Yankees; he played hurt; he embraced the city and its fans and was rewarded with abuse because of his post-season struggles. Swisher made a mistake in complaining publicly about it, but if other players look at Swisher and his contributions to the Yankees over the years, why would they want to subject themselves to that if they have a choice of possibly going to a more relaxed atmosphere that, bluntly, probably has a brighter future than the Yankees such as the West Coast, Chicago, St. Louis, Baltimore, Arizona, or even the Mets?

This same fanbase that was weeping over the injury to Jeter and stupidly calling it a “funeral” and comparing it to a wounded warrior being taken off the battlefield were the people that booed him and referred to him as “Captain Double Play” in 2011.

Do players want to willingly sign up for that?

In that vein of player whispers, manager Joe Girardi’s treatment of A-Rod, Swisher, and others is not going to go unnoticed. If Cashman heavily influenced Girardi to bench A-Rod, the players are going to think Girardi’s weak and not in charge; if Girardi did it himself, they’re going to think he’ll abandon them during a slump after performing for him during the regular season.

Girardi’s contract is up after 2013 and a player might not sign to play for Girardi in particular, but they certainly didn’t sign to play for a different manager—many of the Red Sox will tell you how that turns out after the Bobby Valentine disaster.

How Cashman is not under fire is a mystery to me. If you look at his drafts and player development which have been, at best, poor; his pitching acquisitions and missteps; his failure to put together a quality bench; and his off-field embarrassments that permeated the organization, why is he never examined in an objective way to determine whether his negatives outweigh whatever positives he provides?

In short, the playing field has changed, but the Yankees’ blueprint is stagnant. It’s the same with less money to spend. How is it possible to maintain their annual playoff contention under these constraints of their own making and due to the changing landscape?

It’s not. But you wouldn’t be able to determine that through the biology class going on with the likes of Francesa, Sherman, and Twitter dismembering a frog like the oblivious amateurs that they are and believing they’re explaining to the masses while they’re indulging in the identical fantasy that has led to the unbridled panic that ensues when the Yankees don’t win the World Series. In case you hadn’t noticed, they’ve fulfilled that mandate once in the past twelve years. With the money they’ve spent, the demands on the baseball people, and the air of superiority they exhibit—by any metric—that can only be called a failure.

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Joe Girardi Needs to Channel Saul Goodman and Other “I Woulds” From the Yankees Disaster

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You can get a postmortem on the 2012 Yankees anywhere and most of them are partisan and ridiculous. The autopsy and dissection of this carcass will be extensive and tantamount to a bunch of animals crawling all over one another to get a piece of the dead, rotting meat with no logic, reason, or intelligence. Primal and mindless, the excuses, prescriptions, suggestions, demands, and shifting of the narrative will have little to do with what actually can and will be done.

Instead of that, let’s look at the individuals in this tragicomedy, what they should do and more importantly, what they will do.

Joe Girardi—Manager

Is it his fault? No. Is he totally devoid of responsibility? He wasn’t until GM Brian Cashman came out and said the decision to bench Alex Rodriguez was made between the manager, coaching staff, and him.

Considering all the garbage Girardi has to deal with on and off the field with an overpaid and veteran club along with the injuries and scrutiny, I don’t think there’s one manager who could have gotten more out of this team than Girardi got.

Ultimately, he’s responsible for the players—specifically Robinson Cano’s—lack of hustle, but unless he’s got support from the front office to bench him or try to get him to run out ground balls, act like he cares and isn’t entitled to do whatever he wants, benching the player would do no good.

In an episode of Breaking Bad, the amoral attorney Saul Goodman becomes the representative of meth manufacturers/dealers Walter White and Jesse Pinkman when they drag him into the desert to threaten him if his client Badger (Jesse’s friend) talks after being arrested.

Jesse: Listen to me very carefully. You are going to give Badger Mayhew the best legal representation ever. But no deals with the DEA! Badger will not identify anyone to anybody. If he does, you’re dead!

Saul: Why don’t you just kill Badger?

This is what Girardi has to do if they try to fire him by saying, “Why blame me? Blame Cashman!” Is it dragging Cashman down with him? Maybe. Does Cashman deserve it if he tries to blame Girardi for this mess? Absolutely.

Here are Girardi’s choices: A) Do what I say he should do; B) Tell the Yankees that if he’s going to run this team, he can’t do it on the last year of his contract in 2013 and ask for a contract extension that they won’t give him and get himself fired; C) wait it out and see what happens in 2013. If they get off to a bad start, he’s getting the axe (if he survives this winter).

What will Girardi do?

Nothing. He’ll wait. I strongly doubt he’s getting fired.

Brian Cashman—General Manager

If Cashman cites anything other than what he himself has done, then I’d fire him immediately. The complaints about Rafael Soriano being shoved down his throat against his will lost all viability when Soriano took over for the injured Mariano Rivera and was brilliant, probably saving the Yankees’ playoff spot along the way because they didn’t have anyone else who could close and had traded the useful prospects that might’ve gotten them a closer for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos.

It was Cashman who put this team together relying on the home run above all else. It was Cashman who traded two useful prospects (if only to trade for someone who actually would’ve contributed) for Pineda and Campos—both on the disabled list.

It was Cashman who left this team without a viable bench to sit the players who needed to be sat down in the playoffs. They had no super-utility player to replace Derek Jeter and A-Rod; no center fielder to sit Curtis Granderson; not enough bench strength to bench Nick Swisher or Cano if they chose to punish him for his disinterest.

This is Cashman’s team. He put it together and he’s responsible for it. And I don’t mean a hollow, “The responsibility ends with me,” as Cashman will say. I mean actual responsibility in that, “You made this mess; you embarrassed the organization with your behavior away from the office; you’ve been here too long; and you’re fired.”

I’d fire Cashman. Damon Oppenheimer or Billy Eppler can’t do much worse. Or maybe see if Gene Michael or Pat Gillick wanted to do the job for a couple of years to groom Oppenheimer or Eppler to take over.

What will happen with Cashman?

I think it’s a 55% chance that he’s back and no more than that.

A-Rod—Aging star and gadfly

The noise has begun. A-Rod wants to stay. They don’t have anyone to replace him. He can still play. Blah and blah and blah.

I would not pay his entire contract to get him off the team, but I would see if I can move him. It’s over and the sideshow that was once mitigated by his on-field performance is now just a sideshow.

I’d do everything within reason to get him out.

What will happen with A-Rod?

They’ll get rid of him, somehow, some way.

Rafael Soriano—Relief pitcher

He’s opting out of his contract and is leaving.

What they’ll do:

Say goodbye.

Kevin Long—Hitting coach

He’s gone. It’s not his fault, but it wasn’t his doing when they were going well. Girardi didn’t sound too thrilled with Long when Long suggested the Yankees should play more small ball. It was a shot (presumably unintentional) at the manager and the manager has the last word in situations like this.

Robinson Cano—Second baseman

They’re not going to let him enter 2013 in his walk year and after getting swept, they’ll want to have a “positive” feeling. This can be accomplished by signing their star second baseman to a long-term contract.

If I were agent Scott Boras, I would redact the 2012 post-season from the Blue Book of Accomplishments he prepares for all of his free agents as if it’s a classified government memo and claim that it never happened.

I would think very long and hard about signing Cano to a long-term deal at age 31 and with his growing laziness.

Curtis Granderson—Center fielder

They’ll exercise his contract option and scan the market to see if they can: A) deal Granderson; B) get a replacement such as Denard Span, Shane Victorino, Dexter Fowler, or someone.

Nick Swisher—Outfielder/first baseman

Bye. Good luck getting the Jayson Werth contract you implied you wanted.

Andy Pettitte—Left-handed starting pitcher

Ask for a definitive answer as to what he’s doing in 2013 with no Roger Clemens-style vacillation. Either he wants to play or he doesn’t and if he doesn’t, it’s time to move on.

What Pettitte will do:

I think he’s going to retire.

Ichiro Suzuki—Outfielder

They might think about brining Ichiro back, but I wouldn’t. They got him for nothing; they got use from him; he’s extremely limited as a player and at his age won’t maintain the good work he did for the Yankees over a full season.

What they’ll do:

They’ll let him leave.

This is a crumbling municipality with a set of power brokers at the controls who are desperately trying to patch it together; the man in charge of baseball operations has made a series of unforgiveable gaffes; the baseball people are powerless.

Changes need to be made, but they’re not going to make the most significant and necessary ones. They’ll move forward with this failed template and the results will be predictable. There’s not an endless domination from year-to-year. They haven’t taken steps to replace the aging and broken down core and are reliant on players who are 38 and above. Jeter and Rivera, at their ages, are coming back from serious injuries that required surgery; Pettitte is going year-to-year and day-to-day and as good as he was on the mound and in the clubhouse, the “will I? or won’t I?” stuff is a hindrance to the off-season plans.

They’re old; they’re expensive; they’re comfortable; they’re limited.

This cannot be repaired on the fly. It’s a hard lesson that’s been proven and no air of superiority and proclamations of “we’re different” can skirt these facts. They’ll try. And they’ll fail. Just like the 2012 (and 2011 and 2010) versions of this team.

It’s unavoidable. The thing is coming down and they’re not going to do what must be done to stop it.

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Benching and Dumping A-Rod Doesn’t Fix This Mess

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For Alex Rodriguez, the only conceivable way this gets worse is if it’s discovered that it was in fact him who was fooling around with a woman during a September game in a filthy stadium toilet and that his attempts to conceal himself by wearing a CC Sabathia shirt worked for a short period of time before the truth eventually came out. Of course it wasn’t A-Rod, but that’s not the point.

The point is the truth or some perception of it.

Nestled among the generic, semantically fueled denials uttered by Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman is the truth, but you’ll have to dig to find it and also need to accept that it wasn’t the words that he said, but the manner in which he said them that conveyed the reality.

Like a politically-minded frontman whose power has ebbed; whose reputation is disintegrating like an old T-shirt; and whose job might be on the line, Cashman took the hit for the club when he denied the reports that the Yankees are looking to trade A-Rod and are willing to either swallow an exorbitant sum of money to do it or take another team’s head (and stomach, and backside) ache such as Heath Bell to make it happen.

You can read the updated story reported here by Keith Olbermann on his MLBlog. (Keith linked yours truly near the end of the original posting when talking about Yankees’ PR hatchet man Jason Zillo—my piece was about Zillo’s attempts to hinder NY Times Magazine writer Michael Sokolove from pursuing a piece about age and Derek Jeter.)

I believe that the reports are accurate and that the Yankees—with or without Cashman’s tacit knowledge—are greasing the skids to get A-Rod out of town no matter what. In addition to denying that A-Rod was being discussed in trades, Cashman also stated that his benching is purely baseball related.

Is A-Rod out of the Yankees’ lineup because of his hitting struggles? Is it because the club has had enough of him and his sideshow and is punishing him for the transgression that he supposedly asked for the phone number of an Australian model after he’d been removed from game 1 of the ALCS? Or is it a combination of everything that’s gone wrong with him since he was acquired in 2004?

A-Rod looks overmatched at the plate and it’s up to the club to determine whether it’s a slump or if they’re simply better off benching him because the players they use to replace him can’t do much worse. As for the allegation that he tried to get a date during the game—so what? It happens all the time and that it’s a point of contention with factions of the organization speaks to the elasticity of propriety. If it was 2009 and A-Rod did the same thing in Anaheim during the ALCS when he’d been pulled for a pinch-runner, no one would’ve said a word because he was killing the ball. In fact, the old-school Steinbrenner sons likely would’ve shook their heads as their father did at the antics of David Wells and other players who did “guy stuff” in what they perceive as a man’s world and laughed at A-Rod just doing what A-Rod and other men do when they spot a pretty girl. The stark contrast being that unlike 99% of the planet, A-Rod has the ability to try to get a date and make it happen.

If the Yankees are benching him as a punitive act, it’s somewhat laughable considering that Cashman himself had his own issues with a woman he met and dated because he’s the GM of the Yankees. If Cashman hadn’t had a card that said Executive VP and GM of the Yankees and instead worked as an usher at the stadium, he wouldn’t have gotten the time of day from the woman. She certainly wasn’t with Cashman for his ratty looks and dully monotonous vocal tones.

Cashman’s behavior was in fact far worse than A-Rod’s because it was Cashman who wrote a letter of reference for the woman with whom he was involved and did so on Yankees stationery. All A-Rod did was happen to be wearing a Yankees uniform when he supposedly put the moves on the model.

And looking at the picture below, can you blame him?

Players do this more often than the public realizes and it’s not a big deal for any reason other than that it’s A-Rod and he’s not hitting, so all is magnified and the piling on of reasons to get rid of him.

As for the supposed trade talks, Cashman’s denials ring hollow and the entire listening audience, if they’ve been paying attention over the past decade-and-a-half of Cashman’s reign, saw right through it. In his desperate attempts to spin the story, it would’ve been more honest and believable if he sat with his head tilted, gesticulated with his hands in a “yeah, yeah, yeah, even I don’t believe this BS fashion,” and literally said:

“A-Rod, blah blah blah. He’s not being discussed in trades, blah, blah, blah. No Marlins, bleh. Not benched because of off-field stuff or the model thing, yadda yadda yadda. This is a team and the team’s not playing up to capability, blahblahBLAHblah…”

At least it would’ve been honest.

I do expect A-Rod to be dealt this winter, but they’re not going to pick up the entire contract unless they’re getting good, useful pieces in return. Apart from that, it would be the Yankees picking up a chunk of the contract (that owes him $114 million from 2013-2017) and taking someone else’s nuisance and similarly bad contract such as Bell. But getting rid of one player doesn’t solve all the Yankees problems. The bottom line is that they’re not losing because of one player independent of salary, all-time great career numbers, and controversies on and off the diamond.

This entire mess began due to A-Rod’s slump and that he’s the easiest target, but none of the Yankees have hit and, unlike Robinson Cano, at least A-Rod hustles and appears to care. Unlike Nick Swisher, he’s not whining about the fans. And unlike Curtis Granderson, the 37-year-old A-Rod is not supposed to be in his prime as he’s seemingly striking out every time he steps into the batter’s box.

There’s no doubt that A-Rod’s a distraction, but in this case he’s one of convenience to shift the blame from the rest of the team being as bad or worse than him. If they get rid of him, they’ll still have a bucketful of age, expense, and decline to deal with and no singular object of revulsion to take the brunt of the ridicule. Then it will be piled onto the front office concerning what they’ve done to let this team decay. Then the underlying holes will be revealed and they’re not as easy to fix as paying someone off to leave.

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Yankees By The Mailbox

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Will the Yankees mail it in or will they put up a fight?

They know first-hand and on the wrong end that being down 3 games to 0 isn’t the end of a series, It’s laughable when a game is called a “must win” even when it’s not an elimination game. It’s in the same logical arena of “giving 110%.” It’s not possible. Of course it would’ve helped the Yankees’ cause to have won last night, but it wasn’t a “must” win.

Tonight is a “must” win, but I’m not sure that the Yankees collective hearts are going to be in it to make the commitment necessary to make this a series, let alone bring it back to Yankee Stadium. Deep down, they can’t think they can come back and win it with their pitching staff decimated, the lineup inert, and Justin Verlander looming for game 7 if, against all logic and reality, they get it that far.

The Yankees are not going to just give the series away and make it obvious that they know their fate, have accepted it, and are waiting for the guillotine to come crashing down, but with a veteran team that’s lucratively compensated and playing poorly, can they reasonably expect to win four straight games and then be ready to face one of two good teams in the World Series and win?

Even in the most predictable Hollywood scenarios it’s hard to envision, and in those scenarios like the one that actually happened against the Red Sox in 2004, there was still some momentum and a feeling of the series not being over. That comes from the players on both sides. The Red Sox of 2004 were not going to quit; they’d never won; hadn’t been together long enough to grow complacent; didn’t have these super-high priced items permeating the roster from top-to-bottom; weren’t old and exhausted; and put forth an effort in the face of defeat.

Can this Yankees team say any of that?

CC Sabathia threw 17 2/3 innings and 241 pitches within 5 days to lead the Yankees past the Orioles in the ALDS. His elbow has barked this season and he’s 32; the Yankees are going to need him in 2013. Is manager Joe Girardi going to push him that far again? Is Sabathia going to be willing to be pushed that far again in a cause that the sane factions of the organization know is ostensibly hopeless?

Nick Swisher (if he plays) is looking at free agency. He won’t receive the$126 million, Jayson Werth dollars he was implying he wanted earlier in the season, but someone will pay him a good chunk of change. Will he be willing to lay out or crash into a wall trying to make a catch when it’s not going to make a difference this season for a team that’s on life support, but might cost him his contract?

Alex Rodriguez is likely planning a nice long vacation to escape it all. The argument could be made that he began his vacation when the regular season ended.

Rafael Soriano is going to opt-out of his contract and command at least a 3-year deal from someone (maybe even the opposition Tigers). Will he agree to pitch 2 innings tonight if needed? And if they win, 2 innings tomorrow? 1 1/3 innings in game 6?  All to face Verlander in game 7? With Phil Hughes experiencing back spasms that forced his removal in the fourth inning, who’s pitching game 7? David Phelps? Are they going to deactivate Hughes and pitch Freddy Garcia? Against Verlander and that Tigers’ lineup?

Robinson Cano plays as if he’s entitled when there’s a viable chance of the Yankees winning a World Series, but what about now? Is he going to hustle tonight? Why would he all of a sudden decide to play hard especially if he and the rest of the team know they’re done and just want to go home?

Yesterday, when the Yankees’ lineup was posted, I was amazed and impressed that Girardi was willing to make such gutsy moves. I certainly wouldn’t have put Eduardo Nunez at shortstop (though I would’ve gotten him in the lineup), but it was a case of Girardi saying he’d seen enough of Swisher and A-Rod and wanted to try something else. That’s what it looked like anyway until GM Brian Cashman started talking.

In what was a masterfully Machiavellian job of inserting himself into the narrative, when Cashman said that the decision to bench these players and make these lineup maneuvers was made jointly between him, the manager, and the coaching staff, he effectively emasculated his manager in front of the world. Was Cashman trying to take the heat off the manager? Was he trying to exert his authority as he always wanted to do under Joe Torre and since the publication of Moneyball stated that the GM should dictate to the manager, not the other way around, to accumulate credit for himself? Was it both?

From 1998-2007, had Cashman walked into Torre’s office and said he wanted to discuss the lineup, trying to force the veteran manager who had become an icon into doing what he was told, Torre would’ve reverted from the calm, cool, conciliatory Papa Joe that everyone saw—that Torre wanted everyone to see in public—to the old-school baseball man that told one of his bosses, Randy Levine, to “shut the {bleep} up,” during a conference call in which the upper management was trying to tell Torre what to do with the players on the field. Torre would’ve either told Cashman he’d think about it; said he’d do it and then not done it; or told Cashman to get the hell out his office.

Cashman should feel the heat more than anyone else in this organization and it’s not a “the buck stops with me,” safety net that a boss says but doesn’t really mean because he knows he’s safe, but a job-on-the-line questioning of why the Yankees don’t have a super-utility player who can actually play defense and hit; or have a viable center field option to remove Curtis Granderson from the lineup; or the other ghastly moves—mostly with pitching—he’s made.

It’s already started.

The wheel of blame is spinning and everyone is trying to protect themselves. Once this is over (and it’s a great bet that it ends tonight), they’ll scurry to their positions, dig into their spot, and wait it out to see who’s going to be held accountable for their failure to live up to the mandate of World Series or bust. No one, including Cashman or Girardi, is safe. The fallout will be in the coming weeks, but for now it’s waiting out the inevitable.

The patient is not dead but like a suffering animal (or human), there’s a time to put it out of its misery; a time that it probably won’t fight and if it does, won’t have the strength to put up an extended amount of resistance. What it comes down to is who’s shouldered with the responsibility for this debacle.

There’s plenty to go around.

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New Age Collisions and Matt Holliday

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The photo you see above is Graig Nettles kicking George Brett in game 5 of the 1977 ALCS. The Yankees eventually won the game and the pennant. A brawl occurred between the two teams following this incident. No one was kicked out of the game. (Get it?)

If that happened today, someone would have to be thrown out. I think. Although Roger Clemens was allowed to fling a projectile—a broken bat—at Mike Piazza in the 2000 World Series and didn’t get tossed. It’s a fine line between defending oneself and running the risk of getting ejected.

In last night’s game 2 of the NLCS, on a double play attempt, Marco Scutaro of the Giants was nailed and had his hip injured on a takeout slide by Cardinals’ outfielder Matt Holliday.

You can watch it below.

Holliday was past the base and his specific intent was to hit Scutaro hard enough to prevent the double play. He did it cheaply with a dangerous roll block and raised arm making it doubly treacherous for the infielder. This isn’t little league and there’s a reasonable expectation for hard, clean play. Infielders have their own little tricks they use to prevent this from occurring. In general, they use the base for protection because the runner is technically not supposed to pass the base; they also throw the ball sidearm and specifically aim it at the runner’s head (this is taught) so the runner has to get down to avoid getting beaned. Holliday’s play was arguable in its legality/line-crossing because the ball and Holliday arrived nearly simultaneously and Scutaro didn’t have the time to hop out of the way or use the base as protection, nor could he throw the ball at Holliday’s head. Holliday did go past the base to get Scutaro.

It wasn’t overtly illegal, but it was a legal cheap shot.

On the Fox broadcast, Tim McCarver—a former catcher, no stranger to home plate collisions—compared the play to Buster Posey getting leveled by Marlins’ outfielder Scott Cousins in May of 2011. Posey had his ankle broken, needed surgery, and was lost for the season. It was his absence that set forth the chain-of-events that might have cost the Giants a second straight World Series and forced them to search for more offense and surrender their top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler to get Carlos Beltran from the Mets.

There was no comparison between the two hits because what Holliday did was questionable at best and dirty at worst. What Cousins did was within the rules. Rules and propriety don’t always intersect and if that’s the case, then baseball has to step in and clarify the grey areas.

What creates the controversy is that it’s so rare in today’s game. In the Royals-Yankees annual ALCS matchups (4 times in 5 years between 1976 and 1980), Royals’ DH/outfielder Hal McRae took every opportunity to try and send Yankees’ second baseman Willie Randolph into the left field seats and break up a double play. It’s perfectly acceptable for a runner to run into a fielder if he has the ball and is trying to tag him, but the last player I remember doing it was Albert Belle.

With catchers and runners, it’s an old-school play that some former catchers like McCarver, Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi, and Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy would like to see outlawed, while Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia thinks it’s an integral, exciting, and necessary aspect of competition. No one will accuse any of the above ex-players of being wimps. All were tough, but disagree on the subject. Scioscia relished the contact and was the recipient of one of the most brutal collisions I’ve ever seen in 1985 when Jack Clark of the Cardinals barreled into him. Scioscia was knocked out; Clark was staggered as if he’d been he recipient of a George Foreman sledgehammer punch; and Scioscia held onto the ball.

Nobody runs over the catcher anymore. There’s a commercial playing in New York of Derek Jeter crashing into a catcher. When has Jeter ever run into a catcher? It’s almost never done, and when it is, it turns into a national catastrophe if one of the players gets hurt.

The camaraderie and brotherhood among the players also precludes these hard plays. Everyone knows each other now. With the limited degrees of separation and the amount of money at stake, few are willing to take the chance of ruining another player’s career. You don’t see knockdown pitches; you don’t see take-out slides; you don’t see busted double plays; and you don’t see home plate collisions.

It wasn’t an, “I’m trying to hurt you,” play. But an injury was a byproduct. It was legal, yet borderline. If MLB wants to make it illegal or come up with a way to constrain it, then fine. Until then, it’s acceptable. As long as the people in charge fail to make a concrete announcement and provide a clear-cut mandate to the umpires that certain actions won’t be tolerated, there will be players who are willing to do what Holliday did, injured players, and indignant reactions in its aftermath.

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The Yankees’ Problems Go Far Beyond One Fractured Ankle and a Blown Call

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So Nick Swisher’s gregariousness—long an irritant to opponents—is no longer charming to the home fans when he’s 4 for 26, lost a ball in the lights in right field, and they’re looking for someone, anyone to blame for Derek Jeter’s ankle injury no matter how ludicrous the shifting of responsibility is? Swisher is surprised and “hurt” by the fans heckling and booing him?

Indicative of the need for vast chunks of the fanbase to awaken to an unexpected and unforeseen reality, Swisher is the case study of how things truly are for the Yankees when the “magic” disappears or decides to shift its allegiance to another venue.

The search for reasons that there were blocks empty seats at Yankee Stadium for playoff games is a bunch of noise. No one can pinpoint exactly why it’s happening in spite of Randy Levine’s complaints or baseless theories. It could mean anything. In a poor economic climate, fans may not have the money to purchase the seats, pay for the parking, indulge in the concessions. It could be that some have become so accustomed to the Yankees being in the playoffs every year that it’s lost its specialness and they’re paying scant attention to the how and are making the unsaid statement of, “Let me know when the World Series starts.”

The World Series will start on October 24th and the Yankees still have time to be a participant. But barring a miraculous turnaround, they will instead be cleaning out their lockers while it’s going on. Some, like Swisher, will be doing it for the final time as a Yankee.

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t call for instant replay when it negatively influences you, but laugh heartily and say smugly, “Them’s the breaks!” when Joe Mauer hits a ball that was clearly fair and was called foul; or when Jeffrey Maier has become a folk hero and part of the “Yankees lore” when he interferes with a Jeter home run ball that wasn’t and may have turned the entire 1996 ALCS in the Yankees’ favor and been the catalyst for their dynasty. Jeter, after that game, was asked what he would say to the young Maier and with the remnants of his antiquated fade haircut still in place and in the formative years of being a Yankees’ hero, he said, “Attaboy!!!” with undisguised glee at the Yankees winning in a similarly unfair fashion as they’re complaining about losing now. Except the Mauer and Maier calls changed the games entirely and the blown call on Omar Infante was only made because Infante made a mistake rounding the base and that the subsequent Yankees’ pitchers couldn’t record one out to make the point moot.

It’s the condescension and self-indulgent arrogance that is currently reverberating on the entire Yankees apparatus from the front office, to the YES Network, to the sanctioned bloggers, to the media, to the players, to the fanbase.

We want justice when it benefits us.

We love the players as long as they perform for us.

We function with dignity and class as long as we win.

Players join the Yankees because they offer the most money and they win. But when a player says no as Cliff Lee did, it’s because he doesn’t appreciate the “privilege” of being a Yankee, not because he and his wife preferred Philadelphia or Texas or because his wife didn’t brush off the same abuse that is being heaped on Swisher now was being hurled at her (along with spit and beer) in the 2010 ALCS.

It’s a wonderful world to live in where there’s no responsibility and money can be tossed at every problem to solve it.

The reality hurts when it hits like a sledgehammer. This faux history and concept of invisible baseball Gods smiling on the Yankees is eliminated by the truth. It was the need for capital in a musical produced by Red Sox owner Harry Frazee that led to the selling of Babe Ruth to the Yankees. They started winning shortly after getting the best player in the game and it turned into a circular entity. The more they won, the more money they made; the more money they made, the more free agent amateurs wanted to play for them because they paid the most in bonuses and they won. It continued on through Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. The amateur draft was implemented in the mid-1960s and the Yankees collapsed. They began winning again through free agency in the mid-late-1970s and it started all up again. There was a long lull and lucky—not smart, lucky—drafts garnered Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte. Amateur free agents upon whom they stumbled and nearly dumped such as Mariano Rivera and Bernie Williams turned into stars. They drafted a skinny shortstop, Jeter, in the first round of 1992 and got a historic player. This talk I’ve seen of a method to the madness with “doing the most damage in the later rounds of the draft” is pure better-breeding, blueblood idiocy. Any team that drafts an infielder in the 24th round who develops into Posada, or a lanky lefty like Pettitte in the 22nd round—both in the 1990 draft—is lucky.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but don’t make it more than it is.

Jeter gets injured and rather than being treated as an athlete who happened to get hurt in the middle of a contest, on Twitter it morphs into “a funeral procession,” and those who laughed (sort of the way the Yankees laugh at the Mets and Red Sox when misfortune hits them), are “justified” to have been thrown over the railing at Yankee Stadium. Jeter is analogous to a “wounded warrior being carted off the battlefield.” No. He’s not. He’s a very rich athlete who got hurt. That this type of thing was said while there are actual soldiers being carted off real battlefields and coming back missing limbs, burned beyond recognition, or dead makes this type of comparison all the more despicable.

Yes. Murdering someone makes logical sense when things don’t work out for you. That’s the way 12-year-old, bullying mentalities think. “If I don’t get to play with your toy, I’m gonna break the toy so you can’t play with it either.” “If I don’t get to win, I’m taking my ball and going home.”

When Rivera got hurt, there was this identical dynamic.

There’s an impenetrable fortress of delusion among these fans who have known nothing but winning in their time as Yankees’ fans. They don’t realize that sports is a diversion and these are human beings doing a job. A true tragedy occurred in 2006 when Cory Lidle crashed his plane days after the Yankees had been eliminated by the Tigers. Days earlier, he’d been a guest on WFAN with Chris Russo and, when Lidle said he was enjoying a beautiful day in New York City with his daughter, Russo indignantly said something to the tune of, “Well, if I’d just lost a playoff series I wouldn’t be out enjoying the day.” Lidle replied, “What am I supposed to do? Sit home and cry?”

In the Jimmy Fallon movie Fever Pitch, as the Red Sox fell behind the Yankees 3 games to 0 in the ALCS of 2004, Fallon’s character is out drowning his sorrows when he spots then-Red Sox players Johnny Damon and Jason Varitek out having dinner. An epiphany hits him that they’re human beings who are doing a job and will then go out and live their lives after the fact and that includes going out and having a nice dinner. There’s no reason to cry; a tantrum won’t help; and there’s no hiding in their homes musing on what went wrong.

Because it’s a job.

This incarnation of the Yankees from 1996 to now has never had to do a rebuild. They never had to worry about money because George Steinbrenner, for all his faults, was willing to spend under the theory that success on the field would beget profit off it. And he was right. But now the Boss is gone and GM Brian Cashman is hell-bent on getting the payroll down to a reasonable level so the new luxury tax regulations won’t drastically increase the bottom line. Is it due to a mandate from Hank and Hal Steinbrenner? Or is it Cashman trying again to prove that he belongs in the fleeting upper echelon of GMs currently inhabited by the likes of Andrew Friedman and Billy Beane who are specifically there because of limited resources and their own cagey maneuvers that sometimes work and sometimes don’t?

Cashman tried to rebuild his farm system so the Yankees didn’t have to rely on the checkbook to save them. In 2008 that resulted in a missed playoff spot and was, as usual, covered by spending, spending, spending on Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett. They’re still seeking young pitchers with cost certainty and upside and have Manny Banuelos (Tommy John surgery), Dellin Betances (can’t throw strikes), Michael Pineda (acquired, abused, and on the shelf with a torn labrum), and Jose Campos (the invisible key who hasn’t pitched or been heard from since May).

Annual contention and a World Series or failure sentiment is a great roadmap to disappointment. As the Phillies, Angels, and Red Sox have proven, money doesn’t buy a playoff spot, let alone a championship. The Red Sox and Mets have proven how quickly it can all come apart.

That can happen to the Yankees.

As they age, they decline (Alex Rodriguez); get hurt (Jeter and Rivera); outlive their usefulness (Swisher, Curtis Granderson), and bear the brunt of the outrage that the championships are not being delivered as they were in the past.

Are they prepared to pay Robinson Cano the $200+ million he’s going to want as a free agent after 2013? While they’re trying to cut costs and know that Cano isn’t the hardest worker in the world and whose laziness will extract an increasing toll on his production when the game is no longer easy for him? Does Cano look effortless because he’s so good or is it that he doesn’t put in much effort? And how does that portend what a player like him is going to accomplish as he’s guaranteed an amount of money that he’ll never be able to spend is coming to him no matter how he performs? He doesn’t run ground balls out now in the playoffs, is he going to run them out when he’s 35 and has 5 years to run on a contract that the Yankees can look at A-Rod’s fall and know is disastrous? The days of a player putting up Barry Bonds numbers at ages 36-42 ended with increased drug testing and harsher punishments. A-Rod is a 37-year-old player and this is what happens to 37-year-old players regardless of how great they once were. They can’t catch up to the fastball, they have to start their swings earlier in case it’s on the way leaving them susceptible to hard breaking stuff and changeups.

There’s no fixing it.

The Yankees might come back and win this ALCS. To do it, they’ll have to beat the best pitcher in baseball, Justin Verlander, pitching at home as the Tigers have a 2-0 series lead. It can be done. The Yankees can still win the World Series. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that they do. Will it be enjoyed or will there be a la-de-da, “we win again,” attitude that has set the stage for this rickety foundation and imminent collapse?

How much cake can a fan eat? How many pieces of chicken parm can Michael Kay stuff into his mouth? Like Wall Street, how many yachts can they waterski behind? When is enough enough?

Whether your personal investment and fantasyworld of egomania lets you see it, win or lose this dynasty is coming down and it’s happening right before your eyes.

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NLCS Preview and Predictions—San Francisco Giants vs St. Louis Cardinals

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San Francisco Giants (94-68; 1st place, NL West; defeated Cincinnati Reds 3 games to 2 in NLDS) vs St. Louis Cardinals (88-74; 2nd place, NL Central; won Wild Card; defeated Atlanta Braves in Wild Card play-in game; defeated Washington Nationals 3 games to 2 in NLDS)

Keys for the Giants: Get depth from their starting pitching; keep the scores low; score tack-on runs; maintain their closer diversity; don’t let Carlos Beltran beat them.

Because they had to win the final 3 games against the Reds to make it to the NLCS, the Giants have listed Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong, and Matt Cain as the first three starters in the series. It’s undecided who will go in game 4. I wound start Tim Lincecum, but Barry Zito is an option—a bad option, but still an option. The Cardinals can score in bunches, but the Giants have the starting pitching to turn out the lights on anyone’s offense.

The Giants are no longer the team that couldn’t score and relied on their starting pitching to a desperate degree in recent years. With Buster Posey, the Giants have a weapon in the lineup and behind the plate. That said, they can’t score in bunches with the Cardinals.

Carlos Beltran is a post-season machine. Early in the series I’d pitch around Beltran and make Matt Holliday beat me.

Keys for the Cardinals: Raise the Giants’ starters pitch counts up and get into the bullpen; get a better performance from Adam Wainwright; put up crooked numbers.

The Giants’ bullpen has depth, but they’re still shaky. If the Cardinals can put up big numbers against the starters, they’ll get into the Giants’ bullpen while simultaneously putting a limited offense in the position of having to score a number of runs they’ve shown finite capability in scoring. If the Cardinals put the Giants in a position of playing catch-up, they’ll be in a great position.

Adam Wainwright pitched well in his first start against the Nationals, but got shelled in game 5, nearly costing the Cardinals the series.

What will happen:

The Cardinals escaped the play-in game against the Braves—in part—due to the horrific infield fly call; then they got past the Nationals because the Nats’ bullpen blew up in a stranger-than-fiction manner.

Will that happen against the Giants? The Giants starting pitching is better than that of the Nats and there’s not the bullpen use by rote that doomed the Nationals. If the situation in the ninth inning calls for a lefty, there’s not going to be a “my closer is in the game” from Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy because their true closer, Brian Wilson, is on the disabled list. If the situation calls for Sergio Romo, Romo will pitch; if it calls for Javier Lopez, Lopez will pitch. Some see this as a disadvantage and in the regular season, maybe it is. In the playoffs, it isn’t.

Lance Lynn is starting the opener for the Cardinals. Lynn got off to a blazing first half of the season as a starter, but was sent to the bullpen in August. He seemed to run out of gas. The Giants have an edge in rotation depth and in the bullpen.

The Giants will not let Beltran beat them and if Matt Holliday isn’t hitting, the Cardinals offense is mitigated.

The Cardinals have been functioning with an inexplicable amount of magic and/or luck in the past two years. They’ve gotten by with miraculous comebacks, have lost star players, managers and pitching coaches, taken advantage of unforeseen opportunities, and walked away with a World Series title and are back in the NLCS.

Their luck is going to run out in this NLCS.

PREDICTION: GIANTS IN SIX

NLCS MVP: MADISON BUMGARNER

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ALCS Preview and Predictions—New York Yankees vs Detroit Tigers

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New York Yankees (95-67; 1st place, AL East; defeated Baltimore Orioles 3 games to 2 in the ALDS) vs Detroit Tigers (88-74; 1st place, AL Central; defeated Oakland Athletics 3 games to 2 in the ALDS)

Keys for the Tigers: Tack on runs and keep the game out of the hands of Jose Valverde; hold down the Yankees’ bats as the Orioles did; get runners on base in front of Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera.

Valverde has been terrible this year. Yes, he has a fastball and a split that can get strikeouts, but the hitters—and especially the Yankees—know to give him a chance to start walking people and he’ll oblige. His strikeouts were way down this year with only 48 in 69 innings. The Yankees will be supremely confident even if they’re trailing going to the ninth inning with Valverde coming in. The Tigers have the offense to put up big numbers and they’ll feel better en masse if they’re not placing the game in the hands of Valverde.

The focus was on Alex Rodriguez because he wound up being benched, but A-Rod was benched because the Yankees had options to do so. They don’t have that option with their other struggling hitters Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson. Nick Swisher isn’t going to be in the lineup every game if he doesn’t provide some offense early in the series. The Orioles did it with Joe Saunders, Jason Hammel, and Miguel Gonzalez. The Tigers are trotting out Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, and Max Scherzer. Maybe the more familiar pitchers will help the Yankees have better at bats.

With Fielder and Cabrera, the Tigers have bashers that the Orioles didn’t. If the Yankees are in a position where they have no choice but to pitch to one or both, they’ll do damage.

Keys for the Yankees: Hit; don’t hesitate to make lineup changes with Swisher or A-Rod; get similarly great starting pitching as they did in the ALDS.

Mark Teixeira is coming off of a calf injury that could’ve ended his season and is an injury that has a tendency of recurring even when it feels as if it’s back to normal. He’s running hard and his key stolen base set the stage for the Yankees to take the lead in game 5 against the Orioles.

Cano, on the other hand, is running at perhaps 60% of capacity. He does it because he’s allowed to get away with it. It’s unacceptable. I can deal with him struggling at the plate; I can live with an error once in awhile; but this attitude of, “I don’t have to run because I can hit better than 98% of baseball,” is a warning sign to the Yankees that they should think very long and seriously before handing Cano—at age 31 a year from now—a contract for 8-10 years at over $200 million. His laziness on the field could extend to off the field; what once came easy will no longer come easy; and if he’s not willing to run out a double play ball in the playoffs, then what makes anyone think he’s going to work hard off the field to stay in shape when his bat slows down and his reactions aren’t as quick?

He was actually worse that A-Rod in the ALDS because A-Rod has the excuse of age and declining bat speed. I had thought Cano would be mitigated because he wasn’t going to see any pitches to hit, but in the series with the Orioles, he saw plenty of pitches to hit. He just didn’t hit them.

Andy Pettitte, CC Sabathia, and Hiroki Kuroda are warriors; Phil Hughes has the fans and media acting skittish whenever he’s out on the mound, but he’s been able to handle the pressure games and do his job.

By my estimation, Swisher will get the first two games against Fister and Sanchez to see if he produces. If he doesn’t hit, by game 3 when Verlander is on the mound, Swisher will be sitting.

It was interesting that both Joe Girardi and Jim Leyland left their aces out on the mound in a game 5 when they definitely would’ve pulled them in favor of their closers in a less-important game.

What will happen:

The Tigers are not the Orioles. They’re not relying on a bunch of journeymen and youngsters. They’re trotting star power out there with Fielder and Cabrera. Austin Jackson and Quintin Berry are speed players who pose a threat on the bases. Alex Avila and Delmon Young have had big hits in the playoffs. With their starting pitching, they’re more capable of shutting out the lights on the Yankees than the Orioles. Sabathia is not pitching until game 4 after his complete game effort in game 5 of the ALDS against the Orioles.

Cabrera has brutalized the Yankees’ pitchers—link.

Fielder hasn’t been as successful, so the series is going to hinge on him and Young, both batting behind Cabrera.

Valverde has had success against the Yankees, but he can’t be trusted. Nor can Yankees’ closer Rafael Soriano who, despite pitching well against the Orioles, has not been trustworthy in playoffs past. Both Leyland and Girardi will be inclined to leave their starters in the game rather than entrust a close game to questionable bullpen arms when they can help it. Joaquin Benoit has been shaky for the Tigers and David Robertson gets himself into trouble seemingly for the sake of getting out of it and that’s not going to work with Cabrera and Fielder.

I don’t see how A-Rod, Swisher, and Granderson will suddenly rediscover their strokes against better pitching than they saw in the Orioles series. I have no idea what to expect from Cano.

Leyland has bounced the Yankees the two times he’s faced them in the playoffs and with the Tigers lineup performing better than the Yankees and an even matchup on the mound, the Tigers will stop the Yankees again.

PREDICTION: TIGERS IN SIX

ALCS MVP: PRINCE FIELDER

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2012 MLB Award Picks—Cy Young Award

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Let’s look at the award winners for 2012 starting with the Cy Young Award with my 2012 picks, who I picked in the preseason, and who I actually think is going to win regardless of who should win.

American League

1. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

Verlander won the Cy Young Award and the MVP in 2011. His numbers in 2012 weren’t as dominating as they were in 2011 and the Tigers had a better team in 2012, so he’s not an MVP candidate this season, but he still did enough to outdo the competition for the CYA.

Verlander led the American League in innings pitched, strikeouts, complete games, and was at or near the top in advanced stats such as Adjusted ERA+ and Wins Above Replacement (WAR).

The WAR argument is a factor, but not the factor to set the stage for the MVP analysis between Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout.

2. David Price, Tampa Bay Rays

Price led the AL in ERA and wins, but was far behind Verlander in innings pitched and strikeouts.

3. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

If he hadn’t had two terrible games in September in which he allowed 7 earned runs in each, he would’ve been higher. In addition to those games, he allowed 6 earned runs in two other games; and 5 earned runs in three others. He was pitching for a bad team that couldn’t hit, pitched a perfect game, and threw 5 shutouts.

4. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels

Had he not gotten injured and missed three starts, the Angels might’ve made the playoffs. It wouldn’t have won him the award unless he’d thrown three shutouts, but he’d have had a better shot. He won 20 games and was third in ERA, but only logged 188 innings.

5. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox

In his first year as a starter, it was Sale’s smooth transition to the rotation that led the White Sox to surprising contention.

***

My preseason pick was Price.

The winner will be Verlander.

National League

1. R.A. Dickey, New York Mets

Which will win out? The story of Dickey and how he rose from a first round draft pick whose contract was yanked from under him because his elbow didn’t have an ulnar collateral ligament, then to a 4-A journeyman, then to a knuckleballer, then to a sensation? Or will the fact that he is a knuckleballer and the perception of him using a trick pitch sway some voters away from his numbers to the concept of giving the award to a “real” pitcher (as ridiculous as that is).

When Jim Bouton was making a comeback as a knuckleballer in 1978, he pitched well against the Reds of Joe Morgan, Pete Rose and Johnny Bench. The Reds quantified their inability to hit Bouton with head shakes at how slow his offerings were. Bouton’s friend Johnny Sain said something to the tune of, “You’ve discovered a new way to assess a pitcher’s performance—go and ask the opponent what they thought.”

How Dickey did it and debiting him for using a “trick pitch” is like refusing to give Gaylord Perry the Cy Young Award or Hall of Fame induction because he admittedly threw a spitball. Everyone knew it and he got away with it. It’s the same thing with Dickey except he’s not cheating.

Dickey won 20 games for a bad team and led the National League in strikeouts, innings pitched, complete games, and shutouts.

2. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

I wouldn’t argue if Kershaw won the award. You can flip him and Dickey and both are viable candidates.

Kershaw led the NL in WAR for pitchers, was second in adjusted ERA+, led the league in ERA, was second in innings pitched and strikeouts. He was also pitching late in the season with a hip impingement injury that was initially thought to need surgery. (He won’t need the surgery.)

3. Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves

I am not punishing a great pitcher for being a closer. Saying he’s not a starter is similar to saying that a player like Derek Jeter isn’t a great player because he never hit the home runs that Alex Rodriguez hit. He’s not a slugger. That’s not what he does. It’s the same thing with Kimbrel and Mariano Rivera. Make them into a starter, and it won’t work. But they’re great closers.

Hitters are overmatched against Kimbrel. And yes, I’m aware you can make the same argument for Aroldis Chapman, but Chapman’s ERA was half-a-run higher than Kimbrel’s, but Kimbrel’s ERA+ was 399 compared to Chapman’s 282. For comparison, Rivera’s highest ERA+ in his career is 316; Eric Gagne won the 2003 NL CYA with an ERA+ of 337.

4. Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds

Cueto was second in WAR (just ahead of Dickey), third in ERA, first in adjusted ERA+, and third in wins.

5. Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals

Gonzalez won 21 games, but didn’t pitch 200 innings. He has a Bob Welch thing going on. Welch won 27 games in 1990 and won the Cy Young Award in the American League, but Dave Stewart had a far better year than Welch and Roger Clemens was better than both. Welch was the beneficiary of pitching for a great team with a great bullpen. Clemens was second, Stewart third. Dennis Eckersley had an ERA+ of 603 (that’s not a mistake) and walked 4 hitters (1 intentionally) in 73 innings that season. Welch had a good year, but it’s not as flashy as it looked when delving deeper into the truth. This is comparable to Gonzalez’s predicament.

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My preseason pick was Tim Lincecum.

Kimbrel is going to win on points as Dickey, Gonzalez, and Kershaw split the vote among starters. I see some writers punishing Dickey for being a knuckleballer due to some silly self-enacted “rules” or biases just as George King of the New York Post deprived Pedro Martinez of a deserved MVP in 1999—link.

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A-Rod, Ibanez, and Changing the Culture at Closer

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Watching for the reaction from Alex Rodriguez fits neatly into a narrative of the player’s struggles. Would he accept the unprecedented maneuver to pinch-hit for him with Raul Ibanez, or would he pull a Scottie Pippen and throw a public tantrum? Would A-Rod have negative things to say in spite of the move working? Would it be all about him?

This aspect is a non-story. A-Rod hasn’t acted like a diva since his opt-out in 2007 and subsequent return to the Yankees. He’s eager to help his younger teammates and contemporaries and is smart and self-aware enough to know that he’s not getting the job done. While he would have liked to have gotten a shot to do what Ibanez did? Yes, but logic and current reality dictates that had it been A-Rod at the plate against Orioles’ closer Jim Johnson, he would have failed. He’s still smart and savvy as a player (evidenced by his run-saving deke of J.J. Hardy in game 2), and while the traps he once set for pitchers by looking intentionally awful at a pitch just so the pitcher would throw it again when the situation called for it and A-Rod could crush it, he knew Joe Girardi did the reasonable—and gutsy—thing before Ibanez’s heroics.

On that same theme of game-knowledge, I find offensive the implication that managers as smart and experienced as Buck Showalter and Jim Leyland are unaware of the faults that lie within the concept of the one-inning closer who’s inserted into the game simply because it’s a save chance regardless of the hitters scheduled to bat or possibilities on the bench.

They know.

Johnson has been brilliant this whole season, but prior to 2012 he had zero experience pitching for a contender and zero experience in the playoffs. He’s blown two of the three games this series. Did Showalter have a better option than him? No. And it’s irrelevant to this argument that Johnson’s numbers are very good against both righties and lefties. It’s the era that’s the problem.

In order to change the culture of the “closer,” there has to be a team that does what Tony LaRussa did when he implemented the one-inning save with Dennis Eckersley. What LaRussa did was innovative and based on what he had; what others have done in years since is simply copying LaRussa so they don’t have to think on their own and risk being criticized. “I had my closer in the game,” is an excuse, not a reason. It’s a shield against reasonable questioning as to why a manager does what he does.  

LaRussa’s idea was bastardized and has evolved into the unrecognizable and mindless zombie it is today when that wasn’t LaRussa’s intent at all. LaRussa defined the roles for his relievers because he had the relievers to fill those roles effectively; Eckersley was more durable and effective in his mid-30s when he didn’t have to pitch more than one inning. It was cold-blooded analysis rather than an effort to reinvent the game.

The most ludicrous thing about the one-inning closer pitching against all comers is that prior to the ninth inning, the managers engage in a duel from the sixth inning to the eighth, mixing and matching their pitchers to specifically face certain hitters based on numbers, stuff, history, and other factors; then when the ninth comes around, for the Tigers, it’s Jose Valverde; for the Orioles, it’s Johnson, and no one dare interfere with the closer’s realm whether it’s the smart baseball move or not.

To think that Leyland is comfortable with Valverde on the mound and that some guy with a website or column on ESPN has the knowledge and nerve to make a change in the hierarchy, possibly upsetting the entire applecart, is the height of arrogance and cluelessness of how a baseball team is handled off the field. Johnson is effective against both righties and lefties, but if it was the seventh inning, would a righty have been pitching to Ibanez? Or would Showalter have brought in a lefty to face him?

The idea of an “ace” reliever is similar to the “ace” starting the first game of a playoff series. You want to have your best out there on the mound when it’s most important and, in the case of the Orioles, Johnson is the best they have. But in other cases, such as Valverde, is he the “best” choice or the choice to keep the peace among the pitchers by having it known, “You’ll pitch here; you’ll pitch there; you’ll pitch against X; you’ll pitch against Y.” During the regular season, if the team is good enough, it makes the manager’s life easier because the closer designate is likely going to convert his save opportunities, but in the playoffs, as we’re seeing now, it’s not a guarantee.

Mariano Rivera is considered the “greatest” closer in history because he’s gotten the big outs in the post-season, not because he’s accumulated the highest save total. Amid the saves he’s racked up in the playoffs—the vast number of them due to the opportunities accorded by pitching for a team in the playoffs just about every year—have been three high-profile gacks that cost his team a shot at the World Series title. In 1997, he allowed a game-losing homer to Sandy Alomar Jr.; in 2001, he blew game 7 of the World Series; and in game 4, it was a Dave Roberts stolen base that undid him and the Yankees. If Rivera hadn’t accrued the capital from the games he’s closed out, these would be defining moments in his career just as blown saves are for Trevor Hoffman, Neftali Feliz, and others.

What I would like to see is a team that is willing to try something different, has a manager willing to stand up to the scrutiny from the media and the complaints of the pitchers, and a front office that backs him to say, “Enough of this,” with the designated closer. Not in the way the Red Sox did, to disastrous results, in the 2003 season, but by having a group of pitchers—sidearming righties and lefties; specialists with numbers or a pitch that is effective for matchups—and use these pitchers in a similar way in the ninth inning as they do in the earlier innings.

A team that could experiment with this is the Rockies. Already trying a different tack with their starting pitchers and relievers rotating with a set number of pitches and the management unconcerned about stats; with an atmosphere not conducive to starting pitchers being successful; and a closer, Rafael Betancourt, that is in the role just because he’s there and not because he’s got a long history of doing the job, they could alter their relief configuration in the same way they’re trying to do it with starters. If it works, other clubs will copy it.

The save stat is ravaged as meaningless. In and of itself, it is meaningless. But until the mentality is changed from the top of an organization all the way through the entire system, there will still be calls for the “closer” even when a sidearming lefty who can’t get anyone out but lefties would be preferable to the guy who’s “supposed” to be out there because it’s “his” inning.

It’s not “his” anything. It’s the team’s thing. That’s what A-Rod proved by being a professional and an adult, and that’s what managers should strive to prove in the future with their bullpens.

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