600px-Ligaments_of_the_elbow

Tanaka and the Yankees’ true enemy is the ambiguity

MLB

If Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow had blown out completely when he first started experiencing pain in 2014, he would have had Tommy John surgery and possibly been back pitching at the big league level for a New York Yankees’ potential playoff run in August.

That didn’t happen. In retrospect, it’s unfortunate.

While some might take the diagnosis of a tear in the elbow ligament that was less than 10 percent as good news, in the end, it’s not. The real enemy the Yankees and Tanaka are facing isn’t the procedure and its layoff and rehab, but the ambiguity. When Tanaka was first diagnosed and up until this latest stint on the disabled list, there was endless debate – most of it coming from armchair experts on pitching and medicine – that he should just have the surgery and get it over and done with. The Yankees were right in deciding that they will listen to what the doctors say and let him rehab the injury in the hopes that he can avoid surgery and pitch just as durably and effectively like nothing was wrong. He made two starts at the end of the 2014 season with mixed results. He altered his mechanics and pitching repertoire in spring training 2015 to try and take the strain off of his elbow leading to reasonable speculation that he’s overcompensating and is still hurt. That groundswell grew when he was bad in his first start, mediocre in his second. It quieted as, for the subsequent two starts, he reverted to the dominant force he was for the first half of 2014 when he’d emerged as a sensation.

Now, in a mid-game announcement, general manager Brian Cashman stated that Tanaka was heading back to the DL with wrist tendinitis and a forearm strain. The MRI did not show more damage to his elbow ligament. More mishmashed good and bad news. More waiting. More armchair expertise. Some, like Pedro Martinez, who pronounced before the season that Tanaka’s elbow was eventually going to blow, sounded almost gleeful at being “right” even if he’s not…yet.

This isn’t a small factor in what the Yankees and Tanaka have to deal with. No one wants to hear about an impending heart attack that might never come. But there are still questions hovering around and they won’t go away until Tanaka has a sustained run of health and success.

Will this be ongoing until the elbow finally blows? Did Tanaka’s strategic changes to protect the elbow place a strain on other parts of his arm? Can the Yankees count on him to be the Cy Young Award-contending ace they paid for?

No one knows. Not the doctors, the baseball operations people, the manager, the coaches, or even Tanaka himself. Pedro Martinez certainly doesn’t know. That reality aside, this is hindering the Yankees in a far more significant fashion than would the finality of needing the procedure.

Cashman can’t hide his exasperation as he repeatedly states that the club is following the prescribed treatment plan from doctors whose job it is to make the determination as to whether surgery is necessary or not. They had several opinions from respected voices in the industry and all said he doesn’t need to have the procedure yet. So he’s not having it. They pitched him normally while monitoring him and he’s hurt again with an injury that is, in part, different to what he had before. The elbow strain is said to be very mild. Cashman admitted that it’s possible that it’s a precursor to needing Tommy John. What else is he supposed to say? What else are they supposed to do?

“Just in case” surgery is not advisable. Having Tommy John surgery now when the injury is reportedly something else entirely is tantamount to treating a torn biceps as if it were a broken arm. They’re in limbo. And it’s not good.

There’s a sigh of relief that accompanies finality. There’s no finality with Tanaka and it’s not good for him or the Yankees. The short-term pain of tearing off the Band-Aid yields a definable result. The same goes for Tanaka had he needed the surgery in the summer of 2014 and had it done. Instead, it’s more waiting, worrying and gazing into the abyss of the unknown without an end in sight.

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Josh Hamilton, SBNation and the insincere business-based apology

MLB

How many crackheads just out of rehab do you see the Texas Rangers giving gainful employment? How many cocaine addicted street hookers pimped out by their drug dealers and offering quick services in Lower Manhattan are getting lucrative baseball jobs in an effort to save them? What are the job prospects of a known addict who can’t be trusted to carry cash?

It’s hard for people with these issues to get any kind of a job, let alone one that pays them as well as what Josh Hamilton is paid.

So let’s not act as if the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the Rangers or anyone else who’s dealt with Hamilton on a professional basis was indulging in a philanthropic attempt to assist substance abusers. This isn’t a societal cleanup nor is it a selfless attempt to save a life. The Angels gave Hamilton that $125 million contract because they felt they could use his bat and he’d maintain his sobriety. They were wrong. The Rangers took him back for a pittance because they’re a reeling organization, saddled with terrible contracts, and declining fan attendance. Maybe Hamilton can help them with one or all of those problems.

There’s a reason why all of this is happening and it’s not human kindness. He was allowed to nearly toss his career away with drugs and given numerous other chances because of the same gifts that made him the first overall pick by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the 1999 draft. Whether the self-abuse has finally caught up to him physically is something that will be determined once he’s back on the field, an event that should be coming in the next several weeks. He’s getting chance after chance because he could once hit a baseball nine miles. If that wasn’t the case, his former employers might be willing to help him, but there would be a clear limit to how far they’d go.

While most people in baseball will say they hope for the best for Hamilton, there’s also an undercurrent of head shaking and “you did this to yourself” finger wagging. The political correctness that rules the day will preclude that from being clearly stated by the vast majority, but it’s there.

This leads directly into the deleted blog post by the Halos Heaven blog on SBNation. While the general reaction to the post was that it was heartless and cruel, it’s indicative of the declining level of discourse in our society, the lack of accountability, the fearlessness that comes from (probably) never having to face the people attacked on the internet, and the lack of training as a reporter and its consequences of everyone having a forum and playing “writer.”

The explanation – not an apology – that the author of the original post gave was illuminating as to what led to the post in the first place. It’s not meanness. It’s not a lack of caring. It’s a complete absence of accountability and focus on the self in opposition to providing intelligent foundation for discourse. It was an angry Angels fan who had undoubtedly said equally incendiary things about other subjects in the past but got away with it because there wasn’t the enraged backlash as there was to this last, blaze of glory act that ended up getting him tossed from the site.

Let’s not turn SBNation into a credible news organization. It’s a forum and a niche site with advertising, promotion and significant financial backing. That doesn’t make it credible. We’re not talking about a New York Times or Wall Street Journal editorial. It’s not even a Keith Olbermann Special Comment. It’s a schlock site with a vast proportion of fans who are expressing themselves. Sometimes that will come out as offensive.

There’s an arrogance that comes from public attention and the perception of success regardless of the quality of what’s presented. Those who find themselves getting paid for what these sites truly need – content and web hits – equate paid writing gigs with an ability to write; to analyze; to editorialize; to assess. In today’s world, there’s often not a connection between the two.

Had it not been so fresh an issue and no one paid attention to what was written, then there wouldn’t have been the uproar. They fired the writer. He claims they mutually parted ways. Their version of SBNation’s oversight was to reference the platform’s policies when it comes to content. The reason this happened is, as with most bloggers, there was no actual interaction between the writer and the subject.

Because this was dealt with in a way to assuage the masses who felt that the post was line-crossing, it doesn’t mean that there’s true regret.

Had the percentages been reversed and the public reaction to Hamilton’s relapse been 90 percent as disgusted with him as the Halos Heaven writer was and 10 percent calling for compassion, there would have been applause instead of public shaming and a loss of employment. That’s the reality. The person who ran Halos Heaven was bad for business and that’s why he’s gone. Not due to the Hamilton post. That’s simply a byproduct.

Billy_Martin_1954

Book Review – Billy Martin: Baseball’s Flawed Genius by Bill Pennington

Books, MLB

Which was Billy Martin?

Baseball wizard?

Scrappy, determined firebrand?

Two-fisted drinker and two-fisted puncher?

Egomaniacal, self-conscious, self-destructive innovator?

Generous and kind?

Religious and sorrowful?

Reckless womanizer?

Baiter of players, umpires, beat writers, front office folk, and owners?

All of the above?

The answers and more of what made Billy what he was are clear in Billy Martin: Baseball’s Flawed Genius by Bill Pennington.

There’s no need to refer to him as “Martin” as would be generally appropriate in discussing a biography. His first name is all that is required to know who’s being referred to when discussing baseball from the 1950s when he became Casey Stengel’s pet, a post-season star and leader for the perennial champion New York Yankees and onward through time as he made his way as a nomadic and explosive journeyman player and manager from the late 1950s through to his death in 1989.

From a relatively destitute childhood in Oakland, gazing at the far off glory of Major League Baseball while brushing up against it with local big leaguers who still called the area home and Bay Area product, fellow Italian Joe DiMaggio, Billy was not to be denied. If he wasn’t going to be the prototypical bonus baby that big league clubs congregated around offering vast sums of money to sign with them, he’d force his way onto their radar with his hustle, intelligence, intensity and fearlessness.

Those same attributes carried him throughout a notoriously underrated big league playing career in which he was an irreplaceable cog for four pennant winners and three World Series champions.

Of course, Billy’s reputation from his childhood as someone who was ready and willing to stand up for himself – he’d taken boxing lessons as a youth – and a drinker and carouser are also imperative parts of the story that Pennington tells. These are integral to the character that grew to be larger than life and simultaneously sad and proud; pathetic and admirable. While Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford might have gotten into just as much mischief as Billy, it was always that “bad influence” Billy Martin who received the blame if things went wrong. This was evident in the Copacabana incident when, for once, it appeared that Billy was completely innocent but got the blame and a ticket out of New York anyway.

Once his playing career ended, he worked his way up through the ranks as a coach and manager who owners knew would probably help their teams win, but would also force them to fire him for an off-field incident that couldn’t be covered up with ambiguity or a quiet payoff.

No biography about Billy would be complete without discussing the fights. There were the famous ones with Jim Brewer, Dave Boswell, Ed Whitson, the marshmallow salesman, and the Twins’ traveling secretary to name just a few. Then there were the near-fights with Reggie Jackson and dozens of others in which Billy simply walked away because of the war of attrition having a reputation of a brawler relegated him to.

The dichotomy that was Billy Martin is clearly evident in the pages of Pennington’s book. One minute he would be buying drinks for an entire bar full of patrons and the next minute someone would say the wrong thing, make the wrong move and be lying on the floor contemplating an assault charge and a lawsuit against the famous big league manager whose fists were quicker than his temper and shattered the mental dam of hesitating for fear of long-term consequences that most of us have.

The battles with Reggie (another person for whom the first name is enough) take up a substantial part of the narrative with good reason. While it might be seen as a player and manager who didn’t get along and couldn’t stand the sight of each other, it goes deeper than that. Pennington indicates that one of the main reasons they didn’t get along is because they were basically the same personalities with an inevitable clash occurring not as a matter of circumstance, but as a matter of course. Both were egomaniacal, paranoid, self-loathing, self-loving, loud, and exhibited the diametrically opposed combination of being terrified and unafraid.

Billy’s dislike of Reggie was not linked to Reggie’s shortcomings as a player, but his unquenched desire to draw attention to himself at the expense of anyone who stood in his way – including the manager who wanted the credit for what the team accomplished. It certainly didn’t help that Reggie was signed against the wishes of Billy, who preferred Joe Rudi. Nor did the fact that Reggie walked into camp and immediately alienated the veteran working class, team-centric types like Thurman Munson, Graig Nettles, and Sparky Lyle with whom Billy had bonded. Billy, considering himself the ultimate team man, was saddled with a player whose main function was to bask in the spotlight by any means necessary. Both men seemed to delight in garnering a reaction from the other and, in the end, perhaps needed one another to a degree that they would be loath to admit.

There’s no pigeonholing Billy. For those who considered him a purely bad guy, they speak from experience. For those, like Rickey Henderson, who consider him a great, caring guy who was a catalyst to their careers because he believed in them when no one else did, they too speak from experience. Much is made of coaching “trees” and managerial strategies that are passed down from one to the other over the decades, but Billy’s lineage is clear in the work that Tony La Russa did in his Hall of Fame career as he learned to concern himself with what was best for the team and not care about the reaction. It’s also evident in the work of Buck Showalter, who Billy took under his wing as a young spring training coach in 1988 during Billy’s final go-round as Yankees’ manager as Showalter was starting his climb from minor league manager to his current status as one of baseball’s best tacticians.

Tactics were the foundation to what made Billy so great as a manager. He spotted weaknesses and exploited them. He was forever going for the deep strike with aggressiveness and tailored his decisions to what the players could do best and what rattled the opponents the the highest degree. On the same token, there was rarely a “tomorrow” with Billy. It was win today; do what’s fun today; get the girl today; go get drunk today; worry about tomorrow tomorrow.

That’s not the blueprint to having a long career.

A common question about him is whether or not his tactics would translate to the new era of mathematical formulas, all-powerful general managers, players with contracts paying them one-third of a billion dollars, a smothering media, know nothing “experts”, bloggers, Twitter and numerous other distractions that make the 1970s and 80s seem like the Sixth Century. The answer is as nuanced as Billy himself. He would likely have adapted to a certain degree while maintaining the principles he learned from in-the-trenches work as a student of the game, but he also would have detonated when the daily questions arose as to why he used X reliever instead of Y reliever; why he batted this player fourth when the numbers indicate that batter should be batting second; and why he decided that ordering a steal of home was a smart move given the low percentage of its success.

Add in a 20-something kid with a degree from Harvard who’d never picked up a baseball in his life walking into his office and telling him that the new algorithm the sabermetrics department developed wasn’t being implemented as he was instructed and it’s hard to see him adapting to the degree that he would have had to to survive. Then again, he never survived in any one place for very long anyway. There might not have been a difference between then and now.

That’s just on the field.

His behaviors away from the park were a source of trouble that he never fully reined in or even tried to tamp down. His turbulent off-field life would have set off thousands of YouTube views whether it was a bar brawl, a drunken escapade, a confrontation with a reporter, or an accusation from one of the multitudes of women he insatiably chased.

He managed for five different organizations and had five different tenures as George Steinbrenner’s field boss. He turned each and every one of those teams around. He also forced the management to fire him for reasons on and off the field. Had he not died, there absolutely would have been at least one more tenure as Yankees’ manager – the book out-and-out says so. Regardless of talent level, attitude and situations, he made winners of all of them with his aggressive style of play. There was also a willing trade-off that his employers made knowing that there was going to be an incident that would make it necessary for them to fire him. Had Billy thought ahead off the field as well as he did on the field, there wouldn’t have been a problem. But that wasn’t his style.

Billy’s son implies that the constant turmoil might have been intentional on the part of his father; that Billy knew he grew complacent if he was in any one place for too long; that he couldn’t live without the action. This can explain why, when so many – almost all – of his publicly known fights occurred when he was sitting and drinking in some bar, he continued going to bars. He went drinking the night he died in that car crash in upstate New York. In a dramatic sense of a story with an unavoidable and expected ending, the crash was the only way Billy’s life could possibly have concluded.

A person who put forethought into what could happen to his future if something were to occur and had even the barest sense of self-preservation would have stopped drinking and quit living life at ten times the speed of everyone else.

Not Billy.

He refused to conform in a similar manner to refusing to alter his managerial style when he knew he was fundamentally right. His competitiveness dictated that he never back down even if it was in his interests to do so. Therefore, he never backed down. It gained him almost everything he earned and it cost him even more. That said, if he had backed down, maybe he never would have made it in the first place. On some level, he knew that and acted accordingly. It made him and it broke him on every conceivable level and made him what he was: a man who couldn’t be placed into a single category not because he tried to be that way, but because he couldn’t be any other way and succeed in the way he did.

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Miami Marlins *may* fire manager Mike Redmond

MLB

On Saturday, after their third straight loss to the New York Mets, I wrote the first draft of a post entitled “Miami Marlins fire manager Mike Redmond.” The reasons for this were three-fold:

1) I expected him to be fired that Monday if the Miami Marlins lost on Sunday

2) I wanted to have the post ready to go needing little more than tweaking when it happened

3) I wanted to specifically say that I’d written the first draft of the post on Saturday to establish my prescience

This wasn’t an example of jumping on the bandwagon based on the swirling rumors as to the tenuous nature of Redmond’s job security. I saw it coming before the season started when there was an inexplicable number of “experts” who predicted a Marlins playoff run with a few going so far as to say they were going to win the pennant.

My tweet on this subject from April 1 is below.

For the most part, this isn’t to denigrate the predictions of others. In many cases, there are extenuating circumstances for a reasonable projection with a strong foundational basis to have ended up wrong. Injuries, tragedy and good or bad luck all play a role. Since the post was essentially written, I’ve chosen not to wait for Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria to finish sharpening his well-worn axe and swing it at Redmond, but to point out that those who are defending Redmond now are just as misguided as those who looked at this team and thought they were a rising threat.

Loria has spent his time as a baseball owner earning the image of George Steinbrenner-lite. He’s overseen significant upheaval on his roster, with the coaching staff, in the managerial office, and front office. Often seen as petulant, impetuous, demanding, irrational and bullying, Loria has made nine managerial changes since taking over the organization prior to the 2002 season. Some were misguided tantrums like dumping Joe Girardi. Others were questionable in blaming Fredi Gonzalez for a flawed club that the manager somehow coaxed to 87 wins in 2009 and firing him in 2010. Ozzie Guillen was a “this was the wrong guy hired for the wrong reasons” mistake.

In true Steinbrennerean fashion, he’s recycled Jack McKeon twice, the second time being when McKeon was 81-years-old. If McKeon were 10-15 years younger today, he’d already be managing the Marlins again for 2015.

But he’s not.

So barring a miraculous turnaround from their current record of 3-11, Loria will be looking for a new manager within days. Speculation has centered around the “fireplug” type whose personality is diametrically opposed to the cerebral and outwardly calm Redmond; someone who will come in, flip the food table, get in the faces of players (his own and opposing), umpires, and anyone else who dare draw his ire.

Loria wants his Billy Martin and with McKeon too old to fill the role, he’s looking elsewhere. Mets Triple A manager Wally Backman’s name has come up. A carbon copy of Martin with a turbulent off-field life, rampant controversy, the flammable reputation in personality, alcohol-fueled ignitability, baseball nerve and savvy, Backman would be a risk that could pay off big or really blow the thing up.

All of this is independent of whether or not the Marlins’ slow start falls at the feet of the manager.

Objectively, it’s hard to blame Redmond for what’s happened thus far with the Marlins. But to absolve the manager of all blame and say that injuries have undone the club is misrepresenting the facts and issues that have caused this atrocious start. With the players retreating into the embrace of team meetings, a vampire-like side effect of inability to see one’s reflection in the mirror, and Giancarlo Stanton saying that they don’t have “fire”, it’s only a matter of days (hours, minutes, seconds) until Loria holds someone responsible for this catastrophe. The easy target is the manager.

And he’s not wrong.

For all his volatile behaviors, ruthless businessman trickery, political machinations, and Lex Luthor-style evil persona, Loria does have baseball knowledge. Trouble arises when he thinks he knows better than everyone else and because one bout of interference worked that they’re all going to work. The Marlins are certainly dysfunctional, but the Marlins under Loria have always been dysfunctional. This was true when he gutted the team after a large free agent spending spree and lost 100 games and it’s true now that they were a trendy preseason pick to go to the playoffs.

There can be a dozen excuses as to why Redmond’s not at fault. He’s without their best pitcher Jose Fernandez until mid-season when, instead of a glossy equivalent to a mid-season pickup of an ace, he might end up as a guy getting ready for 2016 rather than pushing it in 2015. Henderson Alvarez is also hurt. The injuries are not irrelevant, nor are the misplaced, oversized expectations that permeated the team and led Loria to believe they should have a record opposite to the one they currently do. The players they acquired before the season leading to the enthusiasm were more complementary than headliners. Mat Latos, Mike Morse, Dan Haren, Dee Gordon, Ichiro Suzuki, Martin Prado – all have use in one form or another, but to take their acquisitions as the finishing touches for a team that was mistakenly believed to be thisclose is compounding the problem: the team was overestimated from the get-go.

And that goes back to the blame game. Loria’s certainly not going to blame himself. The players can say they’re blaming themselves, but really aren’t. The baseball operations chain-of-command was just changed. There’s no one else to fire other than Redmond.

He’s a generic, replaceable, vanilla voice whose message isn’t getting through. For the owner to look at the situation and decide that he might as well bring in someone else is completely fair. In fact, it’s justified in that what’s happening now is not working and it’s better to act sooner when there’s still time to save the season than later when it’s not.

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In case you were wondering who Britt McHenry is…

Media, Television

In a bizarre and embarrassing rant that went viral, ESPN personality Britt McHenry verbally abused a woman who was working at the office of a towing company in Arlington, Virginia. When I ask who McHenry is, I’m not asking in a tone wondering, “Who does she think she is talking to people like this?” It’s a legitimate question as to who she is, because I don’t know. I’m going to presume you’re like me in that you had no idea who Britt McHenry was before this and wouldn’t have known had this not happened.

You can watch it below.

According to McHenry, her vehicle was towed from an Arlington, Virginia parking lot for no reason. If that’s true and was done just because the municipality and towing company are trying to make money from unsuspecting and innocent people, then she had the right to be livid. She might even have had the right to walk into the office of the towing company and vent. Had she gone into a cursing rant as to why they took her bleeping car when there was no reason for them to do so, then no one would have said a word. In fact, many might have agreed with her. Instead, she decided to go beyond justified anger and comment negatively on the appearance of the woman sitting behind the desk of the towing company office while arrogantly insinuating that she was a superior human being because she’s “in the news” and has a college degree. In truth, she’s in the news now because her story is newsworthy. Prior to that, she was an employee at a sports network that does break news and has reporters that do excellent work, but she is neither a newsbreaker nor a reporter. She’s a personality.

I call her a “personality” because I don’t believe the designation of “reporter” should just be handed over by sheer nature of a job title. She’s a sideline person; she does interviews; she’s a good looking woman whom the network hopes will attract some viewers to watch her. There’s nothing wrong with that until the person begins to believe that appearance and aesthetics equates to talent and intelligence.

I can’t say whether or not she’s talented; if she knows anything about sports; if she’s likable; if she’s an asset to the network because before this, I had no idea who she was. The idea that she’s a network personality seems to have given her an inflated sense of self-importance to believe it’s appropriate to treat others as if they’re beneath her.

McHenry is a face. And a replaceable one at that. Walk onto the campus of UCLA, USC, Florida, Florida State, Arizona State – any of the well-known schools where the coeds are generally considered the prettiest in the country – and you can find a replacement for McHenry who could be trained within a few months to seamlessly do the exact same job with no one even remembering her name.

The apology she posted on Twitter was indicative of what it was that made her feel so entitled to say the things she said to that woman to start with. It wasn’t, “I said some terrible, obnoxious, arrogant things to someone I don’t even know. I was angry, but that’s no excuse and I shouldn’t equate another person’s appearance with their self-worth in the same way that I don’t want to be seen as someone who got her job based on little more than the way I look.” That would have been an honest apology. Instead, it wasn’t even an apologetic gesture. It was more of the me-me-me that blew her ego out of control. Translating what she tweeted, it actually said, “I got screwed when my car was towed. I was mad and I threw a tantrum. And, hey, whatever. Sorry I got busted. I have to apologize so I won’t get fired. Y’know. I’ll try to be a better person. Etc.”

There was no mention of the woman she was berating because the woman didn’t exist in McHenry’s world before and she only exists now because McHenry got into trouble for the abusive tirade.

If brainless mannequins are hired and they’ve been trained to equate a person’s worth with appearance, then this is unavoidable when the world doesn’t fall at the brainless mannequin’s feet as they’re supposed to. It’s a testimony to the type of person she is and how insecure she is. “I’m good looking, therefore I’m better than you.”

McHenry was suspended by the network for a week from doing…whatever it is she does. I’m still not sure. Some were saying she should be fired. I don’t believe this was a fireable offense. However, the question about McHenry’s job status isn’t whether or not she should be fired, but what it was about her that got her hired in the first place. Had she been someone who was average-looking, was slightly overweight or plain fat, would ESPN have hired her? They can say they would have. They can claim that their hiring practices are, in part, predicated on the photogenic nature and charm of their employees but the employees must be qualified. But the reality and obviousness of their and every other network’s hiring decisions diametrically opposes any protestation to the contrary stating that they would have hired her regardless of appearance.

She’s proud of her appearance and clearly works hard to maintain it. She’d better. Because once it’s gone, she’s not going to have a job on television since her looks are the only talent she has.

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What separates Matt Harvey from the “I wouldas”

MLB

Perhaps the most appealing thing about New York Mets pitcher Matt Harvey isn’t his dominating stuff and his coolest guy in the room attitude, but that he’s the guy in reality that other guys try to portray themselves to be when there’s limited chance of being called on it. He dates bikini models; he threatens giants (Jon Rauch); he effectively straddles the line between obnoxious arrogance and overwhelming confidence; and he’s a gifted talent.

Tuesday night’s victory over the Philadelphia Phillies was indicative of what Harvey is.

So many use the “I woulda” as an example of what “woulda” happened if “I” was in the area when (insert incident here) happened without any basis of truth. In most cases, the “I wouldas” “woulda” done absolutely nothing. That’s what separates Harvey from the rabble inside and outside of baseball.

Harvey is liked and respected throughout baseball, but he doesn’t let that interfere with him doing his job and adhering to the code of what has to be done independent of personalities. There’s no false bluster or empty threats. Chase Utley didn’t appear to be all that bothered about taking one in the back as clear retaliation for his pitcher, David Buchanan, popping two Mets hitters. No one thinks that Buchanan was intentionally throwing at Wilmer Flores or Michael Cuddyer, but that matters only in a very minimal way. The message was sent not just to the Phillies, but to the rest of baseball and the Mets as well: we’re not taking this crap. Utley gets it because he’s old school and essentially plays the same way Harvey does with little bits of gamesmanship like hard tags, quietly snide comments that only the target hears, and take-out slides. Other players might glare or even charge the mound. If that’s the case, Harvey’s attitude is, “Hey, let’s go.”

For too long, the Mets roster was permeated – or pockmarked – with nice guys; guys who think about consequences too much before acting; guys who don’t realize that the long-term benefits of action sometimes outweigh the short-term sanctions that can result. It’s been an issue for years. In 2000, Mike Piazza was hit in the head by Roger Clemens in a mid-season game against the New York Yankees after Piazza had repeatedly demolished Clemens at the plate. The Mets’ retaliation was Glendon Rusch hitting Tino Martinez in the backside.

The Yankees weren’t sufficiently terrified nor all that impressed after a soft-tossing lefty like Rusch hit Martinez in the one place where hitters would prefer to be hit if they’re going to be hit – his butt.

Manager Bobby Valentine debated whether or not to have the next day’s starter Mike Hampton drill Derek Jeter and ultimately decided against it. In a typical Mets moment of in the intervening years from the “street gang/don’t screw with us or else” years of Keith Hernandez, Ray Knight and Darryl Strawberry, the Mets were viewed as cerebral wimps whose lunch money – and postseason money – was there for the taking from baseball’s bullies like Clemens. That’s a long way from 1986 when Knight punched Eric Davis in the face and invited Dave Parker to step into the the next day with Parker (nicknamed “Cobra” for reasons that had nothing to do with baseball) backing down.

Piazza had every right to attack Roger Clemens for flinging the broken bat handle at him in Game 2 of the 2000 World Series. Few doubt Piazza’s ability to wring Clemens’s neck if it came down to that, but rather than acting instinctively, Piazza weighed the possibility of getting ejected from a World Series game and chose not to fight. In the moment, it’s understandable. In retrospect, would Piazza pounding Clemens have spurred the Mets to win the series? There’s no way to know, but the series couldn’t have gone much worse than the Mets losing in five games.

The Mets have been justifiably viewed as soft. That might be why when there’s a gut-check game – Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS; the last games of the season in 2007 and 2008 against the Florida Marlins – they always lost. Even when they tried to retaliate, it was done in a manner that elicited eye rolls and laughter at the Mets being the Mets. In 2002, when the Mets had the opportunity to finally retaliate against Clemens, Valentine had Shawn Estes – who wasn’t even on the Mets when in 2000 – throw at Clemens. And he missed. When David Wright was beaned by Matt Cain of the San Francisco Giants in 2009, Johan Santana tried to retaliate by hitting Pablo Sandoval…and he missed too. Then Sandoval hit a home run. That was the pre-Harvey Mets.

The Mets were laughed at because they deserved to be laughed at. They were considered soft because the evidence showed that they were soft. Teams felt they could be pushed around because they could be pushed around.

Matt Harvey’s not soft; he won’t allow his teammates to be soft; and he won’t be pushed around. The message is clear to the other pitchers like Jacob deGrom as well. This is how you protect the hitters.

Reminiscent of former Mets greats Dwight Gooden, Tom Seaver, and even Nolan Ryan and Jerry Koosman, he’s going to throw at you if it has to be done. In 1985 Gooden threw a high-90s fastball over Montreal Expos pitcher Bill Gullickson’s head after Gullickson threw one over his former Expos battery mate Gary Carter’s head. Carter wasn’t popular with his former Expos teammates and nodded knowingly after the Gullickson pitch. Gooden responded.

In the 1969 stretch run, Koosman drilled Ron Santo after Bill Hands knocked Tommie Agee down. Koosman responded.

Two Mets hitters were hit by pitches. Harvey responded. If teams want to fight over it, he’s ready to do that too. Because he’s not an “I woulda.” He’s an “I would.”

And he did.

484px-Masahiro_Tanaka

Tanaka, Kay, Cashman’s interview and a sigh of something other than relief

MLB

Ironically in a career spanning several decades where few people cared what he said about much of anything sports-related, Michael Kay’s opinion will be – if not interesting or useful – telling as to how New York Yankees’ pitcher Masahiro Tanaka’s Sunday night performance is perceived by someone who’s accrued a strange credibility on the issue.

A preface: I am not comparing Kay to Walter Cronkite.

I repeat: I am not comparing Kay to Walter Cronkite.

But there’s a similar dynamic regarding Cronkite essentially saying in 1968 that the Vietnam war was, at best, at a stalemate and Kay almost the same thing I said verbatim asking why Tanaka’s changed his tactics and mechanics if the tear in his elbow isn’t significant enough to: A) negatively affect his pitching; and B) make surgery necessary without debate. You can listen to Kay’s surprisingly astute and objective assessment from ESPN radio below.

For Kay to call into question anything the Yankees do is tantamount to Cronkite tossing his old-school reporter sensibility of avoiding taking a stand on issues and calling into question the wisdom of continuing the losing Vietnam war. Perhaps the Yankees are having the same reaction that President Lyndon Johnson had when he reportedly turned to an aide and said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America” and are saying, “If we’ve lost Kay as our designated shill, we’re left with…Suzyn Waldman and Sweeny Murti?!?”

Amazingly, Yankees fans and apologists grow even more arrogant when the team is mediocre-to-bad. On social media, the Yankee-centric are responding to assertions that Tanaka should get the surgery with a condescending snideness and are desperately seeking ways to explain away his lack of effectiveness with bitter sarcasm. They may ridicule medical recommendations from laymen, but their insistence that Tommy John surgery is unnecessary is coming from the same baseline ignorance.

In spite of Sunday night’s 14-4 win over the Boston Red Sox, this Yankees team promises to be mediocre-to-bad. Tanaka pitched better in this start than he did in his opening day start against the Toronto Blue Jays, but his line – 5 innings, 4 hits, 4 runs, 3 earned runs, 3 walks, 4 strikeouts, and 1 homer allowed – was passable, not good; his stuff was similar to what it was in his first start; and he was not even close to a fraction of the dominant pitcher he was prior to last season’s diagnosis of a torn elbow ligament, less than 10 percent torn or not.

Yankees fans and media apologists might not breathe a full sigh of relief, but there’s a slight exultation that Tanaka got through a game without getting rocked again and that his arm stayed attached to his body. That’s better than the alternatives.

This, however, doesn’t alter the reality the club faces. That reality was on full display in this Brian Cashman interview with Mike Francesa on WFAN in New York. The uselessness of these interviews should be known by now. No one – especially team general managers – says anything of note. In the first two minutes, Cashman was in full backpedal regarding his statement at the time of Tanaka’s diagnosis that the Yankees had other pitchers who were diagnosed with a similar tear in their elbow and pitched through it. Covered by the pretense of not being able to disclose who they are, it’s impossible to know its veracity. It’s ambiguity shielded by faux propriety. According to Cashman, the reaction to Tanaka and paranoia regarding whether he’s healthy and if he should simply go and get the surgery now is a byproduct of the club being “transparent” about the injury. What exactly were they supposed to do when he was pitching brilliantly through the first half of 2014, stopped pitching brilliantly, was placed on the disabled list and was out? Not tell the media what the problem was?

It’s a typical dictatorial tactic to act as if a favor is being done by providing this information that they had no choice but to provide in the first place. This is not hockey or even football where teams are able to get away with saying their players have an “upper body injury” or a “lower body injury.” That daily grind of baseball and freedom that the players have in talking precludes the belligerence that would result from a player showing up in a half-body cast and anyone daring to ask why.

Cashman implies that the Tanaka statements as to changing his mechanics and pitching strategies was lost in translation. A lot seems to be getting lost in translation with the Yankees these days. The number of excuses they’re formulating as to their pending return to the dark times of 1965 to 1975 and 1982 to 1992 are embarrassing in their offensiveness. They’re not spending money; they’re in a pseudo-rebuild (for them); they’re waiting for contracts to expire; they’re talking up young players Aaron Judge, Gregory Bird, Luis Severino and others as if the next wave of homegrown talents along the lines of Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and Bernie Williams will miraculously become championship players as a matter of course; and they’re still charging ludicrous prices for a stage show that few are going to want to see because the star names they have are now more suited to being supporting players.

The reliance on pitchers like Nathan Eovaldi and trusting their development is another warning sign. He’s been dumped by two different organizations before he turned 25 in part because his numbers were terrible and in part because he has a reputation of not listening to coaches. His first start showed why teams want him (a near-100 mph fastball) and why they can’t wait to get rid of him (he gives up a ton of hits). Unless the Yankees figure out a way for him to use his brushed up split-finger to accumulate strikeouts, their shoddy defense and the amount of baserunners he allows don’t bode well while pitching in the small ballparks of the American League, especially with home games in a bandbox like Yankee Stadium. In fact, it makes him susceptible to big innings. Just because a pitcher has good stuff doesn’t means he’s good.

The word “stuff” goes directly back to Tanaka. He pitched serviceably against the Red Sox, but it wasn’t the Tanaka of 2014, but more along the lines of Daisuke Matsuzaka of 2007 and 2008 with high pitch counts, numbers that could be deemed okay on the surface, but are in fact middling and could be achieved by arms who were far less expensive and had significantly diminished expectations than a star like Tanaka who cost the team $175 million.

Cashman can accurately be referred to as Kevlar Cash for his apparent resistance to heat. He’s not held accountable for anything that’s gone wrong with this organization and that’s fine. But if his circular corporate-speak is losing its luster with those who are instinctively predisposed to buying everything the organization says as true, then they’re really in trouble in places other than on the field.

By the time you’re reading this, Kay might have already retreated into his instinctive Yankees boosterism. But if he says, accurately, that the win against the Red Sox proved little-to-nothing for Tanaka and the Yankees, it’s more worrisome for the club. There certainly won’t be an accurate assessment from Cashman, manager Joe Girardi or anyone in the media and fan base who’s invested in the team being good and Tanaka being the ace they need him to be for the team to be good. But if Kay maintains objectivity on the issue, they’ll have lost one of the main “YES” men (double entendre intended) and another layer of protection will be gone as well.

Harvey Strasburg pic

Matt Harvey vs. Stephen Strasburg: who’s actually better and why?

MLB

The answer lies not in their stats, but in their swagger.

In 2009, Stephen Strasburg came out of San Diego State University as the consensus number one pick in the nation. The Washington Nationals, at the time, were fortunate in that there was very little brain work that needed to be done to find the player they were going to take with that first overall pick. Comparing and contrasting that with what happened to the Houston Astros with Brady Aiken and it’s not to be disregarded how the appearance of a once-in-a-generation talent can help a club to make the decision. When there is debate as to who the number one pick should be, it’s not only about their performance as their careers move along, but how making the wrong pick can cost people their jobs. Had there been another, less heralded prospect available and the Nationals had felt strongly enough about him to shun Strasburg, then it would have been a big story that could either have exploded in their faces or turned into a massive victory. Looking at the 2009 first round, the Nationals might have chosen to take Dustin Ackley – a bust – first overall. Or they might have fallen in love with a player who’d fallen to number 25, Mike Trout.

With hindsight, whom would they prefer? The answer is simple and it’s Trout.

Obviously any team with a conscientious scouting staff and general manager who’s in tune with the realities of developing players will perform due diligence before making the pick. Factors such as physicality, makeup and ability will dictate that “this is the player we want.” It certainly helps to have that consensus number one sitting there so there’s a built-in excuse if he doesn’t make it: “Anyone else in our position would have picked him too.”

The Nationals were lucky to be in that position two straight years in 2009, the year they selected Strasburg, and 2010 when they took Bryce Harper.

Along with that consensus number one status comes a lot of pressure on both the player and the club. That and the combination of recommendations from supposed experts, formulas and paranoia is what led to the Nationals babying Strasburg to the degree they did. He wound up getting hurt anyway, missed a large chunk of the 2011 season after Tommy John surgery, and, in what is now known as a notorious decision, he was shut down at a prescribed innings limit in 2012 as the Nationals were heading toward the playoffs.

Strasburg acted as if he was upset about the shutdown, but he went along with it through the prodding of his agent/puppeteer Scott Boras as well as the Nationals’ staff. Had he truly demanded that the shutdown not have occurred and demanded to pitch, what could the Nationals have done?

Matt Harvey, on the other hand, was a known prospect but wasn’t as obvious a star. Picked seventh overall in 2010 by the New York Mets former front office regime led by the unfairly maligned and savvy talent evaluator Omar Minaya, Harvey was drafted before recognizable names Chris Sale and Christian Yelich. Even as he made his way through the minors, no one knew he’d develop into a pitcher whose attitude and stuff are comparable to a young Roger Clemens.

Amid all of Strasburg’s obvious talent with a searing fastball, knee-buckling curve and superior changeup, there’s a wishy-washiness to him that indicates a troubling lack of intensity and that he’d be just as happy working as a stockbroker making big corporate bucks as he is being a star athlete. To him, baseball appears to be his job and he’s out to maximize the amount of money he makes from it. His agent, that his free agency is pending after 2016, and that the performance hasn’t lived up to the expectations – in large part because of injury and babying – make him a trade target. He’s allowed the subjugation of his personality and career to his agent and bosses. He lets that agent be the hatchet man and his bosses dictate to him how he’ll be used when a true competitor would stand up for himself in ways that Strasburg has been reluctant and unwilling to do.

To Harvey, baseball is not only his job but a means to be famous and recognized as the best at what he does. There’s an attention-whore aspect to Harvey that is irritating many in the Mets organization and leads to public embarrassments after which the team has to do its best to clean it up, but it’s also a way to make the organization money with the now ubiquitous “Harvey Day” promotional device. While it’s Derek Jeter who Harvey purports to emulate, his behaviors have been compared to Jeter’s nemesis and bizarro counterpart, Alex Rodriguez.

Like Strasburg, Harvey needed Tommy John surgery. Strasburg accepted it as a matter of course in a cold, analytical way. Harvey demanded to try and rehab it without surgery so he could pitch. That’s not just a medical plan of action, but an insightful indicator of what makes the two young stars tick.

It isn’t a matter of “Which one’s better?” but of “Which one would you rather have?” It’s not connected to contracts, agents (both are represented by Boras), age, team control, and ability. It’s about who you want on the mound in a big game. Strasburg had more hype coming out of college, but Harvey has the “it” factor in that he would neither allow himself to be shut down as his team is charging toward the playoffs, nor would he let the glare of the post-season spotlight shock him into terror.

Harvey’s nickname is the “Dark Knight of Gotham” and he’s embraced that nickname. He loves being the center of attention in New York, relishes the love and lust he engenders (on and off the field), and wants heads to turn when he struts by. Strasburg’s nickname is “Stras” and his only apparent interest in darkness is that it be dark enough that no one’s able to see him. He’s allowed himself to be co-opted by his agent and organization and hasn’t fulfilled the promise he showed when he was drafted and everyone knew who he was and what he could be.

This isn’t about stuff, WAR, and draft status. It’s about the individual. Going by those factors, there isn’t one team in baseball – including the Nationals – who wouldn’t pick Harvey over Strasburg.

Masahiro Tanaka delivers a pitch in the second inning.

Questions and truth about Masahiro Tanaka

MLB

Playing doctor used to mean prepubescent children taking off their clothes to see what’s what. Nowadays, in the era of social media, WebMD and Wikipedia, playing doctor means something vastly different. A brief, five minutes of time spent browsing a few websites has evolved (or devolved) into laymen and women feeling qualified in their medical knowledge to provide assessments, analysis and advice to specialists who cut people open for a living, experts who read MRIs, and sports professionals who make their living determining whether or not their charges are able to continue performing or need to repair an issue.

New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka is the current target of this medical intrigue as he’s pitching with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow and has been told, by actual doctors, that he can avoid surgery with the current percentage of the ligament that is torn. That hasn’t stopped the judgments of everything from what’s going on in his head, the heads of the Yankees, how he’s responding to the fact that he’s pitching hurt, and how he’s pitching.

There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground in this situation. On one end, there’s the ironclad statement that Tanaka should just get the surgery now and end the charade of pitching effectively through it. On the other, there are the Yankees’ version of climate change deniers who insist there’s nothing wrong and that Tanaka’s struggles were related more to his lack of location and command rather than an altered strategy, mechanics and compensation for the injury.

Here are the facts sans the idle chatter specifically designed to troll on the web:

  • Tanaka’s fastball is diminished – ever so slightly – from what it was when he was dominating Major League Baseball for the first half of the 2014 season
  • He has changed his mechanics to try and take pressure off the elbow
  • He has changed his pitching template with an open statement that he’s going to throw more sinkers than four-seam fastballs
  • He’s pitched in three games that count since the diagnosis and gotten blasted in two of them

Logically, if the doctors told him that he can pitch with the injury as it stands now and he wants to pitch, then he should be able to pitch as he normally pitches. Why change the mechanics? Why alter the pitches he throws? And why is he suddenly getting shelled?

Since Tanaka has made these changes, it’s telling that he’s probably pitching in pain, is hesitant about the injury, or both. While many pitchers would have conceded to reality that they’re hurt and eventually realized that their long-term career prospects are better if they’re 100 percent rather than 80 percent healthy, Tanaka is admirable in his desire to be there for his teammates and earn his contract. Japanese culture dictates that Tanaka try to live up to the terms of that $175 million the Yankees spent to get him, but the contract was given to him for the Cy Young Award-level performance the Yankees received before he got hurt. They’re not getting that now.

It’s still not entirely clear as to whether the doctors told him that he can get the surgery to replace the ligament now and know it will be repaired or if they said he can pitch with the current tear and do so effectively.

But he’s not doing so effectively. Doctors’ statements and expertise aside, because he can pitch with it as an obviously diminished entity doesn’t mean he should pitch with it.

It’s often worthless to take the word of the opposing hitters when they give an opinion on a pitcher especially if it’s a pitcher they chased after four innings, but the Toronto Blue Jays saying that they weren’t worried about catching up to Tanaka’s fastball is telling. For them to say they knew he couldn’t blow the ball past them if he needed to is an important fact when determining exactly what the Yankees can expect from Tanaka this season. With a power fastball – a four-seamer with life – the hitters can’t wait that extra millisecond to see if it’s a slider or a split-finger coming. The sinker, slider and splitter will all move along the same plane if they’re going where the pitcher wants them to go. A four-seamer will be higher in the zone, have more jump and leave the hitter with less time to adjust to it. So if Tanaka is throwing all those sinkers and shunning the four-seam fastball, that is clearly going to affect how hitters react to him. That information gets around the league immediately and the hitters will know it before they step into the box to face him.

There doesn’t seem to be much debate that he’s eventually going to need the procedure. Adam Wainwright has almost become a required addition to any sentence that contains the words “Tanaka” and “Tommy John.” What’s ignored in the equation is that at the time Wainwright’s elbow tear was diagnosed – twice – he was in high school and in Triple A. No one was counting on him as anything other than a prospect. Also, how many pitchers are able to have the tear and repeat what Wainwright miraculously did and not just pitch with it, but help his team win a World Series as a closer and then become one of the top five starters in baseball?

Wainwright’s St. Louis Cardinals were in a unique position that they were able to win the World Series in the year that Wainwright’s elbow finally gave out. The Yankees are not in that situation. If they lose Tanaka, they not only lose one of the few remaining drawing cards they have, but they can essentially punt on this season. A team so immersed in an annual championship push and a front office and fan base that has gotten so spoiled that they’re loathe to even admit that 1965 to 1975, and 1982 to 1992 happened at all makes it all-but impossible to face that reality. The Yankees’ transparent decision to shut off the radar gun to hide Tanaka’s lack of velocity certainly isn’t helping to eliminate the perception that they’re a crumbling, paranoid dictatorship clinging to the last vestiges of power. The diametrically opposed triangular truth of a pending rebuild, an injured star, and a vast percentage of a fickle fan base that’s ready to abandon ship will inevitably influence how ownership responds to the new circumstances.

Can Tanaka do what Wainwright did? The medical consensus is that he can pitch with it. The important question is how long he’s going to be able to avoid surgery and pitch effectively. The Yankees and their fans can formulate all the ludicrous and unbelievable excuses as to why he’s struggling and continually dodge the reality as best they can. The medical evidence says one thing. The practical evidence says another. Which are we to believe? Given the idea behind an athlete is performance, Tanaka’s injury is cause for concern not because everyone seems to be waiting with fear, anticipation and, in some quarters, excitement that it’s going to blow, but because he’s pitching terribly. Until that changes, the speculation will continue and that speculation might actually have a basis in fact regardless of whether it’s coming from a non-credible would-be doctor or not.

560px-Buck_Showalter_2011

MLB 2015: Opening Day Questions, American League East

MLB

Baltimore Orioles

Did the Orioles do enough to fill the holes left by the departures of Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz?

Markakis is not the great loss that he’s implied to be, but replacing Cruz’s 40 homers is nearly impossible to do with a single player. However, if the Orioles get 15-20 homers from Matt Wieters; if Chris Davis can add 8-10 homers from his somewhat disappointing 26 in 2014; if Manny Machado chips in 20-25; if Steve Pearce can contribute 75 percent of what he provided last season, then the Orioles can make up for Cruz’s departure.

Can they repeat?

Yes. Manager Buck Showalter’s strategic skills are worth a significant amount over the course of a season. It’s difficult to quantify what it is a manager adds or subtracts, but Showalter’s attention to detail and tweaking, as well as his lack of tolerance for that which other managers accept as an unavoidable consequence of managing in today’s game will make any team at least five games better than their on-paper talents indicate. The AL East is as weak as it’s been in 25 years and the Orioles, with Showlater, can take advantage of that and win the division again.

Boston Red Sox

Are the Red Sox as “smart” as their reputation and a lucky World Series win implies?

For all the supposed “brilliance” that comes from the front office led by general manager Ben Cherington, his tenure has not been a good one but for that one miracle year of 2013 when everything went right and they won the World Series. That title occurred in spite of a patched together roster loaded with best case scenario free agents and a manager, John Farrell, who’s had one winning season in his career – the year he won the World Series – and is widely acknowledged as not being very good at in-game strategy.

Much of the “success” the Red Sox have had hinges on that one year. Had they finished where many expected them to that year in the middle of the pack with 82 to 85 wins, that would be half-a-decade of massive payrolls and more massive disappointments.

But that’s revisionist history. They did win that World Series in 2013, buying them time and the belief that they’re a template organization others should copy. The reality depends on your point-of-view. The objective truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

As for 2015, this is a weirdly constructed team. They’ve stuck Hanley Ramirez in left field; are trusting Dustin Pedroia to stay healthy; acquired the fat and in-season lackadaisical Pablo Sandoval to play third; have lost their prospective starting catcher Christian Vazquez to Tommy John surgery; are hoping for a major bounce back year from Xander Bogaerts; their starting rotation is stacked with a sum-of-the-parts crew adding up to an average sum and no intimidating ace; and the bullpen is something of a mess.

Can they overcome these issues?

Although the concept hasn’t even been broached for fear of the expectation and demand that they actually do it, the Red Sox can always demote Bogaerts if he doesn’t hit, stick Ramirez at short and live with his shady defense, and put one of the endless array of outfielders in left field.

Ryan Hanigan can handle the catching duties suitably until Blake Swihart is recalled to share the job. They have a deep farm system and can dip into it to make a move on Cole Hamels, Johnny Cueto, or any other “name” arm that comes available. Bullpens are fluctuating, so who knows whether Edward Mujica, Junichi Tazawa, Koji Uehara or anyone else will emerge and dominate in the late innings?

The weakness of the division and their resources will let them stay in the race.

New York Yankees

Can they count on the key to their season – Masahiro Tanaka – and what if he falters?

I’d written months ago that the Yankees were handling Tanaka’s torn elbow ligament correctly by letting him pitch until he can no longer pitch and then he should go for surgery when he can’t. Now, however, there are troubling signs regarding his health. Tanaka has stated that he’s altered his motion to accommodate his injury. His velocity is noticeably reduced. He’s also adjusted his repertoire to accommodate the injury. All of these factors will lead to the idea that he’s pitching hurt, changing his tactics to mitigate the pain, and is moving forward through an injury instead of functioning normally in spite of it.

Obviously, they can’t count on him for the entire season. In fact, it seems as if they’ll go start-to-start and hope for the best. This leads to the question as to whether the doctors gave him the option of pitching without the surgery if and only if he can stand it. He’s saying that he can stand it when the statements and acts say he can’t.

Tanaka’s situation is often equated with that of Adam Wainwright who pitched with the same injury for five years before the ligament finally blew, but Wainwright never publicly admitted he had changed his motion or strategy due to the injury as Tanaka is doing now. If this is the situation, them maybe he should just have the surgery and get it over with.

Will Hal Steinbrenner and Randy Levine let GM Brian Cashman clean house if the team is spiraling?

It’s hard to fathom the Yankees ever punting a season in large part because they’re so immersed in both the reputation as consummate “winners” and selling tickets for their star-studded show. What they need to realize is that a large percentage of “Yankees die-hards” who spend money on the product became “Yankees die-hards” in 1998. They won’t go see a substandard product and they certainly won’t pay the prices to go to Yankee Stadium to sit through it.

The other problem they have is the profound lack of marketable players. No one is taking CC Sabathia. Might they be able to move Brian McCann? Would another team take Alex Rodriguez off their hands if the Yankees pay the bulk of his salary just to get him away from them once and for all? I can absolutely see the Miami Marlins doing that. If Mark Teixeira is hitting, can they move him? What about Jacoby Ellsbury? Brett Gardner? Carlos Beltran?

The odds are no one’s taking any of these players, but Cashman would dearly love to get rid of all of them to bolster the farm system, clear salary, and open spots for the supposedly hot hitting prospects they have coming through the pipeline.

But Hal and Levine won’t let him because of the message it sends even though it was similarly short-sighted decisions that got the organization in this position in the first place. Yankees fans had better savor the words “first place” in any context since it’s about the closest they’ll get to it this year.

Tampa Bay Rays

Will the team collapse without Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon?

On the contrary, the departures of Friedman and Maddon reinvigorate the franchise and they made a series of moves to bolster a weak farm system. While Friedman and Maddon were obviously integral to the team’s success, there’s such a thing as stagnation and a spark stemming from change. The idea that Friedman was the sole voice in making all the decisions and that his absence will spur the entire franchise to come undone is silly. There’s no single voice in any organization and the freedom from the expectations that Friedman’s success created has allowed the Rays to move forward and make moves – dumping Wil Myers, Jeremy Hellickson and Joel Peralta – they might not have made had they stood pat in the front office.

Maddon leaping out of the contractual escape hatch actually did the Rays a favor. They were able to get rid of players Maddon wanted on the roster like Jose Molina and Sean Rodriguez. They no longer have to endure his canned quirkiness and the arrogance fomented by the sudden public recognition he received as the “best” manager in baseball.

While the players will say all the right things about their former manager, what he did was inordinately selfish and despicable as he took another person’s job by usurping Rick Renteria with the Chicago Cubs. His act had grown tiresome and the young and energetic Kevin Cash is a new voice with a different message that won’t be as me-centric as it had become with Maddon.

Toronto Blue Jays

Is this the last call for this Blue Jays group?

Put it this way, they’re going to need a new team president when Paul Beeston retires after the season and the new boss – whoever it is (and it still might be Dan Duquette) – will want to bring in his own people and likely gut the place of these faltering veterans. That means GM Alex Anthopoulos and manager John Gibbons know where they stand: win or else.

It’s not an absurd demand considering the financial freedom that Anthopoulos was given and the underachievement of this club. For years, there was the complaint that the Blue Jays would have been good enough to make the playoffs had they not been stuck in a division with the Yankees and Red Sox. Now that the entire division is down and there’s a gaping hole for the Blue Jays to charge through, they haven’t done it. On paper, they’ve improved significantly with Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson. They still have Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes and Edwin Encarnacion. But their pitching is questionable, they’ve gutted the farm system, lost Marcus Stroman for the year, and are functioning with Brett Cecil as their closer.

Can they finally win?

Can they? Yes. Will they? No.

After annually expecting them to finally fulfill their potential and have a little luck, eventually the reality will hit home that this is what they are and they need to make structural changes from the ground up to alter the culture. It’s just not going to work with this nucleus and it has to be changed starting with the front office.