A-Rod, “Reporting” and Journalistic Ineptitude

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We can only speculate as to the look on Michael Kay’s face as he sat down to his customary breakfast of a chicken parm smoothie and a hot, percolating pot of Postum and received the news that Alex Rodriguez had another hip injury and would miss a chunk of the 2013 season. It would be understandable if Kay spat out his Postum and chicken parm in one gloppy, colorful, repulsive mess when reading that A-Rod had again torn the same hip that was surgically repaired in 2009. This exercise in professional reporting and journalistic excellence was exemplified by Joel Sherman as he said the following on Twitter:

Hear exclusively Alex Rodriguez was playing with re-tear in surgically repaired hip Likely going for another surgery ‪#Yankees

Rodriguez was dealing with hip re-tear during playoffs, tried to play thru. Explains why really couldn’t use lower half in swing ‪#Yankees

“Exclusively.” Exclusively wrong maybe.

Then the re-tweets began by the reporters who were jumping on a story clearly before it had been verified as Jon Heyman, Jack Curry, Ken Davidoff and the rest of the experts put forth the inaccurate report that A-Rod re-tore the same hip (his right). The stories haven’t even been spiritually correct as you can see in this Yahoo posting as Ken Rosenthal is quoted as saying:

A-Rod’s injury occurred during the postseason and that he was experiencing pain so severe that he spent a night in the emergency room following one of the ALDS games.

It’s the left hip now and no one knew about it until last month when it was diagnosed. A-Rod did complain about a twinge in the surgically repaired right hip in the playoffs, went to the hospital and had an MRI which revealed nothing. The story is fluid which, to translate, means nobody knows anything. They’re reporting information as it comes in and relying on sources that don’t know what’s going on either.

They could try to cover their own behinds by saying that when they said, “re-tear,” they were referring to another tear and didn’t mean that he’d torn the same hip, but of course that would be an outright lie. You can read the tweets and re-tweets of Sherman here. It’s a who’s who of ineptitude and crying wolf.

I have no idea who Sherman was quoting and whether he misheard and misunderstood what they said; if they told him the wrong thing and he ran with it. What I’d like to know is when this is going to end with those who are supposed to be dispensing the news rushing to be the first to deliver the story and getting it completely wrong!!! Then their reporting brethren report the same wrong story!!!!

Clearly Sherman, the leader of the hack brigade, learned nothing from his news that the Yankees had acquired Cliff Lee in July of 2010 when they had not acquired Cliff Lee.

Getting the truth is meaningless today and that’s not being a reporter, it’s being a pop-up ad and/or spammer. Unfortunately there are never any consequences for these repeated, infrastructural gaffes.

As for the Yankees, they’re a team that was already on shaky ground when it came to contending for their one and only objective every single year—a championship—and now they not only have to find a right fielder and a catcher, but they need to figure out what they’re going to do about third base. I wrote about the host of Yankees issues earlier today and also explained why they’re adhering so rigidly to the $189 million by 2014 mandate.

For the future, given the way the A-Rod contract has gone down the tubes, how does this affect the Yankees negotiations with Robinson Cano after the 2013 season? It’s Yankees policy not to give a player a contract extension before it’s absolutely necessary. This is a George Steinbrenner tactic that they never bothered to change no matter who the player is. It’s going to cost them a great deal more money than if they copied the Rays’ strategy and tried to sign their players to reasonable deals before it got to this point. But with A-Rod breaking down entirely at age 37, are the Yankees going to give Cano the $200+ million he and Scott Boras are sure to ask for? Could they dare to play chicken with Cano and let him get onto the market with the risk that another team—the Dodgers?—would give him more money than the Yankees?

It’s reasonable to be hesitant with the contracts the type A-Rod signed and what Cano will ask for becoming a universally losing proposition, will the Yankees draw a line that they won’t cross or will they repeat the risks of the past?

There’s no solution out there given the payroll mandates, age, lack of prospects on the farm, and now the injuries. In short, it’s a new disaster for the Yankees except, unlike the past, they don’t have the capacity to toss money at it to cover it up.

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The Yankees’ $189 Million Reality

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The mandate the Yankees are under to reduce their payroll to $189 million by 2014 isn’t a capricious decision designed for ownership to maximize profits and for the baseball operations to bolster their credentials in the industry by winning without the limitless payroll that was one of the important hallmarks of the club from 1996 on through 2012 when they won five championships and made the playoffs every year but one. It can’t be avoided: the Yankees won year-after-year, in part, because of their spending power. While it’s an easy argument to say that with George Steinbrenner gone and the more thoughtful and less maniacal Hal Steinbrenner holding the most sway over the pursestrings, the family is trying to line their pockets to a greater degree—a degree that was secondary to the Boss’s bottom line: winning. It’s also an easy argument to make that GM Brian Cashman wants to lower the payroll to get his share of the credit pie that has gone to the new age thinkers in baseball like Billy Beane, Theo Epstein and Andrew Friedman because they were either working under parameters that made it a necessity for them to find bargains, get lucky, or formulate new strategies to compete with the big spenders in baseball; or, in Epstein’s case, were trying to win with a souped up version of Moneyball using stats backed up by a massive payroll.

Both are probably, to a point, accurate. But the Yankees are trying to get under the $189 million threshold by 2014 for the cold hard fact that if they don’t, they’re going to have to pay a penalty of 50% for going over that amount. It also has to be understood that the Yankees payroll will not be permanently limited by that 2014 number. If they’re under $189 in 2014, by 2015, they’ll again be able to spend as the Yankees have spent in the past—with no concept of restraint—because the penalty will revert to the lowest level of 17.5%.

It’s short-term. What this means in the near future, though, is that there won’t be the headlong dive into free agency and by taking huge contracts off the hands of other clubs in trades because right now the Yankees must be cognizant of their payroll. There’s no getting around it.

There are methods to achieve this end. Some clubs, like the Athletics and Rays, let their players play under the constraints of the collective bargaining agreement where they can’t be free agents until they’ve accumulated six years of service time. Or they sign them to long-term contracts that are agreeable to both sides, buy out their arbitration years and perhaps the first couple of years of free agency giving the players a guaranteed payday they might not get if they don’t perform or get injured. This is a method to keep the youngsters they’ve developed.

The Rays have essentially ensured that their star Evan Longoria will be a Ray for the duration of his career with the long term deals he signed as a rookie and the extension he agreed to last week. It’s conceivable that Longoria cost himself an extra $100 million or more with the contracts he signed. That’s his choice and the Rays took on significant risk as well.

Teams can do as Beane did a year ago (and several times before) and clear out the house of veterans who are set to make big money in exchange for the best prospects they can get their hands on and restart the process over and over again.

Or they can do what the Yankees are doing by signing veterans in their mid-to-late-30s to 1-year contracts, pay them handsomely, and hope they stay healthy and perform up to what they were in their primes.

Because the Yankees are saying they’re serious about this “$189 million by 2014” statement and have always backtracked on prior payroll-limiting endeavors, there’s a belief in the Yankees universe that they’re biding their time and waiting; that they’ll open the checkbook once they realize that a playoff appearance is something to be earned and not a birthright and that they’re ill-equipped to win in 2013 and 2014 as they’re currently constructed; that it’s a matter of time before they pull the same trick they did when they acted as if they had no interest in free agent first baseman Mark Teixeira and the Red Sox were widely expected to sign him before the Yankees struck with lightning quickness and decisiveness getting the first baseman and keeping him away from the Red Sox. This completed the 2008-2009 shopping spree with Teixeira joining CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett to repair the failure of 2008 when they had again tried to lower payroll by going with homegrown pitchers and were rewarded with a missed playoff spot and indignation permeating their organization, the media, and fans.

Here are the numbers to understand the circumstances the Yankees are now in. Their guaranteed contracts for 2014 are as follows:

Alex Rodriguez—$25 million

Mark Teixeira—$22.5 million

CC Sabathia—$23 million

Derek Jeter—$8 million player option ($3 million buyout)

That comes to $75.5 million. There are the players who are movable and exchangeable with other similar contracts such as Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, David Robertson, and Eduardo Nunez. So you can figure that the rest of the starting rotation and filling out the bullpen won’t be super-expensive. Robinson Cano is a free agent at the end of 2013, is represented by Scott Boras and will want somewhere between $190-220 million. Ignoring the risk of giving a lackadaisical player like Cano such a massive contract, they’ll do what needs to be done to keep him with a backloaded deal.

With all of that comes the vicious truth that for 2013, the Yankees are not jumping in on Zack Greinke; they’re not signing Josh Hamilton; and they’re not trading for Justin Upton (his no-trade clause includes the Yankees, so they’d have to redo his long-term contract). They let Russell Martin leave when it was widely reported that they wanted him back when the Pirates—the Pirates—gave him 2-years and $17 million. These are the same Pirates that once functioned as a big league farm club for the Yankees to take their stars off their hands for whatever crumbs of prospects the Yankees deigned to give them.

Losing Martin isn’t that big of a problem, but their current catching depth chart consists of Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart, Eli Whiteside, and minor leaguer Austin Romine. They don’t have a right fielder with the pending departure of Nick Swisher and the talk of bringing Ichiro Suzuki back comes more from the fans, media and Ichiro himself than it does from the Yankees. Maybe—maybe—they’re downplaying possible interest in Mike Napoli and will sign him to a team-friendly deal in which he’s paid well for 2013, has a reduction in salary in 2014, and has a back-end raise in years 3 and/or 4. This would be done based on need and to keep up appearances as the club is under expanding ridicule and anger for their lack of action.

This concept that their offense is still good enough is ignoring that they don’t have a catcher; they don’t have a right fielder; they don’t have a DH; Jeter won’t repeat 2012; and A-Rod and Curtis Granderson spent most of the second half of 2012 in a fog. They can’t go into 2013 with an offense looking like it does right now and logically believe they’re title contenders.

The 2013 team is elderly by athletic standards and the days of a 35-43-year old player posting numbers better than he did when he was 28 ended with drug testing. As much as Yankees apologists refer to the annual playoff appearance and utter pompous statements of “World Series or failure,” extolling the self-proclaimed “specialness” of the Yankees brand, the reality is that the Yankees are currently, on paper, the third best team in the AL East behind the Rays and Blue Jays; are in the same predicament with the Red Sox of clinging to what was; and have a resurgent Orioles club glaring at them from their wing rather than their posterior.

Jeter and Rivera are recovering from severe injuries; A-Rod is breaking down physically and when he can play is a threat emeritus rather than a mid-lineup basher—and now it’s being reported that A-Rod needs more hip surgery and may miss part of 2013; they have to rely on Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte to anchor the rotation behind Sabathia, who is also coming off of elbow surgery and has a massive amount of wear on his tires.

Is all of this likely to yield the same results it has in the past?

These are the Yankees of today and for the next two seasons. They have money, but it’s tied up. They’ll spend it, but it’s not going to be for long term improvements via the not-so-free market until after the 2014 season. By then they might be dealing with two years of missed playoffs, mediocrity or, if things go worst case scenario, finishes at or under .500. There’s a sense of disbelief among the media and fan that this is the way the Yankees are doing business; that it’s a ruse and everything will go on as before once they’ve grown tired of teasing their fans.

Don’t say the worst happen because it just happened to the Red Sox and, to a lesser degree, the Marlins, Phillies, and Angels. No one thought the Red Sox would ever fall to the depths that they did in 2012 and it can happen to the Yankees in 2013-2014. Dynasties—including that of the Yankees—have collapsed before. It’s not farfetched to predict their downfall again because the pieces are in place and getting more entrenched by the day. In fact, it’s inevitable.

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