Not Your Daddy’s Steinbrenner

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If Hal Steinbrenner is being sincere when he says he doesn’t understand why fans are concerned and upset that the Yankees haven’t made significant improvements over the winter, he’s gone beyond holding true to the company line he himself implemented and venturing into unexplored territory of delusion.

Back when George Steinbrenner was running things he was hard on his employees, but he was able to hit back at criticism (albeit in a loony, bullying way) without the screechy bewilderment that underscores Hal’s continued parental entreaties to a bratty progeny (the fans and media) that they should appreciate what they’re given.

Unwittingly or not, he’s lavishing expectations on a compromised and aged squad that are no longer as realistic as they once were. The Yankees do have the personnel to contend in 2013, but their margin of error is tied to the financial margins they’ve unilaterally enacted and with which they’ve constrained GM Brian Cashman. The easy answer will be to blame Cashman or manager Joe Girardi (in the last year of his contract), but is it fair to say it’s Cashman’s and Girardi’s fault for having run a club based on veteran mercenaries and a core of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte who can still play but whose primes were a decade ago? All GMs and manager have their strengths and weaknesses and Cashman’s strength is buying free agents. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s a difficult juggling act to put him in this position with no money to spend, a mandate to reduce the payroll to a finite number foreign to him during his tenure while simultaneously demanding that he figure it out and win.

George would’ve openly ranted and raved about his $200 million club annually flaming out in the playoffs, but with the ranting and raving there would be money available to get better. With this team under Hal, it’s not.

Hal is constantly referencing the money spent to retain Hiroki Kuroda, Pettitte, Ichiro Suzuki and the signing of Kevin Youkilis, but he’s misunderstanding the litany of reasons that fans are justifiably concerned.

Their bench is atrocious. They’re old. In their division, the Blue Jays are substantially improved to go along with the still-strong Rays and the AL Wild Card winning Orioles. There’s talk from the likes of Mike Francesa that the Red Sox are “terrible.” Terrible is a bit much. If the Red Sox have 10 question marks heading into the 2013 season, the Yankees have 8.

When listening to Francesa and other Yankee-centric “analysts,” the shifting of tone is stark and noticeable. It’s not an automatic 95 wins and ticket punched to the playoffs in March. It’s “they’ll be in the mix.” In the mix of what is unexplained. Perhaps this is a coping mechanism to reconcile the “new” Yankees in their minds.

The talk that they’re going to “do something” to improve before the season has ceased as well for the simple fact that the reality has hit that there’s not much of anything they can do at this late date. Travis Hafner is about as good as it’s going to get as far as “improving.”

Another hard truth came this week with Felix Hernandez’s contract extension with the Mariners. The players available on the market aren’t young and star-level. Justin Verlander, Stephen Strasburg, Clayton Kershaw—they’re not going to see free agency. With Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy, the Yankees sought to mimic the Red Sox development of Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester to save money in the long run, but in 2008 the Yankees did that by choice and when it failed, they signed CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett to fill the unfilled holes. Now, they have to develop out of necessity, making it all the more challenging. They don’t have the money to buy nor the prospects to trade or use themselves.

Hal sounds like he’s whining at the box he’s put his team in. For all of George’s faults, one thing he never did was whine. Perhaps Hal’s reaction comes from the safety and security of not having built anything of his own, but inheriting it. It was long thought that Hank Steinbrenner was reminiscent of their father as the out-of-control lunatic with a bloviating temper and outlandish statements that were quickly qualified with an eyeroll and head shake. Hank was figuratively (or literally, we don’t know) locked away. Hal was the sane and logical one. He was the rational, understanding, business-minded steward of the Yankee brand who let his baseball people run the club and understood why, if the team lost 7 out of 10, that it wasn’t a lack of motivation or work ethic on the part of the manager or coaches that required a pep talk of several firings, but because they hit a rough patch from which they’d emerge because of superior talent.

Hal’s statements could be seen as maintaining a unified front and waiting to see what happens, but I doubt he’s that calculating. He’s stung by the criticism and is not acknowledging the faults that his club has because he doesn’t understand them himself. He doesn’t have the intimidating persona that his father did implying that if the team doesn’t perform, heads will roll, headlines will explode, missives will be issued, and no one is safe. Randy Levine tries to play that part, but he’s sort of laughed at and ignored.

The sense of entitlement is prominent and a bigger reason than anything else to be worried if you’re a Yankees fan. If the ownership doesn’t comprehend the problems, how is it possible to fix them? This is especially so when the resources to do the repairs are as limited as they apparently are.

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Yankees Modern Art

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If it were 2002 instead of 2012 and the Yankees had been humiliated by getting swept in the ALCS, there wouldn’t be organizational meetings; statements pronouncing the job security of the manager and general manager; assertions that players who had failed miserably would be back in pinstripes. Since their four game meltdown at the hands of the Tigers, there hasn’t been the outraged lunacy in the organization that would’ve accompanied a George Steinbrenner team not simply losing, but getting swept.

They didn’t run into a hot pitcher. They didn’t walk into a buzzsaw lineup. They weren’t devastated by injuries to irreplaceable players to the degree that they should’ve gotten whitewashed. They didn’t lose a tough 6-7 game series and put up a good show while doing it.

They got swept.

Swept like leaves tumbling to the ground during the Fall season that is supposed to belong to the Yankees. Swept like ash from from one of Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland’s ever-present Marlboro cigarettes.

Swept.

Steinbrenner would’ve openly congratulated the Tigers, noting what a great job Leyland and GM Dave Dombrowski did, complete with the glare and unsaid, “And my staff didn’t.”

As capricious and borderline deranged as Steinbrenner was, he served a purpose in creating a sense of urgency and accountability for even the most seasoned and highly compensated stars. They’ve become an organization that tolerates failure and allows indiscretions and underperformance to pass unpunished. Would he have sat by quietly as the team spiraled in September? Would he have exhibited such passivity while the decisions made by the entrenched GM elicited one expensive disaster after another?

Passivity vs accountability is an ongoing problem for the Yankees and there is an in-between, but the Yankees haven’t found it. How is it possible that the GM is not under fire for his atrocious drafts, dreadful trades, and inflexible and unsuccessful development of pitchers? Is it lost on observers that the two teams that are in the World Series made it with an array of starting pitchers who were not babied in the way that Cashman decreed would be the method of acquisition and development for his pitchers—all of whom are either stagnant and inconsistent (Dellin Betances, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain), on the disabled list (Michael Pineda, Manny Banuelos, Jose Campos), traded (Ian Kennedy, Phil Coke), or failed completely (Andrew Brackman)?

Could the Yankees have used George Kontos this year? He’s a forgotten name, but appeared in 44 games for the NL champion Giants and was a useful reliever for a pennant-winning team. In exchange for Kontos they received Chris Stewart, a journeyman backup catcher for whom defense is supposedly a forte and whose numbers, on the surface, imply that he was “better” for the pitchers than starter Russell Martin. In reality, Stewart was CC Sabathia’s semi-personal backstop and 18 of Sabathia’s 28 starts were caught by Stewart. It’s easy to look “better” when catching Sabathia as opposed to Freddy Garcia.

If a team is limiting its payroll and can’t spend $14 million for a set-up man who could be the closer just in case Mariano Rivera gets hurt as they did with Rafael Soriano, they need to keep pitchers like Kontos who could help them cheaply. They can’t toss $8 million into the trash on pitchers like Pedro Feliciano, then look across town to blame the Mets expecting the usual cowering silence for the accusation. (At least the Mets replied for once and shut the blameshifting Yankees’ GM up.)

Firing someone for no reason is not the answer, but firing someone for the sake of change is a justifiable reason to make a move—any move. No one’s losing their jobs over this? The majority of the club—including Alex Rodriguez—is coming back? Cashman hasn’t been put on notice for his on and off field faults?

Manager Joe Girardi has lost a serious amount of credibility in that clubhouse coming off the way he buried the veteran players who’d played hard and hurt for him during his entire tenure. There wasn’t a love-fest going on with Girardi, but there was a factional respect for the job he did that was demolished with his huddling with Cashman in the decision to bench A-Rod.

What they’re doing in bringing back the entire front office, manager, coaching staff, and nucleus of players is saying that there was nothing wrong with the team in 2012; that a season in which, apart from June and September, they were barely over .500 and putting forth the thought that they’ll be the same, but better in 2013. How does that work? The already aging players are a year older, but they’ll improve?

No. That’s not how it goes.

If the Boss were around, there would be demands to do something. It might be a bloodbath, it might be a tweak here or there, it might be a conscious choice to get A-Rod out of pinstripes no matter the cost. But there would be something. Coming from his football/military background, it wasn’t a bullying compulsion alone that Steinbrenner had to fire people and make drastic changes when something didn’t go according to plan. It was a necessity. Occasionally that resulted in stupidity the likes of almost trading Ron Guidry for Al Cowens; of trading Willie McGee for Bob Sykes; of trading Al Leiter for Jesse Barfield; for firing highly qualified baseball men in the front office and as manager and replacing them with sycophants whose main function in life was to make sure the Boss got his coffee at just the right temperature.

Where’s the middle?

Questions would be asked rather than adhering to a plan that’s not working. There was an end to the threats. Now there don’t appear to be consequences. They’ve gone from one extreme to the other when, in his last decade in charge, there was a middle-ground (still leaning heavily to the right) when Steinbrenner was alive.

There have been calls for the Yankees to return to the “feel good” tenets of 1996 and the dynastic confidence of the cohesive and well-oiled machine of 1998-2000. It’s true that during that time there wasn’t an A-Rod magnitude of star sopping up a vast chunk of the payroll and making headlines in the front of the newspaper more often than the back, but those teams were also the highest-paid in baseball. There was no Little Engine That Could in 1996.

With the mandate to reduce the bottom line to $189 million by 2014, it’s not judging how the team failed as they did in 2008 by not making the playoffs, and buying their way out of it with Mark Teixeira, Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett. Players aren’t running to join the Yankees in quest for a championship anymore and the money isn’t as limitless as it once was, so the playing field is level and the venue no longer as attractive.

You can’t have it both ways and claim to be superior to everyone else while having loftier goals than everyone else and being more valuable than everyone else, then run the team the same way as everyone else. It can’t work.

But they’re keeping this main cast together. It’s Yankees modern art where losing is tolerated and the aura of the Boss is mentioned as a historical artifact like the dinosaurs. He really existed once. It seems longer ago than it actually was and it’s fading off into the distance with each passing day and each organizational staff member’s comfort to the point of complacency.

They’re complacent all right; they’re consistent too. Every year it’s the same thing with the same people, and they expect it to change in the next year.

Trust me, it won’t.

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A.J. Burnett’s Yankees Epitaph

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There are some pitchers who need to be left alone.

Because pitching coaches are pitching coaches, they feel the need to jump in whenever they see something amiss or the results are lacking and adhere to mandate of “do something” even if there’s really nothing to be done other than letting the pitcher try to straighten himself out or wait for him to come and ask for help.

Upon his arrival at Pirates’ camp, A.J. Burnett made a few comments about his time with the Yankees that have been taken as criticisms of the Yankee organization.

Here’s Burnett’s quote from this piece in the Washington Post:

“I let a few too many people tinker with me, maybe,” Burnett said. “When you let that happen, you start doubting yourself sometimes. You wonder, ‘Am I doing it right? Is this how it’s supposed to feel?’ and things like that. In ‘09, nobody messed with me. I was able to do what I wanted to do on the mound, whether it was turn around, close my eyes and pitch upside down. Then you have a few bad games and you start changing and listening.”

There are absolutely pitchers who have to be hounded; some have to be cajoled; others need to be left alone. It’s up to the individual pitching coach to gauge and determine how best to unlock the potential and get the pitcher to be the best he can be or to find a way for him to get hitters out regardless of stuff.

Earl Weaver and his pitching coaches George Bamberger and Ray Miller were great at that. Weaver would spot a flaw in a pitcher, whether it was a pitch he shouldn’t be throwing or a pitch he should throw and didn’t have in his repertoire, and he’d have his pitching coach instruct him on how to throw it; if the pitcher resisted, Weaver would ask him if he wanted to be a loser all his life—but he only intervened as the enforcer and left the tactical and mechanical work to the pitching coaches.

It worked with Mike Torrez, Steve Stone and Ross Grimsley among others.

Greg Maddux openly says that Dick Pole was the pitching coach who influenced him most on his way up to the big leagues, but Pole has bounced from team to team because he insinuates himself on the manager. Some managers don’t like that.

So there’s a limit to what the pitching coach can do and much of it is contingent on the manager and the pitchers.

I’m not blaming Joe Girardi, Dave Eiland, Larry Rothschild, Mike Harkey or any of the other Yankees’ staff members for Burnett’s complaints, but because Burnett struggled with inconsistency for much of his time as a Yankee and again proved why he’s basically a .500 pitcher in spite of having all-world stuff, there could be something to Burnett’s statements. It could be that the Yankees should’ve just tossed their hands in the air and let him be rather than immediately fiddle with him. They tried everything else.

As for Burnett, if this was a problem, he should’ve expressed it earlier rather than be polite and incorporate every little suggestion he received. Tom Seaver pushed back if his pitching coaches and catchers tried to interfere with him when he felt strongly about something. Perhaps Burnett’s lack of focus and lapses in competitiveness stem from his laid back personality. If he were a little more feisty, he and the Yankees might’ve been a lot better off.

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The Pirates Take Advantage of the Yankees

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The way a team like the Pirates has to function is by taking advantage of the big market clubs in the opposite fashion to the way those big market clubs take advantage of them. That’s what they did in getting A.J. Burnett—a talented and enigmatic arm—for just about nothing.

By design, by luck or both the Pirates aren’t the desolate wasteland they’ve been for most of the past 20 years.

That’s not to suggest they’re contenders, but they’ve taken some steps to create a viable big league club rather than a punching bag and target for looting by the bullies at the trading deadline.

We’ll never know what would’ve happened had the Pirates won the 19-inning game against the Braves on July 26th in which home plate ump Jerry Meals made one of the worst calls I’ve ever seen in my life by declaring Julio Lugo safe on a play at the plate where he was clearly out by a mile.

At the time, the Pirates were one of the pleasant surprises in all of baseball with a record of 53-47 and tied for first place in the NL Central.

They lost the next game in 10 innings, won the finale of the Braves series then proceeded to lose 10 in a row and 14 out of 16.

Can one game affect an entire season if it’s sufficiently draining, emotional and so egregious an error on the part of an outside force?

I say it can.

Naturally as the Pirates came undone, the “experts” made their snide comments to the tune of, “Remember when the Pirates were ‘contenders’?” as if they knew what was going to happen.

Well, they didn’t know. They were validating their preseason analysis of the Pirates where they’d lose close to 100 games. It was ego, not contextualized understanding. It’s similar to taking credit for the Cardinals winning the World Series when almost the whole roster was turned over at mid-season. The team that was analyzed in the preseason wasn’t the team that won the World Series, so how do you take credit for it?

The Cardinals were essentially finished by August 31st, 8 1/2 games behind in the NL Central and the Wild Card. Helped along by the Braves collapse and their own hot streak, they made the playoffs and wound up winning the World Series.

It’s post-event gloating to say one was “right” about something when there was nothing to be right about.

No, the Pirates didn’t have the personnel to hang with the upper echelon teams in the National League, but maybe with that win against the Braves, they could’ve finished at 82-80 rather than 72-90. How would that have looked on the resume of manager Clint Hurdle and in the scope of their rebuilding process? It certainly would’ve helped their young players to be part of a winning team and for available free agents to stop seeing the Pirates as a last ditch destination and instead a place where they could go to possibly be part of a renaissance for what was once a great baseball town.

The Pirates wound up at 72-90, but Hurdle’s clubhouse discipline (his biggest attribute is that he doesn’t take crap) did help the team look and play better. That doesn’t show up in any numerical formula and until someone comes up with a Not Taking Crap metric, we won’t be able to judge it.

Now the Pirates have traded for Burnett, gotten the Yankees to take two very low-level prospects and pay a massive chunk ($20 million) of Burnett’s salary.

Out of necessity, they’re signing oft-injured and talented arms like Erik Bedard and trading for Burnett. But in the best-case scenario, they’ll get good work from the veteran pitchers and show improvement in the standings. Middle-case, they’ve got players to trade at the deadline for a better return that what they gave up to get them.

They’re probably not going to get the great bullpen work they did last season; they haven’t upgraded the offense and are relying on improvement from Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata, plus the continued rise of Andrew McCutchen; but their rotation with Burnett, Bedard, James McDonald, Kevin Correia and Charlie Morton is okay and Joel Hanrahan is a top closer.

The NL Central is vulnerable. The Cardinals are in serious flux; the Brewers are waiting out the news whether they’ll be without Ryan Braun for 50 games; the Reds are good, but short in depth.

If everything goes well, the Pirates could finish in third place and over .500.

Considering their circumstances, that’s very, very good and it’s refreshing that they used the Yankees’ desperation to get rid of Burnett to their own benefit.

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The Aftermath of A.J. Burnett

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It’s indicative of the Yankees that they thought A.J. Burnett, Javier Vazquez, Kyle Farnsworth and others would be transformed into something other than what they were strictly by the simple act of putting on pinstripes.

Those who try to defend Yankees’ pitching decisions by pointing to CC Sabathia are scraping through the muck of viable argument.

Sabathia would be a great pitcher as a Yankee; as a Met; as a Dodger; as a Pirate; or as a Yakult Swallow.

Burnett was never worth the money the Yankees paid him nor was he suited to develop into a solid starter behind Sabathia.

The decision the Yankees made to develop their own pitchers; to focus on statistics; to shun buying the big names on the free agent market were three separate concepts opposed to one another in a triangular fashion when they signed Burnett.

He was never that good.

Talented? Yes.

Good? No.

But they paid him as if he was; as if by merely joining the Yankees, bolstered by their offense and great bullpen, he’d relax and pitch 6 or so innings a start giving up 3-4 runs to rack up wins simply by pitching within his own abilities. Burnett used to fire every pitch like it was his last; he tried to embarrass the hitters instead of just getting them out. That would explain the rampant injuries that subsided over the past four years.

But the dying phrase for many a regime, “we’ll be able to handle him” is a self-destructive and ruinous strategy that’s failed repeatedly.

Joe Torre thought he could deal with Albert Belle when the Yankees were inches away from letting Bernie Williams depart for the Red Sox and signing Belle as his lineup replacement.

Torre could not handle Albert Belle.

The Navy Seals would have trouble handling Albert Belle.

Rafael Soriano had a reputation as a diva. Rafael Soriano acted like a diva. He allowed big homers and had trouble handling pressure before he became a Yankee; he had those same problems last season as a Yankee.

Reputations are what they are for a reason. For years, Burnett had the moniker of “injury-prone underachiever” hovering over his head with the Marlins and Blue Jays; when he busted out in his potential free agent year (he had an opt-out in his contract) for the Blue Jays in 2008 with 18 wins and 231 strikeouts, he was believed to have “turned the corner” and would blossom in New York.

He was okay in his first year and mostly bad and aggravating in the subsequent two.

The expectations were such that the Yankees and their fans were disappointed even though they got what they bought—not what they paid for, but what they bought.

At least he stayed healthy.

Comparing him to a Yankees bust like Carl Pavano is absurd because Burnett came to New York and did the best he could while Pavano was swallowed up by the pressure immediately. It wasn’t the pressure that got to Burnett—he handled New York fine—he’s just A.J. Burnett and pitched like A.J. Burnett.

That the Yankees had to pay about $20 million of his remaining $33 million to get rid of him says that they realized they couldn’t continue with him on the team. It’s not because Burnett was clubhouse poison and they had to get him out of town before he infected the rest of the room, but because he’s not that good and they didn’t want to deal with the aftermath of putting him out on the mound and watching him implode for another season.

And now he’s gone from a place he probably shouldn’t have been in the first place.

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Francesa Mails It In with Gusto and Diet Coke

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It takes a special kind of arrogance to extend mailing it in to openly gloating about mailing it simultaneously to being pompous, condescending, obnoxious and rude.

But Mike Francesa pulled it off yesterday during his interrupt…er, interview with hockey analyst Pierre McGuire.

You can watch/listen below.

In a tone of, “no need to thank me for doing you this favor of talking about hockey”, Francesa continuously interrupted McGuire as if he wanted to get the interview over with as quickly as possible to move onto more salable and important matters for his audience than the sport of hockey.

This is somewhat understandable considering that his listeners, in general, are there to hear baseball, football and basketball. When there’s an important event in another venue—one that translates into something everyone can weigh in on like the Penn State mess—it’s a legitimate news story. After all these years on the radio and his success, Francesa’s earned the right to talk about things that he wants to talk about like golf and horseracing in spite of the small percentage of fans who are deeply invested in them.

But he doesn’t watch hockey.

Is he obligated to do so? I don’t think he is.

I’ve never held it against WFAN in general and Francesa in particular for not being all-in on hockey. It’s supply and demand. The listenership demands more baseball/football than anything else and that’s what the station provides. The number of people who simply have the radio on as background noise and leave it on even if he’s talking about something they’re not interested in is limited; others, like me, only listen if there’s something we want to hear. For a large segment, that’s not hockey.

But on a slow sports news day when the biggest story is the equivalent of a negotiating session between China (the Yankees) and Taiwan (the Pirates) over territorial rights and bullying as to whom gets final custody of an expensive dissident (A.J. Burnett), and with the New York Rangers playing so well, there was a window to discuss hockey.

But Francesa constantly interrupted McGuire; he interjected random points that he seemed to think transcended which sport he was talking about and generalized any business in terms of future value vs present need; and declared what he’d do if he were in the position of the Rangers in terms of trades.

The strangest and funniest portion was when McGuire began mentioning players’ names with Francesa (at most) half-listening. He could easily have been listing members of Canadian Parliament and Francesa wouldn’t have known the difference.

Stickhandling (hockey, y’know) around an interview by vamping and uttering generalities is frequent when discussing an unfamiliar sport—they all do it—but to do a radio interview with eyes half closed while essentially providing a detailed account of how the audience are fools for listening at all shows an audacity remarkable in its scope and embarrassing to those who let Francesa get away with it without protest.

Acting interested in a subject one isn’t well versed in is part of the job, but Francesa didn’t even think enough of the hockey fans in the audience to do that.

I’d suggest that those offended by it complain to the station, but the higher-ups probably don’t care all that much either.

It’s a lockstep of indifference. Such is life under a dictatorship run by the Sports Pope.

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The A.J. Burnett Trade Talks Drag On…and On…and On…

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Palestinian-Israeli hostage swaps have gone more smoothly and been resolved faster than the Yankees-Pirates negotiations for A.J. Burnett.

Are the Yankees stunned that the Pirates haven’t surrendered to their will as they have in the past? Or are they waiting them out and hoping that the Pirates front office—not known for their strategic brilliance—panics and maximizes the offer.

The Pirates should turn the tables and wait the Yankees out this time; let them sift through the other calls they’re getting, see how much money each suitor is willing to absorb and what prospects they’ll give. Eventually, the Pirates will probably be the last team standing. And if not, so what? They’ll have lost out on A.J. Burnett, not Tim Lincecum.

A truly smart (and prospectively funny) tactic for the Pirates would be to acquire Burnett and a chunk of Yankee Money (it’s like real money, only entitled, arrogant and bullying with a picture of George Steinbrenner in various poses on each bill), then hope Burnett is pitching well by mid-season and dangle him to the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Tigers, Rays or Indians, get a couple of better prospects and watch the Bronx burn as the Yankees are paying Burnett to pitch against them.

Knowing Burnett, he’ll probably pitch well against the Yankees and hurt them as much as an opponent as he did while a member of the team.

Now that’s smart business and it’s entertaining too!

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Why Would A.J. Burnett Want to Go to the Pirates?

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I can understand why the Pirates would want A.J. Burnett; why the Yankees want to trade A.J. Burnett; and Garrett Jones is a cheap lefty bat who’d hit 20+ homers in Yankee Stadium as a DH.

But why would A.J. Burnett want to go to the Pirates?

Burnett has two years remaining on his contract at $16.5 million annually and can block trades to 10 teams. As the Mets proved last July with Francisco Rodriguez, the intricacies of those no-trade clauses aren’t as simple as they seem on the surface. K-Rod had the right to block deals to certain teams, but his agent at the time had yet to submit that list to the Mets and when he hired his new agent Scott Boras, the Mets reacted swiftly and decisively in dumping K-Rod on the Brewers, a team that K-Rod would’ve blocked a deal to.

Whether or not the Yankees would be able to do it without Burnett’s okay—or if he left the Pirates off the list—is secondary.

Would Burnett, at 35, want to go to the Pirates and have little-to-no chance at contending in 2012 and probably 2013? The Pirates are kindasorta on the right track with young talent coming through their system and Clint Hurdle instilling discipline in the clubhouse, but what’s the motivation for Burnett other than to get away from the Yankees? Getting away from the Yankees is something he has never acknowledged he wants to do.

Of course the Yankees want to get rid of him and maybe he’d like to go elsewhere, but they signed him to that contract and are going to have to pay a substantial portion of it to move him.

Burnett would presumably welcome a trade to any team in the NL West, back to Miami to play for the Marlins, the Reds, Cardinals, Cubs or White Sox. But why would he choose to go to the Pirates? If he goes to a good team in a big ballpark, chances are he’d put up solid enough numbers this year and next to be able to sell himself to some other team for a 2-3 year contract worth another $30 million.

Maybe the Yankees would pull a repeat of the Carl Pavano episode and pursue Burnett again.

But the Pirates? Why?

As is customary, the Pirates’ plans are haphazard and inexplicable. First they let it be known that they’re willing to discuss trading one of the best young players in baseball, Andrew McCutchen, then they’re discussing Burnett.

Is there a plan in place? Or is this a similar decision along the lines of the trading deadline in 2007 when the prior regime led by Dave Littlefield acquired Matt Morris and his onerous contract while the team was 20 games under .500, 14 games out of first place and headed toward a 68-94 finish. They traded a player they could’ve used in Rajai Davis to the Giants to get Morris and the $15 million remaining on his contract.

Is there something in the water at PNC Park that leads the Pirates to doing things that make no sense?

If the Yankees are giving Burnett away and paying his salary, then, yes, a team is going to take him. But it goes back to the question of what would spur the Yankees to do that in the first place.

The rumors discussed don’t make sense for anyone apart from the Yankees. But as we’ve learned repeatedly, that’s all that really matters in Yankeeland. It’s in line with the team’s, media’s and fan base’s air of entitlement that if the Yankees want, therefore the Yankees should get.

At least that’s they way they see it.

Never mind reality.

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The YES Network and Its Reporting Sham

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The failure of the YES Network to acknowledge the Brian Cashman-stalker story as anything of note should prove with finality that they’re the propaganda arm of the Yankees’ apparatus and should be treated as such.

No longer can anyone confuse YES with a venue for legitimate analysis and sports news, if they ever could to begin with.

Because Michael Kay has yet to discuss this issue isn’t indicative of a conspiracy on the part of the employees of YES and Yankees’ apologists to ignore it and hope it goes away. If you’re listening to Kay in the interest of a genuine dissemination of objective information, you need to check your premises before moving forward to anything in the real world. Paraphrasing Kay, the self-absolving line regarding Cashman’s scandal, “it’s personal” or something to that effect, is typical of one whose interests coincide with the organization and not to his listeners.

The concept that Cashman and his stalker and apparent former lover Louise Meanwell/Neathway is out of bounds for the sports world had weight before the police got involved and she was arrested; before the revelation that Cashman had given her $6000 in an effort to quiet her; before it became known that the GM of the Yankees had written a letter of recommendation for a clearly disturbed person with the Yankees letterhead across the top of the page.

How is this not relevant enough to mention in passing? How has it not been part of the discussion of Cashman doing his job properly and if his involvement with this woman and his wife filing for divorce will affect his ability to do it?

The out-front representative of the entire organization was writing recommendation letters under the implied auspices of the Yankees. As that representative of the Steinbrenner family and the Yankees, Cashman was essentially saying that this woman—who was either having sex with him or blackmailing him—was, in the view of Cashman, a qualified and stable person.

Is that not a story rife questions that a high school reporter would know needed to be asked?

There has never been an honest and aboveboard reporting wing on YES. Even when Kim Jones was asking difficult questions to Joe Torre, they weren’t asked in the pursuit of answers for the audience; it later was revealed that the questions were traps set by George Steinbrenner and Randy Levine due to their ongoing feud with the then-Yankees manager and Torre knew it.

Kay, as is his wont, made sure to kick Torre after the manager was out the door with the statement that he “protected” Torre.

Is that his job?

Or was he following the mandated plot to keep his bosses happy?

And if that was the case, how dare he claim to be providing evenhanded, “expert” baseball analysis on his radio show while simultaneously functioning with a clear and transparent agenda.

Kay’s lack of journalistic integrity and skill are self-evident, but what about everyone else on the network?

Last season, when Joe Girardi had an on-field confrontation with pitcher A.J. Burnett, YES reporter Jack Curry almost apologetically broached the subject so as not to offend the manager and upset the hierarchy of what was and wasn’t okay to say on the Yankees’ signature network.

During the Penn State scandal, we saw what a dogged and legitimate journalist Jones was with her on-site reporting and analysis from the point-of-view of a Penn State alumnus.

It’s a shame we never got to see that while she was the sideline reporter and post-game clubhouse voice of the YES Network. But she had her marching orders and she followed them. I can’t blame her for that.

Under no circumstances am I suggesting the Cashman should be fired nor that this is anything other than what he says it was and what’s been reported so far. He got involved with an attractive woman who appears to have a long history of stalking, obsessive and harassing behaviors. It’s embarrassing, but nothing that he can’t overcome and continue to do a job he’s done competently for almost a decade-and-a-half.

But it is a story even for the network whose identification is side-by-side and in lockstep with the Yankees baseball and business wing. The problem is when side-by-side becomes indistinguishable with intertwined and that’s what the relationship has become.

When you can’t tell the difference is the time that you can’t believe anything they say because what they say won’t be truth-centric; it will be based on organizational needs.

That’s not reporting.

It’s a sham.

And a blatant one at that.

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The Scorpion That Stung Brian Cashman

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

Everyone knows the fable of the Scorpion and the Frog.

A scorpion, looking for a change in his life, set out on a journey to find a new home. He came to a river and, when he couldn’t find a way across, asked a frog if he’d let him ride his back to the other side of the river.

The frog was suspicious that the scorpion was going to sting and kill him. The scorpion explained that he wouldn’t do that while they were going across because then they both would die; nor would he do it when they reached the other side of the river because he’d be so grateful for the help that he’d let the frog live.

Of course, halfway across the river, the scorpion stung the frog. The frog asked the scorpion why he did it and the scorpion said, “it’s in my nature”.

This fable reminds me of A.J. Burnett.

A thing is what it is and can be nothing other than that.

A.J. Burnett is a talented pitcher.

But A.J. Burnett is not a good pitcher.

There’s a big difference. Now, at age 35, the days of possible evolution are over.

They probably never really existed.

This is what he is.

The Yankees are desperately trying to unload Burnett and the $33 million he’s owed through 2013 and unless they eat a significant chunk of it or exchange it for another club’s headache/onerous contract (Chone Figgins for example), no one is taking Burnett.

When the Yankees signed him, they held a joint press conference introducing both Burnett and CC Sabathia. The idea seemed to be that because they were paying him like a superstar and treating him like a superstar, he’d become a superstar.

That hasn’t happened.

But Burnett is being blamed for being Burnett and it’s not fair.

What did they think they were getting?

Burnett’s been somewhat worse than what his career averages were when he arrived in New York, but not by much. It’s been within the margin of expectations as his ERA has risen by a run from his career level in the past two seasons, but that could be a natural decline for a pitcher in his mid-30s rather than any mental or physical limitations.

He’s wild, he allows a lot of home runs and his power fastball/wicked curve combination have never yielded the results over the long term that each and every one of his teams has expected. Of all the teams that had Burnett, the one that got the most value from him was the team that drafted him—the Mets—because they traded him for Al Leiter in February of 1998 and Leiter was a linchpin to the good Mets teams of the late 1990s-2000.

Was it arrogance on the part of the Yankees thinking that slotting Burnett into the middle of their rotation with a strong bullpen and a club that scored a lot of runs would gloss over his frailties and allow him to win 15 games a year, give them 200 innings and render it meaningless when he walked a load of hitters and had the occasional game in which he gave up 10 runs?

Possibly.

It actually sort of made sense.

In the winter of 2008-2009, they had the money to spend and Burnett was coming off a fully healthy season for the Blue Jays where he seemed to have figured it all out. The Yankees wanted to appease their spoiled and angry fanbase with some drastic and expensive signings to make up for their first season of missed playoffs since 1994 so they signed Mark Teixeira, Sabathia and Burnett.

They hoped Burnett would continue evolving and he regressed.

A pitcher like Burnett never figures it out and there’s no reason to blame him for that.

He’s consistent in his inconsistency just as he’s always been.

The Yankees might find a way to get rid of Burnett, but it’s never going to answer the questions of what they thought they were getting when they signed him. There’s no reason to be mad at him for being who he is. They paid for Burnett and that’s who they got.

He’s the scorpion that stung Brian Cashman.

Because he’s A.J. Burnett.

It’s in his nature.

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