Anatomy Of A Yankees Swoon

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The Yankees, their fans, and the media that covers them on a daily basis are all wallowing in denial, excuses, self-pity, delusion, and desperation. The team itself still has time to save its season, but they’re well on the way to joining the Red Sox and Mets in the lore of historic and embarrassing collapses that, for the Yankees with their payroll and superiority complex, will surpass those of teams past.

Let’s take a look at what’s going on with the Yankees and the likelihood of steering out of this spiral.

Injuries and lack of depth

This is the batting order they presented last night against the Rays:

1. Derek Jeter-SS

2. Curtis Granderson-CF

3. Nick Swisher-1B

4. Robinson Cano-DH

5. Alex Rodriguez-3B

6. Raul Ibanez-LF

7. Jayson Nix-2B

8. Chris Dickerson-RF

9. Chris Stewart-C

And pitching, Freddy Garcia.

This is the starting lineup for one of the latter days of spring training, not for a pennant race in September against a younger, faster, healthier Rays team in direct pursuit. On the heels of journeyman Steve Pearce batting cleanup, Eric Chavez having to play almost every day after A-Rod got hurt, Ibanez playing too much, Swisher having to play first base in place of Mark Teixeira, and using Garcia and David Phelps in the starting rotation, is it any wonder the 10 game lead has been extinguished?

No one wants to hear about injuries. No one wants to hear whining about the umpires or a “woe is me” lament. No one cares about the Yankees problems. They’re scouring the bargain bin for the likes of Pearce and Casey McGehee and expecting to move along smoothly without a hitch. A 4-A player doesn’t stop being a 4-A player just because he puts on a Yankee uniform.

Non-issues become problems when the team’s losing

Cano’s repeated incidents of nonchalance weren’t an issue when the team was winning, so it can’t be referenced as one when they’re losing. The Yankees let Cano’s jogging around go because there wasn’t much they could do about it and it was okay with a 10 game lead. Now that the lead is gone, it’s not okay? It doesn’t work that way. Jeter runs out every ground ball, why can’t Cano?

In a similar vein, manager Joe Girardi wasn’t scrutinized heavily for his occasionally strange strategic decisions when the team was star-studded and rolling unstoppably toward another division title with an eye on the World Series. Once the decisions actually make a difference not just in a game, but in the standings and the team is in danger of falling out of the playoffs completely, there’s ludicrous speculation about his job security if they complete this collapse.

Girardi, like most of the other 2012 Yankees, has never been in this pressurized situation during the season. In 2008, it was known by September 1st that, barring a miraculous comeback, they weren’t making the playoffs. In 2009, they won 103 games. In 2010, the biggest decision they had was whether or not to try and win the division or accept the Wild Card. In 2011, they coasted late in the season and played a lineup similar to the one they’re currently playing and allowed the Rays to sweep them and overtake the Red Sox (something I don’t hold against them).

Now they have to play and they have to win. When Girardi was in a pressurized situation of the post-season in 2009 and his maneuvers were important, he was found wanting. He made odd and panicky pitching changes and ill-thought-out lineup and in-game moves. That Yankees team happened to be talented enough to overcome Girardi’s overmanaging and win the title.

I don’t blame Girardi for this stumble, but it’s now that he has to maintain control of the ship and not grip the handles too tightly, but his volcanic eruption last night that resulted in an ejection and his snippy replies to questions in post-game press conferences indicate a growing tightness that will permeate the team.

Personnel gaffes

The Yankees and GM Brian Cashman have made it clear that they no longer intend to purchase every star on the market to have at least 2 players who could be or have been All-Stars at each position. They want to get under the luxury tax when the draconian measures to restrain salaries come into effect and it shows on the field. They didn’t pursue Cliff Lee when the Phillies were listening to offers on him; they didn’t make a substantial package available at mid-season to get Justin Upton; they weren’t avidly chasing any of the available players who might’ve been able to help them drastically. Instead, they traded for Ichiro Suzuki and got him for nothing. Ichiro can still catch the ball in the outfield and steal a base, but he’s hitting identically with the Yankees as he did with the Mariners: lots of singles and no on-base skills with an average hovering around .270.

These in-season acquisitions come after consecutive winters in which they wasted money (Pedro Feliciano); signed fill-in veterans and scrapheap denizens (Russell Martin, Ibanez, Andruw Jones, Chavez); and gave away assets (Jesus Montero) for literally nothing (Michael Pineda and the “key” Jose Campos).

This is not to suggest Montero would be a significant contributor to the Yankees in a Yankees uniform—he’s been okay learning on the job behind and at the plate with the Mariners—but he was something other teams coveted; they could’ve traded him for a known commodity rather than going the cheap and “controllable” route with Pineda.

Hiroki Kuroda was a great signing.

The Yankees vaunted young pitching that they developed with it in mind that they wouldn’t spend tons of cash on other teams’ abused arms? That’s not working either. Phil Hughes is an okay big league pitcher, but he’s a 3rd or 4th starter that you can find on the market. Joba Chamberlain is a bottom-line disappointment. Ian Kennedy wasn’t good for the Yankees; they received Granderson for him making it a win. Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos, Campos, Pineda—where’s the next Andy Pettitte? A Yankees’ pitcher they brought through their system and turned into a top-flight starter?

Seeking solace

Teams, fanbases and media members who’ve experienced a collapse have all done the same things. They look at the schedule; they lean on one another looking for positive reassurance; they repeat the mantra of “Everything’s gonna be alright” with the unsaid, “Isn’t it?” as an addendum.

Mike Francesa had Yankees beat reporters Sweeny Murti and Mark Feinsand on as guests and it was something of a sycophantic think-tank in which the schedule was seen as the Yankees friend and the three discussed not what the consequences would be if the Yankees missed the playoffs or that increasingly real possibility, but how many games they would recover and win the division by.

Michael Kay sounds so disconsolate that he can barely stomach a third piece of chicken parmesan.

Fans are clutching each other as if they’re in a prayer circle looking towards the heavens wondering why the Baseball Gods that have smiled so consistently on the Yankees hath forsaken them.

It’s not a conspiracy. They’re just not very good.

Meteorology

It wasn’t a stand-alone instance that the Mets and Red Sox collapsed in 2007 and 2011. There was a perfect storm that assisted greatly in the fall from the playoffs. The Mets kept losing to the Phillies and blew their lead, but would’ve made the playoffs if not for the Rockies ridiculous hot streak in September that launched them from also-ran to the World Series.

The Red Sox had a blazing hot Rays team chasing them and the Yankees who didn’t play their regulars in the last series against the Rays.

Now the Yankees, even with the extra Wild Card available, are in an American League with 8 teams for 5 playoff spots. If they fall from first place, there’s a good chance that falling from playoff position will come immediately after.

Studying the schedule is meant to be a calming device, but it’s not. Referencing games against the Blue Jays, Red Sox, and Twins is a stretch as well. Mets and Red Sox fans can tell Yankees fans all about the futility of studying the schedules during a swoon such as this. The 2007 Mets consistently lost to the horrific Nationals; the 2011 Red Sox were undone by the then-terrible Orioles; the Yankees lost 2 of 3 to the Blue Jays just last week and the Red Sox would see vengeance and a salvaging of their dismal season by taking part in the Yankees downfall.

The Yankees can’t count on other teams helping them to get them into the playoffs. They have to win a few games themselves—something they’re not doing and with this lineup, may not be capable of doing.

Clinging to the past; reaching back for the stars

This Yankees team finds itself chained to a past that’s not going to return. Still reliant on Jeter to be the star; waiting for Pettitte to return and save the day; blaming their stumble, ridiculously, on the loss of Mariano Rivera—they haven’t replaced them and are finding out how truly hard it is to do so with hardened veterans who’ve been through the battles and come out on top.

Rafael Soriano has been at least as good as Rivera would’ve been during the season, so the absence of Rivera is not a viable reason for the way they’ve played. The idea that Soriano’s shift to the closer’s role hindered the set-up area is ignoring how thoroughly unreliable Soriano was as a set-up man.

While Jeter has had a renaissance in 2012, that can’t last forever. What are they going to do then?

What are they going to do when Pettitte is retired and stays retired? If Rivera can’t be as effective as he was prior to his knee injury or can’t come back at all?

They don’t have ready replacements as was the intent when they “developed” their young players and the players they have now are feeling the heat they never expected to feel to make the playoffs when they joined the Yankees.

Sign free agents? They’ve openly said the vault isn’t as open as it once was and they’re on the hook for a ton of money for A-Rod, Teixeira and CC Sabathia for the foreseeable future. Make trades? Does anyone want those prospects who’ve leaped backwards and been hurt this season?

There is no endless dynasty. The Yankees of the 1960s came undone because they failed to adapt to the draft and their stars got old all at once. The same things that happened to other teams that collapsed like the Mets and Red Sox are present with this Yankees team and they’re not so easy to gloss over when the team doesn’t win. In fact, they become more stark; they become the foundation for a slide that takes years to recover from.

I happens to everyone. And whether the Yankees recover from this in time to make it to the playoffs and even win while there, that’s not going to stop the inevitable reality. This is a sign of the beginning of the end and it will be pointed to as such when things really come apart, sooner or later.

Right now it looks like sooner.

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The Truth About The Yankees’ Home Runs

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The simple stupidity of the Yankees being criticized for relying on the home run ball speaks for itself. Are they supposed to stop trying to hit home runs to prove they can win without it? What’s the difference how they score their runs? Are they sacrificing other aspects of their game chasing homers?

The answer to the above questions is no.

They have players who hit a lot of home runs. If they lose games in which they haven’t homered, it’s a safe bet that they ran into a pretty good pitcher.

The out-of-context stat argument is more complicated. Picking and choosing a convenient stat to bolster an argument is not the true intent of using statistics to begin with. They’re designed to promote a factual understanding and not to fool readers into seeing things the way the writer wants.

Is it a bad thing that the Yankees score via the home run? No.

Is it indicative that they’ll continue that trend once the playoffs start and do they need to be prepared to find other ways to score runs when they’re in games against better teams with better pitchers? They’ll hit their homers, but it won’t be like it is now.

The truly important factor to examine isn’t whether or not they’re hitting home runs, but who they’re hitting the home runs against.

During the regular season there aren’t the top-tier pitchers they’re going to face in the playoffs. The better the pitcher is, the better his stuff is; the better his command is; the better his control is. He’s not going to make the same mistakes as the mediocre and worse pitchers they’re fattening up their power numbers against.

I looked at all the pitchers the Yankees have homered against this season.

The list follows:

Russell Martin: Clay Buchholz, Justin Verlander, Jose Mijares, Homer Bailey, James Shields, J.P. Howell, Jonathon Niese, Jon Rauch

Mark Teixeira: Anthony Swarzak, Felix Doubront, Matt Albers, Bruce Chen, Luis Ayala, Tyson Ross, Bartolo Colon, Graham Godfrey, Hisanori Takahashi, Alex Cobb, Dillon Gee, Mike Minor

Robinson Cano: Jason Marquis, Luke Hochevar (2), David Price, Bronson Arroyo, Tyson Ross, Bartolo Colon, Ervin Santana, Alex Cobb, Johan Santana (2), Tom Gorzelanny, Anthony Varvaro, Tommy Hanson, Miguel Batista (2)

Alex Rodriguez: Ervin Santana, Clay Buchholz, Derek Holland, Justin Verlander (2) Tommy Hottovy, Will Smith (2), Octavio Dotel, Jonny Venters, Tommy Hanson, Jon Niese

Derek Jeter: Wei-Yin Chen, Hisanori Takahashi, Carl Pavano, Matt Capps, Bruce Chen, Justin Verlander, Tommy Hanson

Raul Ibanez: James Shields (2), Jason Isringhausen, Neftali Feliz, Burke Badenhop, Felix Hernandez, Hector Noesi, Bronson Arroyo, Jonny Cueto, Randall Delgado, Chris Young

Curtis Garnderson: Jake Arrieta, Ervin Santana (2), Carl Pavano, Anthony Swarzak (2), Jeff Gray, Phil Coke, Max Scherzer, Brian Matusz, James Shields, David Price, Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Will Smith, Bobby Cassevah, Casey Crosby, Bobby Parnell, Tim Hudson, Tom Gorzelanny, Edwin Jackson

Nick Swisher: Joel Peralta, Kevin Gregg, Clay Buchholz, Vicente Padilla, Drew Smyly, Jose Valverde, Luke Hochevar, Tyson Ross, Johan Santana, Cory Gearrin, R.A. Dickey

Eric Chavez: Clay Buchholz (2), Jason Hammel, Tommy Hanson, Jon Rauch

Andruw Jones: Darren O’Day, Matt Maloney, Collin Balester, Steve Delabar, Tommy Milone, Johan Santana, Jon Niese

There are some names above that the Yankees might be facing in the post-season. Shields, Price, Verlander, Hanson and a few others. But they’re not going to be able to use Hochevar, Pavano or most of the other mediocrities to beat on.

I don’t see the names Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Dan Haren, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez or Yu Darvish in there.

If the Yankees don’t hit homers, then what?

Understanding the value of their homers is not the brainless bully strategy of, “Me swing hard; me hit home runs; team win.”

What was the score when the home runs were hit? What where the weather conditions? Did the pitcher make a mistake or did the hitter hit a good pitch? Was the game a blowout and the pitcher just trying to get the ball over the plate to get the game over with in either club’s favor?

These questions, among many other things, have to be accounted for.

Those who are complaining about the club needing to “manufacture” runs don’t know any more about baseball than those who are blindly defending the use of the home run without the full story.

Of course it’s a good thing that the Yankees hit a lot of home runs, but those home runs can’t be relied upon as the determinative factor of whether they’re going to win in the post-season because they’ll be facing better pitching and teams that will be able to use the homer-friendly Yankee Stadium themselves mitigating any advantage the Yankees might have. Teams that are more versatile, play good defense, steal bases and run with smart aggression and have strong pitching will be able to deal with the Yankees’ power.

Teams like the Mets are unable to do that.

The Yankees’ home runs are only an issue if they stop hitting them. Then they’ll have to find alternative ways to score when the balls aren’t flying over the fences. This is why it’s not a problem that they don’t have Brett Gardner now. In fact, it seems like the fans and media has forgotten about him. But they’re going to need him in the playoffs because he gives them something they barely have with this current configuration: he can run and wreak havoc on the bases and is an excellent defensive left fielder.

As much as Joe Morgan was savaged for his silly statements blaming the Oakland A’s inability to manufacture runs in their playoff losses during the Moneyball years, he wasn’t fundamentally inaccurate. It wasn’t about squeezing and hitting and running capriciously as Morgan wanted them to do and altering the strategy that got them to the playoffs; but it was about being able to win when not hitting home runs; when not facing a pitching staff that is going to walk you; when a team actually has relievers who can pitch and not a bunch of names they accumulated and found on the scrapheap.

The A’s couldn’t win when they didn’t get solid starting pitching or hit home runs.

Can the Yankees?

That’s going to be the key to their season. Then the true value of their homer-happy offense will come to light.

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American League East Predicted Standings

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American League East Predicted Standings:

1. New York Yankees                        94       68         —

2. Toronto Blue Jays                         87       75           7

3. Tampa Bay Rays                            85       77           9

4. Boston Red Sox                             81       81          13

5. Baltimore Orioles                           65       97          29

New York Yankees

The Yankees benefited greatly from the lack of decisively bold movements and drastic improvements of their rivals. While they’re repeating prior mistakes with paranoia and pitcher-babying, they have the offense, abundance of starting pitching and deep bullpen to again rise to the top of the division.

The bench is something that will have to be addressed as the season moves along because Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones aren’t suitable backups regardless of the Yankees’ propaganda machine unequivocally stating that they are.

Expect Alex Rodriguez to have a comeback season and hope that the overwhelming pressure they’re putting on Michael Pineda doesn’t haunt them.

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays needed a name arm or a name bat to be a preseason favorite and didn’t get either.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t contend; it means that they’re going to have to get big seasons from young players Brett Lawrie, Yunel Escobar and Henderson Alvarez. Sergio Santos must prove he can close for a full season and throw strikes; Brandon Morrow has to develop into a trustworthy top-tier starter without restrictions.

I picked Jose Bautista as the AL MVP.

Tampa Bay Rays

Again forced to scrounge around the bargain bins, they reunited with Carlos Pena to increase their power at first base. The Rays have been good and lucky in finding bullpen arms who fit into their system and rejuvenate stalled careers—running a club that way is rife with risks that eventually it’s not going to work.

B.J. Upton will play like a maniac all season as he heads for free agency.

With their young starting pitching, they could make it to the World Series or falter and be out of contention to put such stars as Upton, James Shields and David Price in play for a trade at mid-season.

I’ve got them somewhere in the middle.

Boston Red Sox

It’s chaos.

Who’s running things?

Is there any cohesion between John Henry, Larry Lucchino, Ben Cherington and Bobby Valentine?

At least when Theo Epstein was there—like it or not—you knew there was one person mostly in charge; now with Theo gone and Lucchino grasping for power; Henry providing self-protectionist alibis; Cherington marginalized; and Bobby V being…Bobby V, there are going to be voices, whispers, Machiavellian power plays and rampant dysfunction the likes which have not been seen in Boston since 2001.

Are they making the types of moves that laid the foundation of their annual championship contending teams from 2003-2010 or are they desperately trying to patch holes and find “name” people to replace the “name” people who are gone?

I like Valentine, but his polarizing personality can go both ways. The Red Sox starting rotation is short and they have black spots in their lineup at shortstop, right field and possibly catcher.

It’s a time bomb with Valentine and Josh Beckett.

Baltimore Orioles

I don’t hear much about Buck Showalter’s status as a miracle worker after the team came apart last season.

Following a hot start, they reverted to being the Orioles of the past 15 years.

Dan Duquette has received unfair criticism and there’s a lack of context in the good work he did as the Expos’ and Red Sox’ GM, but a lack of talent is a lack of talent; an impossible division is an impossible division; and until they develop their young arms and stick to a strategy for the long term, there’s not much that will change in Baltimore.

Duquette must be allowed to take the marketable players—notably Nick Markakis and Adam Jones—and see what types of offers he can get for them to replenish the system with multiple players. They’re not going to do the Orioles any good as Orioles.

Far more in depth analysis is in my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide, now available.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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Who is Garrett Jones? Plus Other A.J. Burnett-Related Stuff

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Before anything else, I don’t think these negotiations are going to go anywhere. It’s just a sense that the Yankees and Pirates aren’t a match financially or in what the Pirates are willing to surrender to get A.J. Burnett. The Yankees’ tack appears to be, “We’ll pay some of the freight, but not all; you give us decent prospect A and B.”

The Pirates want the Yankees to pay almost the whole contract of $33 million and take negligible return.

Regarding Burnett’s no-trade clause, the Yankees wouldn’t be engaging in these talks with the Pirates (I don’t think) if there were any chance of Burnett rejecting the deal. Various people have said that because Burnett’s wife doesn’t like to fly, all of the teams Burnett has blocked are on the West Coast.

If Burnett really wants to get away from the Yankees, then I suppose going to the Pirates wouldn’t be all that bad. He’d pitch in the weaker league in a big ballpark without any expectations and be able to rejuvenate his free agent credentials for the winter of 2013-2014. For the Pirates, they could multiply the return by trading Burnett at some point in the next two years to a team that the Yankees wouldn’t trade him to like the Red Sox or Blue Jays.

Remember this: there were teams—inexplicably including the Yankees—pursuing Carl Pavano after Pavano pitched well for the Indians and Twins following his disastrous tenure with the Yankees; Burnett was never as bad on or off the field as Pavano.

I’ve been asked several times who Garrett Jones is and why the Yankees would want him.

The Pirates have apparently said that they’re not interested in moving Jones and certainly not to do the Yankees a favor in filling their DH slot and taking Burnett’s salary in the process.

But here’s what you need to think about when wondering why the Yankees would want Jones.

The Yankees need a relatively inexpensive left-handed bat with pop to share the DH role with Andruw Jones, Alex Rodriguez and other righty bats who’d DH against lefties.

Jones spent 11 seasons in the minors with the Twins and Pirates and hit 158 home runs before getting a legitimate chance in the big leagues—minor league stats. As a 28-year-old rookie in 2009, he hit 21 homers in 82 games.

Jones is arbitration eligible for the first time and due for a salary of something between $2.25 million-$2.5 million. The newly budget conscious Yankees could fit him into their salary structure and then pay a backup middle infielder. (For some reason, they want Eric Chavez back—maybe because he’s handsome? I can think of no other reason.)

Examining Jones’s platoon splits, he’s a good choice for the Yankees. Jones hits righties really well; has power to center and right field which makes him a fit for Yankee Stadium—hit trajectory link; and has had success against good pitching (he’s hammered Adam Wainwright, Tim Lincecum, Chris Carpenter, Matt Cain and Yovani Gallardo among others).

It makes sense for the Yankees to want Jones and some sense for the Pirates to want Burnett. But there’s no match for an exchange of the players along with Burnett’s salary so it’s not going to happen with one being traded for the other. In fact, I don’t think it’s going to happen in any configuration at all.

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The Sale of a Story and the Yankees DH

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The White Sox went into the 2010 season with the intention of keeping the DH spot unclogged so manager Ozzie Guillen would have more flexibility.

With that flexibility, they wound up using Mark Kotsay as their DH in 49 games. In addition to Kotsay, they also used Andruw Jones in 14 games as the DH.

That’s not the kind of flexibility they were looking for when they decided not to reunite with Jim Thome, who wanted to return to the White Sox and signed with the Twins after the White Sox chose to go in another (wrong) direction.

The why is relatively unimportant, but the fact that it failed is one of the litany of reasons the Yankees have zero intention of entering the season with Jones and Jorge Vazquez as their primary DHs any more than they intended to go into the season with A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes or Ivan Nova as their number 2 starter.

What you’re seeing now as the “idea” is floated in the media is the give and take that goes on between clubs and media to control the message and do what amounts to market testing to see how a concept will be received.

In essence, they’re putting out the question of, “can we get away with this?”

The Vazquez/Jones platoon combination is not being well received because it won’t work.

Clubs and media have a working relationship that creates this dynamic. In collaboration with the editors of websites and newspapers, there’s a separation between nuggets, actual news, non-stories and editorial mandates.

An example of a nugget is the idea of a strange decision like Vazquez and Jones starting the season DHing for the Yankees. Practically, Jones is a player from whom a club will get production for 50-70 games as a defensive replacement, giving a rest to their everyday outfielders and hitting the occasional home run. Vazquez is a journeyman minor leaguer who, for some reason, has captured the fancy of those who apparently have never seen him play, don’t know how to interpret stats or are enamored of his “story”.

In today’s game, if a player is productive at any level he’ll find a place to play.

Vazquez hasn’t found a place to play other than Mexico and the minor leagues. The reason for this is he strikes out a ridiculous amount of the time, doesn’t walk and has no position.

But we see people mentioning him as an “option” at DH.

For the Oakland Athletics he’s an “option” at DH.

For the Yankees, he’s a name they’re using as a litmus test to see how far they can push their fans with the similar type of nonsensical propaganda that played up Brian Bruney and other Yankees “finds” that eventually revealed themselves as what they were as they disappeared from the landscape.

If a player bounces around or never gets a chance in the big leagues despite some aspect that would indicate he should receive an opportunity, most of the time there’s a reason that we haven’t been informed of.

Actual news stories such as the Yu Darvish posting fee are relatively straightforward and easy to write and understand. It is what it is. He’s a star player from Japan who wants to come to North America. He has an interesting heritage and personality. He’s a wonderful talent.

Easy.

Non-stories are the things you see (and I’ve done this myself) when a posting is needed but there’s nothing to write about. I happen to be better and finding things to write about and making them interesting than others, but much of that is contingent on what would garner some attention to baseball in the dead of winter.

Editorial mandates play a part too.

Do you think Tim Kurkjian wanted to write an ESPN piece about Tim Tebow as a baseball player?

Of course not. But ESPN does careful study in what the visitors to their site and stations are looking for and serves their desires by presenting content about Tebow. It’s got nothing to do with a tacit approval of Tebow’s Christianity. It has to do with his popularity. People want to read about him, so ESPN tells their people to write about him.

Simple.

If you think the Yankees—the Yankees—are going into the 2012 season with Andruw Jones or Jorge Vazquez as their DH, forget it. They’d reunite with Hideki Matsui or Johnny Damon before doing that not only because those players would be willing to take a short-term contract and have proven that they can handle New York and the Yankee nuthouse, but also because they know Jones/Vazquez wouldn’t work much better than Kotsay and it’s salable to the fans.

It’s nothing more than that.

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The Yankees Would’ve Been Better With Beltran

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The underlying suggestion from another “Carlos Beltran offers self to Yankees” free agent story is that he was about to sign the contract with the Cardinals and had his agent contact the Yankees to see if they’d be willing to do the same contract.

In 2004 it was slightly different in several ways. His agent then was Scott Boras; now it’s Dan Lozano. The offer to the Yankees back then was for less money and fewer years than the Mets offer; this time he asked for the same deal. And back then, he was a star center fielder in his prime; this time he’s a very good right fielder turning age 35 in April whose health is still in question.

Did it come at the last second and did the Yankees turn it down without seriously considering it? Was there a backchannel communication to the Yankees saying, “keep Beltran in mind because he wants to be a Yankee”? Or did the Yankees know he was interested and wait to see what the price was before turning it down?

If George Steinbrenner were still around, a player like Beltran who clearly wants to be a Yankees would have been a Yankee. But now they’re monitoring their payroll to such a degree that amid all the ridicule aimed at the team across town, the Yankees have actually done less to address their needs this winter than the Mets have.

Rather than sign a free agent or go all out via trade to acquire one of the available starting pitchers, the Yankees re-did CC Sabathia’s contract to keep him and re-signed Freddy Garcia; they also exercised the option on the player that Beltran would’ve replaced, Nick Swisher; and today, they re-signed veteran Andruw Jones.

Apart from that, nothing.

Did they think about Beltran and weigh the pros and cons?

If they chose to replace Swisher with Beltran, they’d be getting a better player; both are switch-hitters, but Beltran is more consistent from both sides of the plate and a far bigger power threat batting lefty than Swisher; Beltran’s a proven post-season performer while Swisher’s been an abject failure; Beltran would be more expensive ($26 million for 2-years) than Swisher, who’s only going to cost $10.25 million in 2012.

Beltran’s knee problems are not to be discounted—he could wind up back on the disabled list at a moment’s notice—but apart from a hand injury, he stayed healthy in 2011. Beltran played in 142 games and adjusted well in a position switch to right field. 22 homers playing his home games in the notorious pitchers parks of Citi Field and AT&T Park bode well for a renaissance as a 30-35 homer power threat in Yankee Stadium.

Swisher has trade value because teams appreciate his on-base skills, pop and gregarious personality along with that 1-year deal; Beltran wouldn’t have cost a draft pick to sign because of a clever provision slipped into his Mets contract by then-agent Boras that his club couldn’t offer him arbitration.

Could the Yankees have signed Beltran and traded Swisher for an arm like Jason Hammel? Jonathan Sanchez? Jair Jurrjens?

Would they be better than they are now?

I’m not an advocate of standing completely pat in any circumstance and especially when the team overachieved based on luck with two veterans Garcia and Bartolo Colon, then got bounced in the first round of the playoffs; but that’s what the Yankees are doing.

With the improving Blue Jays, the Red Sox and Rays still in their division, plus the flashy signings made by the Rangers and Angels, the playoffs are not a guarantee for the Yankees anymore and this current roster is aging and thin in several key spots.

Trading Swisher for a starter and signing Beltran would’ve made the team better.

Did they consider it seriously? Or did they ignore the player who obviously wanted to be a Yankee to the point where he essentially groveled for the chance?

Twice!

The Yankees made a mistake with Beltran in 2004 and they may have just made the same mistake in 2011 at a cheaper price.

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Detroit Tigers vs New York Yankees

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Detroit Tigers (95-67; 1st place, AL Central) vs New York Yankees (97-65; 1st place, AL East)

Keys for the Tigers: Score early, score often against the Yankees starters; get into the bullpen early; ride their own starters deep into the games; win Justin Verlander‘s starts; Magglio Ordonez.

The Tigers won the AL Central by 15 games, but that’s not an accurate gauge as to how they played this season.

Up until August, their position was precarious in terms of whether they would even make the playoffs; they made a series of trades to get Delmon Young, Doug Fister and Wilson Betemit; the Indians—who had led the Tigers by as much as 8 games in May—came apart.

It was Justin Verlander who carried the Tigers on his shoulders before they took command of the division by ripping off a 12 game winning streak in September. It will be Justin Verlander who will lead the Tigers past the Yankees or into the winter after a first round playoff loss.

They have to ride their horse.

Manager Jim Leyland is insisting that Verlander will pitch games 1 and 5 and under no circumstances is pitching in game 4.

We’ll see.

Fister has been masterful since his acquisition from the Mariners with an 8-1 record and ERA under 2. He’s only allowed 11 homers in over 200 innings this season, but Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson have gotten to him; he lost his only start against the Yankees this season; it was his last start as a Mariner and he went 7 innings surrendering 3 runs on 7 hits.

Max Scherzer is starting game 3 and Rick Porcello game 4. Scherzer has a power fastball and wicked slider, but is either on or off—if he’s got his stuff and control, he’s nasty; if not, he gets hammered.

I wouldn’t trust Porcello in a game 4.

The Tigers bullpen before Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde is a question mark, but Leyland will push his starters further than he does in the regular season. Verlander’s pitch limit will be somewhere in the 140-150 range if necessary and since they’re insisting they’re not pitching him in game 4, don’t expect a quick hook if he gets off to a bad start in game 1.

The Tigers have to decide what to do with their veteran bats who’ve played sparingly in 2011. Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen have handled CC Sabathia in their careers, but will Leyland rely on his vets or stick with the players he was using for the bulk of the time over the second half?

Guillen has a calf issue and is probably out for the ALDS.

I’d play Ordonez against Sabathia.

Ordonez is also 7 for 14 in his career against Mariano Rivera.

The Yankees are starting rookie Ivan Nova in game 2; soft-tossing veteran Freddy Garcia in game 3. Nova and the Tigers don’t have much history. Garcia, however, has a long history with several of the Tigers hitters and has gotten blasted by Miguel Cabrera, Ordonez and Young. Yankees manager Joe Girardi will have a quick hook with Garcia and A.J. Burnett could be important in game 3 if he’s needed to restore order after a Tigers outburst. Burnett’s numbers against the Tigers are quite good.

The Tigers do not want to be nursing 1-run leads in the late innings against the Yankees; they need to build a bigger lead and hold it.

Keys for the Yankees: Beat Verlander; don’t let any pitcher other than Verlander beat them; make Verlander work and get his pitch count up to get him out of game 1 early; get into the Tigers middle-relief; score a lot to make moot their pitching issues; A.J. Burnett; end the series before game 5; Verlander, Verlander, Verlander.

Other than Sabathia, the Yankees aren’t going to mess around and leave their starters in the game if they’re getting roughed up. Burnett will be in the bullpen; presumably Bartolo Colon will be on the roster—they’ll have veteran arms to turn to if Nova or Garcia struggle.

If this were a best 4 of 7 series, I’d seriously consider shifting either Sabathia or Verlander so they didn’t have to pitch against each other. With a 3 of 5 series, that’s not really an option.

Nick Swisher is only batting .167 in 54 career plate appearances vs Verlander, but has 3 career homers. Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Brett Gardner have very solid numbers against him and Ramiro Pena of all people is 3 for 5 in his career facing Verlander. The Yankees needn’t be terrified of the Tigers ace because they’ve hit him before, but they do not want to be dealing with a game 5 and Ivan Nova or anyone other than Sabathia scheduled to pitch; I don’t care how mentally tough Nova is, that’s not a fair position for a rookie to be in and if it happens, they’re going to lose.

Girardi has said that Posada is going to DH in the series and that’s a good move—I always defer to my experienced veterans who’ve been through playoff battles before and if this is Posada’s final post-season in his career, he’ll be looking to end it with an exclamation point.

I wouldn’t be concerned about facing Porcello—if there’s a game 4 and the Yankees are trailing in the series 2-1, they’re going to maul him.

Valverde is one of the best closers in baseball that no one knows. That said, he can lose command and walk people; he also gives up some homers. Andruw Jones is 3 for 7 in his career vs Valverde with a homer and he’s the type of pitcher upon whom Robinson Cano will feast in a big spot.

If the Yankees use Rafael Soriano with a lead, he’s going to give up a homer or three—he cannot abide post-season pressure, or any kind of pressure. He’s pitched 3 post-season innings in his career and allowed 2 homers including a backbreaker for the Rays last season in the ninth inning of game 5 against the Rangers and Ian Kinsler.

The Yankees won’t be worried about Verlander in game 1; if it gets to game 5, they will be worried about him. A lot.

What will happen.

I wouldn’t anticipate mutual dominance between Verlander and Sabathia in game 1. In fact, it could degenerate into a shootout between the bullpens. If Verlander gets knocked out early, would that change Leyland’s strategy in a game 4? Would he bring his ace back on short rest if he only throws 60 or so pitches in game 1?

If they’re down 2 games to 1, I would.

The other starters in the Yankees rotation are only going to be in games as long as they’re getting outs and will be subject to a quicker hook that you or Girardi’s Binder could fathom. Burnett is decried and despised by Yankees fans, but they’d better hope “good A.J.” shows up when that bullpen door opens because if they need him in game 2, 3 or 5 he has to pitch well.

Girardi won’t put Soriano in a big spot; David Robertson tends to get himself in trouble just for the sake of getting out of it. His strikeout prowess comes in handy in those situations.

If the Tigers get a big performance out of Fister and/or Scherzer, the Yankees will be in a lot of trouble. I’d expect one to pitch well. Either game 2 or 3 will be won late and is dependent on whose bullpen performs better, which specialists—Boone Logan of the Yankees; Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth—get the job done. Logan would be called on to pitch to Alex Avila. The Tigers are righty-heavy.

Will the young Schlereth be able to deal with Cano? With Granderson? Cano’s 1 for 4 vs Schlereth with a homer; Granderson 0 for 2 with 2 walks. Coke allowed homers to lefties Chase Utley and Raul Ibanez in game 5 of the 2009 World Series while pitching for the Yankees so he’s not exactly frightening to good-hitting lefties. But the Tigers won’t have a choice. The best case for the Tigers is to not get it to that point.

Two veterans—Ordonez and Posada—with excellent careers behind them and the windows closing on those careers will see important at bats in big situations.

The Tigers will win 2 of the first 3 games.

The Yankees will batter Porcello in game 4; this series will come down to a game 5 in Yankee Stadium with Verlander standing between the Yankees and the ALCS.

And he’s going to slam the door in their faces.

The Tigers and Verlander are taking them out.

PREDICTION: TIGERS IN FIVE.

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Trade Targets For American League Contenders

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Yesterday I discussed players contending National League teams should pursue at the trading deadline. Now let’s look at the American League.

Boston Red Sox

What they need: Starting pitching.

With Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz on the disabled list and John Lackey an enigma (although he looked good in his last start), the Red Sox are on the lookout for a decent starter.

And the starter only has to be decent; with their offense, competence is all that’s required.

Ryan Dempster is competent and wouldn’t cost much in terms of players; the Red Sox say they don’t have much money to spend, but if they need something they’ll go and get it. The $14 million player option held by Dempster would have to be dealt with; the Red Sox want no part of that.

Cheaper names would include Aaron Cook, Erik Bedard, Brett Myers (I doubt they’ll bring him to the scene of the crime and he hasn’t pitched particularly well this year).

Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez of the Marlins could be in play and the Red Sox have the prospects to get it done.

There was talk that they’d be after Jose Reyes or Carlos Beltran, but I don’t see why. If they want a shortstop bat, they’d go after Hanley Ramirez first.

New York Yankees

What they need: A solid utility player; an OF/DH bat; bullpen help; a backup catcher; a starting pitcher(?).

I actually think the Yankees starting pitching is serviceable enough contingent on Phil Hughes‘s performance and whether Bartolo Colon continues to pitch well. Dempster is a good option for them and they’ve always liked Ted Lilly.

There was talk of Francisco Rodriguez and the Mets would give him away—he wouldn’t be closing for the Yankees and K-Rod’s new agent Scott Boras is posturing about where he’d let his client go via trade.

It’s pure posturing because they have little leverage. K-Rod’s contract has 10 teams he can reject trades to—their identities are unknown.

Heath Bell is getting traded eventually.

For set-up help Rafael Betancourt of the Rockies and Grant Balfour of the Athletics are targets.

They could use a lefty reliever like Tim Byrdak or take a chance on Brian Fuentes.

Naturally with Alex Rodriguez out for a month after knee surgery, there will be Yankees fans who want them to go and trade for a star third baseman like Aramis Ramirez—you can’t go through a series of games without a star player at every position I suppose, even in the short-term.

If Casey Blake is healthy, he can play third, first and the outfield.

I have a feeling Hideki Matsui is going to end up back with the Yankees. He proved during the A’s tour of the National League that he can still play the outfield and I’m not quite sure what it is that Andruw Jones does that keeps him on the roster.

Any backup catcher would be better than Francisco Cervelli. I’d probably be better than Francisco Cervelli. If the White Sox fade, Ramon Castro is a good backup with pop.

Tampa Bay Rays

What they need: A bat. Any bat.

Beltran would be a very nice addition. Presumably he’d okay a trade to the contending Rays.

Jim Thome would bash as the DH.

Here’s a thought: Hanley Ramirez. The Rays have the prospects and while his attitude is somewhere along the lines of B.J. Upton, there’s no denying his talent. Whether Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria would allow his favorite son to: A) be traded; and B) be sent across the state, is a question.

Detroit Tigers

What they need: A bat; a back-end starter; bullpen help.

If Blake is healthy, he’s better than Brandon Inge. Beltran and K-Rod are dangling from the Mets. I’ve always liked Josh Willingham of the Athletics.

If the Marlins discuss Hanley Ramirez, the Tigers probably don’t have the prospects to get him; Aramis Ramirez would fit in nicely.

The Tigers have the money to take Lilly’s contract. Then there are the usual suspects mentioned earlier like Dempster or Cook.

Cleveland Indians

What they need: A bat; a competent veteran starting pitcher.

With Shin-Soo Choo out until September with a broken thumb, Beltran is a great idea for the Indians. Then there are Matsui, Willingham and David DeJesus from the Athletics. The Cubs could move Aramis Ramirez and Kosuke Fukudome.

Cook of the Rockies and Bedard are short-term, inexpensive and worthwhile gambles.

The White Sox and Twins have to decide what they are and where they’re headed. In the past, both have shown a hesitancy to sell and they’re close enough to contention in a rotten division to justify going either way.

Texas Rangers

What they need: Starting pitching.

The Rangers have been aggressive in recent years, so they’ll be in on the expensive names and pending free agents. They were looking at Scott Kazmir, but that’s a dead-end.

Lilly has an attitude that Nolan Ryan likes. Dempster would fit with the Rangers; Wandy Rodriguez is signed and highly underrated. Jeremy Guthrie of the Orioles has pitched better than his 3-12 record.

How about making a bid for Mike Pelfrey of the Mets? They’ll move him in the right deal and the Rangers have prospects to trade.

Los Angeles Angels

What they need: A bat; bullpen help.

Surprisingly, the Angels don’t need much of anything if their current players perform. They could use a bat at shortstop like Hanley Ramirez and have some young players to exchange, but that’s farfetched.

There was talk recently that Angels owner Arte Moreno had told GM Tony Reagins that they couldn’t add money, but that was before their hot streak put them near first place. That division is wide open for them. If they make the playoffs, they have the pitching to do damage.

Would the Angels like to rent K-Rod for the rest of the season as a set-up man? He performed brilliantly in that role when they won the World Series in 2002, manager Mike Scioscia knows how to handle him and he’s familiar with the Angels clubhouse.

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Emergency Powers—Selective And Despotic

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Anytime you have a decision made based on the good of the community and delivered by unquestioned decree, you should question its motive and whether said decision has been made based on facts alone or ancillary influences.

Such is the case with MLB’s decision to take over the operations of the Los Angeles Dodgers from Frank McCourt.

You can read the details here—NY Times.com.

Under no circumstances am I defending the behavior of Frank McCourt and his wife Jamie, but there’s an aspect of piling on and  flinging everything into the bonfire as if lawlessness has taken hold and the powers that be had no other option.

The reviled autocratic leader—McCourt—has been forcibly removed after metaphorically robbing from the state’s coffers in treating the franchise as a personal cash machine to supplement delusions of a growing empire.

But what about baseball’s despot; also autocratic—yet likable in a rumpled, befuddled sort of way—Commissioner Bud Selig?

McCourt, scrambling for cash to pay his bills and maintain the Dodgers, was desperately seeking a buyer or a loan to maintain the team. Baseball was right to step in before it truly got out of hand and one of the signature franchises in the sport was bankrupt and unable to function.

But the selective enforcement allowed by the “best interests of baseball” clause bear an eerie similarity to a dictatorship that simply decides to eliminate an enemy without trial.

Anything can be explained by legalese, smooth talk, evidence as to the damage being done or sheer loathing raining down on the persecuted; but is it fair? Should baseball be able to do this at a moment’s notice just “because”?

McCourt has financed his lavish lifestyle using the Dodgers as a lever to gain more and more credit and buy more and more “stuff”; the divorce from his wife Jamie and legal battle for the franchise has been an exercise in humiliation like something from the shlock-mill of Aaron Spelling; but in looking at the team itself, has he been a terrible owner when assessing results on the field? Has he interfered with the club operations to its detriment?

How is what McCourt has done to the Dodgers in any worse than the way the Pirates have degenerated into a laughingstock? It’s notable that the Pirates are now—conveniently—being terribly mismanaged by a longtime Selig ally, Frank Coonelly.

Why is it that George Steinbrenner repeatedly ran afoul of baseball protocol (such as it is) with his antics and frequent suspensions, but was never permanently forced out as owner?

Baseball stepped in with Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria when it was discovered that he was fiddling with the revenue sharing dollars he received from richer clubs, pocketing it rather than spending it on players as was intended; but the Marlins are a profitable, successful franchise that provides better bang for their buck than just about any other team.

The allegation that Fred Wilpon’s close relationship with Selig has assisted him in getting a loan and time to straighten out the team’s legal issues is reasonable and calls into greater question the way MLB has snatched control of the Dodgers from McCourt.

You can compare the differing circumstances in a myriad of ways and justify the takeover of the Dodgers; but so too could you wonder why it’s the Dodgers with whom they’ve stepped in so forcefully but not the Pirates or Mets.

For all the ridicule that the McCourts’ ownership has engendered, have they faltered on the field?

They’ve made the playoffs in four of the seven years he’s owned the team.

Have they scrimped on signing players?

They doled lucrative contracts on Derek Lowe, J.D. Drew, Jason Schmidt, Rafael Furcal, Andruw Jones and a host of others.

Have they shunned paying for their draft picks?

The Dodgers gave a $5.25 million bonus to 2010 1st round pick Zach Lee which was $4 million more than the preceding selection, Jesse Biddle, got from the Phillies—perceived as an organization that runs their club correctly.

Has McCourt overtly and negatively interfered with the on-field product and told his manager or GM what to do?

It’s possible, but from what I can see based on the GM maneuverings since McCourt bought the team—and that includes former GM Paul DePodesta and present GM Ned Colletti—he let them to do whatever they wanted.

He hired the biggest name manager in Joe Torre when he came available and the team has been consistently good.

Adding the violent assault on a San Francisco Giants fan in the Dodger Stadium parking lot to the list of McCourt transgressions is equivalent of tossing another charge into the indictment since it’s there and easy to use as an extra tool to pry the club from McCourt’s clutches.

The admission that there wasn’t enough security to prevent the beating is legitimate, but have you ever seen ballpark security? It’s not as if there are moonlighting cops or former CIA operatives running around to watch over the customers as they head to their cars; many times the security personnel are worse than the troublemaking fans themselves!

The personality-based viewpoint with which McCourt has been pigeonholed and the way baseball pushed him aside is justified by rule of baseball. It’s better to intervene too early rather than too late, but why the Dodgers and not the other teams and owners mentioned above?

Of course baseball had to take over the Dodgers; barring a miracle or owner-friendly negotiation with the creditors, McCourt’s ownership was no longer tenable. But the timing and seemingly capricious handling should be scrutinized more than it has been.

A lack of fairness and whimsical action without due process should be a concern to all. Practically and by delineation of powers, Selig had a right to do what he did and he had to do it; but the proffered justifications are troubling considering the way other clubs and owners have skated by without meaningful repercussions for their actions.

This was clearly personal. And that makes it all the more worrisome as to the broadbased powers allowable in the “best interests of baseball”.

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