The Back Of The Bubblegum Card Tells Much

Books, Games, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players

The Red Sox are going to finish ahead of the Yankees in the standings this year. That doesn’t preclude the Yankees from making the playoffs; doesn’t mean they won’t be dangerous if they make it, but the Red Sox are still better.

Bad starts, ridicule, laughter, panic—inside and outside the organization—aside, the two teams can be judged based on their players and prior performances. Looking at the back of the bubblegum card is not the end-all/be-all of analysis, but once you look at the individual histories of the rosters as currently constituted, the Red Sox are better over the long haul of 162 games.

Russell Martin‘s story is engaging enough, but the attacks on Dodgers GM Ned Colletti for non-tendering Martin (the public “thank yous” from Yankee fans) aren’t simply premature, they’re idiotic. The Dodgers were right to non-tender Martin. He’d been injury-prone; his numbers were declining from his rising superstar heights in 2008; he’d run the bases poorly; and his attitude was in question. It’s possible that health was his main obstacle; that he needed a change-of-scenery; or it might be that the American League hasn’t learned how to pitch to him yet.

Paranoia surrounds Phil Hughes and his overly-discussed and analyzed lost velocity; what makes it worse is that it’s being dissected by people who don’t know anything about anything, let alone pitching.

You can look at the career numbers of Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez and feel safe that they’ll perform at or close to their career levels. But the starting rotation is looking worse and worse; and in comparison to that of the Red Sox—atrocious start and all—it’s far weaker top-to-bottom.

Everyone invested in the Yankees success in any way still holds their collective breaths when A.J. Burnett is pitching; Ivan Nova, Hughes and the fifth starter grouping of FreddyGarciaBartoloColonKevinMillwoodCarlosSilva is frightening to contemplate if they have to rely on that amalgam all season.

Like Martin, Colon has done well; like Martin, it’s probably an anomaly.

It’s endemic of New York and Yankee fandom to take the smallest positive or negative and turn it into a cause célèbres. They had the “best bullpen in the universe”…until Rafael Soriano gacked up a game.

The “bubblegum card” argument does nothing but bolster the Red Sox credentials as the better team.

Do you think Kevin Youkilis will be hitting .148 in May 1st? That Carl Crawford will be at .132? That Clay Buchholz will allow over 2 homers a start? That John Lackey can possibly be as bad as he’s been so far?

Much as the Yankees are shocked by the play of Martin and Colon, the Red Sox are shocked in the opposite direction by the terrible starts en masse from most of their roster.

The difference is that the Red Sox players have a history to rely on and are at an age where expecting them to return to form is a near-guarantee.

Can the Yankees say that?

It won’t continue.

Even if their fan bases and media hordes don’t know this, the clubs themselves do.

The Yankees had better find some starting pitching.




Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available.

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Viewer Mail 3.4.2011

Media, Players, Spring Training

The Other Mike in The Bleacher Seats writes RE Cliff Lee and Yankees fans:

The Yankee fan reaction reminds me of a controlling ex-boyfriend that won’t get it into his head that the relationship is over. He still checks her Facebook wall everyday, follows her to work, and goes through her trash.

Of course, that might not be appropriate, because in my metaphor there was actually a relationship to speak of.

The same cannot be said for NY & Cliff Lee. There was almost a relationship, more than once, but it never materialized and they’re having a lot of trouble getting over it.

Well, guess what, Cliff Lee doesn’t want to date you and he didn’t want to date my Texas Rangers either. He’s likes the Phillies better. That shouldn’t be a reason to say that you hate him, because he didn’t do anything personally to anyone.

At the end of the day he is a guy with a job and, unlike a lot of people, he actually got to decide where he wanted to work. He chose the place he and his family most wanted to be.

The 2011 season will happen anyway, whether you’re okay with your team’s situation or not.

This is a classic comment that could be transferred to many other venues—Twitter chiefly among them. And suffice it to say I ain’t the stalker; which leaves only the possibility of either being ignored or functioning as the stalkee. Take a guess as to which it is; and here’s a hint—I’m hard to ignore.

Joe writes RE Adrian Beltre:

I don’t know whether Beltre is hurt enough to play or not. But I heard that he played through injuries in 09′ and 10,’ more so 09′ when his down year was due to playing hurt (So I’ve heard). Both of these were of course contract years. The difference is that this is Spring Training, of course. But if he all of a sudden sits out every time he is banged up a little, it will leave me wondering…Of course, I have no proof of anything, so speculation will only get me so far :)

This Star-Telegram blog suggests that Beltre could be out beyond the two weeks they initially had as a healing timeframe.

I wouldn’t give Beltre a hard time about it, but I’d still have it in my mind that he’s got a reputation for coming up big in his contract year and then having all sorts of stuff happen to him after he signs.

I’m not the biggest Beltre fan and I don’t think he’s a malingerer, but until he plays well after signing that contract, there will be that perception surrounding him.

It’s only spring training, but I’d advise the Rangers to take it easy with him even when they think he’s ready to return; calves are tricky; Jimmy Rollins can attest to that and it could be a problem all season long if it’s not allowed to heal properly due to pressure on him to play before he’s healthy.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE the Cubs dugout fight between Carlos Silva and Aramis Ramirez:

I’d understand it more if it had been a fight over a girl! They’re not exactly in a pennant race.

Fighting over a girl or money in a card game (another example of behavior I would not allow in my clubhouse—playing cards for money) would leave hard feelings; this was a heat-of-the-moment response from Silva and Ramirez happened to catch the brunt of it.

Like I said yesterday, no harm/no foul.

And if the Cubs wait for a pennant race to fight amongst themselves it’s likely to be a very peaceful clubhouse in 2011.

Norm writes RE Billy Beane:

Lovely Q & A article in yahoo sports with our man, Billy Beane, discussing such matters as stolen bases, bunting, healthcare plans and the upcoming movie.

Norm’s referring to this tongue-in-cheek piece on Yahoo.

It’s nothing personal, but I’ve had more than my fill of Billy Beane. Enough already. Win something other than a popularity contest based on nothing.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE Barry Zito and Buster Olney:

When I saw that linked on the trade rumors site I literally choked on the coffee I was trying to drink.

LUNACY doesn’t even BEGIN to describe that notion.

I’ve been told that editors play a strong hand in the stories that are published on ESPN and clearly it’s not with an eye on accuracy or competence.

They go to such extremes with the advertising blitz—“No one knows baseball better” or whatever the line is regarding Olney—that it’s putting him in an unwinnable situation; on the one hand, he’s supposed to be a credible voice; on the other, a personality whose taken the edicts to a logical conclusion and expressing them with a seriousness that belies any semblance of reality.

He was once a good baseball writer and, unlike some employees of ESPN present and past, he does post every day without mailing it in as if he’s doing everyone a favor by saying “here!” during attendance in homeroom.

The content however is disingenuous; it impugns the credibility of an entity like ESPN, a network of websites and channels that’s a massive purveyor of sports news around the world. They have a responsibility to provide fact and not twisted, agenda-laden pablum like “Zito might be replaced by Suppan“.

It’s insulting to a knowledgeable fan and creates a controversy for the club—in this case the Giants—that was totally unnecessary.


The Dugout’s Not Alright For Fightin’

Media, Players, Spring Training, Uncategorized

It’s spring training and the Cubs are in mid-season, dysfunctional form as Carlos Silva, irritated with the shoddy defense that sabotaged his start—perceived as a slightly important one because he’s fighting for a rotation spot—got into a dugout scuffle with third baseman Aramis Ramirez.

Comparisons were immediately made to the Carlos ZambranoDerrek Lee near fight last June. It was that incident that appeared to be the true beginning of the end for Lou Piniella‘s managerial tenure; the one thing that made him say, “that’s it, I can’t deal with this anymore”.

It’s a bit of a stretch to equate one with the other.

Zambrano is an emotional volcano; he and the Cubs were in the midst of a disastrous season and it was known that big changes were on the horizon; frustration had mounted to a point where such a confrontation was inevitable.

The Silva-Ramirez dust up stemmed from a generally mild-mannered pitcher who needs his defense to help him as much as possible not getting said assistance and losing his composure due to pressure of fighting—literally—for his role in the rotation.

Manager Mike Quade was impressive in his interim stint last season especially in tamping down the lackadaisical play and silliness that had grown prevalent in Piniella’s waning days.

This was nothing to get upset over in terms of it actually happening. It’s better that players are passionate and caring enough that they get so immersed in a game—in spring training!—that they react so powerfully to fight about it in public.

The public part is where my issue would be.

Teammates get into scuffles probably 50 times over the course of a season and my rules (if such a thing can be governed) regarding this would be: A) don’t do it where there are cameras present; B) make sure it’s over a baseball-related issue; and C) get all the bad blood out and shake hands afterward.

Fighting in the dugout creates this.

People are talking about it; asking questions; making allegations and snide comments about the Cubs being the same mess they’ve been in past years. It’s March 3rd; it’s a little early to utter broad-based, definitive determinations for any club.

If the fight is about baseball, then fine; if it’s over a girl or salary or immature boys being immature boys, then I have a problem with that and it can’t happen anywhere.

As long as there’s an understanding and mutual respect after the fact, then this isn’t a bad thing. It’s better to have players getting their feelings out in the open—even if it’s physical—than to have the linger, fester and create factions.

The Cubs would’ve been better off if it had happened out of the public eye, but in the grand scheme it’s no big thing.


Viewer Mail 1.31.2011

Hot Stove

Joe writes RE Milton Bradley:

No one hits like Albert Pujols. I am sure they would put up with Milton Teixeira though :)

Jeff at Red State Blue State also writes about Milton Bradley:

Hell, if the dude hit like Wilson Betemit they’d— wait, nevermind, the dude does hit like Wilson Betemit. But he’s making more cash than Wilson could ever dream about.

The M’s have become laughable. It’s sad really.

He was a terrific risk for the Mariners a year ago since, for no other reason, it got Carlos Silva‘s contract out of town; Silva was owned $25 million guaranteed; Bradley $21 million.

Bradley had an MVP-quality year in 2008 with the Rangers and whether you chalk up a large portion of it to playing in Texas and their hitter-friendly ballpark, he was good enough on the road for the Cubs to expect production—2008 splits link.

Feeling they could control him wasn’t far-fetched since he behaved in Texas. Lou Piniella had the reputation that suggested he’d handle a hothead like Bradley because Piniella himself is a hothead. Coming off their failed run in 2008, the Cubs needed a bat the type which Bradley was in 2008 for the Rangers.

On the field his numbers with the Cubs were somewhat respectable—albeit not in the stratosphere they were in 2008 with the Rangers. But there were the repeated incidents that hover over Bradley like a vulture.

In retrospect, the Mariners got rid of a pitcher, Silva, who was a disaster for them and saved $4 million on the contracts; but Bradley was a terror off the field—again—and he didn’t hit.

Taken by itself, this latest incident is unresolved and wouldn’t be enough to dump Bradley and eat the remaining $12 million on his deal. But it’s not an isolated incident; it’s an endless pattern in the history of Milton Bradley.

Add in that the Mariners were a dysfunctional, poorly behaved nightmare on and off the field last season and the question has to be asked: When is enough is going to be enough?

New manager Eric Wedge has a lot of work in front of him straightening out the on-field product and heading off the disciplinary issues that doomed Don Wakamatsu; he managed Bradley in Cleveland and they didn’t get along there either; do the Mariners really want to put Wedge in this situation where it’s a matter of when, not if, Bradley does something else? It could be arguing with an umpire; fighting with a teammate; or something worse off the field.

It’s interesting that you mention Wilson Betemit, Jeff—Betemit was much better than Bradley last season and not only in the context of the year Bradley had. Betemit had 13 homers in 315 plate appearances; batted .297 and had a .378 OBP and the Royals had him on a minor league contract!!

There is no reward to having Bradley on the team. Even if he comes back and plays well—and he’s been written off before and come back—what’s the trade-off? The Mariners have no shot at contention and a message needs to be sent to the rest of the team that they’re not going to tolerate misanthropic behavior. His mere presence is more of a negative than eating the money would be and I wouldn’t let him anywhere near spring training.

Mike Fierman writes RE my Saturday posting on the Mets and Bernie Madoff:

One of your best- I don’t even think the LaRussa/Ankiel comparison was needed.

I’m not one to shy away from compliments!

You may be right about the Tony La Russa/Rick Ankiel analogy, but I wanted to get something on-field and baseball-related in there to make clear how insane it is that the red flags of Madoff’s operation were missed by some very smart people.

In this NY Daily News story, Fred Wilpon and family are said to be “devastated” by the lawsuit and implication that they knew what was going on.

Naturally we don’t know what they knew and didn’t know.

A kind and generous man, I do not think that Wilpon “knew” what Madoff was doing; but because he wasn’t paying close attention to the preposterous nature of the consistent gains regardless of economic times, he’s not absolved.

As I said on Saturday, what was he going to do if he did find out about it? He could’ve pulled his money out and blown the whistle, but sometimes it’s just easier to feign ignorance when the evidence of a “too good to be true” nature is everywhere.

Savvy people can sense when something in their realm of expertise is off; someone close to Fred Wilpon had to have sensed something. They had to have.

Norm writes RE the Mets and Madoff:

The funniest thing about the Madoff-Wilpon story has had to be Mike Francesa’s take on it. He went from months of berating callers who were trying to explain how the Wilpons lost tons to a complete about-face yesterday without anything close to a ‘whoops’ or a ‘my bad’.


Acknowledge being wrong?


Are you kidding?

I don’t have an issue with saying the words, “I don’t know” when I don’t know. But Francesa, so immersed in his own ego that he can alter any event into him having a Nostradamus-like foresight as to its outcome—whether he said it publicly or not—won’t ever say those credit-accumulating words: “I…was…wrong.”

It’s not hard; nor is it an admission of weakness to not know everything.

On a whole other level, if he were to admit to having not known the scope of the Wilpon financial hit, his self-proclaimed image of an insider would disappear. The Wilpons were in financial trouble and no one told Mike Francesa about it?

If he didn’t get wind of the story from a credible source off-air, then it couldn’t be true. In his mind anyway.

Come on, Norm. This is a guy who had his football picks altered to be more accurate than they were; were you expecting any utterance of contrition for being wrong about this? NEVER!!!!

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Randy Levine and Chuck Greenberg bickering over Cliff Lee:

I care about what Levine said to Greenberg. I think other Yankee fans care too. And the consensus is – Good for Levine! Greenberg has been sniping at the Yankees and their fans since Mrs. Lee whined about having beer dumped on her at Yankee Stadium. He was apparently made to apologize by MLB. But it continues. I think Levine was trying to say, “Enough already. Just worry about your own team.”

I think they both need to keep quiet.

Levine could’ve turned around and said exactly that. “Worry about your own team.” But he didn’t.

The “welfare “stuff was ridiculous.

The Other Mike in The Bleacher Seats has two comments; first RE Levine vs Greenberg:

From what I understand, Greenberg didn’t direct his comment about Lee at anyone in the Yankee organization. He was asked a question by a fan at the local Ranger Fan Fest and he gave his [purely speculative] opinion.

He wasn’t sniping at anyone, as far as I can tell. Somebody seems to be a little overly sensitive [speaking about the Yankee front office, not Ms. Heller above].

I’m channeling my inner Don King when I suggest a fight between Levine and Greenberg under the promotional title: Greenberg vs Levine—Two Jews Slap-Fighting.

And RE the Mariners:

As far as the Mariners go, I feel bad for those poor fans up in the Pacific Northwest. I am a Rangers fan and I grew up hating [but respecting] Griffey Jr. and his organization.

Still, to see them fall so far in recent years, after their one decent stretch in the ’90s, leaves me with a fair amount of sympathy.

They need to rebuild. They need to do what the Rangers did just 4 years ago and tell their fans “Please stick with us, we won’t be this terrible forever. We’re turning this ship around.”

Part of that process would probably involve letting their GM go, as he seems both dazed and confused most of the time. Then you sell off the pieces you don’t absolutely need and get younger.

Off the top of my head, I would hold onto King Felix, Gutierrez, and Ichiro. I suppose you also give Justin Smoak an opportunity to prove himself [I never understood why fans around here were so excited about the guy or why the M’s seemed just as excited].

After that, restock your system and put a few warm bodies on the field until fresh talent comes up.

I suppose all of that sounds easier than it is, but at least it’s a plan. Right now they just seem to be wandering in the dark, hoping some natural disaster wipes out the rest of the American League or something.

Jack Zduriencik is a very intelligent baseball man who made a lot of moves to slash money, import and dispatch players.

His three biggest downfalls stem from the appellation of “genius”—which wasn’t his fault; the over-aggressiveness to get better fast rather than let the team grow organically with a cautious approach; and the shunning of responsibility and personal conduct exemplified in the blame game firing of Wakamatsu; and the bad actors brought into the organization.

I’d give Zduriencik a pass for the player moves that failed; but the lack of discipline in the organization is inexcusable.

I would not move Felix Hernandez; I’d keep an open mind on Franklin Gutierrez but wouldn’t be inclined to deal him.

I’m not a fan of Ichiro Suzuki; I think he’s a losing player who senses which way the wind is blowing in terms of club fortunes and goes for stats once the season is lost; he’s overpaid and underproductive. Last season, I got into a monthlong series of debates about Ichiro. I insist he could hit for more power if he decided to do so but would prefer to accumulate his gaudy hit totals with singles to left field.

That’s neither here nor there.

Apart from these players, if you look up and down the Mariners roster, there’s a limited number of players other teams would: A) want; or B) give up anything of significance to get.

We won’t know about the Zduriencik drafts for some time and he may not be there to reap their rewards, if any.

Pat Gillick lives in Seattle. And the Hall of Famer hasn’t officially retired.

I hope I’m not being cryptic.