The Yankees’ conundrum

MLB

The New York Yankees have so far defied most “expert” predictions (including my own) as to their fate this season. A 21-13 record is far better than even the most optimistic fans and media shills could have hoped for. The question is whether or not they can maintain it as currently constructed and, if not, what they have to do to bolster their current roster.

Objectively, it’s difficult to see the Yankee sustaining this current method of running games and winning. If they continue down this road, the bullpen is going to be shot by July. What they can do is bring in reinforcements to bolster the bullpen and starting rotation. But how? In the past, the Yankees would have worried about today today and figured they could buy whatever they needed on the market in the winter. That’s no longer the case.

There are internal options if they hold their fire and resist the temptation to misread the situation, panic and again abandon any plans they formulated. They can wait out Masahiro Tanaka’s return and hope that the injury issues – that have now extended into something totally different from his partially torn UCL – will recede into the background and he can be effective. They can wait for Ivan Nova. They can hope that the warmer weather rejuvenates CC Sabathia who, in spite of his record, has actually been relatively effective, albeit unlucky.

The Yankees have the prospects to get Cole Hamels from the Philadelphia Phillies, but that might not be the wisest decision. It would be a repeat of what the Yankees did in the past and put them on the treadmill they’ve been on over the past several years with aging players, bloated contracts, and limited prospects in the minors.

Even if they resist the temptation to get Hamels, they’re going to need help. They’re not getting enough length from their starting pitching and as long as they’re treating Nathan Eovaldi as if he’s a combination of a work-in-progress who they’re trying to develop and a reincarnation of the untrustworthy Javier Vazquez in Vazquez’s ill-advised and poorly considered second tenure in the Bronx, he can’t be trusted. They have to closely monitor Tanaka if/when he returns. They’re dealing with the aging star Sabathia. Nova is returning from Tommy John surgery and can’t be expected to provide significant depth. Adam Warren is showing that he is probably better suited to the bullpen. Chris Capuano is on the way back, but he’s mediocre at best.

They can improve the bullpen from within by using Warren. Jacob Lindgren is expected to be in the Bronx sooner rather than later. They could use one of their younger pitchers whose future is as a starter. But will they want to run the risk of repeating what they did with Joba Chamberlain with Luis Severino and let him be a weapon out of the bullpen with the understanding that no matter how dominant he might be that he’s going to go back to the starting rotation next year? Much of what happened with Chamberlain was the Yankees’ own fault. While they might proclaim that Severino’s future and Chamberlain’s past will have no bearing on their plans, it will be a looming if unacknowledged concern that the same thing could happen with a debate bordering on pending violence as to whether he should start or relieve.

That bullpen has been battered by manager Joe Girardi early in the season. Faced with the dueling necessities of trying to win and develop/protect their starting pitchers, he’s used his relievers to a degree that is indicative of his training as Joe Torre’s catcher and former bench coach. Already Chris Martin is injured. David Carpenter has been predictably bad. Every key short reliever in the Yankees’ bullpen has appeared in at least 13 games. The most important components – Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller – have been pushed remarkably hard for so early a point in the season. That cannot continue if they want any of those relievers to be effective in August and September.

Then there are the bats.

Alex Rodriguez, as good as he’s been, is still about to turn 40 and has a lengthy injury history if you completely ignore his PED use. Given his past, it cannot be ignored that he’s been busted for PED use so many times and lied about it even more. There are those who will believe anything A-Rod says; others who won’t believe anything he says; and those who will believe that he can’t possibly be stupid enough to get caught again.

Anything’s possible. With his age, it’s silly to believe that he’ll remain healthy and fresh all season even with the Yankees giving him periodic and strategic days off. He’s always be a threat due to his baseball intelligence, but he can’t keep this up.

Carlos Beltran has shown signs of life over the past few days, but he’s a testament to how baseball players aged pre-PED use – they inevitably become declining shells of their former selves when they reach their late-30s. There will be brief bursts of prior glory, but expecting that to continue is delusional.

Mark Teixeira is enjoying a renaissance, but he’s 35.

Chase Headley will undoubtedly hit better. Didi Gregorius remains a complete unknown with the reasonable expectation that he’s going to hit like Mark Belanger for the entire season. They need a second baseman as Stephen Drew is a weak stopgap.

Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury have gone above-and-beyond the call of duty, but both have been injury-prone and cannot continue this production.

Once everyone falls back to what they really are, the Yankees will have to make some additions from somewhere.

This is where the Yankees’ conundrum arises. Do they trade some of their prospects for veteran help to try and win a weak and wounded division? Do they hold onto the players they want to keep instead of acquiring a veteran arm or bat? Much like the dilemma they faced as they phased out Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, this is a different “damned if we do/damned if we don’t” circumstance. They had to play Jeter to placate the fans even though his bat and glove warranted him being benched. They were lucky with Rivera in that he was effective through to the end, but even if he wasn’t, they still would have had to keep him in the closer’s role whether he deserved it or not. In this situation, they’ve closed the vault and adhered to a certain plan rather than spend money to fill holes with other players who were eventually going to create the same holes they have now. To make matters worse, if this team gets into the playoffs, that bullpen combination of Betances and Miller gives them a chance to do damage once they’re there, but if they burn out Betances and Miller to get there how much will they have left in October (or August)? And what about the subsequent years that could be physically mortgaged in a similar way to the Yankees’ financial mortgaging for players like Beltran, Brian McCann, Sabathia, and even, to a degree, Tanaka?

The American League East itself is putting the Yankees in a position that, barring a monumental collapse or spate of injuries, they’ll have a chance to win the division. Right now, it could be a division that takes 84 wins. That falls right into what the Yankees have been over the past several years and what their reality is now. Considering the preseason flaws, this undoubtedly comes as a pleasant surprise to the front office. As much as they said they liked this team, there was a tactical diminishing of the previously lofty expectations of World Series or bust with ambiguous phrasing that essentially said, “If everything goes right…” It’s May and everything has gone right resulting in a 21-13 record and first place.

That can be as negative as positive because it might lead Hal Steinbrenner and Randy Levine to order GM Brian Cashman to do something stupid through misinterpreting what they currently are. Cashman won’t want to do it and could convince the front office that it’s preferable to get a Scott Kazmir, Aaron Harang, Mike Leake, Kyle Lohse, John Axford, or Tyler Clippard for far less in terms of players and financial commitment than it will cost to get Hamels.

However, if it’s late July, the bullpen is fading and the starting rotation is faltering, he might not have a choice. He might be ordered to take Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon or some other combination of pricey players Cashman doesn’t want and the Yankees don’t need in the short or long-term. That would undo all the good things they did this past winter in a similar fashion to them abandoning the $189 million goal for the retrospectively poor spending spree they embarked upon in the winter of 2013-2014 that made them older, more expensive and, overall, worse than they would have been if they’d held to their financial line and shown some patience.

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Zack Wheeler and “Is This All There Is?”

Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Management, Media, MiLB, Players, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats

The following numbers are from the first three starts of pitchers who wound up being pretty good. You can compare them with the final pitcher’s numbers in his first three starts.

Clayton Kershaw

W

L

GS

IP

H

BB

SO

HR

ERA

0

1

3

14.2

15

9

14

2

4.91

Tim Lincecum

W

L

GS

IP

H

BB

SO

HR

ERA

1

0

3

18.1

14

7

21

3

3.44

Matt Harvey

W

L

GS

IP

H

BB

SO

HR

ERA

1

2

3

16.1

15

7

23

2

3.86

CC Sabathia

W

L

GS

IP

H

BB

SO

HR

ERA

2

0

3

16.2

14

6

8

1

4.86

Zack Wheeler

W

L

GS

IP

H

BB

SO

HR

ERA

1

1

3

16.0

14

10

13

3

5.06

These are provided to illustrate why there shouldn’t be an overreaction to a shaky start for a rookie. You can go through other pitchers—good and bad; Hall of Famer or journeyman; overachiever or disappointment—and find numbers from their first three starts to validate any opinion and analysis. The point is that coming to a determination at this time is meaningless.

The negativity surrounding Wheeler’s up-and-down first three starts is either for the purpose of riling people up and validating anger for the pitching prospect failing to have pitched three straight no-hitters to start his career or it’s emanating from those who know absolutely nothing about baseball and its history.

This from Andy Martino of the NY Daily News hammers home my point perfectly:

With so much of the team’s hope and plan based around pitching, and Wheeler the most talented minor leaguer after Matt Harvey joined the big club last summer, struggle this deep cannot help but cause anxiety.

Wheeler has now given the Mets one strong yet flawed start (six shutout innings in Atlanta, survived despite command problems and pitch tipping), an effort in Chicago that we can call middling, if we wish to be kind, and Sunday’s blowout loss.  After the loss to the White Sox last week, one National League talent evaluator’s strong opinion was that Wheeler was not ready for the major leagues.

“Why is he here?” the evaluator wondered, noting command and delivery concerns that could be ironed out with more Triple-A innings. “Why don’t they do what they did with Harvey last year (call him up in late July)? What’s the rush?”

Anxiety? Are Sandy Alderson and his staff people on Twitter who have no clue about anything baseball related? Are they the “experts” who call Mike Francesa and go into a deranged rant when the players they’ve read about so endlessly struggle to start their careers? These are the same players who were promoted as saviors by the same media now looking on with questioning “is that all there is?”. The bewilderment after three starts punctuates the foolishness.

Why is he here? Late July? Was that going to make that significant a difference? Let’s entertain the lack of logic for a moment. What if Wheeler was called up in late July as Harvey was a year ago and he pitched identically as he is now? Would it then be shifted to, “Why didn’t they just wait until September?” Or, “Why didn’t they just give him the full year in Triple A?”

Where does it end?

He’s a young pitcher just starting out in his career. Expecting him to be like Harvey; panicking because he’s having trouble adjusting to the big leagues; going crazy and demanding he be traded or asserting—via invisible sources—that he was overrated are the rantings of a mass of people who are either trying to stoke the fires of discontent or don’t know anything to begin with.

He’s made three starts for a team that, barring anything unforeseen or miraculous, is going to win around 75 games. Is that cause for panic? To demand a trade? To provide devil’s advocate nonsense disguised as analysis and buttressed by anonymous scouts?

No.

He’s got great talent. Either he’ll make it or he won’t. Coming to a conclusion after three starts elucidates the problems with rapid fire information and everyone having a forum to express their viewpoint: either it’s promotional or it’s ignorant. You can choose which based on the source and respond accordingly. Or you can listen to it and demand the Mets trade or demote the “bust.” After three starts.

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SI’s Tom Verducci Grades Free Agents A Month Into The Semester

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Of course one month is more than enough time to determine whether or not a free agent is a bust or a boom. So it goes with Tom Verducci (he of the “Verducci Effect” of twisted pitching studies designed to prove the out of context and unprovable) having the audacity in Sports Illustrated to grade players who signed this past winter based on their production over the first month with their new teams.

Not only is it ridiculous, but it’s also out of context.

He talks about expectations with players like Zack Greinke, Josh Hamilton, and B.J. Upton and that Edwin Jackson has been “horrible” for the Cubs. Then there are references to big signings of the past by teams like the Yankees getting CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira after the 2008 season.

Yes, Greinke’s hurt. But his injury wasn’t one in which the Dodgers made a mistake by signing a pitcher who quickly tore an elbow ligament—he got run into by a 6’2” 240 pound truck named Carlos Quentin and broke his collarbone. He gets a grade of “C” because he got hurt?

Then we get to the “expectations.” Because teams either misjudged what they were getting by failing to look at the production of the players such as Upton or airdropped a mentally and physically fragile person like Hamilton into the dysfunction trumping all current MLB dysfunctions with the Angels doesn’t call into question the entire process of free agency. Sabathia is “declining?” Where? Teixeira is hurt and has still hit the ball out of the park and played Gold Glove defense when he’s played. The Yankees signed Burnett and got Burnett. They bought a flawed pitcher, they got a flawed pitcher. This is the most prevalent aspect of free agency: teams don’t accept what they’re getting and think they’ll unlock a player’s talent simply by having him put on their uniform. It’s not the money. It’s the misplaced beliefs.

In general, there’s a reason a player doesn’t live up to expectations when signing a big free agent deal. The Braves purchased a player in Upton who had a slash line of .246/.298/.454 in 2012. In 2011 it was .243/.331/.429. In 2010 it was .237/.322/.424. This is also a player who was repeatedly benched and called out by teammates on the Rays for lack of hustle. What’s wrong with B.J. Upton? Nothing apart from that fact that he’s B.J. Upton.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say Upton will start hitting to achieve the numbers he did in the last three years, hit his 18-20 homers, steal a few bases and play good defense in center field. This is what they bought. Now they’re disappointed because he didn’t turn into Rickey Henderson?

Verducci references players as “lemons” like they’re a bunch of used cars because clubs are taking the principle of supply and demand to its logical extreme by paying for a 1998 Honda as if it’s a 2013 Lamborghini. If a club does that, who’s at fault? Is that a “lemon” or a dumb decision on the part of the team that purchased it? The sign says “as is.”

Reading the article, you start to see through the SI scheme of garnering webhits by the linking in the middle of Verducci’s article to a piece “studying” teams over the past decade that “won” the previous winter and how they fared the next season; in the middle of that piece, another linking goes to that bastion of incredibility Joe Sheehan (he of the belief from 2004 that the Twins should have taken Mark Prior in the 2001 draft over Joe Mauer and projected Mauer’s future production to Mike Sweeney’s) looking at the “myth of winning the winter.” It’s only a myth because the media constantly harps on crowning a winner in the winter since they don’t have the imagination to write about anything else in the off-season. As for the judgment of players a month into the season, there are other things to write about. What’s the excuse this time?

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Red Sox and Yankees: Early Season Notes

2013 MLB Predicted Standings, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, History, Management, Media, MLB Trade Deadline, Podcasts

Boston Red Sox

There haven’t been any glaring John Farrell managerial mistakes as of yet. He’s pretty much gone by the book. They’re over .500 and the main concern is Joel Hanrahan’s poor start and now hamstring injury.

What’s been prominent with the Red Sox has been the continuing talk amongst the media about what a better atmosphere there is in the clubhouse with the new faces they’ve brought in. Positivity has to lead to wins and whether that occurs over the course of a long season with the Red Sox remains to be seen. Their positive attitude won’t amount to much if they’re under .500 at mid-season. There’s a media-created desperation to bolster the Red Sox into the behemoth they were five years ago and that’s not going to happen, especially with this roster and that manager.

The latest hype is the attempted credit given to GM Ben Cherington for the acquisitions he made in last August’s salary dumping trade with the Dodgers. Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster are receiving most of the attention for their arms. In realistic context, it’s not like the Dodgers were doing the Red Sox a favor by taking a load of money off their ledger. Josh Beckett was a “get this guy outta here” trade and Carl Crawford was hurt, but Adrian Gonzalez was acquired from the Padres for three of the Red Sox top prospects a year-and-a-half earlier and is a star in his prime. If you’re trading him, you’d better get some good prospects for him and not just add him as the X in the deal as a, “if you want X, you’d better take Y.”

New York Yankees

The Yankees have treaded water with Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Derek Jeter all out. Andy Pettitte’s been great, but now he’s having a start pushed back due to back spasms, thus dampening Mike Francesa’s elementary school enthusiasm that Pettitte could pitch forever and ever and ever as if he was trapped in the Francesa Overlook Hotel in which he’s overlooking Pettitte’s age and injury history.

They’ve gotten hot starts from newcomers Kevin Youkilis, Vernon Wells and Travis Hafner. The pitching, that was supposed to be a strong suit, has been bad behind Pettitte and CC Sabathia. The season will hinge on whether the new additions can maintain some level of production and the injured players return ready to contribute.

There are sudden concerns about Ichiro Suzuki’s slow start which shouldn’t be concerns at all—they should’ve been expected. He hit .322 as a Yankee last season and had a BAbip of .337. In 2013, he’s hitting .176 with a .167 BAbip (and no, I don’t have it backwards; his BAbip is really lower than his batting average). Ichiro’s success is contingent on his soft line drives and ground balls dropping in and finding holes. If they’re not doing either, he’s not going have numbers that appear to be productive.

Check out my appearance on Donn Paris’s Seamheads Podcast from yesterday here. We discussed the Angels, Astros, Mike Scioscia, the Red Sox, Yankees, Jeff Luhnow, player development, the draft and much more.

Essays, predictions, player analysis, under the radar fantasy picks, breakout candidates, contract status of all relevant personnel—GMs, managers, players—and anything else you could possibly want to know is in my new book Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide now available on Amazon.comSmashwordsBN and Lulu. Check it out and read a sample.

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Keys to 2013: New York Yankees

Award Winners, Ballparks, Cy Young Award, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MVP, Playoffs, Spring Training, Stats, World Series

Let’s take a look at each team and their various keys to achieve their goals for 2013. For some clubs, like the Yankees, it’s to win no matter what. For others, like the Mets, it’s a means to an end by developing and clearing the last bloated salaries from the previous baseball operations regime. Unlike prior years, the 2013 Yankees are functioning with a strict budget, tamped down bravado among the media and fanbase, and the acknowledgement of the possibility of a disappointing year. The demands, however, remain the same: Win. Period.

Starting Pitching Key: CC Sabathia

Following the 2012 season, Sabathia required surgery on his elbow to remove a bone spur. He pitched in pain for much of the year without admitting it and still had what would’ve been a Cy Young Award caliber season had he not missed 4-5 starts with a strained groin and the elbow issue.

The age and shortness in the Yankees’ rotation makes Sabathia’s health and performance all the more important. He has to give them 220+ innings and his usual 18+ wins as the horse carting the pitching staff on his back or they’re in major trouble.

Relief Pitching Key: Mariano Rivera

The talk that Rivera will be an automatic stems from the deity-like status he’s acquired. Is it likely that he’ll be his old self again? Even if he isn’t he’ll probably still be very good and better than most other closers, but he’s also 43-years-old and returning from a serious knee injury. The Yankees don’t have a ready-made replacement for him if he goes down again as they did with Rafael Soriano.

Offensive Key: Mark Teixeira

Teixeira’s reported “decline” and desperation to hit home runs at home have turned into factoids. Everyone says it, therefore it’s accepted as truth. His batting average has dropped to .256 and below between 2010 and 2012 after never hitting lower than .281 since his rookie year, but a large portion of that is bad luck and the defensive shifts that are deployed against him. His BAbip has dropped to an average of about .250 in those years. He still walks and he’s not striking out more than he did in his best years.

The problem for Teixeira will be other teams focusing on stopping him. No one can stop Robinson Cano—that’s known—they try to contain him. Teixeira, on the other hand, is streaky and vulnerable. With the losses of other power bats in the Yankees’ lineup and the players returning from injury, there won’t be any reason to give Teixeira pitches to hit. If he grows impatient and expands his strike zone trying to produce, he’ll have a bad year.

Defensive Key: Derek Jeter

Jeter’s range has been getting exponentially worse for years and now he’s coming back from a broken ankle and surgery which will further diminish his speed. Their pitching staff gets a lot of ground balls and many of them go back toward the middle of the diamond. Without the powerful offense and margin for error the Yankees have had in the past, they’ll need to compensate in other areas and if Jeter can’t get to a significant number of grounders that a faster and rangier shortstop would, it will cost them games—games they can’t afford to lose.

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Youkilis Bookilis

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Kevin Youkilis immediately and (apparently) unwittingly invited the ire of Yankees fans and ignited a feeding frenzy among the media when he made what he clearly thought was a contextualized and innocuous comment about joining the Yankees and his history with the Red Sox. The comment is below:

“To say it negates all the years I played for the Boston Red Sox and all the tradition, you look at all the stuff I piled up in my house, to say I just throw it out the window is not true,” he said. “I will always be a Red Sock. That’s a part of your history, a part of your life. You can’t change that.”

Naturally, one sentence garnered all the headlines and it was done to create a story during the mostly dull, repetitive and languid days of spring training where, sans Alex Rodriguez and his traveling carnival, there’s not much to write about in Yankees camp. When read in full, Youkilis said nothing that could be construed as pronouncing fealty to the Red Sox, nor did he say he didn’t want to be a Yankee. However, after all the years of competition and intensity, Youkilis will be remembered as a Red Sox player who joined the Yankees out of mutual need. Unlike prior players such as Wade Boggs, Johnny Damon and even Roger Clemens, there was less ingrained hatred between the franchises when Boggs and Clemens were playing and Damon wasn’t prototypically “hated” by Yankees fans.

During the Boggs/Clemens years, the Red Sox were consistent playoff teams and the Yankees weren’t. The remnants of the rivalry stemmed from what went on over a decade before and had no present day feel. In fact, the Yankees were an awful, leaguewide joke. With Boggs and Clemens, the Red Sox won the AL East in 1986, 1988 and 1990. The Yankees were an also-ran in rampant disarray, bottoming out in 1989-91. Both Boggs and Clemens proved themselves to be loyal and valuable Yankees during their return to glory and maintenance of a great run. Damon was a likable, somewhat goofy and handsome acquisition who entered Yankees universe while they were still consensus selections to win the World Series. There was no reason to boo him.

In part due to the images of both franchises—the Red Sox as dirty, gritty and feisty and the Yankees as stiff, corporate, arrogant and stuffy—Youkilis doesn’t simply have to remove his Red Sox jersey and pull on the pinstripes to suddenly be a Yankee. The sour faces, beard and resemblance to Pigpen from Peanuts will not be tolerated in a Yankees clubhouse used to cleanliness, peace and quiet. Culture shock is to be expected and the media and fans are looking for methods to stir up the new surroundings for Youkilis and judge his adaptation to it.

It’s ironic that the catalyst to Youkilis’s departure from the Red Sox was a similarly unintentionally insulting statement made by then-Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine that Youkilis appeared less than emotionally and physically committed early in the 2012 season. With Valentine, it was misinterpreted and taken as a signal that the same Valentine who the players were afraid would show up was in full swing, confronting players and treating them with disrespect, causing them to face questions not about the game, but about what the manager said. They were waiting for it and when the opening arrived, it expedited Valentine’s inevitable doom.

It’s the same thing with Youkilis.

Whether or not Youkilis made this statement is irrelevant to the fans’ acceptance of him. The Yankees are not guaranteed anything in 2013. Given their age and lack of money to spend, the season can go either way. Fans will want someone upon whom to rain down their frustrations. They won’t boo CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira or Robinson Cano. There’s no point in booing Francisco Cervelli or Brett Gardner. They have an inexplicable love affair with Ichiro Suzuki. Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera are unbooable. I guess they could boo Curtis Granderson, but their hearts wouldn’t be in it because he’s such a good guy. A-Rod’s not around.

Who’s left?

Youkilis.

Unless he performs as he did during his MVP-caliber years with the Red Sox, Yankee fans will be waiting to attack. He clarified himself the next day, but it won’t matter if he doesn’t hit. He took the bait and the media reeled him in. The fans will feast as soon as they’re hungry. It won’t be because of what he said about his days with the Red Sox, but it certainly didn’t help.

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The Bourn Signing From All The Angles

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For Michael Bourn

A 4-year, $48 million contract with an option for 2017 making it possibly worth $60 million over five years isn’t what Bourn and agent Scott Boras had in mind when the asking price was around $15 million annually. Considering the market, the late date and that Bourn was costing a draft pick and the loss of money to spend in the draft, it’s a good contract for him.

The Indians are a relatively low-pressure atmosphere in spite of the spending and Terry Francona is an easy manager to play for. Bourn shows up to work every day and does his job. He’s durable, will steal 50 bases and play excellent defense in center field.

For the Indians

The concerns about Bourn’s age (30) and that he’s a “speed” player are overblown. For the life of the contract, he’ll be able to play his game and can hit independent of his speed. The Indians are being aggressive in a way they haven’t in years. Their rebuild had stagnated with the players they acquired in the CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee trades contributing very little. With Nick Swisher, Bourn and Mark Reynolds added to the lineup, they’ll score more runs and be better defensively. Their starting pitching is the key. Unless Ubaldo Jimenez reverts to what he was in 2010 with the Rockies, Trevor Bauer develops quickly and they squeeze whatever remains in Scott Kazmir and/or Daisuke Matsuzaka, they’re around a .500 team. Francona’s not a miracle worker and short of the Indians turning around and hiring Dave Duncan, they can’t manufacture pitchers out of nothing.

For Scott Boras

It’s naïve to think that Boras, when asking for the $75 million for Bourn, hadn’t calculated the factor of draft pick compensation and that the number of teams willing to spend that kind of money on Bourn was limited. Compared to what he publicly suggested as Bourn’s asking price to what he got, it’s a loss. But Boras is smart enough to know and to have conveyed to his client that the numbers might have to come down to get a long-term deal done and he’d have to sign with an unexpected entrant into the sweepstakes like the Indians.

For the Mets

If they’d gotten him, Bourn represented an upgrade in center field and signaled that the Mets weren’t sitting on the sidelines and yessing their fans to death with no intention of sealing the deal. I wrote about the positives and negatives for the Mets with Bourn and risking the 11th pick in the upcoming draft to sign him. If Sandy Alderson and the Mets were telling Bourn to hold off on signing a contract to see if they could get the compensation pick waived, they’re at best arrogant and at worst delusional. Had Bourn stalled the Indians, they might’ve told him to take a hike knowing that he was waiting out the Mets. Bourn took the deal in hand and was wise to do so.

The Mets weren’t pulling any sleight of hand to trick their fans and the media to think they were serious when they really weren’t, but it’s easy to see how some can view it that way. In the end, it’s Michael Bourn. He’s a useful player who would’ve helped the Mets, but not someone to get into a frenzy over either way.

For Francona and other managers

Imagine what Manny Acta is thinking right as he watches this. In his first managerial job, he was saddled with the woeful Nationals, had the difficult personalities Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes and Scott Olsen in his clubhouse, and got fired from a team that wouldn’t have won with Tony LaRussa, Joe Torre, Casey Stengel or any other managerial luminary overseeing it. In 2013, they’ve got the talent to win 100 games and have the veteran Davey Johnson at the helm.

Then Acta went to the Indians, overachieved in 2011 with limited talent and was fired when the team played up to their potential with 90+ losses in two of his three seasons.

Acta has no power to dictate terms. The above-mentioned names did. Francona does. None of those name managers would take that kind of job once they’ve established themselves as “winners” who can be sold as such to the fanbase. This has happened before. Lou Piniella was hired by the Devil Rays and promised that they were going to spend money. They didn’t and all he did was lose. He left and was absolved of blame for what happened in Tampa due to his reputation and previous work with the Mariners, Reds and Yankees. Hired by the Cubs, they spent big on free agents and were in the playoffs in his first season.

That’s how it works before the fact. Sometimes spending on a name manager and expensive players fails in practice as we saw with the 2012 Marlins and Ozzie Guillen. Guillen, a manager with a championship and successful run with the White Sox, will have trouble getting another job after that one disastrous year with the Marlins.

This is life for managers when they’re trying to gain footing or replenish a reputation. Fleeting and subjective, a manager is judged on perception and results. Acta is a good tactical manager and the players like him, but he’s been stuck with bad teams. Whether he gets another shot remains to be seen. He probably will and, as is customary, success hinges on the players the front office gives him.

Francona wasn’t immune to it either. He too had to fend off the somewhat accurate belief that he got the Red Sox job because of Curt Schilling, and that he’d work cheap while taking orders from the front office. It’s partially true. Francona won two World Series titles and he’s able to dictate that he’ll be paid handsomely and his team will spend money on “name” players. Francona did his time in the minors and managing a horrible Phillies team, now he’s reaping the benefits of his work with the Red Sox as the Indians are giving him players that Acta never had. He, unlike Acta, will be expected to win. If he doesn’t, he’ll suffer the same fate as Acta, only it will be pricier in terms of money and the future with the bartered draft picks, not to mention Francona’s reputation.

The Indians have put forth the image of “trying.” Now, they have to “do.”

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Not Your Daddy’s Steinbrenner

Free Agents, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Trade Rumors, World Series

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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Only On YES is A-Rod a No

All Star Game, Award Winners, 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, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

It’s eerily appropriate that the acronym YES for the YES Network stands for “Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network” when their content is similar to that which you’ll find on Vince McMahon’s WWE (acronym for World Wrestling Entertainment).

McMahon changed the name to WWE from WWF because the World Wildlife Federation had trademarked the acronym WWF. In a successful 1989 effort to deregulate professional wrestling by admitting that it’s not a sporting event, McMahon publicly disclosed what anyone with a brain already knew: professional wrestling is staged. Maybe the Yankees should follow suit by admitting that YES has nothing to do with being a journalistic enterprise. With the Steinbrenners intent on saving money to the tune of downgrading their product from signing the likes of Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia to signing Russ Canzler and considering Travis Hafner (a welcome addition to any team’s disabled list), perhaps they can find a way to avoid paying the government freight that a news/sports organization has to pay for being a news/sports organization.

Perform a websearch with the words, “YES Network A-Rod PEDs,” and a perfunctory link comes up with the YES banner and an Associated Press news story. But if you go onto YESNetwork.com and look on the front page or do a search on their website for anything regarding A-Rod, there’s nothing.

How is it possible?

The YES Network is not providing one ounce of information that has not been vetted and is viewed as beneficial to the Yankees brand. As it has degenerated into a tacit example of spin-doctoring, they’ve lowered themselves to the degree that nothing they say can be taken at face value. All of their information must be verified elsewhere by an independent source.

It’s long been known that YES is the propaganda arm of the Yankees, but they’ve become so brazen in bypassing legitimate news and joyously wallowing in a lack of journalistic integrity that it’s basically an infomercial of positivity for the club and no one working there can be considered a journalist in any form.

This will undoubtedly come as another blow to the ego of Jack Curry, he of the Twitter tantrums, name calling and accusations of professional malfeasance when he “reports” a story simultaneously to others reporting it; a story that was approved by his bosses (the Yankees) and given to him directly through no effort on his part other than answering his phone. The YES Network is a sham of a sports news network and no amount of self-congratulatory shows celebrating 10 years of existence; Yankee-laced historical recollections of greatness; or pronouncements promising to dispense the latest Yankee news will supersede the unconscionable, egregious choice not to discuss the latest controversy surrounding Alex Rodriguez as if ignoring it can make it go away.

So immersed in their image as a worldwide brand that is aboveboard and “better” than those they perceive as beneath them, they refuse to allow reality to get in the way of maintaining the crumbling veneer even if it’s a story that is everywhere and being discussed by everyone.

Did the born on the Fourth of July patriot George Steinbrenner—he of the edicts that every player stand on the top step of the dugout during The Star Spangled Banner and that God Bless America be played in lieu of Take Me Out to the Ballgame during the seventh inning stretch—really want to create a network that is closer to what would be seen in North Korea and the former Soviet Union than it is to one of the foundations of our democracy, freedom of the press?

From the time Joe Torre was being peppered with questions from Kim Jones that were coming from upper management; to the failure acknowledge injuries to Jose Campos and other minor league “phenoms”; to the Brian Cashman blackmail scandal; to the latest decision not to intelligently discuss A-Rod’s latest leap from the back of the newspaper to the front of the newspaper, the depths to which YES plunges are a bottomless pit of subterfuge.

As the Yankees stars age and their on-field product declines, the lack of respect for the media has extended from Jason Zillo refusing to grant access to a credentialed reporter because Zillo is the “gatekeeper” and the organization doesn’t like the story that is being written. It’s tumbling further into an abyss of embarrassing and insular silence that benefits no one, especially not the Yankees.

There’s not a blurring of the line between what the club wants out there and what is actually going on. What they don’t want out there is treated as if it doesn’t exist. They’re miraculously surpassing their longstanding hubris by presenting content that makes each and every fan watching look like an idiot. Do they think that if the A-Rod story is not reported on YES, a vast number of fans won’t know about it?

It’s not going to go away. Nor is A-Rod. So they might as well put forth the pretense of doing something other than selling the Yankees brand by informing rather than covering up. Everyone knows about it whether YES has it on their website or not. Trust me. All they’re succeeding in doing is making their network look more absurd than it did before, and that’s no small accomplishment.

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Yankees Belt-Tightening, Part I—A Cranky Fanbase Grows Crankier

All Star Game, Award Winners, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Football, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, NFL, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

To gauge the short-term, “what have you done for me lately,” nature of sports fandom, you need only look at the absurd demands of fans of the New York Giants football team calling for the firing of coach Tom Coughlin and replacing quarterback Eli Manning less than eleven months after they won their second Super Bowl with Coughlin and Manning. Not only have they won two Super Bowls, but in both games they beat the Patriots with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, supposedly the best quarterback/coach combination since the 49ers had Joe Montana and Bill Walsh.

But the Giants are 8-7 and suffering through a second half slump that has left them on the outside looking in at a playoff spot, needing a win on Sunday against the Eagles and significant help from other teams to squeak into the playoffs. It has also put Coughlin and Manning in the crosshairs of angry fans’ venting.

Of course they’re greedy, but what’s happening now with the Giants pales in comparison to what’s going to happen with the Yankees in 2013 if their ancient veterans aren’t able to conjure one last run and make the playoffs with a legitimate chance at a World Series win. The same fanbase that booed Derek Jeter and referred to him as “Captain Double Play” among other, worse epithets, now reacts like a mother bear when one of her cubs is in danger should anyone say one negative word about Jeter, even if it’s true. His performance since he notched his 3000th hit has been a renaissance to the player he was a decade ago; that’s why he’s back to “untouchable” status.

It’s a fleeting loyalty especially with the nouveau Yankees fan who began rooting for the team at some point between their 1996 World Series win and their 1998 114 win claim to being one of the best teams in history. Like the newly rich, there’s a gaucheness combined with a lack of comprehension as to the reality of how difficult it is to win and maintain as the Yankees have. They want the team to just “buy stuff” and fill the house with gaudy showpieces and expect to find themselves admired and respected for their taste. But it’s not taste to buy a Picasso just because it’s a Picasso. It helps to understand the significance of the piece and it doesn’t have to be expensive to be of value. The same holds true with players. Fans wanted the Yankees to buy the most expensive pieces on the market and since 2000, that’s what they’ve done to maintain this level of play. Their cohesiveness and home built charm has suffered as they transformed into little more than a band of mercenaries without the on-field camaraderie that was a subtle and imperative portion of the four championships between 1996 and 2000. The pieces that once fit together no longer do.

What happened with the Yankees and Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Joe Torre and the other foundational members of the dynasty is an extreme rarity. A club showing the ability to make it through three rounds of short-series playoffs and win a championship is far more difficult to accomplish than it was when the Yankees were seemingly in the World Series every year from the 1920s to the 1960s.

That dynasty came undone as the stars got old and weren’t replaced. The draft had been implemented and the Yankees were unfamiliar with having to wait their turn and battle with other clubs for the right to get players—no longer could they offer the most money in a bonus for a kid who wanted to join them because of Mickey Mantle and that they won every year.

They were a dilapidated afterthought from 1966 through 1976 when they made it back to the Fall Classic and that was three years after George Steinbrenner purchased the team and set about doing what it was the Yankees always did—spend money and demand results now. Sometimes it worked and sometimes Steinbrenner’s immediate success of returning the club to its prior glory within 5 years after buying it set them on the path they took in the 1980s with dysfunction, rampant managerial and front office changes, money spent on trash and an eventual decline to last place. It was when Steinbrenner was suspended that Gene Michael and Buck Showalter were able to rebuild, develop, keep their youngsters and do something novel in Yankeeland: let the young players play for the Yankees.

It worked.

Success demanded more success, however, and any thought of stepping back and shunning the biggest free agent names/trade targets was dismissed out of hand. Money spent can’t guarantee a championship and the Yankees have won one since 2000. It’s the way the game is played now. It takes a certain amount of good fortune to win multiple titles in a short timeframe. The San Francisco Giants are considered something of a dynasty now with two titles in three years, but that too was circumstantial rather than the result of a new template or dominance.

The Yankees’ situation is different. Faced with the demands of a fanbase that doesn’t accept anything short of a World Series forces decisions that wouldn’t normally be made. When they tried to scale back on paying ludicrous amounts of money for other team’s stars by building their own pitchers Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy, they were rewarded with a missed playoff spot in 2008 and their strange and paranoid restrictions on the above pitchers resulted in all being disappointments.

They responded by reversion to what was with big free agent signings of CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira. That worked in 2009 as they won the World Series, but the contracts were expensive and long-term. Burnett in particular was dumped after he pitched as he has in his entire career with customary mediocrity sprinkled in with flashes of teasing brilliance. The Yankees were somehow surprised by this. The belief that by sheer act of a player putting on a Yankees uniform, he’ll somehow evolve into something different than what he is has doomed the club before.

Teixeira is declining; Sabathia has a lot of wear on his tires at age 32 and is signed through 2016. That’s before getting to the other contracts such as that of Alex Rodriguez along with this new austerity that has culminated in a strange and unusual off-season for the 21st Century Yankees.

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