Reality is a Bigger, Hairier Monster For the Yankees and It Bites

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

In keeping with yesterday’s autopsy theme I began yesterday, the dissection and search for the proximate cause of the demise for the 2012 Yankees is still underway. The problem is that, unlike the old Jack Klugman show Quincy, there’s not a rapid resolution and those preforming the examination are inept (Joel Sherman); partisan and delusional (Mike Francesa); and inexplicably allowed to escape from their cages and take to the internets—specifically Twitter—to put on their preschool-crafted “GM hat” made of day old newspaper.

Regardless of editorials and revisionist history, that newspaper still says the same thing for the ALCS: Tigers defeat Yankees 4 games to 0.

Quincy used to find a bullet to solve the case. In this case, Francesa might find what he thinks is a bullet when it is in reality a chunk of McDonald’s cheeseburger from 1983. Amid all of this is the reality that no one is addressing the crux of the problems that led to the Yankees’ disintegration and all are living in a world in which the Yankees are champions on an annual basis with endless amounts of money and the myth of professionalism, dignity, and class so effectively pushed by the likes of Sherman and the YES Network whether true or not.

What it comes down to is this: Are the Yankees going to maintain the road they’ve been on for the past decade and try to spend their way out of trouble or will they learn from what’s happened to them and other clubs that have done the same things and failed miserably? Judging from the statements coming from the Yankees as to their course of action, they’re not going to do much of anything different.

And that’s not good.

Let’s take a look:

  • Players wanted to join the Yankees because they won and accorded said players a chance to win a title

The Yankees were able to get the best free agents and acquire players via trade because of several reasons that no longer apply. The Yankees have outspent the rest of baseball by a wide margin over the past decade and have one World Series title to show for it. In fact, they’ve only been in the World Series twice in the past decade. Players aren’t signing with the Yankees to go to the World Series anymore; they’re signing for a chance to go to the World Series and this now is an evident possibility in about 10-12 locations every year. If a player doesn’t want the scrutiny or daily pressure of expectations that come with joining the Yankees, they’re free to go to multiple other places.

  • The Yankees pay more money than anyone else and can trade prospects for disgruntled players who want to get paid

As the club is trying to get the total payroll down to $189 million by 2014, can they blow a similarly wealthy club like the Angels out of the water in pursuit of a Zack Greinke?

The Yankees’ contract situations in 2014 aren’t as debilitating as is portrayed. They’re going to have to deal with Derek Jeter (he has a player option for $8 million in 2014 that, due to incentives, will probably be higher but still declined by the player); Alex Rodriguez is owed $25 million; they’re going to sign Robinson Cano to a contract that will probably average around $22-25 million annually; CC Sabathia is due $23 million; Mark Teixeira will receive $22.5 million. Performances and the ravages of age aside, they can afford to bring in younger “name” players to try and hand over the mantle from Mariano Rivera, Jeter, and the others to a new breed.

The Yankees used to raid low-revenue/poor-market clubs for players. Now those teams are signing their foundation players to long-term, team friendly contracts. The Pirates with Andrew McCutchen are an example. There were Yankees dreamers and apologists in the media like Sweeny Murti saying the Yankees are going to get Bryce Harper as soon as he hits free agency. That’s not going to happen.

Even Justin Upton, who is available and signed to a long-term contract, took the precaution when he signed the below-market long-term agreement to get it in writing that he can block trades to teams like the Yankees specifically so he won’t go to a team that has the money to pay him, but wants to get a cheap star-level talent.

These high-end players are not available to only a few teams that can pay them anymore and, in many cases, they’re not available at all.

With the conscious choice to get the payroll down to $189 million, the financial chasm between the Yankees, the Red Sox, Dodgers, Angels, Phillies, Cubs and others is no longer as vast. Players won’t be going to the Yankees because of a higher offer if they can take a bit less and be in a place they prefer. Cliff Lee proved that.

As for the trades, what prospects do the Yankees have left that anyone wants? They dumped Jesus Montero for nothing; Manny Banuelos is out with Tommy John surgery; Dellin Betances had to be demoted from Triple A to Double A and was horrific in 2012; and David Phelps, Phil Hughes, and Ivan Nova are the types of pitchers that most clubs have and will trade for, but won’t give up anything other than a lateral-type talent.

  • The arrogance of ignorance—or vice versa

On his show yesterday, Francesa state authoritatively and matter-of-factly that Andy Pettitte will be back; that they’ll re-sign Ichiro Suzuki; and that Hiroki Kuroda will agree to a 1-year contract. He’s also consistently implied that Michael Pineda will be an important part of the starting rotation.

Neither I, you, Francesa, the Yankees, Pettitte, or anyone else knows whether the pitcher is coming back. No one expected him to retire after 2010, so to think that because he came back to pitch this season he’s going to do so again is speculation based on nothing. And don’t discount Pettitte’s own feelings on this matter. For all his down home country Southern politeness and Texas gunslinger attitude, along with the reverence to God and the New York Yankees (the 3 years in Houston with the Astros carefully edited from the narrative), he’s been far more calculating, cognizant and manipulative of circumstances than is commonly mentioned. If he looks at the way the team lost, the cumulative age, the injuries sustained by Rivera, Jeter, and Pettitte himself, and thinks the Yankees downslide is imminent, does he want to tarnish his legacy, return to a team that ends up as the Red Sox did, and possibly injure himself if he’s vacillating on the commitment necessary to pitch effectively at 41-years-old? He could decide it’s not worth it.

Who even wants Ichiro back? Has anyone looked at his decline and age? He played well for the Yankees in spurts, but he’s not going to want to be a backup player. GM Brian Cashman made the (somewhat disturbing on several levels) statement that he wants “Big Hairy Monsters” to hit the ball out of the park. Ichiro’s no big hairy monster, he’s a little flitting hobbit. Ichiro for two months as an extra player? Okay. Ichiro as a yearlong solution playing everyday? No.

I have a feeling that Kuroda’s going to turn around and go back to the Dodgers for a multi-year deal—the location he didn’t want to leave. Kuroda preferred the West Coast, but there were no landing spots for him. He joined the Yankees because they were a good bet for him to win a stack of games and re-bolster his free agent bona fides for 2013 and he did that and more. He’s going to accept a 1-year deal? After throwing 219 innings, with a 5.2 WAR; being a gutty, consistent, and mean presence on the mound; and behaving like a true professional who would’ve fit in perfectly with the Joe Torre Yankees of the late 1990s, why would he short-change himself to stay in a locale he didn’t really want to join in the first place?

And Pineda? He was pressured and tormented for his lack of velocity in spring training; he got hurt and had labrum surgery; and had been acquired for two of the Yankees’ top prospects. The return to effectiveness from labrum surgery is not guaranteed and judging by the Yankees failure to effectively develop pitchers, what makes anyone think they’re going to get 160 quality innings from Pineda? He’s a giant question mark that they cannot count on to: A) be healthy; B) pitch well and adjust to New York and being a Yankee.

  • A no-win situation and management question marks

Say what you want about Nick Swisher, but he played hard for the Yankees; he played hurt; he embraced the city and its fans and was rewarded with abuse because of his post-season struggles. Swisher made a mistake in complaining publicly about it, but if other players look at Swisher and his contributions to the Yankees over the years, why would they want to subject themselves to that if they have a choice of possibly going to a more relaxed atmosphere that, bluntly, probably has a brighter future than the Yankees such as the West Coast, Chicago, St. Louis, Baltimore, Arizona, or even the Mets?

This same fanbase that was weeping over the injury to Jeter and stupidly calling it a “funeral” and comparing it to a wounded warrior being taken off the battlefield were the people that booed him and referred to him as “Captain Double Play” in 2011.

Do players want to willingly sign up for that?

In that vein of player whispers, manager Joe Girardi’s treatment of A-Rod, Swisher, and others is not going to go unnoticed. If Cashman heavily influenced Girardi to bench A-Rod, the players are going to think Girardi’s weak and not in charge; if Girardi did it himself, they’re going to think he’ll abandon them during a slump after performing for him during the regular season.

Girardi’s contract is up after 2013 and a player might not sign to play for Girardi in particular, but they certainly didn’t sign to play for a different manager—many of the Red Sox will tell you how that turns out after the Bobby Valentine disaster.

How Cashman is not under fire is a mystery to me. If you look at his drafts and player development which have been, at best, poor; his pitching acquisitions and missteps; his failure to put together a quality bench; and his off-field embarrassments that permeated the organization, why is he never examined in an objective way to determine whether his negatives outweigh whatever positives he provides?

In short, the playing field has changed, but the Yankees’ blueprint is stagnant. It’s the same with less money to spend. How is it possible to maintain their annual playoff contention under these constraints of their own making and due to the changing landscape?

It’s not. But you wouldn’t be able to determine that through the biology class going on with the likes of Francesa, Sherman, and Twitter dismembering a frog like the oblivious amateurs that they are and believing they’re explaining to the masses while they’re indulging in the identical fantasy that has led to the unbridled panic that ensues when the Yankees don’t win the World Series. In case you hadn’t noticed, they’ve fulfilled that mandate once in the past twelve years. With the money they’ve spent, the demands on the baseball people, and the air of superiority they exhibit—by any metric—that can only be called a failure.

//

Yankees By The Mailbox

All Star Game, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

Will the Yankees mail it in or will they put up a fight?

They know first-hand and on the wrong end that being down 3 games to 0 isn’t the end of a series, It’s laughable when a game is called a “must win” even when it’s not an elimination game. It’s in the same logical arena of “giving 110%.” It’s not possible. Of course it would’ve helped the Yankees’ cause to have won last night, but it wasn’t a “must” win.

Tonight is a “must” win, but I’m not sure that the Yankees collective hearts are going to be in it to make the commitment necessary to make this a series, let alone bring it back to Yankee Stadium. Deep down, they can’t think they can come back and win it with their pitching staff decimated, the lineup inert, and Justin Verlander looming for game 7 if, against all logic and reality, they get it that far.

The Yankees are not going to just give the series away and make it obvious that they know their fate, have accepted it, and are waiting for the guillotine to come crashing down, but with a veteran team that’s lucratively compensated and playing poorly, can they reasonably expect to win four straight games and then be ready to face one of two good teams in the World Series and win?

Even in the most predictable Hollywood scenarios it’s hard to envision, and in those scenarios like the one that actually happened against the Red Sox in 2004, there was still some momentum and a feeling of the series not being over. That comes from the players on both sides. The Red Sox of 2004 were not going to quit; they’d never won; hadn’t been together long enough to grow complacent; didn’t have these super-high priced items permeating the roster from top-to-bottom; weren’t old and exhausted; and put forth an effort in the face of defeat.

Can this Yankees team say any of that?

CC Sabathia threw 17 2/3 innings and 241 pitches within 5 days to lead the Yankees past the Orioles in the ALDS. His elbow has barked this season and he’s 32; the Yankees are going to need him in 2013. Is manager Joe Girardi going to push him that far again? Is Sabathia going to be willing to be pushed that far again in a cause that the sane factions of the organization know is ostensibly hopeless?

Nick Swisher (if he plays) is looking at free agency. He won’t receive the$126 million, Jayson Werth dollars he was implying he wanted earlier in the season, but someone will pay him a good chunk of change. Will he be willing to lay out or crash into a wall trying to make a catch when it’s not going to make a difference this season for a team that’s on life support, but might cost him his contract?

Alex Rodriguez is likely planning a nice long vacation to escape it all. The argument could be made that he began his vacation when the regular season ended.

Rafael Soriano is going to opt-out of his contract and command at least a 3-year deal from someone (maybe even the opposition Tigers). Will he agree to pitch 2 innings tonight if needed? And if they win, 2 innings tomorrow? 1 1/3 innings in game 6?  All to face Verlander in game 7? With Phil Hughes experiencing back spasms that forced his removal in the fourth inning, who’s pitching game 7? David Phelps? Are they going to deactivate Hughes and pitch Freddy Garcia? Against Verlander and that Tigers’ lineup?

Robinson Cano plays as if he’s entitled when there’s a viable chance of the Yankees winning a World Series, but what about now? Is he going to hustle tonight? Why would he all of a sudden decide to play hard especially if he and the rest of the team know they’re done and just want to go home?

Yesterday, when the Yankees’ lineup was posted, I was amazed and impressed that Girardi was willing to make such gutsy moves. I certainly wouldn’t have put Eduardo Nunez at shortstop (though I would’ve gotten him in the lineup), but it was a case of Girardi saying he’d seen enough of Swisher and A-Rod and wanted to try something else. That’s what it looked like anyway until GM Brian Cashman started talking.

In what was a masterfully Machiavellian job of inserting himself into the narrative, when Cashman said that the decision to bench these players and make these lineup maneuvers was made jointly between him, the manager, and the coaching staff, he effectively emasculated his manager in front of the world. Was Cashman trying to take the heat off the manager? Was he trying to exert his authority as he always wanted to do under Joe Torre and since the publication of Moneyball stated that the GM should dictate to the manager, not the other way around, to accumulate credit for himself? Was it both?

From 1998-2007, had Cashman walked into Torre’s office and said he wanted to discuss the lineup, trying to force the veteran manager who had become an icon into doing what he was told, Torre would’ve reverted from the calm, cool, conciliatory Papa Joe that everyone saw—that Torre wanted everyone to see in public—to the old-school baseball man that told one of his bosses, Randy Levine, to “shut the {bleep} up,” during a conference call in which the upper management was trying to tell Torre what to do with the players on the field. Torre would’ve either told Cashman he’d think about it; said he’d do it and then not done it; or told Cashman to get the hell out his office.

Cashman should feel the heat more than anyone else in this organization and it’s not a “the buck stops with me,” safety net that a boss says but doesn’t really mean because he knows he’s safe, but a job-on-the-line questioning of why the Yankees don’t have a super-utility player who can actually play defense and hit; or have a viable center field option to remove Curtis Granderson from the lineup; or the other ghastly moves—mostly with pitching—he’s made.

It’s already started.

The wheel of blame is spinning and everyone is trying to protect themselves. Once this is over (and it’s a great bet that it ends tonight), they’ll scurry to their positions, dig into their spot, and wait it out to see who’s going to be held accountable for their failure to live up to the mandate of World Series or bust. No one, including Cashman or Girardi, is safe. The fallout will be in the coming weeks, but for now it’s waiting out the inevitable.

The patient is not dead but like a suffering animal (or human), there’s a time to put it out of its misery; a time that it probably won’t fight and if it does, won’t have the strength to put up an extended amount of resistance. What it comes down to is who’s shouldered with the responsibility for this debacle.

There’s plenty to go around.

//

American League Playoff Contenders Remaining Schedules—New York Yankees

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

Baseball is unlike any other sport in that the sheer number of games and individualism within a collective is more important than anything else. By that I mean there’s not an offensive line dominating a defensive line; a hot shooter taking over the game; or a legitimate home field/court advantage. It’s baseball. Any team can beat the hell out of any other team; any closer can give up a game-tying homer; any pitcher can make a mistake to the worst hitter in the opposing lineup and cost his club the game; any manager can bring in the wrong player in the wrong place at the wrong time and lose.

This is why when desperate and panicky fans examine their teams schedule and start checking off wins, it’s a blind, baseless example of faith with no foundation.

With that in mind, let’s look at the schedules of contenders and analyze based on fact and not fantasy and laziness.

Let’s start with the New York Yankees

Yankees vs Red Sox, Sept. 11-13 at Boston; Oct. 1-3 at New York

The Red Sox are gutted, overmatched, and doing just enough to maintain appearances of “trying” while not being fully invested in the outcome. They care about their performance and perception, but knowing that the season is almost over and drastic changes are coming to the club’s construction, they’d just like to get 2012 over with.

The Red Sox are fielding a terrible lineup, but the Yankees haven’t been scoring much either. Jon Lester is starting the opening game of the series, followed by Aaron Cook and Felix Doubront. Hiroki Kuroda, David Phelps, and Phil Hughes are scheduled for the Yankees. There’s not a distinct advantage and the Red Sox might get a boost from putting a dent in the Yankees playoff hopes.

The final three games of the season may mean the difference between the Yankees winning the division, getting one of the Wild Cards, or missing the playoffs entirely. If the Red Sox can win two of the six games, that might be enough to severely harm the Yankees’ chances.

Yankees vs Rays, Sept. 14-16 in New York

The Rays are younger, healthier, and deeper. They’ve been in this position before and come through. With the Yankees concerned about CC Sabathia and waiting for Andy Pettitte (I’d expect him this weekend), it’s not a guarantee that they’re going to get vintage performances from their warhorses. What the Yankees will have to watch is whether the Rays and Orioles battle to a standstill in the six games they have remaining beginning tomorrow night and finishing on the last three games of the season. If one is eliminated by October 1st, it could be a big problem for the Yankees in those last three days.

Yankees vs Blue Jays, Sept. 18-20 in New York; Sept. 27-30 in Toronto

It’s laughable that Mike Francesa and his Yankee-centric guests are looking at the schedule and ticking off wins that they haven’t gotten yet; it’s more laughable that they’re suggesting that the Blue Jays—the team that won 2 of 3 in New York two weeks ago—is going to lay down at the Yankees former might. The Blue Jays have several attributes that should be of concern: they can run; they can hit the ball out of the park; and they have a couple of talented (though inconsistent/slumping) starting pitchers in Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero.

These are not games against the Houston Astros that they can count as wins. Four of those seven games could be pitched by Romero/Morrow. The Yankees are not winning them all.

Yankees vs Athletics, Sept. 21-24 in New York

It was the four-game sweep at the hands of the Athletics in Oakland that began this swoon that’s culminated in September panic, group therapy sessions, tantrums, and confrontations. Now the A’s are fighting for one of the Wild Card spots and are close enough to the top of the AL West to keep it interesting. They have young pitching from top to bottom, power and speed. And they know they can beat the Yankees because they waxed them in four straight in July.

The A’s are going to be watching the Rays and Orioles as closely as the Yankees and they’re playing the Yankees. If things go a certain way, the Yankees might be behind the Rays; behind the Orioles; behind the A’s; and behind the Angels by the time that A’s series is over.

Yankees vs Twins, Sept. 24-26 at Minnesota

The Twins are awful. It’s looking like the Yankees are going to have to sweep that series. Sweeps on the road are not as easy as they’re made out to be and the teams have split the four games they’ve played this season.

To essentially guarantee a division title, the Yankees have to go 16-6. That’s highly unlikely.

To guarantee one of the Wild Card spots (and remember it’s a 1-game playoff and not a ticket in), they have to go around 14-8.

My most likely scenario it a 13-9 run making their playoff spot dicey and probably coming down to the last 3 games against the Red Sox.

//

The Yankees Have Become George

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

The Yankees have become George.

Not George Steinbrenner. Their George. Their lovable little buddy loser who always seems close to breaking free of his lot in life as the little brother who can’t quite get it right. The Mets. To make matters worse for the Yankees as they continue this death spiral is that the inherent egomania among the organization, the media that covers them, and their fanbase (the last two are interchangeable) will spur the retaliatory ridicule from fans of other clubs—specifically the Mets and Red Sox—who have had to endure the condescending taunts and “we’re better than you” undertones of their run over the past two decades following a long lull of mediocrity and embarrassment.

They’re still wearing the pinstripes, but they’re not fulfilling their end of the ridiculous notion of “class,” “dignity,” and “professionalism” that had been instilled by the manager in the opposite dugout last night, Buck Showalter, his successor Joe Torre, and the players who were the foundation for the dynasty Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Bernie Williams. It was always a bit silly that a team that carried such players as David Wells was considered “classy”, but they won. Whatever device that was necessary to push the story forward was used in the telling of the tale, real or not.

When current manager Joe Girardi picked up the phone in the first inning to call for Derek Lowe to warm up in back of an overmatched David Phelps, I halfway expected his face to turn paler and thinner than it already is as the strain of the team’s stumble takes its toll on him because on the other end of the phone, from beyond the grave, was George Steinbrenner, shouting like a raving lunatic and threatening to fire him and replace him with Billy Martin, looming next to the Boss from the netherworld. (Are they in heaven or hell? Discuss.)

Jeter said earlier this week that he’s not panicking. And he’s not. But how about the rest of the team? Was it the vaunted “Yankees way”—supposedly better than yours or mine—when Phelps gestured toward left field on Matt Wieters’s home run as if he felt that left fielder Raul Ibanez should’ve caught it? Phelps can claim that he thought a fan interfered, but we all know the truth. Was it the “Yankees way” when they authored a stirring comeback and handed the lead right back with an Orioles display of thunder that the Yankees can no longer muster using the compromised, mediocre, and slumping lineup they’re trotting out on a nightly basis?

I had the sound turned down on the game, but as embedded in my brain as he unfortunately is, I could still hear Michael Kay shrieking like a maniac thinking gumdrop thoughts of “Yankees magic” when they tied the score just as well as I could hear his crestfallen devastation when the Orioles snatched the game right back.

Fans are looking for someone to blame. So accustomed to an easy ride that they don’t know how to deal with adversity such as this; to handle teams like the Orioles, a longtime punching bag, suddenly hitting them back and having not just the audacity to do it, but to hurt them as well(!!) that they’re reverting to the Steinbrenner years of wanting to fire people (Kevin Long is a popular target) or to alter the strategy of hitting the ball out of the park in favor of bunting and small-ball.

Reliance on hitting home runs wasn’t a “problem” as it was implied at mid-season; the idea that they have to find a method of manufacturing runs was absurd as long as they had deep starting pitching, a well-organized bullpen, and mashers who hit a lot of home runs. Now they have none of that and they’re losing because of it.

It’s a matter of perception. Had the Yankees been hovering around first place or behind all season and found themselves tied for first place on September 7th, it would be seen as a positive. But they’re losing, losing, and losing more and the disappearing division lead, competition, and pressure is overwhelming them. Yes, they’re injured; yes, they’re slumping, but much of the Yankees’ dominance over the years has been their ruthlessness against teams that didn’t have the manpower to compete with them and bashing them brutally. Expecting sympathy on and off the field is indicative of an arrogance that has sparked this downfall in the first place. “We’re the Yankees!!! How dare you?!?!”

But teams are daring and exploiting the weakness and disarray.

The Yankees still have time to right their ship, but they’re in very serious danger of falling out of the playoffs entirely—something unacceptable given their expectations, payroll, and that they’d accumulated enough of a cushion that this shouldn’t be happening.

They have to win a few games and not worry about what their competition is doing, but humanity inevitably intervenes. Watching the scoreboard, tightening up with every run scored and win accumulated by the younger and fresher Rays; the star-studded and finally playing up to their capabilities Angels; the loaded Rangers; the upstart Athletics; and the determined Orioles—it all factors in to what’s happening to the Yankees.

I’ve seen this movie before and know how it ends. It’s formulaic, but not in the manner Yankees’ fans have come to expect. The underdogs are ganging up on them, smell blood, and have an opportunity at comeuppance.

They’ve become George. And once you become George, there’s really nowhere to go from there but down.

//

Anatomy Of A Yankees Swoon

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

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.

//

The Yankees Adhere To Conservatism

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

With their conservative persona stemming from George Steinbrenner’s rightist agenda and continued with the current regime under Hank and Hal Steinbrenner (military school graduates both); Randy Levine (worked for the Rudy Giuliani New York mayoral administration and recently created a controversy by donating money to the reelection campaign of republican Massachusetts senator Scott Brown); and Brian Cashman (the newly minted bon vivant GM with a sex scandal to call his own), the Yankees are holding true to one of the tenets of the Republican Party by adhering to the rules of succession.

The Republicans nominate their presidential candidates based on who came in second in the prior election cycle.

This is the way it’s always been and we’re seeing it with a candidate that neither the evangelicals nor the hardline wants—Mitt Romney.

They did it in 2008 as well with John McCain.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Regardless of the simplistic “when we go to the right, we win” mantra espoused by the talking heads on Fox News and the agenda-laden talk show hosts, there are numerous variables in the success or failure of the strategy including the turnout, the opponent and current societal circumstances.

The influence of opponents and circumstances are transferrable into baseball.

With their decision to use David Robertson to pitch the ninth inning last night in the Yankees’ 6-2 win over the Royals, their intentions have become clear as to whom is going to replace Mariano Rivera as closer for the rest of the season.

They’re going with the “next in line”. The next in line is Robertson.

Watching Robertson, I’d be very concerned.

His motion is, always has been and always will be a nightmare. He throws off an entirely stiff front leg and his arm recoils with extreme violence. He’s mentally tough enough to deal with the ancillary aspects of closing, but the “trying too hard” factort could lead to overstressing his arm and causing injury. The Yankees’ braintrust will tell him not to treat the ninth inning any differently than he did the seventh and eighth, but that’s easier said than done.

Given the decision to use Robertson last night, here’s what I suspect is going to happen. Robertson will close and they’ll use Soriano to set-up…for now. They’ll watch and see how Phil Hughes pitches tomorrow in Kansas City and if he pitches poorly, move him back to the bullpen for the rest of the season. Andy Pettitte is set to return and David Phelps pitched well on Thursday. They have options to fill out the rotation with Hughes in the bullpen.

At first, Soriano will get a chance to pitch the eighth inning, but if he struggles, they’ll flip him and Hughes and Hughes will pitch the eighth as he did in 2009.

The Yankees’ expectation of automatically being in the playoffs on an annual basis is partially leading them to using Robertson as the closer.

I would not trust Rafael Soriano as the closer in the playoffs. He’s pitched 7.2 innings in the post-season and allowed 3 homers—two of them backbreaking to his clubs, the Rays and Yankees. But they have to make the playoffs first—not a small feat—and there’s a small chance that Rivera might make it back for the playoffs.

If that happens, Soriano or Robertson closing is a non-issue; in fact, it would be easier to demote Soriano than it would Robertson and perhaps the confidence Soriano accumulates by doing well as the closer would extend to the playoffs and he’d be more than a “we hafta hold our collective breaths”, mentally weak, self-interested and overpaid pitcher not fit for the Yankees’ lofty expectations commensurate with his absurd salary.

After the season, that self-interest would come to the Yankees’ rescue in the form of the opt-out in Soriano’s contract.

Robertson is under contractual control until after the 2014 season; Soriano is owed $14 million for 2013 with the opt-out and possible free agency after this season. If he opts out, they’d pay him a $1.5 million buyout.

Soriano’s agent is Scott Boras. Boras has a history of convincing his clients to take free agency when it suits them and is undeterred by prior failures. Because Francisco Rodriguez and Ryan Madson both listened to Boras’s sweet nothings, expected huge riches on the open market and didn’t get them won’t stop Soriano from doing as he’s told and entering the free agent market again looking for more money, more years and a guarantee to close.

How much would it benefit the Yankees to get out from under that onerous and ridiculous deal to which they signed Soriano over the public objections of Cashman?

If Rivera’s coming back for 2013; if Robertson is there; if Joba Chamberlain returns; and Hughes proves himself capable of relieving full-time, what’s the value in paying Soriano that kind of money?

There is none.

The advantages of giving the ninth inning to Soriano are multiple and obvious, but the Yankees are making the safer and more explainable choice.

In the short and long terms, it might work.

But it’s still a mistake.

//

American League Ticking Tempers Of Ownership

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

Let’s take a look at some American League teams that have unexpectedly struggled or made ghastly blunders that would normally elicit a reaction from ownerships.

New York Yankees

Does ownership have a right to be upset?

Yes.

In yesterday’s NY Daily News, Bill Madden wrote what I’d been thinking about a George Steinbrenner missive being issued following Michael Pineda’s injury.

I’m not going to give Cashman as hard a time as others did for letting Bartolo Colon go and keeping Freddy Garcia—neither could’ve been expected to replicate anything close to what they did last season—but his other pitching mishaps have been horrific. As much of a joke as Steinbrenner was for his instantaneous and combustible temper tantrums, many times he had a right to be angry.

Beyond Cashman, if the Boss was still around, Larry Rothschild would be in the crosshairs for what’s gone wrong with Phil Hughes.

I’m wondering that myself.

What should be done?

There’s really not much they can do. Having already bounced Garcia from the rotation in favor of David Phelps, Hughes has to improve or he’ll be in the bullpen or minor leagues when Andy Pettitte is set to return to the majors.

What will be done?

Hal Steinbrenner will be secretive and deliberate; Hank will be kept away from the telephone. Cashman will continue to spin doctor and “take responsibility” by saying how “devastated” he is about Pineda.

Devastated? Really?

Garcia will be kept around just in case and Hughes is going to wind up being sent to the minors.

The Boss would’ve made Cashman take responsibility in a way consistent with what Madden suggested and he wouldn’t have been out of line in doing so.

Boston Red Sox

Does ownership have a right to be upset?

Yes, as long as they have a mirror nearby.

The best things that could’ve happened to the Red Sox were the Sunday night rainout of the game against the Yankees and going on the road to play the bad Twins and mediocre White Sox. The ship has been righted to a certain degree.

For all the love doled out to departed GM Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona, ownership—John Henry and team president Larry Lucchino—have been left to clean up the mess. Regardless of what you think of Lucchino’s insinuating himself into the baseball operations as he has, you can’t absolve Epstein and Francona. Epstein saddled the club with the contracts of John Lackey and Carl Crawford; Francona’s lax discipline as manager and passive aggressiveness from the broadcast booth as the team spiraled out of the gate gave a sense of the former manager exacting revenge on the franchise that gave him a job with a team ready-built for success when no one else would’ve.

What should be done?

A desperate trade would only make matters worse. There’s no one to fire. They have to wait and hope. Making a final decision with Daniel Bard and sticking to it would end speculation on the pitcher’s role.

What will be done?

They’ll wait it out. Had they continued losing following the series against the Yankees, they might’ve done something drastic like firing Bobby Valentine even though it’s not all his fault. Their winning streak has given them breathing room.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Does ownership have a right to be upset?

Very.

Arte Moreno has been a great owner. He’s let his baseball people run the club and hasn’t interfered. They have everything they ask for and more.

This past winter, he spent an uncharacteristic amount of money to address the offensive woes from 2011 with Albert Pujols and traded for Chris Iannetta.

The bullpen’s missteps have been magnified because set-up man Hisanori Takahashi and closer Jordan Walden have been horrible.

That’s not to say they’d be that much better with a more proven closer than the deposed Walden. In retrospect, they were lucky they didn’t sign Ryan Madson or trade for Andrew Bailey.

Their biggest problem has been at the plate.

When an owner throws that amount of guaranteed money at his roster, he has a right to expect more than 7-15 and 9 games out of first place before April is over.

What should be done?

The Angels released Bobby Abreu on Friday and recalled Mike Trout. They demoted Walden from the closer’s role in favor of Scott Downs.

Apart from waiting for Pujols to start hitting and perhaps dumping Vernon Wells, there’s little else of note they can try.

What will be done?

If Moreno were a capricious, “blame someone for the sake of blaming them” type, hitting coach Mickey Hatcher and bullpen coach Steve Soliz would have been fired a week ago and perhaps first base coach Alfredo Griffin for good measure.

He’s not a quick trigger owner, but if they’re not hitting by mid-May, Hatcher’s gone. This could expose a rift between manager Mike Scioscia and the front office. Scioscia’s influence has been compromised with the hiring of Jerry Dipoto and if one of his handpicked coaches and friends is fired, a true chasm will be evident. Firings will be shots across the bow of Scioscia and, armed with a contract through 2018 (that he can opt-out of after 2015), if he’s unhappy with the changes he’ll let his feelings be known.

It could get ugly.

As of right now, they’ll see if the jettisoning of Abreu, the insertion of Trout and the new closer will help. With Moreno, they have more time than most clubs would, but that doesn’t mean they have forever.

***

The National League will be posted later and yes, that does mean I’ll be talking about the Marlins.

//