A-Rod the Trophy Wife and Robinson Cano

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Like most trophy marriages, Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees is comparable to a Hollywood union that wound up in marriage counseling with one side wanting a divorce and the other wanting a substantial payoff to leave. To make matters worse, there’s tantamount to a conviction hanging over the head of one of the participants and financial issues hovering around the other. It’s getting worse and worse with each passing day with no end in sight. There’s no point in analyzing the contretemps and accusations because by the time you read this, there will have been five more statements from each side to outdate the latest war of words.

The Yankees can’t say that after they traded for A-Rod, they didn’t get on-field production. If it was ten years ago and A-Rod was an MVP-contender, the team would be far more willing to stand behind him regardless of what he’s been accused of doing. They owe him $86 million from 2014 through 2017 and don’t want to pay him because he’s an average player at best.

It’s typical that the sides in such a marriage enjoyed a honeymoon of several years when all was good and wonderful. A-Rod began to show his age and underlying problems that the Yankees either glossed over or ignored as long as he was hitting 35+ homers a year. When he opted out of his contract after the 2007 season, it was right after his second MVP season in three years in pinstripes. He’d kept his hotness that attracted the Yankees to him. Factions in the Yankees organization, notably general manager Brian Cashman, wanted to let him leave. Hank Steinbrenner stepped in and lavished a new $275 million contract to keep the marriage together with money. In spite of the idea that the contract was a disaster from the start, A-Rod hit 30+ homers in the first three years of the deal. Then the injuries and controversies began in earnest and he stopped being productive.

This is how these types of marriages end. To avoid a repeat, the Yankees have to examine what made them get into bed with A-Rod in the first place. They and other clubs need to think critically about such a bow to expediency for his star power and ability to put fans in the seats. With A-Rod, they became the Yankees as an entity rather than a cohesive team.

The Yankees teams from 1996 through 2003 were a group that knew and trusted one another. There was a definition of purpose with the club. And that’s with having begun the process of bringing in mercenaries and nuisances like Roger Clemens and David Wells. With A-Rod, they made the conscious decision to bring his sideshow and contract with him. They collected stars instead of getting players that fit on and off the field. That can work as long as there isn’t an albatross of a contract hanging over the team’s head in the latter years of the deal. Had A-Rod not had this PED nightmare of his own doing, the Yankees would have bitten the bullet, dealt with his age-related decline and injury and lived with what he could provide, waiting out its (and his) expiration. Now they just want him gone and they don’t want to pay him. In essence, they’re trying to break the agreement that came with the marriage. While they couldn’t have predicted it would degenerate into this, they had to know that eventually they’d be paying him for what he was a decade earlier.

This directly ties into their current construction of the club and what they’re going to do about Robinson Cano.

Cano’s lack of hustle is getting to the point where he’s not going to bother running on a ground ball at all; he’s simply going to walk back to the dugout as if he’d just struck out. In reality, there’s no difference between the two because with his current effort, if the infielder bobbles or outright muffs a grounder, Cano will still be out by five steps. The combination of the A-Rod mess, the $200+ million contracts that are already disastrous (Albert Pujols), Cano’s age and burgeoning laziness could spur the Yankees to decide that they’re not going to hamstring the franchise in the same way again just to placate the fans and media to keep an admittedly great player who wants an amount of money he cannot possibly live up to.

The Yankees set a line in the sand with Derek Jeter during his last free agent negotiations. They made their offer, Jeter was unhappy with it and they told him to see if he could do better elsewhere. With Jeter, they were safe in knowing he wasn’t going to leave and the rest of baseball wasn’t going to bother pursuing him because they also knew he wouldn’t leave. Cano isn’t Jeter and another team would pursue him if there was an opening. But the situation is similar in that few other teams have the capability and willingness to give Cano $200+ million. The Dodgers are the only ones that come to mind who could and they might shy away from the pursuit.

The Cardinals wound up looking completely innocent and retrospectively brilliant by letting Pujols leave when no one thought he would. That they had just won the World Series gave them some wiggle room, but in the end Pujols chased the money and the Cardinals hid behind their own financial circumstances to justify him departing. The combination of circumstances with the Yankees is different, but their own issues could result in Cano leaving as well. It’s either that or take the amount of money the Yankees offer to stay even if it’s far below what he clearly wants. It will be an amount of money that no one could ever spend. Whether Cano’s ego can deal with not surpassing that magic number of $200 million is the question. But he might not have much of a choice and A-Rod could be held, in part, responsible for that too.




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Trevor Bauer Listens To Trevor Bauer…Rapping!!!

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The off-season moves made by the Diamondbacks involved importing “gritty” players to fit the desired style of play of manager Kirk Gibson, but given the continuing verbal volleys going back and forth between Diamondbacks’ catcher Miguel Montero and Indians’ pitcher Trevor Bauer, perhaps it’s not grit they wanted to bring in, but weeding out of difficult personalities to excise players who didn’t fit into the preferred clubhouse dynamic.

Recently the discord between pitcher and catcher reentered the storyline as Bauer’s rap lyrics (really) were interpreted as alluding to his relationship with Montero—Yahoo Story. You can hear the rap below. He’s certainly not the Beastie Boys unless you consider his pitching for the Diamondbacks last season, which were beastly enough to get him demoted. Bauer should stick to pitching.

Bauer says that the lyrics were directed at people on Twitter, but who knows? Earlier this spring Montero made damning indictments against Bauer in a matter of fact fashion. The statements were overt in comparison to what Montero said as he was trying to create a working relationship with Bauer last summer. Judging from their decision to trade him so quickly, Montero was clearly speaking for the Diamondbacks and their concerns.

Bauer’s reputation as opinionated, loud and immature isn’t new. It goes back to his days at UCLA when, in certain circles, he was ludicrously compared to Tim Lincecum and behaved in a manner that was certain to draw the ire of big league veterans if he continued it when he entered pro ball. Unsurprisingly he continued it into pro ball, irritated big league veterans, and was traded away a year-and-a-half after he was drafted 3rd overall.

There’s still a pecking order in a major league clubhouse and hazing from some veterans where a rookie, regardless of his draft status and known talent level, should be seen and not heard. Bauer was seen and the Diamondbacks saw him pitching terribly; he was heard and what they heard was arrogance and obnoxiousness. This is a bad combination to engendering positivity with one’s teammates.

The view of teammates and clubhouse chemistry can be overrated, but not dismissed. Last season, as Mets’ first baseman Ike Davis was batting well under .200 into the summer, there was discussion of demoting him to Triple A. David Wright and others stood up for Davis. The front office and manager Terry Collins, realizing the damage that could be done by sending Davis down when his teammates liked and believed in him, gave him the chance to battle through his struggles and he did. Would anyone have stood up for Bauer? Or would they have advocated getting him out of the clubhouse before the place exploded or Gibson attacked him?

The mentioning of Lincecum is key. Yes, Lincecum was allowed to do his own thing in terms of stretching exercises and mechanics designed by his father. Yes, he was unconventional in his dress and personality. But the difference between Bauer and Lincecum is that Lincecum didn’t arrive in the big leagues and automatically start loudly challenging conventional orthodoxy or disrespecting veterans. And Lincecum did something Bauer didn’t do when he first arrived on the scene: he pitched well.

Lincecum, passed over and questioned because of his diminutive stature and stage father, exhibited a quiet determination to prove the critics wrong; Bauer is strutting around and informing the world of his greatness and uniqueness while posting an ERA over six with 13 walks in 16 innings and getting sent to the minors after four starts.

In a sense, even Lincecum is learning that his quirks are tolerated as long as he pitches well. He was mostly terrible in 2012 and his style and preparation are under scrutiny. Lincecum has two Cy Young Awards. Bauer doesn’t have any big league accomplishments other than annoying people to the point where he got himself traded.

Iconoclasm in baseball is fine…as long as the player performs. Had Bauer arrived and pitched brilliantly, the Diamondbacks and Montero would’ve gritted their teeth and swallowed his attitude and behavior as a concession for the greater good. He didn’t. Some catchers like to bully their pitchers to establish dominance and get the pitcher to do what the catcher wants. Montero didn’t do that. He was trying to reach a consensus with Bauer and was genuinely stunned at the rookie’s complete lack of interest in working cohesively and appearance of being more interested in doing things his way than succeeding.

If life were a moralistic TV show, Bauer would keep getting batted around until he learned humility and the value of working with others. It’s not. Since he’s so talented, he might bull his way through and succeed in spite of his selfish attitude. What’s he’s not seeing, though, is that the strutting and snarling is accepted because of his ability and draft status. If Lincecum had posted an ERA over 6, how long before the Giants took the rules and regulations that accompanied his drafting and tossed them out the window to try and recoup something on their investment? How long would David Wells have lasted in the majors had he simply been a guy trying to imitate Babe Ruth while pitching as Bauer did in his brief 2012 audition? As Mark Prior has proven, it can all be gone in an instant.

Players don’t have to be friends and in many cases, they’re not. They do have to communicate. So far, Bauer has been interested in communicating with the the man in the mirror and the media. And rapping. Don’t forget the rapping. Unless he performs, his teammates won’t want to hear about his college exploits and draft status and they definitely won’t want to hear his awful rapping.

Reputation matters and, as of now, Bauer’s reputation is not good and he’s doing absolutely nothing to change the perceptions that will follow him around until he pitches well or disappears, wondering what happened to the All-Star career he was supposed to have.

Aspiring rappers are generally not advised to follow the lead of Vanilla Ice, but in this case maybe Bauer should stop, collaborate and listen because the failure to do that has soiled his image and gotten him traded once. Unfortunately the music from the Diamondbacks and Bauer is going on and on with no sign of slowing down anytime soon.

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Francona: The Red Sox Years by Terry Francona and Dan Shaughnessy—Book Review

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It’s a fine line between revenge and clarification. In his new book detailing the eight years he spent as manager of the Boston Red Sox, Terry Francona straddles the territory between the two. In Francona: The Red Sox Years written with Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy, Francona does so with a mostly objective point of view and occasional digs at those who sought to undermine him and diminish his substantial accomplishments during his time at the helm.

The book functions as a biography, telling the story of Terry Francona’s father Tito Francona’s Major League career; the younger Francona’s life of frequent address changes as his father switched teams; the experience of hanging around the clubhouses with his dad; his own playing career as a college star and first round draft pick; the injuries that sabotaged him and relegated him to journeyman whose lifelong dream ended at age 31. When he became a manager in the White Sox system, he was making the same innocent climb that players make first running a single A club in Indiana, then spending three years in Double A. The second year was notable because it provided Francona a crash course in a media circus managing basketball star Michael Jordan during his yearlong break from the NBA and foray into baseball.

By the time he was 38, he was named manager of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1997. The Phillies were a bad team and Francona, by his own account, didn’t do a very good job running the club. Fired after four seasons, he seemed more relieved than unhappy. Following the firing after the 2000 season, he burnished his resume by working in the Indians’ front office in 2001, as the bench coach for Buck Showalter with the Rangers in 2002, and Ken Macha with the Athletics in 2003.

While with the Athletics, Francona received a first hand look at his future in two different ways, neither of which he likely saw when he was traveling with his dad, playing or working his way up as a field boss: the general manager of the new millennium was openly interfering with the way in which a manager ran the games. All through 2003, Macha was constantly fending off the regular “suggestions” (more like interrogations) that the A’s manager was forced to endure from the newly minted star of Moneyball, Billy Beane. Also in 2003, Francona was on the opposite bench when the Red Sox, then managed by Grady Little and in year one of their remaking with Theo Epstein as their GM, came from 2 games to 0 behind to defeat the Athletics in a dramatic 5 games series. It was a glimpse into the future for Francona with the tentacles of chance gripping him, Little, Epstein and the Red Sox, sometimes around their throats.

In the very next series, Little’s decision to leave Pedro Martinez in to pitch game 7 of the ALCS against the Yankees cost him the job and opened it for Francona. Francona, ironically, was friends with Little for years and they even lived together when Francona served as Little’s bench coach in the Arizona Fall League in 1992. Also ironically, Francona—jokingly or not—told the Red Sox during the arduous interview process that he would have taken Pedro out of game 7 of the ALCS as Little was supposed to do. The interview process included written tests and games of the computer simulated baseball game “Diamond Mind” against Epstein’s assistants to see how Francona would react to game circumstances. Did Francona tell the Red Sox people what he knew they wanted to hear in terms of Little or would he have acquiesced to the demands of the numbers and ignored that the Red Sox bullpen didn’t have that one big arm in the bullpen that the manager could unequivocally trust in lieu of his ace?

Only Francona knows, but given the old-school sensibilities he exhibited, it’s not as cut-and-dried as implied that he wouldn’t have done the exact same thing Little did—the thing that got him fired.

This clash of civilizations is a key contention in this book and the books written by other managers such as Joe Torre with the Yankees who were unceremoniously relieved of their duties after immeasurable success that had not been enjoyed by their respective clubs for decades prior to their arrivals. The new landscape in baseball makes it necessary for managers to agree to listen to information that may or may not have real world validity in an exercise of going along to get along. Some managers like Joe Maddon embrace it; others, like Torre and Little, rebel against it with a head shake and bemused smirk; still others like Francona and Joe Girardi listen to the advice and try to incorporate it where applicable.

The fundamental civil war makes being a big league manager in today’s game an exercise in tightrope walking by maintaining respect with the players and not appear as a puppet while accessing and sifting through the reams of information burying them like corn in a silo. Torre, in fact, had his own issues magnified due to the presence of the big market rival using stats to build a club that was cheaper and better than his Yankees were. The Red Sox were Patient X in this experiment and where the entire virus got its start.

Little unabashedly ignored the advice. Francona was nuanced as he ignored some of it too, rebelling when he couldn’t tolerate it and telling Epstein to have his people back off a bit.

If anyone has the breadth of experience to be a manager and do his job without the overbearing interference of a staff of numbers crunchers and find methods to meld the highly paid egos, deal with the media, and make the players perform on the field, it’s Francona. The numbers crunchers that managers are forced to endure today may never have picked up a baseball and would be swallowed alive after two days of inhabiting the same space as Manny Ramirez, yet they see fit to question, criticize and send suggestions that eventually take the tone of orders.

For a pure baseball lifer, it’s a conundrum and necessary concession. Any manager who doesn’t adapt to the way baseball is run today is not going to get a job.

The battles he fought as manager were mostly with a front office that in the ownership suite didn’t appreciate the job he was doing. Francona was lowballed in his contract when he was initially hired and was saddled with the onus that he was taking orders from his bosses in every single aspect of on-field decisionmaking (this was right after the publication of Moneyball), and that he was selected because he was one of the few managers for whom Curt Schilling wanted to play. The Red Sox were closing in on acquiring Schilling simultaneously to hiring Francona. The Red Sox and Francona deny this, but the denial is formulated on a shaky premise. They didn’t decide out of the blue to get Schilling and it would certainly help to grease the negotiations if he knew he was getting a manager he wanted to play for instead of, say, Bobby Valentine.

The book doesn’t discuss significant conflict between Francona and Epstein in spite of Epstein making Francona’s life difficult with the overbearing and constant presence of the GM and his youthful assistants, or with acquisitions of the likes of David Wells, but there’s an unexplored and unmentioned tension that Francona may not admit or realize existed between him and Epstein.

Epstein, in fact, comes off as profoundly immature when the Red Sox fell behind the Yankees 3 games to 0 in the 2004 ALCS and his assistants decided that he couldn’t be left alone. Did they think he was suicidal? He couldn’t be left alone? It was a baseball game that they lost badly in a series they were about to lose, not life or death.

Rather than jump off the Green Monster, Epstein got drunk on a friend’s couch and passed out. As the GM was drowning his sorrows, the manager who was supposed to be manipulated by the “geniuses” in the front office was calmly saying that his team would show up to play and the series wasn’t over. While Epstein has continually denied the story of breaking furniture in Nicaragua when the Red Sox lost the bidding for free agent Cuban Jose Contreras to the Yankees, this type of story makes me believe that maybe he really did break the furniture in a tantrum that a 20-something is known to throw when he doesn’t get his way.

Reading between the lines, Epstein comes off looking immature, arrogant and self-centered.

The owners John Henry and Tom Werner, along with CEO Larry Lucchino are presented as the nemeses of Francona with Epstein serving as a buffer between the manager and the out-of-touch front office, but the book—again in an unsaid manner—presents Lucchino as the hatchet man carrying out the edicts of the two owners. More a devil’s advocate and overseer, Lucchino didn’t harass Epstein and Francona as much as he dared to question them and want an answer other than a spiraling stack of sludge that would placate a less-informed front office person or owner.

Francona’s health problems were much more serious than has ever been publicly revealed and his life was in jeopardy due to blood clots. He still endures terrible pain because of his wounds from a long playing career and the well-known issues with deep vein thrombosis. His use of pain medication was a point of contention and weaponized by someone with the Red Sox to impugn Francona’s reputation and justify his firing as if he was an addict whose use of the medicines, combined with the separation from his wife, led to a lack of focus allowing the players to run roughshod over all sense of propriety and culminating in the beer and chicken “scandal” that engulfed Francona and his team during their collapse in September 2011. The book explains Francona’s use of the medication in an evenhanded manner.

The players took advantage of Francona’s old-school demeanor in letting the players run their clubhouse. It’s an excuse to say that the beer and chicken had little to do with the collapse. If the players—especially pitchers Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and John Lackey—had been in better shape, perhaps they wouldn’t have pitched as poorly as they did down the stretch and the team wouldn’t have missed the playoffs in the first place.

What Francona getting and losing the job hinged on was chance and the slippery slope of “if-thens.”  Would he have gotten the nod had Bernie Williams’s looping single in game 7 of the 2003 ALCS fallen into the glove of Nomar Garciaparra and the Red Sox held on to win the game and advanced to the World Series? Would he have retained the job if Dave Roberts hadn’t been safe by a hair on his stolen base in the ninth inning of game 4 in 2004, sparking the inconceivable four game comeback? Would he have lost the job if the Red Sox had been able to win two more games in September of 2011?

The final portion of the book centers around Francona’s estrangement from the Red Sox and his continued and understandably obsessive questioning of everyone as to who leaked to the media that he had a problem with prescription medications. Lucchino is alleged to have said he was going to find out who it was, but never did. Henry, the detached Dracula whose presence was rare and awkward, contributed his beloved stats and was notably out-of-touch in his attempts to get a grip on his crumbling would-be dynasty, had no reply for Francona. Werner was too busy trying to bolster his own bona fides and overemphasize his influence.

The book is not a vengeful and vicious, “I’m gonna get back at the guys who screwed me,” as Torre’s, at times, was. It tells Francona’s side in a context to put him in the best possible light, to be sure; he’s more calculating than an “Aw shucks,” baseball man who’s happiest at the ballpark and with the players. Clearly he’s hurt by the way his tenure ended especially considering he accomplished something in winning a World Series that hadn’t happened for 86 years prior to his arrival, then he turned around and won another title three years later. The concerns about his perception might have been the catalyst to jump back in the ring in a situation that isn’t ready-made to win immediately with the Indians. He took a job while the jobs were still being offered.

Francona gets his story out there, highlights how difficult the job of Red Sox manager truly is, and that it’s a borderline miracle that he: A) lasted as long as he did; and B) had the success he had while maintaining some semblance of sanity.

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Benching and Dumping A-Rod Doesn’t Fix This Mess

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For Alex Rodriguez, the only conceivable way this gets worse is if it’s discovered that it was in fact him who was fooling around with a woman during a September game in a filthy stadium toilet and that his attempts to conceal himself by wearing a CC Sabathia shirt worked for a short period of time before the truth eventually came out. Of course it wasn’t A-Rod, but that’s not the point.

The point is the truth or some perception of it.

Nestled among the generic, semantically fueled denials uttered by Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman is the truth, but you’ll have to dig to find it and also need to accept that it wasn’t the words that he said, but the manner in which he said them that conveyed the reality.

Like a politically-minded frontman whose power has ebbed; whose reputation is disintegrating like an old T-shirt; and whose job might be on the line, Cashman took the hit for the club when he denied the reports that the Yankees are looking to trade A-Rod and are willing to either swallow an exorbitant sum of money to do it or take another team’s head (and stomach, and backside) ache such as Heath Bell to make it happen.

You can read the updated story reported here by Keith Olbermann on his MLBlog. (Keith linked yours truly near the end of the original posting when talking about Yankees’ PR hatchet man Jason Zillo—my piece was about Zillo’s attempts to hinder NY Times Magazine writer Michael Sokolove from pursuing a piece about age and Derek Jeter.)

I believe that the reports are accurate and that the Yankees—with or without Cashman’s tacit knowledge—are greasing the skids to get A-Rod out of town no matter what. In addition to denying that A-Rod was being discussed in trades, Cashman also stated that his benching is purely baseball related.

Is A-Rod out of the Yankees’ lineup because of his hitting struggles? Is it because the club has had enough of him and his sideshow and is punishing him for the transgression that he supposedly asked for the phone number of an Australian model after he’d been removed from game 1 of the ALCS? Or is it a combination of everything that’s gone wrong with him since he was acquired in 2004?

A-Rod looks overmatched at the plate and it’s up to the club to determine whether it’s a slump or if they’re simply better off benching him because the players they use to replace him can’t do much worse. As for the allegation that he tried to get a date during the game—so what? It happens all the time and that it’s a point of contention with factions of the organization speaks to the elasticity of propriety. If it was 2009 and A-Rod did the same thing in Anaheim during the ALCS when he’d been pulled for a pinch-runner, no one would’ve said a word because he was killing the ball. In fact, the old-school Steinbrenner sons likely would’ve shook their heads as their father did at the antics of David Wells and other players who did “guy stuff” in what they perceive as a man’s world and laughed at A-Rod just doing what A-Rod and other men do when they spot a pretty girl. The stark contrast being that unlike 99% of the planet, A-Rod has the ability to try to get a date and make it happen.

If the Yankees are benching him as a punitive act, it’s somewhat laughable considering that Cashman himself had his own issues with a woman he met and dated because he’s the GM of the Yankees. If Cashman hadn’t had a card that said Executive VP and GM of the Yankees and instead worked as an usher at the stadium, he wouldn’t have gotten the time of day from the woman. She certainly wasn’t with Cashman for his ratty looks and dully monotonous vocal tones.

Cashman’s behavior was in fact far worse than A-Rod’s because it was Cashman who wrote a letter of reference for the woman with whom he was involved and did so on Yankees stationery. All A-Rod did was happen to be wearing a Yankees uniform when he supposedly put the moves on the model.

And looking at the picture below, can you blame him?

Players do this more often than the public realizes and it’s not a big deal for any reason other than that it’s A-Rod and he’s not hitting, so all is magnified and the piling on of reasons to get rid of him.

As for the supposed trade talks, Cashman’s denials ring hollow and the entire listening audience, if they’ve been paying attention over the past decade-and-a-half of Cashman’s reign, saw right through it. In his desperate attempts to spin the story, it would’ve been more honest and believable if he sat with his head tilted, gesticulated with his hands in a “yeah, yeah, yeah, even I don’t believe this BS fashion,” and literally said:

“A-Rod, blah blah blah. He’s not being discussed in trades, blah, blah, blah. No Marlins, bleh. Not benched because of off-field stuff or the model thing, yadda yadda yadda. This is a team and the team’s not playing up to capability, blahblahBLAHblah…”

At least it would’ve been honest.

I do expect A-Rod to be dealt this winter, but they’re not going to pick up the entire contract unless they’re getting good, useful pieces in return. Apart from that, it would be the Yankees picking up a chunk of the contract (that owes him $114 million from 2013-2017) and taking someone else’s nuisance and similarly bad contract such as Bell. But getting rid of one player doesn’t solve all the Yankees problems. The bottom line is that they’re not losing because of one player independent of salary, all-time great career numbers, and controversies on and off the diamond.

This entire mess began due to A-Rod’s slump and that he’s the easiest target, but none of the Yankees have hit and, unlike Robinson Cano, at least A-Rod hustles and appears to care. Unlike Nick Swisher, he’s not whining about the fans. And unlike Curtis Granderson, the 37-year-old A-Rod is not supposed to be in his prime as he’s seemingly striking out every time he steps into the batter’s box.

There’s no doubt that A-Rod’s a distraction, but in this case he’s one of convenience to shift the blame from the rest of the team being as bad or worse than him. If they get rid of him, they’ll still have a bucketful of age, expense, and decline to deal with and no singular object of revulsion to take the brunt of the ridicule. Then it will be piled onto the front office concerning what they’ve done to let this team decay. Then the underlying holes will be revealed and they’re not as easy to fix as paying someone off to leave.

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The Yankees Have Become George

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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.

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The Yankees’ Grand Delusion

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In today’s NY Times there’s a piece by Benjamin Hoffman discussing the luck of the Mets in achieving their 28-23 record in spite of a -24 run differential and how the Yankees 27-23 record is about right based on their +15 run differential.

Run differential is usually a ridiculous and out-of-context stat from the start and it’s worse in this case. The Mets’ pitching has had games in which they’ve allowed 18 runs; 14 runs twice; 11 and 10 runs. They’ve scored in double-digits once.

The Yankees haven’t allowed double-digits at all and have had three games that they’ve scored a total of 36 runs.

It’s misleading and used as the foundation for the customary argument that the superiorly reinforced Yankees will eventually start dominating baseball and waltz into the playoffs as an odds-on favorite while the Mets will fade out to their customary mediocrity and continue their rebuild.

What will happen with the Mets remains to be seen, but the Yankees—just like the silly stat of run differential—aren’t exactly what they seem to be when examined as a monolith from 1995 until now. The Yankees’ apologists in the media and deluded fans, under the mistaken belief that because they’ve made the playoffs in 16 of the past 17 years, think that it automatically anoints them that spot. But those teams were different from this one. Mariano Rivera is gone. Alex Rodriguez is a shell of what he was. The starting pitching that once had the veterans David Wells, David Cone, Orlando Hernandez, Mike Mussina and Roger Clemens now has one pitcher who could be mentioned in that group, CC Sabathia, and a series of question marks behind him.

It’s not the same.

Sweeny Murti of WFAN appeared on Kim Jones’s radio show recently and put forth the egomaniacal premise that since the Yankees have won an average of 97 games a season since he’s been covering the team that he expects them to do it again.

What one thing has to do with the other was never addressed.

Mike Francesa pompously and condescendingly (in many ways sounding like the spoiled fans he ridicules) comes up with inane arguments to support the shoddy foundation that since they’ve “always” been there, they’ll be there again. They’ll buy what they need at the trading deadline and off they’ll go.

Listening to this fanciful nonsense a non-baseball fan might think that the Yankees simply win the championship every year as a matter of course and if they don’t there was a glitch or fluke somewhere that prevented it.

They’ve won one championship since 2000. They’re not the dynasty they were in the late-1990s.

Whom are they trading for and what do they have to get these available star players? The Yankees’ main chip, Jesus Montero, was given away to the Mariners along with a useful arm in Hector Noesi to acquire two pitchers—Michael Pineda and Jose Campos—who are both on the disabled list. Of their other “untouchable crown jewels” in the system, Manny Banuelos, is also on the disabled list with a sore elbow and Dellin Betances has walked 46 in 52 innings. They’re not even willing to take on long-term money to get the players they want as they did with Bobby Abreu a few years ago. So what are they doing at the deadline other than making the same types of deals they’ve made in recent years when they got pending free agents Kerry Wood and Lance Berkman?

There’s an aura of “If we keep repeating it, it’ll come true.” The Yankees have the “great” players, but they’re not so great anymore. Salary aside, it’s unfair to hold a soon-to-be 37-year-old A-Rod to a standard of the A-Rod of 2007. It’s lunacy to think that Andy Pettitte is going to be the anchor he was in his prime and that Derek Jeter will keep up his frenetically blazing start to the season.

All of these players are at an age where they should be receding into the background to make way for the new blood; where they should be occasional contributors who can rediscover their greatness in spurts. Yet they’re still keys to the Yankees’ season because the replacements—apart from Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson—haven’t taken the handoff of responsibility.

The competition is hungrier, faster, smarter and has greater organizational depth. The Yankees are contending with the Rays, Angels and Rangers. There are the teams that have struggled amid higher hopes, the Red Sox and Tigers; the Blue Jays are young, talented and have money to spend; the Indians are playing well; the Orioles and White Sox have been surprises.

There’s not an open pass into the post-season anymore and gazing longingly at records and rosters of years gone by while inserting oneself into the narrative as if there’s an unseen connection between the two is a self-important fantasy that’s doomed to failure.

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The Negative Validation of Bobby V

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In his first opportunity to show that he’s learned from his mistakes, all Bobby Valentine proved was that he hasn’t changed.

He’s a great manager and a self-destructive force who will insist on going down his way.

That’s not a good thing.

Last season, when Terry Collins took over the Mets after a 10-year absence from managing in the big leagues, many who knew him and his intense, overbearing ways didn’t think there would be a “new” Terry. At the first sign of trouble, he’d revert to the raving maniac that polarized two talented clubhouses and labeled him as an impossible person to deal with.

Collins is still intense and fiery, but has toned down his act to discipline his clubhouse while not alienating it.

The Red Sox veterans viewed the hiring of Valentine with, at best, trepidation.

Throughout spring training the media tried to stoke the fires of controversy with everything Valentine did. From bunting to his lineup and bullpen decisions to the supposed “rift” between him and GM Ben Cherington, the traps were set for the “old” Bobby V—condescending, abrasive, uncontrollably arrogant, vindictive—to appear.

For the most part he kept himself in check.

But on opening day he reverted to the old Bobby V in one of the worst ways imaginable.

In the past, one issue he constantly had was the way he ran his clubs in a self-interested, paranoid, cold-hearted fashion.

The players didn’t trust him because he didn’t trust them.

The list of players with whom Valentine had public dust-ups included Todd Hundley, Pete Harnisch, Darryl Hamilton, Bobby Bonilla, Goose Gossage and David Wells.

Wells never actually played for Valentine.

Yesterday Valentine contradicted himself, the organizational strategy based on stats and told the players that he didn’t trust them to do their defined jobs.

One argument that stat people constantly use is to adhere to the percentages. That’s evolved into the rote maneuver of never using the “closer” in a tie game on the road unless they have no choice. Valentine had a choice.

Of course it’s ridiculous to cling to an ironclad strategy to be used in the face of reason, experience and situation, but the one thing Valentine did not want to do—on opening day!!!—is to give the veteran players a reason to start bashing him behind his back more than they already are.

By using Mark Melancon in the tie game and then panicking by yanking Melancon after, with one out, the next two Tigers’ hitters in the tenth inning got on base with balls that were conveniently placed and not hit hard, he told the players something they already suspected and were presumably whispering about from the time he was hired: he’s a mircomanager who won’t put the game in our hands.

Contrast that with Charlie Manuel—a manager the players love and run to play for.

Manuel was criticized in recent years because he stuck with Brad Lidge too long as closer when Lidge couldn’t get anyone out; for letting Jimmy Rollins run wild with his outrageous statements; for letting Ryan Howard swing on a 3-0 count in the NLDS last season with his team down a run and Howard in a horrific slump.

But for all of his perceived strategic lapses, the players know what they’re getting from Cholly privately because that’s what they get publicly.

Cholly’s got their backs because his actions are in the front.

He gives his players rope and if they hang themselves and the team with it, so be it.

Can Valentine say that?

Right off the bat, he’s telling Melancon, the entire roster and upper management that he doesn’t think much of a pitcher he’s going to need to do well if the Red Sox are going to contend.

This is not a defense of Melancon, who I think is mediocre, it’s a statement that even if they’d lost with Melancon (which they wound up doing anyway with “closer” Alfredo Aceves), it would’ve been a better conclusion because Valentine wouldn’t have immediately validated the players’ fears about him.

If the players believe the manager is out for himself—trying not to be criticized; always holding his finger over the panic button; nitpicking—they’re going to tune out and quickly look at their own situations superceding team goals.

With most managers it would be judged as one game in a 162 game season. With Valentine it’s a signal that he hasn’t changed; that he’s still going to ignore his mandate; that he’ll shun long-term harmony for one game desperation.

The Red Sox had better start winning games fast or by early May the ticking time bomb that is Valentine in that mercurial clubhouse will be set to detonate.

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Pineda to the Bullpen Would be a Disaster

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What reasonable and successful organization would trade their top hitting prospect for a young pitcher of tremendous ability and then consider moving that young pitcher to the bullpen or even the minor leagues in the season after that young pitcher made the All-Star team?

The Yankees of course.

Because of his “lack” of velocity and their glut of starting pitching, Michael Pineda—the prize acquisition who cost them Jesus Montero from the Mariners—is in danger of losing his spot in the starting rotation. With the Yankees deciding which pitchers among the foursome of Phil Hughes, Pineda, Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia will be shifted elsewhere to accommodate Andy Pettitte’s return and the two starters whose jobs are safe, CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda, they’re again returning to the failed strategies that have derailed so many talented arms.

It’s insanity that could only happen with the Yankees.

Rapidly becoming the place where top pitching prospects go to see their careers die, the Yankees rigid rules, regulations and rampant paranoia have gone past a laughable state of ridiculousness and into the realm of George Steinbrenner-style lunacy.

Ask yourself a question: how many starting pitchers have the Yankees acquired or drafted who’ve been nurtured by and successful for the Yankees themselves?

Hughes?

He’s been mostly good and occasionally injured, but realistically had he been pitching for a team that has a history of homegrown pitchers becoming linchpins in their rotations like the Giants, Rangers, Angels or Rays, would he have come close to reaching his potential by now or would he still be on the bubble between rotation and bullpen; trading block and minors?

Nova?

The Yankees have constantly diminished Nova’s abilities and forever been on the precipice of getting rid of him. Much like the circumstances with Mariano Rivera in 1995 when Buck Showalter famously didn’t believe his eyes with the icy fearlessness that eventually made Rivera into baseball’s cold-blooded assassin, the Yankees have become so immersed in “stuff” and stats that they’re not seeing the determination in Nova that will make him a solid starter…somehwere. Yankees fans should hope it’s not in Scranton.

Who else?

Don’t mention Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina and David Wells; and don’t give them a hard time about Carl Pavano.

Pettitte was accorded the room to function and evolve without absurd rules and restraints; but since he arrived in 1995, how many young pitchers have become major contributors to the Yankees?

When trading a young impact bat like Montero, you’d better be sure of what you’re getting back. Pineda is talented and has a power fastball, but the Yankees have done everything possible to make him feel as if the ground beneath his feet is in danger of opening up and swallowing him before the season has started. If they were worried about him; his changeup; his makeup for New York, then why did they trade for him in the first place?

What’s the purpose of whispering about his velocity?

Why put him in the frame of mind where he’s pitching for his job when he’s going to have to adjust to the attention that comes from being 23 and living in the big city while wearing pinstripes?

The Yankees are the team about whom other teams whisper: “Let’s just wait until they get impatient.” Those other teams are watching and sniffing around Hughes, Nova and probably dropping out feelers for Pineda—already—because it’s been consistently proven that the Yankees don’t know how to follow through on creating their own young starting pitchers.

They talk a good game and stoke media buzz and fan expectations, then wonder why the pitchers are unable to live up to that hype.

Ian Kennedy was dispatched and won 20 games for the Diamondbacks; Ted Lilly became an underrated and feisty mid-rotation starter; Jose Contreras helped the White Sox win a World Series; Javier Vazquez could pitch successfully in every uniform apart from a Yankees uniform and they decided they’d bring him back after a nighmarish ending to his first tenure; Chien-Ming Wang was never considered a top prospect either and they treated him as such while he was winning 19 games in two straight seasons.

The template with their young pitching is a disaster and they’ve shown no signs of altering it in the face of the repeated practical failures. Those failures go on and on unabated.

One would think that an intelligent organization would stop, look at what the Giants did with Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner; the Dodgers with Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley; or the Rangers with Derek Holland and Matt Harrison and tweak—if not outright change—what they do.

But they don’t. They’re clinging to these edicts as if they were decreed from the pitching heavens by Cy Young himself and sermonized by Tom Verducci as the agenda-driven deliverer of the message in written form.

If they make the decision to send Pineda to the bullpen, it’s going to be a disaster; it will haunt him and the Yankees for the entire time he’s is a Yankee and grow exponentially worse if Montero hits.

And please, don’t mention Jose Campos—the 19-year-old wunderkind who no one knew before he was anointed as the “key” to the deal while he’s in A-ball. Judging from their work with the above-listed pitchers, what makes you think he’s going to be any good in a Yankees’ uniform if and when he arrives?

The new blueprint in destroying a young pitcher is underway in the Bronx. They’re not learning from the rickety foundation and decried architects; there’s no regulating agency to shut them down.

Making mistakes is one thing; continually repeating the same mistakes in a hard-headed fashion is absolute arrogance and stupidity.

This construct is going to collapse and they have no one to blame but themselves.

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David Ortiz Is Yapping His Way Out Of Boston

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The days of players like Gary Sheffield and David Wells cutting side deals with George Steinbrenner around the desires of the Yankees baseball people ended upon the Boss’s death.

Hank Steinbrenner won’t be allowed to repeat the mistake he made in taking Alex Rodriguez back after Rodriguez’s 2007 contract opt-out.

With Brian Cashman’s contract expiring and the disastrous Rafael Soriano signing, Randy Levine won’t be interfering again anytime soon.

So David Ortiz can’t hope for some random act of stupidity on the part of anyone aligned with the current Yankees to garner him a contract with the club for 2012.

But as the Red Sox world crumbles, Ortiz’s self-interested complaints and weak defenses of the Red Sox clubhouse charade are not helping matters. Now he’s openly musing about playing for the Yankees.

The Yankees—already overloaded with declining veterans signed to contracts they can’t move—might, might have interest in Ortiz if his stats were attached to another player from another team. But with Mark Teixeira and A-Rod in decline; their “will they or won’t they” decision on bringing back Nick Swisher; the CC Sabathia opt-out and starting pitching holes, the last thing they need is to start another level of the Red Sox-Yankees war by signing Ortiz.

If they’re looking for a mashing DH, they have a young, cheap hitter named Jesus Montero who looks like he’d do just fine if he were given the job full-time.

So what would they need Ortiz for?

Ortiz appears to be living in a past where he was an icon in Boston and the team had no other viable alternatives to him in their lineup and couldn’t let him leave; a time when, with every homer Ortiz launched into the right field porch at Yankee Stadium, the late George Steinbrenner was constantly reminding Cashman how he’d told his GM to sign Ortiz when the Twins non-tendered him after the 2002 season and Cashman ignored Steinbrenner because he had nowhere to put him.

Ortiz is considering leaving Boston?

Okay.

Where’s he going?

He can’t play the field, so that eliminates the 16 teams in the National League.

The Yankees won’t want him; the Rays won’t pay him. The White Sox have a clogged up DH spot with Adam Dunn and the last thing a neophyte manager Robin Ventura needs is Ortiz walking in with his sideshow. The Indians? The Royals? The Rangers?

None of those teams are landing spots.

The Blue Jays, Mariners, Athletics, Angels, Twins and Orioles could use Ortiz’s bat, but none are going to pay him what the Red Sox will.

Could the Red Sox say to themselves they could use a different, quieter and still productive DH-type like Jim Thome? Someone whose class and likability would add immeasurably to the Red Sox clubhouse? Someone who would absolutely say something if teammates were behaving in a selfish, disinterested way? Plus Thome’s going to be much, much cheaper than Ortiz.

Ortiz had better be careful.

Terry Francona and Theo Epstein were icons in Boston as well and they’re gone. Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield are on the way out the door. Jonathan Papelbon and Kevin Youkilis could be right behind them.

The more Ortiz talks, the more the Red Sox might add him to the list of people they have to purge from the poisoned clubhouse to begin refurbishing and repairing.

He has few options and definitely won’t make the money he’s made in Boston.

My advice to him would be to shut up and hope the Red Sox forget that he was one of the players who should’ve and could’ve put a stop to the nonsense that went on there in 2011; nonsense that played a large part in sabotaging their season and started this mass exodus and changes that no one saw coming on September 1st.

Ortiz might get caught in the waterfall.

And he won’t be landing in New York.

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Fit Or Fat, Pretty Or Productive

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Look at this image of CC Sabathia from yesterday as he’s in mid-delivery.

Sabathia’s innings go up every single year, he racks up the marketable statistics and he’s money in the playoffs. He’s been fantastic this year even though his luck on ground balls in 2011 hasn’t been particularly good with a .254 BAbip (batting average on balls in play). In comparison both James Shieldslink, and Justin Verlander are at .177—link.

In short, he’s one of the top 5 pitchers in baseball and the Yankees don’t have to worry that he’s a pitch away from getting hurt.

Does Sabathia’s durability have something to do with his frame and, um, generous proportions?

It’s not something to ignore or accept as a baseline, but it’s something to consider.

David Wells was another corpulent pitcher who’d prefer to get beaten up by men half his size in a drunken late night foray to a Manhattan diner than come within two inches of a treadmill.

Babe Ruth would’ve used a Cybex machine as a bed.

On the other side there are pitchers whose physiques were something out of Muscle and Fitness but spent their entire lives on the disabled list for extended periods of time. Kevin Brown was shredded but had multiple injuries throughout a stellar career; there was an ad during the Athletics-Marlins game yesterday promoting the return of Rich Harden—he of the estimated 2% bodyfat. He’ll be back long enough to injure another part of his body and go back on the disabled list.

Mechanics and genetics have something to do with it, but could it be that—amid other factors—the extra weight is providing padding and protection that a more picturesque athlete doesn’t have?

This isn’t a suggestion to find players who aren’t considered aesthetically pleasing as an end unto itself, but to reconsider what’s considered “in shape” to walk on the beach and “in shape” to throw a baseball repeatedly and not injure oneself.

In his curmudgeonly way, Whitey Herzog once said (in around 1989) that if players “drank a beer or ate a steak” once in a while, maybe their ribcages would stop tearing off the bone.

Maybe he was right.

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