Youkilis Bookilis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s the same thing with Youkilis.

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

Who’s left?

Youkilis.

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

//

Advertisements

Yankees Belt-Tightening, Part II—the Aftereffects of Austerity

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

In normal circumstances, the words “austerity measures” would never be linked with “$200 million payroll,” but that’s where the Yankees currently are.

With that $200 million payroll and the upcoming strict penalties on franchises with higher payrolls, the mandate has come down from ownership for the Yankees to get the total down to $189 million by 2014. This will supposedly save as much as $50 million in taxes and they’ll be able to spend again after 2014.

I wrote about this in detail here.

But what will the team look like by 2014 and will players want to join the Yankees when they’re no longer the “Yankees,” but just another team that’s struggled for two straight years and whose future isn’t attached to the stars Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte who will either be gone by then or severely limited in what they can still accomplish?

To illustrate how far the Yankees have fallen under this new budget, the catcher at the top of their depth chart is Francisco Cervelli who couldn’t even stick with the big league club as a backup last season. They lost Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Eric Chavez, and Raul Ibanez. The latter three, they wanted back. They couldn’t pay for Martin, Chavez and Ibanez? What’s worse, they appeared to expect all three to wait out the Yankees and eschew other job offers in the hopes that they’d be welcomed back in the Bronx.

What’s worse: the ineptitude or the arrogance?

If George Steinbrenner were still around, he’d have said, “To hell with the luxury tax,” and qualified such an attitude by referencing the amount of money the team wasted over the years on such duds as Carl Pavano, Javier Vazquez, Kevin Brown, Steve Karsay, Kyle Farnsworth, Pedro Feliciano and countless others, many of whom were total unknowns to George, therefore he wouldn’t have received the convenient blame for their signings with a baseball exec’s eyeroll, head shake and surreptitious gesture toward the owner’s box, “blame him, not me,” thereby acquitting themselves when they were, in fact, guilty. But now, the bulk of the responsibility falls straight to the baseball people. He’d also be under the belief that the Yankees brand of excellence couldn’t withstand what they’re increasingly likely to experience in 2013-2014 and that the money would wind up back in their pockets eventually due to their success.

Are there financial problems that haven’t been disclosed? A large chunk of the YES Network was recently sold to Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. In years past, that money would’ve functioned as a cash infusion and gone right back into the construction of the club, but it hasn’t. They’re still not spending on players over the long term with that looming shadow of 2014 engulfing everything they plan to do. Every improvement/retention is on a one or two year contract: Kevin Youkilis—1-year; Hiroki Kuroda—1-year; Ichiro Suzuki—2-years. It’s hard to find younger, impact players when constrained so tightly and the players they’ve signed are older and/or declining which is why they were available to the Yankees on short-term contracts in the first place.

The Yankees don’t have any young players on the way up to bolster the veteran troops.

It takes inexplicable audacity for GM Brian Cashman to trumpet the pitching prospects the club was developing under stringent rules to “protect” them, then to dismiss their failures leading to a release (Andrew Brackman); a demotion to the lower minors to re-learn to throw strikes (Dellin Betances); and injury (Manny Banuelos). The reactions to the injuries to Banuelos, Jose Campos and Michael Pineda are especially galling. Banuelos’s injury—Tommy John surgery—was casually tossed aside by Cashman, pointing out the high success rate of the procedure as if it was no big deal that the pitcher got hurt. But he got hurt while under the restrictions the Yankees has placed on him—restrictions that were designed to simultaneously keep him healthy and develop him, yet wound up doing neither.

Campos was referenced as the “key” to the trade that brought Pineda; Campos was injured in late April with an undisclosed elbow problem and is now throwing off a mound and expected to be ready for spring training. That he missed almost the entire 2012 season with an injury the Yankees never described in full would give me pause for his durability going forward. The 2013 projections for Pineda to be an important contributor are more prayerful than expectant, adding to the uncertainty.

There’s a streamlining that may make sense in the long run such as the decision to drop StubHub as an official ticket reseller and instead move to Ticketmaster. They sold that chunk of YES and are in the process of slashing the payroll.

Any other team would be subject to a media firestorm trying to uncover the real reason for the sudden belt-tightening with the luxury tax excuse not be accepted at face value. Is there an underlying “why?” for this attachment to $189 million, the opt-out of the StubHub deal, and the sale of 49% of YES? The potential lost windfall of missing the post-season and the lack of fans going to the park, buying beer and souvenirs, paying the exorbitant fees to park their cars and bottom line spending money on memorabilia is going to diminish the revenue further.

Perhaps this is a natural byproduct of the failures to win a championship in any season other than 2009 in spite of having the highest payroll—by a substantial margin—in every year since their prior title in 2000. Could it be that the Steinbrenner sons looked at Cashman and wondered why Billy Beane, Brian Sabean, Andrew Friedman, and John Mozeliak were able to win with a fraction of the limitless cash the Yankees bestowed on Cashman and want him to make them more money by being a GM instead of a guy holding a blank checkbook? In recent years, I don’t see what it is Cashman has done that Hal Steinbrenner couldn’t have done if he decided to be the final word in baseball decisions and let the scouts do the drafting and he went onto the market to buy recognizable names.

Anyone can buy stuff.

Cashman’s aforementioned failures at development show his limits as a GM. It’s not easy to transform from the guy with a load of money available to toss at mistakes and use that cash as a pothole filler and be the guy who has no choice but to be frugal and figure something else out. Much like Hank Steinbrenner saying early in 2008 that the struggling righty pitcher Mike Mussina had to learn to throw like the soft-tossing lefty Jamie Moyer, it sounds easier when said from a distance and a “Why’s he doing it and you’re not?” than it is to implement.

No matter how it’s quantified, this Yankees team is reliant on the past production of these veteran players without the money that was there in the past to cover for them if they don’t deliver.

The fans aren’t going to want to hear about the “future.” They’re going to want Cashman and the Steinbrenners to do something. But given their inaction thus far in the winter of 2012-2013, it doesn’t look as if they’re going to with anyone significant.

This time, they don’t have a prior year’s championship to use as a shield. The Yankees were subject to a broom at the hands of the Tigers. That’s not a particularly coveted memory. In fact, it might have been a portent of what’s to come, except worse.

//

The Yankees’ $189 Million Reality

All Star Game, Award Winners, 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

The mandate the Yankees are under to reduce their payroll to $189 million by 2014 isn’t a capricious decision designed for ownership to maximize profits and for the baseball operations to bolster their credentials in the industry by winning without the limitless payroll that was one of the important hallmarks of the club from 1996 on through 2012 when they won five championships and made the playoffs every year but one. It can’t be avoided: the Yankees won year-after-year, in part, because of their spending power. While it’s an easy argument to say that with George Steinbrenner gone and the more thoughtful and less maniacal Hal Steinbrenner holding the most sway over the pursestrings, the family is trying to line their pockets to a greater degree—a degree that was secondary to the Boss’s bottom line: winning. It’s also an easy argument to make that GM Brian Cashman wants to lower the payroll to get his share of the credit pie that has gone to the new age thinkers in baseball like Billy Beane, Theo Epstein and Andrew Friedman because they were either working under parameters that made it a necessity for them to find bargains, get lucky, or formulate new strategies to compete with the big spenders in baseball; or, in Epstein’s case, were trying to win with a souped up version of Moneyball using stats backed up by a massive payroll.

Both are probably, to a point, accurate. But the Yankees are trying to get under the $189 million threshold by 2014 for the cold hard fact that if they don’t, they’re going to have to pay a penalty of 50% for going over that amount. It also has to be understood that the Yankees payroll will not be permanently limited by that 2014 number. If they’re under $189 in 2014, by 2015, they’ll again be able to spend as the Yankees have spent in the past—with no concept of restraint—because the penalty will revert to the lowest level of 17.5%.

It’s short-term. What this means in the near future, though, is that there won’t be the headlong dive into free agency and by taking huge contracts off the hands of other clubs in trades because right now the Yankees must be cognizant of their payroll. There’s no getting around it.

There are methods to achieve this end. Some clubs, like the Athletics and Rays, let their players play under the constraints of the collective bargaining agreement where they can’t be free agents until they’ve accumulated six years of service time. Or they sign them to long-term contracts that are agreeable to both sides, buy out their arbitration years and perhaps the first couple of years of free agency giving the players a guaranteed payday they might not get if they don’t perform or get injured. This is a method to keep the youngsters they’ve developed.

The Rays have essentially ensured that their star Evan Longoria will be a Ray for the duration of his career with the long term deals he signed as a rookie and the extension he agreed to last week. It’s conceivable that Longoria cost himself an extra $100 million or more with the contracts he signed. That’s his choice and the Rays took on significant risk as well.

Teams can do as Beane did a year ago (and several times before) and clear out the house of veterans who are set to make big money in exchange for the best prospects they can get their hands on and restart the process over and over again.

Or they can do what the Yankees are doing by signing veterans in their mid-to-late-30s to 1-year contracts, pay them handsomely, and hope they stay healthy and perform up to what they were in their primes.

Because the Yankees are saying they’re serious about this “$189 million by 2014” statement and have always backtracked on prior payroll-limiting endeavors, there’s a belief in the Yankees universe that they’re biding their time and waiting; that they’ll open the checkbook once they realize that a playoff appearance is something to be earned and not a birthright and that they’re ill-equipped to win in 2013 and 2014 as they’re currently constructed; that it’s a matter of time before they pull the same trick they did when they acted as if they had no interest in free agent first baseman Mark Teixeira and the Red Sox were widely expected to sign him before the Yankees struck with lightning quickness and decisiveness getting the first baseman and keeping him away from the Red Sox. This completed the 2008-2009 shopping spree with Teixeira joining CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett to repair the failure of 2008 when they had again tried to lower payroll by going with homegrown pitchers and were rewarded with a missed playoff spot and indignation permeating their organization, the media, and fans.

Here are the numbers to understand the circumstances the Yankees are now in. Their guaranteed contracts for 2014 are as follows:

Alex Rodriguez—$25 million

Mark Teixeira—$22.5 million

CC Sabathia—$23 million

Derek Jeter—$8 million player option ($3 million buyout)

That comes to $75.5 million. There are the players who are movable and exchangeable with other similar contracts such as Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, David Robertson, and Eduardo Nunez. So you can figure that the rest of the starting rotation and filling out the bullpen won’t be super-expensive. Robinson Cano is a free agent at the end of 2013, is represented by Scott Boras and will want somewhere between $190-220 million. Ignoring the risk of giving a lackadaisical player like Cano such a massive contract, they’ll do what needs to be done to keep him with a backloaded deal.

With all of that comes the vicious truth that for 2013, the Yankees are not jumping in on Zack Greinke; they’re not signing Josh Hamilton; and they’re not trading for Justin Upton (his no-trade clause includes the Yankees, so they’d have to redo his long-term contract). They let Russell Martin leave when it was widely reported that they wanted him back when the Pirates—the Pirates—gave him 2-years and $17 million. These are the same Pirates that once functioned as a big league farm club for the Yankees to take their stars off their hands for whatever crumbs of prospects the Yankees deigned to give them.

Losing Martin isn’t that big of a problem, but their current catching depth chart consists of Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart, Eli Whiteside, and minor leaguer Austin Romine. They don’t have a right fielder with the pending departure of Nick Swisher and the talk of bringing Ichiro Suzuki back comes more from the fans, media and Ichiro himself than it does from the Yankees. Maybe—maybe—they’re downplaying possible interest in Mike Napoli and will sign him to a team-friendly deal in which he’s paid well for 2013, has a reduction in salary in 2014, and has a back-end raise in years 3 and/or 4. This would be done based on need and to keep up appearances as the club is under expanding ridicule and anger for their lack of action.

This concept that their offense is still good enough is ignoring that they don’t have a catcher; they don’t have a right fielder; they don’t have a DH; Jeter won’t repeat 2012; and A-Rod and Curtis Granderson spent most of the second half of 2012 in a fog. They can’t go into 2013 with an offense looking like it does right now and logically believe they’re title contenders.

The 2013 team is elderly by athletic standards and the days of a 35-43-year old player posting numbers better than he did when he was 28 ended with drug testing. As much as Yankees apologists refer to the annual playoff appearance and utter pompous statements of “World Series or failure,” extolling the self-proclaimed “specialness” of the Yankees brand, the reality is that the Yankees are currently, on paper, the third best team in the AL East behind the Rays and Blue Jays; are in the same predicament with the Red Sox of clinging to what was; and have a resurgent Orioles club glaring at them from their wing rather than their posterior.

Jeter and Rivera are recovering from severe injuries; A-Rod is breaking down physically and when he can play is a threat emeritus rather than a mid-lineup basher—and now it’s being reported that A-Rod needs more hip surgery and may miss part of 2013; they have to rely on Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte to anchor the rotation behind Sabathia, who is also coming off of elbow surgery and has a massive amount of wear on his tires.

Is all of this likely to yield the same results it has in the past?

These are the Yankees of today and for the next two seasons. They have money, but it’s tied up. They’ll spend it, but it’s not going to be for long term improvements via the not-so-free market until after the 2014 season. By then they might be dealing with two years of missed playoffs, mediocrity or, if things go worst case scenario, finishes at or under .500. There’s a sense of disbelief among the media and fan that this is the way the Yankees are doing business; that it’s a ruse and everything will go on as before once they’ve grown tired of teasing their fans.

Don’t say the worst happen because it just happened to the Red Sox and, to a lesser degree, the Marlins, Phillies, and Angels. No one thought the Red Sox would ever fall to the depths that they did in 2012 and it can happen to the Yankees in 2013-2014. Dynasties—including that of the Yankees—have collapsed before. It’s not farfetched to predict their downfall again because the pieces are in place and getting more entrenched by the day. In fact, it’s inevitable.

//

Stereotypical Stupidity and Yu Darvish

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 2011 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

If teams shied away from making a posting bid on Yu Darvish because they didn’t want to spend the money on the fee and then to sign him to a contract, then okay.

If they weren’t impressed with his abilities, fine.

If they were legitimately concerned that he wouldn’t transition well, fair enough.

If they examined the past successes and failures of big name pitchers who came over from Japan—Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideki Irabu and even Kei Igawa—and decided the risk wasn’t worth the reward, I won’t quibble.

But if teams came up with the simplistic argument that because Darvish is coming over from Japan and the aforementioned pitchers were disappointing that he wasn’t worth a serious look, it’s a ridiculous and illogical case doomed to haunt those who, like me, believe strongly in Darvish’s potential.

Would any GM or scout in his right mind look at a pitcher from Ohio and say he wasn’t interested in him because of the failure of a pitcher from Florida if there were no similarities between them other than they were from the United States?

No. It would be seen as ludicrous and they wouldn’t be in their jobs for very long.

But that’s exactly the argument given when the Yankees–for example—are said to have been stung by Irabu and Igawa and weren’t going to go crazy for Darvish because of those pitchers.

Irabu was a pet project of George Steinbrenner who forced his way to the Yankees; he was hyped incessantly and the expectations were so stifling that no one could’ve lived up to them; Irabu had talent, but he needed to be allowed to grow accustomed to the big leagues without pressure from the media and ownership if he wasn’t spectacular immediately.

Igawa was a response by the Yankees to the Red Sox getting Matsuzaka. I’m convinced that they heard his name, maybe—maybe—looked at his stats and some tape and signed him without knowing what they were getting.

I’d hate the think the Yankees were employing talent evaluators who saw Igawa and decided to invest $46 million in him.

Yu Darvish is not Matsuzaka; he’s not Irabu; he’s not Igawa.

It’s the same thing as saying that because Francisco Cervelli and Wilson Ramos were both born in Valencia Carabobo, Venezuela that they’re the same talent and shouldn’t be viewed as anything other than that.

It’s idiotic.

Why compare Darvish to the pitchers that came over and failed? Why not compare him to Hiroki Kuroda? To Takashi Saito? To other Far Eastern players Chien-Ming Wang and Chan Ho Park? Pitchers who’ve done well?

His pitching has nothing in common with them either, but at least they were good.

Staying away from Darvish makes sense if that’s what scouts and financial freedom say is the smart thing to do, but to dismiss him because of his Japanese League pedigree is stereotypical stupidity at its lowest.

//

Latin Flavor Meets Texas Justice And The Culture Card

Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Games, Hall Of Fame, Management, Media, MiLB, Players, Playoffs, Prospects

In this New York Times piece about Francisco Cervelli, you find Cervelli justifying his over-the-top on-field antics by playing the culture card and essentially saying “it’s the way the game is played in Latin America”.

What’s lost in the self-righteousness is that Cervelli took exception to the way John Lackey retaliated for Cervelli’s in-your-face celebration by dispensing the type of Texas justice that Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Josh Beckett and any host of other players from the Lone Star State would have.

So it’s okay for Cervelli to express himself on the field in such an overt way because of his Italian heritage and Venezuelan upbringing, but not okay for Lackey to go back to his own formative years in how to play the game and conduct oneself appropriately and drill Cervelli in the back?

David Ortiz is quoted as agreeing with Cervelli as to the Latin emotionality sometimes coming out at inopportune moments, moments that may offend the opposition; but it’s not mentioned that Ortiz is a star player with the numbers and accomplishments to back up his bat flipping and other gestures that tend to annoy opponents and Francisco Cervelli is Francisco Cervelli.

Cervelli’s lucky to be in the big leagues; isn’t particularly good at anything; and for a backup catcher, he draws an awful lot of attention to himself the few times he does play. The only way he’s going to get a featured article about himself in the New York Times is when he almost starts a fight for dishing it out and not being able to take it.

Either accept the punishment for playing with a Latin flavor and run the risk of getting popped in the back, or knock it off.

Cervelli can do one or the other, but he can’t do both.

//

Cervelli’s Lucky It Was Lackey

All Star Game, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Players, Playoffs, Trade Rumors, Umpires

If Francisco Cervelli had been hitting against Don Drysdale, there’s a pretty good chance he’d be in the hospital now after getting hit in the head.

Because of Cervelli’s enthusiasm following his homer off of John Lackey in the Yankees 5-2 win over the Red Sox last night, he was rewarded with a fastball in the back—a pitch he took exception to.

And he shouldn’t have taken exception to it; he should’ve expected it.

Maybe Cervelli was watching the Little League World Series and somehow thought it was okay, in celebrating his 2nd home run of the year, to clap his hands so happily when he touched home plate.

But it’s not okay and Lackey was right to be angry and to retaliate.

You do that and you’re going to get popped. And you deserve it.

You can see the video below. (Naturally, it’s from someone having taped it from their TV and posted on YouTube.)

The Yankees defended their teammate; CC Sabathia was the most vocal in yelling at Lackey, but privately they knew it was coming; privately they knew it was appropriate.

Cervelli’s lucky it’s a different era from the 1960s when Drysdale stalked the mound with his massive 6’6″ frame and intimidating glower; or that it wasn’t Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez or Randy Johnson on the mound last night. Then the message would’ve been made much, much clearer with the long lasting mark on his body to prove it.

//

Montero Losing His Luster Is A Matter Of Perception

Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Management, Media, MLB Trade Deadline, Players, Trade Rumors

Or delusion.

There’s a floating concept that Yankees catching prospect Jesus Montero has become the epitome of the “yeah, we’ll take him, but what else you got?” when he’s mentioned as the centerpiece of any deal for an established player.

“They’re too willing to trade him.”

“He’s not a big league-caliber catcher.”

“He’s got an attitude problem.”

“The Yankees future catcher is Austin Romine, not Montero.”

Blah, blah, blah.

Perception is not reality. The reporters and executives frame the story as they prefer; while they may be true, they’re not often fair or in full context.

The reality with Montero is that he’s a 21-year-old catcher; he’s shown power and patience at every level; he doesn’t strike out a lot; and, based on the numbers, there’s every indication that he’s going to be able to translate those skills to the big leagues.

The idea that he’s not ready to catch in the majors has validity—either he’s ready or he’s not—but that doesn’t automatically mean he’s going to need to be permanently shifted from behind the plate to a corner position. Buster Posey wasn’t deemed ready to catch in the big leagues until mid-season 2010 because of the importance the Giants placed on handling their pitchers; once he was considered “ready”, he was excellent. If Montero can sit behind the plate and catch the ball while not embarrassing himself with his throwing, he can catch in the big leagues.

He’ll learn.

The attitude can be straightened out if it in fact does exist. He’s 21-years-old; 21-year-olds with the maturity of a Troy Tulowitzki, Derek Jeter or Evan Longoria aren’t as easy to find as it’s made out to be.

Romine might be the better choice for a long-term big league career behind the plate, but Montero is more advanced at the plate. Bear in mind that the Yankees were briefly enamored with Francisco Cervelli—Cervelli doesn’t even belong in the big leagues.

Teams have been reluctant to accept Montero as the main component of a trade because of these beliefs. The preference is for the Yankees young pitchers Manny Banuelos and/or Dellin Betances. But totally disregarding a package starting with Montero appears to be a mistake. Unless there are serious off-field issues we don’t know about, he has great value. He’s going to hit in the majors and a catcher who can function at a bare minimum defensively and hit is hard to come by.

//

Trade Targets For American League Contenders

Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, Management, Media, Players, Trade Rumors

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

Boston Red Sox

What they need: Starting pitching.

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York Yankees

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

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

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

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

Heath Bell is getting traded eventually.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tampa Bay Rays

What they need: A bat. Any bat.

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

Jim Thome would bash as the DH.

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

Detroit Tigers

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

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

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

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

Cleveland Indians

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

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

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

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

Texas Rangers

What they need: Starting pitching.

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

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

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

Los Angeles Angels

What they need: A bat; bullpen help.

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

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

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

//