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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It worked.

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

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

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

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

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Josh Hamilton Fallout

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Let’s look at how the Angels’ signing of Josh Hamilton will affect everyone involved.

Josh Hamilton

Southern California is a far better locale for Hamilton than New York, Boston or Philadelphia would have been and perhaps his time in Texas had come and gone. Amid all the talk of Hamilton being injury-prone, he played in 148 games in 2012. If the Angels get that out of him, they’ll be fine with it. The other storylines with Hamilton from last season suggesting he was distracted and disinterested, or that his numbers took a freefall after his 4 homer game in Baltimore in May are profoundly negative.

The facts are that Hamilton is still in his prime, had numbers nearly identical home/away, and hit 43 homers, with 128 RBI, and a .930 OPS. If he didn’t have the history of addiction problems, he would’ve gotten $200 million on the open market even with the injury history. Those personal demons will constantly be there and no location—Southern California, Arlington, Boston, New York, Philly—would shield him from temptation or the desire to escape when things aren’t going his way. The Angels must put him under what amounts to Secret Service protection/surveillance to keep him straight.

As crazy as it sounds, considering his on-field production, for 5-years and $125 million, the Angels got a discount if Hamilton is clean and healthy for his majority of his tenure with the team.

Los Angeles Angels

Buster Olney said the following on Twitter:

It’s become evident that this Hamilton deal was made over the head of the Angels’ baseball operations department.

If this is true, then the Angels’ situation is worse than I thought.

Their lineup is one of the most intimidating in baseball, but their entire template of speed, defense, starting and relief pitching has changed while they’re keeping aspects of their old methods of doing business (manager Mike Scioscia) and their new methods of doing business (GM Jerry Dipoto) with open interference from non-baseball people that is reminiscent of George Steinbrenner trashing the Yankees in the 1980s after dispatching of all the qualified people—Gabe Paul, Gene Michael, Al Rosen—who put a check on his whims in the 1970s. In those times, Paul was able to say to Steinbrenner something to the tune of, “If you trade Ron Guidry, it’s going to be your deal and you’ll be responsible if it goes bad.”

Steinbrenner backed off because the last thing he wanted was to be the final man standing when the music stops in the game of responsibility.

That’s what the Angels are becoming: the 1980s Yankees, and Arte Moreno is starting to act like Steinbrenner.

It’s going to end the same way as the 1980s Yankees did too.

I get the sense that Scioscia’s not going to last beyond May of 2013 as manager through a “this isn’t working,” “let’s put him out of his misery,” style dismissal. This Angels group isn’t his type of team and perhaps he’d be better off elsewhere, escaping this ship as it starts to leak and before it sinks completely.

One name to watch if this goes bad and Scioscia’s out: Tony LaRussa. He might be rested and bored with retirement; he has the star power Moreno clearly wants; would look at the Angels as an opportunity to win another title quickly; he can deal with Albert Pujols and maybe—maybe—cobble it together if it goes as I think it’s going to go with Scioscia and this foreign, star-studded crew of mercenaries: poorly.

The American League

The Rangers were blindsided by the Angels rapid strike on Hamilton, but much of their dismay could be partially due to not having gotten anything else they wanted—Justin Upton, Zack Greinke—this winter; and partially to keep up appearances as to wanting Hamilton back desperately. I don’t think they did. In the long-run, they’re better off that he left. The relationship had run its course.

The Athletics are so young and oblivious that the vast majority of them won’t realize that Hamilton is on the Angels until they’re in Anaheim and they seem him striding up to the plate. “When did the Angels get Hamilton?” They won’t be too bothered either.

The Mariners are a farce. Now they’re reduced to the née “Amazin’ Exec” Jack Zduriencik signing Jason Bay to “boost” their offense with reports that they were “in the hunt” on Hamilton to the very end.

How nice. So…so….close!!!

Zduriencik’s close to something alright. That something is getting fired. Don’t be surprised if there’s a new braintrust in place in Seattle before 2013 is over with perhaps Pat Gillick returning to the Mariners as the man in charge of baseball ops and Mike Arbuckle as day-to-day GM.

The Yankees and Red Sox are staging their own wrestling match as to which of them can make the more desperate and inexplicable signings to cling to what the world was like 10 years ago instead of accepting today’s reality. Ryan Dempster, Ichiro Suzuki, Kevin Youkilis, Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli—all are short-term painkillers to persuade the fans that it’s all going to be okay. They can look toward the West and worry about the clubs vying for playoff spots as a diversionary tactic from their mano-a-mano battle for the bottom of the AL East, because that’s what they’re fighting for if they stay as currently constructed.

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Joe Girardi Needs to Channel Saul Goodman and Other “I Woulds” From the Yankees Disaster

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You can get a postmortem on the 2012 Yankees anywhere and most of them are partisan and ridiculous. The autopsy and dissection of this carcass will be extensive and tantamount to a bunch of animals crawling all over one another to get a piece of the dead, rotting meat with no logic, reason, or intelligence. Primal and mindless, the excuses, prescriptions, suggestions, demands, and shifting of the narrative will have little to do with what actually can and will be done.

Instead of that, let’s look at the individuals in this tragicomedy, what they should do and more importantly, what they will do.

Joe Girardi—Manager

Is it his fault? No. Is he totally devoid of responsibility? He wasn’t until GM Brian Cashman came out and said the decision to bench Alex Rodriguez was made between the manager, coaching staff, and him.

Considering all the garbage Girardi has to deal with on and off the field with an overpaid and veteran club along with the injuries and scrutiny, I don’t think there’s one manager who could have gotten more out of this team than Girardi got.

Ultimately, he’s responsible for the players—specifically Robinson Cano’s—lack of hustle, but unless he’s got support from the front office to bench him or try to get him to run out ground balls, act like he cares and isn’t entitled to do whatever he wants, benching the player would do no good.

In an episode of Breaking Bad, the amoral attorney Saul Goodman becomes the representative of meth manufacturers/dealers Walter White and Jesse Pinkman when they drag him into the desert to threaten him if his client Badger (Jesse’s friend) talks after being arrested.

Jesse: Listen to me very carefully. You are going to give Badger Mayhew the best legal representation ever. But no deals with the DEA! Badger will not identify anyone to anybody. If he does, you’re dead!

Saul: Why don’t you just kill Badger?

This is what Girardi has to do if they try to fire him by saying, “Why blame me? Blame Cashman!” Is it dragging Cashman down with him? Maybe. Does Cashman deserve it if he tries to blame Girardi for this mess? Absolutely.

Here are Girardi’s choices: A) Do what I say he should do; B) Tell the Yankees that if he’s going to run this team, he can’t do it on the last year of his contract in 2013 and ask for a contract extension that they won’t give him and get himself fired; C) wait it out and see what happens in 2013. If they get off to a bad start, he’s getting the axe (if he survives this winter).

What will Girardi do?

Nothing. He’ll wait. I strongly doubt he’s getting fired.

Brian Cashman—General Manager

If Cashman cites anything other than what he himself has done, then I’d fire him immediately. The complaints about Rafael Soriano being shoved down his throat against his will lost all viability when Soriano took over for the injured Mariano Rivera and was brilliant, probably saving the Yankees’ playoff spot along the way because they didn’t have anyone else who could close and had traded the useful prospects that might’ve gotten them a closer for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos.

It was Cashman who put this team together relying on the home run above all else. It was Cashman who traded two useful prospects (if only to trade for someone who actually would’ve contributed) for Pineda and Campos—both on the disabled list.

It was Cashman who left this team without a viable bench to sit the players who needed to be sat down in the playoffs. They had no super-utility player to replace Derek Jeter and A-Rod; no center fielder to sit Curtis Granderson; not enough bench strength to bench Nick Swisher or Cano if they chose to punish him for his disinterest.

This is Cashman’s team. He put it together and he’s responsible for it. And I don’t mean a hollow, “The responsibility ends with me,” as Cashman will say. I mean actual responsibility in that, “You made this mess; you embarrassed the organization with your behavior away from the office; you’ve been here too long; and you’re fired.”

I’d fire Cashman. Damon Oppenheimer or Billy Eppler can’t do much worse. Or maybe see if Gene Michael or Pat Gillick wanted to do the job for a couple of years to groom Oppenheimer or Eppler to take over.

What will happen with Cashman?

I think it’s a 55% chance that he’s back and no more than that.

A-Rod—Aging star and gadfly

The noise has begun. A-Rod wants to stay. They don’t have anyone to replace him. He can still play. Blah and blah and blah.

I would not pay his entire contract to get him off the team, but I would see if I can move him. It’s over and the sideshow that was once mitigated by his on-field performance is now just a sideshow.

I’d do everything within reason to get him out.

What will happen with A-Rod?

They’ll get rid of him, somehow, some way.

Rafael Soriano—Relief pitcher

He’s opting out of his contract and is leaving.

What they’ll do:

Say goodbye.

Kevin Long—Hitting coach

He’s gone. It’s not his fault, but it wasn’t his doing when they were going well. Girardi didn’t sound too thrilled with Long when Long suggested the Yankees should play more small ball. It was a shot (presumably unintentional) at the manager and the manager has the last word in situations like this.

Robinson Cano—Second baseman

They’re not going to let him enter 2013 in his walk year and after getting swept, they’ll want to have a “positive” feeling. This can be accomplished by signing their star second baseman to a long-term contract.

If I were agent Scott Boras, I would redact the 2012 post-season from the Blue Book of Accomplishments he prepares for all of his free agents as if it’s a classified government memo and claim that it never happened.

I would think very long and hard about signing Cano to a long-term deal at age 31 and with his growing laziness.

Curtis Granderson—Center fielder

They’ll exercise his contract option and scan the market to see if they can: A) deal Granderson; B) get a replacement such as Denard Span, Shane Victorino, Dexter Fowler, or someone.

Nick Swisher—Outfielder/first baseman

Bye. Good luck getting the Jayson Werth contract you implied you wanted.

Andy Pettitte—Left-handed starting pitcher

Ask for a definitive answer as to what he’s doing in 2013 with no Roger Clemens-style vacillation. Either he wants to play or he doesn’t and if he doesn’t, it’s time to move on.

What Pettitte will do:

I think he’s going to retire.

Ichiro Suzuki—Outfielder

They might think about brining Ichiro back, but I wouldn’t. They got him for nothing; they got use from him; he’s extremely limited as a player and at his age won’t maintain the good work he did for the Yankees over a full season.

What they’ll do:

They’ll let him leave.

This is a crumbling municipality with a set of power brokers at the controls who are desperately trying to patch it together; the man in charge of baseball operations has made a series of unforgiveable gaffes; the baseball people are powerless.

Changes need to be made, but they’re not going to make the most significant and necessary ones. They’ll move forward with this failed template and the results will be predictable. There’s not an endless domination from year-to-year. They haven’t taken steps to replace the aging and broken down core and are reliant on players who are 38 and above. Jeter and Rivera, at their ages, are coming back from serious injuries that required surgery; Pettitte is going year-to-year and day-to-day and as good as he was on the mound and in the clubhouse, the “will I? or won’t I?” stuff is a hindrance to the off-season plans.

They’re old; they’re expensive; they’re comfortable; they’re limited.

This cannot be repaired on the fly. It’s a hard lesson that’s been proven and no air of superiority and proclamations of “we’re different” can skirt these facts. They’ll try. And they’ll fail. Just like the 2012 (and 2011 and 2010) versions of this team.

It’s unavoidable. The thing is coming down and they’re not going to do what must be done to stop it.

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American League East—2012 Present and 2013 Future

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Let’s look at the current construction of each club and make an honest appraisal of their 2012 status and 2013 future. We’ll start with the AL East.

Baltimore Orioles

As an excuse to justify how brilliant they are and that their numbers are never wrong, it’s en vogue for the stats-obsessed to repeatedly reference how “lucky” the Orioles are because of their negative run differential and that their record under the shaky metric of the Pythagorean Win Theorem has them 12 games worse than their actual record.

The Orioles have three major attributes: they hit the ball out of the park; they have a deep bullpen; and they have a manager in Buck Showalter who knows how to push the right buttons. Bullpens fluctuate so there’s no guarantee that will continue into 2013; they’ll still have players who hit the ball out of the park; and Showalter is discussing a contract extension.

Their starting rotation are all in their mid-20s and they have young players Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado set to make contributions. The Orioles may take a step back next year, but they’ve turned the corner from a laughingstock where no player would choose to go unless they’re overpaid or without options to a viable destination with a plan and a chance to win. And they have a great shot at the playoffs this season.

New York Yankees

Anyone speculating about Joe Girardi’s job security is looking for a scapegoat and trying to distract from the real culprits in the team’s inconsistency and age: Brian Cashman and, to a lesser extent, the Steinbrenners.

If this team doesn’t make the playoffs, they’re going to have to make structural changes to the roster. The constant discussion of their 10 games lead in July is glossing over the fact that they’ve had one good month—June when they went 20-7. Aside from that, they’re around a .500 team and making the playoffs in 2012 is in jeopardy. They’re old, expensive, and worn down. It remains to be seen what this veteran crew is going to have left in the tank even if they do make the playoffs

All of a sudden criticism has been extended to hitting coach Kevin Long for the slide of Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, among others. Long might be gone, playoffs or not. The Yankees minor league system is dwindling in stature and legitimate prospects, thereby limiting what they’ll be able to acquire on the market; their open decision to try and reduce payroll to prevent luxury tax implications will also reduce their options to improve the team on the fly.

If they fall from the playoffs or are a one-and-done scenario, I’d fire Cashman not just for his incompetent trade for Michael Pineda and failure to address needs at the trading deadline, but also because I still have an issue with him having written a reference on team letterhead for either his girlfriend or a woman that was blackmailing him. His judgment on and off the field is highly questionable.

Maybe it’s time for Billy Eppler to get a chance or to even bring back Gene Michael for a 2-3 year run as GM.

Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays are loaded with young pitching, aggressive in making trades, and build a different bullpen every year with the refuse of other clubs. Because they are operating under severe financial constraints and the scrutiny around them is limited, they can do what they want and live with a season of 83-79 or worse to get back to 95 wins the next season. This is what they are and how they’ll remain under the current management.

Toronto Blue Jays

Edwin Encarnacion hit his 40th home run last night. He joins Jose Bautista as a journeyman player who suddenly starting hitting the ball out of the park with a ridiculous frequency for the Blue Jays. But they’re still the same team that discovers a player for whom it clicked in his late-20s, and winds up with a win total between 75-83 and is in third or fourth place in the division.

Their manager John Farrell is in demand to take over the Red Sox and the Blue Jays don’t sound all that bothered about it. Their entire starting rotation has spent time on the disabled list for one malady or another. Their offense is flashy, but as inconsistent as their would-be star pitcher Brandon Morrow.

It’s just off in Toronto. They do noticeable things like make aggressive trades, hit homers and steal bases, but they don’t win. I don’t hear people referring to GM Alex Anthopoulos as a genius much anymore. What are they thinking North of the border when they spent so many years jumping at the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays like a child trying to recover a confiscated toy, then see the Red Sox come apart, the Yankees vulnerable, and the Rays beatable and that it’s the Orioles and not the Blue Jays who are taking advantage?

I thought the Blue Jays would take the next step this season, but that belief has been prevalent for a decade and they’re frozen in place. I’m not picking them again unless they make significant changes on and off the field.

Boston Red Sox

On some level, I understand what they did when they hired Bobby Valentine to replace Terry Francona. I’m not one who’s seeing their atrocious season as validating Francona is some bizarre way. He and Theo Epstein take as much responsibility if not more as Larry Lucchino and Valentine in 2012. They were trying to move forward with the roster as it was, make a few tweaks here and there, and see if it got better. It didn’t and it’s not Valentine’s fault.

They got rid of Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and Carl Crawford, saved money and bolstered the farm system. But if you think they’re going to hire Farrell or whoever; sign a few free agents with the available money or make a big trade and they’ll be back to where they were as World Series favorites, you’ve got another thing coming. There’s a lot of work to do in Boston and it’s not going to be a short-term process. If they go half-in/half-out and try to straddle the line as they did last winter, expect more of the same in 2013.

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Jorge Posada and the Hall of Fame

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Jorge Posada is reportedly set to announce his retirement. Let’s take a look at his Hall of Fame credentials.

Comparable players.

Catchers are held to a different standard because they have to handle the pitching staff; throw out basestealers; be the prototypical “field general”; and if they’re going to be in the Hall of Fame conversation, they have to hit.

Statistically, there are the no-doubt Hall of Famers like Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey and Mickey Cochrane.

Then you have Gary Carter and Carlton Fisk who are in the Hall of Fame, but didn’t waltz in in their first year of eligibility.

There are the upcoming catchers who will get in because of a superior part of their game counteracting the weak spots and questions. Mike Piazza has power numbers that no catcher has ever posted; Ivan Rodriguez is close to 3000 hits, over 300 homers and was a defensive weapon who stopped the running game by his mere presence.

After that, you have the players trapped in the “are they or aren’t they” limbo. They have credentials for enshrinement, but reasons to keep them out. Thurman Munson, Bill Freehan and Javy Lopez (seriously) can state cases for the Hall of Fame that wouldn’t elicit an immediate “no”, but won’t get in.

Posada is borderline and hovering between the Carter/Fisk wing and Munson/Freehan/Lopez.

Offensively.

A switch-hitting catcher with a career batting record of 275 homers; .273 average, .374 on base percentage, .474 slugging percentage; and an .848 OPS/121 OPS+ has better overall numbers than Fisk and Carter. Fisk’s numbers were bolstered by playing seven more seasons than Posada.

Bench hit nearly 400 homers; Piazza was an offensive force; Cochrane batted .320 for his career with a .419 on base, had power and rarely struck out.

Rodriguez benefited from a friendly home park and, like Piazza, is suspected of PED use. Piazza was never implicated on the record; anecdotal evidence and the era have combined to put him under the microscope and he’s considered guilty due to his rise from a 62nd round draft pick as a favor to Tommy Lasorda to perennial MVP contender. Rodriguez was implicated and there’s statistical evidence in the decline of his power numbers from before testing began and after.

No one ever mentioned Posada as a PED case.

Defense.

There’s more to catching than baseline numbers like passed balls and caught stealing percentage.

Posada’s career caught stealing percentage was 28%. During his career, the Major League average has been between 26% and 32%. Posada was average at throwing out runners. The pitchers quickness to the plate, ability at holding runners and reputation are factors that have to be accounted for. Rodriguez didn’t have people stealing on him; Posada was dealing with some slow-to-the-plate pitchers like Roger Clemens and David Cone and he wasn’t catching much of the time that Andy Pettitte was pitching—runners didn’t steal on Pettitte because of his ability to keep runners close.

If you’d like to compare the pitchers’ results based on the catcher, you can’t say that Posada was “worse” than his nemesis/partners/backups. In 1998, the numbers were better with Posada than they were with Joe Girardi.  In 1999 they were nearly identical with Posada and Girardi.

By 2000, Posada was catching nearly every day.

The managers play a large part in that perception of good or poor defense. Joe Torre was a former catcher who wasn’t going to compromise defense behind the plate for offense. With the Cardinals, it was Torre who replicated the move he made as a player himself by shifting Todd Zeile to third base and installing defensive stalwart Tom Pagnozzi as his catcher. When managing the Braves, Biff Pocoroba was a better hitter than Bruce Benedict, but Benedict was far superior defensively and that’s who Torre played.

When he took over the Yankees, in a concession to the way Torre liked to run his team, GM Bob Watson took the unpopular step of replacing the beloved Mike Stanley with Girardi and it worked exactly as planned.

Torre was not going to play Posada if he was inept behind the plate and it wouldn’t have mattered how much he hit.

Posada’s defense and game-calling became an issue after Torre left and Girardi took over as manager. The relationship between Posada and Girardi was never good. It was an understandable byproduct between two very competitive people who wanted the same job when they were playing; but when Girardi took over as manager, it was his job to get the pitchers and Posada on the same page and he didn’t do it; he allowed younger pitchers like Joba Chamberlain to join in the chorus of complaints about Posada’s game-calling led by CC Sabathia; it should’ve been squashed; that’s on the manager.

Ancillaries.

Posada has five championship rings. The first one, in 1996, had nothing to do with him; but he was a key component in the other four. Feisty and fiery, Posada’s leadership was more understated than that of his counterpart Derek Jeter; it was Posada who was Jeter’s thug and the muscle who enacted Jeter’s edicts; if a player was acting up and Jeter wanted him spoken to, it was Posada who carried out the order.

He was an All Star and Silver Slugger winner five times.

Posada was drafted as a second baseman and converted to catching in the minors. There’s long been a myth that there was a grand plan on the part of the Yankees to build from within and a prescient ability to spot talent led them to Posada, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera (three-fourths of the “core four” along with Jeter) as late rounders and free agent signees. Reality sabotages that story.

Much like the Cardinals didn’t know they were getting this era’s Joe DiMaggio when they drafted Albert Pujols on the 13th round of the 1999 draft, the Yankees didn’t know what they were getting when they selected Posada in the 24th round and Pettitte in the 22nd round in 1990. Had George Steinbrenner not been suspended in the early 1990s, it’s unlikely that Posada or Pettitte would have become the stars they did, at least in Yankees uniforms. The team was lucky that Gene Michael and Buck Showalter had the opportunity to rebuild the team correctly and give these players a chance to develop, the players took it from there.

The Yankees have no desire to bring him back in 2012 and the relationship between he and the club is strained, but because he’s retiring while he can still contribute as a hitter and won’t wear another uniform to pad his stats only makes his candidacy more palatable to certain voters.

Will Posada be elected and when?

I believe Posada will eventually be elected by the writers but it won’t be on the first ballot; that lofty accomplishment is limited to catchers like Bench. Fisk waited until his 2nd year; Carter waited until his 6th year on the ballot; Posada will probably have to wait at least that long and probably longer.

I’ll venture a guess that it’s going to be nine or ten years and as long as no PED accusations or proof of their use is uncovered, he’ll be inducted.

Jorge Posada had a great career and is worthy of election to the Hall of Fame.

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MLB CBA—The Draft Changes Explained In Plain English

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The changes to the draft are complicated and their understanding is fluid—the reactions to the announcement of the changes were immediate and angry and didn’t appear to be fully grasped before they were made public.

Jim Callis explains the changes and why they might not be as awful as feared here on Baseball America.

Wendy Thurm explains the entire deal in the most easily graspable piece I’ve read on the subject here on Baseball Nation.

I’ll go bit by bit. (If I’m inaccurate or wrong, let me know. I won’t yell…this time.)

Limiting the bonuses.

There will be a yet-to-be-defined limit on how much teams can spend on their selections in the first 10 rounds without penalty.

The limit will be based on what was spent in total (aggregate) the prior season; it will be higher than the year previous.

Penalties are as follows (from the Baseball Nation piece):

Teams that exceed the ceiling by 5% will be taxed 75%; teams that exceed it by 5-10% will be taxed 75% and lose a first-round draft pick the following year. If a team goes over by 10-15%, the tax will be 100% with the loss of first- and second-round draft picks. Draft spending at 15% more than permitted will be taxed 100% and the team will lose two first-round picks.

Callis explains why it’s not going to be as horrible as initially thought:

In 2011, clubs spent a record $228 million on draft bonuses, and 20 of them exceeded their aggregate slot totals for the first 10 rounds by at least 15 percent.

However, the initial assumption that the new penalties would be based on something near the old slots doesn’t appear to be correct. Last year, MLB valued the total worth of the 331 picks in the first 10 rounds at $133 million. Those slot numbers were less that MLB’s guidelines from five years earlier, however, and were 44 percent lower than the $192 million teams paid to sign 303 of those players.

MLB won’t get to unilaterally decide the worth of draft picks going forward, though. It negotiated the values with the union, and they reportedly (and not surprisingly) will be much higher.

To the best of my understanding, this means that teams won’t be able to dump wads of cash on players who are consensus blue-chip stars without penalty. There won’t be any Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper bonuses nor a Major League contract.

Teams won’t be as willing to take shots on players who are coming out of high school or are college juniors  and offer then a check with enough zeroes to coax them to sign.

If a club thinks the player is worth it, then they’ll pay to get him signed. A Strasburg-level talent is going to get his money one way or the other, it just won’t be $15 million.

The players aren’t exactly free to take their talents elsewhere.

Like a fee for a loan or a closing cost, the percentage of the penalty can be folded into the bonus and shared by the team and the player. If a player isn’t interested in signing or having his check reduced, he’ll have a choice of not signing; but if he has nowhere to go and his amateur status has run out, he and the team that selected him will have extra motivation to get a deal done.

Where’s Strasburg going if he doesn’t sign?

I’m sure Scott Boras has a scheme running through his head as he sits in his darkened lair, his fingers tented, head bent slightly downward with his hooded eyelids barely glaring off into the unknowable darkness, but what he’s going to do to circumvent the new draft rules and the restrictions?

Fewer high school players will be selected in the early rounds if they’re represented by a Boras-type who’s going to demand they get paid regardless of any penalties.

“This is a special talent that deserves special treatment,” he’ll say.

But if there’s an Alex Rodriguez sitting there, a team is going to pick him and pay him.

Fewer clubs will gamble on a Todd Van Poppel.

In 1990, Van Poppel repeatedly said he was going to college at the University of Texas and that MLB clubs shouldn’t bother wasting a pick on him. This was a windfall for the club with the first pick in that year’s draft—the Braves—because they wound up taking Chipper Jones as a “consolation”.

Some consolation.

The Athletics had extra picks in the draft that year, so they picked Van Poppel 14th, offered him a $500,000 bonus and a Major League contract.

He signed and had a journeyman career. Whether or not going to college would’ve exposed his flaws—a lack of movement on his fastball; poor secondary stuff; terrible control—or helped him hone his talents is the height of 20/20 hindsight. Who knows?

Teams will undoubtedly go for a deep strike in this way if they can afford it. Those Athletics under then-GM Sandy Alderson spent money at all levels of the organization and were a championship caliber big league team willing to “waste” a pick for that kind of notable talent. That will happen again independent of financial penalty.

The expected quality of the next year’s draft and who will be available will directly influence this kind of decision; if there’s a weak draft class, a team isn’t going to spend crazily for a “maybe” and risk losing the next year’s picks and vice versa.

The owners; current big leaguers; and “choosing other sports”.

Owners care about saving money; big league players don’t care about the amateurs and are somewhat jealous of players who’ve accomplished nothing professionally getting a huge payday for being a draft pick.

As for the “great athletes going to different sports”, it’s a little presumptuous to believe that a young athlete can translate his talents from baseball to basketball (where height is a great equalizer) and football (where the monetary benefits are limited; the contracts are not guaranteed; and the abuse on one’s body is exponential).

Intelligent pragmatism will take precedence.

At 5’11”, 150 pounds, could Greg Maddux have chosen to play football? Maddux was so small that when he reached the majors, then-Cubs manager Gene Michael thought he was a new batboy.

Carlton Fisk was a terrific basketball player, but he’s 6’3″. Would that have worked out better than baseball, where he became a Hall of Famer?

I suppose Prince Fielder could play football and be an offensive lineman; Matt Kemp could be a linebacker; the 6’8″ Doug Fister could be a forward in basketball. But how many players truly have that option?

Mark Schlereth told the story about his nudging of his son Daniel away from football into baseball. Daniel Schlereth was a quarterback, but is 6’0″. The number of NFL quarterbacks who are that short and get a chance to play are extremely limited. The Hall of Fame caliber offensive lineman Mark Schlereth‘s “nudge” can put you through a wall; in this case it sent his son to baseball.

Even if they’re not getting a $7 million bonus for signing their names, $2 million is still a lot of money—enough money to have a pretty nice, leisurely life provided they don’t purchase ten cars and impregnate 5 women simultaneously; in other words, as long as they’re not stupid.

If a player like Joe Mauer (who’s used as an example in the Baseball Nation article) decides he wants to go and play football and baseball in college and walk away from a still-large bonus and run the risk of having his knee torn out in a scrimmage and having nothing, then that’s his choice.

It’d be pretty short-sighted though.

The draft is the ultimate crapshoot.

The idiocy of the Moneyball “card-counting” concept in which the Billy Beane-led A’s were drafting “ballplayers” rather than jeans models looked terrific…until they began playing the game professionally and their verifiable results from the amateur ranks, lo and behold, didn’t translate to the professional arena.

Some made it to the big leagues and played well; some made it to the big leagues and didn’t; some failed in the minors; some got hurt.

In other words, it was a typical draft.

The 2002 Moneyball draft for the Athletics was about as mediocre as the those of the teams that weren’t led by a “genius” nor guided by a computer.

This concept that teams who invest in the draft or have a “system” are going to get an automatically positive result through that conscious choice are ignoring the fact that the draft is the ultimate crapshoot. It’s perception that feeds the circular viewpoint that building through the draft is a guarantee to success. For every team like the Rays and Giants who’ve benefited from a detailed focus on player development and savvy trades, there are clubs like the Indians that hoarded their draft picks and dealt away veterans for top prospects and got middling-to-poor results.

These alterations will actually benefit teams in ways they haven’t thought about before.

The changes to the draft bonus money will limit the number of players who are kept around mainly because they had a large amount of money paid to them and the front office wants to save face by not admitting they made a mistake.

The days of “projects” or “tools guys” who are allowed to hit .220 and be baseball clueless or have zero command, zero breaking stuff, a lights-out fastball and little else will mercifully end. Performance or a deep belief in the ability of the player will be placed to the forefront rather than salvaging money or preventing public embarrassment for drafting and paying a player who couldn’t play.

The media tantrums.

You’ll see people in the media and bloggers who make their way and garner attention “analyzing” the MLB draft squawking in self-righteous indignation at the way the draft is bastardized and small market teams will suffer.

It’s an agenda-laden lament stemming from a hidden self-interest.

Because the number of players from whom to select will be limited, there won’t be the opportunity to “assess” and conjure mock drafts.

The mock-drafts and attempts to turn the MLB draft into an extravaganza the likes of the NFL, NHL and NBA are ignoring the limited knowledge of the players drafted and that the game of professional baseball, unlike the other sports, is totally different from the amateurs.

In football, they use different schemes and tactics from college to the NFL, but the game is the same.

In basketball, the 3-point line is closer in college; in the NBA the defense is better and the players are faster, but the game is the same.

In hockey, it’s hockey. The players are bigger and faster; the goalies are better, but it’s the same activity.

None of those sports make it possible to function as an entity unto oneself.

But in amateur baseball, they’re using aluminum bats and living under the thumbs of coaches and parents who tell the players what to do and when to do it under the threat of lost scholarships and playing time. In the pros, they’re using wooden bats, playing in poorly lighted stadiums with pebble-strewn infields in front of sparse crowds and clawing their way to the big leagues in a primordial rise where winning is secondary to the battle between pitcher and hitter.

In the other major sports, players cannot function without their teammates; in baseball, it’s individualism with a team construct and this cannot be replicated from one venue to the other.

The bottom line.

Changes are part of baseball and initially scoffed at as “ruining the game”.

Branch Rickey created the first farm system by buying up minor league franchises; it was ridiculed an eventually became the norm.

Baseball adjusted.

The draft was designed to prevent the Yankees from signing all the top players because they had all the money, championships and “lore” to lure (see what I did there?) to get the players to want to be Yankees.

Baseball adjusted.

The end of the reserve clause; divisional play; expansion; the Wild Card; advanced stats—you can find any change that was proposed and implemented and find fault with it; locate blanket statements from “experts” or “insiders” talking about ruining the game.

But the game’s still here.

It’s evolving.

It will adapt.

It will survive.

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This Is Not About Theo Epstein (That Comes Later)

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Panic abounds in Boston as the prospect of a trifecta of organizational dysfunction beckons. Following the humiliating collapse and requisite sniping, backbiting and blaming one another has come the departures of the two men who were out front of the Red Sox revival, manager Terry Francona and GM Theo Epstein.

Never mind the fact that many managers could have and would have won with that roster full of talent; ignore that there are GM candidates everywhere and no one is irreplaceable, it’s a triple shot of torment to an organization that had grown so used to success that they’ve forgotten how expectantly painful it was to be a Red Sox fan.

Here are the facts with Epstein and the Red Sox: they were gutsy; they were lucky; they filled the front office with smart people; and they won.

Will Epstein have the same success with the Cubs?

Maybe.

Maybe not.

Do you know how the Red Sox managed to draft Clay Buchholz? Dodgers scouting guru Logan White wanted to draft Buchholz, but was overruled by Paul DePodesta who wanted Luke Hochevar.

The Dodgers drafted Hochevar…and failed to sign him.

So the Red Sox got Buchholz.

They were lucky with David Ortiz, whom they signed as an “oh him” guy.

They were lucky that no one ever took them up on the multiple times they tried to dump Manny Ramirez.

They were lucky that the exalted genius Billy Beane turned down the offer to be GM after initially accepting. (Be funny if they hired him now!)

They were smart in ignoring conventional wisdom—Moneyball and otherwise—and wound up with the likes of Dustin Pedroia.

The key for the Red Sox was the utter ruthlessness with which they dispatched players who either wanted too much money or too many years as free agents or were no longer performing and were traded.

The dealing of Nomar Garciaparra in 2004 was an act of heresy; without it, they likely would not have won the World Series that year.

There never would have been a trade for Josh Beckett had Epstein not resigned in a power-grabbing snit after 2005; and with that trade came the MVP of the 2007 World Series, Mike Lowell—whom they were forced to take!

Letting Pedro Martinez and Jason Bay leave turned out to be prescient decisions that didn’t work out well for the players in any aspect aside from their pockets and has ended positively for the Red Sox.

The era of the rock star GM has created this concept of the all-seeing, all-knowing expert at the top of the pyramid. It’s nice, neat, salable and a load of garbage.

People don’t want the truth that Epstein was hired as a face of the franchise in part because Larry Lucchino didn’t want to do the GM grunt work. But the puppet started tearing at his strings quickly as his reputation grew and the struggle became an uneasy truce.

The Red Sox will get someone else if Epstein leaves. Presumably it will be someone intelligent and willing to listen to others—something that perhaps Epstein no longer wants to do.

It could be an inspired maneuver like the Rays decision to hand control over to Andrew Friedman; or it might be as disastrous as the Jack (Amazin’ Exec) Zduriencik tenure as Mariners GM.

Who deserves the credit or blame? The person who wrote the song? The guy who sang it? The producer? The background musicians or the promoters? Is it a combination?

Without Ed Wade and Mike Arbuckle, there’s no appellation of “old school baseball genius” for Pat Gillick with the Phillies.

Without Bobby Cox laying the foundation for the Braves of the 1990s, John Schuerholz is not heading for the Hall of Fame.

Without Gene Michael, there’s no Brian Cashman.

The line between genius and idiot is narrow and has little to do with the individual, but chance, circumstance, courage and support.

It could be terrible decision for Epstein to leave. Or it could be one for him to stay. But it can’t be judged now.

And life will go on.

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Mattingly A Silent Beneficiary

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You can read about the latest round in the Frank McCourt mess herethere and everywhere. All I’ll say about it is that the piling on aspect in the interests of comedy is blatant; it would be pretty ironic if it was the McCourt ownership that brought a legal end to baseball’s rule of decree—which has always been contrary to the U.S. Constitution—as to which individual can own what franchise.

Like something out of a “trailer park meets a school for idiot savants”, the creditor story in which Manny Ramirez is the Dodgers biggest note-holder is funny because it’s Manny and the McCourts. (You can decide which belongs in the trailer park; which in the school.) Without knowing much in depth about contracts, I’d be stunned if the long-term payouts aren’t standard operating procedure for the $100+ million deals that are signed with every organization.

The court fight will resolve itself eventually. In a bizarre context, it’s good for Dodgers personnel—specifically manager Don Mattingly.

Much like the daily derangement that went on for much of his time as a member of the Steinbrenner Yankees, Mattingly has a reasonable argument to toss his hands up in the air and say, “hey, don’t blame me” if things go horribly wrong for the Dodgers this season.

Mattingly gets secondary benefit from the turmoil surrounding the Dodgers because he can’t be overtly blamed for whatever goes wrong even if it’s his fault.

For years, that was the case with the Yankees—Mattingly as innocent bystander—as the 1980s were a constant influx of players, managers, coaches, GMs and never-ending controversy.

Was Mattingly at fault for the continued failures of those Yankees teams? He was the best player in baseball between 1984 and 1987; considering his production, there was little he could’ve done personally to launch his teams into the playoffs.

It was an accident of circumstance that Mattingly’s greatness was wasted in an Ernie Banks sort of way because his teams either weren’t good enough or couldn’t overcome the meddling of the owner; that he injured his back and was a shadow of his former self when the club turned the corner under Buck Showalter and Gene Michael (while Steinbrenner was suspended) and watched team won 4 World Series in 5 years immediately following his retirement at 34 only punctuated the sadness.

While the “don’t blame me” argument is applicable and has been used with other clubs and other sports (Joe Girardi being fired by Jeffrey Loria; anyone who’s worked for Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis in his walking undead years), it doesn’t assuage blame for what’s gone wrong.

But it sure can get the individual another opportunity he might not have received otherwise.

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Donnieball

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There is not one player on the entire Los Angeles Dodgers roster that can make a claim to having been better than an in-his-prime Don Mattingly.

Not one.

Even those who have superstar potential like Matt Kemp can only hope to be mentioned in the same breath with Mattingly.

That’s how great he was; how dangerous he was. In fact, you can make the Koufax/Puckett argument for Mattingly’s Hall of Fame candidacy. Both Sandy Koufax and Kirby Puckett had their careers derailed by injuries. Koufax’s arthritic elbow forced him from the game at the height of his powers at age 30; Puckett had glaucoma and was done at 35.

They’re in the Hall of Fame because of Koufax’s dominance over a 5-year period and Puckett’s combination of greatness and what he “would” have achieved had he played another 3-5 years.

Because Mattingly was sabotaged by back problems, his production took a dive from its tremendous heights; but from 1984-1989 there was not a better player at the plate or in the field than Mattingly.

Trapped as an innocent bystander in the Steinbrennerean purgatory of the Yankees in the 1980s, he never got the chance to show his wares on the big stage.

As the Yankees turmoil mounted and the revolving door of teammates and managers spun and spun and spun, Mattingly was at the center of the clubhouse—the hapless victim of circumstance—as things came apart.

It was only when he was a mere shell of his former self; when those back injuries limited him to being good as opposed to great and robbed him of his power and George Steinbrenner was suspended that the foundation of the late-90s championship teams was able to break ground under Gene Michael and Buck Showalter.

In a cruel irony, Mattingly retired the year before the Yankees 1996 championship.

Passed over for the manager’s job following Joe Torre’s ouster, he left and joined Torre with the Dodgers. It can be said—reasonably—that Joe Girardi was the wiser and safer choice because of his experience; but it can’t be discounted that had GM Brian Cashman chosen Mattingly as his manager, he would never have been able to fire him.

Ever.

No GM wants a manager he can’t fire.

Now that he’s the manager of the Dodgers, we’ll see whether the lack of experience will be mitigated by his status as a megastar player who’s seen it all; done it all; experienced it all. Mattingly can look at the swirling drama of the McCourts’ divorce, shrug and say, “You wanna know about nuts? I’ll tell you about nuts.”

How does this translate to managerial success?

Easily.

For every player who’s willing to play as hard as possible and respect his manager and coaching staff, there are those who try to exert their perceived authority and use a large contract and big numbers to bully their “bosses”. We saw it with Hanley Ramirez and Fredi Gonzalez last year.

After years of tolerating and dancing around Ramirez’s diva-like behaviors due to the player’s skills and close relationship with owner Jeffrey Loria, Gonzalez punished Ramirez for an egregious lack of hustle and engaged in a public spitting contest with his star player. In the short-term, Gonzalez was supported by the players, contemporaries and public opinion; eventually he was fired in no small part because of Ramirez. He landed on his feet with the Braves with his self-respect intact.

The attitude of certain star players was exemplified in Ramirez essentially saying, “Who’s he to say anything to me? He never played in the big leagues.”

Well, Mattingly not only played in the big leagues, but he was the MVP in 1985 and, as said earlier, was better than anyone on the Dodgers roster. In what would be an unsaid retort, Mattingly could put forth the aura of, “I was better than each and every one of you, so don’t come at me with that ‘who are you?’ horse(bleep).”

He wouldn’t say it because it’s not in his personality; but it helps that he wouldn’t have to say it.

If you saw Kemp’s hustle on Friday night in which he went from first to third on a hit-and-run ground out, it’s a good sign for the Dodgers that they’re playing hard and smart—the enigmatic and hard-headed Kemp in particular.

What people fail to understand when selecting a manager is that strategy is sometimes a small part of him doing his job; it’s not just about “I’m the manager, do what you’re told.”

As was shown with Ramirez, a star doesn’t have to exert much effort (literally and figuratively) to get the manager fired.

Controlling the players and the clubhouse can be far more important than the negligible lineup choices, pitching changes and whom to pinch hit—many of the results of said maneuvers are based on luck.

Mattingly knows what it’s like to be a superstar player and doesn’t have the peacock ego and rampant insecurity to make sure everyone knows he’s in charge by repeatedly saying it; he’ll be able to defer to pitching coach Rick Honeycutt on what to do with the arms; to ask coaches Trey Hillman, Davey Lopes and Tim Wallach (whom he beat out for the job) what they think without being threatened.

He’ll make his mistakes, but the players not wanting to let Donnie down will overcome them.

And he’s accustomed to lunacy.

That’s why he’s going to make it as a manager.

My podcast appearance with SportsFanBuzz previewing the season is posted. You can listen here The SportsFan Buzz: March 30, 2011 or on iTunes.

I was on with Mike at NYBaseballDigest and his preview as well. You can listen here.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

Now it’s also out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.


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