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.

//

Advertisements

The Yankees’ Problems Go Far Beyond One Fractured Ankle and a Blown Call

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

So Nick Swisher’s gregariousness—long an irritant to opponents—is no longer charming to the home fans when he’s 4 for 26, lost a ball in the lights in right field, and they’re looking for someone, anyone to blame for Derek Jeter’s ankle injury no matter how ludicrous the shifting of responsibility is? Swisher is surprised and “hurt” by the fans heckling and booing him?

Indicative of the need for vast chunks of the fanbase to awaken to an unexpected and unforeseen reality, Swisher is the case study of how things truly are for the Yankees when the “magic” disappears or decides to shift its allegiance to another venue.

The search for reasons that there were blocks empty seats at Yankee Stadium for playoff games is a bunch of noise. No one can pinpoint exactly why it’s happening in spite of Randy Levine’s complaints or baseless theories. It could mean anything. In a poor economic climate, fans may not have the money to purchase the seats, pay for the parking, indulge in the concessions. It could be that some have become so accustomed to the Yankees being in the playoffs every year that it’s lost its specialness and they’re paying scant attention to the how and are making the unsaid statement of, “Let me know when the World Series starts.”

The World Series will start on October 24th and the Yankees still have time to be a participant. But barring a miraculous turnaround, they will instead be cleaning out their lockers while it’s going on. Some, like Swisher, will be doing it for the final time as a Yankee.

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t call for instant replay when it negatively influences you, but laugh heartily and say smugly, “Them’s the breaks!” when Joe Mauer hits a ball that was clearly fair and was called foul; or when Jeffrey Maier has become a folk hero and part of the “Yankees lore” when he interferes with a Jeter home run ball that wasn’t and may have turned the entire 1996 ALCS in the Yankees’ favor and been the catalyst for their dynasty. Jeter, after that game, was asked what he would say to the young Maier and with the remnants of his antiquated fade haircut still in place and in the formative years of being a Yankees’ hero, he said, “Attaboy!!!” with undisguised glee at the Yankees winning in a similarly unfair fashion as they’re complaining about losing now. Except the Mauer and Maier calls changed the games entirely and the blown call on Omar Infante was only made because Infante made a mistake rounding the base and that the subsequent Yankees’ pitchers couldn’t record one out to make the point moot.

It’s the condescension and self-indulgent arrogance that is currently reverberating on the entire Yankees apparatus from the front office, to the YES Network, to the sanctioned bloggers, to the media, to the players, to the fanbase.

We want justice when it benefits us.

We love the players as long as they perform for us.

We function with dignity and class as long as we win.

Players join the Yankees because they offer the most money and they win. But when a player says no as Cliff Lee did, it’s because he doesn’t appreciate the “privilege” of being a Yankee, not because he and his wife preferred Philadelphia or Texas or because his wife didn’t brush off the same abuse that is being heaped on Swisher now was being hurled at her (along with spit and beer) in the 2010 ALCS.

It’s a wonderful world to live in where there’s no responsibility and money can be tossed at every problem to solve it.

The reality hurts when it hits like a sledgehammer. This faux history and concept of invisible baseball Gods smiling on the Yankees is eliminated by the truth. It was the need for capital in a musical produced by Red Sox owner Harry Frazee that led to the selling of Babe Ruth to the Yankees. They started winning shortly after getting the best player in the game and it turned into a circular entity. The more they won, the more money they made; the more money they made, the more free agent amateurs wanted to play for them because they paid the most in bonuses and they won. It continued on through Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. The amateur draft was implemented in the mid-1960s and the Yankees collapsed. They began winning again through free agency in the mid-late-1970s and it started all up again. There was a long lull and lucky—not smart, lucky—drafts garnered Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte. Amateur free agents upon whom they stumbled and nearly dumped such as Mariano Rivera and Bernie Williams turned into stars. They drafted a skinny shortstop, Jeter, in the first round of 1992 and got a historic player. This talk I’ve seen of a method to the madness with “doing the most damage in the later rounds of the draft” is pure better-breeding, blueblood idiocy. Any team that drafts an infielder in the 24th round who develops into Posada, or a lanky lefty like Pettitte in the 22nd round—both in the 1990 draft—is lucky.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but don’t make it more than it is.

Jeter gets injured and rather than being treated as an athlete who happened to get hurt in the middle of a contest, on Twitter it morphs into “a funeral procession,” and those who laughed (sort of the way the Yankees laugh at the Mets and Red Sox when misfortune hits them), are “justified” to have been thrown over the railing at Yankee Stadium. Jeter is analogous to a “wounded warrior being carted off the battlefield.” No. He’s not. He’s a very rich athlete who got hurt. That this type of thing was said while there are actual soldiers being carted off real battlefields and coming back missing limbs, burned beyond recognition, or dead makes this type of comparison all the more despicable.

Yes. Murdering someone makes logical sense when things don’t work out for you. That’s the way 12-year-old, bullying mentalities think. “If I don’t get to play with your toy, I’m gonna break the toy so you can’t play with it either.” “If I don’t get to win, I’m taking my ball and going home.”

When Rivera got hurt, there was this identical dynamic.

There’s an impenetrable fortress of delusion among these fans who have known nothing but winning in their time as Yankees’ fans. They don’t realize that sports is a diversion and these are human beings doing a job. A true tragedy occurred in 2006 when Cory Lidle crashed his plane days after the Yankees had been eliminated by the Tigers. Days earlier, he’d been a guest on WFAN with Chris Russo and, when Lidle said he was enjoying a beautiful day in New York City with his daughter, Russo indignantly said something to the tune of, “Well, if I’d just lost a playoff series I wouldn’t be out enjoying the day.” Lidle replied, “What am I supposed to do? Sit home and cry?”

In the Jimmy Fallon movie Fever Pitch, as the Red Sox fell behind the Yankees 3 games to 0 in the ALCS of 2004, Fallon’s character is out drowning his sorrows when he spots then-Red Sox players Johnny Damon and Jason Varitek out having dinner. An epiphany hits him that they’re human beings who are doing a job and will then go out and live their lives after the fact and that includes going out and having a nice dinner. There’s no reason to cry; a tantrum won’t help; and there’s no hiding in their homes musing on what went wrong.

Because it’s a job.

This incarnation of the Yankees from 1996 to now has never had to do a rebuild. They never had to worry about money because George Steinbrenner, for all his faults, was willing to spend under the theory that success on the field would beget profit off it. And he was right. But now the Boss is gone and GM Brian Cashman is hell-bent on getting the payroll down to a reasonable level so the new luxury tax regulations won’t drastically increase the bottom line. Is it due to a mandate from Hank and Hal Steinbrenner? Or is it Cashman trying again to prove that he belongs in the fleeting upper echelon of GMs currently inhabited by the likes of Andrew Friedman and Billy Beane who are specifically there because of limited resources and their own cagey maneuvers that sometimes work and sometimes don’t?

Cashman tried to rebuild his farm system so the Yankees didn’t have to rely on the checkbook to save them. In 2008 that resulted in a missed playoff spot and was, as usual, covered by spending, spending, spending on Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett. They’re still seeking young pitchers with cost certainty and upside and have Manny Banuelos (Tommy John surgery), Dellin Betances (can’t throw strikes), Michael Pineda (acquired, abused, and on the shelf with a torn labrum), and Jose Campos (the invisible key who hasn’t pitched or been heard from since May).

Annual contention and a World Series or failure sentiment is a great roadmap to disappointment. As the Phillies, Angels, and Red Sox have proven, money doesn’t buy a playoff spot, let alone a championship. The Red Sox and Mets have proven how quickly it can all come apart.

That can happen to the Yankees.

As they age, they decline (Alex Rodriguez); get hurt (Jeter and Rivera); outlive their usefulness (Swisher, Curtis Granderson), and bear the brunt of the outrage that the championships are not being delivered as they were in the past.

Are they prepared to pay Robinson Cano the $200+ million he’s going to want as a free agent after 2013? While they’re trying to cut costs and know that Cano isn’t the hardest worker in the world and whose laziness will extract an increasing toll on his production when the game is no longer easy for him? Does Cano look effortless because he’s so good or is it that he doesn’t put in much effort? And how does that portend what a player like him is going to accomplish as he’s guaranteed an amount of money that he’ll never be able to spend is coming to him no matter how he performs? He doesn’t run ground balls out now in the playoffs, is he going to run them out when he’s 35 and has 5 years to run on a contract that the Yankees can look at A-Rod’s fall and know is disastrous? The days of a player putting up Barry Bonds numbers at ages 36-42 ended with increased drug testing and harsher punishments. A-Rod is a 37-year-old player and this is what happens to 37-year-old players regardless of how great they once were. They can’t catch up to the fastball, they have to start their swings earlier in case it’s on the way leaving them susceptible to hard breaking stuff and changeups.

There’s no fixing it.

The Yankees might come back and win this ALCS. To do it, they’ll have to beat the best pitcher in baseball, Justin Verlander, pitching at home as the Tigers have a 2-0 series lead. It can be done. The Yankees can still win the World Series. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that they do. Will it be enjoyed or will there be a la-de-da, “we win again,” attitude that has set the stage for this rickety foundation and imminent collapse?

How much cake can a fan eat? How many pieces of chicken parm can Michael Kay stuff into his mouth? Like Wall Street, how many yachts can they waterski behind? When is enough enough?

Whether your personal investment and fantasyworld of egomania lets you see it, win or lose this dynasty is coming down and it’s happening right before your eyes.

//

American League East—2012 Present and 2013 Future

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

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.

//

Reggie In Time-Out

All Star Game, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Management, Media, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Stats, Umpires, World Series

One amazing thing you’ll find about Reggie Jackson is how little he’s evolved from his playing days.

When looking for a Thurman Munson quote regarding Reggie’s famous “straw that stirs the drink” comment I found this William Nack Sports Illustrated profile from 1980 that is almost identical to the piece this week that’s gotten him placed into time-out by the Yankees organization.

The quote I was looking for, attributed to Munson, was an incredulous, “For four pages?!?” at the suggestion that Reggie’s “straw” comments in Sport Magazine were taken out of context.

When the latest Sports Illustrated piece came out, I wrote essentially that Reggie was Reggie before Manny was Manny (Manny Ramirez); that he was going to do what he would do, say what he would say and backtrack when faced with the consequences for his “candor”; that he was goaded into saying those things by the reporter.

Is his relationship with Alex Rodriguez damaged beyond all repair? Are the disparaged Hall of Famers and their families offended? Will he be allowed to hang around the Yankees again at his leisure?

Here’s the cold-blooded answer: what’s the difference?

A-Rod is very intelligent and calculating. He’s attention-starved and brings on much of his problems himself, but a large chunk of his issues stem from the hypocrisy he saw with Derek Jeter and Joe Torre among others. The “Jeter does no wrong” brigade is shocked when Jeter acts as if he was hit by a pitch when he really wasn’t and takes his base as the umpire instructs; the “St. Joe” label attached to Torre conveniently hid how calculating, money-hungry and manipulative the former manager could be. With A-Rod, when he used the gamesmanship of yelling “HA!!” in Howie Clark’s ear to distract him when trying to catch a pop-up, it was A-Rod being a bush leaguer; when he opted out of his contract—clumsily—it was A-Rod listening to his Svengali agent Scott Boras and being greedy.

I doubt A-Rod was seriously bothered or surprised by what Reggie said. He’s smart enough and cynical enough not to be offended by it long-term.

You might see Kirby Puckett’s and Gary Carter’s family reply to what A-Rod said; for Jim Rice to start his “why me?” act; but they’ll have their own reasons for doing so. In the case of Puckett and Carter the families will presumably reply to the question when it’s asked. With Rice, he’s still looking for validation that he presumably felt would fill that void when he was finally (deservedly) elected to the Hall. But he’s still hearing the same old debates about whether or not he belongs and now it’s coming from a peer and rival.

As for the “adviser” role Reggie has with the Yankees, his influence died with George Steinbrenner. Reggie’s position is similar to Johnny Pesky with the Red Sox when the club let him be involved without any real power other than that of a treasured former player—i.e. an old man who hung around. He was popular with the fans and wasn’t bothering anyone. Along with the Boss’s other circle of “advisers”—Billy Connors, Dick Williams, Clyde King, Dick Moss, Randy Levine, his sons, sons-in-law and whoever else managed to gain his ear for a period of time, it’s not the way it used to be with the Yankees. Gone are the days when Steinbrenner listened to the last voice he heard (validating a Boss rant with sycophantic agreement) and reacted by dumping a player the baseball people wanted to keep and getting a player that no one else would take.

Reggie’s mistake is that he is bothering the club by creating a controversy for no reason. It’s a hallmark of his life. Whereas it would once be brushed off and handled by the Boss, now with Brian Cashman in charge, Hank Steinbrenner effectively muzzled and subdued and the more thoughtful Hal Steinbrenner holding sway, how much of Reggie’s advice is actually taken? How much of it is listened to? How much is he even around and does anyone notice when he is or isn’t?

Notice.

That’s what Reggie wants. It’s always been that way and clearly from the latest SI piece and fallout, that’s never going to change.

//

The Yankees Adhere To Conservatism

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

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

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

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

They did it in 2008 as well with John McCain.

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

The influence of opponents and circumstances are transferrable into baseball.

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

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

Watching Robertson, I’d be very concerned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is none.

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

In the short and long terms, it might work.

But it’s still a mistake.

//

American League Ticking Tempers Of Ownership

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

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

New York Yankees

Does ownership have a right to be upset?

Yes.

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

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

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

I’m wondering that myself.

What should be done?

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

What will be done?

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

Devastated? Really?

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

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

Boston Red Sox

Does ownership have a right to be upset?

Yes, as long as they have a mirror nearby.

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

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

What should be done?

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

What will be done?

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

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Does ownership have a right to be upset?

Very.

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

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

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

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

Their biggest problem has been at the plate.

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

What should be done?

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

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

What will be done?

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

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

It could get ugly.

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

***

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

//

Yesterday the Cashman Story Was Gossip; Now It’s News

All Star Game, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Movies, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

Brian Cashman took part in a “sting” to catch this woman who was supposedly stalking him?

Okay.

It’s a little farfetched, but okay.

Yesterday Deadspin published an article detailing this woman (the mysterious “Lou”) who claimed to have had a relationship with the Yankees GM and I wrote that Cashman’s off-field activities are no one’s business as long as they’re not affecting his job.

They updated the piece after “Lou” was arrested. You can read it here.

A few hours later, the woman was arrested.

You can read the news story here on NYTimes.com.

Obviously Cashman had some sort of relationship with this woman and it morphed into extortion, arrest and embarrassment.

With the revelation (also on Deadspin) that Cashman had been carrying on with a different married woman last year, this along his newly outgoing and somewhat self-destructive decision to openly discuss his players as if he were a columnist or TV analyst with ruthless honesty, is Cashman’s mid-life crisis permeating into the way he does his job?

If so, that’s not good.

Were George Steinbrenner still around, he never would’ve tolerated his GM acting in this way and having it get into the public sphere as foundation of ridicule for his franchise; nor would he have taken lightly Cashman’s public rift with his bosses over the signing of Rafael Soriano a year ago and the hard-line he took with Derek Jeter which angered the iconic star.

Hank and Hal Steinbrenner and Randy Levine—conservatives all—can’t be happy with the “new” Cashman’s image either.

Having just signed a 3-year, $9 million contract and running the team in a mostly effective fashion, Cashman’s job is not in any kind of jeopardy. But if this off-field meltdown continues, there may come a day where they say enough is enough. And if Cashman thinks his four World Series rings as a GM and history of success is going to get him another job immediately if he and the Yankees part ways, he’d better realize that there’s still the perception in many circles inside and outside of baseball that he’s an average GM who’s benefited greatly from a $200 million payroll and can’t transport his success from one club to another as Pat Gillick did.

Yesterday this was fodder for tabloid gossip and in the wink, nod and giggle section of the paper. Today it’s in the front of the paper and making the GM of the most famous team in sports and his organization look foolish. If he wants to maintain a reputation of professionalism, he’d better get his personal life and attitude in order and somewhere close to what it was five years ago or his problems are going to expand to the point where he won’t have a job in New York anymore.

//

Viewer Mail 8.3.2011

All Star Game, Books, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, Players, Prospects, Trade Rumors

Brendan writes RE Brian Cashman, Derek Jeter and the Yankees:

“What if he’s not there to be the one voice to prevent Randy Levine and Hank Steinbrenner from doing such short-sighted and stupid things as outbidding themselves for a pitcher with issues on and off the field like Soriano?”

Correct me if I’m wrong and I’m the one living in a parallel universe, but didn’t the Yankees do exactly the short-sighted and stupid thing described above despite the wise, cool-handed GM? And didn’t they do the very same thing with their 37-year-old, 85 OPS+ing future Hall of Fame shortstop?

Cashman was adamantly opposed to the Rafael Soriano maneuver and said so before and after. My point was that there are going to be other such decisions if Cashman’s not there and another GM is brought in—a GM with less capital than Cashman’s accumulated from his long association with the club and success and ability to rebel and maybe get his way.

If Cashman were making the call regarding Jeter, and it was a pure “in the now and future” baseball move, he’d have looked for an alternative and moved on with a different plan; there were ancillary concerns with Jeter and they weren’t based on sentiment and team history alone.

Aside from the 3000th hit and the disastrous PR hit they’d have taken had he left (and Jeter really had nowhere to go anyway), they didn’t have a suitable replacement for him as we’ve seen in their attempts to fill in with Eduardo Nunez and Ramiro Pena. I suppose, if they had to, they could’ve shifted Alex Rodriguez back to shortstop and found a third baseman along the lines of Mark Reynolds, but the reaction to that among the fan base would’ve been terrible.

Despite their shoddy treatment of Jeter, the fans would’ve had a fit if they saw him playing shortstop for the Tigers, Giants or Reds.

Money isn’t the problem with Jeter and it never truly is with the Yankees—they have the money; and if they lose, it won’t be because the lineup couldn’t carry him and his diminished production.

Cashman has been ruthless in his assessment of players. It was he that wanted to allow both A-Rod and Jorge Posada to leave as free agents before he was overruled by ownership. He was right in both cases.

I’ve been as intense a critic of Cashman as anyone. His pitching decisions have been atrocious with Kyle Farnsworth, Steve Karsay, A.J. Burnett and others along with the foolish rules enacted to “protect” the pitchers; but to criticize him for Jeter? You can’t do it. They knew what the deal was and what they were getting.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE Moneyball and my posting about Billy Beane.

Right on point. Had me LOLing from “Yay” onward.

Oh, just wait.

Did you see this bit of revisionist history/pitiful whining in Sports Illustrated by Tom Verducci?

I’m preparing to unleash the full power of the Dark Side because there are certain bullies who deserve every single bit of it.

Beane’s one of them.

If there’s collateral damage to those who are invested in the appellation of genius to the extent of losing any and all concept of “objective reality”, so be it. They’ve earned it too.

//

Girardi And Cashman’s Underappreciated Skills

All Star Game, Books, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, Players, Politics, Prospects, Trade Rumors

What would you have said in March if you were told that the 2011 Yankees would get nothing positive from Rafael Soriano, Phil Hughes and Pedro Feliciano; that they’d lose Joba Chamberlain for the season and Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter for extended periods on the disabled list; that Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon would be key parts of their starting rotation all season long; and that Jorge Posada would be a petulant, unproductive nuisance?

Would you expect them to have the second best record in the American League? Or would you have said that it’s a down year for the club in which bad luck and miscalculating talent caught up to them in a way that money was unable to gloss over?

If you’re telling the truth, you’d say the latter.

But somehow manager Joe Girardi has navigated the minefield of the above issues and held the team together and more.

You can criticize Girardi’s bullpen management and occasionally bizarre strategic decisions if you like, but no one should wonder about his handling of the divergent personalities, superstars, interfering ownership, fading players and the reactionary, ignorant media.

Regardless of the false belief that anyone could win with a $200 million payroll, Girardi—and Joe Torre before him—deserved more credit than they received for keeping it all together amid the distractions and demands that accompany that payroll.

Other managers get the accolades and Girardi will be hindered by the benefits of being the Yankees manager when it comes to voting on Manager of the Year, but he—more than the other candidates Manny Acta, Ron Washington and Mike Scioscia—might be more a better choice than anyone because of everything on his plate. He should be recognized for it.

GM Brian Cashman was proven right with his adamant opposition to the Soriano signing and subsequent loss of draft picks, but that evidently didn’t prevent ownership from again trying to usurp his authority and go after Wandy Rodriguez—a pitcher I can’t imagine Cashman wanted any part of, financially or otherwise.

How much can he take and what will ownership do if he plays out his option and leaves at the end of this season?

Like Girardi, Cashman has learned to skate his way around all the distractions inherent with being the front man of the Yankees.

Amid all the rightful criticisms to be doled out for the mishandling of the young pitchers he so desperately tried to protect; for his self-indulgent blaming of others for his gaffes like the signing of Feliciano, somehow the team is 65-42.

Cashman has tolerated a lot to maintain the high-profile job, money and cachet he wouldn’t get anywhere else but with the Yankees and steered the ship deftly. But what if the season ends and he has opportunities elsewhere in enticing venues like with the Cubs, Tigers, Dodgers or Nationals?

Then what?

I asked this earlier in the year and I’ll ask again: what are the Yankees going to do without Cashman? What if he’s not there to be the one voice to prevent Randy Levine and Hank Steinbrenner from doing such short-sighted and stupid things as outbidding themselves for a pitcher with issues on and off the field like Soriano? To stop them from trading for Wandy Rodriguez when he’s not suited to the American League East?

You can scoff at the idea of anyone choosing to shun the Yankees in a smug, arrogant and partisan Michael Kay-way (“why wouldn’t he want to be part of the rich history of the Yankees?”), but at what point does it become a case of diminishing returns for Cashman? Could he come to the conclusion that there are other jobs out there in which he’d have money to spend and an owner who’ll let him do what he wants as he would in Detroit? That there are two historic franchise whose rebuilding he could oversee and possibly punch a ticket to the Hall of Fame if he managed to pull it off on the North Side of Chicago or in Hollywood? Or that it might be worthwhile to jump into a spot where he’d be paid handsomely, have a star nucleus in place with Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper and be surrounded by power like in Washington DC?

There are other problems he has to deal with if he stays like the CC Sabathia opt-out and how to move forward with Hughes, Jeter, Nick Swisher and the pitching questions.

Does he want to continue fighting ownership as they interfere with his plans?

Or would he want to be left to his own devices?

The Yankees have to wonder about this. And they have to be concerned.

What I’d find hilarious is if Cashman exited the Yankees and the situation in Oakland becomes so untenable (and the Moneyball farce is over freeing Billy Beane from the need to keep up appearances) that Beane extricates himself from the Athletics and the Steinbrenners and Levine—desperate for a “name” to replace Cashman—anoint Beane as their new GM.

The “genius” and his practical mediocrity dueling the New York media would be a historic train wreck.

It’s New York.

Crazier things have—and presumably will—happen.

I don’t anticipate Cashman playing out his option and departing.

But he could.

//

Teams Are Asking About Jimenez And Getting An Answer

All Star Game, Draft, Free Agents, Games, Hot Stove, Management, Media, Players, Spring Training, Trade Rumors

After the Rockies’ request for the Yankees entire farm system, it’s highly likely that Randy Levine needed an adult diaper; Hank Steinbrenner smoked an entire pack of cigarettes at once; and Hal Steinbrenner’s hair moved.

Ubaldo Jimenez isn’t necessarily “available” as Carlos Beltran is “available”, but you can get Jimenez if you ante up the prospects; and judging by the Rockies reported asking price from the Yankees, Jimenez is going to be highly expensive and a team would be stupid to give in immediately to those demands.

In case you missed it, Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd asked for: Jesus Montero, Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos and Ivan Nova.

One would assume that O’Dowd set this bar as a starting point for negotiations and is aware that his Yankees counterpart Brian Cashman isn’t going to surrender his whole minor league system for Jimenez.

Jimenez is very good, but has struggled this year. I tend to think that his bad start and subsequent inconsistent results are directly correlated to the cut on his thumb that led to him beginning the season on the disabled list.

There’s a lot to like about Jimenez. He’s durable, gutty and very good; he’s signed through 2014 at a super cheap rate. You’re not going to get a pitcher of his caliber—who’s signed—when he’s pitching well and his team is in contention. The Rockies aren’t exactly in contention for a normal team, but with their history of ridiculous hot streaks to close out seasons, they’re well within striking distance to make a run.

Obviously O’Dowd knows he’s not getting that bounty for Jimenez—if the Yankees submitted that kind of offer, it would get Felix Hernandez from the Mariners. That demand is so insane that after the season, if the Yankees put that package on the table for Tim Lincecum, the Giants would be foolish not to listen.

So that’s not happening.

But the logic of suggesting teams ask about Jimenez (as I did as far back as last December on my old Blogspot site) is the same on both ends. If teams ask about a player who could be considered untouchable, his team has a right to ask for the world to get him. Montero, Betances, Banuelos and Nova would give the Rockies three cheap starting pitchers, two of whom have All Star potential and would be in better developmental hands with the Rockies than they currently are with the Yankees.

Forget it.

But it’s a starting point.

To tie the Jimenez trade talks into current events, when News Corp. made a bid for the Wall Street Journal, the Bancroft family’s decision to simply listen to the offer made the paper available…for the right price.

Eventually it was sold.

Jimenez is available…for the right price.

Eventually he’ll be traded.

But unless O’Dowd comes off of that ludicrous request from the Yankees or some other team acquiesces to his extraction of every single one of their top prospects, Jimenez is going nowhere mid-season.

In fact, I doubt he’s getting traded now. But like the Wall Street Journal, he’s available and will be dealt.

Just not now.

//