Hal Steinbrenner Summons His Yankees Staff

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Hal Steinbrenner is thoughtful, calm and polite. He’s running the Yankees like a business and doing so without the rampant firings, missives and bluster that his father George Steinbrenner used to intimidate, bully and get what he thought were results. It’s the son’s demeanor that is probably even more intimidating to the gathered staff than anything his father ever did. The George Steinbrenner meetings were a regular occurrence with a red-faced Boss shouting, threatening and firing people only to calm down, feel badly about what he’d done and immediately rehire whomever he’d briefly fired. Hal’s different. If he makes changes, they’re made and that’s that.

The news that Hal convened a high-level meeting with his staff is a serious matter to the future of the Yankees’ baseball operations. It’s obviously not lost on him or any of the other Steinbrenners and Randy Levine that the baseball people led by general manager Brian Cashman have been trumpeting home-grown talent in recent years while producing very little of it. For all the talk that the Yankees were going to grow their own pitchers similarly to the Red Sox, Giants and Rays, the last starting pitcher drafted and developed by the Yankees who had sustained success as a Yankee is still Andy Pettitte. That’s twenty years ago.

A new storyline referenced repeatedly is that the Yankees intended to draft Mike Trout in 2009, but the Angels beat them to him. Are they looking for credit for players they wanted to draft four years ago after he’s become one of the best players in baseball?

The defense implying that the Yankees’ success caused them to only have late-round first round draft picks thereby reducing their ability to find top-tier players is weak as well. You can find players late in the first round and in the second and third rounds. The Yankees talk out of both sides of their mouths when they claim that Pettitte (22nd round), Jorge Posada (24th round), and Bernie Williams and Mariano Rivera (undrafted free agents) were due to the Yankees’ methods and then complain about their low draft status and inability to find players. It’s one or the other. Either there’s a Yankees “specialness” or they’re a victim of their own success.

They haven’t signed any impact free agents from Cuba, Japan, Taiwan, Venezuela or the Dominican Republic and their drafts have been failures in the early, middle and late rounds. Dustin Pedroia, Jordan Zimmerman, Giancarlo Stanton, Freddie Freeman, Chris Tillman, Trevor Cahill and Justin Masterson were all second round picks. You can find players if you’re savvy and give them an opportunity. The Yankees’ lack of patience with young players combined with the overhyping to suit a constituency and narrative has certainly played a part in the failures, but they’ve also made some horrific gaffes in evaluation and planning. They have yet to publicly acknowledge that Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova were all mishandled, nor have they indicated a willingness to alter their strategy in building pitchers.

With the military school training that he has, it’s no surprise that Hal—as Commander in Chief of the Yankees—is seeking answers as to why the club’s farm system is so destitute and few players have been produced to help the Yankees at the big league level as they downsize the payroll. If they’re not going to spend as much money on free agents, young players are a necessity to maintain some level of competitiveness. But they don’t have them to use for themselves to to trade for someone else’s more established star. The logical next step after this meeting is to start replacing some of his staff.

This recent hot streak aside, the overwhelming likelihood is that the Yankees will miss the playoffs in 2013. There will be the complaints that injuries were the main reason, but teams with $200 million payrolls really don’t have much of a leg to stand on when coming up with excuses. After the season is over, there will be a lament that “if the season had gone on a week longer” then the rest of baseball would’ve been in trouble; or that the way Rivera goes out with a declining, also-ran team is not befitting his greatness; and that the post-season “loses its luster” without the Yankees.

These are diversions and attempts to make the Yankees more important than they actually are.

No one, least of all Hal Steinbrenner, wants to hear it. He’s the boss now and he’s been patient. He’s justified in looking at the Yankees’ annual payrolls and wondering why, with a roster full of the highest salaried players in baseball for as long as anyone can remember, they’ve been rewarded with one championship since 2000. Why, with the money at their disposal and an ownership willing to green light just about anything to make the organization better, they haven’t been able to find young talent and nurture it to success. Why the Rays, Athletics and Cardinals among others have been able to win and develop simultaneously while spending a minuscule fraction of what the Yankees have spent. And why his GM so openly criticized the acquisition of Alfonso Soriano when Soriano has turned into a bolt from the sky in his return to pinstripes.

What this will do is embolden Hal, Levine and the rest of the Steinbrenners to believe that perhaps the implication of “baseball people” knowing more than anyone else might be a little overplayed.

This meeting is a precursor to a change in the structure of the baseball operations and with Cashman’s repeated public embarrassments, inability to hold his tongue and abject errors, he’s on the firing line. The Steinbrenners have been agreeable, loyal and tolerant to Cashman’s demands and decisions. With the details of this meeting strategically leaked, it looks like they’re greasing the skids to make a change. George Steinbrenner was more emotional than calculating and his meeting would have been eye-rolled and head shaken away as the ranting of a lunatic, quickly dismissed. Hal Steinbrenner isn’t like his father, but the result might be the same when the season ends and he’s not going to change his mind five minutes later.




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The Yankees Saved Hughes For His Next Team

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If the innings limits and protective strategies had worked at least once, I’d say there’s a basis for having them, but this applies to Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain, Stephen Strasburg and any other pitcher who’s been held back in the interests of clubs “protecting” their investment: THEY DON’T WORK!!!!

The Yankees placed these rules on all their young pitchers they drafted highly and valued to keep them healthy. Neither Hughes nor Chamberlain stayed healthy and they haven’t been particularly effective either. So what was the point? The false, weak argument will say, “Well, we had no idea about that then; we were following doctors’ advice; we studied the numbers and history; we’d do it again.”

Isn’t the point of drafting and developing pitchers to have them pitch and pitch well for the team that drafted them? Hughes is going to be 27 in June and has a solid won/lost record for his career of 52-36. The record is a byproduct of having pitched for the Yankees for his entire career in an era when they won over 90 games on an annual basis and were loaded with offense and a deep bullpen that doesn’t blow leads. His peripheral numbers are mediocre and the same logic that qualified Ivan Nova’s 16-4 record in 2011 as not entirely accurate also applies to Hughes with the main difference being that the Yankees didn’t use the same strategies on Nova and didn’t think much of Nova, yet he’s been just as good as a pitcher they did tie up, Hughes.

That’s bad for the perception, so it’s ignored.

Yesterday Hughes was diagnosed with another injury, a bulging disk in his neck, said to have occurred during infield practice. It’s not the Yankees’ fault, but it’s an example of the fragility of athletes in general and pitchers in particular when they’re performing the occasionally dangerous and stressful activity of baseball.

What have they gotten with all the developmental rules? With the numbers that they, hopefully, didn’t extrapolate from Tom Verducci? With the constant shifting of roles, shutdowns, break periods, and pitch counts?

Nothing.

This is not to pick on the Yankees. Many teams are doing the same things with similar results, but Hughes’s latest injury makes him a worthy example. Hughes has been a mediocre pitcher who could have been a star had they just left him alone. Like Kennedy, Hughes will have to develop elsewhere and be allowed to pitch the 200 innings that, after six years in the big leagues, he’s yet to do. He’s a free agent at the end of the season and there will be a team that looks at Hughes and says, “We’ll sign him and let him pitch,” and will be rewarded with, at least, more than the Yankees have gotten from him.

Teams are paranoid and afraid to do something different from the current orthodoxy and self-proclaimed experts sitting behind computers, crunching numbers and waiting for an opportunity to critique. The Giants, with an old-school GM Brian Sabean, have built one of the best pitching staffs in baseball—one that’s brought them two World Series titles in three years—and they did it by drafting two high school pitchers (Madison Bumgarner and Matt Cain) and one pitcher who was too small and had such a unique motion and training regimen that teams didn’t want to touch him (Tim Lincecum). What do the Yankees have? Two failed would-be stars and another top prospect who almost won the Cy Young Award for the Diamondbacks two years ago.

The Moneyball concept of not drafting high school pitchers because of the “risk” has thankfully been tossed overboard. The Verducci Effect is in the process of being phased out. (For the record, if my GM said he was using the arbitrary research of a sportswriter to develop and dictate how he used his pitchers, I’d fire him.) Teams are looking at the reality and realizing that maybe young pitchers might be better-served to be allowed to throw innings and incorporate other factors rather than the numbers handed to them by Ivy League graduates armed with an algorithm. Isn’t this is why there are pitching coaches, managers and scouts: to determine a pitcher’s tics, movements and mechanics to decide when he’s tired; when he’s at risk for injury; how he should be deployed?

Pitchers are fragile, but instead of using that fragility as a basis to freeze them for a later date, perhaps the opposite would be a better strategy: let them pitch while they can pitch and move on when they can’t. A team deciding to do that will certainly get better results than the Yankees have with Hughes, who is probably counting the days until he can get out of the Yankees constraints and go to a club that will let him enjoy his prime years as something other than a what might have been. Currently, he’s a failed experiment in building a young pitcher and a case study of those poor decisions creating a pitcher who can be found on the market cheaply to be used and discarded.

Hughes keeps getting hurt; he’s the Yankees’ fourth starter; he’s leaving at the end of the season because the Yankees won’t want him back at the money he’ll ask for and the pitcher would probably like to get a fresh start. With all of these facts, tell me, what was the point of the rules they used as a garrote to strangle his future?

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s not good.

Let’s take a look:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • The arrogance of ignorance—or vice versa

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

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

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

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

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

  • A no-win situation and management question marks

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

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

Do players want to willingly sign up for that?

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

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

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

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

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

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Baltimore Orioles vs New York Yankees—ALDS Preview and Predictions

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New York Yankees (95-67; 1st place, AL East) vs Baltimore Orioles (93-69; 2nd place, AL East; Wild Card Winner; Won Wild Card Game over Texas Rangers)

Keys for the Yankees: Rafael Soriano; hit the ball out of the park; get good starting pitching; hit the Orioles hard and early.

Soriano has been gutty, durable, mentally and physically tough, and reliable—aspects that no one expected nor thought him capable of in his first year-and-a-half as a Yankee. What he does in the post-season as a closer could be the difference between getting a 3-year deal for X amount of dollars and a 5-year deal for Y amount of dollars.

I don’t see the Yankees reliance on the home run as a “problem.” Were their hitters supposed to stop trying to hit home runs? I don’t know what the solution was. The absence/return of Brett Gardner is being made out as an important factor, but I don’t think it’s as important as it’s being portrayed. Teams with speed are criticized for their lack of power; teams with power are criticized for their lack of speed. It’s only noticeable when it’s not there and the main strategy isn’t working.

If the Yankees lose, it won’t be due to a lack of stolen bases, it will be due to a lack of home runs.

The Orioles have responded to every challenge and naysayer this entire season, but the Yankees have been here over a dozen times and the Orioles haven’t. If the Yankees pop them early, they might be able to shake them and get this over with before the Orioles realize what happened or get to game 3 and start thinking they’re going to win.

Keys for the Orioles: Get the game to Jim Johnson; hit home runs of their own; have a quick hook with the starters; don’t be “happy to be here.”

The simplistic and stupid “key” you might see on other sites with “analysis” of “stop Robinson Cano” is ridiculous. It’s unlikely that anyone is going to “stop” Cano. The best the Orioles can do is to keep the bases clear in front of him and not pitch to him. Cano is not going to see one good pitch to hit this whole series.

The Orioles starting pitching is questionable at best and manager Buck Showalter knows this. He can’t waste time and hope the starters find it because it might be 10-0 by the time it’s realized they don’t have it.

For the first time in forever there’s no distinct advantage for the Yankees with Mariano Rivera closing games. Now we don’t know who has the advantage. In the regular season, it was a wash; in the post-season, we don’t know. Soriano has been bad and Johnson’s never been there.

The Orioles, after so many years of dreadful baseball, are in the playoffs for the first time since 1996 when they lost to… the Yankees. Getting there isn’t enough. They can win and they have to believe that and act like it.

What will happen:

The Yankees stumbled in mid-September with injuries and slumps among their big bashers. CC Sabathia’s health was in question; Ivan Nova was pulled from the rotation; Phil Hughes was inconsistent; and David Robertson allowed some big homers and hits. Sabathia pitched well recently, but that doesn’t mean he’s “back.” I don’t trust Hughes; Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte are pitchers to rely on.

Given everything on the line for Soriano and his shaky post-season history (3 homers allowed in 7.2 innings) I wouldn’t feel comfortable with him until he closes out a game without incident. Scott Boras is already planning Soriano’s contract opt-out and scouring MLB to see where he can steer his client to be a closer on a multi-year deal, but the dollar amount is contingent on October.

Alex Rodriguez cannot catch up to a good fastball anymore. There’s a mirror image aspect from The Natural between A-Rod and Orioles’ rookie third baseman Manny Machado. Can A-Rod do what Roy Hobbs did and have that moment in the twilight of his Hall of Fame career as happened in the movie? Or will he strike out as Hobbs did in the book?

Nick Swisher is also trying boost his free agent bona fides after years and years of non-performance; Ichiro Suzuki knows this might be his last chance at a ring. If the Yankees warriors don’t come through; if Soriano falters, they’re going to lose.

Mark Reynolds loves the spotlight and is a leader on and off the field. Machado, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Chris Davis, Johnson—they don’t have the experience or history to know they’re not supposed to be doing what they’re doing; that they’re facing the “mighty” Yankees and should bow rather than hit them back. They’ve hit them back all season and Showalter has had a magic touch all year.

There’s a movement afoot from those who expected the Orioles to continue the decade-and-a-half of futility and embarrassment to justify their preseason prediction by continually referencing the poor run differential as a basis to chalk the Orioles’ 2012 success up to “luck”. These people—such as Keith Law—are more invested in their own egomania than enjoying the game of baseball. Rather than say, “Wow, the Orioles are a great story and it’s nice to see a storied franchise return to life,” we get, “They’re not a good team.” Why? It’s because those invested in stats who think reading a spreadsheet and regurgitating scouting terms they picked up along the way will replace a true, organic investment in the game by knowing its history and appreciating a story like that of the Orioles. The Orioles have had some luck, but they’ve also been opportunistic and clutch. A baseball fan understands this; a baseball opportunist and poser doesn’t.

It’s a great story.

And it’s going to get better when the Orioles take out the Yankees.

PREDICTION: ORIOLES IN FOUR

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Your Word of the Day is “Pronate” (with Phil Hughes)

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Apparently David Waldstein of the New York Times discovered a new word for the day: “pronate”.

It was present in his entire recap of the latest performance by Phil Hughes of the Yankees.

At the moment that virtually every pitch is thrown by every pitcher at every level of baseball, the throwing hand pronates.

Pronation is one of the major elements in determining how and where a pitch moves once thrown.

When Hughes tried to throw his fastball to the outside of the plate against right-handed hitters, he pronated just a little too much, causing the ball to spin slightly sideways (the opposite of a cut fastball), and making him lose precise command of it.

I don’t care about Phil Hughes’s pronating or not pronating and I tend to believe that the rank and file Yankees’ fan, uninitiated with and tired of the whys of endlessly poor results, doesn’t have much interest in the issue either. The bottom line is that Hughes was bad again. At best, he’s an inconsistent pitcher who, at age 26, has yet to become either an innings-gobbler or a trustworthy rotation stalwart. He’s a mid-to-back rotation arm that you can find relatively cheaply on the market.

The Yankees’ organizational apparatus for pitchers is increasingly suspect—if not outright ridiculous—given the failures with Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy (as a Yankee) and Hughes, along with the trades for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos and babying regulations placed on Manny Banuelos (Pineda, Campos and Banuelos are all on the disabled list), and the demotion of Dellin Betances because he lost the strike zone. Adding to that is the way both Chien-Ming Wang and Ivan Nova evolved into, at worst, solid pitchers when the Yankees didn’t think much of either and didn’t enact the stifling rules they placed on their other, more prized, arms.

Hughes is okay as a useful starting pitcher. Sometimes. But he’s never pitched 200 innings in a season. He gives up a lot of home runs. He’s not a strikeout pitcher. And he’s been bad in the post-season. If he were seen as an arm who’s benefited from pitching for a very good team with a solid bullpen as Nova is and pitched as he has over the past two years, the Yankees might non-tender him and would definitely look to trade him. But since he’s one of the prized prospects “developed” by Brian Cashman, he’s getting chance-after-chance to prove that the Yankees method of nurturing starting pitchers is somehow valid.

You can cover for a prospect that hasn’t fulfilled his potential for so long before reality becomes self-evident. Hughes’s reality is this: a career ERA of 4.46, rampant inconsistency and the clinging to a concept that eventually he’ll turn into something more.

But he’s not improving and he’s not something more. It’s time to accept that this is it, at least as a Yankee.

He didn’t “pronate”? After this season, if Cashman has finally seen and heard enough from Hughes as he did from Kennedy before shipping him off to Arizona, perhaps the GM will do a little “pronating” of his own and flick his wrist to coolly put his cellphone to his ear and listen to offers to ship Hughes out of town. Maybe someone else can straighten him out; or maybe this is what he is. Regardless, it’s clear by now that it’s not going to happen for him in a Yankees’ uniform and it would be best for all involved to move along and let Hughes pronate out of town.

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Six Cold, Hard Questions For The Yankees

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On the same night one of the last pitchers the Yankees developed and practically utilized—Andy Pettitte—took the next step in his comeback attempt with a minor league start in Trenton, two pitchers upon whom they’re relying to maintain contention under the new luxury tax mandates were terrible (Phil Hughes) and heading for surgery (Michael Pineda).

The pompous arrogance of the organization, their media wing and fan base all but disappeared in favor of maudlin whimpering, melancholy sadness, silence and the ever-present spin-doctoring to twist matters into a favorable view of blamelessness.

There’s no defense. Only damage control.

To compound the irony, Pineda’s surgery is going to be performed by the Mets’ team physician Dr. David Altcheck.

In the past the fact that Dr. Altcheck is a respected and renowned specialist would’ve been shunted aside by a Yankees’ support group to laugh at this fact if the sequence of events were happening to anyone other than the Yankees.

Reality rears its ugly head and convenient fodder for jokes—the Mets’ team doctor—is suddenly off limits.

But is it ugly? Or is it what it is without discretion, intent or preference?

Let’s take a look at some of the burning questions regarding the Yankees, Michael Pineda and another disaster in the reign of Brian Cashman that can’t be glossed over by lukewarm distractions from that cold, hard reality.

Was Pineda hurt when the Yankees traded for him and did the Mariners know it?

It’s possible.

Anything is possible.

But I doubt it.

If he was hurt, it was probably an injury that would only have been discovered had the Yankees or Mariners been looking for it. Pineda was examined for the shoulder pain that shelved him and robbed him of his velocity in spring training and nothing was found. It was when the Yankees did a more comprehensive examination following his last spring rehab start that they found the labrum tear.

The Yankees have made ghastly errors with Pineda, but ignoring a possible injury isn’t one of them.

Even if he was damaged goods, it’s irrelevant. What’s done is done.

How are the Yankees at fault?

The same arguments that allocate the blame on the Mariners and Pineda can also be shifted to the Yankees.

Much like their signing of Pedro Feliciano and holding the Mets responsible for Feliciano’s shoulder injury by saying he was “abused”, it’s a reluctance to own up to anything for which they can be negatively perceived. It’s cultural and has created this litany of failed pitching prospects.

They’re more worried about what will be thought of them if the pitchers get hurt than they are in having the pitchers do well and evolve as Yankees.

Pineda showed up to Yankees’ camp overweight, but it wasn’t as if they made the trade in October and Pineda stopped exercising and started eating. The trade was made in January weeks before pitchers and catchers reported. Did he suddenly get fat from the day of the trade to his appearance in Tampa? In two weeks?

I think not.

If he hadn’t shown up fat for the Yankees, he would’ve shown up fat for the Mariners.

GM Brian Cashman, immersed in his own egotistical bubble, was the person who publicly castigated the Mets for Feliciano’s injury after he gave Feliciano $8 million to come to the Yankees.

He scurried away when the Mets, for once, fought back.

The trade of Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi for Pineda and Jose Campos made sense. Pineda pitched well for the Mariners last season and his second half struggles and supposed velocity decline weren’t drastic enough to dissuade them from making the deal. They examined him and found nothing wrong.

But the aftermath is a different matter.

Almost immediately, the Yankees propped up the inclusion of Campos as the biggest factor as if a 19-year-old in A-ball would validate any eventuality. Cashman told Jim Bowden that the trade will have been a mistake if Pineda doesn’t develop into a top of the rotation starter. They complained about his weight. When he got to camp, they constantly referenced his velocity—or lack thereof—as if they were waiting for him to launch 98-mph fastballs in early March.

Could Pineda’s attempts to throw harder before he was ready or while he was ailing have contributed to the overstressing of his shoulder and gotten him hurt worse? Did the Yankees place an unfair onus on him? Did running him down affect his mentality when he became a Yankee?

You tell me.

Why are they clinging to this “developmental” strategy?

Cashman’s comments following the Pineda diagnosis were expected as he said various permutations of, “We don’t regret it and we’d do it again.”

This is understandable if he’s spouting a line to protect himself and his organization for making the trade and doesn’t truly believe it. Only a lunatic would say he doesn’t regret making this trade after the Pineda injury.

Like the Yankees’ ridiculous limits, rules and regulations they’ve placed on every pitcher since Cashman took complete command as the top-down boss of the organization, they’re clutching to them in a death-grip as if any admission that they might’ve been wrong is a sign of weakness that would lead to anarchy and revolution.

What would disturb me is if Cashman doesn’t regret making this trade; if he believes that the Yankees method of development that has all but destroyed Joba Chamberlain, has Hughes on the verge of a demotion to the bullpen or minors, and led them to trade away Ian Kennedy were the right things to do.

If Cashman is under the impression that Pineda’s injury was a result of the Mariners using a different strategy of nurturing their pitchers than the Yankees, then the problem isn’t a simple mistaken projection, but a foundational blind spot and inexplicable egomania.

Pettitte didn’t graduate to the majors under any limits and he’s the last starting pitcher the Yankees have signed, built and utilized on their own over the long term.

Looking at his minor league numbers, he was allowed to pitch as a youngster. He accumulated innings, durability and resilience. He learned how to get in and out of trouble without a random number or overactive management to bail him out. He got to the majors in 1995, was a large factor in the Yankees’ playoff berth and threw 175 innings. He wasn’t abused, but he wasn’t babied either.

In 1996 at the age of 24, Pettitte logged 240 innings and won 21 games. Apart from some expected injuries, on an annual basis, he could be counted on for 200+ innings not counting playoffs. He never had Tommy John surgery nor did he have major shoulder surgery.

Now they’re counting on Pettitte to replace the lost Pineda.

Are the Yankees rationally examining these studies they constantly refer to in keeping their pitchers healthy? Or are they blindly sticking to what’s not working just because?

Do Ivan Nova and Chien-Ming Wang prove the righteousness of the Yankees’ methods?

No.

If you mention Nova as a pitcher the Yankees developed and who’s doing well, you need to check the backstory. Nova was not a prospect. They thought so little of him that they left him unprotected in the 2008 Rule 5 draft. He was selected by the Padres and returned to the Yankees.

Nova wasn’t babied because they didn’t think much of him and weren’t overly concerned about the perception from the masses if he got hurt. Now he’s a ruthless competitor who, in spite of their continued disregard for him with threats of demotion and non-existent expectations, is a lifesaver for them.

Wang wasn’t considered a prospect either, but out of necessity they recalled him in 2005 and he blossomed.

Are you seeing the trend?

Pitchers who are left alone become useful. Those who are stuffed in a cookie-cutter mold of paranoid “protective” services turn into Hughes and Chamberlain.

Is the Yankees position on pitching understandable?

It was.

Once.

If they have experts in the medical field versed in sports and biomechanics making recommendations; if they’re listening to experienced pitching coaches and baseball people; if they’re copying what clubs like the Red Sox have done to develop their young pitchers Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, then you can say it was worthwhile to try and build their own starters under the auspices of the innings/pitch counts.

But it hasn’t worked.

One would think that they’d stop and say they have to try something else; that they’d realize that the Rangers, Giants and Mariners have chosen a different and successful route with their pitchers; that perhaps greater flexibility and individual attention is in order.

Sometimes these pitchers are going to get hurt. They’re going to flame out.

But if the Yankees or any other team gets use from them, what’s the difference?

Which is better? Having the pitcher healthy and ineffective like Hughes or using him until he breaks down—as the Diamondbacks did with Brandon Webb—and getting a spurt of greatness that resulted in one Cy Young Award that could easily have been five?

Will this sink in?

If sports talk radio existed in the early 1960s to the degree it does now, we’d be hearing the same forceful pronouncements of a neverending empire; an inevitability of the Yankees’ dominance.

But the Yankees’ reign of terror ended in 1965 in part because they were oblivious to the decay from age, mismanagement and didn’t adapt to the new way in which baseball did business with a draft, divisions and Yankees’ “mystique” disappearing.

By the mid-late-1960s they were a laughingstock and other teams took joy in their humiliation after years of bullying, condescension and abuse.

You don’t think it could happen again?

It’s the circle of life. Dynasties fall and they’re aided and abetted by a blanketed stupidity that has fomented this nightmare of pitching miscalculations.

If they continue down this road, it’s going to get worse and judging by what’s being said and done, they’re not changing anything anytime soon.

They made their own mess and have taken no steps to clean it up.

It’s downhill from here.

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After The Fenway Party, There Was a Game

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I didn’t see it, but by all accounts the Red Sox did a great job with their celebration of Fenway Park’s 100th anniversary.

You can read and see clips of the event here on Boston.com.

Here are other notables.

Manager irrelevant.

If Terry Francona, Joe Torre, Joe Maddon, John Farrell or Connie Mack were managing this Red Sox team, there would be less public feuding but the results wouldn’t be much different.

This is what Bobby Valentine was saddled with: a GM who didn’t want him; a dysfunctional, enabled and highly paid group of players; a starting rotation with questions from positions 3-5; a bad bullpen; injuries; and black holes in the starting lineup.

Valentine was expected to cause controversy and the expectation was so intense that when he said something seemingly innocuous (and by insider accounts, true) about Kevin Youkilis it was treated as if he’d said Ted Williams was overrated.

What do the masses want Valentine to do?

What can he do?

A firestarter might be needed.

Under no circumstances do I think Ivan Nova was throwing at Youkilis when he hit him with a pitch in the bottom of the 6th, but in the situation the Red Sox are in, intent doesn’t matter.

They need a spark and with Alex Rodriguez batting second in the top of the 7th, it was the perfect setting to retaliate.

“You hit my third baseman? I hit your third baseman.”

If it starts a fight, so much the better. The Red Sox need something to bring them together and maybe a brawl is it.

Joe Girardi wants you and everyone else to know how smart he is.

In theory I suppose I understand why Girardi decided to begin the bottom of the 9th inning with a sidearming waiver wire pickup Cody Eppley.

The Yankees had a 4-run lead and the conventional wisdom is not to use your closer when it’s not a save situation.

But after Eppley allowed a leadoff single to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Girardi called on Mariano Rivera to finish the game.

In spite of it being—in the grand scheme of things—a relatively meaningless game in April, in reality, it wasn’t.

On a day where the Red Sox and their fans were still in bliss at the celebration, why give them the opening to stage a comeback? How galvanizing would it have been had the Red Sox rallied—against the Yankees no less!!!—on such a day? All the acrimony within the organization would’ve been replaced with the joy of a huge win against their hated rivals and possibly save the Red Sox spiraling season.

It was a needless and self-indulgent risk.

For a smart man, a good manager and baseball man Girardi does some notoriously idiotic things in what appear to be repeated attempts to show how smart he is.

I’m the “don’t mess around” guy and can’t stand overthinking and overmanging. I thought we were past the “save situation” nonsense especially with teams like the Yankees who have intentionally shunned conventional baseball orthodoxy in favor of objectivity.

Keep your boot on their throats; don’t open the door; hold them down and keep them down. The best way to do that is with Rivera.

What’s Rivera there for?

Girardi’s overmanaging has gotten the Yankees in trouble before and he could conceivably have done it again yesterday. It wasn’t just unnecessary. It was stupid.

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Pineda to the Bullpen Would be a Disaster

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

The Yankees of course.

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

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

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

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

Hughes?

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

Nova?

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

Who else?

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

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

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

What’s the purpose of whispering about his velocity?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A New Experience For The Cool Kids

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Anyone who was a fringe athlete on a team—be it little league, high school, college or beer league softball—understands what Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda and Mark Sanchez are currently going through.

It’s almost something to snicker at for those of us who were the back-end guys on their teams who generally had to wonder whether they’d have a uniform or get a chance to play.

For the Yankees, Andy Pettitte’s return represents the glorious past where the other cool kids—Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera—were lobbying him to come back and replace someone from the projected rotation.

Nova has never been and presumably never will be respected for the guts he’s shown and work he’s done as a Yankee. They’re too immersed in numbers to appreciate him.

Hughes is wearing out their patience. Ignorant to the multitude of ways they’ve stagnated his development, he Yankees have him fighting for his rotation spot and his tone is growing increasingly curt in response to the endless questions about how he feels regarding Pettitte’s surprise return.

Jets quarterback Sanchez now has to look over his shoulder at Tim Tebow.

As the prototypically handsome quarterback who went to USC, Sanchez never had to worry about his spot. He started as a rookie in the NFL and, despite his struggles, has led the Jets to back-to-back appearances in the AFC Championship Game.

Now he’s got the golden boy behind him. A media darling with a salable life story and outsize personality that he hasn’t overtly cultivated as a means to an end, Tebow is not going to be happy sitting on the sideline wearing a baseball cap and holding a clipboard as many backups are. He’s going to fight for playing time making Sanchez a target to everyone.

Is it fair?

Of course it’s fair. It’s competition at the highest level of sports. Because of that, feelings come in last. One of the reasons teams like the Rays are successful is because of their ruthlessness in dispatching players when they’re no longer needed or if someone better/cheaper comes available.

The Yankees are ruthless in a self-destructive sort of way because they’ve hindered Hughes, Joba Chamberlain (who we won’t see for a long while anyway given his ankle injury—more on this later) and Nova. They’re putting an undue amount of pressure on Pineda to pay too close attention to his radar readings and there’s an unsaid perception (probably accurate) that they wouldn’t have traded for him at all had they known for certain that Pettitte was coming back.

But this is the way things are. It’s a bit of turnabout for those who never had to worry about their spots.

And the cool kids don’t care.

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Click here for a full sample of Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide (this link is of the Blue Jays) of team predictions/projections.

My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

It’s great for your fantasy teams and useful all season long.

//

Pettitte’s Return—A Realistic Assessment

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Now after all the rushing to be first with the story, relentless typos, factual missteps, and analytical idiocy, how about some sanity regarding Andy Pettitte’s return to the Yankees?

Let’s take a look.

Do the Yankees need him?

Not really.

It’s nice that they can bolster their starting rotation with Pettitte if Pettitte is able to contribute, but they don’t really need him.

After getting past the over-the-top excitement, squealing and blatant Yankees propaganda from would-be reporters, Pettitte is creating a logjam of starters even if Freddy Garcia is (as expected) the odd-man out.

Was this a baseball decision?

No.

Of course there’s no risk with signing Pettitte to a 1-year, $2.5 million minor league contract with no incentives once he’s recalled, but for them to re-sign him at this late date is more of a stroll down memory lane for one of their heroes from the dynasty years than a pure baseball decision.

If Pettitte wanted to come back, the Yankees had to sign him, but at age 39 (40 in June) he’s not a guarantee to be anything close to what he was.

There’s no room for sentimentality when putting a team together and this is a sentimental/ticket sales/partial baseball maneuver.

How does this affect the young pitchers?

Pushing aside Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes is unfair and potentially destructive.

No matter how much the Yankees dismiss his contribution or clearly decry his abilities with their actions if not their words, Nova has earned a spot in the starting rotation. That Nova pitched well without the constraints that hindered the other Yankees’ young starters has made the organizational edicts regarding pitch counts and innings look paranoid, foolish and debilitating to their development.

As shaky as Hughes has been, much of it has been due to the way the Yankees have straitjacketed him. They know how to find talented starting pitchers but not how to make them into significant big league contributors until they’re out of pinstripes. This is understood throughout baseball and there are teams waiting for the Yankees to lose their patience with Nova and Hughes—or for the surplus of starters to become a problem—and trade one or both of them so the pitchers can pitch and maximize themselves in ways they won’t as Yankees.

Pettitte will be with the Yankees for 2012. If they’re forced to deal either Hughes or Nova and one becomes a significant contributor for another club over several seasons, then the Yankees will have made a mistake.

And what of Pettitte?

Pettitte’s three years with the Astros have been conveniently blocked out by Yankees-colored glasses.

Even when it’s discussed how he left, the caveats start popping up: “the Yankees disrespected him and he took less money to be closer to home.”

Blah, blah, blah.

Now the conquering warhorse has returned again.

I doubt this was planned. What I believe happened is that Pettitte came to spring training to see his friends and help out with the young pitchers and got the bug to play again.

There’s nothing wrong with that and there’s no one to blame, but had the Yankees known about this being a possibility, they could’ve saved the money and the roster spot they’ve wasted with Garcia and, more importantly, they wouldn’t have made the trade of Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi to the Mariners for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos.

This becomes a series of “if this, then that” speculations and a domino effect. If they felt Noesi wasn’t ready to provide the innings the further along Pineda will, Pettitte’s presence would’ve let them keep Noesi in Triple-A for a full season. They’d still have Montero, wouldn’t have signed Raul Ibanez and still could’ve signed Hiroki Kuroda.

Reality.

It’s a nice enough story. Everyone likes Pettitte. The Yankees can use him. But in the long run, it’s probably going to do more harm than good given the past and future ramifications of Pettitte’s decision to come back and that the Yankees are jumping right back into letting him do it with what appears to be a guaranteed spot in the big league rotation when he deems himself ready.

They might regret it in a year or two if Montero becomes a star; if Pineda pitches poorly; if they deal Hughes or Nova; if Pettitte isn’t what he was.

There are many ways for this to go wrong.

And bet some of them will.

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