And Hal Was Supposed to be the Sane Steinbrenner Son

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Hal Steinbrenner spoke about the state of the Yankees today. Brian Costa has a recap of his comments in their entirety.

It finally appears to be sinking in that the Yankees really, truly, honestly are not going to find bricks of money hidden in a secret compartment behind the monument section of Yankee Stadium; that they’re actually intent on a 2014 payroll of $189 million. Or lower!!!

And the fans are panicking.

Steinbrenner, while expressing inexplicable surprise that fans and media are upset that the biggest name the Yankees have imported this winter has been a reviled former Red Sox star Kevin Youkilis and the next biggest is Russ Canzler, is showing a blindness to reality that not even his father George or brother Hank could muster.

Judging by his statement about the $189 million goal for 2014 in saying that it will only be that high if he thinks the team has a chance to contend for a championship, there won’t be a sneak attack on the rest of baseball with a Yankees spending spree that’s been their consistent manner of doing business for the entire tenure the family has owned the team. Given the reaction to that nugget, we may see him backtrack on it when the public relations hit expands to the proportions it will in the coming days.

But clarification won’t alter the truth and the truth seems to be that the Yankees’ vault is closed.

The comment of not needing a $220 million payroll to win a championship places the onus directly on GM Brian Cashman to figure a way to do what the majority of baseball has to do and function in a universe where there’s not a wellspring of cash to cover failed prospects, bad trades and disastrous free agent signings.

Is there something we don’t know? Are the Steinbrenners lowering the payroll for a reason? Did they sell a chunk of the YES Network to News Corp. with the intention to sell the whole thing—network and team—and get out of baseball completely in the next couple of years? Or are they having financial problems that have yet to be disclosed?

The rising luxury tax and outside expenditures is a legitimate excuse for the club to take steps to save a significant amount of money. Hal mentions this. But now it’s becoming something more than a number they’re shooting for. Hal’s latest assertions do not bode well for the future of a team that has relied on money to maintain their position at or near the top of baseball since 1994. In fact, they sound as if they’re consciously shifting the expectations in an effort to prepare the fans for the inevitable reality that this is it; that there won’t be a blockbuster deal made right before spring training to again vault the Yankees back to World Series favorites.

Much like Hank said that a struggling Mike Mussina needed to learn to pitch like Jamie Moyer, it may be that Hal, with some justification, is looking at clubs like the Athletics and Rays and seeing that they didn’t need to spend Yankee money to build winning clubs, and he’s insisting on Cashman figuring out how to win with less money. There’s a logic to the concept and it’s not as if they’re reducing payroll to the less than $75 million that those clubs spend. It’s not absurd to say to Cashman, “Is $189 million not enough to win? Why can Andrew Friedman and Billy Beane figure out how to do it and you can’t?”

But Beane and Friedman learned their trade without any money. There’s a significant difference between never having had any money to spend and suddenly having it and vice versa. Cashman has never been in the position where there was a limit on his spending power. It’s somewhat unfair to think that he’ll seamlessly transition to a new method diametrically opposed to what he’s grown accustomed to.

It certainly doesn’t help that Cashman’s talent recognition skills and drafts have been mostly disastrous; that he shunned international players like Yu Darvish and Aroldis Chapman who, in years past, would have been Yankees, period. That they were gunshy from the nightmarish signings of Jose Contreras and Kei Igawa is more of an indictment on the Yankees and their ability to recognize talent rather than pigeonhole players based on past mistakes. The avoidance of Darvish and Chapman was portrayed as a decision not to pay for unknowns, but they were afraid of spending for players who weren’t worth it when they should’ve signed both.

Following the trade for Michael Pineda and Cashman’s other pitching disasters, how is it reasonable to think he’ll learn how to adapt to this new template on a terrain he’s never had to navigate. It’s like taking Cashman and dropping him in the middle of NASA and telling him to build a spaceship—he doesn’t know how to do it and it’s delusional to expect him to be able to.

Cashman has not developed any star starting pitchers and there have been few position players apart from Robinson Cano to be nurtured by and make it big as Yankees. When he tried to grow his own pitchers with Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy, it resulted in the lone missed playoff season of 2008 since the mid-1990s. In the aftermath, he did what the Yankees have always done: he threw money at the problem and it worked.

As far as youngsters go, the latest excuses we’ve heard from Cashman include the high percentage of success in Tommy John surgery that the prize prospect Manny Banuelos underwent; that he intended to draft Mike Trout; that he did draft Gerrit Cole.

The bottom line is that Banuelos, Pineda, Jose Campos, Dellin Betances and other supposed future Yankees stars have shown no indication of being anything close to what the team will need to transition from the days of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte to a new era without those stalwarts. Cole didn’t sign when the Yankees drafted him in the first round in 2008. He went to college and is about to make it to the big leagues with the Pirates. Trout wasn’t available and they drafted Slade Heathcott. Heathcott is a year older than Trout and is still in A ball; Trout almost won the AL MVP. Nobody wants to hear about what Cashman “would’ve” done. They want to hear about what he did and plans to do. There’s no answer yet.

Now there’s no money to throw around and they’re stagnating, telling fans to be patient, thinking they’ve done more than they have by signing stars well past their primes and hoping that there’s one more run left in the remaining core Jeter, Rivera and Pettitte with all three returning from significant injuries. There’s an absence of comprehension with the Steinbrenner sons that was heretofore perceived to be a hallmark of the personality of their father.

Like a person who grew up wealthy and had everything done for him, Cashman is incapable of functioning without that financial safety net. Learning on the fly, perhaps he’ll be able to succeed in this Yankees landscape, but perhaps he won’t. Either way, it’s bound to take time to adjust and one thing Cashman doesn’t have is time. For Friedman, constraints have given him freedom. Because he has no money, an ownership with whom he works hand-in-hand and trusts him implicitly, and a fanbase that either understands the circumstances or ignores the team altogether, Friedman can trade Matt Garza; he can trade James Shields; he can listen to offers on David Price; he can let Carl Crawford and B.J. Upton leave without making an offer to keep them. Cashman can’t do that and if he was given approval to build his team similarly to the Rays and made the attempt to let Cano leave via free agency, how long would he last before the groundswell of fan anger exploded, leaving the Steinbrenners no choice but to placate the fans and make a change to a new GM? For Cashman, constraints are just constraints and he’s shown neither the skill nor the experience at working that way to tapdance his way around them.

Read the statements from Hal Steinbrenner and accept them, because it’s not a diversionary tactic. It’s real.

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Can Kazmir Take The Abuse?

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The Indians are in the middle of a rapid/deliberate rebuild with a new manager (Terry Francona), a new right fielder (Nick Swisher), and a new top prospect (Trevor Bauer). Amid this flurry of moves, they also decided to take a shot on a former phenom who once had a similarly bright future to Bauer, Scott Kazmir.

Kazmir has had a star-crossed career from top draft pick of the Mets in 2002; to being traded by the Mets; to becoming the ace of the Tampa Bay Rays and receiving a long term contract; to being traded to the Angels and flaming out completely with injuries and ineffectiveness.

Seemingly changed from the swaggering, fastball-heaving lefty he was, Kazmir was out of baseball and trying out for big league clubs without an offer being made. He went to the Independent League Sugar Land Skeeters (the same team for whom Roger Clemens pitched last year), and posted a 3-6 record with 74 hits allowed in 64 innings and poor across-the-board numbers. If he still had a lot left in the tank as the same pitcher he was, he should’ve done far better than that for an Independent League team.

If Kazmir is willing to change to accommodate his limited stuff, hopeful comparisons will inevitably be made to another lefty pitcher who reinvented himself to win a lot of games, make himself a lot of money, and earn widespread respect for his determination and willingness to become something different than what he was to succeed—Jamie Moyer.

But there are significant differences between Moyer and Kazmir as pitchers and people. Moyer never threw that hard to begin with. When he began the long journey from released pitcher at age 29, he was offered a coaching job by the Cubs and turned it down choosing to keep trying to make it as a pitcher. He didn’t have much of a backup plan nor a lot of money in the bank. He wasn’t a bonus baby as a 6th round pick in 1984 and by the time his career as a big league player appeared over in 1992, he’d made slightly more than $1 million.

It took Moyer another year-plus in the minors and three years in the big leagues bouncing between the Orioles, Red Sox and Mariners before baseball people looked up and realized that perhaps Moyer had figured something out. He’d never had any substantial success in the big leagues before his reinvention.

Kazmir is not in that position. He was an All-Star, the ace of a pennant winner and made over $30 million as a player. Unless he’s been idiotically wasteful, he never has to work another day in his life. He’s willing to swallow his pride to take a minor league deal and get a chance with the Indians, but will he go to the minors and stay there, altering the way he’s pitched all his life with power and dominance? Will he bounce to another team if the Indians tell him they’re sorry, but they don’t think he can help?

What makes it more difficult for Kazmir is the personality that so grated on veterans with the Mets and was a large part of his mound presence. He might have the same personality, but there won’t be the goods to back it up if he’s no longer blowing people away. The comments he’s going to hear in spring training if he’s popping maximum 84-88 instead of 93 are difficult to take for someone of his former stature and attitude. It will get worse if he decides to go down to the minors. Someone like Moyer could take hearing such clever witticisms as, “Hey, I’ve never seen a butterfly land on the ball in mid-flight!” Or, “Now pitching: Eephus Pus!!” Or “They’re clocking your velocity with a sundial!!” Or when he gives up a tape-measure homer, “Did they serve dinner on that flight? Buy a first class ticket and see, big shot!”

It’s embarrassing and tough to swallow. Is Kazmir humbled enough after his crash and eventual release by the Angels and determined enough to take that abuse without saying, “The hell with this,” and leaving?

I’m not so sure.

What Moyer did is unlikely to happen again anytime soon. Moyer could take it and give it back. Why did he do it? Possibly it’s because of money; possibly it’s because of not knowing what else to do with himself; possibly it’s because he didn’t want to give up; and possibly it’s because he was too hard-headed to listen when everyone—everyone—was telling him to move on.

Moyer realized that he wasn’t going to suddenly develop a 95-mph fastball, so he began to transform himself into a craftsman who could still get a fastball in the low-to-mid-80s past a hitter using control, intelligence and by changing speeds. It’s not as easy as “pitch like this.” It takes work.

Is Kazmir prepared to sacrifice his energy, time and pride to put in that level of effort and make it back as Moyer did? It takes a deep commitment and given what Kazmir was and what he is now, his career trajectory has replicated another lefty who was a high draft pick and had a brief career as a top tier starter with a power fastball. He lost the fastball and bounced from team to team, altering his delivery, having surgeries and trying to get it back—Steve Avery. He never did get it back and was done at 33.

Will Kazmir be a Moyer? Or will he be an Avery?

It all depends on him, what he’s willing to do and how much he’ll take to get it.

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

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

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

I wrote about this in detail here.

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

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

What’s worse: the ineptitude or the arrogance?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyone can buy stuff.

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

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

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

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

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The Roger Clemens Comeback Attempt

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Whatever Roger Clemens’s agenda is, he doesn’t have to explain himself to anyone as to why he wants to pitch again. It could be boredom; it could be a conscious decision to return to the big leagues to delay his Hall of Fame eligibility (and delay the embarrassment of not getting elected); it could be to prove that he can pitch cleanly at age 50; or it could be for no reason whatsoever.

Does he deserve the ridicule he’s receiving? I don’t see why he does. If Jamie Moyer was able to come back (and back, and back, and back) and teams signed him, then why can’t Clemens pitch for the independent team in Texas, the Sugar Land Skeeters, and see if he still has any juice (pardon the double entendre) left in the tank?

Athletes have retired or taken time off and tried comebacks before. There were the ludicrous (Pedro Borbon); the shocking and ill-fated (Jim Palmer); the otherworldly (George Foreman); and successful (Michael Jordan). It’s not impossible.

There’s every possibility that Clemens would pitch in the majors and embarrass himself as Orel Hershiser did when he hung on one year too long with the Dodgers in 2000 and his body wouldn’t cooperate with his still-fertile baseball mind. Moyer adjusted to his declining fastball with savvy and control. Clemens’s biggest downfall was when then-Red Sox GM Dan Duquette uttered his famous, retrospectively accurate, and cold-blooded assessment of Clemens when he chose to let him leave the Red Sox by saying the pitcher was in the twilight of his career at age 33. Any pitcher at age 33, without the use of drugs or a superhuman will to stay in shape and Nolan Ryan-like longevity, would be in the twilight of his career. But it’s easily forgotten when assessing Clemens’s last year with the Red Sox and focusing on his 10-13 record for an 85-77 also-ran that Clemens had terrific secondary numbers that season including 242 innings pitched and an American League leading 257 strikeouts. Duquette might not have wanted to pay Clemens for 4-5 years when he probably would’ve gotten production for 2-3, but Clemens could still pitch.

We’ll never know what he would’ve accomplished for the Blue Jays had he not allegedly done what it’s been pretty well documented that he did to enjoy the renaissance from 1996 veteran who could still recapture his greatness in spurts to the consistent dominance he exhibited in the 1980s, but there was something left.

Could Clemens return to the big leagues at age 50 and get hitters out if he adapts to what he is now and doesn’t try to recapture what he was then? If he uses his brain and doesn’t try to bully the hitters with a fastball to the head, then he can. Does he want to do that? I don’t know. He wasn’t prepared to do it in the late-1990s and that’s what got him in this position of being persona non grata to begin with and almost got him tossed in jail. It also made him a lot more money than he would’ve made otherwise.

He might need the money now given how his fortune was likely decimated by ongoing legal battles.

Major League Baseball would exert not-so-subtle pressure on any team that entertained the notion to sign Clemens not to do it. They don’t want to see him or hear from him again. But there’s nothing to stop a club if they truly decide to sign him and nothing MLB can do about it.

Scott Kazmir is also pitching for the Sugar Land Skeeters, but no one thinks it’s a joke because Kazmir is trying to resurrect his career and is only 28-years-old. If nothing else, he can transform himself into a lefty specialist and will be back in the big leagues once he acknowledges that the strikeout machine he once was is gone.

Clemens was once faced with the same quandary and chose to bring back the strikeout king through illicit means that have yanked the Hall of Fame and historic greatness away from him. Had he stayed clean and just accepted the ravages of time both he and Barry Bonds—not exactly well-liked during their careers—would be viewed with a post-career respect as having done it clean in what’s known as a fake and dirty era of steroids. Instead, they understandably joined in to again prove that they were better on what was a level playing field of most everyone using PEDs.

Would Clemens have the clarity to accept what he is now and put his ego aside to get batters out? Or would he revert to exerting his will on the hitters when he doesn’t have the weapons to do it and be humiliated back into retirement?

He has the capability to get hitters out if he takes the Moyer-route, but it’s doubtful that he has the willingness to endure the abuse he’d receive if he tried, so I wouldn’t expect this “comeback” to go much further than with the Skeeters.

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Somebody Wants You…Somewhere

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Let’s have a look at some players who have worn out their welcomes with their current organizations but could have some use for another club in the second half and possibly beyond.

Adam Lind, 1B—Toronto Blue Jays

Lind was recently recalled from the minors and is 8 for 23 since with 3 homers. 2 of the homers came in one game. He’s guaranteed $7 million so if the Blue Jays are going to get anything for him they’ll either have to eat most of the contract or take back another club’s problem player. He murdered the ball in Triple A after his demotion (.392/.448/.664 in 143 plate appearances with 8 homers); he’ll be 29 on July 17th; maybe he’s a change-of-scenery guy who’ll hit in another uniform.

Brian Matusz, LHP—Baltimore Orioles

His first-glance numbers are dreadful, but he’s a flyball pitcher who does the bulk of his pitching the AL East with the bandboxes of Camden Yards, Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park. Then he has the Blue Jays who swing for the fences in every at bat. Consequentially he gives up a lot of home runs. He walks too many, strikes out too few and has luck reminiscent of someone who’s gotten struck by lightning multiple times. His BAbip last season was .384; this year it’s .335. If he lobbed the ball over the plate he wouldn’t do much worse.

A team with a big park—the Twins, Padres, Dodgers—might want to take a look at Matusz and see if does any better with them.

Kurt Suzuki, C—Oakland Athletics

Time to give some credit to Billy Beane and Bob Melvin for keeping this team competitive and more. Beane ended up swindling the Red Sox by getting Josh Reddick and received a chunk of the farm systems of both the Diamondbacks and Nationals for Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez.

One of the prospects he got from the Nats, catcher Derek Norris, has already helped the A’s win a few games with his bat and glove. That makes the erstwhile everyday catcher Suzuki expendable. He’s due $6.45 million next season and while he hasn’t hit a home run this season, he’s got 15 homer power. He’s have a good year defensively throwing out 37% of the baserunners who’ve tried to steal.

Suzuki’s the type of player who’ll go to a new venue, start hitting and the media and fans will wonder why the A’s got rid of him.

John Lannan, LHP—Washington Nationals

Here’s a case study in burying a useful arm.

The Nats don’t need Lannan, but are paying him $5 million to pitch in Triple A and he’s pitching well. They don’t want to give him away, but they have no place for him on their big league roster. One would think that eventually a team desperate for pitching like the Blue Jays or Royals would give up something the Nats would want for Lannan.

The Blue Jays had Jamie Moyer pitching at Triple A! That’s how desperate they are after all their injuries. (They just released him.)

Gaby Sanchez, 1B—Miami Marlins

Sanchez had almost identical numbers in 2010-2011 with 19 homers and similar slash lines. He was so dreadful this season that he was sent down to Triple A in May, was recalled and still hasn’t hit. When the Marlins acquired Carlos Lee, Sanchez was sent back to the minors where he’ll stay unless he’s traded.

Sanchez is the type of player the Twins should take a chance on.

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Off Season Losers In Retrospect

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Several days ago I listed the off season winners in retrospect discussing teams and the moves they made this past winter. Now it’s time for the losers.

New York Yankees

Acquired: Michael Pineda, Raul Ibanez, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Jose Campos

Subtracted: Jorge Posada, A.J. Burnett, Jesus Montero, Hector Noesi

The YES Network website still hasn’t mentioned Jose Campos since he got hurt. For that matter, nor have they mentioned Manny Banuelos’s recent injury. Maybe they haven’t been informed yet. Yeah. That’s it.

The trade of Montero and Noesi for Pineda and Campos is an absolute and utter disaster—a fireable offense for GM Brian Cashman.

Kuroda’s been good and unlucky.

Pettitte’s unexpected return has been a bolt from the blue and Ibanez has contributed the power I expected.

It’s fine to talk about them “having” to get rid of Burnett, but they’re paying him; they got low minor leaguers for him; he’s pitching well for the Pirates; and the players the Yankees got haven’t played yet in 2012. Had Pettitte not returned I guarantee there would be people now lamenting the loss of Burnett.

Guarantee.

Boston Red Sox

Acquired: GM Ben Cherington, Manager Bobby Valentine, Andrew Bailey, Ryan Sweeney, Cody Ross, Kelly Shoppach, Mark Melancon, Nick Punto

Subtracted: GM Theo Epstein, Manager Terry Francona, Jonathan Papelbon, Marco Scutaro, Josh Reddick, Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek

It’s only when you look at the list above all at once do you realize how rancid an off-season the Red Sox had. Never mind the exchange of GMs/managers. Had he stayed, Epstein probably would’ve had better success fending off the advancing power grab of Larry Lucchino but it would’ve taken a Herculean effort for Epstein to prevent the mediocrity that the Red Sox have become.

I’m sick of seeing Francona complaining about how he was treated in Boston. If it weren’t for the Red Sox, the hot chicks to whom he’s sending candid photos of himself wouldn’t know who he is; not to mention would he not have two World Series rings and respect as a “great” manager—which he’s not.

Bailey got hurt as Reddick is on his way to making the All Star team and has been the Athletics’ best player. Melancon is back in the minor leagues; Shoppach is on the trade block; Ross was playing well before he got hurt; Punto is Punto.

No one’s saying they should’ve overpaid to keep Papelbon, but giving Scutaro away for a journeyman righty Clayton Mortensen made no sense.

Detroit Tigers

Acquired: Prince Fielder, Octavio Dotel, Gerald Laird, Collin Balester

Subtracted: Wilson Betemit, Brad Penny, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, Joel Zumaya

Fielder and Cabrera are doing their jobs at the plate and more. The porous defense created by the signing of Fielder and shifting of Cabrera to third base hasn’t been as catastrophic as expected. That’s unless the pitching staff has it in their heads that they have to strike out more hitters or pitch differently to prevent balls from being hit to the right or left sides of the infield—highly unlikely.

The Tigers are 5 games under .500 because their pitching has been bad. The off-season isn’t a failure because of the signing of Fielder, but 5 games under .500 wasn’t what Mike Ilitch had in mind when he paid all that money to sign a huge bat like Fielder to replace Victor Martinez and team him with Cabrera.

Minnesota Twins

Acquired: GM Terry Ryan, Josh Willingham, Jamey Carroll, Jason Marquis, Ryan Doumit, Joel Zumaya

Subtracted: GM Bill Smith, Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Kevin Slowey

Terry Ryan was supposed to come back into the GM’s chair and start doing things the “Twins’ Way”. Well, that “way” is no longer working. The reason that vaunted “way” worked in the past was because they had talent on the roster and a club that was built for how Ron Gardenhire managed.

That’s no longer the case.

Marquis was released. Carroll hasn’t hit. Willingham’s been fantastic. The Zumaya signing was worth a shot I suppose, but he got hurt again. What he needs now is a friend—a real friend—to tell him that it’s over and he should retire before he damages himself permanently.

Maybe that’s what the Twins need too.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Acquired: GM Jerry Dipoto, Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, Chris Iannetta, Jason Isringhausen, LaTroy Hawkins

Subtracted: GM Tony Reagins, Fernando Rodney, Jeff Mathis, Tyler Chatwood

Pujols has started hitting and the Angels will rise and fall on what he does, but the uncharacteristic decision on the part of the Angels to depart from the template they’ve adhered to for a decade has led to this disconnect between GM Dipoto, manager Mike Scioscia and the club.

Scioscia’s hitting coach, Mickey Hatcher, was fired against Scioscia’s wishes. They never took serious steps to bolster the bullpen and had too many players for too few lineup spots.

Owner Arte Moreno made maneuvers that were not team-related, but related to the TV deal he wanted to secure. And he did.

They did business like the 1980s Yankees and they’ve been playing and behaving like the 1980s Yankees. The one thing that will save them is the thing that was lacking in the 1980s: the Wild Cards.

Cincinnati Reds

Acquired: Mat Latos, Ryan Madson, Ryan Ludwick

Subtracted: Ramon Hernandez, Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Edinson Volquez, Edgar Renteria, Francisco Cordero

The Reds are in first place and playing well no thanks to Latos (he’s been horrific); Madson (out for the year with Tommy John surgery); and Ludwick (.205/.290/.402 slash line with 6 homers in a homer-friendly home park).

It’s not as if they needed Alonso with Joey Votto ensconced at first base. They have a young catcher in Devin Mesoraco so they didn’t really need Grandal. And Volquez has been consistently inconsistent and injured since his great rookie year with the Reds.

But the winter moves are what’s relevant here and if they’d held onto the players they traded for Latos (and I’m not retrospectively ripping the deal since I thought it was good for both sides), they could’ve gotten mid-season help rather than an in-season nightmare.

Milwaukee Brewers

Acquired: Aramis Ramirez, Alex Gonzalez, Norichika Aoki, Jose Veras, Brooks Conrad

Subtracted: Prince Fielder, Yuniesky Betancourt, Casey McGehee

Ramirez is starting to hit and will hit put up numbers by the end of the season. We’ll never know whether the improved defense and pop from Alex Gonzalez and a full season from Mat Gamel would’ve made up for the loss of Fielder because both blew out their knees within days of each other.

It’s not really anyone’s fault. They did the best they could under their financial and practical circumstances.

St. Louis Cardinals

Acquired: Manager Mike Matheny, Carlos Beltran, pitching coach Derek Lilliquist

Subtracted: Manager Tony LaRussa, pitching coach Dave Duncan, Albert Pujols, Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, Gerald Laird, Nick Punto.

So wait…now that the Cardinals are at .500 and freefalling it’s been miraculously discovered that the transition from a Hall of Fame manager/pitching coach combination to a manager who’s never managed before anywhere wasn’t going to go as smoothly as it did when they got off to a hot start?

That replacing Pujols wasn’t as simple as signing Beltran and moving the now-injured 36-year-old Lance Berkman to first base?

Shocking.

Colorado Rockies

Acquired: Michael Cuddyer, Marco Scutaro, Ramon Hernandez, Jeremy Guthrie, Tyler Chatwood, Tyler Colvin, Jamie Moyer

Subtracted: Chris Iannetta, Jason Hammel, Matt Lindstrom, Ian Stewart, Seth Smith

The starting pitching has killed them.

They loaded up on starters, but it hasn’t been enough as Drew Pomeranz got hurt and they gave Moyer 10 starts. It hasn’t helped that Hammel has been very good for the Orioles while Guthrie has been terrible for the Rockies.

Cuddyer has been everything advertised. Scutaro and Hernandez haven’t.

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It’s Enough With Jamie Moyer

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The jokes are tiresome. The tributes for his longevity worn out. The stuff is no longer even of professional level let alone big league level.

It’s enough with Jamie Moyer.

The Rockies designated him for assignment today three days after the Moyer fooled no one in his start against the Cincinnati Reds and allowed 7 earned runs, 7 hits and 4 homers in a 7-5 loss.

The overall numbers aren’t much better in conventional or advanced stats.

He surrendered 75 hits in 53 innings with 11 homers; and his BAbip was .350 with a good infield defense behind him. It’s more of an indictment on the nightmarish starting pitching of the Rockies that Moyer made the team to begin with than it is a reflection on his refusal to quit.

Since his reinvention at the age of 33, velocity wasn’t the name of Moyer’s game, but with a fastball that maxes out at 80 mph and comes in anywhere under that, he has to be perfect. Perfection at the big league level is hard to come by and it’s all but impossible for a man nearly 50 to achieve. For a team that is in the midst of a disastrous season, the Rockies have no reason to continue putting Moyer out there as a novelty or anything else. It makes no sense.

His career almost ended two decades ago and he made the decision to ignore the naysayers, keep trying and eventually became a success with two 20-win seasons, three top-6 finishes in the Cy Young Award voting, a World Series win and several playoff appearances. In that time, he earned the vast chunk of the $82 million he made in his career and widespread admiration.

The accolades that Moyer has received for his determination are legitimate. He’s an example of the value of using criticism and negativity as motivation to keep trying rather than as an excuse to quit. But all things come to an end. It’s not a story anymore. It’s turning into a farce where the only interesting thing about him continuing to pitch is the minuscule chance that he’s going to be effective. Minuscule doesn’t make it in the big leagues. It sounds cold but this isn’t a charity case. If he can’t compete then the team has to be honest with him and themselves and be ruthless by pulling the plug.

The Rockies got the message the Reds sent when they hammered Moyer. Moyer needs to get the message as well and hang it up. It’s time.

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Santana’s Return and Enthusiasm

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During his Cy Young Award years with the Twins, Johan Santana was so good because he had an exploding fastball that reached 95-96 mph; a changeup with the exact same arm speed as his fastball; and a hard slider.

It wasn’t simply the differences in velocity and movement of the pitches, but that his delivery was identical and the eye levels of the hitters were so varied from high to low to low and inside or outside that they couldn’t risk guessing on what he was throwing but didn’t have much of a choice because by the time they waited to read the seams and react, they had to commit to swinging or the ball was by them.

The fastball seemed faster because of that changeup. The slider moved sharply in a downward, horizontal direction. The changeup looked like a fastball when he released it with a similar rotation, but wasn’t moving and dove into the dirt at the hitting zone.

Then if you add his control into the mix, you have a pitcher who won two Cy Young Awards for the Twins and finished in the top seven of the voting three other times.

Now, after surgery to repair his shoulder capsule, what do you have?

You have a pitcher who has created excitement with his first appearance in a big league game since September of 2010 and whose velocity (registered in some circles at around 87, others as high as 92) is stoking overenthusiasm for Mets’ fans.

That excitement needs to be tamped down.

Immediately.

That type of surgery doesn’t lend itself to a full return to a pitcher’s former self. There are going to be days in which he feels good and is able to hit 93-94 mph on the radar gun, but the hop on a fastball isn’t predicated on velocity alone. It has to do with his extension at release and how the ball jumps from his hand.

That’s gone forever and was only rarely seen in Santana’s time with the Mets even in 2008 when he finished 3rd in the NL Cy Young Award voting.

He hasn’t thrown his slider much at all as a Met.

It’s a show-me pitch now and when he throws it, it’s not the diving, darting pitch that looked like a fastball until the last second.

The changeup will be his salvation to be effective and while he’s not going to reduce himself to the lengths of tricking hitters and using savvy as Jamie Moyer has, nor is he going to get away with mistakes because of pure stuff.

If it’s easier for a hitter to guess on what Santana is throwing and easier to adjust if they guess wrong, it’s easier to hit him hard.

That was the key to his greatness with the Twins: the hitters couldn’t guess without paying the price.

Johan Santana can still be a good pitcher, but after a serious shoulder injury, expecting him to revert to what he was six or even four years ago is delusional.

In a multitude of ways, the hitters will tell you that that Santana is not the same—the most glaring of which will be in their reactions to the pitches that are no longer what they once were.

Just like Johan Santana.

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Don’t Scoff at Bruce Chen

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With certain pitchers the strike zone plots you see on BrooksBaseball.net indicate a profound lack of control because the points are all over the place.

With others, it’s done by design.

For a pitcher who has only a limited idea of where the ball is going at any particular time (see Bruce Chen‘s new teammate Jonathan Sanchezhere), the map of strikes and balls doesn’t say much of anything in terms of strategy because his strategic implementation is highly dependent on his control that day; but when looking at the map for pitchers who don’t have great stuff and are having a perceived inexplicable success like Chen and Jamie Moyer, there’s a method to the randomness.

Chen’s example of a strike zone map isn’t much different from Sanchez’s.

But they are different because one has an idea of where the ball is going and the other doesn’t.

For years it was asked how Moyer—he of the 82 mph fastball and chugging along until age 47 (and wanting to try to come back from Tommy John surgery in 2012 at age 49)—was able to get anyone out especially pitching in the homer-friendly confines of Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.

But Moyer knew how to pitch.

That phrase doesn’t imply that he has an innate knowledge that other pitchers don’t have by itself; it means that he was able to formulate a game plan and execute it; it means that he used every available weapon from psychology to pushing the strike zone in and out to get the hitters to retire themselves.

Here’s an example that a pitcher might use: If Moyer or Chen are pitching to a powerful righty bat like Mark Teixeira, they could start with a fastball inside. If Teixeira swings at the pitch and pulls it foul—a likely scenario given the absence of velocity—the pitcher could do several things to set Teixeira up. He can throw a harder fastball inside to let Teixeira think the pitcher can reach back a bit and increase their fastball’s velocity and make him say to himself, “I can’t wait as long as I thought I could.” Then when they have him believing he might have to be a tiny bit quicker, they can throw a changeup or breaking ball to use the quicker bat to their advantage. Or they could throw a changeup in an unhittable location—either way inside or way outside—to speed up his bat, make him think he has to wait, and then go harder inside.

It’s called pushing the strike zone forward and back, in and out and adhering to a plan; pitchers who know where the ball is going have a better opportunity to execute said plan than one who’s got terrific stuff but no clue as to its location.

Moyer was skillful at using a brushback pitch which, by all logical metrics, shouldn’t work with someone whose fastball was so slow a butterfly could land on it mid-flight.

But he did it with timing, skill and intelligence.

Chen has learned to pitch in a similar way with identical-type stuff as Moyer did.

Like a knuckleballer who lasts and lasts and lasts because of his quirky, gentle pitch of timing and technique, there’s always been a place for a junkballing lefty like Tommy John (who could actually pitch in addition to revolutionizing the game by coming back from an injury that was once a career-ender), Tom Glavine, Moyer and Chen.

Looking at Chen’s journeyman career, that he’s forever been an “is he still around?” guy and that the Royals just signed him to a 2-year, $9 million contract, the initial reaction is to say it’s a reach to bank on him continuing to trick hitters; but it’s not a reach to think he’s going to maintain his effectiveness as he’s installed in a starting rotation and left alone when dissecting how he’s succeeded.

They’ve made pitching into a craft that doesn’t require the stuff of legends to succeed at it.

As long as Chen is healthy and able to pitch, he’ll have a job—and now he knows it will be in one place for the next two years, which is a rarity in his 10 team/13 year sojourn.

But Moyer hopped all over the place too; in fact, he was told to retire by the Cubs and offered a minor league pitching coach job before they dumped him at age 29.

Moyer wanted to keep trying and eventually carved a niche for himself; by age 33 he’d become a durable and consistent workhorse who lasted (so far) into his late-40s.

Chen turned 34 in June.

Sometimes all it takes it hanging around, ignoring doubters and continuing to try.

It pays off for some.

If they’re smart.

And determined.

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Stat Guy Strong Arm

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Dave Cameron of USS Mariner and Fangraphs provides this prescription to begin fixing the Mariners woes for 2012.

Here’s the clip from the above link:

Transactions

Trade RHP Michael Pineda, RHP Brandon League, OF Greg Halman, 3B Chone Figgins (with Seattle absorbing $16 of remaining $17 million on Figgins’ contract), and SS Carlos Triunfel to Cincinnati for 1B Joey Votto and C Yasmani Grandal.

Trade 1B Mike Carp to Milwaukee for 3B Casey McGehee and RHP Marco Estrada.

Trade OF Michael Saunders and RHP Dan Cortes to Florida for RHP Chris Volstad.

Trade LHP Cesar Jimenez to New York for OF Angel Pagan.

Sign Chris Snyder to a 1 year, $3 million contract.

Sign Erik Bedard to a 1 year, $4 million contract.

Sign Jamie Moyer to a 1 year, $500,000 contract.

That’s only part one; I can’t wait for part two. Maybe there he’ll send Miguel Olivo and Brendan Ryan to the Yankees for Jesus Montero.

This thinking epitomizes what one William Lamar Beane—aka Billy Beane—said to Tom Verducci in one of the “it’s not Billy’s fault” pieces that came out to defend Beane (in advance of the homage known as Moneyball, THE MOVIE) for putting together a bad Athletics team; a team that Verducci himself picked to win the AL West before the season.

Beane’s argument was that the new breed of GMs have burst into baseball and are doing essentially what Cameron is doing; they’re saying “here’s what we’ll give you and if you’re smart, you’ll take it” in a Luca Brasi (or Frank Wren) sort of way.

Short of kidnapping his family or putting a gun to his head, I don’t know what Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik could do to Reds GM Walt Jocketty to get him to accept the above package for Votto.

Though I see Tommy John in his future, Pineda’s very good; League is a guy you can find very cheaply on the market; Halman strikes out too much, doesn’t walk and from his numbers is a bad outfielder; Triunfel hasn’t shown he can hit in the minors; and you can have Chone Figgins and we’ll pay him. For that, you can give us a top catching prospect and one of the best hitters in baseball. We all done? Okay. Good.

The other deals are just as delusional.

What is this obsession with Erik Bedard and the Mariners? Haven’t they had enough?

Moyer? Again? He’s had a wonderful career, but he’s almost 50. Move on.

You want Pagan? He’s yours.

Why the Marlins would take Cortes and Saunders at all, least of all for Volstad, is unclear and unexplained.

Without getting into a long-winded “my way’s better” critique of Cameron’s plan, how about—before anything else—Zduriencik walking into ownership on hands and knees and begging to let him get rid of Ichiro Suzuki? Signing Josh Willingham? Pursuing Jose Reyes or Prince Fielder? Making a major bid for Yu Darvish? Jim Thome? David Ortiz?

Wouldn’t these be preferable options than making a lunatic proposal for Votto that would be rejected?

These deals are typical of the concept that outsiders with a forum and a stat sheet envision as the simplicity as to how deals are made. We call you, you accept and we’re done.

Much like the same people have the audacity to say—in a grudging tribute to Tony LaRussa on the day of his retirement and immediately after he wins a World Series—“I didn’t always agree with his strategies, but…” they have this vision of innate knowledge that doesn’t exist; of what they’d do.

They cling.

They cling to Moneyball being “real”; cling to the likes of Charlie Haeger, R.J. Swindle and Dale Thayer; and cling to a so-called revolution that was self-serving from the start.

It’s fine to print an off-season prescription of a scenario that could only exist in Tolkien, but this is reality; you’re not getting Votto for that package even if you do put a gun to Jocketty’s head and/or kidnap his family.

Jocketty would say, “kill me first”.

And I would say that too.

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