Javier Vazquez’s Comeback and Potential Suitors

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

Javier Vazquez surprisingly retired after a solid season for the Marlins in 2011 in which he posted a 13-11 record; a 3.69 ERA; a hits/innings pitched ratio of 178/192 with 50 walks and 178 strikeouts. It must be added that he also had a dreadful start, pitching terribly until mid-June. For the entire second half, he was a different pitcher, one who was in demand as a free agent and chose to “retire” at age 35.

He can still pitch, just not as a Yankee, having failed there twice. I certainly wouldn’t bring him back to the Yankees, nor to Boston or Baltimore, but every other contending or would-be contending club is an option and Vazquez, while not saying he’s definitely returning, will pitch in the World Baseball Classic for Puerto Rico and has said he’s considering a comeback to MLB. For a $10 million payday, why not?

So which teams could use Vazquez and meet the criteria as contender?

Let’s take a look.

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays don’t really need another starter, but I suppose they could trade Ricky Romero and attach Adam Lind to him to get Lind’s contract off the roster in exchange for a 1B/DH bat and install Vazquez into the spot, but I’d keep Vazquez away from the AL East.

Tampa Bay Rays

Vazquez isn’t coming back for an incentive-laden deal with a low base salary, which is essentially the only method in which the Rays invest in free agents as they did with Roberto Hernandez (née Fausto Carmona). Tampa would be a good spot in every aspect, but they can’t pay him.

Cleveland Indians

The Indians agreed to terms with Brett Myers yesterday and are using him as a starter. They’re clearly intent on trying to win within their means under new manager Terry Francona and Vazquez would fall into the veteran starting pitcher template. Francona’s gentle handling of his players would suit Vazquez.

Los Angeles Angels

Vazquez is better than Joe Blanton, Tommy Hanson and Jason Vargas, but again, teams didn’t know Vazquez was available. The Angels don’t have any room for him now.

Texas Rangers

His penchant for allowing home runs is a concern in Texas, but their infield defense would also help him greatly. They’re a contender, would prefer a pitcher on a short-term contract and have had success with pitchers like Colby Lewis who’ve left for Japan and came back to MLB making Vazquez’s departure and return a non-issue.

The Rangers are a definite possibility.

Washington Nationals

The Nationals are waiting out Adam LaRoche and his free agency tour. In a free agency family tree sort of situation, LaRoche might go to the Red Sox if their contract snag with Mike Napoli isn’t ironed out and the deal comes undone. If that’s the case, the Nats won’t be able to trade Mike Morse. If they can trade Morse, they can move him for a starting pitcher. Or they can sign Vazquez and worry about the other stuff later.

Vazquez spent the first six years of his career with the Nats organization when they were in Montreal. He’s a perfect fit back in the NL East where he had his best years and pitching for a legitimate World Series contender in Washington.

Atlanta Braves

The Braves have enough starting pitching, so much so that they traded Hanson to the Angels for Jordan Walden. But Brandon Beachy is returning from Tommy John surgery and Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado are kids, so there’s a spot for a veteran like Vazquez if they want him. Vazquez had the year of his life with the Braves in 2009, won 15 games (he should have won 22) and finished 4th in the NL Cy Young voting. It’s doubtful they’d do it, but it’s logical.

Philadelphia Phillies

Vazquez is better than John Lannan and Kyle Kendrick—the two pitchers at the back of the Phillies rotation and gigantic steps down from the top three of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels—but the home run ball would be an issue for Vazquez and the Phillies offense and defense aren’t what they once were to account for Vazquez’s faults. He’d surrender a ton of homers in Philadelphia. He’s probably ill-suited mentally to the fans of Philadelphia booing him if he pitches 6 no-hit innings and then gives up a run in the seventh with the team leading 10-1.

Milwaukee Brewers

They desperately need starting pitching and have money to spend, but I’m not sure they’re contenders even though they can hit.

Pittsburgh Pirates

They just spent a large portion of available funds on Francisco Liriano. But they might be able to swing Vazquez. They’re intriguing for Vazquez and vice versa. The Pirates are a NL Central club with a big ballpark and enough young talent to be taken seriously as a contender, so perhaps they can work something out with Vazquez if they clear some money elsewhere.

San Diego Padres

The Padres don’t have a ton of money to toss around nor status as a winter contender, but they could surprise in 2013 with their onrushing young talent. They also brought the fences in and lowered the walls at Petco Park, which would affect a homer-prone pitcher like Vazquez.

They could jump in on him in a surprise move.

Vazquez didn’t plan this very well if he wanted to start a bidding war. He realistically could’ve guaranteed himself $12 million if he’d made his services available at the conclusion of the 2012 season and seen the bidding go up with a 1-year deal plus an option with the requisite buyout. He could’ve made $15 million if he’d played it right.

All things considered, Vazquez and the Nationals are destined to wind up together. That’s if he decides to pitch; and if the Nats don’t trade Morse; and Yankees GM Brian Cashman doesn’t try to prove himself “right” by going after Vazquez again for the Yankees.

//

Advertisements

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

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

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

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

I wrote about this in detail here.

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

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

What’s worse: the ineptitude or the arrogance?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyone can buy stuff.

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

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

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

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

//

The Youkilis And Ichiro Signings Fit The 2013 Yankees—And That’s The Problem

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

Gone are the days when the Yankees acted decisively, swiftly and, if need be, expensively to fill all their gaping or perceived holes that cost them a World Series the year before. In 2009, when they did win their lone World Series over the past decade, they were still looking for ways in improve by making bold changes in letting World Series MVP Hideki Matsui depart as a free agent, trading away another post-season hero Melky Cabrera, reacquiring Javier Vazquez, and acquiring Curtis Granderson.

Some worked, some wound up being a wash, some were disastrous, but at least they were doing something for the short and long terms and at least they were done in the Yankee fashion of money being no object in the interests of getting better.

The new Yankee template has nothing to do with getting better. It has to do with getting cheaper; spackling over holes because they’re too expensive to repair correctly; dropping nuggets into the media to keep them relevant or provide cover stories (the Josh Hamilton talk and GM Brian Cashman not being allowed to spend money at the winter meetings); and signing players not based on what they can do, but to placate the fans. They created this dynamic with the image of a first class organization and budgetless wheelbarrows full of cash from the Steinbrenners and the World Series or bust concept that anything less than a championship was deemed a failure. Now they’re facing the consequences of that business model and the desire/need to get the payroll down to $189 million by 2014.

Two more short-term signings have been made to fill a hole (Kevin Youkilis) and to make the fans happy (Ichiro Suzuki). Youkilis agreed to a 1-year, $12 million contract and the details of a contract with Ichiro are reportedly being finalized, but he’s returning.

The Youkilis signing makes plenty of sense and fills the chasm created by Alex Rodriguez’s hip surgery and apparent absence until the summer. The Ichiro signing, if it’s done in the interests of him playing regularly, is a bad one. In years past, the Yankees would’ve thanked Ichiro for his help from August onward and moved along with someone younger and better. But they can’t afford anyone better. They can’t trade for a young third baseman like Chase Headley because they no longer have the prospects, so they had to sign Youkilis. They can’t dive into the free agent market for a Hamilton. Agents and players aren’t going straight to the Yankees safe in the knowledge that if the Yankees want the player or are desperate enough, the money will be a secondary issue because it’s plainly and simply there as a matter of course. That world doesn’t exist anymore.

They’re left with this: signing a useful player like Youkilis who doesn’t fit in with the Yankees clubhouse but, as a short-term fill-in, was the best option for their shockingly limited resources. There’s a possibility that Youkilis will either be a toned down version of himself or be advised how to act like a “Yankee” and not a “Red Sox.” This might affect his play on the field moving forward. Bear in mind that Youkilis isn’t the player he was in his Red Sox heyday.

Ichiro on the other hand, became a fan favorite because of his solid play after being acquired from the Mariners in late July. He played his usual solid defense, was a part of the landscape rather than the diva he’d become with the Mariners, and seemed rejuvenated by playing on a contender. None of that means he should’ve been re-signed or that he would’ve been re-signed as a regular contributor if prior Yankees’ incarnations were still the order of the day.

Here are the facts about Ichiro: he’s a declining 39-year-old player who batted .322 with a .340 on-base percentage and a .337 BAbip in 240 plate appearances as a Yankee. Even at the height of his powers, the split between his batting average and OBP has always been quite low because he doesn’t walk. He looked good for the Yankees because the balls he was hitting were finding a spot between the fielders, but in reality he wasn’t much better for the Yankees on the field than he’s been for the Mariners in the past two seasons. He’ll steal a few bases, show good glove work, and maybe have what looks like a good year with the bat. Good doesn’t necessarily mean productive. That’s the player they’re getting and if he’s asked to contribute for 400 at bats, it’s abundantly clear how far the Yankees have fallen in the hot stove competition and are destined to fall when the real competition begins in April of 2013.

They’re trying to save money as an end unto itself expecting the pinstripes and Yankees lore to be enough of an attraction to bring fans to the park no matter the state of the team. The implication of damaging the brand is not without merit. The on-field product will be cheaper, no doubt, but they’ll also be bringing in less money because of a lack of interest. They’re signing veterans past their sell-by date and hoping they have a small spring of baseball life left to “experience” their way into the playoffs. It’s a hard sell and it shows—not in a good way.

//

Stages of Grief: A Guide to Mental Health for the Yankees Fan

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

I’m here to help Yankees fans.

They may not believe that; they may think I’m being sarcastic or wallowing in the new reality of their predicament, but I’m giving them a truth that few are either able or willing to dispense. Be it from willful blindness, partisanship, salesmanship, or bottom line stupidity, the fact is that there’s a profound absence of honesty regarding where the Yankees go from here with an ancient core of stars, unheard of payroll constraints, failure to develop prospects, and a dimming brand.

I’m the therapist with impartial and non-judgmental analysis of how to reconcile the glorious past with the dark future.

Let’s begin.

The Stages of Grief

Stage 1: Denial and isolation

The belief that because the Yankees have made the playoffs in 16 of the past 17 years, that the success rate will continue regardless of personnel and competition is delusional. It can be argued, I suppose, that the injuries suffered by the remaining members of the “core four” Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte were circumstantial and had nothing to do with the advanced ages of all three, but injuries become more frequent and harder to recover from as an athlete ages especially today without the aid of extra little helpers such as pills and shots that have been banned by MLB. Jeter and Rivera both had significant injuries to their lower bodies and required surgery. Pettitte had a fractured fibula due to a batted ball.

Alex Rodriguez has reached the point that if he were a horse, he’d be euthanized. CC Sabathia battled elbow problems all season and also required surgery. Mark Teixeira pulled a calf muscle.

In athlete years, these players are not just heading downhill—they’re plummeting downhill. We’ve only seen A-Rod’s performance decline significantly, but expecting these players to still carry the load with backup troops such as Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes, and David Robertson who have been, at best, inconsistent is denying the inevitable.

There have been repeated references to GM Brian Cashman and his stealth “ninja” moves as if he’s a latter day assassin or spy. Except Cashman’s “ninja” move from 2012 included one brilliant and obvious deal for Hiroki Kuroda; one in which his Shuriken (or throwing star) left his hand and wound up being impaled in Michael Pineda’s shoulder. He made other lucky deals for Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez, and Ichiro Suzuki.

Cashman, when asked if it was possible that Eduardo Nunez would play third base to replace A-Rod, he did his Cashman “thing” by giving the obvious answer, “No,” and following it up with an exercise in hardheadedness when, instead of saying the truth of “Nunez has a stone glove and is scatterarmed,” he clung to his “Joba Chamberlain is a starter”-type blindness and said, “I’ve looked at (Nunez) as a shortstop.”

This isn’t denial. It’s an arrogance of little-man syndrome and from working for the “I’m never wrong,” George Steinbrenner for so long that if he backs down on anything, it’s a perceived sign of weakness. He may have looked at Nunez as a shortstop like he looked at Chamberlain as a starter, but clearly he didn’t see.

The “poor us” lament is inviting the eye-rolling and laughter from other organizations that for years have suffered through the Yankees superiority complex permeating their entire being through the media and fans. Nobody wants to hear it and they’re certainly not getting any condolence calls.

Recommendation: Stop crying. The team’s old and falling apart.

Stage 2: Anger

Blame is everywhere. From the Steinbrenners for choosing to limit the payroll for 2014 to $189 million and preventing the team from doing what they did when the acquired A-Rod in the first place—piling on; to Cashman for his failed trades and inability to develop viable prospects to replace the aging stars; to field staff, trainers, and doctors; to the players themselves for daring to age like normal humans, there’s a movement to find someone to toss overboard as a means of sacrifice to end the “bad luck” that is, really, life itself reverberating back on the team that has had so many moments of serendipity since its acquisition of Babe Ruth.

Recommendation: Understand that you’re entitled to nothing and there’s no one to be mad at. It was because of fan demand that there was never a serious plan for the future regardless of reaction from the outside (and inside) forces wanting stars at every position and results now! There will be no results now!!! This is what it is. And what it is ain’t good.

Stage 3: Bargaining

Had the Mets not agreed to a contract extension for David Wright, how long before the desperate Yankees fans would push the club to make a trade for the Mets’ star? Of if the Marlins hadn’t traded Jose Reyes to the Blue Jays, would there be advocates to trade for Reyes and move Jeter to third base? How about Chase Headley? Or Evan Longoria? Or Miguel Cabrera? Or someone, anyone who would have a semblance of star power that the Yankees must have simply because they’re the Yankees?

There are already fans clamoring for Josh Hamilton as there were those a year ago pushing for Albert Pujols to replace Teixeira; or demanding the acquisition of Zack Greinke and/or Cole Hamels at the trading deadline last season because Sabathia was missing a couple of starts with his elbow trouble.

There’s no deal to be made. The Yankees have so many needs and so few prospects remaining—with Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances both having flamed out; Jesus Montero gone for Pineda—that they have very little they can afford to give up and not much after that that other teams want. You’ll get someone else’s junk/bad contract for what the Yankees have to trade.

They were said to be looking at Yunel Escobar, which is something I’d desperately love to see because Escobar has forced two teams, the Braves and Blue Jays, to get rid of him and all his talent in large part because he acts like an entitled, immature brat with no baseball or common sense. Joe Girardi would put him in a headlock and drag him down the clubhouse steps by late April.

Kevin Youkilis? Something else I’d love to see, but I cannot imagine Cashman—even in his most idiotic, “Let’s bring Javier Vazquez and Carl Pavano back because I’m just that obstinate,” moments of woodheadedness going there.

Recommendation: Forget the stars. They can’t get them. They’ll re-sign Chavez and probably a roll of the dice type player coming off an injury like Mark DeRosa; a journeyman like Greg Dobbs, or (now this would be funny), Cody Ransom!!

Stage 4: Depression

Once it sinks in that there’s no Steinbrennerean January explosion of a maneuver specifically timed to take the headlines away from the Super Bowl; that they don’t have the ability to do anything significant to get better than what they are now, the fans will look at the rest of the AL East with the young Rays; the drastically improved Blue Jays; the Red Sox in a similar predicament with the Yankees, albeit with more money to spend; and the Orioles no longer a running gag and punching bag, and realize that the odds of a championship run are nearly non-existent; a playoff run is pretty much a best-case scenario, and finishing at or under .500 a legitimate possibility.

There will be the epitome of brainless fan who equates the Yankees with an unassailable monument that must be a World Series contender and calls a Jeter/Rivera injury a “tragedy” and compares the walk back to the subway after the games in which their totems were injured to a “funeral procession.” That fan will think that there’s a conspiracy against the Yankees. The rest will just get depressed, overeat and drink.

Recommendation: Head to Cheeburger Cheeburger and gorge; then go to a bar and start drinkin’.

Stage 5: Acceptance

For a vast majority, this won’t occur until September when the season is long-since shot. Yes, in January/February there will be concern, but hope; yes, in March/April/May there will be the past to look back upon as a lifeline; by June/July when the contending teams that are buying available reinforcements for a playoff run and the Yankees are conspicuously on the sidelines or—dare I say it?—selling will the horror come to life.

Then they’ll start the process all over again expecting there to be a 2008-2009-type reaction to a disappointing season by spending a ton of money to fill the holes. Except they don’t have any money to spend due to the $189 million limit for 2014. They can backload deals, but they also have to sign Robinson Cano and replace Granderson and perhaps Rivera and Pettitte. In addition, teams are no longer leaving their players available to the big market clubs. If you think the Yankees will turn around and trade for Andrew McCutchen, well, forget it because he’s signed and committed to Pittsburgh. The Yankees will, by then, be more likely to scour the bargain bin that will get them Daniel McCutchen instead of Andrew.

Maybe some fans will be fooled.

Recommendation: It’s acceptance. So accept it. The Yankees are old, can’t spend a ton of money, and are in trouble. A lot of it.

//

Melky Cabrera’s Dream Season Is Just That

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

Melky Cabrera’s batting average on balls in play (BAbip) is .413 and that’s not going to continue.

It won’t.

So forget it.

He’s been smoking hot this season and is putting up numbers that, on the surface, look like he’s turned the corner. The perception that he’s playing up to his potential is leading to a misplaced belief that Cabrera is now a “star” player for the Giants.

Well, he’s not. His numbers are what they’ve always been and he’s benefiting from the aforementioned inexplicable and unsustainable luck.

Cabrera’s a useful bat with speed and versatility in the outfield; he has some pop; is a switch-hitter; and when he’s committed can produce. He’s not an MVP candidate unless he’s extremely lucky which is what he’s been this season.

This isn’t an assessment based on stats of visual analysis. It’s a combination of both.

It wasn’t long ago that the Braves non-tendered Cabrera after one season in Atlanta because he showed up out of shape, played like he was in a cloud and aggravated Bobby Cox and the Braves’ veterans in a similar fashion as he aggravated the Yankees into getting sent to the minors in 2008. A hallmark of Cabrera’s career has been the dialing down of his effort when he felt secure in his job. When he’s comfortable he gets lazy. After signing with the Royals, Cabrera appeared to realize that his life as a baseball vagabond was never going to be as lucrative as it would be if he showed up to play every day with the necessary commitment.

He has 15-20 home run power, can steal 20+ bases and play all outfield positions competently. But he’s not a star. He’s not going to win the batting title. And he’s not worth the amount of money someone is going to blindly throw at him when he hits free agency after this season based on his luck on balls in play and other attributes. Yankees’ fans in particular are soon going to use Cabrera’s numbers as a bludgeon to attack GM Brian Cashman for trading him to reacquire Javier Vazquez. Cashman’s obsession with Vazquez was blockheaded, insistent and foolish, but trading Cabrera to get him wasn’t a mistake. It was the same with the Royals. They needed an arm for their starting rotation, Cabrera was due a big raise in arbitration and they made a move for the talented and flighty Jonathan Sanchez. It hasn’t worked for them so far. That’s the way it goes.

I liken Cabrera to the former NFL cornerback Larry Brown who won the Super Bowl XXX MVP for the Cowboys by intercepting two passes from Steelers’ quarterback Neil O’Donnell. Brown didn’t make any brilliant athletic maneuvers on those plays. He was standing there, O’Donnell threw two balls to him and he caught them. From that he became a budding “star” and parlayed that misplaced credit into a lucrative contract with the Oakland Raiders that was a ghastly mistake. Cabrera is in shape; is playing hard; and is maximizing his abilities. But like Brown, he’s been in the right place at the right time. A huge contract will be a misjudgment for the team that signs Cabrera just as it was for the Raiders when they signed Brown. They’ll be paying him for what he was at his best and for good fortune and not for what he actually is.

Cabrera deserves the attention he’s getting now, but few should be surprised when he reverts back to form—that form is of a pretty good ancillary player. That’s it.

//

Pineda to the Bullpen Would be a Disaster

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

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.

//

The Aftermath of A.J. Burnett

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

It’s indicative of the Yankees that they thought A.J. Burnett, Javier Vazquez, Kyle Farnsworth and others would be transformed into something other than what they were strictly by the simple act of putting on pinstripes.

Those who try to defend Yankees’ pitching decisions by pointing to CC Sabathia are scraping through the muck of viable argument.

Sabathia would be a great pitcher as a Yankee; as a Met; as a Dodger; as a Pirate; or as a Yakult Swallow.

Burnett was never worth the money the Yankees paid him nor was he suited to develop into a solid starter behind Sabathia.

The decision the Yankees made to develop their own pitchers; to focus on statistics; to shun buying the big names on the free agent market were three separate concepts opposed to one another in a triangular fashion when they signed Burnett.

He was never that good.

Talented? Yes.

Good? No.

But they paid him as if he was; as if by merely joining the Yankees, bolstered by their offense and great bullpen, he’d relax and pitch 6 or so innings a start giving up 3-4 runs to rack up wins simply by pitching within his own abilities. Burnett used to fire every pitch like it was his last; he tried to embarrass the hitters instead of just getting them out. That would explain the rampant injuries that subsided over the past four years.

But the dying phrase for many a regime, “we’ll be able to handle him” is a self-destructive and ruinous strategy that’s failed repeatedly.

Joe Torre thought he could deal with Albert Belle when the Yankees were inches away from letting Bernie Williams depart for the Red Sox and signing Belle as his lineup replacement.

Torre could not handle Albert Belle.

The Navy Seals would have trouble handling Albert Belle.

Rafael Soriano had a reputation as a diva. Rafael Soriano acted like a diva. He allowed big homers and had trouble handling pressure before he became a Yankee; he had those same problems last season as a Yankee.

Reputations are what they are for a reason. For years, Burnett had the moniker of “injury-prone underachiever” hovering over his head with the Marlins and Blue Jays; when he busted out in his potential free agent year (he had an opt-out in his contract) for the Blue Jays in 2008 with 18 wins and 231 strikeouts, he was believed to have “turned the corner” and would blossom in New York.

He was okay in his first year and mostly bad and aggravating in the subsequent two.

The expectations were such that the Yankees and their fans were disappointed even though they got what they bought—not what they paid for, but what they bought.

At least he stayed healthy.

Comparing him to a Yankees bust like Carl Pavano is absurd because Burnett came to New York and did the best he could while Pavano was swallowed up by the pressure immediately. It wasn’t the pressure that got to Burnett—he handled New York fine—he’s just A.J. Burnett and pitched like A.J. Burnett.

That the Yankees had to pay about $20 million of his remaining $33 million to get rid of him says that they realized they couldn’t continue with him on the team. It’s not because Burnett was clubhouse poison and they had to get him out of town before he infected the rest of the room, but because he’s not that good and they didn’t want to deal with the aftermath of putting him out on the mound and watching him implode for another season.

And now he’s gone from a place he probably shouldn’t have been in the first place.

//

Time For The Blue Jays To Move Up

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

The Blue Jays are looking for a closer. They also could use another bat and definitely need a starting pitcher to function as an anchor for the young starting rotation.

Let’s take a look at what they could and should do.

Closer.

With the top tier closer off the market as Jonathan Papelbon signed with the Phillies and the Blue Jays reluctant to spend that amount of money on a short-reliever anyway, they have to look at the other options; these options might not be as splashy as the Papelbon signing, but they would fit into the Blue Jays budget and serve their purpose in the regular season.

The names of a lower tier/cheaper variety include the affordable, warted veterans Brad Lidge, Jonathan Broxton, Matt Capps and Joe Nathan.

Then there’s Heath Bell, who’s not young (34) and won’t demand as much as a Papelbon, Ryan Madson or Francisco Rodriguez.

The Blue Jays could wait and see if the market crashes on Madson or K-Rod; or they could try and make a trade for Joakim Soria, Huston Street or Carlos Marmol.

The prices for Soria and Marmol are likely to be exorbitant; I’d steer clear of Bell, Madson, Broxton, Capps and Street—they don’t fit for the Blue Jays.

That leaves Nathan and Lidge.

Lidge has had his highs and lows in the post-season; his confidence is hair-trigger and his injury history concerning; he’d be cheap and might be very, very good or very, very bad.

Nathan pitched well once he regained the job as stopper from Capps and in his second year back from Tommy John surgery, he’s a good gamble to regain his form at a highly affordable price.

What I would do: Sign Joe Nathan for 2-years, $11 million guaranteed with incentives to push it to $15 million and a mutual option for a 3rd year.

Starting pitcher.

In the summer when it looked like the Cardinals were going to clear salary to keep Albert Pujols, I suggested that the Blue Jays bring back the pitcher they drafted but non-tendered when he got hurt—Chris Carpenter.

Carpenter was signed by the Cardinals, allowed to recover, had his motion torn apart and rebuilt by Dave Duncan and developed into one of the best pitchers in baseball over the past decade.

But Carpenter signed a contract extension with the Cardinals.

What the Blue Jays need is a horse. Someone to eat innings and set an example for the talented youngsters Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek, Henderson Alvarez and current ace Ricky Romero.

There are pitchers like this available.

Mark Buehrle is team-oriented; can show the youngsters how to get by when they don’t have their good stuff; and when he’s on, he pitches no-hitters. He’d probably prefer to stay in Chicago (with the White Sox or Cubs); go to the Cardinals (who don’t have room for him barring a trade or three); or stay relatively close to the Mid-West. That shouldn’t dissuade the Blue Jays from pursuing him.

Hiroki Kuroda has wicked stuff and is mean, but it’s hard to see him leaving the West Coast.

Edwin Jackson is represented by Scott Boras and the Blue Jays won’t want to pay him—nor should they.

Roy Oswalt isn’t looking for a long term contract and won’t be interested in the pressure-packed, big city atmospheres of Boston or New York—he’d like to go to Texas or the Mid-West, but maybe he’d also listen to the Blue Jays.

Like Jackson, C.J. Wilson will cost more than they’d like to spend on a starting pitcher.

Javier Vazquez had major success in Canada with the Expos and was one of baseball’s best pitchers over the second half of last season for the Marlins; he has yet to decide whether he’ll pitch in 2012 (I suspect he will) and he’s had bad experiences in the American League overall and the American League East in particular with two hellish stints with the Yankees.

Trade candidates include Bronson Arroyo; Francisco Liriano; Trevor Cahill; Gio Gonzalez; Mike Pelfrey; Brett Myers; Wandy Rodriguez; and Joe Saunders.

All have positives and negatives. Of the group, the ones I’d serious pursue are Arroyo—he’s an innings-eater, is signed for $13 million through 2013, and has guts and experience in the AL East; Cahill—a sinkerballer who pounds the strike zone and has succeeded with a bad Athletics team; or Rodriguez—terrific stuff and an underrated competitor.

What I would do: Explore a trade for Arroyo and go after both Oswalt and Buehrle—see what the asking prices are, who wants to come to Toronto and will be the most reasonable.

A bat.

I would stay away from the massive financial commitment to Prince Fielder; I wouldn’t touch David Ortiz.

If Joey Votto is put on the market, any team would have to try getting him, but he’s going to cost a chunk of the farm system.

Here’s the best strategy: let Kelly Johnson leave; sign Carlos Beltran to play right field; shift Jose Bautista to third base; and move Brett Lawrie to second. When Beltran is the DH, they can play Edwin Encarnacion at third and have Bautista in right.

Beltran’s contract demands are no longer going to be Borased because he and Boras parted ways in the summer; he won’t cost any draft picks because it was inserted into his contract he can’t be offered arbitration by his prior club; and he could DH when his knees aren’t feeling up to playing the outfield—it might be more often than it would normally be due to the artificial turf at the Rogers Center.

He’d be a more athletic, versatile and cheaper alternative to Fielder; and is a quiet leader who has performed in the big city and during pressure-packed moments. The big concern I’d have with Ortiz is that there’s a chance he’s a “Red Sox player” who won’t perform when removed from the venue where he made his name and became the Big Papi character. That “character” is also an issue—while the Red Sox are used to him, his outspokenness might be seen as an intrusion for a new, young club.

What I would do: Sign Beltran for 3-years, $40 million and make the position switches listed above.

The above maneuvers would fill the Blue Jays needs; leave them financial room to add as they need to at mid-season; and put them in a legitimate position to contend for a playoff spot rather than hope that if everything goes right, then maybe they’ll hang around the outskirts while knowing that they had little-to-no chance.

They have the talent now; the Red Sox are vulnerable; the Yankees are aging.

It’s time to move up.

//

The Braves Said No To Papelbon For Vazquez?!?

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

Yes. And they were right to do it.

Peter Gammons revealed on Twitter that in 2009, the Braves turned down an offer from the Red Sox of Jonathan Papelbon for Javier Vazquez.

Vazquez was subsequently traded along with Boone Logan from the Braves to the Yankees for Melky Cabrera, Mike Dunn and Arodys Vizcaino.

At first glance, it’s easy to say, “How could Frank Wren turn down Papelbon for Vazquez?!?”

But if you think about it and consider why the Braves were trading Vazquez in the first place, it made sense.

As great as Vazquez was in the 2009 season, he was on the block because he was making too much money and had the most trade value for the Braves at the time coming off a reputation-rejuvenating year; they would’ve preferred to have traded Derek Lowe, but with Lowe’s $15 million salary and length of contract, that wasn’t happening. The Braves were flush with cheaper starting pitching and had Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Lowe and Jair Jurrjens in the majors and youngsters Kris Medlen and Mike Minor on the way; they also had Kenshin Kawakami. Vazquez was a salary dump and trading Vazquez’s $11.5 million for Papelbon’s $10 million defeated the purpose of doing it. They got Cabrera who was coming off a solid season and playoffs for the Yankees and was set to be paid over $3 million in arbitration; they also received the lefty arm of Dunn whom they sent to the Marlins for Dan Uggla, and the big minor league prize, the flamethrowing Vizcaino.

They could’ve used Papelbon, but they signed Billy Wagner for $6.75 million; Wagner was excellent for the Braves in 2010 and wasn’t looking for a long-term contract. They also knew they had an option on Wagner for 2011 if he decided to pitch and Craig Kimbrel nearly ready—they were set for the future at closer.

In exchange for Vazquez the Braves got Uggla, Vizcaino, Cabrera and Wagner.

That’s a far better haul than Papelbon for Vazquez straight-up.

In hindsight, Papelbon would’ve been good for the Braves; Vazquez likely would’ve been a disaster for the Red Sox; it worked out well for all sides that the deal didn’t happen.

That doesn’t immediately assuage the shock when reading a splashy report that said the deal was offered, but Wren did the smart thing.

//

Frediot—Fredi Gonzalez Has Converted Me

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

No. That’s not a good thing.

When he was hired as Braves manager to replace Bobby Cox, I tried to assuage the fears of Braves fans who’d only seen snippets of his managing style with the Marlins; who were concerned that there was no actual interview process and that Fredi Gonzalez taking over was more of an old boys’ club anointing; that his history with the Marlins didn’t bode well for a team like the Braves who were expected to win.

I was wrong.

The Braves are teetering precariously close to gacking up a playoff spot that should’ve been wrapped up a week ago and a large part of that is due to their manager.

I’m not quibbling with his benching/platooning of Jason Heyward—Heyward’s obviously not 100% and he’s been atrocious against lefties. Nor am I going to get too crazy about the lack of patience among the lineup. While the aggressive approach is espoused by hitting coach Larry Parrish and obviously supported by Gonzalez, the Braves don’t exactly have an intimidating lineup; nor have the hitters—apart from Chipper Jones—ever been historically patient. Dan Uggla‘s walks are down, but he accumulated the high walk totals earlier in his career playing for…Fredi Gonzalez.

He might have been use his relievers more judiciously—but he hasn’t had a great deal of choice given the way his starting rotation has been decimated by injuries; he could conceivably have taken his foot off the gas and used Jonny Venters, Craig Kimbrel and Eric O’Flaherty less frequently, but their velocity and stuff has been consistent all year.

As for some of his maneuvers, there’s no defense. The one I remember most vividly was his brain-dead, “I’m gonna manage using stragety” in April against the reeling Mets when he called for a suicide squeeze with one out and the bases loaded; two strikes on pitcher Tommy Hanson with Eric Hinske was on third.

I understood the thought process—Hanson was the pitcher; Gonzalez could have Martin Prado leading off the next inning if it didn’t work—but the correct call was to tell Hanson to keep the bat on his shoulder, hope for a walk and leave it up to the speedy Prado to try to hit one into the gap or wreak some havoc with his legs.

Hanson missed the bunt and struck out, Hinske got caught in a rundown.

Just like that the Mets were out of the inning.

It was inexplicably horrible decision-making.

Last night he committed another egregious gaffe.

The Marlins were leading 3-0 in top of the seventh inning when, with 2 outs, Heyward doubled sending Brian McCann to third base against Marlins starter Javier Vazquez.

Jack Wilson came to the plate.

Jack Wilson can’t hit.

Worse, he’s gone from Jack Wilson to “Hack” Wilson with 9 walks in over 200 at bats this season.

Hinske was on the bench.

Neither Wilson nor Hinske have hit Vazquez well, but at least Hisnke is a threat to do something.

Wilson popped out to right field.

The next inning, Hinske was sent in to pinch hit for Jose Constanza.

Presumably it was because….

I have no idea what it was “because” of.

What good did it have to use Hinske to lead off the 8th inning when the proper time to use him was in the 7th when there were two runners in scoring position and the Braves were trailing by three?

These are just two examples and I’m quite certain that Braves fans will be able to point out at least a dozen more in which Gonzalez has either cost his team a game; could have cost his team a game; or misused his pitchers to accrue a possible cumulative fatigue that is affecting them as the season winds down.

I was wrong about Gonzalez.

I said he’d be fine. I said he’d make a few blunders, but for the most part would run the bullpen well and keep the team in line off the field while dealing with the media.

He has handled the clubhouse well and the media adequately while saying stupid things to explain away his ridiculous decisions; but he’s doing the one thing a manager cannot afford to do—costing his team games because of strategic mishaps.

The Braves won’t do it, but one of my criteria to make a managerial change is if the manager directly and negatively influences his club’s finish.

If the Braves miss the playoffs, it will be due to their manager Fredi Gonzalez.

And on that basis, I’d fire him.

//