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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We want justice when it benefits us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Rivera got hurt, there was this identical dynamic.

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

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

Because it’s a job.

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

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

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

That can happen to the Yankees.

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

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

There’s no fixing it.

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

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

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

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American League East—Buy, Sell or Stand Pat?

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You’ll see all the “rumors” floating around, published in newspapers and discussed on blogs, websites and shows. Most of them are fabrications, blown out of proportion or strategically placed factoids by owners, GMs, player agents, players, media members and anyone else with a stake in getting a story out there.

Starting with the American League East, here’s a realistic analysis of what teams should do at the upcoming trading deadline and which players might be available.

New York Yankees

Of course the Yankees are buyers, but what they’re buying and are willing to sell is still unknown. GM Brian Cashman has said he’s not going after any big name starting pitchers. Is that because they don’t want to trade prospects or because their prospects have lost luster throughout baseball?

The Yankees have crafted a case study in diminishing the value of their lauded minor leaguers. They managed to sell their one big asset—Jesus Montero—for a lemon in Michael Pineda and a bent “key” Jose Campos. (Still no updates on the condition of Campos’s elbow, by the way. Have they buried him somewhere?)

Manny Banuelos is also injured and Dellin Betances was demoted from Triple A to Double A because he couldn’t throw strikes.

Teams would take both, but not as the centerpiece for a notable veteran player. As part of a package? Absolutely.

They’d be foolish not to at least check in on Cole Hamels. They’re a more likely suitor for Ryan Dempster. I’d steer clear of Jason Vargas and Wandy Rodriguez (not good ideas for Yankee Stadium); Matt Garza is intriguing buy costly.

They need bullpen help with Grant Balfour, Rafael Betancourt, Brandon League and Joe Thatcher targets to consider.

If I were Cashman, I’d call Diamondbacks’ GM Kevin Towers (a former Cashman assistant) and tell him to hold off on trading Justin Upton in-season because the Yankees will want him over the winter to replace Nick Swisher.

Baltimore Orioles

They should stand pat making only negligible and cheap additions.

While it’s a great story that the Orioles are 45-40 and the doubters of some of the moves made by Dan Duquette have been proven wrong (Jason Hammel has been one of the great, under-the-radar pickups this season), they have to weigh the chances of a playoff spot vs surrendering too much to get mid-season help.

Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy are off the table in trades.

If they can get a starter and an outfielder simply by taking on salary and not giving up much to get them, they should do it. Carlos Quentin for the outfield and Joe Blanton to eat innings. Apart from that, they shouldn’t go crazy for a longshot.

Tampa Bay Rays

It doesn’t look like it’s going to happen for the Rays this year. They’re banking their hopes on Evan Longoria’s return—whenever that’s going to be. The starting pitching that was supposed to be an embarrassment of riches that the rest of baseball envied has fizzled. I expected B.J. Upton to have a massive statistical season in his contract year, but he’s continued being B.J. Upton: aggravating, inconsistent, lazy with flashes of brilliance.

Comebacks such as the one they pulled off last September don’t happen very often.

They should stand pat and listen to offers for Upton.

Boston Red Sox

Fan demand might force them to do something drastic and it’s not going to sell if Ben Cherington and Larry Lucchino pull the old Theo Epstein trick of being in on ginormous deals that never come to pass. The media and radio talk shows are going to want something significant done.

They need to ignore the pleas and stand pat.

This team, bottom line, isn’t very good. They’re dysfunctional in the clubhouse; there’s a leadership vacuum in the front office with multiple voices vying for influence; and their veterans haven’t performed. Trading prospects for a rental starting pitcher or even one that they’ll be able to keep in Garza makes no sense.

Toronto Blue Jays

There’s talk that they’re buyers. There’s talk that they’re sellers. There’s talk that they’re both.

GM Alex Anthopoulos is in on everything and they have the prospects to do something major. Desperate for starting pitching and holding out hope for a late-season playoff run, it’s something to consider when making a move on Garza or Wandy Rodriguez. They’re not far away from being a legitimate contender now and definitely in 2013 and beyond.

But they’ve been on that verge multiple times for the past 10 years and nothing’s happened.

I don’t get the impression that the Brewers are all-in on cleaning house and dealing Zack Greinke. In fact, I’m thinking that unless they totally come apart over the next three weeks, they won’t move him. They Blue Jays would probably be better off shifting focus toward a Randy Wolf or bringing Shaun Marcum back because they’re cheaper.

I’d try to get rid of Adam Lind now that he’s hitting again.

Edwin Encarnacion’s name popped up as being in play. He’s having his career year and still makes mental gaffes that can aggravate the most patient manager. If someone is willing give up a pitcher for him, then do it in a mutually advantageous deal. The Pirates have extra pitching and could use a bat, but I’d be concerned about messing with their current chemistry.

I’d buy or sell within reason with nothing too explosive.

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Jose Campos As The Invisible Key

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Oh, did you wind up here looking for a Jose Campos injury update?

Sorry.

I don’t have one.

From what I can gather, no one else does either.

The elbow inflammation that shelved him and wasn’t supposed to be serious or long-term has kept Campos from pitching for over two months and, at this point with the minor league season over on September 3rd, he’s probably done for the year.

Of course that’s only speculation on my part because that’s all we have with the silence exhibited by the Yankees on the matter.

It’s not just the Yankees that have been mute on Campos, but the YES Network never even acknowledged that he was hurt. You’ll get nothing from their in-house blog River Avenue Blues and forget the NY Post’s Joel Sherman, Ken Davidoff; WFAN’s Sweeny Murti or anyone else who might as well have the interlocking NY tattooed on their forehead as a means of identification as to their true loyalties.

The transformation is amazing. First Campos was the lifeline—the key as it were—to defending a disastrous trade that sent their top hitting prospect Jesus Montero and a pitcher they developed Hector Noesi to the Mariners for Michael Pineda and Campos.

Pineda was meant to be the cost-controlled, high-end starting pitcher to fill out the Yankees’ big league rotation and Campos was the young stud at age 19 who the scouts loved and would eventually develop into a top-tier starting pitcher for the club.

Pineda’s out for the year. And Campos?

Um…oh….well….gee….ignore him and he’ll go away until they can use him? Is that the strategy?

So quick to reference his abilities and that the trade wasn’t about Pineda as a single entity, Campos was trotted out again and again to defend the shoddy record of GM Brian Cashman in judging pitchers.

It was Campos, Campos, Campos.

Then he got hurt adding to the embarrassment of the Pineda injury and that they gave away a bat that they were about to trade to get Cliff Lee two years ago and if they had him now could trade as part of a deal for any number of players who are or might be available from Cole Hamels to Justin Upton.

Now they have nothing.

Campos is persona non grata and they won’t even acknowledge his existence as long as he’s unable to pitch. The media hasn’t updated nor have they apparently bothered asking what the story is with Campos; when he’s going to return; what the doctor’s recommendations were.

Nothing.

Not to worry. If and when he’s healthy again, the Yankees will put him on their notably successful pitching program of innings limits, pitch counts and “protective services” that are more akin to extortion than implementations in the interests of the individual. He’ll be on the same carefully crafted plan that led to the ruination of Joba Chamberlain as a starter; have stagnated the development of Phil Hughes; led to the horrific control problems and demotion from Triple A to Double A for Dellin Betances; and the injury to Manny Banuelos.

Ian Kennedy turned into a good pitcher…in Arizona.

Then again, why should they need the update on Campos? He was the key at their convenience and when he got hurt, he turned into the invisible man.

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The Life And Rant Of Brian

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I apologize in advance for subjecting you to the writing of Joel Sherman.

Sherman wrote this piece in today’s NY Post in which Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman went into a self-indulgent tangent about the Life of Brian.

It’s no wonder he’s defensive considering his pitching choices that have deprived the team of their number 1 hitting prospect Jesus Montero and a useful arm for their rotation in Hector Noesi in exchange for two pitchers that now reside on the disabled list and will be there for the foreseeable future. Michael Pineda—who Cashman referenced in the piece with a clear agenda to defend himself—is lost for the year with shoulder surgery. Jose Campos is also on the minor league disabled list. He was initially put on the 7-day DL with elbow inflammation. That “7-day DL” has lasted for, by my count, 46 days.

Manny Banuelos is also injured and Dellin Betances has lost the ability to throw consistent strikes. The reality surrounding Cashman’s pitching maneuvers precludes any raving mania of, “It’s not my fault!”

Here are the main clips from Cashman’s rant. Facts ruin his foundation for said rant.

Cashman stews because he does not like the perception the Yankees’ usage strategy led to Joba Chamberlain’s Tommy John surgery.

No one who knows anything about baseball and pitching thinks that it was the Yankees’ usage of Chamberlain that caused his Tommy John surgery. Tommy John happens to pitchers who are starters, relievers, journeyman, stars, huge prospects and non-prospects. It happens to infielders, outfielders and catchers. It happens to quarterbacks in the NFL and anyone who stresses their elbow ligament with a throwing motion. There’s no stopping it no matter how cognizant and cautious teams are. Stephen Strasburg was the catalyst for the Sherman column to begin with and in spite of their babying, Strasburg got hurt too. That same thing happened to Chamberlain and it’s not the Yankees’ fault.

In fact, he used the term “people are so [bleeping] stupid” three times because he feels matters have been twisted to fit a narrative that he does not know what he is doing.

There’s a significant difference between not knowing what one is doing and not realizing that what one is doing is not working. Whether or not Cashman knows what he’s doing is only determined by the results of what he does and his pitching decisions have been, by and large, failures.

He’s clung to the innings limits, rules and regulations that have been shunned by other clubs and watched as those clubs have developed their young pitchers with greater rates of success than the Yankees have.

The most glaring part of this lament is that he’s still clutching to these failed strategies like he’s in quicksand and they’re a lingering tree branch. He’s made no indication of accepting that things may need to change to get the most out of the talented young arms they’ve accrued.

“Joba was a starter his whole amateur career and his first pro season (2007) with us,” Cashman said. “We only brought him up to relieve to finish off the innings he was allowed to throw while trying to help [the major league team]. And we probably don’t make the playoffs in ’07 if we didn’t put him in the pen. But he wasn’t bounced back and forth. And the debate only began because instead of keeping him in the minors hidden as a starter, we tried to win in the majors.”

This is the Yankees’ fault. Period.

If the long-term intention was to make Chamberlain a starter, what they should’ve done after 2007 was to make him a starting pitcher and leave him in the starting rotation in the face of the demands of the players, the media and the fans.

They didn’t.

Here’s what happened with Chamberlain: he was so unhittable as a reliever that he could not, would not surpass that work he did over that magical month-and-a-half in 2007. If not for the midges in Cleveland, that Yankees team might’ve won the World Series. The entire context of Chamberlain from his dominance to the “Joba Rules” T-shirts to the fist pumping made him into a phenomenon. It’s up to the man running the organization to contain the phenomenon and Cashman didn’t do it.

Cashman is engaging in revisionist history here to shield himself from the onus of contributing to Chamberlain’s on-field performance downfall, not his Tommy John surgery nor the shoulder injury that’s been called the real reason his stuff has declined and why he can’t start.

The debate began because he was a dominant reliever. They kept using him as a reliever to start the 2008 season, then shoved him into the rotation with the same hindrances preventing him from getting into a rhythm as a starter.

It got worse in 2009 as they again jerked him back and forth, placed him in the rotation—in the big leagues—but used him as if it was spring training during the regular season and let him pitch 3 innings in one start before pulling him; 4 innings in another start before pulling him, and continuing with this charade. Even when he pitched well and appeared to be finding his groove as a starter, they messed with him by giving him unneeded “extra” rest. After that extra rest, he reverted into the pitcher with the power fastball, inconsistent command and scattershot secondary pitches. Saying he wasn’t bounced back and forth is either a lie or Cashman has truly convinced himself of the fantasy.

Cashman also angrily said he believes the Yankees are held to a higher standard on this matter. He noted most organizations — such as the Nationals with Jordan Zimmermann and Strasburg, and the Mariners with Michael Pineda — shut down young starters when they have reached a prescribed innings cap.

If there’s a “higher standard” for the Yankees it’s because they invite it with the suggestion that they’re better than everyone else.

And no, Brian. It doesn’t work that way. You don’t get the benefits of being the “Yankees” without having to endure what’s perceived as a negative when it doesn’t go your way. I say “Yankees” in quotes because I’m not talking about them as the most decorated organization in baseball, but as the entity of the “Yankees” with their history and smug condescension of being one of the richest, most famous and recognized brand in the entire world. He has more money than any other GM to spend and with that comes responsibility. When things go wrong, he’s the man who holds the bag.

Without getting into a Selena Roberts-style bit of autodidactic pop psychology the kind she used with her amateurish biography of Alex Rodriguez and traced every A-Rod foible to his father having abandoned the family, it’s abundantly clear that Cashman’s profane forthrightness—bordering on unhinged—is stemming from the pressure he’s feeling not just for the hellish trade he made for Pineda and Campos, but because of his off-field crises that have embarrassed him as well as the organization and made him into someone whose mid-life disaster is negatively affecting his job.

It may have been cathartic to get these feelings out into the open, but he’d have been better off telling it to a psychiatrist than a hack writer from the New York Post because all this did was place Cashman back into the headlines with a bullseye on his back as a paranoid, egomaniacal, deluded and self-involved person whose job is on the line.

It’s not the “bleeping stupid” people who are to blame. It’s Cashman himself. He did it and he has to face the consequences.

All he succeeded in doing was to make himself look worse.

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It’s Not 1998 And The Yankees Are Not 46-10

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Did  the Yankees start the season 46-10 and I missed it?

I must’ve because the tone of the Yankee-centric media and fanbase implies that they’re still in the midst of a dynasty that ended 12 years ago.

Or maybe I didn’t miss anything. Maybe there’s such an overtone of arrogance that surrounds the Yankees’ organization in general and extends to everyone within some semblance of its orbit that they think they’re the world champions even when they’re not the world champions.

It never ends. If you watch the YES Network, listen to Mike Francesa or Michael Kay and have any ability to sift through the propaganda and see reality, you’ve sensed it too.

Here’s reality: the Yankees are not 46-10. They’re a mediocre 31-25 with an aging starting lineup, a shaky bullpen and a starting rotation that has found itself dependent on a returning hero who had retired after the 2010 season. This idea that the Mets are going to enter Yankee Stadium starstruck and spend the entire 3 game series at Yankee Stadium gazing longingly at the pinstripes and wishing that they were plying their trade across town rather than in Queens feeds into the monster that has created this lie.

During his team report on WFAN, Sweeny Murti was talking to Francesa about Nationals’ rookie sensation Bryce Harper. He related a story from spring training when the Yankees were playing the Nats and Harper was watching the Yankees take batting practice with an intensity that bordered on hypnotized. Apparently one of Harper’s favorite players is Mickey Mantle, which makes perfect sense for a 19-year-old to idolize someone who hadn’t played since 1969 and has been dead since 1995. That same someone who is the poster child for misplaced idolatry engaged in by the likes of Francesa in spite of being the epitome of a once-in-a-lifetime talent who threw much of that talent away with drinking and carousing.

Suffice it to say I would not want Harper to emulate Mantle.

Harper was so engrossed and googly eyed at the sight of the Yankees (according to Murti) that Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo went over to Harper, pulled him aside and (again, according to Murti) said something to the tune of, “Look, we know you’re gonna be with the Yankees when you become a free agent, but for now you’re a Nat. Watch them from the dugout.”

Really?

Is that what happened?

Is this hyperbole on the part of Murti or did Rizzo actually say that to his prize prospect?

Either way, it’s ridiculous. The days of the Yankees getting every free agent they want ended with the new collective bargaining agreement and the conscious decision not to spend so much money on players of other teams. That the players themselves might have a say in the matter is irrelevant to the blind Yankees supporters, but Cliff Lee decidedly said no to the Yankees and signed with the Phillies because he preferred a team other than the Yankees.

It does happen.

Trust me when I tell you that if Harper is everything he’s hyped to be, the Nationals are not going to let him smell free agency and will lock him up long-term. In fact, they might try to do it in the next year or two to make sure they have him until he’s at least 30.

It’s this type of thinking that led to the appellation of the word “tragedy” on Mariano Rivera’s season-ending knee injury.

Tragedy?

Anyone who thinks it’s a tragedy should consider themselves lucky that they’ve never experienced such an actual tragedy that a baseball player’s injury is judged as such.

YES’s website still doesn’t have any information on the injuries to Manny Banuelos or Jose Campos. They never mentioned Brian Cashman’s off-field issues with his stalker and are loathe to discuss the nightmarish trade that netted them Michael Pineda and Campos.

YES is no more of a “sports news” network than a paid televangelist channel or something Kevin Trudeau would come up with. It’s not designed to disseminate sports information in a bipartisan way. It’s there to promote the Yankees. Any “reporter” who works for the network in any fashion knows that and tailors their work accordingly. They’re not reporters, they’re PR people wearing a press pass.

General support for the team a network focuses on is completely understandable—even expected. But with the Yankees, it’s turned into a general sycophancy that requires this fantasy of superiority even where one doesn’t exist.

The Yankees mandate is World Series or bust. That has extended to the spoiled rotten fanbase that throws a self-indulgent tantrum when things don’t go the way they’re “supposed” to go. It’s systemic and disturbing. With that mandate, it’s indelibly connected to their success or failure and by that metric, they’ve only been successful in one season since 2000. How can that be called success? And how can it be called success when the team has made the playoffs every single year but one and gotten bounced each time except in 2009? How can that be called success when they spend $200 million a season on payroll while most teams spend half of that and less? Shouldn’t their financial might beget more than one title in 11 years?

The adjustment of the expectations are stark. Before, when they were winning every year, it was because they’re the Yankees. Now that they’re more likely to lose in the playoffs than win, the concept of the playoffs is at fault and—as Moneyball stated as an excuse for Billy Beane’s clubs losing every year—it’s a crapshoot.

If you want to see a crapshoot, check out the draft.

Yankees’ apologists have said such ludicrous idiocies as “the Yankees do most of their draft damage in the 20th round and beyond”.

Damage?

What damage?

Any player taken past the 10th round who makes it is a product of late blooming, an alteration in their game or pure luck. But because in 1990 they drafted a skinny infielder named Jorge Posada in the 24th round and a lanky lefty named Andy Pettitte in the 20th round, it was Yankees’ foresight and mystique.

If it’s damage, it’s retrospective damage on what they became, otherwise known as serendipity.

I hate to break it to you, but two picks in the 20th and 24th rounds doesn’t imply design. Since it happened 22 years ago, it doesn’t have any connection to the Yankees draft in 2012 nor their drafts from 1991-2011.

What you have is a clinging to the myth of the Yankees being superior to other organizations based on history, but that history has nothing to do with now. They’re a contender with holes. They have the money and prospects to fill those holes, but as of right now they’ll have to fight their way into the playoffs.

Alex Rodriguez is aging and has to cheat (not in the PED sense) to be able to catch up to a good power fastball—sometimes he does, most of the time he doesn’t. They’re reliant on Pettitte, grasping for a way to patch together their bullpen with the absences of Rivera, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and navigate mangaer Joe Girardi’s still odd and questionable pitching decisions.

In short, this isn’t 1998. The Yankees are not dominating anyone and there’s no reason for an opposing team to walk in and stare at their array of stars as if they’re beaten before the games start. They’re 31-25. That’s their record. That’s what they are. Those are facts. You can accept them or you can tune into YES and WFAN.

It all depends on your concept of truth.

The dynasty is over whether you like it or not; whether you believe it or not. And no amount of denial is going to bring it back.

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The Geek Chorus and Disappearance of Jose Campos

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As the final out of David Robertson’s first save chance in replacing Mariano Rivera was recorded, YES play-by-play man Michael Kay delivered a familiarly preplanned and predictably terrible speech. He did the same thing when Derek Jeter recorded his 3000th hit.

Kay injected such words as “crucible” and referred to the save as “A.M.” for After Mariano.

For some reason, he thinks these postscripts are good.

They’re not.

As religious as Rivera is, the biblical undertones would probably be quite offensive and he’d bristle at his deification by others.

Robertson got the save, but it wasn’t easy and he’s not going to slide neatly into the role as is foolishly and ignorantly believed.

On another important note, Jose Campos has apparently disappeared.

Mike Francesa (amid his redundant entreaties for the Mets to give Terry Collins a contract extension, apparently unaware or uninterested that Collins’s 2013 contract option was exercised last September and another extension is unneeded) had WFAN Yankees’ beat reporter Sweeny Murti on the show and they were discussing the Yankees’ pitching problems. Along with the news of when Andy Pettitte is scheduled to start (Sunday) and other matters, they utilized a pretzel-twist defense of GM Brian Cashman and the presently nightmarish and possibly long-term disastrous trade of Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi to the Mariners for Michael Pineda (out for a year with labrum surgery) and Campos (on the minor league disabled list with elbow inflammation).

Basically the line was, “We’ll have to wait a few years to truly be able to judge the trade.”

Would it be a similar circumstance if Pineda was 5-0 for the Yankees and Campos was blowing hitters away as he did in his first few starts before he got hurt?

Campos was the lifeline, constantly mentioned as the most important and shockingly available piece to the trade…until the injury. Now the storyline is that with young pitchers, it’s a crapshoot.

You’d like a baseball team to be run like a business?

Okay. Let’s run it like a business.

Say you have a company and the person running the day-to-day operations of said company has made a multitude of mistakes in one imperative department—a department that is widely believed to be the key to success.

Then that person was romantically involved with an someone who was, at best, mentally unstable and he chose to use his office to write a reference for that person on company stationery, essentially giving company approval to a dangerous individual.

Then a deal is made that turns out to be bad practically and financially in the short-term and has the potential to degenerate to catastrophic proportions in the long-term.

What would be done to that person?

They’d be forced out.

Yet Brian Cashman is still defended with such silliness as this article in today’s NY Times about the pitching issues the Yankees have had and comparisons to the far more successful Tampa Bay Rays’ method of building pitchers, keeping them healthy and productive.

Here’s the relevant quote from the piece:

“I know they have a lot younger guys, but Pineda’s young and he just went down,” Cashman said. “I know the innings here are more stressful than the innings there, no doubt about that. Throwing 100 pitches in New York versus 100 pitches in Tampa are two different stresses. The stress level’s radically different on each pitch.”

Cashman neglects to add why the Yankees’ young pitchers have been so stressed. The Rays don’t go start-to-start for a rotation spot with one bad game cause for a demotion—and they have the depth to do it if they chose to.

The Rays don’t cause a media frenzy when a pitcher isn’t throwing 99-mph fastballs as expected on March 5th as the Yankees did with Pineda.

The Rays don’t have a cookie-cutter program for their pitchers that they cling to in the face of repeated mistakes. They see what works and when it doesn’t, they try something else.

And the Rays treat their pitchers with an personal concern for the mental aspect of the game that the Yankees clearly don’t.

Currently the only thing preventing that trade from being called the aforementioned catastrophe is that Campos’s diagnosis (so far) is elbow inflammation and Noesi and Montero are still finding their way in the big leagues. If Campos is seriously hurt and Noesi and Montero get past the nascent phase of their careers and start to come of age, then what? Are we going to get another series of caveats that “you never know with pitchers”? Or are we going to hear that Montero and Noesi didn’t have the “makeup” for New York?

No one wants to hear about the “process” anymore. The Yankees are not “process” driven. For an organization that views any season that doesn’t end in a championship as an overt failure, there’s no room for “well, we’ll see” with pitchers like Pineda who was going to be a key component for this year’s championship run. No one wants to hear about a 19-year-old kid, Campos, when the Yankees have faltered in developing every hotshot young starter that’s been touted as the next big superstar over the past fifteen years.

It’s enough with the parsing.

The arrogance is stifling and tiresome. There’s a perception that even when the Yankees lose, they still win. Cliff Lee beat the Yankees with the Rangers in 2010? Okay, we’ll just sign him and he’ll be with us. But he didn’t want to sign with the Yankees. Maybe it wasn’t because he didn’t appreciate the privilege of being part of the rich tapestry of history inherent with the world’s most recognizable franchise; it might be because he didn’t appreciate his wife being spit on and cursed at during the ALCS; or maybe he just preferred the Phillies and the National League.

He doesn’t have to give a reason.

But it still comes back to controlling the story; to twisting reality to fit a narrative as Kay does with his insipid soliloquies.

And it goes back to searching the YES Network website for news about the injury to Campos and coming up with absolutely nothing as if the pitcher doesn’t exist.

Go on. Search it. Click here and see what comes up when conducting a websearch on the site of the YANKEES owned broadcasting arm by typing “Jose Campos”.

Nothing.

In their world, he’s whitewashed. That’s at least until they can use him to validate their continued delusions. Then we won’t stop hearing about him. Until then, he’s a ghost.

Such is life under an out-of-touch dictatorship whose glossy façade is coming apart piece-by-piece.

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Did The “Key” Break In The Lock?

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Amid the Yankees scrambling after the Mariano Rivera injury (referred in some ludicrous, self-centered and delusional circles as a “tragedy”), it’s gone almost completely unreported that Jose Campos is now hurt as well.

The big league portion of the trade that sent Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi to the Mariners was, of course, Michael Pineda.

Pineda was meant to fill a gaping hole in the Yankees’ rotation and provide the team with quality innings at an affordable and controllable price for the foreseeable future.

Pineda is on the disabled list and expected to be out for a year after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on a torn labrum in his shoulder.

But Pineda wasn’t seen as the most important piece in the trade.

No.

The most important piece—the “key” as it were—was the 19-year-old Campos. Campos received raves from everyone who’s seen him. Apparently he’s a wonderful talent.

Naturally the attempts to bolster the value of this trade predicated that Campos be treated as if he’s the big piece in the deal. This was especially so after Pineda got hurt.

But now, after a brilliant start for the Yankees’ single-A affiliate in Charleston, South Carolina, Campos is on the 7-day disabled list and underwent an MRI for an elbow issue after getting blasted for 8 runs, 7 hits and 3 walks in 2.2 innings on April 28th.

You can read a small snippet (all I could find about it without digging) here on the Minor Matters Blog.

He was placed on the disabled list retroactive to May 1st.

It’s now May 5th.

They don’t have the results?

There’s no news about this?

I did a websearch and only found a couple of mentions about this and had to go to the Charleston Riverdogs’ website to see Campos’s gamelog stats.

There’s no mention of Campos’s injury nor of him getting an MRI anywhere on that site. Not on the headlines; not in the game reports; not in the press releases. Nowhere.

Are the Yankees stonewalling? Hoping no one notices that the other piece—the “key”—is now injured as well?

Where’s the news release? The information?

There is no information. The way they’ve kept silent is a clear indicator that they’re trying to find a way to spin “doctor” (intentional pun) their way out of the inevitable and endless ridicule they and GM Brian Cashman will receive (and deserve) for making that trade and getting two pitchers who both got injured a month into their first season as members of the Yankees.

Disaster doesn’t even begin to describe this trade.

And it’s getting worse and worse with no end in sight.

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