Masahiro Tanaka: Full Analysis, Video and Predictions

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Masahiro Tanaka has been posted and teams are scrambling to get their hands on the 25-year-old Japanese star. Like most hot items, though, is it availability that’s spurring the interest? Is it hype? Is it his gaudy 24-0 record pitching for Rakuten in 2013? Is it his ability? Or is it a combination of a multitude of factors that Tanaka and his new U.S. agent Casey Close are going to exploit to extract every last penny out of MLB clubs?

The loudest shrieks in favor of Tanaka aren’t based on any analysis. “I want Tanaka!” is not analysis and it’s based on nothing. So let’s take a look at the numerous positives and negatives of the Japanese sensation that could wind up being the next Yu Darvish or the next Kei Igawa.

Mechanics

You notice the different teaching techniques with every Japanese pitcher that makes the trek to North America. They step straight back as pitchers are supposed to to maximize leverage toward the plate. Many Americanized pitchers don’t step straight back. They move to the side or at a diagonal angle. The Japanese pitchers will bring their arms above their head and hesitate as if they’re making sure all their weight is on the lead leg before they move forward. Then they’ll very quickly and all in one motion pivot on the rubber, lift their legs and they bring their arms down, separate ball from glove and fire. Many have what appears to be a leg-based motion similar to that which was used by Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver and Greg Maddux.

But are they using their legs?

Looking at Tanaka, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish among many others, they’re garnering leverage from their lower bodies, but essentially stopping halfway through and using their arms to generate power. With Seaver, he would explode hard off the rubber, using it as a foundation to launch himself toward the hitter. The energy would flow from his lower body all the way up through to his arm. Upon release of the ball, that energy would suddenly be compacted as he bounced and stood straight up. The arm was simply a conduit of that power that was generated by the legs, butt and hips. While Tanaka and the others are contorting their bodies and generating power through their legs, the brunt of the release of the ball falls on their arms because the legs stop working. You can see it when he finishes his release and the leg drags along behind him rather than whipping around after impact. His arm bullwhips as it’s not decelerating with the cushion of the lower legs. He has the flexible front leg Seaver, Ryan and Maddux used, but it’s a middling technique that’s done without completion of the intent of taking stress off the arm.

You’ll hear people who regurgitate scouting terminology and facts as if they have an in-depth knowledge of them. The inverted W and Tanaka’s wrist hook should become such terms you’ll need to understand when looking at Tanaka and whether these issues will affect his long-term health and durability. There’s a profound negativity surrounding the inverted W when the pitcher moves both arms simultaneously into what looks like and upside down W (which leads to the question of why it’s not called an “M”) and guarantees his arm will be in the optimal position when he turns and throws. For pitchers who have trouble maintaining their arm slot and release point when making a big circle with their arms or might have the arm drag behind their bodies when they throw, the inverted W is a checkpoint method to ensure the arm is in the proper position. The only time it’s a problem is if the arm is brought back further than is necessary and it strains the shoulder. If the pitcher raises the elbow above the shoulder, this too can be an issue. Tanaka does neither. Watching a quarterback with proper throwing mechanics is the correct way to use the inverted W. Getting the elbow to shoulder level is the point. There’s no issue with Tanaka there.

As for the wrist hook, it’s not something that can be stopped or fixed. Barry Zito does it and has had a successful career without injury issues to his arm. Rick Sutcliffe and Don Drysdale hooked their wrists as well. With Sutcliffe, it was part of a long and herky-jerky motion that was actually quite smooth. He had arm trouble in his career, but he was a top big league pitcher and quite durable for his 18 year career. Drysdale blew out his shoulder, but he lasted until he was 32 and averaged 237 innings a season with four straight of 300-plus innings. Was it the workload or his mechanics? I’d say it was the workload.

When there is a mechanical problem, it has to be repaired when the pitcher is in his formative years. The longer they throw a certain way, the greater the challenge in “fixing” an issue. It also has to be remembered that a part of the reason pitchers like Sutcliffe were successful was because of his unique throwing motion. Much like it can’t – and shouldn’t – be taught for a pitcher to hook his wrist up toward his elbow, it can’t be changed either once he’s established. Hooking is not going to be a health issue unless it’s a pronounced yank. I don’t see Tanaka yanking the ball.

Analysis: He throws mostly with his arm and I would be concerned about him staying healthy.

Stuff

Tanaka has a mid-90s fastball with good life, a shooting split-finger fastball and a sharp slider. At the very least, no one is manufacturing a story that he throws pitches that either do or don’t exist as was done with Matsuzaka and the gyroball. The gyroball, for the record, is thrown with the wrist turned for a righty pitcher as if he’s waving to the third base dugout. From a righty pitcher, it would appear as a lefty quarterback’s spiral. The problem was Matsuzaka didn’t throw it. Hisashi Iwakuma does throw the gyroball and it’s nasty.

As for Tanaka’s fastball, it’s explosive when he throws it high and hitters will chase it given the downward action of his splitter and slider. His fastball is straight meaning if he doesn’t locate it and isn’t getting his breaking pitches over, he’ll get blasted. His breaking pitches are the key to his success. If hitters are laying off the splitter and his slider’s not in the strike zone, he’ll be forced to come in with his fastball where big league hitters will be waiting.

Analysis: With the velocity and breaking stuff, he certainly has the ability to be a successful, All-Star level pitcher in MLB.

The switching of leagues

In Japan, they tend to adhere more closely to the by-the-book strike zone. With that, Tanaka got high strike calls above the belt that he’s not going to get in MLB. If hitters learn to lay off that high pitch, he’s going to have a problem.

The ball in Japan is smaller than it is in North America. That hasn’t appeared to be a problem with most hurlers who’ve joined MLB and been successful. It’s not something to discount, but not something to worry about either.

Looking at Tanaka’s statistics are silly. A pitcher going 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA (an ERA he achieved in both 2011 and 2013) is indicative of a weak-hitting league. When studying a pitcher making the switch from Japan to MLB, the statistics might be a gaudy show to sell a few tickets, but few actual baseball people who know what they’re doing will take it seriously. Igawa was considered a top-flight pitcher in Japan and his stuff was barely capable of being deemed that of a journeyman Triple-A roster filler.

Analysis: Accept the statistical dominance at your own risk.

Workload

Much has been made of how Japanese pitchers are pushed as amateurs and expected to pitch whenever they’re asked to for as long as they’re needed. Two months ago, Tanaka threw 160 pitches in losing game 6 of the Japan Series then closed out game 7 to win the series for Rakuten.

Is this a red flag?

In North America, where pitchers are babied and placed on pitch counts and innings limits seemingly from little league onward, then are tormented by big time college coaches who couldn’t care less about their futures similarly to the workload Tanaka endured, then are placed back on their limits, it would be a problem. In Japan, it’s not unusual for pitchers to be used in ways that would be considered abusive. But that’s the way they’re trained. They’re expected to pitch and there’s no evidence that injuries and pitch counts/innings are correlated because the pitchers who’ve gotten hurt (Stephen Strasburg, Matt Harvey) were watched while others who weren’t (Maddux, Clayton Kershaw) have stayed healthy. With all the reams of numbers and organizational mandates steeped in randomness as to what keeps pitchers healthy, perhaps it’s all about the individual and his capacity to pitch. Japanese pitchers are conditioned this way and the workload wasn’t a jump from being allowed to throw 100 pitches to suddenly throwing 175 in two days.

Analysis: I wouldn’t worry about it.

Cost

With the changes to the Japanese posting system, Rakuten is guaranteed $20 million. That’s well short of the $51.7 million Nippon got from the Rangers for the rights to Darvish and a severe disappointment to Rakuten. They could have kept Tanaka, but instead chose to acquiesce to the pitcher’s wishes and let him go to MLB.

The new posting rules make more money for the players rather than the teams that are selling him. Darvish received a $56 million contract two years ago. Tanaka is expected to get over $100 million, but I’m expecting the bidding war to reach $130 to $140 million.

Is he worth it?

To hand this pitcher $130 million after the number of Japanese pitchers who’ve come over and failed is crazy. There’s an overemphasis on the fact that he’s a free agent that won’t cost a compensatory draft pick. But he’ll cost an extra $20 million to get his rights. Matt Garza won’t cost a draft pick either because he was traded at mid-season and he’s an established big league pitcher. Is it wise to spend $130 million to get Tanaka even if he’s 75 percent of what he was in Japan? Given the failures of Matsuzaka, Igawa and Hideki Irabu and the success of the less heralded pitchers who’ve come over like Hiroki Kuroda, Hideo Nomo and Iwakuma, the fact is no one knows with any certainty as to what they’re getting. And that’s important.

Is it preferable to pay for potential or to pay for what is known?

Let’s say the Yankees give Tanaka $130 million and he turns out to be an okay third starter. Was it worth it when they could’ve signed Garza and Bronson Arroyo, filled out their rotation with pitchers who are known commodities, kept their draft picks and had an inkling of what they were getting with arms who’ve succeeded in the AL East? Or is it better to go for the potential greatness of Tanaka and face the consequences if he’s Irabu/Igawa-revisited?

Other teams face the same dilemma. The Dodgers have their own 2015 free agent Kershaw to worry about and would like to sign Hanley Ramirez to a contract extension. How would signing Tanaka influence those issues? It’s more important to keep Kershaw than it is to sign Tanaka.

Analysis: I would not give Tanaka $100-130 million.

The pursuit

Tanaka is the first full-blown Japanese free agent with the new posting fee rules and it opens up a larger pool of teams that think they have a shot at getting him. The Yankees and Cubs are known to be hot for him.

The Mariners need another arm and it makes no sense to stop at Robinson Cano and think they’ll contend. Singing him would keep them from needing to gut the system to get David Price and a top three of Felix Hernandez, Iwakuma and Tanaka with Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton would be tough.

The Angels need pitching; the Diamondbacks and Dodgers are interested; the Astros could be sleepers with an owner holding deep pockets and trying to show he’s not a double-talking, money-hungry, arrogant cheapskate; the Rangers are all in for 2014; the Red Sox are always lurking; the Phillies need pitching; and the Orioles need to make a splash.

Analysis: It’s going to come down to the Yankees, Cubs and Mariners.




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Congratulations Ichiro On Hit Number 4,000!! (Make Sure You Purchase Your Commemorative T-Shirt On The Grand Concourse)

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Just remember one thing when quantifying Ichiro Suzuki’s 4,000 combined hits in Japan and North America: Kei Igawa was considered a “star” pitcher in Japan with these gaudy numbers before joining the Yankees. Considering the fact that he was pitching for a powerhouse Yankees team in 2007 and 2008, Igawa could have been less than mediocre and, based on his attendance record, won 12 to 15 games. Instead, in 16 games, the Yankees got an evil 6.66 ERA for their $46 million.

This is not to decry Ichiro’s accomplishment, but how can we legitimately consider this to be worthy of all the attention it’s getting as something other than an attempt on the part of the Yankees to sell some T-shirts? It may not be as silly as my snide Twitter crack that we should calculate O.J. Simpson’s accumulated yards in the white Bronco chase and add them to his NFL rushing total, but it’s in the vicinity.

Because of his contact with an agent, Reggie Bush’s USC football records were wiped out, he surrendered his Heisman Trophy and USC’s wins in 2005 were vacated. Since he was benefiting from these relationships while in college, couldn’t it be argued that he was technically receiving remuneration for his work and was therefore a professional? Shouldn’t his college rushing yards be added to his NFL totals?

You see where I’m going here.

The argument with Ichiro is that he was such an accomplished hitter in the major leagues that he would have had a vast number of hits—probably coming close to 4,000 by now—if he’d spent his entire career in North America. I don’t doubt it. But we can’t give legitimate accolades for a record of this nature based on “probably would have” vs. “would have” and “did.”

If Babe Ruth had been a hitter for his entire career rather than spending his first five seasons with the Red Sox as a pitcher, how many home runs would he have hit? If Josh Gibson or Satchel Paige had been allowed to play in the majors rather than being relegated to the Negro Leagues, what could they have done? There are no answers.

Then we get into the Japan-North America comparison. Do Randy Bass’s 202 homers in Japan get added to his nine big league homers to make 211? Does he jump ahead of Kirby Puckett (207) and Roberto Alomar (210) on the career list?

With a clear stake in the perception of being the top hit-getter in baseball history, Pete Rose diminished Ichiro’s hit total as not being equal in difficulty to his. Any comment Rose made was probably done during a break in relentlessly signing bats, balls and other memorabilia to accrue cash, but he’s not wrong in scoffing at the concept that Ichiro’s 4,000 hits are in any way equivalent to his 4,256 hits. Although he’s banned from baseball and unable to receive Hall of Fame induction, Rose is the true hit king whether Ichiro “passes” him in the next couple of years or not.

The Yankees’ celebration of the achievement was relatively muted compared to what they’ve done for such occurrences in the past. They’ve retired numbers they shouldn’t have retired (Reggie Jackson, Billy Martin, Roger Maris) and created “history” out of thin air even if it isn’t actual history in any way other than to suit the narrative. Michael Kay didn’t have a long-winded and poorly written moment-infringing speech prepared similar to the pablum he recited when Derek Jeter collected his 3,000th hit. The Yankees came out of the dugout to congratulate Ichiro and there will probably be a small ceremony at some point (to go along with the T-shirts), but Ichiro had 2,533 of his hits with the Mariners. His Yankees numbers are those of a fading veteran hanging on and collecting more numbers.

It was handled professionally and appropriately by the Yankees. The problem with this is the idea that there’s a connection between what Ichiro did in Japan and in the majors. There’s not unless you want to start going down that slide to count everything any player has ever done anywhere as part of his “professional” resume. That slide leads back to Igawa. He was a horrible pitcher for the Yankees who didn’t belong in the big leagues and was a star in Japan. For every Yu Darvish, how many pitchers are there like Igawa in Japan against whom Ichiro was getting his hits? Probably a lot. And that means the 4,000 hits is just a number that’s being lost in translation from Japanese to English. It’s an impressive number in context, but a number nonetheless.




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The “Worst” Contracts In New York Sports History?

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This New York Times article by Benjamin Hoffman has all the earmarks of the editorial edict telling him to write something and hand it in for publication without caring what it was that he actually wrote in content or accuracy. Never mind that judging the “worst” contracts in New York sports history can only be done in retrospect, it’s a completely random analysis that hinges on so many factors that it’s impossible to predict whether a contract will be deemed “good” or “bad” until years after the fact. This was designed to stoke fan anger by bringing up players who drew their ire.

The baseball names listed are Alex Rodriguez, Carl Pavano, Johan Santana, Jason Giambi, Mark Teixeira, A.J. Burnett, Kei Igawa, Bobby Bonilla, Jason Bay and Oliver Perez.

Going one by one, let’s look at the reality of these signings when they were made and the “badness” of the contracts.

A-Rod

A fall for A-Rod was predictable to a degree. That said, he’d hit 54 homers and won his second MVP with the Yankees in 2007. No one could’ve foreseen the number of embarrassing off-field episodes and injuries that have befallen A-Rod along with the continued PED admissions/allegations. Reasonably, the Yankees could’ve expected five more “big” A-Rod years with MVP contention, then three years of good production followed by a decline in the final years of the deal. The “final years” decline came early and now he’s an albatross.

Pavano

Had the Yankees not signed him to that contract, the Red Sox, Tigers or Mariners would have. They signed a pitcher who: was entering his prime at 29; had logged 200+ innings in back-to-back years; won 18 games in 2004, was an All-Star and finished sixth in the NL Cy Young Award voting; pitched brilliantly in the Marlins’ 2003 post-season run to the World Series title—especially against the Yankees; was from the metropolitan area and grew up a Yankees fan. Why wouldn’t they have signed him? Who could’ve predicted that they’d get someone who hated being a Yankee, acted like it and found reasons not to pitch?

Santana

The Mets had collapsed the year before and blown a playoff spot. They needed an ace at the top of the rotation and Santana was a two-time American League Cy Young Award winner. They gave up essentially nothing in terms of players at the time and in retrospect and were looking for the last piece in a championship puzzle. He was brilliant in 2008, good in 2009, and then the injuries started. There’s not much that can be done about that. Had they not paid him, someone else would have as a free agent after the 2008 season.

Giambi

In seven years in pinstripes, Giambi had 209 homers and a .925 OPS. This was almost identical to the numbers he’d posted in eight years with the Athletics before the Yankees signed him. Did they not get what they were expecting?

Teixeira

He’s hit 135 home runs in four seasons, won three Gold Gloves and has been an old-school professional. How his contract can be labeled as one of the “worst” with four years to go is a mystery.

Burnett

The problem with Burnett is that the Yankees overpaid for him based on desperation and his potential while ignoring that he was 31 when they signed him and he was what he was: gifted and aggravating. Blaming him for being himself is silly. This was a bad and stupid contract.

Igawa

A George Steinbrenner signing done as a “response” for the Red Sox signing of Daisuke Matsuzaka, it’s similar to any form of retaliation: it’s usually shortsighted and does more damage to the one making the move than to the one they’re retaliating against. No qualified baseball person could have looked at Igawa and thought he’d be a success against Major League hitters.

Bonilla

Find an economist to explain the Mets’ reasoning for the deferment and whether they’re actually going to wind up making money on the deal instead of giving a broad-based overview as to why it was “bad.” I would guess that the Mets probably used that money to make even more money than they’re spending for its duration.

Bay

Even if Bay had a decline in production because of the switch to Citi Field and advancing age, no one could’ve predicted that he’d be as bad as he was.

Perez

This was a desperation contract like Burnett’s. Ironically, Perez is a similar pitcher to Burnett in that he was gifted, aggravating and the club signing him mistakenly expected something other than what he was.

Go through any contract and you can find a reason to rip it. The number of Evan Longoria-type contracts where the club gets more than they bargained for at the right price or lower are so few and far between that it would be easier to list those than to list the bad contracts and it would make for a much shorter piece without the finger-wagging “I told you so.”

It’s random and to make it worse it appears to have been done because the author was instructed to do it and find case studies to “prove” a point that can’t be proven in the first place.

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And Hal Was Supposed to be the Sane Steinbrenner Son

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

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

And the fans are panicking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stereotypical Stupidity and Yu Darvish

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If teams shied away from making a posting bid on Yu Darvish because they didn’t want to spend the money on the fee and then to sign him to a contract, then okay.

If they weren’t impressed with his abilities, fine.

If they were legitimately concerned that he wouldn’t transition well, fair enough.

If they examined the past successes and failures of big name pitchers who came over from Japan—Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideki Irabu and even Kei Igawa—and decided the risk wasn’t worth the reward, I won’t quibble.

But if teams came up with the simplistic argument that because Darvish is coming over from Japan and the aforementioned pitchers were disappointing that he wasn’t worth a serious look, it’s a ridiculous and illogical case doomed to haunt those who, like me, believe strongly in Darvish’s potential.

Would any GM or scout in his right mind look at a pitcher from Ohio and say he wasn’t interested in him because of the failure of a pitcher from Florida if there were no similarities between them other than they were from the United States?

No. It would be seen as ludicrous and they wouldn’t be in their jobs for very long.

But that’s exactly the argument given when the Yankees–for example—are said to have been stung by Irabu and Igawa and weren’t going to go crazy for Darvish because of those pitchers.

Irabu was a pet project of George Steinbrenner who forced his way to the Yankees; he was hyped incessantly and the expectations were so stifling that no one could’ve lived up to them; Irabu had talent, but he needed to be allowed to grow accustomed to the big leagues without pressure from the media and ownership if he wasn’t spectacular immediately.

Igawa was a response by the Yankees to the Red Sox getting Matsuzaka. I’m convinced that they heard his name, maybe—maybe—looked at his stats and some tape and signed him without knowing what they were getting.

I’d hate the think the Yankees were employing talent evaluators who saw Igawa and decided to invest $46 million in him.

Yu Darvish is not Matsuzaka; he’s not Irabu; he’s not Igawa.

It’s the same thing as saying that because Francisco Cervelli and Wilson Ramos were both born in Valencia Carabobo, Venezuela that they’re the same talent and shouldn’t be viewed as anything other than that.

It’s idiotic.

Why compare Darvish to the pitchers that came over and failed? Why not compare him to Hiroki Kuroda? To Takashi Saito? To other Far Eastern players Chien-Ming Wang and Chan Ho Park? Pitchers who’ve done well?

His pitching has nothing in common with them either, but at least they were good.

Staying away from Darvish makes sense if that’s what scouts and financial freedom say is the smart thing to do, but to dismiss him because of his Japanese League pedigree is stereotypical stupidity at its lowest.

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Yu Darvish and the Yankees

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Despite refusing to show their hand in the Yu Darvish sweepstakes, the Yankees must have posted a large bid for the Japanese right-hander.

Here’s why.

They need him.

For the second straight year, Brian Cashman went to the winter meetings looking for pitching and came away empty handed. The Yankees weren’t enamored of C.J. Wilson‘s asking price; Mark Buehrle didn’t appear interested in New York; Trevor Cahill was traded to the Diamondbacks; Billy Beane is asking for a ton to acquire Gio Gonzalez; and Felix Hernandez isn’t on the market.

CC Sabathia was retained with a contract extension; they kept Freddy Garcia and are looking for takers on A.J. Burnett. The young pitchers Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos and Hector Noesi are not expected to start the season in the rotation. That leaves Sabathia, Garcia, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes and Burnett.

It’s doubtful that Cashman is comfortable with that in the wake of the new look American League that houses the two-time defending American League champions Rangers and the rainmaking Angels. The AL East isn’t a guarantee to have the Wild Card anymore. There’s still the chance that the playoffs expand to an extra team in 2012, but that’s an unknown and the configuration of the playoff structure—a one-game playoff for the Wild Card—is not what any team with a near-$200 million payroll wants to bank on.

If the Blue Jays are—as rumored—one of the teams that put in a bid for Darvish, they’re very dangerous in the changing culture of the division. It’s not just the Red Sox and Yankees with the Rays insinuating themselves into the conversation anymore. The Blue Jays are a serious threat.

He only costs money.

The Yankees are concerned about the luxury tax; the posting bid will not count against the luxury tax. (You can read a concise synopsis of the new CBA here on MLB Trade Rumors.)

Hypothetically, say the winning bid is $50 million and the Yankees or anyone else has to come to a contract agreement with Darvish. Darvish could conceivably stay in Japan if he doesn’t like the offers he receives, but that’s unlikely. If a team wins the bid, they’ll have to sign him and he wants to pitch in the majors. They’ll hammer something out.

Judging by prior posting bid contracts, the contract itself won’t be a huge outlay. The Red Sox got Daisuke Matsuzaka for 6-years and $52 million. If the Yankees can get Darvish for somewhere around $60 million for 5-years, that’s far lower than what they would have had to pay Wilson; cheaper in personnel than what they’d have to surrender in a trade for Gonzalez, Hernandez or any other young arm they might pursue; it won’t count against the luxury tax and there are no compensatory draft picks.

Money is something the Yankees have and it’s a one-cost purchase without any kickers to affect the rest of their payroll.

Darvish is really, really good.

This is a superstar talent in personality and performance. Those who are preaching caution are using the fractured logic that because Matsuzaka, Kei Igawa and Hideki Irabu didn’t work out, Darvish will be the latest in massively hyped, overpriced pitchers from Japan to come to North America and be a bust.

I was ready to make the same argument before looking at Darvish.

Pigeonholing a player based on where he’s coming from is the wrong way to pursue talent.

That stereotype could be applied to anything.

Why sign any free agents if they might become Carl Pavano?

Why draft any immense talent if they might become Brien Taylor?

Why develop pitchers if they might washout in New York like Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy?

Players have to be judged on who they are with a consideration to the history of other pitchers who tried to make the transfer. I tore down Darvish’s mechanics with video and comparisons in this piece; he’s the real deal.

I said at the time that teams with the means have to go after him because he’s going to be that good.

The Yankees are one of those teams and considering the above factors it’s a pretty fair assumption that they put in a bid for Darvish.

A big one.

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Trading Joey Votto Is Risky For The Reds

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The Reds are said to be prepared to listen to offers for Joey Votto.

It will only be known in retrospect whether this is similar to the Diamondbacks “listening” on Justin Upton before ultimately deciding not to trade him or the Rockies trade of Ubaldo Jimenez.

I’d be willing to listen on any and all players, but for Votto—age 28 and signed through 2013 at $9.5 million in 2012; $17 million in 2013—they’d better get at least one established, young, star-caliber player and two blue chip prospects.

At least.

Reds GM Walt Jocketty has received an undue amount of credit for circumstances out of his control. The Cardinals won regularly with him as GM and he made some solid moves in getting Jim Edmonds, Chris Carpenter, Mark McGwire and Darryl Kile for very little. But his drafts were never particularly strong and he made some drastic mistakes such as trading Dan Haren for Mark Mulder.

Relying on a Hall of Fame manager in Tony LaRussa, a brilliant pitching coach in Dave Duncan and having players accept less money to stay in St. Louis were greater factors in the Cardinals success under Jocketty than Jocketty himself.

With the Reds, he again is benefiting from a foundation already in place upon his arrival.

The 2010 team that won the NL Central was put together before took over. Jocketty didn’t hire the manager, Dusty Baker; didn’t acquire any of the key players apart from Scott Rolen, Mike Leake and Aroldis Chapman. And Chapman is the only one for whom Jocketty receives accolades for foresight.

On the subject of Chapman, I will never understand how the same people with the Red Sox and Yankees thought that it was a good idea to give the amount of money they gave to acquire Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kei Igawa chose not to spend the $30 million it cost to get that raw talent and searing fastball of Chapman.

Either they were gun-shy or stupid. Or both.

As for the Reds taking offers on Votto, they have a first baseman in waiting in Yonder Alonso and payroll constraints make it difficult to keep one player making $17 million in 2013.

But they’d better make sure they know what they’re doing, what they’re getting and that Alonso and others can replace Votto’s bat, glove and leadership.

It does make some semblance of sense. They’d ask a lot for Votto. And if they pull the trigger, they’d better get it.

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Hideki Irabu Could’ve Been Really Good

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Harvey Araton writes about Hideki Irabu in today’s NY Times.

Irabu was found dead in California yesterday from an apparent suicide.

For him to kill himself, he obviously had bigger problems than just baseball; but if his baseball career had gone according to plan, perhaps he wouldn’t have spiraled to this point.

Irabu was a prized acquisition of the Yankees in 1997 after the Padres had secured his rights from the Chiba Lotte Marines and he refused to play in San Diego. Irabu wanted to be a Yankee; the Yankees wanted him; his demands were met.

In the Times piece, it’s noted by a Yale anthropology professor—William Kelly—that Irabu may have made a mistake going to the Yankees; Kelly seems to blame agent Don Nomura:

“It may be that Nomura did not serve him well as an agent,” Kelly said. “In the end, Irabu might have been better off in San Diego.”

Blaming the agent is idiotic. If anything, Nomura was doing something that star agents like Scott Boras occasionally fail to do—serve the client as a person by acquiescing to his desires. That may not be what’s best for said client, but in the end the agent is an employee and Irabu chose to go the Yankees.

He got that and more. Which turned out to be less.

There are circumstances in which a pitcher is overvalued for the interest he’ll generate off the field rather than what he can do on it. Kei Igawa was signed by the Yankees as a response to the Red Sox getting Daisuke Matsuzaka; Irabu was the Yankees’ version of Hideo Nomo.

The expectations for Irabu were heightened by Nomo’s sudden and unforeseen explosion and the Yankees hype machine. Nomo arrived amid little fanfare aside from the way he extricated himself from Japan by “retiring”. No one predicted much and Nomo turned into a sensation; Nomo’s parents had received assurances from Dodgers GM Fred Claire and manager Tommy Lasorda that the club would protect him. Irabu had no such protective measures; all he had was the albatross of being the “second guy” after Nomo. “You think Nomo’s good? Watch this!!”

It’s not easy being the “second guy” especially playing for the Yankees under George Steinbrenner.

With a near 100-mph fastball and devastating split-finger to go along with a wild personality, the decision to lever his way to the Yankees wound up being a big part of his undoing.

Irabu was a disappointment, but he did have good stuff. That power fastball and split-finger could’ve made him a useful and probably very good big league pitcher. But the Yankees needed a Nomo and Irabu wasn’t Nomo.

Lineups were to be left in ruins at the mere sight of Irabu; the club, fans and media waited for devastation when he was merely “okay”.

Okay wasn’t, nor would it ever be, good enough when saddled with those demands for that team with that owner.

Clearly that professional failure to meet lofty and absurd fantasies were only a fraction of the myriad of issues with Hideki Irabu and those issues caused him to end his own life.

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Have Empathy For Kei Igawa

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Bill Pennington writes a long article in today’s NY Times about Kei Igawa.

I’m not suggesting that there should be an overt level of sympathy doled out on Kei Igawa, but his disastrous contract is more palatable in the human sense after reading Pennington’s piece.

Apart from financially, the Yankees haven’t treated Igawa particularly well.

From the mistaken signing (GM Brian Cashman didn’t know Igawa’s stuff didn’t translate to the big leagues?); to the alteration of his motion (that generally doesn’t go well for a player who’s reached the level—don’t laugh—of Igawa, who was a Japanese All Star); to the foolish decision to keep him when the Padres claimed him on waivers in 2007 (WHY?!?), independent of his performance there’s been plenty for Igawa to feel slighted about.

Igawa was the Yankees response to the Red Sox acquisition of Daisuke Matsuzaka. As we’ve seen with such decisions based on ancillary factors—like the signing of Rafael Soriano—they rarely work.

Clubs need to consider all the aspects of a player coming over from Japan. This includes the way they achieved their results (stuff and skills) and whether they translate not statistically, but analytically; that they may not be able to handle the transition emotionally and culturally; and what they do.

A speed player is likely to be able to use his speed anywhere; a power pitcher or hitter may not if their game is built on circumstances—ballparks, rest days, training regimens—in Japan.

When signing a player as a retort as the Yankees did—expensively—with Igawa, that can’t possibly be entirely thought through.

It hasn’t worked with Igawa.

It’s not all his fault either. He’s been mishandled. Badly.

Have empathy.

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Contractual Relevance

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What would’ve happened had the Yankees and Derek Jeter not waited until he was a free agent to agree to a new contract?

What if the sides had gotten together after the 2009 season—after another World Series and Jeter 3rd in the MVP voting with a fantastic all-around year—and agreed to the exact same contract he signed last winter?

It’s purely speculative and unrealistic to think that Jeter would’ve agreed to a 3-year extension for $51 million; presumably he, at the very least, would’ve wanted the fourth year guaranteed. And that probably wouldn’t have gotten it done considering what he accomplished in 2009 in an individual and team context.

But think about it.

What would’ve happened?

Would those that are currently engaging in retrospective and somewhat shortsighted eulogies of Jeter’s career be using the same rationale to attack the player and team for the contentious negotiations and the contract he signed? Or would it be different? Would the argument center on Jeter’s age and how stupid it was—2009 irrelevant—to sign him to an expensive, long-term contract until he’s 39?

Here are two important points that the critics are missing: the money is relatively meaningless to the Yankees; and they didn’t have many options aside from Jeter last winter.

Considering the amount of money the Yankees have wasted on players who have done little-to-nothing while in pinstripes—Kei Igawa, Carl Pavano, Kyle Farnsworth, Hideki Irabu—is another $50 million that much considering it’s Jeter? Would the fallout of being ruthless as the internet musclemen seem to suggest and letting him leave have been realistic?

What could they have done this past winter in lieu of Jeter?

I suppose they could’ve tried to trade for a third baseman of the Mark Reynolds ilk and shifted Alex Rodriguez to shortstop; they could’ve made a move on Stephen Drew or J.J. Hardy; or they could’ve re-signed Jeter.

If Jeter was 30, the 2010 season would’ve been seen as a down year; the confluence of events—his free agency and age—make it appear as if the investment was unwise and his poor start is exacerbating that view, but I’ve never quite understood why outsiders are so concerned about how much money the Yankees spend as if there’s a payroll constraint. They have a $200 million payroll and have dealt with underperformance in relation to money forever. It’s the cost of doing business as the Yankees.

It wasn’t all that long ago (2005) that Jason Giambi was treated in much the same way as Jeter is now. Following the revelation that he admitted to using steroids, there were calls to try and void his contract; it didn’t help that Giambi wasn’t hitting at all through mid-season. Savaged in all aspects of the media, Giambi hit 14 homers in July and was suddenly the toast of the town again being asked if he remembered those who were so brutal in their assessment and desired punishment because he told the truth about his PED use. He said he remembered.

It goes with the territory for players to be judged on what they’ve done in recent history, but to imply that Jeter is finished and should be benched or shouldn’t have been re-signed in the first place ignores the other issues of what the alternatives were and are.

I have to believe that Jeter will eventually hit.

If he doesn’t, the Yankees will have to figure something else out. But to bury him now is counterproductive and reactionary;  it has the potential to come back and bite those partaking in it. They’re don’t stand behind what they say; they engage in the vitriol and move on with no consequences or need to retract apart from the occasional and wishy-washy, “well I guess I was wrong”.

It won’t do.

This pure arrogance and self-importance is inherent in the detached culture of “expertise” where the secondary tenet of the implication—accountability—is absent to begin with.

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I was linked on Baseball Think Factory yesterday for my posting on Rob Neyer and Derek Jeter; the results were telling as always. It’s easier for the commenters to say the stuff they do without confronting me directly because then they’d have to deal with my response—something they’re incapable or unwilling to do.

But I’m here if they’d like to try.

Check it out—link.

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I’m administrating a discussion group on TheCopia.com. Click on the link to leave a comment or start a new topic. Check it out.

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