McClendon Responds To The Cano Hustle Debate

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The ongoing back and forth about Robinson Cano’s hustle or lack thereof is gaining momentum and a life of its own. While Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long’s response to questions about Cano’s preference not to run hard to first base on ground balls was more of a simple answer to a question rather than an attempt to smear his former pupil, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon responded in an attempt to defend his new player.

I wrote about the initial statements made by Long regarding Cano here on AllVoices.com.

McClendon is in a tricky situation in his new job with the Mariners and had no choice but to defend his player publicly. Having waited so long to get another chance as a manager and with a general manager in Jack Zduriencik who is clearly on the hotseat, McClendon is facing the prospect of one bad season and being fired in a massive purge of the entire Mariners baseball hierarchy. What choice does he have other than to stand up for his player even if he knows that Cano is notorious around baseball for not running out ground balls and it’s a running commentary about how blatantly he does it?

Yes, it’s true that many players – including the best one in Mariners history Ken Griffey Jr. – didn’t hustle, but Cano takes it to the extreme of not even putting up the pretense of running moderately hard to first base. It’s also true that the number of plays in which it matters is a minuscule percentage and the argument is valid that it’s not worth the risk of injury for a meaningless play and would only harm the team in the long run. But Cano isn’t willing to act as if he’s giving the effort. Whereas for players like Griffey, they were running at, say, 75 percent, Cano is running at 45 percent. That’s too slow not to be noticed and it’s not going to change now that he’s a Mariner with a $240 million contract. Lest anyone believe that Cano’s status as a veteran leader and the highest paid player in club history is going to alter his view on the needlessness of running hard to first base.

The prevailing implication, elucidated by McClendon, is that Long spoke out of school and should keep quiet. In truth, he was uttering a truth that had been kept quiet by the Yankees to placate Cano. They and the rest of baseball have been aware of it. Some are bothered by it. Others don’t think it’s that big of a deal. Yankees GM Brian Cashman sounded surprised that Long said what he did and gave the politically correct – and mostly accurate – answer that Cano played every day and put up the numbers. It did not come from the Yankees organization with Long as the mouthpiece ripping Cano. They did their own version of taking a shot at him when they gave his uniform number away immediately to Scott Sizemore.

McClendon spent many years playing and working for Jim Leyland. He’s a good baseball man and learned his lessons well from Leyland that the players have to be shielded and it’s the managers job to do it. However, he’s not a manager who is going to be able to get through to Cano that it’s important that he set an example to the rest of the club. McClendon said, “As long as you don’t dog it down the line, what’s the difference between 65 and 85 percent? Just run down the line.” But Cano did dog it. And the 65 percent reference is an example of searching for points on a math test so the student will pass. Cano’s effort was rarely that high on balls in which he knew he was going to be out.

McClendon can state publicly how much he supports Cano and that his hitting and defense are far more important than keeping critics at bay with a transparent sprint to first base once a week. He knows that Cano isn’t going to bust it to first base, nor will he be able to threaten Cano into running hard. If Joe Girardi and Joe Torre couldn’t do it, what chance does McClendon have? His former Yankees managers, Long, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and many other players tried to get it through his head and it never sunk in. McClendon will have the same experience and won’t do anything different. He’ll shrug, accept it and take the bullets for his star player because he has no other choice.




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Joe Girardi Needs to Channel Saul Goodman and Other “I Woulds” From the Yankees Disaster

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You can get a postmortem on the 2012 Yankees anywhere and most of them are partisan and ridiculous. The autopsy and dissection of this carcass will be extensive and tantamount to a bunch of animals crawling all over one another to get a piece of the dead, rotting meat with no logic, reason, or intelligence. Primal and mindless, the excuses, prescriptions, suggestions, demands, and shifting of the narrative will have little to do with what actually can and will be done.

Instead of that, let’s look at the individuals in this tragicomedy, what they should do and more importantly, what they will do.

Joe Girardi—Manager

Is it his fault? No. Is he totally devoid of responsibility? He wasn’t until GM Brian Cashman came out and said the decision to bench Alex Rodriguez was made between the manager, coaching staff, and him.

Considering all the garbage Girardi has to deal with on and off the field with an overpaid and veteran club along with the injuries and scrutiny, I don’t think there’s one manager who could have gotten more out of this team than Girardi got.

Ultimately, he’s responsible for the players—specifically Robinson Cano’s—lack of hustle, but unless he’s got support from the front office to bench him or try to get him to run out ground balls, act like he cares and isn’t entitled to do whatever he wants, benching the player would do no good.

In an episode of Breaking Bad, the amoral attorney Saul Goodman becomes the representative of meth manufacturers/dealers Walter White and Jesse Pinkman when they drag him into the desert to threaten him if his client Badger (Jesse’s friend) talks after being arrested.

Jesse: Listen to me very carefully. You are going to give Badger Mayhew the best legal representation ever. But no deals with the DEA! Badger will not identify anyone to anybody. If he does, you’re dead!

Saul: Why don’t you just kill Badger?

This is what Girardi has to do if they try to fire him by saying, “Why blame me? Blame Cashman!” Is it dragging Cashman down with him? Maybe. Does Cashman deserve it if he tries to blame Girardi for this mess? Absolutely.

Here are Girardi’s choices: A) Do what I say he should do; B) Tell the Yankees that if he’s going to run this team, he can’t do it on the last year of his contract in 2013 and ask for a contract extension that they won’t give him and get himself fired; C) wait it out and see what happens in 2013. If they get off to a bad start, he’s getting the axe (if he survives this winter).

What will Girardi do?

Nothing. He’ll wait. I strongly doubt he’s getting fired.

Brian Cashman—General Manager

If Cashman cites anything other than what he himself has done, then I’d fire him immediately. The complaints about Rafael Soriano being shoved down his throat against his will lost all viability when Soriano took over for the injured Mariano Rivera and was brilliant, probably saving the Yankees’ playoff spot along the way because they didn’t have anyone else who could close and had traded the useful prospects that might’ve gotten them a closer for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos.

It was Cashman who put this team together relying on the home run above all else. It was Cashman who traded two useful prospects (if only to trade for someone who actually would’ve contributed) for Pineda and Campos—both on the disabled list.

It was Cashman who left this team without a viable bench to sit the players who needed to be sat down in the playoffs. They had no super-utility player to replace Derek Jeter and A-Rod; no center fielder to sit Curtis Granderson; not enough bench strength to bench Nick Swisher or Cano if they chose to punish him for his disinterest.

This is Cashman’s team. He put it together and he’s responsible for it. And I don’t mean a hollow, “The responsibility ends with me,” as Cashman will say. I mean actual responsibility in that, “You made this mess; you embarrassed the organization with your behavior away from the office; you’ve been here too long; and you’re fired.”

I’d fire Cashman. Damon Oppenheimer or Billy Eppler can’t do much worse. Or maybe see if Gene Michael or Pat Gillick wanted to do the job for a couple of years to groom Oppenheimer or Eppler to take over.

What will happen with Cashman?

I think it’s a 55% chance that he’s back and no more than that.

A-Rod—Aging star and gadfly

The noise has begun. A-Rod wants to stay. They don’t have anyone to replace him. He can still play. Blah and blah and blah.

I would not pay his entire contract to get him off the team, but I would see if I can move him. It’s over and the sideshow that was once mitigated by his on-field performance is now just a sideshow.

I’d do everything within reason to get him out.

What will happen with A-Rod?

They’ll get rid of him, somehow, some way.

Rafael Soriano—Relief pitcher

He’s opting out of his contract and is leaving.

What they’ll do:

Say goodbye.

Kevin Long—Hitting coach

He’s gone. It’s not his fault, but it wasn’t his doing when they were going well. Girardi didn’t sound too thrilled with Long when Long suggested the Yankees should play more small ball. It was a shot (presumably unintentional) at the manager and the manager has the last word in situations like this.

Robinson Cano—Second baseman

They’re not going to let him enter 2013 in his walk year and after getting swept, they’ll want to have a “positive” feeling. This can be accomplished by signing their star second baseman to a long-term contract.

If I were agent Scott Boras, I would redact the 2012 post-season from the Blue Book of Accomplishments he prepares for all of his free agents as if it’s a classified government memo and claim that it never happened.

I would think very long and hard about signing Cano to a long-term deal at age 31 and with his growing laziness.

Curtis Granderson—Center fielder

They’ll exercise his contract option and scan the market to see if they can: A) deal Granderson; B) get a replacement such as Denard Span, Shane Victorino, Dexter Fowler, or someone.

Nick Swisher—Outfielder/first baseman

Bye. Good luck getting the Jayson Werth contract you implied you wanted.

Andy Pettitte—Left-handed starting pitcher

Ask for a definitive answer as to what he’s doing in 2013 with no Roger Clemens-style vacillation. Either he wants to play or he doesn’t and if he doesn’t, it’s time to move on.

What Pettitte will do:

I think he’s going to retire.

Ichiro Suzuki—Outfielder

They might think about brining Ichiro back, but I wouldn’t. They got him for nothing; they got use from him; he’s extremely limited as a player and at his age won’t maintain the good work he did for the Yankees over a full season.

What they’ll do:

They’ll let him leave.

This is a crumbling municipality with a set of power brokers at the controls who are desperately trying to patch it together; the man in charge of baseball operations has made a series of unforgiveable gaffes; the baseball people are powerless.

Changes need to be made, but they’re not going to make the most significant and necessary ones. They’ll move forward with this failed template and the results will be predictable. There’s not an endless domination from year-to-year. They haven’t taken steps to replace the aging and broken down core and are reliant on players who are 38 and above. Jeter and Rivera, at their ages, are coming back from serious injuries that required surgery; Pettitte is going year-to-year and day-to-day and as good as he was on the mound and in the clubhouse, the “will I? or won’t I?” stuff is a hindrance to the off-season plans.

They’re old; they’re expensive; they’re comfortable; they’re limited.

This cannot be repaired on the fly. It’s a hard lesson that’s been proven and no air of superiority and proclamations of “we’re different” can skirt these facts. They’ll try. And they’ll fail. Just like the 2012 (and 2011 and 2010) versions of this team.

It’s unavoidable. The thing is coming down and they’re not going to do what must be done to stop it.

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American League East—2012 Present and 2013 Future

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Let’s look at the current construction of each club and make an honest appraisal of their 2012 status and 2013 future. We’ll start with the AL East.

Baltimore Orioles

As an excuse to justify how brilliant they are and that their numbers are never wrong, it’s en vogue for the stats-obsessed to repeatedly reference how “lucky” the Orioles are because of their negative run differential and that their record under the shaky metric of the Pythagorean Win Theorem has them 12 games worse than their actual record.

The Orioles have three major attributes: they hit the ball out of the park; they have a deep bullpen; and they have a manager in Buck Showalter who knows how to push the right buttons. Bullpens fluctuate so there’s no guarantee that will continue into 2013; they’ll still have players who hit the ball out of the park; and Showalter is discussing a contract extension.

Their starting rotation are all in their mid-20s and they have young players Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado set to make contributions. The Orioles may take a step back next year, but they’ve turned the corner from a laughingstock where no player would choose to go unless they’re overpaid or without options to a viable destination with a plan and a chance to win. And they have a great shot at the playoffs this season.

New York Yankees

Anyone speculating about Joe Girardi’s job security is looking for a scapegoat and trying to distract from the real culprits in the team’s inconsistency and age: Brian Cashman and, to a lesser extent, the Steinbrenners.

If this team doesn’t make the playoffs, they’re going to have to make structural changes to the roster. The constant discussion of their 10 games lead in July is glossing over the fact that they’ve had one good month—June when they went 20-7. Aside from that, they’re around a .500 team and making the playoffs in 2012 is in jeopardy. They’re old, expensive, and worn down. It remains to be seen what this veteran crew is going to have left in the tank even if they do make the playoffs

All of a sudden criticism has been extended to hitting coach Kevin Long for the slide of Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, among others. Long might be gone, playoffs or not. The Yankees minor league system is dwindling in stature and legitimate prospects, thereby limiting what they’ll be able to acquire on the market; their open decision to try and reduce payroll to prevent luxury tax implications will also reduce their options to improve the team on the fly.

If they fall from the playoffs or are a one-and-done scenario, I’d fire Cashman not just for his incompetent trade for Michael Pineda and failure to address needs at the trading deadline, but also because I still have an issue with him having written a reference on team letterhead for either his girlfriend or a woman that was blackmailing him. His judgment on and off the field is highly questionable.

Maybe it’s time for Billy Eppler to get a chance or to even bring back Gene Michael for a 2-3 year run as GM.

Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays are loaded with young pitching, aggressive in making trades, and build a different bullpen every year with the refuse of other clubs. Because they are operating under severe financial constraints and the scrutiny around them is limited, they can do what they want and live with a season of 83-79 or worse to get back to 95 wins the next season. This is what they are and how they’ll remain under the current management.

Toronto Blue Jays

Edwin Encarnacion hit his 40th home run last night. He joins Jose Bautista as a journeyman player who suddenly starting hitting the ball out of the park with a ridiculous frequency for the Blue Jays. But they’re still the same team that discovers a player for whom it clicked in his late-20s, and winds up with a win total between 75-83 and is in third or fourth place in the division.

Their manager John Farrell is in demand to take over the Red Sox and the Blue Jays don’t sound all that bothered about it. Their entire starting rotation has spent time on the disabled list for one malady or another. Their offense is flashy, but as inconsistent as their would-be star pitcher Brandon Morrow.

It’s just off in Toronto. They do noticeable things like make aggressive trades, hit homers and steal bases, but they don’t win. I don’t hear people referring to GM Alex Anthopoulos as a genius much anymore. What are they thinking North of the border when they spent so many years jumping at the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays like a child trying to recover a confiscated toy, then see the Red Sox come apart, the Yankees vulnerable, and the Rays beatable and that it’s the Orioles and not the Blue Jays who are taking advantage?

I thought the Blue Jays would take the next step this season, but that belief has been prevalent for a decade and they’re frozen in place. I’m not picking them again unless they make significant changes on and off the field.

Boston Red Sox

On some level, I understand what they did when they hired Bobby Valentine to replace Terry Francona. I’m not one who’s seeing their atrocious season as validating Francona is some bizarre way. He and Theo Epstein take as much responsibility if not more as Larry Lucchino and Valentine in 2012. They were trying to move forward with the roster as it was, make a few tweaks here and there, and see if it got better. It didn’t and it’s not Valentine’s fault.

They got rid of Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and Carl Crawford, saved money and bolstered the farm system. But if you think they’re going to hire Farrell or whoever; sign a few free agents with the available money or make a big trade and they’ll be back to where they were as World Series favorites, you’ve got another thing coming. There’s a lot of work to do in Boston and it’s not going to be a short-term process. If they go half-in/half-out and try to straddle the line as they did last winter, expect more of the same in 2013.

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The Yankees Have Become George

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The Yankees have become George.

Not George Steinbrenner. Their George. Their lovable little buddy loser who always seems close to breaking free of his lot in life as the little brother who can’t quite get it right. The Mets. To make matters worse for the Yankees as they continue this death spiral is that the inherent egomania among the organization, the media that covers them, and their fanbase (the last two are interchangeable) will spur the retaliatory ridicule from fans of other clubs—specifically the Mets and Red Sox—who have had to endure the condescending taunts and “we’re better than you” undertones of their run over the past two decades following a long lull of mediocrity and embarrassment.

They’re still wearing the pinstripes, but they’re not fulfilling their end of the ridiculous notion of “class,” “dignity,” and “professionalism” that had been instilled by the manager in the opposite dugout last night, Buck Showalter, his successor Joe Torre, and the players who were the foundation for the dynasty Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Bernie Williams. It was always a bit silly that a team that carried such players as David Wells was considered “classy”, but they won. Whatever device that was necessary to push the story forward was used in the telling of the tale, real or not.

When current manager Joe Girardi picked up the phone in the first inning to call for Derek Lowe to warm up in back of an overmatched David Phelps, I halfway expected his face to turn paler and thinner than it already is as the strain of the team’s stumble takes its toll on him because on the other end of the phone, from beyond the grave, was George Steinbrenner, shouting like a raving lunatic and threatening to fire him and replace him with Billy Martin, looming next to the Boss from the netherworld. (Are they in heaven or hell? Discuss.)

Jeter said earlier this week that he’s not panicking. And he’s not. But how about the rest of the team? Was it the vaunted “Yankees way”—supposedly better than yours or mine—when Phelps gestured toward left field on Matt Wieters’s home run as if he felt that left fielder Raul Ibanez should’ve caught it? Phelps can claim that he thought a fan interfered, but we all know the truth. Was it the “Yankees way” when they authored a stirring comeback and handed the lead right back with an Orioles display of thunder that the Yankees can no longer muster using the compromised, mediocre, and slumping lineup they’re trotting out on a nightly basis?

I had the sound turned down on the game, but as embedded in my brain as he unfortunately is, I could still hear Michael Kay shrieking like a maniac thinking gumdrop thoughts of “Yankees magic” when they tied the score just as well as I could hear his crestfallen devastation when the Orioles snatched the game right back.

Fans are looking for someone to blame. So accustomed to an easy ride that they don’t know how to deal with adversity such as this; to handle teams like the Orioles, a longtime punching bag, suddenly hitting them back and having not just the audacity to do it, but to hurt them as well(!!) that they’re reverting to the Steinbrenner years of wanting to fire people (Kevin Long is a popular target) or to alter the strategy of hitting the ball out of the park in favor of bunting and small-ball.

Reliance on hitting home runs wasn’t a “problem” as it was implied at mid-season; the idea that they have to find a method of manufacturing runs was absurd as long as they had deep starting pitching, a well-organized bullpen, and mashers who hit a lot of home runs. Now they have none of that and they’re losing because of it.

It’s a matter of perception. Had the Yankees been hovering around first place or behind all season and found themselves tied for first place on September 7th, it would be seen as a positive. But they’re losing, losing, and losing more and the disappearing division lead, competition, and pressure is overwhelming them. Yes, they’re injured; yes, they’re slumping, but much of the Yankees’ dominance over the years has been their ruthlessness against teams that didn’t have the manpower to compete with them and bashing them brutally. Expecting sympathy on and off the field is indicative of an arrogance that has sparked this downfall in the first place. “We’re the Yankees!!! How dare you?!?!”

But teams are daring and exploiting the weakness and disarray.

The Yankees still have time to right their ship, but they’re in very serious danger of falling out of the playoffs entirely—something unacceptable given their expectations, payroll, and that they’d accumulated enough of a cushion that this shouldn’t be happening.

They have to win a few games and not worry about what their competition is doing, but humanity inevitably intervenes. Watching the scoreboard, tightening up with every run scored and win accumulated by the younger and fresher Rays; the star-studded and finally playing up to their capabilities Angels; the loaded Rangers; the upstart Athletics; and the determined Orioles—it all factors in to what’s happening to the Yankees.

I’ve seen this movie before and know how it ends. It’s formulaic, but not in the manner Yankees’ fans have come to expect. The underdogs are ganging up on them, smell blood, and have an opportunity at comeuppance.

They’ve become George. And once you become George, there’s really nowhere to go from there but down.

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A Natural Progression/Regression

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I’m not sure what fans were expecting from Derek Jeter.

He’s not hitting for any power and his range in the field is reduced; he hits into a lot of double plays; doesn’t steal bases; and is a declining player.

The Yankees overpaid for him this past winter because he’s Derek Jeter; if he was Derek Smith and the club was looking at him for what he is and not for what he was, he might not have been re-signed at all.

But the brutality with which fans respond to those they once worshipped when they begin the inevitable fall is startling. The negativity surrounding Jeter has become so prevalent that Yankees fans who partake in the Jeter-bashing should be ashamed of themselves. It all stems from being spoiled because Jeter was the totem for playing clean and winning; that he never disappointed them with an off-field mishap but still has the personality to be portrayed as the man-about-town, squiring models and actresses and never embarrassing himself or the organization.

Of course much of it was likely inflated to sell newspapers and an image that hawked cars, razor blades and whatever else Jeter endorsed.

One hand washed the other.

Now there’s stories of regret in some segments of the Yankees organization that they allowed Jeter to hold the club hostage with what he did for them before rather than what he can do for them now and in the future.

Who knows how true those stories are?

Like the fans, what was the organization expecting?

It’s far too soon to write Jeter off as a finished commodity; one who’s living off his reputation and is not a threat at the plate any longer. He’s only had around 100 at bats this season—there’s time for him to hit. He probably won’t be what he was as recently as two years ago, but to think he’s “done” is absurd. If he was 27, it’d be a slump; because he’s 37, it’s a disaster.

Much was made of the adjustments that hitting coach Kevin Long (whose work is lauded in the Michael Kay-wing of Yankees sycophancy) made to Jeter’s stride this past spring training. Jeter used the alteration and has tweaked or abandoned it, depending on whom you ask. Drastic changes to a veteran’s approach must be taken with caution; I’m not surprised Jeter’s feeling his way through with the changes and may or may not have gone back to normal. The slow start could be a byproduct of the changes and regaining the timing he lost by adjusting his style to begin with.

The problem the Yankees now have is that they’ve signed Jeter through 2013 with a player option for 2014. As much as it’s suggested that of course Jeter is going to exercise that player option for $8 million, I don’t see it as fait accompli; if he can’t play anymore, he’s not going to wring out another year to play part-time and soil his aesthetic by hanging on; plus one would think the Yankees would come to an agreement with him to pay him to do something for the organization as he grows accustomed to a post-baseball life, whether that’s coaching or managing is up to Jeter.

The fact of the matter is this: fans, media and team all became spoiled by Jeter’s consistency and excellence; and with the use of PEDs by players like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Rafael Palmeiro, there was no natural degeneration of skills. The drugs were tantamount to fountains of youth and allowed those who’d reached the ages of 35-40 to play like they were 27-32.

That’s what fans remember with the knowledge that the accomplishments were not clean irrelevant. They want the Derek Jeter of 1999 or of 2009; not this.

This is what’s supposed to happen to a veteran player in the waning years of his career; they’re not meant to continue on an upswing into the 40s.

It’s called aging. And it’s unavoidable.

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