Blame Joba?

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You can’t blame both Joe West and Joba Chamberlain for last night’s Yankees loss to the Red Sox. When seeking a responsible party, Mariano Rivera also has to be part of the mix. But since that’s not allowed in Yankee-centric circles, the focus turns away from Rivera to the reviled Chamberlain and the cranky veteran ump West.

There were concession speeches going on when Chamberlain was seen warming up in the bottom of the ninth inning. Not even Michael Kay could muster any enthusiasm – phony or otherwise – to show a small positive notion that Chamberlain would do anything more than what he did: give up a run to lose the game. He gave up the run and took the loss, but it’s not entirely his fault.

It really wasn’t that long ago when there were “Joba Rules” T-shirts all over Yankee Stadium; concerns were expressed that then-manager Joe Torre would abuse Chamberlain as he did Scott Proctor and other relievers to ruin his incredible arm; and near fistfights and lunatic rants as to whether Chamberlain should be a starter or reliever were a daily occurrence and went on for years.

It’s 2013 and rather than swat the Cleveland midges that partially defined Chamberlain’s 2007 coming-out party, he’s gotten so heavy that he simply would eat them to add to his prodigious girth. The Yankees and their fans can’t wait until he’s some other team’s problem. The story has come 75 percent of the full circle.

The midges are an appropriate allegory for Chamberlain’s career with the Yankees. It was sabotaged and missed being something special. Who knows what would have happened had Chamberlain been placed in the starting rotation and allowed to pitch and figure things out on his own rather than be subject to the stifling and counterproductive innings limits and pitch counts that ruined not only him, but Phil Hughes as well? What could he have been if he’d been placed in the bullpen as Rivera’s set-up man and allowed to do his job in the same devastating fashion he did when he was a sensation for two months in 2007?

As the years passed and the Yankees jerked him from the rotation to the bullpen and back, as Chamberlain himself ate and trampolined his way out of the club’s and fans’ good graces, he’s become the “Oh God, no” pitcher that no one with anything invested in the Yankees wants to see. Last night’s result was what was expected, but it wasn’t due to anything Chamberlain did. While the Shane Victorino check-swing was viewed as so cut-and-dried that it was portrayed an obvious swing and Chamberlain got himself ejected for arguing it after he was pulled from the game, it wasn’t so blatant that the entire episode should be placed at the feet of West.

After the check-swing, Victorino hit a looping single to right field to score Jacoby Ellsbury. Right fielder Ichiro Suzuki’s throw to the plate would’ve been in time to get Ellsbury had catcher Austin Romine held onto it. How are any of the events subsequent to the check-swing Chamberlain’s or West’s fault?

Chamberlain is immature and was damaged by the way the Yankees anointed and babied him since his debut. That said, he still throws a fastball that reaches the upper-90s and has a hard slider that will accumulate a lot of strikeouts if he’s simply allowed to pitch without all the hovering hatred and preordained negativity that follows him around as long as he wears pinstripes. He’s going to go somewhere next season, either be a set-up man or closer and rejuvenate his value simply because that’s what happens with pitchers the Yankees have played up as their homegrown saviors and are tormented and dispatched when they don’t produce results commensurate with the overwhelming expectations.

Don’t be surprised to see both Hughes and Chamberlain with a team like the Marlins on cheap deals and pitching well. Or for Chamberlain to be the Astros closer. Or for the Rays to try to do what they did with Kyle Farnsworth and Fernando Rodney, give Chamberlain the chance to close and coax 50 saves out of him. Then the fans will turn their ire away from Chamberlain to the Yankees themselves for not getting out of him what another team will. He can be of use. It just won’t be as a Yankee and for that, much like last night’s loss, there’s plenty of blame to go around.




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Keys to 2013: Tampa Bay Rays

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Starting Pitching Key: Matt Moore

Moore’s done his flashy playoff introduction to the world as David Price did. He had an inconsistent rookie year as Price did. Now, he’s ready to take the next step into Cy Young Award contender in his second season as Price did.

Moore has a smooth, clean, simple and repeatable motion similar to Cliff Lee. He’s refining his command and harnessing his changeup. The changeup is usually the last pitch a pitcher needs to master before fulfilling his potential. If Moore’s able to do that at age 24, the Rays will be legitimate World Series contenders.

Relief Pitching Key: Chris Archer

Fernando Rodney is not going to repeat his 48 save, 0.60 ERA. The question is whether he’ll revert to the on-again/off-again closer he was with the Tigers and Angels or will be able to get the job done the majority of the time. If he can’t and Kyle Farnsworth, the closer in 2011, can’t do it either, the Rays might turn to Archer.

Archer has been a starter in the minors, but has the power fastball to be a dominating reliever. The Rays have never been shy about using young pitchers in very important roles and Archer could play a major factor in 2013.

Offensive Key: Evan Longoria

As Longoria goes, so go the Rays. The other lineup bats Desmond Jennings, Kelly Johnson, Yunel Escobar, Matthew Joyce and eventually Wil Myers are undoubtedly important and the Rays are opportunistic and adaptable, but with Longoria they’re a title contender and without him, they’re not.

Defensive Key: Desmond Jennings

If Jennings has to play center field, he has to be at least adequate at the position. Sam Fuld is a fine defensive outfielder, but he can’t hit enough to justify being in the lineup as an everyday player. The Rays were in the market for a legitimate center fielder, but as the season moves along and Myers is recalled, they’re going to need to find a place to get Myers and Joyce in the lineup. Someone’s going to have to play the outfield and if Myers/Joyce are the DH, one is going to have to play left with Jennings in center.

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

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

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

I wrote about this in detail here.

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

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

What’s worse: the ineptitude or the arrogance?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyone can buy stuff.

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

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

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

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

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Meet The Mess Or A Mess To An End?

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There’s no spinning an eight run first inning, a 16-1 loss, and rampant humiliation the type the Phillies have inflicted on the Mets over the last three games. Only the Mets could let a Phillies team that’s dealing with an embarrassing season of their own do this. The Phillies, with a too little-too late comeback, have made their disappointing season a bit more bearable. But it’s still disappointing. That aside, they walked into Citi Field and backhanded the Mets and the Mets took it. Again. No doubt the Phillies were laughing on the bus back to Philly and they had reason to. It can be glossed over through the prism of payroll and preseason expectations or lack thereof, but the Mets participating in the Phillies downfall earlier this season by beating up on them is rendered meaningless by the past three games.

Suggestions that the Mets have quit are inarguable. It’s not about talent anymore, it’s about incompetence. A big league team cannot allow another big league team—regardless of disparity in talent and money—to treat them like a punching bag and leave them lying in the dirt shrugging as if it’s accepted that this is the way things are and will remain. The Mets could’ve hit the Phillies back for once and ended their playoff hopes. Instead, they gave them a lifeline. Behind the Cardinals by 4 with 12 to play and having to leapfrog both the Dodgers and Brewers make a Phillies playoff appearance all but impossible, but it could’ve ended this week and the Mets could’ve been the ones to do the deed. Instead, they chose to lay down.

Are the Mets this bad? No. Were they as good as they looked in the first half of the season when they were one of baseball’s most pleasant surprises and talked of buying at the deadline rather than selling (and did neither)? No. But there’s no escaping the 9 straight home losses and 14 of 16 since August 19th. Comparisons to the 1962 version of the Mets are based on nothing other than attempts at ridicule and pure numbers—there’s no comparison between the situations, but that it’s mentioned in this context is bad enough.

No one wants to hear the likes of Michael Kay saying, “I told you so,” when he had the team winning 50 games before the season. He didn’t tell anyone anything. The end result doesn’t prove the prediction accurate. Nor does anyone want to hear Mike Francesa, who earlier in the season repeatedly stated that Mets’ manager Terry Collins deserved a contract extension and is now speculating on the same manager’s job security. The beat writers have taken to Twitter and other outlets with their passive aggression and self-indulgent agendas.

It’s all meaningless.

But this has to be examined logically. Does it make a difference whether the Mets won 81 games? 77 games? Or 70 games? No. The front office is presumably angry about the perception of disinterest on the roster; that the stands are completely and deservedly empty; but in the big picture, they’ll take the higher draft pick and get a better player.

What can they do to fix this to avoid the same fate a year from now and have the Mets a more welcoming and inviting destination for prospective free agents as they have money to spend with the expiring contracts of Johan Santana and Jason Bay at the conclusion of 2013?

Collins isn’t going to be fired. There are increasing pushes for Wally Backman to take over as manager because he’s a feisty and aggressive, in-your-face type that won’t tolerate the mistakes that are being tolerated now. Backman will be on the coaching staff in 2013 as the bench coach in part to be feisty; in part to provide a link to the 1980s; in part to prepare as a possible heir apparent to Collins. The only coaches on this current staff that will return are Tim Teufel (he’s popular with the Wilpons); and Dave Hudgens (GM Sandy Alderson likes the way he teaches hitting). Apart from that, they’re all gone.

As for the players, the Mets have to get some fighter types who aren’t going to meekly accept the bullying of other clubs. This current group is too cerebral and passive. No one hits back. How about some mindless tough guys who don’t take garbage from other teams?

Jonny Gomes and Kyle Farnsworth are two of the types of players the Mets should consider adding. It’s not because they’re supremely talented or are drastic improvements over what they currently have. We don’t know what Farnsworth will do on the field one year to the next—he’s no worse than what they currently have—but he’s known throughout baseball as someone not to mess with. Gomes has pop off the bench and walks, but more importantly is always ready to drop the gloves and it was him who sent the message to the Yankees and the rest of baseball in 2008 with a spring training brawl that they weren’t going to shove the Rays’ collective heads into the toilet anymore.

Even if it’s a lateral move talent-wise, the Mets have to get some of the faces that have epitomized their fall over the past 5 years. By that I mean trading Bay for something, anything and eating money if they have to. Chone Figgins and Franklin Gutierrez for Bay and $5 million would match up financially and the change-of-scenery might benefit the players, the Mariners, and the Mets. Shin-Soo Choo is going to be available and so will Chris Perez from the Indians. Maybe two bad teams could come to an agreement for a Bobby Parnell, Lucas Duda deal.

The notion of trading Ike Davis was floated recently. The source was in question and the Mets, as usual, were blamed for spreading the rumor that Davis doesn’t listen and parties too much. The truth is that the source in Adam Rubin’s piece was referred to as a “baseball source.” No one from the Mets was said to be that source other than via uninformed speculation. That doesn’t diminish the logic behind the idea. If the Mets can bring in an impact bat at a key position like Justin Upton as part of that deal or in a three-way trade, they have to explore it. I’d try to get Upton or see if the Rangers would want to be creative with Ian Kinsler. That would free the Mets to revisit the proposed trade by the Padres in which Daniel Murphy would’ve gone to San Diego for Luke Gregerson and perhaps ask for the speedy and versatile Everth Cabrera.

Many good things have happened to the Mets in 2012 in spite of the ludicrous conclusion to the season, but they can’t move forward with the roster and coaching staff in its current state. It comes back to the original question of whether this is a mess with an end or a simple mess.

Right now, it’s a combination of both. Behind the scenes and without fanfare, the farm system is being rebuilt well with plenty of young talent infusing the organization. Some, like Matt Harvey, are beginning their big league careers, and Zack Wheeler is on the way; but changes—cosmetic and practical—have to be made if only to put forth the perception of doing something. Anyone would’ve accepted the Mets being outgunned. It was expected. But players who should be happy to have a job can’t been seen as giving up. And that’s what’s happened. Keeping those players who’ve either quit or can’t play—Andres Torres, Josh Thole, Bay—won’t help, but dumping them certainly will if only for the sake of appearance.

Appearance is currently all they have left and, right now, it’s not particularly attractive. In fact, it’s downright ugly.

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Don’t Push The Beast—Lessons From The Nats-Cubs Scrap

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I don’t believe in many unimpeachable rules about baseball. I do have certain preferences such as not hiring as a manager someone who has zero managerial experience. That concept is considered antiquated right now with the circumstantial success of White Sox manager Robin Ventura (a calm, respected voice replacing a tired, raving lunatic act of Ozzie Guillen); and Cardinals manager Mike Matheny (running a very good team), but I still prefer to have someone who’s done it before.

There are other aspects from which I would not deviate unless I had no other choice. An example of this is not fighting a battle I have little-to-no chance of winning. That would mean avoiding a confrontation with the likes of Kyle Farnsworth of the Rays and Mike Morse of the Nationals. Farnsworth is known and feared throughout the league for his skills with his fists and willingness to mix it up; Morse is just a giant of a man and is nicknamed “The Beast” for obvious reasons.

The Cubs didn’t get the memo when it comes to Morse and the Nats. That memo includes:

  • Don’t try to hurt Bryce Harper
  • Don’t whine when we beat you because we didn’t whine when teams beat us
  • Davey Johnson’s teams like to fight
  • We have a lot of big guys (Jayson Werth, Morse, Edwin Jackson) who have no hesitation about retaliating or dropping the gloves if it comes down to that

As a result of the Cubs essentially crying because they’re terrible and the Nats are good, Cubs’ pitcher Lendy Castillo chose to throw the ball close to Harper. Harper and the Nats naturally took exception and both benches and bullpens cleared.

You can see the clip below:

In many ways, it was a prototypical baseball player dustup. Everyone had angry looks on their faces, people were milling around, umpires tried to maintain order, the bullpens came running in, guys started grappling, it dispersed, someone said or did something and the sides came together again. In the midst of the scrum, Cubs catcher Steve Clevenger—who openly complained about the Nats swinging at 3-0 pitches when they were leading 7-2 (ridiculous)—ran over and pushed Morse. Morse, an immovable object on a baseball field, looked at Clevenger like he was insane and, like a typical baseball scrap, the wrestling went on for a few minutes with no punches thrown.

This was in no way similar to the Phillies initiation processes with Harper when Cole Hamels purposely drilled him in the back. I had no problem with what Hamels did; my problem was that Hamels announced it as if he wanted credit for it or to show how tough he is. Harper responded appropriately by embarrassing Hamels by stealing home. He didn’t glare, gesture or threaten. He handled it between the lines. On August 26th, Harper grounded back to Cliff Lee, didn’t run to first and rather than throw to first base, Lee ran over and tagged Harper. It wasn’t malicious; it was a lesson to the kid saying, “Hey, run the ball out.”

What the Cubs did was different. No one wants to hear how frustrated they. Nor does anyone care about their interpretation of silly “rules” in baseball that don’t exist. They have no reason to be frustrated. They’re awful. And this is amid the expectations inherent when they hired Theo Epstein as the team president and watchers expected a rapid improvement that was based on management and not on talent level. Their talent level isn’t very good and teams that are good are beating on them. That’s how it goes.

The Nats are heading for the playoffs and, in spite of Harper enduring growing pains that were unexpected given the hype surrounding him from the time he was a 15-year-old prodigy, is still pegged as a future perennial All-Star and MVP candidate. He’s 19-years-old and there was no reason to throw at him and run the risk of hitting him on the hand or wrist and knocking him out for the season. The Nats were right to take a stand and the Cubs were wrong by being angry at anyone but themselves.

It’s the law of the jungle that the strong prey on the weak. It’s not bullying, it’s fact. The Nats took beatings for so long that they were able to acquire players like Harper. Under old-school managers Johnson and Jim Riggleman, I don’t recall them ever complaining about it. The Cubs are dreadful and their behavior is worse than their play because in addition to being awful, they whine, yap, and try to sabotage the future of teams that are where the Cubs want to be. If anyone has to learn how to play the game with propriety, it’s the Cubs.

And challenging The Beast is pretty stupid too.

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The Aftermath of A.J. Burnett

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

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

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

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

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

He was never that good.

Talented? Yes.

Good? No.

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

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

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

Torre could not handle Albert Belle.

The Navy Seals would have trouble handling Albert Belle.

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

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

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

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

At least he stayed healthy.

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

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

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

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Campos is Cashman’s Misshapen Key

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This is a small but striking piece from yesterday’s New York Times—link.

Phil Hughes agreed to a 1-year contract to avoid arbitration. The contract pays him $3.2 million, a raise of $500,000.

There’s nothing notable about a four-year veteran receiving a contract with those dollar figures. But it was the conclusion that caught my attention. It says:

Teams are likely to inquire about Hughes, and the Yankees will be willing to listen to trade offers.

It was only four years ago when Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy were in the nascent stages of redefining the Yankees developmental apparatus. They were to be homegrown talent providing competence-to-brilliance at an affordable price.

Of course it didn’t work out that way.

Kennedy was traded and fulfilled expectations in a Diamondbacks uniform. Chamberlain was shuttled between the starting rotation and bullpen and is now recovering from Tommy John surgery, a mere shell of the dominating force and sensation he was on his arrival in 2007. And Hughes was also used as a starter and reliever, saw his velocity drop to levels where he couldn’t get anyone out in early 2011 and returned to some semblance of effectiveness late in the season.

Hughes is a tradable commodity fighting for his spot in the starting rotation with non-existent on-field value. Other teams will be attracted by his age and the hope that he can fulfill that potential away from the usage guidelines imposed upon him by the Yankees, but aside from their own headaches or projects, they’re not going to give up much of anything to get Hughes.

This is why it’s so ludicrous to think that the same Yankees front office is suddenly learning its lessons as they acquire Michael Pineda and Jose Campos from the Mariners for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi.

The concept that Campos is the “key” to the trade—at 19-years-old and having spent last season in low-A ball—is either delusional or a transparent attempt at propaganda to assuage the anger that Montero was traded at all.

Have the Yankees proven that they’re able to assess pitchers under Brian Cashman? The same GM who signed the likes of Kyle Farnsworth, Steve Karsay, A.J. Burnett and Pedro Feliciano?

There are some instances in which Cashman gets a pass. Carl Pavano was a disaster that, had it not befallen the Yankees, would’ve hit someone else because there were about four other teams prepared to pay Pavano the same amount of money the Yankees did.

But these examples of dropping the lowest grade haven’t happened often enough to warrant deferring to his or anyone in the organization’s judgment when it comes to pitchers.

Now they’re waiting and following the same trajectory with Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances as they did with Kennedy, Chamberlain and Hughes. They point to studies—both medical and historical—to validate the babying that’s gone on since both joined the organization.

Is it paranoia?

Is it fear?

Is it arrogance?

Is it a calculating desire on the part of the GM to accrue the credit that the likes of Theo Epstein has for being a “genius”?

Any reason is an explanation.

I’d be very concerned if Cashman is doing these things because he thinks they’re the right way to go about nursing a pitcher to the majors. That would indicate a total obliviousness to what’s happened right in front of his eyes to all of these starting pitchers who will go on his ledger as, at best, disappointments. The mandates on innings and pitch counts not only hindered the development of the three pitchers from 2008, but both Hughes and Chamberlain got hurt in spite of them.

They couldn’t pitch effectively and didn’t stay healthy, so what was the point?

Some refer to the development of Ivan Nova as “proof” that the Yankees can nurture pitchers. But Nova was never considered a prospect and the Yankees repeatedly left him exposed to other clubs. Nova was selected by the Padres in the Rule 5 draft of December 2008 only to be returned to the Yankees the next spring. They didn’t know what he was and as recently as last season, they sent him to the minors as the odd man out when they had too many starting pitchers.

Was it so hard to look at Nova and see something different? Didn’t it impress the organization when he buzzed Jose Bautista and Bautista took a few steps toward the mound attempting to intimidate the rookie and Nova didn’t back down an inch?

There are aspects to pitching more important than high draft status a dazzling array of stuff. Nova’s fearless. That counts for something.

Is it poor recognition skills or did they want to bolster the pitchers that were “supposed” to be the centerpieces?

Cashman was once adept at speaking to the media, saying three notebook pages worth of stuff, yet saying nothing at all. As he’s aged, he’s dispatched the circular dialogue sprinkled with non-committal corporate terminology to allocate blame and place the onus on players in an unfair manner.

Feliciano’s shoulder injury was left at the door of the Mets when Cashman said the pitcher had been “abused”. Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen shot back asking how the Yankees didn’t know about Feliciano’s workload before they signed him.

A few days ago ESPN’s Jim Bowden revealed this Cashman analysis of Pineda:

Brian Cashman told me last night that Michael Pineda better improve the change-up & develop into a #1 starter or he will have made a mistake

Cashman also compared Montero to Mike Piazza and Miguel Cabrera.

Is Cashman really putting that yoke around the neck of a 23-year-old as he enters a new clubhouse to stand behind CC Sabathia in the starting rotation, pitching for a team and fanbase to whom anything less than a World Series win is considered disastrous?

I would not have traded Montero and Noesi for Pineda and Campos. I would have done as the Yankees did simultaneously to the trade being announced and signed Hiroki Kuroda and moved forward with what I had. Unless Cashman has something else on the burner, his reservations about Pineda and blustery proclamations about Montero made it too high risk a decision to feel good about. If he doesn’t feel cocksure about Pineda, how does he justify trading a bat he valued so highly?

Those who are trying to play up the inclusion of Campos as important had better look at the Yankees history of pitchers and how many of them have fulfilled the hype—not the promise, but the hype.

It’s right there in black and white, on the medical reports and in the trade buzz.

If you’re thinking that Campos is their new discovery and saving grace for a risky trade, you’d better look at history and think again.

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The Papelbon Aftershocks

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Let’s separate the Jonathan Papelbon aftershocks by reaction and affect.

Jonathan Papelbon

Papelbon has never been fully appreciated for how good he’s been—especially by the Red Sox.

He has a clean motion; the post-season history of success; has done the job in a smothering atmosphere of scrutiny; is durable; throws strikes; and is an accountable team player.

Naturally, as they usually do, the Red Sox will start talking about some phantom malady that “concerned” them; in this case it will be Papelbon’s shoulder. A shoulder for which he’s missed zero time since 2006.

Statistics don’t tell the whole story with Papelbon. Because his blowups generally include 4-5 games a season where he’ll allow a crooked number of 3-5 runs, his ERA and ERA+ are always higher than they’d normally be if the lowest grades were dropped.

It’s a simplistic and self-serving effort to bolster a narrow argument to say that Papelbon is a “fly ball pitcher” and his home games being played in Citizens Bank Park will yield a larger number of home runs. His splits between fly balls and ground balls are negligible and slightly higher for fly balls; but he also strikes out over 10 hitters per 9 innings.

He’s a strikeout pitcher with a searing fastball and a vicious splitter.

He allowed 3 homers all season in 2011; 2 in Fenway Park (9th in homers out of all ballparks in baseball) and 1 in Cleveland (tied for 11th in homers).

The ballpark in Philadelphia is not going to be an issue for Papelbon; nor will the tough fans, the expectant media and the pressure of a championship or bust team upon whose hopes may ride on his shoulders.

He’s been through it before and come through repeatedly.

Philadelphia Phillies

This is as simple as it gets.

The Phillies have a superlative starting rotation; they’re old; they have money to spend and a short window to win another championship or two.

They spent a reported $50 million on the top closer on the market after the breakdown in negotiations for Ryan Madson.

They’ve acquired a known quantity for slightly more money than Madson’s asking price.

It’s a championship or nothing for the Phillies. With their success or failure no longer based on a winning season or making the playoffs, they needed someone they trust in the playoffs and World Series. Papelbon gives them that.

Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox have a compulsive, fervent, almost blindly faithful reluctance to accept the fact that they need a legitimate closer to win.

They never appreciated what they had in Papelbon even after having endured the nightmares of 2003 and 2005 when they didn’t have a closer and it cost them dearly; they tried to go with the closer-by-committee nonsense again in 2007 and were saved from themselves by Papelbon seeing where the team was headed and offering to move back to the bullpen after an ill-advised spring stint as a starter.

Papelbon could’ve been signed to an extension, but the club never broached the subject with any seriousness. This is while they tossed money into the trash for Daisuke Matsuzaka, Matt Clement, Bobby Jenks and Julio Lugo.

They paid Keith Foulke $20 million over three years for what amounted to one season of production—and he was worth it because they won a championship they wouldn’t have won without him.

They’re not overspending to replace Papelbon; they’re not going after Ryan Madson and trust me when I say the Red Sox fans do not want Heath Bell.

Daniel Bard is fully capable of taking over for Papelbon in the regular season; but like the Phillies, the Red Sox metric is not the regular season, it’s the playoffs and that’s when Bard will be tested and judged…if the Red Sox get there at all.

Brad Lidge and Joe Nathan are more likely for the Red Sox to sign to cheap deals; they could try to trade for Joakim Soria or approach Theo Epstein to see if he’d like to move Carlos Marmol.

There won’t be a retaliatory strike of “we lost Papelbon so we need a ‘name’ to replace him”—that’s not what the Red Sox do.

Comparisons

B.J. Ryan and Papelbon are human beings; both pitched and made their living as short relievers; Ryan was 30 when he signed with the Blue Jays; Papelbon will be 31 next week.

Apart from that, I see zero connection between the two pitchers.

Ryan was lefty; Papelbon righty.

Ryan’s mechanics were among the worst I’ve ever seen; Papelbon’s are picture perfect.

Ryan was leaving an atrocious Orioles team and heading for a team that was a fringe contender at best with the Blue Jays; Papelbon’s going from one team that was picked for the World Series in 2011 to the other team that was picked for the World Series in 2011.

If there’s a legitimate comparison between two pitchers in this murky plot, it’s Madson and Ryan.

Madson’s mechanics are herky jerky and stressful—they’re not as bad as Ryan’s, but they’re not to be ignored as a non-issue either. Madson missed time with a strained shoulder in 2007.

Madson has been a closer for 2011 only; he hasn’t done it long-term; he is not a strikeout pitcher and uses different strategies with a fastball, cut fastball and excellent changeup than Papelbon does with his power fastball and strikeout-begetting split-finger.

It’s short-sighted and simplistic—the same accusations stat people levy against old-schoolers—to reference numbers as the final word without examining the other aspects of the overall equation—and I don’t mean numbers.

B.J. Ryan is not Jonathan Papelbon; Papelbon is not Ryan Madson.

There’s no connection other than the specious reasoning in equating contracts and variable statistics.

Some have suggested that Madson is “better” than Papelbon based on selective use of said statistics. Madson’s agent Scott Boras appeared close to completing another inexplicable financial coup with the $44 million rumored deal with the Phillies. That’s gone. Now Boras is going to whip out his Madson “book of accomplishments” and numbers crunching of his own to “prove” that his charge not only deserves a Papelbon contract, but more than a Papelbon contract.

The problem is there’s no one who’s going to give it to him.

I liken this situation to the Braves in 1997. Jeff Blauser was coming off a terrific season and was negotiating a new contract as a free agent. His agent was Scott Boras. Blauser felt he was worth the same money that Jay Bell received from the Diamondbacks ($35 million); Braves GM John Schuerholz reacted to this leap of logic by telling Blauser and Boras to take a hike and signed the superior defensive shortstop Walt Weiss. If Boras compares Madson to Papelbon and Mariano Rivera—and he will—any sane team is going to walk away.

Media/Fans

The one legitimate gripe from fans of other clubs is that the Phillies have blown up the market for closers with the Papelbon contract. That said, Papelbon was the number one guy on the market and he got the most money any closer is going to get. No one’s giving Madson that money or anywhere close to it. Nor should they.

Why the fans are worried about Papelbon’s years and dollars is beyond me. My criteria for a contract that’s too expensive is if a want precludes a need. If there’s an overpay for a want and you can’t buy what you need, it’s a bad deal.

The Phillies needed Papelbon and they bought him.

Everything else—the draft, the after-effects, the market—are subsidiary.

You cannot make the suggestion that Madson is “better” as Keith Law does, and then ignore his mechanical issues; you can’t dismiss the closer designation as a meaningless mental exercise as Jonah Keri does in playing up the Rays use of Kyle Farnsworth on the cheap while failing to mention that Rays manager Joe Maddon intentionally declined to name Farnsworth the “closer” because he didn’t want his skittish pitcher thinking about being the closer.

It wasn’t all that long ago that Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said that Madson wasn’t good at closing. He used him in the role out of necessity and, with a great sense of timing, Madson did well in 2011.

The Blue Jays erred in overpaying for Ryan. That won’t be replicated with Madson. Or Papelbon.

As for the suggestion that the Phillies don’t understand where they are and what they’re doing, it’s the height of outsider arrogance and “I’m smarter than you” pomposity.

They know.

They know that by 2014 they’re going to be ancient, super-expensive and probably on the downslide. Will it be worth it if the Phillies are hoisting a championship or two because of the players they have now? Absolutely. GM Ruben Amaro tried to maintain the farm system while simultaneously contending and keeping financial sanity and it didn’t work; the Red Sox tried to do it and it didn’t work.

They’re paying the price to win now and will pay in the future as well.

Papelbon is proven; he’s better; he’s what the Phillies needed; and they got him.

It’s not difficult to comprehend—tremors and madness irrelevant.

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Tampa Bay Rays vs Texas Rangers

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Tampa Bay Rays (91-71; 2nd place, AL East; won Wild Card) vs Texas Rangers (96-66; 1st place, AL West)

Keys for the Rays: Don’t be satisfied with simply making the playoffs; expose the Rangers starting rotation; force Ron Washington into mistakes; play solid defense; B.J. Upton.

It goes one of two ways with teams that make a frantic late-season run into the playoffs out of nowhere: they either maintain their good play and streak on (the 2007 Rockies); or they get into the playoffs, are satisfied with that and get bounced early (the 2007 Phillies).

Neither the Rockies nor the Phillies had the playoff experience that the Rays do—they’ve been here before—so they won’t be relaxed and happy that they proved a point by overtaking the Red Sox; they’re here to win.

The Rangers starting rotation is overrated after C.J. Wilson.

Colby Lewis was excellent in the playoffs last season, but he allows a lot of homers and was very inconsistent in 2011. Lefties feast on him making him a target for Johnny Damon, Matt Joyce, Casey Kotchman and Ben Zobrist.

I don’t trust Derek Holland—the Rays beat him up twice this season.

I don’t trust Matt Harrison—both Johnny Damon and Evan Longoria hammer him.

With all the extra bullpen arms Rangers GM got for manager Ron Washington, it leads down the road of overmanaging and making unnecessary changes once the starters are out of the games. Koji Uehara‘s strikeout numbers are impressive, but so too are the towering homers he gives up (11 out of the bullpen for the Orioles and Rangers is a lot); and Mike Adams has never pitched in the post-season.

The Rays are in this position because of their superior defense and a strike-throwing pitching staff—they can’t make any mistakes if they’re going to hold down the Rangers potent offense.

B.J. Upton is on a mission. He wants to get paid after next season and don’t discount the extra motivation of a potential World Series matchup with his brother Justin Upton of the Diamondbacks. When he’s playing as hard as he can—aggressively and smart—he’s something to watch at the plate, in the field and on the basepaths. In fact, he’s unstoppable.

Keys for the Rangers: get depth from their starting rotation; take advantage of Kyle Farnsworth‘s gopher ball; score a lot; mitigate managerial mishaps from Washington; keep the Rays off the bases; stop Upton and Longoria.

If Wilson and Lewis pitch as well as they did in last year’s post-season, the Rangers are going to be hard to beat. They have a lot of power and a superior defense behind their pitchers which is the actual strength of the pitching staff—not the pitchers themselves. They pound the strike zone and let the fielders—especially a nearly impenetrable infield—help their cause.

Washington tends to make too many moves once he gets into the bullpen; the Rangers push their starters during the regular season and will push them deeper in the playoffs to avoid that eventuality.

Farnsworth had a fine year closing for the Rays, but he’s still a manager’s nightmare with his wildness and tendency to allow homers. The Rangers have a group of bats who can crush a fastball—Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre, Ian Kinsler and Nelson Cruz.

Yorvit Torrealba also has a flair for the dramatic and has gotten big post-season hits before.

Because the Rays steal plenty of bases, it’s best to keep them off-base entirely. With their defense and strike-throwing pitchers, this is a reasonable goal for the Rangers.

Upton and Longoria have carried the Rays over the past month. If they don’t produce, the Rays lose.

What will happen.

Because they finally broke their playoff hex a year ago, got past the first round; beat the Yankees; and made it to the World Series, the Rangers are a battle-proven and experienced group in their second straight season in the post-season.

But the Rays have experience of their own from the World Series run in 2008 to last season when they lost to…the Rangers.

The Rays were beaten last year in large part due to the unreliability of closer Rafael Soriano. Soriano’s gone and the Rays overall pitching is in better shape now than it was a year ago.

I don’t like the Rangers bullpen despite the acquisitions of Adams and Uehara and the presence of Neftali Feliz.

Their starting pitching after Wilson is still questionable and they’re going to have to score plentiful runs to outshoot the Rays.

The Rays pitching is in a bit of perceived disarray after their desperate climb over the Red Sox to take the Wild Card; they’re starting rookie Matt Moore—their top prospect—in game 1.

But it could be the triumph of the uncluttered mind and the self-confidence of youth that makes starting Moore a brilliant maneuver.

The Rays have used young pitchers in key spots before. David Price closed games for them in 2008 and if they think Moore can handle it, I wouldn’t bet against that analysis.

A year ago, the Rangers were the team playing with low expectations and bent on killing demons of past post-season failures; they had a full-blown ace at the top of their starting rotation in Cliff Lee; they played with reckless abandon and a go-for-it mentality of “no one expects us to be here”.

The Rays are in that exact same position this year.

Wilson thinks he’s an ace—ask him and he’ll tell you in depth—but that doesn’t mean he is one on a level with Lee; if doesn’t mean he’s going to gut it out as James Shields and Price will. And don’t discount the financial aspect in Wilson’s mind as he tries to increase his free agent paycheck after the season a la Lee and Carlos Beltran.

No one expected the Rays to be here before or during the season; in fact, the consensus I’ve seen doesn’t think they’re going to be around that long either in the post-season.

But the Rays are here to stay.

They’re going to the ALCS and the Rangers are going home.

PREDICTION: RAYS IN FOUR.

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Viewer Mail 8.3.2011

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Brendan writes RE Brian Cashman, Derek Jeter and the Yankees:

“What if he’s not there to be the one voice to prevent Randy Levine and Hank Steinbrenner from doing such short-sighted and stupid things as outbidding themselves for a pitcher with issues on and off the field like Soriano?”

Correct me if I’m wrong and I’m the one living in a parallel universe, but didn’t the Yankees do exactly the short-sighted and stupid thing described above despite the wise, cool-handed GM? And didn’t they do the very same thing with their 37-year-old, 85 OPS+ing future Hall of Fame shortstop?

Cashman was adamantly opposed to the Rafael Soriano maneuver and said so before and after. My point was that there are going to be other such decisions if Cashman’s not there and another GM is brought in—a GM with less capital than Cashman’s accumulated from his long association with the club and success and ability to rebel and maybe get his way.

If Cashman were making the call regarding Jeter, and it was a pure “in the now and future” baseball move, he’d have looked for an alternative and moved on with a different plan; there were ancillary concerns with Jeter and they weren’t based on sentiment and team history alone.

Aside from the 3000th hit and the disastrous PR hit they’d have taken had he left (and Jeter really had nowhere to go anyway), they didn’t have a suitable replacement for him as we’ve seen in their attempts to fill in with Eduardo Nunez and Ramiro Pena. I suppose, if they had to, they could’ve shifted Alex Rodriguez back to shortstop and found a third baseman along the lines of Mark Reynolds, but the reaction to that among the fan base would’ve been terrible.

Despite their shoddy treatment of Jeter, the fans would’ve had a fit if they saw him playing shortstop for the Tigers, Giants or Reds.

Money isn’t the problem with Jeter and it never truly is with the Yankees—they have the money; and if they lose, it won’t be because the lineup couldn’t carry him and his diminished production.

Cashman has been ruthless in his assessment of players. It was he that wanted to allow both A-Rod and Jorge Posada to leave as free agents before he was overruled by ownership. He was right in both cases.

I’ve been as intense a critic of Cashman as anyone. His pitching decisions have been atrocious with Kyle Farnsworth, Steve Karsay, A.J. Burnett and others along with the foolish rules enacted to “protect” the pitchers; but to criticize him for Jeter? You can’t do it. They knew what the deal was and what they were getting.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE Moneyball and my posting about Billy Beane.

Right on point. Had me LOLing from “Yay” onward.

Oh, just wait.

Did you see this bit of revisionist history/pitiful whining in Sports Illustrated by Tom Verducci?

I’m preparing to unleash the full power of the Dark Side because there are certain bullies who deserve every single bit of it.

Beane’s one of them.

If there’s collateral damage to those who are invested in the appellation of genius to the extent of losing any and all concept of “objective reality”, so be it. They’ve earned it too.

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