MLB Free Agents, Press Conferences and Respect

Ballparks, Free Agents, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, World Series

The Yankees press conferences/coronations have always gone far beyond your ordinary, run-of-the-mill “I’ve always wanted to be a Yankee” lovefest with the unsaid truth that “they offered me the most money.” Therefore it was no surprise that Bob Lorenz referred to the upper echelon of the Yankees front office as “dignitaries” when the club introduced Jacoby Ellsbury last week.

Dignitaries? They’re guys who run a baseball team. Who thinks they’re dignitaries? Randy Levine is a dignitary? Brian Cashman is a dignitary? Joe Girardi is a dignitary? This is all part of the narrative that is put forth not just in a Yankees press conference, but press conferences across the board that are introducing the new player. The Yankees press conferences are generally banal, pompous and cliché. With Ellsbury, they added “creepy” to the list of adjectives as Girardi said to Ellsbury: “You’re no longer a thorn in our side. You’re a flower in our clubhouse.”

Uch.

Of course these florid displays are done in the interest of selling tickets, getting the photo ops holding up the uniform, uttering the by the book statements about how it had little to do with money and the state of the organization was the key component in the decision to sign. “I felt wanted.” “They treated me with respect.” “I’ve admired X, Y and Z from afar for a long time.” It’s a silent contract between the media and the clubs that there won’t be hardball questions launched on a day of advertising. Naturally this is diametrically opposed to the inherent implied intention based on the title of the event: press conference.

The Mariners press conference for Robinson Cano was much more interesting because of the shots Cano took against the Yankees. Much was made of Cano’s comments about being disrespected by the Yankees when he was introduced as the new Mariners’ second baseman.

Did he have a point or was he just giving a reason separate from the $240 million and no state income tax in Washington?

The term has different connotations based on the context. Respecting the process; respecting the people who are hired to do a job and letting them do it; respecting the players and what they want.

The term of “respect” isn’t to be dismissed out of hand.

When Pedro Martinez signed with the Mets after the 2004 season, he did so because the Mets offered the most money. But at the press conference, he said something interesting about the Red Sox. He asked why he had to wait for the team to offer him an extension after all the work he’d done for the franchise, most of which was gutty and brilliant? They put him off and put him off, letting him reach free agency where, like Cano, there was always the possibility that another team would go crazy to garner the headlines of stealing a star personality from a team that could afford him. In retrospect, the Red Sox were right to let Martinez leave and they did raise their offer further than was their preference to try and keep him. It would’ve been a “severance” contract because they knew he’d probably lose his effectiveness and get injured in the latter years of the deal. He rejected it and signed with the Mets.

Is it a similar dynamic with Cano and the Yankees? Can he feel offended when comparing his situation to what the Yankees did with Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran? The Yankees committed almost $200 million to those two players, one of whom is injury prone and the other who is going to be 37 in April. They were also prepared to spend $150 million on a Japanese pitcher, Masahiro Tanaka, before the posting rules were changed.

“You have the money for them? A 37-year-old? An oft-injured former Red Sox? A Japanese pitcher who will be hit or miss? And you can’t pay me?” These are not selfish or stupid questions. Independent of the money, would you feel wanted and respected if your former team did that?

This has nothing to do with the wisdom of the decision. But the Yankees complaining about payroll issues and then tossing all of this money at Ellsbury, Beltran and the planned bid for Tanaka with more on the way doesn’t mesh with them doing everything possible to keep Cano.

If the Yankees had come close to the Mariners offer, would Cano have left? If they hadn’t signed a far inferior player, Ellsubry, to a $153 million contract with an option for $21 million in 2021, could they have convinced Cano to stay? Rest assured that the option has certain kickers that will guarantee it. They might be games played in the last two years of the deal or a number of at bats, but they’re there. If Ellsbury is healthy, he’ll reach the option. So with the deal they gave to Ellsbury, it matches what they offered Cano.

Wouldn’t you be insulted by that if you were Cano – a player who never misses games and was a homegrown talent – and saw himself offered the same money they gave to a player who’s constantly on the disabled list and isn’t nearly as good? Cano doesn’t seem to be the sentimental type and doesn’t care about having his uniform number retired or a plaque in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium. But if he was and the Yankees tried to talk him into staying for less money, what was he staying for? Mariano Rivera is gone. Derek Jeter is on the way out. Alex Rodriguez may be gone. Andy Pettitte is gone. Eventually, he’d be the only one left from the old guard and it would fall to him to be the leader – something he clearly doesn’t want. So if they’re not offering the most money; not offering the guarantee of a championship run every year; and giving him the mystical future of a “historical place amongst Yankee greats” in lieu of everything else, why not go to Seattle?

In sports, the term “respect” doesn’t necessarily mean what it means in the workaday world. It means you’ll pay me and treat me as if you need and want me. Had the Yankees ponied up, Cano would’ve forgotten the slight and signed. Instead, he went where the money was and that happened to be Seattle. The idea that he wasn’t treated with respect may sound offensive to people who see the money he’s getting and think, “How dare he?!?” But in Cano’s world, it’s not out of line. It came down the money, but it also had to do with the Yankees deciding to pay Ellsbury instead as a preemptive strike in case Cano left. And he did.




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The Yankees’ $189 Million Payroll In 2014 Is Going To Be A Reality

Free Agents, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MVP, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

As Mike Francesa, Joel Sherman and Peter Gammons continue the trend that was begun earlier in the year by Jeff Passan and try to goad the Yankees into abandoning their pledge to get payroll below $189 million for 2014, organizational bad cop Randy Levine says straight out that the team isn’t going to bid against themselves for Robinson Cano.

It should be completely clear by now that, yes, the Yankees are truly intent on getting they payroll below that threshold no matter what. If anything, a decision to abandon that goal would be seen with justified anger amongst Yankees fans and media apologists because the question could be asked as to why they even tried to put up the pretense if they had no intention to follow through with it.

The fact that the Yankees have played well and stayed in contention in spite of their self-imposed financial constraints, rampant injuries and father time is not connected to the way they’ve run the team this season. If they abandon the $189 million mandate, fans can demand an explanation as to why penny-pinching likely cost themselves a 2013 playoff spot.

They’re getting under the number. Period.

As for 2014 and Cano, Levine doesn’t do or say anything without the Steinbrenners knowing about it and tacitly approving of it. Knowing that he’s not particularly well-liked anyway, it’s an easy role for Levine to play the heavy and say things that will stir up rage in the media and fanbase, but will in fact be logical and factual. Cano is in a bad position in spite of his pending free agency because he doesn’t have any clear destinations apart from the Yankees; he’s 31 and the team that signs him will be paying him massive money until he’s 40; he doesn’t have Alex Rodriguez’s money-hungry ruthlessness and willingness to go wherever the most money is; and the Yankees are taking a more reasonable and long-term approach to spending.

With it all but guaranteed that the club is going to get under $189 million at all costs, the Yankees have to decide where they’re heading in 2014. They’re going to have to get a player who can play shortstop every day if need be to account for the questions swirling around Derek Jeter. Right now, it appears as if they’ll keep Brendan Ryan – a player who is superlative defensively, will be happy to be on the team and won’t complain if he’s not playing every day in the unlikely event that Jeter is deemed able to play shortstop regularly. They could hope that A-Rod is suspended and move Jeter to third. If he resists that decision, all he’ll succeed in doing is making himself look like he’s more interested in himself and being seen as the Yankees’ shortstop forever and ever like something out of The Shining no matter how much his lack of range damages the club.

There’s little they can do in terms of the free agent market. Re-signing Cano and backloading the deal will serve to keep the team’s 2014 payroll within reason. Compared to other players who’ve gotten $200+ million, Cano is as good a hitter and defender as they are. They may be concerned about his lax attitude infecting his work ethic and leading to complacency and weight gain, but for at least the first five years of his deal, he’ll be able to hit. He won’t leave. The only unknown is how long he’ll stay and for how much.

How many improvements can they truly expect to make amid the financial constraints and lack of marketable prospects in their system? Free agents are going to go elsewhere to get paid and won’t be swayed by the “Yankee history” if there’s not a giant check full of zeroes accompanying the lavish press conference and tiresome narratives. They don’t have big league ready prospects coming, Mariano Rivera is retiring, Andy Pettitte is likely to retire, no one knows what – if anything – they’ll get from Jeter, A-Rod might be suspended and their starting pitching is weak.

From the winter on, the Yankees have to decide if they’re going to do the Jeter farewell tour, let Michael Pineda, Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances learn on the fly in the majors and hope for the best, or do what they did this year and keep bringing in aging veterans thinking that they’ll mix and match their way into contention.

Levine is being the front office spokesman saying what the Steinbrenners want him to say because they don’t want to have to overpay to keep Cano. The media is trying to coax the Yankees away from the $189 million mandate because the team isn’t particularly interesting when they’re not a case study for excess. Unfortunately for them, it’s happening and the plan to do it hasn’t changed one ounce since they made it their stated goal to get the payroll down. Francesa, Sherman, Passan, Gammons and fan anger isn’t going to alter it. They’ve come this far. They might as well see it through and take the beating that is almost certainly on the way.




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American League Remaining Schedule and Playoff Chance Analysis

2013 MLB Predicted Standings, Ballparks, Football, Games, History, Management, Media, Players, Playoffs, Stats, World Series

Let’s take a look at the remaining schedules for all the teams still in the hunt for an American League playoff berth.

Boston Red Sox

Record: 89-58; 15 games remaining

Current Position: First Place by 9.5 games, American League East

Remaining Schedule: 1 game at Rays; 3 games vs. Yankees; 3 games vs. Orioles; 3 games vs. Blue Jays; 2 games at Rockies; 3 games at Orioles

The Red Sox have the best record in the American League by five games. They’re going to have a significant say in which team gets the second Wild Card given their six games against the Orioles and four against the Yankees. They’re not going to lay down as evidenced by manager John Farrell’s somewhat odd – but successful – decision last night to use Koji Uehara is a tie game that meant nothing to them. I’m wondering if Farrell has received advice from Patriots coach Bill Belichick on going for the throat at all costs because it was a Belichick move.

They don’t seem to have a preference as to whether they knock out the Yankees, Rays or Orioles. They’re playing all out, all the way.

Oakland Athletics

Record: 84-61; 17 games remaining

Current Position: First Place by 3 games, American League West

Remaining Schedule: 1 game at Twins; 3 games at Rangers; 3 games vs. Angels; 4 games vs. Twins; 3 games at Angels; 3 games at Mariners

The A’s lead the Rangers by three games and have three games with them this weekend. Strength of schedule can be a dual-edged sword. This isn’t the NFL, but teams whose seasons are coming to a disappointing close are just as likely to get some motivation by playing teams that have something to play for as they are to bag it and give up. The Angels have played better lately and the Mariners can pitch.

Detroit Tigers

Record: 84-62; 16 games remaining

Current Position: First Place by 6.5 games, American League Central

Remaining Schedule: 3 games vs. Royals; 4 games vs. Mariners; 3 games vs. White Sox; 3 games vs. Twins; 3 games vs. Marlins

The Tigers’ upcoming schedule is pretty weak and they have a good cushion for the division. They can’t coast, but they can relax a bit.

Texas Rangers

Record: 81-64; 17 games remaining

Current Position: Second Place by 3 games, American League West; lead first Wild Card by 3.5 games

Remaining Schedule: 3 games vs. Athletics; 4 games at Rays; 3 games at Royals; 3 games vs. Astros; 4 games vs. Angels

The Rangers are in jeopardy of falling out of the playoffs entirely if they slip up over the next ten games. All of those teams have something to play for and the Rangers have been slumping.

Tampa Bay Rays

Record: 78-66; 18 games remaining

Current Position: Second Place by 9.5 games, American League East; lead second Wild Card by 1 game

Remaining Schedule: 1 game vs. Red Sox; 3 games at Twins; 4 games at Rangers; 4 games at Orioles; 3 games at Yankees; 3 games at Blue Jays

With the way they’re currently playing (think the 2007 Mets) they’re not going to right their ship in time to make the playoffs. They’d better wake up. Fast.

New York Yankees

Record: 78-68; 16 games remaining

Current Position: Third Place by 10.5 games; 1 game behind for the second Wild Card

Remaining Schedule: 1 game at Orioles; 3 games at Red Sox; 3 games at Blue Jays; 3 games vs. Giants; 3 games vs. Rays; 3 games at Astros

There’s a reluctance to say it, but the Yankees are better off without this current version of Derek Jeter. He was hurting the team offensively and defensively. Their problem has nothing to do with schedules or how they’re playing, but with age and overuse. They’re hammering away with their ancient veterans for one last group run. Mariano Rivera is being repeatedly used for multiple innings out of necessity; Alex Rodriguez is hobbled; David Robertson is pitching hurt; Shawn Kelley isn’t 100 percent; Andy Pettitte is gutting his way through. If they’re in it in the last week, will there be any gas left in their collective tanks?

Cleveland Indians

Record: 77-68; 17 games remaining

Current Position: Second Place by 6.5 games, American League Central; 1.5 games behind for the second Wild Card

Remaining Schedule: 4 games at White Sox; 3 games at Royals; 4 games vs. Astros; 2 games vs. White Sox; 4 games at Twins

The White Sox are playing about as badly as the Astros without the excuse of lack of talent/innocent youth. They just don’t seem to care. The Indians’ schedule pretty much guarantees they’ll at least be alive in the last week of the season.

Baltimore Orioles

Record: 77-68; 17 games remaining

Current Position: Fourth Place by 11 games, American League East; 1.5 games behind for the second Wild Card

Remaining Schedule: 1 game vs. Yankees; 3 games at Blue Jays; 3 games at Red Sox; 4 games at Rays; 3 games vs. Blue Jays; 3 games vs. Red Sox

The Red Sox are taking great, sadistic pleasure in hampering the playoff hopes of anyone and everyone and have shown no preference in who they’re beating on. This will hurt and/or help the Orioles. The big games to watch are those four with the Rays.

Kansas City Royals

Record: 77-69; 16 games remaining

Current Position: Third Place by 7 games, American League Central; 2 games behind for the second Wild Card

Remaining Schedule: 3 games at Tigers; 3 games vs. Indians; 3 games vs. Rangers; 3 games at Mariners; 4 games at White Sox

I’d like to see the Royals make the playoffs because: A) they’re a likable young team; B) we need some new blood in the post-season; and B) the likes of Rany Jazayerli, Rob Neyer, Joe Sheehan and the rest of the stat-obsessed “experts” who live to bash the Royals will either have to admit they’re wrong (unlikely) or will join together to play a disturbing game of middle-aged men Twister (hopefully clothed) to justify why they were “right” even though Dayton Moore’s moves worked and the Royals leapt into contention and more.

It will be nice having an experienced arm like James Shields for a one-game Wild Card playoff or for the first game of the ALDS. I have a feeling about the Royals making the playoffs. And it’s gonna be funny.




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Blame Joba?

Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, Players, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors

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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Michael Kay’s Barbie Versatility

Ballparks, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, World Series

barbiepic

Barbie was such a popular and profitable doll because Mattel constantly came up with new accessories, venues and themes. Michael Kay is having a similar transformation, but it has more to do with trying to deal with the stages of grief that are accompanying the Yankees’ downfall than appealing to the masses. As always, the center of Kay’s universe is key. That center is Kay himself and his self-concocted connection to the Yankees’ unassailable greatness.

Let’s take a look at the different forms of Michael Kay that are manifesting themselves as he comes to grips with reality.

  • “Disappointed Dad” Michael Kay

Robinson Cano doesn’t hustle.

Were you aware of this?

It’s only become a problem recently because the team isn’t winning and a new object of anger must be found. Picking Cano is a bad idea. Cano’s lackadaisical baserunning isn’t going to abate because Kay and his booth cohorts suddenly realize that he runs at about 60 percent speed and rip him for it. Criticizing Cano for getting thrown out at second base on an attempted double as happened on Monday night and Kay noting that Brett Gardner hustles out of the batter’s box as a pointed fact/dirty look won’t help either. Cano doesn’t run hard and has no intention of running hard in spite of manager Joe Girardi’s subtle digs and fan complaints that are slowly reaching a climax.

You know what they’re going to do about it? Nothing. You know what Cano’s going to do? He’s going to take it easier over the final two months of the season.

While Kay went into a deranged and idiotic rant against the Mets when Jose Reyes bunted for a base hit and pulled himself from the final game of the season to clinch the 2011 batting title—ironically over Ryan Braun—Kay began his monologue on the subject with a “from day one” attack on the Mets as if they could do any more about Reyes’s decision than the Yankees can do about Cano. Reyes didn’t steal many bases over the second half of that season because he didn’t want to reinjure his hamstring and further reduce the amount of money he’d get on the open market. Reyes signed a contract worth $106 million, validating his behavior. Cano is looking for a contract for more than twice what Reyes got and will probably get it. With the Yankees going nowhere, he’s not going to risk injury so close to that dream’s fruition.

If Girardi, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, general manager Brian Cashman and any other prominent Yankee figure speaking to Cano about his lack of effort hasn’t done the trick, it’s disturbing that Kay is so egomaniacal that he thinks his commentaries and collateral shots will spur an epiphany in Cano at this late date. Kay folding his arms like Tom Bosley in Happy Days and shaking his head forlornly will be roundly ignored by a player like Cano, who clearly doesn’t care what anyone thinks about his effort or lack thereof.

Following Tuesday’s loss, Kay watched the Yankees file out of the dugout and said something to the tune of them having to “go into the clubhouse and think about it” as if they were naughty children being placed into time out. They’re not thinking about it. They lost. They know where the season is headed and are behaving accordingly. After the game, they went for drinks, dinner and whatever else players do to amuse themselves and are not listening to a scolding from Kay.

  • Memory lane Michael Kay

As the losses pile up, references to the decade-old glory days are appearing during YES telecasts. During the series in Chicago, Kay and John Flaherty spent an inordinate amount of time talking about the 2003 ALCS win over the Red Sox. We heard more talk about Aaron Boone than we’d heard in the past five years combined. Why? Is it because the current on-field product is so repugnant that all that’s left are memories?

This is similar to the dark times of Yankeedom from 1965 through 1975 and from 1979 to 1992 when the team was a dysfunctional, rudderless, horribly run non-contender. “Remember when” is considered the lowest form of conversation and, in this instance, nobody other than the sympathetically delusional Yankees fans and apologists want to talk about anything but the past because the present and future is so hellish that they’re trying to smother it out by reliving 2003. Incidentally, 2003 was a year in which the highlight was the ALCS win because they were upset in the World Series by the Marlins. Inconvenient facts are, well, inconvenient to the narrative of “historical greatness.” That historical greatness was backed up by luck and money. These are two things that are in short supply for the Yankees right now.

They could just as relevantly talk about Babe Ruth. The same amount of luck it took for the Yankees to purchase Ruth from the Red Sox is evident in the fortuitousness involved in the circumstances of a 22nd round draft pick Andy Pettitte; a 24th round draft pick (as an infielder) Jorge Posada; a pitcher they nearly traded in Mariano Rivera; a shy and quiet Bernie Williams; a retread managing loser like Joe Torre; and for owner George Steinbrenner to be suspended at just the right time to prevent them from trading all these young players for veterans and repeating the 1980s cycle to nowhere. It was so long ago that it might as well have happened 100 years ago rather than 20.

  • Bitter and jealous Michael Kay

This Kay changes to shades of green, carries a dull sickle and features a dino buddy (sold separately). During last night’s game—another loss to the last-place White Sox—Kay gave the out-of-town scores and when he got to the Mets, he spoke of Matt Harvey’s complete game shutout over the Rockies. Rather than say something positive like, “Wow, that Harvey’s something,” it became another backhanded compliment by pointing out that it’s amazing what Harvey’s doing for a Mets team that is nine games under .500. Leave it to Kay to take a Mets positive and pee on it in a pathetic attempt to mark a territory that’s no longer his.

It’s a time of panic for Kay and the other Yankees sycophants. Not only are the Red Sox turning around their own disastrous season from 2012 with a likely playoff spot, but the Mets are putting together the foundation for a contender led by a pitcher whose performance and mound demeanor are nearly identical to Roger Clemens in 1986. The Mets—the METS!!!—have attributes the Yankees don’t. They have significant young players contributing with more on the cusp of the big leagues and they have money to spend this off-season. Having to accept these facts will take time and the snippiness will grow worse as he travels the road of denial.

  • Osmosis cool Michael Kay

Dress it in bellbottoms, sort of behind the times but with a “what’s the difference?” shrug.

Kay is the epitome of the guy who shows up at the party without anyone knowing who invited him or how he gained entry. Why is he on the YES Network? Because he roots for the Yankees. One of the reasons I didn’t want him replaced when his contract was up and his return was in question was that YES was likely to find someone worse, so it’s better to stay with the devil you know. Why is he on ESPN in New York? The station wants to attract Yankees fans who are looking for even more homerism than they get from Mike Francesa. He’s the guy who couldn’t play but managed to find a job in which he gets to hang around with the cool kids like Jeter and, through osmosis, hopes that some of their cool becomes part of him. Instead, he’s just a gadfly and hanger-on like a part of the entourage whose presence wouldn’t be missed.

  • Mouthless Michael Kay

Nobody wants to hear it. Nobody wants to hear the caveats, preceded by “I’m not using this as an excuse” despite the fact that the mere use of the phrase says, “Yes, I’m using this as an excuse” when talking about injuries and age and whatever other reason for this mess is proffered. The same logic that was used when the team was riding high in April and May fits now, except in the wrong direction. They were winning with the likes of Vernon Wells contributing mightily. Now they’re losing because Wells fell back into being the player he was for the past three years. It wasn’t “Yankee Magic.” It was a brief renaissance that couldn’t possibly continue. It has nothing to do with the “rich tapestry of history.” It has to do with a short run of good luck that ran out. You can’t say how great Wells and Lyle Overbay were early in the season and trash them now. It doesn’t work that way.

They don’t have the money to spend to buy their way out of their issues, don’t have the young players to trade for immediate help, and their front office doesn’t have the ability to function in an atmosphere when they don’t have $50 million more to spend than their next closest competitor. Kay’s lashing out and whining won’t change that. These are the results you see when these factors are in place and no one, not Kay, not Steinbrenner or anyone could fix it with the speed at which it’s expected to be fixed.

This is reality. These are the Yankees.

//

MLB Trade Deadline: Relievers and the Eric Gagne-Jesse Crain Parallel

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It’s safe to say the two veteran relief pitchers the Red Sox just signed to minor league contracts, Brandon Lyon and Jose Contreras, won’t be the missing pieces to their hoped-for 2013 championship puzzle. Suffice it to also say that neither will pitch as terribly as Eric Gagne did when the Red Sox surrendered three players to get the veteran closer from the Rangers in 2007. If they do, it’s no harm/no foul.

The trade for Gagne was meant to create shutdown eighth and ninth innings with Gagne and Jonathan Papelbon and lead them to a World Series title. They won the title with no help from Gagne, who posted a 6.75 ERA with 26 hits allowed in 18 2/3 innings after the trade and pitched as badly in the post-season as he did in the regular season. In retrospect the trade wasn’t one in which the Red Sox are lamenting letting young players they needed get away.

For Gagne, they traded former first round draft pick outfielder David Murphy, lefty pitcher Kason Gabbard and young outfielder Engel Beltre. Murphy has been a good player for the Rangers, but the Red Sox haven’t missed him. Gabbard was a soft-tossing lefty whose career was derailed by injuries and actually wound up back with the Red Sox in 2010 for 11 Triple A appearances and hasn’t pitched since. If the Red Sox wind up regretting the trade it will because of Beltre who is still only 23, has speed, occasional pop and can play centerfield. Regardless of what happens with him, few will hold it against them for trading a 17-year-old in the quest of a championship that they wound up winning independent of Gagne’s terribleness.

The trade could have been far more disastrous than it was and it was due to the club overvaluing both the player they were getting and the importance of a relief pitcher who was not a closer. Interestingly, as written by Terry Francona and Dan Shaughnessy in The Red Sox Years, the Red Sox original intention was to use Papelbon as a set-up man and install Gagne as the closer. They went so far as to go to Papelbon’s home prior to pulling the trigger to discuss the possibility of letting Gagne close. Papelbon objected and the club made the trade anyway to use Gagne as the set-up man. As the numbers show, it didn’t work and it might have been hellish had they made Gagne the closer by alienating Papelbon, angering a clubhouse and fanbase still harboring dreaded memories from the failed 2003 attempt at a closer-by-committee, and repeating a mistake that the Red Sox have—even today—continued to make in undervaluing a good and reliable closer.

No one is expecting Lyon or Contreras to be key contributors to a title run, but they’re “why not?” moves to see if they can get cheap production from a couple of veterans. It’s doubtful the Red Sox are going to give up a top prospect for a non-closer again. Already the club inquired with the Mets about Bobby Parnell and the Mets reportedly asked for Jackie Bradley Jr., to which the Red Sox wisely said no. The Mets are willing to move Parnell if they get that kind of offer but it’s hard to see that happening, so it’s unlikely that they trade him. However, one relief pitcher who is on the market and will be traded is Jesse Crain of the White Sox. What happened with Gagne should not be lost on a team hoping to bolster their relief corps by acquiring Crain.

Gagne, before the trade, was closing for the Rangers. He’d saved 16 games, posted a 2.16 ERA, struck out 29 in 33 1/3 innings and allowed 23 hits. For the White Sox this season Crain made the All-Star team and is in the midst of the year of his life with a 0.74 ERA, 31 hits allowed in 36 2/3 innings (with a .337 BAbip), 46 strikeouts, 11 walks and no homers. Crain has always been a solid set-up man, strikes out more than a batter-per-inning and is a free agent at the end of the season. He’s a good pitcher, but he’s not worth what the White Sox are going to want for him and might possibly get from a desperate team looking to help their bullpen. In reality, the team that acquires Crain won’t win the championship because of him if he pitches as well as he is now, nor will they lose it if he falls to earth.

There are times in which it’s worth it to give up the top prospect to get that last missing piece if the championship is the goal. The Marlins traded former first pick in the draft Adrian Gonzalez to get Ugueth Urbina in 2003. That trade is nowhere near as bad as it would’ve been if Gonzalez had blossomed for the Rangers and the Marlins hadn’t won the World Series, but the Rangers also traded Gonzalez (no one knew how good he really was), and the Marlins did win the World Series that year. They might’ve won it with or without Urbina, but the bottom-line perception is what counts and the title justifies anything they did to get it. It’s the same thing with Gagne. The Red Sox won the title, so nothing else really matters.

Will Crain yield that for the team that acquires him? Is it likely? Probably not on both counts. The only time to give up a significant piece for a known set-up man is if you’re getting Mariano Rivera from 1996 Yankees or the Rob Dibble/Norm Charlton combination from the 1990 Reds’ Nasty Boys. Other than that, a team is better off doing what the Red Sox did with Lyon and Contreras and tossing a dart at a dartboard or finding a reliever who isn’t in the midst of his career year as Crain is and hoping that a move to a contending team and more than a little luck turns into a “genius” move when it was exceedingly lucky.

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Chris Davis and PEDs

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The two sides regarding Orioles’ slugger Chris Davis are firmly entrenched. There are those who see his wondrous career jump and comparable players who’ve risen similarly and unexpectedly in recent years as clear-cut evidence that he’s using banned substances to facilitate his newfound stardom. The others present a combination of legalese and chastisement to the skeptics along the lines of, “not everyone is a cheater.”

I’m not accusing Davis of anything nor am I putting forth a defense, but to imply that there shouldn’t be suspicion about any player who experiences this kind of half-season after never having posted anything close to these number in his major league career is ludicrous. On the same token, just because he’s hitting home runs with this frequency doesn’t mean he’s cheating. When a player explodes like this, there will be questions asked as to how he did it and, given the era in which we live where everyone’s suspect, it’s fair for them to be asked. It happened with Jose Bautista and Raul Ibanez in recent years and neither had their names come up in a Biogenesis-type record, neither was caught with anyone who was involved in PED use, and neither failed a test. The talk died down. But realistically, is there any player—one—who would elicit shock and dismay if he was caught having used PEDs? And that includes Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, David Wright and Joe Mauer among the “oh, he’d never do that” brigade of players seen as aboveboard and honest.

Some might be more disappointing than others, might create a splashier headline and bigger scandal, but shock? It’s like the story that Mickey Mantle might have used a corked bat in his career: it ruins the narrative and childhood idol worship of a vast segment of the baseball-watching population and turns into anger and denials based on nothing. I don’t know whether Mantle used a corked bat and nor do you. This is identical to the response to any player being accused of having used PEDs and the public and factions in the media saying, “No way.” You don’t know.

There are reasonable, baseball-related explanations for Davis’s sudden burst into stardom. He’s locked in at the plate; John Kruk discussed his balance and timing in getting behind the ball with all his strength; he posted minor league numbers nearly identical to the ones he’s posting now; and if he was going to use PEDs, he only decided to do it for 2013? What about from between 2008 to 2011 when he showed flashes of talent but struck out so much that he looked like he was on his way to becoming Adam Dunn, wound up back in the minor leagues for long stretches, and the Rangers traded him to the Orioles?

The number of players who’ve stood in front of cameras, congress, baseball executives and law enforcement officials and lied to everyone’s faces is so vast that it is naïve to exonerate any out of hand. There’s no evidence—circumstantial or otherwise—against Davis. Accusing him with an insulting, “he must be juicing,” is wrong, but exonerating him is only slightly less wrong because neither I nor you nor anyone else other than Chris Davis knows whether his first half is due to fulfilling his talent or getting his hands on some high quality, undetectable PEDs.

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No Joking Allowed With the Mets

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Someone has to put a set of rules together to list what the Mets ownership can and can’t do. At this point, however, it appears that the only thing that Jeff and Fred Wilpon can do to stop the avalanche of criticism they receive is to walk into one of the auto body shops that dot the landscape around Citi Field and, in a Stephen King sort of way, walk through a door in the back that’s actually a portal to another dimension from which they can never return.

You would think that Jeff Wilpon was a combination of Idi Amin and Saddam Hussein and openly laughing at the latest massacre he engineered (the Mets) when he made a harmless—and accurate—joke while the Mets were graciously honoring Mariano Rivera by saying, “Wish we could see you in the World Series, but I’m not sure that’s going to happen.”

Is this wrong? Is it mean-spirited? Is it something that should never ever be said?

Instead of the major point of discussion being the Mets dramatic win in which they beat the usually unbeatable Rivera, a percentage of time, energy and newsprint is being wasted on chastising Wilpon for making a lighthearted and dead-on self-deprecating joke at his and his team’s expense when no one on this planet or any other thinks the Mets have a shot at the playoffs this season. It was satire and it was true.

What would’ve been said if Wilpon had joked the opposite and said, “Maybe with a little luck we’ll see you guys again in October. You just have to do your part. Haha.” Or, “It’s still only May, we might see you guys in October. You never know.”

With the first comment, he’d be considered obnoxious, disrespectful, arrogant and stupid. With the second, he’d be considered delusional, ignorant and deranged.

Ask yourself this: Would the reviled, convicted, suspended, loathed, hated, suspended, less-loathed, less-hated, suddenly canonized as a “great” man when he was in actuality just an older version of the bloviating and blustery lunatic who was only placated by his team winning championships four times in five years to prevent him from blowing up the universe—none other than George Steinbrenner—have bothered to give a Mets player a gift and farewell if the situation called for it? He would only do it if he was convinced to do so after changing his mind multiple times and then okaying it at the last minute. It would have to be a Mariano Rivera-level player and person. That’s something the Mets and most other teams don’t have. The Mets do something nice and it turns into this.

Wilpon didn’t say, “Man, we suck,” as a vast number of fans in the fanbase say on a regular basis. He made a bit of dark humor while doing something gentlemanly for the crosstown rivals and one of their retiring stars, but like most things with the Mets, it’s used and twisted to put forth an agenda. The sad part about it is that there are still people who use it to fan flames that were more arson than incidental.

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Dealing With The Closer Issue

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Complaining about closers is like complaining about the weather: everyone talks about it, but no one does anything about it. The difference between the weather and closers is that something can be done about closers.

Amid all the talk about “what to do” with struggling relievers Jim Johnson and Fernando Rodney and the references of clubs who have found unheralded veterans to take over as their closer like the Cardinals with Edward Mujica and the Pirates with Jason Grilli, no one is addressing the fundamental problems with needing to have an “established” closer. Here they are and what to do about them.

Veteran relievers like to know their roles.

Managers like Whitey Herzog, Sparky Anderson, Billy Martin and Earl Weaver had the ability to tell their players that their “role” is to pitch when they tell them to pitch. Nowadays even managers who are relatively entrenched in their jobs like Joe Maddon have to have the players on their side to succeed. The Rays are a different story because they’re not paying any of their relievers big money and can interchange them if need be, but they don’t because Maddon doesn’t operate that way until it’s absolutely necessary.

Other clubs don’t have that luxury. They don’t want to upset the applecart and cause a domino effect of people not knowing when they’re going to pitch; not knowing if a pitcher can mentally handle the role of pitching the ninth inning; and don’t want to hear the whining and deal with the aftermath if there’s not someone established to replace the closer who’s having an issue. Rodney was only the Rays’ closer last season because Kyle Farnsworth (a foundling who in 2011 had a career year similar to Rodney in 2012) got hurt.

Until managers have the backing of the front office and have a group of relievers who are just happy to have the job in the big leagues, there’s no escaping the reality of having to placate the players to keep clubhouse harmony.

Stop paying for mediocrity in a replaceable role.

The Phillies and Yankees are paying big money for their closers Jonathan Papelbon and Mariano Rivera, but these are the elite at the position. Other clubs who have overpaid for closers include the Dodgers with Brandon League, the Red Sox with money and traded players to get Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan, the Nationals with Rafael Soriano, and the Marlins who paid a chunk of Heath Bell’s salary to get him out of the clubhouse.

Bell has taken over for the injured J.J. Putz with the Diamondbacks and pitched well. The Cubs, in desperation, replaced both Carlos Marmol ($9.8 million in 2013) and Kyuji Fujikawa (guaranteed $9.5 million through 2014) with Kevin Gregg. The same Kevin Gregg who was in spring training with the Dodgers and released, signed by the Cubs—for whom he struggled as their closer when they were trying to contend in 2009—as a veteran insurance policy just in case. “Just in case” happened and Gregg has gone unscored upon and saved 6 games in 14 appearances.

As long as teams are paying closers big money, closers will have to stay in the role far longer than performance would dictate in an effort to justify the contract. It’s a vicious circle that teams fall into when they overpay for “established” closers. When the paying stops, so too will the necessity to keep pitching them.

Find a manager who can be flexible.

A manager stops thinking when it gets to the ninth inning by shutting off the logical remnants of his brain to put his closer into the game. If it’s Rivera or Papelbon, this is fine. If it’s anyone else, perhaps it would be wiser to use a lefty specialist if the situation calls for it. If Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are hitting back-to-back and a club has Randy Choate in its bullpen, would it make sense to use a righty whether it’s the ninth inning and “his” inning or not?

Maddon is flexible in his thinking and has the support of the front office to remove Rodney from the role if need be. One option that hasn’t been discussed for the Rays is minor league starter Chris Archer to take over as closer in the second half of the season. With the Rays, anything is possible. With other teams, they not only don’t want to exacerbate the problem by shuffling the entire deck, but the manager is going to panic if he doesn’t have his “ninth inning guy” to close. Even a veteran manager like Jim Leyland isn’t immune to it and a pitcher the front office didn’t want back—Jose Valverde—is now closing again because their handpicked choice Bruce Rondon couldn’t seize his spring training opportunity and the “closer by committee” was on the way to giving Leyland a heart attack, a nervous breakdown or both.

The solution.

There is no solution right now. Until teams make the conscious decision to stop paying relievers upwards of $10 million, there will constantly be the “established” closer. It’s a fundamental fact of business that if there isn’t any money in a job, fewer people who expect to make a lot of money and have the capability to make a lot of money in another position are going to want to take it. Finding replaceable arms who can be used wherever and whenever they’re told to pitch, ignore the save stat, and placed in a situation to be successful instead of how it’s done now will eliminate the need to pay for the ninth inning arm and take all the negative side effects that go along with it. Games will still get blown in the late innings, but at least it won’t be as expensive and will probably happen with an equal frequency. It’s evolution. And evolution doesn’t happen overnight, if it happens at all.

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The Yankees’ Other Key Pending Free Agent

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Last night’s absurd 9-1 loss to the expansion-level Astros aside, the Yankees have surpassed the low-level expectations they were saddled with given their injuries to key players, lack of big name free agent signings and insistence that they’re going to get their payroll down to $189 million by 2014. At 15-10, the doom and gloom surrounding the club after the 1-4 start has subsided for the moment. That said, the age and number of injuries they’ve had will eventually catch up to them as the season moves along. If they’re still in position to be a factor by July, then it will be appropriate to laud the team’s resiliency and a playoff run.

What’s ignored in their good start is the steady hand that’s guided them through it, manager Joe Girardi. While the most prominent pending free agent the Yankees have is Robinson Cano, Girardi’s contract is also expiring at the end of the season and the team has been content to let him work in the final year with no rumors floated about a possible extension. Whether they’re willing to let the season play out and consider their options is known only to them, but unless they’re undertaking a full-blown rebuild—one that Girardi, with his resume, would not be interested in overseeing at this point in his career—then it makes no sense to run the risk of Girardi leaving.

For all the criticism he attracts for overusing his bullpen and overmanaging; for showing how clever he is with unnecessary in-game offensive decisions related to the near and dear to his heart “small ball” and doing “stuff” to make it look like he’s “managing” when just sitting there and letting the players play would be a better move, Girardi is now ensconced as the Yankees manager and those that are calling for his dismissal are complaining for its own sake.

He’s a good manager based on the following prime criteria, contingent on the situation, that a good manager needs to have:

  • The team achieves what it’s supposed to achieve

I don’t mean that the Yankees expectations are to win the World Series every year and if they don’t, the season is judged as a failure. That’s what wound up dooming Joe Torre. I mean that if a team like the Nationals, for example, doesn’t have any significant injuries and finishes at 85-77 and out of the playoffs, then that falls on manager Davey Johnson. Barring a clear screw-up, a manager shouldn’t be dumped based on playoff results.

  • The team overachieves

Girardi’s one season as Marlins manager resulted in the definition of a club that overachieved. In 2006, following a sell off the prior winter in which they dumped A.J. Burnett, Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, Carlos Delgado, Paul Lo Duca, Luis Castillo and Juan Pierre, they were widely expected to lose over 100 games. Girardi won the Manager of the Year by keeping them in Wild Card contention and had them at .500 as late as September 16th before a 78-84 finish. He was fired by owner Jeffrey Loria in a fit of petulance. Not much has changed from then to now with Loria who’s on his fifth manager since Girardi.

  • There’s accountability from the top down

The worst thing a manager can do is to accept that there’s a “rebuilding” going and act as if it doesn’t matter what the game results are as long as the players “develop.” That doesn’t mean trying to win every single game like it’s the seventh game of the World Series at the expense of health and sanity, but it means that there won’t shrugging and disinterest if the losses begin to pile up.

Girardi has managed the Yankees for five-plus years and they’ve made the playoffs and won 95+ games in four of them. If they want to bring in someone else, whom are they going to hire to replace him? Is it that easy to find someone who can deal with the circus, handle the media, have respect in the clubhouse and win with a diminished and aging roster all at the same time? If they were still going to have a $200+ million payroll and toss money at all their issues, then they could find the prototypical “someone” to manage the team and be okay. That’s no longer the case. There’s rarely an answer as to who the fans/media might want as a the new manager. It’s just change for change’s sake. There are times when it’s necessary to make a change just because. This is not one of those times.

It must be remembered that had he not gotten the Royals job prior to Torre being let go, GM Brian Cashman was seriously interested in Trey Hillman. Hillman had an airtight resume, was impressive in both presence and tone and was a disaster in Kansas City. He was strategically inept and couldn’t deal with the scrutiny and media in Kansas City. One can only venture a guess as to how bad he would’ve been in New York. It’s not that simple to find a good manager, especially in New York.

If Torre was the dad/Godfather to all the players, then Girardi is the no-nonsense brother who took over the family business and is running it his way. Girardi has never gotten the credit he’s deserved for the seamless transition from Torre. He never tried to be Torre and in the first season at the helm, it caused some friction with the veterans who weren’t accustomed to the energy, detachment and lack of personal attention with a pat on the back here and a paternal embrace there that was a daily part of the Torre regime. He also missed the playoffs in his first year after Torre had made it in every one of his seasons running the show. He survived it.

The easy thing for him to do would’ve been to copy his former manager and mentor. Instead, Girardi took little bits and pieces from his former managers Don Zimmer, Tony LaRussa, Torre, and Don Baylor. Girardi is more of a “what you see is what you get” than Torre ever was. Torre was calculating and Machiavellian. In circumstances in which he’d had enough of certain players—such as when he batted Alex Rodriguez eighth in the 2006 ALDS loss to the Tigers—the old-school and occasionally vicious Torre came out. His close relationships with Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada among others were due in part to him nurturing them through their formative years and in part because he was a self-interested actor who knew he needed those players on his side if he was going to succeed and continue in his job with an owner always looking to fire the manager if his demands weren’t met. When Girardi took the job, there were the familiar sibling tensions, especially with Posada, that he had to navigate. Sometimes he did a better job than others. Now there’s a détente between Girardi, Jeter and the other remaining veterans, but there will never be the affection there was with Torre.

He’s earned the right to have his status defined. By all reason and logic, the Yankees are playing far better than should’ve been expected given the issues they face. Girardi is looking into the contractual unknown. Perhaps they’ve told him they’ll take care of him at the end of the year. Maybe they haven’t. They could be waiting to see what happens. In any case, it’s a mistake. A number of appetizing jobs might be open after this season including the Angels (that one might be open in a matter of days), Dodgers, Tigers, Rangers, Mets, Blue Jays, Nationals and Mariners. All of those teams would be interested in Girardi.

It’s doubtful that he leaves the Yankees, but while they’re concerned about Cano’s contract, they need to pay attention to Girardi’s as well because he’s done a good job and they need him to stay.

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