The Yankees’ conundrum

MLB

The New York Yankees have so far defied most “expert” predictions (including my own) as to their fate this season. A 21-13 record is far better than even the most optimistic fans and media shills could have hoped for. The question is whether or not they can maintain it as currently constructed and, if not, what they have to do to bolster their current roster.

Objectively, it’s difficult to see the Yankee sustaining this current method of running games and winning. If they continue down this road, the bullpen is going to be shot by July. What they can do is bring in reinforcements to bolster the bullpen and starting rotation. But how? In the past, the Yankees would have worried about today today and figured they could buy whatever they needed on the market in the winter. That’s no longer the case.

There are internal options if they hold their fire and resist the temptation to misread the situation, panic and again abandon any plans they formulated. They can wait out Masahiro Tanaka’s return and hope that the injury issues – that have now extended into something totally different from his partially torn UCL – will recede into the background and he can be effective. They can wait for Ivan Nova. They can hope that the warmer weather rejuvenates CC Sabathia who, in spite of his record, has actually been relatively effective, albeit unlucky.

The Yankees have the prospects to get Cole Hamels from the Philadelphia Phillies, but that might not be the wisest decision. It would be a repeat of what the Yankees did in the past and put them on the treadmill they’ve been on over the past several years with aging players, bloated contracts, and limited prospects in the minors.

Even if they resist the temptation to get Hamels, they’re going to need help. They’re not getting enough length from their starting pitching and as long as they’re treating Nathan Eovaldi as if he’s a combination of a work-in-progress who they’re trying to develop and a reincarnation of the untrustworthy Javier Vazquez in Vazquez’s ill-advised and poorly considered second tenure in the Bronx, he can’t be trusted. They have to closely monitor Tanaka if/when he returns. They’re dealing with the aging star Sabathia. Nova is returning from Tommy John surgery and can’t be expected to provide significant depth. Adam Warren is showing that he is probably better suited to the bullpen. Chris Capuano is on the way back, but he’s mediocre at best.

They can improve the bullpen from within by using Warren. Jacob Lindgren is expected to be in the Bronx sooner rather than later. They could use one of their younger pitchers whose future is as a starter. But will they want to run the risk of repeating what they did with Joba Chamberlain with Luis Severino and let him be a weapon out of the bullpen with the understanding that no matter how dominant he might be that he’s going to go back to the starting rotation next year? Much of what happened with Chamberlain was the Yankees’ own fault. While they might proclaim that Severino’s future and Chamberlain’s past will have no bearing on their plans, it will be a looming if unacknowledged concern that the same thing could happen with a debate bordering on pending violence as to whether he should start or relieve.

That bullpen has been battered by manager Joe Girardi early in the season. Faced with the dueling necessities of trying to win and develop/protect their starting pitchers, he’s used his relievers to a degree that is indicative of his training as Joe Torre’s catcher and former bench coach. Already Chris Martin is injured. David Carpenter has been predictably bad. Every key short reliever in the Yankees’ bullpen has appeared in at least 13 games. The most important components – Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller – have been pushed remarkably hard for so early a point in the season. That cannot continue if they want any of those relievers to be effective in August and September.

Then there are the bats.

Alex Rodriguez, as good as he’s been, is still about to turn 40 and has a lengthy injury history if you completely ignore his PED use. Given his past, it cannot be ignored that he’s been busted for PED use so many times and lied about it even more. There are those who will believe anything A-Rod says; others who won’t believe anything he says; and those who will believe that he can’t possibly be stupid enough to get caught again.

Anything’s possible. With his age, it’s silly to believe that he’ll remain healthy and fresh all season even with the Yankees giving him periodic and strategic days off. He’s always be a threat due to his baseball intelligence, but he can’t keep this up.

Carlos Beltran has shown signs of life over the past few days, but he’s a testament to how baseball players aged pre-PED use – they inevitably become declining shells of their former selves when they reach their late-30s. There will be brief bursts of prior glory, but expecting that to continue is delusional.

Mark Teixeira is enjoying a renaissance, but he’s 35.

Chase Headley will undoubtedly hit better. Didi Gregorius remains a complete unknown with the reasonable expectation that he’s going to hit like Mark Belanger for the entire season. They need a second baseman as Stephen Drew is a weak stopgap.

Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury have gone above-and-beyond the call of duty, but both have been injury-prone and cannot continue this production.

Once everyone falls back to what they really are, the Yankees will have to make some additions from somewhere.

This is where the Yankees’ conundrum arises. Do they trade some of their prospects for veteran help to try and win a weak and wounded division? Do they hold onto the players they want to keep instead of acquiring a veteran arm or bat? Much like the dilemma they faced as they phased out Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, this is a different “damned if we do/damned if we don’t” circumstance. They had to play Jeter to placate the fans even though his bat and glove warranted him being benched. They were lucky with Rivera in that he was effective through to the end, but even if he wasn’t, they still would have had to keep him in the closer’s role whether he deserved it or not. In this situation, they’ve closed the vault and adhered to a certain plan rather than spend money to fill holes with other players who were eventually going to create the same holes they have now. To make matters worse, if this team gets into the playoffs, that bullpen combination of Betances and Miller gives them a chance to do damage once they’re there, but if they burn out Betances and Miller to get there how much will they have left in October (or August)? And what about the subsequent years that could be physically mortgaged in a similar way to the Yankees’ financial mortgaging for players like Beltran, Brian McCann, Sabathia, and even, to a degree, Tanaka?

The American League East itself is putting the Yankees in a position that, barring a monumental collapse or spate of injuries, they’ll have a chance to win the division. Right now, it could be a division that takes 84 wins. That falls right into what the Yankees have been over the past several years and what their reality is now. Considering the preseason flaws, this undoubtedly comes as a pleasant surprise to the front office. As much as they said they liked this team, there was a tactical diminishing of the previously lofty expectations of World Series or bust with ambiguous phrasing that essentially said, “If everything goes right…” It’s May and everything has gone right resulting in a 21-13 record and first place.

That can be as negative as positive because it might lead Hal Steinbrenner and Randy Levine to order GM Brian Cashman to do something stupid through misinterpreting what they currently are. Cashman won’t want to do it and could convince the front office that it’s preferable to get a Scott Kazmir, Aaron Harang, Mike Leake, Kyle Lohse, John Axford, or Tyler Clippard for far less in terms of players and financial commitment than it will cost to get Hamels.

However, if it’s late July, the bullpen is fading and the starting rotation is faltering, he might not have a choice. He might be ordered to take Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon or some other combination of pricey players Cashman doesn’t want and the Yankees don’t need in the short or long-term. That would undo all the good things they did this past winter in a similar fashion to them abandoning the $189 million goal for the retrospectively poor spending spree they embarked upon in the winter of 2013-2014 that made them older, more expensive and, overall, worse than they would have been if they’d held to their financial line and shown some patience.

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Tanaka and the Yankees’ true enemy is the ambiguity

MLB

If Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow had blown out completely when he first started experiencing pain in 2014, he would have had Tommy John surgery and possibly been back pitching at the big league level for a New York Yankees’ potential playoff run in August.

That didn’t happen. In retrospect, it’s unfortunate.

While some might take the diagnosis of a tear in the elbow ligament that was less than 10 percent as good news, in the end, it’s not. The real enemy the Yankees and Tanaka are facing isn’t the procedure and its layoff and rehab, but the ambiguity. When Tanaka was first diagnosed and up until this latest stint on the disabled list, there was endless debate – most of it coming from armchair experts on pitching and medicine – that he should just have the surgery and get it over and done with. The Yankees were right in deciding that they will listen to what the doctors say and let him rehab the injury in the hopes that he can avoid surgery and pitch just as durably and effectively like nothing was wrong. He made two starts at the end of the 2014 season with mixed results. He altered his mechanics and pitching repertoire in spring training 2015 to try and take the strain off of his elbow leading to reasonable speculation that he’s overcompensating and is still hurt. That groundswell grew when he was bad in his first start, mediocre in his second. It quieted as, for the subsequent two starts, he reverted to the dominant force he was for the first half of 2014 when he’d emerged as a sensation.

Now, in a mid-game announcement, general manager Brian Cashman stated that Tanaka was heading back to the DL with wrist tendinitis and a forearm strain. The MRI did not show more damage to his elbow ligament. More mishmashed good and bad news. More waiting. More armchair expertise. Some, like Pedro Martinez, who pronounced before the season that Tanaka’s elbow was eventually going to blow, sounded almost gleeful at being “right” even if he’s not…yet.

This isn’t a small factor in what the Yankees and Tanaka have to deal with. No one wants to hear about an impending heart attack that might never come. But there are still questions hovering around and they won’t go away until Tanaka has a sustained run of health and success.

Will this be ongoing until the elbow finally blows? Did Tanaka’s strategic changes to protect the elbow place a strain on other parts of his arm? Can the Yankees count on him to be the Cy Young Award-contending ace they paid for?

No one knows. Not the doctors, the baseball operations people, the manager, the coaches, or even Tanaka himself. Pedro Martinez certainly doesn’t know. That reality aside, this is hindering the Yankees in a far more significant fashion than would the finality of needing the procedure.

Cashman can’t hide his exasperation as he repeatedly states that the club is following the prescribed treatment plan from doctors whose job it is to make the determination as to whether surgery is necessary or not. They had several opinions from respected voices in the industry and all said he doesn’t need to have the procedure yet. So he’s not having it. They pitched him normally while monitoring him and he’s hurt again with an injury that is, in part, different to what he had before. The elbow strain is said to be very mild. Cashman admitted that it’s possible that it’s a precursor to needing Tommy John. What else is he supposed to say? What else are they supposed to do?

“Just in case” surgery is not advisable. Having Tommy John surgery now when the injury is reportedly something else entirely is tantamount to treating a torn biceps as if it were a broken arm. They’re in limbo. And it’s not good.

There’s a sigh of relief that accompanies finality. There’s no finality with Tanaka and it’s not good for him or the Yankees. The short-term pain of tearing off the Band-Aid yields a definable result. The same goes for Tanaka had he needed the surgery in the summer of 2014 and had it done. Instead, it’s more waiting, worrying and gazing into the abyss of the unknown without an end in sight.

Tanaka, Kay, Cashman’s interview and a sigh of something other than relief

MLB

Ironically in a career spanning several decades where few people cared what he said about much of anything sports-related, Michael Kay’s opinion will be – if not interesting or useful – telling as to how New York Yankees’ pitcher Masahiro Tanaka’s Sunday night performance is perceived by someone who’s accrued a strange credibility on the issue.

A preface: I am not comparing Kay to Walter Cronkite.

I repeat: I am not comparing Kay to Walter Cronkite.

But there’s a similar dynamic regarding Cronkite essentially saying in 1968 that the Vietnam war was, at best, at a stalemate and Kay almost the same thing I said verbatim asking why Tanaka’s changed his tactics and mechanics if the tear in his elbow isn’t significant enough to: A) negatively affect his pitching; and B) make surgery necessary without debate. You can listen to Kay’s surprisingly astute and objective assessment from ESPN radio below.

For Kay to call into question anything the Yankees do is tantamount to Cronkite tossing his old-school reporter sensibility of avoiding taking a stand on issues and calling into question the wisdom of continuing the losing Vietnam war. Perhaps the Yankees are having the same reaction that President Lyndon Johnson had when he reportedly turned to an aide and said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America” and are saying, “If we’ve lost Kay as our designated shill, we’re left with…Suzyn Waldman and Sweeny Murti?!?”

Amazingly, Yankees fans and apologists grow even more arrogant when the team is mediocre-to-bad. On social media, the Yankee-centric are responding to assertions that Tanaka should get the surgery with a condescending snideness and are desperately seeking ways to explain away his lack of effectiveness with bitter sarcasm. They may ridicule medical recommendations from laymen, but their insistence that Tommy John surgery is unnecessary is coming from the same baseline ignorance.

In spite of Sunday night’s 14-4 win over the Boston Red Sox, this Yankees team promises to be mediocre-to-bad. Tanaka pitched better in this start than he did in his opening day start against the Toronto Blue Jays, but his line – 5 innings, 4 hits, 4 runs, 3 earned runs, 3 walks, 4 strikeouts, and 1 homer allowed – was passable, not good; his stuff was similar to what it was in his first start; and he was not even close to a fraction of the dominant pitcher he was prior to last season’s diagnosis of a torn elbow ligament, less than 10 percent torn or not.

Yankees fans and media apologists might not breathe a full sigh of relief, but there’s a slight exultation that Tanaka got through a game without getting rocked again and that his arm stayed attached to his body. That’s better than the alternatives.

This, however, doesn’t alter the reality the club faces. That reality was on full display in this Brian Cashman interview with Mike Francesa on WFAN in New York. The uselessness of these interviews should be known by now. No one – especially team general managers – says anything of note. In the first two minutes, Cashman was in full backpedal regarding his statement at the time of Tanaka’s diagnosis that the Yankees had other pitchers who were diagnosed with a similar tear in their elbow and pitched through it. Covered by the pretense of not being able to disclose who they are, it’s impossible to know its veracity. It’s ambiguity shielded by faux propriety. According to Cashman, the reaction to Tanaka and paranoia regarding whether he’s healthy and if he should simply go and get the surgery now is a byproduct of the club being “transparent” about the injury. What exactly were they supposed to do when he was pitching brilliantly through the first half of 2014, stopped pitching brilliantly, was placed on the disabled list and was out? Not tell the media what the problem was?

It’s a typical dictatorial tactic to act as if a favor is being done by providing this information that they had no choice but to provide in the first place. This is not hockey or even football where teams are able to get away with saying their players have an “upper body injury” or a “lower body injury.” That daily grind of baseball and freedom that the players have in talking precludes the belligerence that would result from a player showing up in a half-body cast and anyone daring to ask why.

Cashman implies that the Tanaka statements as to changing his mechanics and pitching strategies was lost in translation. A lot seems to be getting lost in translation with the Yankees these days. The number of excuses they’re formulating as to their pending return to the dark times of 1965 to 1975 and 1982 to 1992 are embarrassing in their offensiveness. They’re not spending money; they’re in a pseudo-rebuild (for them); they’re waiting for contracts to expire; they’re talking up young players Aaron Judge, Gregory Bird, Luis Severino and others as if the next wave of homegrown talents along the lines of Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and Bernie Williams will miraculously become championship players as a matter of course; and they’re still charging ludicrous prices for a stage show that few are going to want to see because the star names they have are now more suited to being supporting players.

The reliance on pitchers like Nathan Eovaldi and trusting their development is another warning sign. He’s been dumped by two different organizations before he turned 25 in part because his numbers were terrible and in part because he has a reputation of not listening to coaches. His first start showed why teams want him (a near-100 mph fastball) and why they can’t wait to get rid of him (he gives up a ton of hits). Unless the Yankees figure out a way for him to use his brushed up split-finger to accumulate strikeouts, their shoddy defense and the amount of baserunners he allows don’t bode well while pitching in the small ballparks of the American League, especially with home games in a bandbox like Yankee Stadium. In fact, it makes him susceptible to big innings. Just because a pitcher has good stuff doesn’t means he’s good.

The word “stuff” goes directly back to Tanaka. He pitched serviceably against the Red Sox, but it wasn’t the Tanaka of 2014, but more along the lines of Daisuke Matsuzaka of 2007 and 2008 with high pitch counts, numbers that could be deemed okay on the surface, but are in fact middling and could be achieved by arms who were far less expensive and had significantly diminished expectations than a star like Tanaka who cost the team $175 million.

Cashman can accurately be referred to as Kevlar Cash for his apparent resistance to heat. He’s not held accountable for anything that’s gone wrong with this organization and that’s fine. But if his circular corporate-speak is losing its luster with those who are instinctively predisposed to buying everything the organization says as true, then they’re really in trouble in places other than on the field.

By the time you’re reading this, Kay might have already retreated into his instinctive Yankees boosterism. But if he says, accurately, that the win against the Red Sox proved little-to-nothing for Tanaka and the Yankees, it’s more worrisome for the club. There certainly won’t be an accurate assessment from Cashman, manager Joe Girardi or anyone in the media and fan base who’s invested in the team being good and Tanaka being the ace they need him to be for the team to be good. But if Kay maintains objectivity on the issue, they’ll have lost one of the main “YES” men (double entendre intended) and another layer of protection will be gone as well.

Questions and truth about Masahiro Tanaka

MLB

Playing doctor used to mean prepubescent children taking off their clothes to see what’s what. Nowadays, in the era of social media, WebMD and Wikipedia, playing doctor means something vastly different. A brief, five minutes of time spent browsing a few websites has evolved (or devolved) into laymen and women feeling qualified in their medical knowledge to provide assessments, analysis and advice to specialists who cut people open for a living, experts who read MRIs, and sports professionals who make their living determining whether or not their charges are able to continue performing or need to repair an issue.

New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka is the current target of this medical intrigue as he’s pitching with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow and has been told, by actual doctors, that he can avoid surgery with the current percentage of the ligament that is torn. That hasn’t stopped the judgments of everything from what’s going on in his head, the heads of the Yankees, how he’s responding to the fact that he’s pitching hurt, and how he’s pitching.

There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground in this situation. On one end, there’s the ironclad statement that Tanaka should just get the surgery now and end the charade of pitching effectively through it. On the other, there are the Yankees’ version of climate change deniers who insist there’s nothing wrong and that Tanaka’s struggles were related more to his lack of location and command rather than an altered strategy, mechanics and compensation for the injury.

Here are the facts sans the idle chatter specifically designed to troll on the web:

  • Tanaka’s fastball is diminished – ever so slightly – from what it was when he was dominating Major League Baseball for the first half of the 2014 season
  • He has changed his mechanics to try and take pressure off the elbow
  • He has changed his pitching template with an open statement that he’s going to throw more sinkers than four-seam fastballs
  • He’s pitched in three games that count since the diagnosis and gotten blasted in two of them

Logically, if the doctors told him that he can pitch with the injury as it stands now and he wants to pitch, then he should be able to pitch as he normally pitches. Why change the mechanics? Why alter the pitches he throws? And why is he suddenly getting shelled?

Since Tanaka has made these changes, it’s telling that he’s probably pitching in pain, is hesitant about the injury, or both. While many pitchers would have conceded to reality that they’re hurt and eventually realized that their long-term career prospects are better if they’re 100 percent rather than 80 percent healthy, Tanaka is admirable in his desire to be there for his teammates and earn his contract. Japanese culture dictates that Tanaka try to live up to the terms of that $175 million the Yankees spent to get him, but the contract was given to him for the Cy Young Award-level performance the Yankees received before he got hurt. They’re not getting that now.

It’s still not entirely clear as to whether the doctors told him that he can get the surgery to replace the ligament now and know it will be repaired or if they said he can pitch with the current tear and do so effectively.

But he’s not doing so effectively. Doctors’ statements and expertise aside, because he can pitch with it as an obviously diminished entity doesn’t mean he should pitch with it.

It’s often worthless to take the word of the opposing hitters when they give an opinion on a pitcher especially if it’s a pitcher they chased after four innings, but the Toronto Blue Jays saying that they weren’t worried about catching up to Tanaka’s fastball is telling. For them to say they knew he couldn’t blow the ball past them if he needed to is an important fact when determining exactly what the Yankees can expect from Tanaka this season. With a power fastball – a four-seamer with life – the hitters can’t wait that extra millisecond to see if it’s a slider or a split-finger coming. The sinker, slider and splitter will all move along the same plane if they’re going where the pitcher wants them to go. A four-seamer will be higher in the zone, have more jump and leave the hitter with less time to adjust to it. So if Tanaka is throwing all those sinkers and shunning the four-seam fastball, that is clearly going to affect how hitters react to him. That information gets around the league immediately and the hitters will know it before they step into the box to face him.

There doesn’t seem to be much debate that he’s eventually going to need the procedure. Adam Wainwright has almost become a required addition to any sentence that contains the words “Tanaka” and “Tommy John.” What’s ignored in the equation is that at the time Wainwright’s elbow tear was diagnosed – twice – he was in high school and in Triple A. No one was counting on him as anything other than a prospect. Also, how many pitchers are able to have the tear and repeat what Wainwright miraculously did and not just pitch with it, but help his team win a World Series as a closer and then become one of the top five starters in baseball?

Wainwright’s St. Louis Cardinals were in a unique position that they were able to win the World Series in the year that Wainwright’s elbow finally gave out. The Yankees are not in that situation. If they lose Tanaka, they not only lose one of the few remaining drawing cards they have, but they can essentially punt on this season. A team so immersed in an annual championship push and a front office and fan base that has gotten so spoiled that they’re loathe to even admit that 1965 to 1975, and 1982 to 1992 happened at all makes it all-but impossible to face that reality. The Yankees’ transparent decision to shut off the radar gun to hide Tanaka’s lack of velocity certainly isn’t helping to eliminate the perception that they’re a crumbling, paranoid dictatorship clinging to the last vestiges of power. The diametrically opposed triangular truth of a pending rebuild, an injured star, and a vast percentage of a fickle fan base that’s ready to abandon ship will inevitably influence how ownership responds to the new circumstances.

Can Tanaka do what Wainwright did? The medical consensus is that he can pitch with it. The important question is how long he’s going to be able to avoid surgery and pitch effectively. The Yankees and their fans can formulate all the ludicrous and unbelievable excuses as to why he’s struggling and continually dodge the reality as best they can. The medical evidence says one thing. The practical evidence says another. Which are we to believe? Given the idea behind an athlete is performance, Tanaka’s injury is cause for concern not because everyone seems to be waiting with fear, anticipation and, in some quarters, excitement that it’s going to blow, but because he’s pitching terribly. Until that changes, the speculation will continue and that speculation might actually have a basis in fact regardless of whether it’s coming from a non-credible would-be doctor or not.

Yankees are doing the right thing with Tanaka

MLB

Amid all the media recommendations, outsider assessments, social media MDs (without the training or education) and predictions of doom and gloom, the New York Yankees are handling the Masahiro Tanaka injury situation perfectly by keeping it simple: he’ll pitch as long as he can pitch and then when he can’t pitch, he’ll have surgery.

In the real world – one in which everyone isn’t an expert on everything and has a forum to express that expertise – they really have no other choice. The spate of Tommy John surgeries and its supposed success rate makes it seem as if it’s little more than a minor procedure from which every pitcher will recover fully and be back as good as new. Of course, that’s not the case.

The surgery itself isn’t a guarantee as this piece in today’s New York Times discusses. At the top end of the spectrum and often mentioned as a comparison and prayer for Tanaka’s future is St. Louis Cardinals’ ace Adam Wainwright, who pitched for five years with a ligament tear before needing to have the surgery done. Many pitchers have returned from the surgery better than ever. Some, like Ryan Madson, haven’t. The newest trend is pitchers like Kris Medlen and Jonny Venters needing to have the surgery twice. Old-schoolers point out the paranoia that is prevalent in today’s game with such terminology as “prehab,” innings limits, protective devices and the tactics that are used to keep pitchers on the field and is failing to do so while playing up the idea that the likes of Nolan Ryan, Fergie Jenkins, Gaylord Perry, Tom Seaver and Jim Palmer would rack up 280 to 350 innings without getting injured. That ignores the number of pitchers who flamed out, went undiagnosed and kept pitching through pain to keep their jobs. “He blew out his arm” is not a medical diagnosis, but that’s what was said before there was the capacity to repair these injuries.

Given the frequency of Tommy John surgeries that are necessary with Tim Collins having had it and Yu Darvish needing it, there’s a rampant debate as to why this is happening. There’s no answer due to a lack of information, an absence of consensus and dueling agendas.

Well, there might be an answer, but like the possible presence of a deity or life among the stars, we don’t know it. It might depend on the individual or there could be a smoking gun that’s yet to be found. Theories can be presented and other theories can debunk them. Is it mechanics? Is it weight training? Is it that pitchers are throwing as hard as they can for as long as they can when, in the past, most didn’t do that? Is it the new medical technology that’s more apt to discover the injury rather than giving an all-encompassing and inexact Rx of “rest” from the diagnosis of “sore arm?”

Who really knows?

With his dour attitude, sleep-inducing monotone and self-indulgent corporate terminology, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman might sound like a droning dullard. But when slashing through his verbose statements and world weary tone when discussing Tanaka, he’s absolutely right in the basic statement of not being worried about Tanaka; that he can’t control what happens, so it is what it is. There’s nothing that can be done about it. This is not a case of the Yankees picking and choosing various unproven techniques of development that failed with their young pitchers Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes and citing studies, biomechanical experts, historical abstracts and reams of data to prove its efficacy and why it should have worked. It’s a medical diagnosis that Tanaka does not need the surgery right now. Several opinions from respected medical professionals have been garnered. So what’s the dispute?

The demand of “just get the surgery” from some morally destitute website, a rag’s “expert baseball” columnist, or dimwit on Twitter doesn’t supersede an experienced doctor saying he doesn’t need it now. It’s not Münchausen Syndrome by Proxy in which the surgery and attention is the rush for the caregivers with no want or need for it to be performed. It’s not a surgically disfigured rich and famous person who’s addicted to plastic surgery, is told he or she looks “great” by sycophants and has a doctor doing the procedures for: A) the money; and B) because they know the patient will just go to another doctor to get the surgery done anyway with the “at least I can watch my patient” as the ingrained excuse for enabling them. It’s real life, the Yankees’ investment and Tanaka’s career.

Part of the Yankees’ attitude, at least from those who have an idea about baseball, is a cold-blooded realization that if they lose Tanaka, they’re going to finish under .500. Unless he’s something close to the dominating pitcher he was last year and the redundant parity in the American League East keeps the win total to capture the division in the mid-80s, the Yankees are nothing more than an also-ran even with him. While the delusional nature of the spoiled Yankees fan might believe that there’s a magical aspect to the organization, there’s no magic. There’s no miracle.

So it comes back to Tanaka. The Yankees tack with Tanaka is decidedly and unintentionally old-school. Before Tommy John surgery was possible, a pitcher whose elbow ligament was torn would do what Tanaka did, take time off, try to recover and come back to pitch. When he couldn’t pitch anymore, he was done. That was it. That’s what the Yankees have accepted now. They’ll monitor him and protect him when and where they can. It’s doubtful you’ll see Tanaka pitch even one complete game this year, but with the Yankees’ one major strength being the bullpen, there won’t be any reason for him to pitch any complete games. Let him pitch until he can’t pitch. Then he’ll have the surgery. It’s simple. It’s clear. It’s decisive. And it’s right.

Odds On Tanaka And Why He’ll End Up With The Yankees

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

Masahiro Tanaka’s deadline to pick a team is Friday. In the past, the waiting game on Japanese players was based on whether the team that won the bidding would make a sufficient offer to sign the player. Limited as it was to a single team, the Japanese import had the options of either using the dull axe—which the team knew would never leave his belt—of going back to Japan, or making the best deal he could.

There was pressure on the team that won the bidding as well. After a month of promotion, ticket sales and hype, winning the bidding meant the player had to be signed.

With the new rules, Tanaka’s a pure free agent with the forgettable and meaningless deadline. The threat of him going back to Japan to play is less than zero. Because of that, instead of the manufactured drama of “will he or won’t he?!?” sign a contract in time, the speculation is where he’ll wind up.

You can log onto the schlock sites, sports news sites and clearinghouses and fall into their trap. Preying on the fans’ desperation for information about Tanaka, they’re trolling you with information that, at best, stretches even the most elastic boundaries of common sense. The sheeple are clamoring and clawing for a minuscule smidgen of news about Tanaka. For the rank-and-file fan rooting for teams out of the bidding, it’s a distraction in the cold winter. For fans of the teams that are in the running for the pitcher, they’re looking for validation as to why their team will get him and “win” the sweepstakes.

Ignoring all the ancillary nonsense, let’s look at the realistic odds based on what we actually know and not what’s planted to garner webhits with speculation, whispers and rumors from invisible sources that might not exist.

New York Yankees

Odds: 1-2

Initially, I thought the Yankees were one of the leading contenders, but not alone at the top of the list. In my estimation, they were even with the Mariners and Cubs. Now, however, the Yankees are the best bet to get Tanaka. In a similar fashion as the Yankees being seen as a darkhorse for Mark Teixeira while the Red Sox were the team with whom he was widely expected to sign, the Yankees dove in and got their man. With Tanaka, they don’t have much of a choice anymore. Their starting pitching is woefully short and in spite of the offense they’re going to get from the outfield additions Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury and catcher Brian McCann, their infield is currently a series of aged question marks, journeymen and massive holes. The bullpen is a mess; the starting rotation is a roll of the dice. Tanaka won’t solve those problems if he solves any at all—no one knows how a Japanese player will transition—but they need him not just on the field but at the box office.

It’s unconscionable that the Yankees have had everything go their way in terms of the Alex Rodriguez suspension, that they received inconceivable salary relief in their goal to get below $189 million and they’re still probably not going to be able to do it. Since they’re near the limit and have those holes to fill, it no longer makes sense for them to put forth the pretense of getting below the limit at the cost of losing out on Tanaka and having a roster that’s equal to or worse than the one that won 85 games last season.

They don’t have any other options apart from pitchers they don’t want in Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza, Ervin Santana and Bronson Arroyo. They could trade Brett Gardner for a middling starter, but that’s not going to sell tickets for a fanbase looking at this team and wondering where they’re headed.

The Yankees have every reason to tell Tanaka’s representative Casey Close that if there’s an offer that surpasses theirs, to come back to them for a final offer to get their man.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Odds: 2-1

When Mike Tyson was at the height of his powers as the heavyweight champion of the world and didn’t have the tax collectors garnishing his salary to pay his debts, he purchased on whims based on his limitless bank account. One story detailed Tyson driving past a luxury car dealership and driving in with one luxury car to purchase another one. He did it because he felt like it, because he could.

That’s the sense I get with the Dodgers.

Whether or not you believe the stories of Tanaka’s wife preferring the West Coast, if Tanaka signs with the Dodgers—or anyone—it will be because that’s the team that offered him the best deal. The Dodgers have locked up Clayton Kershaw and have Zack Greinke. If Tanaka’s anywhere close to as good as advertised, that top three is 1990s Braves-like, if not better. They have the money to spend and both Chad Billingsley and Josh Beckett are coming off the books after 2014. He’s not a need for them. If they sign him it’s because they wanted to. It’s as good a reason as any when dealing with a payroll whose limit appears to be nonexistent.

Seattle Mariners

Odds: 6-1

The Mariners haven’t been mentioned prominently in recent days, but there are numerous reasons not to count them out. They signed Robinson Cano, but the other “big” additions they made were Corey Hart and Logan Morrison. These were downgrading moves from Raul Ibanez and Kendrys Morales.

Other than Cano, what have they done to get significantly better from what they were in 2013? Tanaka will slot in right behind Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma and be in front of Taijuan Walker and James Paxton. The injury to Danny Hultzen limits some of the Mariners’ vaunted pitching depth and they need another arm and another name to draw fans. Cano will spur some ticket sales and if they lose out on Tanaka, the fans might draw some slight enthusiasm from Garza, Santana or Jimenez, but not as much as they’d get from Tanaka. They could trade for David Price, but that would cost them Walker plus others.

No matter who they sign, the Mariners won’t have fans coming to the ballpark if they’re 20-30 after 50 games, Cano or no Cano. Tanaka would bring fans into the park and it’s a good situation for him.

There’s talk that the Mariners are close to the limit on their payroll and they need approval from ownership before spending more on the likes of Tanaka. If they don’t continue to add, the signing of Cano was done for show and little else.

Chicago Cubs

Odds: 8-1

Of course there’s no connection between the two, but it would be interesting if Cubs team president Theo Epstein goes all-in with Tanaka after his negative experience with Daisuke Matsuzaka with the Red Sox. The Cubs are in the middle of their rebuild and Epstein is loading up on draft picks and international signings. Giving Tanaka the time to grow accustomed to North America with a team that’s not expected to contend could be good for him. If Epstein’s plans work, by the time Tanaka’s acclimated, the Cubs will be prepared to take a step forward with him at the front of their rotation.

The Cubs have done absolutely nothing at the big league level this off-season apart from that…unique…new mascot. Ownership, if not overtly meddling, is getting antsy. The Cubs’ attendance is declining and judging by the roster they’re putting out there as of now, that’s not going to change without a splash. Tanaka is that splash.

I doubt Epstein is going to go above and beyond what the other suitors offer while the Yankees will and the Dodgers might, making Tanaka landing with the Cubs unlikely.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Odds: 50-1

He’s not going to Arizona. They don’t have the money to match the other teams. Why they’re even putting on a front of going hard after Tanaka is bizarre. Never mind that he’s still an unknown, he’d immediately walk into the Diamondbacks’ clubhouse and be the highest paid player on their roster by almost $10 million per season. The expectations there would be far more intense than they’ll be in the other venues. It’s a silly idea.

By Friday, we’ll know where Tanaka’s going. But all logic and reality dictates that he’ll end up with the Yankees for $130 million-plus, for better or worse.




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Masahiro Tanaka: Full Analysis, Video and Predictions

Award Winners, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

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

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

Mechanics

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

But are they using their legs?

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

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

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

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

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

Stuff

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

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

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

The switching of leagues

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

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

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

Analysis: Accept the statistical dominance at your own risk.

Workload

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

Is this a red flag?

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

Analysis: I wouldn’t worry about it.

Cost

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

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

Is he worth it?

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

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

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

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

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

The pursuit

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

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

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

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




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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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Ricky Nolasco Proves the Market Rewards Mediocrity

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

The Ricky Nolasco contract with the Twins was announced last night. I haven’t looked at the reactions yet, but presumably they range between indignation, head shakes and grudging acknowledgements that “that’s the market.” Whether or not he’s worth that money is beside the point. Nolasco is a better pitcher than he’s been given credit for and he’s durable. He’s not the pitcher you’d prefer to have starting opening day or the first game of a playoff series, but he’s a professional arm who will provide innings and competence. In today’s market, that’s going to get him $50 million. I’m not judging it one way or the other. It just “is.” Personally, I’d prefer Bronson Arroyo to Nolasco. But Nolasco is certainly a better risk than Masahiro Tanaka. It’s all about context.

It’s not a free money policy in an industry that is flush with cash that is causing teams to make seeming overpays for slightly above-average pitchers. It’s the overall culture of wastefulness that has permeated baseball through ridiculous developmental rules for pitchers that make necessary the purchasing of whatever is on the market for the going rate due to supply and demand.

Teams and analysts talk out of both sides of their mouths – as well as other orifices – when they put forth the pretense of running the organization as a business and then toss uncountable amounts of money at mediocrity, wondering why they get mediocrity when that’s what they bought.

A.J. Burnett was the epitome of a pitcher who was overpaid based on need and availability. Having missed the playoffs in 2008 and desperate for starting pitching, the Yankees threw money at their problems and it worked. One pitcher they signed was A.J. Burnett. Burnett was always the epitome of the “million dollar arm, five cent head” pitcher, one who could throw a no-hitter striking out 18 one game and give up a three-run homer to the opposing pitcher in the next game. For that, the Yankees doled a contract worth $82.5 million for five years. They kept him for three, paid the Pirates $20 million to take him off their hands and didn’t even get useful prospects in the trade.

The galling aspect of Burnett’s three year tenure in pinstripes was that there was a belief that he’d arrive and suddenly fulfill his potential just because he was a Yankee. In truth, he pitched in the same frustrating, aggravating way he always pitched. It was the height of Yankee arrogance to think they were going to get anything different. During his whole time as a Yankee, when the media and fans screamed about his inconsistency, I responded with an identical and more logical scream that I gave when they signed him: This is what you bought!!! This is A.J. Burnett!!!

The reason the Yankees needed pitching that year was because their attempts to “grow their own” in an effort to save money over the long-term by not having to buy other teams’ arms failed miserably with Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy either getting hurt, pitching poorly or fluctuating in their roles in 2008. With 20/20 hindsight, the Yankees and other clubs who use the pitch counts/innings limits/overprotectiveness for their young pitchers can examine these failures, the need to spend their way out of trouble to purchase breathing bodies who can eat innings and ask whether or not it was worth it.

I don’t want to hear about injuries, changing roles, unsuitability for New York and the other excuses that are proffered to explain away the failures of these three pitchers – that’s all part of why they failed. The fact is that for 16 combined seasons from Chamberlain, Hughes and Kennedy, the Yankees got an 80-68 won/lost record, a 4.37 ERA and wasted years when they were in their early-to-mid 20s and should have been at their strongest and most useful. Don’t start looking for advanced stats either because that’s only going to make the case for the way the Yankees used them worse. They could have been good and weren’t. It’s not hard to figure out why.

If you combine the draft pick compensation that many teams are unwilling to surrender to sign pitchers, the number of pitchers on the market declines even further. That absence and the number of top-tier talent who sign long-term deals to stay with their current teams leads to pitchers like Nolasco getting $50 million deals. Nolasco was traded at mid-season meaning he wasn’t subject to being offered arbitration, therefore there’s no draft pick compensation. Arroyo wasn’t offered arbitration by the Reds. Tanaka won’t cost anything other than money. That’s why they’re attractive.

The Giants were roasted for signing Tim Lincecum to a two-year, $35 million contract rather than let him go as a free agent, but now the decision looks astute. You’d be hard-pressed to find any stat person willing to give Giants general manager Brian Sabean credit for anything, but he kept Lincecum. It was wiser to do so considering the options of trading young players to get an arm or offering Lincecum arbitration hoping he’d take it and no one would offer him a Nolasco-style deal. In retrospect, it was simply easier and better long-term thinking to keep him. The Giants also signed Tim Hudson to a two-year contract. Without compensation attached to him and with the deal Nolasco just signed, Hudson might have lowballed himself by signing so early even at age 38.

Are teams really so in love with Tanaka that they’re willing to give upwards of $150 million to secure his rights and sign him? Or is it that there’s no other payments necessary apart from the posting fee and signing him to a contract? To sit and claim that Tanaka is a sure thing is ridiculous considering the attrition rate of pitchers who arrive with similar hype and expectations. Again, it’s the market and the desperation to hold true to draft picks, luxury tax and other aspects that are influencing which pitchers are getting big money and which aren’t.

The Rays have the right idea with their own pitchers: they use them without overt abuse or overprotectiveness; they don’t sign them to long-term contracts; and they trade them at their highest value for a package of prospects. It’s easy to say, “just copy the Rays” but how many teams have the freedoms the Rays do? How many teams are able to say, “We can’t pay him and it makes no sense to keep him for that extra year when these offers are on the table in a destitute market?” For all the credit the Rays get for their success and intelligence, a substantial portion of it is directly because they have no money; because they’ve been able to win under their tight financial circumstances; because they don’t have a brand-new ballpark with three million fans in attendance; because the media doesn’t go crazy when they trade Matt Garza, James Shields and listen to offers on David Price.

When a team needs 200 innings and isn’t going to get it from their top pitching prospects due to an arbitrary number of innings they’re allowed to pitch to keep them healthy, they have to buy it somewhere else. Stephen Strasburg is entering his fifth season in the big leagues, will be a free agent after 2016, will demand $150 million and as of now still hasn’t broken the 200-inning barrier. Unless the Nats pay it, another team will benefit from the protective cocoon he’s been in. Oh, and he got hurt anyway. Scott Boras will be more than happy to use the hammer of the Nats having signed, paid and developed Strasburg and won’t want to let him leave to force them to pay more money than his performance indicates he’s been worth.

For every Clayton Kershaw or Chris Sale who are allowed to pitch, there are five Strasburgs and Chamberlains who aren’t. And who benefits from the absence of arms? The Nolascos and Tanakas. Production be damned. They have what teams are looking for because most teams – through their own short-sightedness and stupidity – can’t make it on their own.

How is that a wise business model?




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