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

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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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Matt Harvey’s Elbow Injury Fallout

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No matter what happens with his elbow, Matt Harvey of the Mets is still going home to this:

Anne_V

I’m not using that image of Anne V. in an attempt to accumulate gratuitous web hits, but as an example of Harvey being perfectly fine whether he has to have Tommy John surgery or not. The reactions ranged from the ludicrous to the suicidal and I’m not quite sure why. There’s being a fan and treating an athlete as if he or she is part of your family and cares about you as much as you care about them.

Let’s have a look at the truth.

For Matt Harvey

The severity of the tear of his ulnar collateral ligament is still unknown because the area was swollen and the doctors couldn’t get the clearest possible image. Whether or not he can return without surgery will be determined in the coming months. It’s possible. If you run a check on every single pitcher in professional baseball, you can probably find a legitimate reason to tell him to shut it down. Some are more severe than others. Harvey’s probably been pitching with an increasing level of damage for years. The pain was  manageable and didn’t influence his stuff, so he and his teams didn’t worry about it. This surgery is relatively common now and the vast number of pitchers return from it better than ever. The timetable given is generally a full year, but pitchers are now coming back far sooner.

“That’s so Mets”

This injury is being treated as if it’s something that could only happen to the Mets. The implication is that their “bad luck” is infesting everything they touch. But look around baseball. How about “that’s so Nats?” Both Jordan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg required Tommy John surgery in spite of the Nationals’ protective measures and overt paranoia.

How about “that’s so Red Sox?” Clay Buchholz has spent much of two of the past three seasons on and off the disabled list with several injuries—many of which were completely misdiagnosed.

How about “that’s so Yankees?” Joba Chamberlain and Manny Banuelos had Tommy John surgery; Michael Pineda has had numerous arm injuries since his acquisition.

How about “that’s so Braves?” Tim Hudson, Kris Medlen, Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters (twice), Brandon Beachy and Alex Wood have all had Tommy John surgery. The Braves are considered one of the best organizational developers of talent in baseball.

Dave Duncan warrants Hall of Fame induction for his work as a pitching coach and had Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter undergo Tommy John surgery. You can go to every single organization in baseball and find examples like this.

The Mets kept an eye on Harvey, protected him and he still got hurt. That’s what throwing a baseball at 100 mph and sliders and other breaking pitches at 90+ mph will do. It’s not a natural motion and it damages one’s body.

The Twitter experts

Some said the Mets should not only have shut Harvey down earlier, but they also should have shut down Jonathon Niese, Jenrry Mejia, Zack Wheeler and Jeremy Hefner. Who was going to pitch? PR man Jay Horowitz? Others stated that they were planning to undertake research into the pitching mechanics technique of “inverted W” (which Harvey didn’t use). I’m sure the Mets are waiting for a layman’s evaluations and will study them thoroughly.

Of course, many blamed the Mets’ manager Terry Collins and pitching coach Dan Warthen. That was based on an agenda, pure and simple. Some have been pushing for the Mets to bring back former pitching coach Rick Peterson. They’re ignoring the fact that Peterson is now the pitching coordinator for the Orioles and their top pitching prospect, Dylan Bundy, had Tommy John surgery himself. Is that Dan Warthen’s fault too?

To have the arrogance to believe that some guy on Twitter with a theory is going to have greater, more in-depth knowledge than professional trainers, baseball people and medical doctors goes beyond the scope of lunacy into delusion of self-proclaimed deity-like proportions.

Bob Ojeda

With their station SNY, the Mets have gone too far in the opposite direction from their New York Yankees counterpart the YES Network in trying to be evenhanded and aboveboard. Former Mets pitcher Bob Ojeda should not have free rein to rip the organization up and down  as to what they’re doing wrong. This is especially true since Ojeda has harbored a grudge after former GM Omar Minaya passed Ojeda over for the pitching coach job and openly said he didn’t feel that Ojeda was qualified for the position.

Now Ojeda is using the Harvey injury as a forum to bash the Mets’ manager and pitching coach and claim that he had prescient visions of Harvey getting hurt because he was throwing too many sliders. I don’t watch the pre and post-game shows, so it’s quite possible that Ojeda said that he felt Harvey was throwing too many sliders, but if he didn’t and kept this information to himself, he’s showing an insane amount of audacity to claim that he “predicted” it.

He needs to tone it down or be removed from the broadcast.

Player injuries can happen anywhere

The winter after his dramatic, pennant-clinching home run for the Yankees, Aaron Boone tore his knee playing basketball. This led to the Yankees trading for Alex Rodriguez and Boone not getting paid via the terms of his contract because he got hurt partaking in an activity he was technically not supposed to be partaking in. Boone could’ve lied about it and said he hit a pothole while jogging. The Yankees wouldn’t have known about it and he would’ve gotten paid. He didn’t. He’s a rarity.

On their off-hours, players do things they’re technically not supposed to be doing.

Jeff Kent broke his hand riding his motorcycle, then lied about it saying he slipped washing his truck. Ron Gant crashed his dirtbike into a tree. Other players have claimed that they injured themselves in “freak accidents” that were more likely results of doing things in which they wouldn’t get paid if they got hurt. Bryce Harper, shortly after his recall to the big leagues, was videotaped playing softball in a Washington D.C. park. Anything could have happened to injure him and he wouldn’t have been able to lie about it. Boone told the truth, but no one knows exactly when these injuries occur and what the players were doing to cause them.

With Harvey, we don’t know how many pitches he threw in college; how many softball games he played in; how many times as a youth he showed off his arm to the point of potential damage. This could have been coming from the time he was twelve years old. In fact, it probably was and there’s nothing anyone could have done to prevent it.

The vagaries of the future

The Mets were counting on Harvey for 2014. They have enough pitching in their system that it was likely they were going to trade some of it for a bat. If they wanted Giancarlo Stanton, Carlos Gonzalez or any other young, power bat they were going to have to give up Wheeler and/or Noah Syndergaard to start with. Without Harvey, they’re probably going to have to keep their young pitchers. That could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Or it could be a curse if either of those pitchers suffer the same fate as Harvey or don’t pan out as expected.

If Harvey can’t pitch, it’s a big loss. That’s 33 starts, 210 innings and, if he’s anywhere close to what he was this season, a Cy Young Award candidate and potential $200 million pitcher. But they can take steps to replace him. They can counteract his innings with other pitchers and try to make up for a lack of pitching by boosting the offense. In short, they can follow the Marine training that GM Sandy Alderson received by adapting and overcoming.

Harvey is a big part of the Mets future, but to treat this as anything more than an athlete getting injured is silly. It happened. There’s no one to blame and when he’s ready to pitch, he’s ready to pitch. Life will go on.




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Hal Steinbrenner Summons His Yankees Staff

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Hal Steinbrenner is thoughtful, calm and polite. He’s running the Yankees like a business and doing so without the rampant firings, missives and bluster that his father George Steinbrenner used to intimidate, bully and get what he thought were results. It’s the son’s demeanor that is probably even more intimidating to the gathered staff than anything his father ever did. The George Steinbrenner meetings were a regular occurrence with a red-faced Boss shouting, threatening and firing people only to calm down, feel badly about what he’d done and immediately rehire whomever he’d briefly fired. Hal’s different. If he makes changes, they’re made and that’s that.

The news that Hal convened a high-level meeting with his staff is a serious matter to the future of the Yankees’ baseball operations. It’s obviously not lost on him or any of the other Steinbrenners and Randy Levine that the baseball people led by general manager Brian Cashman have been trumpeting home-grown talent in recent years while producing very little of it. For all the talk that the Yankees were going to grow their own pitchers similarly to the Red Sox, Giants and Rays, the last starting pitcher drafted and developed by the Yankees who had sustained success as a Yankee is still Andy Pettitte. That’s twenty years ago.

A new storyline referenced repeatedly is that the Yankees intended to draft Mike Trout in 2009, but the Angels beat them to him. Are they looking for credit for players they wanted to draft four years ago after he’s become one of the best players in baseball?

The defense implying that the Yankees’ success caused them to only have late-round first round draft picks thereby reducing their ability to find top-tier players is weak as well. You can find players late in the first round and in the second and third rounds. The Yankees talk out of both sides of their mouths when they claim that Pettitte (22nd round), Jorge Posada (24th round), and Bernie Williams and Mariano Rivera (undrafted free agents) were due to the Yankees’ methods and then complain about their low draft status and inability to find players. It’s one or the other. Either there’s a Yankees “specialness” or they’re a victim of their own success.

They haven’t signed any impact free agents from Cuba, Japan, Taiwan, Venezuela or the Dominican Republic and their drafts have been failures in the early, middle and late rounds. Dustin Pedroia, Jordan Zimmerman, Giancarlo Stanton, Freddie Freeman, Chris Tillman, Trevor Cahill and Justin Masterson were all second round picks. You can find players if you’re savvy and give them an opportunity. The Yankees’ lack of patience with young players combined with the overhyping to suit a constituency and narrative has certainly played a part in the failures, but they’ve also made some horrific gaffes in evaluation and planning. They have yet to publicly acknowledge that Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova were all mishandled, nor have they indicated a willingness to alter their strategy in building pitchers.

With the military school training that he has, it’s no surprise that Hal—as Commander in Chief of the Yankees—is seeking answers as to why the club’s farm system is so destitute and few players have been produced to help the Yankees at the big league level as they downsize the payroll. If they’re not going to spend as much money on free agents, young players are a necessity to maintain some level of competitiveness. But they don’t have them to use for themselves to to trade for someone else’s more established star. The logical next step after this meeting is to start replacing some of his staff.

This recent hot streak aside, the overwhelming likelihood is that the Yankees will miss the playoffs in 2013. There will be the complaints that injuries were the main reason, but teams with $200 million payrolls really don’t have much of a leg to stand on when coming up with excuses. After the season is over, there will be a lament that “if the season had gone on a week longer” then the rest of baseball would’ve been in trouble; or that the way Rivera goes out with a declining, also-ran team is not befitting his greatness; and that the post-season “loses its luster” without the Yankees.

These are diversions and attempts to make the Yankees more important than they actually are.

No one, least of all Hal Steinbrenner, wants to hear it. He’s the boss now and he’s been patient. He’s justified in looking at the Yankees’ annual payrolls and wondering why, with a roster full of the highest salaried players in baseball for as long as anyone can remember, they’ve been rewarded with one championship since 2000. Why, with the money at their disposal and an ownership willing to green light just about anything to make the organization better, they haven’t been able to find young talent and nurture it to success. Why the Rays, Athletics and Cardinals among others have been able to win and develop simultaneously while spending a minuscule fraction of what the Yankees have spent. And why his GM so openly criticized the acquisition of Alfonso Soriano when Soriano has turned into a bolt from the sky in his return to pinstripes.

What this will do is embolden Hal, Levine and the rest of the Steinbrenners to believe that perhaps the implication of “baseball people” knowing more than anyone else might be a little overplayed.

This meeting is a precursor to a change in the structure of the baseball operations and with Cashman’s repeated public embarrassments, inability to hold his tongue and abject errors, he’s on the firing line. The Steinbrenners have been agreeable, loyal and tolerant to Cashman’s demands and decisions. With the details of this meeting strategically leaked, it looks like they’re greasing the skids to make a change. George Steinbrenner was more emotional than calculating and his meeting would have been eye-rolled and head shaken away as the ranting of a lunatic, quickly dismissed. Hal Steinbrenner isn’t like his father, but the result might be the same when the season ends and he’s not going to change his mind five minutes later.




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MLB Trade Deadline: Thinking Outside The Box With Hughes And Chamberlain

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The Yankees are trying to unload both Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes. In Chamberlain’s case, they’ll take whatever a team is willing to give. In Hughes’s case, they’d like to boost their offense with a third base or outfield bat. With the pending free agency and poor performance from both former phenoms, they’re not getting much of a return on either. Because the interest in the pitchers is limited, it would help the Yankees in their cause to get something for them if they alter the landscape. How about Hughes as a reliever, where he’s been successful in the past; and Chamberlain as a starter to see if he can perform adequately in the role over the remaining two months of the season?

In what would be a combination of Mike Francesa’s current dream and revisiting of a past nightmare by approaching the Twins to see if they’d send Justin Morneau in exchange for Chamberlain and the suggestion that the rebuilding Twins try Chamberlain as a starter, they might be willing to give it consideration if the Yankees throw in another prospect. The trade interest in Morneau is reportedly just as limited for the Twins as Chamberlain and Hughes are for the Yankees, so why not suggest to the Twins that they might get something from Chamberlain as a starter? Perhaps they’d see something they liked, would be able to sign him for another year and give him a full year in the rotation and an opportunity the Yankees never gave him: to function in one role without expectations, demands, hovering questions, rules and alterations that played a large part in his eventual destruction and disappointment.

Chamberlain would be agreeable to the idea because he knows he won’t get a lot of money as a free agent in his current state. Few will dispute that the Yankees mishandled him from 2008 onward. He needs a change of scenery and in spite of his status amongst his peers as overrated and the joy they take in his downfall because he’s not a likable person, he still has a mid-90s fastball and hard slider. His ancillary pitches have diminished due to lack of use, but he does have a curveball and changeup. Naysayers will say “he can’t start,” but no one knows if he can start because he was never given a true opportunity to be a starter with the Yankees’ ridiculous constraints on him in the interest of “protection.” Even when he had a brief run of sustained success in late July of 2009, the Yankees disrupted his rhythm by decreeing that he needed extra rest, made him wait a week between his July 29 start and his August 6 start and he reverted back to what he was with mediocrity and inconsistency. The Yankees’ self-harm with Chamberlain appeared almost intentional like a teenage girl cutting herself.

At this point it’s senseless to go into another rant regarding the mistakes the Yankees made with Hughes and Chamberlain. That the pitchers have neither come close to fulfilling their potential nor living up to the hype the Yankees saddled upon them goes without saying. That’s a matter for discussion once both are gone. Now that Hughes is performing as a back-of-the-rotation starter and Michael Pineda is ready to return makes it wasteful to keep Hughes as a starter or a reliever. A contending team might want Hughes as a starter and give up a low minor leaguer for him, or they might look at his prior success as a reliever for the Yankees’ 2009 World Series winning team and think he can help them as a set-up man for the final two months of the season and let him leave as a free agent with little risk or cost. The team that trades for him might even want to keep him as a starter or reliever.

The fact is that the value of Hughes and Chamberlain is gone. The Yankees don’t need them. They don’t even want them. The best bet for everyone is to restart the whole process and move along. The Yankees can still get something for them and they can be of use to whatever team trades for them if the participants think a bit differently and consider them in different roles than they’re being used in now.

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Derek Jeter’s Surprise

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The “surprise” isn’t that Derek Jeter is going to be out of action until (at least) after the All-Star break, but that anyone thought he’d be back and healthy so quickly after a serious ankle injury and surgery and be ready for opening day. The obvious joke is that Yankees extended spring training is turning into their version of the Roach Motel: they check in and don’t check out. It happened last year with Michael Pineda who, ironically, was on the last pitch of his rehab outing when he tore the labrum in his shoulder and hasn’t been seen since and now it’s Jeter.

The truth is that the constant harping on Yankees’ superiority has no basis in reality, especially when it comes to medical issues. If that wasn’t understood before, it has to be getting through now as the Yankees are continually having problems with the health of key players Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Pineda, Mark Teixeira and Brett Gardner. Many of the problems were mistreated and misdiagnosed with the programs either failing or hindering the players’ return to health.

This isn’t an indictment against the Yankees; it happens with every team and not much can be done to change it. Players will get hurt and they’ll suffer setbacks.

Regarding Jeter, the question has to be asked if Jeter pushing so hard negatively affected his recovery. In retrospect, the club might’ve been better off telling him—not asking, telling him—that if he wanted to play in spring training, it would be with a local Junior College team because he wasn’t going to be in the lineup for the Yankees until he was deemed by the doctors to be healthy and able to perform, not 60%, 70% or whatever percent—healthy and able to perform.

This injury was called a “new fracture” by GM Brian Cashman. This suggests to me that perhaps Jeter was compensating for the original ankle fracture and injured himself again. That stems from the “I need to get back and prove I’m better” compact with himself that has made Jeter who he is.

If you asked Jeter if he regrets pushing so hard to be ready for opening day, he’d probably say no and he won’t be convinced otherwise. If Jeter were still in his 20s, then maybe he could’ve pulled it off, but the ravages of age—whether we like them or not—must be acknowledged and accepted. While it hasn’t been said, Jeter’s determination to get back on the field in time for opening day probably spurred him to push the envelope in his rehab to expedite matters and all he may have succeeded in doing was delay his return more. Part of the reason Jeter has accomplished everything he has is that determination to prove doubters and those who diminish him as wrong and to achieve his goals on his schedule by his rules. But he’s about to turn 39. The metabolism slows. The body takes a longer time to heal. The outlawed and questionable drugs that might’ve help to speed his recovery are overwhelmingly unlikely to be an option for the image-conscious Jeter. As a result, like a former powerful politician who isn’t used to waiting in line at the movies, in a restaurant, or anywhere else, Jeter has to wait to get back on the field just like everybody else.

This was an important season for Jeter’s future. His contract is up at the end of the season and he has an $8 million player option for 2014. If he had a big year, he could’ve leveraged that into a contract extension through at least 2015 with an option for 2016 and a significant raise. Now he’s obviously going to exercise the option whether he plays this season or not and the Yankees are not going to be beholden to the past and pay him because he’s Derek Jeter. If he can’t play up to the levels he and the club are accustomed to or at least be competent, the Yankees will have no choice but to cut the ties after 2014. He’ll be 40 at that point and expecting his defensive range to be even adequate after the ankle woes is delusional. He won’t move to another position either, which is a Jeter frailty along the lines of pushing his rehab. Sometimes there have to be concessions.

I keep getting the image of the film Born on the Fourth of July starring Tom Cruise where he plays Vietnam vet Ron Kovic who was shot and rendered paraplegic. In the film, the character was in the hospital and in the midst of his denial was using a walker to drag his legs behind him as if he was “walking.” But he wasn’t going to walk again and only succeeded in falling and breaking his leg so the bone stuck out of the skin. Jeter’s plight isn’t that permanent, but it’s in the same ballpark with the same mentality of ignoring the reality and pushing forward even if it only makes things worse.

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Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide is now available on Amazon.com, Smashwords, BN and Lulu. Check it out and read a sample.

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Big Bri On His Skydiving Action Playset

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A Yankees executive whose position owed more to his presence (just showing up) than overt and noticeable skill has become something of a legend with his on and off field misadventures. The players raise their eyebrows, shake their heads, smirk and occasionally laugh at the predicaments he finds himself in; the odd way he speaks; the ego underneath the humdrum and unchangeable averageness. A bespectacled nebbish whose capabilities were in question from the beginning was constantly one step ahead of the sharks nipping at his feet be they expectations, unavoidable ravages of age, or a new reality from which he can’t escape, this particular person was forever under the raving mania of George Steinbrenner. Somehow he survived. In some circles, he’s judged to be competent—even good at what he does. In others, there’s a shrug at the underlying duplicitousness; at his arrogant and hidden bewilderment that there are people functioning in the world that believe him and his flexibilities with the truth.

Of course I’m referring to one George Costanza, former traveling secretary for the New York Yankees on Seinfeld.

Costanza was, among other things, committed to an insane asylum by Boss Steinbrenner; accused of stealing and selling Yankees merchandise; and eventually traded for a fermented chicken drink and chicken snacks (according to ESPN).

George Costanza is a fictional character. The real Yankees GM, Brian Cashman, is having his own midlife crisis that has led to the latest escapade of breaking his right fibula and dislocating his ankle skydiving. That it was for a good cause (the Wounded Warrior Project) is irrelevant. In recent years, the vanilla personality, almost opaque to the point of invisibility, has been replaced by a man who was caught in a reported affair with a woman who was also married; who got divorced; who was involved with a woman who supposedly stalked and blackmailed him (after he wrote a reference letter on Yankees letterhead on her behalf); who has been doing all sorts of adventurous stuff indicative of searching for fulfillment. For some, it manifests in debating whether or not to have an affair, to get a hair transplant, to change a wardrobe. Cashman, however, has been expressing himself with activities that would make Sebastian Junger step back and say, “Whoa!”

As for his job, his main attribute has been to spend money. In ambiguous circumstances, it’s impossible to know how much credit or blame one individual should receive for what’s gone right or wrong. Could other GMs have done as well as Cashman’s done with four championships as a GM considering the amount of money available? Or has he navigated the terrain as well or better than anyone else who might have had the opportunity? It can’t be forgotten that his predecessor, Bob Watson, won a World Series as well and left after two seasons opening the door for Cashman, so his survival skills are just that—a skill for which he deserves credit even if his recent baseball maneuvers such as Michael Pineda have been disastrous. Apparently he’s decided, as part of his exploration of the limits to his abilities, to rappel down walls and jump out of airplanes. Now he’s hurt himself.

At what point do his employers tell him it’s enough? The Yankees, under the Boss, would have put a stop to all this nonsense a long time ago. And writing a reference letter for a woman who, by most accounts, is crazy on Yankees letterhead? He seems too secure in his job. From the open criticisms of the organization for the Alex Rodriguez and Rafael Soriano signings, to basically telling Derek Jeter to leave if he doesn’t like the offer they presented to him when he was a free agent, he’s making the club look foolish and he’s doing it repeatedly. This is still George Steinbrenner’s team, but the sons are not running it like a Steinbrenner. If that’s okay with them, they should continue on this current course; if they’ve had enough of the humiliating headlines, they need to express that to Cashman. If he was a player with this track record of questionable success and off-field mishaps, he’d have been dispatched. The GM is far more replaceable than most players. Why are they tolerating this?

I’m not one for telling someone how to live his life—I really don’t care what Cashman does—but it’s gone far past the point of embarrassment and has entered satire. He’s lucky he didn’t kill himself while skydiving. Writing a check for charity and writing his name on Yankees letterhead for a good cause is just as effective, if not more, than jumping out of a plane or scaling buildings. These activities are hindering his job whether they admit it or not. The Yankees need to tell him to either rein it in or he can leave and travel the world as an X-Games participant and not be the Yankees GM anymore.

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King Felix’s Mariners Deal Will Get Done Because It Has To Get Done

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The dual-sided coin of big signings leaked to the media before they’re “officially” official is landing incoveniently for both the Mariners and Felix Hernandez now that there’s a sudden snag in the finalization of his $175 million contract extension with the club. Did he fail the physical? According to this Geoff Baker piece, that’s what it sounds like. But we won’t know until we know even though, technically, it’s not our business. More information will be whispered to various media people by unnamed sources and it will, of course, wind up in front of the fans’ prying eyes.

This puts the sides in an equally unfavorable position. The Mariners were basking in the glow of the positive aspect of keeping their franchise arm through the 2019 season. Hernandez was becoming the highest paid pitcher in baseball and wouldn’t have to worry about being traded or heading into free agency.

The Mariners were presumably worn out from having to answer the phone with, “Hello? Seattle Mariners. Felix Hernandez is not available, how may I direct your call?”

GM Jack Zduriencik’s typical conversations must have gone the same way, fending off Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman’s advances as he tried to cajole, beg, demand and whine Hernandez away from the Mariners. Given his history with the Cliff Lee switcheroo and pawning Michael Pineda off on the Yankees, if Hernandez were truly suffering from a potential elbow problem, Zduriencik would’ve traded him to the Yankees long ago. The Yankees would’ve taken him, signed him and it would’ve been their problem for the future.

Now it’s the Mariners’ risk. They’ll have to live with it.

Buster Olney writes that there is “concern” about his pitching elbow. Of course his workload and the number of innings he’s pitched were referenced with context in the above-linked ESPN piece. Its relevance is cherrypicking considering clubs like the Nationals have taken great pains to limit the number of innings for their young pitchers such as Stephen Strasburg only to see them blow out their elbows anyway. Why point to Hernandez’s workload with the unsaid implication that it’s eventually going to be a problem with long-term durability when there have been pitchers who’ve gotten hurt with lighter touches and others who haven’t despite being “abused?”

This highlights the gray area of giving a player a massive contract and the new practice of making sure the player isn’t signing it with a foreseeable injury already in place and ticking like a time bomb. We saw it earlier this winter with the Red Sox and Mike Napoli as a $39 million deal over three years became a $5 million base salary with $8 million in incentives for one year because of a hip problem. In fact, the Red Sox were something of a pioneer in this practice. Whereas other clubs were signing players without worrying about the future and getting torched for it as the Mets did with Pedro Martinez, the Red Sox made it their life’s work to install protective language in the event of injury. They did it with John Lackey and Napoli. It’s a sound business practice even if it’s going to upset the fans and put players in a situation where they have to shop their services elsewhere. Just as easily as it gets out into the public that a deal is “done,” it can also hinder a player if he tries to go somewhere else if an injury is found and disclosed before he signs.

Deals of this kind would be better for all parties if they weren’t leaked to the media prior to official completion, but every reporter worth anything has his sources in management and with player agents. It benefits the club and the player to have the information out to prevent cold feet, second thoughts or a better offer from someone else. It benefits them, that is, until something unexpected like this happens.

This is bad on multi-levels for each side and why the Mariners will eventually sign Hernandez. The Mariners had their one star locked up and are trying to give their increasingly irritable fanbase a reason to think that brighter days lie ahead.

Now that’s on hold.

With this news, Hernandez’s trade value is slashed significantly. The Mariners would get a big package for him if they chose to deal him now since he’s signed through 2014 and, as far as we know, is healthy enough to pitch in the short-term. It’s nowhere near what they’d get if the trading team thought they were getting him and keeping him for the long-term.

For Hernandez, it’s become public knowledge that there’s something going on in his elbow. If this contract fell through, Hernandez might tell the Mariners to trade him; he might start becoming concerned about what this news is going to do to his value if he winds up on the free agent market, and rightfully so. How would it look for a team to have warning two years in advance that there’s something off in the elbow, then signs him for $150+ million and having him get injured? They’re not getting full insurance on the contract with this out there until he’s been checked and given a clean bill of health from multiple doctors.

The leaks made for a few days of big headlines, but boomeranged on both Hernandez and the Mariners. What was a happy marriage is a shotgun wedding. The deal will get done because now it has to get done.

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And Hal Was Supposed to be the Sane Steinbrenner Son

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

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

And the fans are panicking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wrote about this in detail here.

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

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

What’s worse: the ineptitude or the arrogance?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyone can buy stuff.

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

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

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

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

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Dayton Moore—Desperate; Jack Zduriencik—Genius?

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Desperation and job security are in the eye of the beholder.

Last season Jason Vargas was, in stat guy metrics, more valuable than James Shields with a 2.8 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) compared to Shields’s 2.2. Vargas is a free agent after the 2013 season while Shields is signed through 2014, so the Royals have Shields for two years vs the Angels guaranteed to have Vargas for one, but the return on the trades that sent both from their former homes should be viewed in the same light.

Royals’ GM Dayton Moore was torched for trading top prospect Wil Myers and other young minor leaguers to the Rays for Shields and Wade Davis. Vargas was traded by the Mariners by their GM Jack Zduriencik (a stat guy totem) to the Angels for 1B/OF/DH Kendrys Morales. On the surface, the trades don’t appear to be similar, but in reality, they are.

Vargas isn’t particularly good and isn’t a substantial upgrade for the Angels, but if Zduriencik was in year two of his administration and still getting a pass for what he inherited from Bill Bavasi, would he have made this trade? Or did he bow to expediency to try and get better in the now with an acquisition for a “name” player to try and score a few more runs because he’s in year five and under fire, possibly having to show legitimate improvement to keep his job?

Moore was accused of making a capricious and desperate trade in an attempt to save his job and the Myers trade was added to the list of charges on the indictment.

In comparison, one of the stat persons’ “own,” Zduriencik, has been essentially bulletproof from criticism from the wing that portrays themselves as seeking profundity through statistical truth, but is just as invested in altering the narrative to fit into their desired template. There’s a collision of philosophies when a faction uses one man’s trades (in this case Moore) to advance an agenda; and another’s trades (Zduriencik’s) to defend an agenda. The genesis of these deals is basically the same even if the players are entirely different.

Zduriencik’s tenure as Mariners’ GM somewhat mirrors Moore’s with only perception separating the two. They’ve both rejuvenated dilapidated farm systems and developed prospects that are highly regarded around baseball. They’ve made free agent signings, somewhat going over budget to disastrous results as Moore did with Jose Guillen and Gil Meche and Zduriencik with Chone Figgins. Both are on their third manager. Neither has made meaningful progress in the bottom line win column. Yet comparing the vitriol Moore inspires and the silence that accompanies Zduriencik’s tenure, you’d think they were polar opposites. They might be in terms of philosophy, but in the sum of their reigns? Not at all.

Would the Royals have been better served to keep Myers? Or did they put themselves in the thick of playoff contention for 2013-2014 by getting one genuine All-Star pitcher—Shields, and a pretty good 200-inning arm—Davis? The Royals will more than likely be a better team immediately because of the trade Moore made in spite of viable criticisms of the short-sightedness of the move.

Can the same be said for the Mariners and this trade?

Vargas’s situation is separate from Myers’s because of Vargas’s pending free agency and reputation as a creature of the Mariners’ formerly spacious home park of Safeco Field. When the decision was made to bring the fences in significantly to boost the offense, pitchers like Vargas were either going to suffer statistically or need to be traded. In 2012, 26 of the 35 homers he surrendered were away from Safeco. If he’d stayed with the Mariners, there’s a good chance he’d allow 40 homers next season; and as a pending free agent for a team offensively destitute with pitching to spare, he was a logical choice to go. But for Morales? A rental for a rental to play for a team that has very little chance at contention in 2012? This was a cosmetic trade and won’t make the club markedly better over the long term. They’ll be slightly better in the short term. Moore’s trade doesn’t simply change the optics as Zduriencik’s does. In 2013-2014, it does guarantee to make the Royals better because no one knows whether Myers is truly ready, but we do know what Shields and Davis are and they’re far better than what the Royals trotted out to the mound last season.

For Zduriencik, this winter has consisted of dumping one free agent bust (Figgins) and replacing him with another one (Jason Bay); he traded for Robert Andino; selected Scott Cousins off waivers from the Blue Jays (maybe he can run around the field ramming into other clubs’ stars and knock them out as he did with Buster Posey); and by acquiring Morales.

It’s repeatedly said that the Mariners were “in it until the end” on Josh Hamilton. In the stat person’s world of the definable and “you are what you are,” this would be mocked as the lamentations of a loser. In the Mariners’ case, it’s used as evidence of “trying.”

There are repeated references to prospects on the way for the Mariners. On the way. Eventually. Someday. Much of their talent base are pitchers waiting to graduate to the big leagues for a club whose ballpark is no longer as conducive for pitchers to succeed as it once was. Do you see the dichotomy?

Morales will make the Mariners’ offense better, but how much of his infusion of power will be counteracted by the increased number of homers the pitchers are going to allow? They’re in the AL West with the high-powered Angels; the still-talented Rangers; and the AL playoff surprise Athletics. Barring a shocking rise, massive trade to improve immediately (sort of like what Moore did), or a free agent signing out of the blue, can they contend in 2013? I don’t see how.

At least they’ll be able to beat on the horrific Astros.

Perhaps Zduriencik can again he can use Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman as a handpuppet like he did in the Cliff Lee/Michael Pineda trades. Nothing else seems to be working and, on his GM epitaph, it won’t be a total negative to say, “He torched the Yankees a couple of times.” That might be all he has left.

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