The Reality of the Yankees’ Playoff Chances

Games, History, Management, Media, Players, Playoffs, Stats, World Series

Regardless of what happens in today’s game against the Red Sox, the Yankees are still going to be in position for a run at the last realistic Wild Card spot. Ignoring that they’re injury-ravaged, have no pitching left and are staggering toward the finish line, that is not going to change in the next several days at least.

No matter how many times we hear the mathematical probabilities from the New York Times, the truth about their current and future state from the New York Daily News and Mike Francesa’s death bed postmortem, the fact remains that the Yankees are still only 2.5 games behind the plummeting Rays and 1.5 games behind the Orioles and Indians. They have a four-game series in Baltimore this week and, obviously, if they pitch as they have against the Red Sox the real funeral for the Yankees of 2013 will be underway. But now? No. They’re a three game winning streak and a little luck away from suddenly being in the lead for the second Wild Card.

Of course, one thing that many seem to ignore is that making the playoffs with the Wild Card isn’t a guarantee of anything beyond one extra game. Given how battered the Yankees are and that the team they’re going to play in the game is the Athletics or the Rangers, their chances of advancing even if they make it that far are weak. They’re old and in significant transition. The overwhelming likelihood is that they’re as done as the above-linked articles say. The idea that they were “the team no one wanted to face,” or other clubs were feeling the Yankees’ breathing down their necks, or that the old warhorses Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte still had something to say in the playoff race were no more than reminiscing for remember when. Pettitte has been good and A-Rod has had his moments.

Then we come to Jeter.

The decision by manager Joe Girardi to pull Jeter from yesterday’s game was made because he didn’t like the way Jeter was running. It’s clear that he’s nowhere near 100 percent. In fact, he’s probably at around 70 percent. His range, never that great to begin with, is even worse; he’s not hitting; he’s not helping the team on the field. All the talk of the lineup not looking the same without him in it and how his mere presence in the lineup is a lift for the team is a politically correct thing to say to play up Jeter’s value. Except his current value isn’t all that much. He can lead from the clubhouse and they can put someone into the game who’s going to provide more on the field and considering that someone is Eduardo Nunez, that says about as much about what Jeter can currently do as anything else.

This could change within the next 2-3 days, but the fact is that the Yankees are still in contention no matter what the numbers and opinions say.




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Beltran’s Got It Backward

All Star Game, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

“Actually, I’m not thinking about the fans, I’m thinking about myself.”

The first line from this New York Daily News article about Carlos Beltran is telling in its inadvertent accuracy.

He may not realize it, but Beltran was always thinking about himself and the fans knew it.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that…until he twists it to lambaste those same fans for not worshipping him.

Beltran doesn’t seem to understand the fan mindset and it’s causing him to take personally what was the negative part of a purely business relationship between him and the fans.

The more thoughtful Mets fan that doesn’t think with his emotions and understands that Adam Wainwright ended the 2006 NLCS by throwing a great pitch that Beltran, even had he swung, wasn’t going to hit. They’re not the ones who are holding a grudge against Beltran for one moment. The business arrangement between player and fan wound up in the simplest of terms: cheer when he does good; boo when he does bad.

It’s not personal and was never more than that.

Not every player is going to be adored by the fanbase, but when he begins his tenure by having offered his services to the bitter rivals across town for less money and fewer years, it’s not going to be taken well when he puts forth the pretense of having been forced to join a team he didn’t really want to join; a team that was, at best, his third choice.

When Beltran was a free agent, he wanted to stay with the Astros. The Mets offered more money—what he and then-agent Scott Boras wanted—but Boras, in a conciliatory gesture to the desires of his client, went to the Yankees and offered his player to them for a better deal.

Think about this from the perspective of a Mets fan. It was as if he was doing the Mets a favor in an “oh, alright I’ll sign with you” manner.

It works both ways. He didn’t really want to be a Met and it was known. It might have been more palatable if he’d gone to the Yankees and told them, “this is the highest offer and if you match it, I’ll sign with you”. That’s what he did with the Cardinals contract this winter and the Yankees, just as they did in 2005, turned him down.

In 2004, he offered himself to the Yankees for less money. The Mets fans would never ever forgive nor forget.

The Mets didn’t engender the “why me?” lament from Beltran that’s still evident in his latest statements on the matter. He never seemed to understand why he was booed every time the Mets went into Houston to play the Astros.

Did he really not get it?

Did his enabled life of being allowed to essentially do what he wanted because of his prodigious on-field talent lead to such a hardheaded inability to comprehend that the Astros felt jilted by his decision to chase every last penny and leave the place he didn’t want to leave? That the Mets fans felt slighted by his pursuit of the Yankees?

From that point on, there was never going to be a warm and fuzzy relationship between Beltran and the Mets fans.

No amount of fan-player love was going to remove the sullen look on Beltran’s face that bordered on suicidal. He forever appeared as if he’d just lost his luggage. His terrific play would never spur the fans to love him because it circled back to the initial emotion of the reality, “you wanted to go to the Yankees rather than join us”.

One positive from the entire episode is that perhaps a team like the Mets has to take the stand that if a player doesn’t want to be a Met, then they shouldn’t go all out to bring him in. In 2007-2008 the Rays began to turn around their fortunes, in part, because they got rid of players who didn’t want to be there and acted like it.

Beltran wasn’t doing the Mets a favor by taking their money, but that’s the perception that’s floating around and it stems from the actions of Beltran and his then-agent.

He was a good-to-great player for the Mets. They came close and didn’t make it over the final hump. There’s no guarantee he would’ve had a better time playing for the Yankees, Red Sox, Astros or anyone else. He chose to come to the Mets. He chose to offer himself to the Yankees. Now he needs to choose to get past whatever bitterness he feels that the fans didn’t embrace him. It was his own fault and it wasn’t due to the Wainwright curveball that will forever be etched in the memory of fans who see that one pitch as the microcosm of the Omar Minaya-built teams that just…barely….missed.

If anyone needs to get over it, it’s Beltran. The fans have moved on already. That’s what happens when there’s no emotional investment. It’s only partially due to him; it’s mostly the overt failure of that entire group that culminated in the collapse of 2007 and the subsequent firings, housecleanings and financial collapse.

The fans are not upset with Beltran.

They don’t care about him.

And that’s because he didn’t care about them either.

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Challenge, Catastrophe Or Both?

Books, Games, Hall Of Fame, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Podcasts, Spring Training

In yesterday’s NY Daily News, Bill Madden wrote about Tony La Russa and the spate of injuries that could derail the Cardinals season before it gets underway. The big guns Adam Wainwright (out for the year with Tommy John surgery); and Matt Holliday (an appendectomy on Friday) have put the Cardinals in a precarious situation to stay in contention.

Regarding La Russa, Madden wrote the following:

How soon is Tony La Russa going to regret coming back for another season as St. Louis Cardinals manager? Rather than joining Joe Torre, Bobby Cox, Lou Piniella and Cito Gaston in retirement after last season, La Russa opted to sign a one-year extension, in hopes of leading the Cardinals back to the postseason after an extremely disappointing 2010. But a couple of days into spring training, La Russa lost his best pitcher, Adam Wainwright, for the season due to Tommy John surgery and then, Opening Day in St. Louis on Thursday, his worst nightmare was realized as his defensive liability double-play combo, shortstop Ryan Theriot and second baseman Skip Schumaker, both made critical errors and closer Ryan Franklin blew the save in the Cards’ 5-3 loss to the San Diego Padres. The next day La Russa’s cleanup hitter, Matt Holliday, had an appendectomy and is out indefinitely.

Comparing managers is dicey and has to be done on a conditional basis.

Cox and Torre are three and four years older than La Russa respectively; I don’t get the impression Gaston wanted to retire and would come back if an opportunity presented itself; Piniella, understandably, was burned out after spending 3 1/2 years managing the Cubs.

But La Russa?

What would he do with himself if he wasn’t managing?

He’s a lawyer, but would he want to go back to that now? He has his animal charities to keep him busy I presume, but what else is there?

Retirement? Please.

There are baseball lifers who don’t look right doing anything but wearing a uniform. Don Zimmer is one; Tony La Russa is another.

Would he be able to slide into a cushy job at a law firm as what would amount to a show horse? Make himself a lot of money and relax?

Yes.

Maybe he’d make as much or more money than he does now as the Cardinals manager if he went on the corporate speaking circuit. But would the legal world and adoration of dinner theater drones provide the rush and high profile to help his charities and keep his ego satiated?

La Russa would go insane if he wasn’t managing; the implication that he might regret coming back would make sense if he was ever teetering on retiring, but he never indicated a “will I or won’t I” type of vacillation that has been a hallmark of football coach Bill Parcells and drove fans, media and owners batty in his latter years.

There wasn’t a great deal of soul-searching involved with La Russa. He’s healthy. This is what he does. He’s still great at it. Why shouldn’t he continue doing it?

As for the idea that he made a mistake and regrets it, how could he have known that he’d lose his ace pitcher to a catastrophic injury before the season started? That Holliday would need an appendectomy?

Just as there’s no way to know that good things—like the emergence of Albert Pujols in 2001—will happen, how can you account for injuries to stars to that degree and choose not to manage at all?

You can’t.

A top-heavy team like the Cardinals has to hope their key players don’t get hurt. They’ve relied on stars—Pujols, Holliday, Wainwright and Chris Carpenter—and filled out the rest of the roster with youngsters and foundlings. La Russa and Dave Duncan are trusted to run the games and put the pieces in place.

Regret?

Perhaps, in some weird way, La Russa is relishing the challenge of winning under trying circumstances. While it might not be as sweet as it would’ve been 10-15 years ago to outwit his opponents and make the media look foolish—again, he can boost his already ginormous ego by guiding a compromised team into contention when every “expert” had written them off as soon as Wainwright went down.

La Russa is thin-skinned and arrogant, but with all the success he’s had, he has a right to be.

Could it be that he might have to do his best managing job of his career to navigate the minefield of lost stars and win anyway? And that it would further cement his status as one of the best—if not the best—manager ever?

He’d never say it publicly, but perhaps he’s taking this as a challenge.

And you’d be unwise to bet against the baseball savvy of Tony La Russa.

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My podcast appearance with SportsFanBuzz previewing the season is posted. You can listen here The SportsFan Buzz: March 30, 2011 or on iTunes.

I was on with Mike at NYBaseballDigest and his preview as well. You can listen here.

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Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available and will be useful for your fantasy leagues all season long.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s also out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.


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The Future Is Cloudy; The Past Is Slanted

Management, Media, Players, Spring Training

There’s no one to blame; no missives to fire; no tantrums to throw.

Divergent reports suggest that Johan Santana is either going to be out for the entire 2011 season if his next throwing session goes poorly—NorthJersey.com story; or he’s experiencing general peaks and valleys stemming from shoulder surgery of this kind and fully expects to pitch this year—ESPN.com Story.

Is it that relevant?

When Santana’s back and ready to pitch—even in a compromised way—he’s back and ready to pitch. He’ll have to learn to work around a diminished fastball, but the pitchers to whom he’s compared with this type of injury—Mark Prior and Chien-Ming Wang—had separate issues such as poor mechanics and lingering health problems to other parts of their bodies that Santana does not have.

If I had to guess, I’d say Santana winds up pitching at some point this year with a further declining fastball and works his way around that with a greater reliance on his changeup and spotting his pitches. It can be done.

In any event, the Mets and everyone involved with them know where this season is headed. In a nightmarish division with three good teams ahead of them; the ownership morass; and injuries/prohibitive contracts/question marks as to who stays and goes, it’s a transition year as Sandy Alderson and his staff sift through the muck and get everything in line.

Johan Santana isn’t going to change that result one way or the other.

What I find retrospectively ludicrous is the assertion that the Red Sox and Yankees “knew” something when they didn’t trade for Santana in early 2008; that there’s another reason to savage the Mets for making the deal to get, at the time, one of the top three pitchers in baseball.

The two clubs were “smart”?

No, they weren’t “smart”; they were lucky.

This ESPN Story from before Santana was traded to the Mets said that the Yankees offered Phil Hughes as part of a deal; the Red Sox offered Jon Lester. And before making any snide comments about the story having been written by Buster Olney, thereby rendering it something out of a Philip K. Dick sci-fi thriller, the New York Daily News said basically the same thing.

To credit either Theo Epstein or Brian Cashman for this is idiotic; then to suggest some innate, beforehand knowledge of what would happen is worse.

Crediting Cashman for this is like blaming him for the first dance with Carl Pavano—it makes no sense.

All along, the Yankees and Red Sox gave the impression of preferring to shy away from Santana; that they were only engaging in the talks because of the “other guy” and they wanted to drive up the price or force the Twins to look elsewhere. And that’s what happened. If the Yankees and Red Sox were smart for any reason, it’s that.

In the end, the Twins badly overplayed their hands and got nothing from the Mets in terms of players; the Mets signed Santana to what amounted to a free agent contract that’s gone pretty much as almost all long term contracts for pitchers go—a couple of productive seasons; injuries; and hoping to get something from the player in the latter years of the deal.

The front offices of the Yankees and Red Sox didn’t “know” anything; nor did the vast majority of people who claim to have predicted this in a vague, generalized, non-specific way.

It’s after-the-fact gloating. Nothing more.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN.


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