The Yankees will not fire Aaron Boone and here’s why

MLB, Uncategorized

Boone pic

Aaron Boone is not getting fired.

Prior to detailing the reasons why this is fact – not speculation – let’s start with a question:

If Boone were fired, whom do you want to replace him?

Before going off on a quick-fire response by saying Joe Girardi or asking for time to scour the web to see who’s available, know this: Boone got the job and will keep the job for precisely the same reasons many are calling for him to lose his job; and if, for whatever reason, the Yankees needed a new manager, they would hire someone exactly like Boone.

To understand why this is the case, it’s necessary to go back to what sparked the transition from what the manager was to what the manager is and how that impacts Boone’s job status and what general manager Brian Cashman wants.

Mitigation vs. Subjugation

When Cashman replaced Bob Watson as GM after the 1997 season, he inherited a manager, Joe Torre, who had been a borderline Hall of Fame player and had managed for two decades. Torre won a championship one year earlier and had the attitude and cachet to make his feelings known while ignoring the front office as to how the team should be run, sometimes insubordinately and profanely. George Steinbrenner was still alive and despite having mellowed ever-so-slightly from the raving mania that defined him through his second suspension in 1990, also needed to be dealt with.

In short, Cashman was in charge, but not in charge. His job was to placate, mitigate and manipulate, not subjugate as is the case today.

To say that Cashman walked into a trust fund worth billions is somewhat accurate. To gain access to that trust fund, however, he needed to subject himself to the irrational abuse of George Steinbrenner for twelve years and deal with the trustee – Torre – knowing that wresting power from the manager would take years, if it ever happened at all.

Torre had his job threatened multiple times and calls for a change grew louder and louder the longer the Yankees’ championship drought lasted. Both Cashman and Torre had grown tired of one another. Cashman for his limited influence with the manager and Torre with the lack of credit he felt he received for the Yankees’ return to glory under his command.

After another disappointing loss in the 2007 Division Series – their third in a row – and having blown a 3-0 Championship Series lead in 2004 against the hated Red Sox, Torre departed in an unhappy break that, in retrospect, was a divorce that both sides secretly wanted and did not openly express; they would have remained together had the lingering issues been worked out.

Throne of Games

The Yankees conducted a limited search for Torre’s replacement and it was the beginning of Cashman’s Machiavellian accumulation of power. Already, he was in the process of rendering impotent the Steinbrenner “Tampa faction” so nothing would interfere with, nor undo, his decisions, for better or worse. Now, he needed a manager. One year earlier, after Torre’s Yankees were stunningly eliminated by the Tigers in the ALDS, Torre’s dismissal was all-but assured and he was set to be replaced by a Steinbrenner favorite and longtime sparring partner Lou Piniella.

Had Piniella gotten the Yankees job, the roster would have been Piniella’s, not Cashman’s. The manager had no qualms about whispering to his close friends in the media – people with whom he’d had relationships for twenty-five years and for whom he was a frequent “unnamed” source for the inside scoop of the asylum known as the Bronx Zoo. The charming, handsome and quotable Piniella was the direct opposite from the nerdy, rodent-like, shifty and droning Cashman.

Whether he would have been an improvement over Torre was irrelevant. He was familiar; he was less imperious and more combustible than the taciturn Torre; and he’d basically write the media’s stories for them.

To be shunted to the side in such a way could have ended Cashman’s tenure as GM or rendered him as little more than a figurehead.

Of course, given the affinity Steinbrenner had for Piniella and Piniella’s magical touch with the media, this was the last thing Cashman wanted even if he felt a change was needed from Torre. From his viewpoint, replacing Torre with Piniella would have made things exponentially worse. Torre remained for one more year and Piniella was hired to manage the Cubs.

After Torre’s departure or firing (depending on whom you ask), the three main candidates to replace him were Tony Pena, Don Mattingly and Girardi.

Pena had managed the Royals, won Manager of the Year for coaxing an 83-79 season out of them in 2003 – their first season over .500 in a decade – and then resigned after 104 losses in 2004 and an 8-25 start in 2005. He’d become a loyal coach for Torre and did not appear to be particularly enthused about managing again.

Mattingly was a former Yankees star who was beloved throughout the organization, among the players, in the media and across the city – even Mets fans liked him.

Girardi had been a key, clutch player for Torre on the 1996, 1998 and 1999 championship teams; he was a leader; and he had the managerial experience that Mattingly lacked, also winning Manager of the Year in 2006 for the Marlins only to be fired by Jeffrey Loria, an owner whose capriciousness and reactivity harkened back to the worst days of Steinbrenner.

Girardi got the nod in part because he was younger than the set-in-his-ways Torre; because he had the experience that Mattingly did not; he was aware of the burgeoning use of advanced statistics and willing to implement them in ways Torre would not; and if it didn’t work out, Cashman could easily fire him – something he could not do with Mattingly or Piniella.

Girardi survived 2008 when the Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time since 1993 and had similar calls for his job as Boone does now and, after a half-a-billion-dollar spending spree on free agents Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, the Yankees won another championship in 2009 with largely the same core that had won for Torre.

The Yankees maintained their level of annual championship contender through 2012 and then, as Cashman finally fully consolidated his power with the death of George Steinbrenner and the full Michael Corleone-style elimination of the Tampa faction, set about a pseudo-rebuild.

To his credit, Girardi kept the team competitive throughout the process and amid the retirements and retirement tours of Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera; with the aging and declining Teixeira; with a patchwork of broken down and available veterans like Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner providing little-to-nothing; and trying to develop young players while keeping the team from falling to the depths of 90+ losses.

He coaxed a Wild Card berth with a team that was mediocre at best in 2015; he kept them above .500 for the duration. In 2017, the club made a wondrous jump that not even the front office saw coming and they came within one win of a pennant.

Then, with Girardi’s contract expired and the Yankees going full-bore into the analytics revolution, Girardi was discarded. Technically, he was not offered another contract; for all intents and purposes, he was fired.

The Self-Aware Puppet

To gain some perspective into the Yankees’ good fortune (they’d call it skill even if it isn’t) with their previous managers, the calm and cool Torre was the perfect antidote to the anal retentive and smothering Buck Showalter; Girardi checked off multiple boxes and the Yankees were beyond lucky that one candidate who might have gotten the job, Trey Hillman, took the Royals’ offer first and was a disaster on and off the field. Hillman couldn’t handle the media in Kansas City. Just imagine him in New York.

Unlike previous Yankees managerial searches, the legitimate candidates – Boone, Hensley Meulens, Rob Thomson, Carlos Beltran, Chris Woodward – to replace Girardi all had certain aspects in common: they were younger; they had no managerial experience; they would follow orders; and they would take short money for the opportunity.

Even the one veteran former manager they interviewed, Eric Wedge, had worked in an Indians organization that was run from the top-down. He was not a serious candidate for the job anyway.

All this fits into the new template for a big-league manager, one the Yankees willingly dove into.

Boone pulling Luis Severino too late; starting J.A. Happ in Game 1 of the ALDS; playing Neil Walker instead of Miguel Andujar; putting Brett Gardner in left field instead of Andrew McCutchen; using Lance Lynn instead of one of the big-name relievers David Robertson, Dellin Betances or Zach Britton; letting Gary Sanchez repeatedly get away with overt laziness and rancid defense – none of that matters.

The key question to ask about Boone is not whether he did a “good” job or not.

The key question to ask is if he did the job he was hired to do and the answer is an unequivocal yes.

And that’s what Cashman wanted.

Whereas the front office was forced to deal with managers who had the contract status and the resumes to take or leave front office entreaties, as the power and sway of the manager diminished and the men hired to do the job were disposable and pliable, those entreaties slowly morphed into edicts. No longer does a front office ask a manager to do certain things and hope he does it. They tell him what to do and masquerade it as collaboration. There’s no “buy-in” necessary for the manager because if he doesn’t buy in, he doesn’t get or keep the job.

Boone was hired to consult with the front office and adhere to the pregame blueprint as it was laid out without deviating from that. The decisions Boone made – good or bad – were made before the game started. Having never managed before, he has no feel for the rapid-fire strategies that are viewed as sowing the seeds for the Yankees’ ALDS downfall and loss to the Red Sox because he is not paid to have a feel.

When Cashman does eulogize the season, he’ll utter the familiar platitudes as to the job his hand-picked and remote controlled manager did.

Media critiques and fan anger will not change a thing. Cashman will not have an epiphany and see the “error” of his ways, turning around and hiring a manager who is the exact opposite of Boone just because their plan did not yield the ultimately desired result of a championship.

The reasons Boone was hired have not changed, therefore the manager will not change either.

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What do the Yankees do with Gary Sanchez?

MLB, Uncategorized

Sanchez passed ball

The New York Yankees have run out of alibis for Gary Sanchez. The “Joe Girardi was too hard/soft on him,” “he’s a work in progress,” “he’s young,” “he’s got plenty of room for improvement,” “he’s injured” storylines have run dry like The Fast and the Furious films only with Sanchez, it’s “The Slow and the Lazy.”

How should they deal with him?

If Sanchez played any other position, it’s likely he would have been traded already. But he doesn’t. He’s a catcher. Even in this era of the launch angle, hitting the ball in the air and everyone trying to hit home runs, finding a catcher who will hit 30-plus home runs is nearly impossible. The market is not exactly saturated with top-tier backstops with Sanchez’s talent, lackadaisical and indifferent or not. He has a cannon for an arm and has, in the past, been successful throwing out base stealers. This somewhat troublesome combination tightens the vise the organization is in.

The simple solution is to move him to another position. While there have been numerous catchers who have successfully transitioned from behind the plate to third base or the outfield (Joe Torre, Todd Zeile, Josh Donaldson and Brian Downing to name a few), Sanchez has two positions where his expectations would be reasonable and he could concentrate on hitting: first base and designated hitter.

Given Greg Bird’s struggles and the likelihood that Luke Voit’s sudden success stems more from a lack of familiarity on the part of the pitchers than a miraculous career jump when he’ll be 28 early next year, the position could be available in 2019 if they choose to make it available.

What this boils down to, however, is the Yankees placating and essentially rewarding Sanchez when he has not earned such accommodations with his work ethic, attitude and performance. Already, they have given him a pass other players would not have been accorded because of his talent and, more importantly, the position he plays occupies.

His offensive numbers have been horrendous in 2018, but for that, he does deserve something of a pass. Or at least those numbers must be placed in the proper context.

An OPS of .694 and an OPS+ of 83 is embarrassingly bad, but he does have 15 home runs in 300 plate appearances. His on-base percentage is still slightly shy of .100 points above his batting average. He has hit in absurdly poor luck with a .191 BAbip; his line drive percentage is down significantly and that is worrisome, but if he does deserve something of a do-over, it’s at the plate.

That does not address his deficiencies nor justify his behavior behind the plate.

For a functional catcher, blocking balls in the dirt and getting on the same page with the pitchers is non-negotiable. Making matters worse is that the problem with passed balls can be fixed relatively easily if he simply does what a catcher is supposed to do, what a catcher is trained to do by dropping to his knees and corralling balls in the dirt so they don’t roll between his legs, ricochet of his glove or shin guards and bounce away. Then he compounds those terrible fundamentals with a total lack of hustle.

After the debacle in Tampa Bay where he repeatedly slogged in a “fat guy trying to lose weight by jogging” way after the seemingly endless number of balls that ended up behind him or bounced away to the left or right and then ended the game by not running out a ground ball, he was put on the disabled list with a groin injury.

Let’s suspend suspicion of the injury that kept him out more than a month was part legitimate and part time-out to sit in the corner and think about what he did. Let’s say he was 100 percent injured. What about the series in Oakland against the Athletics when he again did his slow trot after passed balls without the injury excuse? What does it take to get it through his head that he needs to put in the effort to do the basics of his job as a defender and sheer talent won’t get him by.

Except the Yankees keep granting him that pass. The question is how long they will continue to do so.

An idea was floated earlier in the summer that the Yankees could put a package together to trade Sanchez to the Miami Marlins as part of a deal for their star catcher J.T. Realmuto and solve the litany of problems they’re having at the position. Before getting into the rehash of the allegations of Yankee-centric attachment and criticism Marlins CEO Derek Jeter faced after essentially giving the Yankees Giancarlo Stanton (an unfair accusation as Stanton forced his way to the Yankees, leaving Jeter with no choice), it would look far worse for a commodity like Realmuto to be traded to the Yankees in exchange for Sanchez when Sanchez’s value has never been lower and could still get worse. Add in the reality that Sanchez plays for the Yankees and doesn’t hustle. Imagine him playing in Miami and losing 95 games a year. They’d be lucky if he even showed up at the park for the start of games.

If he was plain bad defensively, it wasn’t for lack of effort and he was producing offensively, the team would be within reason to shrug it off and hope that with hard work, he’d improve sufficiently to be passable enough that he was not a blatant defensive liability.

It’s not only that he’s bad. He’s bad and lazy. He plays a position where the tolerance for missteps is far higher than it is for just about any other position. Their farm system is largely devoid of another top-level catching prospect to replace him and getting rid of him right after the season would be addition by subtraction in the short-term, but counterproductive in the long-term.

For now, the only answer is that he must sit and occasionally function as the DH with Austin Romine catching every day. Then the real decision on how to handle him can be made, whatever decision that is – if there is one at all.

The Yankees peddle class but embrace pettiness

MLB, Uncategorized

Girardi pic

“He was invited and declined” is the excuse the Yankees give for the glaring omission of the mere name “Joe Girardi” from their celebration of the 1998 World Series champions, portrayed as one of the greatest if not the greatest teams in history.

Regardless of where you sit on the spectrum of Girardi’s contribution to that team and whether the Yankees were obligated to make a note of him even though he was absent from the festivities, the contradiction between how the Yankees sell themselves and how they really are is exemplified by their behavior in these very situations. There is a basic “if this, then that” attitude that comes from the top and more noticeable than it otherwise would be if they simply exhibited the class they relentlessly sell and avoided the infantilism that is a blatant hallmark of how they truly are by just noting that he was a part of the team.

Lest anyone believe it was a circumstantial choice not to mention those who were absent and it was not an intentional act, the Yankees made certain to avoid any player who was not there. That list included Orlando Hernandez, Mike Stanton, Ricky Ledee, Chad Curtis and Hideki Irabu.

The only ones of the group for whom a blotting out of existence is explainable are Curtis, who is in jail for some pretty terrible crimes, and Irabu, who committed suicide, so it’s understandable that they would avoid mentioning them. But should Girardi be in this category?

Those unaware of the Yankees’ deviousness in using plausible deniability to advance their agenda in these relatively meaningless situations could say that it was a decision not to talk about players who weren’t there and that’s that. When looking at the Yankees’ past with how they treat players and people who have become persona non grata for reasons reasonable and ridiculous, it is to be expected that they would treat Girardi as the invisible man and white him out of existence.

What is more galling is that he did not choose to leave them. The psychological issue of treating rejection as if it was a decision on the part of whomever was rejected is obvious, but this is the exact opposite. It’s a false equivalency to say that a former manager who was fired is the same as the former manager and player refusing to join a celebration that he had every right to attend and was, in fact, invited to attend.

Technically, his contract as manager was not renewed, therefore he wasn’t “fired” in the truest sense of the word. But make no mistake about it, for all intents and purposes, he was fired. The argument that the wound is only just starting to scab so it can heal is missing a critical ingredient: Girardi has been nothing but complimentary to the organization and stayed silent over how he was treated. There have been no whisper campaigns; no columns in which Yankees insiders immediately recognize Girardi as the source; no passive aggressive comments one often sees during a bitter divorce.

Girardi’s predecessor as Yankees manager, Joe Torre, was briefly excommunicated from the Yankees universe – complete with being figuratively shit on by Randy Levine’s flunky, the buffonish mouthpiece of the Ministry of Propaganda at YES, Michael Kay – because of his book The Yankee Years and that he did not recede quietly into the night once his tenure as manager ended. With Girardi, there is no book detailing his decade with the Yankees as he attempts to turn himself into St. Joe II.

For someone who was the manager of the team for its last World Series title in 2009, oversaw a pseudo-rebuild and kept the team from falling to the depths that most teams do as they reconstruct their roster and move from one era to the next, Girardi has the right to be bitter as he sits on the sideline watching Aaron Boone drive his Ferrari. But he’s stayed silent.

Mentioning his name hurts no one. It could have been done at the end of the ceremony in which the players who were present or, as Derek Jeter strangely did amid the flimsy excuse that it was his daughter’s birthday, give a statement via video, as those who were not there were referenced innocuously: “Key parts of that team who are unable to join us today…”

It’s as simple, professional and classy as the Yankees seek to present themselves. Of course, they chose to be petty and vindictive for reasons known only to them, if there even is a reason.

No, this is not a major conspiracy for which the organization should be held accountable; no, Girardi was not a giant and irreplaceable part of that championship team and they likely would have been just as good had they used another backup catcher; but they could have said his name rather than saying, “we invited him and he said no” as if that’s some form of justification to edit to the narrative so he no longer exists.

What can the Yankees do with Gary Sanchez? Nothin’.

MLB, Uncategorized

Gary Sanchez

Let’s not get into a debate as to the validity of the recurrence of Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez’s groin injury that sent him back to the disabled list. Questioning a player’s pain threshold, how much a supposed injury is affecting his game, and if the organization is making liberal use of the vagaries of MRIs and strains to put a player in time-out in lieu of overt punishment is a maze rife with traps. We can’t know.

Accurate or not, I believe that if this was a key part of the schedule in September or the postseason, Sanchez could play through his ailment. Since it is July and the outrage at Sanchez’s lack of hustle costing the Yankees both offensively and defensively in Monday night’s loss to the Tampa Bay Rays has reached tsunami-like proportions and his ongoing lack of effort has shown no signs of changing, the club came to up with a way to sit him without it being a daily question as to when he’ll play again and if he got the message. It’s easier to do this while he’s batting .188 with an OPS of .699 and an OPS+ of 87.

The references of him being the “best hitting catcher in baseball” are a bit much with these numbers. Perhaps the word “potential” or “in 2017” should be inserted into the statement.

The laziness is secondary to that lack of production at the plate. His bat as a catcher is the entire reason he’s in the lineup to begin with; why there’s justification for the Yankees tolerating behavior from him they would not from anyone else. To put into context how terrible he’s been, let’s look at two former Yankees catchers. For the Arizona Diamondbacks, John Ryan Murphy has an OPS+ of 81 with 9 home runs in around 100 fewer plate appearances than Sanchez. For the suddenly searing hot Pittsburgh Pirates, Francisco Cervelli has an OPS+ of 129 and 9 home runs. Neither Murphy nor Cervelli are the defensive liability that Sanchez is. Both have squeezed every ounce out of their abilities. Can Sanchez say the same? Or is he satisfied to the point of complacency?

He’s not shaky defensively. He’s bad. That badness is compounded by his laziness. If he was hitting as he did in 2016-2017, then the club could grit its teeth and swallow it. But he’s not. The defensive lapses and la-de-da effort has gotten progressively worse the more established he’s become. What’s he going to be like if he has financial security with a $100 million contract and he’s in his late-20s and early-30s?

There are multiple scenarios under which the club could accept it and none are applicable. If he was hitting consistently; if he hustled; if he was simply bad defensively and his issues weren’t due to lack of effort – all are less than ideal, but could be shrugged off given his substantial assets including his cost control and fearsome power.

The catch-22 for the Yankees is that even when he’s 100 percent healthy, the defensive issues are not going away and they’re certainly not going to get better. There will not be an epiphany where he decides that he’ll adhere to the basics of being a functional defensive catcher. He’s in his second full season and already displays a stunning lack of commitment and an overtly shocking lack of interest in improving.

Under team control through 2022, he’ll be the Yankees catcher for the foreseeable future because of his bat and, most importantly, because he’s essentially irreplaceable from within and from outside the organization. If he acted like this as an outfielder, he’d already be gone.

For now, their only option is to wait for his stint on the disabled list to end and hope he got the message. Nothing else has gotten through. At age 25, he’s quickly earning the label as coach-killer because he was a part of why the Yankees parted ways with Joe Girardi and has sparked the first real crisis in the relatively smooth transition to Aaron Boone. Using coach-speak, there’s a good chance that he’s “that guy” or “one of those” meaning he’ll be punished, will be sufficiently chastened for a few days and be inspired to play hard, then revert to the behaviors that got him in trouble in the first place.

Apart from what the Yankees have already done to try and get him in line, there’s nothing else they can do except maintain hope that one day, it will click and he’ll decide he wants to work not just when he feels like it but when he doesn’t feel like it; not when he’s yelled at or pulled aside by teammates, but when no one is watching because no one needs to watch.

Fixing the Mets’ problems starts with two words: enough’s enough

MLB

mets.jpg

Like a gambler who walked into the casino and embarked on a searing hot streak in which he accrued a significant bankroll and then remained at the table repeatedly doubling and tripling down when it was clear that the early luck had deserted him, the Mets have squandered an 11-1 start to the season and are now under water at 27-28. To make matters worse, the cracks in the club’s foundation and worst case scenarios have become a reality. Had the season started like this with the catastrophic bullpen woes, a startling number of injuries, managerial gaffes, player underperformance and the same rampant dysfunction that has been a hallmark of the organization for much of its existence, then it might have been easier to accept it and move on. However, after tearing out of the gate and stirring hope in even the most pessimistic Mets observer, they have settled into the mediocrity most have come to expect.

It can be fixed if they accept what has gone wrong and finally – finally – take the necessary steps to make it right.

In the 2017-2018 offseason, the objective reality is that the Mets were one of the higher spending teams in terms of free agents. That’s if the acquisitions are assessed based on the money spent. Still, the signings were economical and market-related. Due to the barren free agent landscape in which so few teams were willing to spend big money and the heaviest hitters – the Yankees and Dodgers – staying predominately out of the fray to get below the luxury tax for 2019, the Mets got discounts on players who otherwise would have been out of their price range.

Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, Anthony Swarzak, Jason Vargas – all were imported to fill holes. On paper, it made sense. Early in the season, it appeared that the club had spent wisely. As the season wore on and the injuries began, the same symptoms of the condition that has afflicted the club for that past decade recurred and they retreated to the “if this, then that” malaise with no margin for error. Until they tacitly decide to treat the condition rather than briefly arrest it so they can function for a day or two, nothing will change over the long term.

Manager Mickey Callaway was hired for multiple reasons – all of them solid. A respected pitching coach, he could work with the Mets pitchers and maximize them; having spent his career with experienced and well-regarded managers as a player (Mike Scioscia, Buck Showalter) and as a pitching coach (Terry Francona), he could not help but absorb the lessons they taught practically and theoretically; and as a younger man, he would more adept at understanding and implementing available advanced information than his predecessor Terry Collins was.

After that great start, the pitfalls of hiring a manager who has never managed before are showing. His inexperience has led to numerous strategic and verbal gaffes. He’s done things that are legitimately bizarre with the latest being the dueling press conferences where general manager Sandy Alderson focused on the positive and Callaway lamented the negative with each seemingly saying the opposite of what the other said. Not long after expressing his belief that team meetings were unnecessary, he called a team meeting. He appears frustrated and at times lost, haphazardly jumping from one tactic to the other hoping that he hits on one that works. If the Mets had a greater margin for error or a more proactive response to fixing issues, then they might be able to gloss over any flaws their new manager might have and needs to correct. But again, as has become customary, they don’t.

Mets fans do not want to hear about the Yankees. They do not want to be compared to them and they certainly don’t want to be told, “Well, the Yankees wouldn’t do it that way.” But there are times when the Mets should look at the way they Yankees operate, take notes and copy it. A prime example is how the Mets have defended and retained Mike Barwis as the senior advisor for strength and conditioning despite the litany of injuries from which the players continue to suffer.

No outsider can know how much Barwis’s methods have contributed to the Mets’ injuries. Every player has his own team of trainers and gurus, so to place the onus on one person is profoundly unfair. Regardless of fault, the overriding feeling that the Barwis program is problematic will not go away. The number of injuries – especially to players’ backs – that keep happening is a clear signal that the ongoing narrative must be interrupted. In 2007, when the Yankees were dealing with back and hamstring problems for their veteran players and they seemed to coincide with general manager Brian Cashman’s bizarre decision to hire a new strength and conditioning coordinator Marty Miller, a guy he’d found at a country club and had not worked in baseball for a decade, no one in power was overtly blaming Miller, but the Yankees acted anyway by firing him, swallowing his contract.

Whether the Mets think that Barwis is a problem or not, making a change for its own sake is neither capricious nor unfair.

The Mets have seemed satisfied with what they have and fail to go all-in to improve and ensure that they can at least contend should injuries and other stumbling blocks come up as they always do. The Astros gutted their team and accrued a litany of young, high-end talent. Once they felt they were ready to win, they started spending money and resources to buttress that young talent. The Mets have not done that to the nth degree as they could and should have.

This is not to imply that the Yankees and Astros never get it wrong, but they give themselves better coverage for being wrong because they’re willing to acknowledge those mistakes and move on from them while having the depth to handle it. It was the Astros who rushed to trade for Carlos Gomez when the Mets saw issues with his medicals as they backed out of a trade near the 2015 deadline. That trade cost the Astros Josh Hader, Domingo Santana and Brett Phillips. It was also the Astros who decided, just over a year later, that it was not going to get any better with Gomez and addition by subtraction was the best course of action. They released him.

Would the Mets have done that? Or would they have tried to squeeze every single ounce of whatever Gomez could have provided them to shun accepting that they screwed up and it was best to move on?

On May 22 of this year, the Mets marked the twenty-year anniversary of acquiring Mike Piazza from the Florida Marlins shortly after he was traded there from the Los Angeles Dodgers. Initially, when Piazza was on the trade block and it was only a matter of time before the Marlins moved him, the Mets declared that they were not interested before even getting involved with the negotiations. Then-general manager Steve Phillips went into a long diatribe about “chips,” how the Mets already had a catcher in Todd Hundley, and if they spent those chips to fill a hole they did not have, they would not have them available to fill a hole they did have.

Technically, he was correct. Those Mets, though, were dull and lacked an identity. They were good enough to contend with the caveat that everything – including Hundley returning from reconstructive elbow surgery – was predicated on hitting the bullseye with their eyes closed. When they caved to public pressure and acquired Piazza, everything changed and the Mets became a legitimate player for all the big names – all from that one deal they didn’t really want to make. Not only that, after the 1998 season, Hundley the “chip” netted them Charles Johnson and Roger Cedeno from the Dodgers. Cedeno was a key component to the Mets 1999 NLCS club and was eventually traded as part of the package to get Mike Hampton which led to the 2000 pennant; Johnson was spun immediately to the Orioles for Armando Benitez, who was predominately very good for them as a setup man and closer.

Would the Alderson Mets do these things?

Alderson was hired for his deliberate nature and that he would not behave reactively or panic as other New York general managers have. That sensibility can also be problematic. Alderson is risk averse to the point of paralysis. The hedging nature stifles creativity and has prevented the Mets from rolling the dice on players who might be superfluous and create a logjam despite the knowledge that logjams can be worked out just as the 1998 Mets did with Piazza and Hundley.

Should it be that a New York-based team is never, ever in on the big names in free agency? The Mets are never considered as an option for the brightest stars because they will not go as far as they need to go to get them. We’re not talking about Bryce Harper here. But is there a reason that the Mets should not be in on Manny Machado? Machado was mentioned as an all-but guaranteed Yankee, but the Yankees do not really need Machado now or in 2019 and beyond. As they are already having buyer’s remorse on another player they did not need, Giancarlo Stanton, are they prepared to spend money just to spend it and it could be better utilized to fill their starting pitching holes?

Even if the Yankees do get in on Machado, so what? Should the Mets recede into the background because of competition for a date to the prom from the big, bullying brother? If they make themselves attractive and offer as much if not more, there’s zero justification for them to steer clear apart from conscious choice.

And if they want to push the shaky excuse of having a shortstop in Amed Rosario and a third baseman in Todd Frazier, no one wants to hear it. Like with Piazza and Hundley, they can figure it out. If Machado is willing to go shift back to third base, Frazier can be moved to first base or traded. If Machado wants to stay at shortstop, Rosario can be moved to second base or traded. These are sticking points only because the Mets make them sticking points.

On the trade front, it’s somewhat understandable that the Mets do not get involved in the biggest names simply because they do not have the cache of prospects to allow them to trade the few marketable ones they do have. But spending money? That should not be an issue.

Yet it still is. It’s irrelevant whether that is due to the residue of the Wilpons’ financial problems post-Bernie Madoff, because Alderson does not want to spend the money, or a combination of the two.

The only time the Mets have fully invested in pursuing the top notch free agents under the Wilpon ownership was when Omar Minaya convinced them that it was necessary to do so. Not only did he pursue the likes of Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran, he proved it was not for show with Mets trying and failing, happy to come in second as if they deserved credit for it. Minaya pursued those players with a vengeance and got them. In doing so changed the image of the Mets as bystanders in the free agent market to an organization the best players would consider because they knew the Mets were serious.

The time for longwinded explanations and shrugging of the shoulders is over. It’s enough. Everyone seems to know it but them. Until that light comes on and they awaken from their slumber, they will be mocked for flaws of their own making not just because of their actions, but because of their inaction. The result is what we are seeing now. It’s not going to change unless they too say enough’s enough.

Joe Torre’s five-word method for dealing with Randy Levine

MLB, Uncategorized

betances-pic

“Randy, shut the fuck up.”

This statement, related on page 203 of The Yankee Years by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci, undoubtedly echoes what those inside and outside the New York Yankees organization feel today about team president Randy Levine after his combination monologue and touchdown dance following the Yankees prevailing in their arbitration hearing with relief pitcher Dellin Betances sparking an angry response from Betances.

Much like the intricacies of the arbitration hearing itself and the Yankees’ position compared to Betances’s position, there’s no reason to relate exactly why Torre colorfully told Levine to shut up. These details are secondary to Levine himself, his undefined role, and his constant and clumsy attempts to insert himself into baseball operations for which he’s more qualified to be a lunatic caller to WFAN seeking to trade a package led by Chase Headley to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for Mike Trout than an actual key decision maker in club construction.

Looking more like a midlevel functionary who should be nowhere near either a camera or a microphone and behaving like a professional wrestling manager when he does, calling Levine’s statement ill-advised neither does it justice nor encompasses the full scope of his egocentric attempt to insinuate himself into the story. His behavior took a tone indicative of the entire process being a personal affront to him. Judging by Levine’s reaction even after winning the case, there’s an unsaid expectation for Betances to fall to his knees and thank the Yankees for making the offer they did, even going so far as tell the club that he’d take less like the petrified tenement owner Don Roberto in The Godfather, Part II when he garnered information as to whom Vito Corleone actually was and the consequences for not acquiescing to Don Corleone’s offer he couldn’t refuse.

Who is Randy Levine?

George Steinbrenner hired Levine due to Levine’s well-connected political position and that he was going to help the Yankees with the establishment of the YES Network and guide them through the labyrinth-like process of building a new Yankee Stadium. As far as baseball goes, he’s the epitome of “some guy” who happened to parlay various connections to place himself in a circumstance in which he had a forum to express these views without any understanding in a business or baseball sense as to what he’s talking about.

As evidenced by his statements related to Betances’s on-field performance, Levine remains suspended in the simplified statistics of two decades ago, equating the discredited save stat with a relief pitcher’s value. Since establishing himself as a big leaguer, few if any relief pitchers have been as dominant or valuable as Betances. Levine, with a blatantly vague understanding of how relief pitchers should be judged, takes the role at which the Yankees predominately deployed Betances and that he was not placed in situations that he would accrue negligible stats like saves and used it to denigrate one of the most valuable commodities that Yankees have.

This goes beyond Betances implying that he might rethink doing whatever manager Joe Girardi asks him to do for the sake of winning and his clear anger at what was said. Betances cannot be a free agent until after 2019, so the Yankees can shrug at any anger on the part of the pitcher. He’s essentially at their mercy. That said, if Betances was pitching when he wasn’t 100 percent to help the team and he’s being treated like an indentured servant, he’s more likely to take his own interests into consideration and save his bullets for the time at which he can get his lucrative long-term contract. Since he was such a late bloomer who was a starting pitcher in the minor leagues and didn’t establish himself as a big leaguer until he was moved to the bullpen at age 26, his window to make big money is limited. That foray into free agency after 2019 might be his one chance to get paid. Taking that into account was well within his rights before this. Now? He’s perfectly entitled to go all-in with being an independent contractor who is seeking to maximize his financial station.

To a man in the Yankees clubhouse and including the coaches and manager, you will be hard pressed to find one person who will disagree with one word that Betances said in response to Levine’s idiotic rant. For him to pitch on back-to-back days and do so for multiple innings after the Yankees had essentially punted the 2016 season by trading away Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Carlos Beltran, he made a sacrifice that directly opposes his self-interest.

The question to ask is this: How much would Betances get on the open market if he was a 28-year-old free agent?

With his résumé and the combined contracts that lesser pitchers Brett Cecil, Mike Dunn and Brad Ziegler received (a combined $65.5 million over nine years), Levine is either ignorant of the reality of the market for relief pitchers or he is twisting reality to suit his position.

Betances isn’t trying to change any market. The market is what it is.

For Levine to again place himself at the center of a matter that has nothing whatsoever to do with him not only hurts the organization, but the cost could end up being far greater than that $2 million disparity with what Betances asked for and what the Yankees wanted to pay. Given his history and inexplicable arrogance, even if Levine understands this, it won’t matter. This is aggravation and attention the Yankees do not need, but to satisfy the craving Levine obviously has to be at the center of these stories, they’re getting it and will continue to do so until someone above him – the Steinbrenners – do as Torre did more than a decade ago and tell him to shut the fuck up with the power to make him do it and consequences if he doesn’t.

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.

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.