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.

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MLB 2015: Opening Day Questions, American League East

MLB

Baltimore Orioles

Did the Orioles do enough to fill the holes left by the departures of Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz?

Markakis is not the great loss that he’s implied to be, but replacing Cruz’s 40 homers is nearly impossible to do with a single player. However, if the Orioles get 15-20 homers from Matt Wieters; if Chris Davis can add 8-10 homers from his somewhat disappointing 26 in 2014; if Manny Machado chips in 20-25; if Steve Pearce can contribute 75 percent of what he provided last season, then the Orioles can make up for Cruz’s departure.

Can they repeat?

Yes. Manager Buck Showalter’s strategic skills are worth a significant amount over the course of a season. It’s difficult to quantify what it is a manager adds or subtracts, but Showalter’s attention to detail and tweaking, as well as his lack of tolerance for that which other managers accept as an unavoidable consequence of managing in today’s game will make any team at least five games better than their on-paper talents indicate. The AL East is as weak as it’s been in 25 years and the Orioles, with Showlater, can take advantage of that and win the division again.

Boston Red Sox

Are the Red Sox as “smart” as their reputation and a lucky World Series win implies?

For all the supposed “brilliance” that comes from the front office led by general manager Ben Cherington, his tenure has not been a good one but for that one miracle year of 2013 when everything went right and they won the World Series. That title occurred in spite of a patched together roster loaded with best case scenario free agents and a manager, John Farrell, who’s had one winning season in his career – the year he won the World Series – and is widely acknowledged as not being very good at in-game strategy.

Much of the “success” the Red Sox have had hinges on that one year. Had they finished where many expected them to that year in the middle of the pack with 82 to 85 wins, that would be half-a-decade of massive payrolls and more massive disappointments.

But that’s revisionist history. They did win that World Series in 2013, buying them time and the belief that they’re a template organization others should copy. The reality depends on your point-of-view. The objective truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

As for 2015, this is a weirdly constructed team. They’ve stuck Hanley Ramirez in left field; are trusting Dustin Pedroia to stay healthy; acquired the fat and in-season lackadaisical Pablo Sandoval to play third; have lost their prospective starting catcher Christian Vazquez to Tommy John surgery; are hoping for a major bounce back year from Xander Bogaerts; their starting rotation is stacked with a sum-of-the-parts crew adding up to an average sum and no intimidating ace; and the bullpen is something of a mess.

Can they overcome these issues?

Although the concept hasn’t even been broached for fear of the expectation and demand that they actually do it, the Red Sox can always demote Bogaerts if he doesn’t hit, stick Ramirez at short and live with his shady defense, and put one of the endless array of outfielders in left field.

Ryan Hanigan can handle the catching duties suitably until Blake Swihart is recalled to share the job. They have a deep farm system and can dip into it to make a move on Cole Hamels, Johnny Cueto, or any other “name” arm that comes available. Bullpens are fluctuating, so who knows whether Edward Mujica, Junichi Tazawa, Koji Uehara or anyone else will emerge and dominate in the late innings?

The weakness of the division and their resources will let them stay in the race.

New York Yankees

Can they count on the key to their season – Masahiro Tanaka – and what if he falters?

I’d written months ago that the Yankees were handling Tanaka’s torn elbow ligament correctly by letting him pitch until he can no longer pitch and then he should go for surgery when he can’t. Now, however, there are troubling signs regarding his health. Tanaka has stated that he’s altered his motion to accommodate his injury. His velocity is noticeably reduced. He’s also adjusted his repertoire to accommodate the injury. All of these factors will lead to the idea that he’s pitching hurt, changing his tactics to mitigate the pain, and is moving forward through an injury instead of functioning normally in spite of it.

Obviously, they can’t count on him for the entire season. In fact, it seems as if they’ll go start-to-start and hope for the best. This leads to the question as to whether the doctors gave him the option of pitching without the surgery if and only if he can stand it. He’s saying that he can stand it when the statements and acts say he can’t.

Tanaka’s situation is often equated with that of Adam Wainwright who pitched with the same injury for five years before the ligament finally blew, but Wainwright never publicly admitted he had changed his motion or strategy due to the injury as Tanaka is doing now. If this is the situation, them maybe he should just have the surgery and get it over with.

Will Hal Steinbrenner and Randy Levine let GM Brian Cashman clean house if the team is spiraling?

It’s hard to fathom the Yankees ever punting a season in large part because they’re so immersed in both the reputation as consummate “winners” and selling tickets for their star-studded show. What they need to realize is that a large percentage of “Yankees die-hards” who spend money on the product became “Yankees die-hards” in 1998. They won’t go see a substandard product and they certainly won’t pay the prices to go to Yankee Stadium to sit through it.

The other problem they have is the profound lack of marketable players. No one is taking CC Sabathia. Might they be able to move Brian McCann? Would another team take Alex Rodriguez off their hands if the Yankees pay the bulk of his salary just to get him away from them once and for all? I can absolutely see the Miami Marlins doing that. If Mark Teixeira is hitting, can they move him? What about Jacoby Ellsbury? Brett Gardner? Carlos Beltran?

The odds are no one’s taking any of these players, but Cashman would dearly love to get rid of all of them to bolster the farm system, clear salary, and open spots for the supposedly hot hitting prospects they have coming through the pipeline.

But Hal and Levine won’t let him because of the message it sends even though it was similarly short-sighted decisions that got the organization in this position in the first place. Yankees fans had better savor the words “first place” in any context since it’s about the closest they’ll get to it this year.

Tampa Bay Rays

Will the team collapse without Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon?

On the contrary, the departures of Friedman and Maddon reinvigorate the franchise and they made a series of moves to bolster a weak farm system. While Friedman and Maddon were obviously integral to the team’s success, there’s such a thing as stagnation and a spark stemming from change. The idea that Friedman was the sole voice in making all the decisions and that his absence will spur the entire franchise to come undone is silly. There’s no single voice in any organization and the freedom from the expectations that Friedman’s success created has allowed the Rays to move forward and make moves – dumping Wil Myers, Jeremy Hellickson and Joel Peralta – they might not have made had they stood pat in the front office.

Maddon leaping out of the contractual escape hatch actually did the Rays a favor. They were able to get rid of players Maddon wanted on the roster like Jose Molina and Sean Rodriguez. They no longer have to endure his canned quirkiness and the arrogance fomented by the sudden public recognition he received as the “best” manager in baseball.

While the players will say all the right things about their former manager, what he did was inordinately selfish and despicable as he took another person’s job by usurping Rick Renteria with the Chicago Cubs. His act had grown tiresome and the young and energetic Kevin Cash is a new voice with a different message that won’t be as me-centric as it had become with Maddon.

Toronto Blue Jays

Is this the last call for this Blue Jays group?

Put it this way, they’re going to need a new team president when Paul Beeston retires after the season and the new boss – whoever it is (and it still might be Dan Duquette) – will want to bring in his own people and likely gut the place of these faltering veterans. That means GM Alex Anthopoulos and manager John Gibbons know where they stand: win or else.

It’s not an absurd demand considering the financial freedom that Anthopoulos was given and the underachievement of this club. For years, there was the complaint that the Blue Jays would have been good enough to make the playoffs had they not been stuck in a division with the Yankees and Red Sox. Now that the entire division is down and there’s a gaping hole for the Blue Jays to charge through, they haven’t done it. On paper, they’ve improved significantly with Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson. They still have Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes and Edwin Encarnacion. But their pitching is questionable, they’ve gutted the farm system, lost Marcus Stroman for the year, and are functioning with Brett Cecil as their closer.

Can they finally win?

Can they? Yes. Will they? No.

After annually expecting them to finally fulfill their potential and have a little luck, eventually the reality will hit home that this is what they are and they need to make structural changes from the ground up to alter the culture. It’s just not going to work with this nucleus and it has to be changed starting with the front office.

The Yankees promote Gregorius with none-too-subtle shots at Jeter

MLB

The commercialization of new New York Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius is in full swing. We get it. Derek Jeter was a subpar defender. We’re not just talking about the latter years of his career when he was slowed by injury and age. For the bulk of his time as the Yankees’ centerpiece at shortstop, he was lacking in range and made up for that with flashiness and a passive aggressiveness with anyone who dared suggest he move to another position or decided it was a good idea to point out the statistical facts regarding his deficiencies. For every jump-throw, sublime style at running into short left field for popups, and dives into the stands, Jeter’s supposed “all-around” game, Gold Gloves and promotion for having defensive prowess was known to be inaccurate by those who weren’t hypnotized by his star status.

Whether it was a byproduct from fan anger at the mere suggestion he wasn’t what he was portrayed to be; the media trying to stay on Jeter’s good side; teammates, coaches and front office people pointing out unseen factors and intangibles, the truth hovers in the mist. Jeter might not have been what his myth makers say he was as an all-around player, but he did make up for it with trustworthiness in big spots and coolness knowing that nervousness wouldn’t spur him to boot a grounder in a tie game in the eighth inning of game six of the the World Series with runners on first and third. His intelligence and awareness were valuable even if his range wasn’t.

Now that he’s retired and there isn’t the need to avoid his famous freeze-out tactic for those who dared cross him, there’s not only a baseball-wide honesty about his shortcomings, but even the Yankees seem somewhat relieved that they’re no longer forced to walk gingerly around their captain, placating and humoring him for the sake of the greater good. Given the tumultuous relationship between he and Jeter as frenemies, it’s no surprise that Alex Rodriguez is touting Gregorius’s range with undisguised awe. It was A-Rod who moved to third base when he was traded to the Yankees in 2004 to accommodate Jeter’s status and ego even though it was known by one and all that A-Rod wasn’t just a little bit better as a defensive shortstop, but a lot better. It was A-Rod who was characterized as the opposite of Jeter in terms of everything from on-field professionalism to off-field embarrassments. The image of Jeter as everything a player and person should aspire to be with A-Rod as the definition of someone who screwed it all up still chafes A-Rod to the point that he’s taking these small, opaque potshots. There’s a double entendre there with A-Rod still playing and Jeter’s looming presence nothing more than a shadow. This is no shock. What’s odd is how it’s extended to other players who are noting Gregorius’s range.

Mark Teixeira and Chase Headley have mentioned it along with A-Rod and the media is running with it. In part, it’s boosting the perception of the player who has the thankless job of replacing Jeter and doesn’t have the resume to guarantee a level of production that he’ll be able to do it. In dual part, it’s seemingly to take subtle shots at Jeter.

It’s natural for there to be a certain amount of jealousy to the sway that Jeter had with the Yankees, the media and the public. This was compounded when his play didn’t warrant the myth. As the season wound down, it’s unavoidable that the veterans who had to endure the endless, nauseating subservience in every…single…park they went to last season would tire of it in rhetoric and reality. Jeter absolutely deserved to be feted, but the peer pressure that was exerted turned it into a case of diminishing returns. Teammates standing on the top step of the dugout, having to answer questions about what Jeter meant to them, trying to find ways to make platitudes sound fresh in describing his importance even if he was a minuscule percentage of what he once was became an integral part of their day even if they didn’t want to be doing it. It has a draining effect on those who have their own issues to worry about.

Obviously a faction in the Yankees clubhouse – extending beyond the obvious one, A-Rod – are glad that Jeter’s gone even if they can’t say it if they value their future in pinstripes. It’s a fact that the baseball people in the front office are happy he’s gone whether Gregorius is the long-term answer or not. The exhaustion from the maudlin sentimentality notwithstanding, it’s morphed from them sticking to the script as to Jeter’s greatness to pointing out what Jeter wasn’t at the end while simultaneously saying how Gregorius’s range is so far superior to his predecessor.

Jeter is at fault for a large portion of this. For all the class he exhibited in personifying what the Yankees claim they should be, he was a party to the shameless sale of all things Jeter in a gauche display of greed. He acted as if the mere suggestion that he move to another position was an insult to his manhood when it might have been better for the team had he willingly done so. The Yankees created the spectacle and amplified it to sell tickets, gear, souvenirs and mementos in a down year that was also a likely portent to a down cycle for the club.

Although Gregorius’s range is much better than Jeter’s, that’s not the biggest compliment in the world. At the end of his career Jeter was essentially a statue whose range was limited to how far he could fall to the left or right. At the height of his career, it wasn’t all that good either. Placing Jeter in the pantheon of Yankees greats like Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle was always preposterous. Making attempts to trivialize and diminish what he accomplished because he wasn’t on their level is equally preposterous.

Now that he’s gone, there’s an increased freedom to point out his negatives. No matter where you land on the subject of whether or not Jeter was overblown, overrated and that his narrative was largely scripted with an end in mind, he doesn’t deserve to be criticized in comparison to the 25-year-old kid who’s been imported to replace him.

Gregorius has never even played a full season as a regular in the majors. In fact, there’s a legitimate chance that he’ll end up back in the minors at some point this season. Jeter was a great player in his own right and he won. For all his issues, Jeter wouldn’t panic in a big moment and he could actually hit. Will Gregorius panic? Can he hit? Physical tools are fine, but it’s implementing those tools that defines a career. Jeter maximized and surpassed his ability. He stayed out of compromising situations and never embarrassed himself, his club or baseball in general. He’s a rarity. Replacing him isn’t so simple and in spite of the eye-rolling and exasperated sighs the supplication of him elicited, he deserves better than to be negatively compared to Gregorius or any other player they find to take his place.

Yankees are doing the right thing with Tanaka

MLB

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

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

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

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

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

Who really knows?

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

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

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

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

Moncada a symbol for Yankees’ disconnect

MLB

The issue surrounding the latest player on whom the New York Yankees “just missed” isn’t about the player himself. By most accounts, Yoan Moncada is a superior talent. He’s very young and needs seasoning, but he’s an asset. A big one. Only time will tell whether or not he was worth the money that he received or if he’ll be another foreign bust.

None of that matters.

We can ignore that the “just missed” narrative was previously relegated to the team across town. We can also ignore that it’s their hated rivals the Boston Red Sox that were the ones that did sign him. As far as we know, there was no chair breaking from Yankees general manager Brian Cashman similar to the oft-told and categorically denied story regarding then-Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein’s reaction when the Yankees signed Jose Contreras in 2002. The Yankees, through intent or circumstance, have laid the foundation for sufficient ambiguity to shift blame and insert a believable tale to explain away why their spending is so low; why they’re hoarding draft picks and accepting their 2015 fate in a way that never would have happened if…wait for it…George Steinbrenner were still alive.

This story isn’t about Moncada and whether Cashman desperately wanted to sign him as some are saying. It’s not about the money that the GM supposedly asked for from Hal Steinbrenner to sign Moncada and was rebuffed. It’s about where the organization is headed and why.

While Moncada is secondary, the symbolism of the Yankees passing on Moncada in their ongoing winter of austerity can’t be ignored. When was the last time the Yankees didn’t get a player they wanted because of money? When was the last time they were predicted to be, at best, a .500 team? And when was the last time that was accepted by the front office without doing something, anything to avoid it?

The Steinbrenner offspring have every right to draw a line in the financial sand that never existed under their intense, win-at-all-costs dad. George Steinbrenner equated winning and losing with greater urgency than he did breathing. That dedication and seriousness doesn’t appear to be present with Hal Steinbrenner – the family front man. Part of George Steinbrenner’s reason for wanting to win was his massive ego. Part of it was ingrained. The sons don’t have that passion. They’re going through the motions and after the 2013-2014 spending spree that obliterated the $189 million plan they’d been preparing for for several years yielded a more expensive version of a worse team, the vault has been shut.

Prognosticators, observers, the media, baseball people and especially Yankees fans spent the 2014-2015 winter waiting for the inevitable financial strike in which the Yankees would sign Max Scherzer or James Shields; trade for Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels and/or Cliff Lee; do something notable and headline worthy. It never came. As one player after another came off the board, the truth hit that they really did intend to stop the endless spending that had been a hallmark of the Yankees for the entire time the Steinbrenner family has owned the team. Now it’s another player – Moncada – that they wanted and the financial concerns prevented them from getting.

Looking toward the future with references to a package of minor leaguers expected to be the next “core” group willfully ignores the fact that the last core group took several years of bad baseball to accumulate and develop. The Yankees from 1996 onward were built in 1989 to 1992 – four years in which the big league club was one of the worst in baseball. They were rebuilt by Gene Michael, who was known to have a talent for recognizing players not through complicated algorithms and formulas, but by his experience.

Ironically, it’s not the Steinbrenner children who are influenced by their father’s looming shadow, but his pseudo-son, Cashman, who is trying to escape it and prove himself in a manner that was impossible while George Steinbrenner was alive. The kids have their own interests. While they’ve tried to adhere to the principles of what their father built, there’s a missing component in that they avoid the spotlight and don’t want to overspend. Considering the realities of the game today, how baseball has taken steps to allow every team to have an equal chance to win, and that the Yankees’ spending has failed to help them achieve their championship goals in every year since 2000 save one, they’re not wrong in saying enough.

That word – enough – should also have extended to their general manager and that’s the case for both sides.

Cashman’s attitude is one that should concern fans far more than the debate as to his competence in assessing players who are not already established stars when they’re purchased. His statements sound world-weary, tired, bitter and angry. His monotonous, self-shielding autopilot of catchphrases and corporate inanities are hollow and dull. There’s an absence of enthusiasm and energy for the job while making a blatant attempt to shun the responsibility while seeking credit. He’s jaded at the perception of him. He’s jealous of the credit other GMs like Billy Beane and Andrew Friedman get for building their teams while he’s seen as nothing more than a creature of the financial might of his employer.

He wants the credit, but pursues it without the known background to run his team in the same manner those who operated under budgetary constraints do. He’s doing it with a multitude of excuses leaked out that his hands are tied; that the former mandate of championship or bust every year led to them having this bloated payroll of ancient, declining stars; that it will take years to get back into a contending position and none of it is his fault.

The laments that they would’ve drafted Mike Trout had he fallen to them and did draft Gerrit Cole are meant to simultaneously assuage implications that the GM doesn’t know how to assess talent and provide a backdrop of “don’t blame me.” The leak that he wanted to sign Moncada and couldn’t because of Hal Steinbrenner turning down his request was strategic and self-serving. Nothing is his fault.

If the Yankees were going down this road, they should have fired Cashman. If Cashman doesn’t have the deep-rooted fire to rebuild correctly and is simply seeking personal fulfillment, then parting ways would also have been better for him.

The team is a dysfunctional mess in a way that was never evident in the years of George Steinbrenner’s dictatorial reign. At least then, there was an amount of care. Now there’s not. Now there’s factions with their own agendas. It’s not about Moncada. It goes deeper than that and it makes the future look worse than even the most realistic and pessimistic of Yankees fans, followers and media members can possibly foresee.

A-Rod’s apology, the Yankees and salesmanship

MLB

Alex Rodriguez is embarrassing. That much is clear. It’s often difficult to tell whether he’s doing it on purpose or the bewildered, “Why me?” look of lobotomized innocence is real or if it’s more of A-Rod taking to heart the lessons he learned from Madonna years and years ago and makes certain his name is still relevant even if his on-field performance no longer is.

While A-Rod is continuing his consistent act, the Yankees are enabling it for their own ends. If this was the Yankees of 2000 and they had enough depth and George Steinbrenner’s willingness to accept sunk costs and move on, A-Rod would not be an issue because he’d likely be in camp with the Miami Marlins trying to make their roster. He would. Not because he can still play – maybe he can and maybe he can’t – but the Marlins under Jeffrey Loria are smart enough, unrepentant enough and focus on the bottom line so openly that they’d keep him just for the tickets his mere presence would sell.

These forced apologies with faux contrition and the innocent “feel” of the handwritten note take the tone of manipulative salesmanship. There, of course, will be a segment of the population that will believe him. A-Rod would have elicited a better reaction had he mimicked South Park’s caricature of B.P. CEO Tony Heyward and his apology for the Gulf oil spill and done the following:

The sincerity of the apology or lack thereof is secondary to why A-Rod, Heyward, Lance Armstrong or anyone else issued it. It’s in the same category as the reasons the Yankees are keeping him around, news organizations are using handwriting analysts to decipher what he “really” means with his script, and commentators are weighing in with their “take” on the matter: they want attention and to achieve their own ends.

For all the Yankees fans and apologists who continually reference “class” and “dignity” as if it’s transformed from a public relations selling point and actually exists, the reality is that the Yankees are keeping A-Rod around for the same financial and selfish reasons.

The holier-than-thou reactions to A-Rod’s transgressions are coming from those who would either have done the exact same thing he did or probably done worse to achieve the fame and money that A-Rod has. It’s pompous and judgmental self-aggrandizement.

It’s poignant that this is happening in the same week the Yankees announced they’re retiring three more uniform numbers at various times this summer. Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams will all be honored in the same location as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. Their credentials for this are arguable and have even Yankees fans questioning whether it’s right that they’re placed in that stratosphere. But it’s beside the point. The Yankees number retirements have taken the tone of the pricey and lavish wedding for which the never-ending saga of, “If we invite X, we have to invite Y” results in a wedding that was meant for 200 turning into one for 500.

The situation with Pettitte punctuates the ludicrousness and was again played out last year when Robinson Cano did what Pettitte did and left the Yankees. After Pettitte spurned the Yankees to go home to play in Houston with the Astros for three years after the 2003 season, the Yankees gave his soon-to-be-retired number 46 to the following players: Donovan Osborne, Darrell May, Alan Embree, Scott Erickson and Aaron Guiel. In 2014, the season after Cano left for the Seattle Mariners, they gave his number 24 to three separate journeymen: Zoilo AlmonteChris Young and Scott Sizemore.

Familiar pettiness combined with the egomania of the organization on the whole indicates a disturbing victimhood that they can do no wrong when they either tacitly contributed to the circumstances or looked the other way. They disrespected Pettitte, waited until the last moment to up their offer to try and keep him, and acted indignantly when he left. Cano was offered approximately $60 million more by the Mariners than what the Yankees were willing to offer and he was also benefiting from the lack of state income tax in Washington. After they’d repeatedly put him off and failed to make a preemptive offer to stay, what motivation was there for him to provide a discount when they were overpaying for the inferior Jacoby Ellsbury and then spun around, abandoned the pretense of fiscal sanity by going on a spending spree for Masahiro Tanaka, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran?

Yet the uniform numbers on the back of the pinstripes are treated as a fungible punishment amid the “How dare you?!?” tantrum when these players leave and a selling point when their play is recalled fondly upon their return.

Similar to the infantile uniform number circulation and retirements, if the Yankees are so aghast at what A-Rod did, then perhaps they should do the “right” thing and give back the 2009 World Series trophy that they would not have won without A-Rod carrying the team and almost singlehandedly demolishing the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the ALCS.

The hypocrisy is astounding and emanates from the entitlement the organization has come to believe is real. This returns to why the numbers are being retired and why A-Rod is still a Yankee: money.

If A-Rod is so despicable and they don’t want him around on or off the field, why is he still there? It’s a viable argument that they’re hoping that his hips and physical breakdown can possibly yield a full insurance payout if he tries to play in the spring and can’t. It’s highly unlikely that it will happen. Then the question turns to whether he’s worth the tornado of madness that he brings. Wouldn’t it be easier to just say enough’s enough and cut him, eat the money and move on? The money’s gone. He might have to lose a limb for the insurer to pay the contract, so they’re going to have to pay him. Let him be someone else’s problem.

But they can’t and won’t for the same reason that they’re retiring those numbers: fans are not going to come and see this team without Derek Jeter and a 2015 projection of, at best, mediocrity. So they’re looking to cut the payroll and recoup the lost money from an absence of postseason revenue and declining product sales with shtick like three separate days to honor these players and guarantee packed houses. They’re bringing A-Rod back not because they want him, but because fans will go and see the sideshow. Add in that they need some semblance of production from A-Rod because their lineup is so questionable and the aura of “class,” “dignity,” “pride,” and “doing the right thing” goes up in smoke.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise. This is par for the course with the new era, sans Boss Yankees. They’re smart enough to know what their motivation is and arrogant enough to deny it exists. They act as if they’re adhering to the past while selling everything, charging offensive prices and trying to be the Oakland Athletics without having a front office that can function that way. They’ll get what they deserve as they wallow in the muck and still won’t admit why they’re there. A-Rod will be right there with them not because he dragged them down as they’d like to portray, but because they were always there. They were just able to cover it up better than most and had a constituency ready and willing to promulgate the myth.

The Yankees’ strategies are justified and destructive at the same time

MLB

The New York Yankees signing Kyle Davies in the same week they passed on James Shields shows just how far they’ve come from the days in which every high-priced free agent could go to the Yankees to either use them as a bargaining tool or get the highest bid to come to New York.

While they were finally serious when they said they were opting for fiscal sanity and an actual plan they would adhere to, the dichotomy between the players they signed then and now is more than a simple matter of looking at their strategies of the past and present and accepting them at face value. If ever there was a simultaneously practical and atmospheric change in the way the Yankees do business, it’s now. Although the current landscape dictates that they had to do something different and the adjustments they’re making are justified, that doesn’t mean the new plan and holding true to it will revert the team back to the one it was in the 1990s and early-2000s. Similar to the change the team had to make from the way they built their clubs from 1920 to 1965 to the era of drafts and free agency, it might take some time and more than a little luck to return to contention, let along dominance. Back then, it took a decade. It took 15 years for them to get back after the Yankees of Reggie Jackson, Graig Nettles, Ron Guidry and Goose Gossage ran its course.

Five years ago – even one year ago – is there any doubt that at least two to three of the big name free agents or available names on the trade market would somehow, some way have ended up with the Yankees? Draft picks and prospects be damned, they would have taken on the entire contract of Troy Tulowitzki; signed Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and/or Shields; and tried to trade for Chase Utley and Cole Hamels. While these deals were destined to create splashy headlines, sell season tickets and placate a spoiled fan base, history has proven that they would not, under any circumstances, have guaranteed a championship. After last year, it became clear to the Yankees that it wouldn’t have been enough to guarantee a playoff spot. In fact, they weren’t even legitimate contenders in 2014 for any reason other than the parity permeating baseball and that they overachieved thanks to the yeoman work done by manager Joe Girardi.

They’re changing their tactics, but not in the old way. George Steinbrenner used to come up with various plans of attack and abandon them, firing everyone in sight, if they didn’t yield immediate dividends. That strategy worked in the late 1970s to the very early part of the 1980s and then it stopped working as other teams wised up and adapted. The Yankees were no longer a trendy destination as they discovered the money and lore of the pinstripes couldn’t mitigate a poorly run, bad team with a terrible reputation. As the Yankees empire collapsed in the late-1980s, it was only Steinbrenner’s second suspension from baseball that allowed general manager Gene Michael to rebuild the club from the bottom up drafting, signing and developing the likes of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams and Andy Pettitte. He sprinkled in players who fit into what he and Buck Showalter were trying to build with power and on-base skills combined with fiery competitiveness.

After the team had been rebuilt and the foundation was in place, they were able to flex their financial might to surround their young core with established veterans. As the years passed, the developmental train stopped and they became a star-studded entity that was more interested in signing the biggest names on the market in lieu of finding players who fit into the template. They were beyond fortunate in the longevity and health of that core group and that, more than money, was why they maintained contention and didn’t fade.

Now they’re all gone without major league-ready replacements, so they’re resorting to patching and rebooting. To make matters worse, the Andrew McCutchen-type, in-his-prime star player who would have ended up with the Yankees because of finances is choosing to sign a contract extension to stay with his current club, the Pittsburgh Pirates. No longer are teams like the Pirates the equivalent of a big league farm team for the Yankees. The new economics in baseball with cash-cow ballparks, revenue sharing and lucrative television deals has given many clubs the money to sign their players instead of trading them away. New statistics, analytical evolution and implementation has also minimized the financial advantage the Yankees had as teams find players for a fraction of the cost the Yankees are paying the likes of washouts like Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran for the same, if not better, production.

The Yankees have set about either planting new seeds or replacing them with recognizable names. They tried the latter in the past several seasons as one star player after another departed and it failed. Now they’re in the midst of repeating what Michael did and shunning the big name free agents that George Steinbrenner coveted to players who are cheaper, fill needs and, perhaps most importantly, don’t cost them picks in the amateur draft – an area that was neglected for far too long.

While it’s laudable and, again, justified that they’ve closed the vault, it’s not because of an understanding of how the game must be played today to build a consistent winner, but because Hal Steinbrenner looks at teams like the Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays and Pirates and wonders why he has to spend $220 million a year to field a competitive team while those clubs are hindered by payroll constraints and revenue streams that, combined, probably don’t match those of the Yankees and they’re consistently better. He’s not changing because he’s finally convinced that the use of new metrics, development and wiser spending instead of lavish buying sprees are better. It’s because he doesn’t want to spend the money anymore and that’s something that never would have happened with his father.

What should disturb Yankees fans and leave them more concerned than ever as to where this club is heading isn’t simply that Hal Steinbrenner is not authorizing the spending he did a year ago, but that general manager Brian Cashman is trying to mimic Michael not because he’s his mentor and not because the Michael methods worked, but because Cashman wants to receive credit for being more than a checkbook GM. In a New York Daily News column, Bill Madden said as much with the following:

Cashman, who has always privately detested being viewed as nothing more than a checkbook GM, took pains this winter to eschew the big-ticket free agents like Scherzer, Pablo Sandoval and even James Shields and set about remaking the Yankees in his own image.

Career fulfillment and pride in one’s accomplishments are fine as long as they’re not getting in the way of doing one’s job. Since baseball is now being seen as a business and not a fun diversion for the ultra-rich, it has to be placed into that context. Does the day-to-day boss of IBM have the right to care if his way was the successful one when there are shareholders making demands? Or is he or she supposed to run the business in a successful fashion with ego shunted off to the side?

If Cashman is seeking credit at the same time he’s trying to build a winner, don’t you see the clash between how he’s going to put the team together and what is needed? Who really cares what Cashman detests and doesn’t? The business model for each team is different and the Yankees’ financial strength is one of the main reasons they’ve won as much as they have in their history. Why walk away from that because of selfish desires?

Cashman was hired and retained to run the Yankees, not bolster his resume and compensate for the perceptions he sees as sullying a self-crafted image of a builder on a level with the people who are considered “top” GMs and organizational architects. He’s never been known as a GM whose talent recognition skills and player assessments have been noteworthy unless he’s buying the CC Sabathia-type – the star in his prime. Why would anyone believe he can become something other than what he’s been for almost two decades as a GM?

In truth, there’s nothing wrong with running a team with the checkbook. When an individual’s ego becomes involved with how the job is done, that’s the real problem. It’s not the strategy. On some level, he too is justified in saying that what worked before with spend-spend-spend isn’t working, but that doesn’t mean the hoarding of draft picks, new focus on saving money and avoiding the big ticket items is going to work.

That, more than anything else, should be what concerns Yankees fans as they go dumpster diving for Davies, Scott Baker and other “why not?” signings that were once non-roster invitees who would catch a brief glimpse of Jeter, Rivera, Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina in the spring training clubhouse before receding into oblivion. Now they’re actually hoping these players can contribute.

This new strategy is reminiscent of 1982 and 1989 rather than 1993. The reasoning behind it, the architects and the implementation are the problems. Unless those factors change, the Yankees are in danger of plunging to depths that the most arrogant and spoiled fans, media members and even club officials could never have envisioned.

McClendon Responds To The Cano Hustle Debate

Free Agents, Games, History, Management, Media, MVP, Players, Spring Training, Stats

The ongoing back and forth about Robinson Cano’s hustle or lack thereof is gaining momentum and a life of its own. While Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long’s response to questions about Cano’s preference not to run hard to first base on ground balls was more of a simple answer to a question rather than an attempt to smear his former pupil, Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon responded in an attempt to defend his new player.

I wrote about the initial statements made by Long regarding Cano here on AllVoices.com.

McClendon is in a tricky situation in his new job with the Mariners and had no choice but to defend his player publicly. Having waited so long to get another chance as a manager and with a general manager in Jack Zduriencik who is clearly on the hotseat, McClendon is facing the prospect of one bad season and being fired in a massive purge of the entire Mariners baseball hierarchy. What choice does he have other than to stand up for his player even if he knows that Cano is notorious around baseball for not running out ground balls and it’s a running commentary about how blatantly he does it?

Yes, it’s true that many players – including the best one in Mariners history Ken Griffey Jr. – didn’t hustle, but Cano takes it to the extreme of not even putting up the pretense of running moderately hard to first base. It’s also true that the number of plays in which it matters is a minuscule percentage and the argument is valid that it’s not worth the risk of injury for a meaningless play and would only harm the team in the long run. But Cano isn’t willing to act as if he’s giving the effort. Whereas for players like Griffey, they were running at, say, 75 percent, Cano is running at 45 percent. That’s too slow not to be noticed and it’s not going to change now that he’s a Mariner with a $240 million contract. Lest anyone believe that Cano’s status as a veteran leader and the highest paid player in club history is going to alter his view on the needlessness of running hard to first base.

The prevailing implication, elucidated by McClendon, is that Long spoke out of school and should keep quiet. In truth, he was uttering a truth that had been kept quiet by the Yankees to placate Cano. They and the rest of baseball have been aware of it. Some are bothered by it. Others don’t think it’s that big of a deal. Yankees GM Brian Cashman sounded surprised that Long said what he did and gave the politically correct – and mostly accurate – answer that Cano played every day and put up the numbers. It did not come from the Yankees organization with Long as the mouthpiece ripping Cano. They did their own version of taking a shot at him when they gave his uniform number away immediately to Scott Sizemore.

McClendon spent many years playing and working for Jim Leyland. He’s a good baseball man and learned his lessons well from Leyland that the players have to be shielded and it’s the managers job to do it. However, he’s not a manager who is going to be able to get through to Cano that it’s important that he set an example to the rest of the club. McClendon said, “As long as you don’t dog it down the line, what’s the difference between 65 and 85 percent? Just run down the line.” But Cano did dog it. And the 65 percent reference is an example of searching for points on a math test so the student will pass. Cano’s effort was rarely that high on balls in which he knew he was going to be out.

McClendon can state publicly how much he supports Cano and that his hitting and defense are far more important than keeping critics at bay with a transparent sprint to first base once a week. He knows that Cano isn’t going to bust it to first base, nor will he be able to threaten Cano into running hard. If Joe Girardi and Joe Torre couldn’t do it, what chance does McClendon have? His former Yankees managers, Long, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and many other players tried to get it through his head and it never sunk in. McClendon will have the same experience and won’t do anything different. He’ll shrug, accept it and take the bullets for his star player because he has no other choice.




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York Yankees

Odds: 1-2

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

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

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

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

Los Angeles Dodgers

Odds: 2-1

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

That’s the sense I get with the Dodgers.

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

Seattle Mariners

Odds: 6-1

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

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

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

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

Chicago Cubs

Odds: 8-1

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

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

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

Arizona Diamondbacks

Odds: 50-1

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

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




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No Suspense Necessary for the A-Rod Suspension Appeal

CBA, History, Management, Media, PEDs, Players

A decision on Alex Rodriguez’s arbitration hearing to reduce or overturn his suspension is reported to be imminent. There’s no suspense here, however. It’s fait accompli. And he’ll lose.

Do you really and truly believe that MLB is going to undercut itself by reducing Alex Rodriguez’s suspension from 214 games to something less? Anything that will allow him to play this season?

Think again.

In spite of A-Rod’s litany of high-priced, smooth-talking and experienced lawyers, the entire appeal process was a non-starter. Like Captain Kirk standing before the Klingon tribunal trying to convince them of his innocence of the murder of their Chancellor, A-Rod has no chance of winning this appeal; no possible benefit from it other than garnering some sympathy from those who see how unfair it’s been. Forgetting the Trekker fiction, this show trial was only entertained because A-Rod had a right to it and is pursuing every avenue to try and reduce his penalty and get paid for at least a portion of the next season-and-a-half. In reality, it’s like a trial in North Korea. If MLB could put him before a firing squad and purge him from their sight (and the Yankees’ payroll), they would do that. That’s the equivalent of this supposed arbitration hearing meant to give A-Rod his say.

Because A-Rod has become the poster child for the flouting of the flexible and self-serving rules baseball has enacted regarding performance-enhancing drugs, they have to keep using him to validate their new tough stance on the behavior of players who ignore and try to circumvent the testing process.

This is not a defense of A-Rod.

He repeatedly lied and formulated different methods to use the drugs that he clearly doesn’t believe he can perform without. From the lies to the feigned contrition to the Biogenesis revelations to his public displays regarding the suspension and pleas for widespread sympathy to his plight, A-Rod is not worthy of mercy for what he did. But in the context of MLB and its own complicity in PED use, A-Rod should not be punished like this unless Bud Selig and his minions are taken to task as well.

The 214 game suspension is exemplar of MLB’s “get tough” tack to warn the players not to do it again; that their punishments have teeth and there won’t be the wink-and-nod at PED use there was post-1994 to the flashpoint hearing before congress in which Rafael Palmeiro‘s finger-wagging did more to antagonize the public than any anti-social Barry Bonds gesture of self-entitled arrogance ever could. There won’t be the “yeah whatever” suspensions that are so impotent that it’s worth it for an average player to use the drugs to make himself an All-Star and get an All-Star contract even if he gets caught. A-Rod is the key to send that message. It’s not the fact that A-Rod was getting busted again and again that spurred this massive and unprecedented suspension. It’s that he was the sexiest name they could have ever asked for as evidence that they were serious about putting forth the perception of cleaning up the game.

No matter your position on A-Rod and whether or not he’s deserving of what amounts to a death penalty for his career, it’s impossible to claim that this arbitration process is a fair one. It’s being heard by Fredric Horowitz, the hand-picked arbitrator employed by MLB. He is not finding in favor of A-Rod under any circumstances. Horowitz is relatively new on the job after replacing Shyam Das when Das was fired after—to MLB’s shock—finding in favor of Ryan Braun when Braun appealed his failed drug test after the 2011 season.

The other members of the three-person panel are MLB COO Rob Manfred and legal counsel to the MLBPA David Prouty. Prouty will obviously find in favor of A-Rod. Manfred is even more in MLB’s corner than Horowitz and testified for MLB. How can he be viewed as a fair judge?

A-Rod’s histrionics, desk-kicking, hand-slamming, storming out of the hearing and running right into Mike Francesa’s warm studio embrace aside, this is not an evenhanded hearing with an independent judiciary making the decision based on facts. From the beginning, the process was weighted to convict. Talking out of both sides of their mouths regarding legality and fairness, the head of Biogenesis, Anthony Bosch, was paid for his testimony. MLB purports itself to be as reasonable and objective as a court of law simultaneously using tactics that would immediately call the testimony of the star witness into question. They have Manfred testifying against A-Rod in a case in which Manfred will have a substantial say in the decision. If it sounds like North Korea, it may be because these are the methods used in North Korea.

The problem with MLB choosing not to come to a closed-door agreement with A-Rod regarding a suspension that both they and he could live with is that there’s always the potential of a federal lawsuit turning baseball’s heavy-handedness and dictatorial edicts back on itself as happened with collusion and the reserve clause. Both times baseball thought they’d win easily. Both times they lost badly. Both times it cost them an exponentially greater amount of money than if they’d just decided to treat the players as partners rather than a beaten down society of hindrances to furthering their own ends.

MLB has been notoriously clumsy in using its corporate connections and power in high places to its best advantage as the NFL does. What are they going to do when A-Rod—with nothing left to lose and seeing no logic in backing down now—chooses to toss it to the courts for an injunction allowing him to play in 2014 while the case winds its way through the legal process? Wouldn’t it have been easier to shun the attempts to use A-Rod as the conduit to wash away all baseball’s collective sins? To quash it for the good of everyone who looked the other way while the public was oohing and aahing at the record-breaking power numbers and other byproducts of the drug use? Would A-Rod have taken a 100 game suspension just to get it over with? They’ll never know. From the beginning, they were hell-bent on getting the conviction because they hate A-Rod and want to use him as their fulcrum to leverage the rest of baseball to fall in line; as the case study of what can happen if they take the same road he did.

The A-Rod decision is imminent and we know the result. But this case is far from over. And it’s MLB’s own fault if they lose again.




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