Yankees By The Mailbox

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Will the Yankees mail it in or will they put up a fight?

They know first-hand and on the wrong end that being down 3 games to 0 isn’t the end of a series, It’s laughable when a game is called a “must win” even when it’s not an elimination game. It’s in the same logical arena of “giving 110%.” It’s not possible. Of course it would’ve helped the Yankees’ cause to have won last night, but it wasn’t a “must” win.

Tonight is a “must” win, but I’m not sure that the Yankees collective hearts are going to be in it to make the commitment necessary to make this a series, let alone bring it back to Yankee Stadium. Deep down, they can’t think they can come back and win it with their pitching staff decimated, the lineup inert, and Justin Verlander looming for game 7 if, against all logic and reality, they get it that far.

The Yankees are not going to just give the series away and make it obvious that they know their fate, have accepted it, and are waiting for the guillotine to come crashing down, but with a veteran team that’s lucratively compensated and playing poorly, can they reasonably expect to win four straight games and then be ready to face one of two good teams in the World Series and win?

Even in the most predictable Hollywood scenarios it’s hard to envision, and in those scenarios like the one that actually happened against the Red Sox in 2004, there was still some momentum and a feeling of the series not being over. That comes from the players on both sides. The Red Sox of 2004 were not going to quit; they’d never won; hadn’t been together long enough to grow complacent; didn’t have these super-high priced items permeating the roster from top-to-bottom; weren’t old and exhausted; and put forth an effort in the face of defeat.

Can this Yankees team say any of that?

CC Sabathia threw 17 2/3 innings and 241 pitches within 5 days to lead the Yankees past the Orioles in the ALDS. His elbow has barked this season and he’s 32; the Yankees are going to need him in 2013. Is manager Joe Girardi going to push him that far again? Is Sabathia going to be willing to be pushed that far again in a cause that the sane factions of the organization know is ostensibly hopeless?

Nick Swisher (if he plays) is looking at free agency. He won’t receive the$126 million, Jayson Werth dollars he was implying he wanted earlier in the season, but someone will pay him a good chunk of change. Will he be willing to lay out or crash into a wall trying to make a catch when it’s not going to make a difference this season for a team that’s on life support, but might cost him his contract?

Alex Rodriguez is likely planning a nice long vacation to escape it all. The argument could be made that he began his vacation when the regular season ended.

Rafael Soriano is going to opt-out of his contract and command at least a 3-year deal from someone (maybe even the opposition Tigers). Will he agree to pitch 2 innings tonight if needed? And if they win, 2 innings tomorrow? 1 1/3 innings in game 6?  All to face Verlander in game 7? With Phil Hughes experiencing back spasms that forced his removal in the fourth inning, who’s pitching game 7? David Phelps? Are they going to deactivate Hughes and pitch Freddy Garcia? Against Verlander and that Tigers’ lineup?

Robinson Cano plays as if he’s entitled when there’s a viable chance of the Yankees winning a World Series, but what about now? Is he going to hustle tonight? Why would he all of a sudden decide to play hard especially if he and the rest of the team know they’re done and just want to go home?

Yesterday, when the Yankees’ lineup was posted, I was amazed and impressed that Girardi was willing to make such gutsy moves. I certainly wouldn’t have put Eduardo Nunez at shortstop (though I would’ve gotten him in the lineup), but it was a case of Girardi saying he’d seen enough of Swisher and A-Rod and wanted to try something else. That’s what it looked like anyway until GM Brian Cashman started talking.

In what was a masterfully Machiavellian job of inserting himself into the narrative, when Cashman said that the decision to bench these players and make these lineup maneuvers was made jointly between him, the manager, and the coaching staff, he effectively emasculated his manager in front of the world. Was Cashman trying to take the heat off the manager? Was he trying to exert his authority as he always wanted to do under Joe Torre and since the publication of Moneyball stated that the GM should dictate to the manager, not the other way around, to accumulate credit for himself? Was it both?

From 1998-2007, had Cashman walked into Torre’s office and said he wanted to discuss the lineup, trying to force the veteran manager who had become an icon into doing what he was told, Torre would’ve reverted from the calm, cool, conciliatory Papa Joe that everyone saw—that Torre wanted everyone to see in public—to the old-school baseball man that told one of his bosses, Randy Levine, to “shut the {bleep} up,” during a conference call in which the upper management was trying to tell Torre what to do with the players on the field. Torre would’ve either told Cashman he’d think about it; said he’d do it and then not done it; or told Cashman to get the hell out his office.

Cashman should feel the heat more than anyone else in this organization and it’s not a “the buck stops with me,” safety net that a boss says but doesn’t really mean because he knows he’s safe, but a job-on-the-line questioning of why the Yankees don’t have a super-utility player who can actually play defense and hit; or have a viable center field option to remove Curtis Granderson from the lineup; or the other ghastly moves—mostly with pitching—he’s made.

It’s already started.

The wheel of blame is spinning and everyone is trying to protect themselves. Once this is over (and it’s a great bet that it ends tonight), they’ll scurry to their positions, dig into their spot, and wait it out to see who’s going to be held accountable for their failure to live up to the mandate of World Series or bust. No one, including Cashman or Girardi, is safe. The fallout will be in the coming weeks, but for now it’s waiting out the inevitable.

The patient is not dead but like a suffering animal (or human), there’s a time to put it out of its misery; a time that it probably won’t fight and if it does, won’t have the strength to put up an extended amount of resistance. What it comes down to is who’s shouldered with the responsibility for this debacle.

There’s plenty to go around.

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The Yankees Would’ve Been Better With Beltran

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The underlying suggestion from another “Carlos Beltran offers self to Yankees” free agent story is that he was about to sign the contract with the Cardinals and had his agent contact the Yankees to see if they’d be willing to do the same contract.

In 2004 it was slightly different in several ways. His agent then was Scott Boras; now it’s Dan Lozano. The offer to the Yankees back then was for less money and fewer years than the Mets offer; this time he asked for the same deal. And back then, he was a star center fielder in his prime; this time he’s a very good right fielder turning age 35 in April whose health is still in question.

Did it come at the last second and did the Yankees turn it down without seriously considering it? Was there a backchannel communication to the Yankees saying, “keep Beltran in mind because he wants to be a Yankee”? Or did the Yankees know he was interested and wait to see what the price was before turning it down?

If George Steinbrenner were still around, a player like Beltran who clearly wants to be a Yankees would have been a Yankee. But now they’re monitoring their payroll to such a degree that amid all the ridicule aimed at the team across town, the Yankees have actually done less to address their needs this winter than the Mets have.

Rather than sign a free agent or go all out via trade to acquire one of the available starting pitchers, the Yankees re-did CC Sabathia’s contract to keep him and re-signed Freddy Garcia; they also exercised the option on the player that Beltran would’ve replaced, Nick Swisher; and today, they re-signed veteran Andruw Jones.

Apart from that, nothing.

Did they think about Beltran and weigh the pros and cons?

If they chose to replace Swisher with Beltran, they’d be getting a better player; both are switch-hitters, but Beltran is more consistent from both sides of the plate and a far bigger power threat batting lefty than Swisher; Beltran’s a proven post-season performer while Swisher’s been an abject failure; Beltran would be more expensive ($26 million for 2-years) than Swisher, who’s only going to cost $10.25 million in 2012.

Beltran’s knee problems are not to be discounted—he could wind up back on the disabled list at a moment’s notice—but apart from a hand injury, he stayed healthy in 2011. Beltran played in 142 games and adjusted well in a position switch to right field. 22 homers playing his home games in the notorious pitchers parks of Citi Field and AT&T Park bode well for a renaissance as a 30-35 homer power threat in Yankee Stadium.

Swisher has trade value because teams appreciate his on-base skills, pop and gregarious personality along with that 1-year deal; Beltran wouldn’t have cost a draft pick to sign because of a clever provision slipped into his Mets contract by then-agent Boras that his club couldn’t offer him arbitration.

Could the Yankees have signed Beltran and traded Swisher for an arm like Jason Hammel? Jonathan Sanchez? Jair Jurrjens?

Would they be better than they are now?

I’m not an advocate of standing completely pat in any circumstance and especially when the team overachieved based on luck with two veterans Garcia and Bartolo Colon, then got bounced in the first round of the playoffs; but that’s what the Yankees are doing.

With the improving Blue Jays, the Red Sox and Rays still in their division, plus the flashy signings made by the Rangers and Angels, the playoffs are not a guarantee for the Yankees anymore and this current roster is aging and thin in several key spots.

Trading Swisher for a starter and signing Beltran would’ve made the team better.

Did they consider it seriously? Or did they ignore the player who obviously wanted to be a Yankee to the point where he essentially groveled for the chance?

Twice!

The Yankees made a mistake with Beltran in 2004 and they may have just made the same mistake in 2011 at a cheaper price.

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