Reality is a Bigger, Hairier Monster For the Yankees and It Bites

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

In keeping with yesterday’s autopsy theme I began yesterday, the dissection and search for the proximate cause of the demise for the 2012 Yankees is still underway. The problem is that, unlike the old Jack Klugman show Quincy, there’s not a rapid resolution and those preforming the examination are inept (Joel Sherman); partisan and delusional (Mike Francesa); and inexplicably allowed to escape from their cages and take to the internets—specifically Twitter—to put on their preschool-crafted “GM hat” made of day old newspaper.

Regardless of editorials and revisionist history, that newspaper still says the same thing for the ALCS: Tigers defeat Yankees 4 games to 0.

Quincy used to find a bullet to solve the case. In this case, Francesa might find what he thinks is a bullet when it is in reality a chunk of McDonald’s cheeseburger from 1983. Amid all of this is the reality that no one is addressing the crux of the problems that led to the Yankees’ disintegration and all are living in a world in which the Yankees are champions on an annual basis with endless amounts of money and the myth of professionalism, dignity, and class so effectively pushed by the likes of Sherman and the YES Network whether true or not.

What it comes down to is this: Are the Yankees going to maintain the road they’ve been on for the past decade and try to spend their way out of trouble or will they learn from what’s happened to them and other clubs that have done the same things and failed miserably? Judging from the statements coming from the Yankees as to their course of action, they’re not going to do much of anything different.

And that’s not good.

Let’s take a look:

  • Players wanted to join the Yankees because they won and accorded said players a chance to win a title

The Yankees were able to get the best free agents and acquire players via trade because of several reasons that no longer apply. The Yankees have outspent the rest of baseball by a wide margin over the past decade and have one World Series title to show for it. In fact, they’ve only been in the World Series twice in the past decade. Players aren’t signing with the Yankees to go to the World Series anymore; they’re signing for a chance to go to the World Series and this now is an evident possibility in about 10-12 locations every year. If a player doesn’t want the scrutiny or daily pressure of expectations that come with joining the Yankees, they’re free to go to multiple other places.

  • The Yankees pay more money than anyone else and can trade prospects for disgruntled players who want to get paid

As the club is trying to get the total payroll down to $189 million by 2014, can they blow a similarly wealthy club like the Angels out of the water in pursuit of a Zack Greinke?

The Yankees’ contract situations in 2014 aren’t as debilitating as is portrayed. They’re going to have to deal with Derek Jeter (he has a player option for $8 million in 2014 that, due to incentives, will probably be higher but still declined by the player); Alex Rodriguez is owed $25 million; they’re going to sign Robinson Cano to a contract that will probably average around $22-25 million annually; CC Sabathia is due $23 million; Mark Teixeira will receive $22.5 million. Performances and the ravages of age aside, they can afford to bring in younger “name” players to try and hand over the mantle from Mariano Rivera, Jeter, and the others to a new breed.

The Yankees used to raid low-revenue/poor-market clubs for players. Now those teams are signing their foundation players to long-term, team friendly contracts. The Pirates with Andrew McCutchen are an example. There were Yankees dreamers and apologists in the media like Sweeny Murti saying the Yankees are going to get Bryce Harper as soon as he hits free agency. That’s not going to happen.

Even Justin Upton, who is available and signed to a long-term contract, took the precaution when he signed the below-market long-term agreement to get it in writing that he can block trades to teams like the Yankees specifically so he won’t go to a team that has the money to pay him, but wants to get a cheap star-level talent.

These high-end players are not available to only a few teams that can pay them anymore and, in many cases, they’re not available at all.

With the conscious choice to get the payroll down to $189 million, the financial chasm between the Yankees, the Red Sox, Dodgers, Angels, Phillies, Cubs and others is no longer as vast. Players won’t be going to the Yankees because of a higher offer if they can take a bit less and be in a place they prefer. Cliff Lee proved that.

As for the trades, what prospects do the Yankees have left that anyone wants? They dumped Jesus Montero for nothing; Manny Banuelos is out with Tommy John surgery; Dellin Betances had to be demoted from Triple A to Double A and was horrific in 2012; and David Phelps, Phil Hughes, and Ivan Nova are the types of pitchers that most clubs have and will trade for, but won’t give up anything other than a lateral-type talent.

  • The arrogance of ignorance—or vice versa

On his show yesterday, Francesa state authoritatively and matter-of-factly that Andy Pettitte will be back; that they’ll re-sign Ichiro Suzuki; and that Hiroki Kuroda will agree to a 1-year contract. He’s also consistently implied that Michael Pineda will be an important part of the starting rotation.

Neither I, you, Francesa, the Yankees, Pettitte, or anyone else knows whether the pitcher is coming back. No one expected him to retire after 2010, so to think that because he came back to pitch this season he’s going to do so again is speculation based on nothing. And don’t discount Pettitte’s own feelings on this matter. For all his down home country Southern politeness and Texas gunslinger attitude, along with the reverence to God and the New York Yankees (the 3 years in Houston with the Astros carefully edited from the narrative), he’s been far more calculating, cognizant and manipulative of circumstances than is commonly mentioned. If he looks at the way the team lost, the cumulative age, the injuries sustained by Rivera, Jeter, and Pettitte himself, and thinks the Yankees downslide is imminent, does he want to tarnish his legacy, return to a team that ends up as the Red Sox did, and possibly injure himself if he’s vacillating on the commitment necessary to pitch effectively at 41-years-old? He could decide it’s not worth it.

Who even wants Ichiro back? Has anyone looked at his decline and age? He played well for the Yankees in spurts, but he’s not going to want to be a backup player. GM Brian Cashman made the (somewhat disturbing on several levels) statement that he wants “Big Hairy Monsters” to hit the ball out of the park. Ichiro’s no big hairy monster, he’s a little flitting hobbit. Ichiro for two months as an extra player? Okay. Ichiro as a yearlong solution playing everyday? No.

I have a feeling that Kuroda’s going to turn around and go back to the Dodgers for a multi-year deal—the location he didn’t want to leave. Kuroda preferred the West Coast, but there were no landing spots for him. He joined the Yankees because they were a good bet for him to win a stack of games and re-bolster his free agent bona fides for 2013 and he did that and more. He’s going to accept a 1-year deal? After throwing 219 innings, with a 5.2 WAR; being a gutty, consistent, and mean presence on the mound; and behaving like a true professional who would’ve fit in perfectly with the Joe Torre Yankees of the late 1990s, why would he short-change himself to stay in a locale he didn’t really want to join in the first place?

And Pineda? He was pressured and tormented for his lack of velocity in spring training; he got hurt and had labrum surgery; and had been acquired for two of the Yankees’ top prospects. The return to effectiveness from labrum surgery is not guaranteed and judging by the Yankees failure to effectively develop pitchers, what makes anyone think they’re going to get 160 quality innings from Pineda? He’s a giant question mark that they cannot count on to: A) be healthy; B) pitch well and adjust to New York and being a Yankee.

  • A no-win situation and management question marks

Say what you want about Nick Swisher, but he played hard for the Yankees; he played hurt; he embraced the city and its fans and was rewarded with abuse because of his post-season struggles. Swisher made a mistake in complaining publicly about it, but if other players look at Swisher and his contributions to the Yankees over the years, why would they want to subject themselves to that if they have a choice of possibly going to a more relaxed atmosphere that, bluntly, probably has a brighter future than the Yankees such as the West Coast, Chicago, St. Louis, Baltimore, Arizona, or even the Mets?

This same fanbase that was weeping over the injury to Jeter and stupidly calling it a “funeral” and comparing it to a wounded warrior being taken off the battlefield were the people that booed him and referred to him as “Captain Double Play” in 2011.

Do players want to willingly sign up for that?

In that vein of player whispers, manager Joe Girardi’s treatment of A-Rod, Swisher, and others is not going to go unnoticed. If Cashman heavily influenced Girardi to bench A-Rod, the players are going to think Girardi’s weak and not in charge; if Girardi did it himself, they’re going to think he’ll abandon them during a slump after performing for him during the regular season.

Girardi’s contract is up after 2013 and a player might not sign to play for Girardi in particular, but they certainly didn’t sign to play for a different manager—many of the Red Sox will tell you how that turns out after the Bobby Valentine disaster.

How Cashman is not under fire is a mystery to me. If you look at his drafts and player development which have been, at best, poor; his pitching acquisitions and missteps; his failure to put together a quality bench; and his off-field embarrassments that permeated the organization, why is he never examined in an objective way to determine whether his negatives outweigh whatever positives he provides?

In short, the playing field has changed, but the Yankees’ blueprint is stagnant. It’s the same with less money to spend. How is it possible to maintain their annual playoff contention under these constraints of their own making and due to the changing landscape?

It’s not. But you wouldn’t be able to determine that through the biology class going on with the likes of Francesa, Sherman, and Twitter dismembering a frog like the oblivious amateurs that they are and believing they’re explaining to the masses while they’re indulging in the identical fantasy that has led to the unbridled panic that ensues when the Yankees don’t win the World Series. In case you hadn’t noticed, they’ve fulfilled that mandate once in the past twelve years. With the money they’ve spent, the demands on the baseball people, and the air of superiority they exhibit—by any metric—that can only be called a failure.

//

Advertisements

The Cheap Shots Against Mike Francesa Are Unnecessary

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Football, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, NFL, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

WFAN in New York announced yesterday that, starting in November, the longtime AM station on 660 here in New York will be simulcast on 101.9 FM—NY Times Story. How much longer they’re going to be broadcasting with their signature name on the station, Mike Francesa, is unknown, but if the cheap shots perpetrated by media “watchers,” columnists, callers, and critics continue, it wouldn’t be a shock for the 58-year-old Francesa to give it a few more years and walk away for an easier, less time-consuming job. If he chose to relax his schedule, one of the multitudes of NFL shows on CBS, Fox, NFL Network, or many others would certainly have him. Presumably, CBS would be pleased to have Francesa discussing golf and NCAA basketball along with football.

With young children at home, the question for Francesa will change from, “What will I do if I don’t have this outlet 5-6 days a week to talk sports,” to, “Do I need this aggravation and to put in all these hours if I have to deal with 24/7 ridicule for minuscule missteps?”

If you’d like to attack Francesa for his pomposity, egomania, occasional laziness, dismissal of those who disagree with him, and overbearing demeanor, then fine. Go nuts. But in another piece in today’s NY Times, when discussing Tigers’ pitcher Al Alburquerque’s strange decision to kiss the baseball before throwing Athletics’ outfielder Yoenis Cespedes out on a comebacker in game 2 of the ALDS, the author mentions Francesa’s confusion as to what a caller was talking about when he referenced Alburquerque a year ago during the Tigers-Yankees ALDS series.

Why?

Did it fit into the narrative or was it just tossed in there in case someone did a search on the Times website for “Mike Francesa”?

Yesterday another caller cryptically and in an unfunny fashion alluded to Francesa’s famous falling asleep episode from last month while WFAN Yankees beat reporter Sweeny Murti was on. Francesa made the mistake of first denying it happened, and now when it’s broached, he goes into a long diatribe about his 20+ year career in broadcasting, the awards he’s won, etc. If I were advising him, I’d tell him to make a joke about it. It happened. I didn’t see it as a big deal then and it’s not a big deal now. It’s a bigger story if he or anyone manages to stay awake during a Sweeny Murti appearance.

Say what you want about Francesa, but he worked hard to get where he is. No one handed it to him and, at his age, it’s not easy to sit in a studio alone 6 days a week and talk sports for 5+ hours a day. Also, he has to read commercials, do appearances, and the other aspects of being a sports personality that take time and energy to do and that listeners aren’t aware of or think takes much effort.

During the summer, Francesa is often criticized for the amount of vacation time he takes. As stated before, he has young children. The days of working, working, working have to stop sometime. Part of it is his fault for not taking on a partner to replace Chris Russo. The show would probably be better and he’d have someone to pick up the slack, but that’s his choice. What those who seem determined to drive him off the air have to ask themselves is what they’ll be listening to if Francesa chooses to end this losing battle and go do something that isn’t as taxing. If you’ve listened to what WFAN puts on in his stead over those summer months when he’s off, you realize that the alternatives are not only weak, but they’re boring, skittish, obnoxious, and unlistenable unless you prefer them to the choices of Sean Hannity, bad top-40, dated rock, or shutting the radio off entirely.

Keep pushing Francesa out the door and you’ll learn that not only is his afternoon spot going to be difficult to fill literally, but figuratively as well.

//

Denial Doesn’t Solve The Yankees’ Problems

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Football, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

I’m no fan of Chris Russo as a broadcaster, sports analyst, or human being, but his absence as a partner and counterweight (figuratively—there’s no way he could do it literally) to Mike Francesa is sorely missed during the Yankees September swoon. If you listen to Francesa and his guests, this run of poor play is little more than a blip with multitudes of excuses and Fight Club-style group therapy sessions to assuage the small warning light in the backs of their collective heads telling them, “Yes, the Yankees might actually blow this.”

Is it a “blip”? The Yankees were 60-39 on July 27th; since then, they’ve gone 19-23. That’s a quarter of the season. That’s no small sample to be dismissed. Objectively, they’ve had one good month this whole season in June when they went 20-7; aside from that, it’s been this. There’s a disturbing amount of delusional denial within the media of what’s happening with this team.

This from Ken Davidoff in the New York Post today:

You can’t call this your classic collapse. The Yankees are winning too often, playing too well, to draw comparisons to any of the all-time tank jobs.

Really? Is that the barometer? Because they’re not comparable to the 1964 Phillies; the 2007 Mets; the 2011 Red Sox and Braves, then it’s not as bad as it seems? It’s a ridiculous argument that isn’t worth examining the current Yankees circumstances and peeling the layers of other collapses. They’re playing too well? Where? Art Howe used to get roasted in the same pages in which Davidoff writes because he explained away the Mets losses with, “We battled.” Are the Yankees battling? I suppose they are. But they’re also losing those battles.

This overriding theme is the classic excuse of, “It’s not their fault.” But whose fault is it? The umpires? Other teams for not blindly accepting the Yankees’ superiority and letting them win? You can’t look down on other franchises and openly promote historic greatness and then complain when the formula doesn’t hold true. It doesn’t work this way with the Yankees. They don’t want to hear excuses from other franchises as they look down smugly from their self-created perch, so they shouldn’t be indulging in such weak excuses themselves. The Red Sox, Blue Jays, Twins or any of the other clubs on their supposed powderpuff schedule is going to have sympathy, want to hear about how the playoffs aren’t the same without the Yankees or other similar bits of absurdity.

There appears to be a coping structure in place among those whose embarrassment will rival that of the Yankees organization if the team does somehow manage to stumble out of the playoffs; that they’re more concerned with the ridicule they’re going to have to endure rather than honestly analyze why this is happening. Much like the entire YES Network, the media contingent whose lifeblood hinges on the success of the Yankees, and the fanbase, there’s a tacit decision to ignore this reality as if it’s going to go away; as if the schedule will save them.

Every Francesa guest has been offering validation to his underlying pleas to tell him and the listeners/watchers that everything’s going to be okay with little basis for the assertion other than the schedule. From Peter Gammons to Sweeny Murti to Mark Feinsand to anyone and everyone, they’re clinging to what the Yankees were and thinking that it’s still what they are. It’s the furthest thing from the truth. He sounds like one of his callers. If he had Russo—or anyone willing to stand up to him—it wouldn’t pass without protest.

The Yankees’ margin of error that is usually in place in September has been wiped out since they blew that 10 game lead and there are not one, but two teams ahead of them in the American League standings. They’re tied for first place in the division, and three teams are right on their heels. Mistakes or strategic missteps are magnified when the margin for error disappears. Manager Joe Girardi’s strategic moves are under greater scrutiny because they matter. In July, when they were rolling toward the playoffs, one small bullpen call that didn’t work wasn’t an issue because it was a tiny pebble in the river of that lead. Now there’s no river. It’s a disappearing puddle. This is how you wind up with Girardi physically looking like Billy Martin after a 5-day bender and losing his composure at the provocation of the instigator Joel Sherman. Girardi has handled himself as well as can be expected and been a professional. That’s not going to fly with the masses. They want someone or something to blame.

Francesa’s new template is to desperately look at the upcoming schedule and, in an identically ignorant fashion to his annual picking of the Twins in the AL Central since “I awways pick da Twins,” is picking and choosing wins and losses. This isn’t football where there are factors such as quarterbacking, special teams, matchups, and home field advantages that will make a difference.

The Red Sox won last night because the Yankees didn’t capitalize on Jon Lester’s wildness. David Robertson’s luck in getting himself into and out of trouble didn’t work its magic. The idea that the Yankees were going to stroll into Boston and sweep the Red Sox—no matter how poorly the Red Sox were playing—is ignoring how much hatred the key performers in last night’s game, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury, have implanted in their psyches from battles between the franchises over the past decade. That permeates to the clubhouse. The players can feel the buzz in the ballpark and it’s going to spur them to play harder. Manager Bobby Valentine, knowing his time as Red Sox manager is dwindling to these final three weeks, also despises the Yankees from his time as Mets’ manager and would love to put an addendum on what is likely his final ballroom dance as a big league manager with “helped knock the Yankees from the playoffs” instead of having “Red Sox disaster” standing alone as his managerial epitaph.

Semantics and the cuddly positive reinforcement that the heroes from years gone by like Andy Pettitte will tear off his shirt and go into a Superman act to save the day aren’t solutions. They’re dreams. The first step to dealing with a problem is admitting it, but that’s something no one invested in the Yankees is willing to do.

//

Anatomy Of A Yankees Swoon

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

The Yankees, their fans, and the media that covers them on a daily basis are all wallowing in denial, excuses, self-pity, delusion, and desperation. The team itself still has time to save its season, but they’re well on the way to joining the Red Sox and Mets in the lore of historic and embarrassing collapses that, for the Yankees with their payroll and superiority complex, will surpass those of teams past.

Let’s take a look at what’s going on with the Yankees and the likelihood of steering out of this spiral.

Injuries and lack of depth

This is the batting order they presented last night against the Rays:

1. Derek Jeter-SS

2. Curtis Granderson-CF

3. Nick Swisher-1B

4. Robinson Cano-DH

5. Alex Rodriguez-3B

6. Raul Ibanez-LF

7. Jayson Nix-2B

8. Chris Dickerson-RF

9. Chris Stewart-C

And pitching, Freddy Garcia.

This is the starting lineup for one of the latter days of spring training, not for a pennant race in September against a younger, faster, healthier Rays team in direct pursuit. On the heels of journeyman Steve Pearce batting cleanup, Eric Chavez having to play almost every day after A-Rod got hurt, Ibanez playing too much, Swisher having to play first base in place of Mark Teixeira, and using Garcia and David Phelps in the starting rotation, is it any wonder the 10 game lead has been extinguished?

No one wants to hear about injuries. No one wants to hear whining about the umpires or a “woe is me” lament. No one cares about the Yankees problems. They’re scouring the bargain bin for the likes of Pearce and Casey McGehee and expecting to move along smoothly without a hitch. A 4-A player doesn’t stop being a 4-A player just because he puts on a Yankee uniform.

Non-issues become problems when the team’s losing

Cano’s repeated incidents of nonchalance weren’t an issue when the team was winning, so it can’t be referenced as one when they’re losing. The Yankees let Cano’s jogging around go because there wasn’t much they could do about it and it was okay with a 10 game lead. Now that the lead is gone, it’s not okay? It doesn’t work that way. Jeter runs out every ground ball, why can’t Cano?

In a similar vein, manager Joe Girardi wasn’t scrutinized heavily for his occasionally strange strategic decisions when the team was star-studded and rolling unstoppably toward another division title with an eye on the World Series. Once the decisions actually make a difference not just in a game, but in the standings and the team is in danger of falling out of the playoffs completely, there’s ludicrous speculation about his job security if they complete this collapse.

Girardi, like most of the other 2012 Yankees, has never been in this pressurized situation during the season. In 2008, it was known by September 1st that, barring a miraculous comeback, they weren’t making the playoffs. In 2009, they won 103 games. In 2010, the biggest decision they had was whether or not to try and win the division or accept the Wild Card. In 2011, they coasted late in the season and played a lineup similar to the one they’re currently playing and allowed the Rays to sweep them and overtake the Red Sox (something I don’t hold against them).

Now they have to play and they have to win. When Girardi was in a pressurized situation of the post-season in 2009 and his maneuvers were important, he was found wanting. He made odd and panicky pitching changes and ill-thought-out lineup and in-game moves. That Yankees team happened to be talented enough to overcome Girardi’s overmanaging and win the title.

I don’t blame Girardi for this stumble, but it’s now that he has to maintain control of the ship and not grip the handles too tightly, but his volcanic eruption last night that resulted in an ejection and his snippy replies to questions in post-game press conferences indicate a growing tightness that will permeate the team.

Personnel gaffes

The Yankees and GM Brian Cashman have made it clear that they no longer intend to purchase every star on the market to have at least 2 players who could be or have been All-Stars at each position. They want to get under the luxury tax when the draconian measures to restrain salaries come into effect and it shows on the field. They didn’t pursue Cliff Lee when the Phillies were listening to offers on him; they didn’t make a substantial package available at mid-season to get Justin Upton; they weren’t avidly chasing any of the available players who might’ve been able to help them drastically. Instead, they traded for Ichiro Suzuki and got him for nothing. Ichiro can still catch the ball in the outfield and steal a base, but he’s hitting identically with the Yankees as he did with the Mariners: lots of singles and no on-base skills with an average hovering around .270.

These in-season acquisitions come after consecutive winters in which they wasted money (Pedro Feliciano); signed fill-in veterans and scrapheap denizens (Russell Martin, Ibanez, Andruw Jones, Chavez); and gave away assets (Jesus Montero) for literally nothing (Michael Pineda and the “key” Jose Campos).

This is not to suggest Montero would be a significant contributor to the Yankees in a Yankees uniform—he’s been okay learning on the job behind and at the plate with the Mariners—but he was something other teams coveted; they could’ve traded him for a known commodity rather than going the cheap and “controllable” route with Pineda.

Hiroki Kuroda was a great signing.

The Yankees vaunted young pitching that they developed with it in mind that they wouldn’t spend tons of cash on other teams’ abused arms? That’s not working either. Phil Hughes is an okay big league pitcher, but he’s a 3rd or 4th starter that you can find on the market. Joba Chamberlain is a bottom-line disappointment. Ian Kennedy wasn’t good for the Yankees; they received Granderson for him making it a win. Dellin Betances, Manny Banuelos, Campos, Pineda—where’s the next Andy Pettitte? A Yankees’ pitcher they brought through their system and turned into a top-flight starter?

Seeking solace

Teams, fanbases and media members who’ve experienced a collapse have all done the same things. They look at the schedule; they lean on one another looking for positive reassurance; they repeat the mantra of “Everything’s gonna be alright” with the unsaid, “Isn’t it?” as an addendum.

Mike Francesa had Yankees beat reporters Sweeny Murti and Mark Feinsand on as guests and it was something of a sycophantic think-tank in which the schedule was seen as the Yankees friend and the three discussed not what the consequences would be if the Yankees missed the playoffs or that increasingly real possibility, but how many games they would recover and win the division by.

Michael Kay sounds so disconsolate that he can barely stomach a third piece of chicken parmesan.

Fans are clutching each other as if they’re in a prayer circle looking towards the heavens wondering why the Baseball Gods that have smiled so consistently on the Yankees hath forsaken them.

It’s not a conspiracy. They’re just not very good.

Meteorology

It wasn’t a stand-alone instance that the Mets and Red Sox collapsed in 2007 and 2011. There was a perfect storm that assisted greatly in the fall from the playoffs. The Mets kept losing to the Phillies and blew their lead, but would’ve made the playoffs if not for the Rockies ridiculous hot streak in September that launched them from also-ran to the World Series.

The Red Sox had a blazing hot Rays team chasing them and the Yankees who didn’t play their regulars in the last series against the Rays.

Now the Yankees, even with the extra Wild Card available, are in an American League with 8 teams for 5 playoff spots. If they fall from first place, there’s a good chance that falling from playoff position will come immediately after.

Studying the schedule is meant to be a calming device, but it’s not. Referencing games against the Blue Jays, Red Sox, and Twins is a stretch as well. Mets and Red Sox fans can tell Yankees fans all about the futility of studying the schedules during a swoon such as this. The 2007 Mets consistently lost to the horrific Nationals; the 2011 Red Sox were undone by the then-terrible Orioles; the Yankees lost 2 of 3 to the Blue Jays just last week and the Red Sox would see vengeance and a salvaging of their dismal season by taking part in the Yankees downfall.

The Yankees can’t count on other teams helping them to get them into the playoffs. They have to win a few games themselves—something they’re not doing and with this lineup, may not be capable of doing.

Clinging to the past; reaching back for the stars

This Yankees team finds itself chained to a past that’s not going to return. Still reliant on Jeter to be the star; waiting for Pettitte to return and save the day; blaming their stumble, ridiculously, on the loss of Mariano Rivera—they haven’t replaced them and are finding out how truly hard it is to do so with hardened veterans who’ve been through the battles and come out on top.

Rafael Soriano has been at least as good as Rivera would’ve been during the season, so the absence of Rivera is not a viable reason for the way they’ve played. The idea that Soriano’s shift to the closer’s role hindered the set-up area is ignoring how thoroughly unreliable Soriano was as a set-up man.

While Jeter has had a renaissance in 2012, that can’t last forever. What are they going to do then?

What are they going to do when Pettitte is retired and stays retired? If Rivera can’t be as effective as he was prior to his knee injury or can’t come back at all?

They don’t have ready replacements as was the intent when they “developed” their young players and the players they have now are feeling the heat they never expected to feel to make the playoffs when they joined the Yankees.

Sign free agents? They’ve openly said the vault isn’t as open as it once was and they’re on the hook for a ton of money for A-Rod, Teixeira and CC Sabathia for the foreseeable future. Make trades? Does anyone want those prospects who’ve leaped backwards and been hurt this season?

There is no endless dynasty. The Yankees of the 1960s came undone because they failed to adapt to the draft and their stars got old all at once. The same things that happened to other teams that collapsed like the Mets and Red Sox are present with this Yankees team and they’re not so easy to gloss over when the team doesn’t win. In fact, they become more stark; they become the foundation for a slide that takes years to recover from.

I happens to everyone. And whether the Yankees recover from this in time to make it to the playoffs and even win while there, that’s not going to stop the inevitable reality. This is a sign of the beginning of the end and it will be pointed to as such when things really come apart, sooner or later.

Right now it looks like sooner.

//

Jose Campos As The Invisible Key

Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors

Oh, did you wind up here looking for a Jose Campos injury update?

Sorry.

I don’t have one.

From what I can gather, no one else does either.

The elbow inflammation that shelved him and wasn’t supposed to be serious or long-term has kept Campos from pitching for over two months and, at this point with the minor league season over on September 3rd, he’s probably done for the year.

Of course that’s only speculation on my part because that’s all we have with the silence exhibited by the Yankees on the matter.

It’s not just the Yankees that have been mute on Campos, but the YES Network never even acknowledged that he was hurt. You’ll get nothing from their in-house blog River Avenue Blues and forget the NY Post’s Joel Sherman, Ken Davidoff; WFAN’s Sweeny Murti or anyone else who might as well have the interlocking NY tattooed on their forehead as a means of identification as to their true loyalties.

The transformation is amazing. First Campos was the lifeline—the key as it were—to defending a disastrous trade that sent their top hitting prospect Jesus Montero and a pitcher they developed Hector Noesi to the Mariners for Michael Pineda and Campos.

Pineda was meant to be the cost-controlled, high-end starting pitcher to fill out the Yankees’ big league rotation and Campos was the young stud at age 19 who the scouts loved and would eventually develop into a top-tier starting pitcher for the club.

Pineda’s out for the year. And Campos?

Um…oh….well….gee….ignore him and he’ll go away until they can use him? Is that the strategy?

So quick to reference his abilities and that the trade wasn’t about Pineda as a single entity, Campos was trotted out again and again to defend the shoddy record of GM Brian Cashman in judging pitchers.

It was Campos, Campos, Campos.

Then he got hurt adding to the embarrassment of the Pineda injury and that they gave away a bat that they were about to trade to get Cliff Lee two years ago and if they had him now could trade as part of a deal for any number of players who are or might be available from Cole Hamels to Justin Upton.

Now they have nothing.

Campos is persona non grata and they won’t even acknowledge his existence as long as he’s unable to pitch. The media hasn’t updated nor have they apparently bothered asking what the story is with Campos; when he’s going to return; what the doctor’s recommendations were.

Nothing.

Not to worry. If and when he’s healthy again, the Yankees will put him on their notably successful pitching program of innings limits, pitch counts and “protective services” that are more akin to extortion than implementations in the interests of the individual. He’ll be on the same carefully crafted plan that led to the ruination of Joba Chamberlain as a starter; have stagnated the development of Phil Hughes; led to the horrific control problems and demotion from Triple A to Double A for Dellin Betances; and the injury to Manny Banuelos.

Ian Kennedy turned into a good pitcher…in Arizona.

Then again, why should they need the update on Campos? He was the key at their convenience and when he got hurt, he turned into the invisible man.

//

It’s Not 1998 And The Yankees Are Not 46-10

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

Did  the Yankees start the season 46-10 and I missed it?

I must’ve because the tone of the Yankee-centric media and fanbase implies that they’re still in the midst of a dynasty that ended 12 years ago.

Or maybe I didn’t miss anything. Maybe there’s such an overtone of arrogance that surrounds the Yankees’ organization in general and extends to everyone within some semblance of its orbit that they think they’re the world champions even when they’re not the world champions.

It never ends. If you watch the YES Network, listen to Mike Francesa or Michael Kay and have any ability to sift through the propaganda and see reality, you’ve sensed it too.

Here’s reality: the Yankees are not 46-10. They’re a mediocre 31-25 with an aging starting lineup, a shaky bullpen and a starting rotation that has found itself dependent on a returning hero who had retired after the 2010 season. This idea that the Mets are going to enter Yankee Stadium starstruck and spend the entire 3 game series at Yankee Stadium gazing longingly at the pinstripes and wishing that they were plying their trade across town rather than in Queens feeds into the monster that has created this lie.

During his team report on WFAN, Sweeny Murti was talking to Francesa about Nationals’ rookie sensation Bryce Harper. He related a story from spring training when the Yankees were playing the Nats and Harper was watching the Yankees take batting practice with an intensity that bordered on hypnotized. Apparently one of Harper’s favorite players is Mickey Mantle, which makes perfect sense for a 19-year-old to idolize someone who hadn’t played since 1969 and has been dead since 1995. That same someone who is the poster child for misplaced idolatry engaged in by the likes of Francesa in spite of being the epitome of a once-in-a-lifetime talent who threw much of that talent away with drinking and carousing.

Suffice it to say I would not want Harper to emulate Mantle.

Harper was so engrossed and googly eyed at the sight of the Yankees (according to Murti) that Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo went over to Harper, pulled him aside and (again, according to Murti) said something to the tune of, “Look, we know you’re gonna be with the Yankees when you become a free agent, but for now you’re a Nat. Watch them from the dugout.”

Really?

Is that what happened?

Is this hyperbole on the part of Murti or did Rizzo actually say that to his prize prospect?

Either way, it’s ridiculous. The days of the Yankees getting every free agent they want ended with the new collective bargaining agreement and the conscious decision not to spend so much money on players of other teams. That the players themselves might have a say in the matter is irrelevant to the blind Yankees supporters, but Cliff Lee decidedly said no to the Yankees and signed with the Phillies because he preferred a team other than the Yankees.

It does happen.

Trust me when I tell you that if Harper is everything he’s hyped to be, the Nationals are not going to let him smell free agency and will lock him up long-term. In fact, they might try to do it in the next year or two to make sure they have him until he’s at least 30.

It’s this type of thinking that led to the appellation of the word “tragedy” on Mariano Rivera’s season-ending knee injury.

Tragedy?

Anyone who thinks it’s a tragedy should consider themselves lucky that they’ve never experienced such an actual tragedy that a baseball player’s injury is judged as such.

YES’s website still doesn’t have any information on the injuries to Manny Banuelos or Jose Campos. They never mentioned Brian Cashman’s off-field issues with his stalker and are loathe to discuss the nightmarish trade that netted them Michael Pineda and Campos.

YES is no more of a “sports news” network than a paid televangelist channel or something Kevin Trudeau would come up with. It’s not designed to disseminate sports information in a bipartisan way. It’s there to promote the Yankees. Any “reporter” who works for the network in any fashion knows that and tailors their work accordingly. They’re not reporters, they’re PR people wearing a press pass.

General support for the team a network focuses on is completely understandable—even expected. But with the Yankees, it’s turned into a general sycophancy that requires this fantasy of superiority even where one doesn’t exist.

The Yankees mandate is World Series or bust. That has extended to the spoiled rotten fanbase that throws a self-indulgent tantrum when things don’t go the way they’re “supposed” to go. It’s systemic and disturbing. With that mandate, it’s indelibly connected to their success or failure and by that metric, they’ve only been successful in one season since 2000. How can that be called success? And how can it be called success when the team has made the playoffs every single year but one and gotten bounced each time except in 2009? How can that be called success when they spend $200 million a season on payroll while most teams spend half of that and less? Shouldn’t their financial might beget more than one title in 11 years?

The adjustment of the expectations are stark. Before, when they were winning every year, it was because they’re the Yankees. Now that they’re more likely to lose in the playoffs than win, the concept of the playoffs is at fault and—as Moneyball stated as an excuse for Billy Beane’s clubs losing every year—it’s a crapshoot.

If you want to see a crapshoot, check out the draft.

Yankees’ apologists have said such ludicrous idiocies as “the Yankees do most of their draft damage in the 20th round and beyond”.

Damage?

What damage?

Any player taken past the 10th round who makes it is a product of late blooming, an alteration in their game or pure luck. But because in 1990 they drafted a skinny infielder named Jorge Posada in the 24th round and a lanky lefty named Andy Pettitte in the 20th round, it was Yankees’ foresight and mystique.

If it’s damage, it’s retrospective damage on what they became, otherwise known as serendipity.

I hate to break it to you, but two picks in the 20th and 24th rounds doesn’t imply design. Since it happened 22 years ago, it doesn’t have any connection to the Yankees draft in 2012 nor their drafts from 1991-2011.

What you have is a clinging to the myth of the Yankees being superior to other organizations based on history, but that history has nothing to do with now. They’re a contender with holes. They have the money and prospects to fill those holes, but as of right now they’ll have to fight their way into the playoffs.

Alex Rodriguez is aging and has to cheat (not in the PED sense) to be able to catch up to a good power fastball—sometimes he does, most of the time he doesn’t. They’re reliant on Pettitte, grasping for a way to patch together their bullpen with the absences of Rivera, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and navigate mangaer Joe Girardi’s still odd and questionable pitching decisions.

In short, this isn’t 1998. The Yankees are not dominating anyone and there’s no reason for an opposing team to walk in and stare at their array of stars as if they’re beaten before the games start. They’re 31-25. That’s their record. That’s what they are. Those are facts. You can accept them or you can tune into YES and WFAN.

It all depends on your concept of truth.

The dynasty is over whether you like it or not; whether you believe it or not. And no amount of denial is going to bring it back.

//

The Yankees’ Grand Delusion

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

In today’s NY Times there’s a piece by Benjamin Hoffman discussing the luck of the Mets in achieving their 28-23 record in spite of a -24 run differential and how the Yankees 27-23 record is about right based on their +15 run differential.

Run differential is usually a ridiculous and out-of-context stat from the start and it’s worse in this case. The Mets’ pitching has had games in which they’ve allowed 18 runs; 14 runs twice; 11 and 10 runs. They’ve scored in double-digits once.

The Yankees haven’t allowed double-digits at all and have had three games that they’ve scored a total of 36 runs.

It’s misleading and used as the foundation for the customary argument that the superiorly reinforced Yankees will eventually start dominating baseball and waltz into the playoffs as an odds-on favorite while the Mets will fade out to their customary mediocrity and continue their rebuild.

What will happen with the Mets remains to be seen, but the Yankees—just like the silly stat of run differential—aren’t exactly what they seem to be when examined as a monolith from 1995 until now. The Yankees’ apologists in the media and deluded fans, under the mistaken belief that because they’ve made the playoffs in 16 of the past 17 years, think that it automatically anoints them that spot. But those teams were different from this one. Mariano Rivera is gone. Alex Rodriguez is a shell of what he was. The starting pitching that once had the veterans David Wells, David Cone, Orlando Hernandez, Mike Mussina and Roger Clemens now has one pitcher who could be mentioned in that group, CC Sabathia, and a series of question marks behind him.

It’s not the same.

Sweeny Murti of WFAN appeared on Kim Jones’s radio show recently and put forth the egomaniacal premise that since the Yankees have won an average of 97 games a season since he’s been covering the team that he expects them to do it again.

What one thing has to do with the other was never addressed.

Mike Francesa pompously and condescendingly (in many ways sounding like the spoiled fans he ridicules) comes up with inane arguments to support the shoddy foundation that since they’ve “always” been there, they’ll be there again. They’ll buy what they need at the trading deadline and off they’ll go.

Listening to this fanciful nonsense a non-baseball fan might think that the Yankees simply win the championship every year as a matter of course and if they don’t there was a glitch or fluke somewhere that prevented it.

They’ve won one championship since 2000. They’re not the dynasty they were in the late-1990s.

Whom are they trading for and what do they have to get these available star players? The Yankees’ main chip, Jesus Montero, was given away to the Mariners along with a useful arm in Hector Noesi to acquire two pitchers—Michael Pineda and Jose Campos—who are both on the disabled list. Of their other “untouchable crown jewels” in the system, Manny Banuelos, is also on the disabled list with a sore elbow and Dellin Betances has walked 46 in 52 innings. They’re not even willing to take on long-term money to get the players they want as they did with Bobby Abreu a few years ago. So what are they doing at the deadline other than making the same types of deals they’ve made in recent years when they got pending free agents Kerry Wood and Lance Berkman?

There’s an aura of “If we keep repeating it, it’ll come true.” The Yankees have the “great” players, but they’re not so great anymore. Salary aside, it’s unfair to hold a soon-to-be 37-year-old A-Rod to a standard of the A-Rod of 2007. It’s lunacy to think that Andy Pettitte is going to be the anchor he was in his prime and that Derek Jeter will keep up his frenetically blazing start to the season.

All of these players are at an age where they should be receding into the background to make way for the new blood; where they should be occasional contributors who can rediscover their greatness in spurts. Yet they’re still keys to the Yankees’ season because the replacements—apart from Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson—haven’t taken the handoff of responsibility.

The competition is hungrier, faster, smarter and has greater organizational depth. The Yankees are contending with the Rays, Angels and Rangers. There are the teams that have struggled amid higher hopes, the Red Sox and Tigers; the Blue Jays are young, talented and have money to spend; the Indians are playing well; the Orioles and White Sox have been surprises.

There’s not an open pass into the post-season anymore and gazing longingly at records and rosters of years gone by while inserting oneself into the narrative as if there’s an unseen connection between the two is a self-important fantasy that’s doomed to failure.

//

The Geek Chorus and Disappearance of Jose Campos

All Star Game, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

As the final out of David Robertson’s first save chance in replacing Mariano Rivera was recorded, YES play-by-play man Michael Kay delivered a familiarly preplanned and predictably terrible speech. He did the same thing when Derek Jeter recorded his 3000th hit.

Kay injected such words as “crucible” and referred to the save as “A.M.” for After Mariano.

For some reason, he thinks these postscripts are good.

They’re not.

As religious as Rivera is, the biblical undertones would probably be quite offensive and he’d bristle at his deification by others.

Robertson got the save, but it wasn’t easy and he’s not going to slide neatly into the role as is foolishly and ignorantly believed.

On another important note, Jose Campos has apparently disappeared.

Mike Francesa (amid his redundant entreaties for the Mets to give Terry Collins a contract extension, apparently unaware or uninterested that Collins’s 2013 contract option was exercised last September and another extension is unneeded) had WFAN Yankees’ beat reporter Sweeny Murti on the show and they were discussing the Yankees’ pitching problems. Along with the news of when Andy Pettitte is scheduled to start (Sunday) and other matters, they utilized a pretzel-twist defense of GM Brian Cashman and the presently nightmarish and possibly long-term disastrous trade of Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi to the Mariners for Michael Pineda (out for a year with labrum surgery) and Campos (on the minor league disabled list with elbow inflammation).

Basically the line was, “We’ll have to wait a few years to truly be able to judge the trade.”

Would it be a similar circumstance if Pineda was 5-0 for the Yankees and Campos was blowing hitters away as he did in his first few starts before he got hurt?

Campos was the lifeline, constantly mentioned as the most important and shockingly available piece to the trade…until the injury. Now the storyline is that with young pitchers, it’s a crapshoot.

You’d like a baseball team to be run like a business?

Okay. Let’s run it like a business.

Say you have a company and the person running the day-to-day operations of said company has made a multitude of mistakes in one imperative department—a department that is widely believed to be the key to success.

Then that person was romantically involved with an someone who was, at best, mentally unstable and he chose to use his office to write a reference for that person on company stationery, essentially giving company approval to a dangerous individual.

Then a deal is made that turns out to be bad practically and financially in the short-term and has the potential to degenerate to catastrophic proportions in the long-term.

What would be done to that person?

They’d be forced out.

Yet Brian Cashman is still defended with such silliness as this article in today’s NY Times about the pitching issues the Yankees have had and comparisons to the far more successful Tampa Bay Rays’ method of building pitchers, keeping them healthy and productive.

Here’s the relevant quote from the piece:

“I know they have a lot younger guys, but Pineda’s young and he just went down,” Cashman said. “I know the innings here are more stressful than the innings there, no doubt about that. Throwing 100 pitches in New York versus 100 pitches in Tampa are two different stresses. The stress level’s radically different on each pitch.”

Cashman neglects to add why the Yankees’ young pitchers have been so stressed. The Rays don’t go start-to-start for a rotation spot with one bad game cause for a demotion—and they have the depth to do it if they chose to.

The Rays don’t cause a media frenzy when a pitcher isn’t throwing 99-mph fastballs as expected on March 5th as the Yankees did with Pineda.

The Rays don’t have a cookie-cutter program for their pitchers that they cling to in the face of repeated mistakes. They see what works and when it doesn’t, they try something else.

And the Rays treat their pitchers with an personal concern for the mental aspect of the game that the Yankees clearly don’t.

Currently the only thing preventing that trade from being called the aforementioned catastrophe is that Campos’s diagnosis (so far) is elbow inflammation and Noesi and Montero are still finding their way in the big leagues. If Campos is seriously hurt and Noesi and Montero get past the nascent phase of their careers and start to come of age, then what? Are we going to get another series of caveats that “you never know with pitchers”? Or are we going to hear that Montero and Noesi didn’t have the “makeup” for New York?

No one wants to hear about the “process” anymore. The Yankees are not “process” driven. For an organization that views any season that doesn’t end in a championship as an overt failure, there’s no room for “well, we’ll see” with pitchers like Pineda who was going to be a key component for this year’s championship run. No one wants to hear about a 19-year-old kid, Campos, when the Yankees have faltered in developing every hotshot young starter that’s been touted as the next big superstar over the past fifteen years.

It’s enough with the parsing.

The arrogance is stifling and tiresome. There’s a perception that even when the Yankees lose, they still win. Cliff Lee beat the Yankees with the Rangers in 2010? Okay, we’ll just sign him and he’ll be with us. But he didn’t want to sign with the Yankees. Maybe it wasn’t because he didn’t appreciate the privilege of being part of the rich tapestry of history inherent with the world’s most recognizable franchise; it might be because he didn’t appreciate his wife being spit on and cursed at during the ALCS; or maybe he just preferred the Phillies and the National League.

He doesn’t have to give a reason.

But it still comes back to controlling the story; to twisting reality to fit a narrative as Kay does with his insipid soliloquies.

And it goes back to searching the YES Network website for news about the injury to Campos and coming up with absolutely nothing as if the pitcher doesn’t exist.

Go on. Search it. Click here and see what comes up when conducting a websearch on the site of the YANKEES owned broadcasting arm by typing “Jose Campos”.

Nothing.

In their world, he’s whitewashed. That’s at least until they can use him to validate their continued delusions. Then we won’t stop hearing about him. Until then, he’s a ghost.

Such is life under an out-of-touch dictatorship whose glossy façade is coming apart piece-by-piece.

//