Tanaka and the Yankees’ true enemy is the ambiguity

MLB

If Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow had blown out completely when he first started experiencing pain in 2014, he would have had Tommy John surgery and possibly been back pitching at the big league level for a New York Yankees’ potential playoff run in August.

That didn’t happen. In retrospect, it’s unfortunate.

While some might take the diagnosis of a tear in the elbow ligament that was less than 10 percent as good news, in the end, it’s not. The real enemy the Yankees and Tanaka are facing isn’t the procedure and its layoff and rehab, but the ambiguity. When Tanaka was first diagnosed and up until this latest stint on the disabled list, there was endless debate – most of it coming from armchair experts on pitching and medicine – that he should just have the surgery and get it over and done with. The Yankees were right in deciding that they will listen to what the doctors say and let him rehab the injury in the hopes that he can avoid surgery and pitch just as durably and effectively like nothing was wrong. He made two starts at the end of the 2014 season with mixed results. He altered his mechanics and pitching repertoire in spring training 2015 to try and take the strain off of his elbow leading to reasonable speculation that he’s overcompensating and is still hurt. That groundswell grew when he was bad in his first start, mediocre in his second. It quieted as, for the subsequent two starts, he reverted to the dominant force he was for the first half of 2014 when he’d emerged as a sensation.

Now, in a mid-game announcement, general manager Brian Cashman stated that Tanaka was heading back to the DL with wrist tendinitis and a forearm strain. The MRI did not show more damage to his elbow ligament. More mishmashed good and bad news. More waiting. More armchair expertise. Some, like Pedro Martinez, who pronounced before the season that Tanaka’s elbow was eventually going to blow, sounded almost gleeful at being “right” even if he’s not…yet.

This isn’t a small factor in what the Yankees and Tanaka have to deal with. No one wants to hear about an impending heart attack that might never come. But there are still questions hovering around and they won’t go away until Tanaka has a sustained run of health and success.

Will this be ongoing until the elbow finally blows? Did Tanaka’s strategic changes to protect the elbow place a strain on other parts of his arm? Can the Yankees count on him to be the Cy Young Award-contending ace they paid for?

No one knows. Not the doctors, the baseball operations people, the manager, the coaches, or even Tanaka himself. Pedro Martinez certainly doesn’t know. That reality aside, this is hindering the Yankees in a far more significant fashion than would the finality of needing the procedure.

Cashman can’t hide his exasperation as he repeatedly states that the club is following the prescribed treatment plan from doctors whose job it is to make the determination as to whether surgery is necessary or not. They had several opinions from respected voices in the industry and all said he doesn’t need to have the procedure yet. So he’s not having it. They pitched him normally while monitoring him and he’s hurt again with an injury that is, in part, different to what he had before. The elbow strain is said to be very mild. Cashman admitted that it’s possible that it’s a precursor to needing Tommy John. What else is he supposed to say? What else are they supposed to do?

“Just in case” surgery is not advisable. Having Tommy John surgery now when the injury is reportedly something else entirely is tantamount to treating a torn biceps as if it were a broken arm. They’re in limbo. And it’s not good.

There’s a sigh of relief that accompanies finality. There’s no finality with Tanaka and it’s not good for him or the Yankees. The short-term pain of tearing off the Band-Aid yields a definable result. The same goes for Tanaka had he needed the surgery in the summer of 2014 and had it done. Instead, it’s more waiting, worrying and gazing into the abyss of the unknown without an end in sight.

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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.

Matt Harvey’s Elbow Injury Fallout

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No matter what happens with his elbow, Matt Harvey of the Mets is still going home to this:

Anne_V

I’m not using that image of Anne V. in an attempt to accumulate gratuitous web hits, but as an example of Harvey being perfectly fine whether he has to have Tommy John surgery or not. The reactions ranged from the ludicrous to the suicidal and I’m not quite sure why. There’s being a fan and treating an athlete as if he or she is part of your family and cares about you as much as you care about them.

Let’s have a look at the truth.

For Matt Harvey

The severity of the tear of his ulnar collateral ligament is still unknown because the area was swollen and the doctors couldn’t get the clearest possible image. Whether or not he can return without surgery will be determined in the coming months. It’s possible. If you run a check on every single pitcher in professional baseball, you can probably find a legitimate reason to tell him to shut it down. Some are more severe than others. Harvey’s probably been pitching with an increasing level of damage for years. The pain was  manageable and didn’t influence his stuff, so he and his teams didn’t worry about it. This surgery is relatively common now and the vast number of pitchers return from it better than ever. The timetable given is generally a full year, but pitchers are now coming back far sooner.

“That’s so Mets”

This injury is being treated as if it’s something that could only happen to the Mets. The implication is that their “bad luck” is infesting everything they touch. But look around baseball. How about “that’s so Nats?” Both Jordan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg required Tommy John surgery in spite of the Nationals’ protective measures and overt paranoia.

How about “that’s so Red Sox?” Clay Buchholz has spent much of two of the past three seasons on and off the disabled list with several injuries—many of which were completely misdiagnosed.

How about “that’s so Yankees?” Joba Chamberlain and Manny Banuelos had Tommy John surgery; Michael Pineda has had numerous arm injuries since his acquisition.

How about “that’s so Braves?” Tim Hudson, Kris Medlen, Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters (twice), Brandon Beachy and Alex Wood have all had Tommy John surgery. The Braves are considered one of the best organizational developers of talent in baseball.

Dave Duncan warrants Hall of Fame induction for his work as a pitching coach and had Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter undergo Tommy John surgery. You can go to every single organization in baseball and find examples like this.

The Mets kept an eye on Harvey, protected him and he still got hurt. That’s what throwing a baseball at 100 mph and sliders and other breaking pitches at 90+ mph will do. It’s not a natural motion and it damages one’s body.

The Twitter experts

Some said the Mets should not only have shut Harvey down earlier, but they also should have shut down Jonathon Niese, Jenrry Mejia, Zack Wheeler and Jeremy Hefner. Who was going to pitch? PR man Jay Horowitz? Others stated that they were planning to undertake research into the pitching mechanics technique of “inverted W” (which Harvey didn’t use). I’m sure the Mets are waiting for a layman’s evaluations and will study them thoroughly.

Of course, many blamed the Mets’ manager Terry Collins and pitching coach Dan Warthen. That was based on an agenda, pure and simple. Some have been pushing for the Mets to bring back former pitching coach Rick Peterson. They’re ignoring the fact that Peterson is now the pitching coordinator for the Orioles and their top pitching prospect, Dylan Bundy, had Tommy John surgery himself. Is that Dan Warthen’s fault too?

To have the arrogance to believe that some guy on Twitter with a theory is going to have greater, more in-depth knowledge than professional trainers, baseball people and medical doctors goes beyond the scope of lunacy into delusion of self-proclaimed deity-like proportions.

Bob Ojeda

With their station SNY, the Mets have gone too far in the opposite direction from their New York Yankees counterpart the YES Network in trying to be evenhanded and aboveboard. Former Mets pitcher Bob Ojeda should not have free rein to rip the organization up and down  as to what they’re doing wrong. This is especially true since Ojeda has harbored a grudge after former GM Omar Minaya passed Ojeda over for the pitching coach job and openly said he didn’t feel that Ojeda was qualified for the position.

Now Ojeda is using the Harvey injury as a forum to bash the Mets’ manager and pitching coach and claim that he had prescient visions of Harvey getting hurt because he was throwing too many sliders. I don’t watch the pre and post-game shows, so it’s quite possible that Ojeda said that he felt Harvey was throwing too many sliders, but if he didn’t and kept this information to himself, he’s showing an insane amount of audacity to claim that he “predicted” it.

He needs to tone it down or be removed from the broadcast.

Player injuries can happen anywhere

The winter after his dramatic, pennant-clinching home run for the Yankees, Aaron Boone tore his knee playing basketball. This led to the Yankees trading for Alex Rodriguez and Boone not getting paid via the terms of his contract because he got hurt partaking in an activity he was technically not supposed to be partaking in. Boone could’ve lied about it and said he hit a pothole while jogging. The Yankees wouldn’t have known about it and he would’ve gotten paid. He didn’t. He’s a rarity.

On their off-hours, players do things they’re technically not supposed to be doing.

Jeff Kent broke his hand riding his motorcycle, then lied about it saying he slipped washing his truck. Ron Gant crashed his dirtbike into a tree. Other players have claimed that they injured themselves in “freak accidents” that were more likely results of doing things in which they wouldn’t get paid if they got hurt. Bryce Harper, shortly after his recall to the big leagues, was videotaped playing softball in a Washington D.C. park. Anything could have happened to injure him and he wouldn’t have been able to lie about it. Boone told the truth, but no one knows exactly when these injuries occur and what the players were doing to cause them.

With Harvey, we don’t know how many pitches he threw in college; how many softball games he played in; how many times as a youth he showed off his arm to the point of potential damage. This could have been coming from the time he was twelve years old. In fact, it probably was and there’s nothing anyone could have done to prevent it.

The vagaries of the future

The Mets were counting on Harvey for 2014. They have enough pitching in their system that it was likely they were going to trade some of it for a bat. If they wanted Giancarlo Stanton, Carlos Gonzalez or any other young, power bat they were going to have to give up Wheeler and/or Noah Syndergaard to start with. Without Harvey, they’re probably going to have to keep their young pitchers. That could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Or it could be a curse if either of those pitchers suffer the same fate as Harvey or don’t pan out as expected.

If Harvey can’t pitch, it’s a big loss. That’s 33 starts, 210 innings and, if he’s anywhere close to what he was this season, a Cy Young Award candidate and potential $200 million pitcher. But they can take steps to replace him. They can counteract his innings with other pitchers and try to make up for a lack of pitching by boosting the offense. In short, they can follow the Marine training that GM Sandy Alderson received by adapting and overcoming.

Harvey is a big part of the Mets future, but to treat this as anything more than an athlete getting injured is silly. It happened. There’s no one to blame and when he’s ready to pitch, he’s ready to pitch. Life will go on.




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Did the Mets Go McKayla Maroney on Brian Wilson?

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When watching Brian Wilson throw for him in a private workout, did Mets GM Sandy Alderson have the now famous look of “not impressed” on his face as McKayla Maroney did during the Olympics? Or is the assessment of “not impressed” an extrapolation from the New York Post without it actually having been said?

The title of the story written by Mike Puma and scattered across the internet has the two keywords “not impressed,” but when actually reading it, the tone was far more muted and less incendiary to the ego of an athlete—especially one like Wilson who likes the spotlight.

What the story says about Wilson is the following:

“Physically, he’s not ready,” the source said. “He’s got a ways to go.”

That, along with the stated possibility that the Mets will revisit Wilson in spring training if he’s still available doesn’t add up to “not impressed.” It adds up to what the “baseball source” says and should be taken at face value. (Bear in mind that it’s the Post and this source might be a Citi Field custodian who overheard a conversation between Mr. Met and a hot dog vendor.)

If the Mets don’t deem Wilson ready enough to offer a Major League contract, that’s a fair analysis. Wilson is recovering from Tommy John surgery and while certain pitchers are able to return within a year, others take a longer time. Wilson had the surgery in late April of 2012. Expecting every pitcher to be ready to go within 12 months is stretching it. If and when he’s signed, June/July would be a more reasonable expectation for him to be able to contribute meaningfully. If that’s the case, he might be better-served to go to a contending club.

For a team like the Mets, they would have to give him a guaranteed deal for 2014 to get him. It’s up to the Mets to determine the value of a contract for 2014 because it wouldn’t make sense to either Wilson or the still-rebuilding Mets to sign for a few months and end the relationship.

The phrase “not impressed” is simple enough to garner attention and provide a clear-cut analysis of how the Mets felt about Wilson’s workout whether it’s true or not. The problem is it might not have been said or even implied. Perhaps the statement of him not being ready is what it is instead of a conveniently simplistic summary. But that’s not what the masses want. They want their candy now! And the odds are that the majority either read the headline and moved on without taking the full context into account or didn’t read the article at all.

Unless Alderson had McKayla’s look on his face while watching Wilson, “not impressed” probably wasn’t the proper term to use or believe when seeking insight. The intent of that type of word choice is to deliver immediate gratification via webhits and conversation-starting, and that’s what it did.

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Giants’ World Series Win Freed Them To Dump Wilson

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The Giants’ decision to non-tender former closer Brian Wilson comes as no surprise given his season-ending Tommy John surgery and that the Giants won the World Series without him. Because he would have made $6.8 million next season, even without the World Series win and Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla functioning as the replacement closers in Wilson’s absence, it’s likely the Giants would have let him go regardless of team results. But Wilson’s performance in the Giants first World Series win two years ago, popularity with the fans from his outlandish personality, and his status as a clubhouse leader might have created a groundswell for the team to bring him back at a reduced salary—something they’ve indicated no intention to do.

Would the Giants be so willing to let Wilson leave without a perfunctory offer had the season not ended as successfully as it did? Would they let him leave if they hadn’t found a suitable replacement in Romo, a backup in Casilla, a deep bullpen and a manager Bruce Bochy who is capable of operating without the security blanket of the built-in excuse of “X is my closer” to explain away what, in the earlier innings, would be seen as a strategic gaffe if he used the wrong pitcher at the wrong time against the wrong hitter?

The cold-blooded and right move is, of course, to non-tender Wilson, but the right move isn’t a byproduct of running a baseball team as a business as if it was Apple or IBM. Clubs who have tried different strategies with their late-inning relievers have been affected by reactions from fans, media, and players. The Red Sox cost themselves dearly in the 2003 season with their ill-fated attempt to use the prototypical “right” pitcher for the situation regardless of the inning. The intentions were noble and made sense, but the pitchers they used weren’t any good and the situation snowballed as the closer-by-committee was judged to have been the root of all Red Sox ills that year.

Utilizing semantics, they explained away the decision to rectify the mistake of 2003 by signing Keith Foulke for 2004 and downplaying the 2003 strategy, extolling the virtues of an established closer if he was able to get both lefties and righties out and was cost-effective. They received one healthy season from Foulke in spite of paying him nearly $21 million for three years and since they won their first World Series in 86 years, I’m sure they’ll say it was worth every single penny to pay him that amount of money for a single year of good work. They also eliminated the ambiguity and embarrassment from the previous year in looking unprepared, arrogant, and bottom line stupid for going with the closer-by-committee in the manner they did in the first place.

Wilson will be signed by another team and will get a chance to close. He recovered from Tommy John surgery before, is a good bet to do so again and return to the pitcher and person who was so imperative to the Giants during his career. The Giants’ success gave them freedom to do what’s right for them in the moment. There’s nothing to sell because the fans are rightfully starstruck by the two glossy trophies the Giants have collected in the last three years. The first in 2010 was a direct result of having Wilson as their closer; the other in 2012 wasn’t. The second is letting them make the sound financial maneuver when, without it, they might have encountered greater resistance to letting Wilson leave as they’re clearly going to do.

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

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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.

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Leo Mazzone’s Criticism of the Nationals’ Handling of Stephen Strasburg Invites a Strong and Selective Reaction

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Leo Mazzone’s reputation as a pitching coach guru was bolstered by having three Hall of Famers and a pretty good background cast of characters with the Braves and was subsequently ruined by going to the Orioles and functioning without much talent. Like most coaches (and managers for that matter), it’s more about the talent than it is about any set of principles implemented by the coach or organization.

When Mazzone had Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and John Smoltz, he looked smart. He had Rodrigo Lopez and Kris Benson with the Orioles and therefore, didn’t look as smart.

That said, it can’t be ignored that Erik Bedard had his two best and healthiest seasons working under Mazzone; that relatively pedestrian pitchers Denny Neagle, Kerry Ligtenberg, Greg McMichael, Mike Remlinger, and John Thomson blossomed with him as their pitching coach and did nothing notable anywhere else; that Kevin Millwood and Steve Avery developed under Mazzone; that Russ Ortiz, John Burkett, Jaret Wright and Mike Hampton all experienced a renaissance under him; or that the Braves came undone after Mazzone left.

Was it talent? Was it Hall of Famers? Was it technique? Was it Bobby Cox? Was it that the Braves in those years were super good and could’ve shuttled anyone out there and had them look better than they were?

Or was it a combination of everything?

Or is it something that can’t be defined as “this is why”?

Mazzone hasn’t gotten a pitching coach job since he was fired by the Orioles which leads me to believe that his reputation as someone who doesn’t adhere to organizational edicts—a version of going along to get along that’s been in place forever—is preventing him from being hired. Or perhaps it’s something else.

I don’t know and nor do you. This is why it’s silly to take Mazzone’s quotes about the Nationals’ parameters and much-discussed decision to limit Stephen Strasburg as the ranting of a has-been baseball dinosaur by referencing Steve Avery as “proof” (as Craig Calcaterra does here on Hardball Talk) that Mazzone’s way is one of the past and his opinions carry zero weight.

With the proliferation of self-proclaimed experts, stat sites, and insertion of viewpoints available at the click of a button, it’s hard to know which end is up. Everyone’s knows better than the previous person whether that person is an experienced baseball man or not. Dave Righetti and the Giants’ methods involving their young pitchers functioning similarly to the Braves of the 1990s drew old-school respect as Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum flourished. But Lincecum wasn’t working under the Giants’ program and was essentially left on his own. So where does the credit lie? Is it Lincecum’s dad? Is it the Giants for their willingness to let Lincecum pitch without limits? And who gets the blame for his poor season and decreased velocity? Does Righetti get the accolades for Cain and Madison Bumgarner? How does it work?

The Yankees can provide reams of printouts and cutting-edge medical recommendations for their treatment of their young pitchers, but all are either hurt (Jose Campos, Manny Banuelos); inconsistent or worse (Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain); stagnant (Dellin Betances); or have the fault shifted elsewhere for the Yankees’ shoddy assessments (Michael Pineda).

Did Avery get hurt because of the Braves’ overusing him or would he have gotten hurt anyway? Avery was another pitcher who learned his mechanics from his dad and was left to his own devices. It was only after he got hurt that those mechanics were deemed as the culprit. And now, years after the fact, Mazzone’s getting the blame.

Would he have gotten hurt anyway? Judging from the way pitchers are constantly injured—clean mechanics or not—it’s a pretty safe bet that he would’ve.

Will Strasburg get hurt? He was babied from college onward and still needed Tommy John surgery.

Some pitchers are overused at a young age and get injured; others stay healthy. Why doesn’t Calcaterra reference Maddux, who as a 22-year-old was handled by another old-school manager Don Zimmer and pitching coach, Dick Pole, and allowed to throw as many as 167 pitches in a game in 1988? Maddux credited Pole for teaching him proper mechanics and Pole has bounced from team-to-team because he—guess what?—asserts himself and doesn’t go with the organizational flow.

Jim Bouton wrote about this phenomenon in Ball Four when discussing why Johnny Sain hopped from club-to-club and never lasted very long in any one place. Ego and control are far more important to an organization than getting it right and iconoclasts don’t last unless they have massive success.

Mazzone’s not wrong here. In truth, nor are the Nats. There is no “right” or “wrong”. I disagree with the way they’ve implemented their plan because there were methods to keeping Strasburg’s innings down without going to the controversial extreme of shutting him down when they’re going to need him most in the playoffs (the 6-man rotation for example), but the smug condescension and retrospective denigration of Mazzone’s work is pure second guessing and random outsider expertise to prove an unprovable theory with the selective references to match.

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8:25 AM–MLB Deadline Day

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Let’s take a brief look at the trades that have been completed up to now, at 8:25 AM EST.

White Sox acquire Francisco Liriano from the Twins

It’s increasingly looking as if Twins’ “interim” GM Terry Ryan probably should’ve stayed retired. Getting Eduardo Escobar and Pedro Hernandez for a lefty arm in Liriano—even one who’s a pending free agent—is a nonexistent return on a potential difference-maker down the stretch. And why trade him 3 days before the deadline? Why not wait? The only situation in which to jump at a trade that early is when there’s an offer on the table not to be refused. This was a deal that the Twins should’ve refused, or at least waited to see if anything else came up.

Blue Jays trade OF Travis Snider to the Pirates for RHP Brad Lincoln

Snider was a 1st round draft pick of then-Blue Jays’ GM J.P. Ricciardi in 2006 and is the prototypical lefty masher with pop that the supposedly stat-savvy once coveted. He’s gotten chances to play with the Blue Jays and shown flashes of being a 15-20 homer man, but has also endured horrific slumps. Snider’s more of a Matt Stairs-type than an everyday player.

Lincoln was also a 1st round pick in 2006 who failed as a starter—amid blame being doled on former Pirates’ pitching coach Joe Kerrigan for changing his mechanics—and has found a home in the bullpen. Perhaps the Blue Jays are going to try him as a starter; perhaps the Pirates will give Snider a legitimate chance to play.

Neither is a kid anymore with Lincoln 27 and Snider 24. Both could use a change.

Cubs trade LHP Paul Maholm and OF Reed Johnson to the Braves for RHP Arodys Vizcaino and RHP Jaye Chapman

Vizcaino is recovering from Tommy John surgery, but had a 100-mph fastball before he got hurt. Chapman is 25 and stagnating at Triple A. He strikes out a batter-per-inning. Johnson is a speedy and useful extra outfielder who can play all three positions.

I’ve always liked Maholm and felt it was a drastic mistake for the Pirates to turn down his contract option when they could’ve held onto him and used/traded him. Maholm is not a rental for the Braves as he has a contract option for 2013 at $6.5 million. That said, this trade is in line with the Braves looking for an “impact” starter such as Zack Greinke, but also placing the likes of Jason Vargas in the category of “impact”. Vargas is not that and nor is Maholm, although Maholm is better than Vargas. It’s a useful and not earth-shattering pickup.

If it were a team president/GM combo in Chicago that was the target of ridicule by the self-proclaimed “experts” in the media and clever purveyors of snark, does anyone doubt that the joke would be made that the Cubs are under the mistaken impression that the combination of an Arodys and a Chapman means they’re getting a 200-mph fastball in some weird Frankenstein mixing and matching of human parts?

Cubs trade C Geovany Soto to the Rangers for RHP Jacob Brigham

Brigham’s numbers in Double A haven’t been impressive over the past two seasons, but Cubs’ boss Theo Epstein is cleaning house and accumulating arms. Soto was a burgeoning star once, but injuries and apparent apathy from playing with a team spiraling so far, so fast appears to have affected him negatively. The change to a contender with a very friendly home part for hitters is a good move for him.

In a corresponding move, the Rangers designated Yorvit Torrealba for assignment. Is there anyone, anywhere who doubts Torrealba’s going to wind up with the Mets?

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Strasburg Ambiguity Mars The Nationals’ Magical Season

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How can anyone involved with the Nationals justify looking into Stephen Strasburg’s face and telling him that while the team is on its way to the playoffs and is a legitimate World Series contender that because of a random number of innings and the edicts of one person’s dictatorial, unchecked authority, he can’t be a part of it?

The number (supposedly 160 innings or thereabouts), so random and capricious with no ironclad guarantee that it’s going to help him stay healthy over the long-term, predicates that Strasburg should resist and use his power over the situation to escape it.

There are so many compelling stories with the Nationals that the looming shutdown of Strasburg is marring all they’ve accomplished and it’s coming down to the self-proclaimed final word, GM Mike Rizzo. Given the number of GMs who’ve been celebrated in recent years and either found themselves fired (Omar Minaya); on the hotseat (Jack Zduriencik, Dan O’Dowd); or seen their reputations shattered (Billy Beane), Rizzo might not even be there in 2015. Manager Davey Johnson and pitching coach Steve McCatty are going along to get along, but Johnson’s style in his prior stops and the atmosphere in which he spent his formative baseball years—the Earl Weaver Orioles of Jim Palmer throwing 300+ innings—do you really think Johnson, at age 69, wants to hold back on the once-in-a-lifetime arm of Strasburg when he might be writing his ticket to the Hall of Fame with another World Series win? A win that could hinge on Strasburg being allowed to pitch? Do you believe that McCatty, who saw his own career demolished by Billy Martin’s and Art Fowler’s abuse, doesn’t understand the limits of a pitcher and when he needs to have the brakes put on? It’s inexplicable to hire qualified people to do their jobs and not let them do them; to have experienced baseball people whose in-the-trenches understanding of the game are dismissed in the interests of self-protection and “I’m not gonna be the one that’s blamed if he gets hurt.”

That’s what Rizzo is doing. It’s got nothing to do with studies or protecting the player; Rizzo is protecting himself. No one else.

The implementation of pitcher workloads has become a circular defense and is a logical fallacy. Because Jordan Zimmerman underwent the same Tommy John surgery as Strasburg and was limited to 160 innings last season, it’s presented as validation for Strasburg’s final number of 160 or so innings. But they’re two different pitchers with two different levels of talent and two different thresholds along with dozens of other variables that aren’t being publicly accounted for in the interests of a short and sweet, salable list of “reasons” to place Strasburg on the sidelines as the kid who has to take his piano lessons while the other kids in the neighborhood out enjoying the sun and playing ball.

No one’s saying to abuse him as the Cubs, chasing a dream and trying to slay ghosts, did to Kerry Wood in 1998. But to just say STOP!!! and be done with it is a different form of abuse.

Strasburg doesn’t want to have his season ended prematurely, but if the Nats get to the playoffs or World Series, he’s not going to be a participant; or if he is, it will be after a month of barely pitching. It’s ludicrous and could also hinder his career rather than save it. Strasburg has to have some recourse. Saying all the right things and being a willing accomplice are separate. If I were Strasburg and his representatives, I’d push back. Agent Scott Boras, no stranger to hardball as a former player and negotiator, knows the terrain of arm-twisting organizations in the interests of his clients. Strasburg and Boras have a large share of the say-so in this situation. The point of power is to use it. If it’s put out publicly that Strasburg won’t sign any long-term deal with the Nationals if they continue to put their constraints on his career, what’s going to happen? Strasburg could refuse to report to the club next season and force his way out of Washington; he could be a test case because the Nats are not operating in his best interests. The blowback of Strasburg tearing at his chains legally and in a public relations blitz would be fierce and Rizzo wouldn’t have a choice but to back down.

The number of great players in sports who have been part of teams that made it to the pinnacle of team achievement or came thisclose but didn’t close the deal are legion. Ernie Banks, Don Mattingly and the new Hall of Famer Ron Santo are three of dozens of examples who would’ve traded years of their careers for a title shot.

Exacerbating this travesty is that the Nationals—or simply Rizzo and Rizzo alone—didn’t take steps such as the 6-man rotation to specifically prevent the need to end Strasburg’s season in September.

It’s easy to suggest that what the Nats have built will be sustainable and they’ll have multiple opportunities to make it back again and again; that with Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and the young pitching staff, they’ll be contenders for years to come. Facts and history say otherwise. It’s not true that they’re absolutely going to have chance after chance. Ask Dan Marino if he’s stunned by never having made it back to the Super Bowl after his sophomore season in which he demolished the NFL record books and carried the Dolphins to the NFL’s ultimate game. Then ask him if he’d have sat by quietly if the coaches and front office decided that he’s thrown too many passes after 13 games and they were sitting him down to lengthen his career. You can say it’s not the same thing, but it actually is the same thing. Strasburg is a baseball player; he’s a pitcher. Sometimes, regardless of how they’re handled and babied, they get injured as happened with Strasburg two years ago. Nothing is to be gained by sitting him down with numbers that have no basis in reality. Yet that’s what the Nats are doing and it’s not about protecting anyone other than the GM of the team, which makes it exponentially worse.

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Has Ruben Amaro Jr. Met Jim Thome?

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Ruben Amaro Jr. says some of the most ridiculous things in explaining his bizarre decisions.

The quote clipped from this posting on MLB Trade Rumors about the Phillies looking to trade Jim Thome follows:

The ideal situation right now, because he can’t really play defense in the National League, would be for Jim to play in the American League,” Amaro said. “He still has the ability to win a game for us and be productive off the bench. The problem is, the further away he gets from regular at-bats, the more difficult it becomes for him to do that.”

Has Amaro met Thome? Is he forgetting that he signed him last fall and could’ve uttered the above quote verbatim as an explanation of why he wasn’t going to sign him? The thought that Thome could play some first base was ridiculous and, as expected, he’s not happy as a pure pinch-hitter. He can still produce and there are teams—my money’s on the Blue Jays—that can use him.

The Phillies shouldn’t have signed him in the first place.

This might be characterized as the beginning of a potential Phillies’ sell-off. Chase Utley returned to action on Wednesday and the team promptly lost the next two games to the Pirates. But I don’t see any connection between the decision to shop Thome and a housecleaning. It’s more of a similar admission from Amaro that he made a mistake. While not as drastic as when he traded Cliff Lee for prospects and acquired Roy Halladay, then had to bolster the starting rotation the next summer by getting Roy Oswalt and re-signed Lee the next winter, it’s still a do-over.

Amaro’s lucky that the Ryan Madson deal he was said to have offered—link—didn’t go through. After Madson signed with the Reds and got hurt with Tommy John surgery, there would’ve been no fixing that with a “whoops, never mind” and the Phillies would be in even worse shape than they are now.

And where they are now isn’t particularly good either.

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