The Yankees’ Altered DNA

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Joel Sherman has broken out his eighth grade chemistry set to coincide with his sixth grade writing to “report” that it’s in the Yankees’ “DNA” to make trades at the MLB trading deadline. Apparently Sherman has abandoned reporting trades as completed to be the first to break the news only to have to retract when it falls apart as he did with Cliff Lee being traded to the Yankees three years ago, then not being traded to the Yankees. Now he’s switching to existentialism and “science.”

The “DNA” argument is missing several levels of evolution. Was it or was it not in the Yankees’ “DNA” to make bold and splashy off-season moves with the biggest names on the market? Was it or was it not in the Yankees’ “DNA” to eschew any pretense at fiscal restraint when it came to acquiring players via free agency or trade? And was it or was it not an annual expectation that the Yankees are absolutely going to be in the playoffs no matter what?

Did the DNA regress into the current circumstance with the Yankees resembling a developmentally disabled child due to a quirk in cell formation? Or has Sherman gotten to the point where he no longer has actual players and “rumors” to pull from his posterior in the interest of generating webhits and pageviews and is liberally relying on “Yankee history.”

The new reality is finally starting to sink in with the Yankees, their fans and the desperate media. The club is serious about holding down salaries and is not going to deviate from that plan even if it means they stagger down the stretch and are a non-factor or—perish the thought—sellers on August 31st. They aren’t going to be bidders on the big ticket items that might make a difference to get them back into a legitimate title contender this season or next season. In getting the payroll down to $189 million (even if Alex Rodriguez’s salary is off their ledger during his suspension) they’re going to need to repeat what they did this season with players on a level of Travis Hafner, Lyle Overbay and Vernon Wells: veterans who no one else wants, have a semblance of a history and will sign for one season or be available on the cheap.

The argument that injuries have sapped the Yankees of viability this season is valid to a degree. But without amphetamines and PEDs, players the age of Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte break down. Sometimes players get hit and hurt as Curtis Granderson did twice. Other times the players are finished as is the case with Hafner, Wells and even Ichiro Suzuki.

The Yankees big issues now are they don’t have the money to buy their way out of an injury with an available name player; they don’t have prospects to deal; and the youngish star-level talent a la Andrew McCutchen signs long-term with his respective club rather than price himself out of town and is not on the trade block. So what’s left? The strategy has become obsolete because the core is old and they don’t have an ability to acquire fill-ins to surround or supplement them. When the money to patch holes is gone, the holes are not patched effectively. All the appellations of “specialness” and “Yankee magic” have degenerated to the same level as Sherman’s DNA stupidity. It was based on money.

It wasn’t all that long ago that the ridiculous analysis brought forth by know-nothings was that the Yankees would be better off if they hit fewer home runs. Four months of lost opportunities, Joe Girardi’s small ball bunting and wasted pitching performances has rendered that argument to the idiotic category in which it belonged.

Whether or not the Yankees do make a move for Justin Morneau and/or Michael Young to add to Alfonso Soriano or any other aging veteran who’s not under contract beyond 2014, it’s probably going to have little effect on this season. The teams ahead of them are younger, faster, more versatile, have prospects to deal and, in the biggest irony, have more money to spend.

As the season has moved along, we’ve seen the storyline shift from “Yankee magic” to “wait until the veterans get back” to “underdogs without expectations” to their “DNA.” In a month or so, when the dust settles on the state of the club, the new lament will be that the “playoffs loses its luster without the Yankees.” That, like the Yankees crying poverty, is a cry for help like a kid playing in his backyard having the umpire change his mind so his team will win. It goes against all logic and sanity. It’s something no one wants to hear. Baseball survived perfectly well without the Yankees in the playoffs every season from 1965-1975 and 1979 to 1993. It will do so again. In fact, it might be better and more interesting. It will tamp down the Yankees and their arrogance and clear out the bandwagon for awhile at least. These are the Yankees of 2013-2014. No trade is going to change that at this late date.

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Red Sox and Yankees: Early Season Notes

2013 MLB Predicted Standings, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, History, Management, Media, MLB Trade Deadline, Podcasts

Boston Red Sox

There haven’t been any glaring John Farrell managerial mistakes as of yet. He’s pretty much gone by the book. They’re over .500 and the main concern is Joel Hanrahan’s poor start and now hamstring injury.

What’s been prominent with the Red Sox has been the continuing talk amongst the media about what a better atmosphere there is in the clubhouse with the new faces they’ve brought in. Positivity has to lead to wins and whether that occurs over the course of a long season with the Red Sox remains to be seen. Their positive attitude won’t amount to much if they’re under .500 at mid-season. There’s a media-created desperation to bolster the Red Sox into the behemoth they were five years ago and that’s not going to happen, especially with this roster and that manager.

The latest hype is the attempted credit given to GM Ben Cherington for the acquisitions he made in last August’s salary dumping trade with the Dodgers. Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster are receiving most of the attention for their arms. In realistic context, it’s not like the Dodgers were doing the Red Sox a favor by taking a load of money off their ledger. Josh Beckett was a “get this guy outta here” trade and Carl Crawford was hurt, but Adrian Gonzalez was acquired from the Padres for three of the Red Sox top prospects a year-and-a-half earlier and is a star in his prime. If you’re trading him, you’d better get some good prospects for him and not just add him as the X in the deal as a, “if you want X, you’d better take Y.”

New York Yankees

The Yankees have treaded water with Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Derek Jeter all out. Andy Pettitte’s been great, but now he’s having a start pushed back due to back spasms, thus dampening Mike Francesa’s elementary school enthusiasm that Pettitte could pitch forever and ever and ever as if he was trapped in the Francesa Overlook Hotel in which he’s overlooking Pettitte’s age and injury history.

They’ve gotten hot starts from newcomers Kevin Youkilis, Vernon Wells and Travis Hafner. The pitching, that was supposed to be a strong suit, has been bad behind Pettitte and CC Sabathia. The season will hinge on whether the new additions can maintain some level of production and the injured players return ready to contribute.

There are sudden concerns about Ichiro Suzuki’s slow start which shouldn’t be concerns at all—they should’ve been expected. He hit .322 as a Yankee last season and had a BAbip of .337. In 2013, he’s hitting .176 with a .167 BAbip (and no, I don’t have it backwards; his BAbip is really lower than his batting average). Ichiro’s success is contingent on his soft line drives and ground balls dropping in and finding holes. If they’re not doing either, he’s not going have numbers that appear to be productive.

Check out my appearance on Donn Paris’s Seamheads Podcast from yesterday here. We discussed the Angels, Astros, Mike Scioscia, the Red Sox, Yankees, Jeff Luhnow, player development, the draft and much more.

Essays, predictions, player analysis, under the radar fantasy picks, breakout candidates, contract status of all relevant personnel—GMs, managers, players—and anything else you could possibly want to know is in my new book Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide now available on Amazon.comSmashwordsBN and Lulu. Check it out and read a sample.

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The Yankees’ Outfield Suddenly Looks As Bad As The Mets’

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Of course that’s in context. If you look at the projected outfields of the Yankees and Mets based on their players on paper, the Yankees are still superior. As diminished as Ichiro Suzuki is, he’s more proven that the cast of characters (led by Mike Baxter) the Mets have vying for right field. But whoever the Yankees put in left to replace the now-injured Curtis Granderson isn’t going to be better than Lucas Duda. Brett Gardner is a good player, but he’s not a prototypical “Yankees center fielder” along the lines of Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, or even Bobby Murcer, Bernie Williams all the way down the line to Granderson.

In his first spring training plate appearance, Granderson was hit by a pitch and had his forearm broken. He’ll be out until May and now the Yankees are seeing how a bad bench and limited ready-for-prime-time minor leaguers can harm their rapidly declining chances to win a title. With a team this old, it’s inexplicable that they scrimped and saved to let Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez leave. Granderson’s one of the younger players on this ancient roster and got hurt while playing the game. The other, older players like Derek Jeter, Travis Hafner and Kevin Youkilis could wind up on the disabled list by waking up after sleeping in a strange position. What is going to harm this team to a greater degree—and one that hasn’t been mentioned as often as it should—is the inability to use PEDs and amphetamines to get through the season. There’s not a cure for what ails them other than letting nature take its course.

The Mets are rebuilding and had no intention nor realistic need to spend any money on players that weren’t going to help them in the distant future or were going to cost them the eleventh pick in the draft as Michael Bourn would’ve. The Yankees, on the other hand, have expectations of a championship in spite of their newfound austerity and conscious decision to stick with what they had and keep the severely declining Ichiro. With the money-related departures of Chavez and Ibanez, they’re left with limited veterans Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz as the probable left field replacement for Granderson with the possibilities of Melky Mesa and Zoilo Almonte.

Soon fans will start reverting to their “stars replace stars for even one game” template and demand the Yankees pursue and get Giancarlo Stanton. Whether the fans and media will have the nerve to suggest they pursue Mike Trout is the question. Neither will happen. Other possibilities of the more reasonable variety are Vernon Wells, Alfonso Soriano or Drew Stubbs. None are probable. Considering the expectations and lack of offense at catcher and right field with the aged and injury prone players they have in the lineup, they now have to function with an outfield that, plainly and simply, ain’t gonna cut it.

If this is an omen for the Yankees, it’s a bad one. It took one day—one day—for their weak bench to assert itself as the unpredictability of baseball from moment-to-moment reared its head. They went with the cheap bench and they’ve got the cheap bench. If a worst case scenario was predicted for the 2013 Yankees, this injury to Granderson and a comparison to the Mets is a great place to start.

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American League Breakout/Rebound Candidates (Or Cheap Gets For Your Fantasy Team)

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Let’s look at some of the lesser-known players or rebounding veterans in the American League that are likely to play more than expected and could produce at a cheap price.

Eduardo Nunez, INF—New York Yankees

Nunez doesn’t have a position, but the Yankees are insisting he’s a shortstop so he’ll see time at shortstop while Derek Jeter is periodically rested or is the DH. Kevin Youkilis has been injury-prone in recent years and when he’s playing, will see time at first base as well as third with Mark Teixeira DH-ing against lefties. In a best-case scenario, the Yankees can’t expect any more than 350 at bats from Travis Hafner and that’s stretching it by 100-150 at bats. Plus he doesn’t hit lefties. No one knows when or if Alex Rodriguez will be able to play and his latest foray into the front of the newspaper puts into question whether he’s ever going to suit up for the Yankees again. Their bench is terrible.

All of these factors will open up at bats for Nunez. He can’t field and is a hacker, but he can hit.

Chris Tillman, RHP—Baltimore Orioles

He still runs up high pitch counts but his walks are decreasing incrementally. If examined as a step-by-step process, first comes the better control, then comes the lower pitch counts. If Tillman is able to continue improving in this manner, he could become a 30 start/180-200-inning arm for the Orioles.

The Orioles haven’t bolstered their starting rotation. Brian Matusz showed he’s better off out of the bullpen; they’re waiting for Dylan Bundy and hoping for a repeat performance from Miguel Gonzalez. They’ll need innings from Tillman.

Phil Coke, LHP—Detroit Tigers

In last season’s ALCS, with Jose Valverde shelved because he couldn’t be trusted to even hold a four-run lead, Coke was pressed into service as the nominal closer in a bullpen-by-committee. Valverde’s gone and the Tigers have a former closer on the roster in Octavio Dotel; they’re insisting they’ll give rookie Bruce Rondon every chance to claim the role. Rookies have emerged as closers in the past (Jonathan Papelbon, Craig Kimbrel) but manager Jim Leyland is not going to be patient with a 1-year contract, a veteran team expected to be a World Series contender and a rookie closer. Coke got the job done for Leyland in the post-season and the manager won’t forget it if he has to replace Rondon.

Greg Holland, RHP—Kansas City Royals

Holland will be the Royals’ closer, struck out 91 in 67 innings last season and saved 16 games after Jonathan Broxton was traded. The Royals stand to be pretty good this season giving him save opportunities and he’s arbitration-eligible after the season giving him the incentive of money at the end of the road or perhaps even a preemptive long-term contract to guarantee him at least $10 million-plus through his arbitration years.

Justin Morneau, 1B—Minnesota Twins

Morneau looked like his former MVP self for most of the second half of 2012 after a dreadful start, so perhaps his concussion/injury problems are behind him. Both Morneau and the Twins will have significant mutual benefit from him putting up big numbers. The Twins are in full-blown rebuild and won’t want to keep the pending free agent Morneau after the season. Morneau won’t want to stay in Minnesota for the full season because if he does, the Twins will make the qualifying offer for draft pick compensation and he might be in the same position in 2014 that Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse are in now. It behooves him to have a hot start and be traded in July.

Aaron Hicks, CF—Minnesota Twins

The Twins’ current center fielder is listed as Darin Mastroianni. Mastroianni can steal a few bases and catch the ball in center field, but he’s a fourth outfielder and a reasonable facsimile of Jason Tyner.

Hicks is a former first round draft pick whom the Twins have no reason not to play after he spends the first month of the season in Triple A to keep his arbitration clock from beginning to tick.

Lance Berkman, DH—Texas Rangers

Berkman’s problems in recent years have been injury-related and if he doesn’t have to play the field, that will reduce the stress on his knees. 81 games in the hitting haven of Texas has made the likes of Mike Napoli into an All-Star. Berkman is a far superior hitter who still accumulates a high on-base percentage. As long as he’s healthy, he’ll post a .380 OBP and hit 25 homers.

Garrett Richards, RHP—Los Angeles Angels

Richards is currently the sixth starter for the Angels, but 3-4-5 are Jason Vargas, Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton. They’re interchangeable and have major warts. Vargas was a creature of Safeco Field with the Mariners; Hanson’s shoulder is said to be teetering with injuries and horrible mechanics; Blanton allows tons of hits and homers. Richards will end up being the Angels’ third starter by the end of the season and could be the key to them making the playoffs and saving manager Mike Scioscia’s job.

Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP—Seattle Mariners

Iwakuma is what Daisuke Matsuzaka was supposed to be amid the media circus of the Red Sox winning the bidding and hyping him up. Iwakuma is just doing it for a minuscule fraction of the price and none of the aggravation. He picked at the strike zone as a reliever and allows a few too many homers, but as a fulltime starter he’s got the stuff to be a Hideo Nomo sensation. And, unlike Matsuzaka, he actually throws the Bigfoot of the baseball world (often sighted but never proved): the gyroball.

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Not Your Daddy’s Steinbrenner

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If Hal Steinbrenner is being sincere when he says he doesn’t understand why fans are concerned and upset that the Yankees haven’t made significant improvements over the winter, he’s gone beyond holding true to the company line he himself implemented and venturing into unexplored territory of delusion.

Back when George Steinbrenner was running things he was hard on his employees, but he was able to hit back at criticism (albeit in a loony, bullying way) without the screechy bewilderment that underscores Hal’s continued parental entreaties to a bratty progeny (the fans and media) that they should appreciate what they’re given.

Unwittingly or not, he’s lavishing expectations on a compromised and aged squad that are no longer as realistic as they once were. The Yankees do have the personnel to contend in 2013, but their margin of error is tied to the financial margins they’ve unilaterally enacted and with which they’ve constrained GM Brian Cashman. The easy answer will be to blame Cashman or manager Joe Girardi (in the last year of his contract), but is it fair to say it’s Cashman’s and Girardi’s fault for having run a club based on veteran mercenaries and a core of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte who can still play but whose primes were a decade ago? All GMs and manager have their strengths and weaknesses and Cashman’s strength is buying free agents. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s a difficult juggling act to put him in this position with no money to spend, a mandate to reduce the payroll to a finite number foreign to him during his tenure while simultaneously demanding that he figure it out and win.

George would’ve openly ranted and raved about his $200 million club annually flaming out in the playoffs, but with the ranting and raving there would be money available to get better. With this team under Hal, it’s not.

Hal is constantly referencing the money spent to retain Hiroki Kuroda, Pettitte, Ichiro Suzuki and the signing of Kevin Youkilis, but he’s misunderstanding the litany of reasons that fans are justifiably concerned.

Their bench is atrocious. They’re old. In their division, the Blue Jays are substantially improved to go along with the still-strong Rays and the AL Wild Card winning Orioles. There’s talk from the likes of Mike Francesa that the Red Sox are “terrible.” Terrible is a bit much. If the Red Sox have 10 question marks heading into the 2013 season, the Yankees have 8.

When listening to Francesa and other Yankee-centric “analysts,” the shifting of tone is stark and noticeable. It’s not an automatic 95 wins and ticket punched to the playoffs in March. It’s “they’ll be in the mix.” In the mix of what is unexplained. Perhaps this is a coping mechanism to reconcile the “new” Yankees in their minds.

The talk that they’re going to “do something” to improve before the season has ceased as well for the simple fact that the reality has hit that there’s not much of anything they can do at this late date. Travis Hafner is about as good as it’s going to get as far as “improving.”

Another hard truth came this week with Felix Hernandez’s contract extension with the Mariners. The players available on the market aren’t young and star-level. Justin Verlander, Stephen Strasburg, Clayton Kershaw—they’re not going to see free agency. With Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy, the Yankees sought to mimic the Red Sox development of Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester to save money in the long run, but in 2008 the Yankees did that by choice and when it failed, they signed CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett to fill the unfilled holes. Now, they have to develop out of necessity, making it all the more challenging. They don’t have the money to buy nor the prospects to trade or use themselves.

Hal sounds like he’s whining at the box he’s put his team in. For all of George’s faults, one thing he never did was whine. Perhaps Hal’s reaction comes from the safety and security of not having built anything of his own, but inheriting it. It was long thought that Hank Steinbrenner was reminiscent of their father as the out-of-control lunatic with a bloviating temper and outlandish statements that were quickly qualified with an eyeroll and head shake. Hank was figuratively (or literally, we don’t know) locked away. Hal was the sane and logical one. He was the rational, understanding, business-minded steward of the Yankee brand who let his baseball people run the club and understood why, if the team lost 7 out of 10, that it wasn’t a lack of motivation or work ethic on the part of the manager or coaches that required a pep talk of several firings, but because they hit a rough patch from which they’d emerge because of superior talent.

Hal’s statements could be seen as maintaining a unified front and waiting to see what happens, but I doubt he’s that calculating. He’s stung by the criticism and is not acknowledging the faults that his club has because he doesn’t understand them himself. He doesn’t have the intimidating persona that his father did implying that if the team doesn’t perform, heads will roll, headlines will explode, missives will be issued, and no one is safe. Randy Levine tries to play that part, but he’s sort of laughed at and ignored.

The sense of entitlement is prominent and a bigger reason than anything else to be worried if you’re a Yankees fan. If the ownership doesn’t comprehend the problems, how is it possible to fix them? This is especially so when the resources to do the repairs are as limited as they apparently are.

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If You’re Thinking of Comparing Hafner to Ibanez, Don’t

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Those thinking of equating the Yankees signing of Travis Hafner to last year’s signing of Raul Ibanez are in for a rude awakening.

Because the Yankees have had some success in prior years with inexpensive and available veterans such as Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, Eric Chavez, Andruw Jones and Ibanez, it’s a false belief that the trend will continue with Ichiro Suzuki, Kevin Youkilis and Hafner. One thing doesn’t automatically guarantee the other. That’s the big issue with taking a player’s profile and comparing it to another player’s profile based on stats, history, position, contract, whatever—it’s not a real comparison because the individual nature is routinely ignored.

GM Brian Cashman wasn’t expecting the Ibanez from his days with the Mariners or his first two years with the Phillies, but considering Ibanez’s 20 homer, 52 extra base hit showing in 2011, it was reasonable to believe that Ibanez would hit 15-20 homers for the Yankees in a part-time role. He’d been durable, playing in at least 134 games a season going back to 2005. No one was expecting a Reggie Jackson-imitation in the playoffs. The Yankees got far more than they bargained for with a $1.1 million salary and Ibanez was a lifesaver.

Can the same be said for Hafner?

Put it this way: Ibanez wasn’t primarily a DH who had recurrent shoulder woes as well as back and oblique issues sending him to the disabled list over-and-over again as is the case with Hafner. In their wildest fantasies, the Yankees should be happy if they get from Hafner half of what Ibanez gave them. Even that’s a stretch. (And Hafner might not want to stretch too far for fear of tearing something, given his increasingly brittle musculature.)

Hafner, 36 in June, was one of the most dangerous fastball hitters in baseball during his heyday with the Indians between 2004 and 2007; he was an on-base machine and a clubhouse force. Then-Indians GM Mark Shapiro stole Hafner from his former boss and mentor John Hart when Hart was GM of the Rangers in 2002, getting him with Aaron Myette for Einar Diaz and Ryan Drese. He was great for awhile; he’s a shell of that player now.

Hafner has played in over 94 games once in the past five years. When he was able to get in the lineup, he’s been productive and he can still turn around a high-90s fastball. He will take his walks. But he’s never consistently healthy. That’s not going to change at age 36 simply because he pulls on the pinstripes and the Yankees’ strategy of signing veteran former star players has been moderately successful in the past. Ibanez was signed as a complementary player with pop off the bench and the ability to play the outfield if needed. He wound up being needed to play far more than was initially expected due to the injury to Brett Gardner. The Yankees aren’t signing Hafner as a background roll of the dice as they did with Ibanez, they’re expecting him to contribute as a lefty-swinging DH.

It’s not going to happen.

Hafner will invite memories of Ibanez when he shows flashes of his old self by crushing a 100-mph fastball from Daniel Bard into the Yankee Stadium upper deck in early April (if he’s not on the disabled list already by then); the fans will think they got another “genius” pickup from Cashman until Hafner goes on the disabled list with a predictable malady, probably to his shoulder; then they’ll be trapped scouring the same bin for another bat to replace him. Only Yankees apologists who still function under the misplaced belief that every move Cashman makes will miraculously turn to gold are failing to accept this truth.

With each signing the newly austere Yankees make, their win total increases…if it was 2007. The club they’ve constructed would have won 115 games and been prohibitive World Series favorites six years ago. It’s not six years ago. Whereas in years past the Yankees motto was seemingly, “We want, we pay, we get,” it’s now become, “Let’s see what’s out there and what we can afford.” Hafner, with all his warts, is what’s out there and what they can afford.

Navigating the latest Alex Rodriguez scandal; wondering what they’re going to get out of Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera as they recover from injuries; moving forward with zero power out of either corner outfield position; not having a proven big league catcher; worrying about money—these are not the Yankees who have been at the top of the American League for the past two decades. Yet there’s a prevailing belief that because everything worked out then, it’s going to work out now. Just because.

That’s a conceit combined with a desperate delusion as a defense mechanism to avoid the horrid reality that the run is over and a downslide reminiscent of the mid-1960s is well underway.

Hafner is the least of the Yankees problems, but he’s the least of their solutions as well.

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Only On YES is A-Rod a No

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It’s eerily appropriate that the acronym YES for the YES Network stands for “Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network” when their content is similar to that which you’ll find on Vince McMahon’s WWE (acronym for World Wrestling Entertainment).

McMahon changed the name to WWE from WWF because the World Wildlife Federation had trademarked the acronym WWF. In a successful 1989 effort to deregulate professional wrestling by admitting that it’s not a sporting event, McMahon publicly disclosed what anyone with a brain already knew: professional wrestling is staged. Maybe the Yankees should follow suit by admitting that YES has nothing to do with being a journalistic enterprise. With the Steinbrenners intent on saving money to the tune of downgrading their product from signing the likes of Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia to signing Russ Canzler and considering Travis Hafner (a welcome addition to any team’s disabled list), perhaps they can find a way to avoid paying the government freight that a news/sports organization has to pay for being a news/sports organization.

Perform a websearch with the words, “YES Network A-Rod PEDs,” and a perfunctory link comes up with the YES banner and an Associated Press news story. But if you go onto YESNetwork.com and look on the front page or do a search on their website for anything regarding A-Rod, there’s nothing.

How is it possible?

The YES Network is not providing one ounce of information that has not been vetted and is viewed as beneficial to the Yankees brand. As it has degenerated into a tacit example of spin-doctoring, they’ve lowered themselves to the degree that nothing they say can be taken at face value. All of their information must be verified elsewhere by an independent source.

It’s long been known that YES is the propaganda arm of the Yankees, but they’ve become so brazen in bypassing legitimate news and joyously wallowing in a lack of journalistic integrity that it’s basically an infomercial of positivity for the club and no one working there can be considered a journalist in any form.

This will undoubtedly come as another blow to the ego of Jack Curry, he of the Twitter tantrums, name calling and accusations of professional malfeasance when he “reports” a story simultaneously to others reporting it; a story that was approved by his bosses (the Yankees) and given to him directly through no effort on his part other than answering his phone. The YES Network is a sham of a sports news network and no amount of self-congratulatory shows celebrating 10 years of existence; Yankee-laced historical recollections of greatness; or pronouncements promising to dispense the latest Yankee news will supersede the unconscionable, egregious choice not to discuss the latest controversy surrounding Alex Rodriguez as if ignoring it can make it go away.

So immersed in their image as a worldwide brand that is aboveboard and “better” than those they perceive as beneath them, they refuse to allow reality to get in the way of maintaining the crumbling veneer even if it’s a story that is everywhere and being discussed by everyone.

Did the born on the Fourth of July patriot George Steinbrenner—he of the edicts that every player stand on the top step of the dugout during The Star Spangled Banner and that God Bless America be played in lieu of Take Me Out to the Ballgame during the seventh inning stretch—really want to create a network that is closer to what would be seen in North Korea and the former Soviet Union than it is to one of the foundations of our democracy, freedom of the press?

From the time Joe Torre was being peppered with questions from Kim Jones that were coming from upper management; to the failure acknowledge injuries to Jose Campos and other minor league “phenoms”; to the Brian Cashman blackmail scandal; to the latest decision not to intelligently discuss A-Rod’s latest leap from the back of the newspaper to the front of the newspaper, the depths to which YES plunges are a bottomless pit of subterfuge.

As the Yankees stars age and their on-field product declines, the lack of respect for the media has extended from Jason Zillo refusing to grant access to a credentialed reporter because Zillo is the “gatekeeper” and the organization doesn’t like the story that is being written. It’s tumbling further into an abyss of embarrassing and insular silence that benefits no one, especially not the Yankees.

There’s not a blurring of the line between what the club wants out there and what is actually going on. What they don’t want out there is treated as if it doesn’t exist. They’re miraculously surpassing their longstanding hubris by presenting content that makes each and every fan watching look like an idiot. Do they think that if the A-Rod story is not reported on YES, a vast number of fans won’t know about it?

It’s not going to go away. Nor is A-Rod. So they might as well put forth the pretense of doing something other than selling the Yankees brand by informing rather than covering up. Everyone knows about it whether YES has it on their website or not. Trust me. All they’re succeeding in doing is making their network look more absurd than it did before, and that’s no small accomplishment.

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Terry Francona Chooses the Indians—Why?

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Terry Francona could conceivably have had his choice of jobs as the baseball managerial wheel spins. But, shockingly (to me at least), he decided to take over as the manager of the Cleveland Indians on a 4-year contract. The move is being lauded widely, but is it the right one for both sides?

Let’s see what this means for the Indians and Francona and why it might’ve happened.

Francona wants to prove himself

After his tenure in Philadelphia and in the throes of the Moneyball craze in which a manager was seen as little more than a faceless automaton whose prime directive is to follow orders from the front office, Francona took over as the Red Sox manager. He was hired because he was willing to do what he was told; would take short money; was agreeable to the players and especially Curt Schilling, whom the Red Sox were trying to acquire from the Diamondbacks; and he wasn’t Grady Little.

Even as the Red Sox won their long-elusive championship and another one three years later, there was forever an underlying feeling that Francona—in spite of his likability and deft handling of the media and egos in the Red Sox clubhouse—was along for the ride. Perhaps he’d like to show off his managerial skills in a less financially free situation such as that of the Indians. The Indians have some talent on the big league roster. Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana, Lonnie Chisenhall, Shin-Soo Choo, Justin Masterson, and Ubaldo Jimenez are the foundation for a decent club. They should also have some money to spend on mid-level improvements with both Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore coming off the books.

In order for a manager to eliminate the perception of what he was in his prior stop, he has to go to a totally different situation. Francona certainly has that with the Indians.

He enjoyed his time with the Indians, has ties to Cleveland, and misses the competition

Francona was a former front office assistant with the Indians and his father Tito Francona was an All-Star player for the Indians in the early-1960s. He knows the front office and there will be a cohesiveness that wasn’t present with the Red Sox. As successful as Francona was in Boston, there was a limit to his sway. With the Indians, his opinions will be heard and he must feel they’ll be adhered to.

That’s not necessarily a good thing. If a club is rebuilding and the manager is trying to justify his reputation, he’s going to want to win. There’s a tug-of-war at play when a manager wants to win and the organization is trying to develop. Francona might not be the same person he was when working for the Indians in his pre-Red Sox days and if the Indians aren’t willing to mortgage the future in a win-now maneuver, there could be unexpected friction.

Being around baseball as a broadcaster isn’t the same as being in the middle of the fight. Francona recharged his batteries, or may think he recharged his batteries after a year away, and wants to jump back into the fray.

He didn’t want to wait and see about other, higher-pressure jobs

The implication of Francona as the prototypical “nice guy” isn’t exactly accurate. He, like Joe Torre, has been a far more calculating presence than his portrayal and persona suggests. He played the martyr following the Red Sox collapse and became a victim to the players’ decision to disrespect him and the front office need to kick someone overboard as a show of “doing something.”

Was he innocent? It’s part of the manager’s job to be hypocritical, but if he was going to get the credit for being laid back when the team was winning and it was okay that the starting pitchers who weren’t working that day were off doing whatever, then he also gets the blame when clubhouse leaks and team fractures result in a disappointing fall. The idea that Francona wasn’t to be held accountable in any way for the Red Sox slide in 2011 (and in 2012 for that matter) is ludicrous. If his calm leadership was credited for them winning in 2004 and 2007, then his porous discipline is part of why they came undone.

Will there be expectations in Cleveland? Based on Francona’s reputation, there will be factions thinking the “proven manager” theory will work. But in the end, it’s about the players. Francona could have sat in the ESPN booth and waited for other jobs with more attractive on-field personnel—the Angels and Tigers specifically—to open. He wants to win, but with the Indians, he won’t get the blame if they don’t.

The Indians presented a plan to spend a bit more freely

As mentioned earlier, the Indians will be free of Hafner’s, Sizemore’s, and Derek Lowe’s paychecks and they may look to trade Choo. That should give them increased flexibility. If I’m Manny Acta, I would be offended if the Indians spend this winter, signing and trading for players who were off-limits due to finances simply because they hired Francona. Acta has been unlucky in his managerial stops. With the Nationals, he oversaw the breaking of the ground in their rebuild and was fired. He got the Indians job and did as much as he could with limited talent and again was fired. It’s a similar situation that we’ve seen with Art Howe and Torre. Howe left the Athletics for the Mets for many reasons. The Mets were going to pay him more than the A’s would have; Mets’ GM Steve Phillips wanted someone he could control better than the fired Bobby Valentine and another candidate Lou Piniella; and he also wanted to prove that his success wasn’t the fluke it was presented as in Moneyball.

Torre was fired by the Cardinals in 1995 and this was well before he became “The Godfather” of baseball and St. Joe—both images promulgated by Torre himself. He was considered a retread who knew how to handle the clubhouse, but wouldn’t do much to help the team one way or the other. If you examine the 1995 Cardinals team that Torre was fired from 47 games into the season, they weren’t very good and didn’t spend any money (20th in payroll that season). They’d allowed Gregg Jefferies, one player who had blossomed under Torre’s gentle hand where he’d failed everywhere else, to depart to the Phillies without replacing him. Back then, Tony LaRussa was viewed as the Mr. Fix-It who could win anywhere by sheer force of will and strategic brilliance. LaRussa was hired as Cardinals’ manager that winter after he left the Athletics as a managerial free agent and, lo and behold, they imported players LaRussa wanted because he had a power that Torre didn’t have and for him to take the job, that guarantee had to be made. A bad team was transformed into a club that lost in game 7 of the NLCS.

Torre, to put it mildly, landed on his feet with the Yankees.

Howe, on the other hand, took over a Mets team in disarray with a power struggle at the top and awkwardly moving on from the late 1990s-2000 years of contention. The 2003-2004 Mets under Howe had a misleadingly high payroll because of prior financial commitments they’d made to declining players. When Omar Minaya took over as GM late in the 2004 season, it was announced that Howe would finish the season and not be retained. The Mets hired an inexperienced Willie Randolph and opened the checkbook in the winter of 2004-2005 spending big money on Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran. They finished at 83-79 in 2005 and would’ve finished with pretty much that same record under Howe. An in-demand manager can say what he wants and have it done. A retread can’t. Torre was a retread; Howe was a bystander; with the Phillies, Francona was a shrug. LaRussa was LaRussa and got what he wanted.

Will it work?

In the end, it’s the players. If Francona’s going to succeed in Cleveland, it won’t be through some “magic” that doesn’t exist. His reputation might be conducive to players wanting to go to Cleveland; his laid-back demeanor will be easier for young players to develop without someone screaming or glaring at them; but it won’t be due to the simplistic, “He won with the Red Sox so he’ll win here.” He didn’t win in Philadelphia because the team was bad. Does that factor in? If not, it should.

If the Indians toss the same roster in 2013 as they did in 2012, they’re not going to be all that much better under Francona than they were under Acta and Sandy Alomar Jr.

If that’s the case, then Francona wouldn’t have taken the job. The “name” manager gets his way, justified or not. If it fails or succeeds, we’ll know why.

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Potential Difference Makers for the Stretch—American League

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Two examples of trades that made a significant difference in their team’s fortunes—and were under-the-radar, shrugged at, or ignored at the time—were when the Tigers traded for Doyle Alexander in August of 1987 and the Cardinals traded for Cesar Cedeno in 1985.

The veteran Alexander had experience in pennant races and was expected to bolster the Tigers’ rotation. Instead he pitched masterfully with a 9-0 record, a 1.53 ERA and, if you’re looking for numbers to prove how valuable he was, a 4.3 WAR. You can look at what the Tigers traded for him and say it was a mistake since they traded Michigan native, lifelong Tigers’ fan and future Hall of Famer John Smoltz to get him. But to be fair, Smoltz was a 22nd round pick who’d struggled in his time with the Tigers in the minors. In the moment, Alexander was the difference between the 1987 Tigers making or missing the playoffs. Had they won the World Series, I’m sure the Tigers would’ve said it was worth it even without 20 years of Smoltz. And there’s no guarantee that Smoltz would’ve been for the Tigers the pitcher he was with the Braves. We don’t know.

The veteran Cedeno, entering the closing phase of a career that should’ve been far better than it was given his talent, was traded to the Cardinals as a veteran bat off the bench in exchange for a minor leaguer who never made it and Cedeno posted a .434/.463/.750 slash line with 6 homers in 82 plate appearances. I was at the John TudorDwight Gooden classic pitcher’s duel where Gooden pitched 9 scoreless innings and Tudor 10. Cedeno homered off of Jesse Orosco in the top of the 10th to win the game. (That was also the night Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb’s hit record.)

There’s no telling how leaving a team playing out the string and joining a contender will wake up a veteran player and spur him to make a major contribution. It could be a starter, a reliever, a position player or a bench player, judgment comes in retrospect.

Let’s take a look at some American League players who are presumably available and could be to their new clubs what Alexander and Cedeno were for theirs.

Their National League counterparts will be posted later.

Josh Beckett, RHP—Boston Red Sox

He’ll get through waivers and loves the pressure of the post-season. Beckett would undoubtedly feel liberated by leaving Boston. The Red Sox would love to be rid of him on and off the field and the fans would also welcome his departure regardless of what they get for him—probably nothing more than salary relief. He’s got $31.5 million coming to him for 2013-2014 and is a 10 and 5 player; the Red Sox would have to pick up some of the freight to get rid of him. He’d okay a trade and it would be worth it to fans around the world to take up a collection to pay him off just to see how badly he’d unleash on Bobby Valentine and the Red Sox on the way out the door.

Kelly Johnson, 2B—Toronto Blue Jays

Talk surrounding the Blue Jays has centered around them trading shortstop Yunel Escobar to install young Adeiny Hechavarria at shortstop, but with Escobar under team control through 2015, the Blue Jays might be better-served to trade the pending free agent Johnson and let Hechevarria play second base. Johnson has power, walks and is solid enough defensively at second base.

Travis Hafner, DH—Cleveland Indians

He’s a free agent at the end of the season and no one is going to pay whatever he’s owed for the remainder of this season and the $2.75 million buyout. He’s also back in his office—the disabled list—with a back injury retroactive to August 6th. Someone would take him for nothing if the Indians pay his contract. He’d be a lefty bat with power and walks off the bench if he’s able to play. He’ll get traded at the end of the month.

Jeff Francoeur, RF—Kansas City Royals

Frenchy has been energized by changing addresses before. When he was let out of his Braves prison in 2009, he went on a tear for the Mets and, for a brief while, looked like he’d fulfill his potential away from the pressures and poor handling of him by the Braves. When the Mets traded him to the Rangers, he helped them with pop and his usual excellent defense. A team trading for him would be taking him on for 2013 at $6.75 million. Don’t be surprised to see him back in Texas with the Rangers. If he’d been in right field as a defensive replacement in game 6 of the World Series last year, the Rangers are world champions right now.

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August Waivers Rodeo—American League

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Claiming any of the following players will be hazardous to one’s payroll.

Let’s have a look at American League players who’ll get through waivers for one reason or another.

Mark Teixeira, 1B—New York Yankees

If Teixeira’s contract were due to expire in the near future, someone would claim him and the Yankees wouldn’t let him go. If he was claimed now, they still wouldn’t let him go, but they’d at least briefly consider it. He’s owed $22.5 million annually through 2016 when he’ll be 36. He’s going nowhere.

Alex Rodriguez, 3B—New York Yankees

Yeah. You claim A-Rod. You’ll have A-Rod at 37 with $104 million coming to him from 2013 through 2017.

Adrian Gonzalez, 1B—Boston Red Sox

His numbers are down, he’s owed $127 million through 2018 and he’s becoming the great player whose teams always miss the playoffs.

Carl Crawford, LF—Boston Red Sox

Yah. A-Rod has a better chance of being claimed.

Josh Beckett, RHP—Boston Red Sox

There would undoubtedly be factions in the Red Sox front office that would vote to let him go if he was claimed. Now he’s day-to-day with back spasms which, along with his poor pitching and not-so-charming personality, make him even more toxic with $31.5 million owed to him in 2013-2014. He also has 10 and 5 rights to block any deal but I think he’d love to get out of Boston by any means necessary.

Brandon Lyon, RHP—Toronto Blue Jays

He’s owed $5.5 million for 2012.

Adam Lind, 1B—Toronto Blue Jays

No one claimed him in June when the Blue Jays had to get him through waivers to send him to the minors earlier in the season; he’s hit better since he was recalled, but with $7 million guaranteed next season, he won’t be claimed especially since he’s not on the disabled list with a back injury.

Yunel Escobar, SS—Toronto Blue Jays

Add the Blue Jays to the Braves as teams that the talented Escobar has aggravated to the point that they want to be rid of him. His contract pays him $10 million in 2013-2014 and he has an option for 2015. He’ll get through and might be traded.

Alexei Ramirez, SS—Chicago White Sox

His hitting numbers have taken a nosedive and he’s owed $27.5 million through 2015.

Travis Hafner, DH—Cleveland Indians

He’s got a limited no-trade clause and presumably the team that claims him will be responsible for his $2.75 million buyout, but someone might claim him and hope that he can stay healthy for the last two months of the season (he’s sidelined with a sore back now) and perhaps provide some DH pop.

Casey Kotchman, 1B—Cleveland Indians

As a defensive replacement, there’d be a team to take him.

Joe Mauer, C—Minnesota Twins

He’s getting $23 million annually through 2018. If anyone claimed him, the Twins would pull him back; doubtful anyone will.

Justin Morneau, 1B—Minnesota Twins

With $14 million owed to him for 2013 and that he’s hit better recently, a team might claim him and the Twins would pull him back. If they trade him, it will be in the winter.

Carl Pavano, RHP—Minnesota Twins

No one’s claiming him, but if he proves himself healthy by the end of the month, he’ll be traded.

Jeremy Guthrie, RHP—Kansas City Royals

He’s a free agent at the end of the year and a contender (or a team that thinks they’re a contender—see the Red Sox of Boston or Blue Jays of Toronto) could use him for the stretch.

Jeff Francoeur, RF—Kansas City Royals

He’s owed $6.75 million for 2013. By the time his career is over, Frenchy might’ve played for 12-15 teams. That’s where his career is headed and it’s a major fall from being a Sports Illustrated coverboy and pegged a future megastar.

Bruce Chen, LHP—Kansas City Royals

He’s got a contract for $4.5 million for 2012, but eats innings and can be effective. He’ll get through and will be in decent demand via trade.

Roy Oswalt, RHP—Texas Rangers

Oswalt refused to pitch a third inning of relief on Sunday even though manager Ron Washington asked him to. He’s been mostly bad and is now causing a problem. For a small-town, “humble” guy, he’s doing a great impression of Terrell Owens. The Rangers will keep him around in case they need him, but no one will claim him.

Michael Young, INF/DH—Texas Rangers

As much as he’s respected, the final year of his contract on 2013 pays him $16 million and he’s been bad this season. If he’s claimed, the Rangers would be willing to let him go. He’s got 10 and 5 rights and won’t waive them.

Coco Crisp, OF—Oakland Athletics

The A’s have plenty of outfielders and Crisp is owed $8 million for 2013.

Vernon Wells, OF—Los Angeles Angels

His contract—$42 million for 2013-2014—is toxic.

Dan Haren, RHP—Los Angeles Angels

Haren has a $15.5 million club option and a $3.5 million buyout; he’s having back problems and has been mediocre all season.

Ervin Santana, RHP—Los Angeles Angels

He’s been bad, has a $13 million option that won’t be exercised and a $1 million buyout.

Chone Figgins, INF/OF—Seattle Mariners

Figgins has $8 million guaranteed next season and has batted under .200 in each of the past two seasons. You claim it, you got it.

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