Cashman the Weiner

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When former Democratic New York Congressman Anthony Weiner was under siege after a series of racy photos he’d intended to send privately to a female follower on Twitter, he first denied that they were of him hoping that the controversy would die out. Then he kindasorta laid (heh) the foundation for a sex scandal that he still hoped to escape and politically survive by saying, “Well, maybe it’s me.” It was a sex scandal in the weakest sense because it doesn’t appear that Weiner actually got any sex out of the whole thing, which makes it even more of a waste of time and energy.

Naturally the subterfuge failed and snowballed with several women coming forward to relate their interactions with the former congressman. Try as he might to demonize the late gadfly Andrew Breitbart for publicizing the photos, the truth came out and Weiner wound up having to apologize to Breitbart and subsequently resigned his congressional seat.

After reading Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman’s cryptic statement about slumping ace CC Sabathia this morning, I saw Cashman as a Weiner trying to use verbal gymnastics to slap away questions as to why Sabathia’s velocity is down and he’s not the ace he’s been in years past.

The quote is nestled in this game report in the New York Times:

His velocity has dipped enough for General Manager Brian Cashman to say that he might still be fighting through some arm pain.

“Obviously, C. C. was signed to be an ace, so you anticipate that,” Cashman said before the game. “But at the same time, you know recently he was going through an elbow issue, so it makes you curious if that still bothers him or not, whether if he acknowledges it or not.”

So what you’re telling me is that the GM of the team—the most expensive and famous in all of baseball that is in the midst of a seismic collapse that will reverberate for years if they don’t stop it now—doesn’t know whether the ace of his pitching staff is under treatment for arm pain? That he’s unaware of the status of the pitcher upon whom the Yankees doled a lucrative contract extension last winter that essentially pays him at least a guaranteed $30 million in 2016 when he’ll be 36; and as much as $50 million for 2016-2017 when he’s turning 37?

It’s not the crime, but the coverup that dooms the participants. During and after manager Joe Girardi’s shouting match with Joel Sherman of the New York Post a week ago when Sherman asked about Sabathia’s health, was Girardi using anger as a distractive technique to shift the story from Sabathia and the possibility that he’s injured or pitching in pain? Is he hurt or not?

No matter how this season ends, if in its aftermath the Yankees turn around and admit that there was something wrong with Sabathia, how is that going to be spun to blame the media? Will it be used to justify Sabathia’s struggles? To divert attention from the fact that they were asked directly about the big lefty’s health and repeatedly said he was fine? It doesn’t work that way. You can’t say he’s okay to pitch and then use injuries to explain him not getting the job done.

Giving the moral high ground to someone like Joel Sherman is a sign that one needs to reevaluate his life. But on the scale of problems currently facing the Yankees, it’s just another small addition to the list that’s gotten them into this situation in the first place. And first place is something they may not be hearing in reference to their collective names much longer. Then Cashman’s going to have a lot more to worry about than how to navigate his statements to say things without saying them; to imply that there’s an excuse at the ready for whatever befalls the team from here on out.

He may have to worry about his job. Just like Anthony Weiner.

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Denial Doesn’t Solve The Yankees’ Problems

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

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

This from Ken Davidoff in the New York Post today:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Anatomy Of A Yankees Swoon

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

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

Injuries and lack of depth

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

1. Derek Jeter-SS

2. Curtis Granderson-CF

3. Nick Swisher-1B

4. Robinson Cano-DH

5. Alex Rodriguez-3B

6. Raul Ibanez-LF

7. Jayson Nix-2B

8. Chris Dickerson-RF

9. Chris Stewart-C

And pitching, Freddy Garcia.

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

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

Non-issues become problems when the team’s losing

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

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

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

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

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

Personnel gaffes

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

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

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

Hiroki Kuroda was a great signing.

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

Seeking solace

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

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

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

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

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

Meteorology

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

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

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

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

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

Clinging to the past; reaching back for the stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right now it looks like sooner.

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