Random musings on a Friday

(Rob Carr/Getty)
(Rob Carr/Getty)

1. I know I mentioned this on Twitter the other day, but can you imagine being a fan of the Orioles or Rays right now? As infuriating as the Yankees have been at times, I’m guessing fans of those two teams have had their fair share of angst as well. The Rays were tied for first as recently as a couple weeks ago. Instead of running away with the division, or at least securing the wild card spot, they’ve been pretty lousy. Now, they have the Yanks, Orioles, Indians, and even the Royals all breathing down their neck. As a fan, I suppose it’s still better to be rooting for the team being chased than the team doing the chasing, but yeesh, the Rays’ world must be pretty stressful at the moment. Ditto for the Orioles. Like the Yankees they are trying to make a final desperate run for that final playoff spot. The Yankees almost got swept by the Sox and yet the other wildcard contenders have nothing to show for it. That’s how it goes though sometimes. Baseball is odd.

2. Mike has talked about the bullpen workload of late, specifically how often Mariano Rivera has been called into duty. I get it. He’s retiring after the season. The team is at a critical point. They need Mo to be Mo whenever the occasion arises. But the man looks gassed out there, at least he did two nights ago. I was surprised, and thankful, last night that he pitched as efficiently as he did honestly. That’s what happens when you have a closer coming in basically every night of the week though, and sometimes for more than one inning of work – never mind the fact that the guy is in his forties. It’ll be cruel if the Yankees make the postseason and Mo is burnt out by the time they get there. Hopefully, the Yanks can string together some big wins (preferably against the Sox) and give the man a break. Frankly, the whole bullpen needs it. The team needs every player contributing at his peak, and a day or two off each week, might be the difference between blown saves and big wins over this final stretch. Unfortunately, that’s not something that Joe Girardi can control — particularly with the rotation being a mess. From a purely selfish standpoint, I also enjoy seeing Mo out there everyday. If this is the last we get to see of him, then let us enjoy it as often as possible.

3. Is anyone else frustrated with the team’s inability to grab a win without seemingly losing someone to injury? This year has been incredible in that regard. The other day it was Austin Romine, Ivan Nova, and Derek Jeter. Last night it was Brett Gardner. Things like this happen, but gosh, the Yanks have got to be setting some kind of dubious record for it this year. Of course, it goes without saying that losing Gardner hurts the lineup especially. Aside from being a fantastic outfielder and solid base runner, he’s been an important offensive force all year long. The team won’t be able to duplicate his contributions with any of the replacements. If a guy like Ichiro Suzuki takes over his lead-off spot, it’ll definitely represent a downgrade.

4. You know what’s funny? Alex Rodriguez is still a really important player. We saw this season how miserable the alternatives are. A-Rod, on the other hand, has had some big hits since returning, and has looked really sharp at the plate in general. Love him or hate him, he is a necessary part of the lineup. He’ll have to continue hitting well for the Yankees to make any kind of run into the playoffs. Also, I really enjoyed seeing him in the two spot these last few days. I think he’s done a good job there and I wouldn’t mind seeing that continue for the rest of the season.

5. Want some Friday humor? Well this is the best I got. My dream is that the Yankees make the World Series and A-Rod wins game seven on a walk off  home run, and as he rounds the bases he mimes the act of injecting steroids into himself and then flips the world off at home plate. Then in a beautifully terrible and ironic nightmare, Bud Selig is forced to award him the World Series MVP award. Alright, that’s all I got. Happy Friday.

Levine discusses Cano, injuries, payroll

I’m sure you’ve all heard Randy Levine’s most recent remarks.  A couple days ago, he told Mark Feinsand of the Daily News that Robinson Cano was not guaranteed to return next season as a Yankee if the price went too high, and then followed that up with some other remarks.  Here are the quotes along with my two cents.

“Robinson Cano is a great player. … We will sit down and talk to him. Hopefully he’s a Yankee. Nobody is a re-sign at all costs, but we want him back and we feel good about negotiating something with him. But nobody is a re-sign at any cost.”

Randy makes an absolutely valid point.  No one should be deemed a “re-sign at any cost” type of player (except for maybe Mike Trout at this point), even if they are a player that the team hopes to retain.  Personally, I hope Cano returns, but only if the agreement is sensible for the team too.  As great as he is, I don’t want to see something outrageous like ten years, $250M.  No matter what, Robinson is going to get paid.  You don’t have to fret about his future or that of his family.

That said, why is Randy Levine chiming in on this at all?  How does this help contract discussions down the road in any way?  I’m sure Brian Cashman (and by extension, ownership) has a good idea of how they value Cano relative to the rest of the league.  Conversely, I’m sure Roc Nation Sports has an idea of what they’re seeking for their first major client.  I don’t see how Levine fits into the mix.  Let the conversations happen before publicizing opinions please.

“The fact of the matter is, the reason this season has taken some bumps is because we have had an incredible amount of injuries … When our players are together and they’re playing, which has been very rare, the team has been very successful. Since the All-Star Game, we have had one of the best records in Major League Baseball.”

The injuries are certainly a major factor in this year’s struggles.  That said, that’s not the only reason this team has experienced some “bumps.”  Many of the woes this team has experienced were self-inflicted after a very underwhelming off season and trade deadline.  Also, in the spirit of fact-checking outrageous claims, the Yankees are 26-24 since the All Star Break and decidedly not one of the best teams in Major League Baseball.

“Take a look at this year; payroll has never translated into winning. What translates into winning is great talent … If you look at this year, some great stories; the Oakland A’s, Pittsburgh Pirates, low payroll teams right in there, possible championship caliber teams. We are taking a look at getting down to 189 (million), which has got tremendous financial incentives under the new collective bargaining agreement. But as Hal Steinbrenner has consistently said and as I have said, it has to be consistent with maintaining a championship team.

At 189, I think we would have the second-highest payroll in baseball. That is a lot of money. We will see what happens at the end of the year. The bottom line is the philosophy of this organization is do whatever it can to win the World Series. That’s what the Boss instituted years ago, and nothing has changed.”

See this is where the Yankees go all Billy Beane and try to reinvent the game using pennies on the dollar.  Look, if the team wants to maximize profits, that’s absolutely fine.  Frankly it’s the franchise’s prerogative.  We as fans may not appreciate that line of reasoning, but we can at least comprehend it.  Baseball is a business, and the Yankees are looking to increase profit.  Don’t feed us crap on top of it though.  Make the moves and just call it for what it is.

$189M is still a very respectable payroll, and it definitely should be competitive with the rest of the league.  Of course, it would have been ideal if the team had phased out some of their uglier contracts a bit more smoothly and tried to sign players to smarter deals heading forward — in other words, gradually reach that $189M objective.  Instead, the team implemented an untimely austerity budget during a period when every other team in baseball seems to be upping its spending.

Also, regarding the Oakland A’s and Pittsburgh Pirates, they are certainly feel good stories (and low budget teams).  Of course, I don’t think the folks in Boston, Los Angeles, Texas, or St. Louis are feeling all that lousy about themselves at the moment either.

Masahiro Tanaka and the quest for 2014 pitching

(Koji Watanabe/Getty)
(Koji Watanabe/Getty)

Mike has kept us informed on the Masahiro Tanaka front over the past few weeks. At this point, it certainly seems as though the team is doing its due diligence and is at least showing some degree of interest, though who knows if it’ll materialize into anything in the offseason. The Yankees have sent their assistant GM, Billy Eppler, along with special assignment scout (and former Mariners manager/Blue Jays bench coach/MLB player), Don Wakamatsu, to go and check him out. I’m sure New York has a bevy of other scouts who have followed Tanaka’s career as well. Whether the team should pursue Tanaka is a difficult question, but one worth asking. Let’s take a look.

Does Tanaka satisfy a need?

Obviously, the Yankees have a lot of question marks surrounding the 2014 rotation. Who knows whether CC Sabathia can become a solid pitcher again, nevermind a top of the rotation arm. Who knows if Andy Pettitte or Hiroki Kuroda plan on returning. Hell, who knows what Ivan Nova really is at this point. David Phelps and Michael Pineda provide zero certainty as well. Phil Hughes will almost certainly be gone. Can the team promote from within sufficiently? Well, they can try, but color me unconvinced.

Point is, the Yankees need pitching heading into next season in a big way. Now the skeptic could rightfully ask, does it make sense to replace so many question marks with another question mark? To that I would reply: probably, since scouts seem to agree that Tanaka is MLB ready and capable of producing positively. Additionally, every potential pitcher replacement has some degree of inherent risk, so perhaps what we really should be asking is whether Tanaka is more of a question mark than some of the alternatives (i.e. Roy Halladay or Tim Lincecum), and I don’t think that he necessarily is. As an aside, even after the presumably exorbitant posting fee and subsequent contract are offered, I’d still have to wonder if he would be a cheaper alternative than a “proven guy” like Matt Garza (who may not even be available anyway), which of course would be desirable if the $189M payroll is still the objective.

Does free agency offer anyone better?

With the exception of Matt Garza, the 2014 free agent crop of starting pitchers is pretty wanting. Maybe Ubaldo Jimenez is available and maybe you can make the argument that he’s more desirable at this point (he’s pitched great for the Indians since the All-Star break and his strikeout rates are heading back in the right direction). I’m not sure I’m sold on Ubaldo though (admittedly, I’ve never been his biggest fan). You can bet Jon Lester will have his club option picked up. Ditto for James Shields. Halladay will be 37 years old with some major health concerns. I guess there’s Tim Lincecum if you believe that ship can be righted (though as I insinuated above, I think both he and Halladay have major red flags). I suppose Dan Haren (33) is an option too, though I have my doubts about his health and skill set (talk about home run prone!). We talk about assuming risk. Well, prepare to assume a fair amount with all these guys.

Will Tanaka’s skill set hold up in the Majors?

That’s the key question, isn’t it? I’ll defer you to Mike’s scouting report from the other day for the details, but to put it succinctly, if Tanaka can become a number two type of arm at the MLB level immediately — which is apparently the consensus among scouts at this point – he’d be a major boost to any team, including New York. Is he Yu Darvish? No. Will he ever be? Probably not. Should that matter? I don’t think so. Most pitchers don’t wind up being one of the league’s best. Above average pitchers still have a lot of value though, and we’ve seen what happens to the bullpen (and record, ultimately) when one guy pitches great but is followed by a bunch of poor starts.

Are the Yankees leery of signing pitchers from Japan?

Unfortunately for Yankee fans, we’re all aware of this perception. Once upon a time, the Red Sox signed a supposed hot-shot pitcher named Daisuke Matsuzaka, while the Yankees paid a ton of cash for notable “other guy,” Kei Igawa. Obviously, neither contract worked out, though it’s clear that the Yanks hired the bigger bust. Then Darvish came along with impressive stuff. Everyone knew about the hype. The Rangers blew all the other organizations away with their bid while the Yankees posted a very conservative offer that was basically expected to fall short from the start. Apparently, this was partially due to the team’s experience with Igawa. So, here we are. The Rangers have a certifiable ace on their hands. The Yankees have a reputation of being scared of players from Japan (whether it’s justifiable or not). To wit, the Yanks also posted a conservative bid for Hyun-Jin Ryu ( though he was coming from South Korea).

I would hope the team could look at these players independently, and then assess whether they can be successful at the big league level. Avoiding talent because Igawa didn’t work out would not only be myopic, but just plain dumb. This needs to be a case-by-case decision. If Tanaka is MLB capable, he should be considered accordingly, period. If this is a question of Yankees scouting misreading talent (relative to their competition), that’s an entirely different problem and one that should be addressed immediately. That all said, I think there may be some degree of truth to the theory that the organization is worried about being burnt by an aggressive bid for one of these guys after the Igawa fiasco.

How much will Tanaka cost?

Total cop out answer: it depends, really. It’s a closed auction, so things have a tendency to get out of control pretty quickly. The Rangers won the Darvish bid at $51.7M. The Sox bid approximately $51.1M for the rights to talk with Dice-K. Last season, Ryu’s posting bid was roughly $25.7M. Tanaka is presumably not as good as Darvish, so maybe he winds up costing less. On the other hand, maybe teams are desperate for pitching and see him as someone at least comparable to Ryu, or maybe they even consider him more of a “sure thing” than Ryu. If I had to guess, I’d say the winning bid is about $40M.

From there, you then get to talk about player contracts. Darvish received a six-year, $56M contract which includes a player opt-out clause after the fifth year. It was a lot of money, but I think at this point, the Rangers are probably considering the contract a success in terms of production provided relative to the cost (at least so far). The Sox offered a six-year, $52M deal to Dice-K, which was a disaster. Ryu was also given a six-year deal that could be worth as much as $36M by the Dodgers. I suspect Tanaka will wind up closer to Darvish’s end of the spectrum than Ryu’s though. That means probably six years at approximately $7-8M per. In any event, when you consider what Garza will probably get, I think that a guy like Tanaka might make a ton of sense.

Yankees’ fate is in their own hands

As of this morning, Baseball Prospectus lists the Yankees odds of making the postseason at 10.5%. Cool Standings is slightly more optimistic at 16.4%. Obviously, neither of these sites spark very much confidence. And yet, it feels like the postseason isn’t just doable, but realistic if the Yankees play some quality baseball for the remainder of the month. Right?

Maybe it’s just that we’re accustomed to big moments in New York, or desperate for another playoff berth. Or, perhaps, as fans, we’re just not quite ready to concede until the postseason is no longer mathematically feasible. After all, these are the Yankees. When I speak with my father, he’s very matter-of-fact about it. He reminds me that the Yanks are only 2.5 games out with 24 to play. One legitimate hot streak, or one slump by a divisional rival, gets it done. I think there’s something to be said for his sentiments too.

Regardless of the odds or one’s blind faith in incredible outcomes, the fact still remains, New York needs to win games in a big way and they’ll probably need some help from their competition as well. Let’s take a look at how the final eight series are scheduled to play out for each team that could potentially grab that second sacred Wild Card spot.

schedgraphic

The Rangers and Athletics are in an extremely tight race. One of the teams will get in no matter what. The other will still have a very good opportunity to participate in October baseball. Unfortunately for the Yankees, both the Rangers and the A’s have fairly favorable schedules remaining too. Aside from the six games remaining against each other, each of these two clubs have plenty of games left against sub .500 teams (though the Angels have been hot of late and could potentially dampen the mood). Still, if I were a betting man, I’d figure both these teams will be enjoying October baseball.

Frankly, I just don’t envision the Royals or the Indians getting the job done. While both teams are definitely in the playoff hunt, I’d be surprised if it worked out favorably for either of them. Aside from the six games against the Indians remaining, the Royals also have to deal with the Rangers and Tigers. The Indians have a very convenient schedule remaining but haven’t been playing particular well of late (they’ve lost 16 of their last 27 games). Meanwhile, the Tigers will conclude their regular season against a lot of mediocre teams, not to mention the fact that they definitely do have a playoff caliber roster that’s been playing well. You also have to figure Miguel Cabrera will be healthy enough to contribute at his typical pace by the time it counts.

So that leaves the gauntlet that is the American League East. As was expected from moment one, it looks as though the division could come down to the wire. The Rays, Orioles, and Yankees are all fighting desperately for that last gasp of air. Seventeen of the final 24 games for the Yankees are against divisional rivals. Their fate (while statistically improbable) is still absolutely within their own hands. Of course, the same could be said for their competition. Hell, even though the Sox have a nice healthy lead on the division, 19 of their final 22 games are against divisional rivals (not to mention the two remaining against a formidable Tigers squad).

Needless to say, the road to the playoffs won’t be easy (or even necessarily pretty) for any of the teams involved. I don’t know how this all is going to end. Probability keeps our heads in check and our hopes from getting too lofty, but as we all know, the games aren’t played on paper.  I, for one, am preparing for an exciting September.