Archive for Rants
Games like last night’s happen throughout the course of a 162-game season, but that doesn’t make them any less frustrating. The Yankees are still in first place and (more importantly) still have the second best run differential (+39) in the league. It hasn’t been pretty over the last few weeks, so let’s break out the old complaint box…
That’s what the Yankees are hitting with men in scoring position over the last two weeks or so, since the second game of the Detroit series*. I usually don’t put an overwhelming amount of stock in performances with RISP since it’s generally a small sampling of plate appearances (just 90 over that time, which is nothing in context of the entire team), but that doesn’t mean the Yankees’ failures in those spots don’t drive me insane. Last night was the epitome of RISPFAIL, as they went just 2-for-16 with men on second and/or third and stranded 15 runners in 11 innings. Just awful.
The newer, slimmed down version of Alex Rodriguez was a monster at the outset of the season, hitting .385/.500/.821 with four homers in his first 13 games before missing one game and part of another with a stiff back/oblique. He just hasn’t been the same since, hitting .194/.260/.269 in his 17 games back. The grand slam in his first game back against the Orioles seems like a distance memory. It’s clear that Alex’s timing is off at the plate; he’s fouling off pitches he should crush and completely whiffing on others he should at least hit hard somewhere.
I had some fun with David Robertson‘s knack for pitching out of other people’s messes yesterday, but you know what? The guy has a serious walk problem. He’s always been a little wild, sure, but this year he’s unintentionally walked nine men in 14 innings (5.79 uIBB/9), and that includes eight walks in his last 5.2 IP. Robertson’s walked at least one batter in his last six appearances after walking just two in his first ten games. Is it possible that warming up practically every game in April is taking a toll on his arm now? He’s never been known as a control freak, but the sudden spike in free pass rate is a nice piece of anecdotal evidence. That leads me to this…
I hate ‘em. Mariano Rivera in the ninth? Perfectly fine with me, no issue there whatsoever. $35M setup man in the eighth? Fine, I can live with that. But having a designated seventh inning guy? Now we’re really pushing the envelope of common sense. There needs to be more flexibility with Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson, and even Boone Logan in those spots, if for no other reason than to avoid wearing one or all of them out given all these close games the Yankees have been playing.
How many rundowns have we seen the Yankees botch this season, especially when pitchers are involved? Whatever the number is, it’s too many. Rundowns have to be viewed as guaranteed outs, and they’ve not only failed to convert a number of them, but they’ve often ended up costing the team runs. We’ve also seen instances of pitchers forgetting (or being too lazy) to cover first base, or just muff balls grounded to their area. Did they just skip PFP in camp because four-fifths of a rotation is made up of veteran guys? Whatever it is, the sloppy play needs to be cleaned up.
* * *
These are just a few of the more … annoying aspects of the team right now, but there’s certainly several others. Those include the heavy use of the sacrifice bunt, Buddy Carlyle’s presence on the roster, Logan’s general inability to get out lefties, Cano’s hackiness, so on and so forth.
* Cherry-picking at its finest.
As I sat in the Terrace section of Yankee Stadium three weeks ago, I pondered the scene around me. For the second year in a row, I nabbed some tickets to the home opener, and while last year’s crowd celebrated the World Series ring ceremony on a sunny day in early spring, this year’s sparse crowd seemed more focused on huddling together to stay warm. With rain falling and highs reaching only 43 degrees, the weather seemed better suited to football than Opening Day.
Now, over the years, I’ve spent many a cold night at Yankee Stadium. I’ve sat through blistering winds in early May and chilly but crisp nights in late October. I’ve seen snow fall early in the season and have worn more layers than I care to count to the stadium. But on Opening Day, sitting there in three shirts, a sweater, a winter jacket and with a wool hat and gloves on, I said to myself, “No more.” Unless it’s Opening Day, I’d rather just wait until the weather is warmer.
Yet, last Friday and Saturday, when game-time temperatures were in the upper 40s, I again found myself at Yankee Stadium, bundled up to brave the cold. By the time the Yanks had won Saturday afternoon’s affair against the Rangers, I had spent around seven of the previous 22 hours in the cold at Yankee Stadium. I realize that was my choice, but it was a tough one. By the end of the second game, my friend Jay who also went to both games said he wasn’t sure he could keep going to these freezing games. It’s impossible to deny that the dog days of summer are much, much better for baseball than the rainy days of early April.
Somehow, though, the Yankees were scheduled for home games throughout April. Already, they’ve had 13 home games scheduled. Two have been rained out, and for two others, the team has offered to give fans make-goods for a future date because the weather was just that miserable. They end the month with six month home games, and luckily, temperatures may actually be in the upper 50s or low 60s then.
Meanwhile, baseball has been wringing its collective hands over attendance woes. CNBC’s Darren Rovell noted this week that attendance was down slightly across the board, but that a few teams — including the Yankees — had seen steep declines. Even though the Yanks are third in home attendance in the Majors right now, the current average — 41,685 — is nine percent lower than 2010′s per-game average.
The Yankees are blaming the weather, and I’m inclined to agree, at least in part. “The fact that we’ve had this early April schedule has hurt us,” Randy Levine said to ESPN New York. “Over the course of the season, we expect everything to equalize. But early on, the fact that the weather has been so bad [and] we’ve had so many games in April has hurt.”
On the other hand, though, a good number of partial season ticket holders have dropped their plans. The Yankees either cut benefits and postseason access from the plans or the costs became too high. The attendance issues too are reflected on the secondary market. It’s now possible to buy reasonably good seasons for well under $10 a pop. With markdowns so far below face value, supply is outstripping demand.
As we can’t yet draw too many statistical conclusions from the Yanks’ play, it’s also early to condemn the attendance numbers. But I’m comfortable saying the Yanks shouldn’t have 19 home games — or nearly 25 percent of their home slate scheduled — for before May 1. It’s not a secret that spring is a cold, wet time in the northeast, and baseball has plenty of warm-weather teams and domed stadiums to play host to most April games.
Despite my promises to myself, I’ll keep going to games, and I’ll keep bringing layers and gloves. I know we’ll be complaining about the heat in New York come mid-July, but these early April home games are a bit brutal. I don’t blame anyone for staying home. It’s much warmer on my couch, after all.
Baseball is a game of failure, whether you’re a hitter or a pitcher or a coach or a scout or a general manager. Everyone’s going to make mistakes, it’s part of life and it’s part of the game. Some make more than others, and if you’re the Yankees, you make more high-profile mistakes more than others. That’s what happens when you play in the deep end of the pool. The team got some bad news last night following Pedro Feliciano‘s MRI, as the left-hander has (what we can infer is) significant damage in his throwing shoulder and may need surgery. Depending on the severity of the injury, he could miss the entire year and possibly even the start of the next season.
Unfortunately an injured lefty reliever is nothing new for the Yankees. The reason they signed Feliciano in the first place was because Damaso Marte is going to miss a significant chunk of the season after having shoulder surgery himself. Since signing his three-year, $12M contract before the 2009 season, Marte has thrown a total of 35 innings for New York, and that’s regular season plus playoffs. The team clearly hasn’t gotten its money’s worth.
When the previously ultra-durable Feliciano hit the disabled list to start the season, Brian Cashman lashed out at the lefty’s previous employer by saying flatly “he was abused.” That was a head-scratcher simply because any dunce with access to Baseball-Reference could tell you that Feliciano had been overworked by the Mets in recent years, but the real head-scratcher is why they still signed him if they knew he was abused. The “limited market” for left-handed relievers was used as an the excuse, but that doesn’t really pass the sniff test. There were no fewer than 13 big league caliber LOOGY’s on the free agent market this offseason, and six of them were still on the board when the Yankees pulled the trigger on Feliciano. Plus, they’re the Yankees, there’s no such thing as a limited market for them.
Failure in baseball comes in two forms: results failure and process failure. Results failure is when you do everything right and it still doesn’t work out, something we see every day. A batter squares a ball up but hits it right at a fielder. A pitcher buries the changeup down and away but the hitter just throws the bat head out and bloops a single the other way. The relief ace enters the game in the right spot but still blows the lead. That’s life, and it’s part of what makes baseball so great, the unpredictability.
Process failure is another matter entirely. That’s when the decisions leading up poor results were bad. Stacking the lineup with lefty batters against Randy Johnson. Leaving the LOOGY in to face an elite right-handed batter. Sacrifice bunting a runner up a base when he’s already in scoring position. That’s the kind of stuff that qualifies as a process failure, the straight up bad decisions. Hey, sometimes they do work it, but more often than not they don’t. Signing Feliciano to a market rate and multi-year deal when the team was obviously aware of the risk and there were viable alternatives on the market, that’s a process failure.
Let’s just ignore the multi-year contract aspect of it. We know those are generally bad ideas in the first place, and the Yankees have seen first hand over and over and over again. The whole idea that they knew Feliciano was at heightened risk of injury (remember, he’s already 34, he’s no spring chicken) and still gave him a market value contract just seems like a good old fashioned swing and a miss. Either they didn’t evaluate him properly, they didn’t evaluate the alternatives properly, or they got too caught up in the name value. Maybe it was all three.
Yes, swallowing Feliciano’s $4M salary is no big deal for the Yankees this year. That barely makes a dent in their bottom line. But being able to do that shouldn’t necessarily be a reason to take on added risk, not in the situation like this. He’s a lefty reliever, Feliciano’s impact would have been minimal even if he was perfectly healthy. Maybe they take on that risk for a front-end starter or a power bat, but a LOOGY? Now they’re stuck with no Feliciano, a budget missing $4M (more when you count the luxury tax), and a real limited market. All the free agents are gone and no one’s ready to make a trade yet, certainly not when it comes to left-handed relievers anyway.
Feliciano won’t be anything more than a footnote in the history of the 2011 Yankees, but his signing will hopefully serve as lesson like Marte, Kyle Farnsworth, and Steve Karsay apparently didn’t. Giving multi-year contracts to non-Mariano Rivera relievers is a terrible idea, especially when there are obvious physical concerns with the player. Luckily the Yankees can absorb the mistake and move on like nothing happened, but they definitely goofed on this one.
Over the weekend, the Yankees announced that Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia will be their fourth and fifth starters when the season opens while Bartolo Colon shifts to the bullpen and does the long man routine. I don’t think anyone has an issue with Nova being in the rotation, he showed enough in his cameo late last year and continued to impress in camp. Given the alternatives, there was no reason not to give him one of the open spots. That last spot is a little more up for debate.
The decision was made with heavy influence from the 157 innings Garcia mustered for the White Sox last year. That part is pretty clear. They weren’t the best innings (4.77 FIP), but hey, a typical fifth starter is 14% worse than league average and Garcia wasn’t all that far off from that mark last year (16.9%). Colon didn’t pitch at all last season and has managed just 101.1 IP in the bigs since 2007. The Yankees need reliability at the back of the rotation and their decision reflects that based on each guy’s recent history.
However, my thinking about the fifth starter’s spot is a little different. We know that both Garcia and Colon have battled some major, major shoulder issues in the last few years, and I think we all expect both guys to break down at some point this season. Ironically enough, we consider them band-aids for the rotation. At some point, we’ll just rip them off and throw them away. So anyway, my thinking is that when you have two guys this close to the end of the line, two guys that slip right off the cliff at any moment, their recent histories don’t mean all that much. At some point you have to look at what you have in the here and now and ignore what happened last year or over the last three years or whatever.
Colon, by any measure, beat out Garcia (and really Nova too, for that matter) for a rotation spot in camp. We know that Spring Training stats mean nothing, but if you’re the kind of person that puts value in them, then you probably know that Colon’s 17 strikeouts leads Yankees pitchers this spring, and he walked just one batter in 15 IP (four runs). Garcia, on the other hand, had another ugly spring in a career full of them, allowing nine runs in 13.2 IP. He did strike out a dozen and walked just two, but he gave up a hit per inning. At a time when he had to pitch well, he was underwhelming.
Just looking at the stuff, and it was painfully obvious that Colon was better. He’s not the guy he was in his prime, when 96+ mph fastballs were the norm, but he was consistently at 92 and touching 94 on occasion with his four-seamer while his sinker sat just below that. His offspeed offering – whether you want to call it a changeup or splitter or forkball or junkball is unimportant – did the job of keeping hitters off balance. Garcia’s kitchen sink approach featured a lot of fastballs in the 80′s and various breaking balls just off the plate. The kind of breaking balls that get hammered if they aren’t located properly. Based on what we saw in camp (an albeit limited sample), Colon has much more margin for error right now. That isn’t to say he has a lot, but it’s more than Garcia.
Chances are I’m making too much of nothing, but I would have started the season with Colon in the rotation to get as much out of him as humanly possible before his arm explodes. He’s throwing the ball better than Garcia is right now, and I would have milked it for all it’s worth. Then again, it’s not my neck on the line, and we are talking about two guys brought in to be placeholders. The Yankees will eventually find someone better and move on, and we’ll all look back at this fifth starter/long man debate and laugh. But for now, I would have done things differently.
Spring Training, the new season, brings optimism and excitement to everyone and their team. Every club is in first place, everyone feels good about so-and-so having a breakout year or that new free agent or the hotshot prospect, but not in Yankees camp. Yankees camp is all about controversy in Spring Training, spreading the doom-and-gloom scenarios that help sell papers and get page views. You won’t get anyone to admit it, but there are some writers (and bloggers) that have an undeniable hatred of certain players/executives, and it comes through in their writing.
Pitchers and catchers have officially been in Tampa for three whole days, and already we’ve had doomsday scenarios presented about a) CC Sabathia‘s opt-out clause, b) A.J. Burnett‘s mental state following his down year, and c) Joba Chamberlain‘s weight. Mariano Rivera didn’t show up until this morning, and we’re already three controversies into the new season. That has to be some kind of record.
It’s early in camp and everyone needs something to write about, but controversy sells. No one cares that Phil Hughes is ahead of all the other pitchers because of the work he’s done over the last few weeks, and we’ve heard very little about Jesus Montero despite his status as arguably the game’s best offensive prospect and his legitimate (albeit small) chance to make the team. Hell, has anyone read anything about Pedro Feliciano or Rafael Soriano? They’re club’s two most notable free agent signings, and no one’s bothered to get a quote from them. I know more about Hector Noesi‘s visa status than I do about how Feliciano and Soriano feel about being Yankees.
It’s not that CC’s opt-out and A.J. mental state and Joba’s weight gain and whatever other stuff comes out of camp isn’t a story, it certainly is. But there’s only so much that can be said about it until the coverage starts becoming a parody of itself. We’re seeing stuff about Joba’s career being on the line over 15 pounds. Career on the line. As if that extra weight will earn him a trip to Siberia if he doesn’t pitch well. Hell, no one’s bothered to notice that Bryan Hoch said the easy target’s righty’s stomach is flatter than you’d expect, where’s the fun in that?
Last year we enjoyed a controversy-free Spring Training, all because the team was coming off a World Series win. That was great, everyone was happy, and there was talk of a dynasty (as their always is after any team wins a title), all that. But this year it’s all about shock value and scare tactics. Are the Yankees perfect? Of course not. No team is. PECOTA projects them to have the second best record in baseball and the top offense, but you’d never know it by some of the coverage they receive. You’d think they were one pitch away from a Pirates-esque run in the cellar. There’s nothing we can about it other than bide our time until the season begins, but this is what we’re stuck with.
*Mike summed up some of his own frustrations about the response to the Yankees’ offseason last week. I thought I’d be more specific.
It’s been a pretty lame offseason for the Yankees so far. We’ve missed the guys we want. We ended up signing some players that may or may be good choices for the team. Our minor league signings are taking heat. Our pitching rotation is questionable. Our sluggers are aging. Our GM is raising money for prostate cancer.
I can’t remember the last time I heard Brian Cashman take this much heat (2008?). Every single thing that Cashman has done this winter has been criticized by someone somewhere. I would not be surprised if John Q. Obnoxious Fan woke up yesterday and said, “God, what nerve does Cashman have, making coffee for himself?” At times, it seems the man can do nothing right. If I was Brian Cashman, I’d be more than frustrated with that part of the Yankees fanbase. I think it was perfectly legitimate for him to air some of those grievances to Ken Rosenthal: “Why are people bitching so much? That’s my question. That’s my frustration.” Rest assured, Cash, I would have had much stronger words with a fanbase like this one if I was you.
It’s not that Cashman hasn’t made bad moves in the past. He has. He is not perfect. What gets my goat, though, is how much stuff he gets blamed for that is absolutely out of his control, or the things that are totally irrelevant.
For example, this whole Cliff Lee business. During the negotiations, and even slightly after, it was hard to pin the tail on exactly who’s fault it was, which obviously meant it was Cashman’s fault. Never mind that same group hating on him would have most likely also lambasted the man for offering a 32-year-old starter (with an injury history!) a seven- or eight-year contract. Never mind that Lee made it obvious afterwards that he wanted to sign with the Phillies. Never mind the Yankees offered him more money. It is obviously Cashman’s responsibility to whip out his mind control device and convince players who aren’t interested to sign with the team. Duh. We all know the Yankees have a mind control device Cashman just wasn’t interested in using because Gene Michael used it to convince Greg Maddux to sign in 1992. Wait, no he didn’t.
Another thing- do people expect Cashman to open his closet and have a fifth starter who passes the Better Than Mitre test just fall out? He knows the rotation is a problem. I’m sure he has looked at all the different options for that problematic spot. But at this point, there’s nothing he can do. Sure, he could sign Millwood or Garcia or Duchscherer to an unreasonable contract, but he’d certainly get criticized for that. Sure, he could trade our well-grown farm system, but he’d certainly get criticized at for that too. And the fact is, those moves aren’t smart ones. Why would he do them? Why would a fan of the team, a person who wants the team to improve, suggest that we make a stupid move just for the sake of making a move? The Yankees are not the Angels. We do not need a Vernon Wells-type thing going on here.
What grinds my gears the most is how I’ve seen and heard people get down on Cashman for doing charity events. Charity Events! People are yelling at him because he is raising money to fight prostate cancer. Baseball is a game. It’s a game we really love, but it’s a game. Cancer will kill you. Between winning baseball games and fighting cancer, fighting cancer is the way to go. Plus, it seems unreasonable that being a GM would take up every waking moment of his life; finding a single night to help fight cancer doesn’t seem unreasonable. I don’t think Cashman is the kind of guy who needs to be sitting at home staring at the phone waiting for Andy Pettitte or Kevin Millwood to call him. He has people to do that for him. Instead, he takes his “celebrity status” and uses it to raise money to fight cancer. That sounds like a class act to me. That certainly sounds like something I’d want my GM doing in his spare time. How in anyone’s right mind could you blast a guy for raising money to fight cancer? It boggles me.
I’m not even going to start with the “checkbook GM” thing.
This is what I do. Whenever I’m angry about Brian Cashman (rarely), I try to think about all the GMs he is not. He is not Tony Reagins, who is now the laughing-stock of the baseball community. He is not Dayton Moore, who signed Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera. He is not Sandy Alderson, tasked with fixing the mess that is the Mets.
I am expecting someone to blame Cashman for the Astros extending Wandy Rodriguez. I am also expecting someone to blame Cashman for waking up in the morning and putting on his slippers. I mean, he’s only won what, four World Series rings as GM? Taken us to the postseason every year except 2008? What a crappy performance the guy has put on. Fire Cashman. Punish him by making him manage the Pirates. Wait, that might be what he wants, according to some fans and media-types. I guess we’ll just have to force him to stick around here for a few more years. Damn. What a drag.
It’s natural to want to compare athletes. In a world where success means being the absolute best – just look at the things we’ve forgiven professional athletes for – you really can’t avoid it. When a professional athlete begins to stand out, be it for their numbers or personality, they become easy targets for comparison. How many closers have been compared to Mariano Rivera? How many prospects might grow up to be Babe Ruth or Albert Pujols?
But there is no “next Mariano Rivera.” It’s not Jonathan Papelbon. It’s not Carlos Marmol. It’s not Jenrry Meija. Some comparisons just don’t work. Maybe it’s a matter of statistics. Maybe it’s a matter of personality. Maybe it’s both. No one is “the next Mariano Rivera,” because no one has dominated some of the toughest batters in baseball with one pitch for 15 (fifteen!) years. It might also have something to do with the fact that you could probably be crushed to death by Rivera’s postseason records. But the whole Mariano Rivera comparison fails especially badly in the case of Jonathan Papelbon, who is not only not as good at closing and lacks Rivera’s longevity, but is also a total brat.
Another common, terrible comparison which seems to have reared its absolutely hideous head as of late: Andy Pettitte is not Brett Favre. Andy Pettitte is nothing like Brett Favre. Their positions in their respective sports are totally different. Their public personalities are totally different. The way they go about trying to decide if they’re going to retire is totally different. Can we please stop insulting Andy Pettitte by suggesting he is even remotely like Brett Favre?
Admittedly, I’m totally biased on the matter. I grew up in the 90’s, near New York, and Andy Pettitte was a huge part of my childhood. I watched him grow into the pitcher he is today while figuring out who I wanted to be. I cheered for his successes and winced at his losses. I nearly cried when he went to Houston and rejoiced when he returned. Meanwhile, I honestly do not care about Brett Favre. I’m the last thing from a football fan. I watched a grand total of two football games this season, both in the postseason. I had to ask someone what Mark Sanchez’s first name was.
Yes, I know Brian Cashman recently referenced Favre in regards to Pettitte. But it sounded like to me he didn’t want Pettitte to be like Favre, not he actually thought Pettitte was acting like Favre.
Let’s start with the sport and background: from my understanding of football, teams are built around the quarterback. You basically have to figure out what you’re doing with your quarterback before you can make any other moves. The type of quarterback decides what kind of passing game you’re going to play, what kind of running game you’re going to play, and what kind of offensive linemen you need. He’s the leader of the team.
Fourth starters are significantly less important. Even third starters aren’t as big as quarterbacks. Heck, baseball is a very compartmentalized sport: not even your Opening Day starter changes most of your team! Let’s face it, Andy Pettitte isn’t the ace of the Yankees rotation even if he does return. His decision affects absolutely no part of the Yankees lineup besides the starting rotation and where Sergio Mitre starts, maybe if we go after another pitcher or not. It’s not as if Pettitte’s return changes the plan for outfield or helps out in the catching/DH jumble. Cashman has been forging ahead regardless of Pettitte’s decision, and that’s just what he should do. Meanwhile, Favre basically holds up the whole team while he sits on his hands.
Secondly, has anyone noticed that Andy Pettitte has, at no point in time, actually said that he is going to retire? Sure we get that he’s 75% leaning towards retirement, or that he’s not showing up for Spring Training, but the fact of the matter is this: Pettitte hasn’t come out and said he’s retiring. He might retire, yes. He’s considering it. He has a family he wants to spend time with, and he’s admitted he’s not exactly a baseball spring chicken. On the other side, he’s keeping in shape. But I think everything that has been said about Pettitte’s retirement ignores the fact we honestly do not know if he’s going to retire. There is no ‘Yes, I’m retiring.’ It’s not like Pettitte said after this year (or ’09, or ’08), that he’s retiring. He certainly did not hold a press conference to announce his retirement following a tearful post-game interview like Favre did in 2008.
Also, comparing these two totally different athletes does more than talk about their different retirement strategies. One of these players sent pictures of his, uh, nether regions to a reporter and, if you believe what you read on the internet, harassed plenty of other women too, all while being married. He’s a guy who’s been addicted to both Vicodin and alcohol at different points in time. The other one of these guys publicly admitted to and apologized for messing up even in the heat of the steroid drama.
Let’s say tomorrow Andy has a tearful press conference in which he says he’s going to retire and hang up the pinstripes. We all have a good cry about it, but we move on. Then, Pettitte decides he’s actually going to pitch this year, and he ends up starting for the Tigers. Shortly after, we discover Pettitte said some lewd things to Kim Jones and had some lovely ladies over at his house. Then this comparison is a legitimate one. Until then, it’s totally wrong. Andy Pettitte is Brett Favre and Jonathan Papelbon is Mariano Rivera.
I’m going to guess that most of the people reading this blog are probably Yankee fans. Why would you insult someone as wonderful as Andy Pettitte by comparing him to Brett Favre? Come on. Really?
*Quote in the title is from Billy Wagner, who appears to actually be retiring when he said he’s retiring.
As crummy as this offseason has been, one thing it did do was show that no matter what moves the Yankees make, they’re never right. There’s always backlash, whether it’s from us, the MSM, the fans, whoever. Every single move, from the smallest minor league signing to the latest record-setting contract, it’s wrong in one way or another. Seriously, people were complaining about the Steve Evarts signing, and I’m willing to bet a whole lot of them had completely forgotten the Yankees signed the guy until just now. The Cliff Lee, Derek Jeter, and Rafael Soriano situations all prove this point as well. Each and every one was wrong in one way or the other.
Back in November and early-December, when it appeared as though the Yankees were the favorite to sign Lee, the narrative was that giving a 30-something finesse pitcher a long-term deal was a terrible idea. He’ll break down, he doesn’t have enough margin for error, yadda yadda yadda. Then once the Phillies landed Lee, the story became “how could they let him get away!” Nice, easy, and convenient. It doesn’t matter that everyone was talking about what a bad idea it was just a few weeks earlier, they failed to get him and that was a mistake.
The Jeter situation was in a class by itself. We had one side saying the Yanks needed to be firm with an aging and declining player while another was saying that they had to give him whatever he wanted because, dude, it’s Derek Jeter. The Yankees got him to take a pay cut on an average annual basis but signed him through age 40 with zero competition on the open market. They managed to disrespect him and cave into his demands at the same time, depending on who you ask. Same deal with Soriano. They needed this guy because the rotation’s awful and they can shorten the game but OH MY GOD DO YOU SEE THAT CONTRACT?
Perhaps my favorite narrative of the winter is that the Yankees aren’t spending enough money and are now being frugal. This is coming after years and years and years of stories and articles and blog posts declaring that the team was ruining baseball by buying all the best players. They dropped half-a-billion dollars* on three players two winters ago and will still have the highest payroll in the game, but no, they’re not spending enough. And if they had signed someone else, be it Lee or Carl Crawford or whoever, those bastards are ruining the game and the competitive balance all that.
* It was really $423.5M, but you’re allowed to artificially mark things up 18.1% to support your narrative, apparently. Half-a-billion just sounds better, facts are irrelevant.
Oh, oh, and then there’s the prospects. How can they worry about giving up the 31st overall pick, have you seen the list of players taken with that pick? Rewind back a few years and we were talking about how the Yankees have no farm system because they gave up all their draft picks to sign free agents and traded anyone with an iota of prospect status for the latest band-aid, and in a few years we’ll probably be saying the same thing again. It’s just the nature of farm system, they cycle between good and bad every few years. But for the Yankees, it’s always a problem. Too many prospects? Why aren’t they calling them up/trading them oh my goodness they love their own minor leaguers too much. Not enough good prospects? How can this possibly be with their resources I don’t understand. Lose-lose.
Yankee bashing is a pastime as old as the game itself, and the current age of media just makes it more prevalent. It’s a vicious cycle, and no matter what the Yanks do, it will always be wrong in the court of public opinion. We’re all guilty of it, no question. It sucks and there’s nothing we can do about it, but it goes to show what kind of world this team has to operate in.
Late last week the Yankees agreed to a contract with a Rafael Soriano, and it’s not just a normal contract. It’s an absurdly player-friendly contract that’s almost too good to be true from the player’s perspective. The guy gets a guaranteed $11.5M in 2011, and then depending on how things play out over the next eleven or so months, he can either go seek a bigger contract elsewhere or take another $10M from the Yankees. If he does the latter, then twelve months after that he gets to decide if he wants to test the market or take another $13.5M of the Yankees money. It’s a fantastic contract for Soriano and I’m certain there are quite a few players around the league envious of him.
Therein lies the problem, the structure of the contract is just ridiculously unfavorable to the Yankees. Forget the money, that’s a drop in the bucket to them, it’s the structure of the contract and they way Soriano is now allowed to determine his role with the team for the next three years. Within minutes of the news breaking about the contract and the inclusion of these opt-outs, the general sense was that people were hoping that Soriano would pitch well in 2011 then opt out and go somewhere else. Hoping he opts out! If you have to hope a guy opts within a weekend of the deal being announced, that’s a pretty definitive sign that something is wrong.
There’s basically one way this deal will end up being a positive for the Yankees, if Soriano is fantastic in 2011 and he opts out to sign elsewhere. That’s it. Anything else happens, it’s a loss because everything is out of the team’s hands. They have zero say about whether Soriano will be a part of their club in either 2012 or 2013 (unless they can magically trade a reliever making eight figures at some point), and the only way they know for certain that he’ll still be around is if he gets hurt or just starts sucking like relievers can do for no apparent reason. But the other side of the coin is that if Soriano is dominant, he’s going to take off and look for a bigger contract elsewhere, maybe even just a bigger one from the Yankees. The team has no leverage, the risk on their end exists in the form of two years and $23.5M while the risk to Soriano is … what? Where’s the trade-off?
I’m just using Soriano as an example here, the same logic applies to CC Sabathia and his opt-out next offseason. Trust me, I’m a thousand percent aware that CC has said he won’t opt out (not necessarily using those words, mind you) pretty much since the day he signed his contract, but I don’t believe him. He’s not stupid, CC and his agent know that next winter’s free agent pitching crop is weak, so if he opts out he’ll have the Yankees by the balls. They can’t afford to lose him so the four years and $92M left on his contract will turn into a brand new five year, $120M contract like the Phillies gave Cliff Lee. Hell, when Sabathia hits the free agent market next winter, he’ll still be a full year younger than Lee was this winter. Five years and $120M is probably just a starting point.
The thing I hate most about these opt-outs is that they’re being passed off as “creative.” That was the word used for the Soriano deal, just like it was for Derek Jeter. Taking on all of the risk is not creative, it’s a horrible management of resources and will come back to bite the Yankees rather hard if they continue handing out contracts structured like this. It’s likely to happen with Sabathia in a year, and it’s likely to happen when a 39-year-old Jeter gets to decide if 40-year-old Jeter should earn no less than $8M regardless of how well he’s actually playing.
Look, there’s no denying that Soriano makes the 2011 Yankees considerably better. He’s a world-class pitcher and the bullpen is considerably stronger with him, I’m not going to argue that aspect of this contract because there is no argument. On the field, the dude is a beast and I look forward to watching him pitch and rooting for him to succeed. But the contract, good grief the contract. The Yankees took on all the risk with a microscopically small chance that it ends up working in there favor. It reeks of desperation and the opt-outs strike me as saying “we really don’t want to do this and we’re hoping that we can get out from under this deal as soon as possible, please please please don’t get hurt in 2011.” If you’re that concerned about a contract, just don’t do it.
Oh well, there’s nothing that can be done about it now, but giving out opt-out clauses like this just isn’t a smart way to build a team. The risk is too great and the reward is far too small, there’s no other way around it.
In the unlikely event that you missed it last night, the Yankees have agreed to a contract with free agent reliever Rafael Soriano. I’m not a fan of the deal at all but I’m not here to talk about that. Instead I want to rant about a member of the pitching staff directly impacted by the Soriano signing, and that’s Joba Chamberlain.
It’s pretty obvious by now that the Yankees have very little faith in Joba. If they did, they wouldn’t have bent over backwards to sign Soriano when the market for his services was non-existent. Part of that is on Joba and part of it is on the team for mishandling him so badly. I’m usually on board with most of the moves the team makes and have spent many hours defending Brian Cashman and the rest of the brain trust, but there’s no denying that they completely botched Joba’s long-term development. They were desperate for late inning relief help in 2007 because (wait for it) the last free agent reliever they signed to a multi-year deal flamed out. They just compounded the issue by refusing to send him back to the minors to get back in 2008 so that he could get back on a normal development track.
So what do they have now, they have a middle reliever with admittedly fantastic peripheral stats and zero consistency. What they don’t have is any decent help for the back of the rotation. Signing Soriano doesn’t help the rotation at all, Sergio Mitre can still stink up the first five innings just as easily as he could have before. Will they take this opportunity to move Joba back to the rotation, turning an absurd contract for a reliever into actual help for the starting staff? I doubt it, and that’s what annoys the crap out of me.
Before the Yankees started screwing around with Joba’s innings limitations in 2009, he was fantastic as a starter. The guy made 34 full starts from June 2008 through August 2009, meaning he wasn’t pulled early and was allowed to empty the tank. In those 34 starts, he had a 3.54 ERA (3.97 FIP) with 8.50 K/9, 3.84 uIBB/9, and 0.92 HR/9. Opponents had .329 wOBA off him during that time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say Joba was some kind of ace caliber starter during this time, but good grief, he was 23 years old basically the whole time. He was better and younger than Phil Hughes was in 2010. If a young kid performs like that in the AL East, you don’t stick him in the bullpen, you keep him in the rotation because at worst, he’s a mid-rotation starter. At best, he’s on his way to becoming something more.
I’m not asking for a miracle here, just give the guy a chance to start again in Spring Training. There’s basically no downside. If he gets hurt and his days as an effective pitcher come to an end, who cares? All the Yankees would be losing is a seventh inning reliever. If it works, well then geez, you’ve got yourself a young big league starter, something the team could really use right about now. It’s Spring Training, just try it. That’s all I’m asking. Just make an effort, give him the same kind of rope they gave Hughes this past year.
Now, I’m certain there are things going on behind the scenes that we don’t know about. Heck, Joba’s shoulder could be shredded for all I know. If it is, then they need to trade him as soon as possible and make it someone else’s problem. If there are concerns about his attitude and they’re worried about him getting to comfortable, then just trade him. Stringing him along in middle relief isn’t the answer. And please, all that nonsense about his stuff playing up in the bullpen … give me a break. Of course it’s true, just like it’s true for every other pitcher in the history of the universe. That’s not a good enough reason, it’s just a cop out.
If the Yankees aren’t going to put Joba in the rotation now that they have Soriano on board, I just don’t know what to say. I’m really at my wit’s end here, I just can not fathom why they’ve already ruled him out as a starter after just 34 uninterrupted starts across two seasons, especially when he pitched pretty well. Having the kid pitch 70 innings of middle relief a season is a gigantic waste of resources, but then again that’s nothing new for the Yankees. I fully acknowledge that Soriano will make the Yankees a better team in 2011 but I don’t like the terms of the contract and I certainly don’t like what’s continuing to happen with Joba. It’s a tremendous waste, and refusing to take the necessary steps to correct things only compounds the problem. I really don’t know what more to say, I feel like this same post has been written a million times in the last year or two. I just don’t get it, I’ll continue to not get it.