For a team that’s never won more than 70 games, the Tampa Bay Rays are surrounded by buzz this year. Certain measures on Baseball Prospectus are predicting as many as 89 wins for the Rays while other people have tempered expectations of a .500 season for the AL East’s perennial bottom-feeders.
No matter the prognosis, it’s safe to say that the Rays are no longer the doormats of the American League. Why then is the team still run that way?
Earlier this week, after a very hot spring, Rays prospect Evan Longoria was exiled to the team’s AAA club in Durham. He wasn’t sent down for seasoning or maturation; rather, he was demoted because the Rays don’t want his arbitration and free agency clocks to start ticking. As Rays bloggers have noted, Longoria should be up in the Majors by the end of May, and the Rays will still hold his rights through the 2014 season. Had they allowed Longoria, the better third baseman in their camp, to head north with the team on Opening Day, they’d see him hit free agency in 2013.
Fans of the Rays are more or less unhappy with this move. Rays Index surveyed his fellow Tampa bloggers and found a mixture of outrage and disbelief. The players themselves are not too happy about the news either as quotes from Jonny Gomes and Carl Crawford show.
Rays of Light feels betrayed by management. “I can’t help but feel we were lied to by the Rays. Though they said prior to Spring Training that he would get a chance to compete for the job, I don’t really feel like that’s what he was allowed to do,” Scott Caruso wrote. For a team in need of fans, sending down one of their better players in the name of business sure isn’t a very popular idea.
But, hey, we’re Yankee fans. What do we care about the Tampa Bay Rays? If the Rays, who have played the Yanks hard over the last few seasons, are weaker for it in April and May, who am I to complain? Well, from an on-field perspective, the move is great. But from the economic perspective, it’s fairly despicable.
The Rays as a team don’t enjoy a high revenue stream, and they don’t have too many fans who pack their unremarkable stadium. Instead, they survive on small payrolls and revenue-sharing payments from the game’s big guns. So with these riches, the Rays are opting to weaken their team in order to save a few bucks down the road.
While some fans ridiculed Hank Steinbrenner for noting that the Yankees fund the Rays, the truth is that the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Cubs, Dodgers and Angels all fund the league’s poorer teams. If the Rays aren’t going to use these funds to field the best possible team, shouldn’t the Yankees have their revenue sharing contributions back?
An independent commissioner could step in and stop this exploitation of loopholes in the service time rules, but Bud would never dirty his hands over this issue. Meanwhile, in the Bronx, we can just raise our eyebrows and wonder why exactly the Yankees are left funding everyone else if everyone else isn’t going to put the money to use.
Apparently, the joke was on me. Earlier today, I accused the media of falling for a Jose Canseco book hoax. Turns out my skepticism this time was not well-founded. Will Leitch got his hands on some of Vindicated and posted the excerpts on Deadspin. While the passages are in the book, Canseco’s words come across as jealous, bitter rantings. Vindicated will be no Juiced. · (7) ·
In an update on some Yankee farmhands, Chad Jennings lands a great quote from LaTroy Hawkins. When asked about how his Spring Training, Hawkins, who’s thrown eight scoreless innings, said, “Spring don’t mean shit, dude.” While rabid Yankee fans and bloggers alike fixate on spring numbers, we seem to care more than the players. They know it doesn’t count until Monday. We should take a lesson. · (16) ·
On Monday morning, The Post, in what they termed an “exclusive,” reported that the Yanks and Mets are secretly negotiating with the city to work out deals to sell parts of their old stadiums. The Yankees, through Randy Levine, has since confirmed that they are trying to work out a marketing deal but have no plans to purchase the stadium from the city. Now, The Post can use whatever labels it wants, but this story is not an exclusive. I wrote about it 19 days ago when USA Today reported it as news. No matter the outcome, fans will get the chance to buy bits and pieces of Yankee Stadium. Who wants the pitcher’s rubber? · (9) ·
By now, you, dear reader, may have read the Jose Canseco/Alex Rodriguez story spreading through the Internet. It started this morning with a Deadspin post, spread to Baseball Think Factory and from there, landed on blogs across the Internet. A little over an hour ago, the story jumped from the Internet to Newsday when Kat O’Brien wrote up a quick story.
There’s only one problem: I think it’s a fake.
The story begins with a column by Joe Lavin, a Boston-based writer. Lavin writes that he’s read a copy of Canseco’s latest book Vindicated put on sale early by a “quaint Cambridge bookstore.” The book, Lavin writes, is full of stories about Magglio Ordonez, Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez:
As for Alex Rodriguez, Canseco says he didn’t inject Rodriguez, but that he “introduced Alex to a known supplier of steroids.” Canseco didn’t mention Rodriguez in the first book because he “hated the bastard.” He was worried that people would have “questioned [his] motives” had he included Rodriguez.
Why all the hatred, you ask. Well, Canseco claims that A-Rod was trying to sleep with Canseco’s wife. Apparently, even after Canseco had been nice enough to help A-Rod find a friendly steroids supplier, A-Rod kept calling Canseco’s wife.
Canseco’s ex-wife, Jessica, is a former Hooters girl. Remember the story about A-Rod and his Toronto woman?
Anyway, Lavin claims that Canseco ends with a story in which Mike Wallace asks him, off the record, about the benefits of HGH as though the venerable CBS host wanted to try the hormones himself. If that sounds a little incredible, it’s because Joe Lavin is no mere writer. He’s a Boston-based humorist who pens a bi-weekly humor column. He joked about Google Stalk and penned a parody of a Harry Potter letter last year.
Right now, everyone is falling for his A-Rod/Canseco shtick. But considering the story — aren’t all Cambridge bookstores quaint? — I’m calling this one out. It’s a humor column being reported as news. I could be wrong; maybe Lavin is using his space normally devoted to sarcastic humor for a real breaking news story, but I doubt it. Let’s see how this plays out.
We knew it was a possibility, but now we’re seeing reports that Andy Pettitte will not start on April 2. Mike Mussina will go in his place. After that, it’s either Pettitte or Hughes for the third game, with the other likely going on the fourth. Isn’t this basically the same deal as last year? · (9) ·
As the Red Sox and A’s duke it out in the late innings – good work, Huston Street – the Daily News checks in with everyone’s favorite third baseman, Alex Rodriguez. In an interview with John Harper, A-Rod talked about his past regrets and contract decisions.
The piece takes a different tone from others. Instead of rehashing that familiar territory of the opt-out saga, A-Rod talked about his 2000 decision to go with the money in Texas instead of his heart with the Mets. It’s a twist, but in light of this off-season’s events, it doesn’t ring totally true. Harper writes:
The conversation initially centered on A-Rod’s pursuit of a ring, but veered off into areas he has rarely discussed: The regret he suffered when he shunned the Mets in favor of the Rangers in 2000, and the .personal conflict that surrounded his decision to break away from agent Scott Boras this past offseason.
“I went for the contract when my true desire was to go play for the Mets,” Rodriguez said of his decision to ink his $252 million deal with Texas eight years ago.
As A-Rod looked back on the events of the past offseason, he seemed haunted by the idea that in breaking free of the Yankees he could have made another decision based strictly on money and wound up as unhappy as he was in Texas for three years.
The three-time MVP says that at some point after his opt-out decision in October, he realized he could have been heading for a similar scenario, with Boras dictating his next destination…”So to make the right decision just feels really good,” Rodriguez said, “versus being taken down a road where I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, where am I? Oh, $400 million to play in some place I hate? Great, I’ll blow my — head off.’ I wanted to remain a Yankee and for once I put my money where my mouth was.”
Of course, absent in this seemingly honest confession by A-Rod is any mention of the fact that he still managed to cash in to the tune of at least $275 million. He still managed to land the biggest contract in the history of baseball, and for all we know, the Yankees pulled a Tom Hicks and outbid themselves. Since A-Rod reconciled with the Yanks before fielding any other serious offers, we’ll never know if the Cubs or Angels were willing to hit that $300 million plateau.
As Opening Day approaches, the cynic in me wonders if A-Rod should just leave this past behind him. What’s done was done for whatever reasons. It’s hard to envision an altruistic A-Rod eschewing millions of potential dollars to play for the Yanks for just $275 million plus endorsement opportunities and those historic bonus clauses. Maybe for A-Rod, he viewed this as a decision to stay in New York, but he has hundreds of millions of reasons to forget his regret.
As we well know by now, Hank Steinbrenner has become the new Voice of the Yankees. He’s not shy with his opinions, and he often, according to some fans, may be speaking too much. While Hank may be the outspoken guy who enjoys getting his name in the papers, the truth is far more complex: The two Steinbrenner brothers share duties, and they seem to know what they’re doing.
This weekend, Newsday’s Kat O’Brien, often the Official Beat Writer of Hank Steinbrenner, sat down with the other Steinbrenner son. Hal, not known for sharing much with the press, agreed to an interview, and the resulting piece further illuminates the balance of power within the Yankee organization.
Hal on Hank:
“That’s what Hank’s for. He’s perfect. He’s everything you guys want. How many more papers can you sell?…Nobody’s going to have my cell phone number. Nobody’s going to be calling me at night. That’s just not going to happen.”
It’s a telling quote. Hank is the de facto face of the Yankees, but who’s pulling the strings? Considering the postmortem news we’ve continued to hear about the lack of firm offers for Johan Santana, it’s certainly believable that Hanks’ schtick is just that. It’s an act designed to get teams to question whether or not the Yankees are involved in negotiations. It certainly kept Santana out of Boston.
Hal on George:
“Working for George was not the easiest thing in the world, and one would get the impression that you really weren’t needed sometimes.”
If that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about George Steinbrenner‘s current position within the organization, nothing well. For all intents and purposes, George Steinbrenner is not in charge of the Yankees. He may still be the Principal Owner in title, but in practice, it doesn’t sound as though Hal, the team’s General Partner, is working for his dad anymore. We have truly entered the post-George Era, and the transition seems rather seamless.
Meanwhile, fans who like the Steinbrenner’s invest-to-win approach can breathe easy; the family has now reiterated their position to hold on to the their $1-billion asset. They won’t be selling the team anytime soon.
But as far as I’m concerned, the money came in O’Brien’s outtakes. Hal on the new Stadium:
“I think the exciting thing about this stadium is it looks more like the original stadium than the stadium we’re in now, much more like the original stadium than the one we’re in now. So I think when you walk into that stadium, walk into the great hall and walk in gate four … it’s going to be nostalgic even when it’s brand new. It’s going to take you back.”
That is an intriguing take on a stadium chock full of martini bars, premium seating experiences, steakhouses and state-of-the-art museums. But in a way, Hal is tapping into the sentiments of the fans who didn’t try to save Yankee Stadium; the renovations in the 1970s destroyed the heart and soul of the old Yankee Stadium.
Of course, to me, the new Yankee Stadium will always seem like some other ballpark. It will be this new place across the street that the Yankees play in, and the only nostalgia I’ll feel is for the memories I have of the House that Ruth Built.
It’s a new era for the Yankees; it’s the era of the Steinbrenner sons and daughters and a new Stadium. Right now, everyone is saying the right things. How long this peace can last, no one really knows.
With a week to go before Opening Day, the Yankees have already sold 3.8 million tickets this year. Before a pitch is thrown, the Yanks are guaranteed an average per-game attendance of at least 46,900 fans, and according to the team, this figure is 400,000 tickets ahead of sales from the same day in March 2007. That’s insane. · (5) ·