Long was out of line with comments about Cano

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The whole “Robinson Cano is lazy because he doesn’t run out ground balls” thing has been beaten into the ground and I really hoped we would never hear about it again once he signed with the Mariners, but apparently that is not the case. Over the weekend, hitting coach Kevin Long declined to take the high road when asked about Robbie’s tendency to jog to first. From John Harper:

“If somebody told me I was a dog,’’ Long said here Sunday, “I’d have to fix that. When you choose not to, you leave yourself open to taking heat, and that’s your fault. For whatever reason, Robbie chose not to.’’

“We all talked to him,’’ Long said. “I’m pretty sure [Derek Jeter] talked to him a number of times. Even if you run at 80%, no one’s going to say anything. But when you jog down the line, even if it doesn’t come into play 98% of the time, it creates a perception.”

“But he just wouldn’t make that choice to run hard all the time. The reasons aren’t going to make sense. He might say his legs didn’t feel good, or he was playing every day and needed to save his energy. To me there was no acceptable answer.’’

Joe Girardi was asked about Long’s comments yesterday and the interview was ended abruptly by the team’s public relations people according to Brendan Kuty, so this is a thing now. Everyone is talking about the hitting coach trashing the former star player when they should be talking about bullpen sessions and batting practice and how great everyone looks. It’s an unnecessary distraction.

Regardless of how true any of this is — we all know Robbie doesn’t run hard to first — Long was wrong to talk about it publicly. Doesn’t matter that Cano is no longer on the team and frankly that only makes it worse in my opinion. This is like the Red Sox talking about Terry Francona’s use of pain medication after he was let go*. Criticizing a former player after he leaves town is the ultimate low blow.

* Joe thinks Dan Duquette’s comments about Roger Clemens entering the “twilight of his career” are a more appropriate comparison. I agree.

On Tuesday, new Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon defended his new star and fired back at Long. From Jerry Crasnick:

“Last time I checked, I didn’t know that Kevin Long was the spokesman for the New York Yankees,” McClendon told ESPN.com. “That was a little surprising. I was a little pissed off, and I’m sure Joe [Girardi] feels the same way. He’s concerned with his team and what they’re doing, not what the Seattle Mariners players are doing.

“I’m a little surprised that Kevin Long is the spokesman for the New York Yankees. I wonder if he had any problems with Robbie when he wrote that book (“Cage Rat”) proclaiming himself as the guru of hitting.”

The Yankees spent all winter talking about their “family” and the importance of having strong character guys in the clubhouse whenever they signed a new free agent. That shouldn’t stop at the players. Long is a high-profile member of the organization and he threw a former player — a former member of the “family” — under the bus on his way out of town. It was a classless move and everything the Yankees claim not to be. Dan Martin says Long has already reached out to Cano to offer an apology, but at this point the damage has been done. This became something when it should have stayed nothing.

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Remembering when the Yankees had the best infield in baseball

Those were the days. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
Those were the days. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

By their own admission, the Yankees are heading into the season with some serious question marks on the infield. Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira are both coming back from what amount to lost seasons while Brian Roberts has been battling injuries for almost a half-decade now. Kelly Johnson is a solid player but nothing more, yet he is the surest thing on the infield at the moment.

It wasn’t all that long ago that the infield was the strongest part of the Yankees’ roster. Jeter has been anchoring the infield (and the entire team, really) since 1996 and he’s had some truly great teammates over the years, so strong infield units are nothing new to New York. In fact, only five teams have had a 4+ WAR player at the four infield positions throughout baseball history, and a recent Yankees squad is one of them. Here’s the list:

Fifty-nine teams have boasted three 4+ WAR players on a single infield (most recently the 2013 Rangers), but only five teams have managed four such players. That’s it. It’s happened once in the last 30 years and three times in the last century. The Yankees, of course, had that one infield full of 4+ WAR players just five years ago, during their 2009 World Championship season. Let’s look back at their performances.

1B Mark Teixeira – .292/.383/.565 (141 OPS+), 43 2B, 39 HR, 5.1 WAR

Teixeira’s first year in pinstripes was his best by a not small margin, as he led the league in both homers and runs driven in (122). He finished second to Joe Mauer in the AL MVP voting but, in reality, he wasn’t even the best player on the Yankees’ infield. We’ll get to that in a bit. Following his typically slow start to the year — he was sitting on a .191/.328/.418 batting line as late as May 12th — Teixeira was a monster all summer, hitting .315/.396/.597 with 32 homers in the team’s final 129 games of the season. He just straight mashed that year. What a beast.

2B Robinson Cano – .320/.352/.520 (121 OPS+), 48 2B, 25 HR, 4.5 WAR

Man, remember how awful Robbie was in 2008? He hit .271/.305/.410 (86 OPS+) and was worth 0.2 WAR during that miserable campaign, which landed him in plenty of trade rumors. I’m sure you haven’t forgotten about all the Cano for Matt Kemp talk. My favorite part of that was signing then-free agent Orlando Hudson to take over at second. That would have been a disaster given the player Cano developed into. That 2009 season was Robbie’s first step towards joining the game’s elite, but on a rate basis, he was the least productive player on his own infield. Bananas.

SS Derek Jeter – .334/.406/.465 (125 OPS+), 27 2B , 18 HR, 30 SB, 6.6 WAR

Remember when I said Teixeira was not even the best player on the infield? That’s because Jeter was. The Cap’n was a monster from the leadoff spot, hitting for average, getting on base, stealing bases (30-for-35!), and, believe it or not, playing solid defense. The various metrics all say Jeter was above-average with the glove that year (+3 DRS, +6.3 UZR, +4 Total Zone), and while you can’t trust one season’s worth of defensive stats, I definitely remember believing he was playing better defense that year based on what I saw. Know how I always say you need unexpected contributions if you want to win the World Series? Jeter’s defense was an unexpected contribution in 2009. His bat was pretty awesome as well. What a season that was.

3B Alex Rodriguez – .286/.402/.532 (138 OPS+), 17 2B, 30 HR, 14 SB, 4.2 WAR

When the 2009 campaign opened, Cody Ransom was the starting third baseman. A-Rod was scheduled to miss the first few weeks of the season due to hip surgery, a surgery that kept him out until early-May. He famously hit a three-run homer on the very first pitch he saw in his first game back, then proceeded to hit (almost) like vintage A-Rod for the remainder of the summer. He and Teixeira were the most devastating 3-4 combination in the game for this one year. Rodriguez also managed to extend his record streak of consecutive seasons with 30+ homers and 100+ RBI to twelve thanks to a two-homer, seven-run batted inning in the final game of the regular season.

* * *

Know what is really amazing about this infield? These four guys combined to play 594 of 648 possible games (91.7%) even though A-Rod missed the start of the year with the hip issue. They were awesome when they were on the field and they were on the field pretty much the entire season. The Yankees didn’t just have the best infield in baseball back in 2009, they legitimately had one of the best infield units in baseball history. It was the centerpiece of the championship team — everyone else was part of the supporting cast.

It’s official: Cano’s a Mariner

Just in case you were hoping things would fall apart at the last moment, the Mariners have officially announced the signing of Robinson Cano. The press conference is later this evening and will probably be on MLB Network, if you’re interested. Here’s a photo of him in Mariners garb. “I want to thank all my fans in New York for an amazing nine years. It was truly an honor to play for you,” said Cano is a statement.

The Yankees receive a supplemental first round pick for Cano, but it will be forfeited once the Carlos Beltran deal is official. It’s been real, Robbie.

Mystique, aura and Robinson Cano

(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

A big part of being a Yankee fan is buying, hook, line and sinker, into the concept of mystique and aura, so mocked by Curt Schilling during the 2001 World Series. We expect dramatic victories, World Series titles and every player to thank the good Lord for making him a Yankee. We expect the Yanks to pay what it takes to retain their players, and we expect those players to embrace their time with the Yankees and stay in the Bronx to earn their spots in Monument Park and, for some, a plaque in Cooperstown. So what happens when they leave?

When Robinson Cano jetted for Seattle, of all places, it was more than a little bit of a shock to fans of the Bombers. Here was a player in his prime with multiple All-Star appearances, 1649 hits, 204 home runs, and a .309/.355/.504 slash line, all at the ripe old age of 31. The Yanks offered him seven years and were willing to pay him $25 million a year with an annual salary higher than everyone but A-Rod‘s. But it wasn’t enough, and now Robbie is Seattle’s, and Seattle’s problems are Robbie’s.

As the reactions from Robbie’s departures have come in, we’ve heard about disputes with Joe Girardi over lineup philosophy, and now, CC Sabathia has joined the fray with comments that stick to the heart of the Yankee legend. In comments to this weekend, CC spoke about the power of the pinstripes. “Just a player like that, putting on the pinstripes, and being able to play your whole career in New York means something – to me, obviously. It didn’t mean that much to him,” CC said. “It’s a difficult choice being a free agent. And he made a tough choice. I know he’s happy with his decision, and his family’s happy. So that’s good.”

Over the years, plenty of Yankee legends have had the opportunity to leave, and most didn’t. They earned their dollars because George Steinbrenner was willing to pay and because they wanted to stay. Derek Jeter hasn’t put himself into a bidding war, and Jorge Posada stuck around. Bernie Williams and Mariano Rivera, to differing degrees, both nearly left the Bronx but backed away from Boston at the last minute. Andy Pettitte left only to return while Reggie Jackson left never to return. Some players have walked away to avoid donning another uniform when their tenures were over, by their choice or the Yanks’, but I can’t think of someone else who walked away mid-career for another team who outbid the Yanks.

For Robbie, the choice was purely dominated by dollars, and I won’t begrudge him that. While the Yanks were willing to give him more per year, they didn’t want to give a middle infielder entering his age 31 season a ten-year commitment. Cano, meanwhile, figured that the guaranteed money today — the $65 million difference — is something he wouldn’t make up at the end of the seven-year deal the Yanks offered him. He didn’t want to gamble against his own age-related decline, and in today’s world where baseball teams are flush with cash, that’s certainly his prerogative and a fine choice.

But where it hurts is with that mystique and aura. It’s something fans buy into far more deeply than many players do, and it’s a stark reminder of the business of the game when a fan favorite and pinstripe native leaves. Maybe Cano didn’t think the Yanks during his career would ever be more than Derek’s team. Maybe Cano saw ten years of executive office upheaval, various team-building approaches and just one World Series win and simply decided there was nothing particularly compelling keeping him around that didn’t have a lofty price tag. Maybe we all overrate mystique and aura anyway. It hooks the fans, but what does it mean to the players anyway?

Without Robbie, Yankee life will go on. Brian Cashman says he’s disappointed, but he’s not $65 million worth of disappointed. The post-Robbie era will feature a Yankee team with a new look and a new approach. For nine years, Cano was the next great Yankee bound for Monument Park, and now he’s just another guy on the hapless Mariners. It may not feel good now, but it’s all part of the game, mystique, aura and free agency.

Sunday Shorts: Cano vs. Girardi, Yanks’ Spending, Cano’s New Home

(Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
(Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

Just a few weeks ago, friend of RAB Jack Moore wrote an article at The Score about the potentially boring hot stove, not only this season, but for future seasons. His overall point remains strong:

The shift to buying out multiple free agent years in long-term extensions for young stars has led to fewer and fewer young stars hitting the free agent market in their 20s. The advent of the second wild card has led more and more teams to believe they can contend, leading to fewer fire sales.

Thankfully, the hot stove has remained interesting, at least this off-season, thanks to teams acting early and aggressively. Moore might be correct in the long run; he’ll certainly be right come mid-December, when all those free agents are off the board and teams are pretty set. But for the last few weeks we’ve seen a peak of hot stove activity, and nearly every moment has been enjoyable — which seems a good transition into the first short.

Cano didn’t like Girardi?

The Yankees are clearly sold on Joe Girardi at the helm. They’ve now twice extended his contract after hiring him in 2008, the latest a four-year deal that could bring Girardi’s tenure to a decade. It makes sense, then, that the Yankees wouldn’t aggressively approach a free agent who has a known problem with the manager.

According to a George King report, Robinson Cano was no fan of Girardi.

According to three people who know Cano, he didn’t enjoy playing for manager Joe Girardi and that may have factored into the decision, though the Mariners giving him $60 million more than the Yankees offered ($175 million) likely had more to do with him leaving.

“Robbie didn’t like batting second, he wanted to bat in the middle of the order,” one person said. “The Yankees wanted him second because that was best for the team. He wanted to hit in the middle of the order to drive in runs [to increase his value].”

This could just be sour grapes; we do see that kind of behavior frequently from Boston writers when players leave the Red Sox. After all, if Cano batted lower in the order he might not have driven in any more runs. It’s not as though the Yanks were awash in players who could get on base for Cano.

(For what it’s worth, Cano did hit .308/.396/.560 in 182 PA batting second.)

Money won the day, no doubt. But perhaps Cano’s displeasure with Girardi was one among many reasons the Yankees declined to increase their offer beyond seven years and $175 million.

Spending spree

Despite losing Cano, the Yankees have spent lavishly so far this off-season. To be exact: $299 million on Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Hiroki Kuroda, and Carlos Beltran. I’ve seen fans and media alike questioning how the Yankees spent so much on these players, particularly Ellsbury, and didn’t go the extra mile of five for Cano. There is certainly some sense to their spending, as wunderkind Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish notes:

In other words, the Yankees eschewed re-signing their star in order to spread money among many different positions of need. That number will look a lot different by the end of December, since the Yankees have plenty of remaining needs. But their overall strategy remains clear: don’t get caught up in too-long contracts and spread the wealth. You can disagree about its effectiveness, but it’s nice to see that they have a plan, because…

Dysfunctional Seattle

This article by Geoff Baker has made its rounds, so perhaps you’ve seen it. If not, it’s an eye-opening look into the Seattle front office. They’re painted as arrogant fools who surround themselves with yes-men, rather than people whose dissenting opinions could help the team make stronger, more informed decisions. Given Seattle’s woes in the last few years, including their lack of success with young players, it comes as little surprise that the front office has its issues.

(The article actually goes well with the book I’m currently reading.)

Baker talks to only former employees, so the story would probably look better if the other side told its half. Still, that Baker got two former employees to talk on the record is pretty remarkable in today’s environment of anonymous hatchet jobs. The Seattle organization seems to be the polar opposite of the Cardinals, which you can read about in this Q&A at FanGraphs.

Pondering the Robinson Cano fiasco

(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
(AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

I couldn’t help but laugh at the Mariners after their ten-year, $240M offer to Robinson Cano.  That’s such an obscene amount of money for a guy already in his thirties – granted, he is the best at what he does and is arguably one of the top five players currently playing in the game.  Plus, according to pundits, the Mariners organization felt that it was necessary to make a huge splash this offseason as their team has been idling in irrelevancy for several years now.  Well, they certainly accomplished their goal of making a big splash.

Still, I can’t help but wonder whether the Mariners overestimated what would it would take to sign Cano.  If the best Yankees offer was locked in at $175M as it evidently was — not to mention the fact that Cano was apparently feeling a bit snubbed due the team taking a hard stance with him after the Jacoby Ellsbury signing– I wonder if the Mariners could have stood their ground with a $200M deal and overcome whatever shortcomings their location presumably has.  After all, that’d still be a $25M dollar difference between their offer and that of New York’s.  Maybe Cano prefers playing in NY so much that he is willing to dismiss twenty-five million reasons not to go to Seattle.  Then again, that’s a lot of money so maybe he wouldn’t have been able to resist.

In any event, if the Mariners honestly got the vibe that $200M wouldn’t get it done for them, they probably could have upped the ante to $225 and locked in there.  By that point, there’d be a $50M gap between them and New York, assuming the Yanks didn’t change their mind and offer more which it seems like they were unwilling to do.  I’m not sure how many folks would be able to turn down an offer that was that much more lucrative than another.  The Yanks did Seattle a huge favor by stalling out around $175M and never really giving a super strong impression to Cano’s camp that they’d be willing to bridge the gap between what they were offering and what Cano was asking for.  Maybe it’s an incorrect impression, but it never appeared as though the Mariners were willing to let Cano consider just how much better their initial offer already was to NY’s.  It was as if their great offer was immediately not good enough despite the fact that there wasn’t another offer even remotely close.  If $50M additional dollars doesn’t blow Cano away, maybe that would have been a strong indication that the cost isn’t worth the reward.

Instead, Seattle basically caved in overnight from what was already an excellent offer, and was content to bid against themselves even further. The Mariners increased their offer to ten years, $240M.  Well, congrats, to them.  They obtained Robbie’s services by outbidding the next highest bid by $65M!  Not only does this strike me as a severe overpay, but it was probably an unnecessary one.  Regardless of how Cano’s camp values his abilities, the fact is, at the end of the day he’s only worth as much as teams are willing to pay.  Hypothetically, if the Mariners offered nine years, $225M, they’d still be showing a really strong interest him.  They’d still be blowing New York’s offer out of the water, and I imagine they’d still have a strong chance of winning the bidding with a $50M dollar difference.

To Seattle’s credit, they now employ the best free agent available.  The problem for them now is that their team, as it currently stands, still stinks.  Even if Cano adds ten wins to their record single handedly, which is a stretch of the imagination, I don’t think that’s enough to make them a contender.  They still have a lot of work to do to become relevant again, especially if they want to try and compete during Cano’s prime years.  Along the same lines, as much as I would have loved to see Cano in pinstripes for the remainder of his career, I don’t regret for a second the Yankees not making a counter offer that extreme.  Letting him go was a no brainer at that point.

Thoughts following the day everything changed

Robbie no. (Jared Wickerham/Getty)
Robbie no. (Jared Wickerham/Getty)

This was, without question, the craziest week of hot stove action I can remember. That includes the Winter Meetings. Teams just didn’t want to wait for Orlando next week to take care of business, and one of those teams was the Yankees. With Brian McCann, Kelly Johnson, and Jacoby Ellsbury already on board, the team added both Carlos Beltran (three years, $45M) and Hiroki Kuroda (one year, $16M). yesterday. Of course, they also lost Robinson Cano to the Mariners after they offered a tenth year and $240M. Bittersweet day (mostly bitter), to say the least. Here are some thoughts.

1. As soon as the Yankees splurged for Ellsbury, I honestly did not think they would let Cano walk. Spending that much money on a very good but not elite player like Ellsbury only to let your homegrown superstar leave doesn’t make much sense. They held the line at seven years and $175M and I truly believed they would bump their offer up to (and maybe over) $200M if push came to shove. It’s a huge blow to the Yankees short-term — I’d say the next two years at the very least, probably more like four or five — but it will help in the long-term, when they aren’t saddled with a huge albatross contract. I just can’t believe Cano’s leaving. Man, who thought this would actually happen?

2. The Mariners made it very, very easy for the Yankees to walk away. They’re a desperate franchise and desperate franchises do desperate things, like offer $65M more than the next highest bidder. Of course, Seattle had to blow everyone else out of the water if they wanted to land a premium player like Cano. The city itself is great and Safeco Field is gorgeous, but it’s a tough place to hit. The team itself stinks and the travel is awful (the Mariners fly more miles than every other club each season because they’re so isolated in the Pacific Northwest). Add all that together and you get a place that doesn’t attract many free agent hitters. Not many good ones, anyway. The Mariners blew Cano away with the offer and that makes his departure easier to swallow. It sucks he’s gone, don’t get me wrong. But at that price? Had to let him go. No-brainer.

3. I’m pretty sure the Yankees will go hard after Omar Infante to replace Robbie — what’s the over/under on the contract, three years and $30M? sounds about right — and he’s probably the best realistic second base option. I’d greatly prefer a trade for Howie Kendrick, who has two years and $20M left on his deal, but the Angels are looking for pitching and the Yankees just don’t have any to give up. David Phelps and a prospect ain’t gonna get it done. I don’t want any part of Brandon Phillips for reasons Joe already outlined and if Infante’s demands are unreasonable (he and his agent could jack up the price hoping to capitalize on the team’s potential desperation), I think Mark Ellis would be a tolerable one-year stopgap. He’s a very good defender and not a total zero at the plate (92 wRC+ in 2013). Infante is no better of a player today than he was two days ago. The Yankees shouldn’t go all out to sign him just because he’s the best available option with Robbie off the board.

So sweet. (Elsa/Getty)
So sweet. (Elsa/Getty)

4. I was thinking about this last night: Cano doesn’t really have a “signature moment,” does he? Derek Jeter has the flip play (and a bunch of other moments), Jorge Posada has the double off Pedro Martinez in Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS (and a bunch of other moments), so on and so forth. Cano doesn’t really have one. That’s not meant to be a knock against him, it’s just one of those things. Winning the 2011 Homerun Derby doesn’t really count, and, according to WPA, his best game in pinstripes came on July 1st of this past season. He went 3-for-4 with two homers and a double in a blowout win over the Twins. Meh. I guess his game-winning homer off George Sherrill in 2010 stands out (video) — that was the game in which the Yankees broke Jonathan Broxton with a big ninth inning comeback, which I’m sure you remember — but that isn’t anything special. When I think of Cano, I don’t think of a singular moment. I think of that sweet swing more than anything. Like this one. B-e-a-utiful.

5. I’ve said this a few times in recent weeks, but I am a bit nervous about Kuroda heading into next season. He’s getting up there in age and man, he looked like toast late last season. Hitters were squaring him up constantly and he couldn’t locate anything. I guess poor location is better than his stuff falling off — Kuroda’s velocity actually ticked up a bit late in the season — but it’s still a red flag. They still need to add another starter, Brian Cashman has acknowledged that already, and hopefully it’ll be Masahiro Tanaka. I think he’s a really good fit given his age and all that stuff. If that doesn’t work out, I’d rather see a short-term Bartolo Colon reunion than a long-term marriage with Matt Garza or Ubaldo Jimenez. Either way, the Yankees have some decent back-end depth with Phelps, Adam Warren, and Vidal Nuno. Michael Pineda is the real wildcard. He could give the rotation a big boost or not throw a single pitch for the big league team for the third straight season.

6. Beltran definitely gives me a Randy Johnson vibe, meaning the Yankees are adding the right player, just nine years too late. He can still hit, there isn’t much doubt about that, but his defense is below-average and his knees are grenades with the pins pulled. the Yankees will be able to give him time at DH and are going to have to to keep him healthy. If I had known the Yankees were going to sign two outfielders coming into the winter, I probably would have pushed for Shin-Soo Choo and Curtis Granderson. The club opted for Ellsbury and Beltran, which is perfectly reasonable but definitely the riskier option health-wise. Probably more expensive too. This is definitely a high-risk, high-reward roster at the moment. It could be great but it could also be really, really ugly if Father Time comes back to wreak more havoc in 2014.

7. One thing that I do like is the diversity the Yankees have added to lineup. McCann is a brute masher and Ellsbury is a speed guy while Beltran is an all-around hitter who will hit for average and power. He also gives them a switch-hitter, something they didn’t have at last season. Almost literally not at all — Mark Teixeira and Zoilo Almonte combined for 176 plate appearances and that’s it, they were the only switch-hitters the Yankees had this summer. Crazy. Ellsbury, McCann, Beltran, and Johnson all work the count well and that’s pretty important. The Yankees didn’t have enough guys who could put together good at-bats and wear down the starter this year. There were an awful lot of quick at-bats and quick innings. That should change next summer with those four plus Brett Gardner, Mark Teixeira, and Derek Jeter returning.

8. Speaking of Gardner, I’d absolutely keep him unless some team offers a starting pitcher that is just too good to pass up. (Lots of people asked about Gardner for Homer Bailey and I don’t see anyway Cincinnati entertains that as one-for-one swap. Gardner’s trade value is along the lines of Norichika Aoki’s and Seth Smith’s, and look at what those two were traded for this week.) Both Ellsbury and Beltran are injury concerns for different reasons, plus Beltran and Soriano figure to get regular turns at DH. Keeping Gardner as a heavily used fourth outfielder who could step into the lineup everyday if someone gets hurt makes an awful lot of sense. If the Reds will trade Bailey for him or another team comes along with a comparable offer, then by all means, pull the trigger. Otherwise keep him around and enjoy the depth. There is no doubt in my mind there will be a time next season the team will be happy they kept him around.