Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Turning into 2002 All Over Again

I remember listening to Chris "Mad Dog" Russo on those long, summer days five years ago. If you recall, the CBA was up, and there was a possibility of a strike. And for good reason - baseball was messed up. The large market teams had unfair the advantage of being able to spend as much money as they wanted, and the small market teams simply could not compete. Once in a while you'd get an Oakland A's team that got lucky in that all their prospects flourished at the same time, but once their star players reached free agency, they were gone. So Russo used to scream that it's unfair, and he was actually rooting for a strike just to fix things up.

Well, they didn't strike, because after 9/11, they couldn't afford the PR hit, but with luxury taxes, revenue sharing, and mutiple streams of income, things got a little fairer. Suddenly, the Angels and the Marlins won Series, the White Sox did so with a mid-range payroll, but most impotantly, teams had the dough to resign their players. So Ben Sheets remained a Brewer. CC Sebathia stayed with the Indians. Suddenly 24 out of 30 teams had a chance to make the playoffs entering a given season. Baseball was back to its glory days.

Alas, the times they are a changin'. Michael Kay made this point on his radio show, that Johan Santana will be available, and it's only the big three or four teams involved in the bidding. Twins? No chance. Phillies? No shot. Padres? Forget it. Same with Miguel Cabrera.

Granted, small-market teams have more money, but so do the big-market teams. So what will happen is that the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Dodgers, and Angels will have payrolls in the $200 millions, and the rest of the teams will have less than half that. And once again, the big boys will gobble up the free agents, and it'll be back to the early 2000s, when 18-20 teams had no shot on April 1st.

Now Kay blamed teams like the Royals for overpaying Gil Meche, or the Angels for overpaying Torii Hunter (I guess his pro-Yankee bias had to come through sometime), but unless the system changes, it won't matter. You'll have teams like the Marlins constantly starting over with a rebuilding plan. The Blue Jays will be perennial losers.

I'll admit - as much of a baseball nut as I am, I was a much bigger fan these past four or five seasons than I was in the late '90s and early 2000s. But if Selig and company don't fix this, I'll have to move on to other hobbies and interests.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

But Can He Handle New York?

The Yanks are now involved in the Johan Santana sweepstakes, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he ended up a Yankee. If it costs Hughes, Cano, and Melky, so be it. Plus, the Yanks are one of the few teams that can pay the guy the $20 million per year it will take to keep him. I think they’re the frontrunners to get him, especially because the Mets’ farm system is inferior.

The biggest thing separating the Yankees from the Red Sox is a postseason dominator. The Sox have a couple in Beckett and Schilling. Chien-Ming Wang showed that he certainly doesn’t fit the bill, and while Pettitte has been mostly good, if he retires, who’s the go-to guy in October? The Yanks want Santana like crazy, because right now, it’s all about matching up with Boston.

But the biggest question is, can Santana handle New York? Minnesota is a different world. And I know he’s pitched a couple of times in the ALDS, with pretty good results. But he’s never succeeded on a big stage.

Boston did an excellent job getting Beckett and Schilling, because those two had proven they can win in baseball’s biggest stage, the World Series. You knew they’d do just fine in Red Sox Nation. Matt Clement was a question mark in this area, and turned out to be a disaster.

Now, if the Yanks get Johan, I’m sure he’ll do great in the regular season, just like A-Rod has done. But in the Bronx, it’s all about October. Will Johan be more Wang or Beckett when it counts? There’s no way to know. One thing’s for sure: The Yanks are willing to bet the farm to find out.

Monday, November 26, 2007

"Definitely Not Dolan"

Interesting piece about Hank by Bob Klapisch. Most interesting development will be what happens with Cashman; and if the Yankees start off slowly next year, does Hank feel the heat and go for a win-now approach? As Klapisch correctly points out, the verdict is still out on Hank. It's too early to tell.

And for all we know, he might very well turn out to live up to his "Hank Dolan" moniker.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A-Schmuck May Not Be Official

So here I was, all depressed that A-Fraud is coming back because (a) the guy is the best player in baseball; and (b) one of these Octobers he's got to break out.

Didn't take much solace knowing that I was right. (Indeed, I had predicted that he would opt out, but would eventually re-sign with Old York.)

Yet Wallace Matthews in today's Newsday gives a glimmer of hope. He says that until the papers are signed, this could be simply a negotiating ploy that Boras and A-Rod concocted. Makes sense when you consider that the Yankees' involvement means that the other teams will have to up the ante to get him. So maybe the Angels come up with an eleventh hour offer of, say, $300 million.

Yeah, I know, sounds an awful like denial. But it does provide a glimmer of hope....

Don't Come Back!

Jim Caple has an excellent piece on A-Rod, one of the most rational and logical I've seen. In a sense, A-Rod is like Bonds. He's far from being a likeable guy, doesn't do a great job endearing himself to the fans, but he can flat-out hit. And that's all that matters.

And that's why I was hoping he'd leave the Bronx. I said a few weeks ago that the Yanks would have a huge hole to fill if A-Rod left. Forget the first-round disappointment. If A-Rod doesn't play for the Yanks this year, the Yanks don't sniff the playoffs. Especially if Seattle and Detroit wouldn't have folded down the stretch.

I know, the guy hasn't had his Jeter moment (though he was better than Derek this October), his Brosius moment, or any big October moment, and it's definitely a fair point. But overall, he's the best in the game right now. And that's why I'd love to see him in an Angels uniform.

But although it looks like A-Rod will be back, I take solace in the fact that his team hasn't won a World Series with him. And re-signing Posada, a guy with a .236 career postseason average, should help keep that streak alive.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Business As Usual

Wow. I thought only the Mets would be crazy enough to offer Posada a four-year deal. But sure enough, Jorge's gonna be here for a while. Hey, all you Yankee fans bragging about your team getting young: how does it feel to know you'll have a 40-year catcher on the payroll in a couple of years?

I know Posada's numbers were excellent this walk year, but come on, they were an aberration. He batted 40 points above his career mark. I don't buy that Tony Pena changed the guy's life. And I don't think the guy's gonna have his best years past age 37.

So let's say they move him to first base. Bad idea. Posada's never had enough power to be a first baseman. Let's say, based on his career numbers, Posada hits .277 with 25 homers (and that was in his prime). Not bad, but a $200 million payroll could do better.

And I don't think they're keeping Posada for his leadership abilities. The guy fought with Tino and didn't speak to him for months, and couldn't get along with David Cone and Randy Johnson. As a clubhouse and on-the-field leader, he's more Paul LoDuca than Jason Varitek.

In any case, expect plenty of double plays in the Bronx over the next four years.

And don't forget: Jorge hit .133 in the ALDS this year. And his lifetime postseason average? .236. Nice going, Cashman!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Tejada - The Infield Version of Barry Zito

Another guy who might be in the mix at third? Miguel Tejada. Heck, I hope the Yankees get him. Check out these numbers:

.534 - .515 - .498 - .442

Those are Miguel Tejada’s slugging percentages from ’04 to ’07. Why do I compare Tejada to Zito? Because both players were a lot better in 2002 than they are today. And granted, the Yankees won’t overpay for Tejada the way the Giants did for Zito (between that contract and the infamous Pierzynski trade, Brian Sabean has fallen bigtime). And he’s an above-average hitter, too. But his numbers, both offensively and defensively, have slipped a lot the past few years. The guy has shown flashes of a bad attitude, but I give him a pass for that. It’s gotta be brutal playing for an idiot like Peter Angelos. However, hard to imagine that playing for Hank Dolan would be much better.

It’s too bad that Miggy’s consecutive-games streak ended last year. You know if the streak was still intact, he’d be a Yankee already. It would be like Matsui before his injury. Tejada’s 0 for his last 25? Gotta keep him in the lineup! Gotta keep the streak alive!

- One thing that worries me: I can see Tejada turning out like Justice and Abreu – a veteran who comes to the Yankees and starts tearing it up. Maybe leaving Baltimore will motivate him to return to old form. But maybe he is actually on the decline. And maybe he’ll be a bad fit for a Yankee team trying to get younger.

One wild card in case the O's want too much for Tejada: Melvin Mora. He's an ex-Met, and another guy Hank thinks can still hit.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Am I Wrong? Not Yet

Sounds like Hank Steinbrenner has nixed any chance that the young pitchers will be traded for Cabrera. And you don't get the feeling that the Marlins will take Clippard and Chase Wright instead. So was I wrong? Are the Yankees not going to get Cabrera?

I think once A-Rod signs with another team, things will change. You get the feeling that the Yankees are holding out hope that he comes back. But once he signs elsewhere, and especially if and when Lowell re-signs, there will be a sense of desperation in the Bronx. There won't be another bat like A-Rod's to fill third base. Rolen, Chavez, and Crede aren't gonna cut it. The Yanks will have a void in their offense, and will be hard-pressed to fill it.

Another x-factor: if A-Rod goes to Queens or Boston (no!), that changes everything. Then Hank will feel the pressure to take headlines away from Minaya or Theo, and if that means Phil Hughes in a Marlins uniform, so be it.

We've already learned not to take Hank Dolan too seriously. I'm not going to believe him on this one until spring training.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Why Girardi Is The Wrong Choice

I was rooting for the Yanks to hire Girardi, and I'm glad they did.

The best piece I’ve seen about Joe Girardi was written back in August, back when the Yanks were surging and the chances of Joe Torre wearing Dodger blue were about as great as the Royals’ chances of signing A-Rod. Joel Sherman discussed how Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez, and Ricky Nolasco all were injured in 2007. Not to mention the surprising off-year of Dontrelle Willis, who pitched a ton in 2006. I know some have given Girardi a pass for all this, but to have four guys go down? Hard to believe it’s all coincidental.

Perhaps Torre’s worst flaw as Yankee manager was his mishandling of the bullpen. And Girardi doesn’t look like he’ll fare much better in handling pitchers.

The Yanks, more than ever in recent memory, need someone who can develop their young arms properly. They can have the best rotation in the game in a few years, or have their guys turn out like the Mets’ Generation K. I don’t see how Girardi will help.

Additionally, does Joe have what it takes to deal with Hank? Torre was great in his dealings with George, although he got lucky the past few years, with George out of it and nobody really in charge. Perhaps Torre saw the writing on the wall, with the way Randy, Hank, and Hal dealt with his contract, and saw it was time to go. Girardi had issues with the Florida personnel, as we all know. And while one can give him a pass since the payroll was heavily reduced after he was hired, I can’t imagine that Hank is going to be easy to deal with. Should make for great back page action, that’s for sure.

Third, having a hard-line manager doesn’t always work with a veteran team. Just ask Larry Bowa. Then there’s the issue of making the Bronx an appealing place for veterans, as I’ve discussed earlier.

Finally (and YD alluded to this in his last piece), the dumbest part of the decision for me is, why do they need to pick a manager with a PR connection? Why couldn’t they go outside the organization? Is playing for the Yankees a prerequisite for the job? Are more fans going to show up to the Stadium because Girardi is manager, not Trey Hillman? I find that very hard to believe.

In fact, the one guy I didn’t want the Yankees to hire was Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell, who’s widely touted as one of the brightest guys in the game. Thankfully, Farrell’s staying in Boston, having recently turned down an interview opportunity in Pittsburgh. I also think Hillman would’ve been a good choice, and I’m glad he got the job in KC.

Overall, Girardi should be a better tactical manager than Torre, which isn’t saying much. But the breakdown of Florida’s pitchers should be a concern. In terms of other managerial duties, like motivating players, dealing with the Yankee front office, and the New York media, he’s definitely a step down from Torre. I don’t think he’ll hurt the team considerably – they’ve still got lots of talent – but Cashman could’ve done a lot better.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Hey Ca$hman, All Your PR Moves Have Been Busts!

Manny made a great point about Guidry a while back, and that is, when you get a guy for PR, it might put a few fannies in the seats, but it's usually a disaster for the team.

Come to think of it, almost all of Old York's PR moves have been horrid.

Johnny Damon: Got him because he was a star for the Red Sox who beat the Junkees with that huge Game 7 home run in the 2004 ALCS. Well, he slugged a robust .396 this year. He's got no arm, and the Junkees would love to dump him for 2008, but is any team dumb enough to pick him up? I think not.

Shemp: Okay, so you get some Japanese gelt, but the guy has not lived up to his reputation as Godzilla (except maybe to Harold Moskowitz, AKA John Sterling), save for 2004 when he smashed 31 homers. Another guy who can't field, creating a logjam at DH with he, Damon, and Giambi.

Miguel Cairo: Ca$hman loves bringing ex-Yankees back, and the fact that he played for the Mets added more to his PR value. Lucky for them Snorre gave him only 107 at bats, so that his .626 OPS didn't totally kill them. But again, he had one good year (2004 - .292 batting average in 122 games), so he's a beloved figure in the Bronx.

Doug Smith (Mientkiewicz): Ex-Met, played for Boston, funny last name - that is awesome PR. Only a September surge saved him from an otherwise abysmal season.

Roger Clemens: No comment necessary.

Well, let this be a lesson for the Junkees. Perhaps when the Mets give Ringo $15 million to hit .250 they'll learn their lesson, too.

Then again, the more PR Ca$hman does, the better it is for me.

Who's On Third?

With A-Rod likely out of New York, time to figure out who’s next? I’m gonna run down the possible candidates, and give my take on each one:

Mike Lowell – Can’t see him pulling off a Johnny Damon. Then again, who thought Damon would jump ship to the Bronx? I think the Yanks will definitely offer more money and years, and I could see the Phillies jumping into the mix, too. I think he’ll stay in Boston. But if he leaves, I would trust Theo’s judgment. He was right on with not re-signing Pedro and Damon, and Lowe’s been average in a great pitcher’s park.

A-Rod – sorry YD, I don’t think A-Rod’s coming back. Hard to see George bring the guy back after what Hank said. And the way things played out Sunday, where A-Rod barely responded to the Yankees’ offer, also tells me he’s not interested in coming back. Throw in the Joe Girardi factor, and unless the Yanks want to offer $45 million a year, he’s done in the Bronx.

Joe Crede – would be a classic Hank Dolan move. He probably still thinks Crede is good, and may have seen the guy done well against the Yanks a few times. Keith Law referred to Crede as “a terrible player” in a recent chat, but I could see Crede being the ’08 version of Tony Womack.

Scott Rolen – another move I can see Hank doing. Not clear if St. Louis wants to trade him.

Eric Chavez – would not be surprised if the A’s salary dump this guy to New York. Wow, has his star fallen. Beane signing him to a long-term deal? Mistake. Doesn’t really fit the Yanks’ style either, with a .347 lifetime OBP.

Aaron Boone – they’ll sign the guy as a backup. Would be one of the biggest PR moves ever. Let’s see if they dump him when he’s hitting .175 in June.

Wilson Betemit – has about as much of a chance as Mike Lamb did in the winter of 2004. And how about Cashman calling out Betemit for not being in shape? Never seen Cashman do anything like that. Must be hanging around Hank too much.

Miguel Cabrera – My prediction. He’s on the trading block, he’s young, knows Girardi from Florida, and has potential star power. As soon as Hank finds out he’s available, I bet he’ll be willing to give whatever it takes to get this guy. I would love to see this happen, because I think Cabrera would be a bad fit for New York. He’s got insubordination issues, weight and conditioning issues, and would be a great source for back-page fodder. Would Hank fine him for every pound he’s overweight, like his dad did with Lou Piniella? Maybe he and Betemit can eat chips in the Yankee clubhouse.

If the Yanks get Cabrera, count on them getting Willis, too. The guy would be like the Mike Lowell of the deal, as Florida wouldn’t mind getting rid of his $6.5 million salary. He’d be a great PR factor, too – the funky first name, the cool delivery, and would be a good lefty option if Pettitte doesn’t come back. Besides, he’s also a guy that Hank probably thinks is still a dominator.

And if Hank wants him, then he’ll give up some of the kids. I can see the Yanks building a package around Wang or Hughes as well as Kennedy and Melky, for starters.