Some Perspective

Before informing you of people whom I sincerely hope you keep in your thoughts and prayers, especially as we enter a New Year, I must admit that, before learning of the plights of these people, the baseball related discussion below was about to be an untoward rant toward one of the pre-eminent–in fact Hall-of-Fame–journalists in all of baseball, Peter Gammons.  As much as anything, this post is intended to indicate that we learn as we go, even and sometimes especially if we initially think that we have things all figured out.  Usually something serves as a prescient reminder of the fragility of life and, in the process, that life itself is the great instructor, that we’re always its pupils.  Here I hope it also proves helpful for untangling the rhetorical Gordian knot that has entangled financial discussions in sports in general and baseball in particular.

I just read at Jane Heller’s excellent Confessions of a She-Fan that Doug Mientkiewicz’s wife has had another operation, in addition to her previous heart surgery and pacemaker implant.  Among many calls he has received, including from Jane, Mientkiewicz received one from Yankees manager Joe Girardi wishing him and his wife Jodi well.  I must admit to including myself in the group that respected Mientkiewicz’s outstanding glove but consistently criticized him because of his bat in the first few months of 2007, when the Yankees struggled.  When he got hurt June 2 against Boston after Mike Lowell collided with him at first, Mientkiewicz was batting .226–up 72 points from the end of the dismal April the Yankees had amassed.  Yet he had 18 hits in September, adding to his always excellent play in the field, to help the Yankees clinch the Wild Card spot in a most unlikely fashion.  This guy–this great glove and terrific teammate for the Yankees only one season, in addition to seemingly being a loving husband–has dealt with a tremendous amount with his wife ill for some time.  Please keep him and his wife in your thoughts and prayers this off-season as 2008 rings into 2009.  Regardless of playing well or poorly, Mientkiewicz was more than solid in the field.  He was accountable and with no excuses.  I wish his wife Jodi a speedy recovery and return to good health.

In my preoccupation with my own immediate family and friends this Holiday season, I neglected to pass along my best wishes for a speedy and healthy recovery from surgery for a rare form of stomach cancer that Todd Drew, who writes at Alex Belth’s outstanding Bronx Banter in addition to his own stellar Yankees For Justice, experienced over the holidaysThat he continues to experience difficulty as he recovers pains he, not only because he and I seem to share the same left-wing political views and not only because we share our allegiance to the Yanks, but also that Todd is a terrific writer whose work people should regularly read and savor.  Please keep Todd in your thoughts as well as we ring in the New Year.

I mention these not simply to poke and prod us–mainly me–about our inner, essential humanity.  Rather, these examples of human frailty very much remind me of Peter Gammons, whose recent article at ESPN.com I’ll staunchly criticize below but for whose overall work I’m still grateful to read.  Gammons very nearly died of an aneurysm over two years ago, and the story detailing his recovery to which I just linked–replete with Gammons thanking everyone from the woman in the gym parking lot who saved him to the medical and nursing staffs who cared for him to Don Mattingly who gave Gammons a cross and necklace he received as a gift–still moves me deeply when I read it.  Thus, I do not take lightly the harsh critique I will subsequently level against a Gammons article for various reasons, including his injudiciously analogizing the Yankees to that nefariously inhumane corporate enterprise, Wal-Mart.

Gammons begins by purporting to know what was in Mark Teixeira’ heart of hearts–$$$–when he says, “All the innuendo about Teixeira not caring for Larry Lucchino and John Henry doesn’t really matter, because Teixeira was going to New York.”  In other words, sports fans, ignore the good, detailed legwork that Alan Schwarz did at The New York Times “Bats” blog to detail at least part of the Teixeira back story–that the Red Sox just may have warded off other baseball teams on Teixeira coming out of high school only to subsequently low-ball Teixeira on their eventual mid-round draftee’s contract offer.  Ignore also that Teixeira may have had lingering reticence about the Red Sox organization that predated Lucchino and Henry.  Gammons’s article would have us believe that it was simply the Yankees’ financial gravitas or inexorable economic inertia that Teixeira was unable to withstand.

Now to be fair, Gammons does dole out praise to the Yankees for their baseball and business acumen, for their patience in passing on trading for Johan Santana so that what high-priced acquisitions they made would not be at the expense of their budding minor-league system, for their perspicacity in seeing the long-range free-agent picture to know that the pre-2009 free agent crop was probably the most bountiful they’d see for at least a couple years, and for rightly acknowledging the smarts of GM Brian Cashman.  Gammons is no dummy and has a good head for both the on-field game and the behind-the-scenes machinations to know how baseball and its personalities operate.

Where I diverge from and eventually criticize Gammons based on his as always well-written if innately flawed piece begins with his determination that a good degree of fans were at once mini-Steinbrenners, self-hating Red Sox fans, and willing to part with precious prospects for expensive experienced players. Without his citing any specifics, Gammons ignores the incongruity of the hydra-headed monster he concocted.  He presumes that those who consider not winning the world series “a failure” to be “misanthropes,” while at the same time discussing the “joy” that Jeter and Mariano have brought to the ballpark–all the while overlooking how miserable Pete Abraham characterized Mariano to have been during the final weeks of the 2008 season as he knew and experienced a Fall without an October.  To consider such fans misanthropic ignores that they just may derive significant value and enjoyment from experiencing the games, yet still might evaluate their team’s overall success harshly.  This seems to elude Gammons.

Where I really take umbrage with Gammons is in his ill-chosen analogy between the Yankees and Wal-Mart, a company and whose practices I absolutely loathe.  Near the end of his article, Gammons brays, “Wal-Mart eats up small-family businesses.  The Yankees eat up the Brewers and the Indians, and there may not be an owner in any sport who, given the opportunity afforded to Hal Steinbrenner, wouldn’t have done the same thing.”

The Yankees are Wal-Mart? The Yankees treat their employees, up to and including their players–without whom there quite simply and frankly are no Yankees–as Wal-Mart does?  Wal-Mart, for those who may not know, is the corporation that just settled 63 large lawsuits for $640 million in stolen back pay for refusing to pay employees for rest and meal breaks as well as forcing them to work off the clock rather than pay overtime.  Not only is this not the first time that Wal-Mart has done such things but, as interviews with corporate managers in Robert Greenwald’s excellent documentary “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices” reveal, this is company policy.  Greenwald’s fine film also reveals patterns of spying on employees as part of its heinously anti-union animus, sexual discrimination, employing woefully underpaid workers in chop-shop contractor factories overseas, and environmental degradation as part of Wal-Mart’s destructive modus operandi.

Gammons’s point is to liken one financial giant and the dominance they enjoy and exert to another.  It was in my opinion poorly done, is woefully inaccurate and as a result is rendered facile, and for more than the atrocious particulars about Wal-Mart mentioned above.  It also reflects how badly people, even someone as informed about baseball as Gammons, discuss the game’s financial particulars.

“Wal-Mart eats up small-family businesses.  The Yankees eat up the Brewers and the Indians…”  Really?  Let’s discuss.  Wal-Mart does in fact drive out small-business competition through various means, including undercutting their prices and attracting customers by offering most things customers want, need, and use under one roof.  However, the Yankees, through revenue-sharing, support the Brewers and Indians, among other small-market teams.  According to The Wall Street Journal, in 2005, the Yankees paid $76 million in revenue-sharing that, with what twelve other teams contributed, was subsequently divided up among the seventeen others.  The Brewers received $24 million and the Indians $6 million. Such largess nearly off-set the Brewers’ total 2005 salary of $39, 934, 833, and paid just over 1/6 of Cleveland’s $41,504,500 2005 salary–neither insignificant sums.  The Royals, whose fans staged a hissy-fit “protest” walkout of the Yankees in 1999, received $30 million in 2005 through revenue-sharing to off-set 5/6 of their $36,881,000 total payroll that season.  To the best of my knowledge, their fans have not protested that the Royals should return any of that money to the Yankees or other larger-market teams.  These and other small-market teams, which by the way are the ones who most often underpay players, have little incentive to fill their stadiums with fans by attracting them through signing good players.  In essence, small-market teams that are unsuccessful on the field can be and often are quite successful financially.  For example, the Florida Marlins had a 2005 payroll of $60,408,834, received $31 million in revenue-sharing that year, then drastically slashed payroll the next three seasons to just under $15 million in 2006, just over $30 million in 2007, and just under $22 million last year–slightly more combined than they paid in 2005–half of which was off-set by revenue-sharing in that year alone.

The Yankees don’t eat up these teams.  They and others feed them hand over fist, whether or not they re-invest the money into payroll, which is the purpose of revenue-sharing and which small-market teams too often don’t.  They’re too often selfish, hoarding money rather than paying players more and in the process sticking it to fans who, in places such as Florida, certainly notice.  The Marlins drew on average 16,482 last year, 16,920 in 2007, and 14,372 in 2006–dead last in the National League each year–after drawing 22,872 on average in 2005, a season in which payroll happened to be nearly what it was in the three subsequent seasons combined.

I can at least agree with Gammons’s conclusion that other teams would do the same, seeking to dominate, in a similar situation.  Yet I stridently disagree with the ill-chosen Wal-Mart analogy for the reasons I outlined above.  I also strongly question to what degree such owners of small-market teams even wish to be in Hal Steinbrenner’s situation when they receive tens of millions each year whether or not their teams are good, when they benefit from large gates when well-stocked teams with well-paid players such as the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Dodgers, Cubs and others roll into town, and when they fail to re-invest revenue-sharing largess in salaries, which is the explicit purpose of such a system.  Too often, teams such as the Marlins but also the Royals and plenty of others fail particularly their fans, but also owners of big-market teams, their own players, and the system itself by washing their hands of the responsibility to provide a good baseball product–all the while whining about competitive imbalance because of skewed salary structures that they not only do nothing to rectify, but indeed exacerbate through their penurious ways.

The Yankees are baseball’s Wal-Mart?  Spare me, Mr. Gammons.

Published in: on December 31, 2008 at 11:12 am  Comments (8)  

Joba, Gardner, and Other Questions for 2009

Andy Martino of The New York Daily News has a nice piece on Joba, running through some familiar background on the young star while asking some forthright questions about what his off-season DUI arrest might mean as he recovers from a shoulder injury.  Having Joba not just healthy but focused is clearly key for the Yankees and, more importantly, Joba’s long-term well-being.

Anthony McCarron of The Daily News has a good run-down on the 2009 Yankees position-by-position compared to the 2008 team.  While McCarron wisely questions what the Yankees will experience at various positions, including catcher with Jorge’s return from shoulder surgery, second base from Cano’s down year, and third base with A-Rod apparently distracted from his divorce, I found one comment from McCarron odd.  He does a good job assessing the outfield, and I agree with his belief that moving Nady to right to replace Bobby Abreu will likely result in a downgrade overall for the position, he says about Brett Gardner playing center, “If Gardner is it [the center fielder], it’s unclear what he’ll bring to the lineup.”  I think a better way to put it would be that it’s unclear how well he’ll hit.  But it’s not at all unclear what Gardner brings–speed, speed, and more speed.  Gardner stole 13 bases in 14 tries in just 42 games and, from September 15 to the end of the season, he hit 15-42 (.357), scored 7 runs, drove in 6, raised his average 63 points and his OBP 49 points.

Like McCarron and others, I still have concerns about the offense.  Will Matsui be healthy enough to produce as he usually does, heck, to stay in the lineup?  Will Nady hit better than the .268/.320 after being traded to the Yanks, and can he come close to Abreu’s RBI and run-scoring proficiency?  Can Nady cut down on the 48 strikeouts in 59 games with the Yanks?  Will Damon stay healthy to give the top of the lineup the added punch he usually brings? Will Posada return healthy and productive?  Can Cano rebound from a wretched 2008?  Will an aging lineup avoid the injury bugs that have plagued the team in recent years?

Gardner’s attributes, however, are less a question in and of themselves than a matter of a.) whether or not he wins the center-field job, b.) how much he will continue to improve should he win the job, and c.) whether the rest of the lineup’s productivity ameliorates or exacerbates what limitations Gardner’s game thus far has–lack of power, and consistency at the plate.  The latter may come from consistent playing time, since he was quite good at SWB last year–.296/.414, 3 HR, 32 RBI, 37/46 in stolen bases, 68 runs, 70 walks.  The real question with point c.) is whether or not Gardner can develop some gap power by using his full body in swings.  My belief is that he’ll transfer his good batting eye to the majors as long as he gets consistent at-bats.  He only drew 8 walks last year, and only 3 in the last six weeks when he replaced Melky. But as a newcomer, this is forgivable as long as he shows improvement.  Long story short, while Gardner has some questions, his speed is an obvious attribute that McCarron rightly acknowledges for defense in center, but strangely overlooks for the offense.  Especially from the nine-hole, Gardner can team with JD to give the Yankees in essence two lead-off hitters.

Even a piker like me can see that.

Published in: on December 29, 2008 at 10:24 am  Comments (12)  

On Negotiations, Spending, History, and the Rotation

Kat O’Brien of Newsday has a good rundown, based on the account of “an official involved in negotiations,” of the ebb and flow between the Yankees and Scott Boras, Mark Teixeira’s agent.  Scroll down for that part of the story.  To a degree, it implicitly questions to what degree the Yankees are guilty of profligacy, especially since the Yankees only outbid Boston by about $12 million over eight seasons.  I say this because there has been so much caterwauling about the Yankees’ outbidding others, despite the fact that many other teams were involved in negotiations with the players the Yankees acquired, that many other teams have very high payrolls and, as Max Kellerman points out in a good Christmas Eve podcast, that other teams such as Boston proportinately outspend the Yankees relative to the size of their home market.

Justin Sablich at Tyler Kepner’s Bats blog at The New York Times importantly reminds readers in a Christmas Day post of a very good post Alan Schwarz wrote on Bats in early December.  In it, Schwarz detailed that Teixeira’s forays into professional baseball began with a rather negative experience with the Red Sox in which, according to Teixeira, the Red Sox got other teams to shy away from Teixeira, who committed to Georgia Tech, before drafting him in the ninth round.  As they did, it was with what Teixeira referred to as a take-it-or-leave-it offer of a $1.5 million bonus that Teixeira interpreted as a financial ceiling instead of a floor.  Teixeira ultimately turned down the offer, played at Tech, then re-entered the draft with a $9 million contract from Texas–a wise move on his part and one that possibly jaundiced his views of the Red Sox organization, pre-Henry and Epstein.

It could be that Teixeira was assessed as a sizable gamble by all major-league clubs since he committed to Georgia Tech.  It could also be that there was more to the give-and-take to those negotiations a decade ago, that we’ve heard but one side of the story.  However it could also be that Teixeira’s version of this represents another in a long line of incidents in which Boston failed to land or keep a good player during the Dan Duquette era.

I’ve been reading Pete Golenbock’s Dynasty lately–quite a good, entertaining, and informative account of the Yankees’ tremendous run from 1949-1964.  As I read through it, I’ve been struck by how many other books have based their accounts on Golembock’s–Steven Goldman’s Forging Genius and David Halberstam’s Summer of ’49 come readily to mind. It does a good job of weaving chronological narrative with retrospective interviews and insights of the Yankees and individual players, though the magnitude of the project and its scope sometimes operates to the detriment of fuller details and deeper analysis of particular events and years.  Nonetheless, it’s well worth checking out.

Pete Abraham has a very good post on Chien-Ming Wang and what he perceives as the lack of respect Wang has received from the Yanks.  Based on a story that Pete Caldera did for The Bergen County Record, in which pitching coach Dave Eiland said about Sabathia and Burnett, “That’s as good a 1-2 punch for me as you’re going to find,” and that “Wang’s as good a No. 3 as you’ll find as well,” I agree.  Abraham and I are on the same page about Wang being the number 2 starter, with both of us basing that assessment not only on Wang’s excellent record but also what potential lies in sandwiching two power pitchers around a power sinker to throw different looks at teams.  Pitching coaches and baseball analysts frequently discuss the effectiveness of pitchers by their ability to change planes and speeds.  What is difficult to measure but no less likely a component of success is how pitchers’ various abilities interact with each other.  For example, Eddie Lopat’s junk-ball mastery of even great hitters such as Ted Williams, who according to the late great author David Halberstam in Summer of ’49 frequently referred to him in profane reverence as “That fucking Lopat,” was successful not only because of his own abilities and smarts but also how his stuff looked to hitters who had faced hard throwers such as Vic Raschi and Allie Reynolds throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s.  I also think Burnett’s strikeout ability–always a flashier statistic and ultimate veto to hitting–versus Wang’s being a ground-ball machine, combined with the understandable excitement surrounding the Yanks’ signing Burnett, has blurred just how good Wang has been.  54-20, 3.79 ERA, back-to-back 19-win seasons in 2006 and 2007, historically low and efficient pitch counts–Wang is an ace, Mr. Eiland.  I hope that Wang takes his rightful place at number 2 in the rotation, both for the respect that he deserves and, more importantly to me, the different looks the Yankees can give teams thanks to Wang’s unique stuff.  Neither Wang nor the Yankees have done anything in my mind that should displace Wang from one of the top two spots in a much-improved rotation for 2009.

Published in: on December 26, 2008 at 8:36 pm  Comments (10)  

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

christmas-fireplace

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Holidays to everyone out there.  Thank you for everything this past year, especially for making The Heartland a good, thoughtful, enjoyable place to spend time.   May you get everything you wish for this Holiday season.

Peace and good tidings to everyone.  Here is some music from Barenaked Ladies with Sarah McLachlin for your listening pleasure.

[Edit: Thanks to Ballbug.com for linking my post on Ramirez--and Nick's comment milestone--at its website.]

Published in: on December 24, 2008 at 3:51 pm  Comments (6)  

Congratulations, Nick; Star-Ledger: Plummeting Market for Ramirez?

Regular reader Nick from across the pond posted the 7,500th comment here at The Heartland this morning.  Congratulations, Nick!  You’ve won a virtual washer and dryer combination set, plus a free tour around the blog.

“Nowhere Man, don’t worry.  Take your time, don’t hurry.  Leave it all till somebody else lends you a hand.” –The Beatles, “Nowhere Man”

Dan Graziano at The Star-Ledger has a very good piece online discussing where the free agent market now stands for Manny Ramirez, especially after Mark Teixeira has agreed to a deal with the Yankees.  While a plausible consideration might be the Mets, Graziano contends that had the Mets wanted him so badly, they would have dealt for him last July.  To him, they just don’t want him on the team.  The best part of Graziano’s article is his analysis of the ramifications of Teixeira’s signing on Ramirez–both Boras clients.  Since several teams in the market for a power bat probably had both Teixeira and Ramirez on their respective radars, the Yanks’ landing Teixeira hurt Ramirez and Boras’s negotiating positions.  The Red Sox won’t sign Ramirez for the obvious reason of his tanking it to get out of the remainder of his contract.  The Angels have already said (truthfully or not) that “Manny will not be on the Angels.”  Meanwhile, the Orioles and Nationals wanted Teixeira not only because he is very good, but also because he’s from the Baltimore area, making him a hometown draw.  The Mets loom but are at best (from Ramirez’s standpoint) lurking in the shadows, at worstnot interested.

From the standpoint of contractual value, Graziano persuasively argues that the best scenario for Ramirez and Boras would have been for Teixeira to sign with the Red Sox, the likely result of which would have been that the Yankees would (GULP!) signed Ramirez.  Each client would have made out, as would have Boras.  Now, Ramirez and Boras are left to ponder how wise it was to turn down the $45 million over two years that the Dodgers offered–the same per season, albeit with a shorter duration, as the younger Teixeira will make with the Yankees.  Granted, the shifting tectonics of the market seemed to catch Ramirez and Boras in a vice of desire for a better fit on the one side, and an apparent aversion to Ramirez’s selfish antics on the other.  Perhaps that was something they couldn’t have foreseen.

I don’t quite agree with that.  I think the major factor here was Ramirez’s poor, self-centered behavior culminating in his outright quitting on the Red Sox last year–not for the first time, I’d contend.  I firmly believe and always will that he also quit on Boston in the last weeks of 2006.   Who would want to gamble tens of millions on a guy whose demeanor ranges from destructively fickle to playful to assaulting to sulking?  The Yankees, according to Graziano, would have been willing to endure his nonsense and, unlike most teams, would have had the cash to make such an unpalatable move possible.  Now Ramirez and Boras are left to ponder–like the dog in the fable that dropped its bone in the pond to grab the bigger one, only to find out it was a reflection of what it already held–whether they have missed good opportunities in Boston and LA, places willing to put up with his tired, inane act for big bucks.  They are left on the defensive in negotiations with LA or any other team.  Also worth considering is whether or not the Teixeira-to-New York twist will possibly exacerbate in the coming years that which has been worst in Ramirez–his seemingly limitless capacity for self-centered, destructive behavior, fueled by the misguided sentiment that the market–and not his own actions–have thus far landed him with no one.

Ramirez, this winter’s Nowhere Man.  Thank goodness the Yankees signed Teixeira for his own attributes, and avoided Ramirez and all his baggage.

Published in: on December 24, 2008 at 10:21 am  Comments (3)  

Teixeira’s Statistics

Some additional numbers to fully convey to Yankees fans just who and what the Yanks acquired in Mark Teixeira:

.290 AVG/.378 OBP/.541 SLG

203 HR, 676 RBI, 566 Runs, 442 BB, 694 K’s.

In his six seasons, Teixeira has averaged about 24 homers, 113 RBI, and 74 BB.  Only in his first year, 2003 (84), did he not drive in 100 runs.  While on average he strikes out about 116 times a year, for a power hitter with a good average, that’s more than acceptable.  Also, last year was the first year he didn’t fan 100 times (97).  As a right-handed hitter, his average is .281, .371 OBP, and .541 SLG, with 151 homers.  As a lefty, Teixeira has a higher career average, .309, and OBP, .393, with an identical SLG of .541 and 52 homers.  Death Valley might cut down on his righty power a little, but the short porches in right and dead left field certainly loom promisingly for him.  His patience is also good enough to replace Giambi and Abreu, who walked 76 and 73 times last year, respectively–historically low walk numbers for each, granted, but still good numbers.  Teixeira, meanwhile, walked 97 times last season. This of course is not to mention Teixeira’s replacing their offensive productivity.  He’ll be a mainstay in the three hole for years to come, and should thrive in that lineup.  Damon, Jeter, Teixeira, and A-Rod at #1-4 sounds very, very good.

His defense is excellent, committing only 31 errors at first for a fielding percentage of .996.  He’s won two Gold Glove awards, 2005 and 2006.  As Tim the Wizard aptly pointed out in the comments on a previous post about Wang, his defense should ably assist the sinker specialist Wang, and Pettite should he re-sign, as well as help solidify the rest of the defense.

That he is turning 29 next April is also most welcome, making the team better and younger at once.  He’s only a few months older than Tino when the Yankees acquired him before the 1996 World Series championship season.

Teixeira is a great signing by any estimation.

[Edit: Be sure to check out this excellent piece by Jane Heller ("Confessions of a She-Fan") over at "Bats," Tyler Kepner's New York Times baseball blog, discussing the Yankees' moves and fan reactions.]

Published in: on December 23, 2008 at 5:47 pm  Comments (10)  

MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE!! ESPN: YANKEES SIGN TEIXEIRA

Since it’s been another miserable weather day–low 30s, freezing rain, icy roads–I decided to hunker down this afternoon and make a batch of chili for dinner.  After the prep work and in the middle of bringing it the initial boil, I heard my phone on the nearby fridge indicating an incoming text message.  That’s Mike, I figured, since only Mike texts me.  Asking what was up with Tex, since he got an e-mail from reader Nick, I immediately jumped online to ESPN.com to check things out.  Sure enough, under the “BREAKING NEWS” headline, the Yanks have signed Teixeira to an eight-year deal worth $180 million, according to “two sources involved in negotiations” who relayed the information to Buster Olney.  Apparently the Yanks made an offer to Teixeira weeks ago, then withdrew it.  Today, they have apparently landed him.

Let’s ponder this for a minute.  By landing Teixeira for $22.5 million per season, the Yankees have just filled first base with the best possible option, an excellent two-way player and switch-hitter who keeps the Yanks’ lineup from being too lefty heavy, as it has been in recent years.  They also just found their three-hole hitter, sandwiched between Jeter and A-Rod.  They significantly improved the defense over Giambi’s perennially subpar glove.  No less important, they significantly improved the offense that scored 179 fewer runs last year (789) than 2007 (968).  Teixeira was a monster last year, hitting .308/.410/.552 with 33 HR and 121 RBI, and is great in the clutch–.308/.445 with RISP, .303/.419 with men on last year.  Historically he’s very good in such situations–.324/.442 with RISP, and .298/.402 with men in throughout his six-year career.  He’ll also make a great one-two punch in the heart of the lineup with A-Rod.

And the Yankees landed him.  HIM.

That they did so at the expense of all other interested parties, including AL East rivals Boston and Baltimore as well as the LA Angels of Superfluous Acronyms, is equally crucial.  It’s hard not to consider the Yanks the front-runner in the tough AL East now, despite the Rays’ ascendance and Boston’s strengths.  This off-season, they have addressed the most pressing needs in the best ways possible from outside the organization, landing big-time players loaded with positive attributes to help offense, defense, and pitching.  Though they’ve spent a lot of money, practically everything coming off the books from 2008 and probably more when they round out the rotation and bench, they’ve acquired three terrific players, two of whom are under 30, for long-term deals.  Not to be overlooked, the Yankees now have no ostensible need for Ramirez since they not only signed an excellent offensive player in Teixeira, but one far better defensively at his position than Ramirez has ever been in the outfield.

This was the best possible scenario this off-season–the Yanks solidifying the rotation with power arms (including a stud lefty) and grabbing an excellent two-way first baseman, one who should remind Yankees fans of Tino.  I blogged on Sunday about whether or not the Yankees were a, or the, front-runner for Teixeira after the Angels pulled out of the running.  I also wondered if the Yankees’ refrain about signing Teixeira not being a realistic possibility might have been a smokescreen.  Perhaps it wasn’t a ruse, that the Yanks were lurking for the right time and price.  But something tells me the Yanks played it totally cool in this one and waited as long as they did to gauge the market, that if bidding went to or above, say, $25 million per season they might have opted out themselves but, if it didn’t, they’d make a hard play. Buster Olney referred to it as a “great game of chess” the Yanks played.  We’ll learn more in the coming days about exactly how this unfolded, and whether or not the Yankees laid a heck of a smokescreen.  Regardless, I’m so glad my gut was wrong about Teixeira going back to the Angels.  Like so many others, I wanted Teixeira badly but figured the odds and finances were against it.

I envision the lineup as such, should the Yanks not deal or sign anyone else:

  1. Damon
  2. Jeter
  3. Teixeira
  4. A-Rod
  5. Matsui
  6. Posada
  7. Nady
  8. Cano
  9. Gardner/Melky/Swisher (unlikely for Swisher, at least in center)

We’ll be cheering for one loaded team next season, Yankees fans–one that might see Swisher as an outfielder or player off the bench, one perhaps without Matsui or Damon–two players in the last year of their contract and two I’ve always liked a lot–to clear up salary. Yet with this signing, it’s a Merry Christmas indeed.  We’re not by any means George Bailey, but that link best expresses my sentiments about the Teixeira signing at this moment.

Wow.

Published in: on December 23, 2008 at 4:20 pm  Comments (3)  

Wang, Yankees Agree to One-Year, $5 Million

In a move that avoided arbitration, the Yankees and Chien-Ming Wang agreed to a one-year deal worth $5 million.  To me, this is a steal for a pitcher of Wang’s capabilities.  He has a career record of 54-20, 3.79 ERA, is a ground-ball machine, will turn 29 just before the start of the season, and could expect a  big payday after next season.  With him back and healthy, the Yankees have two aces with Wang and Sabathia, and in Burnett a third when he’s on.

The Yankees did the right thing and granted Wang a million-dollar raise from 2008.  They also averted any potential hurt feelings, since Wang lost his arbitration case before last season.  The Yankees got off easy paying Wang $5 million this year.  They won’t be so lucky next season.

Published in: on December 23, 2008 at 8:35 am  Comments (4)  

Don’t Go Down Ramirez Road

Bob Klapisch at NorthJersey.com offers a very good, insightful take on Manny Ramirez, Girardi and why he thinks the two won’t mix.  While rehashing the by now well-known incidents involving Ramirez’s quitting on the Red Sox last year (not for the first time, I’d contend; see his disappearing act in the last month of 2006), Klapisch has some telling perspectives on Girardi.  He contends that Girardi needs to loosen up, that his uptight, surly demeanor didn’t go over well in the Yankee clubhouse, with Girardi giving his team the “death stare” and at times not speaking with them after games, according to Klapisch.  Torre had his peccadillos, not the least of which was his (mis-)handling of the bullpen.  Yet Torre had no problem relating to and getting the most out of his players.

At the same time, Klapish questions the degree to which Girardi is capable of lightening up on the team at the same time that said team–as it is currently comprised–will be expected to contend with an offense that has significant question marks–age, Posada returning from injury, Cano returning from an off year offensively, and hitting abysmally in the clutch.  This says nothing about the fact that, currently without Giambi and Abreu, the Yankees need to in some way replace their combined 52 HR, 196 RBI.  I’m not of the opinion that the Yankees cannot win unless they get those numbers from others.  There are many ways to generate runs.  However, on an aging team with Nady and Swisher currently expected to replace those two, as well as uncertainty in center field, the Yankees have a good many concerns on offense.  As is, shifting course and embracing the running game sounds good and is possible, but the team is not quite built as the Angels of recent years have been–speed, taking the extra base, using the opposite field, relying on making contact–to easily make such a transition.

Ramirez may be a tempting option because of his prodigious production.  However, and not for the first time, I don’t consider him a good option at all.  He’s a quitter, a sulker, selfish, ostentatious, and distracted.  Keep him and accept the consequences.  I have no doubt that the alternative–living with Ramirez and putting up with all his ridiculous nonsense for a few years–would be much worse.

Published in: on December 22, 2008 at 1:19 pm  Comments (4)  

Good Tidings He Brings

“So shines a good deed in a weary world.” —Willy Wonka, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”

Check out this story circulating around the Yankee blogoshpere by way of Zell’s Pinstripe Blog (a link to which I’ve added on the right-hand side), illustrating Phil Hughes’s altruism and public-relations acumen.  The guy is one of the brightest, up-and-coming Yankee prospects yet is humble enough to send baseball paraphernalia to this fan–for free.  Since he seems bright, I doubt that the public-relations effect was lost on Hughes.  I also don’t think that’s why he did it.  In a world often cynical and selfish or worse, what Hughes did is a sterling reminder that people can be and often act decent simply because they are and want to be so, not necessarily because they want to be admired.  Great stuff.  Check it out.

Published in: on December 22, 2008 at 11:52 am  Comments (3)  
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