Warm and Hopeful Thoughts on a Cold Day

It’s a bitterly cold day here in the Midwest, with the early morning temperature at -1 and the early afternoon reading right now topping out at a whopping 2 degrees.  With the wind chill, it feels like -22.  It’s a good thing that I finished up my Christmas shopping yesterday afternoon, heading out on a cold but manageable day with my daughter, the helpful, witty GLG.  We grabbed a few things for my nieces, had lunch (Mexican, with me destroying a delicious chicken salad with some Caeser dressing and lots of habanero sauce, and GLG working over a veggie fajita platter), then more shopping with everyone covered by day’s end.  It was very productive and lots of fun galavanting around with The Big Kid, whose wit never waned and whose helpfulness was crucial in a couple judgment calls.  She’d make a very good referee–good, quick, and ultimately accurate calls.  With a crackling fire in the fireplace, it’s a very good day to be inside with my Little Guy, a cold one, and the laptop.

Kevin Kernan has an article worth reading in today’s New York Post contending that the Yankees, despite not having yet made him an offer, are very much players in the race for switch-hitting first baseman Mark Teixeira.  Kernan’s rationale is that the Yankees would not upgrade the pitching without addressing the glaring needs still facing an offense that, having scored 789 runs in 2008 (179 fewer than in 2007), ranked 10th in the majors.  This of course says nothing about how poor the Yankees were in the clutch last year, where Teixeira thrived last year–.308/.445, 8 HR, 82 RBIs with RISP, .303/.419, 16 HR, 104 RBIs with men on.  Importantly, these are not anomalies for Teixeira’s six-year career–.324/.442, 63 HR, 442 RBIs with RISP, .298/.402, 109 HR, 582 RBIs with men on.  Teixeira produces, period. He’s also an excellent glove, something the Yankees haven’t had from a regular there since Tino’s tenure as the everyday first baseman ended after the 2001 season, and has only appeared with platoon players–Tony Clark (the ultimate good guy in the clubhouse), John Olerud, Tino in 2005, and Nick Johnson.

We’ve been through this before–discussing and debating the reasons why the Yanks need him.  My gut still tells me that Teixeira will go back to the Angels.  However, should the Yankees land him, it would not only be a tremendous coup and a seismic shift in the AL.  It would also have occurred the opposite from how I surmised it a while back, when I urged the Yankees to make a strong, early play for Teixeira to show earnest interest in the same way that the Yankees did Sabathia, whom the Yankees landed with just such an approach but also a straightforward expression of their long-term plans for acquiring him.  Sam Borden, who wrote for The New York Daily News a few years back before moving on from, then returning to, New York now with The Amsterdam Journal News, provided some excellent quotes and analysis via Pete Abraham’s LoHud blog this past week.  In his missive, Borden relayed how the Yankees ultimately convinced Sabathia to come to New York not only with the richest contract a major league pitcher has ever received, and not only through the crucial recruitment of Johnny Damon and his wife, but also by Brian Cashman’s methodically laying out to Sabathia that the Yankees passed on acquiring ace lefty Johan Santana last off-season in order to push for Sabathia this off-season.  These lengthy excerpts are woth including in their entirety:

Brian Cashman gets (and deserves) a lot of credit for bringing CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett to the Yankees, but Johnny Damon may have been the Yankees’ biggest recruiter this winter. Amber Sabathia said that Johnny’s wife, Michelle, played a big part in convincing her it was possible to enjoy raising a family in the New York area.

The Damons spent their first two years with the Yanks living in Manhattan, but then moved to the New Jersey suburbs, and Michelle sold Amber on the suburban life.

“She said you’re going to love it,” Amber said. “The schools are good, the pediatricians are good, the supermarkets are good – it’s like a nice little place to live.”

The Sabathias have three kids – CC Jr., age 5; Jaden, age 3; and Cyia, 2-months – but Amber and CC plan to spend some time in Manhattan, too. Amber said their favorite restaurant is Tao – an Asian spot which serves some of the greatest sushi and fragrant duck in the city – and that she is “a Saks’ girl.”

Johnny D was also one of two Yankees to call Burnett (A-Rod was the other) during the offseason, and he gave Burnett the hard sell about coming to the Bronx. Cashman said that Damon – along with Derek Jeter and others – also bent his ear during the season about getting Burnett since he always gave the Yankees such a hard time whenever he pitched against them.
The first serious conversation about the Yankees getting CC Sabathia didn’t happen this winter. It happened last offseason, when the Yanks were considering whether to trade for and then give an extension to Johan Santana. Knowing that Sabathia was going to be available, the Yanks decided not to give up prospects and money for Santana, and instead “take a gamble,” in Cashman’s words, on getting Sabathia for only money in free agency.

As it turned out, that long-term plan played a big part in Sabathia ultimately accepting the Yankees’ offer. At the final meeting Cashman and Sabathia had at Sabathia’s California home, Cashman laid out exactly how long Sabathia had been on the Yankees’ radar. He told Sabathia and his agents how the Yankees had been targeting him for over a year and explained the entire process behind their decision, in hopes it would show how committed the Yankees were to Sabathia.

“Ten minutes after he left, I called him to tell him I’m in,” Sabathia said. “That really meant a lot to me.”

I plan to blog in the future about Damon’s pivotal role in the Sabathia and Burnett acquisitions–legacies that will dictate the Yankees’ future well beyond Damon’s likely tenure in pinstripes.  The Yankees acquired not only a very good offensive, speedy outfielder but also a prime-time recruiter in Johnny Damon, whose personality may pay big dividends in determining the Yankees’ fate in the coming years not only through his own exploits but also, and vitally, those of the players he helped draw to The Bronx.  Kudos also to A-Rod for being a prominent voice helping to land Burnett, against whom he’s 8-27 but with 9 K’s in their career match-ups–as I recall A-Rod’s big two-run blast off Burnett to help turn a 3-0 deficit into a big 7-6 win September 18, 2006 as a moment of rare success against him.  Yet for now, some things merit further attention in this highly revealing excerpt from Borden. The first is that player recruiting is clearly both a collective and deeply personal exercise.  Damon was central in the recruiting effort for Sabathia and Burnett.  So was Cashman’s conveying to Sabathia that the Yankees not only wanted him, but had for a long time.  It’s one thing for a big contract to illustrate the desire to acquire a big-time free agent pitcher.  It’s another to indicate the comfort a player may have outside the game.  It’s still yet another to convince a player, as the Yankees did Sabathia, that they not only wanted him but have for a while.  It shows deep thought and consideration of what a player like Sabathia means to an organization and not only in his own right, but in comparison to one of the best pitchers of this generation–Santana.  It doesn’t surprise me at all that soon after the meeting, Sabathia expressed his desire to sign with the Yankees.  There’s nothing quite like being truly wanted.

Borden provides additional keen insight, with telling quotes from Cashman, that Sabathia was the right person as well as pitcher for the Yankees below:

Near the end of the Brewers season, when Milwaukee was basically pitching Sabathia every third day, his agents called Brewers GM Doug Melvin a few times. Seems they were worried about how all the extra work might affect Sabathia’s arm, possibly injuring him as he was about to become a free agent. According to Brian Cashman, Greg Genske (the agent) and his associates were saying to Melvin, “Don’t pitch him on three days rest. What are you doing?”

When Sabathia heard about these phone calls, he went into the office the next time it happened and began yelling back at his agents, “Stop calling!”

When the Yankees heard that story, they knew that was the kind of guy they wanted to add to their own team chemistry.

“He put his own situation aside for the team, trying to win a championship even though he hadn’t been there very long,” Cashman said. “That tells you what kind of guy he is. … We’re buying an extreme talent, yes, but we’re also buying an incredible personality in that clubhouse.”

I think I’m going to like this Sabathia guy.

I think the Yankees truly need both Sabathia and Teixeira.  They did the right thing in aiming for and landing the player in Sabathia they also certainly wanted.  I’d be interested to see whether or not the Yankees make a viable offer to Teixeira–with Boston’s reportedly about $23 million per year over eight seasons, thus it’s already as high-rent as Sabathia’s and would need to be more to land him.  Should they push for him, I’m just as interested to see how the Yankees will go about recruiting Teixeira, if they have not already.  Given his efforts thus far, should the Yanks really be in the running for Teixeira, Cashman deserves a lot of trust and patience from Yankees fans in the quest.

Speaking of quests, Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports is reporting that Andy Pettite’s re-signing with the Yankees is “virtually inevitable,” “according to a source with knowledge of the pitcher’s intentions.”  However, Rosenthal also states in his report that Pettite is reticent about taking a pay cut from his $16 million salary for 2007 and 2008.  Perhaps the alleged source knows, as we all do, that Pettite wants to be with the Yankees before all others by far.  I must add that, if Pettite’s reluctance to take a sizeable pay cut is accurate, I wouldn’t exactly consider his re-signing with the Yankees “virtually inevitable.”  In fact, it seems as though the information, taken at face value, is contradictory at best since we do not know the degree to which his re-signing outweighs his qualms about making less money in 2009, or vice versa.  Nonetheless, it does merit watching.  Additionally as discussed before, and after seeing Phil Hughes and Ian E. Neumann implode last season, a veteran with Pettite’s track record and history in the clutch and as a stopper after losses would be a fine pick-up to round out the rotation, likely serving as the number 4 starter to allow Joba–whose stuff merits being closer to the top than the bottom of the rotation–to be skipped, thus cutting down on his innings.  Hughes and Neumann would thus stay sharp, confident, and ready in the event of injury in SWB.

[Edit:  According to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN, the Angels are pulling out of the Teixeira sweepstakes, making Yankees fans wonder all the more if this means New York is a (the?) frontrunner for him.  I won’t consider any team actually out of the running for Teixeira until he’s actually agreed to a deal.  This could also be a negotiating ploy.  That said, for those who have long advocated spending the many millions, signing Teixeira would make this an incredible off-season haul for the Yankees, one that has already been bountiful and productive.  Wouldn’t it be something if the Yankees’ refrain, that signing Teixeira wasn’t a realistic possibility, has been nothing but a smokescreen for a play on the coveted first baseman?  We’ll see, and I’m not about to hold my breath.  But this news has surprised me quite a bit, I’ll admit.]

Published in: on December 21, 2008 at 2:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

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