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.

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

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  1. thanks for the book recommendation jason–i think i’ll order it.

    eiland should keep his mouth shut. he hasn’t shown a damn thing as pitching coach–or maybe he has. maybe the bullpen boys success was partly his doing. so difficult for us fans to access what these coaches are actually accomplishing. it might be plain dumb luck or just bowa kicking butt.

  2. hey jason–i can’t find that author on amazon. are you sure you have the spelling right?

  3. Sorry about that, Mike. I amended it in the post. It’s Golenbock.

  4. Nice points Jason. Next time a big free agent comes up, the first thing we should do is check their backgrounds. For sure the Yanks $$$$ talks, but a few indications say, of Giambi and Teixeira could have come from a background check. For example, the pic of Teix holding a Donnie Baseball card. Knowing that Donnie was Teix’s favorite player. Granted if Donnie were still with the Yanks the recruitment may have been easier. But now with the Boston story you told, combine Teix’s previous negative experience with Boston with his love of Donnie Baseball…throw in Yankee $ and need and voila! Teix is a Yank.

    Kind of like when the Big G mentioned his dad’s love of Mantle and Giambi took 25 because it added to 7 and 7 and 16 were not available.

    I saw the Abraham article myself. Good piece. After all, Wang was a back to back 19 game winner, more than what could be said for AJ. I argued with several a year or two ago that Wang was an ace. They only looked for the K’s. I looked at the # of wins and the W-L pct.

    I believe the two of us discussed another staff that could mix it up earlier this year. Much as the Yanks could slide Wang’s sinker between the power pitchers of CC and AJ. You probably recall our discussion of the Astros of 1980 (before J.R. Richard’s stroke). Had J.R. stayed healthy, they could slide Joe Niekro’s knuckleball right between the heaters of Richard and Nolan Ryan.

    Great point of “Steady Eddie”‘s junk being a complement between the heaters of “SuperChief” and Raschi.

    It’s too bad Wang is overlooked because of the lack of K’s. A great comparison (to me, and I hope others) is comparing Wang’s sinker to another great Yankee sinkerballer…the great Mel Stottlemyre, who was born 10 years too late. Imagine what Mel could have done with the 1954-1964 Yanks instead of 1964-1974. IN 1969, Mel was a 20 game winner. 20-14, 2.82, ERA+ of 123. He pitched 303 IP, K’d just 113. Did the lack of K’s make him any less of an ace? How about his last full season of 1973? 16-16, 3.07. ERA+ 120. Deserved a better record. 273 IP, only 95 K. Didn’t make him less of an ace in my book….or anybody’s.

  5. Thanks, Mike S. What you’re saying echoes something we’ve discussed in the past, namely people’s DESIRE to come to the Yankees, and more than for the dollars which, as you rightly say, certainly matter. Yet the willingness to come to a team with such a storied tradition, and an understanding of said tradition, must matter somewhat and should be assessed in player recruitment (though it might be already to some degree). I remember Paul O’Neill saying something similar that his father relayed to him after the Reds–his hometown ball club–traded him to the Yankees. His Dad said that it would be good for him to get away from his home town, and also told Paul to remember that he would be playing for the Yankees. For O’Neill, it dawned on him as he traveled to The Bronx to be introduced as a Yankee what a momentous event the trade was.

    I certainly do remember our discussion about the great J.R. Richard this past year, Mike, one of my all-time favorite players as a kid growing up. His stroke changed the course of that team’s fortunes. They had good pitchers with Ryan, Sutton, Niekro, but it wasn’t the same without the big guy throwing nasty gas.

    How pitchers’ respective “stuff” interacts with each other’s is something not explored enough, in my opinion. To a good degree, it’s because such attributes are so hard to quantify. Lopat was one of my favorite Yankees in retrospect, though he played far earlier than I ever could have followed the Yankees. In good part, I’ve become fond of Lopat because of the great Halberstam’s characterizations of him. He once fanned Al Rosen of Cleveland on a 3-2 count with the bases loaded after Rosen dared him–and sprinkled in some profanity–to throw Rosen his fastball. Lopat sort of did to strike Rosen out, then walked past him on the way to the dugout, smiling and saying, “That’s my blazer.” That’s my kind of guy right there.

    Ahh, ol’ Mel. Excellent Yankee pitcher. As a player, he really reminds me of Mattingly, both guys who deserved to be in different eras to earn greater accolades than they received. Mel’s exploits were probably not as reverently followed as Mattingly’s for most recent fans because of television and the loyalty that Mattingly as captain earned. Stottlemyre was a terrific pitcher. Interestingly, the strikeout totals of Raschi and Reynolds weren’t so high in K/IP, either. Despite what stuff they had, and as we know Raschi and Reynolds differed from Stottlemyre, the first two logged so many innings that they surely tired as games went on.

    I agree, Mike, the ace label is applied in too fickle a manner, not the least of which to Wang, on whose behalf I also argued with people last season to be considered an ace. What does the guy have to do to get recognition from Eiland? Gator would never have disrespected him in such a manner.

  6. I, too, have wondered why Wang “gets no respect.” He should be #2 in the rotation for all the reasons you and Pete Abe mention. I think his meltdowns in his two starts in the ’07 ALDS soured some on him. (I was at those games and they were painful to watch. He did not match up well against that Indians team for some reason.) As for Peter Golenbock, he gave me a great quote for my book, and is the nicest, most hardworking sports book author around. In addition to Dynasty, everyone should read The Bronx Zoo, the one he wrote with Sparky Lyle. What a hoot. Now Peter is finishing up a book about George Steinbrenner.

    - http://janeheller.mlblogs.com

  7. i remember wang losing steam by september of 2007 if my memory serves. and thanks for the book tip- i ordered it today

  8. I personally think this whole debate about numbering starters is a little bit strange. Pete Abraham as usual is making a mountain out of a mole hill. We should be focusing more on Wang’s health. He is coming off a major injury to his push off foot. The Yankees will need to watch him very carefully in spring training. Make sure that foot is completely healed and ready to go when his turn comes Opening Week. That is what is important.

    Wang is a critical part of the rotation because he averages 7 innings a start and is economical. I don’t care whether he pitches in the 1 or 10 slot. I just want my boy to deliver 200 innings and a 120+ ERA+. Wang does not strike me as a guy with an ego. He will do whatever is necessary to win a ring.

    I do hope that Yankees front office gives Wang an extension soon. He was the first good pitcher they developed between Andy Pettitte and Joba Chamberlain. He basically saved their rotation in 2006 and 2007. Plus he has publicly expressed the desire to stay in pinstripes several times. If he goes out and pitches well that contract will be waiting for him. Go Wang! Go Yankees!

  9. On Golenbock’s excellent book, Jane and Mike, it’s a tremendous read and very well written. I was reading it at my son’s tennis session today and honestly in tears when reading what gags the teammates pulled on each other, especially Scooter. The other parents in the lobby must have thought I was crazy–I was laughing out loud. That’s really great to hear about Golenbock, Jane. I’ve seen him a lot on TV and he’s really good. I read The Bronx Zoo about a decade ago and loved it. What a zany scene it was then.

    I do think Abraham is a bit defensive about Wang, Tim. Nor will I–or Wang–lose a lot of sleep if he is slotted third in the rotation. But I do think there’s a point to be made about referring to Wang as a number 3 guy, especially given what you rightly said about his carrying the rotation in his 19-win years. He’s an ace. But at least as importantly, there is something to be said about mixing up the pitchers to maximize the effectiveness of their respective stuff. My belief is that Wang’s sinking fastball will look all the more tempting to batters after they got a glimpse of Sabathia’s stuff. Plus, in order to make Burnett’s repertoire all the more effective, placing him after Wang just may do that. The Yankees would be wise to lock Wang up, but might be wary about not only his injury, but also giving the contract to Cano when not forced to, only to watch him have a down year. Regardless, someone will pony up the cash for Wang. It better be the Yanks.

  10. Wang only had a couple bad outings in the last two months of 2007, Mike. But his October was miserable.


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