Thursday, December 30, 2010

Syracuse bowl victory warms the heart

The frigid air at Yankee Stadium had me wishing George Steinbrenner had shelled out the extra cash for that retractable roof the New York Yankees were considering, but the Syracuse Orange emerging victorious after a tough battle with Kansas State warmed my heart.

It was a nerve-wracking game, for sure, but it was a battle between two well-matched teams that ended in a 36-34 victory for Syracuse. The Orange offense looked good and moved the ball well. But the defense never had an answer for the Wildcats, giving up score after score and immediately losing whatever momentum was gained after each big play by the offense. Most of the penalty calls went against the Orange during the game, but they got lucky when K-State was flagged for an excessive celebration that made their two-point try to tie the game much more difficult than it needed to be.

It was a pretty partisan crowd at the new Yankee Stadium, with the vast majority of fans wearing bright orange, which was not at all surprising. The organizers of the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl had to know that their chances of filling the stadium improved with the presence of the Orange. The Syracuse faithful is often criticized for not traveling long distances to support our team (not me, I’ve gone as far as Arizona to cheer on the Orange). But basketball games in New York City at Madison Square Garden are practically home games for the Orange. Tonight at Yankee Stadium was no different.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Chances of Pettitte return look gloomy

It doesn't look like Santa Claus is going to grant my Christmas wish this year.

The chances of Andy Pettitte coming back to the New York Yankees look increasingly grim as the lefty drops hints to friends/teammates such as Mark Teixeira that he is leaning toward retirement. It's one thing to hear that from Brian Cashman, who has to prepare for all eventualities as general manager. It's another thing to hear such deflating news from his teammates, even if it's not official yet.

Pettitte's bosses and teammates have not put pressure on the lefty to return despite the fact that their chances of being competitive with the retooled Boston Red Sox drop precipitously without him. But you can be sure that they are seriously praying that he decides to return for one more year because the Yankees are in bad shape without his veteran arm and presence in the rotation.

Until Pettitte tells them for sure he's not coming back, the Yankees will hold out hope against hope for his return. But they need to prepare a good Plan B.

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Yankees have no place for Johnny Damon

As popular as Johnny Damon was in the Bronx, the chances of him returning to the New York Yankees are remote.

Damon proved to be a clutch player in pinstripes and was a big reason why the Yankees beat the Phillies in that World Series last year. But the problem is that Damon is a year older now, meaning his range in the field is probably worse than it was during his last few years with the Yankees. Besides, the Yankee outfield is settled with Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher so Damon would be strictly a backup limited to one start a week, barring an injury. With Jorge Posada now firmly ensconced in the designated hitter spot, there's simply no place for Damon to get at-bats.

But I can see why there would be some interest in bringing Damon back. During the Yankees' loss to the Texas Rangers in the American League Championship Series, they needed someone to step up, have good at-bats and wear the Rangers pitchers down. Damon would have been the perfect guy for that job and perhaps that could have woken up the sleeping offense. We'll never know for sure, but maybe that ALCS turns out a bit differently if Damon was still wearing pinstripes.

Damon didn't have a great year for Detroit, but I can see him getting a job with more regular playing time than the Yankees can offer. If he's willing to sign a reasonable contract (no sure thing with Scott Boras as an agent), he would be a great fit for a team on the periphery with young players he can mentor. I hope he does find the right place for him, but it probably won't be with the Yankees.

Thanks to KenN and Mattingly23 via Wikipedia for the photo.

Friday, December 24, 2010

All I want for Christmas is Andy Pettitte

Dear Santa,

I am a New York Yankees fan (as I'm sure you are too). I only want one thing for Christmas this year. Please convince Andy Pettitte to delay his retirement and pitch for the Yankees for one final season.

The Yankees need Andy more than they would like to admit. We know that without Andy, the chances of the Yankees bouncing back from this year's humiliating defeat in the American League Championship Series are virtually nonexistent. CC Sabathia is a great ace and a horse and Phil Hughes is going to be a superstar, but they can't carry the rotation by themselves. Yankee fans have lost faith in AJ Burnett (I guess we know what AJ's asking you for Christmas) and it's not clear that any of the kids in the Yankee farm system can pitch in the big leagues.

If Andy truly wants to go home for good, he absolutely should. But if he has even a little itch to keep pitching, he should definitely come back to the Bronx where he is worshipped and adored almost as much as you are. Even with his advancing age, Andy is a star in pinstripes and one of the players we depend on the most, who always seems to step up when the Yankees need him.
Just one more year, please. That’s not too much to ask for, is it?

Merry Christmas,

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Lee's rejection saves the Yankees some cash

Looks like being rejected by Cliff Lee may have an upside for the New York Yankees.

The Yankees will only have to send $18 million to Major League Baseball this year for exceeding the luxury tax threshold, $10 million less than they did last year when they won the World Series. That bill would have bounced right back up next year if Lee had taken the $23 million or more the Yankees were throwing at him to pitch in pinstripes. But now with Lee of the table, Derek Jeter taking a pay cut and pricey contracts for underachieving players such as Javier Vazquez coming off the books, the chances of that bill dropping even more in 2011 are better.

Maybe this means that Hal Steinbrenner is really serious about reining in the wild spending ways of his father George and even his brother Hank (who is generally blamed for the ridiculous Alex Rodriguez contract). To be sure, the Yankees so-called budget may look reasonable compared to previous years, but it’s still excessive in contrast to most of the rest of baseball. Several current Yankees are due substantial pay raises, most notably 18-game winner Phil Hughes (if Brian Cashman is smart, he’ll try to lock the youngster into a sensible contract and buy out the rest of his arbitration-eligible years right now). And it’s still possible the Yankees will react (or overreact) to losing Lee by trading for some expensive veteran that another team is looking to unload, which could send their tax bill soaring again.

The Yankees will probably always spend more than other teams simply because they have more money to spend. But if the plan is to use those dollars more wisely, I'm all in favor.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Media sees sports families as fair game

If you are married or otherwise related to a sports figure, get ready for the media to reveal the most intimate details of your life.

Whether it's an alleged foot fetish, a faux divorce or charges of physical violence, it seems like the family members of players and coaches are considered fair game by the media. But do we really need to know all the intimate details of their families’ lives? I don’t think so. Not unless they have some bearing to a player's on-the-field performance or decisions by a coach. There are exceptions to this rule but too many members of the media have no restraint when it comes to making those decisions.

Rex Ryan's implied foot fetish is not the reason the Jets got thoroughly humiliated on national television by the Patriots. Yet there is a prominent story about a woman who looks like Mrs. Ryan getting a lot of attention for her feet. Even if it is the Ryans in the video, does Mrs. Ryan deserve to be publicly embarrassed by having that information splashed all over the tabloids? Of course not. But such a story is guaranteed to sell more than a few extra newspapers so that’s why they run it.

Then there’s the story of AJ Burnett’s faux divorce. I don’t put this one in the same category as the Ryan story because a bad divorce could have been the reason for Burnett’s on-the-field struggles with the New York Yankees in 2010. But the real problem is that the story is untrue. ESPN radio host Colin Cowherd apparently did not even attempt to verify its authenticity. And the worst part is that he referred to AJ’s wife as vindictive and spiteful. What the hell did Mrs. Burnett ever do to be publicly branded that way? Just because she’s married to an athlete and public figure doesn’t mean she herself should be treated the way AJ is treated. Cowherd didn’t even bother to publicly apologize to her and he really should.

Yankee families were big in the news last week. Charles Jeter was accused of battery by a photographer attempting to photograph his famous son. Unlike the Burnett situation, the media were on solid ground reporting this story as a police complaint was actually made (although no charges were filed). Derek Jeter has done his utmost to keep his personal life private, but his family, including his dad, has been open to media interviews time and time again so they can’t really complain when the attention turns negative. Even though the incident had nothing to do with Jeter’s on-the-field performance, a physical altercation is big news when it even remotely involves an athlete and that makes it fair game.

I wish reporters would be a little more thoughtful about stories involving family members of sports figures. Just because a person has a famous relative or spouse, doesn’t mean that person should automatically be fair game.

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Yankees spinning non-trade for Greinke

If you believe the New York Post, the New York Yankees did not trade for Zack Greinke because the Kansas City Royals wanted the moon for their young ace. I don't buy it. I think the Yankees are spinning the story, once again with the eager help of the Post's baseball staff.

Brian Cashman & Co had legitimate concerns about Greinke's ability to thrive and survive in New York. There is a long list of baseball players who failed to do well in the Bronx, including a surefire Hall of Famer in Randy Johnson. Javier Vazquez blew a second chance at pinstripe success just this year.

I give Greinke a lot of credit for coming back from his battle with depression and anxiety. But I can’t fault the Yankees if they were worried that he couldn’t handle the tremendous pressure that creates must-win games in April and May or the verbal and back-page thrashing he would get from the Yankee faithful and the media if he couldn’t win big games against the Boston Red Sox.

So why spin the story? After losing Cliff Lee, the Yankees know that other teams smell blood in the water. So they turn down an offer for a top pitcher, but a guy they didn't really want, claiming that the price was too high. They want to put it into the heads of general managers all around baseball that they weren't willing to trade their top prospects, even for a talented and relatively inexpensive guy like Greinke, so that those GMs don't demand the moon when they approach the Yankees with trade proposals.

It's a smart move on the Yankees part. They may have been willing to trade Jesus Montero and other prospects for Lee or Greinke, but they sure as hell don’t want to trade them for a second-tier pitcher. Cashman is already talking up the possibility of Ivan Nova and some other kid in the minor-league system coming up to fill a spot if Andy Pettitte finally does call it quits. There's no real chance of two kids making the big club’s starting staff because of how poorly it worked out the last time the Yankees relied on youngsters to fill out their rotation. But the Yankees want to put their best spin forward so other teams don’t think they are desperate.

That's my theory and I'm sticking to it. Anyone else want to hazard a guess?

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

PED cloud will forever hang over baseball

The baseball players union finally prevailed in its long battle to force the government to destroy the list of more than 100 dirty players it has in its possession. Does this mean that the cloud of performance-enhancing drug usage is starting to dissipate for baseball? Not quite.

As the court battle dragged on, the list was well preserved as potential state's evidence, which means that at least a few government employees have seen it. Names have already leaked, including Alex Rodriguez, in what has been a slow, painful release of supposedly confidential information. And even though the government is giving up its legal fight, the employees already know who else is on the list. Could they be motivated to leak other names since they no longer have any hope that the list will come out through legitimate legal proceedings? Possibly. I wouldn't be surprised if we see some more names leaked in 2011.

Barry Bonds was already outed as a steroids user and his upcoming trial for obstruction of justice and perjury will bring a fresh round of PED revelations, especially if the government succeeds in putting other players such as Jason Giambi on the stand. Roger Clemens will also go on trial for perjury and obstruction of justice related to his 2008 Congressional testimony. Bonds' trial is set to begin on March 21, 10 days before the first regular-season game of the 2011 baseball season, with Clemens' trial due to begin in April. Can you imagine worse timing? Perhaps a postponement of either the Bonds or the Clemens trial that drags it through the 2011 postseason, overshadowing the best time of the year for the sport.

Moreover, as guys such as Bonds and Clemens become eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame, the PED debate will resurface again and again as baseball writers, fans and critics all debate their candidacies. For me, there is no gray area on the PED issue. If a player has been caught using PEDs, there is no room for him in the Hall. It's not as black and white for other observers so the debate will rage on, bringing the PED story front and center for years to come.

So unfortunately, the dark cloud of PED use will continue to linger over baseball, with attempts to move on constantly disrupted by fresh revelations. It's something that baseball fans and officials will just have to find a way to live with.

Thanks to Kevin Rushforth via Wikipedia for the photo.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

When will the Yankees make a big move?

Ever since being rejected by Cliff Lee, the New York Yankees have made a series of small moves to round out their team. But when will they make their big move?

The Yankees agreed to steal Pedro Feliciano away from the cross-town rival Mets, just days after they announced they had signed catcher Russell Martin. Nice moves. Feliciano can help lighten the load for Boone Logan from the left side of the bullpen. Russell will help ease the transition of Jorge Posada from starting catcher to full-time designated hitter. The Yankees seemed committed to moving Posada next spring, but I never thought they would just hand the job to one of their young minor-league backstops, no matter how talented they are. That makes Russell a nice one-year insurance policy.

But neither Feliciano nor Russell qualifies as a big move and Yankee fans expect big moves. Perhaps Brian Cashman is just biding his time, waiting for the right opportunity. Or perhaps he really doesn't know what the big move is. When Cashman said "Plan B is patience," it became obvious that the Yankees didn't really have a Plan B for Lee deciding not to take all the money they threw at him. Carl Crawford was supposedly a Plan B before he signed with the Boston Red Sox. But he never filled the team's most glaring need: a good, reliable starting pitcher to help solidify their rotation.

The holidays are coming up so Yankee fans will be distracted by families and shopping. But we're not the most patient bunch in the world. Cashman is going to have to make that big move pretty soon.

Thanks to eviltomthai and UCinternational via Wikipedia for the photo.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Only love for Cliff Lee and his new deal

I thought I was done writing Cliff Lee posts (and was just about to deactivate the Cliff Lee Google alert I set up) after his flirtation with the New York Yankees officially ended when he signed with the Philadelphia Phillies. But I feel compelled to write one more post about him taking less money to head back to the City of Brotherly Love.

Jon Heyman asked players' union chief Michael Weiner if the union had any issues with Lee spurning more lucrative offers from the Yankees and the Texas Rangers to go back to Philly. Weiner firmly replied that Lee taking a lesser deal was not at all a problem, which I hope represents the start of a sea change for the union. Think back to the winter of 2003 when the players’ union effectively scuttled the trade of Alex Rodriguez to the Boston Red Sox because he had the nerve to agree to give up some money to make his contract more affordable. I'm still bitter at the union for that considering that ARod would be Boston's problem right now if the union had minded its own business. But I can forgive if union officials have decided to stay out of the way and let players make the best decisions for themselves, even if that means making less money to play baseball in the city they really want to play for.

Meanwhile, Roy "Doc" Halladay sounds thrilled about the Lee deal and not at all jealous that Lee got a better deal from the Phillies than he did. I believe him because by all accounts Halladay is a good guy, even if he is a fierce competitor who's slightly scary on the baseball field. He could have been a free agent himself this offseason and would have made a killing. But he chose to take a contract extension for fewer years and dollars than he could have gotten on the open market for the chance to join a club that had played in the World Series the previous two seasons. Again, it's heartwarming to see players like Halladay and Lee choose family and comfort over excess millions.

So there seems to be only love for Lee and his new deal. Is it Ok to move on now? I'd like to deactivate that alert soon. My inbox is crowded enough.

Thanks to Rubenstein via Wikipedia for the Cliff Lee photo.

Kerry Wood proves you can go home again

Kerry Wood just proved you can go home again.

For the second time this week, a baseball player took a lot less money than he could have made elsewhere to sign with the team he actually wanted to play for. Wood rejoined the Chicago Cubs for one year at about $1.5 million. He spurned offers reportedly in the eight-figure range to go back to the team where he became a star only to have injuries wreck his promising career. I would say this looks like the start of a hopeful trend, except Jayson Werth did leave the perennially contending Philadelphia Phillies for the bags stuffed with cash being offered by the bottom-dwelling Washington Nationals.

The New York Yankees didn't want to overpay for another reliever, but Wood probably could have gotten at least twice what he signed for with the Cubs from the Bronx Bombers after his strong second half. Wood solidified what had been a very shaky bridge to Mariano Rivera and the Yankees, especially Joe Girardi, would have loved having him back. Now they have to go out and try to get another veteran guy to round out their bullpen.

Even though it seemed like a long shot, I was hoping the Yankees still had a chance at getting Wood back. Re-signing him would have eased concerns about the bullpen and allowed Brian Cashman to focus all of his attention and resources on other areas, namely his starting rotation. Now, the bullpen is just one more thing he has to worry about.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Mariano loyal to the Yankees to a fault

Mariano Rivera is one of those guys who I'd have to see DNA evidence before I believe he was lying about anything so I have no problem believing Mo when he says he did not approach the Boston Red Sox about a new contract.

I never believed all those reports of Rivera supposedly approaching the Red Sox about a potential deal. I remember watching Andy Pettitte's Centerstage interview when he told Michael Kay that he never even considered playing for the Red Sox even though Boston offered him a hefty contract in 2003 that was worth a lot more than what Pettitte's hometown Houston Astros ultimately paid for his services. If you ask Mo, his answer would probably be the same as Pettitte's. Mo has been a member of the New York Yankees family since he was a kid and he probably can’t even picture himself closing games for the Saux.

The truth is Mo is loyal to the Yankees to a fault. Unlike Derek Jeter, Mariano had the leverage of another team – the Yankees hated rival – bidding for his services. But instead of using the Red Sox offer to squeeze a well-deserved raise out of the Yankees, he quickly signed a new deal that will pay him about the same amount of money as his old contract. He makes more money than any closer so it's not like he's hurting for cash. But he is also the best closer ever in the history of baseball, and despite turning 41 this year, has shown absolutely no signs of slowing down.

In the euphoria of winning the 2009 World Series, Mo said he wanted to pitch another five years. Well, one year down, signed for two more and I have no doubt that if Mo continues to pitch like Mo, another two seasons after that is fully within his grasp. I also know that no matter how long he chooses to pitch, all that pitching will be done wearing Yankee pinstripes.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Pettitte should make the Yankees pay dearly

A day after praising Cliff Lee for rejoining the Philadelphia Phillies for a lot less money than he could have gotten elsewhere, I'm going to encourage Andy Pettitte to bleed the New York Yankees dry.

No need for Pettitte to negotiate with the Yankees. He should just name his price to delay his retirement for one more year and wait for the Yankees to meet it. For Pettitte, the decision is simple. Tell the Yankees to give him what he wants or he will go home for good.

The Yankees love using their leverage on their own players, but now it's their turn to feel the pain. Remember how they forced Pettitte to take a huge pay cut in guaranteed money in 2009 because they threw $180 million at Mark Teixeira and supposedly maxed out their budget? How about them publicly embarrassing Captain Derek Jeter into accepting a lesser deal, wrongly turning scores of fans against the best role model in baseball by depicting him as greedy and clueless and daring him to find a better offer?

The Yankees have no leverage against Pettitte. They have two major holes in their starting rotation and desperately need him to fill one of those spots or risk starting the year with a pitching staff of ace CC Sabathia, potential future ace Phil Hughes and a lot of question marks, starting with Mr. Erratic himself, AJ Burnett. Wonder how the Yankees like them apples?

Like I said before, karma's a bitch. So is payback. I hope Andy Pettitte makes the Yankees pay dearly.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lee proves it's not always about the money

In the end, Cliff Lee proved he is not the mercenary all the baseball experts made him about to be, turning down all the extra dollars the New York Yankees threw at him to rejoin the Philadelphia Phillies.

Lee chose not to chase the last dollar. Like Roy "Doc" Halladay before him, he signed with a competitive Phillies team that offers him the best chance at a World Series title for less money than he could have made somewhere else. The Phils had a pretty good rotation before, but they must now be ranked in the top three starting staffs in baseball (after watching the 2010 playoffs, I would still put the San Francisco Giants’ young studs over the more-experienced Phillies' quartet).

As bummed as I am about not getting Lee, I find it refreshing that he proved that not all athletes care only about money. Tom Verducci argued that Lee didn’t make a huge sacrifice because Philadelphia’s offer was only about 13% less than what the Texas Rangers would have paid him. But not too many athletes would walk away from an extra $18 million (especially if they have Scott Boras for an agent, which Lee did not, to the Phillies’ great fortune). Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like we’ll be starting a collection for Lee. But I think an athlete who turns down more money in this day and age merits some praise.

Perhaps it’s easier for me to admire Lee because I was never convinced he would end up in pinstripes. I'm not even a little surprised by Lee’s decision because I didn't buy into the conventional wisdom about him: that he wouldn't leave even one dollar on the table. I felt all along that, in addition to the money, he would go to the place he felt most comfortable and had the best chance to win. I am a little bit surprised he went back to Philly because of all the reports about why he was traded away and the bad feelings he supposedly had about the Phillies. But again, that goes to show that these baseball experts often don't know what they are talking about.

Good for Lee for making the decision that he felt was best for him and his family. But the Yankees now have a really dilemma on their hands.

Thanks to artolog and Fui in terra aliena via Wikipedia for the photo.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Yankees get taste of own medicine from Lee

The New York Yankees are getting a taste of their own medicine from Cliff Lee.

The Yankees knew they had all the leverage with Derek Jeter after he told them he would not field offers from other teams and they used that leverage to their full advantage. Now Cliff Lee has all the leverage, especially with news that the Boston Red Sox offered him a long-term deal, and he and his agent are using it to their full advantage.

Lee is taking his sweet time deciding which team he wants to play for over the next seven years of his baseball career. He used the multiple teams bidding for his services against each other, forcing the Yankees to go to seven years when they only wanted to offer five and the Texas Rangers, who Lee might actually still want to play for, to get as close as they possibly can to matching the New York offer. If he does ultimately decide to play for the Yankees, he will be handsomely compensated, making CC Sabathia money even though CC is a horse who is a few years younger than him.

But while Lee mulls his options, the Yankees and Brian Cashman are sweating because they desperately need Cliff Lee. It goes beyond the Yankees losing the offseason war with the Saux, who got two young superstars in less than a week. Losing Lee (combined with an Andy Pettitte retirement) makes you question whether the Yankees can truly compete in the American League East next year with Boston's revamped power-and-speed lineup and the Tampa Bay Rays’ young pitching.

After weeks of making Jeter seem like an ungrateful athlete while they held the upper hand, the Yankees are the ones sitting around nervously waiting for the phone to ring.

Karma is a bitch, isn't it?

Thanks to aturkus via Wikipedia for the photo.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Lee's waiting game reminiscent of CC wait

The New York Yankees are waiting for Cliff Lee, the same way they once waited for CC Sabathia, who proved to be worth the wait by leading the Yankees to their first World Series title in nine years.

According to Brian Cashman, Sabathia hesitated to join the Yankees because he didn't want to play in a clubhouse where the players hated each other (during the Derek Jeter/Alex Rodriguez cold war). That shouldn’t be an issue for Lee as I’m sure his pal CC has given him reports about the clubhouse atmosphere in the Bronx. For Lee, the non-monetary factor seems to be the proximity of Texas to his Arkansas home.

Cashman ultimately sweetened the pot for CC with another year and several million more dollars to get him to the Bronx. But the longest offer to Lee, if the reports are accurate, is already quite generous and would put him on par with CC as the highest-paid pitcher in the game. If Lee is holding out for more cash than the seven-year, $160 million offer that’s on the table, then he's just a mercenary and the Yankees should let him walk.

Baseball people generally do see Lee as a mercenary and think he will sign with whichever team offers him the most money. I don’t believe that’s entirely true, but if the Yankees did believe that, they wouldn't be so nervous about him signing on the dotted line.

I have absolutely no problem if Lee and his family are seriously contemplating an offer from the Texas Rangers because of their surprising postseason run in 2010, the ability to shuttle himself and his family back and forth relatively easily and a belief that the Rangers will thrive under new owner Nolan Ryan and in a weak division that the Angels have lost their grip on.

Will Lee ultimately make the same choice his pal CC made two years ago? I hope so, to the exact same result: a quick, victorious return to the World Series.

Thanks to Red3biggs via Wikipedia for the photo.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Random Yankee thoughts - winter meetings wrap

And some people thought the Rivalry was dead. The Boston Red Sox outshone the New York Yankees at the winter meetings this week, stealing Carl Crawford from the grasp of the Angels and pulling off a deal for Adrian Gonzalez, two young superstars who will spend their peak years at Fenway Park. Gonzalez knows exactly what he was brought to Boston to do, making sure to mention his eagerness to beat the Yankees during his introductory press conference.

CC Sabathia then upped the ante by declaring that the Yankees are still the team to beat in the American League East. CC doesn’t have Pedro Martinez’s bravura (who does? Pedro was one in a million), but it was nice to see that the Yankees ace willingness to defend his teammates doesn’t stop when he walks off the pitching mound. This was a great week for baseball because it is a much better sport when the Yankees and Red Sox hate each other.

• Props to Casey Close, Derek Jeter’s agent, for putting together a solid contract with the Yankees despite having both hands tied behind his back by Jeter’s refusal to even consider negotiating with other teams. Close had no leverage and was wrongly blamed for starting the war of words with the Yankees, but still managed to secure a deal that is worth at least $20 million more than he probably should have gotten given everything he was up against.

• Sandy Alderson has a lot of nerve complaining about the deal the Washington Nationals gave to Jayson Werth. Sure, the contract seems excessive, but the Nationals had to overpay to get a guy like Werth to join a losing cause. And at least they're willing to spend money, unlike Alderson and the Mets who are content to sit next year out waiting for contracts to expire. And it was completely unprofessional of him to criticize and openly mock a fellow general manager (even if his line about reducing the deficit was pretty funny).

• But perhaps Alderson doesn’t have much of a choice. With the Mets officially getting sued in relation to the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme, they are in a tough financial predicament no matter how they try to spin it. The Wilpons will have their lawyers fight like hell to keep as much money as possible, but they are going to lose a chunk of their ill-gotten gains. I feel kind of bad for them in the sense that they got screwed over by a friend. But unlike some of Madoff’s other victims, the Wilpons will be just fine.

• The two great sports loves of my life - the Yankees and the Syracuse Orange - will come together this holiday season when the Orange football team plays in the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on December 30. Needless to say, I already bought my ticket and will brave the elements to cheer on my Orange.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Red Sox show they really mean business

Missing the playoffs apparently did not sit well with the Boston Red Sox, who are showing they mean business by making a big splash in the baseball offseason.

The Red Sox had to watch helplessly as the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays advanced to the postseason in 2010. They seem intent on doing everything they can to ensure that doesn't happen again, spearheading a major trade and a new contract with two of the best young stars in the game.

The Saux have pulled off some pretty good trades in the last decade – Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett – and their deal for Adrian Gonzalez looks like another one. The youngster already has 168 career homers and 525 ribbies, most of which came while playing half his games in pitcher-friendly Petco Park for the San Diego Padres. Imagine the damage Gonzalez is going to do at Fenway Park.

Taking a page right out of the Yankees playbook, the Saux then threw tremendous stacks of cash at one of the top free agents on the market in Carl Crawford. It's a fantastic move for them, giving them speed at the front of their lineup as he brings his 765 runs and more than 400 stolen bases to Fenway. Signing Crawford also seriously weakens the Rays – not that they had any chance to keep him with the dollars he wanted and deserved – and limits the Yankee options in the rest of the free-agent class, something I'm sure the Boston front office is well aware of and practically giddy about.

Will it be enough to topple the Yankees? Hopefully not if Cliff Lee takes all the dollars the Yankees are going to throw at him. It might be enough to pass the Rays, who lost two key cogs in their lineup this week in Crawford and Carlos Pena although they still have their young pitching studs who could keep them in competition with their division rivals. But the moves should satisfy all the naysayers who didn’t like what the wild card did to the American League East this year by assuring a fight to the finish in 2011. Makes me wish spring training was already here.

Thanks to Keith Allison and Djh57 via Wikipedia for the photos.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Cashman must work to rebuild bridge with Jeter

Brian Cashman may think that all is forgiven when it comes to Derek Jeter's tense contract negotiations, but I doubt the captain of the New York Yankees feels the same way.

Jeter insisted that he is happy to be back with the only team that he has ever played for and content with the deal he signed to remain a key cog in the Yankees machine. I believe him even though I also believe that he probably would have held out for more money if the dispute hadn’t become so public and nasty. But that doesn't mean Jeter can easily let go of the bad feelings created by the Yankees in handling his negotiations. He didn't point any fingers directly at Cashman, but he didn't bother to hide his disdain over the way he was treated either and it’s clear that he sees Cashman as a key culprit.

Is it important that Cashman work to rebuild the bridge with Jeter? Absolutely. The last thing the Yankees need is a player of Jeter's stature and influence holding a grudge against his own team. Remember, how tense things were between Jeter and Alex Rodriguez for years and how that infected the clubhouse? Cashman was said to be frustrated by the cold war between the two superstars. If he wants to avoid a repeat of that situation, he’s going to have to work hard to repair his relationship with Jeter.

Interestingly, Cashman said that he has already asked Jeter for input on player moves, as he did before the negotiations became so contentious. Perhaps that was his way of letting Jeter know that he still considers the captain an integral member of the Yankees hierarchy despite his blunt comments about Jeter's future on-the-field performance.

Will it be enough to sooth Jeter's hurt feelings? No. Anything short of a private apology from Cashman and the Yankees for letting the media circus get out of hand is unlikely to satisfy Jeter. He probably would also like to see Cashman acknowledge that he was wrong to publicly dare Jeter to find a better offer after the captain told him that he would not consider offers from other baseball teams. Jeter probably views that challenge as the ultimate betrayal, as a sign that his loyalty to the team only goes one way. But I don’t think Cashman is willing to make such as a statement so expect to see a cold war brewing between Jeter and Cashman for the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Can Jeter ever really forgive and forget?

Derek Jeter finally got a chance to strike back at the Evil Empire and he took it. Sort of.

At the press conference officially announcing his new deal, the captain of the New York Yankees made no attempt to hide the fact that he is extremely unhappy with the way he was portrayed during the protracted contract negotiations. Jeter expressed dismay that he was made to seem greedy, arrogant and egotistical, even as he was refusing to consider offers from other baseball teams so he could remain with the empire he’s been a part of his whole adult life.

Jeter is normally completely guarded with his emotions and the fact that he even admitted to being angry and frustrated with the way he was portrayed was striking. Of course, Jeter didn't point any fingers because he has way too much class to do that. But he prides himself on keeping things out of the media and it was crystal clear who he was referring to when he talked about how the negotiations were supposed to be private and how bothered he was that they weren’t and by the inaccurate characterizations of his position, which came from the Yankees leaking to their media pals.

He took several very subtle digs at the Yankees, including noting that this was the first time they ever held a press conference to announce a new contract for him, which actually is pretty remarkable considering he's been with the organization for about 18 years. The Yankees wisely did not fire back. Perhaps they understand their role in making this dispute so ugly and chose to give Jeter a chance to vent.

Jeter used the charm-and-disarm technique at times to minimize his anger; jokily blaming WFAN reporter Sweeney Murti for the dispute and claiming the Yankees are now “one big, happy family.” But there’s no question that Jeter was hurt by the way the Yankees treated him, which raises the question of whether he can ever truly forgive and forget. Perhaps with the passage of time, but I seriously doubt it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Has the Boss lost best shot at Hall of Fame?

George Steinbrenner is not headed to the Baseball Hall of Fame, at least not yet. But has the Boss lost his best chance at election?

When someone passes away, it is human nature to focus on the good in that person’s life and the positive impact he or she had on the world. For Steinbrenner, that means focusing on the great things he did in baseball such as his constant demand for greatness from his teams and forever changing the sport’s revenue model. It also means more attention paid to his charitable contributions, including all the kids he put through college without them even realizing he was their benefactor.

With his July death fresh in the minds of voters, I thought that sentimentality might carry him across the finish line and into the hallowed halls of Cooperstown, overwhelming any reservations they had about Steinbrenner's notorious misbehavior. But his recent death seems to have had the opposite effect, with some members of the Veterans Committee thinking it was too soon for the Boss to be enshrined. The Boss will get another chance at the Hall in 2013, but all that sentimentality will be long gone by then.

Does that mean that the Boss won't get into the Hall of Fame? Not at all. Time could actually be on his side, as memories of his various misdeeds fade away while his imprint on the game remains permanent and gets more attention with every major free agent the New York Yankees sign. His credentials dictate that he should be in the Hall, with seven World Series championships under his reign, but the felony conviction and two suspensions from baseball will continue to haunt his candidacy.

Steinbrenner’s candidacy has a lot of support from many of the right people. His good friend and sometime-adversary Commissioner Bud Selig gave it a resounding endorsement and I don't see him backing down. Dave Winfield, one of those most wronged by Steinbrenner, has forgiven the Boss and advocated for his induction. I also fully expect to see future first-ballot Hall of Famers Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera continuing to campaign for their Boss to be enshrined with them (perhaps if Jeter hadn't been so distracted by his nasty negotiations with the Steinbrenner sons, he could have been more vocal about their dad's credentials).

I'm on the record as saying that I don't think the Boss should be enshrined, but it's not my call. He'll get another chance and perhaps his odds will improve with the passage of time.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Jeter will figure out way to make Yankees pay

Derek Jeter and the New York Yankees have reportedly finalized a deal that will keep the captain in pinstripes for the rest of his career. Is this the happy ending we've all been hoping for? Not by a long shot.

The Yankees may have embarrassed Jeter into submission in these negotiations, but don't think for a second that Jeter will ever forget how Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenners manipulated the media into making him look like he was another greedy ballplayer and how they were bending over backwards to be generous to the captain. Again, I have no problem with the two sides disagreeing about Jeter's worth, but I have a major problem with the public spectacle that the Yankees created. And yes it was the Yankees who started the war of words, despite Cashman's insistence that he was merely responding to agent Casey Close's "baffling" comments.

The Yankees may look like the winners in this bout, but I think the long-term damage that they did to their relationship with Jeter is irreparable. We haven't heard from the captain yet, but good friends such as Tino Martinez and Darryl Strawberry have indicated that Jeter was hurt by the way this played out and how quickly people turned against him with the nudging of the team's owners and general manager. And one thing we know about Jeter is that he will turn against people who slight him and this is more than just a slight.

Just ask Alex Rodriguez, who had to navigate an icy clubhouse for four years before he and Jeter came to a truce. ARod was completely at fault for his thoughtless comments in that Esquire article, but Jeter sure made life difficult for him when ARod became his teammate. Or how about Chad Curtis questioning Jeter's loyalty to his team during a fight with the Seattle Mariners (Jeter chatting up his then-buddy ARod, who was with the M's at the time). Curtis got a quick ticket out of the Bronx. It's never been proven that Jeter forced Curtis off the team, but don't think for a second that wasn't a factor.

What the Yankee brass did to Jeter, in my mind, was much worse and don't think Jeter won't figure out a way to quietly, subtly make them pay for it. And when he finally does, the Yankees will have no one to blame but themselves.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Is Mariano Rivera's new deal bad for Jeter?

Mariano Rivera is reportedly on the verge of signing a new deal to remain the closer for the New York Yankees, allowing everyone in the Yankee Universe to breathe sighs of relief. Everyone, of course, with the possible exception of Derek Jeter.

No question Jeter wanted his fellow Core Four guy to remain with the Yankees. But Rivera's willingness to take about the same money as he made in 2010, even though he reportedly had offers for more money and actually deserved a raise, does not bode well for the Jeter negotiations. If Rivera was willing not to hold out for a raise, even though he had another great season and apparently a lot of leverage, it does not look good if Jeter demands more money after a subpar campaign, even if it is only one bad year, and with no real interest from other teams. Jeter’s agent Casey Close is probably getting a little grayer in the temple, wondering why Mo couldn’t wait just a little longer to come to terms with the Yankees.

In fairness, Rivera also did get the two-year deal he wanted from the Yankees (although other teams were willing to offer three years). So it seems clear that Jeter will have to compromise on at least one demand, either the money or the years. He may be able to get a three-year contract for more money than the Yankees are offering right now or perhaps a deal with a fourth year option for a lot less money than he currently makes.

I hope Rivera's deal doesn't lead to another round of Jeter bashing, but that seems to be a distinct possibility, unless Jeter and the Yankees can quickly bridge the gulf and strike a deal.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Ice beginning to melt for Jeter and Yankees?

So 48 hours have passed without remotely negative comments being made by the New York Yankees about their shortstop Derek Jeter. In the context of their so-far chilly negotiations, that represents real progress toward repairing their relationship.

After Tuesday's marathon meeting between the Yankees and the Jeter camp, the two sides do not appear to have made any substantive progress toward a deal. But perhaps they agreed to not fight a media war, perhaps the Yankees agreed to stop portraying their captain as a greedy ballplayer. If that's the case, I think it boosts the chances of actually getting a deal done.

But a deal is still unlikely as long as the Yankees remain intractable about their estimation of Jeter's worth. I can't see Jeter accepting the Yankees current offer even if they add a couple of million dollars to it. What Jeter probably wants to see is Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenners acknowledge that his value goes beyond just his on-field performance, something the Yankees have been unwilling to do so far.

Even David Paterson, the outgoing governor of New York and a die-hard sports fan, was perplexed by the Yankees approach (anyone who missed Paterson’s co-hosting gig on the Mike Francesa show yesterday should check out the highlights on the WFAN as it was truly a great day of politics and sports talk).

“Damaging Jeter is damaging the Yankees brand,” Paterson said.

Even though the Yankees are winning the media war, I hope they realize that Paterson’s take on the situation is dead-on, that the long-term damage they are causing to their brand by attacking their iconic shortstop is more important than being right about Jeter’s worth. If that helps melt the ice between the two sides and bring them closer to a deal, that would be the best outcome for everyone.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Pettitte would be great Plan B for Rangers

Nolan Ryan denied a report that the Texas Rangers would seek to pry Andy Pettitte away from the New York Yankees, especially if they lose Cliff Lee. But it's a great Plan B for the Rangers if they are considering it.

Pettitte has already left the Yankees for Texas once before when he took a lot less money on the open market to sign with his hometown Houston Astros. The pull of family could make him receptive to an offer from the Rangers to play closer to home. But Pettitte has admitted he missed the intensity of the Yankee Stadium atmosphere while he was in Houston, which makes it unlikely that he would consider again abandoning his pinstripes, unless he can be convinced that the Rangers are primed for a return trip to the World Series.

For the Rangers and Ryan, acquiring Pettitte makes a lot of sense. They wouldn't have to commit the years and dollars that they must if they really want to retain Lee since Pettitte is perfectly happy going on yearly contracts. Pettitte is a lot older than Lee, but also a lot cheaper and has a proven record as a postseason winner. And signing a local star like Pettitte would take the sting out of losing Lee for the Rangers fan base and give them a reason to keep coming back to the ballpark.

Do I think Pettitte would sign with the Rangers? No. Despite what would be a really attractive offer from the Rangers, I believe Pettitte means it when he says he will either sign with the Yankees or retire. So all Pettitte needs to decide is whether he has one more season left in him. I really hope he does because the Yankees still need him.