Monday, October 31, 2011

Red Sox could drive CC Sabathia’s price up

Even if the Red Sox are able to get into the CC Sabathia sweepstakes, I don’t think they will be successful in signing him. But they will be extremely successful in driving the price up.

The New York Yankees will do everything possible to avoid that situation, namely by trying to finalize a new contract for Sabathia that will keep the lefty from actually opting out of his current deal and re-entering free agency. Sabathia wants to remain a Yankee so it seems like he is amendable to signing a new contract and forgoing a chance to listen to offers from other teams. But if he does opt out, the Red Sox will be one of the first teams calling.

I thought it was a mistake for Brian Cashman to publicly admit to taking Carl Crawford’s agent out to dinner to drive up Crawford’s price for the Red Sox. With the sting of the Crawford contract so fresh in the minds of the organization and Red Sox Nation, the Saux will be looking for any opportunity to return the favor. Bidding on Sabathia, who will be much more expensive than Crawford, is their chance.

Can the Yankees get Sabathia’s deal done before it gets to that point? We’ll know soon enough, but the Red Sox are probably salivating at the chance to do damage to their archrivals, even if it happens off the field.

Happy Halloween, folks!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Yankees start to get busy in the offseason

The New York Yankees began what will be a typically busy offseason by exercising the contract options for Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher.

I have to admit to being a little surprised by the willingness to extend Swisher’s contract. I thought the Yankees would think twice about bringing him back considering his consistent failure in the postseason. Swisher has definitely brought a burst of positive energy into the Yankee clubhouse (which desperately needed it for many years) and has endeared himself to the Yankees faithful. He has also been a high on-base guy and a decent run producer in the regular season. But with the Yankees locked into long-term contracts at so many positions, I thought Swisher might be the major change the Yankees made as far as position players after a disappointingly quick end to their playoff run.

The quick extension on Cano’s option was not surprising. I don’t think Scott Boras was joking at all when he said he wanted to renegotiate those option years. It seems like Boras just changed his story when the heat got turned up too high. But Brian Cashman quashed that talk very quickly by exercising the option, making it clear to Boras the Yankees have no intention of giving up their favorable contract just because Boras was seeking a new deal for his new client. With Boras as his agent, that decision could definitely hurt the Yankees when it comes time to pursue a new deal with Cano. But at least for now the issue was quickly put to bed.

So less than 48 hours after the World Series ended, the Yankees got their first order of official player business out of the way. The most important, however, is still to come: a new deal for ace CC Sabathia.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Cardinals on top of baseball world again

Game 7 wasn't nearly as fun to watch as Game 6, but the St. Louis Cardinals deserve a lot of credit for their compelling comeback this year.

The Cardinals came back from being down more than 10 games in late August to become World Series champions in October. I was rooting against the Cardinals, mainly because of my dislike for their manager and hitting coach. But I’m really happy for Lance Berkman, who was well liked in his brief stint with the New York Yankees and proved to the world that he is nowhere close to being done after a rough 2010 season. Plus, the kid David Freese makes for a great baseball story: hometown kid becomes a hometown hero after leading the Cardinals to another baseball championship.

I feel really bad for Ron Washington, who I love watching because he is as big a kid and a fan during tight games as the rest of us. He is probably going to get beat up in the press a little bit for some of his decisions, namely not pinch hitting for Colby Lewis when the Rangers had a chance to break the game open in Game 6. But this loss falls squarely on his pitching staff, which was twice unable to hold onto a two-run lead late in Game 6 and blew several other leads all through the series.

With a great World Series over, I will now go into my annual baseball withdrawal, forced to pay attention to the National Football League. What else can I say, but go football Giants!

Thanks to shgmom56 and UCinternational via Wikipedia for the David Freese photo.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Ugly baseball game turns into instant classic

I didn't have a lot of hope for last night's baseball game when the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers started kicking the ball all over the place, leading to several unearned runs. Who knew such a poorly played game would turn into an instant classic.

Even though the first few innings were quite ugly and forgettable, things really started to turn around in the middle innings. For me, the game got really interesting when Texas manager Ron Washington declined to pinch hit for pitcher Colby Lewis even though the bases were loaded and he had a well-rested bullpen. Washington tried to psych out Tony LaRussa, who wasn't falling for the ruse. It was fantastic gamesmanship between a Hall of Fame manager and a relative novice.

But later on the Rangers found their pop. Unfortunately, they couldn't also find someone in the bullpen to hold a pair of two-run leads. I wasn't surprised the Cards came back to tie the game in the 9th inning, but when a clearly injured Josh Hamilton slammed a two-run dinger in the 10th inning, I thought for sure the Cardinals were done. But they haven't quit all year and obviously had no intention of quitting last night, with hometown kid David Freese becoming a hometown hero.

Perhaps the Rangers were destined to lose last night so that the world could see a compelling Game 7 sudden-death fight between two evenly matched teams. Last night's game turned into an instant classic. Tonight's game could be even better.

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the Josh Hamilton photo.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Boras will make Cano talks difficult for Yankees

I just knew when Robinson Cano hired Scott Boras as his new agent that it was going to turn out to be a major problem for the New York Yankees.

In an offseason where CC Sabathia should be the only focus of a new contract among the current crop of Yankees stars, Boras is trying to inject Cano into the discussion. Once he gets Brian Cashman on the phone, Boras will likely ask Cashman to drop the two option years in Cano’s contract in favor of a long-term, guaranteed extension. No wonder Cashman is ignoring his phone calls.

This is a no-win situation for the Yankees. If they accede to Boras' demands for a new contract, they will be giving up options in Cano's contract that work in their favor and jacking up their already ridiculously high payroll. But if they don't, Boras will convince Cano that it is a sign of disrespect, which will drive the price even higher when Cano eventually does become a free agent, assuming he stays as healthy and productive as he is right now.

I really don’t know how Cashman works his way out of this one. Assuming the general manager signs a new deal as expected, he will be the one to deal with Cano’s free agency two years down the road. Cashman might decide to make a reasonable long-term offer to Boras now, which the agent will likely reject as he can get Cano a bigger contract later on. But at least Boras would have a harder time convincing Cano that the Yankees are disrespecting him.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

McCourt tries to buy Dodgers fans' forgiveness

As Frank McCourt's battle with Major League Baseball to maintain control of the Los Angeles Dodgers gets nastier, McCourt is now trying to buy the goodwill and forgiveness of the Dodgers’ fan base. But if the Dodgers fan I ran into this week is any indication, they are just as sick and tired of McCourt as Bud Selig is and are squarely on MLB’s side in the dispute.

I would never say that one fan can speak for the entire Dodgers fan base, but I suspect that the vast majority of them are equally upset and bitter about the damage McCourt has inflicted on the franchise, especially after Major League Baseball alleged that McCourt plundered the organization to the tune of $189 million. They seem to be hoping that Selig can convince the bankruptcy court to let him rid baseball of McCourt once and for all and install an owner who actually will put some money back into the franchise rather than one that MLB says used the team as his personal piggy bank.

McCourt is now trying to win back the fans that fled the team in droves with ticket price decreases of up to 64% from the 2011 baseball season. I think it’s going to take more than cheap tickets to get Dodgers fans back in his corner. Sure, some fans will be drawn back by cheaper tickets to ballgames. And the Dodgers do have several players worth watching, including possible Most Valuable Player Matt Kemp. But the price drop and star attractions do nothing to address the security issue that has Dodger Stadium at times resembling a site for a gang turf war rather than a major-league ballpark or the atmosphere of hostility that led to one fan being severely beaten and forced into a medically-induced coma. Of course, there is also the possibility that McCourt could prevail in his quest to keep the team (perish the thought).

You know that saying “can’t buy love”? Apparently, Frank McCourt never learned it.

Thanks to Ron Reiring and UCinternational for the Matt Kemp photo.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Red Sox have much bigger problems than beer

Major League Baseball will investigate reports that Boston Red Sox players were drinking beer during baseball games, according to MLB enforcer Joe Torre, a seemingly flagrant violation of MLB rules. But the Red Sox have much bigger problems than that.

Sure, I would deem beer drinking during games a bad violation of both the rules and the spirit of baseball. And I can understand if Red Sox position players resent their starters for participating in such activities during their days between starts while the rest of the team was fighting for their playoff lives. But I doubt MLB is going to do anything but slap the wrist of the pitchers for their imbibing. We’ve seen a lot worse behavior go unpunished all around MLB.

The Red Sox problems go much deeper than some superficial MLB investigation. After their epic collapse, they are without a manager and seem to be without direction. They have critical decisions to make about veteran players such as David Ortiz and Jason Varitek, who used to be considered clubhouse leaders, but now seem to be dead weight on a team that desperately needs to shed those pounds. I think for the sake of the team, the new brain trust is going to have to clean house as much as possible.

Some people were surprised by Theo Epstein’s decision to flee Boston for the Chicago Cubs. I can’t say that I’m one of them. It’s obvious that Epstein took one long look at the team he helped shepherd to two World Series championships and realized there was nothing more he could do for the team he grew up loving. Even for the “Boy Genius,” the Red Sox have too many problems to solve, ones that have nothing to do with drinking beer.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Not ready to give up on Phil Hughes

It seems like some people are starting to give up on Phil Hughes. I'm not one of them.

I admit to being frustrated that Hughes couldn’t take what seemed to be the next step this year, slotting into the #2 spot behind CC Sabathia. But you can’t fault a player for being injured, even though some people seem to want to. If Hughes’ injuries were related to being out of shape, then it’s understandable that people would be upset about that. But I think the arm injury had more to do with the New York Yankees not knowing how to take care of their young pitchers. Perhaps they will be persuaded to do away with all these artificial limits on their kids by Nolan Ryan, who is now watching as his team plays in the World Series for the second consecutive year.

I think Hughes deserves another shot to prove that he can pitch. I do think it’s a legitimate question whether his stuff is better suited to the rotation or the bullpen, but I would give him another shot at a starting slot in 2012 and see if he can keep it rather than give up on him completely.

Friday, October 21, 2011

NY Post unfairly invokes ARod in Qaddafi story

I find myself in the very uncomfortable position of having to defend Alex Rodriguez, thanks to the New York Post.

In a story about the death of Muammar Qaddafi, the Post claims that the former Libyan dictator was killed by a fan of the New York Yankees and shows a photo of the alleged killer wearing a Yankee cap. Putting aside the truth of the Post report, which was directly challenged by this story in the Atlantic, the Post had a lot of nerve invoking ARod’s name in the sub-headline on its front page.

This is typical of the Post. The journalists go out of their way to frame a story in the most sensationalistic way possible in an effort to encourage as many people as possible to pick up their newspaper. But they went too far here. Using ARod’s name to help sell a paper by even remotely connecting him to a story about the death of a brutal dictator is completely unfair.

Anybody who reads my blog knows that I am no ARod fan. But this was just plain mean and spiteful. ARod is an easy and polarizing target because of his enormous contract and because he often says and does the wrong things. I myself often shake my head at his ridiculous behavior. But I actually feel sorry for him this time. No matter how you feel about ARod as a professional athlete, he doesn’t deserve to have his name mentioned in a story or headline about an evil man whose regime killed a countless number of his own people.

The Post should figure out a way to sell their papers without taking gratuitous shots at people, including Alex Rodriguez.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Let the Yankees anti-CC spin in NY Post begin

If you want to know exactly what the New York Yankees are thinking in their contract negotiations with CC Sabathia, just read the New York Post.

The Post brilliantly spun the contract negotiations with Captain Derek Jeter in favor of the Yankees last offseason. It has now gotten a head start in doing the same thing for the Yankees against Sabathia. In a column called CC Negotiations Could Push Limits, Joel Sherman asserts that AJ Burnett has a better chance of being in the Yankees 2012 starting rotation than CC Sabathia. That represents the Yankees’ first warning shot to Sabathia in what could become a very contentious negotiation.

Sabathia has a lot more leverage than Jeter, who was extremely vocal about his desire never to play for a team besides the Yankees, so I don’t think the Yankees scare tactics are going to work on the big guy. Sherman outlines the Yankees’ legitimate concerns about Sabathia’s weight gain and being burned by the Alex Rodriguez opt-out and subsequent contract that will weigh on the Yankees’ payroll for another six years. But Sherman minimizes one critical fact: that the Yankees desperately need Sabathia to lead their rotation or they will risk starting the 2012 baseball season without at least one dependable starter. The Yankees, partly through their arrogance, have conditioned their fan base to expect nothing short of World Series championships and a failure to re-sign CC will be seen as a retreat from that goal.

I never expected the Jeter negotiations to get so hostile, but that was because I was counting on both sides to recognize how valuable they are to each other and maintain a level of decorum through the talks. Jeter more than held his end of the bargain, but the Yankees did not. I fear that the Yankees are headed down the same path with Sabathia, with the eager help of the New York Post.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Rangers deserving American League champs

The Texas Rangers are the epitome of a team and they deserve to represent the American League in the World Series.

As Tim McCarver pointed out last night, there is no question who the best baseball team in the American League is. He is absolutely right, as much as it pains me as a fan of the New York Yankees to admit. It’s not even about the beat down they put on the Detroit Tigers last night. The Rangers are going to the World Series for the second consecutive year, this time without stud ace Cliff Lee, because they are a well-rounded baseball team. The Rangers are showing all of baseball what can be accomplished when they go against conventional wisdom, like refusing to baby their starters at the direction of Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan.

The Rangers could use the emotional lift that comes from winning a World Series. The players, particularly Josh Hamilton, were devastated by the tragedy at the Ballpark at Arlington, when fan Shannon Stone died right in front of his young son trying to catch a ball thrown into the stands by Hamilton. But they responded to that incident with class, having the child throw the ceremonial first pitch at the start of the playoffs and launching a memorial fund for Stone’s family. The Rangers supported each other through that horrific tragedy, just as they have and continue to support Hamilton in his struggles with addiction to drugs and alcohol.

Now I await the winner of the National League Championship Series to decide who I will root for to win it all. I’ve been leaning toward the Milwaukee Brewers because they are the one team I don’t have any problems with (except for this T. Plush alter ego nonsense). Plus, I thought Ryan Braun handled the whole Jose Reyes controversy with a lot of class and respect for the game of baseball (unlike Reyes and the Mets). But if the Brewers don’t survive the St. Louis Cardinals, then I will be rooting hard for Texas.

Thanks to Red3biggs via Wikimedia Commons for the Hamilton photo.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Boston Red Sox starting to lose all control

Perhaps the epic collapse of the Boston Red Sox and the resulting fury in Red Sox Nation has simply taken too much of a toll on owner John Henry. Whatever the reason, he made some ill-advised comments that are certainly going to make the job of getting his team back on track a lot more difficult.

During a radio interview, Henry said he did not want to sign Carl Crawford last offseason in what was an obvious attempt to cast the blame for Crawford’s lucrative seven-year, $142 million contract on departing general manager Theo Epstein, who has been taking a lot of heat in Boston for that and other bad long-term deals. While it is understandable that Henry would want to shift the blame for that signing on a guy who is leaving Boston, it is simply unwise for any owner to publicly criticize a player or even hint that the player was unwanted. I can’t want to hear Crawford’s reaction, but I can only imagine that he is furious over being a pawn in this game between the owner and departing general manager.

Certainly the New York Yankees have their own problems, but nowhere near the level of dysfunction of their archrivals. Back in the reign of King George Steinbrenner, it was not unusual to see the Boss take to the media to complain about a player in an attempt to motivate him. While it made for great copy for the city’s tabloids, it also led to a lot of unnecessary clubhouse dysfunction that thankfully doesn’t exist anymore for the Yankees.

I criticized Fred Wilpon for comments the Mets owner made about Jose Reyes and David Wright in a magazine article a few months ago. Wilpon took a lot of heat for those comments, even though he was right, but it is bad form for an owner to go to the media to talk how his player is not a superstar or unworthy of Carl Crawford money or that he didn’t really want that player.

So the Red Sox first lost control in the clubhouse, according to this extensive dissection of the collapse, which led them to lose the wild card race. Now they seem to be losing control at the highest tiers of the organization, which does not bode well for their ability to fix the problems. Red Sox Nation looks to be in for a very long year in 2012 and maybe even beyond.

Thanks to Webjedi via Wikipedia for the John Henry photo.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Could CC Sabathia actually leave the Yankees?

CC Sabathia’s opt-out clause has been the topic of a lot of discussion since the New York Yankees were unceremoniously bounced from the playoffs, but the assumption has always been that he would come back after signing a new, richer, long-term deal. But is CC’s return to the Yankees automatic?

A report indicated that the Texas Rangers plan to make a big push for the Yankees ace. It cannot be easily dismissed. Unlike the Yankees, the Rangers have played in two straight American League Championship Series and are thisclose to returning to the World Series. The Rangers, after years of being known for their sluggers, have put a premium and focus on good pitching under an ownership group led by Hall of Famer and former Rangers pitching great Nolan Ryan. Plus, with a new television deal, they can easily afford to make CC a really great financial offer.

Would CC actually leave the Bronx to play deep in the heart of Texas? I doubt it. CC, unlike many free-agent signings, loves the glare of the New York spotlight. Sabathia, a father of four children, would probably want to avoid uprooting his family and the Sabathias have completely embraced the city and all it offers. He has already won a World Series championship with the Yankees and probably relishes the chance to win a few more and continue being treated like a king. Plus, no matter how much money the Rangers have, the Yankees can outbid them and CC has already shown he will sign for top dollar.

But I expect CC’s agent to play the Texas’ interest for all its worth, enhancing what is his already considerable leverage against the Yankees. The mere possibility of CC leaving is enough to make things interesting this offseason and maybe even make the Yankees sweat a little bit.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Yankees can't let Boston mess infect them

The housecleaning of the Boston Red Sox has begun, with the jettisoning of manager Terry Francona and the fleeing of general manager Theo Epstein. But it won’t be over until the Red Sox begin purging themselves of as many of the malcontents in the clubhouse as they possibly can. And when they start doing this, the Yankees need to stay way the hell away from any Boston castoffs.

In what was probably a foolish bid to gain leverage with the Saux, David Ortiz opened the door to signing a contract with the New York Yankees. I think it had to be about his upcoming contract negotiations because I hope Ortiz doesn’t think the Yankees are foolish enough to go after him. But Ortiz is completely clueless if he thinks he is going to endear himself to Red Sox Nation or anyone inside the organization by openly talking about how there is too much drama in Boston and even hinting at signing with the Yankees.

For the Yankees, the mere thought of signing Ortiz has to be laughable. He is 35 years old, a full-time designated hitter with no place on a team that needs to open up that spot to give Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter more days off the field, and the king of the Boston malcontents. Ortiz, supposedly a team leader, could or did do nothing as the Red Sox were falling apart down the stretch. The Yankees have no use for a guy like that and should not let him or the bad vibes out of Boston anywhere near their clubhouse.

I can’t help but think back to Andy Pettitte’s Centerstage interview with Michael Kay when the Yankees lefty was asked about the reported $54 million he was offered to pitch for the Red Sox after the 2003 season. For Pettitte, playing for the Yankees’ archrivals wasn’t even a consideration, as loyal a guy as Pettitte is. It’s too bad Ortiz hasn’t shown the same loyalty to an organization that stuck by him, picking up an expensive $12.5 million option last offseason to the shock of everyone around baseball who thought Ortiz was done.

Thanks to Toasterb at the English language Wikipedia project for the photo.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Girardi steps to the plate for his hitters

Joe Girardi stepped up to the plate to defend his hitters by arguing that their lack of production in the American League Division Series had a lot to do with bad luck. Apparently, he didn’t see what the rest of us saw.

If he had, he would have noticed that Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher failed in key situations in the playoffs for the third consecutive year, which is enough of a sample to indicate that they are simply not clutch postseason players. Girardi would have noticed that Alex Rodriguez, aside from his performance in 2009 (which he definitely deserves a lot of credit for), has reverted to bad form in the playoffs. He would have noticed that his #9 hitter Brett Gardner had as many runs batted in (5) as his 3-4-5 hitters.

“I guess I could have put Gardy fourth,” Girardi said sarcastically when questioned about why he kept running out the exact same lineup in the ALDS.

No, Joe. No one is suggesting that you bat Gardner in the cleanup spot for the New York Yankees. What people are suggesting is that the lineup needs to be shaken up, that ARod, Tex and Swish can’t be allowed to continue coming up short in the playoffs in key situations. The biggest shake-up would be for the Yankees to let Swisher walk away and give right field to one of their young hitting studs, likely Eduardo Nunez, or go shopping for a relatively inexpensive, but clutch veteran.

Moving Robinson Cano into the third spot in the lineup for the playoffs was a good start, a move that Girardi was obviously not afraid to make and should stick to, unless he decides to bat Cano cleanup. But Girardi is going to have to seriously rethink his lineup. Should ARod continue batting fourth? Not if he can’t protect Cano. Who replaces Jorge Posada at designated hitter and where should that person bat? If it’s Jesus Montero, do you put more pressure on the kid by batting him in the middle of the lineup or do you protect him by slotting him seventh, where Posada batted most of the year?

These are legitimate questions and Girardi has to seriously consider them all. Unfortunately for the Yankees, he has plenty of time to think these days.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Yankee kids will get chances to crack 2012 rotation

In his last press conference before he disappears for the winter, Joe Girardi talked about how starting pitching would be the key focus for the New York Yankees in the offseason. From what the Yankees manager said, it seems likely that several talented youngsters in the organization will have real chances to earn spots in the 2012 starting rotation.

Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova will likely be penciled into the Yankees rotation heading into next year, although they will have to prove that they deserve to stay there, according to Girardi. “I know that they are going to work hard,” Girardi said. “Nothing in life is ever given to you. You have to earn it.”

“I expect them to have good years, but I can’t tell you,” he added.

But other youngsters such as Hector Noesi and a couple of the Killer B’s, Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos, are going to get a chance to challenge Hughes and Nova for the chance to join rotation mainstays CC Sabathia (assuming he re-signs with the Yankees) and AJ Burnett (assuming the Yankees have absolutely no chance of moving him).

“The competition thing seemed to work well this year,” Girardi said. “It brought out the best in some people and I don’t think you can have too much depth in the starting rotation. I think the kids could start to challenge.”

It seems obvious that the Yankees are likely to part ways with either Freddy Garcia or Bartolo Colon (and probably both of them). If the Yankees do let Garcia and/or Colon leave, it should be with a firm handshake and a gracious thank you, not only for saving the rotation this year, but for bridging the gap while the Yankee kids took another year to develop.

This being the Yankees, I wouldn’t rule out a major offseason move for a more established big-league starter such as CJ Wilson. But the Yankees seem determined to give their kids a legitimate chance to win the available starting spots. I wouldn’t want to rely solely on these youngsters, no matter how talented they are, but they’ve shown enough to make me excited about the competition next spring.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Let the CC Sabathia opt-out talk commence

Back in May, I begged for a moratorium on talk of CC Sabathia opting out of his contract with the New York Yankees. Now that the Yankees have been bounced from the playoffs far earlier than expected, the talk will commence and gather momentum.

Of course, the most immediate issue for the Yankees is re-signing Brian Cashman or finding a general manager to replace him. Someone is going to have to handle what could be a difficult negotiation with Sabathia.

CC has all the leverage in the world despite his struggles in the last two months of the 2011 baseball season and in the American League Division Series. He is the ace of an already-thin starting pitching staff (unless you really believe that Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon can give the Yankees in 2012 what they gave them in 2011). None of the free-agent starters have anything close to CC’s track record and reputation as a horse.

But the general manager is going to have to figure out how much to push back on CC’s demands. I think the Yankees are well within their rights to add some type of weight clause to ensure Sabathia stays on track. Would the Yankees consider paying CC a lot more money per year instead of more guaranteed years? That’s probably the way I would go, but Sabathia and his agent will have something to say about that.

I wouldn’t blame CC if he used his leverage to squeeze every last nickel out of the Yankees, who have shown that they will use all their leverage to force a player to sign a deal to their liking, just as they did to their iconic shortstop Derek Jeter last offseason. I just hope that the negotiations don’t get as ugly with Sabathia as they did with Captain Jeter. But I wouldn’t rule out seeing a bunch of stories full of anonymous sources expressing concern about Sabathia’s health and highlighting his role in the Yankees’ too-quick playoff exit this year. That’s just the way the Yankees roll.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Yankees have few moves to make

I enjoy the Daily News' Keep 'em or Dump 'em poll/game as much as the next fan, but the problem is that it encourages too many choices that are simply unrealistic.

There are many players on the New York Yankees that they cannot get rid of (no matter how much we want them to be gone) because of long-term, expensive contracts. But John Harper has some useful suggestions, which I think the Yankees should seriously consider.

The one idea that I think has the most merit is getting rid of Nick Swisher. Sure, his $10.25 million option might seem like chump change to the Yankees, but Swisher has proven that he is worthless in the postseason. I know some fans love his boisterous attitude (I myself have never been a huge fan), but I think his playoff futility has gone on too long to keep him around. And since the Yankees are stuck with Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, Swisher is the most likely fall guy for the offense's failure in the 2011 American League Division Series.

I also like Harper’s idea of putting a weight clause in CC Sabathia’s next contract. The media seems to think that Sabathia became less effective down the stretch because he gained back all the weight he loss last offseason and then some, which is entirely possible. Personally, I would prefer that the Yankees offer Sabathia a contract where the latter years are triggered by reaching certain clauses such as number of wins and innings. But Sabathia has all the leverage in these negotiations, which he absolutely should use (we know the Yankees would), and is unlikely to agree to such limitations.

But as much as Yankee fans would like to be rid of ARod and AJ Burnett (they are so far running the highest dump scores in the Daily News poll), neither one of them is going anywhere. The Yankees have to concentrate on player moves they can make such as letting Swisher walk away. The rest the Yankees just have to live with.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Random baseball thoughts: playoff edition

Last night was a fantastic night for baseball, even with Major League Baseball’s Golden Goose, I mean the New York Yankees, out of the playoffs What more could any baseball fan ask for: two tight Game 5 elimination games, one of which went into extra innings after a surprising blown save while the other game featured the underdog shocking the world by being the heavy favorite. I’m usually rooting for the underdog whenever the Yankees are out of the playoffs, but I can’t bring myself to root for Tony LaRussa & Co. Go Brewers!

• I couldn’t be happier for Robin Ventura, who was the surprise pick to manage the Chicago White Sox. Though it was a curious choice given his lack of managing/coaching experience, I was happy to see him get the chance. Ventura is one of the genuinely good guys of baseball and he quickly became a favorite of mine when he was with the Yankees because of his superb defense and quick wit. Ventura, along with John Olerud and Todd Zeile, was one of the few guys on the New York Mets that I actually liked.

• You gotta love Jim Leyland, even though his team just bounced the Yankees from the playoffs. He is smart and has a fantastic sense of humor (unlike his Yankees counterpart). I disagree with his stance against the one-game wild card playoff scenario, but he is an old-school manager and I admire his willingness to speak his mind (even if it does get him in hot water with Major League Baseball). I also admire that he makes a decision and sticks to it no matter what anyone says, namely not using Justin Verlander in a do-or-die Game 5. That worked out for Leyland pretty good, didn’t it?

• I appreciate that Curtis Granderson takes his job as a union player rep so seriously, but I really don’t want to hear him talking about the chances of reaching a new labor deal this soon after his team was bounced from the playoffs. Don’t get me wrong, I like Granderson a lot. He’s a good guy and had a phenomenal, Most Valuable Player worthy year for the Yankees. But I would rather hear him talking about what he is personally planning to work on this offseason to make sure that the Yankees don’t suffer a hasty exit from the 2012 playoffs.

Thanks to Cbl62 via Wikipedia for the Leyland photo.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Posada goes out with class, guts and tears

If last night was Jorge Posada's final game as a member of the New York Yankees, he went out the right way: with class, guts and tears.

Posada showed a lot of class, refusing to blame anyone in particular for the Yankees’ too-quick exit from the playoffs, even though he was surrounded by plenty of culprits. In refusing to cast blame and playing his heart out, Posada more than redeemed himself for the weak moment earlier this year when he pulled himself out of a game against the Boston Red Sox.

Posada played with guts, defying all those who believed he was done after a tough 2011 regular season campaign to hit .429 in the American League Division Series and reach base more than half the time he came to the plate. He tried to put the entire Yankees offense on his shoulders and carry his teammates across the finish line.

But it broke my heart to see Posada unsuccessfully fighting back the tears as he was asked about the possibility of playing his last game in pinstripes. He couldn’t even answer the question, instead talking about how devastating and raw the loss was. But it was obvious that Posada was completely crushed by this defeat, possibly the last moment of a great Yankees career, even though he did everything in his power to prevent it.

Posada showed the baseball world that he still has something left. He is probably too proud to call it quits after this tough season. But I can’t help but wish he would follow in the footsteps of Don Mattingly and retire, never having worn another big-league baseball uniform and cementing his legacy as a core member of multiple World Series championship teams and a truly great Yankee.

Who's at fault for Yankees quick playoff exit?

When a good baseball team loses in the playoffs, the natural question is “whose fault was it”? With the New York Yankees, there are a lot of culprits.

We definitely know who is not at fault. Jorge Posada, in what could have been his last games as a Yankee, did everything he could to try to help his team ascend to the next round of the playoffs. Brett Gardner, the #9 hitter, had several clutch hits and made the Detroit Tigers pitchers nervous every time he was on base. And as shocking as this would have seemed going into the American League Division Series, AJ Burnett came through with the best starting pitching performance.

So who takes the blame? I’d start with CC Sabathia. The Yankees ace looked like a contender for a Cy Young award against any team not named the Boston Red Sox this year. And in Game 1 of the American League Division Series, he started off by giving up a home run in the first inning. He had a very rocky start in Game 3 (messed-up routine, tight strike zone, way too many excuses) against Tigers ace Justin Verlander. And when he had a chance to redeem himself last night, he gave up what proved to be the winning run.

But the middle of the vaunted Yankees lineup deserves a large share of the blame. Alex Rodriguez will get most of the attention, which he deserves for his 2 for 18 performance and strikeouts in key situations last night. But Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher both had bad playoff series for the third consecutive year. (For the ultra-popular Swisher, his futility at the plate again might have finally been enough for the Yankees to show him the door). These are the guys the Yankees should be relying on to drive in runs, not Brett Gardner.

I can’t decide right now who deserves the lion’s share of the blame for the Yankees too-quick exit from the playoffs. Maybe in a couple of days, I will get past the disappointment and see things more clearly. For now, I have to make other plans for Saturday night.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Nova hopes to channel big-game Pettitte

Andy Pettitte was around Yankee Stadium last weekend to throw a ceremonial first pitch, reconnect with his old New York Yankees teammates and, most importantly, impart some wisdom on a youngster who is trying to channel him: Ivan Nova.

Pettitte was the epitome of a big-game pitcher, winning more playoff games than anyone in the history of baseball. More than that, he was a rock for the Yankees, stepping up when they needed him the most. He was never the ace of the Yankees staff, but he was the guy you wanted starting a game with everything on the line.

In that sense, Nova wants to be just like Pettitte. He wants his teammates to trust him with the ball the way they trusted Pettitte. If the Yankees seem extremely calm about tonight’s do-or-die game, it’s because they believe in Nova. Not as much as they believed in Pettitte because that came after years and years of big games, but they trust the youngster enough to feel confident about their chances of advancing to the next round of the playoffs.

Nova seems to be immune to pressure, a critical trait if he wants to be a big-game pitcher like Pettitte. And Nova is perfectly happy to soak up the advice of guys like Pettitte and AJ Burnett, who has been a mentor to the kid despite his own personal struggles.

If Nova can channel Pettitte tonight, he will earn the undying affection of his teammates and Yankees fans all over. Game on, kid!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Thank you AJ Burnett

Dear AJ Burnett,

Thank you for saving the 2011 baseball season for the New York Yankees. I didn’t think you could do it. I held a rather fatalistic attitude going into Game 4 but somehow you pulled it off and you should be very proud.

Sure, you had a lot of fantastic defensive help, namely from your centerfielder Curtis Granderson, who got you out of a major jam in the first inning when it looked like the bad AJ appeared on the mound in an elimination game. And your manager Joe Girardi finally made the right call on pulling you, wasting no time when you let a runner on base in the sixth inning. But you deserve a tremendous amount of credit for all the zeros you put up in the innings in between, not always trying to strike guys out and letting your defense back you up, which it did to perfection.

What makes you great at times also makes you the most frustrating pitcher to watch. We know that you are supremely talented. We know that you are capable of throwing a terrific game like you did last night every time you take the mound. If we are too hard on you, that’s probably the reason why. It’s not that we hate you. We don’t. We want you to do well. We just want to see that tough guy who showed up on the mound when the Yankees needed him the most a lot more often.

I’m not going to apologize for doubting you. You have given Yankees fans a lot of reasons to doubt you, as you yourself have acknowledged. But I will happily admit to being wrong about you, at least for one night. Thanks for getting the Yankees to Game 5. And get yourself ready for the American League Championship Series because I believe your protégé Ivan Nova is going to get us there on Thursday.


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Girardi mistake means Burnett in do-or-die game

So the job of saving the 2011 baseball season for the New York Yankees belongs to AJ Burnett. I don’t know about you all, but what started as a dull ache in my stomach has turned into full-fledged queasiness.

If Burnett doesn’t pull off the miracle to keep the Yankees’ season alive, Joe Girardi is going to have some serious questions to answer, starting with why he left in an obviously exhausted CC Sabathia, pitching on two days rest after his rain-shortened start on Friday. Girardi will probably point to the lefties coming up in the lineup, but Sabathia clearly had nothing at that point and it was time to give him the hook, even if he is your ace.

It’s not the first time Girardi has stuck with his starter too long. Remember Burnett’s American League Championship Series start last year? He was pitching a really solid game and instead of pulling Burnett after getting more than he could have expected, Girardi tried to milk another inning out of him and ended up blowing the game (and probably the series for the Yankees).

Sometimes it’s difficult for a manager to see what is obvious to the rest of us. It was obvious that Sabathia was done after that stressful fifth inning. Jon Smoltz and Ron Darling, two fantastic starting pitchers in their day, were calling the game for TBS and understood immediately that Sabathia was running on fumes. They were both noticeably surprised that Sabathia went to the mound in the 6th inning, even if they didn’t immediately say so. It wasn’t a second guess on their part. It was a first guess because they saw what Girardi could not.

I imagine that Girardi went to bed praying that a guy he hasn’t been able to rely on all year is going to give him the kind of start he needs in this do-or-die situation. If it doesn’t happen, Girardi better prepare himself for a long offseason of endless questions and he better not get snippy because they are legitimate questions. If the Yankees’ season ends tonight, Girardi is going to have to take a lot of the heat for a too-quick exit from the playoffs.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Pettitte brings sunshine back to Yankee Stadium, briefly

I was thrilled that we fans attending yesterday’s game had the opportunity to welcome back and thank Andy Pettitte for all his fantastic years with the New York Yankees. I was also happy to enjoy a rare playoff day game at Yankee Stadium courtesy of Mother Nature.

But except for Pettitte’s ceremonial first pitch, which was a perfect strike thrown in pitch-perfect weather, we didn’t have much to cheer about. Freddy Garcia gave up a quick two-run blast in the first inning and the Yankees were never able to dig out of that hole. And then of course the torrential rains came back.

Let’s hope for a big start from our big guy CC Sabathia tonight. In the meantime, enjoy these photos from Games 1 and 2 at Yankee Stadium.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Super Nova comes through in prime time

Many people had a lot of questions about Ivan Nova going into his “start” last night. I was not one of them.

When I was buying tickets for the American League Division Series, of course, I wanted to see the Game 1 clash of the titans between CC Sabathia and Justin Verlander. But I also did something I have never done before. I bought tickets to two games of the same division series. Why? Because I wanted to see Nova pitch in Game 2 against the Detroit Tigers. It technically wasn’t Game 2, but the kid stepped up in a big playoff start last night.

Unlike with AJ Burnett, I’m confident in the rookie pitching a big game for the New York Yankees. Despite his youth, I never worry that Nova is going to fall apart at the first sign of trouble. That’s how much confidence I have in him. I think that goes back to the first time I saw him start a big-league game in person, the night the Yankees were dedicating George Steinbrenner’s monument. With all the hoopla and emotion of that night, it would have been very easy for the kid to be distracted, but he turned in a pretty solid start in a game the Yankees went on to win.

I’m surprised when Burnett pitches well and I’ll be shocked if the Tigers don’t shell him if he starts Game 4. I’m not surprised when Nova has a good start and I have absolutely no problem with the kid getting the ball in a Game 5 elimination matchup if it comes to that.

“I loved what he did today,” his manager Joe Girardi said of Nova last night.

So did I.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Francona should not be only Boston fall guy

Terry Francona took the fall for the historic collapse of the Boston Red Sox, even though it wasn’t really his fault so he shouldn’t be the only one.

Francona is a great manager and he will land another big-league managing job whenever he is ready for one. I’d imagine he wants to take some time off and decompress from the hellish Red Sox job, a job that nobody but him has been able to do well in decades. Despite guiding the Saux to two World Series championships in eight years, Francona takes the fall for the Red Sox blowing a nine-game wild card lead.

The guy people call Tito took some of the blame for what he said was his inability to reach certain players (wouldn’t you love to know who those idiots are that wouldn’t listen to a guy who won two championships?). But he isn’t the only one who should go down for the epic collapse. I think the genius behind the current team, Theo Epstein, should bear a lot of the responsibility for putting together a team capable of falling apart the way it did.

Don’t get me wrong, Epstein made some great moves (the Adrian Gonzalez trade was genius, putting a guy just reaching his prime into Fenway Park), but he has also overpaid for too many players that are underperforming and likely untradeable. I liked Carl Crawford as a player so I don’t have a problem understanding why Epstein went after him, but he really hung that massive contract around the necks of the Red Sox. If Crawford doesn’t have a better season next year, it’s going to be seen as one of the worst signings in baseball history.

Epstein or the next Red Sox general manager has to clean house. Start by letting David Ortiz and Jason Varitek walk away. They are supposed to be clubhouse leaders, but they did or could do nothing as their team was falling apart. Varitek should have stopped catching a long time ago and Ortiz, after another great season, is going to want money that the Saux could use to buy themselves two or three good players rather than just a designated hitter. They are fan favorites, but Red Sox Nation will forget all about them if the GM can get some solid players to replace them.

The Red Sox need to rebuild from scratch, but they need to do it quickly. Otherwise, they will spend too many October nights in front of a television watching their archrival New York Yankees play baseball. In torrential rains, of course.

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo.