Sunday, December 30, 2012

Retiring Matsui made a big impact in New York

Hideki Matsui will always be remembered in America as a great player for the New York Yankees.

Matsui was already a three-time champion and hero in his native Japan when he came to play under the Bronx spotlight. He quickly proved worthy of the Bronx Bomber nickname given to our Yankees, with a Grand Slam in the 2003 Yankee Stadium home opener. He also quickly became a favorite of both the fans and his teammates, including Derek Jeter, who issued a genuinely complimentary statement about Matsui’s retirement.

I think Jeter had a lot of affection for Matsui because he felt the outfielder was the embodiment of a true Yankee, with an unrivaled work ethic and complete devotion to the team concept that drove the Yankees late 1990s dynasty. Matsui would have fit in very well with those championship teams. Unfortunately, he got to New York a few years too late to participate in the dynasty. But in his last year with the Yankees, the team won a World Series championship, with a big assist from Matsui in a dominant performance that earned him the series’ Most Valuable Player award.

Although Matsui spent the last three years of his US career in lesser roles with other baseball teams, he will always be remembered fondly for his time in New York.

Godspeed, Godzilla.
Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the Matsui photo.  

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Jets horrible treatment of Tebow a disgrace

This is a primarily a baseball blog and it’s not often I comment on developments in other sports, but I just can’t stay quiet anymore about the despicable treatment that Tim Tebow has suffered at the hands of his coach and the rest of the New York Jets hierarchy.

Whatever you think of Tebow’s football skills, he does not deserve to be treated this shabbily by his bosses. There was a lot of excitement surrounding the trade for the quarterback after he led the Denver Broncos to a surprising postseason berth last season (and a thoroughly satisfying upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger). But things went poorly from the start in New York, not really due to any of Tebow’s shortcomings, but because Jets management never figured out his role on the team. And now it looks like the Jets are trying to make Tebow the scapegoat for their disappointing campaign.  

Having lost faith in Mark Sanchez long ago, I thought it was only a matter of time until Tebow took over the starting quarterback job. I did not anticipate the inexplicable disdain and pettiness of his head coach. Rex Ryan has gone out of his way to marginalize and embarrass Tebow. First, Ryan waited until Tebow was sidelined with an injury to bench Sanchez in favor of Greg McElroy. Then, the coach refused to insert Tebow into the starting slot after it became abundantly clear that Sanchez has completely lost all his confidence and skills. Now, Ryan will reinstate Sanchez, despite his obvious problems, for the last game of the season due to concussion-like symptoms suffered by McElroy rather than let Tebow start at quarterback in the last game of a miserable season.

Really, how much crap is a player supposed to take from his coach? I wish loudmouth Ryan would be banished to Siberia, but the Jets don’t look inclined to make that move. They’d rather banish Tebow, which at this point is the kindest thing they could do for him.

Thanks to Jeffrey Beall via Wikipedia for the Tim Tebow photo.   

Sunday, December 23, 2012

So long Swish!

Nick Swisher did really well for himself financially this offseason.

Swisher will sign a four-year, $56 million contract with the Cleveland Indians, with a $14 million option for a fifth year. That’s a nifty deal for Swisher. I’m a little surprised he went to Cleveland given their struggles in recent years and I do wonder how his personality is going to play in the Heartland. But that kind of money is hard to say no to and it would have been difficult to match that offer in a more desirable market.

As much as I liked Swisher personally, I think the New York Yankees were right to let him walk. He is a solid, but not great player and I don’t think he is worth that kind of money or length of contract. I became very frustrated with his disappearing act during the four postseason chances he had in the Bronx. Swisher was a solid player during the regular season, but a non-factor in every baseball playoff series, including this season when the Yankees could have benefitted from him stepping up after that devastating injury to Derek Jeter.

But he had a nice couple of years in New York and I wish him well and hope his family is happy in Cleveland. Perhaps I’ll make it out to see him in Ohio next year as part of my quest to visit every ballpark in America. I’ll root for him, except if they are playing the Yankees.

Godspeed, Nick Swisher.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Jeter call lifts spirit of grieving family

With all the negativity surrounding baseball and other major sports these days, it is heartwarming to hear about the random acts of kindness made by professional athletes. Not surprising at all, Derek Jeter has yet again reached out to someone in need.

The captain of the New York Yankees called Donna Soto, the mother of Vicki Soto, the young teacher killed protecting her first-grade students during the heartbreaking mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut last week. The call was a happy surprise for the family and lifted some of the clouds on what was perhaps the darkest day of their lives.  

Jeter is not the only athlete to reach out to the victims’ families. New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz met with the family of 6-year old victim Jack Pinto, who was laid to rest wearing the jersey of his favorite player. Cruz also paid tribute to his young fan by writing RIP Jack Pinto on his shoes during last Sunday’s Giants football game. Sometimes we forget that athletes are people just like the rest of us, but they are human beings and they are sharing in the pain we are all feeling over the loss of so many innocent children and their heroic protectors.  

If it were up to Derek Jeter, we never would have heard about that call. Jeter uses his superpowers for good, but he never seeks recognition for it. In his Jeter biography, The Captain, Ian O’Connor tells a great story about a firehouse visit the Yankees organization scheduled after the 9/11 attacks, of which they notified the press that Yankee players would be available to talk. But Jeter objected because of his concern that a photo op and news conference would trivialize the pain of these exhausted rescue workers and the families of the victims. The captain refused to budge and a private, non-publicized visit happened on a later date.

We usually only find out about Jeter’s good deeds when the person on the receiving end chooses to talk about them, as Soto’s sister did in publicly thanking the Yankees for a phone call that meant the world to her grieving mother. Jeter would never have said a word, mostly out of respect for the Soto family’s devastating personal loss, but also because he does most of his good deeds out of the public view. And that’s the way it should be.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mets give fans lump of coal by trading Dickey

I just opened my email this morning to see the New York Mets are having a holiday ticket sale, which I find amusing since they just gave their fans a big lump of coal by trading RA Dickey.

Sure, the Toronto Blue Jays gave up two top prospects who might turn out to be baseball superstars. Or like so many hot prospects before them, they could crash and burn in the big leagues, especially in the glare of the New York City spotlight (if they even make it that far). But we knew Dickey could handle the heat because we saw him pitch his way to the National League Cy Young award in 2012.

A question that still lingers is if the Mets, who were portrayed as being on the fence, ultimately decided to trade Dickey because he had the nerve to express his frustration with the pace of his contract negotiations at the team’s holiday party. While I agree that the timing was terrible, I completely understand Dickey’s frustration and am bewildered that the Mets traded him rather than give him the same, very reasonable deal the Blue Jays did. Sandy Alderson firmly denied that Dickey’s comments had anything to do with the trade and I do believe it was driven more by the Mets simply not wanting to pay their ace that much money on a team that’s probably going to be pretty bad for the next few years. But I wouldn’t put it past the Mets to make such a petty move.

Even if you think the Mets made the right call in getting such talent for an ace they didn’t want to pay to keep, the problem with the move in the short term is that there is now one less reason for Mets fans to bother showing up at the ballpark. The Mets had to prove that they are committed to putting a quality team on the field right now and trading Dickey runs counter to that.

Holiday gift packs for Mets fans are available today, but I doubt Mets fans will be reaching into their wallets to get them.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Yankees losing the money race to LA teams

It’s official: the New York Yankees are no longer baseball’s freest spenders.
In what appeared to be a contracting market, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim swooped in to sweep Josh Hamilton off his feet with a 5-year, $125 million deal. I’m sure it’s a lot less than Hamilton thought he deserved, but it’s still a fantastic deal for someone with his injury and addiction history. The Angels have spent money like crazy over the past two years, signing Albert Pujols and Yankee reject CJ Wilson to long, rich deals. They went after Hamilton despite, or perhaps because of, missing out of the baseball playoffs in 2012, in an effort to re-establish themselves in the American League West by stealing their main rival’s best player.
The Hamilton signing follows the six-year, $147 million mega-deal that Zack Greinke, the only ace-type pitcher available on the free agent market, got from the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are also spending like they don’t have a care in the world. Greinke’s market was thought to be limited, perhaps not as limited as Hamilton’s, because of his mental issues and his apparent disdain for big cities. But in a “pitiful” free-agent market, as described by Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, Greinke was going to be well compensated. And the Dodgers, who bailed out the Boston Red Sox by taking several crushing, long-term deals and petulant players off their hands, were more than eager to accommodate Greinke in their battle for the hearts and minds of Los Angelenos.
In previous years, I would have believed that Hamilton or Greinke (or perhaps both) would have been viable candidates to become New York Yankees. But I barely paid attention to speculation surrounding their free agent status because I knew this year would be different, despite the embarrassing sweep the Yankees suffered at the hands of the Detroit Tigers in the American League Championship Series, because I knew there was virtually no chance either one of them would end up in the Bronx.
For the Yankees, there is a different sheriff in town in Hal Steinbrenner, who apparently cares nothing about making a big splash. His father George Steinbrenner would have overlooked both players’ personal demons and spent whatever he had to spend to convince them to come to New York. Hal Steinbrenner simply does not think that way. It’s a healthy strategy when you are dealing with guys like Hamilton and Greinke, who probably were not the best fit for New York anyway. But what happens the next time a great free agent who could be the perfect solution to a baseball problem in the Bronx becomes available? Is Hal Steinbrenner going to spend what it takes to get the guy or watch as another free-spending team like the Angels or the Dodgers snatches him up? To be determined.
Thanks to Mikejames 19 via Wikipedia for the Hamilton photo.   


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Youkilis could pull an Ichiro-like Yankees revival

I’m not crazy about the idea of Kevin Youkilis becoming a member of the New York Yankees, but I’m hoping I’m wrong about him, just as I was wrong about Ichiro Suzuki.

Reports indicate that the Yankees are close to finalizing deals with both Youkilis and Ichiro soon. I’m happy to welcome Ichiro back as he proved to be a valuable addition to the Yankees during the 2012 season. I’m a lot less excited about Youkilis playing third base for the Bronx Bombers.

My hesitation about Youkilis has nothing to do with him being a former member of the Boston Red Sox, although he will probably never earn my affection, just like Roger Clemens and Johnny Damon never won me over despite World Series championships. My issue with Youkilis is that I don’t think he’s a very good player anymore, certainly not worth the $12 million the Yankees threw in his direction. His batting average has slipped in recent years although he had a decent second half in 2012 after being traded to the Chicago White Sox. The Yankees were in a tight spot because they needed a third baseman for at least the first half of 2013, but didn’t want to make any multi-year offers to anyone due to their newfound austerity. They had to go with who they could afford and so they decided Youkilis was the best one-year option for them.  

But I’m willing to entertain the possibility of Youkilis becoming a new man in the Bronx and Ichiro is the only reason for that. I wasn’t crazy about the trade for Ichiro last season because I thought it was a typical, old-Yankees style move: trading for an aging veteran with tremendous name recognition who could no longer play up to his previously high standards. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. It turned out that all Ichiro needed was a change of scenery to rediscover his stroke and love for the game of baseball. He proved to be a terrific addition to the Yankees, both on the field and in the clubhouse.

Maybe Youkilis will win Yankee fans over, just like he won the hearts of Red Sox Nation, by pulling an Ichiro and reviving his career in pinstripes. I’m willing to give him that chance.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Hopeful ARod wants another ring

Alex Rodriguez obviously misses the love he received from leading the New York Yankees to a World Series title in 2009, however fleeting that love was.

I’m not sure even a second World Series title would be enough for ARod to once and for all win the hearts and minds of Yankee fans. But it sure couldn’t hurt. And it would be a big step up from what he’s feeling now, which is anger from Yankee fans about his most recent postseason struggles and his enormous salary, which is now choking the Yankees so hard they couldn’t afford to bring back their #1 catcher Russell Martin.

But I feel badly for ARod because he does not get the benefit of the doubt even when he probably deserves it. Like with this most recent hip injury, the news of which came out of nowhere. I was at physical therapy today and I overheard two men discussing ARod and questioning why he didn’t have the surgery months ago to help him get ready for an earlier return in 2013. But I give ARod enough benefit of the doubt to believe that he really did not realize the extent of his injury and how long it would take to fix and heal from it. I don’t believe there is any ploy on his part to collect his millions and sit around relaxing at his Miami home. And I do believe he desperately wants to win another championship ring with the Yankees.

For the Yankees’ sake, I hope ARod’s pledge to come back strong from this injury and help his team win another World Series title comes to fruition. The Yankees need ARod to be a solid version of his old self if they are ever going to get back to the Promised Land.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Yankees turned off by pitiful free agent class

Brian Cashman is as candid as can be for a baseball general manager. But even I was startled by his honest assessment of this year’s free agent class, which has so far kept him on the sidelines.

“This is not a good strong, free agent class,” he said. “It’s actually a pitiful one to be quite honest.”

Cashman is blaming the lack of aggressiveness on the part of the New York Yankees on a weak slate of free agent options. And he’s right. When the best free agent available is an injury prone, drug addict in Josh Hamilton, there aren’t many good options. In previous years, that hardly would have mattered to George Steinbrenner, who always wanted to make a splash and show the world that he only cares about winning. He would have spent whatever was necessary to put Hamilton in pinstripes. But with the Boss long gone, these are different times for the Yankees and fiscal discipline will prevail over the desire to win the back page.  

The Yankees general manager is being cautious in signing players because he does not want to make the same mistake that he and the Yankees have made in the past in throwing tons of dough at a baseball player, only to find out that player wasn’t cut out for the New York spotlight. Strange as it may sound, he simply can’t afford to make those mistakes anymore due to Hal Steinbrenner’s payroll mandate. Rather than throwing his limited funds at a player he can’t be sure can perform under the intense pressure in New York, Cashman has focused on re-signing players he knows who can: Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Hiroki Kuroda. It’s a wise approach and one that should serve the Yankees well, even in future years when the free agent choices get better.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Random baseball thoughts: winter meetings edition

The New York Yankees are in such a tight spot with their unexpected third base vacancy that they are willing to throw $12 million at aging nemesis Kevin Youkilis, formerly of the Boston Red Sox, to try to fill the hole left by Alex Rodriguez’s injury. The Yankees have long had a reputation for spending whatever it takes to get their man. But the Yankees are only trying to overpay Youkilis because they were rejected by several other third basemen, including Eric Chavez, due to their newfound stinginess.

There can be no mistaking that the Yankees are serious about sticking to their budget, which means Yankee fans will probably not get Josh Hamilton under their Christmas tree (and despite his talent and home-run prowess, I don’t think New York is the right place for him anyway). While a blockbuster move can never be ruled out, I suspect the Yankees are more likely to make do with what they already have.

 ·         The Yankees’ stinginess is making Scott Boras’ job a lot more difficult. He convinced Rafael Soriano to opt out of his contract after Soriano had a terrific year closing games in place of the injured Mariano Rivera. But without the Yankees, Soriano’s market is very limited. I’m sure Boras never expected to see the day when the Yankees closed their wallets this tightly, but now that it’s here, the super agent is going to have to figure out a new strategy to get his clients the megadeals that they have gotten used to.

·         It was nice to see the New York Mets lock up their only remaining franchise player in David Wright. As the Yankees are learning, good third baseman are very expensive and letting Wright test the free agent waters would have bitten the Mets in the ass. Now if they can only get RA Dickey signed to a long-term deal, they can go a long way toward making their disillusioned fan base happy again. I know they can get a nice package in return for Dickey following his Cy Young campaign, but you have to give Mets fans a reason to keep coming to the ballpark and signing Wright alone just won’t do it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Yankees injury news good for Jeter, bad for ARod

So Derek Jeter isn’t fat as the New York Post would have us believe, while Alex Rodriguez was more seriously hurt than any of us knew.

I must admit to finding the Post picture and headline absolutely hilarious and I’m glad the New York Yankees captain has a sense of humor about it too. Let’s face it: if Derek Jeter is out of shape, there is no hope for the rest of us. But Jeter, media savvy guy that he is, could have pulled a Charles Barkley and parlayed that photo into a Weight Watchers endorsement deal if the rumors of his overweight state had not been quickly dispelled by his pal Harold Reynolds on Twitter. I’m kind of disappointed by the quick debunking because I felt like Jeter and I had something in common as I myself have put on a few pounds since my back injury. So I guess this confirms that I have absolutely nothing in common with the Yankee captain, except our mutual love for the Bronx Bombers.

Besides laughing off the fun the Post editors had at his expense, Jeter came out of his offseason seclusion to proclaim that he will be ready for Opening Day 2013. Now when it comes to injuries, we have to take Jeter’s comments with a grain of salt because the captain, seemingly impervious to pain, always says he will play despite whatever injury he is contending with. But Jeter reported that his ankle is healing as expected and he only has a few more weeks to go in his walking boot. If so, that gives him enough time for the intensive rehab that will be needed to ensure that the ankle is in tip-top shape. And knowing Jeter’s discipline and work ethic, I have no doubt he will do whatever it takes to get ready for baseball.

The news was not as good for Alex Rodriguez. He will be out until at least June because of a needed surgery on his left hip, disturbing news considering he has already endured major pain and lost time due to his surgically-repaired right hip. His absence will force the Yankees to find a substitute for the first three months of the season at third base and in the middle of the Yankees lineup.

But I reject the argument that people criticizing ARod for his poor performance in the 2012 playoffs somehow now owe him an apology. We can only make decisions or judgments on performance based on the information at hand and news about this injury did not surface until more than a month after the postseason ended. And ARod is going to have to deal with the fresh round of speculation that his use of steroids has led to his deteriorating physical condition.  But given the chokehold ARod’s contract has on the Yankees payroll, the Yankees have to do everything they can to get him healthy and back on the field, even if he never reclaims his status as baseball’s best player.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Drug cheats will likely miss out on Hall of Fame

Those of us who do not want performance-enhancing drug users to darken the doorstep of the Baseball Hall of Fame apparently have reason to be optimistic about the 2013 voting.

A rather intensive survey by the Associated Press (apparently more thorough than this year’s election polling) demonstrates that Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa, all linked to the use of PEDs in some way, likely have no chance of induction into the Hall this year.

I never expected Sosa to have a real chance at first-ballot induction. Sosa was a one-trick pony (even his hometown baseball writers refuse to vote for him) and that trick was up as soon as he was definitively linked to steroids by the New York Times. But I thought there was a slim chance enough writers would overlook the misdeeds of Bonds and Clemens and focus on their earlier careers, which some argue were Hall of Fame-worthy even before they even turned to drugs. I often want to ask people who make that argument how they know that Bonds and Clemens weren’t dirty, cheating in some form or another, back then. When it comes to those two, they have not earned the benefit of the doubt.

The survey does leave open the possibility of future induction, particularly for Bonds and Clemens, as some writers will simply punish the two by not voting for them on the first ballot. But that’s a question for another day, one that will be debated endlessly if they fail to score the first time around.

But Bill Madden today makes an excellent argument that the debate over the PED cheaters is overshadowing truly deserving Hall candidates such as Jack Morris and Craig Biggio. I was disappointed that Morris, the epitome of a big-game pitcher, did not get in last year, partly because of the anti-induction campaign launched by the stat geeks against his candidacy. But he got just shy of 67% in 2012, which bodes well for his chances in this round of balloting. I’d be surprised if Biggio, with his 3,000+ hits doesn’t make it in, although he could be hurt by voters who don’t believe he is worthy of first-ballot induction. If that’s the case, expect him to come really close in the balloting this year, which sets him up for election in 2014.  

So I won’t just be rooting against Bonds, Clemens and Sosa. I will be cheering hard for Morris and Biggio. Let these two deserving candidates in, writers!
Thanks to Wjmummert via Wikipedia for the Sosa photo.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Mariano Rivera back for final curtain with Yankees?

Mariano Rivera is coming back to the New York Yankees because has way too much pride (the good kind of pride) for his Hall of Fame career to end on the Kansas City warning track. But will this be the final hurrah for the legendary Yankee? I think it could be and we all need to prepare ourselves for that possibility.  

Like with Andy Pettitte, the negotiations on Mariano’s new deal seem to have been relatively painless, even though he took less money to return to the Bronx after his unfortunate knee injury. But once Mo decided on one more year, he and the Yankees quickly came to an agreement because they know that they are meant for each other and that they need each other.

But this has to be a transition year for the Yankees. I suspect Mo is going to call it quits after this season. Even though the pull of baseball is strong, there were signs that the pull of family was getting stronger for Mo. If he is injury free, he will likely put up Mo-like save and ERA numbers and then walk away on a high note. The Yankees are going to have to spend 2013 testing David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain and the rest of their relief core to see who has the guts to step into those legendary shoes.

This is a transition year for Yankee fans as well. We’re going to have to make peace with the fact that in the near future we are not going to have Mariano closing games for us anymore. We’re going to have to live with the sheer nervousness of slim 9th inning leads that other baseball teams navigate on a daily basis, but that we haven’t worried about in 15 years. We’ll just have to enjoy this while it lasts, however much longer that will be.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Gaping hole at catcher for Yankees with Martin exit

I didn’t see this one coming.
In a surprising development, Russell Martin has decided to leave the New York Yankees for the Pittsburgh Pirates after the Yankees told him they could not afford to meet his contractual demands. Of all the notable Yankee free agents this offseason, Martin was probably the last one most people thought would leave New York.

In free agency, a player getting a lucrative offer from another team is always a possibility. But with their resources, the Yankees do not usually get outbid so this is a major surprise. There can now be no doubt that the Yankees are dead serious about coming in below that $189 million payroll threshold, given their unwillingness to match the two-year $17 million deal offered to Martin by the Pirates.

I never wrote much about Russell Martin on this blog, just a few mentions of praise here and there, namely with regard to his selfless decision to step aside and let a young Matt Wieters play in the 2011 All-Star game and about how his plunking helped bring the Yankees closer to together that year. Martin is one of those baseball players who is a steady presence behind the plate, beloved by his pitchers, but usually does his best work with little fanfare. The Yankees are going to miss him, even if he did struggle offensively through the first half of 2012, as their best catching prospects are still years away from the big leagues.  
At least Martin will have a familiar face to catch in Pittsburgh. AJ Burnett is with the Pirates and will probably welcome his former Yankee teammate with open arms.

Godspeed Russell!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Pettitte and Yankees back together again

Well, that was easy!

Less than a day after Andy Pettitte informed the New York Yankees that he has another year of baseball in him, the two sides reached a fair deal that will bring the lefty back to the Bronx.

The deal was easy to negotiate because both sides really wanted each other. Pettitte could have decided to call it quits with no regrets after his comeback this year (he had a good year that was unfortunately interrupted by that freak ankle injury). But when he decided he wanted to keep pitching, the Yankees were the only option for him, especially with Brian Cashman reaching out early in the offseason to make sure Pettitte knew how wide the door was open for a return to the Bronx.

The Yankees desperately needed Pettitte to round out their rotation again. With Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda back in the mix, the Yankees have a solid 1-4 starting rotation and will roll the dice that one of their internal candidates can win the 5th man job. But without Pettitte, the Yankees would have had a gaping hole in the middle of their rotation that would have been costly to fill at a time when they are really trying to stick to a budget.
With the Yankees expected to reach a relatively painless agreement with Mariano Rivera soon, the Key Three (Pettitte, Rivera and Derek Jeter) will be back in the pinstripes together for at least one more year. And that’s critical if the Yankees hope for success in 2013. For all the talk about the Yankees trying to get younger and all the attention Alex Rodriguez and other players receive, the Yankees rely on their core, home-grown veterans more than ever.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Keep the drug cheats out of Baseball Hall of Fame

The next candidates for the Baseball Hall of Fame will be officially announced today, but we already have a good idea of who will make the list. Whether the drug cheats who will appear on the ballot are worthy of induction is another question that for many is difficult to answer, but for me is a no brainer.

I have long argued that baseball players linked to performance-enhancing drugs should not be allowed into the Hall. My position has not changed. But it will be tested for many of the baseball writers now that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens will be on the ballot. There will be some writers who will attempt to separate their supposedly clean years when they started to build their Hall of Fame credentials from the latter years of their careers when they were linked to steroids or human growth hormone. That to me is a futile exercise so I have a hard-and-fast rule: if you cheated, you’re out.

That rule has allowed me to draw an unmovable line in the sand, even with players that I have had a great deal of affection for in the past such as Andy Pettitte (whose apparent decision to return for another year is great news for the New York Yankees). Pettitte, to his credit, admitted that he cheated and will likely be kept out of the Hall, even though his career postseason stats build a solid case for induction. I suspect Pettitte will receive a respectable number of votes given his resume and general likeability, but he will fall far short of the Hall of Fame, as he should.

But Pettitte’s probable return means he won’t even be on the ballot for five years after he decides to retire for good so his candidacy can be debated in future years. The writers will face the more immediate test on Bonds, Clemens and some of their contemporaries. There will be a lot of outside pressure from those who believe that rejecting such dominant players would make the Hall selection process a farce, but I hope the writers stick to their guns and keep the drug cheats out.   
Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the Clemens photo.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Yankees give fans early reason to be thankful

Happy Thanksgiving fellow Yankee fans! Here’s your gift.

The New York Yankees have re-signed pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, who unexpectedly became the #2 man in the starting rotation despite coming from the National League West to the notoriously tough American League East in 2012. Truthfully, Kuroda pitched better than ace CC Sabathia at times and helped the Yankees survive Andy Pettitte’s unfortunate ankle injury. I had the pleasure of watching Kuroda pitch in person several times this year at Yankee Stadium, including in Game 3 of the American League Division Series (forever known as the Raul Ibanez game), and each time he was impressive.

This was a no-brainer for the Yankees. They would have had a sizeable hole in their starting rotation if Kuroda left to return to the West Coast or Japan. And for once the Yankees actually benefitted from baseball’s new labor agreement because it meant that whichever MLB team signed Kuroda would have given up a first-round draft pick, a seemingly high sacrifice for a pitcher they would only have for another year or two tops.  

These contract negotiations usually drag on so it’s nice to see the Yankees reach a deal with such a key player so quickly. Just something else to be thankful for.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Marlins betray South Florida again

Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has screwed his fans over once again.

Loria and his minions have orchestrated yet another trade to rid themselves of their remaining high-priced superstars: Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle. Make no mistake about it, while the Marlins may have gotten some good, young talent from the Toronto Blue Jays, this trade was all about shedding most of the payroll that Loria agreed to take on only a year ago.

Not that many South Floridians are surprised by the salary purge. It has happened to them before twice with the Marlins gutting their team after World Series winning campaigns, most recently in 2003 against the New York Yankees (that one hurt after the thrilling Game 7 defeat of the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series). I suppose the most surprising thing about the move was that Loria didn’t even wait for the team to win a championship before dismantling it.

What probably hurts Marlins fans the most is that they will be paying for this beautiful new ballpark for years, with the costs potentially ballooning to as much as $2.4 billion, due to a deal that was considered both controversial and possibly illegal. And despite the sweetheart deal that gives the Marlins the bulk of the money from their new digs, the city and Major League Baseball do not have much leverage to force the Marlins to spend their cash on their payroll, especially with so many empty seats in the place.  

Marlins fans do share some of the responsibility as attendance was rather underwhelming in the first year of their brand-new ballpark when interest should be the highest, particularly after last off-season’s spending frenzy that bought Reyes and other superstars to Miami. I do give a small pass to Marlins fans in the sense that getting to and from that stadium is a transportation nightmare. Perhaps I’m spoiled by being a Yankees fan with three train lines that run to Yankee Stadium, but not having reliable public transportation to and from the ballpark and major South Florida hot spots seems to be a glaring blunder.

But, as the Tampa Bay Rays have seen for years, Floridians are just not as supportive as they should be even when their baseball teams are highly competitive. It’s probably past time for the Rays, a talented young ballclub, to find a home somewhere else. But with this brand-new ballpark, the Marlins and their fans are stuck with each other. Not exactly a match made in heaven.



Saturday, November 17, 2012

MVP voters miss the boat on Jeter’s value to Yankees

Derek Jeter came in seventh place in the voting for American League Most Valuable Player, three spots behind teammate Robinson Cano. The voters really missed the boat on that one. There’s no way Cano was more valuable to the New York Yankees this year than Jeter.

But Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News got it right. He placed Jeter third on his ballot, behind Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera first and Rookie of the Year Mike Trout second. Cabrera helped the eventual American League champion Detroit Tigers during some very rough patches this year and Trout saved the floundering Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (that name really annoys me, should just call them Anaheim Angels) and made them competitive again. As for the Yankees, they wouldn’t have survived a tough battle with the surprisingly scrappy Baltimore Orioles for division supremacy if it wasn’t for Derek Jeter. He carried the Yankees on his back this year, especially during times when the rest of the lineup, Cano included, disappeared.

Perhaps the voters rewarded Cano over Jeter because of his late-season surge or his sexier power numbers. But I think Feinsand got it right because he covers the team every day and could see how Jeter dragged his bruised and battered body out to shortstop every day. Cano, as great a player as he is, simply doesn’t have those leadership skills that make teammates want to follow him into battle. No one has ever questioned Jeter’s work ethic or his desire (except for George Steinbrenner, of course, who picked on everyone). Cano still regularly faces those questions despite years of putting up great numbers. Not really the definition of a most valuable player.

If you catch a Yankee player in an honest moment, I bet every single one of them would say that Jeter was more valuable than anyone on the team this year, including Cano. It’s too bad the MVP voters missed the boat on this one so badly. Not that Jeter needs to add to his Hall of Fame resume. It just would have been nice if most of the voters had gotten this one right.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Dickey lone bright spot in bad season for Mets

A hearty congratulations goes out to RA Dickey for capturing the National League Cy Young award in a decisive victory.

Dickey was the lone bright spot in a bad season for the New York Mets, the only reason I even bothered to watch Mets games this season (when they weren’t playing the New York Yankees of course). He joined legendary Hall of Famer Tom Seaver and Dwight Gooden as the only Cy Young award winners in New York Mets history by winning 20 games – on a bad Mets team that only won 74 games – and leading the National League in strikeouts, innings, complete games and shutouts.  

Aside from now being an award-winning pitcher, Dickey is a remarkable human being. He literally has climbed the highest mountains to help others. His bravery in writing a book detailing the sexual abuse he suffered as a child should be acknowledged and rewarded.

But that’s not why Dickey won the award. His was a season for the ages and deserved the recognition. It’s just too bad it happened in such a down year for the Mets. But it did give Mets fans something to hold on to and that should be celebrated.

Thanks to dbking via Wikipedia for the RA Dickey photo.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Shocker! Trout, Harper Rookies of the Year

Congratulations to Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, two young players who brought a lot of excitement back to the game of baseball, for their Rookie of the Year victories.

I had the pleasure of watching Harper play in his hometown when I went to a game at the Nationals ballpark in Washington, DC during the last week of the regular season (more from that visit later). What was really cool was the way the crowd embraced their players, especially Harper. There was a noticeable jump in energy every time he stepped up to the plate, even though he didn’t have a great game.

The New York Yankees don’t have the equivalent of a Harper or Trout, that very young exciting baseball player that completely energizes the crowd. They haven’t had that since a young Derek Jeter came on to the scene to take over the shortstop gig in 1996, becoming a unanimous Rookie of the Year winner himself in the process. Jeter is now a legendary veteran and a future Hall of Famer and while his importance to the Yankees cannot be overstated, he naturally doesn’t generate the same surge of excitement as he did when he first came on the scene.

Robinson Cano is a great talent, but his manner of play doesn’t elicit tremendous enthusiasm from the Yankees faithful, some of whom view him as lazy or just too laid back. And it’s not even clear if the Yankees will be able to hold on to Cano when he becomes a free agent next year, given what we’re hearing about his agent Scott Boras’ demands and the Yankees hard line on payroll. Of course, this is all early posturing, but it does not bode well for the possibility of a contract deal both sides can live with.

Brian Cashman has said he will not de-age his roster just for the sake of doing so, meaning that older veterans will likely continue to be the norm for the Yankees (not that they have a lot of choice given the contracts they are locked into). That’s a shame because young blood like Trout and Harper can do a lot to energize an aging team and their fans.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Sad divorce for Jason Bay and Mets

Talk about a marriage that was doomed from the start.

The New York Mets have announced that they are parting ways with outfielder Jason Bay after three years of marriage. It’s not a surprising announcement given that Bay never turned into the player the Mets were paying him to be. And of late the Mets have been perfectly willing to eat contracts just to get a declining or problematic player off their roster.

It was never clear that Bay really wanted to play in Queens. He waited three weeks before accepting the Mets’ contract offer back in 2009. At his introductory press conference, Bay insisted that he really did want to play for the Mets. But I always had the impression that Bay only signed with the Mets because he could not get a better offer from the Boston Red Sox, even though he was a New York Yankees killer in his time with the Saux. I was perfectly happy to see him land in Queens, preferring the Yankees only face him six times a year instead of 19.

It’s really sad that the marriage between the Mets and Jason Bay didn’t work out. But the upside of a divorce is that both parties can make a fresh start. Hopefully, Bay will find his old self in a different uniform and the Mets can open up his spot to someone who can make a difference in that lineup.
Thanks to slgckgc via Wikipedia for the Jason Bay photo.  

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Soria to replace Soriano with Yankees?

It’s starting to look more and more likely that the New York Yankees will hire a new guy to set up for Mariano Rivera.
Rivera’s decision not to retire was very welcome, especially by yours truly. But it did quickly take the fun out of what would have been a fascinating negotiation between the Yankees and Scott Boras, with Boras eager to help the Yankees spend their millions to preserve their brand (translation: to help Rafael Soriano strike it rich again). Since the Yankees seem relatively confident that Mo will recover from his injury, the only question left by letting Soriano walk is who takes his place as the primary set-up man and replacement for Mo if he can’t pitch for whatever reason. If you believe Joakim Soria’s agent, and you should take anything any agent says with a grain of salt, Soria wants to be that guy.

The Yankees have been infatuated with Soria for years, reportedly once trying to trade then top-prospect Jesus Montero for him. They were never able to pry him away from the Kansas City Royals, but now that he is a free agent, perhaps he is eager to leave KC for the bright lights of the Big Apple. Soria apparently worships Mo and would be willing to relinquish his job as a closer just to pitch alongside the Yankees legendary closer, according to this report. And Mariano, being the great guy and teammate that he is, would happily mentor the youngster who could one day permanently take his place, just as he has mentored David Robertson and other young Yankee pitchers.
It seems like Soria could be a good fit for the Yankees. But it’s a big question if he will sign a contract of the length and money that fits within the Yankees newfound budget austerity. I hope it comes together. Stay tuned, folks and Happy Election Day. Go vote!

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the photo.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sigh of relief as Mo will return to Yankees

I’m breathing a huge sigh of relief now that Mariano Rivera has decided he will return to the New York Yankees for at least one more year.

In my heart, I know that the day will come when Mo decides to hang up his spikes and go home to his family for good. But I’m not quite ready for that so I anxiously awaited word about whether Mariano would call it quits or come back to close games for the only team he has ever played for.

All Brian Cashman was waiting for was Mo’s decision. Now that Mo has made that choice, Cashman has indicated that he and Mariano’s agent will move quickly to finalize a new deal for the Yankees legendary closer. Mo’s return from his devastating injury does not appear to be a major obstacle as Joe Girardi & Co were pleased with the progress Mariano was making in his rehab. Mo’s last contract negotiations also went so smoothly, they were over before you could even blink, namely because Mariano, probably generous to a fault, had no desire to squeeze every last dollar from the Yankees, even though he had so much leverage over his team (including competing interest from the Boston Red Sox).

Mo’s return warms my heart, but Scott Boras probably didn’t have the same feelings of joy when he heard the news. Boras would have had tremendous leverage to negotiate a rich, multi-year deal for his client Rafael Soriano had Mariano decided to retire. But the chances of Soriano staying with the Yankees took a significant hit once Mo decided to come back. Hal Steinbrenner seems determined to get to that $189 million payroll threshold, which means he will not be able to pay both Rivera and Soriano $14-$15 million each. He’s going to have to choose one and Cashman’s public eagerness to work up a new deal for Mo tells me the Yankees have already made their choice.

Not that there’s much of a choice to be made. Soriano filled in nicely and I wish him well, but there is only one Mariano Rivera and he will be back where he belongs next year, on a mound for the New York Yankees. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Game on for Yankees and Rafael Soriano

Rafael Soriano officially opted out of his contract with the New York Yankees yesterday. That means the chess game between his camp and the Evil Empire (I’ve always loved that nickname) starts now.

I can’t blame Soriano for wanting a richer deal after the year he had, seamlessly stepping into Mariano Rivera’s legendary shoes to help the Yankees clinch the American League East title. But unlike during his last free agency, Soriano and his agent Scott Boras should not expect a last-minute lucrative offer from the Yankees to bail them out.

When Hal Steinbrenner signed Soriano, he did so over the objections of general manager Brian Cashman, who thought it was a mistake to lose a draft pick to sign Soriano as a set-up man and openly said so. I doubt Steinbrenner is going to overrule Cashman this time around, especially if he expects the general manager to meet his mandate to cut payroll to that $189 million threshold and avoid the penalties that would come due under the new collective bargaining agreement. The Yankees don’t have a lot of payroll flexibility and letting Soriano walk away would help reduce their salary commitments.

But Soriano and Boras do have the leverage of uncertainty surrounding Mariano Rivera, both on his desire to pitch for another year and his recovery from a devastating knee injury. It’s still unclear what Mo’s plans are and while I hope he returns to the Yankees, Cashman & Co might be worried about not having a closer if he ultimately decides to retire and may give in to Boras demands.

These negotiations will be fascinating. Let the battle begin!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Yankees set 2013 plan in motion

We don’t know all the details yet, of course, but the New York Yankees have finally put their plan for the 2013 baseball season in motion.

The first element of the plan was picking up the options on second baseman Robinson Cano and center fielder Curtis Granderson. Picking up Cano’s option was a no brainer, even though his agent Scott Boras had been clamoring for a multi-year extension, which the Yankees were unwilling to do right now. I’m slightly surprised they were so quick to pick up Granderson’s option, but the Yankees could have decided to give him another year to right himself, meaning to correct the bad tendencies that made him a swing-and-miss hitter, before they let him walk as a free agent. There is also speculation that Granderson could be traded, which would not surprise me in the least.

So what’s next? The next news out of Yankees land will likely be Rafael Soriano officially opting out of his deal to secure a rich, multi-year contract after his successful year closing games for the Yankees. But I don’t think the situation will be resolved anytime soon, not until Mariano Rivera commits to another year or retirement. And we’ll know soon enough if the Yankees, as expected, decline to retain Nick Swisher’s services, although this seems like a foregone conclusion given his constant struggles in the playoffs.

The Yankees will have to decide what to do with their other free agents or players just a year away from free agency such as Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain. There seems to be a movement to send these two out the door in exchange for cheaper talent. I’m frankly surprised at how eager people are to get rid of two young, but experienced pitchers. I know they are going to cost money when they hit free agency, but I doubt the Yankees are willing to bid adieu to either one just yet, especially Hughes, who at times this year pitched like the top-flight starter the Yankees projected him to be. The Yankees will likely give these two one more year to prove that they can consistently perform in the Bronx.

Given that the Yankees failed in their quest to win another World Series championship, I expect some major changes. It will be interesting to see who the Yankees show the door. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

SF Giants creating a new baseball dynasty?

Congratulations to the San Francisco Giants on their second World Series championship in three years!

It is truly an impressive feat in this day and age with multiple rounds of playoff baseball. Perhaps the Giants will emulate the New York Yankees of the late 1990s in creating a new baseball dynasty, with strong starting pitching and bullpen relief and timely hitting in the clutch by position players, many of whom are not superstars, who are unafraid of the spotlight.

I must say that I was very surprised that the Giants were able to sweep the Detroit Tigers. I expected the series to be more competitive, thinking that it would go at least six games. But Justin Verlander getting smacked around in Game 1 was a dagger to the heart and the Tigers never really did recover despite better starting pitching from the rest of the rotation. And Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder picked the absolute worst time to slump. Or perhaps the Giants pitching is really that good, much better than anyone has really given them credit for.

I guess the one upside of the Yankees not winning the World Series this year is that there is no victory parade for Hurricane Sandy to crash. Stay safe folks!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

ARod gets unfair share of the blame

Alex Rodriguez is taking the brunt of the criticism for the New York Yankees embarrassing collapse this season and while he deserves some of the blame, some things are just unfair.

ARod doesn’t help his cause by being clueless to the consequences of his actions, whether he is trying to hook up with a good-looking woman during a playoff game or waving to his mother on national television (never seen any Yankees bench players do that and they sit a hell of a lot more than ARod does). His obliviousness is part of the reason why silly stories about ARod gain so much traction, like the one about Yankees manager Joe Girardi calling the press box to avoid causing ARod further embarrassment after pinch hitting for him. It furthers the impression of ARod as a self-centered child who needs to be coddled by his bosses, something the Yankees would not even bother to do with any other player.

Don’t get me wrong. I think ARod should waive his no-trade clause and leave New York, not just for the New York Yankees sake, but for his own. But I don’t think everyone’s focus should be on him. How about directing some of that anger and vitriol toward Nick Swisher, who had yet another bad postseason and showed that he too, like ARod, has a pretty thin skin when he complained about the loud boos heaped upon the Yankees by a fan base tired of paying exorbitant prices to see the Yankees underachieve in October? Perhaps it’s because the free agent right fielder probably was destined for a one-way ticket out of New York anyway. So what about Curtis Granderson, who after years of claiming not to be a home run hitter, turned into exactly that, to the detriment of the rest of his game? Why aren’t they getting their fair share of the blame? Because ARod is the easiest, richest target, one that Yankee fans will continue to resent if they feel his diminishing skills and payroll-strangling salary will keep the Yankees from another World Series.

Hopefully ARod will take the extra time he has this offseason to decide he could use with a fresh start. It is time for ARod and the Yankees to part ways, but he’s not the only one the Yankees should bid goodbye.