Sunday, March 17, 2013

Are ARod and Braun on baseball’s hit list?

Major League Baseball has its sights set on punishing Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun for their connections to a Miami clinic being investigated for distributing performance-enhancing drugs, according to a short Tweet from TJ Quinn of ESPN.  

It’s much easier to go after minor leaguers who don’t have the protection of baseball’s strong players union, but it seems that this first suspension related to the Miami scandal is a warning shot that MLB is completely committed to gathering the evidence needed to go after these alleged PED cheats.

A lot of news is broken on social media these days, but given that this is a Tweet limited to 140 characters, it is pretty short on specifics. We do not know how close Major League Baseball is to having enough evidence to punish ARod, an admitted steroid cheat, and Braun, who disrupted baseball’s entire testing system in an attempt to prove his innocence.

But I hope they have enough evidence to suspend both of them for a long time. Braun angered even fellow baseball players by his selfish attempt to bring down the whole system to get off the hook. ARod has pissed off many people inside and outside the New York Yankees organization with his unending drama, rapidly deteriorating health and onerous contract. I think the Yankees would be thrilled if ARod was suspended for baseball, even if it’s just for 50 games and not enough to void that contract, because it would get him out of their hair for a while. Notice how we have barely heard a peep out of ARod, who is not even rehabilitating with the team, and how that has limited much of the off-the-field drama for the Yankees. If it weren’t for all the injuries, the Yankees would be quite boring these days.  

Both ARod and Braun have the money and manpower to fight potential suspensions and we all know Braun will go to any lengths to avoid punishment. But if I was Braun, I wouldn’t count on getting off on a technicality this time. Major League Baseball will build an airtight case before it goes after either one of them. I really hope baseball officials can get there.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Team USA's Classic exit disappointing

I have to admit that I have only watched one 2013 World Baseball Classic game so far and it was between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic so I was not at all invested in Team USA’s short-lived run. But I find the news that the USA has once again been bounced from the Classic in the second round disappointing and perplexing.

I really don’t understand why the USA doesn’t perform better in this tournament. I know that Major League Baseball teams resist the idea of having their players participate, which has kept many good American players out of the tournament. Andy Pettitte chose to forgo the WBC even though he clearly wanted to play for Team USA because of the concerns expressed by the New York Yankees. But other WBC teams face the same problem so that’s not much of an excuse. Yu Darvish declined to pitch for Team Japan out of loyalty to the Texas Rangers.

I don’t think USA players are any less patriotic than players on the other teams. Derek Jeter took great pride in representing the USA during previous WBC tournaments. But there doesn’t seem to be the same passion out of the US, both by the players and the fans, as there is from the other WBC participants. The joyful celebrations by teams moving on in the tournament clearly shows that victory in the WBC means a lot to both their players and their people.

So while I do find Team USA’s relatively early WBC exit disappointing, I’ll get over it pretty quickly. I have a lot of Syracuse Orange basketball to keep me busy and entertained. Good luck to my Orange in the Big East tournament final tonight after vanquishing the hated Georgetown Hoyas.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Jeter taking important steps on road to recovery

I have been preoccupied with Mariano Rivera’s retirement announcement, but it did not escape my attention that Derek Jeter is taking important steps on the road to recovery.

The New York Yankees Captain got some great news last week from his doctor, who pronounced Jeter’s ankle 100% healed. He then experienced his first game action in months on Saturday, hitting a single on the first pitch in his first spring training game. Jeter has only had a handful of at-bats as the designated hitter so far, but we will likely see him in the field on Wednesday. For an injury battered team, the image of Jeter retaking his rightful position at shortstop will be a welcome relief.

Testing the ankle in the field is another important step toward demonstrating that Jeter will be able to honor his pledge to be ready for Opening Day. He has consistently stated that he plans to man the shortstop position for that first game against the Boston Red Sox. We have to hope that will be the case, even if he needs a few extra weeks in April to get back to full form.

But I also hope that Jeter doesn’t push himself too hard in service to that goal. I’d rather live without him for a week or two early in the baseball season than lose him at the most critical moment like we did last October.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Baseball world rushes to celebrate Mariano Rivera

The praise and accolades for Mariano Rivera flowed in from all over the baseball world.

Mo’s official announcement of his retirement following the 2013 baseball season prompted teammates, competitors and opposing managers all across the United States to pay tribute to a man who will go down in baseball history as the greatest closer ever.

Even former Boston Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbum, excuse me, Papelbon (sorry, old habits die hard), rushed to embrace Mo. Papelbon, who now closes games for the Philadelphia Phillies, calls Mariano Rivera the Godfather. It’s a nickname that fits, despite Mo’s good nature, because he is ruthless and unforgiving on a baseball mound.

About the only one to voice anything close to negativity was, ironically, former New York Yankees great Goose Gossage. I understand his frustration as he feels that praising Mariano as the greatest closer ever diminishes what he and others did in the role. But I think it’s possible to appreciate what closers of Goose’s era did while acknowledging that Mo’s postseason dominance allows him to shine above all others. And even Goose’s relatively mild criticism was coupled with extensive praise for Mo’s role as the best possible role model for young relievers such as David Robertson and Joba Chamberlain.

Mo’s eagerness to work with youngsters, as he voiced during his press conference yesterday, is one of the personal factors that help him shine above the rest. He has this tremendous talent and impeccable mindset. But instead of hoarding his wisdom, Mo shared it with anyone who would listen, including Papelbon, who was then closing games for the Yankees’ fiercest rival. It’s one of the many reasons why so many people have been so outspoken in professing their respect and admiration for the great Rivera and vowing to enjoy the last year he will give us.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Mariano wants Yankee fans to be happy

I’m going to try really hard not to be sad because Mariano Rivera asked us not to be sad about his retirement.

“It’s not a moment of sadness,” he said in Spanish during his press conference to officially announce his retirement. “It’s a moment of joy.”

I am definitely happy for Mo because he seems to be so at peace with his decision and, as his teammate and long-time friend/brother Derek Jeter said, he deserves to go out on his own terms. He has given us so much joy over the years, so many amazing moments, and for that I am incredibly grateful. I’m going to try to enjoy the last year of Mariano’s career, where he will draw accolades all over the major leagues, not just for his accomplishments on the field, but for the type of person he is and the way he respects and represents the game of baseball. I will try not to be sad thinking about how we will never see him again on a baseball mound after 2013 and how we will never ever see anyone else like him.

It’s says a lot about Mariano Rivera as a person that the entire New York Yankees team attended his press conference. Mo is known for being a fiercely loyal and supportive teammate and it warmed my heart to see all of his teammates respond in kind. Mo is a humble guy, but it obviously meant a lot to him to receive that type of love and support from his baseball family.

Mariano was asked if there was a message he wanted to send to Yankee fans. “I would tell the Yankee fans that I love them so much,” he quickly responded.

The feeling is mutual, Mo.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Sad day in Yankee land as Rivera to call it quits

I knew the day I long dreaded would come, but now that it’s here, it really stings.

Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer in baseball history and one of the all-time great members of the New York Yankees, is expected to announce that he will retire after the 2013 season. The news is not at all surprising as he has talked openly about wanting to be a full-time family man for years. He probably would have retired after last season if not for that horrific crash on the Kansas City warning track. Mo was just too much of a legend to go out that way, for his last appearance at Yankee Stadium to be a ceremonial first pitch rather than the last pitch of yet another victorious season.

I just hope the Yankees can give him the sendoff Mariano deserves, one last World Series Championship before he goes home to his family for good. I’m starting to doubt that the team is good enough to do that this year, but I have no doubts whatsoever that Mo will go out with yet another dominant season under his belt that will further solidify his mark on baseball’s record books and in the minds of all of us who were lucky enough to watch him pitch.

After this season, we spoiled Yankee fans are going to find out what it feels like to deal with a mortal closer, a fate that we have been spared for more than 15 years because of Rivera’s calmness and consistency. Whether it’s David Robertson or Joba Chamberlain or some other reliever who will step into Mo’s shoes, we are just not going to have the same safe feelings about the ninth inning as we have had in all the years that Mo was handed the ball.

I love the line in the New York Times story about the possibility of Rivera changing his mind between now and Saturday because I think it sums up what all of us Yankee fans are feeling: that small glimmer of hope that Mariano will decide he simply cannot walk away from the game of baseball just yet. But he’s given us so much already that as much as I will miss the thrill of hearing Enter Sandman and knowing Mo is coming into the game to shut another team down, I will choose to be incredibly grateful for what he has given us already and wish him well in his life after baseball.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Yankees world according to Hal


Hal Steinbrenner gave an interesting if not terribly insightful interview to the Daily News’ Mark Feinsand in which he discussed many topics of importance to fans of the New York Yankees. But a few of his comments are worth highlighting:

 

·         Steinbrenner talked about how important it is that Derek Jeter retire as a lifetime Yankee. Re-signing Jeter will be a major priority for the Yankees if he declines his $8 million option after this season, which I suspect he will if he has another strong year. The Yankees don’t have a good replacement for Jeter, unless you consider defensively challenged Eduardo Nunez to be a viable candidate. The last contract negotiations left Jeter bruised and angry and I doubt that he is going to be very eager to give the Yankees a hometown discount. But Steinbrenner said the Yankees are going to do what they tried to do during the last round of negotiations, which isn’t very promising considering the Yankees let the supposedly private talks become very public and nasty. Hal has insisted that Jeter’s agent started the fight, which is illogical when you take a close look at the timeline of comments and the fact that he was the first to speak publicly about the negotiations, not Casey Close. If Hal refuses to take responsibility for his role in that ugly situation, I don't see much hope of preventing a similarly nasty disagreement with the Yankees Captain down the road.

 

·         The Yankees managing general partner reiterated that the $189 million payroll target to get the Yankees out of those annoying luxury tax repayments remains the goal and firmly stated that he does not believe a team needs a $200 million payroll to win the World Series. Spoken like a true businessman, though his father George Steinbrenner is probably spinning in his grave. However, Hal said that the team will absolutely not sacrifice fielding a championship-caliber team to reach this $189 million target. He also thinks he can get below that figure even though he will need a lot of cash to re-sign Robinson Cano and Phil Hughes. Personally, I don’t understand how Hal thinks he can have it both ways. He seems to be banking on the Yankees young pitching talent – Ivan Nova, David Phelps and Michael Pineda – making an impact in the next few years at relatively cheap prices. But the Yankees haven’t historically had much success relying on young starters so it seems a stretch to think that they can fill the void for a contending team.

 

·         Steinbrenner hit back at criticisms that the price of attending Yankee games is way too expensive. He argued that half of the Stadium seats are $50 or less and that the Yankees took on a lot of debt to pay for the brand-new ballpark. I understand his argument, but he has to understand that these are still economically-challenging times for fans, despite the soaring stock markets. If faced with the choice of paying rent, food and other bills or going to a Yankees game, the vast majority of fans are going to make the right choice and forgo the game. I myself will likely attend the fewest number of games this year than I ever have in my years as a Yankee fan and most of that decision will be driven by the costs.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Is Teixeira injury the death knell for Yankees?

It’s starting to feel like the New York Yankees season is over before it even starts.

I’m not normally a negative person, but I can’t help feeling that the spate of injuries to key Yankee players is a sign of things to come for the 2013 baseball season. First, Phil Hughes went down for a few weeks with a freak back injury, but at least things look promising for a relatively quick comeback for the youngster. Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira are not so lucky.

Granderson suffered a broken arm during his first at-bat in spring training, an injury that will likely keep him out until mid-May. Now Tex, who was excited to represent Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, is sidelined for at least two months with a strained right wrist. I praised the Yankees for being cautious with their injured players the other day and I’m sure we won’t see either Granderson or Tex before they are fully healed.

But what do the Yankees do in the meantime? In what is expected to be an ultracompetitive American League East, they cannot tread water for the first month of the season and hope reinforcements arrive sooner than expected. Their internal options to replace Granderson are mediocre at best, but their first base choices are much worse because their best option is moving Kevin Youkilis, who was hired to fill in for the already injured Alex Rodriguez at third, across the diamond.

Since this is the Yankees, commentators are already loudly calling for a trade. Mike Francesa was incredulous about the notion that the Yankees could stand pat and wait until the end of the month to see who other teams let go. He thinks they have to make a big move and suggested Justin Morneau, who actually wouldn’t be a bad idea given that he’s got only one year left on his contract and the Minnesota Twins are not expected to contend this year. But the Twins would sense desperation on the Yankees part and hold them up for the Yankees’ best prospects. The Yankees hierarchy would fiercely resist giving up any of their good young talent, but they may not have a choice this time.

Maybe these injuries are just a sign that this isn’t going to be the Yankees year. I’ve seen crazier things happen so I’m not going to give up on the idea that the Yankees will compete for a title. But I’m a little less excited about the 2013 baseball season than I was a week ago.  

Monday, March 4, 2013

Mets wrong to publicly criticize Johan Santana

I know the New York Mets have to do something to keep people interested, but picking a fight with the team’s ace seems like a pretty bad move.

Johan Santana, once again the ace of the Mets pitching staff after RA Dickey was traded to Toronto, came into spring training still trying to fully recover from the shoulder surgery that caused him to miss most of the last two seasons. I’m sure Santana didn’t expect to be criticized by his general manager Sandy Alderson for supposedly coming into camp out of shape. If Alderson had any problems with the way Santana handled his offseason training, or lack thereof, he should have taken it up with Santana and his agent privately rather than igniting a media controversy that pissed off his ace.

Sometimes managers, general managers or baseball owners will criticize players in the media as a way of motivating them. New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was a master at this as proven by his “fat toad” comment about a hefty Hideki Irabu or his condemnation of the relatively vanilla Derek Jeter for his supposed late-night partying. It’s unclear if Alderson was trying to pull a Steinbrenner to motivate Santana, a guy the Mets will need to pitch well if they have any chance of contending. If that’s the case, the criticism clearly had the desired short-term effect of getting Santana back up on the mound.

But I think public criticisms of baseball players tend to have a negative effect on the long-term relationships between ballclubs and players. Do you think there’s any chance Jeter has forgiven or forgotten the remarks by his general manager Brian Cashman during the negotiations for his last contract? If Jeter has another big season this year and declines his 2014 option, rest assured the Yankees won’t be getting the hometown discount that they’ll be looking for.

At least the Yankees don’t demand that their players play hurt. Unlike the Mets, the Yankees tendency is to hold a player back for his own good as they are now doing with Phil Hughes and his injured back. The Mets, for some reason, do just the opposite. They would rather a player go out and risk further injury rather than letting him take time to heal (they better hope Santana didn’t injury himself trying to prove his general manager wrong). The Mets would prefer to publicly criticize players who do not succumb to their demands. At least this time, Alderson put his name to the criticisms rather than engaging in an anonymous smear campaign. But it still seems like the wrong approach.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Random Yankees thoughts: spring training sequel

Despite what Joel Sherman says, I don’t think the New York Yankees are tired of Joba Chamberlain. I think Sherman is tired of Joba Chamberlain. The New York Post columnist launched a bizarre public attack criticizing Joba for acting childlike, which is a silly argument to me considering these guys are playing a game for a living. So what if Joba is loud in the clubhouse or expresses his preference to start or close baseball games? He is well within his right to express his opinions, just like the Yankees are well within their rights to ignore them, just as Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi did.

Sherman is a columnist these days, but it still seems strange that he would take such a personal shot at a baseball player he has to cover. It’s more of an attack on his character, not his pitching, and for no other reason than Sherman doesn’t like want he perceives as Joba’s act. Opposing players have never liked Joba’s antics on the mound, but I haven’t heard any of his teammates or bosses complain so I’m going to disregard Sherman’s criticisms, as should Joba.

·         Alex Rodriguez is a constant magnet for criticism so it was no surprise to see all the coverage of the Boston Globe report that listed him as one of the professional athletes whose charity didn’t give as much money away as it should. These types of stories gain traction simply because people hate ARod, but some things are just unfair. Granted, his charity was not as efficient as it should be, but it’s not like he was pocketing the money for himself. And when he realized it wasn’t working out, he shut down the charity and gave millions directly to good organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club. He should get credit for realizing that running his own charity wasn’t the right path for him and finding other ways to give back to the community.
 
·         Derek Jeter is spending a lot of his time this spring training trying to reassure the world that he is healthy and will be ready for Opening Day. He was a guest on the Mike Francesa show this week and the very first question he got from MF was about his health. The Yankees Captain said he immediately knew the injury was bad and the ankle was broken last October. But he quickly moved on to reassuring all of Yankee land that he will ready to man shortstop come April 1. Jeter has an extreme tolerance for pain and supreme confidence in his own abilities so I’m going to take him at his word that he will be ready to go.

 

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Clean players sick of baseball cheaters


Mark Teixeira gave voice to the sentiments of hundreds of his fellow clean colleagues all around baseball when he expressed his disdain for and frustration with the players who still try to cheat the system.

Tex is clearly not alone in this sentiment as union boss Michael Weiner admitted that he is hearing from players who are sick of talking about the use of PEDs in baseball. It seems that the Miami clinic scandal in which New York Yankees Alex Rodriguez and Francisco Cervelli have been embroiled in is the final straw for many players, who are now exercising their First Amendment rights to speak up in favor of stiffer punishment. Until recently, the players’ union was dead set against such penalties, but if the vast majority of baseball players say they want tougher testing and penalties, the union’s continued resistance will be futile.

I do disagree with Tex in the sense that I think baseball definitely needs stiffer penalties. Players are clearly not deterred enough by the 50-game suspension penalty. Look at Melky Cabrera. He sat out his 50 games, gave up any right to the National League batting title (which I give him some credit for) and had to watch his team win another World Series without him. And yet he was still rewarded with a solid, two-year contract from the Toronto Blue Jays. That, to me, is a joke and perhaps the Jays would not have been so eager to sign him if he was still under suspension.

I’d like to see players forced to sit out, without pay of course, half a season for a first offense, a full year for the second offense and keep the lifetime ban if they get caught a third time. Tex is right that cheaters will always try to figure out a way to game the system, no matter what changes are made. But there has to be a greater financial incentive to try to keep them honest. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Who will replace Curtis Granderson?

For the record, I would be shocked if the New York Yankees took Johnny Damon up on his offer to cover for Curtis Granderson for the first month of the 2013 baseball season.

Nor do I believe we are primed for an Alfonso Soriano return to the Bronx, even if the Chicago Cubs decide to kick in some salary to move him. But the quest to replace Granderson is on, a mere two days after Grandy had the rotten luck of getting hit by a pitch and breaking his arm in his first spring training at-bat.

I expect the Yankees to turn to one of their internal candidates since his disabled list stint is only supposed to keep him out for the first five weeks of the regular season. None of the potential candidates – Juan Rivera, Melky Mesa or Matt Diaz – will put up Grandy-like numbers, but I’m sure one or a combination of them could hold down the fort for a month.  

The Yankees have been committed to reducing their payroll and adding another high-priced, aging player goes against that plan. But a recent report indicated that Hal Steinbrenner may be spooked by reaction to that plan and indifference toward the team shown by fans of late, as demonstrated by the empty seats in the ballpark in October. While I do believe he is willing to pay to keep Robinson Cano after this season, I don’t think this means Steinbrenner will open up his wallet to pursue another star outfielder to deal with what is essentially a short-term problem.

Bottom line, Yankees spring training games will be worth watching to see which outfielder can step up and replace Grandy, just for a little while.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Random Yankees thoughts: spring training edition

There can be only one Evil Empire.

I know the nickname was meant to insult the New York Yankees, but I have always loved it and many Yankee fans and the organization itself have embraced it. Now, even the law recognizes that the Yankees are in fact the Evil Empire and are entitled to legal protection for the nickname. I guess we should thank Boston Red Sox President Larry Lucchino for pinning the moniker on the Yankees (and for the profits that came with it).

·         I love Lady Gaga’s music although I’m not always crazy about her antics. Still, I was looking forward to going to her concert at the Barclays Center (my first time checking out the new arena) with my sister. Unfortunately, Gaga’s hip injury and subsequent surgery put the kibosh on those plans. Never to fear because Alex Rodriguez is on the case. The Yankees third baseman reportedly spoke to Gaga (an archenemy of ARod’s supposed one-time paramour Madonna) to reassure her about the procedure. I’m hoping Gaga makes a quick recovery and can resume her tour in 2013. But the best things come to those who wait. I attended a U2 concert almost exactly a year after it was first scheduled due to Bono’s back injury and it was definitely worth the wait.  

·         So a Core Four reunion is not in the cards. Jorge Posada has vowed that he will not pull an Andy Pettitte and un-retire after a year away from baseball. Not even the pull of another spring training with his best pal Derek Jeter could lure him away from the happy home life he is enjoying. If Posada was still capable of playing at his level, he would have a real shot at his old job with the Yankees, who will likely be desperate for offense and don’t really have a #1 catcher now that Russell Martin has joined AJ Burnett in Pittsburgh.   

 ·         I’m generally in favor of the planned switch of outfield positions for Curtis Granderson and Brett Gardner as Gardy has more speed and is clearly the better fielder. I do worry that Granderson, in having to learn how to play a notoriously difficult left field at Yankee Stadium, will let any defensive challenges affect him at the plate, where he will be counted on to produce for the often offensively challenged Yankees. However, Mike Cameron raised a potential safety issue in making the switch, with Granderson having to relinquish his take-charge mentality in the outfield to avoid a collision similar to the one Cameron experienced with New York Mets teammate Carlos Beltran. I distinctly remember that terrifying accident and pray nothing even remotely close to it happens to Granderson and Gardner.  

Friday, February 22, 2013

Disappointing early setback for Hughes

This is the year Phil Hughes was planning to take control of his own destiny, perhaps even finally becoming the #1 starter the New York Yankees once projected him to be. So I can only imagine how disappointed he must be that he has to sit out the next two weeks with a back injury.

His 2013 campaign got off to a very rocky start when he was diagnosed with a bulging disc, an injury he sustained during a routine training drill. Hughes has a history of injury problems and his manager Joe Girardi admitted that this latest injury is something to worry about. The righty is being counted on to provide youth and stability to a baseball rotation whose top three starters are either older or coming off surgery so the early setback for Hughes is not a good sign.

The timing for Hughes also couldn’t be any worse in the sense that he is one season away from free agency. He is one of the few Yankees that can be counted on for an honest answer so I wasn’t surprised to see him admit that he was watching the free agent market this past offseason and admiring the contracts other pitchers were getting. I’m sure he is looking forward toward a similar payout after the 2013 season (although his $7 million+ salary for this year is nothing to sniff at). Hughes has a solid resume and youth on his side, but his injury history would likely be a major question mark for teams considering long-term bids for his services.

Perhaps Hughes will sit out the next two weeks and fully recover in time to slot into the Yankees rotation as planned. He is definitely helped by the fact that the injury occurred very early in spring training and that he came into camp in pretty good shape. But I can’t help but wonder if Hughes is destined to suffer these strange injuries throughout his career. I hope that’s not the case because he has shown us flashes of brilliance. Hopefully, this is just a disappointing setback for him, one to be quickly overcome.   

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Jeter’s recovery top baseball story for Yankees

Put aside the salacious revelations of the potential connections of Alex Rodriguez and Francisco Cervelli to a Miami clinic suspected of dispensing performance-enhancing drugs. Never mind the feud and subsequent burying of the hatchet between Joba Chamberlain and his new teammate Kevin Youkilis. The most important baseball story so far this spring training by far for the New York Yankees has been the recovery of Derek Jeter.

I can understand why the media is obsessing with the Yankee Captain’s every move on the field. With ARod down for at least half a season, Nick Swisher playing the outfield for the Cleveland Indians and Russell Martin catching his old pal AJ Burnett in Pittsburgh, the Yankees are going to have to squeeze offense out of every position. The Yankees will desperately need Jeter to have a season like he had last year before getting hurt, the kind of season in which he carries the team with his clutch hitting and defense while his teammates struggle mightily, which will no doubt happen again this year. Jeter has to be healthy and he has to be Derek Jeter or the Yankees don’t have a chance in 2013.

But I really worry about his health. I hope Derek learned a valuable lesson about not pushing himself too hard. He admitted he played the last two months of the 2012 regular season and into the playoffs on an injured ankle even though he probably shouldn’t have. Jeter is, in a sense, a hostage to his own toughness because he firmly believes that if a baseball player can walk, he should be out on the field. I’ve long admired his ability to ignore pain and man the shortstop position every day, but I think it leads to too many situations where he plays baseball when he shouldn’t. It finally cost him last October.

Jeter’s rehabilitation has gotten even more attention than Mariano Rivera’s comeback, perhaps because Mo’s injury happened way back in May of last year while the image of Jeter writhing on the ground in unbearable pain is fresh in our minds. Whatever the reason, no one on the Yankees is being watched more closely than Derek Jeter.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Chamberlain-Youkilis feud overblown

I’m so glad Joba Chamberlain and Kevin Youkilis are now best buds. Now the New York Yankees can steamroll their way to the World Series championship that’s rightfully theirs.

Seriously, I don’t doubt that there was genuine bad blood between Joba and Youkilis. The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry has gotten nasty at times, despite the fact that some of the players actually enjoy each other’s company (see Derek Jeter and Dustin Pedroia after being teammates during the last World Baseball Classic). Now, I don’t expect Joba and Youkilis to really become friends and they don’t need to be—seriously, who likes all of their coworkers? But I never thought that there was going to be tension between Joba and the Yankees new third baseman to the point where it was going to wreak havoc with the team’s chemistry.

But perhaps Youkilis could benefit from the Yankees’ superior media operation. If he had only returned Joba’s call in the offseason when the Yankees pitcher called to make peace, the story wouldn’t have blown up the way it did. And Yankee fans shouldn’t overreact to Youkilis’ stated love for Boston and the Red Sox. He played there for eight years and we can’t expect him to start bleeding pinstripes just because he signed with the Yankees. All we should expect is that he will bring the same fire and clutch hitting to the Yankees that he did before his time in Boston came to an ugly end.

But teammates do not have to love each other for a team to win. I distinctly remember that Derek Jeter was no Roger Clemens fan when the Rocket was throwing 95mph fastballs at his head. But spring training started in 1999 and Jeter and Chuck Knoblauch pranked their new colleague by showing up in the batter’s box with full catcher’s gear, getting a big laugh out of the notoriously intense Clemens. The prank lightened the mood in spring training and the Yankees never looked back.

I’m not saying that the Yankees are going to win another title if Joba comes up with a similarly hilarious prank to pull on his new teammate. The Yankees have plenty of problems that are a lot worse than any feud between Joba and Youkilis and that’s where the focus should be.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Reyes still angry at Loria and Marlins

I can’t say I blame Jose Reyes for being pissed off at Jeffrey Loria and the Miami Marlins.

Toronto’s not a bad place to land (I do love Canada and Canadians). But I understand why Reyes is still so angry at his former boss for trading him after just one season in Little Havana. It was further proof that Marlins ownership cares nothing about the players or the fans, who will end up paying through their noses for that brand spanking new stadium.

After leaving the New York Mets, Reyes probably thought he would find stability and peace in South Florida. But that didn’t last very long as he was traded this past offseason to the Blue Jays. At least Reyes will still be paid very well to play baseball north of the border.  

Reyes is not the only former Marlin to vent against his former bosses. Mr. Perfect Mark Buehrle called the Marlins a bunch of liars after the huge trade that made the Jays instant contenders for the American League East division title (thanks a lot, Loria). I doubt many free agents will be willing to sign with the Marlins, who refuse to give no-trade clauses, despite the lure of sunny South Florida.

The Marlins have screwed their fans left and right, but they’re not the only ones getting screwed over. Even time can’t heal all wounds.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Cervelli doesn’t get benefit of the doubt on PEDs

Francisco Cervelli would like us to believe that he did not use performance-enhancing drugs. That would be a lot easier to do if he weren’t contradicting himself.

The candidate for the New York Yankees starting catcher job would have loved to come into spring training only getting questions about whether he would win the job. Instead, he spent most of a press conference yesterday answering inquiries about why he visited a Miami clinic that has now embroiled many baseball players in yet another PED scandal. Cervelli said he went to the clinic in the hopes of finding a cure for a foot injury, but walked away with nothing, not even the supplements he said he received in a previous statement. Talk about a contradiction.   

Cervelli doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt, at least not from me, because he can't keep his stories straight, he has been with the Yankees organization for years and because he is friends with Alex Rodriguez, a known cheater. To my great displeasure, the Yankees have become the poster team for PED use and the fact that so many current and former Yankees are on that Miami client list only solidifies that bad rep.

The catcher refused to give many details, including who recommended the clinic to him, although he denied that ARod sent him in that direction. We didn’t get the full story yesterday, not even close to it, so it’s hard to believe Cervelli at this point. And while Joe Girardi said he didn’t feel the need to speak to his catcher about the controversy, the whole mess could continue to be a major distraction for Cervelli and the Yankees.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Steinbrenner breaks silence on latest ARod drama

I was wondering when Hal Steinbrenner would finally come out of hiding to address the latest scandal linking Alex Rodriguez to performance-enhancing drugs.

Up until this point, Brian Cashman and ARod’s New York Yankees teammates have been left to do the heavy lifting in terms of feeding the hungry media beast with comments about ARod’s latest PED controversy. But since it was the Steinbrenners who re-signed ARod, it was their responsibility to answer some questions. Of course, Hal didn’t say much about the situation other than the team is cooperating with Major League Baseball, that the situation is concerning but out of the Yankees hands and that he doesn’t know much more about the situation than the rest of us (yeah, right).

But what Steinbrenner didn’t say was also noteworthy. He didn’t offer any show of support for his embattled third baseman, probably because the Yankees are working furiously behind the scenes to figure out a way to use this latest scandal to get rid of ARod once and for all. I can’t help but wonder if Steinbrenner’s apparent willingness to break tradition and sign Robinson Cano to an expensive, long-term deal this offseason is any indication that the Yankees think they can get out from under ARod’s onerous contract (probably wishful thinking on my part, but dare to dream).

There are a lot of people like Curt Schilling who believe ARod will never play another day with the New York Yankees, either because the team will void or settle his contract or because his injuries have diminished him to the point of retirement. I can’t see ARod just walking away from New York because his ego is too large to allow himself to be run out of town and the Yankees chances of getting out of that contract seem slim to none. Steinbrenner may simply have to adjust to the reality that he will be answering questions about ARod for a long time to come.   

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Can the Yankees make a quick deal with Cano?

Hal Steinbrenner finally came out of his castle to address the latest Alex Rodriguez drama (more on that in another blog post), but far more interesting to me is his revelation that discussions have already started to make Robinson Cano a lifelong member of the New York Yankees.

I’ve been growing increasingly pessimistic about the Yankees chances to sign Cano to a long-term deal that works for both sides ever since the Yankees second baseman hired agent Scott Boras. A major reason for this pessimism has been the Yankees’ apparently firm commitment to get below that $189 million threshold. It’s going to be incredibly difficult for the Yankees to maintain that mindset if they want to sign Cano, one of the best young players in the game of baseball, given the dollar amount Boras is likely to demand. Unless the Yankees somehow free themselves from the grasp of ARod’s suffocating contract, I don’t see how they can sign Cano and still field a competitive team (sorry, Curtis Granderson).

But Steinbrenner seemed surprisingly optimistic about the ability to sign Cano, with the Yankees owner even revealing that the Yankees were willing to break their custom of waiting until their players hit free agency to agree to contract terms. The Yankees have stuck firm to this policy in recent years, even with their future Hall of Famers Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. But I suspect Steinbrenner realizes that waiting while Cano has another big year in 2013 is going to drive the price even higher than it already is in Boras’ mind.

The two sides may still be very far apart in these negotiations and may not be able to reach a deal before Cano hits free agency. But the fact that they are talking gives me hope.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Major League Baseball getting another crack at Ryan Braun?

It looks like Major League Baseball may get another chance to punish Ryan Braun for allegedly cheating the game by using performance-enhancing drugs. I bet this time MLB won’t swing and miss.

Bud Selig & Co will do everything possible to make sure that Braun doesn’t get off on a technicality this time, the way he did after testing positive for a banned substance but having the results thrown out because of a supposed procedural error. Braun is on defense already and we should soon expect a press conference where the Milwaukee Brewers outfielder tap dances his way into implying Anthony Bosch somehow was tampering with his records without directly accusing him of doing so, the way he once accused a lowly test taker of tampering with his sample.

It is astonishing that Braun is using his previous battle against the positive test to insulate himself from these latest allegations by claiming his contact with the Florida clinic was part of his fight to clear his name. It seems pretty convenient to me. And if Braun was successful in having the test thrown out, why didn’t he just pay the man who supposedly helped him? I bet Braun now wishes he had paid the amount quoted by Bosch just so he wouldn’t have to deal with this latest mess (and look like an ungrateful deadbeat).

It is even more amazing to me that this latest nightmare comes to light just weeks before Braun is set to represent Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. Didn’t Selig & Co have a way to keep him off the team? Now these allegations are going to follow Braun and the USA team through what should have been a terrific baseball tournament. But Braun’s participation is not going to keep MLB from trying to take him down, if they get the chance.
 
Thanks to Steve Paluch via Wikimedia Commons for the Braun photo.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Cashman forced to navigate latest ARod drama

Brian Cashman would love to stop talking about Alex Rodriguez as much as I would love to stop writing about him. Unfortunately, ARod has made that impossible.

The latest twist in the ARod saga came via the Daily News, which reported that ARod is worried that the New York Yankees or Major League Baseball are conspiring against him following the Miami New Times report on his alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs. It’s not paranoia if they are really out to get you. It seems clear that the Yankees are looking for any possible loopholes to rid themselves of ARod once and for all and I’m sure Bud Selig & Co wouldn’t mind seeing him disappear from the game forever. But ARod isn’t helped by this report, which continues to add fuel to a fire that is burning out of control.

Now Cashman is no saint either, having exposed the Yankees and his family to scandal through his affair with a woman accused of stalking him. But Cashman shouldn’t have to shoulder the responsibility of answering questions about the latest PED accusations against ARod because it wasn’t his decision to rehire ARod after the Yankees third baseman opted out of his contract in 2007. That decision was made by his bosses, the Steinbrenner brothers, so they should be the ones with the cameras and recorders in their faces trying to explain the situation.

Unfortunately, the responsibility for answering these very legitimate questions has fallen on Cashman because he is the Yankees general manager. He has to walk a very fine line in providing enough information to feed the hungry press – a near impossible task because it’s clear the Yankees do not have all the facts – but not providing answers that could be seen as interfering with an ongoing investigation.

I bet Cashman wishes he was the general manager of any other Major League Baseball team right now. Except maybe the Mets.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Stand-up Tex admits his shortcomings

I’ve always liked Mark Teixeira and this weekend I got a good reminder of why.

 
Tex is a real stand-up guy, even when he struggles, so it’s easy to root for him. But my admiration grew after I read an interview he gave to the Wall Street Journal where he freely admitted that he is overpaid and not the same player he was when he was younger. The article is a must read, if only because it is so unusual for a baseball player to be so blunt about his own shortcomings. But Tex shouldn’t be too hard on himself. He makes many valuable contributions to the New York Yankees, including driving in a lot of runs and making plays that few other first basemen can.

Unlike Alex Rodriguez, his colleague on the other side of the baseball diamond, Tex recognizes the absurdity of the mega-deal that pays him $20 million a year to play baseball while a superstar kid like Mike Trout earns considerably less. The fact that Tex is so honest about that and so willing to share his wealth deserves praise. In fact, he put $1 million of his own money toward a $10 million campaign on behalf of Harlem RBI and I was inspired to kick in a donation to the organization myself (well short of $1 million, but I’m sure it was appreciated).

Tex has heard his share of boos at Yankee Stadium, but he’s never been treated with an ARod-level of disdain despite being similarly wealthy and also struggling at times in the Bronx. But that’s because he’s a lot more likable and honest than ARod. And at a time when ARod finds himself yet again in the middle of a scandal, that honesty is refreshing.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Pettitte chooses Yankees over Torre

Andy Pettitte has chosen the New York Yankees over Joe Torre in what was likely an excruciating decision for him.

The Yankees lefty has officially taken himself out of consideration for a spot pitching in the World Baseball Classic for Team USA, a squad that will be led by his former manager Torre. Pettitte’s rejection of Torre’s offer to pitch for the team was a foregone conclusion once the Yankees expressed concerns about Pettitte participating, and possibly injuring himself, in an exhibition tournament. Those reservations outweighed any loyalty that Pettitte felt toward the man who protected him when he was a young pitcher from George Steinbrenner’s trade-happy ways, the manager who was at the helm for the first four World Series titles Pettitte helped win.

I’m not one of those baseball fans who hates the World Baseball Classic and I like the idea of seeing Yankee players participate. But I do understand the Yankees expressing concern about a potential injury to their #2 starter, particularly because they know Pettitte is such a competitor that he won’t be able to restrain himself from giving it his all. And Torre doesn’t have the best reputation in terms of not burning out his arms—protecting his pitchers is one area where Joe Girardi definitely is the better manager.
 
As much personal affection as Pettitte has for his former manager, in this situation the lefty simply was not going to go against the wishes of his bosses. Loyalty only goes so far.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Will the Yankees ever be rid of ARod drama?

Will the drama surrounding Alex Rodriguez and his history – and possibly his present – with performance-enhancing drugs ever cease? Perhaps the better question is whether the New York Yankees will ever be able to rid themselves of ARod and his drama before his contract officially ends in five years.

In a statement, Alex Rodriguez vehemently denied the latest revelations outlined extensively in a story by the Miami New Times that linked him and as many as 20 other Major League Baseball players to a clinic run by a man who allegedly dispensed PEDs. But ARod’s denials are not worth the paper they are printed on. He has lied far too many times to too many people to get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his past and possibly present use of PEDs.

To be fair, ARod is not the only well-known baseball player on the list. Melky Cabrera, who was busted by MLB and suspended in 2012 for using a banned substance, also made an appearance on the list. Shockingly, young stud pitcher Gio Gonzalez was also linked to the clinic (surprising only because I can’t remember ever hearing or seeing his name connected to PEDs before). But ARod is definitely the big kahuna of the group because of his paycheck and because, well, he’s ARod.

This is probably wishful thinking, but I wonder if ARod’s contract with the Yankees can be voided in any way if it’s proven he used PEDs again. Hal Steinbrenner & Co would love that. It would erase what was the costliest contract blunder in Yankees history, one the Steinbrenners have no one to blame on but themselves. And it’s a huge positive from a business perspective because it would immediately get the Yankees under the self-imposed $189 million cap and allow them to start spending money like the Yankees again.

But getting rid of ARod is likely nothing more than a pipe dream for the Yankee owners and legions of fans. We’re simply stuck waiting for the next ARod revelations and drama. This story just keeps getting uglier and uglier and there’s no end in sight.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Here it goes again for ARod in PED story

Not this again!

A Miami man connected to Alex Rodriguez and other baseball players is apparently under investigation for illegally distributing, you guessed it, performance-enhancing drugs.

I just don’t understand why the New York Yankees third baseman has so much trouble staying away from these questionable characters. How a man with so many resources, which could be used to pay for the best public relations advisors and lawyers, consistently finds himself connected to shady characters is beyond me. ARod invites the scorn and ridicule he receives on a regular basis with his sketchy associations. But more importantly, he invites the question about whether he is cheating again. And if he is doing so now, he is doing it under the more rigorous microscope of Major League Baseball, which apparently is aware of the situation and cooperating with authorities.  

The news comes just days after Yankees general manager Brian Cashman left open the possibility that ARod could miss the 2013 baseball season completely. While it seems unlikely, the fact that it’s even possible speaks to ARod’s precarious physical state, which many observers attribute to his PED usage. If he misses an entire season because of this injury, it’s something that ARod is probably not going to recover from in New York, not when he’s making more than $30 million a year to play baseball and so many people are struggling to pay their everyday bills.

ARod could be completely innocent in this matter, but he won’t get the benefit of the doubt because of his previous history with PEDs. The man really isn’t doing himself any favors.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Fun times with Mariano Rivera and friends

Funny quotes from Ed Randall’s Fans for the Cure event honoring Mariano Rivera:

David Cone on Mariano striking out Jay Buhner in the 1995 division series, then quickly being removed from Game 5 by then-Yankees manager Buck Showalter: “He should’ve brought [Mo] in earlier. Should have kept him in longer. Buck Showalter would still be managing the Yankees.”


John Flaherty talking about feeling confident about facing Mariano as a hitter because he knew Mo would throw him all fastballs: “Three pitches and I was back in the dugout. Be careful what you wish for because you might get it.”

Larry Rothschild talking about facing Mariano as the first manager of the expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays: “We didn’t see him a whole lot because the games weren’t that close.”

Rothschild on calling Mo after he became the Yankees pitching coach: “There’s no use calling him, he’ll never call you back.”

Mariano on reports that he only needs eight innings of work in spring training to be ready for the baseball season: “That’s plenty. I try to cut it down.”

Mariano on his reluctance to travel to away games in spring training: “They have all these young boys and they want to send me to Winter Haven or Fort Myers. All that traffic. I did that when I was young.”

Mariano on going for the save: “If I’m there for 10 minutes, I’m in trouble.”

Flaherty on thinking he would fit right in with the Boston Red Sox because of his name: “When you hit .190, they don’t love you that much.”

Ed Randall on how players joining the New York Yankees immediately adopt the Yankees professional way of playing the game of baseball: “Locker next to Derek Jeter and see if he pulls that crap, BJ Upton.”

Cone on the Yankees beating the Atlanta Braves in the 1996 and 1999 World Series: “Twice we snatched away team of the decade from the Atlanta Braves. Every time I see [John] Smoltz, I let him know."

Cone on the New York Mets using the Baja Boys song “Who let the Dogs out?” for inspiration during the 2000 World Series: “Jeter goes all right. We’re all looking at each other and going ‘are you kidding'? This is the World Series. Jeter goes up there first pitch: whack, gone.”

Mariano on sitting next to Yankees legend Don Mattingly after he was first called up to the big leagues: “I was afraid to breathe.”

Cone on the Yankees winning tradition: “There’s always someone in the Yankees organization who can put you in your place. The Core Four [has] the great five rings. And then Yogi [Berra] walks in the room.”

“He lets you know,” Mo said of Yogi’s 10 World Series titles.

Mariano on his tweaked nickname for his former catcher Flaherty: “I call him White Flash. We have Tom Gordon—that’s Black Flash.”