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.