Two Weeks!

There is a great story about Joe Dimaggio and the song "Mrs. Robinson".  It seems when Joe first heard the lyric, "Where have you gone, Joe Dimaggio?  Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you…" he didn’t like it because he thought it was making fun of him in someway.  But that wasn’t Paul Simon’s intent, instead he was mourning the lack of heroes at a turbulent time in history (the 1960’s).  I have been thinking of that story a lot recently as I have watched the news.  Baseball has a remarkable ability to provide some joy in dark times and we could really use some joy right now. 

I think of the great character Terrence Mann (played by the magnificent James Earl Jones) in "Field of Dreams" and his wonderful speech about the game.

"The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again."

This game is part of the literary fabric of our country, ir is part of our soul.  We need it now, more than we have needed it in a long time.  And in two short weeks, pitchers and cathers will report.  Games start in less than four weeks and Opening Day is just over two months away.

I cannot begin to guess when the economy will get better and when this country will pull out of this funk, but I know having baseball back will help, if only a little. 

In the Fold?

UPDATE:  Heyman/Boras is now saying the a two-year deal has been agreed to.  Good.  Now let’s trade for Varitek’s eventual replacement and get to playing some baseball.

The Globe’s Tony Massarotti has it as a 1-year deal for $5mm and team option for a 1-year, $5mm or a player option for 1-year, $3mm.  Plus incentives for games played starting at 80 games for the 2nd year.  The incentives total $2mm.

Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald just confirmed the parameters of the deal (same as Massarotti’s).

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Scott Boras, er…I mean, Jon Heyman is reporting on SI.com that the Red Sox and Jason Varitek are on the verge of a 2-year deal.  To quote "Jason Varitek is on the verge of agreeing to a two-year deal with Boston."

I can see him now.

Theo: "Jason, so what do you think?"

Varitek: "I’m thinking about it.  I’m on the verge, but not quite there yet."

Theo: "Well are you like, say, 90% there or are we going to be here for a while?"

Varitek: "No, ‘on the verge’ means like 99%, I just like to make a grand entrance with these sorts of things and want to time it perfectly…"

Anyway, Heyman and Boras have never been seen in the same room, right?

Will This Never End?

WEEI is reporting that a Red Sox source indicated today that there was no 8:30am deadline today for Jason Varitek to make up his mind.  In addition, Tony Massarotti said 8:30am here is 5:30am for Scott Boras on the Left Coast and that perhaps the Red Sox were willing to take that into account.

But if WEEI did indeed speak to a Red Sox source, then that is as close as you can get (unless you are assuming the Red Sox are trying to trick Varitek by floating misleading rumors).  And, if so, we are possibly in for a longer wait than expected.  This really is getting old…

Is Carlton Fisk in game shape?

Word on the Street

I feel obligated to bring up what has become one of the most tedious negotiations in Red Sox history.  In one corner you have an aging Jason Varitek, he of the poor decision making agent.  In the other corner you have the Red Sox, a team not overly enthusiastic about entering Spring Training with Josh Bard and either George Kottaras or Dusty "No I’m Not a Stripper" Brown.  Tony Massarotti of Boston.com says Varitek has until 8:30am Friday to make up his mind.

Look, the Red Sox need Jason Varitek and he needs them.

If it is pride getting in Varitek’s way, please, times are tough right now, and I’m only talking about in the world of baseball.  On the other hand, if the Red Sox are trying to make some point to Varitek or his agent Scott Boras, then they hurting the team and that’s no good.

Just get a deal done.  I had suggested 2 years for $15mm a few weeks back and while that seems much higher than the reported offer the Red Sox have made (his choice of a 1-year at $5mm or 1-year at $5mm with a 2nd year team option at $5mm or a player option at $3mm), it would seem to be a deal that both sides could accept.  Even a 2-year, $12mm deal would mean that the Red Sox have a veteran receiver coming into camp along side Josh Bard.

WEEI reported today that Varitek was considering either sitting out the 2009 season or retiring all together.  The "sitting out the 2009 season" idea is crazy as he only needs to sit out until June and then any team can sign him without giving up a 1st round pick.  The retirement scenario is possibly more likely, but after getting divorced this past off-season, I have to assume his pockets are a bit lighter than they were this time a year ago and a few million more in income might help.  Please, he likes playing baseball, right?

At the end of the day, I really don’t care the thoughts rattling around Varitek’s head.  Just sign the deal and go play baseball for one more year (or two).  Baseball spending is down about 50% this off-season and as such, he shouldn’t be too concerned with signing a deal that represents an annual pay cut of 50%.  Especially with the lousy numbers he posted in 2008.

Just agree and go have fun Varitek.  Otherwise, at 8:30am Friday morning, you might be looking for a new line of work.

You Can See Where This Is Headed

The Yankees are apparently ready to start censoring their players in the future.  The money quote is this from an "unamed official": "Up to now, we have always operated our employer-employee relationships on a basis of trust.  But we never expected what we got from Joe. We may have to get a little tougher on this issue."

It is silly to get tougher on this issue and it is silly to react at all.  Torre is the one who comes off the worst in this and it is easy to question Verducci’s motives in this book. (Verducci used to work for the YES Network, but was fired after writing this. I think the Yankees would have been best served by just ignoring this and letting Torre try and explain why he felt the need to do this in the first place. 

But, they didn’t do that and now I wonder when the Yankees take the more obvious step.  When do they take #6 and put it on the back of someone else?  We always assumed that Torre would return to New York someday and have his number retired, but I think that is a distant dream now.  The Yankees are pissed, Torre is hurt and I don’t see how either side moves past this. 

Maybe with time the two sides will reconcile, but I have a feeling that #6 will have been given away long before that.   

Not Bad

So Pettitte is back for a base of $5.5 million and a possible $6.5 million in bonuses.  I looked all over, but the best I could do was find that $4.5 million of that is based on innings and $2 million on days on the active roster. 

The deal evokes a couple of reactions from me.  First, bringing Andy back really helps the rotation.  Now the Yankees have the depth needed to survive an 162-game season and we won’t have to suffer through a bunch of scrubs making spot starts like last year. 

One concern I have is that this signing will restart the Joba to the bullpen chants.  I hope the Yankees don’t fall for that line of thinking.

Another concern I have is how this will impact Phil Hughes. Will the Yankees use him out of the bullpen or is he destined for AAA?  I would prefer he sticks in AAA and continues to develop as a starter.  

Who gets dropped from the 40-man as a result of this move?  Maybe Giese or Chase Wright?  I have no idea.

Lastly, if Pettitte stinks and the Yankees bench him thereby preventing him from achieving his incentives, will he be able to handle that?

Enough with the negative, a rotation of Sabathia, Wang, Burnett, Pettitte and Joba has to be one of the best in the league.  Now, a real backup catcher and I will be absolutely content. (At least for a few minutes)

Pettitte

Several sources are reporting that the Yankees and Andy Pettitte are closing in on a deal.

Per Buster Olney – 1 year deal for $6mm base and up to $6mm in incentives.

Per Jon Heyman – 1 year deal for less than the $10mm guaranteed they offered earlier but otherwise no details.

Per Ken Rosenthal – 1 year deal for $6mm base and up to $10mm in incentives.

Reports are suggesting a deal could be announced this afternoon.

Countdown

The countdown starts.  Sure I could be talking about pitchers and catchers reporting, but I’m really talking about Jason Varitek.

Reports are out that the Red Sox have offered Varitek a 1-year deal with a guarantee base and incentives and a 2nd year option.  Varitek has been given a deadline to accept the offer.

Per WEEI, the offer is a 1-year, $5mm deal with a team option for a 2nd year at $5mm or a player option at $3mm.  The incentive portion of the deal is not known at this time (nor is any of the above necessarily, just reporting on published reporting…).

WEEI also pulled quotes from ESPN’s Buster Olney who wrote over the weekend that Varitek is asking for $10-$12mm annually over 2 years.

Wow.  If Varitek thinks he is going to get anything close to that, he’s nuts.  I cannot imagine that is really what he is looking for and must have come to the conclusion that if he wants to play for the Red Sox, or any other MLB team, he is going to get a big hair cut in 2009.

Jorge Posada signed one of the most absurd deals prior to the 2008 season.  There is no way to argue that it was a good deal, especially since year one is in the books and Posada could only provide 168 at bats.  Varitek must have seen that deal and thought he was worth something close to that.

But times have changed.  Mix in the fact that Varitek had a bad year with the bat in 2008, the economy is in the pits and teams are spending accordingly (most anyway) and the biggest fact that most teams have always known is that catchers don’t age well.  Carlton Fisk was a freak of nature, but he is not the norm by any means.  These factors essentially mean Varitek can take whatever the Red Sox offer,  walk away and sign with someone else, or…retire.

I hope he signs.  I think he is a good person to have teach the other catchers in the organization.  But if the Red Sox do manage to re-sign him, I hope they also trade for a better future option at catcher than they presently have in their system.  What good is Varitek working with Josh Bard?  None.  Varitek needs to work with his eventual replacement.

Bad News And A Bit Of Good News

Let’s start with a happy note, Robinson Cano is in shape and ready to play the season.  As Kat O’Brien notes in this piece, Cano was not in shape at the start of the season last year.  Getting a good year from Robbie is vital to the Yankees’ chances in 2009. 

Now on to the bad news and it is pretty bad.  Joe Torre’s tell-all book is coming out and it sounds like it is going to spill a lot of dirt.  It is hard to judge the book until it is actually released, but hearing that A-Rod was referred to as "A-Fraud" by his teammates is not going to help the 2009 Yankees.  A-Rod is obiviously delicate and I would imagine a million questions about his relationship with his teammates and former manager will put him on a bad path at the start of the season.  Hopefully, Torre focuses most of his ire against management, but the A-Rod stuff is damaging enough. 

What I wonder is why Joe felt the need to do this?  By leaving the way he did and refusing to take shots at George, he proved he was the bigger man.  Now, it sounds like he is going to stoop to George’s level and that’s a shame.  I can’t blame him for wanting to lash out, I just wish he hadn’t. 

State Of The Pitching Staff

Barring a change of heart from both Andy Pettitte and the Yankees, this is the staff the 2009 Yankees will use:

SP’s Sabathia, Burnett, Wang, Joba and Hughes (could be Aceves or Kennedy too)

RP’s Rivera, Marte, Bruney, are the definities and then a mix of Coke, Aceves, Geise, Veras, Robertson and Ramirez.

It’s obviously a huge improvement over 2008, but is it enough? It starts at the top with Sabathia.  The guy is the complete package and one of the best pitchers in the game.  A healthy Chien-Ming Wang means the Yankees should have over 400 innings and 66 starts from their top 2 starters. After that things get a little murky.

Burnett is a fabulous pitcher when he is healthy, but that’s the problem.  Can you count on the guy to pitch 200 innings?  I’m not sure and I would assume he makes around 28 starts (his average over the life of his Blue Jays deal) 

Joba is clearly a great talent, but he will be on an innings limit this year.  He only got to 100 innings last year which means he probably won’t be allowed much more than 135-140 this year.  I would assume he makes somewhere around 22 starts

You could write a similar thing about Hughes, but you would need to add injury risk to the profile. Hughes also finished right around 100 innings last season and I would assume they cap him around the same level as Joba.

Add it all up and you probably can expect around 140 starts from this group, so where do the remaining 22 starts come from?  The Yankees could mix and match using Aceves and Kennedy to fill in as needed, or they could sign a pitcher. (And yes, I think Coke is a bullpen guy and not a starter)

Based on the stories involving Freddy Garcia, it sounds like they are trying to sign a pitcher and I am ok with that.  Remember 140 starts is probably the best case scenario, an injury to one of the five (a decent bet with Burnett and Hughes) and you need more starts. So, do the Yankees go back to Pettitte?  What about Sidney Ponson? (I’m kidding)

While I would like to see another starter added to the mix, I think the bullpen is all set.  Mariano is in the front and the Yankees have plenty of arms behind him.  You will most likely have two lefties in the pen and there are a number hard-throwing righties that the Yankees can call on.  Look at the 40-man roster and guys like Humberto Sanchez and Mark Melancon are waiting in the wings as well.  Add in the fact that the one are Joe Girardi really did well in was bullpen management and the pen should be very good in 2009.