It Was Twenty Years Ago Today…

That the MLB players started a strike that would ultimately wipe out the 1994 season. It’s amazing to think how far baseball has come since that day.

When the strike happened, Bobby Bonilla was the highest paid player in the game at $6.3-million. That’s approximately what the Yankees are paying Ichiro Suzuki this year to be their fourth outfielder. Annual revenue was about $1.9 billion for all of baseball in 1994. Today it is close to $9-billion.  Not surprisingly, average ticket prices have almost tripled from about $10 to nearly $30. (It’s worth noting that inflation since 1994 has been about 61%, so MLB revenues and salaries are far, far ahead.)

Back in 1994 George Steinbrenner was trying to bully NYC into building a stadium in Manhattan for the Yankees while also threatening a move to New Jersey. Ultimately, he got massive tax breaks and other incentives for building a palace in the Bronx. Sadly, that’s what most of the MLB owners have done.

So when you hear the powers of MLB mention how wonderful the labor peace of the past twenty years has been, just remember who really paid for it.

 

Waiving Goodbye

The Yankees are waiving goodbye to Matt Thornton. Let me explain.

Because the non-waiver trade deadline has passed, teams need to pass a player through waivers before trading him. Starting with the team with the worst record in the same league as the club requesting waivers, every team gets the option to claim a player put on waivers. If claimed, the parent club can either pull the player back, or simply let the player go to the new team. That’s what the Yankees have done with Matt Thornton, letting the Nationals take him for the price of the claim. (50k I believe)

Why are they doing that? Two reasons I can think of. First, Thornton has been perfectly adequate as a lefty specialist, but he is 37-years old and has pitched 24 innings. Second, they have some younger arms who might be a lot better. In the MLB Draft this year, the Yankees took a lefty reliever named Jacob Lindgren with their first pick. He is shooting up the system, reaching high-A already and Jim Callis at Baseball America predicted he would be the first player from the 2014 draft to reach the majors.

Ahead of him you have two arms- James Pazos and Tyler Webb. Pazos, was selected in the 2012 draft and is at AA. Webb, selected last year, is at AAA. It wouldn’t be a shock to see either of them show up in the majors this year and Lindgren might even make it.

For now, the Yankees will let Rich Hill take a crack at the job. He had been in the Red Sox minor leagues before getting traded to and released by Anaheim.  Hill takes the spot, the kids continue to build and the Yankees save some money on the Thornton contract. Nice work Mr. Cashman.

Another One Bites The Dust

We now know the reason the Yankees picked up Chris Capuano- David Phelps had elbow soreness. Sunday that soreness was bad enough that he had to leave the game. Today he is on the DL.

The Yankees started the year with a rotation of Sabathia, Kuroda, Nova, Tanaka and Pineda. When Nova got hurt they put Phelps into the rotation. When Pineda went down they turned Nuno. We have seen Whitley, Greene, McCarthy, and Capuano start and chances are we will see another person start when Phelps’ turn comes up next time. Perhaps we should stop wondering why the Yankees won’t rebuild and take a moment to appreciate the fact that a team with these injuries is still in contention for a playoff spot.

But instead of trotting out another replacement, what if the Yankees turned to Michael Pineda for Friday’s start? Yes, he just had his first rehab start and yes, he only threw 58 pitches. But this is crunch time and I would be that 70 pitches from a rehabbing Pineda are probably going to be a lot more effective than 100 pitches from someone like Chase Whitley. The other option is that the Yankees find another arm on the trade market.

Maybe Pineda is simply not ready, that could definitely be the case. The Yankees don’t want to risk hurting him again, but pitching the likes of Matt Daley is akin to surrendering a game- something the Yankees aren’t in a position to do right now.

Deadline Thoughts

Let’s start with the immediate picture. Are the Yankees better today than yesterday? I would say yes. Steven Drew has suffered through a terrible start to 2014, but he has hit better of late (.781 OPS in July vs. .360OPS in June) and he is a good defensive player. I know he has never played second, but good shortstops can usually play other positions on the infield without much problems. He is replacing Brian Roberts who didn’t hit and didn’t field, so the bar is low.

Martin Prado is a guy the Yankees have been trying to find for years- a guy who can play multiple positions, but still hit at an average level. Solarte, Nunez, Pena, Nix, they have gone through a number of guys and failed to find a Prado. So he is a good asset to have.

The prices they paid were right. Kelly Johnson had no future with the Yankees. Peter O’Brien has massive power, but also massive holes in his swing from all reports. He’ 24 and has a sub-.300 OBP in AA, that’s a guy who cannot be considered a great prospect. He doesn’t have the tools to stick at catcher and there are questions about his ability to play first or right. In some ways, he is a much lesser version of Montero, so I don’t think he will be missed.

But let’s step back for a minute and think about these moves and the addition of Headley. Basically, they added three infielders  to a team that hasn’t lost any infielders since the season started. (Sure Kelly Johnson was on the DL, but he would have been back next week.) Basically, the Yankees confirmed with those moves what most of us knew all along- they did a terrible job of building an infield this offseason. They didn’t have a backup first baseman when their primary guy was coming back from wrist surgery. They tried to use a guy at second who hasn’t played a full season since 2009. They tried to use Kelly Johnson as something more than a bench bat. These are failures of planning and the Yankees had far too many of them. You cannot blame the Yankees for not being prepared for losing 4/5th’s of their rotation- no team is ready for that hit. But what happened on the infield this season was easy to see ahead of time and should not have forced them to scramble in July. Brian Cashman’s contract ends this season and if I were Hal my first question to him would be what happened in the farm system followed by what was the infield plan for 2014.

We can argue about whether or not the Yankees should have followed the Red Sox plan from yesterday, but we also know they never were going to. Not when they were above .500 and only 3 games out of a playoff spot. Knowing that, the best you could have hoped for was what happened. They tried to improve, but not at the expense of the 2015 Yankees. It is most likely not enough to get them into the playoffs and, considering the upgrades in Oakland and Detroit, nowhere near enough to win the AL. But they get an A for effort. The heavy lifting will come in November.