That’s Why You Play The Games

I am sure I am not alone in admitting that on July 31st I had the ALCS as a matchup between the Tigers and the A’s. I figured with the additions of Price and Lester both teams would cruise to the playoffs and end up playing each other for the right to go to the World Series. Whoops! Oakland staggered into the playoffs and lost the wild card game. Detroit barely eked out the AL Central crown and just got swept out of the playoffs by Baltimore. It’s funny how that always seems to happen.

And I will bet that very few people had the Royals doing much in the playoffs, yet they are a game away from joining Baltimore in the ALCS.

 

No More Cash

Unlike 2011 or 2008, I think the Yankees should not keep Brian Cashman as GM. I have three reasons for this.

First, the farm system has not produced enough talent in the past few years. A lot of this has to do with some pretty bad drafts. Now the Yankees have been handicapped because of their low draft position, but they still should be able to get players in the first round who can at least contribute to the big league club. That hasn’t happened since the 2006 draft when they took Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain in the first round. Since then they have picked Brackman, Cole, Heathcott, Culver, Bichette, Hensley, Jagielo, and Lindgren. With the exception of Brackman and his 1/3 of an inning, none of them have reached the bigs as a Yankee and most are never going to.

But it goes beyond the draft. The players who we hear about being on the verge of contributing seem to flame out. Take Mason Williams. Before the 2013 season, he was the #32 prospect in all of baseball. Now he is on the verge of getting released after a sub-.600 OPS season in AA. Maybe he simply didn’t have it, but there are other names like him and I question the instruction the Yankees are providing. Whatever the reason, the Yankees are not getting the talent they need from their minor leagues and that is Cashman’s fault.

My second reason for letting him go is his approach to roster building is outdated in my mind. While there have been exceptions, I think the game has been cleaned up dramatically in terms of PED’s. Furthermore, amphetamines are not part of the game now. Maybe those are the reasons why players in their late 30’s don’t hit like players in the late 30’s once did, but whatever the reason, the game is more about youth and positional flexibility than it was. Brian Cashman hasn’t shown an ability to thrive under those conditions. Year after year, he builds his roster around stars and then tries to round it out with castoffs from other clubs. Part of this is simply the Yankees way of doing business, but part of it is simply an inability or unwillingness to try younger players in certain spots. The Yankees need to stop signing guys like Brian Roberts to round out the roster and sign more guys like Yangervis Solarte. I know Cashman signed both, I just believe he prefers the former to the latter.

Finally there is the simple fact that he has been on the job for 17 years and that is a really, really long time. Thinking becomes calcified in organizations without change. Opportunities are missed because there are not enough new perspectives. Brian Cashman has been a great GM, but it is not a lifetime appointment.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the Yankees will make a change. There are already stories that they are working on a new deal with Cashman. I can only hope that if they keep him they make him change some of the ways he operates. Brian has been a wonderful GM for 17 years, but the time has come to try a new one.

 

Great Job Boston

I want to compliment the Red Sox and all of Boston on a fabulous job this weekend. The fans were awesome and the way the club handled the Derek Jeter ceremony was incredible. While we may be enemies on the field, it is always great to see us come together off of it.

October in September

Sometimes the baseball gods give us a perfect moment.

Start with the first inning as we saw Derek rip a double off the wall in left to drive in a run. It was a sight we haven’t seen much of lately and it was only an appetizer.

There was the 7th inning where it looked like Jeter had driven in the winning run. And it happened not with a hit, but on an error when the guy who won the last two gold gloves at shortstop inexplicably threw the ball into right field.  It was as if the baseball gods intervened and decided that Jeter had to finish with the game winning RBI.

But then they realized they could write an even better story. They noticed that Jeter would hit third in the bottom of the ninth, if there was a bottom of the 9th.  And so the Yankees closer, who had been dominant all year, who had not given up two home runs in the same game since 2012, promptly did just that and blew a 5-2 lead. If you didn’t know what was going to happen next, you haven’t been paying attention these past 20 years.

Jose Pirela, with all of 11 big league AB’s , slapped a single to left,  The Yankees brought in Richardson, their designated speedster, and Gardner sacrificed him to second. The stage was set and once more Jeter proved homself to be able to rise to the occasion. The swing was one we can see in our sleep and the result was classic Jeter- a single to right. The throw was a tad late and there was Derek being mobbed at first and the new place rocking with emotion.

It was glorious. It was perfect. It was something to savor for a long time.

Jeter Needs To Play This Weekend

We know that tonight will be emotional. We know that the fans will give Derek Jeter a huge sendoff and however Joe Girardi handles it, Jeter will leave to the loudest ovation in the new place since 2009. (My bet is he gets replaced at short in the middle of an inning so he can walk off the field alone.) But whatever happens, tonight should not be the end.

I never knew until the other day that Ted Williams finished his Red Sox career three games early. I knew he hit a homer in his final Fenway AB, but I didn’t know the Red Sox had three games in New York after that which Williams didn’t play in. People are calling for Jeter to do the same thing Williams did and take the uniform off tonight and start his retirement. They are wrong.

They are wrong because this is not 1960 and they are wrong because of the way Jeter has handled his retirement. In 1960 fans didn’t go to games like they do today. The COMBINED attendance for the three final Yankees-Red Sox games in 1960 was less than 40,000, and the Yankees were heading to the World Series. Furthermore, there wasn’t a scalping market in 1960 like there is today. The cheapest ticket on Stub Hub for Sunday’s game right now is $211. People are not paying those prices to see the 90-loss Red Sox face the .500 Yankees. They are paying to see Jeter and he owes it to them to show up and play in all three games. (In the interest of full disclosure thanks to Andy, I have a ticket to Saturday’s game which he purchased at face value.) 

Furthermore, Jeter has turned his retirement into a sappy good-bye tour that he is making a fortune off of. Mariano Rivera took the time to meet with season ticket holders and behind the scenes employees last year. I thought that justified the endless tributes he received around the league.  Jeter says he can’t do that as an everyday player, but he managed to have a meet and greet for anyone willing to pay from $149 to $2999 Monday before the Yankees night game. Jeter and Steiner Sports have flooded the marketplace with Jeter memorabilia. For $25,000 you can buy a uniform he wore. If that’s too much, how about $2500 for a lineup card with his name in it? Still too much?  Then the name plate for his locker at “only” $1500 may be for you. Jeter is entitled to make as much as he wants, but he gets paid to play baseball games, almost $100,000 a game this year. None of the tributes or financial windfalls would happen without Jeter’s approval. The Red Sox will offer him one last tribute and Jeter will take some swings and head off to a very comfortable retirement. That’s his prerogative, but not until September 29th.

Checking Back

With the Yankees almost officially eliminated and the playoffs essentially set, I wanted to look back at my predictions made before the season. I will break things down by division.

I totally blew the AL East. I picked Tampa and Boston to both make the playoffs and the Orioles to finish last. The only saving grace is I had the Yankees in third at 85-77, which won’t be far off from where they finish.

I picked the Tigers to win the AL Central, but had Cleveland finishing second and the Royals third. Theoretically, that could still happen, but I doubt it. That’s the only thing that will prevent me from picking the division completely correctly as I had Chicago and Minnesota finishing 4-5. I also said Phil Hughes would have a “nice” year. (15-10, 3.61 ERA and 200 IP is pretty nice!)

I got the top of the AL West correct with Anaheim-Oakland going 1-2, but I thought Texas would be better and Seattle worse. I even expected Robinson Cano to be playing meaningless games in August. Whoops!

I picked Oakland to beat Boston in the wild card.

I picked Tampa to beat Anaheim and Detroit to beat Oakland with Tampa winning the pennant.

So, I got three of the six playoff teams, but the ones I missed crippled my “bracket”.

Over int he NL East I had Washington winning the crown with Atlanta second. That can certainly happen, but my assertion that this was a “two-tier” division with Washington and Atlanta being miles ahead of everyone else was clearly wrong.

In the NL Central, I had the Cards winning the division and the Reds beating the Pirates out for a wild card.

The NL West was my best division as I am 5/5 in my picks with only the chance that the Rockies and Diamondbacks switch places threatening a perfect division.

I picked San Francisco and Cincinnati for the wild card with the Giants winning. I picked LA to beat them and the Senators to beat St. Louis with the Dodgers advancing to the World Series and winning it. So, my NL picks are very healthy.

Enjoy This

When I was growing up I always felt like I had missed the greatest moments and players in Yankee history. I would look out at all the pennants and think about growing up in New York in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s when the Yankees went to an amazing 15-out of- 18 World Series and won 10 titles. I would dream of seeing Ruth or Gehrig take a swing, DiMaggio fly around the bases or Mantle hit one into the seats. I loved the teams I grew up with and some of the players, but I felt like I had missed the best part of the franchise. I was wrong.

As great as those players and those teams were, what we have seen in the past twenty seasons has been just as amazing. Yes, there are more playoff spots, but making the playoffs in 17-of-20 years is something only the Yankees have done. They have won five World Series, three of those consecutively and gone to seven. This has been an era of amazing success.

At the center of this era is Derek Jeter. Too much time is spent cataloguing the things Jeter can’t do, or didn’t do. Not enough time is spent appreciating what he is. He is a guy who for twenty seasons never shied from the spotlight, never acted anything but professionally, and never took a play off. He will leave the game with more hits than all but five players in MLB history- Rose, Cobb, Aaron, Musial and Speaker. I won’t argue that Jeter was better than any specific former Yankee, but he is as worthy of induction into Monument Park as any of them.

In the next week or so, the Yankees will be officially eliminated from the playoffs. That means we all have thirteen games left to see Jeter play and appreciate all he has meant for this team.  That’s what I plan to do, watch each at bat, hope for a few more liners to right and just appreciate a guy who played the game the way you want it to be played. It’s the end of an era, but don’t mourn its passing just yet. Enjoy the last few moments.

That Was Fun

Last night was a game that provided something that has been missing too often this season- fun. It’s always fun to beat Boston, but to do it after trailing in the ninth is even better. But as enjoyable as last night was, it won’t mean a thing if the Yankees can’t follow it up with a stretch of winning baseball

That has been the frustrating thing about this team, they simply can’t run off a hot streak. While the reasons for that are fairly obvious (no hitting, decimated pitching) the Yankees have to change that calculus if they want to make the playoffs. With 24 games remaining, they are four out of a playoff spot. In addition, they have to play better than not only Detroit, but Seattle, which is 3.5-games ahead of them. If both teams play .500 ball the rest of the way (no sure bet) the Yankees would need at least 88 wins to tie one of them for the final playoff spot.

That is going to require a finishing sprint of 16-8 from the Yankees. Not impossible, but not likely based on what we have seen so far. But, they had a “springboard” win last night. Now we have to see if it gets them going.

Bat Jeter In Every Spot!

We have reached the portion of the Yankee season when hope is almost extinguished and columnists need to fill their blank spaces with something more than the same drivel day after day. So, we have the drumbeat of how the Yankees have to demote Jeter from the second spot in the lineup.

Let me start by saying that Jeter should not have been hitting second this year to begin with, but to pretend that switching the lineup now is gong to radically change things is silly. There is only about 16% of the season left and batting order is basically about dividing up playing time. Here are some numbers from 2009, in that year the average #2 spot in an AL lineup had 743 plate appearances. The 9th spot in the lineup had 618. That means that on average, the #2 spot came up 4.59 times a game and the #9 spot came up 3.81- a difference of 0.78 times a game. That means that over the final 26 games, hitting Jeter 9th (which the Yankees would never do) instead of 2nd would bring him to the plate 20 fewer times. Would those 20 plate appearances really change the fortunes of the team? And, 20 is the maximum. Dropping Jeter to sixth (a more likely outcome) would only reduce his plate appearances by about 10.

This is a team five-games out of a playoff spot. Thinking that a difference of 10 or 20 plate appearances will change that is foolish. Yes, Jeter shouldn’t be hitting second. But, that’s not what is going to cause the Yankees to miss the playoffs this year.

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.