Good Move, But….

Let me join the chorus of people who approve of the Yankees signing Brett Gardner to a contract extension. Gardner plays incredible defense, gets on base and can run like the wind. $13-million a year probably causes some people to blink but look at Michael Bourn’s current contract and you can see where this market is. The Yankees now have Gardner locked up through 2018 (2019 with a team option) the season where he turns 35. That’s a solid risk and absolutely the kind the Yankees should take.

But the thing everyone is ignoring in this move is what it says about the farm system. Going into 2013, a picture was being painted of a future outfield cosseting of Tyler Austin, Mason Williams and Slade Heathcott. Austin and Heathcott got hurt and Williams forgot how to hit. None of them have made it to AAA, which means the Yankees really did need to bring Gardner back in 2015.

Now things are getting crowded in the outfield of the future. We know Ellsbury and Gardner will make up 2/3′s of it for the foreseeable future. There won’t be room for all of those guys who were supposed to be the future. Unfortunately, that’s ok because each of them has serious question marks hanging over them. The Yankees didn’t make a mistake signing Gardner, but it is another indication of the problems in their minor league system.

Center Field in Boston

Unlike the Yankees, the Red Sox have a question mark in center field.  How did that happen?  Didn’t they have a really good center fielder last year?  Oh, that’s right…I remember what happened.

Rookie Jackie Bradley Jr, Shane Victorino and Grady Sizemore are vying for the starting nod.  Victorino will most likely start the season in right which really means Sizemore and Bradley are the candidates.

Sizemore hasn’t played since 2011 and hasn’t put in a full season, if you consider 106 games a full season, since 2009.  2 microfracture surgeries later and he is back in baseball.  When Sizemore was healthy, he was a high-impact player, a great combination of power and speed and could even draw a walk.  But, that was a long time ago.  At age 29 (turning 30 on July 21) I think he is a longshot to be a contributor of consequence this year.

Bradley, on the other hand, is 23 (turning 24 on April 19) and is just starting his major league career.  So far in the minors he has shown the ability to play excellent defense, get on base and be a 1-2 and maybe even a 3 hitter in a line-up.  His .404 minor league OBP and .876 OPS suggest he has much to offer in the majors, but until he does, it is just speculation.

My hope is that Bradley wins the job.  He is young, healthy and has significant upside.  While I hold no ill will towards Sizemore and I hope his career flourishes, he hasn’t provided anything in basically 4 seasons.  If Bradley can establish himself, the Red Sox have a fantastic defender playing center who is under team control for many seasons to come.  Obviously I hope Sizemore can contribute and heck, ideally has a boffo year.  But if he does, he is free to walk and will have proved to be just a one year help.  Bradley having a boffo year will give them an option in center for a least 6 years.  I’ll take the long-term success vs the short-term one.

Either way, the Sizemore signing was an intriguing one.  I like it and hope he can help.  Victorino will inevitably get hurt and the Red Sox will need help in right at some point.

Shut Up Guys

Brian Cashman once had a great quote along the lines of “nobody cares when millionaires fight”. Listening to Larry Lucchnio and Randy Levine go at it today reminded me of it.

Larry “I named them the Evil Empire” Lucchino got things started with this gem:

“We’re very different animals. I’m proud of that difference. I always cringe when people lump us together. Other baseball teams sometimes do that. They are still, this year at least, relying heavily on their inimitable old-fashioned Yankees style of high-priced, long-term free agents. And, uh, I can’t say that I wish them well, but I think that we’ve taken a different approach. … If you compare what we did last year in the offseason to what they did this year, there’s quite a contrast there.”

Two things come to mind when I read that.

1- Yes, there is a huge difference between the Red Sox 2012-13 offseason and the Yankees current one. BUT, take a look at the Red Sox 2010-11 offseason.

2- Where does he expect to find a receptive audience for these comments? Can you imagine being a Pirates’ fan and reading that?

Not to be outdone, Randy “I serve no purpose” Levine jumped into battle:

“I feel bad for Larry; he constantly sees ghosts and is spooked by the Yankees. But I can understand why, because under his and Bobby Valentine’s plan two years ago, the Red Sox were in last place. Ben Cherington and the Red Sox did a great job last year winning the World Series, but I’m confident Cash and Joe and our players will compete with a great Red Sox team to win a world championship this year.”

Way to take the high road Randy.

These are too men with too much money and too much ego. Just shut it fellas.

*****

Here’s an interesting/sad story about Jesus Montero showing up to Seattle camp 40 pounds overweight. Maybe Montero was a creation of PED’s and this is his way of surrendering, but the quote from the Seattle GM is damning-  “I have zero expectations for Jesus Montero. Any expectations I had are gone.” Ouch.

Excellent Point

I have tried on the rose-colored glasses when it comes to the Yankees’ infield and they aren’t working for me. They aren’t working for Joel Sherman as he writes in this piece. I totally agree with it.

I don’t see how anyone can count on Brian Roberts to play even 100 games. Teixeira and Jeter are coming back from major injuries and Kelly Johnson has started 12 games in his career at third. Sherman writes about seeing the tidal wave approaching the city and I think he is spot on. This is a prescription for trouble.

I said the following before the Yankees signed Tanaka:

Now if the Yankees want to stay out of the Tanaka bidding, I am fine with it. I am skeptical at best about his prospects. I’ve heard too much hype followed by mediocre (or worse) results from similar pitchers to proclaim him the savior some people think he is. But if the Yankees do sign Tanaka, they can’t stop there.

The Yankees created a plan to make the $189 payroll goal. They have hemmed and hawed about actually going through with it, but now that they have signed all of their arbitration players, it could be a reality for 2014. If they decide to blow it up, they have to go all in. Tanaka probably gets anywhere from $12 to $18 million a year, so let’s say he puts the payroll at $187 million. Last year the Yankees spent $237 million (that includes benefits) so they could spend $30 million on top of Tanaka and still spend less than in 2013.

Well I was obviously off by a lot on the contract Tanaka was going to get, but  even with the contract he got, the Yankees are still well below last year’s payroll. Stephen Drew isn’t a savior but he makes tremendous sense as an insurance policy for the Yankees. There are other players who can fortify this squad, but standing pat definitely should not be the choice made.

Pick One

Let’s pretend it is the 1995-96 MLB offseason and you are George Steinbrenner. History will show that icons are about to emerge on the stage for the Yankees, but you are going to prevent one of them from becoming a full-time Yankee. Which of these moves do you make?

1- Hire a manager other than Joe Torre to lead the club.

2- Trade Mariano Rivera.

3- Trade Derek Jeter.

The rules are you have to make one of these choices.  I don’t think there are any wrong answers, but I will refrain from posting my decision until later.

No Dempster

Ryan Dempster has announced he will not pitch in 2014 sighting a physical ailment and wanting to spend more time with family.

First the impact on the Red Sox. This greatly erodes the team’s pitching depth. Dempster wasn’t going to be counted on for 200 quality innings but as a spot starter and long relief option, he will be missed.

By putting him on the restricted list, the Sox needn’t pay his $14m salary. I don’t know of this frees up salary space under the cap or not but if is does it provides space to add pitching help.

As for his reasoning, it really seems he wants to spend more family time which is great. But if prefer he say that without adding the physical ailment part as, and I’m probably looking too much into this, but the physical part is minor, minor part of his rational.

Good luck to Dempster, from all accounts he is a good guy, unless you are Alex Rodriguez.

Derek’s Retiring-UPDATE

Derek Jeter has just announced that the 2014 season will be his last. So, just like Rivera, he will go out with a goodbye tour. We can debate Derek’s place in Yankees’ history and MLB’s history another day. For now, I will say that I have never seen Derek Jeter do the wrong thing on a baseball diamond. And off the field he has never done a thing to embarrass himself or the Yankees. That’s a pretty rare combination to achieve in the 21st Century.

And while Yankee fans are hoping to see Derek leave the field a champion again, it is worth mentioning that the Yankees regular season ends September 28th- in Fenway.

UPDATE- Ken Rosenthal just tweeted (in jest I think) “Former player says Alex is taking ground balls at short RIGHT now.”  That’s a great line.

 

A Very Good Start

Is anyone really surprised that Masahiro Tanaka said his goal is to win a World Championship?  What I thought was far more interesting was that Tanaka stood up at the microphone and said in English, “Hello, my name is Masahiro Tanaka. I am very happy to be a Yankee.” If you have ever tried to speak a new language, you know that takes some guts. And to do it in front of about 200 media members on live TV is impressive. And it didn’t end there.  Tanaka was confident and easy with his answers. He smiled and laughed frequently and he certainly gave the impression that none of the attention is going to bother him at all. We’ll see what happens  if he gets knocked around early, but Tanaka made a great impression today.

Here’s something I never knew until today. Japanese pitchers like to wear number 18 because that is the number given to the ace of a pitching staff. Tanaka will wear #19 because Hiroki Kuroda already wears #18 for the Yankees.

I don’t know if its snow fatigue, but today got me excited for baseball. The college baseball season starts Friday and the first Yankees’ game is only two weeks away. And they go against a pretty good football player no less.

Is It Really Over?

According to the paper of record, Alex Rodriguez has dropped his lawsuit against MLB, the MLBPA and Bud Selig. T.S. Eliot forecasted this when he said it would end- “not with a bang but a whimper”

So we won’t have Alex to kick around in 2014. That much is certain, but several questions remain.

1- Will Alex ever again wear a Yankees uniform?

2- If he doesn’t play again for the Yankees, will he get an offer from another team?

3- How can he drop the suit if he was so “grievously” wronged by this process?

Let’s take it from the top

1-This will be a fascinating battle between the Yankees and A-Rod. I suspect the Yankees will offer Alex a check for his remaining salary when the 2014 season is over. But they will try and escape from the home run clauses in his contract. His first home run bonus of $5-million is due when he hits his sixth home run post-suspension. Clearly, the Yankees don’t want to pay that, but I think they know Alex would certainly attain that bonus in the final three years of his contract. Will they go to court to try and invalidate that bonus?

2- I would say yes. Jeffery Loria needs a draw in South Florida and would be very interested in signing him for the league minimum. But that doesn’t mean he will play for them.

3-  The $27.5-million question if you will. I would guess that the prospect of testifying under oath was a bit more reality than Alex wanted to face. He has a lot of questions to answer if he ever faces the media again, but I wouldn’t expect him to do that. He spent months bombastically protesting his innocence, but he didn’t take the stand in his arbitration and he withdrew his lawsuit after 5pm on a Friday. That’s the equivalent of sneaking out the back door. At this point I am only left to wonder when he lines up his interview with Oprah?

As a fan, I am left to feel empty by all of this. MLB has “won” their war with A-Rod. Alex has been exposed as an enormous fraud and cheat. By dropping the lawsuit, he has given up his last opportunity for redemption in the eyes of the public. But, even with this suspension, he will have made over half a billion dollars from baseball when everything is said and done. Shoeless Joe had to live out his days in poverty after getting banned from baseball. A-Rod can slink off to one of his many mansions. There are no winners here.

 

Insanity?

According to Ken Rosenthal, the Yankees have “won” the Tanaka bidding with a 7-year/$155-million deal. Add on the posting fee of $20-million and a guy who has never thrown a pitch in the majors will cost them $25-million a year. (Rosenthal reports that this deal has an opt-out after four years.  I hope the Yankees strongly consider letting him walk if he triggers that, but I will save that conversation for 2017.)

The experts can say whatever they want about Tanaka, but nobody really knows what his stuff will translate to in the majors. If he pitches like the reports, the $25-million a year will be a decent deal. If he doesn’t….

But this deal is about the Yankees’ brand too. Japan is a baseball hotbed and Tanaka will draw a lot of interest. The Yankees certainly made plenty of money off the field from the Matsui signing and I would bet they see that happening again. Plus, this will certainly drive ticket sales in the Bronx.

And now we can say goodbye to the $189-million plan. It wasn’t a bad idea, but the execution in the minor leagues didn’t allow it to happen. Now that the won’t make it, I suspect there will be more spending to come. Tanaka puts them at about $192-million for 2014 and I suspect they might have $20-million or so left to spend.

For now though, the rotation is probably set. Sabathia, Kuroda, Tanaka and Nova are the locks with some interesting names like Pineda, Phelps and Banuelos in the running for the fifth spot.