I Almost Feel Sorry For Yankees Fans at This Point

Hankenstein (courtesy of Newsday)
(image courtesy of Newsday)

Look, I don’t like them any more than you do, generally. But in all seriousness, would you wish their new owner on anyone? Even your worst enemy?

I’m not sure.

What’s he said now? Oh, just that the Rays have no justification for retaliating against his Yankees because they’re the beneficiaries of revenue sharing.

“I don’t want these teams in general to forget who subsidizes a lot of them, and it’s the Yankees, the Red Sox, Dodgers, Mets,” he said to The New York Post. “I would prefer if teams want to target the Yankees that they at least start giving some of that revenue sharing and luxury tax money back. From an owner’s point of view, that’s my point.”

In case you missed the background, a Rays minor leaguer (Elliott Johnson) ran over a Yankee minor league catcher (Francisco Cervelli) at the plate in a hard but legitimate play, breaking the backstop’s wrist. Four days later, the always classy Yankee Shelley Duncan tried to spike Rays second baseman Akinori Iwamura in a hard and illegitimate play, prompting a real, live Simmons basebrawl.

As Olney says, none of the above is really that newsworthy: everyone’s acting as you might expect them to.

But what I hadn’t known was that the Rays were disqualified from defending themselves from eye high spikes, simply because their budget is an eighth of the Empire’s. Particularly if they “go after [Yankee] stars.” You know, as is traditional.

Thank Jebus Hankenstein is around to educate all of us on the subject, however. Otherwise those uppity Rays might think that, well, they’re an actual major league team that could actually compete with the Yankees. And we can’t have that.

Quick Links: Drunk Ortiz, Hansen Thoughts, Jeter Leader?

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the_scene, originally uploaded by sogrady.

Good news, everyone! I survived a weekend spent in an 8×6 shack on a frozen lake in sub-zero Minnesota temperatures with three other dudes. More or less in one piece.

Honestly, though, if there’s anything better than ice fishing for getting me ready for baseball, I’m not sure what it would be.

Age Surprises

Peter Gammons: Every so often I’m surprised by age comparisons. Sometimes I’m more impressed with a player because they’re younger than I believed, others I’m less impressed because they’re older. Either way, it’s always interesting.

Gammons mentioned one today:

Remember that Jon Garland is six months younger than Bedard and has 52 more career wins.

In the immortal words of Carsenio, “I did not know that.” But the one that really put things in perspective for me?

Clay Buchholz will be 23 to start the season, while Seattle’s Felix Hernandez – you remember the one hitter last year, don’t you? – will be 21.

In the only slightly less immortal words of Stephen Colbert, “Think about that. I haven’t.”

Battle Royale in Bullpen

Amalie Benjamin: According to everyone’s favorite Amalie, the Sox will open with 12 pitchers on the roster rather than 11. With Papelbon, Okajima, Delcarmen, Timlin, and Tavarez all but guaranteed of spots if they’re healthy – whether it’s for contract reasons, talent, or ideally both – that leaves two spots up to the likes of Aardsma, Hansen, Lopez, Snyder, and the non-roster invitees in Michael Bowden, Lee Gronkiewicz, Hunter Jones, Dan Kolb, Justin Masterson, Jon Switzer and Michael Tejera. Unless – and maybe even if – Bowden and Masterson allow no hits and no walks for all of spring training, they’re ticketed for the minors. Jones too. The rest of the folks on that list are real long shots.

Cashman Watch, Continued

Bill Madden: First we have this bit from Madden:

At the time [of Pettite's return], there was elation all around, especially from Cashman, who used Pettitte’s “I shall return” proclamation as the incentive for walking away from a deal for the Twins’ Johan Santana – a deal he never wanted to make. With Pettitte taking up $16 million in payroll, the Yankees could no longer afford Santana, Cashman argued, and Hal Steinbrenner, Hank’s partner and the primary financial expert in the business, agreed.

“Take your choice, guys,” Hal reportedly told the group of Yankee higher-ups in a meeting on the Santana deal prior to Cashman’s departure for the winter meetings. “Pettitte or Santana?”

And then we have this bit from the great Gammons:

But if all the spotlight causes the respectful, quiet Pettitte to go into a shell and turn into a 35-year-old .500 pitcher, his grab for the $16 million that steered the Yankees away from Johan Santana may cost a few jobs. Which will not be fair.

Anyone care to give me odds that Cashman is one of those jobs?

Hansen, Hansen, Hansen – So Hot Right Now?

Speaking of Hansen, he’s received a lot of attention in the Globe. Granted, some of the coverage was for the novelty of the surgery he had to correct sleep apnea; in his own words, he used to snore like a 500 pound fat man. But he’s also being discussed almost daily by the beat writers as a legitimate candidate for one of the last spots in the pen.

Certainly, if he can throw strikes with a slider resembling the one he threw at St John’s, I’d bet on him for a spot. The kid throws hard, after all. Unfortunately, I’d put the odds of that precondition being met as long indeed. Keith Law is, if anything, even more convinced of this than I am. In fact, he’s gone as far as arguing that Daniel Bard is a better bet than Hansen, saying:

I saw Hansen again in the Fall League … it’s not there, at least not yet. I’d be more inclined to put money on Bard taking a step forward in ’08 than Hansen.

Given that Bard’s walked nearly 2 guys for every one he’s struck out as a pro (78BB/47K), and better than 1/IP (78BB/75IP), well, that can’t really be taken as a positive report on Hansen.

Good Times, Good Times

Steve Buckley: I don’t think this qualifies as throwing your teammate under the bus simply because it’s high comedy, but, well, you make the call:

“Last year after we won it,” [Papelbon] said yesterday, “I was in a hotel room partying, and Ortiz was there trying to show me how to do the breakdance. And he fell over, and he didn’t know what he was doing. Either that or he was just too drunk. I don’t know.”

The good folks over at Surviving Grady are absolutely right: Papelbon must be miced 24/7/365. That would be the first and only reality show I’d ever watch. Unless someone sticks a camera on Marissa Miller (sorry, Amalie).

Rest as a Trend

Rob Bradford: It’s clear from Rob’s latest and some of the other commentary leading up to and follow last year’s playoffs that enforced rest may become a prescribed part of the Red Sox pitching management strategy. As an aside, I was a bit surprised – and pleased – to see Beckett recognize the benefits of the approach, given that it is at odds with the Herschiser like ideal that starting pitchers are a horse to be ridden until they die.

What I’m curious about now is whether or not this strategy of enforced rest will be emulated more broadly within the league. Certain factors – the lack of starting pitching to support the approach, the lack of intelligence within some front offices, or incompatible pitching management philosophies – are likely to limit the spread of the tactic. But baseball front offices are smarter and more creative than they were even a few years ago, and even the conservative clubs are willing to try and emulate what’s been successful for Word Series winners.

Taking One for the Team?

John Mazor: Fortunately, I don’t need to take apart this crime against sports journalism, because the pros at Fire Joe Morgan have already done that for you. Nor do I have to explain why Jeter is not a pre-eminent or even average shortstop, because the Penn researchers Mazor is trying to slag have explained that in sufficient detail for all but the most ardent homers.

For an article that bases much of its argument on the fact that Jeter has won three Gold Gloves – in spite of the fact that that award means nothing (disagree? then explain how Palmeiro won it for 1B in ’99 while playing only 28 games at the position) – I find it surprising that Mazor fails to mention that the two Gold Gloves that Rodriguez wore came in his last two years as a shortstop. The years, put differently, before he moved to third base to accommodate the statistically and observably inferior shortstop. As one of the researchers put it, “The Yankees have one of the best defensive shortstops playing out of position in deference to one of the worst defensive shortstops.”

Is Jeter an excellent player? Indeed. But is he the leader, and the Cap’n Intangibles, that Yankee fans believe him to be? I’m not sure how you make that argument. To me, a real leader would have done what was best for the team: let the best shortstop man that position.

But frankly, as I used to tell my Yankee friends, I’m just as happy that that didn’t work out. Can you imagine a world in which the Pinstriped ones could throw A-Rod and Jeter at short and second, then find power bats for the corners? It’s too terrifying to even contemplate.

Cashman: Not Long for the Yankees?

You’ll recall that I’ve previously suggested that Brian Cashman’s tenure with the Yankees may be in some jeopardy: I believe the exact phrasing was, “short-timer.” Well, I have news. Good news, at least for the constituency that is of the opinion that a Cashman-less Yankee organization is, in all probability, a weaker organization.

First, there was the near shocking candor of Cashman at a joint charity appearance with Theo this week. I’m not sure what or if the Yankees GM had been drinking that day, but just…wow. First, he restated his preference that the Yankees keep their own pitching rather than trade for Santana. Ok, nothing terribly shocking about that; it could be gamesmanship, could be a statement for the record, but either way it’s contradictory to Hankenstein’s public commentary. But Cashman didn’t stop there. Regarding Yankees fan favorite and could-have-been-a-Sox Bernie Williams, Cashman claimed that the center fielder’s music “took away from his play,” and that his 2005 season was, not to put too fine a point on it, “terrible.” Continuing, he added that Joe Torre had inserted Williams “ahead of guys who could help us win.” Ouch.

Not enough for you? How about publicly calling out Abreu and Damon for reporting to camp out of shape? Or, when asked about the Yankees biblical encounter with the Cleveland insect life, responding “I thought our guys weren’t mentally tough enough to get through it.”

Good lord. Want your job much, Brian?

The presumed source of the friction hasn’t exactly been sitting on his hands during all of this either. Hankenstein, in an interview with the AP yesterday, issued what I’d agree with Olney could be considered a veiled threat to his GM. Unless you think the following is a ringing endorsement:

“I will be patient with the young pitchers and players. There’s no question about that because I know how these players develop,” [Hankenstein] said. “But as far as missing the playoffs – if we miss the playoffs by the end of this year, I don’t know how patient I’ll be. But it won’t be against the players. It won’t be a matter of that. It will be a matter of maybe certain people in the organization could have done something else.”

To recap, for the ADD afflicted:

  1. GM calls out former player
  2. GM calls out former manager
  3. GM calls out two thirds of his current outfield
  4. GM states preference for forgoing a trade that his owner has publicly admitted he wants to make
  5. Owner states that a playoff appearance is mandatory
  6. Owner states that in the absence of said playoff appearance, players are ok, front office is not

Anyone think this will end well? Anyone?

Can We Drop the Whole "The Red Sox Are the New Yankees" Thing Now?

Following the $100M+ the Red Sox shelled out for Daisuke Matsuzaka last offseason, I – like many Red Sox fans – was besieged with claims from (jilted) Yankees fans that “we were just like them.” That by virtue of that single capital expenditure, we were at once on equal financial footing with the Evil Empire. The media, true to form, picked up on this theme, debating such brain teasers as “would it be as fun to win now,” or “have we sold our souls?” Which obviously, I’ll ignore.

Herculean as my efforts were, however, I was entirely unsuccessful in persuading Yankees fans and good people alike that the two clubs remained quite distinct, in fact, in financial terms.

For while it’s convenient for fans of small market clubs like the A’s and Twins to lump all of the big market teams into a single bucket, the fact remains that we weren’t within hailing distance of the Yankees in terms of payroll numbers (the Matsuzaka posting fee aside, which I’ll get to in a moment). This inclination is understandable, given the respective payroll deltas. According to an AP report today, the gap between our roster and Tampa’s last year, for example, was $123.6, against the $62.9 million the Yankees spent above and beyond our costs.

So how are we different, in light of those numbers? Well, fortunately Allan Wood over at the Joy of Sox answered that question for you this past August:

Meaning you could take the Red Sox’s current payroll, add the salaries of

Ichiro Suzuki
Miguel Tejada
Kevin Millwood
Barry Zito
Albert Pujols
Dontrelle Willis

and still be about $1 million shy of the Yankees’ current payroll.

And that was with a payroll differential of $66M, not $62M.

We spend more than most every other club, it’s true. But please, can we drop the fiction that we’re the same as the Yankees?

Oh, and that monster posting fee which doesn’t get counted against officially reported payroll? Well, amortizing the fee over the 6 year life of the deal, I come out with a figure of $8.5 million per season. A hefty chunk of change for you and me, but not one that alters the above argument meaningfully.

Hughes > Buchholz?

Yankees phenom Phil Hughes had an interesting year last year, beginning the ’07 season as the near unanimous top minor league pitching prospect and finishing it with a very respectable 4.46 / .235 BAA line in 72.2 innings, during which he K’d 58 against 28 free passes. All in all, despite some injury setbacks, you’d have to call it a solid introduction to the big leagues for a young pitcher.

Still, it was nearly as unanimous that by the end of the year, he’d been surpassed by the likes of Joba Chamberlain within the organization (who frankly terrifies me), but even worse, Clay Buchholz without.

For his part, the Sox’ slim righthander K’d an even more impressive 22 in 22 and two thirds innings before being shut down due to shoulder fatigue, although I hadn’t realized he’d walked 10 in the same span. Even more impressive, the average against Buchholz? A mere .184. Oh, and there was that game in which he allowed no hits; did you see the bender that closed it against Markakis? Sweet jebus, that was unholy.

Anyway, whether you’d take him over Joba is a point worthy of debate (Keith Law would take Joba), no doubt, but I agree with the general conclusion that you’re pretty happy with either.

And also with the general conclusion that – at least as of today (how quick this can change) – you’d probably prefer either to Phil Hughes. Which is more of a testament to how good those two are than any failing on Hughes’ part, but still.

All of that said, however, there is one area in which Hughes clearly surpasses both Buchholz and Chamberlain – at least to the best of my knowledge. He blogs, and they do not.

So let’s pick it up there, Clay. Rumor has it you’re a bright kid, in spite of the HS mistake, and I’d prefer that we not get outdone by the Yankees in any medium.

Why Rudy's Campaign is in Trouble

Though the writing’s been on the wall for a while now, the occasional New Yorker still seems perplexed by Rudy’s also-ran status. Well, fortunately we have an explanation for you: it’s all about the Red Sox.

Well, ok, as John Stewart covers in the tail end of the video over on the Huffington Post, it’s probably attributable to something a bit more substantial. But the Sox connections really aren’t helping.

First, there was his baffling decision to root for the Red Sox in the World Series. Because he’s quote unquote “an American League fan.” Look, I appreciate that back in the good old days, the Senior / Junior circuit divide meant something (something other than the NL getting beaten like a drum, I mean). That the All Star game meant something, unlike today’s version which – in spite of the ever credible Fox’s assurances – doesn’t mean anything. But a Yankee fan rooting for the Red Sox? It’s just not done. Maybe he hadn’t checked the road attendance figures for Red Sox games – what with running for President and all – but I could have told him: one more fan isn’t going to make much of a difference to us, dude, I promise. But while I’m not much of a political strategist, it might make a difference to your campaign. Just maybe.

More recently, the New York Post – that journalistic ivory tower – provided us with this hilarity:

Some Rudy Giuliani volunteers bused here from New York City struck out as they went door to door in advance of Tuesday’s Granite State primary while wearing caps or jackets of the hated New York Yankees.

Trivial? Possibly. But ask yourself this: do you want someone who sends people wearing Yankee garb to New England homes running this country?

Exactly. And that’s why his campaign’s in trouble. That, or, what Stewart said.

Motto of the Red Sox Front Office: Whatever Works?

Like every front office in the league, the folks who call Yawkey Way home have their pluses and minuses. I confess to never understanding, as an example, the affection they had – for some years – for Julio Lugo, who is not a bad player but to me undeserving of that level of attention. Let alone contract.

But though Theo declined to take my advice on that score – or, admittedly, any other – I remain fundamentally impressed with his willingness to rethink everything, and borrow shamelessly from approaches that have yielded results. This openness to reinvention, not of the wheel but rather antiquated, archaic practices, was to me the primary philosophical takeaway from the once lauded if now clichéd Moneyball.

As a life philosophy, it’s a bit blunt, but more front offices around the league would benefit from the simple realization that if something isn’t working: try something else.

The latest datapoint supporting the conclusion that the Red Sox front office is the baseball equivalent of the English language – which for all of its other faults, steals liberally from other languages to augment itself – comes to us courtesy of Joe McDonald from the Providence Journal.

The piece describes in some detail our offseason rookie development program, which incorporates community exposure, media training and other non-baseball educational activities with the relevant workouts. The important bit, to me, that McDonald extracted from director of player development Mike Hazen is the admission that the program itself is entirely unoriginal:

“This is something that is fairly unique within the game…There are a few other teams that do this and we’ve adapted what we do from the Indians, who have been doing it for about 10 years. We’re not ashamed to say we’re trying to model some things after their player-development system and we’re trying to grow on it. I’m sure there will be other clubs that do it in the future.”

Nor should they feel any shame, in my opinion: quite the contrary. Sifting through the techniques and practices of competitors for ideas and potential improvements should be the most logical exercise in the world, but Hazen’s comment is reflective of a culture that has permeated baseball for years. A culture afflicted with what is known within the technology industry as NIH: Not Invented Here.

If we’re lucky, the Yankees will be unable to learn from what is working for their hated rivals, in spite of suggestions from its fans. As long as Cashman is in place, however, I don’t expect that to be the case, since he and Theo seem to be not just cordial but positively like minded. Which is why I count myself amongst Hank Steinbrenner’s biggest fans, because when his GM is saying things like:

“The dynamics are changing with us…When I signed up with this current three-year deal, and this is the last year of it, it was with full authority to run the entire program. George had given me that. But things have changed in this third year now with the emergence of Hal and Hank Steinbrenner, and that started this winter.”

I don’t know about you, but my first thought is: short-timer.

Which would be an excellent development, in this Sox fan’s opinion.

P.S. A belated thank you to Michael Dolan‘s Indians for their most excellent rookie program. Really came in handy last year.