Monday, October 30, 2006

Weighing Your Options

Now that the World Series is over, we're now in that awkward first stage of the off-season, where teams and players (mostly teams) have to make decisions about contract options, and where prospective free agents actually declare themselves available on the open market.

Today we're talking about contract options. Some Yankees have already seen their options become guaranteed--in 2006, both Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera were able to meet playing time goals that guaranteed them contracts in 2007. The following Yannkees have options that the club has to make a decision about (all numbers courtesy of the Unofficial MLB page) sometime soon:

Mike Mussina (17MM in 2007 or $1.5MM buyout) -- This is actually more than one decision. It's a no-brainer to say that the Yanks should take that $1.5MM buyout. Mussina was a very good pitcher in 2006, but he wasn't $17MM worth of good (actually, to be realistic, you have to think of it as $15.5MM good--the value of the contract less the value of the buyout, which is a sunk cost the team will pay if they choose to keep the player or not). The question is whether--and at what cost--to re-sign Mussina once you've told him that you don't think he's a $15.5MM pitcher. Is he still worth eight digits to the Yanks? Perhaps. How many years do you give him? Mussina has previously said he wants to pitch three or four more years to reach some milestones. But does it make sense to guarantee Mussina--who turns 38 in December--a major league contract until the age of 41 or 42? It's seldom wise to give any pitcher four years, but two could definitely be in the cards, with an option for a third. You get that deal, at $7-8MM per year (Kris Benson Money(tm)), it might be an acceptable risk. If we crawl over $10MM per year, or guarantee a third year, not so much so.

Gary Sheffield (Option for $13MM, no buyout) -- Sheff's already agitating for a multi-year deal, which is a reaction to the rumor that the Yankees will pick up this option, just to trade him. We've heard this stuff before--almost from the moment that he agreed to his current Yankees contract, Sheffield was already complaining that he wanted to get interest on the deferred money. It's a mistake to take Sheffield's negotiating postures as having an effect on the value of his bat to the team. For all of Sheffield's threats that he'll make things miserable for a team that doesn't [insert here: re-negotiate his contract, give him an extension, cut him loose in free agency] he's never carried through on those threats. Coming off an injury, I doubt that Sheff could get more than $13MM yearly salary for 2007. I say call his bluff. If he decides to go Operation Shutdown on the Yankees, they lose nothing. If the Yankees keep him, and he hits the way he can when he's looking for a new contract, then it's good. If he induces the Angels, Phillies, or Braves to step up and offer something of value--and he should be attractive to all three clubs--then you're ahead of the game.

Then again, it's easy for me to say--I'm not the one putting up the $13MM.

Jaret Wright ("Option" for $7MM, $4MM buyout, player option to void the contract) -- Technically, this is most often referred to as a "right to void" the contract, which was activated by Wright spending a certain amount of time on the DL in 2005 with a bad shoulder. The thing to remember (unless Wright goes nuts and voids the contract himself) is that all that's at stake for the Yanks is $3MM--the $4MM "buyout" is a sunk cost, money that's gone no matter what the Yanks do. So the question the Yanks have to ask themselves is: is Jaret Wright worth $3MM--and maybe some B-grade trade swag--to anyone in the majors, including the Yankees. I think the answer is yes. Let's put it another way--the performance Wright put in last season was worth about $5 million on the open market. I'd suspect that Orioles might be in the market to get Wright back under Leo Mazzone's win, and $3MM is small money for someone who's not actively waiver bait.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Game Over, 2006: Five and Out

So another baseball season ends, this time with the St. Louis Cardinals celebrating their World Series victory in their home park. With a 83-78 regular season record, the 2006 Cardinals become possibly the "worst" team ever to win a championship. The previous low regular season record for a championship team was the 1987 Twins, at 85-77. Interestingly, that Twins team also rolled over a "superior" Tigers team to make the postseason.

Both of the World Series teams backed into the playoffs, becoming huge underdogs. The Cardinals almost featured a historic collapse, as a late charge by the Houston Astros almost dropped them out of the playoffs altogether. The Tigers lost AL Central on the last day of the season, getting whupped by the Kansas City Royals--fortunately for them, they had the social safety net of the Wild Card. Both teams were expected to lose their first round matchups, and both won handily; the Cardinals were clear underdogs to the New York Mets, and their pitchers caught fire during that series, holding down one of the strongest offenses in the National League.

The Tigers cruised to seven straight postseason wins on the strength of their three weapons: pitching, defense, and the home run (not necessarily in that order). The Tigers relievers won game two of their ALDS, the starters won games three and four; they outhomered the "mighty" Yankee lineup, 6-4; and they only made two errors to the Yankees' six. In the ALCS, the Tigers outhomered the A's, 7-4; the A's only scored nine runs in four losses.

I was cheering for the Tigers in this Series, if only for La Chiquita and her family, who are from Detroit. But the Cardinals were able to keep the Tigers in the ballpark, and the Tigers' defense abandoned them. Pitcher fielding, one of the neglected areas of the game, absolutely killed the Tigers in this series. It seemed like the Detroit pitchers couldn't pick up a comebacker without something bad happening, and a run scoring. Brandon Inge, one of the best thirdbasemen in the AL, made critical throwing errors (See, Alex? You're not the only one.) A fairy-tale run ended in an ugly way, one which I hope doesn't embitter Tigers fans past seeing that their team had a great, great season.

So congratulations to the St. Louis Cardinals, and their fans. While being the "worst" world champion ever is a dubious distinction, it calls to mind a joke. What do they call the guy who graduates last in his class in medical school?

They call him "Doctor." Flags fly forever.


What was more frustrating: watching Jeff Weaver pitch eight good innings in a World Series clincher, or watching Kenny Rogers suddenly become untouchable (if sticky to the touch) this postseason? On the one hand, the Yanks won the World Series in which Rogers was goofing things up, while Weaver cost the Yanks a critical game of the 2003 WS (edge, Weaver). On the other hand, Rogers' ace pitching helped eliminate the Yankees; while Weaver's sudden effectiveness helped eliminate the Mets (edge, Rogers). I'd like to hear from all you good folks out there--what's the woist?

This World Championship assures that not only will Tony LaRussa make it into the Hall of Fame, he may well be canonized, as well. That's going to be annoying. It'll be telling of how the members of the BWAA actually submit their votes, to see how LaRussa does in the Manager of the Year award. If LaRussa wins (or even finishes a strong second), you can be sure that all that stuff about ballots being cast before the end of the season is bunk. Supposedly, there's a fair amount of leeway as to when the ballots are actually received, although voters are supposed to only take the regular season into consideration.

Changing gears, from Sherman's column in the Post (hat tip to Repoz at BTF): "And once Pavano's body is in better shape, [agent Gregg] Clifton said, the pitcher can begin dialogues to work on repairing his reputation." Uh, good luck with that.

I mentioned the 1987 Twins earlier. A member of that championship team, and former Yankee, knuckleballer Joe Niekro passed away yesterday. He had suffered a brain aneurysm the day before. Seeing Peter Gammons on the field at the World Series, just months after Gammons suffered an aneurysm of his own, makes you think about how lucky the ESPN analyst is. Our condolences go out to Joe's family, including his brother, Hall of Famer and ex-Yankee Phil Niekro, and his son, current San Francisco Giant Lance Niekro.

We'll be back this week with more wrapup on the Yankee season, and a few non-baseball items.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Fight Night

I don't usually do politics here, but tonight, before the game, something interesting is going to happen. Regardless of your political stripe, I think that if you're in New York--or even anywhere where you can get a feed to the New York One news station, you should tune in.

This election cycle has been a big snoozefest in New York State. The Governor's race seems sealed up, with Democrat Eliot Spitzer capturing the Governor's mansion after 12 years of Republican rule under George Pataki. Hillary Clinton's opponent for the Senate has resorted to calling her ugly, which we suppose will be followed by "...and your mother dresses you funny!" The one Republican who was expected to run a competitive race, onetime senatorial candidate, Jeannine Pirro, now running for Attorney General against Andrew Cuomo (son of the former Governor), seems hopelessly sunk by reports that she called now-convict Bernie Kerik about illegally wiretapping her husband's yacht, and that it was Kerik who sounded more conscientious about not breaking the law.

But today's interesting thing is a race that was not supposed to be competitive, the race for New York State Comptroller. The Comptroller is basically the fiscal watchdog of the state, conducting audits and investigations and making sure that the state isn't losing money to fraud and waste. It's probably the third-highest elected office in the state.

Last winter, at an event honoring an Irish talk radio host, I meet a fellow in a bow tie who introduces himself and shakes my hand. As usual, it's a loud room and I don't catch his name, quick exchange of vague pleasantries and I'm on to the next person in the room. Later on my boss catches up with me and says, "I see you met Chris Callaghan."

The name was familiar. One of the things I do is manage the firm email account, which means wading through spam, particularly from political candidates and wannabes.

"Guy who wants to run for Comptroller?" I asked.
"You serious?"

There's something about politicians. When you catch them among civilians, they usually stand out. Almost invariably, they're alpha dogs. They carry themselves like they know that they're someone important, and they expect deference from you. The guy that I met had none of that. He looked like someone's accountant---which is pretty much what he is.

I filed J. Christopher Callaghan away under "Sacrificial Lambs" and went along my merry way.

You see, I'd also met the incumbent, Alan Hevesi. He is an alpha dog. When I was in law school, we hosted a debate for the New York City Comptroller's office, which was basically uncontested--so this was a pro forma contest of showing up against the Republican challenger as well as "candidates" from fringier climes like the Communist Party, the Right to Life Party, and the Libertarians. Hevesi won in a walk, as he did when he ran for the state Comptroller's position. He's got a good, professorial tone to him that's just a little bit wonky for discussing budgetary issues, but when someone gets out of line he slips on his Queens accent, and sounds like someone who could get in a good shot or two in a fistfight.

A few weeks ago, however, Hevesi's cakewalk started to resemble a street fight, somewhat. You see, Callaghan did what a good comptroller's supposed to do, and investigated some waste and the incumbent Comptroller. Turns out Hevesi has had a couple of state employees whose major work duties have been to drive his wife around. That led to an Ethics probe that recently found that Hevesi probably violated the Public Officials Law.

As the controversy brewed, the two candidates' standings in the polls didn't change all that substantially. Callaghan has only a very small fraction of the money that Hevesi has in his war chest, not enough to do any real advertising. Callaghan has no name recognition, and most voters couldn't pick his face out of a line-up, unless you clued them in about the bow tie. And Hevesi refused to debate him, prefering to coast to victory rather than have to meet Callaghan face-to-face to discuss the issues, and explain his chaufeur controversy.

Until tonight at 7:00 PM, that is.

Forget party politics--this is one of the most interesting political science experiments, out there. Can a guy who came out of nowhere, who has no money, and who doesn't look like your average politician win political office? Will Callaghan fumble the ball when he finally gets to take the big stage against a smoother, more politically-experienced opponent? Does it even matter? Does anyone decide how to vote based on debates?

Even more fascinating, I have no idea what Hevesi is going to say tonight, or for that matter, why he suddenly opted to debate after all. Maybe he dug up some dirt that allows him to go on the offensive. Maybe he'll offer a tearful apology; or he could angrily accuse his critics of being a "vast right-wing conspiracy." Anything could happen.

It should make for good TV. Here's hoping it makes for good government.

Monday, October 23, 2006

One Powerful Clump of Dirt...

So the big thing about last night's World Series game, where the Tigers tied the Series at one apiece, was that Kenny Rogers was spotted with a dark stain on his left hand, which he dismissed as a "clump of dirt" that was somehow stuck to his pitching hand.


ESPN reports that this isn't the first time this post-season that Rogers has had this stain on his hand. Does this mean that the Tigers' postseason run, which has been based in large part on the fact that Rogers has been untouchable in the playoffs, is tainted?

More importantly, why doesn't anyone seem to care?

Yesterday, at the book signing for our friend Mark Swartz's new book, H2O, I told someone that I write about baseball and the first reaction was "what do you think about steroids?" I said that one of the few constants about athletics is that everyone wants an advantage, and will do whatever they think will work to get a leg up on the other guy. Was that way in the day of Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, straight on through to Barry Bonds.

I've never understood why some cheating drives people crazier than others. No one got too worked up over Gaylord Perry loading up the ball, no one gets too worked up over the fact that Whitey Ford admits to scuffing the ball. So I guess the reaction to Kenny's "clump of dirt" isn't surprising. It's like the last Summer Olympics, I remember one of the swimmers, a Japanese guy (IIRC), going through a turn in one of the events where the swimmers had to do different strokes each time across the pool. He goes through the turn, and one of the announcers notes, calmly "That's an illegal dolphin kick." That was all. Didn't mention it again, no controversy developed over that in a festival of competitions where everything seems to cause controversy.

It was no big deal, I guess. Not like he tested positive for nandrolone, or (gasp!) cannabis, or anything. Just an illegal maneuver that no one other than the announcer spoke up about, that's all.

In this morning's New York Times, muckraker Selena Roberts was complaining about "pampered" Albert Pujols's nasty disposition, and contrasting that to the belle of the World Series Ball, Kenny Rogers. Prior to Pujols making some tepid comments about Tom Glavine, I don't recall anybody complaining about his "dour" disposition; but contrasting that with man of the people Kenny Rogers whose curveball "channels the energy of the crowd" is the height of hypocrisy.

I guess if A-Rod wants to win over the press, he better learn to throw a spitter.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

World Series Diary

Over at Baseball Prospectus, they have the running Diary I did of Game one of the World Series. It's a pay article (don't complain, you should be subscribing to Baseball Prospectus anyway), but here's a taste, with my take on the big controversial play of the game:

9:39: BPer Neil deMause nominates "Who would you say is the most complex character on Saved by the Bell?" for dumbest conversation topic of the World Series. Dumbest conversation topic yet, is all I have to add. I was kind of hoping that Joe Buck would turn the conversation to Screech’s porn tape--Bill Simmons’ head would have exploded, for certain.

9:41: Pujols, on first with a walk, goes first-to-third on a bad pickoff throw by Verlander. Have to wonder if a more experienced first baseman than Guillen might have been able to control the damage on that throw. A Jim Edmonds single scores Pujols, and Scott Rolen follows with a ground-rule double to send Verlander to the showers.

9:49: With Jason Grilli on the mound, a ball is hit to Inge, who is playing in. Inge throws wide to Ivan Rodriguez, and then collides, in foul territory by the third base coaches’ box, with Scott Rolen, who took a wide turn around third. The play continues, with Rolen going home and being tagged out easily. However, obstruction is called on Inge, so Rolen scores.

I get the call, but it's kind of hard to swallow, since Inge was well out of the base path, with his back to the runner, so he couldn’t have seen Rolen or expected to be in Rolen's way. I guess the message here is that it’s the fielder's job to make sure he stays the heck out of the runner’s way, regardless of what one should expect. The only safe place for Inge to stand after that play would be on the infield grass, because then Rolen couldn’t run him over without being automatically called out for running inside the base line.

What are you guys thinking about the World Serious? Are you following it at all?

Friday, October 20, 2006

MidWest Series

Back in the 80s, this happened often. In 1982, the Brewers battled the Cardinals in the World Serious, in 1985, you had the Royals and the Cards, in 1987, you had the Twins and the Cards. Since '87, the closest we've come to having two middle-American teams in the Series was last year, when the midwestern Chicago White Sox battled the southwestern Houston Astros.

That's close, but no cigar.

This year, it will be the most embattled city in the midwest, Detroit, against the St. Louis Cardinals, who banished the Mets in shocking fashion last night, 3-1. The look on Mets fans faces in that stadium last night was pure gut punch--they were certain their team was going to win, and the disappointment was profound when the Mets blew chance after chance to score despite good pitching from Oliver Perez and a great fielding play by Endy Chavez keeping them in the game. The game ended in a way that was simultaneously dramatic and anticlimactic--with the bases loaded, two outs, and Carlos Beltran at the plate, getting struck out on three pitches, the last one an amazing yakker that he took for the strikeout.

I'm of mixed feelings about the NLCS. As a Yankee fan, the Cardinals' victory does make my life a little bit easier. Nonetheless, I take no pleasure in the Mets' loss, and I have to admit that I was rooting a little bit for some of the Mets players--mainly Oliver Perez, who's a favorite of mine from his big season in Pittsburgh, but also John Valentin and Julio Franco.

But now, all that's left to say to Willie Randolph's crew is that it was a real nice run. See you next year. And on to Detroit.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Muttering Under My Breath

I sat down at the computer and tried to write an entry here a couple of times. After all, there's plenty to discuss about the Yankees, their postseason loss, what the off-season may bring. But I started to write under the title "Postseason Postmortem" (as has been my habit) and it seemed...inappropriate after what happened last week. So, barring some serious team news, I'm just going to hold off writing about the Yankees for a while, until after the World Series, most likely. It's a long postseason, and there will be time to pass out team grades, break down the LDS loss, check out the free agent market, all that good stuff.

  • One of my justifications for not writing up the Yankees' postseason wrapup right away is that the other New York team's fortunes will figure in how this off-season breaks down. For all the talk of the Mets owning the town, now, I think that the Mets will have to win at least one more round of playoffs to have a real impact. Not trash talk, here, but just harsh reality--how many people really notice the team that lost the LCS?
  • By the way, why is it that I only hear this "own the town" stuff from Mets fans? Back in the '80s and '90s, you couldn't shake a tree without having a Mets fan sneer at you that New York is a National League town. As if there was a citywide referendum going on about the designated hitter or something. Then, the Yankees got hot, and for eleven years, that talk was shut down cold. You heard murmurs in 1999 and 2000, which were pretty much squashed dead by the Subway World Series.
  • Still, when the Yankees drew 4 million fans to the Bronx this season, I didn't hear anyone talking about the increase as a matter of the Yanks "owning the town." I'll go a step further and say that, as a Yankee fan, I really don't want any Mets fans jumping the bandwagon for my team. Stay in Shea, please.
  • Speak up, Yankee fans, does anyone really care about whether this is an AL town or an NL town?
  • Still, this Mets team is pretty well set up whichever way you paint it. They have gotten one series farther than the Yanks so far, and the injuries to Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez mean that the pressure to win it all is off them, somewhat. For the same reason, if they go all the way, and beat the Tigers in the World Series, it will be huge. The kind of thing that puts even more pressure on the Yanks to make some noise this winter, sign Barry Zito (boo!) or Daisuke Matsuzaka (yeah!).
  • You can see that I'm slightly unmoored from reality in a world where Kenny Rogers suddenly can't lose in the postseason.
  • Suddenly, Kenny Rogers is a team leader. The wise old hand that helped those wild kids in Detroit learn how to win. Last year, he was pond scum who beat down on cameramen, and who'd been labeled an undesirable in every major league clubhouse where he'd ever set up residence.
  • This is why I take talk of "chemistry" with a grain of salt. It could be that Kenny Rogers suddenly transformed himself into a team leader. Could be that he's been a leader all along and we simply didn't know it. You just can't tell, and that's the point. I doubt we'd be talking about Rogers's leadership skills if the Yankees had lit him up in the first round, though.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

There Are No Words...

Mid-afternoon, I got a message from my brother, saying that a small airplane had crashed into a building on Manhattan's East Side, that they didn't think it was terrorism, that it didn't look like very many people were killed, but that my evening commute might be affected.

Then the emails started coming in on Baseball Prospectus's internal mailing list. The messages said it was Cory Lidle's plane that crashed into that building. Lidle is presumed dead.

That set my head spinning, and my heart somewhat numb. Lidle was a guy who had just joined the team, so he wasn't someone we'd gotten attached to. Lidle was a free agent after the season, and I'd assumed that Lidle's ineffective middle relief stint in Detroit this weekend was the last we'd seen of Cory Lidle in pinstripes. This, particularly after Lidle was the one Yankee to speak ill of Joe Torre when the Joe Must Go! bandwagon was at its fullest.

Lidle had been a player who moved around a lot--he was on his seventh team in a major league career that started with the Mets in 1997--and he hadn't made too many friends at his last stop, in Philadelphia, where he was strongly criticized by Arthur Rhodes after he was traded to the Yankees along with Bobby Abreu. Now, all of that seems so irrelevant.

Our condolences go out to Mr. Lidle's family, as well as the people (and the families of those) who have been injured, killed, or left homeless by this tragedy.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

No Regime Change and other Headlines

Topping the news today is the announcement that, despite the hype and agitatin' by members of the Yankee front office, the media, Joe Torre is goin' nowhere. Here's a link:

Torre Says He Is Staying With Yankees (AP)

The more I thought about Piniella, or Girardi, or Showalter coming back to manage the Yanks, the more I wondered if it wasn't worthwhile to get one more year out of Joe. First of all, I really want Torre to retire from managing as a Yankee. Few things would be more depressing than Joe Torre coming back to beat the Yankees with another team. Second of all, all the candidates to replace Joe are flawed--Piniella might light a fire under the Yanks' behinds, but he'd be just as likely to slag Chien Ming Wang's and Phil Hughes's arms. Ditto two times for Dusty Baker. Showalter's a control freak who would polarize the clubhouse; and Girardi has the same micromanaging reputation, plus he's been billed as Joe Torre, Jr.--which would probably obviate the purpose of getting rid of the original Joe Torre.

Now that Torre's coming back, he gets his hands on the biggest job he's had since 1996. Can this team function again, without some big names walking out the door? Is Torre the peacemaker, or does his problem with the number eight batter, Alex Rodriguez, qualify as a personal feud?

I'm sure we'll be discussing this all winter.

In less happy news, the Big Unit's gonna have to go under the knife, joining Jason Giambi and Andy Phillips among the Yankees who are going to use their early vacation to get that out of the way:

Johnson Likely To Need Surgery on Herniated Disc (ESPN News Svcs)

Better now than in Spring Training, I guess. There go all illusions that we'll see the Diamondbacks-vintage Randy Johnson during his time in pinstripes, as if anyone was still holding out hope for that.

In related news, the hottest international pitcher out there could be headed to the Show:

Prized Pitcher Matsuzaka Given OK to Pitch in MLB

Matsuzaka is 26 years old, and he showed some nice stuff in the WBC. In the Bronx, his first name might as well be "Prized." The Yankee pitching staff has featured some pretty serious duds over the past couple of years, and back surgery for the Unit suggests there might be even less depth next season.

In case you're confused about the posting process--that's the way which non-free agent pitchers in Japan get offered to Major League clubs--the good folks over at USS Mariner have put together a handy primer on the posting process. Long story short? Posting is the method by which the Mariners acquired Ichiro Suzuki--a blind bid to the Japanese team that controls the player's rights, for the exclusive right to negotiate a contract with the player. I can't recall if this was also the way the Padres got Irabu. Other Japanese players have come to the U.S. simply by waiting until they are free agents in Japan, then signing with an MLB team. That free agent route is how the Yanks acquired Hideki Matsui, and how the Mets got Kaz Matsui. Here's hoping the Yanks bid high--what's the use of eating all the crap that Yankee fans have been eating for the few days if our team doesn't leverage its financial advantage to the hilt?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Postmortem, Part II: Word Around Town

Here's some links and comments:

As we implied last time, the Daily News indicates that Joe Torre's gone, and that Lou Piniella is the likely candidate to take his place. Here are a few quotes:

From Torre Now an Average Joe (T.J. Quinn):

Several sources within the organization said there has been a widespread feeling that Torre has been increasingly disengaged from the team, and that his failure to get out of the division series yet again, despite his autonomy, is more than Steinbrenner can stand


Members of the organization now speak of a Torre who they think is distracted by his outside interests, his family, his Safe at Home Foundation. All are admirable pursuits, but a Yankee's only mandate is to shave frequently and win constantly. When Torre took over the team in 1996, sources said, he was a manager and little else.

From Piniella Looms Over Joe (Anthony McSparron):

Now, with the Yankees reeling after being eliminated yesterday by the upstart Tigers in the division series, it's conceivable that Piniella will get the chance to show Steinbrenner how he'd manage The Boss' beloved, $200 million team. A second straight first-round failure has jeopardized Joe Torre's job and Piniella is a likely replacement.

Steinbrenner has privately said for years that the biggest mistake he ever made was letting Piniella go. He's waited nearly 20 years, during which time Piniella managed the Reds, Mariners and Devil Rays, for the chance to bring him back.

Tim Marchman, who's a must-read at the New York Sun (now available online without a subscription) thinks that it's time for Torre to leave, but disagrees as to the choice of replacement:

Still, he has to go. He's been with the Yankees for 11 years now, and that's a long time to manage in New York. He's not a failure, and any movement to paint him as one over the next few days will be stupid — the team may not have won a World Series since Bill Clinton was president, but they've won two pennants, developed some great young talent, and been consistently excellent over the last six years, often in quite trying circumstances. (The rest of the country and Mets Nation weeps salty tears for those trying circumstances, of course, but losing your starting outfield is never fun.) If he's a failure, so are Bobby Cox and Tony LaRussa.

Not being a failure doesn't make him a success, though, and it's his handling of Rodriguez that really marks the difference between why he should stay and why he should go. Torre has never been much of a strategist or tactician — his main strength has always been his ability to manage the egos of players and put them in position to succeed. He not only hasn't done that with Rodriguez, he's brutally humiliated him, first by participating in the shameful and repulsive team hit job on the embattled third baseman that ran in Sports Illustrated last month, and then by batting him eighth in a playoff elimination game. No matter how badly Rodriguez was hitting, he wasn't hitting any worse than anyone else on the team. Singling him out that way made him the story, rather than the collective failure. It was a crass move and it didn't work.


I don't know [who the next Yankees manager should be], but it's not Lou Piniella. This irrelevant blowhard couldn't win when he had Rodriguez, Johnson, Ken Griffey and Edgar Martinez in their primes and a farm system coughing up the likes of Jason Varitek, Derek Lowe, and Mike Hampton. He couldn't win in the playoffs with a team that won 116 regular season games. He not only couldn't do anything in Tampa Bay with a collection of young talent generally regarded as the best in baseball, but he spent his entire time there groaning about the unfairness of having to play a lot of prospects, as if he'd gone there under the impression he'd be managing a $120 million team. He's a total fraud. Billy Martin or Joe McCarthy would be better options.

Whoever replaces Torre, it should be someone young and someone with an idea or two in his head. The Yankees are in the process of managing a transition; Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada and even Derek Jeter are not going to be Yankees forever. Whatever the team decides to do, the last thing they need to do is bring in some fossil with grand designs of riding a dead horse to World Series victory. Bring in someone who understands that Chien-Ming Wang, Robinson Cano, and Phillip Hughes are right now the three most important players on the team, not someone who thinks that by yelling at people he can revive the ghosts of 1996. That time is over; it has been for years.

Not sure that I agree with Marchman's take on Piniella (although I worry about Lou's handling of pitchers and youngsters). The Devil Rays didn't have the best young talent in baseball--not on the major league level, at least--while Sweet Lou was around. Also, I think that the next manager, be it today, tomorrow, whenever, should show some contrast to Torre's laid-back, player-friendly managing style. But I think that Tim's dead-on in his argument as to why Torre should be gone. Joe's handling of the A-Rod issue showed him to be part of the problem, not part of the solution, and the decision to bat Alex eighth in Game 4 was simply a stunning distraction. Then again, so was the decision to go into the playoffs with a lineup that he'd never tried in the regular season--including a guy who was converted to first base in the last three weeks of the season.

Journal News beat writer Pete Abraham writes, in his excellent LoHud Yankees Blog, that the theoretical "Torre-fired-Piniella-hired" scenario would indicate that the Yanks would go from being Derek Jeter's team to being A-Rod's team. Pete rightly notes that Piniella is an A-Rod partisan (having been Alex's first manager in Seattle), which would probably indicate that if Lou's in, A-Rod won't be on his way out.

I don't know that the Joe Torre Era should be over. There's no shame in losing to the Tigers, and it isn't Joe Torre's fault, for example, that Randy Johnson suddenly turned into a broken-down old man. Still, there is the point of view that when you fall beneath your goals, you can stand a change from the guy who's been here for the last eleven years, no matter how good he's been over that time.

...And Just Like That, It's Over

Goodbye, Yankees 2006.

It happened quickly. As Brother Joe said in his column on Friday, at one point during Thursday's afternoon makeup game in the Bronx, it looked like the Tigers were DOA, that they "shouldn't even make the Yankees make the trip to Detroit."

Three days later, the Detroit Tigers are dripping with champagne, and (rumor is) the Joe Torre Era is over. ALDS Game 4 was a total beatdown, far worse than the 8-3 final sounds. The Tigers got on the board with power--homers by Magglio Ordonez and Craig Monroe off starter Jaret Wright--then scored an unearned run in the third inning on a Alex Rodriguez throwing error (extra credit to Gary Sheffield at first, since an experienced firstbaseman could have saved that throw), a mental-error bloop single that went over Robinson Cano's head, and a grounder that Wright himself should have fielded, all in the .

Cory Lidle got Wright out of a jam in the third, but got himself into trouble by throwing batting practice pitches in the fifth, and gave up another three runs. At this point it was 7-0, and Tigers starter Jeremy Bonderman was pitching a perfect game. Cano got a hit in the sixth to end the no-hitter, and the Yanks scraped up a run in the seventh, and a couple more meaningless ones in the ninth, but the postseason was over. The Tigers advance to play the A's. The Mets advance to face the winner of the Cardinals/Padres series. The Yanks go home, to a winter of recrimination.

I'm pissed off that I let this team seduce me. The "great" Yankee lineup scored six runs over the last three games, and they played Game 4 like a team that had lost already. As predicted, Randy Johnson's inability to hold the Tigers was the deciding factor in the series.

I'm too upset to go on about this now. More later...

Friday, October 06, 2006

ALDS Game 3: Tigers 6, Yankees 0

Missed one, I know. Never quite caught up with Thursday's 4-3 loss, except to know that the rainout without rain seems to have destroyed any semblance of momentum the Yankees might have had.

Scratch that. As I was telling my brother-in-law as the Tigers took a commanding 2-1 lead in the series, I don't believe in momentum. Oh, I know that it exists, but in the scheme of things, it always seems that a ballclub has momentum until they don't again. In 2004, the Yanks had great momentum through three games of the ALCS. Forty-eight hours later, that momentum had not slowed, nor stopped, it simply belonged to the Red Sox now. Any force that so easily and seamlessly reverses itself can't properly be called "momentum." Give it another name. Luck, perhaps?

Anyway, Thursday's one-run loss set up tonight's duel of the old lefties, Randy "Bulging Disc" Johnson against Kenny "Poor Impulse Control" Rogers. The Gambler, as Rogers is sometimes called, has a history with New York. In 1996, he was supposed to be the final piece of the pitching puzzle. He went 12-8 during the regular season, but during the playoffs he spit the bit so badly that he pitched seven total innings over three starts and one relief appearance, and allowed 11 earned runs. That's a 14.14 ERA! Brother T famously recounts that when he was announced during the victory parade after the Yanks won the World Series, John Sterling's intro was "This Yankee didn't lose a single game in the entire postseason." Kindly omitting that he didn't win one, either (or that bit about the double-digit ERA). Then, still under the same contract he signed with the Yanks in December, 1995, in 1999 the Gambler joined the Mets, and again made the postseason. This time, he was able to pitch 12 innings, and allow "just" 9 runs, in two series against the Diamondbacks and Braves. This time, Rogers collected an 0-3 record. He was the pitcher on the mound when the Mets were eliminated in Game 6 of the NLCS, walking in the winning run for the Braves. In 2003, Kenny Rogers again made it to the postseason, this time with the Minnesota Twins--and had to face the Yankees in the ALDS. He went 13-8 for the Twins that season, but only managed one inconsequential--but scoreless--appearance as the Yankees won both the game and the series, 3-1.

So this is the part that's bugging me. I can understand losing. I can understand Randy Johnson getting raked. (Why is it that his failure doesn't mean as much to Yankee fans as A-Rod's, though?) But the Gambler comes up aces in the playoffs? Kenny Rogers shuts down the vaunted Yankee offense into the eighth inning?


So now, it's backs-against-the-wall time. If the Yanks don't sweep the next two, this will officially be the most disappointing Yankee team since 2002. The blame will go on A-Rod, even though Robbie Cano's been hitting a just-as-robust .091 so far, and Team Leader Giambi is at .125. But Rodriguez will be the only one that doesn't come through in the clutch.

Oh, and on whose arm does the fate of the Yankee season rest? Try Jaret Friggin' Wright.

That burns. It burns something fierce. See you tomorrow at two.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

ALDS Game 1: Yankees 8, Tigers 4

The Captain goes five fer five; our boy Wang goes 6 2/3 strong; Bobby Abreu plated Jeter and Damon twice apiece; and Jason Giambi hit a big two-run bomb.

Brother J, Brother T, and my Sis-in-Law M were all at the game, and I was supposed to be there, too, until I was thwarted by work. When I was young, I believed we worked to have money to go to ballgames. These days I work and it keeps me away from the ballpark. I think I had my priorities right when I was younger.

One down, ten more to go. Do it for Alex's sake :)

Month In Review: September, 2006

Not much time to chat, just some awards:

Record for the Month: 18-11 (132 RA, 180 RS)

Player of the Month: Robinson Cano actually won the AL Player of the Month Award with a .373/.383/.664 performance, seven homers, and a team-leading 11 doubles and 28 RBI. We're not going to disagree. Trailing him slightly was the man who finished just ahead of him in the batting race, Derek Jeter, who finished up strong, batting .368/.419/.500 in September. Sadly, neither Yankee's surge was good enough to catch Joe Mauer (.329/.437/.506 in September, .347/.429/.507 overall) for the batting title.

Slightly lower down, because of less playing time, are Alex Rodriguez (.358/.465/.691, team-leading eight homers and 16 walks) and Jorge Posada (.316/.396/.646, 6 homers). On the pitching side of the ledger, Mark Bruney made the postseason roster on the strength of 16 strikeouts and only one run allowed in 14 innings--even if he did walk 10 batters; Scott Proctor put up nice numbers (1.74 ERA) while once again leading the relievers in innings pitched; Chien Ming Wang had a 3-1 record and a 3.48 ERA; Jaret Wright was impressive in his three starts--2-0, 2.95 ERA.

Dregs of the Month: Twenty-seven. That's Ron Villone's ERA for the month of September. He registered only six innings pitched over nine appearances, and he allowed 14 hits, nine walks, three homers, and 18 runs scored. That completely overshadows Cory Lidle (6.38 ERA) and Octavio Dotel (10.80 ERA). Heck, Lidle even had a winning record for the month!

On the batting side, Johnny Damon (.205/.286/.307) and Melky Cabrera (.247/.346/.316) dragged down their numbers for the year, and Bernie Williams didn't finish strong (.236/.300/.327). Jason Giambi's wrist limited his playing time and his hitting (.192/.364/.308).

After the playoffs are over, I intend to sort through the mess of weekly and monthly reviews to figure out what happened this season, give out some final grades. No story for this month, just another AL East title.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Week In Review: End of the Marathon


Record for the Week
: 4-3 (32 RA, 55 RS)
Overall: 97-65, 1st Place, AL East; Tie, Best Record in MLB (with the Mets)

Player of the Week: Alex Rodriguez had a great week (.600/.684/1.000) but only played in five of the Yanks' seven games against the Rays, O's and Jays. Jorge Posada (.333/.368/.944) only played one more game, but he smacked three homers in the season's final week, to go with right RBI. He's the player of the week. Bobby Abreu matched the homer and RBI numbers, but not the overall performance (.346/.346/.692). Robinson Cano surged (.370/.357/.630) as he made a final kick to win the batting race, although he gets dusted by Derek Jeter (.458/.519/.583) in this regard. Hideki Matsui (.444/.545/.611) did a good job of showing that he's ready for the postseason, as did Gary Sheffield (.300/.300/.650), with the bat at least. Mike Mussina had a good final tune-up (6 IP, 1 R, 2 H, 0 BB, 4 K) and Mariano Rivera showed that he's ready for the ALDS, with three scoreless one-inning appearances, allowing three hits and striking out three.

Oh, and in less happy news, Miguel Cairo hit .333/.429/.500, bringing his season averages to .239/.280/.320. He makes the postseason roster. September is a lot like Spring Training when we talk about sample size illusions.

Dregs of the Week: Melky Cabrera, facing the somewhat unfair loss of his starting job to Hideki Matsui, didn't finish strong (.235/.278/.294). Darrell Rasner might not have had a shot at the postseason, anyway, but allowing five runs in less than three innings during his start this week didn't make the decision difficult on the brass.

I could regale you with "Octavio Dotel this" and "T.J. Beam that," but let's finish up on a positive note, shall we?

Story of the Week: Nine straight division titles. Twelve straight years in the playoffs. Five straight years without a World Series ring.

The first two facts are simply overwhelming. When I came up as a Yankee fan, in the 80's and early 90's, a run like this was simply unimaginable. You didn't dare think of such a thing. But this Yankee team has kept its nucleus together, has reaped the rewards of good decisionmaking and survived a good number of big errors, and has spent a ton of money in the process.

The last, I have a hard time getting all worked up about. I was upset when the Yanks lost the World Series in 2001--one out away in the ninth inning--but I was comforted that the team had played as well as it could, lost with its best pitcher on the mound. C'est la vie, right? In 2003, it was a bummer to lose to the Marlins, but the games were close, the team had shown a lot of heart escaping the was difficult to take things too hard. In 2004...well, we don't talk about 2004. The other years, 2005 and 2002, the Yankees weren't anywhere close to the class of the league.

But it's always do or die for some New Yorkers, and this Yankee team will be judged on whether or not the team gets a victory parade through downtown Manhattan. Reputations will be made or destroyed based upon whether or not this set of Yankees get World Series rings. Nothing else will matter.

The crew they take on this mission is pretty much what I sketched out two weeks ago, just with Gary Sheffield on the roster in place of Darrell Rasner. This gives the Yanks the best lineup of all the playoff teams, perhaps the best lineup of any Yankee team over the past 12 years. It's also a squad that's weaker defensively than what the Yanks have carried around much of the year, with Jason Giambi stuck at DH due to a torn tendon in his wrist, Gary Sheffield starting at first despite a dearth of experience, and Hideki Matsui playing left instead of Melky Cabrera.

The starting rotation, meanwhile, could be the worst of the last twelve years. The Yankees' best starter is Chien Ming Wang, who is probably on a par with a young Andy Pettitte. Like Pettitte, Wang has a talent for going late into games, also like Pettitte, Wang can be very inconsistent from start to start. That's an asset, a very good pitcher, but not a great one. Mike Mussina's been effective in the Jaime Moyer phase of his career, but not quite as good since going on the DL in mid-August. Mussina hasn't pitched seven innings in a start since July.

Then comes the real wild card of the rotation, Randy Johnson. Johnson sucked down the stretch, but it was recently revealed that he has a bulging disc in his back. He's received an epidural shot, and will try his best to make his start in Game 3 of the ALDS. Anyone's guess which Randy Johnson, if any, will show up. Cory Lidle's on the roster in case Johnson falters. That leaves Jaret Wright as the number 4 starter, which is better than most playoff teams can put out there, but, like Johnson, not exactly someone you can count on.

In the bullpen, we hope that Mariano Rivera is well-rested. Since the Tigers are a pitching and defense team (as are the A's, and to an extent the Twins) we're probably going to be looking at some close scores in the late innings. Rivera's frequently-used right hand man will be Scott Proctor, followed by Kyle Farnsworth. Brian Bruney might have passed Farnsworth on the depth chart given a little more time. Mike Myers will be there for LOOGY purposes--on the Tigers, that means "to get out Curtis Granderson." And Ron Villone will be a ticking time, second lefty out of the pen, long relief guy.

So, how is all this going to work out? The key is Johnson. If he's able to give the Yanks six or seven solid innings per start over the next few weeks, then I think the Yanks can and probably will beat any team they face. If not, the Yanks will fall, perhaps as soon as the ALDS, if not almost certainly in ALCS against either the A's or the Twins.

What do I think will happen? This might be my heart rather than my brain speaking, but I think that Johnson will somehow manage to keep his stuff together, and the Yanks will win the ALDS in five games against a surprisingly tough Tigers team.

In other Division Series news, I think the A's will take down the Twins in a pretty big upset, payback for a ALDS beatdown a few years back. In the NL, I think the Mets--who became underdogs pretty quickly after Pedro Martinez's shoulder injury was revealed, will win a tough series against the Dodgers, and the Padres will beat St. Louis, setting up a Mike Piazza reunion NLCS. But we'll make the LCS predictions when we get there, not before.

Back tomorrow with September in Review.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Tigers, We Presume?

This afternoon, around 4:30, I tuned in to the Detroit Tigers playing the Kansas City Royals, in extra innings. Detroit loaded the bases against the Royals with one out. They were the home team. That's a pretty good chance to win.

The Yankees had already lost--that was incidental, however. Sunday's game was the let-your-hair-down relaxed affair it has been just about every year for the Yankees. Torre lets one of his veteran players manage--this year, Bernie Williams--and others take the roles of some of the coaches (I didn't notice if they allowed players to replace Bowa and Pena as the base coaches). Just about everyone plays, like an All-Star Game or Little League. The Yanks lost on a two-run dinger off of Kyle Farnsworth, which I think is an issue we'll revisit when we review the week tomorrow.

Anyway, more significant to the Tigers, the Twins had already won. So Detroit's fate was in its own hands--a win, and they're the division champ, playing the A's in the first round. A loss, and they're the Wild Card, playing the Yankees. It was very evident which match-up the Detroiters preferred. Kenny Rogers, potentially the Tigers' Game 1 starter for the ALDS, came into the game in the top of the 11th. In the bottom of the 11th, the Tigers blew that beautiful scoring opportunity I mentioned in the first paragraph. Then, in the top of the next frame, the Royals scored a couple of runs, and that's all she wrote.

It's here that my brain and my heart get all cross-wired. The Tigers are a better matchup for the Yankees than the Twins. The Twins have big, scary Johan Santana and young pitching. The Tigers' pitching is young, but they're coming into the playoffs cold as ice. They've lost their last five in a row, and for those of you who like larger sample sizes, they're a .500 team (actually, a game under) since the All-Star Break. Over that same stretch, the Twins are 48-27.

Still, I was hoping to avoid the Yanks/Tigers matchup. I wanted the Tigers to win their division, then lose to the A's in the ALDS, clearing out of the way so the Yanks could take down the A's, then face whoever the National League decides to send out there this year. So my fantasyland desires had the Yanks parading through ticker tape down the Canyon of Heroes, all without setting a single postseason foot in Comerica Park.

Mind you--this wasn't my prediction, or what I thought made the most sense, just simply what I wanted. Naturally, this was the path that put me least in Dutch with my wife.

You see, my wife's from Detroit. My in-laws--who, by the way, are visiting this week--live in Detroit. Ironically, none of La Chiquita's kin are baseball fans (my mother-in-law favors the Pistons, my brother-in-law is into football) but they are all about civic pride.

I know, this is not something to complain about. Not making the playoffs, like the Red Sox, the White Sox, the Angels, the Astros, Reds and Phillies did, now that's something to complain about. And it's particularly not something for Yankee fans to complain about. None except one, that is.

More tomorrow...