Saturday, April 5, 2014

First Impressions

It was $155 million in the making, but Masahiro Tanaka made his Major League debut last night against the Blue Jays.  On his third pitch, Tanaka was rudely welcomed to the big leagues with a long home run off the bat of Melky Cabrera.  But Tanaka settled down quickly and closed out the inning with a pair of strikeouts -- more firsts on the night.

Tanaka got into more trouble in the 2nd, thanks in part to some sketchy defense.  Then a pair of run-scoring singles gave Toronto the lead.  But again, Tanaka got out of the inning on a pair of strikeouts.  The Yankees came back in the 3rd with a couple of runs, once again handing Tanaka the lead.  He didn't give it back.

All told, it was a good debut.  Tanaka got the win, going 7 solid innings while striking out 8.  He had excellent control, throwing 65 of his 97 pitches for strikes and not walking a batter.  Other than the homer by Cabrera, there weren't very many hard-hit balls against Tanaka, either. 

For a 4th starter, Tanaka was great.  But then Tanaka isn't really a 4th starter, is he?  For $22 million a year, you'd think you're buying an ace.  In Tanaka's defense, one game does not a season make.  Let's compare the last great Japanese import, Yu Darvish.  Darvish was pretty shaky in his big league debut, and didn't get out of the 7th inning until his 4th start.  But he finished the year strong, winning 16 with a sub-4 ERA.  And in his 2nd season, Darvish was even better.

So where does Tanaka go from here?  I think he's probably a lot closer to Darvish than he is to Hideki Irabu.  But will he be able to match his performance to his paycheck?  Only time will tell.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

An Embarassment of Riches Is Sometimes Just Embarassing

It's hard being a Yankees fan sometimes.  Yeah, yeah, my wallet is too small for my $50's and my diamond shoes are too tight.  I get it.  Fans of other teams would love to have these "problems".  But seriously -- you can only hear "Ah, you bought the pennant" so many times, especially when it's true.

The latest news is another mega-millions signing: Japanese superstar Masahiro Tanaka has taken the money thrown at him by the Yankees.  And while it sounds good -- I think Tanaka will be a lot closer to Yu Darvish than Kei Igawa -- it's no slam dunk.  And for $155 million, you should be paying for slam dunk.

Isolated, the Tanaka deal is fine.  The McCann signing, while for too much money and too many years, filled a void.  It was S.O.P. Yankees: have a problem, throw some money at it.  Yes, McCann will be a very expensive and under-producing DH by the time his deal is up, but I can live with it for now.  But after McCann, the Yankees off-season took a bizarre turn.

The mystifying move to bring in Jacoby Ellsbury haunts me still and casts a pall over the 2014 Yankees.  "Overpaid" doesn't even begin to describe the ridiculous contract handed out to a player with one good season who can barely keep himself on the field.  Add to the fact that the Yankees already had a crowded outfield and it makes even less sense.  And of course, the equal and opposite reaction that sent Robinson Cano to Seattle made the deal even that much more maddening.

Signing the aging Carlos Beltran was a desperate grab to patch the gaping hole in the lineup left by Cano.  Another "too long for too much" contract for a player on the decline, sheer payroll overkill for sheepish fans of the Pinstripes. 

And now Tanaka.  The 2014 Yankees will bear little resemblance to the team that represented New York in 2013.  Based on their 2013 record, that's not a bad thing.  How the Yankees got there, though, well, that's another story.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Bye-bye, So Long, Farewell

Steriods?  Who, me?
At long last, baseball fans got what they wanted: Alex Rodriguez is no more.  After an arbitrator ruled that A-Rod's original 211-game suspension was being "shortened" to 162 games, it all but spelled the end of Rodriguez's career in Major League Baseball.  Having missed most of the 2013 season with a hip injury, by the time the 2014 season has ended, A-Rod will have played all of 44 games in 2 years.  At age 39, with two surgically-repaired hips, it hardly bodes well for a comeback in 2015.

However, I think there is a chance, albeit a small one, that A-Rod can play in the majors again.  The scenario itself is actually plausible -- the hiccup is that it requires Rodriguez to actually accept baseball's punishment and move on.  (So far, that doesn't seem likely.)

But let's assume that A-Rod exhausts all his legal avenues prior to Spring Training and finally faces the reality that he will not be playing baseball for the Yankees or anyone else in the major leagues in 2014.  What's a shamed superstar to do?  Hop on a trans-pacific flight and sign up to play in the Japanese league.  

That lets Rodriguez show us if there's anything left in the tank.  Prove to us that a clean A-Rod is still a viable player.  Granted, the competition in Japan isn't quite major-league caliber, but it will be easy to see if he's still a man among boys, or simply an aging, over-matched veteran seeking one more season in the sun.  If he plays well, a return to MLB wouldn't be far-fetched.

Well, sure, A-Rod still has a contract with the Yankees.  But don't you think it's worth $30 or $40 million to the Yankees to buy out his existing deal and make him go away?  With that cash in hand, it makes it easier for A-Rod to accept a lesser offer from some other MLB team.  And it's not like the other convicted drug offenders haven't been welcomed back in the fold following their suspensions.  Maybe the Marlins, in desperate need of a drawing card, bring down South Florida's own for a homecoming?  Maybe it's the A's, looking for a potential bargain and a short-term solution for some offense? 

While we're all glad to see Alex Rodriguez go, part of that glee has to do with the whole sideshow that always accompanies him.  Perhaps a year away in a foreign land, with nothing to focus on except baseball, will change him.  Perhaps not.  But it's a scenario that I'd like to see play out by the time 2015 rolls around.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Rob-bed!

And like that, Robinson Cano has left for the coast

The Yankees off-season began by-the-book, paying a hefty sum to fill a gaping hole.  It then took a wild and unexpected turn, as the Yanks turned a former enemy into a very rich man, spending $21 million a year to slightly upgrade a position that had already been filled for far less.  But then this morning, the whole enterprise careened right off the rails.

Insulted by both the Yankees lack of urgency to sign him, and the lavish sums thrown at an outsider, Cano took his proverbial ball and went home.  To his new home, that is, to Safeco Field in Seattle.  There's little question that Cano had wanted to remain a Yankee, and I believe he would have come back to the Bronx for less than what it cost the Mariners to reel him in.  But if the Yankees wanted him back, they had a funny way of showing it.

Now I'll grant that the Mariners overpaid for Cano and gave him too many years.  Experience has shown that 10-year contracts are just not good, not for the player, not for the team and not for baseball.  And while Cano is the top 2nd-baseman in baseball, in 6 or 7 years, he won't be, even though he'll still probably be paid like he is.  As Albert Pujols will tell him, he'd better get off to a fast start, too. But unlike with Pujols and the Cardinals, Seattle's mistake is most certainly not the Yankees gain.

The Yankees now have no second baseman and have lost their top offensive player.  They have no one at third -- whether or not A-Rod plays in 2014 -- and several holes in the rotation.  But that didn't stop Brian Cashman from giving a ridiculous contract -- length and dollars -- to the wholly overrated Ellsbury while they already had a bonafide center-fielder and lead-off man in Brett Gardner.  What sort of signal did that send Cano?

The Winter Meetings haven't even started and the Yankees have already achieved an entire off-season of drama.  The 2014 Yankee team is far from complete, and the team still has time to fix a lackluster yet top-heavy roster.  But by losing their home-grown star in a game of chicken, the Yankees haven't shown any organizational leadership or plan for building a team beyond opening a checkbook and seeing who wants their money.  Should the Yankees fail to right the ship and miss out on the post-season two years in a row (for the first time since the '92-'93 seasons, by the way) it should spell the end of Brian Cashman's tenure in the Bronx.  I'd be willing to sit out the playoffs again for that.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Cue the Hysterics

Artist's rendering of new Yankees' logo

I have a friend who hates Brian Cashman.  Sure, I can't stand Cashman either, but this guy really hates him.  Most of the time, the points my friend makes are lost in a very one-sided hyperbole, all worded to paint Cashman in the worst possible light.  But tonight, I had to agree.

The Yankees reported signing of Jacoby Ellsbury to a 7-year, $153 million deal should be the end of the line for Cashman.  Forget for a moment that the Yankees have just agreed to pay $21 million a season at a position -- outfielder -- where they already have too many players. The Yankees are lavishing this outlandish sum on a 29-year old player coming off another season in which he failed to stay healthy.  In fact, Ellsbury has only played one full season in the last 4 years, missing an average of 66 games per season over that span. 

Coming off an MVP-worthy 2011, Ellsbury separated his shoulder and was a shell of himself when he returned for the remainder of 2012.  He managed to appear in 134 games this past season, but didn't come close to producing at an all-star level.  (And if you were curious, 2011 was the only year Ellsbury made an All-Star team.)

Signing Ellsbury also means that Brett Gardner will not only be displaced in center field, but more than likely in the leadoff spot, as well.  And speaking of Gardner, would you rather pay $21 million for a player with speed and .781 OPS, or perhaps $5 or 6 million for a player with speed and a .760 OPS?

I took the news in stride when the news broke about the Brian McCann signing.  Even at $85 million, McCann is still a major improvement at a position of weakness.  But now what happens to the $189-million threshold?  I know the Yankees missed the playoffs, and when that happens, the alarm bells sound and all rational thought goes out the window.   Yet between McCann and now Ellsbury, plus all the money already tied up in Tex, CC, Jeter and Co., how does Robinson Cano fit in?  Does the Ellsbury signing mean the Yankees are wiping their hands of Cano and his demands?  Or will they just be content to cough up another $200-million payroll?

Either way, I just can't get past this Ellsbury deal.  Overpriced, injury-prone, nearly 30, and penciled into a position-glut, this may just become the bust that pushes Brian Cashman over the top and out the door.  I agree, it would be long overdue.

What's the Catch?

McCann brings a big bat to New York
Well, that didn't take long.  It's not even Thanksgiving and the Yankees have made the first big splash in the free agent market, reportedly signing Braves' catcher Brian McCann to a 5-year, $85 million contract.  Considering that everyone figured the Yankees would sign McCann on the heels of their first missed post-season since 2008, the deal doesn't come as a surprise.  But the terms of the deal might.

The Yankees are no strangers to bidding against themselves and offering more money to free agents than is probably warranted.  (See Sabathia, CC; Burnett, A.J.; and Teixeira, Mark, circa 2008)  While other teams were supposedly interested in McCann, the Yankees didn't wait around to find out.  And sensing an opportunity for a humongous payday, McCann didn't hesitate, either.

The issue here isn't whether Brian McCann is a good-hitting catcher: he is.  (He's averaged 27 homers and 97 RBI's over his 9-year career with Atlanta.)  Nor is whether McCann is a light-years' improvement over last season's miserable production from behind the plate.  The question, as it usually is with the Yankees, is whether McCann, at age 30, is worth an investment of $17 million a season for the next five years. 

Adding McCann also means that one of the Yankees' best-rated prospects, Gary Sanchez, suddenly has a roadblock set up for him in the Bronx.  Sure, it's possible that by the time Sanchez is major-league ready that McCann will already be on the move from behind the plate to either first base or DH.  Unfortunately, McCann doesn't hit like an $85 million DH; his appeal is that he's a good-hitting catcher.  It just looks like another example of the Yankees throwing money at a short-term problem yet possibly making life worse for the long haul.

If you put aside the contract and the impact this may have on the Yanks desire to get under that magical $189 million ceiling, it's a positive move.  The Yankees are a better team with Brian McCann at catcher for the next few years.  Unfortunately, when it comes to the Yankees, no move happens in a vacuum.  They better start working on that Cano deal.


Friday, April 5, 2013

The Axe Continues to Fall at Rutgers

Not a single person was surprised when Rutgers University dismissed head basketball coach Mike Rice on Wednesday.  In fact, the University was remarkably swift in firing the embattled coach just one day after ESPN aired footage of the coach physically and verbally abusing his players during practice. 

Reactions to the ESPN story were swift, severe and far-ranging.  In full damage control mode, Rutgers Athletic Director Tim Pernetti went on a non-stop media blitz, appearing on what seemed like every TV and radio station in the region.  His repeated message: I thought I could rehabilitate Mike Rice.  I was wrong.

Now we learn than Pernetti himself has paid the price for his mistake.  Firing Rice was a no-brainer.  Firing Pernetti was the easy choice, too.  But was it the right choice?

Satisfaction of the angry mob is Crisis Management 101.  That serving up Rice to the mob -- ha! -- didn't quell the outrage meant that Pernetti was next in line.  But was what happened really a fire-worthy offense?  Pernetti did not stand by or sweep the allegations under the rug.  He viewed the tape and suspended Rice for three games.  In retrospect, of course, that punishment was laughably lenient.

Rice and Pernetti in happier days
But Rice was Pernetti's guy, brought in to lead the men's program as he'd done in previous stops before.  It's understandable that Pernetti would do everything he could to save the career of his big hire.  Pernetti didn't condone what Rice had done.  From what we've been told, the two men agreed that things needed to change.  That he underestimated the severity of Rice's behavior would seem to have been Pernetti's biggest mistake. 

So while Mike Rice appears to be some psychotic, homophobic abuser of college students and the poster boy for what's wrong with big-time athletics, portraying Tim Pernetti as villain is a much harder sell for me.  By all accounts, Pernetti was a good AD, increasing the profile of Rutgers athletics and attaining the ultimate prize: an invitation to the Big Ten.  And he tried to do something when confronted with his basketball coaches outrageous behavior.  It just wasn't enough in the eyes of many.