Wednesday, August 3, 2016

You Can't Put a Price on Stupid

Kevin Durant's goodwill tour continues in style.  Not content to simply skip out on OKC to join a pre-made super-team in Golden State, Durant is determined to be the biggest heel in the NBA since LeBron headed south.
Sports Illustrated -- July 18, 2016
Fortunately for Durant, a man in the NBA must be measured by the size of his shoe, not by his heart.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Adventures of a Blind Squirrel

Brian Cashman has been busy. A flurry of deals before the MLB Trade Deadline has left heads spinning in Yankee-land just trying to keep up with all the comings and goings. Much praise has been heaped upon Cashman for his haul of prospects, and rightfully so.

So while I've never been shy to criticize Cashman in this space, this won't be a Bash-Cashman piece. Give the man credit for taking a bunch of mismatched parts and turning them into pieces to build a foundation for the future.

However... I did find it interesting that in his post-deadline press conference, Cashman had this to say about the 2016 Yankees. Talking about a team that was swept by the last-place Tampa Bay Rays after a stretch of good play:
A true playoff contender, you know, not a playoff pretender, wouldn't do that.
Sure, Brian, that's true. It's also what most Yankee fans have been saying about this team all season long. Nice of you to come around.

It's also an interesting choice of words to describe a TEAM THAT YOU PUT TOGETHER. One thing that always frustrates me about media coverage of Cashman is that he somehow seems to get the credit for all the things he does well but never seems to get blamed for the mistakes he often makes. I'm not sure who Cashman thinks brought all these pretenders together, but he sure was glad to see them go.

An under-performing middle of the lineup? I don't suppose it was Cashman who signed Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. Oh, right, it was. Nor was it Cashman who benefited from their unlikely success in 2015 and did absolutely nothing to bolster the offense should they not reach their 2015 levels. Wait, right, that was Cashman, too.

Were it not for the resurrection of Carlos Beltran -- a player who has put up better numbers through July than he did in full seasons in 2014 and '15 -- the Yankees offense might be the worst in baseball. (Even with Beltran, the Yanks were 24th in MLB in runs and 29th in extra-base hits.) That Cashman was able to flip the free-agent-to-be for a top pitching prospect is as much luck as skill.

Though the Yankees have raised the white flag on 2016, no one will miss Chapman, Miller, Beltran or Nova -- not, at least, as far as wins and losses are concerned.  However, it will be some years before we know how successful this deadline swap session has been. Prospects, even elite ones, often take time to develop into solid major leaguers. The 2016 Yankees might be worse off, but by most measures the 2017 Yankees and beyond have taken the first steps towards improvement.

Time will tell if this particular squirrel has stashed away enough nuts for a snowy winter ahead.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Playing the Heel

The Golden State Warriors' fall from grace was rapid: from the NBA's feel-good story as a team of destiny to chokers in the NBA Finals. Yet it seemed that before we could even wrap our collective heads around their dramatic tumble, the Warriors signed Kevin Durant. The rich get obscenely richer?

Mark Cuban, Shark Tank denizen, Mavericks' owner and never one to shy away from controversy, is at it again. Cuban had an interesting take on Durant going to the Warriors:
"Just like when LeBron James went to Miami, I loved that there was a villain. They become the villain. I'm fine with that. Everybody's going to root for them to lose."
But could it be that the Warriors could go from everyone's favorite team outside of Cleveland to the NBA's version of Steinbrenner's Yankees?

It's doubtful that league fans can muster the same level of hatred they felt the day that LeBron made his "decision". From that point forward, we all had two favorites: your NBA team and whoever was playing the Heat. That the Heat appeared in the NBA Finals all four years that James was in Miami was made somewhat palatable by the fact that they lost twice in those finals.

Have the Warriors squandered their good will?  Absolutely. It was very easy to root for the Warriors' Wild West Show and their band of merry men. But when fans put all their eggs (and energy) into one basket and then get left holding said basket in epic fashion, that's gonna leave a mark. Besides, once you've won 73 games and have nothing to show for it, people will be wary to jump back on that bandwagon.

As for Durant, it surprised many that he'd adopt an "I'm taking my ball and going home" attitude by signing with the ready-made champions. A title won with Golden State now proves nothing. Unfortunately for Durant, he might have made it more difficult to win.

The Warriors had remarkable team chemistry. Like any science major can tell you, though, when you start switching out chemicals, the results may not only be different, but volatile. Starting center Andrew Bogut, whose Finals' absence was often cited as one of the reasons that the Warriors lost, was traded to Cuban's Mavericks to make cap room. Harrison Barnes, a member of the Dubs' so-called "Death Lineup" and a key ingredient to their success, was also left out and coincidentally signed with the Mavs.

Regardless of whether the Warriors turn out to be NBA villains or simply last season's news, it won't be the same in Golden State. Steph Curry will still excite. Klay Thompson will still launch from everywhere and Draymond Green will still drive people nuts. But winning games won't be news any longer.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

A Modest Proposal

Well, that was fast.  Mark Teixeira is hurt, again, and was placed on the DL this morning with torn cartilage in his knee.  It comes as little surprise, considering Teixeira hasn't played over 125 games since 2011.  Once thought to be Teixeira's replacement when this inevitably occurred, Greg Bird was lost for the season over the winter.  Last night, Rob Refsnyder took over at first base when Tex left the game.  But with Teixeira out for an extended period of time, the Yankees are scrambling to find a replacement.

A modest proposal: put Carlos Beltran at first.  I know, Beltran has only played first base once in his career.  But he was a gold-glove caliber fielder before age and his knees changed that.  Maybe you don't put him there tonight, but in a week's time, Beltran should be able to handle the position.

Why Beltran, you ask?  Here's why.  For starters, it gets Beltran the hell out of the outfield where he no longer belongs.  While first base is not quite DH, it certainly cuts down on the wear and tear of the outfield.  That should allow Beltran to keep swinging a hot bat.

It also gives A-Rod the full-time DH role.  While he has struggled, A-Rod remains one of the few sources of power in this anemic Yankee lineup.  They'll need him to produce from that DH spot, especially with Teixeira now gone.

Lastly, it keeps Refsnyder in the lineup.  Since his return, Refsnyder has played all over the diamond, but has looked good at the plate in a limited role.

I hear the names of Nick Swisher and Chris Parmalee being thrown around.  Whoopee.  Though Parmalee has been playing well of late and was called up to replace Teixeira on the roster, I don't see him as a long-term fix.  Perhaps he'll hold down the fort until Beltran is comfortable enough to play first base.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Questions, Anyone?

The New York Mets, in a heart-breaking 4-1 defeat in the World Series, had two of their major off-season questions answered.  Unfortunately, those answers just lead to more questions ahead.

Throughout the month of August and into September, as Yoenis Cespedes tore through the National League and the NL East standings, sports-talk radio was consumed with talk of 2016.  Callers seemed evenly divided between "There's no way the cheapskate Mets are going to bring back Cespedes" and "Let's pay whatever it takes to bring back Cespedes".  Fair points, both, and hotly debated all around.

Cespedes' titanic run carried the Mets to the playoffs.  But his almost equally astounding playoff slump left a big hole in the Mets' offense.  Cespedes may very well be in line for a big payday as long as teams consider his huge production during the pennant race.  But for the Mets, the question of whether to make a long-term, big-dollar investment was all but answered during Cespedes' postseason swoon.

On the flip side, no player looked better during the first two rounds of the playoffs than Daniel Murphy.  A long-time Mets' second-baseman, perhaps no one improved his off-season stock more than the suddenly powerful Murphy.  But he, too, went mostly quietly during the World Series, reverting to the Daniel Murphy -- nice hit, no glove -- that had performed steadily throughout his career.  And much like with Cespedes, the chatter on talk radio went from "How can we live without Murphy?" to "How much will it cost to bring him back?"

The Mets took the first obvious step, handing Murphy a qualifying offer.  Murphy, in turn, did the next obvious thing: he turned it down.  As a player traded in mid-season, no such offer could be made to the unrestricted free agent Cespedes.  And with that, a Mets organization that had experienced a remarkable late-season and post-season run, begins what could be their most important off-season.

With a staff of aces that any team would envy, the Mets are poised to contend for years to come.  However, it's important to note that in spite of their spectacular pitching, for much of the season the Mets were victims of their anemic offense.  It was only when fortified by bench players Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson, and ultimately, Cespedes, that the Mets went from squeaking out the 1-0 win to bludgeoning teams from both the mound and at the plate.

Should the Mets opt not to bring back either Murphy or Cespedes, and there are solid arguments to make those cases, they need to be sure that the holes in the offense are addressed.  Whether that comes from a full season of the improving Michael Conforto or the promotion of Dilson Herrera, or an additional free-agent bat or two, it's paramount that someone does.  Sandy Alderson pulled all the right levers in late July.  He'll need an equally good December and January if the Mets expect to capitalize on their 2015 success.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Fill 'Er Up

It's mid-September, and the Yankees trail Toronto by three games in the AL East.  They still have 17 games left to play -- plenty of baseball, considering they still have 3 games left with the Blue Jays.  But while the Yankees won't admit to chasing the Wild Card, most fans are looking.

That said, I'm still decidedly undecided when it comes to this team and this season.  For me, there are two ways of looking at the "glass" that might well be the 2015 Yankees:

Half-full: the Yankees, a team not widely expected to even contend this season, make the post-season as the first Wild Card
Half-empty: the Yankees blow a 7-game lead to the Blue Jays and lose the division

Half-full: the Yankees could beat the Rangers in the Wild Card playoffs
Half-empty: the Yanks could get swept by the Royals in the ALDS

Half-full: the Yankees held onto their elite prospects at the trade deadline and didn't mortgage the future for short-term gains
Half-empty: the Yanks stood idly by at the trade deadline while their rivals improved and the Yanks subsequently fell into free-fall

Half-full: the Yankees have gotten an injection of youth and their future stars -- Bird, Severino, Betances -- have made an impact today
Half-empty: the Yanks were led most of the season by a 37-year old first-baseman and a 40-year old DH, neither of whom can be counted on in 2016

So how do you see the Yankees?  I don't think we'll really know until October.  And even then, how full will that glass be?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Are we winning yet?

"Um, I dunno..."
First and foremost, let me state that I hate Brian Cashman, the most overrated front office man in sports.  As most Cashman detractors will say, "If I had an unlimited budget and could simply eat my mistakes, I'd have a pretty good team, too."  Yet he is somehow inoculated from the bad moves while he's simultaneously lauded for the good ones.

But this is a different column.  Sort of.  I don't have a solid opinion, at least, not yet.  So I'll pose these questions:

  • If the Yankees lose the AL East -- a likely scenario as of today -- but qualify for the Wild Card, was it a good season?  
  • If the Yankees stumble and only manage to win the second Wild Card, was it a good season?
  • If the Yankees go on the road and lose the Wild Card game and spend one day in the post-season in the last 3 years, does Brian Cashman get credit for getting the Yankees back to October?
  • Or did he fail to upgrade a mediocre team at the deadline and watch his team fade down the stretch?
As for that opinion of mine, I'm decidedly torn.

On the one hand, the Yankees, on paper, weren't expected to contend this year.  The fact that they have played themselves into contention is remarkable.  As a bonus, young players that represent the future of the organization -- Betances, Bird, Severino -- have been able to contribute and excel.  Even if the Yanks make a quick exit from the playoffs, they will have laid a solid foundation for 2016.  

Or have they?  The 2015 Yankees' offense has been led primarily by Alex Rodriguez, a 40-year old DH, and Mark Teixeira, a 35-year old who hasn't played a full season in 5 years.  A-Rod is currently in a slump and Teixeira won't be back on the field for another two weeks. It's unlikely that either A-Rod or Teixeira can turn back time on another season.  Who, in 2016, is going to provide that power?  Will Greg Bird or Aaron Judge?  How much does Brian McCann or Carlos Beltran have left?

Only time will tell...