Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Maybe I'll Get Over It; Maybe Not

For years, we Yankee fans were subjected to the ridiculous taunts of, "You bought yourselves a championship". The irony, of course, was that the true Yankee championship teams from 1996-2000 were actually a solid mix of home-grown stars (Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada) and savvy trades (Paul O'Neill, Tino Martinez, Scott Brosius, Chuck Knoblauch). The teams from that era didn't have many big-ticket free agents -- guys like Cone, Wells or even Jimmy Key were mid-tier guys, and none of them was around very long.

It was only with the signing of Jason Giambi after the 2001 season -- the official "Beginning of the End" -- that the Yanks started looking to "buy" their way to World Series wins. Of course, we all know how that has played out over the last eight years. Millions after millions, lavished on such "stars" as A-Rod, Carl Pavano, Kei Igawa, Johnny Damon, Mike Mussina, Gary Sheffield... well, you get the picture.

After this "big money" philosophy crashed and burned the Yankees made a push -- albeit, Yankee-style -- of semi-fiscal responsibility, emphasizing youth, their farm system and weaning themselves off multi-million, multi-year deals. That is, until this month. Until they overpaid for Sabathia for too many years. And then made a mockery of it all by signing Burnett days later. Or at least what I thought was a mockery, until today.

With the signing of Teixeira, the Yankees have now broken all records for conspicuous consumption. It's not enough that we're all in the midst of the worst financial crisis in decades; we're now treated to a spectacle of overpaid athletes chasing the very last dollar -- or million dollars, more exactly -- that their lusty suitors have to offer. "It's the Yankees' money to spend," you say. Meanwhile, the Yankees have the gall to ask the city for more help to pay for their new stadium. Whose money is that they're spending?

But it's not all bad, I'm reading. Jane Heller wrote an excellent piece about this Yankee fan guilt.

The fact that the Yankees do have money and aren’t afraid to lavish it on the people they care about isn’t so wrong, is it? It’s not as if they’ve roped us all into some giant Ponzi scheme and bled our retirement plans dry.

True, but for right now, I am embarrassed. I just hope I'll come around to her side by the time the Lear jets start lining up outside Legends Field for Spring Training.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

They don't call me "Crank" for nothin'

I’m not sure why, but I always seem to seek out the negative aspects of a trade or signing. Case in point: the Mets’ three-year, $37 million deal for Francisco Rodriguez. Yes, you could argue K-Rod was the best closer in baseball. His major league record 62 saves certainly lends credence to that assertion. (Though we all know save totals are largely a function of team performance. And he still managed to blow seven saves on top of that.)

A further look into the numbers also raises a few eyebrows, if not quite red flags. Generally speaking, the lifespan of a closer is limited (Mariano, the decided exception, notwithstanding). Rodriguez is coming off a career-high 76 appearances – that's more like a middle reliever than a closer – though his innings pitched were about his career average. That said, his strikeout rate dipped alarmingly: from three-straight years of 90+ to only 77; a K/9 IP rate of 10.1, down from 12 over those previous three seasons. Probably not coincidentally, his WHIP was a career-high 1.29.

Of course, only a fool would say that a pitcher with a 10 K/9 IP ratio, a 1.29 WHIP, and the league record in saves isn’t a great pitcher. But those are some downward trends. And while I’m reluctant to even broach the “Gagne” word, you can’t pretend it didn’t happen. Gagne saved 55 games in 2003 and converted 84 consecutive save chances. Then he blew out his elbow and hasn't been the same since.

Even with all that, though, the Mets probably made a good deal. After all, even if K-Rod continues to slip he only has a 3-year deal. Barring a major injury, he’ll still be a productive closer by the time the deal is up. And even if he’s not super-human, he sure improves the Mets’ bullpen and will be more consistent than Wagner or his predecessors ever were.

Just don’t get me started on the Sabathia deal…