Friday, December 6, 2013


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.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Here Come the Yankees!

The New York Yankees will open the 2013 season on Monday, April 1, with a game against the Boston Red Sox.  The team that takes the field for New York that day will not resemble recent Yankee teams.  In fact, it might not resemble any major league team.  Due to the Yanks' seemingly endless rash of injuries this spring, the Yankee lineup has been reduced to a "Who's That?" collection of replacements, also-rans and the never-was.

While it's still a few days away, here is what the 2013 Yankees could look like on Opening Day:

  1. Brett Gardner, CF
  2. Ichiro Suzuki, RF
  3. Robinson Cano, 2B
  4. Kevin Youklis, 3B
  5. Travis Hafner, DH
  6. Vernon Wells, LF
  7. Lyle Overbay, 1B
  8. Eduardo Nunez, SS
  9. Francisco Cervelli, C
Yipes.  Better get used to it, too.  Though Derek Jeter will probably be the first injured player to return, that might not be for a while.  After that, it's anybody's guess.  Curtis Granderson could return from his broken arm by mid-May, or possibly later.  Meanwhile, Mark Teixeira could be back in the lineup by May or June, or maybe not at all.  Then, of course, there's A-Rod.  Estimates for when he might return range from the All-Star break to 2014.  (Or maybe he'll just retire!  Though that seems the least likely scenario... for now, at least.)

But before we sound the alarm and flat-out write off the Yankees, there is still some hope.  While the Yanks will be hard-pressed to produce any runs until perhaps the All-Star break, their pitching will keep them in plenty of games.  Though the injury bug has befallen Phil Hughes, too, the Yankees' pitching is still solid.  The current rotation shakes out like this:
  1. C.C. Sabathia
  2. Hiroki Kuroda
  3. Andy Pettitte
  4. Ivan Nova
  5. David Phelps
Phelps looked sharp in his final spring start,  making fans at least comfortable that he can hold down his spot in the rotation for a while.  Once Hughes returns, Joe Girardi will decide between keeping Phelps and Nova in that 5th spot.  (Since Nova has always been a starter and Phelps has experience in the bullpen, my guess is that short of an implosion by Nova, it will be Phelps who gets bumped.)

And let's not forget: waiting in the wings, somewhere down the line, is the enigmatic Michael Pineda.  While Pineda has really only begun on his journey back to the mound, most believe he could be back in the majors this season, perhaps by June. 

Perhaps the team's greatest strength will be the bullpen.  With Mariano Rivera back closing games, the rest of the 'pen is that much better.  David Robertson remains one of the games' best set-up men, while Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain make a dynamic righty-lefty tandem. 

As Yankees' fans, we've become quite spoiled.  A season that doesn't end in the World Series is a disappointment.  With both lowered expectations and an improved A.L. East as competition, any success by this edition of the Yankees might be a welcomed surprise.