The Futility Infielder
A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe
I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.
Wednesday, December 31, 2003
A Very Good Year
It's been a slow week on the baseball front, which has suited me fine. Things might stay a little quiet around here for the next several days; I've got a couple of big projects in the works which are taking a lot of my writing time. If the tumbleweeds start to get you down, I invite you to check out the pieces which I consider to be my best work of 2003. I'm extremely proud of each and every one of these seventeen (too many for a Top Ten, not enough for a Top Twenty, and with no baseball relevance whatsoever, numerically speaking), which remind me that this transitional year -- in which I left my job of nearly six years, moved in with my girlfriend, seriously injured myself, saw this site's readership more than double, and made some real-live friends thanks to my work here -- was a pretty good one for me, bum shoulder be damned.
Apologies to anybody who feels this is overly self-congratulatory, but as the great writer Jimmy Breslin once said, "If you do not blow your own horn, there is no music." Roughly in chronological order (and with apologies if the permalinks to blog entries aren't working in your browser):
• The Hoyt Scale Re-Revisited
, my first article for Baseball Primer, in which I examine a helpful method to rate relief pitchers. Just this morning, I hit the motherlode for the data I was missing (thanks to friends in high places), and I'll be significantly revising this study in the coming weeks.
• DIPS 2002
, my attempt to keep Voros McCracken's groundbreaking work in the public eye. Yes, full 2003 stuff is coming, as is a rundown of some of the latest research...
• Lenn Sakata: The Midget Wrestler Catches On
. Hot on the heels of this site's first mainstream media mention
in the San Jose Mercury News
is a profile of the first ballplayer I ever spoke to.
• Tony Suck: The Man Who Lived Up to His Name
, my study of one of the worst players in baseball history. So highly thought of, it was a Clutch Hit on Baseball Primer not once
• Spring Back to Life
, my account of a trip to Florida in March in search of some rejuvenation.
• Up in Arms
, a look at the A.J. Burnett situation and the topic of pitch counts. Who knew that this would have such an impact on the Florida Marlins?
• Clearing the Bases Several Times Over
, one of my notorious multi-topic pieces. I really got on a roll in this particular one, to which I'll attribute being the first time I got comfy writing in my new apartment.
• Return of the Bulldog
, my review of Jim Bouton's latest book, Foul Ball: My Life and Hard Times Trying to Save an Old Ballpark
. Sadly and predictably, the team Bouton and his partner tried to purchase, which became the Berkshire Black Bears in the hands of rival owner Jonathan Fleisig, is abandoning Wahconah Park and moving to Connecticut
. Oddly enough former Red Sox GM and frequent Futility Infielder target Dan Duquette is the man with the best hope
for keeping baseball in Wahconah.
• A Perfect Pitch
, my review of the American Folk Art Museum in New York City's exhibit, "The Perfect Game: America Looks at Baseball." The exhibit runs through February 1, 2004, so if you're in the area, it's a must-see.
• The Bonds of Summer
, my reaction to Dan Le Batard's ESPN Magazine article
on Barry Bonds and the passing of his father, Bobby.
• Goosebump Moments
, a wrap-up of the regular season's final weekend. I attended two games and watched two more, and saw some things that I'll remember for a long, long time. How often do you give a standing ovation from your own living room?
• I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
, my coverage of the Yankees-Red Sox ALCS Game Seven. No, the Yanks didn't win the World Series, but memories of this night are keeping me warm this winter. I've watched that eighth inning a few dozen times already. Favorite images include Hideki Matsui's leap into the air
after scoring the tying run and Jorge Posada's Incredible Hulk celebration after the hit which did it. See also Rhapsody in Pink
, my girlfriend's account of what it was like at the Stadium that night.
• A Futility Infielder Vocabulary Lesson
, a quick piece I did earlier on the day of Game Seven while trying not to dwell on the matchup. My entries for the Big Book of Bitter Defeats, the Big Book of Bad Ideas and the Get Off My Property Home Run were well-timed, if not quite prophetic. Soooner or later, I'll make this a permanent feature of the site.
• Let It Bleed
, a rumination on writing that's both a reaction to a piece on the hiring of Don Mattingly
and an introduction to the exhumation of a feature which presaged this site
. We'll count the first two links as part of this "Best of" bunch, but I make no such claim on the third. Caveat emptor
• Bum (with a Bad) Shoulder
, a discussion of my torn labrum and impending surgery, with a big assist from Will Carroll and his fatehr, Dr. William Carroll.
• Working the Room in a Winter Wonderland
, my account of attending baseball's Winter Meetings in New Orleans, a weekend that I'm still savoring.
Well, those were my faves. If anybody out there feels that I've missed one of theirs, please let me know via the comments link.
I'll close my final entry of the year with a hearty "Thank You!" to all of my dear readers for taking the time to visit this site during 2003, and for making this endeavor feel special to me. At the risk of slapping my forehead for leaving somebody out, here's a special thanks to the not-so-small handful of (mostly) writers who've given me some encouragement, help, traffic, or just stimulating discussion this year: Rich Allen, Alex Belth, Chaim Bloom, John Bonnes, Dan Brown, Mike Carminati, Will Carroll, Clifford's Big Red Blog, Jon Daly, Elephants in Oakland, Sean Forman, Aaron Gleeman, Steven Goldman, Aaron Haspel, Julien Headley, Alex Lash, Rich Lederer, Jonathan Leshanski, Mitchel Lichtman, Larry Mahnken, Tim Marchman, Art Martone, Travis Nelson, Irina Paley, Avkash Patel, Long Gone John Perricone, Dayn Perry, David Pinto, Repoz, Christian Ruzich, the Score Bard, Joe Sheehan, Geoff Silver, Nate Silver, Pete Sommers, Greg Spira, Seth Strohs, John Strubel, Dave Studenmund, Robert Tagorda, Jon Weisman, John Wiebe, Ryan Wilkins, and the Baseball Primer Clutch Hitters.
Even more special thanks to my family (Mom, Dad, Bryan) and friends (Issa, Julie, Nick, the Hardts, the Hoffstens, the Pipers, the Wiedemanns, and others) who've provided such wonderful encouagement and emotional support during this very strange year, and most definitely to my girlfriend Andra, for not only giving me the space to spend so much of my time on this, but for letting herself get caught up in the fun as well. I'm a very, very lucky guy to have all of these people in my life.
Best wishes to all of you for a Happy New Year!
Tuesday, December 30, 2003
This one just writes itself...
Item 1 (Wednesday, December 25): Yankees assessed luxury tax
of $11.82 million, based on their $184.5 million payroll. They are the only one of 30 teams to exceed the $117 million threshold set by the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement. The threshold will rise to $120 million in 2004, as will the Yanks' tax rate (22.5 percent, up from 17.5) when they exceed it.
Item 2 (Thursday, December 26): Yankees assessed revenue sharing payment
of $48.8 million, the highest in the majors, of course. For some reason, the news about which team will receive the most hasn't been trumpeted in the same manner. That would be the Milwaukee Brewers, the team commissioner Bud Selig doesn't own. The Brewers will receive an estimated $18 million
against a $40.6 million payroll, despite which the team has decided to reduce its 2004 payroll to $30 million. Oh, and according to professor of economics Andrew Zimbalist, who wrote an article in the New York Times
last week (see previous link, now at Sports Business News), the Brewers have shown an operating profit of $20.24 million in their three years in Miller Park. No wonder the politicians of Wisconsin want to audit
the team's books.
Item 3 (Saturday, December 28): Yankee owner George Steinbrenner faints
at a memorial service for legendary Cleveland Browns quarterback Otto Graham. In a slow week, this qualifies as front page news
in both city tabloids
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Give me an owner willing to spend money to buy a winner over one who tries to hide the money and cry poor any day of the year. Give me an owner, even one as boorish as Steinbrenner, willing to stand in the fire of public opinion for his decisions over a faceless corporation any day of the year. Give me an owner willing to charge me face value for a ticket to one of the premier attractions in all of sports over one which scalps its own best tickets
. As Selena Roberts
wrote in the Times
Without a healthy George for three decades, superstars, has-beens and raw projects would not have had anyone to inflate their salaries to a point where the union can cry collusion when owners fall below the bar Steinbrenner sets. Sometimes, the Boss will even bid against himself to provide an economic boost for malcontents like Kenny Lofton.
So, feel better, Boss. Your loyal partner, D. Fehr.
Without a robust Steinbrenner on the prowl, the Red Sox would not be as motivated to turn to a Luke Skywalker wannabe like Theo Epstein as a means of defeating the dark forces they despise. Recently, Schilling used Boston's desperation as leverage to land his wish list.
So, get well, George. Your happy nemesis, Curt.
Without a vital Boss at the helm of the Yankee dynasty, how would Murdoch's Fox TV have created a ratings point from a Marlins World Series if Florida hadn't had a foil like Steinbrenner? Now, more coupon-clipping teams than ever can live the same small-market dream with the revenue wealth Steinbrenner has to share.
So, take care, George. Your ego equal, Rupert.
Without a hearty Steinbrenner to create an off-season diversion, baseball would be mired in unsavory topics like drug testing, THG and home run asterisks. Instead, those annoying subjects were quickly pushed aside because of an American League East shopping spree inspired by the Yankees.
So, speedy recovery, George. Milwaukee's public enemy, Commissioner Bud Selig.
Truly, every baseball fan should join in, sign a card, send a letter or bake some cookies. Some might successfully argue that the Boss with the shopaholic tendencies has snuffed out baseball, but without Steinbrenner in the daily mix, who would give the sport life?
He is the necessary evil in the empire.
Get well soon, George. Baseball needs you far more than it needs ass-clowns like Selig.
• • •
Speaking of Otto Graham
, while you're sitting around watching football over the next few weeks -- the only time of year I ever pay attention to the sport since this site's inception -- raise a glass to the man who showed America that the forward pass was the best thing since sliced bread, thus making football watchable. And while you're at it, raise another glass to the late Sid Gillman
, the architect of the modern passing game, who himself passed last January 3. Air Coryell
and the West Coast Offense
were outgrowths of his philosophy. Where have you gone, John Jefferson
• • •
More time for punchlines: Peter Gammons is in a band called the Fabulous Penetrations
on an album which will also feature the musical talents of Theo Epstein, Scott Spiezio, and Jack McDowell. Draw lots among yourself to see who gets to shoot me first before I have to listen, because I swear that if anybody on Baseball Tonight
starts plugging this shit I am going to Dial M
on somebody's ass.
• • •
And now to a couple of good blogs I've been meaning to point out for awhile... one is Dick Allen's Baseball Blog
which despite the nominal resemblence to the former star, is more general in focus. This particular Rich Allen (as he also bills himself) lives in Ireland and keeps his blog with three other pals. Though he writes about
his namesake once in awhile, Rich has lately been working on studying whether hitters' batting average on balls in play correlates with their groundball/flyball ratio. He hasn't reached any conclusions yet, but it's interesting stuff nonetheless.
The other is El Lefty Malo
, a mostly Giants-themed blog done by Alex Lash, a man who holds a special spot in my personal pantheon. Back in college, Alex served as my mentor not once but twice. First he was the supervisor of the late, lamented East Campus Dining Center, a dark and grimy burger mecca on the far reaches of the Brown University campus. The best lesson Alex imparted when training me for that same post was to never let go control of the stereo during my shift, lest I be forced to listen to somebody else's music. I think he also taught me that 8 minutes on the clock rounded up to 15, and that it was acceptable to stand there with a blank timecard test-punching until the magical mark was reached so long as you discreetly got rid of the test card. No wonder the ECDC (pronounced "Eck-Deck") closed before my senior year.
Second and more importantly, Alex was an editor of good clean fun
, the campus' official weekly entertainment paper. He brought me onboard to write about music -- I think my first review was of Neil Young's Ragged Glory
-- and generously praised my nascent writing efforts. At the end of my first year doing that, he appointed me Music Editor. Back then I wanted to be the next Lester Bangs, a condition which took about seven years to find a cure for. Now I just want to be... some cross between Red Smith, Bill James, Rob Neyer, Roger Angell, Roger Kahn, Jim Bouton, and Jules Tygiel, or something like that (nah, actually I just want to be the next Jay Jaffe, noted writer).
Alex, who's now a professional journalist, found my blog over a year ago and emailed me out of the blue, and he recently came out of the woodwork again to say holá
. Named after an "ancient Mexican baseball insult" dating back to his days as a high-school pitcher, and self-described as "craftily working the outside corner," his blog has been going strong since September, sometimes in conjunction with a friend. Alex has been keeping a close eye on money lately, whether it's the Giants payroll, non-tendered players, or the Cardinals new privately-financed stadium deal. Check him out.
• • •
Anybody in the New York City area who's a regular to the Internet baseball world should make an effort to hit the Baseball Primer meetup
on Monday, January 5, 2004. It's in my neighborhood, fortunately, at Waikiki Wally's Tiki Bar & Hawaiian Restaurant, 101 E. 2nd St., so I'll be there -- if not with bells on, then at least my replica Seattle Pilots jersey. There are other meetups on the same day around the country; follow the link above or check Primer to find out where yours is.
• • •
I'm pleased to announce to all concerned that my right shoulder, which underwent surgery
six weeks ago, has been slowly healing. Those of you who saw me (or a one-armed bandit bearing my name) at the Winter Meetings
in New Orleans should know that I've shed my sling and have begun physical therapy. Still, progress is slow, glacially slow. On a day-to-day basis it's hard to see any improvement, but on a week-to-week basis, I know that my range of motion has impoved and I've stopped taking pain medication. It's a start.
Yesterday I went out and bought a 3-foot dowel for use with my home exercises. The first thing I did when I brought it home was to grip the end of it, right hand over left, tap the outside corner of some imaginary home plate, twirl the stick a few times, à la Willie Stargell
, and then swing it slowly, as if in instant replay. I wasn't smacking a game-winning homer in this fantasy, just lining a sharp single up the middle. What can I say? I've got realistic goals right now.
Thursday, December 25, 2003
The following is an encore presentation of my annual December 25 piece, revised to incorporate new stats and other info through the 2003 season.
December 25 marks a holiday for most of this country and probably, for most of my readership -- if so, my sincere wishes for a happy holiday to you. For me the day is somewhat more paradoxical: I'm Jewish and thus don't celebrate Christmas, which is fine by me because I'm none too fond of that red and green color scheme. It also happens to be my birthday, number 34 to be exact.
I'll spare you the tales about how this combination of circumstances influenced my psyche while growing up (long story short: people forgetting birthday bad, never having to work or go to school on birthday good) and, as usual, move onto the baseball angle in all of this. Baseball-reference.com
lists 65 players as being born on December 25, including Hall-of-Famers Pud Galvin and Nellie Fox, and future Hall-of-Famer Rickey Henderson. Henderson is undoubtedly the best major-leaguer born on this day, but then again, he'd be the best major-leaguer born on any one of over three hundred other days, too.
Given that there are 256 members of the Hall of Fame (including executives), having two or three HOFers born on any single date is an above-average representation. Still, having spent some time looking over the resumes of the 65 ballplayers with December 25 birthdays, I can't make any claims for the All Xmas Team I've assembled. They're exceedingly long on futility infielders and backup catchers, short on outfielders, first basemen, and power hitters in general. Their pitching is pretty solid -- a front three of Pud, Ned, and Ted -- though they don't really have a closer.
Pos Name (Years) AVG OBP SLG HR
C Quincy Trouppe (1952) .100 .182 .100 0
1B Walter Holke (1914-1925) .287 .318 .363 24
2B Nellie Fox (1947-1965) .288 .348 .363 35
3B Gene Robertson (1919-1930) .280 .344 .373 20
SS Manny Trillo (1973-1989) .263 .316 .345 61
LF Jo-Jo Moore (1930-1941) .298 .344 .408 79
CF Rickey Henderson (1979-) .279 .401 .419 297
RF Ben Chapman (1930-1946) .302 .383 .440 90
C Gene Lamont (1970-1975) .233 .278 .371 4
IF Tom O'Malley (1982-1990) .256 .329 .340 13
IF Joe Quinn (1884-1901) .261 .302 .327 29
IF Bill Akers (1929-1932) .261 .349 .404 11
OF Red Barnes (1927-1930) .269 .347 .404 8
OF Gerry Davis (1983-1985) .301 .370 .397 0
PH Wallace Johnson (1981-1990) .255 .316 .332 5
Pos Name (Years) W L S ERA
SP Pud Galvin (1875-1892) 364 310 2 2.86
SP Ned Garver (1948-1961) 129 157 12 3.73
SP Ted Lewis (1896-1901) 94 64 4 3.53
SP Charlie Lea (1980-1988) 62 48 0 3.54
SP George Haddock (1888-1894) 95 87 2 4.07
RP Al Jackson (1959-1969) 67 99 10 3.98
RP Lloyd Brown (1928-1940) 91 105 21 4.20
RP Eric Hiljus (1999-2002) 8 3 0 4.72
RP Charlie Beamon (1956-1958) 3 3 0 3.91
CL Jack Hamilton (1962-1969) 32 40 20 4.53
A few words about the selections:
* Quincy Trouppe spent twenty-two years in the Negro Leagues before receiving a 10-at-bat cup of coffee with the Cleveland Indians in 1952, at age 39. He was a fine player in his day, making All-Star teams everywhere he went and accumulating a lifetime Negro League Average of .311. He also won a Negro League championship as player-manager of the Cleveland Buckeyes. Bill James rates him the #7 catcher of the Negro Leagues in the New Historical Baseball Abstract
. One more interesting note about him: during the height of World War II, he had trouble securing a passport to play in the Mexican League. The league's president intervened, and made arrangements for Trouppe's services in exchange for those of 80,000 Mexican workers. You could look it up.
* Manny Trillo played most of his career as a second baseman, and a slick-fielding one at that, winning three Gold Gloves and setting a record for consecutive errorless games. But Nellie Fox also won three Gold Gloves at 2B, so I took the liberty of moving Trillo to SS (where he had limited experience). I'm sure he and Nellie would have made a fine double-play combo. Trillo is the only Christmas-born ballplayer whose real name is Jesus.
* Jo-Jo Moore and Ben Chapman both crack Bill James' Top 100 lists by postion. Moore ranks 77th among LFs, Chapman 55th among CFs (I put him in right because he played a good portion of his career there). Chapman was, by all accounts, an aggressive ballplayer who fought a lot. He stole as many as 61 bases, and had some power as well. He later managed the Philadelphia Phillies for parts of four seasons and is most noted for baiting the rookie Jackie Robinson with racial epithets. Schmuck. We'll let Trouppe manage this squad, just to rub it in Chapman's face.
* Red Barnes -- don't you love that name? Gerry Davis did pretty well in 73 ABs for the Padres, but missed out on their glory year of 1984. There's now an umpire with the same name, but I can't figure out if its the same guy.
* Wallace Johnson was a pretty good pinch-hitter whose claim to fame was the hit that put the Montreal Expos in their first (and only) postseason in 1981. He spent five years as the third-base coach with the Chicago White Sox but was fired after the 2002 season. At last notice, he had plans to run for a city council position in Gary, Indiana, the murder capital of the U.S. Fun.
* Three of the pitchers on this team made their names in the 19th century, when pitching and pitching stats were much different. Galvin had back-to-back 46-win seasons in 1883 and 1884, making over 70 starts each year. He won 20 games or more ten times, and lost 20 games or more 10 times as well. George Haddock went from 9-26 in 1890 for Buffalo of the Players League to 34-11 with Boston of the American Association the following year. Ted Lewis won 47 games over two seasons for the Boston Beaneaters in 1896-1897.
* Ned Garver was a hard-luck pitcher who managed to go 20-12 for a St. Louis Browns team that went 52-102 in 1951. This performance so impressed MVP voters in the AL that he finished second to Yogi Berra.
* Speaking of pitching for lousy teams... at 8-20 with a 4.40 ERA, Al Jackson could have easily been mistaken for the ace of the 1962 Mets (though Roger Craig had an equal claim). Jackson managed to lose 88 games in a 5-year span, four of those with the Mets. He had a long career as a pitching coach (Red Sox, Orioles, Mets) and is now a roving instructor within the organization where he gained his fame (or infamy).
* A couple of others have claims of infamy. Pitcher Jack Hamilton is best known for hitting Tony Conigliaro in the face with a pitch in 1967, one of the most severe beanings in the annals of baseball. Hamilton's only major league homer was a grand slam off of the aforementioned Al Jackson. Morrie Rath (who didn't make the cut here), a second baseman with a career 254/.342/.285 line, was hit by a pitch from Chicago Black Sox hurler Ed Cicotte to open the 1919 World Series. The message of this purpose pitch: the fix was in.
* So far as I can tell, there's at least one Jewish ballplayer with a December 25 birthday. Alta Cohen played in 29 games from 1931-1933 for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies. In his first game he got two hits in a single inning when the Boston Braves failed to notice that he batted out of turn. He spent the rest of his career paying for his sins: .194/.289/.224.
* The first Christmas-born ballplayer, Nat Jewett (who I'm guessing didn't celebrate either), was a member of the 1872 Brooklyn Eckfords of the National Association, who went 3-26 for the season. Sweeeet.
* Rickey Henderson was the only Christmas-born ballplayer to appear in the majors in 2003. After starting the season at Newark of the independent Atlantic League (where he hit .339/.493/.591 in 56 games), the Dodgers finally picked up the phone in mid-July. Rickey got off to a flying start, hitting two homers in his first four games, but thereafter went 10-for-58 with one measly double and finished at .208/.321/.306. Oh mama, can this really be the end?
* Erik Hiljus spent time in the bigs from 1998-2002, most notably going 5-0 with a 3.41 ERA in 2001. But poor control and the Oakland A's pitching depth have apparently doomed him. He spent all of 2003 at the A's AAA club in Sacramento, going 11-10 with a 4.69 ERA in 174.2 innings.
* Only two other Christmas-born ballplayers who have appeared in the majors are still active in organized ball. The first is outfielder Tarrik Brock, who went 2-for-12 in his cup of coffee with the 2000 Cubs. Brock, a veteran of thirteen professional seasons, spent 2003 in the Dodger organization, mostly with the Jacksonville Suns of the AA Southern League, where he hit .272/.386/.495 in 98 games. The second is outfielder Scott Bullett, 35, who hit .233/.283/.356 in 247 games from 1991-1996, mostly with the Cubs. Bullett played in the Mexican League in 2003, splitting the season between the Reynosa Broncos and the Monterrey Sultanes, and hitting .323/.409/.495.
Rickey, Nellie, Manny, Quincy, and all of my fellow December 25-born mates -- happy birthday, guys!
Wednesday, December 24, 2003
Word on the street is that due to a dispute between my service provider and my web host, email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
may be bouncing. Should that happen to any of you, please email me at this address
until further notice. Apologies for the inconvenience; you can guess how happy I am over this development, especially while I'm on vacation.
It appears the email@example.com
address is working again, but anything sent to it on December 23 (Tuesday) is gone, gone, gone. Please re-send if necessary.
"Ain't no sense worrying about things you got no control over, because if you got no control over them, ain't no sense worrying."
-- the Prophet Gozzlehead
Because its status has changed as often as the weather, and because of some sage wisdom I once received from a pinstriped leadoff hitter with the worst throwing arm I'd ever seen, I long ago resolved not to sweat the potential Alex Rodriguez-Manny Ramirez trade. The mainstream media have turned the potential Red Sox-Rangers trade into a red-ball
requiring round-the-clock coverage, calling this the Deal of the Century
and the Trade of the Millenium and pumping clichés along the lines of "the Hot Stove has never been hotter" until the cows have keeled over in the pasture. This soap opera has been going on for over six weeks, and if we're to believe reports, the deal is finally dead
because yet another artificially imposed
deadline set by a desperate billionaire has passed.
My recent experience
at the Winter Meetings in New Orleans, where conflicting reports about the deal's status swirled around the Marriott lobby like twin tornadoes, only strengthened my resolve not to worry about this trade. At one point I overheard Peter Gammons and Jayson Stark talking about it to a third party and though my rabbit-ears briefly buzzed, I walked right past. I spent three days perfectly happy to listen to somebody -- anybody -- tell me that the Devil Rays were about to sign Jose Cruz, Jr. or speculate whether Scott Spiezio or J.T. Snow would make a better first base foil for Jason Giambi, rather than listen to one more report about the status of the A-Rod deal. As my mother is prone to say, "D.I.L.I.G.A.S.?" – Do I Look Like I Give A Shit?
The Yankee fan in me is supposed to be cowering in fear over this deal, which would bring the AL MVP to the heart of the Red Sox batting order, where he could feast on Yankee pitching 19 games a year. Oh. Having died about two dozen small deaths in October, one for every time the Yank hurlers had to run the Nomar-Manny-David Ortiz gauntlet, I'm decidedly unfazed by that possibility.
On the other hand, the East Coast sophisticate in me is supposed to be elated that yet one more great player would be inducted into our midst, arriving in a division most accurately referred to as the AL Beast. I didn't know we were in a hip-hop war with the West Coast; somebody please bust a cap in Billy Beane’s ass for me, and tell that bitch Bill Bavasi what time it is.
The Dodger fan in me is supposed to be elated at the possibility of this deal, because should A-Rod hit Beantown, the likely destination for Nomar Garciaparra is L.A. Yes, I’ll be bummed when Cesar Izturis and his .597 OPS are put out of a job, but I fully believe second baseman Alex Cora’s Incredible Vortex of Suck can do at least something to offset the 25 homers and 100 RBI which Nomah will provide to that offensive excuse the Dodgers have for an offense.
The baseball fan in me who has been shelling out hundreds of dollars a year and spending countless hours in front of the TV watching cranky millionaires play ball is supposed to be outraged -- OUTRAGED, I tell you -- that the players’ union stood in the way of this deal, demanding that A-Rod’s record-setting contract was adhered to. The pundit in me is supposed to be churning out thousands of words a week telling my readership why this deal is either going to destroy baseball or save it.
Kids, I'm over it. When the first rumors of the story broke, I took a long hard look in the mirror and said to myself, "Only when Alex Rodriguez is photographed wearing a Red Sox jersey am I going to get worked up about this." And I take great pride that, at least in this instance, I've been true to my resolve. I got more worked up over the Yanks re-signing futilityman Enrique Wilson to a one-year, $750,000 contract than I did over the thought of A-Rod in a B cap, perhaps on the theory that if I ignored it, the trade would just go away. My pal Nick and my blog-bud Alex Belth
may have been losing sleep over the trade, or tearing their hair out in fist-sized chunks, but that's not me.
I’m not convinced that the deal is "dead," because I’ve seen too many horror movies where the protagonist wipes off his brow and says, "Whew, I'm glad that’s over!" moments before brain-eating radioactive zombies from Hell burst through the back door and wreak havoc all over again, eating the girlfriend, the loyal dog, and the plucky sidekick with the limp. See, I always find myself checking my watch in those situations, knowing that it’s too soon for the movie to be over. And since it’s not July 31 yet, I'm not buying the exaggerated reports of this deal’s demise.
But I'll say this. I've never been more depressed at the state of mainstream baseball coverage than I have been over this deal. The likes of Mike Lupica
and Peter Gammons
put forth shrill down-from-the-mountain pronouncements, pointing fingers at the big egos involved here -- players, agents, owners, union leaders -- without ever turning the mirror on themselves, and plenty of writers followed suit. This whole three-ring circus has been an exercise in their self-importance, these old hens leaking rumors to anyone within earshot in order to keep the attention focused on their au-thor-i-tah
around the clock. Said hens feel obliged to tell A-Rod that he doesn't need those extra $12 million, or $30 million, or $80 million, or whatever it is because he’s already paid more than entire countries, most of which have no chance of finishing in the first division of the Third World. And while they're telling Rodriguez how much money he doesn't need, they might as well get off another shot or two at how greedy the entire Players Association is, and how evil Gene Orza is for protecting the interests of the constituency he's paid to protect. These writers have so much invested in covering this Deal of the Century that they're blaming anyone and everyone who stands in its way. So much for no jeering in the press box.
That's not to say that there hasn't been good coverage of the situation. Jack Curry of the New York Times
has done a good job sticking to the facts, ESPN's Jim Caple weighed in
with a unique angle on A-Rod trying to steal Nomar's job and another piece about the union's point of view
, and the Baseball Prospectus guys -- particularly Joe Sheehan
and Chaim Bloom
-- have been batting... well, they've been putting up very high EQAs.
The other thing that chafes my ass about this whole non-deal is that, unlike some trades which are contingent on a contract extension and the two teams given 72 hours to hash out a deal, the Sox have had weeks
to talk to A-Rod. Geez, Bud, tell us who's your real favorite in that Yankee-Red Sox rivalry.
I'll admit that I thoroughly enjoy the schadenfreude of watching the richest man in baseball toil in the obscurity of the AL West cellar, a prisoner of the contract he signed. I have plenty invested in preserving the fragile equilibrium of unhappiness in the Red Sox ranks, those one-named divas agitating for more respect as they prove how self-centered they are, and I'm hoping that Kevin Millar's Foot-in-Mouth-ectomy shows up on the Surgery Channel. Furthermore, I love to see a writer lashing out at Larry "Evil Empire" Lucchino, even if that writer is Tracy Ringolsby
. So I’m happy that thus far this trade hasn't be consummated.
But if it does go down, whether tomorrow or in Spring Training or one minute before August 1 strikes, I've got no beef with Rodriguez or Hicks or Henry or Boras or Orza or any of the other principals involved for figuring out a way to do the deal that's within the rules. The union's gains which created those rules are hard-won, and for all the mess he's in, A-Rod’s money is well-earned -- on a marginal basis, he really is worth that extra dough. The only caveat to that deal is that I'm not going to read one more goddamned word about if I can help it. There are too many other pressing baseball issues -- such as Bert Blyleven's Hall of Fame candidacy, the amazing career of Chicken Stanley, and the secret lives of fungo hitters -- for me to give any more attention to this one.
Sunday, December 21, 2003
Home for a week in Salt Lake City, my eye drifted to this SI.com article
about former local minor league star Willie Mays Aikens, whose legend was made during my youth here. Born just following the 1954 World Series (not during, as the baseball cards claimed), Aikens was named by his delivering physician for the Giants superstar outfielder, who made a pretty fair catch that year. A first baseman, he was the California Angels’ #1 pick (#2 overall) in the January 1975 draft.
Despite being glacially slow and lousy on defense, the man could hit, and he rose quickly, reaching the Salt Lake Gulls, the Angels’ AAA affiliate, in 1977. He he hit .336 AVG/.435 OBP/.569 SLG with 14 homers in a half season and earned a promotion to the big club, where he hit only .198/.277/.242 in 101 plate appearances. He spent all of 1978 in SLC, hitting .326/.423/551 with 29 homers and 110 RBI, but stuck with the Angels in 1979, and was a regular on their AL West-winning squad. Sharing time at first base with Rod Carew and at DH with Don Baylor, he hit .280/.376/.493 with 21 homers. Inexplicably, he failed to receive a vote in the Rookie of the Year
balloting, providing the general public with its only reason to remember John Castino. But as the first minor-leaguer I followed to make good in the bigs, he holds a special distinction in my eyes.
Aikens was traded to the Kansas City Royals in a five-player deal that December, and became the starting first baseman on a pennant-winning team. He hit .278/.356/.433 with 20 homers, his stats suffering due to overexposure to left-handed pitching (.694 OPS vs lefties, .899 vs righties). In the opening game of the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies, he entered the national spotlight by slugging two home runs in a losing cause. He singled in the winning run in the 10th inning of Game Three, then matched his two-homer feat in Game Four, helping the Royals to even the Series at two games apiece and becoming the first player with two multi-homer games in the same World Series.
He had three more good seasons in KC, the best of which came in 1983, when -- limited to only 89 PA against lefties -- he hit .302/.373/.539 with 23 homers. But the headlines he earned that year weren’t so good. Aikens was one of four Royals, along with Vida Blue, Jerry Martin, and Willie Wilson, who were arrested for attempting to purchase cocaine, pled guilty, and drew three-month jail sentences as well as year-long suspensions from baseball by commissioner Bowie Kuhn. Those four thus earned the ignominious distinction of becoming the first active players to do time.
Days after being suspended, Aikens was traded to Toronto for Jorge Orta. His suspension was reduced, and he resumed his career with the Jays, but he was a disappointment, hitting only .205/.298/.376 in 1984. He got off to a similarly slow start in 1985 and was released in May, never playing in the bigs again. Ironically enough, he homered in his final big-league at-bat
Aikens continued to play in the Mexican League, but his drug problems followed. By the early '90s, according to the SI article (written by Mike Fish), he was doing coke day and night, and his weight had ballooned to 300 pounds. He was busted again in 1994 for selling crack to an undercover female cop, and with his prior record and the presence of a shotgun in his squalid house, drew a sentence of 20 long years in the federal penitentiary in Atlanta.
Nine years into his sentence, Aikens has been trying to clear his name. He requested a presidential pardon and got former players and managers, including Hal McRae, Dusty Baker, and Jim Fregosi, to write on his behalf. But recently he learned that his request had been denied by President Bush. Still, Aikens’ case has made him something of a poster child for the flaws with mandatory sentencing. The crack distinction is crucial to his case. According to Fish:
Aikens ending up selling about 2.2 ounces to the undercover cop. But because of the tougher federal guidelines for crack, he was sentenced as if he had sold 15 pounds of powder cocaine. Plus, he got five years for using a firearm during commission of a crime.
Several sources, from SI writer Frank Deford to conservative columnist Debra Saunders
, have noted that the crack was produced at the behest of the undercover cop, and had he not cooked up the rock, his sentence would have run out years ago.
Fish’s article tries to draw a comparison of Aikens to Darryl Strawberry and Lawrence Taylor, and while it's true his is a sadder tale than theirs -- seeing as how both of those men are free and still cashing in on their celebrity -- the small matter of a gun involved in his crime doesn't exactly help his cause. But there's no getting around the sorrow of this story, especially for somebody who remembers marvelling at his long home runs.
Friday, December 19, 2003
On his eponymous blog
, Will Carroll has a hilarious blind-item list of the great but (sadly) unattributable quotes from the Winter Meetings. There are too many reputations to protect to go attaching names to these (I only gave away a couple), but it's great that somebody has preserved some of the more memorable lines from such a great weekend.
Thursday, December 18, 2003
Working the Room in a Winter Wonderland
What's a blog-writing outsider like me doing at Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings? That was a question I couldn't adequately answer, not even after Alex Belth and I entered the lobby of the New Orleans Marriott and cut through a swarm of baseball executives, agents and writers in search of the Baseball Prospectus
contingent who had encouraged us to come down. Traveling on my own dime, lacking media credentials and anonymous to all but a small handful of people in the room, I shook my head as I surveyed the spectacle. What had I gotten myself into?
The answer turned out to be four days of pure sensory overload, intensive immersion in a realm of the baseball world I had only previously imagined. I watched, talked, argued, networked, laughed, ate, drank, gambled and strolled through the human sewer of degradation that is Bourbon Street. But mostly I just listened to a wide variety of perspectives about the game and the weekend's happenings. I cemented friendships with people who had previously been only names at other nodes of this electronic wonderland. The whole experience left me so giddy I was unable to fall asleep at night no matter how exhausted my body was.
Back in September, Alex and I had booked our trip at the encouragement of BP's injury expert, Will Carroll. The creator of the juicy Under the Knife
newsletter, Will's own experience at last year's Winter Meetings in Nashville resulted in his joining BP's staff, and over the past year, he's become both a supporter of our sites and a reliable, invaluable source of information. He felt that the two of us would benefit by meeting the rest of the BP delegation, gaining access to their network of contacts and getting a first-hand glimpse into the sausage factory of the baseball biz. As we found him in the Marriott lobby on Friday night, his welcoming smile and gregarious manner put us at ease. "You guys are here just in time! We have to get you caught up," he laughed, before BP associate editor Ryan Wilkins delivered the joke's punchline: "You've missed nothing
." With the exception of the arrivals, there had been little news beyond the Blue Jays' signing of Miguel Batista... and wasn't that Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi standing a few feet away?
Will and Ryan introduced me to the rest of the BP contingent -- columnists Joe Sheehan, Nate Silver and Dayn Perry, and intern Chaim Bloom -- on the fringe of the elevated bar at the center of the lobby, and beers were procured. Slightly starstruck, I sussed out the scene, recognizing familiar faces from the game and trying to gauge their place within the context of the giant cocktail party we were crashing. Most obvious were the managers, looking slightly out of place sans
caps: Dusty Baker, Lou Piniella, Tony Peña, Felipe Alou, Lee Mazzilli, Ozzie Guillen and Jack McKeon, who spent much of the evening outside, smoking his cigar like a man who'd won a World Series or something. Some of the execs stood out: slick Ricciardi (about whom Toronto Blue Jays second baseman famously commented
, "He looks like he was a pimp back in the day"), suave Kenny Williams, stately Omar Minaya, towering Bill Bavasi, and petite Kim Ng
, the female Dodger Assistant GM who fits exactly into the slot Joe Sheehan described as "Assistant GM height." Also prevalent were national media types such as ESPN's Jayson Stark and Jeff Brantley, though we couldn't locate Peter Gammons. A few players such as Ron Gant roamed the floor, pressing the flesh in search of another opportunity to play ball, and recognizable former players such as Pete Vuckovich (special assistant to Pittsburgh GM Dave Littlefield) dotted the landscape as well.
But beyond those names, I needed guidance; working the room was a whole gaggle of baseball writers whose bylines may have been familiar to me, but whose faces were not. One exception was Rocky Mountain News
columnist Tracy Ringolsby
, whose black cowboy hat, mint-green western shirt, prominent gut, and oversized belt buckle (which I'm told reads "Tracy Ringolsby, Baseball Writer") stand out like a sore thumb. Most of the writers had their credentials turned around or tucked into their pockets, so I turned to somebody and asked, "Why don't these guys come with captions?"
Alex, who's been making a name for himself via a series of interviews with writers for his Bronx Banter
site, took initiative and began working the room himself. He sought out some of his subjects, such as Sports Illustrated
's Tom Verducci and former New York Times
Yankee beat writer Buster Olney (now at ESPN). He also talked to New York beat writers such as the Times
' Jack Curry and the New York Post
's Joel Sherman and Mark Hale. By the end of the weekend, he was chatting up Tony Perez and others as part of his research for a young adult book on Curt Flood.
As for myself, with a less bold demeanor and a more nebulous agenda, I began working up a comfort level with the BP guys. Ryan and I have been corresponding for almost two years; as an 18-year-old college student, he had created the Baseball Junkie
blog and then sought guidance in expanding to a more full-fledged site
, for which I designed the banner. Still in school at Saint Mary's College in California, he now gathers The Week in Quotes
for BP and does his share of editorial heavy lifting. Chicago-based Nate is the creator of the PECOTA
forecasting system; I spent the weekend peppering him with questions along the lines of, "What does your system say about ____ _____?" Chaim is a senior at Yale with aspirations of working for a major-league team; he spent much of the weekend vying for interviews with various clubs. L.A.-area-based Joe was the senior member of BP on site; roughly the same age as I am, he's clearly comfortable as a baseball insider, possessing an impressive rapport with writers and execs. Austin-based Dayn does consulting work for the San Diego Padres and covers baseball for Fox Sports
in addition to his BP writing. And Will, creator of the med-head school of baseball analysis, does ESPN Radio for an Indianapolis station as well as his BP responsibilities. The son of a prominent orthopedic surgeon, Will's hard-won expertise in sports medicine comes first-hand. He's got the signatures of the game's Picassos -- scars from stars -- on his own body: rotator cuff repaired by Dr. Frank Jobe
, hip replaced by Dr. Robert Kerlan
, knees done by Dr. James Andrews
. The man's been under so many knives that he's a medical miracle himself.
We hung around the lobby for a little over an hour on Friday, watching the awkward social dance in our midst before deciding at 1 AM that our work for the night was done. We retreated to our hotel, the Riverfront Wyndham, a ten-minute walk from the Marriott, where Will, Ryan, Joe, Nate and I put together a poker game. Now, I'm familiar with so many cheesy three-, five-, and seven-card variants of poker that I've lost count, but the game of Texas Hold 'Em
which transpired was unlike any I've ever played. As I said before
, Joe and Nate know their ways around the poker table and punctuated the baseball chatter with stories of various tournaments and betting strategies. Meanwhile I struggled to comprehend meaning for the terms button, blind, flop, turn, and river, and to grasp our game's arcane (to me, at least) betting rules. For my trouble, I was down $15 in the first twenty minutes, but I went on a bluffing spree which got me back within hailing distance of even; from this rally came the exaggerated reports
of my short-lived publishing empire -- so little had happened in terms of baseball news that Joe promised to include the poker game in his next day's writeup.
As we played, we flipped through late-night TV, at one point settling on a rodeo where every hat-wearing contestant became an excuse to shout, "Hey, it's Tracy Ringolsby!" The best line of the night came from Will, the evening's biggest patron: "You can't bluff me, I'm not even paying attention!" My chips lasted until 3:30 and I ended the night down $25 -- a pretty cheap poker lesson by the standards of my high-school days. Joe and Will vowed to stay up through their appearance on BP Radio at 7:00 AM, but I was having no part of that. Still, sleep didn't exactly come easily in the midst of such excitement.
Back at the Marriott the next day, we gathered in the bar, waiting for deals to unfold, every now and then stretching our legs by taking laps around the lobby. It was during one such lap that I passed Peter Gammons, hobbling around in sneakers to go with his khakis and blue blazer and talking to Jayson Stark. I overheard the two of them conjecturing about the weekend's potential blockbuster deal, the Alex Rodriguez-Manny Ramirez trade -- around which a flurry of deals seemed to hinge -- but I felt too conspicuous to actually stop and eavesdrop further. Eavesdropping is practically the national pastime at a place like this, just one of the bizarre social customs that would be frowned upon in other company. More strange conventions: telling a bystander to move over a few feet so that you can keep somebody in your line of sight, ready to pounce once a conversation ends, and lapsing into silence with the person you're talking directly to as the two of you ogle other men chatting across the room. And aside from the bartenders, the aforementioned Ms. Ng, and a few female publicists, that's all there are in the Marriott lobby, hundreds of men, most of them unsexy except for their job descriptions. You'd think Omar Minaya was wearing a thong bikini for all the attention he got.
Apart from the no-go on the A-Rod deal, the big buzz of Saturday was that the Yankee front office had been barred from the meetings by George Steinbrenner, the Boss' typically tyrannical way of punishing the team's on-the-field shortcomings and asserting who's in charge. Truth be told, with several free-agent deals pending and the Yanks trying to protect their C-grade prospects on the 40-man, they lacked the roster space to do anything substantial. So our dreams of finding Yankee GM Brian Cashman passed out in a pool of his own vomit in some Bourbon Street gutter would remain -- to use the term the BP guys taught me -- "wishcasting." Stark's word that Roger Clemens was mulling a comeback with the Houston Astros following their signing of Andy Pettitte circled the room, far too overplayed a rumor for me to believe; if he's going to decide, it's not going to be in December, folks.
That's the way the Winter Meetings work for a man in my position. You stand or sit around, talking baseball, waiting for some rumor to either be validated or dismissed by your network. "Whaddaya hear?" is the most common question asked, followed by "Have you heard?" It probably doesn't sound like much, but when you've got the well-connected intelligence that I was suddenly privy to, each morsel of information generates excitement. Minutes after a rumor would reach us, somebody -- most likely Joe or Will -- would head off to pump one of his connections for further details and then return to the pack, shaking his head or nodding effusively. It scarcely mattered that the BP dispute with MLB over credentials (see: the Pete Rose
brouhaha) left them frozen out of the media room; all the news that anybody cared about passed through the lobby on its way there. Badges? We don't need no steenkin' badges.
And when the biggest news was that the Phillies were considering Kent Mercker and the Royals about to sign Tony Graffanino, we were quite content to roll our eyes and keep talking baseball, comparing perspectives, recounting tales from our viewing experience, or making new friends. One of the more enjoyable parts of the weekend came on Sunday afternoon, when I sat around for over an hour discussing baseball books with Alex, Ryan, Nate, Geoff Silver, former Assistant Director fo Baseball Administration for the Cincinnati Reds, and Tim Marchman, reporter for the New York Sun
and editor at Ivan R. Dee
, which is publishing books by Will
and Nate. My big contribution to the discussion was to hawk Seasons in Hell
, Mike Shropshire's hilariously gonzoid account of the mid-'70s Texas Rangers of Whitey Herzog and Billy Martin. Tim, who's writing a book on Bud Selig and has been sniffing around current collusion allegations
, gave a great thumbnail sketch of books devoted to the game's labor history, most prominently Marvin Miller's A Whole Different Ballgame
, which his publisher is bringing back to print. Alex discussed some of his Curt Flood research, then started kicking around the topic of books about Latino ballplayers, particularly Cuban defectors. My reading list grew by the minute.
A couple of deals stand out as illustrating the way the meetings work. As we broke for a late lunch Saturday afternoon, Dayn told us that he'd heard that the Padres offer to centerfielder Mike Cameron -- three years, $15.75 million -- had been topped by the Oakland A's. Later that evening, when Joe Sheehan hit us with that ill-advised second round of hurricanes
at Pat O'Brien's, Chaim got a call telling us that the A's had lost out on Cameron to the New York Mets. Ryan, an A's supporter, muttered in frustration as our group -- showing the night's final stand of rational thought when it came to baseball -- tallied up the damage from the A's losing out on both Cameron and reliever Keith Foulke. "A tough weekend for Billy Beane," as someone remarked.
The Miguel Tejada deal was another lesson (and even worse news for Beane). Tejada's name had popped up in several contexts during Friday and Saturday; word was that the Seattle Mariners had increased their offer, the Detroit Tigers were still trying to throw money at him, and whatever happened to his interest in the Anaheim Angels anyway? Sunday afternoon's bombshell was that the Oakland shortstop had signed with the Baltimore Orioles for six years and $65 million. "Six, sixty-five," we kept repeating over and over as if it were some sort of talisman. The discussion quickly turned to Oriole owner Peter Angelos' willingness to spend money now that Albert Belle is off the payroll, and his apparent confidence that the O's will be receiving a nine-figure settlement for allowing the Expos to move to Washington, D.C. Veddy interesting, we agreed, and then Alex and I left with former Big Easy resident Tim, bound for a stroll around the quieter parts of the French Quarter. When we returned, the buzz surrounding the O's was even louder: not only were they getting Tejada, but also Vladimir Guerrero (who shares the same agent as Miggy) and Ivan Rodriguez. Neither of those two deals came to fruition by the weekend's close, but the speculation that the Orioles were finally spending money again brought talk of the "AL Beast" division.
Back to the Cashman situation, another object lesson in the world of the Winter Meetings. Jack Curry's Saturday piece
in the Times
had sounded the Mad King George alarm and set a subdued tone for every Yankee-related discussions I had all weekend:
One baseball official who has spoken to a few members of the Yankees' hierarchy said the 73-year-old Steinbrenner had stopped seeking the opinions of Cashman; Oppenheimer; Mark Newman, a vice president; Gene Michael, the trusted evaluator who has been with the organization for more than three decades; and other club executives whose opinions normally help mold the Yankees.
The official said a Yankees official had told him that Steinbrenner had sometimes acted so single-handedly and haphazardly that, if he did listen to someone about pursuing a player, it was just as likely to be an accountant as a scout.
Michael said he had not been quizzed about signing the 35-year-old Gary Sheffield to a three-year contract, about signing Kenny Lofton to a two-year deal or about acquiring Kevin Brown from Los Angeles.
"If you ask me if they've contacted me about anything, I'll say they haven't," Michael said. "That's all I can say."
On Sunday, Joel Sherman published another piece
in the Post
about the Yankee GM's apparent dissatisfaction; "Fed-Up Cashman Tells Pals He's Gone After Season," as the headline blared. Sherman wrote:
Several of his industry friends say Cashman has told them he has had enough of Steinbrenner, and that when this season and his contract ends, he is going to leave the only organization for which he has worked. One NL executive summed up the sentiment by saying, "He's done there."
Steinbrenner barred Cashman or any Yankee official from attending these meetings, which is viewed as another slap at his GM. When reached yesterday at his Connecticut home, Cashman refused comment on his long-range plans...
Steinbrenner could always can Cashman before the end of the year. But a person who has spoken with Cashman said he is more worried that, out of spite, The Boss will pick up his 2005 option rather than fire him. Furious at one juncture during the postseason, Steinbrenner screamed at Cashman that he would not pick up the option and Cashman could go work for the Mets....
Friends say Cashman accepted a three-year, $3.3 million extension previously because his wife is from the area, and he did not want to uproot his family. But now, one of those friends says, "This is his last year in the circus. I wouldn't even be surprised if he got out of baseball and went into another business. He's tired of the screaming matches with George, not being listened to and just the general disrespect."
Late on Sunday, Alex introduced me to Curry, and right around the time I was flattering him with the fact that my lil' ol' blog links to him often and pressing my business card into his hand, word came around that -- guess what -- Cashman's option for 2005 had been picked up, and that at least one of the so-called friends of Cashman was a certain pallid, malnourished-looking guy wearing several World Series rings. Delicious.
Not all of the Yankee news was so positive. When word arrived that the Kenny Lofton deal was as good, I begged Dayn (whose Padres had at one point shown an interest) to recommend to GM Kevin Towers that Lofton be signed immediately. "I'd be derelict in my duty if I did that," smiled Dayn. Damn. "Two years?" asked enraged Yankee fan Joe Sheehan, cracking his knuckles and narrowing his eyes. "When I'm home over Christmas, we're gonna get together and take out George, Brooklyn-style." I did feel pretty good -- or at least somewhat validated -- when Will told me that his sources had confirmed that the Yanks "failure" to sign Pettitte was indeed a medically-motivated decision.
Along with the Yanks, much of the weekend's focus fell on the Red Sox. Their signing of Foulke seemed to indicated a return to the concept of a true closer, but even that news paled in comparison to the speculation about the A-Rod deal. No sooner would Will announce that his source had told him the deal was "dead, dead, dead, DEAD" than I'd be talking to somebody like Verducci and he'd say, "Oh, I'm hearing it's still alive." Curry confided that he had a new angle on the deal which nobody else had seen, but his published suggestion
that Byung Hyun Kim would be a Texas-bound throw-in fell on deaf ears.
For all of the Sox talk, I never once did see Theo Epstein, or Billy Beane -- the other poster-boy for the BP approach -- for that matter. While they were briefly sighted by our crew, these most interesting characters stayed largely out of sight during the weekend, working deals out of their rooms upstairs rather than walking the Marriott floor. But for every power broker who kept a low profile, another one was sitting two tables away. I fell asleep Sunday night with the smell of Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf's cigar
permeating my clothes. Now that's getting close to the action.
It was an amazing, exhilirating weekend, one I can barely do justice to in this space. So much happened that was "off the record," ("Who knew Nate Silver had a plus arm?") but there was even more which my supersaturated little mind just couldn't absorb in the time we were there. Check out my boy Alex's twin takes
on the weekend's proceedings -- he captured the atmosphere of the lobby so well that I can't even compete. Thanks to Alex for being my right-hand man throughout our travels, bearing the burden for my surgically repaired shoulder. Special thanks to the BP boyz as well for making me part of an unforgettable weekend; being introduced to so many great people as a "Friend of Prospectus" flatters me by association. And welcome to any of you reading this on the basis of having met me in N'awlins -- I hope my amateur take has brought a new angle to something that seems like old hat, and that you'll keep coming back for more.
Sunday, December 14, 2003
Postcard From New Orleans
If you're a baseball fan attuned to the Hot Stove League, you've probably wondered what happens at the annual Winter Meetings. This year, at the encouragement of Baseball Prospectus' Will Carroll and Bronx Banter's Alex Belth, I came down to New Orleans to get a firsthand look.
The trades and signings you can read about elsewhere, and I can't really do justice to my end the story right now. It's noon, there's a hole where my stomach used to be, and Alex, living in another time zone in the same hotel room, has beaten me to the punch with a very good summary
of the way things work here. But suffice it to say I'm having a great time. Through Will, I've met a handful of the Prospectus folks -- Joe Sheehan, Nate Silver, Ryan Wilkins, Dayn Perry (who's here in his capacity as a Padres consultant), Chaim Bloom, and Susan Graham -- and this bunch has done their best to include me in their roving pack of statheads. These people are as friendly and witty as they are smart, and it's a nice little boost to my ego to know that they like my work.
on the meeting's first day included this little note towards the bottom:
It should be noted that for about an hour last night, Jay Jaffe owned Baseball Prospectus. I promise to never again be suckered by someone who pretends to need a reminder of how poker is played, or play with someone who comes equipped with a built-in nickname. Well, except "Baldy" Carroll.
Alas, "Futility Infielder Presents Baseball Prospectus" never had a chance to go live, as I frittered away my empire just as slowly as I'd built it. Joe's a real shark when it comes to cards -- the guy plays poker tournaments, and could probably be the frontman for Poker Prospectus -- but it was Nate who took everybody's cash on Friday night. Never mess with a guy who builds player projection databases as a hobby.
Last night, Will's warning about the perils of drinking a second Hurricane were soon followed by Joe buying everybody that second round. Bastard. From there, the official record of the evening ends. I'll fill in the in-between soon enough, but I do have one scoop to present, which can be summarized in the following headline:
"Saddam Hussein Captured; Steinbrenner Mulls Contract"
Friday, December 12, 2003
Remaking the Yankees for 2004, Part II: The Bullpen
The epic saga of the post-Jeff Nelson Yankee bullpen is one which I've been rehashing here
for three seasons
. By now, I could write an opera. Nelson's departure after the 2000 World Series created a void -- reliable righty setup reliever -- that the three-time World Champions have struggled to fill ever since. They tried faking their way through it in 2001 (Todd Williams, Carlos Almanzar, Briah Boehringer, Jay Witasick?), and then, admitting their mistake, threw huge dollars at Steve Karsay (4 years, $22 million) for 2002. But after last winter's shabby treatment of mainstay lefty Mike Stanton (fifteen minutes to accept a two-year, $4.6 million contract) and their willingness to set the similarly reliable Ramiro Mendoza free, the Yanks' karmic chickens began coming home to roost. The fragile Karsay turned up lame in the spring of 2003, a victim of shoulder tendinitis, and Mariano Rivera began the year on the DL with a groin strain.
One of the Yanks' major shortcomings over the Brian Cashman era has been a general ignorance of the secondary talent market. With the Yanks, every solution is an expensive one, a name brand player whose signing is carefully constructed to make a splash -- a directive straight from the throne of mad King George. So the Yanks threw their Stanton money at Chris Hammond, rewarding him for his first good season in seven years. They traded Orlando Hernandez for Pricey Proven Reliever Antonio Osuna. So it was something of a surprise to find that in this case, the Yanks also had a backup plan. Juan Acevedo, fresh off a 28-save, 2.65 ERA season as the Detroit Tigers closer, had been signed to a minor-league deal worth just under $1 million. With Rivera on the DL, the Acevedo signing looked brilliant. That would change soon enough.
I'll spare you the further stomach-turning drama of the Yanks' 2003 pen. The people who arrived over the winter fell out of favor, and some of them were replaced by more people who fell out of favor even more quickly. Finally some more people arrived, and the Yanks took them to the playoffs. The bodies of Acevedo, Osuna, Jason Anderson, Randy Choate, Al Reyes, Dan Miceli, Jesse Orosco, and Armando Benitez were strewn along the highway, while not-particularly-better bodies of Felix Heredia, Gabe White, and a not-as-good ol' Jeff Nelson went to the postseason. Those of us watching considered taking turns gouging each other's eyes out, as it was considerably less painful than what transpired when the bullpen door swung open.
In all, exactly three relievers topped 50 innings while wearing the pinstripes: Rivera, Hammond, and Osuna. Sterling Hitchcock, who spent the first half of the season auditioning as some fringe contender's stopgap rotation solution, just missed with 49.2 innings. From the rest of the bunch, only Acevedo topped 25 innings, and the aforementioned trio of Heredia, White and Nelson totalled only 45 innings. Since such small sample sizes don't yield fruitful evaluations, I'll examine the full season stats of these pitchers, dispensing with the bystanders, innocent or not (conveniently, many of these are free agents and will be dealt with accordingly). I'll use most of the same stats I did with starters, including DIPS ERA (dERA), but ignore the Won-Loss records. I'll also include Adjusted Runs Prevented (ARP)
, a useful metric from Baseball Prospectus which I'll explain below. Here's how the 2003 Yankee relievers performed:
Player IP ERA ARP K/9 WHIP K/W HR/9 BABIP dERA
M Rivera 70.7 1.66 18.1 8.02 1.00 6.30 0.38 .294 2.57
C Hammond* 63.0 2.86 9.9 6.43 1.21 4.09 0.71 .302 3.49
A Osuna 50.7 3.73 -0.6 8.35 1.54 2.35 0.53 .344 3.29
S Hitchcock *88.0 4.72 -2.1 6.98 1.40 2.13 1.44 .287 4.71
F Heredia* 87.0 2.69 12.4 4.66 1.23 1.36 1.03 .233 4.61
J Nelson 55.3 3.74 -8.4 11.06 1.36 2.83 0.65 .336 3.30
G White* 46.7 4.05 4.0 5.59 1.11 3.63 1.35 .257 4.14
J Acevedo 38.3 6.57 -10.9 6.57 1.83 1.56 1.41 .343 4.72
Because relievers often come and go with runners on base, traditional ERAs tend to over- or understate their performance based on that of their neighbors -- similar to a hitter having more or fewer RBI based on who he's batting behind. ARP uses a run expectancy matrix to give a more accurate measure of a pitcher's responsibility; a positive number means a reliever did a good job at cleaning up other people's messes, a negative number means you may want his fingerprints on file in case of arson. I like the stat a lot because it adds some shading to actual ERAs; for example, Jeff Nelson was at -8.4, making his 3.74 ERA all the less impressive, while Chris Hammond was at 9.9, a pretty decent number to go along with his 2.86 ERA. But since high or low BABIP rates are reflected in ARP as well as in actual ERA, I'm going to exclude it from my larger analysis below.
As a whole, the Yankee bullpen had the same ERA as the starters (4.02). Mariano Rivera was, of course, the class of the bullpen, striking out batters, showing amazing control, and keeping the ball in the park. When healthy, he's still as good as it gets. Hammond didn't repeat his amazing 0.95 ERA/1 HR season, but he showed excellent control and pitched pretty well; unfortunately, he lost Torre's trust and sat idle in October while Jeff Weaver yielded a World Series-turning gopher ball. Osuna got little help from the Yankee defense and walked a lot of batters, but was otherwise pretty decent. He too lost Torre's trust late in the season and didn't make any of the October rosters. Hitchcock won his prized spot with the Cardinals about eleven minutes before they fell out of the NL Central race. Heredia and White were especially helped by their defenses (in Cincinnati as well as New York), which enabled them to get by without striking out a lot of batters; Heredia's control was nothing special, but White's was pretty good. Nelson fooled a lot of batters with his wicked slider, but he was particularly bad in handling other people's problems, and had control problems once coming over from Seattle. Acevedo pitched like a guy auditioning to man the boiler room of Hell.
Rivera and Hammond are both signed for 2004, while everybody else above is a free agent. This leaves the Yankees with an opportunity to overhaul the pen -- characteristically, in expensive fashion. As I write this, the Yanks have already made their moves, but I'll nevertheless examine them in the context of the free-agent class, shown here with their innings rounded to the nearest whole:
Player IP ERA K/9 WHIP K/W HR/9 BABIP dERA
L Hawkins 77 1.86 8.73 1.09 5.00 0.47 .302 2.57 signed CHI
T Gordon 74 3.16 11.07 1.19 2.94 0.49 .294 2.69 signed NYY
T Adams 68 2.65 6.75 1.34 2.22 0.13 .324 2.95
J Nelson 55 3.74 11.06 1.36 2.83 0.65 .336 3.01
P Quantrill 77 1.75 5.12 0.98 2.93 0.23 .260 3.07 signed NYY
D Plesac* 33 2.70 9.99 1.20 3.36 0.81 .292 3.18 retired
A Osuna 51 3.73 8.35 1.54 2.35 0.53 .344 3.29
E Guardado* 65 2.89 8.27 0.98 4.29 0.96 .240 3.30 signed SEA
T Worrell 78 2.87 7.47 1.30 2.32 0.57 .291 3.33 signed PHI
D Holmes 42 4.29 9.86 1.38 4.18 1.07 .356 3.33
A Rhodes* 54 4.17 8.00 1.31 2.67 0.67 .312 3.36
K Foulke 87 2.08 9.14 0.89 4.40 1.04 .221 3.40
J Tavarez 84 3.66 4.20 1.22 1.44 0.11 .266 3.45
C Leskanic 53 2.22 8.54 1.27 1.72 0.34 .267 3.50 signed KC
U Urbina 77 2.81 9.12 1.13 2.52 0.94 .241 3.64
D Veres 33 4.68 7.16 1.26 5.20 1.10 .320 3.68
G Lloyd* 48 5.29 4.72 1.72 1.79 0.38 .365 3.68
M Timlin 84 3.55 6.99 1.03 7.22 1.18 .263 3.70 signed BOS
R Beck 35 1.78 8.15 1.02 2.91 1.02 .228 3.77 signed SD
T Martin* 51 3.53 9.00 1.18 2.13 1.06 .236 3.82 signed LA
S Hasegawa 73 1.48 3.95 1.10 1.78 0.62 .250 3.93 signed SEA
C Fox 43 3.12 9.55 1.52 1.48 0.62 .274 3.98 signed FLA
J Grimsley 75 5.16 6.96 1.65 1.61 0.72 .340 4.08 signed KC
K Ligtenberg 59 3.34 7.13 1.25 3.36 1.37 .291 4.09 signed TOR
S Sullivan 64 3.66 7.88 1.25 1.75 0.84 .239 4.11 signed KC
G White* 47 4.05 5.59 1.11 3.63 1.35 .257 4.14
A Alfonseca 66 5.83 6.92 1.55 1.89 0.95 .330 4.15
D Burba 43 3.53 7.27 1.41 1.84 1.04 .285 4.30
C Eldred 67 3.74 8.96 1.38 2.16 1.20 .291 4.33 signed STL
K Mercker* 55 1.95 7.81 1.41 1.50 0.98 .256 4.35
T Jones 69 7.08 7.73 1.81 1.90 1.31 .369 4.40
R Rincon* 55 3.25 6.51 1.39 1.25 0.65 .253 4.46
T Van Poppel 48 5.59 6.33 1.37 2.27 1.49 .281 4.49 signed CIN
M DeJean 83 4.68 7.73 1.51 1.82 1.42 .304 4.51
S Sparks 107 4.88 4.54 1.41 1.46 1.09 .286 4.60
F Heredia* 87 2.69 4.66 1.23 1.36 1.03 .233 4.61 signed NYY
R White 67 5.78 7.25 1.42 2.57 1.75 .303 4.64
J Acevedo 38 6.57 6.57 1.83 1.56 1.41 .343 4.72 signed PIT-m
D Miceli 70 3.20 7.42 1.19 2.32 1.66 .235 4.75 signed HOU
S Kline* 64 3.82 4.38 1.35 1.03 0.71 .249 4.80 signed STL
J Orosco* 34 7.68 7.68 1.82 1.38 1.06 .339 4.80 signed ARI
H Carrasco 38 4.93 6.34 1.57 1.35 1.17 .292 4.84
M Williams 63 6.14 5.57 1.70 0.95 0.71 .290 4.86
D Hermanson 69 4.06 5.11 1.37 1.63 1.18 .282 4.89 signed SF
S Reed 63 3.27 5.54 1.34 1.50 1.28 .267 5.04 signed COL
T Wendell 64 3.38 3.80 1.28 0.96 0.84 .233 5.06
J Wright 56 7.35 7.99 1.90 1.61 1.44 .381 5.07 signed ATL
J Franco* 34 2.62 4.19 1.40 1.23 1.31 .265 5.38
M Myers* 36 5.70 5.20 1.62 1.00 0.99 .281 5.40
M Guthrie* 43 2.74 5.06 1.45 1.09 1.27 .258 5.42
A Levine 71 2.79 3.80 1.35 1.03 1.14 .250 5.45
R Hernandez 60 4.35 6.75 1.73 1.05 1.50 .282 5.73
T Mulh'nd* 99 4.91 3.82 1.56 1.14 1.55 .292 5.87
J Fassero* 79 5.68 6.37 1.64 1.62 1.97 .309 5.87
Average 61 3.87 6.82 1.36 1.93 0.99 .285 4.30
Before we get too heavily into the discussion here, I'll again remind that many of these pitchers don't have a whole lot of innings to go on. One thing Voros McCracken showed was that even at low numbers of batters faced, DIPS ERAs correlate better with the following season's ERAs than the actual ERAs do. The reason for this isn't magic; the defense-independent stat line is built by regressing a pitcher's rate stats towards the league averages, which is where this group will head. If I had more time, I'd consider these pitchers' stats over the last two seasons, but since things have already shaken down quite a bit, I'm going to have to let that one go.
Anyway, the Yanks have done pretty well along these lines, signing the #2 and #5 pitchers on the board in Tom "Flash" Gordon and Paul Quantrill. The 36-year-old Gordon, who got a 2-year/$7.25 million deal, has the high K-rate, good control, and low homer tendencies that make DIPS salivate (he was the top-rated righty in my 2002 free-agent reliever analysis
). His experience as a closer gives the Yanks a fallback if Mariano Rivera needs some rest. He's got a reputation for fragility -- Tommy John surgery in 1999, a torn shoulder muscle in 2002 -- but was healthy in 2003, the first time since 1998 that he topped 50 innings. It's still mindblowing to think that this guy won 17 games as a starter for the Royals back in 1989, on a team that included George Brett, Frank White, Willie Wilson, Bob Boone, and Bo Jackson. A bit pricey, but not a bad signing by the Yanks.
The 35-year-old Quantrill, who the Yanks got for 2 years/$6.8 mil, is coming off an outstanding season for the Dodgers. He's been a good reliever for a long time, with a career 126 ERA+ (in other words 26% better than league average). And he's durable, averaging 85 games a year for the past three seasons and 75 over the past seven; his 89 games last season are tied for 8th on the all-time list
, and he's got three of the top 17 spots up there. His strikeout rate is nothing special, but his control is good and he gives up very few homers (only 3 in the past two seasons). This guy is a rock, and though pricey, he's another smart signing.
Heredia, 28, turned down an option of $1.7 million to sign a 2-year, $3.8 million deal with the Yanks. As I said above, he was helped a lot by his defense, with that .233 BABIP, something that might be of concern with the Yanks' middle infield woes. But what's strange is the way Heredia's statistical pattern has evolved. From 1997-99, his K rate was above 8.0, and it was above 7.0 in 2000 and 2001. In those years he was basically a flyball pitcher, with grounder/flyball ratios just under 1.0. But his K rate has dropped to below 5.0, and he's become a groundball-dependent pitcher (1.56 G/F ratio). His number of pitches per batter has fallen as well, from about 3.8-4.0 in the high-K years to 3.44 last season. All of this would tend to indicate a conscious choice in preserving his arm and trusting his stuff, and it seems to be working; his ERAs in 2002 and 2003 have been the lowest of his career by far. If he can improve his control while continuing this groundball evolution, he might be the Ramiro Mendoza Liner the Yanks need out of the pen.
The Yanks are rumored to be close to re-signing White, a 32-year-old lefty flyball pitcher. As I said above, his control is good. But his strikeout rates have fallen without the clear pattern that Heredia exhibits; his pitches per batter and G/F ratios have remained pretty stable. A bit above average, especially with the Death Valley of Yankee Stadium's left centerfield, but really nothing special.
Jeff Nelson looks very good in the above analysis, thanks mostly to that awesome strikeout rate. Under normal circumstances, it wouldn't have been a surprise to see the team re-sign him. But in addition to his maddening late-season inability to get ahead of hitters, and despite all of his past glory in the Bronx, Nelson's a guy whose welcome has worn thin 'round these parts. Over the course of the season, he creates more than his share of headaches, even if they pale next to those of a David Wells. Credit the Yanks for moving on rather than being fooled by his jewelry. Still, somebody out there will get a pretty good reliever.
With Rivera, Karsay, Hammond, Gordon, Quantrill, Heredia, and presumably White, the Yanks will not only have the most expensive bullpen in the history of Western civilization, they have too many pitchers. White's signing would presumably come at the expense of Hammond, whose squawking about New York's tough crowds
probably did more for his late-season disappearance than his pitching; he allowed only two runs in 21.1 innings in August/September, yet pitched only two innings in October. Grrrr... Hamond's a better pitcher than White, and the only way this truly makes sense is for the meager dollars it will save (my guess is White will approach but not top $2 mil). That's hardly worth the bother on a $200 million payroll.
Time prevents me from making more of this stuff right now (am I writing like I've got a plane to catch? very well, then, I have a plane to catch). Looking around, it's surprising to see that Proven Closer Eddie Guardado got more money than former teammate Latroy Hawkins, the top-rated reliever here. Guardado looked good thanks to a low BABIP rate (.240) while Hawkins was lights-out even with a .302 BABIP. The Hawkins signing (3 years, $11 mil) -- along that of Shigeosi Hasegawa and those made by the Yanks -- helps to demonstrate that though the overall market for player salaries seems to be depressed, the top-flight middle relievers are still getting paid. Their relatively low salaries ($3-4 million per year) don't compare to those of position players or closers, so mistakes aren't as costly, and if the shit hits the fan there's always a cheap replacment out there somewhere.
Getting Brown and Leaving Town
As you might expect, the New York papers are abuzz with Thursday's Yankee activity -- both the loss of Andy Pettitte and the tentative deal
of Dodger ace Kevin Brown for Jeff Weaver and two prospects. Everybody and their paperboy is weighing in; New York Daily News
alone has a dozen links
to the story. If you want to know what Pettitte's wife or Red Sox Nation is supposedly thinking, start there. For a more thorough rundown of the dailies, check out the monster job Alex Belth
has done compiling links.
In the end, Pettitte's decision clearly wasn't about money, or the treatment he received from the Yankees, it was about wanting to pitch at home. You can point fingers at the way Steinbrenner or Cashman bungled this decision, but the New York Yankees shouldn't have to hard-sell one of their own. Their message is clear: you wear the pinstripes, you have a chance to compete for a World Championship every year, end of story. Pettitte, aided by the Yanks' willingness to give him the space to explore his options, chose Door #2.
ran a neat little chart in his column yesterday showing that the two starters the Yanks have lost were outperformed by their two replacements (assuming the Brown deal goes through). Here it is:
Clemens 212 112
Pettitte 208 109
Brown 211 169
Vazquez 231 153
Add it up and you've got 420 innings at a 111 ERA+ (that's a park-adjusted ERA of 11 percent better than league average) leaving town and 432 innings at a 164 ERA+ arriving. But that doesn't tell the whole story; if we include Jeff Weaver in the equation (159 innings, 73 ERA+) that comes out to 579 innings at a 97 ERA+; in other words, a few hairs below league average. To mathematically balance that equation would take a pitcher that allowed just over a run per inning over about 150 innnings. So suffice it to say that pitching-wise, the Yanks come out well ahead in all of this, but that doesn't begin to account for the loss of Nick Johnson in the Vazquez trade. When we try to figure that out, however, the simple algebra moves to a more complicated calculus. But until the Yanks are done making moves, it's premature to point to a single decision and say "See! That's where they blew it!"
I've been unable to find out which prospects the Yanks are including in the Brown deal. The one to rail at the gods about would be Dioner Navarro
, a 19- year-old switch-hitting catcher who split his season, hitting .341/.388/.471 in Double-A Trenton and .299/.364/.467 in high-A Tampa. That's about all the Yanks have left in terms of blue-chip prospects [Update: Baseball America reports that the two are righty pitchers Yhency Brazoban and Brandon Weeden. Brazoban (what a name!) is a converted outfielder who reached Trenton last year; Weeden finished 2003 in short-A Staten Island. Not much to get worked up about unless you're related to one of them].
Anyway, I'm still hacking away at the DIPS reliever stuff before I head off to New Orleans tonight -- Mr. Belth and I are going to take in the Winter Meetings from a bird's-eye perspective. Mostly that will mean bending elbows with other writers, but who knows what we'll see and hear?
Thursday, December 11, 2003
The news this morning is not good for Yankee fans. According to ESPN
, the Houston Astros have called a noontime press conference to announce the signing of pitcher Andy Pettitte to three-year deal believed to be worth $32-$34 million. The Yanks, who had said signing Pettitte this offseason was their top priority
, had a funny way of showing it for a pitcher who's spent nine years and won 149 regular season and 13 postseason games. Their slow-moving approach, ostensibly to allow Pettitte to explore the market for his services before they made their final offer, did nothing but alienate
the otherwise low-maintenance Pettitte.
But Dandy Andy had been talking the talk that he wanted to pitch closer to his Deer Park, Texas home, and with the Texas Rangers hamstrung by the need to cut payroll around Alex Rodriguez, the Astros emerged as soft-selling suitors for his services. The Yankee cash cavalry no doubt expected to ride to the rescue with a big deal that would keep Pettitte in pinstripes, but their three-year, $39 million offer, though it's substantially more money, was too little too late.
I'm angry right now, more at the Yankee brass and George Steinbrenner than at Petttitte himself. In losing Pettitte, the Yanks give up the sole reliable southpaw in their rotation; David Wells
has agreed to a minor-league deal, but he's coming off of his second back surgery in three years and must be considered a question mark, especially in the temperament department. Pettitte's numbers, his stellar performance this past October, and his history with the franchise should have merited red-carpet treatment, but instead the Yanks are left with a Texas-sized void in their rotation.
But it's tough to begrudge Pettitte. In his nine years, he's done it all, been to the playoffs every single season, reached six World Series and won four rings. He's never taken to New York the way a David Cone has; one article last week said that in his nine years, Pettitte had only been into Manhattan a few times. He's seen his best friend on the Yanks (Roger Clemens) retire, his closest ally (pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre) mistreated, and his manager seems poised to wrap up his business in the Bronx after this season. He can probably sense that the Yanks' evolution into an older ballclub is not for the best. He's earned the right to find a more comfortable spot for himself, and I can only wish him the best and thank him for the memories, particularly his three Game Two postseason wins this past October, when he looked every bit the icewater-peeing ace pitcher the Yanks needed.
The only thing I can say in defense of the Yankees is that they have a far better idea of the condition of Pettitte's elbow than I do. Jack Curry's New York Times article
today notes that Pettitte "has pitched through elbow pain for years." He missed about a third of the 2002 season with elbow tendinitis, and Will Carroll thinks he may never have been pitching at 100 percent. Notes Carroll in his Free Agent Health Report
[H]e has some rather serious health questions. His elbow has come up tender several times, including this season, and his high-effort motion has always made pitching gurus a bit nervous. Pettitte seems to recover well with some down time and some renewed attention to his mechanics, but without knowing what the MRIs have shown, we can only guess that there's some damage inside the arm. While Houston will certainly bid, New York wants to keep Pettitte in pinstripes. Given the risk of injury down the road, the shorter the deal the better. Seeing the 1974 version of Tommy John at #3 in his PECOTA comparables is enough to send me screaming like Jessica Biel in Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
I wrote last week
that the longer the Yankees hold onto him, the greater the chance that someday he'll be rehabbing on their watch, and for better or worse, that won't be a problem anymore.
With this news, the Kevin Brown-for-Jeff Weaver rumors have reignited. I'm not sure what the Yanks still have that they can include with the deal besides the ability to free up payroll for the Dodgers. But George Steinbrenner and company have a whole omelette on their face right now, so I expect them to do something. Unfortunately, I fear that something will only make the Yanks into an older, creakier version of the ballclub I've been watching for the past several years.
Speaking of unraveling, the Yanks' deal with Gary Sheffield is anything but done. Papers the past couple of days have been full of stories
about Sheffield reneging on his handshake deal with Steinbrenner to ask for more money. Apart from the fact that the Yanks have been down this two-way street before (see Wells, David) and that Sheffield is one of the game's biggest assholes along with one of its best hitters, this no-deal has led Brian Cashman to explore the possibility of signing Vladimir Guerrero
. It's a tantalizing possiblity. Vlad over Gary would be a lovely "fuck you" to a player who richly deserves it, especially since he seems to have no other suitors, a major boost to add a top-flight hitter in his prime, and a defensive upgrade as well. It's also about the only thing that can put a happy face on this situation. There aren't five hitters I'd rather see swing the bat than Gary Sheffield, but there aren't five ballplayers I'd less rather root for (in order: Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Juan Gonzalez, and... Kenny Rogers? I'll get back to you on that one).
I'd delve into more of this, but I'm working on my DIPS bullpen piece and plan to have it up by the end of the day.
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