Friday, September 22, 2006

Tangenital Musings

Just for an update, I’m very busy at work, hence the lack of a post yesterday. However, I’d be remiss to skip two days in a row, especially as we hit the home stretch. It’s hard to believe that the season started nearly six months ago, and even harder to believe that we’re about to enter playoff season.

There is nothing more pleasing than a cold October night in the Bronx. Poems, books and essays have been written about the Yankees playoff experience, but very few come close to accurately describing the animosity among the fans. Yes, we’re spoiled and get these nights every year, but that doesn’t at all diminish the inherent value of seeing our team play for the world’s greatest prize. Each year brings its own unique blend of heroism, failure and drama.

But along with the glory felt annually by Yankees fans comes contempt from around the league. If you’re not a Yanks fan, you certainly hate them; there is no indifference when it comes to America’s richest team. Since there are fans of 29 other teams, they certainly outnumber us Yankees faithful, and they all carry one message: the Yankees are what is wrong with baseball. To the haters, the Yankees free-spending ways disables competitive balance, thus ruining baseball in small-market cities like Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay.

Remember, though, that the free-spending Yankees really didn’t come into play until after the 2001 season, when Jason Giambi left Oakland for the big house in the Bronx. Sure, the Yankees led the league in payroll in 2001, but not nearly to the degree they do now. $112 million may have been a lot, but there were two other teams with payrolls over $100 million, and a total of eight teams with a payroll over $85 million.

You know who started the Yankees free-spending ways? Alex Rodriguez, or, more accurately, Scott Boras. Market value for star players grew exponentially (obviously an exaggeration, for those of you who would pedantically point this out) when Alex signed his 10-year, $250 million deal with the Rangers. Everyone wanted a piece while the market was up, which explains the monstrous contracts of Giambi and Jeter, as well as guys like Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell, Miguel Tejada and anyone else who was deemed a “star.”

Now that the market price has fallen to a more sane level—though to describe the current salary market as sane might not be accurate in itself—payrolls are normalizing. Well, except for that of the Yankees. Most people blame this on their splurges in free-agency, as they can afford to take on risks that other teams simply cannot. While that’s true to a degree, it’s not completely accurate.

The Tigers feared that Jeff Weaver wouldn’t be worth his expensive contract; the Yankees took him off their hands. The Dodgers wanted Kevin Brown off the books; the Yankees took on his inflated contract. The Blue Jays loathed Raul Mondesi; the Yankees, in search of a right fielder, took him off their hands. The Diamondbacks, realizing that a change of personnel was crucial to return to winning, needed to rid themselves of Randy Johnson; the Yankees, needing a dominant starter, took a risk and traded then-valuable commodities for the 40-year-old Johnson and his prickish attitude. And, most recently, when Pat Gillick realized that he needed to clean house to return the Phillies to contention, he looked immediately to dumping off Abreu or Burrell; Cashman swooped in and took Abreu’s $16 million for 2007 off his hands.

So, while the Yankees do have a payroll that triples or quadruples that of many clubs, they have lent valuable fiscal assistance to these clubs by taking on their unmanageable and, to an extent, albatross contracts (or at least relatively). They’ve helped grant a reprieve to teams who made terrible personnel decisions. And, in the process, they’ve gained themselves. It’s almost a win-win situation, though the outcome does more greatly benefit the Yankees; they have the players and the better team, while the smaller market clubs are still susceptible to bad management decisions.

This idea warrants a full column itself, but I truly think the competitive balance in baseball can be restored without a salary cap. More than limits on spending, baseball needs an influx of more competent front office personnel. The game has change a lot since the 60s (and hell, since the 70s, 80s and 90s, too, for that matter), and to continue employing these old school thinkers in a decision-making capacity is counter productive. Businesses need to employ progressive thinkers to get ahead; baseball teams are businesses. Yet, they continue to employ people who refuse to acknowledge advances in information processing and insist on doing things they way they were. If Smith Barney employed economists and traders who insist on using techniques and philosophies from the 1970s, they’d be underwater almost instantly.

I know I sound like an apologist of gargantuan proportions, but this needs to be said. The Yankees shouldn’t be the model of how to run a baseball team, but to say that they are what is wrong with baseball is preposterous and one-sided. Hate if you will, but hate with emotion. Hate the mystique and aura of the Yankees. Hate their arrogant players. But please, don’t hate the way they do business. Not only do they pay money to help fund small market teams, but they unburden them of past mistakes.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Waiting for a Sheff

I’ll admit it: I can’t wait for Gary Sheffield to get back on the field. Hearing that he was activated from the DL before last night’s game has me kind of giddy. Despite his mood being comparable to a snobby teenage girl, he freakin’ produces, and is one of the most intimidating players in the league. You just can’t quantify the fear he strikes in the heart of pitchers as he violently wags his bat.

So, when Jason Giambi was removed from the game, I was pretty psyched to see Sheffield. Unfortunately, Joe went with the increasingly uninspiring Craig Wilson. It’s understandable to a degree, but I don’t understand why Joe is reluctant to use Sheffield at this point. He says he wants to wait until the Yankees clinch, but at one game away, there is no reason to hold him back right now. Especially after an injury to Giambi.

Accordingly, I expect Sheff to start at first base tonight. He may be rusty from missing a few months, but as we saw with Matsui, that doesn’t take the expected toll on a true competitor. Sheffield, at this point, seems hungry to play, and sitting him on the bench while active is only going to upset him. The regular first baseman is injured; it’s time to give him his shot. And really, with a few games of experience, will he be that much worse than Giambi defensively?

The only question is of his slot in the lineup. As we’ve witnessed over the first two years of Sheffield’s tenure in New York, he doesn’t take kindly to hitting anywhere but third. But that’s Abreu’s spot, and rightfully so; he’s a prototypical No. 3 hitter. A-Rod is entrenched in the fourth slot, so the fifth spot may be logical. However, with the lefty-heavy Yankees, it wouldn’t be advisable to hit two righties in a row, as that sets up the rest of the lineup to be lefty-heavy. My proposal, considering Giambi is out for the next few games:

Damon – CF
Jeter – SS
Abreu – RF
Alex – 3B
Cano – 2B
Sheffield – 1B
Matsui – DH
Posada – C
Cabrera – LF

Normally, I’d swap Matsui and Cano, but Cano is a machine, while Matsui is still in the reacclimation process. Even without Giambi, that is one scary freakin’ lineup. Just imagine how it’s going to look in the playoffs, when the ever-capable Cabrera is relegated to substitution and pinch-hitting duties. Lord, the opposing pitchers are in for a fit.

As for last night: Bobby Abreu is my hero, Jeff Karstens is better than Jaret Wright and Cory Lidle, and Matsui just might be breaking through another level of his recovery. In other words, it may have looked like just another 6-3 win on paper, but to me it was a sign that the Yanks are really progressing towards the postseason as THE dominant force.

In case you don’t read other Internet sites, I cannot endorse Tom Verducci’s piece on A-Rod’s struggles enough. It answers the question we fans were asking all summer: what is the team doing to address Alex’s newfound shortcomings? It’s the cover story for this week’s Sports Illustrated, though I’m glad I read it online first; I can now read the “Inside Baseball” section and file the issue away for safekeeping. I like to save all the Yankees covers, and not only is this one Yankee-centric, but it’s beautifully designed (much like most of SI’s covers).

P.S. Still lazy, still no standings update. Magic Number is 1. You all know this.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Just Three More

Just minutes into the bottom of the first inning, Darrell Rasner was poised to make me look like a fool. After a set of impressive performances, Rasner immediately found himself in a struggle, loading the bases without recording an out. Say what you will about the Blue Jays (and I have), but they are no slouches on the offensive side. To escape that inning with only two runs would have been a relief for the Yankees.

But that Rasner; oh, that Rasner. I don’t know how directly responsible a pitcher is for inducing a weak pop-up, but the two next guys did just that, negating the run-scoring sac fly or grounder to the infield. A strikeout later, and he had escaped a monumental jam. Unfortunately, he met a similar fate in the second inning, but this time wasn’t able to exit so gracefully. It was only one run, but it didn’t bode well for the 25-year-old Nationals castoff.

Things went kind of smoothly from there. Rasner threw nearly 60 pitches through three innings of work, but finished the sixth inning at just 104. After a rocky start, he settled in nicely, left with the leader after six, and looked certain for a victory after the Yankees tacked on three insurance runs in the top of the ninth. However, Ron Villone and Octavio Dotel had other plans.

Forced into action because of Farnsworth’s unavailability, Villone promptly put two men on base. Obviously frustrated, Torre yanked him before he could do any more damage, opting for Dotel to face Troy Glaus. The result is what you’d expect from a pitcher who doesn’t, you know, pitch often. It was some low gas, but right over the plate, and Glaus rapped it into right-center for a three-run shot, bringing the Jays to within one. Not even trusting Dotel with the bases empty at this point, Torre called on Mike Myers.

With men on first and second and two outs, the Yankees were still looking for a savior to descend from the heavens and finish this goddamn game. Unfortunately, Mo is still sidelined, so they had to settle for Jose Veras. I nearly had to cover my eyes, completely unconvinced that Veras could retire the final batter. But he accomplished what three others could not and retired the final batter of the inning.

This situation is not going to get any prettier. Bruney is going to need a day off – preferably today – and Villone and Proctor likely won’t be available, as they’ve been working a lot lately. Then again, that’s never stopped Torre before. Tonight’s bullpen is going to consist of Beam, Farnsworth and Veras, though Bruney will likely be available for an inning. This is exactly where the Yankees could have been utilizing the skills of J.B. Cox.

We’re just three away, folks. I’m just begging the Yanks to tally off three straight, because I don’t want to be reliant on the Red Sox to win this thing. It’s always a hollow feeling when you clinch the division during a game you lose.

Additional apologies for not updating the standings in a while. Tonight.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Reasons for the Lack of an Update

Greetings from a computer that faces the wall rather than one facing anyone who walks by.

Today is the first day at the new job, hence no posting. It appears, however, that this job will afford me the opportunity to keep this blog up to date. But you know how it is with the first week and all, so posting might be light. I'll try to get something cooked up tonight for tomorrow.

Also, I'm in the finals of the fantasy baseball league. Sweet deal.