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Monthly archives: December 2003

 

2003: THE SHOUT OUTS
2003-12-30 08:26
by Alex Belth

With just one day left in the calendar year of 2003, I've been spending some time thinking about how rewarding my first full year of writing Bronx Banter has been. It has become an unbridled passion, and yet for all the work I've put in to it, I've feel as if I've received just as much, if not more, in return. So bear with me as I acknowledge some of the people who have informed, entertained and shared their love of baseball with me in 2003.

First of course, are my contemporaries in the blogging universe. Every page that is linked to the right has been meaningful to me, but I am especially thankful for the relationships I have developed with Edward Cossette, Christian Ruzich, Jay Jaffe, Rich Lederer, Peter Schilling Jr, Tim Marchman, Jon Weisman, and Will Carroll. I also want to shout out some of the writers who have inspired me. They include: David Pinto, Lee Sinins, John Perricone, the Mighty Mike C, Aaron Gleeman, Steve Keane, Cliff Corcoran, Christopher DeRosa, John Bonnes, Travis Nelson, Repoz, Bryan Smith, Avkash Patel, Ben Jacobs, Peter White, Brian Gunn, Derek Zumsteg, Larry Manhken, "Twin Fan Dan," Seth Stohs and the fellas over at Elephants in Oakland. I'm sure I'm forgetting some names; if I am, please forgive me.

Naturally, there are some fantastic professional writers out there too. Guys like Gordon Edes, Steve Goldman, Rob Neyer, Joe Sheehan, Alan Schwarz, Tom Boswell, Pat Jordan, Roger Angell, Tom Verducci, Peter Gammons, Bruce Markusen, Bill Madden, Doug Pappas, Bob Hohler, Ken Rosenthal, John Harper, Howard Bryant, King Kaufman, Nate Silver, Buster Olney, Joel Sherman, Allen Barra, Jack Curry, Ryan Wilkens, Anthony McCarron, Jim Caple, and Tyler Kepner, just to name some of my favorites.

I don't know if the level of discourse in the other major sports can compare with what we have in baseball. Baseball Prospectus has certainly raised the level, that's for sure. And as far as resources go, Retrosheet, Baseball-Reference.com, and Baseball Primer's "Clutch Hits" have been essential, daily parts of my life.

Naturally, I can't forget the readers who keep coming back to check out Bronx Banter. Guys like Murray, Harley, Cliff, Rich, Steve, e Double, and my favorite Yankee couple in Boston (who shall remain nameless for their own protection). And they are just the tip of the iceberg.

Not only that, but I'd be remiss if I didn't take a moment to show my appreciation to the New York Yankees. To George, Joe Torre, Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera, Mike Mussina, 'lil Sori, Jeter, Giambi and the boys. They gave us Yankee fans another wild, and rewarding season. Another trip to the Serious, after the thrilling, knock-down battle with the Red Sox in the ALCS, was almmost too good to be true. Sure, many Yankee fans expect to reach the Serious each year, and that's OK. We've been properly spoiled rotten. But I appreciate every time they make the playoffs. Everyone keeps waiting for them to fall off. Hell, I've been expecting it since the middle of the 1998 season, and yet, here they are, still winning and giving us plenty to cheer about.

They are a great team to follow as a fan, and an even better team to follow as a writer. And that's a comforting thought, because no matter what happens in 2004, you can bet your bottom dollar that the Bronx Bombers won't be dull.

For all of this, I am thankful. I've learned more about baseball in the past year than almost any year of my life. The beauty part is that I've been saying the same thing for the past seven or eight years. Here is looking forward to another great year in 2004.

I hope everyone has a safe and happy New Year's Eve.

THE DIRTY DOZEN

I was able to conduct twelve lenghty interviews this past year, and I can only hope to be able to do more of the same in 2004. In case anyone wants to go back and revisit some of them, here is a full list of the Bronx Banter Interviews:

Ken Burns Part One

Ken Burns Part Two
Buck O'Neil

Marvin Miller

Buster Olney

Rob Neyer Part One

Rob Neyer Part Two
Ethan Coen
Allen Barra

Michael Lewis

Jim Bouton

Jane Leavy

Pat Jordan

Tom Verducci

LONELY AVENUE
2003-12-29 08:21
by Alex Belth


Rich Lederer makes a strong case for why Bert Blyleven should be elected to the Hall of Fame. As is his custom, Lederer examines statistical evidence. But he also adds:


By the way, I would like to bring to your attention, ladies and gentlemen, the little-known fact that you haven't honored any pitchers born since 1947 (Nolan Ryan), yet you have felt compelled to induct eight hitters (George Brett, Gary Carter, Eddie Murray, Kirby Puckett, Mike Schmidt, Ozzie Smith, Dave Winfield, and Robin Yount) born since then. Furthermore, every pitcher that has been elected since Mr. Blyleven became eligible six years ago, as well as the two immediately preceding his candidacy, has won 300 or more games. In fact, Rollie Fingers in 1992 was the last pitcher that was voted into the Hall of Fame without 300 wins and he, of course, was a reliever.

Based on the above, one can't help but think that winning 300 games has become the de facto standard for pitchers. As a point of clarification, had you held to that magical mark all along, there would only be 20 pitchers currently in the Hall of Fame with another one on his way (Clemens) and perhaps a second one on the horizon (Greg Maddux). A total of 22 starting pitchers would be comparable to only four or five position players. The fewest number of HOFers at any one position is 11 (3B). As such, holding starting pitchers to a minimum of 300 victories is overly strict and unfair. Focusing exclusively on wins is also a mistake as this stat is as much dependent on the pitcher's team as it is on the pitcher himself.

It'll be interesting to see whether the baseball writers agree or not.

REPEAT OFFENDER
2003-12-29 08:07
by Alex Belth


Here is a passage from Roger Angell that I quoted last winter. It's worth putting up once a year, as they are words to live by:


There is a game of baseball that is not to be found in the schedules or the record books. It has no season, but it is best played in the winter, without the distraction of box scores and standings. This is the inner game, baseball in the mind, and there is no real fan who does not know it. It is a game of recollections, recapturings, and visions: Yet this is only the beginning, for baseball in the mind in not a mere yearning and returning. In time, this easy envisioning of restored players, winning hits, and famous rallies gives way to reconsiderations and reflections about the sport itself. By thinking about baseball like this, by playing it over and yet keeping it to ourselves, keeping it warm in a cold season, we begin to make discoveries. With luck, we may even penetrate some of its mysteries and learn once again how richly and variously the game can reward us.

Roger Angell, from "Baseball in the Mind"

OTTO AND GEORGE
2003-12-29 07:42
by Alex Belth


As you all must know by now, Yankee owner George Steinbrenner fainted and collapsed at a memorial service for the football legend Otto Graham this past Saturday. It was a scary moment, but Steinbrenner was OK. Actually, he was more embarassed than anything. After a night of observation, Steinbrenner was released from a hospital in Sarasota Florida on Sunday. The news made the front page of both the Daily News and The Post on Sunday and served as a reminder of not only how fragile life is, but how big an impact Steinbrenner's eventual passing will have on the baseball world. Granted, this is all over a fainting spell; imagine the reaction if it was something grave. But let's face it, Steinbrenner is 73 years old, so questions about his physical health are going to hover over him for the rest of his days.

I don't mean to be morbid, but the biggest question the Yankees will face in the near future isn't how will they deal with life after Joe Torre but how they will deal with life after George. Because love him or hate him, as Selena Roberts opines today in The Times, The Boss is the straw that stirs the drink in the baseball world.

I've been wondering about Life After George for a good part of the 2003 season. I'm surprised that I haven't read more about it in the mainstream media. But if Steinbrenner's health starts to decline, I'm sure we won't hear the end of it. Meanwhile, George will likely be his old blustery self before long. With legal troubles at hand, he'll need all the energy he can muster.

FRONT AND CENTER
2003-12-24 08:26
by Alex Belth

Kenny Lofton and Tom "Flash" Gordon were introduced as the newest members of the Yankees yesterday. In a conference call with reporters, Lofton, who will compete with Bernie Williams for the centerfield job, started his career in New York off on the good foot:


"I'll play center...I'll DH, if that's what will help. I'll park cars if they ask me to."

..."At this point I don't know what's going to happen and what Bernie's going to say and what I'm going to say," Lofton said. "I think we have to hit that road when it comes."

Lofton has a reputation as a malcontent, but Yankee owner George Steinbrenner has reportedly adored his game for years. Bernie Williams is a soft-spoken star, a great Yankee, and has been a fixture in center for a decade. Joe Torre has a history of being loyal to the players who have helped him win championships. It should be interesting to see how the potentially volatile Williams-Lofton relationship pans out.

DEAD AGAIN
2003-12-24 08:11
by Alex Belth


The 5:00 deadline came and went yesterday and Alex Rodriguez was still a Texas Ranger. Both teams released statements indicating that the proposed A Rod-for-Ramirez deal is indeed dead...for now. There is speculation that both teams could revisit the trade later this winter, or during spring training. According to Gordon Edes in The Boston Globe:


Even after the deadline had passed, a high-level executive in Major League Baseball had held out the possibility an agreement could be reached. "I think there's some hope," he said. "I don't know how much. Is it over for sure? I would not say that. Is there going to be a deal? I wouldn't say that, either. I honestly can't tell you what will happen, but there were a lot of things talked about between the teams [yesterday], and they need to sort those things out.

"Which way is it going to go? I don't know."

But a baseball lawyer with direct knowledge of the proceedings was more pessimistic, saying that whatever hope of getting a deal done was damaged perhaps beyond repair when Orza rejected a restructuring of Rodriguez's contract.

"I don't think this is going to happen," the lawyer said. "If I had to write why in one sentence, I'd say, `Everybody thought the other guy should have done more.' My sense of Tom Hicks right now is he can't be leaving his best player hanging out there. The only thing worse than everybody going back to their teams is having your best player out there."

Bob Ryan has a thoughtful piece today and suggests that the Red Sox will somehow survive without Rodriguez:


The simple truth is that the Red Sox already have had a fabulous offseason. Getting Curt Schilling, a veteran pitcher who knows what it's like to have scaled baseball's mountaintop, would have been a great enough move. Signing Keith Foulke, the best closer on the market, made it a spectacular winter. Signing Pokey Reese makes the team much better on defense. With Todd Walker, they would haved scored more runs. With Reese, they won't need as many runs. Nothing in the Great Book of Baseball says a team must score 950-1,000 runs in order to win a pennant or World Series. Preventing runs is still the preferred way to go, and the Red Sox have taken steps to prevent runs -- lots and lots of runs.

So Red Sox Nation doesn't get the Christmas present it was wishing for, and yet their team has improved since they fell to the Yankees in the ALCS--they even added defensive help in signing Pokey Reese yesterday. I know I'm repeating myself here, but I won't be completely convinced that Rodriguez is staying with the Rangers until, oh, the July 31rst trading deadline passes and he's still in Arlington. Call me superstitious (I am), but that's just my feeling.

DIS UNT DAT: STOCKIN' STUFFERS
2003-12-23 13:34
by Alex Belth


There are several articles I've been meaning to link, so while I have a few moments during my lunch hour, I thought I'd share them with you:

1. Rich Lederer has two excellent pieces (one and two) evaluating Mickey Mantle's place in history. Top-notch stuff as usual from Mr. Lederer.

2. My label-mate Christain Ruzich conducted an informative interview with Dave Kavel, founder of the Golden Baseball League, an independent minor league that will bring A-level ball to California.

3. A former Yankee clubhouse attendant who sued the Bronx Bombers in 1998, accusing specific members of the team (Mariano Rivera, Bob Wickman and Jeff Nelson) of participating in anti-gay discrimination, saw his case dismissed by the New York State Court of Appeals. In even more bizarre Yankee-related news, Darryl Strawberry is lending emotional support to the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. Who else will Michael turn to? I hear Rick James is available.

4. Finally, from the heavy-hitters: Rob Neyer evaluates how the A's pitching staff will be effected by the signing of Mark Redman; Tom Boswell writes about why this Holiday season has been for the Birds in Baltimore; Jerome Holtzman considers the past and present of the "saves" statistic he created; Andrew Zimbalist weighs in on the mess in Milwaukee; and Tom Verducci offers up his Hall of Fame ballot. (Thanks to Baseball Primer's "Clutch Hits" for help with the links.)

YOU MAKE THE CALL
2003-12-23 09:02
by Alex Belth


Will Alex Rodriguez be a member of the Boston Red Sox by 5:00 this afternoon? Too, will the latest deadline in fact be the final cut-off for this trade? These are the $64,000 questions. According to reports in The Times, Globe, The Dallas Morning News, The Boston Herald, The Daily News, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and ESPN the deal is dead. Then again, it's also likely to happen. Sources are divided. So, what do you think? Personally, I think it will happen. Even if it doesn't happen by 5:00 today. But I'm curious to know what you all think. Let me know, and I'll be back later in the afternoon with an update should anything occur.

THAT MAN MILLER
2003-12-22 17:05
by Alex Belth

Boston Globe veteran Bud Collins contributed an article on Saturday featuring Marvin Miller's take on the A Rod ordeal:


"This should never have gotten started the way it did because the commissioner broke one of the oldest rules by permitting the Red Sox to talk to Rodriguez. That's tampering. That was a baseball rule installed by the owners long before the union existed. Selig had no authority to allow that exception. On the other side, the union was slow to pick up on it. That surprised me. There should have been no talks between the Red Sox and a player under contract. Period.

..."The pity is that the union didn't step up immediately and object to Selig's approval of what amounted to tampering by the Red Sox with Rodriguez. Rodriguez had no idea, but his quotes I've seen [yesterday] tell me he's honorable and thoughtful. He said he does `understand the principle,' and respects `the need to protect the rights of his fellow players.' "

Thanks to loyal Banterite Murray for the link.

TENDERNESS
2003-12-22 08:16
by Alex Belth


The Yankees non-tendered outfielders Karim Garcia and Dave Delluci, while Gabe White accepted arbitration. The Yankees roster is just about complete. The only position they need to fill is a back-up for Jason Giambi at first base.

SLOW GOING
2003-12-22 08:07
by Alex Belth


After a weekend of stalled negotiations, Tom Hicks, the owner of the Texas Rangers, has set another deadline in the potential Alex Rodriguez-for-Manny Ramirez blockbuster trade. The latest in a string of deadlines is 5 p.m. tomorrow. But even if the deal doesn't get done by then, how do we know that this will be the last deadline we see? The Boston Globe reports:


And so, the next deadline beckons. Will the Sox attempt to re-sign Garciaparra to an extension if the A-Rod deal is indeed DOA? They haven't contacted his agent, Arn Tellem, about doing so in recent days, according to an industry source. Maybe they're waiting for the newest deadline to pass.

"If the [A-Rod] deal gets done, then we'll know it's over," one industry source said yesterday. "But if it doesn't get done, how will we know it's done? This has been going on nonstop for a month. A whole industry has developed around this. How will we know that it's really over?"

Peter Gammons reports how the talks screeched to a halt over the weekend:


According to sources, Rodriguez's passion for this trade has diminished, both because of his relationship with Hicks and his encounters with Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino.

Rodriguez was reportedly incensed when a Lucchino statement Wednesday not only made reference to Alex and his wife -- neither of whom Lucchino has ever met -- but also tried to drive a stake between A-Rod and the union, portraying Rodriguez as some union-buster who cared little for his fellow players.

"What happens from here on out will depend on whether John Henry steps forward, and undoes some of the damage rendered by his employee Lucchino," said one source.

Gammons writes that there is plenty of blame to go around, but is especially critical of Gene Orza and Larry Lucchino:


Rodriguez and Theo Epstein did reach an agreement under which A-Rod would restructure his contract by $28 million. But Gene Orza, still fighting the "30-Year War," nixed it. Then when Larry Lucchino, another cold-war warrior, blasted Orza and made a statement that separated Rodriguez from his fellow players, it blew up any immediate compromise or the hope that someone rational like Michael Weiner and Rob Manfred could be brought into the equation. It should be said that for one man, Orza, to anoint himself with the god-like authority to establish arbitrary valuations of benefits agreed upon by a player and general manager reeks of the height of arrogance. But when Lucchino played his Khrushchev routine there was no chance at an immediate compromise.

Complicating things was Hicks' hopeless leaking of information in Texas, which clearly disgusted Henry, who does his business where it should be done -- in private.

As expected, Mike Lupica jumps all over the union too, but Tim Marchman of The New York Sun wrote last Friday that Orza and the MLBPA did the right---if unpopular---thing:


If the deal is good for Rodriguez, why wouldn't the union approve it? Because it's not in the interests of players generally. It would set an ugly precedent, and this is probably the union's primary concern. Any player trying to force a trade---which is quite common, as Curt Schilling or Roger Clemens could tell you---would be told by the team he wanted to join that he they'd need to renegotiate in order to get the deal done. Also, it would depress the player salary scale significantly. Free agent negotiations and salary arbitrations now use Rodriguez's contract as a comparison point. Lower it, and you lower the potential income of every union member. The MLBPA would be criminally negligent if it didn't object. If indeed they are willing to approve a $15 million giveback, as ESPN reported, they're going far out of their way to get this deal done.

Gary Huckabay of Baseball Prospectus doesn't understand how Texas would benefit from the trade, and defends the union as well:


It's going to be interesting to see how things actually shake down. This has the potential of being the biggest trade of my lifetime, and it's both good and bad that money and intrigue have become such a big part of it. I do know two things: 1) from a tactical perspective, I think the OCB played this much better than I expected, and 2) Gene Orza isn't paid enough.

If this trade doesn't eventually go down, it could be Rodriguez's loyalty to the union that ultimately killed the deal. A Rod didn't allow Larry Lucchino to seduce him into a scenerio where he'd essentially be setting himself apart from the MLBPA. Marchman concludes:


Moreover, [Rodriguez] has made it clear that he will not waive his no-trade clause to allow the deal to go through unless the terms are approved by the union. IF the trade does not go through, Commissioner Selig cannot bring the issue to an arbitrator, as he has reportedly considered doing, and the union will not be exposed to a potentially dmaging decision. In word and action, Rodriguez has shown an awareness of the history of the game---which could be written as a series of attempts by rich men to steal money rightly belonging to the athletes who generate it---that modern ballplayers are so often criticized for lacking.

Rodriguez should be commended for this awareness, the MLBPA should be commended for protecting the right of its members, the Red Sox should be commmended for trying to improve their team, and Commissioner Selig should be commended for trying to get Rodriguez to a city that will appreciate him.

How often can you say all that?

True enough. Although things are looking dark, I won't believe that the deal is dead until A Rod is suited up in a Rangers uniform on Opening Day, or the Sox sign Garciaparra to an extension. Perhaps I'm being overly reverential of the Red Sox front office, but I wouldn't count out a last-minute suprise from Saint Nick. Regardless, even if the trade doesn't occur, the Red Sox have an improved, and mighty impressive team going into 2004 writes Ben Jacobs. I find it hard to disagree with him.

MEMORIES OF THE MEETINGS
2003-12-19 09:00
by Alex Belth


The distinguished movie-maker Robert Altman once said that you can write a movie just by walking down the street in New York City. By catching a phrase or a sentence from each passing couple, you can invent an entire story around them. You just need to have a good ear, and an even better imagination. With that in mind, head over to Will Carroll's blog and check out what he overheard at the winter meetings last weekend. When you are done, continue on to Jay Jaffe's most impressive--not to mention thorough--write-up on his time in New Orleans. You won't be sorry.

DOMINICAN DOMINOES?
2003-12-19 08:42
by Alex Belth


Not to be completey overshadowed by the Yankees and Red Sox, the Baltimore Orioles introduced Miguel Tejada at a press conference yesterday. Tejada's first assist for the Orioles will be trying to recruit fellow Dominican Vladimir Guerrero, a demure country boy, to play with him in Baltimore:


"I've only had a couple of days here, and I can already see how the people here are," Tejada said. "I'm going to tell him this is a great city, and if you have to make a decision, it's the right decision for you to come to Baltimore."

It might not be all that difficult. Oh yeah, it helps that Tejada's agents also happen to represent Guerrero.

CHANGE UP
2003-12-19 08:30
by Alex Belth


The Yankees traded left-handed relief pitcher Chris Hammond--he of the Bugs Bunny slow pitch--to the Oakland A's yesterday for two minor leaguers. Hammonds didn't love pitching in New York, but the move is reportedly motivated by the fact that the Yanks want to re-sign Gabe White, another left-handed reliever. (Incidentally, the A's also signed southpaw Arthur Rhodes to be their closer.)

Meanwhile, Javier Vasquez spoke with the New York press for the first time as a Yankee via conference call yesterday. His agents and the Bombers are still working on completing a lengthy contract extension. And just to prove that there is never a dull moment in the Yankee-Red Sox season, Karim Garcia and Jeff Nelson were officially charged with assault and battery for their parts in the Game Three bullpen brawl during the ALCS between Boston and New York.

THE WAITING IS THE HARDEST PART
2003-12-19 08:16
by Alex Belth


The 5:00 deadline came and went yesterday and Alex Rodriguez was still a member of the Texas Rangers. While the Red Sox proclaimed that the "deal is dead," Texas GM John Hart, and Rodriguez's agent Scott Boras said that just isn't the case. I still believe the trade will get done, oh, just in time for Christmas (hey, timing is everything, right?). For the latest on the story that just won't quit, check out the professionals: Bob Ryan, Joe Sheehan, Harvey Araton, John Donovan, Buster Olney, David Pinto, Jack Curry, and Tom Boswell.

TAKING IT TO THE STREETS
2003-12-18 13:52
by Alex Belth

After I received e-mails from both David Pinto and Edward Cossette this morning urging me to join the Dirt Dogs' protest outside of the Player's Union this afternoon, I thought the least I could do was check it out during my lunch hour (the Union offices are just blocks away from where I work). According to the Boston Dirt Dogs website, an informal protest was scheduled to start today at noon. When I got there at a quarter past twelve there were about a dozen Red Sox fans milling around, chatting, trying to keep warm. A couple of reporters from the local papers were asking questions. It was a tepid demonstration for starters, and not yet a full-on protest. There was no sign of the Dirt Dogs, but I assume that's because they hadn't made it down from Boston yet. I'm sure once they eventually arrive things will get more festive. Who knows, maybe Bill Lee will fly in and offer his two-and-a-half-cents worth.

Incidentally, the Sox fans I spoke with were all nice, rational guys. The prevailing sentiment was that the A Rod deal should and will get done, if not today, then sometime soon. David Pinto has a link to Mike C's take on how Bud Selig's done all he can to help the Red Sox. Pinto concludes:


I think it's pretty clear what's going on. In return for letting Henry buy the Red Sox when there was likely a higher bidder, by letting the Red Sox acquire whomever they want, Bud gets a large market team to support his small market socialism. It's Bud buying power.

Doug Pappas details the language in the Collective Bargaining Agreement with regards to this case, and Jim Caple writes about the nature of Rodriguez's character, as he publicly politics for Nomar Garciaparra's job.

SHEFFIELD UNVEILED; A ROD DEAL NOT DONE YET
2003-12-18 08:22
by Alex Belth

On the day that Gary Sheffield was introduced as the new Yankee right fielder, the Alex Rodriguez-for-Manny Ramirez blockbuster temporarily came to a halt when the Player's Union blocked the deal. According to Gordon Edes in The Boston Globe:


Faced with the possibility that the Alex Rodriguez trade will not take place because the Major League Players Association rejected the restructuring of Rodriguez's landmark contract by the Red Sox, Major League Baseball's top labor lawyer said last night that commissioner Bud Selig may legally challenge the union's right to do so.
If Selig approves the reworking of the contract of sports' highest-paid player over the objections expressed by union lawyer Gene Orza, the matter could wind up before an independent arbitrator, a legal process that could take weeks and cause chaos for the teams and players involved

Still, as Bill Madden reports in The Daily News, the long-anticipated trade is likely to be completed by today's 5 p.m. deadline:


A baseball person with knowledge of the internal workings of the deal predicted the teams will get it done, if only because they have to. "I can't believe the Red Sox, after all the tumult they've caused in Boston with Nomar, plus all of A-Rod's publicly campaigning for Nomar's job, aren't going to go through with this thing. There's been just too much damage done to go back now."

Jack Curry concurs in The Times:


An executive from one of the teams said that the development, though disappointing because it created another obstacle, would not kill discussions and that the trade was still possible. "I think there's too much wanting to get this done on both sides for it to die," he said. But before the Red Sox or the Rangers do anything, they will probably wait to see what Selig does. An official from the commissioner's office described Selig as being incensed at the union and said he was investigating his legal options. If Selig approves the trade, the union will most likely file a grievance and the issue will be settled by an arbitrator.

Meanwhile, in the Bronx, Joe Torre joined Brian Cashman in welcoming Gary Sheffield to the big city. Torre was asked if he was concerned over the prospect of dealing with high-profile malcontents like Sheffield, Brown and Lofton. His response was typical:


"My job is going to be tough enough, not because of the new acquisitions of guys who are supposedly tough to handle," Torre said. "When you go in and you have new people, you see what you have. Will my job be tougher? You never know that. I certainly don't think it's fair to the players that we're getting to all of a sudden put a wary eye out."

Joel Sherman spoke with Jim Leyland, who managed Kevin Brown and Sheffield on the star-studded Marlins championship team in 1997:


"Those two guys are professionals," Leyland said by phone from his Pittsburgh home. "I don't give a [bleep] what anyone else says. And they are going to have the perfect manager for them in Joe Torre because his strength is communication and all those guys want to do is win."

..."I love Gary Sheffield. I heard the gossip about him, but I am telling you he is ready to play and one of the best clubhouse guys I've ever had. Joe Torre and Gary Sheffield will be a great marriage."

The Yankees are stacked, there is no doubt about it. Then again, as Tom Verducci reports, so is Boston. All eyes are now on the Red Sox and Texas, the Union and Bug Selig, as they attempt to get this deal done by this evening. I would be surprised if it didn't happen.

STOCKING STUFFER
2003-12-17 18:58
by Alex Belth


If anyone is still looking for the ideal gift that any baseball fan would treasure, I urge you to consider ordering a copy of Lee Sinins' Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia. Sinins' cd rom allows you to create your own leader lists, as well as the ability to compare a player or a team to the league average. It is an indispensable tool for any serious fan, and a perfect stocking stuffer for the holidays.

ALL ROLLED INTO ONE
2003-12-17 14:22
by Alex Belth

A few years ago, Nigella Lawson, the voluptuous British cook, came to the U.S. First it was her book, and then her cooking show. Although the half- hour program was shot through soft filters in her own kitchen, making it unlike most cooking shows--it looked like something out of "9 1/2 Weeks"-- Lawson had a casual and spontanious approach to cooking that was almost as appealing as simply looking at her. I only caught one episode, which concluded with Lawson deep frying candy bars--all the rage a few years back--and inviting some friends over for a feast. Upon tasting one of these treats, a guest proclaimed, "It's like Christmas and my birthday all rolled into one."

Well, that's exactly how I expect Red Sox fans will react if Nomar Garciappara gets traded to the White Sox for Magglio Ordonez. Newsday is reporting that the deal will take place after the Rodriguez-for-Ramirez deal is completed later this week (the A Rod business could happen as early as today). If Ordonez does in fact get traded to Boston, the Sox will not suffer any serious decline in production with the loss of Ramirez. They will also continue to become a more likable squad, and I'll be beside myself with envy as Ordonez has been one of my favorite players in the league for the last four years. Shortly, I won't be able to root for Magglio or A Rod any longer; in fact, I'll be forced to actively root against them.

Poor little Yankee fan am I.

A BETTER BOSS TRAP?
2003-12-17 02:09
by Alex Belth

Ben Jacobs has an excellent look at how the American League is shaping up for 2004 (and it's not even Christmas yet). Last Friday, on the eve of the winter meetings, Jacobsóa Red Sox loyalistómade some fine points about the New York Yankees:


This isn't a team that most Yankees fans are going to get all warm and fuzzy about right away. Also, for the first time in a long time, most Yankees fans don't seem to be confident about the team. In the past, even when the Yankees struggled, their fans wouldn't worry because they could tell themselves things like, "We're the Yankees, we've got players who know how to win and they'll put it together."

I'm not saying that helps the team or hurts it, but if this Yankees team starts off slowly, they are not going to get a break from the fans or the media. And while I don't believe in chemistry or anything like that, things can snowball if an entire city gets down on a team and there are a whole bunch of new players who don't mesh really well.

I definitely think the Yankees are still the team to beat in the American League, but they are more vulnerable than they have been in the past. The team is very old and there are (or will be before too much longer) a lot of players who have never played in New York before. Also, the team doesn't seem to have the full support of the city behind it yet. Finally, it certainly seems like George Steinbrenner is running the show, and he hasn't always made the best decisions in the past.

...Within the next five years, the Yankees will either collapse or have a payroll in the $300-million range...

The Boss George of old was back last year and there is every reason to believe that he'll be more of a force in 2004. (If the Yankees start out 5-15, how long do you think Joe Torre will last?) I think Jacobs is right on when he suggests that this Yankee team doesn't have the universal support of Yankee fans. He's also correct when he states that the media coverage in New York will be inflammatory and shrill. It isn't enough that the Yankees have been great, but the '96-'01 teams were famous for their collective 'character,' and 'integrity.' They were the connoisseur's team, like the old Knicks were in the early 1970s.

But for veteran Yankee fans, we've been here before. We've seen Rome fall, only to have it rise again. Let's not forget what a motley crew of s.o.b.'s the 1977-'78 champs were. I'm reminded of what Roger Angell once wrote about Steinbrenner in his Bronx Zoo heyday. The Boss, Angell wrote:


Didn't really want to let his ballplayers play the games. He didn't want to put them out on the field and wait and see what happens, which is what you have to do in the end. He wanted to impose his will and in doing that he got between us and the players. I always had the feeling at Yankee Stadium when he was there that he was standing up in front of me and I was looking at George Steinbrenner and I wanted to see the Yankees, instead.

Since 1996, Joe Torre has helped shield us from George, the raging bull of bombast. So, of course, have players like Jeter, and Bernie Williams and Mariano Rivera. But next year, we might be screaming like Uecker, "Down in Front!" Lofton will throw tantrums, Wells will sulk, and Sheffield will pop off on a regular basis (perhaps even Ruben Ruben Sierra will revert to his old ways). Yankee fans will role their eyes, frustrated that these guys aren't more like the stand up Yankees: Tino and Paulie O and David Cone. (After all, it's one thing to stomach rooting for a team with the highest payroll in the game, and another thing to actually dislike that team.) At the same time, Yankee-haters everywhere will rejoice and delight in the turmoil and mishegoss as it envelops the team. But then again, the Yanks might go ahead and foil everybody, win 105 games, and go to another World Serious. (Lofton and Sheffield may even don black eye patches like the true pirates they are.) What then?

KICKIN' IT IN THE BIG EASY
2003-12-16 13:58
by Alex Belth

Sunday was a memorable day around the country as the fallen Iraqi President, Saddam Hussien was captured by American troops. But if the news barely penetrated the insulated world of the baseball winter meetings--at least as I experienced it--it did provide a framework to encapsulate the day in our memories for a long time. Everything seemed heightened, lifted.

Jay Jaffe and I got a late start, and after a thoroughly mediocre brunch in the French Quarter, we arrived at the Marriott and found the Baseball Prospectus guys. At first they busted my chops in good humor for making like a ghost on Saturday. I spent most of that first day milling around on my own, but it certainly wasn't done at the expense of the Prospectus guys; I simply wanted to get the chance to meet as many people as I could dolo.

Jay and I joined Ryan Wilkens and Chaim Bloom of Prospectus around a table in the center area of the hotel lobby. Joe Sheehan and Will Carroll buzzed in and out as they worked the room. Nate Silver, also of Prospectus, eventually joined us, as did Tim Marchman of The New York Sun, and Jeff Silver, erstwhile front office analyst for the Reds (Tim, Jeff and Joe are all New York natives). After spending the first full day at the meetings scrambling to meet newspaper men, engaging in brief, often distracted conversation, I spent the better part of Sunday afternoon in the company of these guys, and had a terrific time.

The reason it was so rewarding was because we just sat around and talked baseball all day. Just what the doctor ordered, thank you very much. And let me tell you something, if I felt lifted it was because of the quality of the conversation. The common bond the guys I mentioned above all share is that they are all stunningly bright, and shamlessly enthusiastic about the game, its history, and its future. You could even say that they are part of the future. I would not be surprised to see Bloom, Wilkens or either of the Silvers--not to mention Joe and Will---working inside the game in five years time.

Tim, Jay and I spent several hours wanding around the French Quarter, and we were joined by Jeff for a bite to eat at the Acme clam house. By the end of the night, I was losing my voice. It was like having been at an all-day concert. I was exhausted but exhilerated as well.

By the time we left on Monday afternoon, several more deals went down of course. We were all together on Sunday afternoon when Bloom informed us that Tejada was going to the Birds. We first heard it as six years, $65 million; while we were at dinner, whenever there was a lull in the conversation, someone would blurt out, "Six, sixty-five." (We later discovered it was actually six years for $72 million.) And when we returned to the hotel, the latest was that the Orioles were working on signing Vlad Guerrero and either Pudge Rodriguez or Javier Lopez. Hey now. As Theo Epstein mentioned later on, you can label the east the "AL Beast" once again.

While the A Rod deal to Boston was not done over the weekend, most of the guys that I spoke with anticipate that it's not a matter of if it will happen, but when. Don't fret Red Sox Nation, you will be enjoying the holiday season plenty.

In all, the weekend was a success. One of my brother's oldest friends lives in New Orleans, and I got a chance to hang out with her on Saturday. She showed me around the town and gave me insights into the city that I would not have gotten otherwise. And though I felt ready to leave after Saturday night, the time I spent in the company of the Prospectus guys as well as Jeff Silver, Tim Marchman and Jay Jaffe on Sunday was the highlight of the trip.

Oh, and to show what a mensch Jay is, our connection flight from Atlanta back to New York was delayed five hours (10:00) and Jay offered to let me take the final seat on a stand-by flight on at 6:00 (I had to be up early this morning for work, and Jay didn't). We thought we would both make it on, but there was only one seat left. I walked into my apartment in the Bronx twenty minutes before Jay's flight left Atlanta. I can't tell you how much I appreciated the gesture. It was the icing on the gravy, and capped a great adventure. I'm glad I was able to share it with Jay, and I feel fortunate to have met and rapped with so many interesting and warmly disposed professional baseball men.

A ROD DEAL DEAD; SADDAM CAPTURED
2003-12-14 17:46
by Alex Belth

Fear and Loathing in New Orleans

After two days at the winter meetings, I can safely say that this is one of the oddest experiences I've ever had. Jay Jaffe and I arrived late Friday night at our hotelówere the Baseball Prospectus gang is stayingóroughly a ten minute walk away from the where all the action is going down at the Marriott. Earlier in the week I had e-mailed Tom Verducci about wanting to meet up with him at some point and he simply replied that I'd find him in the lobby of the Marriott. Boy, he wasn't kidding. The lobby of the Marriott is the place to be.

Smack dab in the middle of the hotel lobby is a squared-off bar area that is raised up off the floor by a couple of feet, carpeted and outfitted with tables. The room is populated with up to several hundred menóagents, scouts, front office assistants, kids looking for jobs, and of course, the members of the media. Essentially, it is a big cocktail party. Groups of guys cluster together and chat. It's the kind of scene where you see a guy pull another guy aside and say, "Step into my office." The rest of the men stand around nervously, as if they were limo drivers at the airport waiting to pick someone up.

It is an inherently tense and uncomfortable atmosphere. The mood isn't dour, it's just forced. After all, this isn't a social gathering, this is business. The teams are in the business of signing players and making trades; the agents are in the business of selling their clients, and the media's business is to be up in everybody's business. As a result, everyone is checking everybody else out. This is amusing. When I first walked in, I was getting the once over too. Some guys shot me suspicious, dark looks, as if to say, "Now who the hell is this?" Others looked at me more openly, with curiosity, as if to say, "Who the hell is that?"

The attention doesn't last long, but it is steady. Once one guy determines you are nobody that interests them, another guy is staring at you. And this isn't just me, of course. This is what the entire room is doing to everyone. It is a very strange feeling, watching a room full of guys checking each other out, eyes darting from face to face. The overall effect has the awkwardness of a seventh-grade dance, except there aren't any girls.

If anything, the "girls" or objects of desire in this case, are other, more famous men. Not that there is anything inherently sexual going on, but essentially, you stand around in clusters hawking other guys. Oh, look, there is Peter Gammons, there is Dusty Baker, and Felipe Alou. Do I dare go up and talk to them, or do I just sit here with my back-against-the-wall and gawk at them?

Some of the men are clearly built to thrive in the schmoozy atmosphere, while others look hopelessly stiff, concerned and ill-at-ease. There is a whole range of faces and personality types, but as a whole, it all adds up to way too much testosterone in one confined place. ("A lady, a lady, my kingdom for a female." Actually, that's not entirely true. There are some women in the lobby, but few with anything to do with the meetings. The vibe isn't anti-female, they just don't have anything to do with the business at hand.) There are plenty of hard, old baseball faces, former ballplayers who are now scouts, guys from the front office, veteran sportswriters. Many of them have red necks and pink faces which suggest they haven't seen much snow recently.

As a contrast, there are many boyish guys, who look quite young, walking around as if they were a five-year old at a fair who lost their mother. In general, the men are dressed casually. Some prefer sneakers and a short-sleeve shirt, while others wear suits and loafers. The older guys wear sweaters. I suspect that the agents are the guys in the loafers, reeking of cologne (hello Drakar Noir, boys). There are good-looking, classically handsome dudes, along with over-weight guys, and your classic, homely zhlubs. Most everybody has a drink in their hand. (Jack McKeon was outside working on his cigar much of the time, shaking more hands than a Presidential candidate.)

What is everybody doing? Milling around mostly. Many reporters simply do laps around the bar, looking for their next lead, for new information. The beat reporters are especially active as they have stories to file for the following day. Agents and their assistants are on their cell phones arranging meetings.

The teams all set up shop upstairs in suites. It's like their own individual war rooms. They pour over data, scheme, and carry out their plan of attack. The general managers mostly remain upstairs, preferring to send out assistants to comb the lobby to see what is shaking down. Even if nothing is officially happening, the buzz is constant. Guys say, "Well, if this team makes this move and this guy signs with that team, then we are going to make this move and sign this player."

After spending a few hours in at the hotel on Friday night, the mystique that these proceedings held in my imagination before we arrived quickly wore off. It was a humanizing experience. Yes, this is the heart of baseball business, and look, these guys are human just like the rest of us. They aren't so removed. They seem so, well, regular. Hey, there is Scott Boras talking to a reporter, oh, there is Jeff Brantley, and Jayson Stark. Here comes J.P. Riccardióa slick, and dashing figureóand whoa, here comes Dusty Baker and Lou Pinella. There is Lee Mazzilli. How about Tony Perez and Omar Minaya?

These men are regular in the sense that these guys don't glow, or have a spotlight following them around the room (although the more recognizable figures like Baker, and the ESPN television guys were steadily approached by casual fans who happened to spot them.) Still, it is a surreal situation to be in as an outsider. I worked in and around the movie business for over a decade, so being around famous people is nothing new for me. But even though I've been in close proximity to some of the biggest actors in Hollywood, and have had conversations and even relationships with others, I've never been in a single room where there was a who's-who of celebrities.

The capper is that this is a big weekend for high school football here in New Orleans. People are here from all over the south for a series of games (or maybe it's one big game). So sharing the lobby with baseball's best and brightest, are scores of families from the midwest, usually hurrying about the place with bags of McDonalds or KFC. There are schools of cheerleading teams parading back-and-forth in short skirts, arched backs and perky breasts. Add the hotel staff to the mixócleaning women, doormen, bellhops, bartendersóand you have a room full of people who are all seemingly unaware of the other's existence, all happily self-contained and self-absorbed. Where is Hunter Thompson and a suitcase of pharmaceuticals when you need him?

II

So what have I learned, and who have I met? And more pointedly: What in the hell am I doing here? I am here to meet some of the guys I interviewed during the course of the past year, as well as to introduce myself to other members of the press whose work I respect and enjoy. At the very least, I knew coming into town that I would be able to meet the Baseball Prospectus gang, which I have, and that has been great. I did get to see Tom Verducci, who is a tall and athletic guy, with youthful good looks that will probably never dessert him. He chatted with me for a while on Saturday afternoon, and he's as affable in person as he was over the phone. I saw Buster Olney briefly too and quickly introduced myself to Peter Gammons (Will Carroll introduced me to Jayson Stark). Several members of the New York press have been especially gracious: Joel Sherman, Mark Hale, Jack Curry and Mark Feinsand.

On Saturday afternoon, I spotted Howard Bryant of The Boston Herald. After I introduced myself, he said something to the effect of, "Oh yeah, I've been by your site. You were pretty tough on my book." Gulp. Indeed I had been. Talk about being put on the spot. But that didn't stop us from having an interesting conversation about the book's subjectóracism in the Boston sports world. Bryant is an engaging, bright guy, and I enjoyed getting a chance to rap with him for a minute. We talked about the stigma of being black and playing in Boston, and it wasn't until later in the afternoon that I wondered to myself if Howard is in fact the only black reporter on the Red Sox beat.

There was a lesson in our encounter for me as well. If you write something and put it out there, you have to be accountable for it. When he brought up that I had been critical of his book, I didn't exactly recall what I had written about "Shut Out"óI remember thinking that book was in need of a better editor than it had, because the subject was fascinatingóbut I'm glad that he didn't seem to take my criticism personally, and that I didn't let it trip me up enough to feel humiliated or uncomfortable.

I'm pleased that I've been able to make connections with some of these guys, so in essence, my mission has been accomplished. But it is not an especially easy or relaxed experience. Not that it is supposed to be. After all, the lobby of the Marriott is about nothing if not competition. Since when is that supposed to be a day at the beach?

But it is awkward scoping out somebody that you would like to meet, and then waiting for them to break away from their present conversation to jump into their face, shake their hands, introduce yourself and stick a business card in their palm. It's like that Looney Tunes cartoon where Bugs goes to the dog races and falls in love with the mechanical rabbit who zips around the track. After whooshing by him once, the next time around Bugs spits out his spiel to her as fast as his gums can flap before she zips away again.

That's how I feel approaching some of these guys. Look, there are breaking away, time to pounce. Quickly, give them your whole pitch in less than 30 seconds, because suddenly there are five other people who want to shake their hands and get a piece of them. It is rewarding to get the opportunity to meet some of these guys. But it is exhausting and socially painful at the same time too.

III

What exactly has happened? Well, I'm sure if you are reading the papers on the Internet, you know just as much as I do. Keith Foulke went to the Red Sox, and Mike Cameron went to the Mets, leaving Billy Beane and the A's assed-out, without much of an offense left in Oakland. The A Rod deal is dead...for now. Some guys said it was dead, dead, while others said, "Nah, it's dead for the time being, maybe for the duration of the meetings, but it could always be revived." J.D. Drew was moved to Atlanta and Juan Encarnacion went to the Dodgers. By the end of the day on Saturday, the Kevin Brown deal went through.

And what about the Yankees? Well, for starters, nobody from the Yankees is even here in town (with the exception of two of their trainers). Why? Apparently, it is one of the ways George punishes his staff. By not letting them go to the expo. The Yankees have reached a two-year deal with Kenny Lofton, and to a man, everybody I've spoken with thinks it is an awful move, and one that is coming directly from The Boss.

I spent most of the day troubled over the news. Steinbrenner never loved Andy Pettitte, and he apparently doesn't have much respect for the senior-ranking member of the YankeesóBernie Williamsóeither. Even though he's several years older, can you imagine something like this ever happening to Derek Jeter? Williams isn't only "losing" his job to another center fielder, he's losing to an older guy, who is worse than Bernie. Williams is a far superior offensive player, and if he's a weaker defender, it isn't by much. To make matters worse, Lofton's reputation is not a nice one. He's supposed to be a selfish jerk. What kind of respect is this?

"What about when the Yankees face lefties," I asked one writer. "What makes you think George has thought that far ahead? You know how he is, he loves the big names."

From what I've been able to gather, Steinbrenner is worse than he's ever been. He may not carry on in the papers like he did twenty years ago, but down to the secretaries, he's crazier and more boorish than he's ever been. The fact that senility is creeping in has not helped, but made him more irrational. So if the 2004 Yankees are not quite as bad off as they were in the eighties, the signs say they are headed in that direction; history does seem to be repeating itself. There is a general belief that Torre will not make it through the season. I know there was a lot of talk last year that Torre would get canned, and now that is even more likely to happen.

The Sheffield deal will get done essentially because Sheffield doesn't have any other options. No other team is going to offer him the kind of money that Yankees will. Plus, he and George and a match made in heaven. Steinbrenner is letting him sweat a bit, but according to the guys I've spoken with, the deal will get done. The Yankees will wait until after the Rule 5 draft on Monday morning to announce their pacts with Lofton, Gordon and Quantrill.

Yankee fans, we need to prepare ourselves. The Zoo is back in full effect. I've got another day at the winter meetings zoo, and quite frankly, I miss my girlfriend, and am ready to go home. But there are still more adventures to have, and more guys to meetóI'd especially like to see Tyler Kepner and Gordon Edes. Hopefully, there will be some more interesting moves today. Jay and I are going to poke our heads around the French Quarter today looking for used bookshops to see if we can find any goodies.

Perhaps I'll get a chance to throw in another update. If not, I'll be back on Tuesday morning.

Epilogue: As I finished typing this entry, Jay woke up and turned on the TV, and we were greeted with our President telling us that Saddam Hussien has been captured. Hey, where are those pharmaceuticals already?

WILD WEEKEND...
2003-12-12 19:17
by Alex Belth


Oh, this should be a good one. While there was relatively little activity at the winter meetings last year, this year should provide plenty of punch. First and foremost is the Alex Rodriguez-for-Manny Ramirez trade. I expect that it will happen. Ditto for Gary Sheffield becoming a Yankee. Other than that, your guess is as good as mine.

I'm headed down to New Orleans for the weekend with Jay Jaffe. I won't have the ability to post anything from the road, so there will not be a new post until Tuesday morning. Anyhow, I want you guys to feel free to continue the great conversations you've been having on the comments section below. It would be cool for me to track the progress of the meetings through what you've got to say.

I'm not sure what kind of experience we'll have down there, but I look forward to giving you my take when I return.

SHRILLTOWN
2003-12-12 13:48
by Alex Belth

According to the New York media, losing Andy Pettitte signals the "End of the Joe Torre Yankees." The story is being spun several ways: George Steinbrenner did not appreciate what he had in Pettitte, and dissed him; or, Andy Pettitte wanted to go home to pitch, no matter how much money the Yankees offered. If the Yankees had courted Pettitte from jump the way they have wined and dined free agents like Mike Mussina and Jason Giambi he would still probably be a Yankee. The question is: Did the Yankees overlook Pettitte due to their own arrogance, or were they simply not interested in re-signing him in the first place? And: Was he worth keeping? The other piece of the puzzle is: Who was behind the Yankees course of action? George Steinbrenner, or the Yankee braintrust of Brian Cashman and Stick Michael? Or a combination of the two?

I felt a degree of sadness watching the highlights of Pettitte's career in New York last night. But I wasn't angry anymore. At either Pettitte or the Yankees. But the New York columnists were spitting mad this morning. If you have the stomach for it, check out the latest from Lupica, Vaccaro, Heyman, Harper, Anderson, Kernan, Sherman, Olson, and Bob Raissman.

The Yankees didn't waste any time in moving ahead. They have traded Jeff Weaver, two prospects and $3 million in cash to the L.A. Dodgers for Kevin Brown. The Yankees still need to go over the fine print in Brown's contract before the deal can be completed. Brown is a 39-year old pitcher with a history of injury problems, but when he is healthy, he is nasty and he's an ace. The deal would give the Yankees a heavy right-handed rotation (with the lone exception of David Wells).

So, are the Yankees better off with Brown and Vasquez in 2004 than they were with Clemens and Pettitte in 2003? According to Gary Huckabay in The New York Sun, indeed they are:


Can Brown be expected to outperform Pettitte? Absolutely. His 2003 ERA was 2.39, far better than Pettitte's, even after factoring in the benefit from pitching in Dodger Stadium. Brown's strikeout rate and control are both outstanding, and indicate that he is more likely to continue his success than Pettitte is to continue his. Yankee fans will likely forget about Pettitte and the circumstances under which he left by about the fourth inning of Brown's first start.

...Andy Pettitte's been a good pitcher, but he hasn't been great. He's logged just under 1,800 innings in his Yankee career, posting an ERA of 3.94. Yes, he's won 149 games, but he's done so with some truly tremendous levels of run support. Pettitte's reputation has come in large part due to his appearances in the postseason, where he's been viewed as some sort of latter-day Clutch God. This reputation is something of a mystery; his actual postseason performance hasn't really been all that noteworthy (30 games, 186.2 innings pitched, 201 hits, 52 walks, 118 strikeouts, 4.05 era).

Rob Neyer agrees, and thinks that Brown and Vasquez represents a significant upgrade for the Bombers:


Could a Yankees rotation that includes Brown stack up with the Red Sox's new Schilling-ful squad? You'd better believe it. Mussina/Vazquez/Brown is just as good as Martinez/Schilling/Lowe, and I suspect most clubs would take Jose Contreras over Tim Wakefield in the fourth slot.

It's true, as the rosters stand right now, the Red Sox would have to be considered the favorites in 2004. But the way things stand now isn't the way they'll stand in March, at which point I suspect the Yankees will have muscled their way back to the top of the forecasted standings.

Neyer is less than impressed with Pettitte's reputation as a great pitcher:


How will Andy Pettitte fare in Houston? He'll presumably enjoy his family life there, but his baseball life is going to suffer. His (relative) run support will suffer, because while the Astros have a good offense, the Yankees had a great one (they led the AL in road scoring in 2003). And Pettitte's trading a home ballpark that's kind to left-handed pitchers for a home ballpark that's not (though he is a ground-ball pitcher, which will help).

And frankly, Pettitte's not a great pitcher. He was great in 1997 and excellent in 2002 (when he wasn't on the disabled list), but most years he's been merely good. Everyone seems to think the Astros are getting a No. 1 starter, but the reality is that Pettitte is the team's third-best starter, behind Roy Oswalt and Wade Miller.

Why do people think he's a No. 1 starter? Because Pettitte's spent his entire career pitching for the best baseball team in the world, which has meant 1) great run support, and 2) plenty of TV time in October.

Which isn't to say it's a terrible move for the Astros. There's nothing wrong with having a solid No. 3 starter, though $10.5 million per season seems like a lot to spend unless it's the Yankees or the Red Sox doing the spending (and of course, the Yankees offered even more money than the Astros did).

For a thorough analysis of Andy Pettitte, head over to Bryan Smith's fine blog, Wait 'Til Next Year.

The Yankees will likely be active this weekend in New Orleans. According to the Post, the Yankees have contacted Bernie Williams to inform him that they plan to acquire Kenny Lofton to play in centerfield next season. Gary Sheffield was in San Franciso yesterday along with the brothers Giambi testifying in the BALCO trial. I figure that both Sheffield and Lofton will be wearing Yankee pinstripes by the time Cashman returns from New Orleans.

AND AWAY WE GO
2003-12-11 18:51
by Alex Belth


Andy Pettitte is now a member of the Houston Astros. This is going to take a minute to get used to. Buster Olney writes that the Yankees have nobody to blame but themselves for not getting a deal done with the southpaw. According to Olney, losing Pettitte is a portent of things to come:


Pettitte's departure also is another indication of the overwhelming dysfunction that looms on the horizon for the Yankees. Manager Joe Torre -- who argued to prevent the Yankees from trading Pettitte to Philadelphia in 1999, and argued again this offseason for the Yankees to aggressively re-sign the left-hander -- goes into next year as a lame-duck manager.

He has indicated he does not want to talk about another extension, and it's easy to envision an early-season slump leading to his dismissal, a last chance for George Steinbrenner to humiliate Torre on the way out; that's what Steinbrenner does.

Torre could go at some point, in an era when Steinbrenner is increasingly pursuing players like Raul Mondesi and Gary Sheffield. The Yankees' players thought last season was a whacky, contentious ride; well, they ain't seen nothing yet.

The Pettitte signing goes down just before the winter meetings are to start in New Orleans. Jayson Stark reports that there could be a flurry of activity this weekend in the Big Easy, and not just the A Rod blockbuster. What will the Yankees do to replace Pettitte? The hot rumors all involve Kevin Brown.

Never a dull moment, huh? Who said there was an off-season in Yankee land?

GOOD GOD
2003-12-11 15:26
by Alex Belth

According to ESPN, the Houston Astros have called a press conference for high noon to announce the signing of Andy Pettitte to a thee-year deal worth somewhere between $32-$34 million. George Steinbrenner, who has never been a big fan of Pettitte's, was unable to swoop in at the last minute and get a deal done with the southpaw. Many Yankee fans--including this one--felt that the Yankees would overpay to keep Pettitte in the Bronx, but it wasn't to be. Now, the Yankee rotation appears vulnerable, with David Wells as the only possible left-hander available to them.

As much as this hurts the Yankees in the short-term, I believe that Pettitte may have a tough time with the Astros. The last I checked, Minute Maid Park had an extremely short left-field porch. I'm not sad to see Andy go, I feel bitter. At George, and at Andy.

Ah, I'm just a poor little Yankee fan. (How do you think Met fans and Red Sox fans feel about this? Heck, I wonder what Joe Torre thinks about it.)

WHEN IT RAINS...
2003-12-11 13:26
by Alex Belth


The winds were whipping around last night. I was up for an hour in the middle of the night, tossing and turning, listening to the wind, and thinking about Andy Pettitte pitching for the Astros. It was still windy this morning, and raining. On the subway ride to work the two guys next to me almost came to blows over who was taking up more seat room. After exchaning obscenities, they sat silently next to each other until we reached 96th street. I sat quietly next to them and read the morning papers. The setting was ideal, considering the news.

It's not a chipper day in Yankee Land, that's for sure. Andy Pettitte is in fact close to signing with the Astros. Pettitte has kept the door slightly ajar for the Yankees to overwhelm him with money, and he will make up his mind by tomorrow. The New York columnists--Jack Curry, Mike Lupica, and Mike Vaccaro are all in agreement with who is to blame here: George M. Steinbrenner. Pettitte may have wanted to go home all along, but the Yankees have not handled his negotiations with class. Last week I argued that these Yankees are not quite the Yankee teams of the eighties. But the one thing that does remind me of that era is that the Yankees' biggest obstacle is not the Red Sox, Blue Jays or anyone else in the American League: it is their owner.

While the Yanks are on the verge of losing Pettitte, but they may still sign Gary Sheffield (although they are reportedly players in the Vlad Guerrero sweepstakes). Sheffield was at a Maryland hoops game with Darryl Strawberry last night, and said that "the deal will get done." It's hard to know what exactly is happening here. Judging from the bit that Brian Gunn offers at Rebird Nation, maybe Steinbrenner will leave Sheffield at the alter. But still, I doubt it. Not when he has "true Yankees" like Doc Gooden and Strawberry in his corner.

Meanwhile, Alex Rodriguez is still playing for the Texas Rangers. Tom Hicks and John Henry as expected to meet during the next couple of days, and The Boston Globe reports that the two might be waiting for this weekend to announce a deal. (Take that, George.) But should the blockbuster deal fall apart, the Red Sox would have to deal with a dicey situation with Nomar Garciaparra.

HEAVEN'S ABOVE
2003-12-10 20:26
by Alex Belth

GOSSIP

I just got an e-mail from a friend in the midwest who says that ESPN 1000 radio in Chicago is reporting that Andy Pettitte has signed a deal to pitch for the Astros. The deal will evidently be announced this weekend. We'll have to wait and see if this is for real, but if it is, it doesn't come as a major surprise.

So much for the Yankees' number one priority. Stay tuned...

BAD BOSS RISING
2003-12-10 13:16
by Alex Belth

ZOOLANDER

Fine, I give up. Enough with defending George Steinbrenner for me. While Red Sox fans happily anticipate a trade that will rid them of a headcase in Manny Ramirez and give them oh, only the best player in baseball, Yankee fans are following the antics of Boss George with a slightly upset stomach. Free agent signings in Yankee land have been exciting events during the past several years, but this winter, they seem like omens of the end of the Joe Torre era.

Gary Sheffield is not a Yankee yet, but many baseball insiders still believe that he will be shortly. (The question is: with Vlad G out there, why?) Joel Sherman reports:


It probably won't be long now until Steinbrenner - who ignored the handshake deal Wells once had with Arizona to guarantee Wells six times as much money - temporarily reconciles with Sheffield to get a deal done. Sheffield, with no place else to turn for the big bucks, will return the disingenuous hug. And, thus, Steinbrenner's last chance to get away from a bad movie for which he has already seen the preview, will go the way of any lingering dignity left in this organization.

...As always, Steinbrenner never appreciates what he has. In the home-grown quintet of Pettitte, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Bernie Williams, he not only has been blessed with a nucleus of great players, but also low-maintenance professionals who value winning and honor teammates. He has been equally blessed with Torre and GM Brian Cashman, who have engendered such respect in the industry that they have put whatever positive face there can be on a team owned by Steinbrenner.

Bill Madden, who has seen it all during the Steinbrenner years, weighs in with his take:


As we all know, if there is one thing Steinbrenner is big on, it's accountability. Well, the Boss has got to be accountable for this one. Gary Sheffield has essentially thrown down the gauntlet, and the only way Steinbrenner comes out of this with his "Boss-ness" intact is to tell this certifiable nutcase to take a hike. Because even if Sheffield temporarily comes to his senses and accepts the original deal, the ink will hardly be dry before he starts complaining. And if you don't believe that, then allow me to refer you to all of Sheffield's previous stops - especially Los Angeles - where he constantly carped about money, called the owner a liar, and wore out his welcome while cementing his reputation as an inveterate clubhouse malcontent.

...Steinbrenner was warned that he was dealing with a selfish player - and everything the Joe Torre Yankees of 1996-2001 were not - and now Sheffield has proven this beyond any doubt. However, Steinbrenner apparently isn't listening to the baseball people who have served him so well.

In a perfect Yankee universe, Stick Michael and Brain Cashman would run the show. But this is Boss George's World: we just live in it. Boomer Wells, Kenny Lofton, Gary Sheffield? Oy veh. No wonder some Yankee fans are thinking about the eighties. I hope that the deal with Sheffield now falls apart, but I doubt that will happen. Steinbrenner is convinced that he is doing the best thing for his organization: for Joe Torre and for the fans. But right now he's only doing the best thing for himself. And who knows what that is, since he changes his mind hourly.

And what ever became of the Yankees number one off-season priority? What about Andy Pettitte? That's what Pettitte's father is asking in The New York Times today. Pettitte hopes to ink a deal by the end of the winter meetings in New Orleans this weekend and is puzzled as to why the Yankees have been so slow with negotiations.

COLD COMFORT
2003-12-09 18:31
by Alex Belth


The Hot Stove League is all about stats, and cold, hard cash. So says Buster Olney today in his column over at ESPN. Olney delineates several situations, like the A Rod-Nomie show up in Boston. He also touches on the latest turn in the Gary Sheffield soap opera and hits the nail on the head whe he notes that if the deal falls apart, "it might be the luckiest break for the team since Albert Belle reneged on his verbal agreement in the winter of 1998." But if it's drama that George wants, it is drama he will get:


Sheffield created consternation within the Yankees' organization when he detailed his verbal agreement with George Steinbrenner to a newspaper -- more evidence that Sheffield, typically outspoken in his career, could make regular and unwanted appearances in the headlines of the New York area papers. Or maybe Steinbrenner has grown weary of the genteel Yankees, and wants more Billy-Reggie type Bronx Zoo stuff. If so, he should rush to finish the Sheffield deal now.

Or maybe the Yankees will invest that $39 million earmarked for Sheffield, tack on another year to the deal and lock up Vladimir Guerrero, who is seven years younger.

But perhaps Sheffield isn't really holding out for more money. According to Lee Sinins:


There is also a lot of speculation that this is a sham and the parties are just trying to delay an announcement as long as possible, in order to make it look like Sheffield wasn't signed before Sunday's deadline for the Braves to receive draft pick compensation. Meanwhile, the Braves are planning on filing a grievance with MLB over the Yankees's actions.

Olney also goes on to mention that a Yankee official believes that the chances of re-signing Andy Pettitte "are slightly less than 50-50."

BRONX BANTER INTERVIEW: TOM VERDUCCI
2003-12-09 13:33
by Alex Belth

THE PRO'S PRO

Tom Verducci, the head baseball writer at Sports Illustrated, is one of the most widely-read and respected sports journalists in the country. I have always appreciated his enthusiasm for the game and his even-handed writing style. I had the good fortune to speak with him last week. Here is our conversation. Enjoy.

Bronx Banter: Did you grow up playing sports?

Tom Verducci: I come from a very sports-oriented family. My dad was a high school baseball and football head coach and my brothers all played sports. Iím one of four boys in the family.

BB: Where did you fit in?

Verducci: Iím the third boy. So growing up we played just about anything and everything. But in high school, I played baseball, basketball and football. I grew up in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, which is in Essex County. I went to Seton Hall prep, which at the time was on the same campus as Seton Hall University in South Orange. It has since moved to West Orange.

BB: Do you have any sisters?

Verducci: I have four sisters.

BB: Wow, thatís a nice, healthy brood.

Verducci: Yup.

BB: And you played for your dad?

Verducci: Yes. In football, I did. At the time he was not a baseball coach any longer; he was just concentrating on football. We had great high school football teams when I was there.

BB: I saw in your bio column on SI.com that you made a big catch to win a big game at in high school.

Verducci: Yeah which is ironic because we were the proto typical three yards and a cloud of dust team. But my senior year we outscored the opposition 330-6. So we didnít need to throw the ball a whole lot. But yeah, the ball happened to find me in that state championship game. Timing is everything.

BB: So athletics was how you boys made your rites of passages.

Verducci: When I grew up, to me, the guys on the high school football team were the athletes I idolized. It wasnít the NFL or major league baseball players, although I certainly had favorite players. But when I was out in the street, I was pretending to be the guys on the high school football team. To me that was everything. On Saturdays I would go to practice with my dad, and of course I was there for the game on Sunday. So I looked up to those guys. If you are a high school football coach, itís a 24-7 job. At home, he was watching game film all the time. Or even if he was watching a pro or college game, he was jotting down plays he would use for his team. You just get absorbed into that culture.

BB: Were your two older brothers good athletes as well?

Verducci: Yeah. The oldest brother has actually coached in the NFL. He spent three years with the Bengals, and last year was with the Dallas Cowboys. Frank Verducci. He was offensive line coach last year with the Cowboys. Before that he did the typical iterant college assistant route. He was at lots of schools, but primarily at Iowa with Hayden Fry. My other brotheróhis name is Anthonyóhe was an all-county center.

BB: So football was the sport of the household, more so that baseball?

Verducci: I would say so, although for me, baseball was always MY favorite sport. When I was small my dad was coaching the high school baseball team as well, so I saw a lot of high school baseball games too. But from as early as I can remember, I preferred baseball over football. I liked them both, but baseball was always my favorite.

BB: Did you gravitate toward baseball naturally, or was it a way to set yourself apart?

Verducci: When I was just about old enough to walk, Iíd watch games on TV and put pillows in the shape of a diamond around the floor, and when the batter hit the ball, Iíd run around the pillow bases, and slide in at home every time. They say that kids canít sit and watch a whole game, but as far back as I can remember I loved watching games on TV.

BB: Did you play through high school?

Verducci: Yeah.

BB: What position?

Verducci: I played the outfield. I graduated in 1978. I was a Mets fan growing up, and those werenít exactly the salad days for the Mets. I mean I do remember the í69 World Series; those were some of my earliest memories of major league baseball.

BB: So you remember í73 vividly.

Verducci: Yeah, í73 as well. But the Frank Taveras era is kind of a blur.

BB: Ah, the Willie Montanez/Pat Zachary days. Did you read baseball books as a kid?

Verducci: Not a whole lot. What I did though was I read a lot of newspapers when I was a kid. I was a newspaper delivery boy. I delivered the Newark Star Ledger. That meant getting up at 5:30-6:00 oíclock every morning. The first thing I would do before I delivered the newspaper was read the sports section. I wanted to know what was in there first. We also got the Daily News delivered to our house as well. So I grew up reading people like Dick Young, Bill Madden and Moss Klein and Dan Castellano. We didnít have the Times at our house a whole lot. I used to read it at the library in school.

BB: By the time you got to high school did you have aspirations to be a pro athlete?

Verducci: No, I was realistic enough to know my athletic limitations by then. I knew, even before I was in high school, that I wanted to write about sports. I was very lucky. I remember in sixth grade putting the school newspaper together. We did it on a typewriter; there were no computers then. I always liked to write and I always liked sports. In a perfect world, yeah, Iíd be playing major league baseball, but I was realistic to know I wasnít the star of the team and it only gets harder the further up the ladder you go. Yeah, I was lucky enough to know exactly what I wanted to do and even more lucky for it to happen.

BB: Where did you go to college?

Verducci: Penn State.

BB: Did you major in journalism?

Verducci: Yes I did.

BB: Did you know then that you specifically wanted to write about baseball?

Verducci: I think I did in the back of my mind but knowing how competitive the job market was I was willing to do anything and cover anything. If you had asked me what my preference would have been, it would have been baseball. Actually, my first job out of college was at Today newspaper in Coco, Florida and I was the Dolphins beat writer. Iím sure I would have been happy covering football if thatís what I did for the rest of my life but when I got to Newsday a job opened up covering baseball and that was the best of all worlds.

BB: Was this in the early to mid Ď80s?

Verducci: I graduated from Penn State in í82, and started at Newsday the next year in í83. I was covering baseball on a back-up basis then. My first spring training was with the Yankees in 1985.

BB: That was a Billy Martin year.

Verducci: Well, it started out a Yogi Berra year.

BB: Thatís right. That was the season where he got fired after 16 games.

Verducci: Exactly. First of all, I go to spring training and the guys on the beat were Bill Madden, Murray Chass, Moss Klein and Mike McAlary. I mean these were some of the absolute giants of business and here I was 24 years old on my first professional beat really.

BB: That must have been daunting.

Verducci: Yeah, it was intimidating to go cover the Yankees, the Steinbrenner Yankees, against that kind of journalistic competition.

BB: Is working the beat an inherently adversarial job? Not only in relation to dealing with the players but the other writers as well?

Verducci: You know it is, but itís not in-your-face adversarial. I have to say that all the guys were really nice. There is a fraternity; there is a commradery that exists within the adversarial nature of newspaper competition. Iíll never forget how well Mike McAlary treated me that first spring training. He would introduce me to Yankee players and tell them, ďThis guy is good, you can trust him.Ē That meant the world to me. When you say itís adversarial, sure it isóthe newspapers are in competitionóbut the professional courtesy that all the men showed proved to me that it was not as cut throat as you might imagine.

BB: What was the climate like the locker room at that time?

Verducci: The huge money had not yet really come into the game. I mean there was still good money there but I got the sense that it was very easy to relate to players. The lifestyle between the journalists and the players was not quite as completely different as it is now. I thought it was easier to relate to players on a personal level than it is now.

BB: Pags and Pasqua were on the Yanks then.

Verducci: Yeah, and Mattingly. Who was certainly a star. But he was also as much of an everyday, grounded person as you could come across. And I think he set the tone for the team.

BB: When did you start covering the Mets?

Verducci: In those days at Newsday we had an interesting system. The first year I was on, we switched at the All-Star break. I actually liked that because first of all you got to see both leagues. And also because four months into the baseball year, you got to see a new team. It refreshed you. You got to see a whole different team with different stories. You werenít writing about the same people anymore. So you got a second wind in July. And it also gave you a good feel for both teams so that when it came to off-season coverage, you could drop in a cover either team if the other beat writer was off. And then the next year we went to annual switching. You stayed on one team throughout the whole season. In í86 they gave me the choice to do the Mets that year or do the Yankees. I did the Mets the second half of í85 and it was a great team to cover. They were so much fun. A lot of young guys. I was young. It was a ball to be around a group of guys like that. But I took the Yankees in í86 because I knew that Pinella was managing the team. He had been the hitting coach the year before, and I knew Lou pretty well, and I knew it would just be a total gas to cover one of his teams. I wanted to make sure I got him that year because who knew with Steinbrenner? There were no guarantees that Lou would be around in í87. So I wasnít there throughout the season with the í86 Mets. I was there obviously in the World Series.

BB: Those were frustrating years for the Yanks.

Verducci: Good teams. Short on pitching.

BB: How long were you a beat writer for Newsday?

Verducci: In 1990 I went to do a national column job for Newsday. The best thing about especially the Mets in those days is that the players treated us like people more than like journalists. I mean we used to play basketball with David Cone and Randy Myers at local YMCAís on the road. We played tennis with Ron Darling and Roger McDowell. Weíd hang out with the guys at the hotel bar after the game.

BB: Did these guys talk baseball a lot away from the field?

Verducci: Oh yeah. Even though 99.9% of it was off-the-record, at least you got a good feel for what was actually going on. Because most guys when they stand in front of a locker put on their media face, everything is filtered, everything is cleansed, and you really donít get the real truth of whatís going on. But you did when you were away from the field with these guys. And I thought that was especially true covering Billy Martin. The day Martin was hired in Ď85ómy first month covering a beatóI asked Mike McAlary, ďWhat does this mean now that Billyís here?Ē And he said, ďIt means you are going to have a lot of hangovers.Ē And he was so right. Because to cover Billy meant you had to cover the bar. You covered the game, you filed your story, you packed up your computer, went back to your hotel room and dropped off your computer and you walked down to the hotel bar. Because a) you had to worry if Billy was going to get into a fight, and b) it really was part of the journalistic battlefield if you will. If you werenít there and your competition was there, heís going to find out a lot of things about the team that you wonít. Billy was notorious for giving state secrets away at the bar.

BB: I spoke with Buster Olney about male and female reporters in the locker room earlier this year and in his experience that men had an advantage over women. On the other hand, I also spoke with Jane Leavy too and she said that a woman could have certain advantages as well. But it sounds like your experience mirrors Busterís, what with how friendly you were with some of the players away from the ballpark.

Verducci: Oh, yeah. I go back to what Tommy John told me early on. He said we didnít write enough about the athletes as people. We should know about them and their private lives. I mean you donít want to go too far into their private lives, into something that has nothing to do with the game, but in terms of understanding the athletes as people, it definitely helps. I do think itís harder for woman. Personally, I look forward to reading that kind of perspective because I do think woman can give a different take covering sports. But I do think they start with a competitive disadvantage because it is such a high-testosterone environment. I always compare the baseball clubhouse especially to a little kid's tree house. Except with slurpie machines. A lot of things are said and done there that they would never do in the company of women or at home. I think when a woman is in that atmosphere it makes the athletes step back a little bit, and puts them on guard a little bit.

BB: They feel stifled.

Verducci: I think so. At the same time, I appreciate that a woman brings a different perspective and can uncover sides of people that maybe a male canít.

BB: Roger Angell has a great piece about women in the locker room, and Jane Gross talks about how if a player has just been traded the female reporter might immediately think about whatís going to happen to his wife who is in law school, which may in fact be what the player is thinking about at that moment too.

Verducci: That is interesting. I think thatís why with my father having been a coach, and my brother having been a coach, I bring a little bit of a different sensitivity than a typical journalist or fan in that Iím certainly not going to be as quick to say, ďFire the manager or fire the coach.Ē I realize that a lot of things are out of the control of the coaches and managers.

BB: Do you find that you are more sympathetic to coaches and managers in general?

Verducci: I do think so, yeah. I know how much they invest, not just in time, but emotionally, without having to be on the field themselves to influence the outcomes of games. Itís a very difficult position to be in. You could have a team as well prepared as you possibly can and sometimes itís just the way the molecules bounce. Itís not going to work out. Sometimes to hold a manager accountable for that can be unfair.

BB: You mentioned earlier that in a perfect world, yeah you would have loved to have been a ballplayer. Do you find that a lot of sports journalists are frustrated jocks?

Verducci: I donít think so. A lot of times I take exception to the clichť of the frustrated jock. If you canít do, therefore you write. Iím not saying it doesnít exist, but from what Iíve seen that is a very tiny fraction of the writing population. I think people get into writing because they like to write. In some cases the writers like sports more than the people playing the games. I know peopleóand Iím sure you know this with fansówho are more passionate about their sports than the athletes themselves. I canít say I know many writers who are frustrated [jocks] and are trying to live out their fantasies by just being around that culture and writing about it.

BB: So you didnít find too many reporters challenging players about how to play the game properly?

Verducci: No, not at all. But what did surprise me when I first got in this business was how many people who didnít like sports that muchóor maybe they became jaded by the sportówere covering sports. I mean the job requires so much time and effort I donít see how you can do it without loving it. Maybe I was naÔve, but when I first got in the business, I encountered people who were just punching the clock and forcing it. They were doing it because it was a job not because they liked it.

BB: How did things change for you when you went to work for Sports Illustrated?

Verducci: They didnít change a whole lot other than downshifting from the pace of a daily newspaper to a weekly magazine. The competition is not there in terms of getting a phone call from your editor in the morning saying, ďHow come the New York Post has this and you didnít?Ē I donít miss those phone calls. But the competition is entirely different. The competition is when you hit the ďsendĒ button for SI youíre expected to send nothing but A-plus material. You have to be on top of your game all the time. Sometimes in the newspaper business because of time restraints, because of travel schedules, or a player not being available, you can only do so much. But at SI you have the resources, and for the most part, the time, to turn in nothing but top-flight stuff. I think thatís where the competition is. Itís a different kind of competition but to me, no less intense than the competition at the newspapers.

BB: Itís holding you up to a higher standard.

Verducci: It is but at the same time, Steve Wulf told me when I got to SI, ďDonít feel like you have to do anything different. The stuff you were writing for Newsday was SI material anyway.Ē

BB: Do you feel a different sense of responsibility because itís a national magazine?

Verducci: UmÖIím going to hedge on that and say, ďyesĒ and ďno.Ē ďYesĒ because you canít help but be aware of it, but ďnoĒ in the sense that even if I was writing for the Penn State Daily Collegian, I never got a sense of where it was going. To me, the writing process is a really personal process. I look at a piece with real tunnel vision. I can only do the best that I can do for that piece no matter what the circulation is. I never sit down and say, ďOh my goodness, this is going to run in SI therefore it better be good and my accountability is going to be x amount higher.Ē All Iím thinking is that Iím going to do the best that I possibly can with this piece. But thatís not to disregard the responsibility that comes with writing for a magazine with that kind of circulation. It is there.

BB: From a creative perspective what baseball writers have made an impression on you over the years?

Verducci: I would have to say that Roger Angell is one of them. What I like about him is that nothing seems to be forced. His writing has elegance and a flow. At no point do I get the sense that heís jumping up and down and saying, ďLook at me, here I am.Ē Thatís the kind of writing that I appreciate. The kind that has a somewhat understated elegance to it.

BB: One thing that Iíve appreciated about your work is that your love for the great players like Bonds and A Rod, as well as your love for the game comes across loud and clear. You donít seem to have an axe to grind, or any hidden agendas.

Verducci: Well to me the best part of the job is watching the games. I mean I donít root for any teamsÖ

BB: Is that clean? For real?

Verducci: Oh without a doubt. I lost that a long time ago. Really what I root for is extra innings. I wish the games could keep going because I just like watching people who are the best at what they do, do it. For me the real kick is I have the access to find how how they do it. You know one day I can sit down with Tony Gwynn and talk about hitting or Greg Maddux and talk about pitching. Thatís the real kick of the job. Thatís completely outside the realm of rooting for a team. Cynicism is probably the worst disease a sportswriter can have and itís very easy to contract that given the money that is in the game, and the celebrities that these players have become.

BB: Do the players feel more untouchable than they used to?

Verducci: I think they are more insulated than they ever have been. Now a lot of times you have to go through agents, and strength-training coaches and nutritionists and public relations agentsÖand thatís just the playerís own cadre of support. Thatís not even getting through the different levels on the team. It used to be that everybody took the team bus to the ballpark. Now everybody takes a cab. They stay at different hotels. Sometimes they even travel differently than the rest of the team. Obviously they donít have roommates anymore. I think the player has become more of an individual and I think the writers have paid for that because there isnít as much of a connection between players and the writers anymore.

BB: The late Leonard Koppett once wrote that loneliness is one of the most under appreciated aspects of a ballplayers life. You said that today's players are more remote than ever. How does loneliness effect their lives today as opposed to 20, 30 years ago? Also, how do you cope with the lonliness of the road?

Verducci: I don't know if players are more lonely as much as they are more insulated. They have their car services and private rooms at clubs and hangers-on to keep them company and the resources to jet home or to Vegas on an off day. Jeff Bagwell to me is an old school guy. He'll stick around the clubhouse after games and watch and talk baseball for hours. Too often he doesn't have a lot of company. You'd be amazed to be in a big league clubhouse and see so many teams who don't have clubhouse televisions tuned to other games going on. (The 2001 D-Backs were an exception, a bunch of baseball junkies). DVD movies, talk shows, hoops and football games are often found. As for me, I have a beautiful wife and two beautiful boys who make the flight home the best part of every trip.

BB: How have the writers changed since you started?

Verducci: I think sometimes writers buy into the notion that these guys [players] are different from us. Writers assume the players are more difficult to relate to because they do make so much more money. When I cover baseball, I always try to set the salaries aside. You know people want to run down the Yankees because of their payroll and I understand that there are certain economic problems in the game, but when Iím looking at the Yankees play baseball Iím not thinking about $186 million. Thatís going to detract from my enjoyment of the game. Iím not going to look at A Rod as the $252 million player, but at how he plays the game. I think some writers get caught up in how much money these guys make, and say, ďThey have such a different lifestyle than me therefore I canít relate to them.Ē And thatís baloney because when you get right down to it, they are people just the same as us.

BB: Do you think because athletes are making so much money these days that they are more fragile than they used to be? Psychologically and emotionally.

Verducci: Thatís an interesting question. That could very well be true. This is going to make me sound dated, but I remember when Ron Darling got his first $1 million contract, he started off terribly that season and he admitted that he was trying to live up to that contract.

BB: This was í87?

Verducci: Yeah. And also Dwight Gooden was out for the first couple of months because of the drug thing. Darling was trying to pitch like an ace pitcher even though he was really a number two. But trying to live up to the money can be a very hard thing for these guys. A lot of fans think that because players are making so much money that they have it easy. I do think there are pressures on these players with the more money that they make.

BB: One aspect of rooting for sports that eludes me is how resentful many fans are about the money athletes make. But they donít hold other entertainers up to a similar standard. If Kevin Costnerís latest movie flops, he isnít getting less for his next picture, and the man on the street doesnít have his salary memorized or seem to hold it against him. Same goes for Mariah Carrey of whoever it is.

Verducci: I just read in the paper recently that David Letterman pulled down $31 million a year. You know what? I never knew that before. But you can walk down the street, stop ten people, and probably nine of them know that A Rod is making $25 million a year. Iím not sure that your analogy canít extend to the other sports, outside of baseball. I mean itís tough to quote salaries from the NFL or the NBA or the NHL. But for some reason with baseball the monetary element sticks with fans. I think part of it is that most people have played baseball in some shape or form. And they consider it a game they are familiar with. Where as if you are under six feet, how do you relate to the NBA? Or if you are under 250 pounds, how do you relate to the NFL? I think people relate to baseball players. And thatís not a bad thing. I always thought that was one of the things that baseball has going for it. That people DO hold it to a higher standard, and are emotionally connected to it. I think if people lose that, baseball will have really lost people.

BB: I am always amazed at how resentful some fans can be toward modern players. Itís a class thing. People say, ďFor $20 million dollars Manny, you had better not strike out,Ē or words to that effect.

Verducci: Yeah, and Iím not quite sure why that is because as I try to tell people, ďYou know, if heís not being paid that moneyóand from what I can tell nobody has bounced a check yet in major league baseball, so they are good for the moneyóthat money is going into the pockets of billionaires rather than millionaires. Is it such a bad thing that he negotiated for that money and was paid that money willingly? Why hold the player accountable for the salary? You can argue that heís not worth it, thatís fine. But donít hold it against him.

BB: How has the Internet changed your job? I know you do an on-line column along with the work you do for the magazine.

Verducci: Itís actually changed it a lot. When I first got to the magazine, it was just working for the magazine and I thought that was a great job. And it was a job in and of itself. Then when CNN/SI was in business, it was also a television and on-line job. And I realized thatís the way of the world is now. I remember as a newspaper guy we hated anybody who had anything to do with the electronic media. There was a Berlin Wall up between print journalists and electronic journalists. Certainly that wall has come down. Itís hard to find a baseball beat writer who doesnít do some sort of electronic work, whether itís on-line or TV and radio. And I think thatís a good thing. To not acknowledge that is to not acknowledge the 21rst century. But for me, itís become a bit more difficult because what Iíve always liked doing at the magazineóand this sets it apart from newspaper workóis looking at macro issues of the game. You know, whether itís steroids in baseball, or the declining number of blacks in baseball, to really stand back and look at the game as a whole and identify the trends. I think when you do on-line work it tends to be more micro-oriented. And then you get back to some of the beat kind of work: where are the free agents going, who is going to do what at the trading deadline. I actually think that those forces are in competition with another. Itís hard to do both of them really well.

BB: What is the relationship between the mainstream sportswriters and sites like Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Primer? Or even with amateurís like myself who run their own sports blogs?

Verducci: I would hesitate to speak for the mainstream as a whole, but for myself I absolutely love it. The discourse about major league baseball is much more intelligent, and reasoned and well-thought out because of everything thatís out there on the web and in some of the other ancillary publications you mentioned. I really think it has forced people to be on their toes. I think that a lot of things in this game were accepted without a basis in fact. Now a lot of people have challenged those notions and thatís a good thing. But I think there is a downside to it too. The pride of the beat writer is that heís the one in that locker room, heís the one thatís asking the hard questions after the games, and heís the one who knows if a guy is having problems with his wife at home and thatís why heís 0-4, and it has nothing to do with how good the opposing pitcher was that night. The downside is that some members of the mainstream media will write off the alternative opinions as being uniformed because they are not actually on the front lines. I tend to think that is a little extreme. I think that even from afar you can have something intelligent to offer. I think that the whole statistical analysis of the game has raised the level of criticism and analysis of baseball, and I think weíre all better for it.

BB: That really came to light this year with Michael Lewisí book.

Verducci: Yeah. Obviously it was a great book and a great piece of reporting and would not have been possible without Billy Beane offering that kind of access. But you still foundówhether it was baseball people or baseball writersóthose who did not want to accept the foundation of that book which was the process that was involved. I love what Billy has done, I think heís very smart. Iíve known him going back to 1984 when he was with the Mets. My only problem with what he has done and what some of these others have done is that sometimes they can be too extremist. Maybe Iím just more of a middle-of-the-road kind of person. I like to pick and choose from different parts of the buffet line rather than sticking with the same staples. I think there is a danger in anybody putting their total beliefs in numbers. I think numbers have an incredible amount of information to offer, and to disregard it is just plain dumb, but at the same time I wouldnít put everything into pure numbers.

BB: When do you think it goes too far?

Verducci: For instance, when I look at Billyís team and Billy says that the post-season is a crapshoot. That he builds his team for six months and as he put it, his stuff doesnít work in October. I donít really buy it. I think that when he puts his team together he does have to pay attention to athleticism, defense and leadership. Those things do tend to show up in October. Iím not sure that the faith he puts into the numbers allow enough room to consider those kinds of things. I think itís all part of the package.

BB: How would you explain Atlanta? Even though theyíre not built on a sabermetric model, look at the Braves and how consistently theyíve qualified for the playoffs and yet how few championships they have to show for it.

Verducci: The Braves are a funky team that I have not been able to figure out. One thing that has hurt them is not having a home field advantage. You know you should have a home field advantage in October and theyíve never had it, whether it was at old Fulton County or now Turner Field. I also think it has to do with power pitching. From what Iíve seen in the post-season, the strike zones tend to tighten up a little bit because the replays are tremendous. They are shown a million times. I think you need to get by more on pure stuff than you do on finesse in October. Outside of Smoltz, the Braves have had to really on finesse pitchers, whether it be Charlie Leibrandt or Maddux or Glavine. I know a lot of people said early on that it was the reason they didnít win was their bullpen. You can pick out games here and there where the bullpen did cost them but in general the Braves have been out-pitched in their rotation more than their bullpen.

BB: The Red Sox didnít mince around with a finesse arm, and went out and landed Curt Schilling instead. Schilling seemed to thrive pitching with the great Randy Johnson. Do you think he'll be a great foil for Pedro as well?

Verducci: Schilling is the ultimate extrovert. He thrives on attention and has a history of rising to the moment, of which there will be many in Boston. He also found the conditioning religion mid-career and looks to me to be a front of the rotation pitcher for three more seasons. (He's added yoga this winter.) So I don't see an imminent decline. Itís a great pickup for the Sox.

BB: The Yankees have gone out and gotten themselves another power arm in Javier Vasquez to pitch behind Mussina. What do you make of Vasquez? He bears a resemblance to Mussina, as he combines power and control.

Verducci: It's eerie how close Vasquez's efficiency is to Schilling's, though of course he is much younger. I don't know him as well as I know Schilling, but everybody who does know him describes him as a solid guy and clubhouse leader. Mussina won't ever be confused with David Cone as far as those intangibles. But with Vasquez and Mussina leading the rotation, the Yankees should continue to enjoy great advantages over their opponents in walks and strikeouts.

BB: Do you feel that Mussina is a number one pitcher?

Verducci: Thatís a great question. I do feel that heís a number oneÖ

BB: Looks like one, feels like oneÖ

Verducci: Yeah, Iím baffled why the stars have never aligned for him to win twenty games. He certainly has pitched like a twenty game winner in past years. You would think that there would be one year that he would luck into it. It just hasnít happened. But I would have no qualms giving him the ball in a huge post-season game and I guess thatís the first definition of a number one starter.

BB: Itís scary for Yankee fans that the people running the Red Sox are finally starting to realize that they should build their team around pitching.

Verducci: I think that is the smart thing to do in that ballpark because you find hitters who can raise their game in that ballpark. I think all of the Red Sox resources should go towards pitching. I mean they did the right thing bringing in people like Kevin Millar, Todd Walker, and David Ortiz and Bill Mueller. They all became better hitters in Fenway Park. The wall helps; the lack of foul territory certainly helps. They were a great home hitting team this past year. I donít think they need the mega stars on offense because you can get production out of the second tier hitters.

BB: Do you have confidence that the Red Sox will do nothing but improve over the next several years?

Verducci: Oh yeah. I think Theo Epstein is going to be a star in this game. I donít have any doubts about that. I think as he gets more comfortable in the job and as his inner circle starts to tighten up a little bitóI mean heís got help now, but when the training wheels come off, yeah, heís just going to get better.

BB: Now heís hot after Alex Rodriguez who would be great in Boston.

Verducci: Oh, I think he would love Boston. I think what Alex Rodriguez wants and needs is to play for an east coast team.

BB: One that cares about what is going on.

Verducci: Exactly. He has a real passion for the game. He knows the history of the game as well as anyone I know who is playing it right now. I know heís jealous of something Jeter told him in his first or second year. Jeter told him that when you are in New York, every game counts. You can be ten games up in August, playing the Kansas City Royals in an afternoon game, and the fans will be on your back, every pitch of that game. I think A Rod is jealous of that climate. I think he would love to play where the games mean that much.

BB: Well, heíd find that in Boston, thatís for sure.

Verducci: Heíd find that in Boston and I think that he would thrive on it. I think thatís what he needs right now.

BB: Yeah, well itís a terrifying thought for me as a Yankee fan, but itís one that seems to make so much sense. And Epstein strikes me as the guy to be able to get something like this done.

Verducci: You make a good point because I think for anybody to wind up with Alex Rodriguez; itís going to take somebody who is incredibly intelligent, bold and creative. Itís going to take some concessions on Rodriguezís part, and on the Rangers part, and itís going to take some ingenuity on a second teamís part to get it done. And this is bigger than Mike Hampton. You got to find a way for this to work. Iím not smart enough to know what it is. But a guy like Theo looks into the fog and find out where the answer is.

BB: Is one A Rod worth the loss of two stars in Garciaparra and Ramirez? I realize he is worth his weight in gold off the field, with his marketing clout, but what about between the lines?

Verducci: I look at it this way: it's two for one for 2004. You have no guarantees that you can keep Nomar in Boston. He's played it perfectly, saying he'd like to stay. Nomar loves the clubhouse and the familiarity of the people around him, but I believe in his heart he would like to get to the West Coast for his and his family's long-term future. And I say that without any whispered knowledge; just my read. And if he demands close to Jeter money, then Boston may not be confident it can keep him. Plus, you can flip Nomar to reinforce pitching. And the Sox have had their fill of Manny. A great, great hitter who really cares about working on his hitting skills, but he has no idea of what it means to be part of the larger picture.

LEVERAGE
2003-12-09 13:01
by Alex Belth

The Gary Sheffield signing has hit yet another snag according to reports in The New York Post and The Daily News. Sheffield, who had a handshake deal with Yankee owner George Steinbrenner last week for 3 years at $39 million, now wants more money. Do you think he reads the papers? Obviously, with Alex Rodriguez likely to wind up in Boston by next week, he has. (So has Nomar Garciappara, who took to the airwaves in Boston yesterday.) Will this latest move push the Boss too far? Perhaps, but I doubt it. According to Joel Sherman:


A veteran agent who has been talking to the Yanks said: "You have a crazy owner and a crazy player. Who knows if they even know what their last offer was to each other? There is no surprise to anyone in the business if things unraveled when it is these two coming face-to-face."

Yankee fans, brace yourself: This could be the start of a (cough, cough)beautiful friendship. Reggie vs. George Part II. Of course there is now talk that the Yankees should pursue Vladimir Guerrero instead of toying around with Sheffield. I can't be partial here. Guerrero, the Bizzaro A Rod, is one of my favorite players, and I don't even want to excite myself dreaming that he could become a Yankee. I think that George and Sheffield will eventually work a deal out, but we should stand forewarned: If Sheffield comes to the Bronx, it will be a wild, sordid ride. Sheff might produce on the field, but he'll be a constant headache off it.

Meanwhile, the Yanks have reportedly inked Boomer Wells to an incentive-laden minor-league deal, and are still interesting in signing OF Kenny Lofton (feh). The Mets made a big splash today by nabbing the latest Japanese star import, Kaz Matsui (though Sheffield and the Yanks still managed to grab the backpages). Does this deal make sense for the Mets? Rob Neyer thinks that there is reason to be leery.

DON'T KNOW MUCH ABOUT HISTORY?
2003-12-08 18:40
by Alex Belth


Rich Lederer interviewed Mike Carminati this past weekend over at Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT. The interview is in two parts (part one, and part two), and it is highly entertaining. Mike C and Rich both share a passion for baseball history as well as a talent for analysis. Don't miss this one.

While you are at it, stop by and check out the latest edition of Mudville Magazine, brought to you by Peter Schilling and friends. Essential reading for sure.

FREE AND CLEAR
2003-12-08 13:52
by Alex Belth


The Yankees offered arbitration to David Wells, Andy Pettitte and Gabe White last night, and also re-signed Ruben Sierra to a one-year contract. The Atlanta Braves did not offer arbitration to Gary Sheffield (or Greg Maddux). Expect Sheffield to be announced as the newest Yankee this week.

Meanwhile, the Mets are expected to announce the signing of Kaz Matsui as early as today.

DISSED (AND DISMISSED?)
2003-12-08 13:46
by Alex Belth


Red Sox fans must feel torn. Their owner has had direct communication with Alex
Rodriguez
, who is widely considered to be the best player in the game. The two are trying to work out a deal that would send A Rod to Boston and Manny Ramirez to Texas (they have about a week to work something out). Major League Baseball will apparently help facilitate a trade between the Sox and the Rangers. And of course, Alex Rodriguez is eager to espcape Texas for a baseball-crazed town like Boston. (Somwhere, George Steinbrenner must be smoldering, green-with-envy.)

What is not to love if you are a card-carrying member of Red Sox Nation? Oh, you'd just have to part ways with your own All-Star shortstop, Nomar Garciaparra. Garciaparra does not have the marketing appeal of Derek Jeter or Alex Rodriguez, but he is a class act who has played his entire career in Boston (remember when he gave the Fenway Faithful a standing O after the last home game of the season a few years ago?). He is the Red Sox answer to "The Big Three." He doesn't love the Boston media, but he does appear to enjoy playing for Red Sox Nation.

Now, he will be sent packing if the Sox can land Rodriguez. Understandably, Garciaparra, who recently married soccer star Mia Hamm, has hard feelings about what is transpiring. His agent, Arn Tellem told The Boston Globe:


"After all Nomar has done from the first day he stepped on the field for the Red Sox, to wake up on his honeymoon to read the paper and to see that John Henry is in direct talks with A-Rod is a total and complete slap in the face to Nomar," said Tellem when reached by phone.

"[The Red Sox'] position has been that it's been more Texas, but, obviously, I believe their statements, in light of their actions, are a bit disingenuous. The fact that John Henry is actually in talks and gotten permission from the commissioner to talk with A-Rod, and is doing it, sort of undermines the Red Sox' position that this has all been generated by the Rangers and there's nothing going on."

..."We've had a number of talks and we've indicated that Nomar would like to stay, would like to remain with the Red Sox," said Tellem. "And really, the ball is in their court. I guess they're at some point going to engage with us. But, obviously, there's a lot going on that they're not sharing with us. I think for a player like Nomar, you would expect at a minimum to be treated honestly and with respect. And, in my opinion, that has not occurred.

"I recognize that it's a business and the Red Sox are going to pursue what's in their best interest. What's disappointing to me is that I would hope that they would be forthcoming, and, at least, considerate of Nomar. And again, at least be respectful in the way they treat him, at least be honest in what they're doing. If they are pursuing this other player, [they should] at least be able to disclose to [Nomar] what their intentions are. To come out like it has, I think, is extremely disappointing and hurtful to Nomar. No one's drawing lines in the sand because of their actions, but I can say it doesn't help or make it easier."

I wonder how Red Sox fans feel about all of this. Losing Nomar and adding Alex, you are going from great to greatest. (This is what you call "a good problem to have.") Sentiments be damned. It's just business, Nomie. Or to quote the last line in "Chinatown," Arn Tellem should put his shoulder around Garciaparra and tell him, "It's Beantown, Jake."

WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM THEIR FRIENDS (AT MLB)
2003-12-07 15:15
by Alex Belth


Do the Red Sox recieve preferential treatment from Bud Selig and the suits at MLB? Just a few weeks ago, the Sox were granted an extension to negotiate with Curt Shilling promting this response from Mike C:


It was disconcerting to see Bud Selig extending the deadline for the trade to Saturday. I know that the trade was completed on Friday, and now Theo Epstein is being heralded as the genius du jour. But it seems that Bud is incapable of going out of his way to help his cronies in Boston.

Whether it's laundering a player in baseball-owned Montreal before turning him over to the Sox (Cliff Floyd) or rescuing a player from a contract he's already signed with a professional Japanese team so that the Sox can sign him (Kevin Millar), the commish just has to get involved in John Henry's business. Epstein, who may not be old enough yet to rent from Avis in some states, apparently is a genius who still needs to have the training wheels on his bike.

Now, MLB appears willing to help the Red Sox land Alex Rodriguez. According to The Boston Globe:


In a breakthrough that could hasten a historic swap of baseball's only $20 million-a-year superstars, Red Sox principal owner John W. Henry has scheduled a high-stakes meeting this week with Alex Rodriguez and his agent, Scott Boras, about restructuring the MVP shortstop's extravagant contract to clear the way for a trade involving Manny Ramirez, industry sources said yesterday.

Henry and Rodriguez recently held at least a preliminary discussion after the Sox received permission from commissioner Bud Selig to waive a rule prohibiting teams from discussing business with players under contract, according to a highly placed baseball official.

...One reason Selig may have approved such a rare negotiation between Henry and Rodriguez is Major League Baseball's preference for A-Rod, one of the sport's most magnetic personalities, to escape the obscurity of Texas and play on the big stage in Boston.

Peter Gammons reports that this deal is about Rangers owner Tom Hicks, and Boston's owner John Henry, along with Alex Rodriguez and his agent, Scott Boras. Clearly, A Rod is going to have to bendói.e. give up some moneyóin order for the deal to go down:


On Friday night, things had begun to fall apart, because the Red Sox say they cannot make the deal unless Rodriguez downsizes his contract. And now Boras is in it, and not in favor of re-doing any of the contract. "If Alex doesn't take some of the money back, this thing is dead," says one person close to the deal. "If he wants this to happen, he is going to have to make it happen."

...Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino are very wary of the A-Rod contract, and they know there's only so much he can do to restructure it as long as the shortstop is part of the Major League Players Association and represented by Scott Boras. Still, their marketing folks remind them that their three current stars --Garciaparra, Ramirez and Pedro Martinez -- are reluctant to schmooze the potential clients from Fleet Bank (re: Bank of America), Ford, Volvo, Bob's Stores, etc. They know that Alex can be the face of the franchise for the next seven years, during which time he may well be heading for 600 homers, which may not sell tickets for a franchise that sells out most games, but becomes the frontpiece of NESN as that local sports network gets overhauled.

Rogriguez in Boston is a match made in Heaven. You can argue the merits of giving up two stars in Garciaparra and Ramirez for one, but in terms of star power and marketability, Rodriguez is second only to a guy named Jeter who plays in New York. And not only does A Rod have the charisma and star appeal that Jeter does, he also happens to be the best shortstop in the history of the game not named Wagner. Yup, A Rod in Boston is too good to be true. The Red Sox know it and so does Rodriguez. My feeling is that, with a little push in the right direction, the deal gets done sooner rather than later. Theo Epstein might be able to relax by the time he gets to New Orleans next weekend, kick back, and celebrate.

YIKES
2003-12-06 17:20
by Alex Belth


New York is covered in snow today. But baseball is still on the front burner here on the east coast. With the winter meetings one week away , the Red Sox are hot on the trail of Alex Rodriguez. What started as wild speculation is now becoming a real possibility. According to Lee Sinins:


Red Sox owner John Henry met with Alex Rodriguez yesterday.

Under MLB rules, the Redsox needed permission from both the Rangers and the
commissioner's office in order to talk to him. There is a lot of
speculation that the meeting is a sign that a trade is close.

Where does that leave Nomar? Well, The Boston Globe reports that both the Dodgers and Angels have strong interest in Garciaparra. Looks like Theo Epstein is looking to give Red Sox fans a Christmas gift of a lifetime.

P.S. NO FUNNY STUFF
2003-12-05 19:40
by Alex Belth


I will gladly join the throng of Yankee fans throwing up their hands in despair if the Bombers sign Kenny Lofton to replace Bernie Williams in center. If Williams becomes a full-time DH, what does that do to Giambi, who will need a spell from the rigors of playing the field every now and again? (Don't laugh.) I would understand it if they signed a good defensive outfielder to back up Matsui and Bernie. I would understand it if Williams is a part-time DH and part-time left fielder too.

But I can't help but notice just how little respect Bernie seems to command. I understand that he is older than Jeter and more of a liability in the field at this stage in his career, but isn't it interesting how ready people are to simply stick Bernie into the DH role while Yankee fans are offended by the mere mention of moving Jeter to third? Bernie is not Chad Curtis. This is the senior-ranking member of this Yankee team we're talking about. I wonder how he feels about not playing the field anymore? I also wonder if anyone has spoken to him about any of this? With all due respect to Jeter's place in team history, Williams is a four-time gold glover (even if he was overrated in his prime), who has gotten on base more than Jeter and hit for more power than Jeter has. A little respect is in order.

Speaking of craziness, check out Bambino's Curse, for the latest A Rod-to-Boston rumor. It's a pip.

GOOD AND GOOD FOR YA
2003-12-05 19:26
by Alex Belth

Larry Mahnken and Aaron Gleeman have excellent takes on the Vasquez-Johnson deal. Like many Yankee fans, Larry is sad to see Nick go, but thinks the Yankees made a good trade, while Aaron thinks both teams benefited from the deal.

David Pinto responded to my post this morning. He writes:


Where I would disagree with Alex's analysis is that the Yankees don't have to crash and burn. As an example of this, I'll point to Atlanta. Every year, Atlanta seems to be able to point to their weaknesses and address them. And every year (expect 1994) they've won the division. They don't let the team get old and stale. They improve with a combination of free agent signings (Pendelton, Sheffield) and bring up youngsters (Justice, Millwood, Lopez, Furcal, Giles). And they don't seem to destroy their farm system doing it either. If everything works out, the Yankees win the division again this year. But Jeter, Williams, Giambi and Posada become bigger question marks every year health wise. It doesn't take much bad luck to see those four hurt , and then where is the offense?

I agree the moves the Yankees are making aren't as bad as the moves they made in the 80's, but I think the treadmill is moving, and it possible that it will reach high speed very quickly.

I agree with David that the Yankes don't have to crash and burn. Personally, I wish they wouldn't. However, I'm just looking at this from a realistic point of view. Why bring common sense into the equation? History tells us that Steinbrenner doesn't function in a rational world. George is not going to change his spots this late in the game. If anything, he might become increasingly frantic as he gets older. It's true that his deals for Mondesi and Boone already indicate a return to his impetuous ways of the eighties. Still, we aren't at the point of no return just yet. Perhaps, we will be soon as David suggests. I can't dispute that. In the meanwhile, the Yankees will still be a very good team. They may even win another championship. But what goes up must come down, and they Yanks will eventually fall from grace. And when they fall, they will fall hard. Hey, every dog has his day, right?

THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE?
2003-12-05 13:41
by Alex Belth


Earlier this week Buster Olney wrote a column about how George Steinbrenner is up to his old tricks once again and that the 2003-04 Yankees are starting to resemble the Yankee teams of the 1980s:


It all seems familiar. From 1976-1981 -- a period of six years -- the Yankees had dominant pitching, with Sparky Lyle and Ron Guidry and Goose Gossage and Catfish Hunter, won two World Series and played in two others and made the playoffs every year but one. Steinbrenner asserted even greater control, lured free agents, stripped the farm system. By 1983 the Yankees had a lineup of Roy Smalleys and Steve Kemps, aging hitters who had seen their best years, and by 1986 the Yankees' leading starter was Dennis Rasmussen, an 18-game winner; no other pitcher won 10 games.

After the Yankees traded for Javier Vasquez yesterday, I heard many fans bemoan the fact that in trading Nick Johnson, the Yankees are in fact headed back to the dark ages of the eighties. First of all, dark is a relative term: while the Yankees didn't make the playoffs between 1982-1994, they weren't terrible for all of those years. Plus fifteen years is a drop in the bucket for a Cubs fan or a Sox fan or even a Phillies fan. Hey, when was the last time the Mariners were in the World Serious? Secondly, I don't think the Yankees will spin back that far so long as Joe Torre is managing the team. (We'll talk again next year.)

We're headed back to the dark ages. Is this true? Well, yes and no. Indeed George has taken control of player transactions in a way that he hasn't in a long time (anyone paying attention could see this going down from jump last winter when Steinbrenner bashed Jeter in the papers). But what else would you expect him to do? Did anyone actually believe that King George would go out quietly, with humility and dignity? Who do you think we are dealing with here? Gene Autry?

Now that Steinbrenner is spending cash freely and loading up on free agents like Gordon, Quantrill and Sheffield, Yankee fans are reminded of the shopping sprees of the eighties. The team is getting older, and more expensive, but I think that it is premature to think that this is the 1982 Yankees. The Yankee teams in the 1980s did not have Mariano Rivera, or a starting rotation with the likes of Mike Mussina, Javier Vasquez, and (hopefully) Andy Pettitte.

I checked in on some of the old Bill James Abstracts last night and found a few interesting excerpts regarding the old Yankee philosophy. In the early part of the decade, the Yankees, like many teams simply misunderstood what their needs were:


Whenever you talk yourself into thinking that you need a player that's when you pay too much for him. And that's what George has been doing in the last few years.

Hello, Davey Collins. James writes that the approach Steinbrenner took during the first free agency period of 1976-1981 worked out better:


Ignore the needs of your team, ignore the strengths and weaknesses of the players available. Just identify the best player out there, and go after him.

...What I'm saying is this: Great players' careers are relatively much less vulnerable to fluctuations in value than are ordinary players' careers. That's why great players hang around until they're 40; if they have a bad year, they still have value. There is a security in them.

from the 1984 Baseball Abstract

Hello, Gary Sheffield. Obviously by the end of the decade, things had gone terribly wrong for the Yankees:


The New York Yankees are trapped on a treadmill. Although they have not won anything since 1981, the Yankees have the best winning percentage of any team during the decade, or should I turn that around: although they have the best winning percentage of any team during the eighties, the Yankees have not won anything since 1981. They are acutely aware of this, and so the winter of 1987-1988 was spent in frantic preparations to make the 1988 season the season in which the great nucleus of this team is surrounded by a cast good enough to lift the Yankees off of that 85-to 92-win treadmill, and onto the championship rung. There is an irony in this, for it is exactly this philosophy that creates the treadmill from which the Yankees are so anxious to escape.

...The Yankees don't believe in staying with a young pitcher or a young player through the bad stretches; they want everybody to succeed now. When a young player goes through a down phase or when a veteran has an off year, the Yankees give up on him. The pressure, the fear of making a mistake and getting shipped immediately to Columbus, inhibits the development of young players, and in many cases flatly destroys them. That means that over a period of time, nobody on the roster is getting better, while some people are getting worse. To keep from slipping back, you have to keep bringing in new taletn, players who are on the top of their game. That drives the treadmill. But when the treadmill starts to gain on you, when you start to slip back toward the middle of the pack, what do you do? You turn up the power, of course. You bring in more players who are coming off of good years. You put more pressure on the players. You give up more quickly on the kid who has a couple of bad outings. So then the treadmill runs faster.

...The problem with the Yankees is that they never want to pay the real price of success. The real price of success in baseball is not the dollars that you come up with for a Jack Clark or a Dave Winfield or an Ed Whitson or a Goose Gossage. It is the patience to work with young players and help them develop. So long as the Yankees are unwilling to pay that price, don't bet on them to win anything.

From the 1988 Baseball Abstract

Does any of this feel familiar? Yes, the Yankees have essentially given up on developing players for the next few years. The players they have developed are now veterans. But the old Columbus shuttle isn't as frequent as it used to be. If this were the old days, Jeff Weaver's head would be spinning more than Jim Beattie's did. Yes, George is acquiring proven stars to lead the way, a ploy that ultimately failed during the eighties. But from what I can tell, the Yankees are doing a relatively good job of identifying their needs. They needed a right fielder, and are going after the best--OK, maybe the second-best--one available. They needed to upgrade their bullpen, and went out and signed Gordon and Quantrill (who are a far cry from the likes of Osuna and Acevado). They need starting pitching, they traded for Javier Vasquez.

I don't see a Steve Kemp or a Jack Clark yet, although if they sign Kenny Lofton he would fit that category just fine.

The Yankees have sacrificed their prospects to win now, and guess what? They've been to six of the last eight World Serious' and have won four of them. That's got to come at a price. You can't have everything. The Yankees can't stay on top forever. One year, gasp, they will actually miss the playoffs. I don't know that it will be in 2004, but it's bound to happen. George isn't just going to sit back and say, "OK, we made the Serious this year, let's take a few steps back and build for the future." This man is in his seventies, and desperately wants to win another title or three before he leaves us.

No, the Yankees will have to crash out of playoff contention, and suffer through some hard times before they start to rebuild their farm system again. The best way for this to happen on George's watch may be to get the old man suspended again.

Things go in cycles. I empathize with the panic that Yankee fans must be feeling, but they need to relax. As John Harper correctly points out, yesterday's trade was proof that Brian Cashman still exerts a degree of influence over his boss:


This was something of an anti-Steinbrenner deal that's all about solid baseball evaluation, not marquee value. It's also a deal for which The Boss surely will put GM Brian Cashman on trial, pending the results.

Chances are Steinbrenner had barely heard of Vazquez before his baseball people identified him as a target this offseason. Curt Schilling is more Steinbrenner's idea of a big catch, which is at least partly why he was so furious when the Red Sox got him.

...As a result, one person with knowledge of the Yankees' internal discussions said yesterday that Cashman, with the support of superscout Gene Michael, had to do a hard sell on Steinbrenner to convince him that Vazquez was the way to go.

..."[Cashman] gave (Steinbrenner) a lot of numbers on Vazquez to show how good he could be for the Yankees," the person close to the situation said yesterday. "He made the point that Vazquez is still getting better, and that he'll be twice the pitcher he was with Montreal because he'll have more run support. (Cashman) did his homework on the guy."


I heard a lot of Yankee fans crying yesterday about how losing Nick Johnson is the sign of the end. "We're headed back to oblivion." Can you imagine how we must sound to other fans around the country who would kill to have these kind of problems? The Yankees were not going to retain the classy chemistry of the '96-'01 team indefinetly, and I think that may be what is so upsetting to Yankee fans. But instead of living in a fantasy world and believing that the Yankees were going keep the David Cone-Paulie O spirit alive forever, we should appreciate just how precious and special that team was in a George Universe. Then we can wake up and appreciate that for all of his bluster, for all of his arrogance, George Steinbrenner is once again putting together a very good team for 2004. I urge Yankee fans to enjoy the spirit of the season and be thankful for what we have and not complain about what we don't have.

WHAT MAKES CASHMAN RUN?
2003-12-04 18:37
by Alex Belth


My man Christian Ruzich has a cinematic take on the Yankee-Expos deal. It's "lol" as they say in cyberspace.

IT'S A TWIN THING
2003-12-04 18:31
by Alex Belth


I'm sure that as festive as the off-season has been thus far for us in the northeast, fans around the country aren't necessarily moved by the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry (not to mention the moves the Phillies have been making). Good thing that we are generally too self-absorbed and self-aggrandizing to care what the rest of the country thinks. On that note, David Pinto and Edward Cossette discuss a good article by Howard Bryant of The Boston Herald which accuses the Red Sox of being the evil twin of the New York Yanks.

David also has an interesting comparison between Flash Gordon and Paul Quantrill that you should check out. And Jay Jaffe has a tremendous piece of work on how the Yankees should build their starting rotation (one that will evidently need updating as of this afternoon).

DEALIN'
2003-12-04 18:03
by Alex Belth


According to Lee Sinins, the Expos have called a 2:00 press conference to announce a major move. ESPN is reporting that the Expos have traded Javier Vasquez to the Yankees in exchange for Nick Johnson, Juan Rivera, and a third player, believed to be southpaw reliever Randy Choate.

Is there any surprise that MLB is trying to make news on the day that Barry Bonds is due to tesitfy in court? I don't know, is there any surprise that the Yankees made the deal on the day that the Red Sox introduced their new manager? You do the math.

And what about Sheff? Gary is talking the talk (like the straw that stirs the drink) in an interview with USA Today. This should end all speculation about whether or not he'll be in New York next year:


"We're not going to lose, you can be assured of that," Sheffield said. "(Yankees owner) George (Steinbrenner) didn't even bring up the Red Sox during our talks. I don't think they're even a concern to him.

"He just kept talking about how bad he wants to win more World Series championships. The Red Sox can say what they want, but look at us. Who's going to beat us? Nobody.

"I know I speak my mind, but I don't just talk the talk, I walk the walk. And if we don't win the World Series, everybody can come and see me first, because I'll take the blame."

..."I really thought the final chapter of my story in baseball would end wearing a Braves' cap, but I think there would have been a little piece missing, not knowing what it's like playing in New York, and with George and the Yankees.

"I know there'll be more criticism. I know the expectations will be great. But there'll be no more pressure in New York that I don't already put on myself."

Sheffield has not been introduced as a Yankee yet, and he's already talking like Reggie Jackson. This is not Paulie O's Yanks anymore, in case you hadn't noticed. Red Sox fans must be licking their chops; with Clemens gone, at least there will be one easy target for them hate in New York (as if they needed an excuse).

More later...

LOADING UP
2003-12-04 13:29
by Alex Belth


According to a report in The New York Times, Gary Sheffield will be wearing Yankee pinstripes next year, but the Bombers could wait until as late as next week to announce the deal. They have yet to officially introduced Tom Gordon or Paul Quantrill as the newest members of the Yankee bullpen, but they did announce that they had signed left-handed specialist Felix Heredia to a two-year deal (John Flaherty has also been resigned to a one-year deal to be Jorge Posada's backup, a move that will continue to vex those who think the Bombers make horrible choices with utility players).

Steve Karsay, who is in Tampa working-out said that Sheffield was around the Yankees complex yesterday. Jeff Weaver, who had been working with pitching guru and Friend-of-George Billy Conners this fall before Conners had heart surgery last week, has made some adjustments to his delivery. According to the Times:


Weaver said in a telephone interview that Connors altered his arm angle, telling him he had been throwing sidearm too often and swinging his leg too far behind him in his delivery. Weaver was relieved to find a mechanical cause for his struggles.

"It's like if you practice a bad golf swing over and over, you're not going to really notice what you're doing after a while," he said. "I was throwing sidearm for so long, I didn't even realize I was down so low and really dropping my head."

Somewhere in Florida, Pat Jordan must be thinking, "Well, it's about time." Late this summer Jordan told me:


Iíd raise [Weaver's] arm level about 45% and have him thrown 3/4 overhand, instead of that side arm shit that he throws. If he got his arm up, and was throwing 93, 94 miles an houróheís got a nice, loose delivery---the same fastball that goes left and right with him, would start going down. Once you raise his arm up, get him on top of the ball, that fastball would sink, instead of just left, right. I think that would make a world of difference with him as a pitcher.

Weaver hopes to compete for a spot in the Yankees' starting rotation.

But that's not all. The big rumor this morning involves our boy Nick. The Daily News, Post, and Newsday are reporting that the Yankees may be close to sending Nick Johnson and Juan Rivera to the Expos for Javier Vasquez. If the Yanks have to lose Johnson, sending him to the Expos--far away from the American League East--for a solid young pitcher isn't the worst thing that could happen.

On cue, Mike Lupica has a column today blasting the Yankees for buying players at a record pace:


And each year, the Yankees get further and further away from the teams of '98 and '99 and 2000, the ones who were the old Knicks of baseball, the ones who reminded you of every great old-school Yankee team of the past. Now they just go for the most expensive guys out there, no matter how old they are, using everything except imagination. Sheffield is 35, but will make sure that the Yankees have an All-Star or former All-Star at all eight positions in the field.

What, does Lupica want the Yankees to act like the Seattle Mariners? Would that be easier for him to digest? Would that be classier? I don't know, but what would New York be like if Lupica wasn't killing Steinbrenner?

Meanwhile, up in Boston, Curt Schilling's man, Terry Francona will be introduced as the next skipper of the Red Sox this afternoon. Francona doesn't seem like an impressive guy, but he is just what the Sox are looking for. Then again, I thought that the Yankees hired a bum when they brought Joe Torre on board, so what the hell do I know? Francona seems to be a good guy, and he is willing to see things the sabermetric way. Hey, if I were a Red Sox fan, I would just shrug my shoulders and say: In Theo we trust.

CLAIM TO FAME
2003-12-03 19:18
by Alex Belth

Mike C over at Baseball Rants is one of the great baseball historians in the blogging community. Stop by and catch his latest on the new Hall of Fame ballot. Mike isn't alone, as Rich Lederer is right up there with him. Rich has a nice tribute to Warren Spahn up at Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT (not for nothing, but Mike C is due up next in Rich's interview series with bloggers).

BUNTANOMICS: SAME AS IT EVER WAS
2003-12-03 19:12
by Alex Belth

Here is a good passage from "On the Run," Maury Wills' autobiography:


I refuse to get upset with modern ballplayers who can't bunt or run the bases. They said the same things when I was playing.

So it doesn't drive me nuts to got to a game and see players who can't execute fundamentals. There were only a handful of players when I played who could do the little things like bunting properly. The game hasn't really changed that way. Managers get made because someone didn't sacrifice a man over, but very few managers insist that their players learn to bunt.

...They don't have a column in the papers to tell who's leading the league in sacrifice bunts. You don't see guys demand that their salaries be doubled because they lead the league in sacrifice bunts. There's not glory for bunters. All bunting does is win ballgames.

...Learning to bunt takes a lot of time. The manager ends up assuming that some guys can do it and others can't and he leaves it at that. You have to have time for infield practice. You have to have time for batting practice, the great priority. You have time for all that other stuff, but you don't have time for bunting.

If Wills wasn't a great bunter, odds are that he would not have lasted in the big leagues too long, no matter how fast he was. I think he makes a good point about bunting. Think Frank Howard or Rocky Colavito were ace bunters?

MOVIN AND GROOVIN
2003-12-03 19:01
by Alex Belth

Gary Sheffield is still not a Yankee, and who knows if and when he will come to the Boogie Down (though I suspect he eventually will). There is a new member of the Yankees today though. According to Peter Gammons, reliever Paul Quantrill has signed a two-year deal worth $6.8 million. I remember not looking forward to seeing Quantrill come out of the pen when he pitched with Toronto a few years back. But as David Pinto points out, Quantrill is a groundball pitcher moving to a team with a mediocre defense. My man Cliff isn't too thrilled with either Flash Gordon or Quantrill.

The Yankee bullpen is improving and I'm sure there will be much ink devoted to how much money the Bombers are spending on their relief corps. (You can just see the snide remarks about how the Yankee bullpen costs as much as the total payroll of some teams. Mike Lupica, can you hear me knocking?)

As for the Kevin Brown-for-Jeff Weaver scenerio, it seems to be a lot of hooey. The New York Post says the deal is not likely to go down, at least not as it is presently structured. The Dodgers could be interested in moving Brown for a hitter, and the L.A. Times says that the 39-year old righty would be open to being dealt.

Lastly, David Pinto has a link to an interesting article on New York's favorite imported monster, Godzilla Matsui, who talks about his first year in the Major Leagues.

STOP MAKING SENSE
2003-12-02 18:48
by Alex Belth

Jon Weisman, over at Dodger Thoughts, thinks swapping Kevin Brown for Jeff Weaver makes sense for L.A.:


Brown is a significant injury risk with a huge salary on a pitching-rich team. Especially with the ownership in transition, they would be eager to add flexibility to the payroll. Moreover, he is the symbol of the misguided excess of the failed Kevin Malone "Bring 'em on" era. If the team can trade the other symbol of the Fox era, Gary Sheffield - which they did fairly easily - they could and should absolutely trade Brown. He is Cisco stock purchased at $80 a share.

Of course, Jon would be love to see Nick Johnson thrown in the deal too, but he'll settle for Jeff Weaver. I don't see how a one-for-one deal would go through. Right now, it seems like a whole lot of wishful thinking. But it's good to know that Yankee fans aren't alone in wanting to see this trade made.

BLOW HARD
2003-12-02 18:33
by Alex Belth


There is no question as to who is running the Hot Stove Show in New York, reports Buster Olney. That's right, the Boss of Bluster himself, George M. Steinbrenner. Olney thinks this is a bad sign for Yankee fans.

BESMIRCH THIS
2003-12-02 18:24
by Alex Belth

The St. Louis Cardinals' ace pitcher, Matt Morris has a letter-to-the-editor today in the St. Louis Dispatch, defending the character of Tino Martinez, who was recently traded to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. There was noise out of St. Louis this past season that Martinez was a disruptive force in the clubhouse. Morris calls out a Novembeer 23rd article written Bryan Burwell--and if anyone has a link to the piece, please send it along--and basically goes on to say what a stand-up guy Martinez is:


I have a hard time believing that anyone who has ever stepped between the white lines with Tino believes his desire is anything less than a champion. He wanted to play every day and was angry when he didn't. That is and always will be the kind of player I want behind me when it's my turn to take the ball. We should all have the same attitude. If you can find one player, coach, manager or front office executive who believes Tino's so-called attitude was part of our problem, then this club isn't going in a championship direction.

When he played for the Yanks I found Tino to be a high-strung guy, even a bit of a red ass, but not a jerk. It says something about him that one of his former teammates would be willing to defend him in print.
Continue reading...

HOT STOVE HEAT
2003-12-02 18:12
by Alex Belth

Tom Boswell weighs in on the Yankee-Sox rivalry, which seems to get hotter with each passing season.

SCORE
2003-12-02 13:48
by Alex Belth


I hit a couple of used bookstores in Middlebury, Vermont last weekend and came away with a few good items. The first shop must not have recovered from when I was there last spring, because they had zilch in the baseball section. Vexed, I found another shop that had three shelves full of just baseball books. Ohhhh, bacon. I didn't end up buying much on the count of I didn't have too much money to spend and I've already got a stack of books at home I haven't read yet.

Of course, I did pick up inexpensive copies of books I already have and love, so I can give them away as gifts. They include, "Here Me Talking to Ya," an incredible collection of interviews with jazz musicians compiled by Nat Hentoff, and "Life On The Run," Bill Bradley's fine account of a year-in-the-life of a professional basketball player.

But I did get a few baseball books of interest, including, "All Those Mornings," an autobiography by Washington Post scribe Shirely Povich; "Charlie O and The Angry A's," by Bill Libby; a nice, first edition copy of Curt Flood's autobiography (written with Richard Carter), "The Way It Is," and Maury Wills' autobiography, "On the Run," (written with Mike Celizic).

There was a book of letters exchanged by Joe and Phil Neikro during the 1987 season, that looked like fun and a couple of books by Charles Einstein on Willie Mays that I'd like to get to at some point too. But I chose the Wills book because I remember Bill James commenting on it in one of his books. So far, it hasn't been a disapointment. In the first fifty pages, Wills comes across as a true son-of-a-bitch. He tells the reader that he is a drug addict. One of thirteen children, and went on to have seven of his own. He was married while he was still in high school and he and his wife never got along. (He claims to have never seen his wife naked either.) Wills writes about what a lousy father he was, and how the woman he loved after he left his wife, slept with his son Bump. A loner on the Dodgers, he talks about being a bed-wetter until he was in his early '30s. Oh yeah, he also mentions that he single-handedly revolutionized the game of baseball. A sombitch, yes. Boring? No.

CHRISTMAS SHOPPING
2003-12-02 13:25
by Alex Belth


Gary Sheffield is not a Yankee...yet. The Daily News reports that negoitations have hit a snag, with the two sides divided by...you guessed it, dollars. But Kevin Kernan thinks the deal will eventually happen, and that Sheffield is a perfect fit for the Yankees. Rob Neyer also thinks that signing Sheffield (as well as Boston inking Schilling) is a risk well worth taking:


Sure, Sheffield might pull something or strain something, and wind up playing 120 games instead of 145 (which is roughly his norm). But if not Gary Sheffield, then who? If you can afford to pay him what he's asking, he's worth the risk, and the same goes for Schilling. The Yankees and the Red Sox are essentially playing a different game than all the other teams, and spending big money on great players who might be slightly more likely to get hurt is just a part of that different game.

While Yankee fans wait for Sheffield, the Bombers are involved in a series of other moves. There is talk that Kenny Lofton will come to New York to play center field. (If that happens, we can kiss our boy Nick Johnson goodbye, don't you think?) Yesterday, the much-maligned third baseman, Aaron Boone agreed to a one-year deal; the Yanks resigned weeble-wobble utility infielder Enrique Wilson to a one-year contract too.

The bullpen is also changing. It's improving, aging and getting more expensive as Tom "Flash" Gordon has reportedly inked a two-year deal worth $7.5 million to set up Mo Rivera. Paul Quantrill, a right-handed sinkerball specialist could join the Yankees soon too. Fianlly, Brian Cashman is close to resigning left handed relievers Felix Heredia and Gabe White.

Whew. If that's not enough for you, Newsday is reporting that the Yankees and Dodgers are talking about a Jeff Weaver-for-Kevin Brown swap:


The Dodgers haven't agreed to take Weaver, of course, and they may very well never agree to do so. Yet the trade would bring some positives to Los Angeles, as well. It would give the Dodgers some payroll relief, and they could reinvest the money they saved to improve their ailing offense.

...Money is the primary reason the Dodgers would consider such a trade, but it isn't the only one. While Brown put together an excellent 2003, it came in the wake of two injury-plagued seasons. He made just 10 starts in 2002, when he sprained his right elbow and underwent lower back surgery, and 19 starts in 2001, when he tore a flexor muscle in his right elbow and required surgery. Including a 17-day stay on the disabled list this past season because of an abdominal strain, he has made 11 trips to the DL since 1990.

Chew on that one. Meanwhile, the Red Sox are still after Keith Foulke, and Pedro Martinez is interesting in working out a contract extension. This just in from the pundits at ESPN: The Yankee-Red Sox rivalry never sleeps.

HOUSE CALLS
2003-12-01 13:31
by Alex Belth


Rich Lederer has the latest installment of his interview series up. Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus is featured this week, and Will gives a lengthy, highly engaging and entirely enjoyable interview. Surprised? Didn't think so. Don't sleep.

WAIT A MINUM...
2003-12-01 13:25
by Alex Belth


Terry Francona is expected to be announced as the next manager of the Boston Red Sox this week. He could have been introduced as early as today, but according to Bob Hohler in The Boston Globe, he will have to wait a bit longer. Meanwhile, Bill Madden--who is not a fan of Theo Epstein and the John Henry regime--thinks that Francona is a poor cherce to lead Boston to the World Serious.

HOW DO YOU SPELL HALL OF FAME?
2003-12-01 13:19
by Alex Belth


Dennis Eckersley and Paul Molitor are the most impressive new candidates eligible for the Hall of Fame. I would assume that both men will make it in. Hopefully after Eck is selected, the voters will reconsider both Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage. Maybe someone like Rich Lederer will write an analysis about the great modern closers and illustrate just how deserving Sutter and the Goose really are.

COOKING WITH GAS
2003-12-01 13:11
by Alex Belth

According to Peter Gammons, the Yankees are set to sign free agent outfielder Gary Sheffield to a three-year deal worth somewhere between $36-$38 million. The only question is: when will the deal be announced?


New York may wait until after the Dec. 7 deadline for teams to offer salary arbitration to former players who became free agents to finalize the deal with Sheffield, a baseball official with knowledge of the Yankees' deliberations said on condition of anonymity.

If the Atlanta Braves don't offer arbitration to Sheffield, the team that signs him after Dec. 7 would not lose any amateur draft picks as compensation.

The signing of Sheffield is inevitable. The suspicious part of me fears that this is Danny Tartabull all over again, but to be fair, Sheffield is a much better player than Tartabull ever was. Sure, there should be concerns about the health of a 35-year old player, not to mention Sheffield's history as a malcontent. One the other hand, the optimist in me says, here is a great hitter, coming off his best season. (Since when do the Yankees sign players who are past their prime?) If he can remain healthy, he should continue to produce for the next three years.

Aaron Gleeman thinks it's a good move for New York:


The immediate reaction from many people seems to be that New York is making a mistake, mostly because Sheffield does nothing to solve their defensive problems up the middle.

I certainly agree that the Yankees middle-infield and middle-outfield situations are pretty bad on the defensive end. That said, Sheffield is one of the best hitters in baseball and adding his bat to the lineup is going to be a massive improvement over the production New York got from their right fielders last year (.256/.317/.465).

And really, what is the difference if you are improving a team by 50 runs on offense or 50 runs on defense? It's the same 50 runs. Actually, I don't think that's completely true, but you get the general idea. And improving the team by 50 runs on defense would probably require more than just signing one player, which is all they had to do to improve the offense that much.

I never used to like watching Sheffield hit. He just had too many tics. He was so hyped up I felt uncomfortable just watching him. He made me nervous. But Sheff doesn't seem to spit as much during an at-bat as he used to though, and I have to admit I've been won over during the past few seasons by just how impressive an offensive player he is. Sheffield's bat speed is tremendous, and boy, does he ever hit the ball hard.

Yeah, I would have liked to have Vlad, but the Yankees aren't interested in adding another long-term contract. Sheff wants to play here, and George wants him. Like it or not, here he comes.

The Yankees are also close to inking Tom "Flash" Gordon to a two-year, $7 million pact to serve as Mariano Rivera's set-up man. Paul Quantrill and LaTroy Hawkins remain options as well.