Monthly archives: October 2007
Coast II Coast
Joe Girardi was introduced as the new Yankee manager yesterday while reports have it that Joe Torre has agreed to a three-year deal with the Dodgers. Presumably, Torre would bring Don Mattingly and Larry Bowa to L.A. with him. Lee Maz might jern them too.
Here's what's what around the web:
The Wild and the West
Looking at the Yankee roster as the season drew to a close, I didn't figure this to be a particularly active offseason. Sure, the Yankees needed to solve the Alex Rodriguez riddle, resign Posada, and Rivera, and hope Andy Pettitte would want to come back, but beyond that, first base and the bullpen were all Brian Cashman had to worry about. That was before the team half-assed a contract for Joe Torre and wound up having to change managers, told heir-apparent and favorite son Don Mattingly that he wouldn't be getting the job after all, and then had Rodriguez bolt town before even beginning negotiations with the team on a contract extension (and, by the way, that's a done deal, he's officially filed for free agency). And the latest? Pete Abe broke the story last night that the Dodgers are planning to can Grady Little and hire Joe Torre, and that Mattingly is expected to tag along as Torre's bench coach (remember that Donnie's son Preston was drafted by the Dodgers last June). Tyler Kepner and Murray Chass have more in the Times. Throw in the Red Sox's second championship in the last four years (which sounds like a bad punchline from Back to the Future II), and my head is spinning.
So now the Yankees have to rebuild their coaching staff (Ron Guidry and Joe Kerrigan are not expected to return, Larry Bowa still has an offer to coach third in Seattle, and who knows who else might want to follow Torre to L.A., by which I also mean Rivera and Rodriguez) and find not only a third baseman, but replace Alex Rodriguez's production (which is actually impossible, but they could compensate with gains on the other side of the ball, which brings it back to the bullpen and the promise in the starting rotation). That likely means a trade is going to happen, and not a small one. Who's expendable? Melky Cabrera? Ian Kennedy? Alan Horne? Austin Jackson? Perhaps. Who's not? Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes for sure.
Oh, and Joe Girardi, the man the Yankees have decided to hire as their new manager? He still doesn't have a deal. Jon Heyman (the man who broke the news about both Girardi's hire and Rodriguez's opting out) says the Yankees and Girardi are close to a three-year, $6 million deal, which is up from the $4.5 million/3-year deal initially rumored. Thing is, Girardi's got the Yankees by the tail. Torre's pissed, Mattingly issued a statement that reads like a concession speech, and both are likely headed for sunny L.A. The news is out that Girardi's been offered the job, so unless the Yankees want to burn a third bridge by reopening their search, they pretty much have to pony up and pay the man.
The length of the deal obviously isn't the issue here. The Yankees wouldn't offer Joe Torre a second year because they were obviously tentative about moving forward with him, which isn't an issue with Girardi, and there's no need to hide that fact. The money is interesting, however. The initially rumored $4.5 million would have been just less for three years than the base salary offered Torre for a single year. I don't think that's a coincidence. That Girardi has them up to $6 million total, thus $2 million per year, already makes him one of the six-best paid managers in baseball (tied for fourth with Willie Randolph and Bruce Bochy behind Lou Piniella, Bobby Cox, and Jim Leyland). It will be interesting to see if Girardi can break that tie and if he can push the total value of his contract closer to the $7.5 million Torre earned in 2007 alone.
Of course, what he gets paid won't affect Girardi's ability to manage the team, but the fact that the zoo is overtaking the Bronx once more could. Girardi played for the Yankees during their period of greatest calm and stability. He won World Series in his first year in New York and two more before leaving as a free agent after the 1999 season. As a coach, he was here only for 2005, when Alex Rodriguez was an MVP and the Yankees squeaked past the Red Sox to win the AL East. He hasn't seen the ugliness, but he did have some of his own down in Miami. Girardi claims to have learned from his negative experience with the Florida front office, but I still worry about how he'll handle even something as simple as another slow start like the ones the team has had in two of the last three seasons. Not because Girardi can't rally a team--he did a great job with the Marlins, who took time to coalesce like the Bad News Bears--but because of the heat he'll get from all comers if the team doesn't come out of the gate looking like the 1998 Yankees all over again. Under ideal conditions, I think Girardi would be the best man for the job, but right now the conditions are far from ideal. Here's hoping Brian Cashman can help restore order by the time pitchers and catchers report in mid-February. That's three and a half months and, contrary to what I expected, they're going to be wild ones.
Alex Rodriguez's sense of timing should never come as a surprise. He's able to put himself right smack in the spotlight at exactly the wrong moment. It takes some kind of chutzpah to do what he did on Sunday. According to numerous reports, Scott Boras informed the Yankees yesterday afternoon that Rodriguez will opt out of his contract, thus ending his four-year stint in pinstripes.
"Alex made the decision today," Boras said. "I thought we should notify the club."
"We really wanted him back, but obviously he didn't want to be a Yankee," Hank Steinbrenner said late last night. "I just think that's a shame. But if that's the case, then this is goodbye."
I'm not shocked that Rodriguez is jetting. You could see it coming. And I can't say that I'm entirely surprised at how it came out. I knew it would come down to something weird like this. Still, a hell of a way to go, ain't it? Just another reason to wonder what's next? But my immediate guess is that this means Joe Girardi will be named skipper today.
Also, congrats go out to the Red Sox and, more to the point, any Red Sox fans who frequent Bronx Banter. The Sox are a deserving champion. Did the Rockies even show up? Wow.
According to the Daily News, the Yankees have made up their minds and will likely announce the new manager either later today or tomorrow. Joe Girardi, reports the News, will probably be their man. Jon Heyman thinks Joe G is the right cherce. He also has details of a possible offer the Yanks could make to Alex Rodriguez:
It is believed that the extensions the Yankees are weighing would be for five or even six years for something close to $30 million annually, or possibly just a couple million short of that. So the extension offer, which hasn't been finalized yet, could be for about $140 million over five years or $170 million over six years. If the Yankees decide to propose a six-year deal, that would keep Rodriguez in pinstripes until he's 41 since he already has three years and $91 million remaining on his original Rangers contract. With the $91 million that's already coming to him, the Yankees could be committing about $260 million to A-Rod if they go the six-year route.
In the Post, George King has a different take:
When Alex Rodriguez agrees to meet with the Yankees, he can expect to receive a four- to five-year contract offer that, combined with the three years remaining on Rodriguez's deal, will increase his average annual salary of $25.2 million.
Meanwhile, the World Serious is just about done, with Boston holding a commanding 3-0 lead. They are just a much better team than the Rockies, period. As much as I dislike the dude, got to give props to Josh Beckett (and others, of course). I thought he'd be the difference for the Sox this year. But man, has he been tough in October: Dig this.
Call it, Friend-o
Nothing much happening in Yankeeland this morning. Unless you want to just cry about how well the Sox are playing, I ain't got much for ya. So instead, check out the trailer for Joel and Ethan Coen's creepy new movie.
Why Mattingly Matters
Over the past several years, I've had more than a few skeptical out-of-towners ask me why Don Mattingly is such a big deal in New York. On a superficial level, it's like asking a Cubs fan why Ernie Banks, or Ryne Sandburg are popular in Chicago: they were all great players on losing teams. Okay, so Mattingly didn't have a great career, but from 1984-1989 he was a great player. It doesn't matter that he isn't a Hall of Famer. Hey, most fans just love guys who hit for a high average and drive in runs without striking out much.
As Joe Posnanski wrote in an e-mail:
He wore the pinstripes, and played Gehrig's position, and he was all throwback -- he wore that black under his eye, and he had that great swing, he came to the park to beat you ever day. I think he's one of those guys who, had he played in Boston, Cleveland, Texas, Philadelphia, Seattle, anywhere, would have still been everybody's favorite ballplayer. There really was nothing phony about him. He went up there to hit. He stood off the plate, he walked shockingly little, he drove in bleeping runs. Guy hit .314 with runners in scoring position.
The second half of Mattingly's career was marked by injuries. He also played through some awful years in the Bronx, which helped increase his popularity, but the legend of Donnie Baseball started in his first full year (1984) when he won the batting crown on the last day of the season, and the following year when he walked away with the AL MVP. It is also rooted in the fact that Mattingly was an overachiever--he was a heady player with limited physical gifts, a grinder, just the kind of player fans love, especially white fans.
"By the time his career is over," said Ron Guidry in the spring of 1986, "he could be one of the best who ever played this game. He may not turn out to be quite what Lou Gehrig was, but he'll be closer than anybody else."
"His play, not his words, were the thing," says BP's Joe Sheehan. "He was a beacon of dignity in a time when the Yankees were largely undignified."
Tony Pena interviewed with the Yankees yesterday; a decision is expected tomorrow. I expect they'll hire Mattingly. Hank Stienbrenner spoke to reporters yesterday. Joel Sherman thinks maybe it's time for Hank to stop talking publicly.
Torre via Costas
Joe Torre sat down with Bob Costas for the final segment on last night's REAL Sports With Briant Gumbel on HBO and shed some more light on some of his comments from the end of last week.
One item from the interview that I found particularly interesting, but was somewhat obscured by the fact that it was communicated by Costas in a voice-over segue rather than via a direct quote from Torre, was the fact that Torre disagreed with the organizational mindset that considered anything short of a World Championship a failure. Torre, who made just one playoff appearance in his first 31 major league seasons as a player and manager, still believes (correctly, in my opinion) that simply making the playoffs should be considered, in the words used by Costas, "a significant success." I can't image that went over particularly well with the Tampa contingent, however.
Torre also admitted that he had already begun cleaning up his office at the Stadium, "early on [in the season] . . . when I had a bad feeling . . . that I wouldn't be back."
The primary revelation, however, was that the single-year term was the real deal-breaker for Torre, as he answered affirmatively when Costas asked him if he would have taken an identical deal--pay cut, incentives, and all--if it had been for two guaranteed years.
Torre's meeting in Tampa never even got that far, however, as Torre was the first person to speak at the meeting and was met with silence when he was done making his points. Randy Levine broke the silence by pointing out that Torre would actually earn more under the new deal if the Yankees were to reach the 2008 World Series, but, as Torre told Costas, he wasn't as upset about the cut in his base salary as by the implication that he needed incentives as motivation to succeed in the postseason, pointing out that his last contract already had a million-dollar bonus for a World Series win, anyway.
Going beyond his initial statements that he was "insulted" by the incentives and their implications, Torre told Costas he was hurt by the fact that the front office didn't attempt to involve him in the decision regarding his return. That's one reason why he flew to Tampa for a face-to-face meeting despite being told by Brian Cashman that the offer was likely non-negotiable. Torre attempted to involve himself in the decision in that meeting, but was met with silence and a hard-line stance on the contract he was offered, and that contributed to his decision to decline the deal. He felt he had been excluded from the team's decision-making process.
The juiciest part of the interview came when Costas read Hank Steinbrenner's remarks to him. One could see the fury in Torre's face as Costas read Hank's words (I swear his lip was twitching). Joe took a good swipe at Hank in response, but did it in his usual smooth, laid-back fashion. "For some reason he thought I was disrespectful because I was insulted," Torre said of Hank, "but the insult came from the incentive-based situation, and unless you understand what sport is all about and how important winning is to you, I don't think you understand the insult part of this thing."
As for his refusal to talk about coming back to the Stadium for any ceremonial purposes, Joe continued to refuse to comment. One was able to discern from his dance around the issue, however, that he is upset and would like to tell the Yankees where to stick it, but, true to his reputation, is going to let himself cool off before he makes any public statement about when he might be willing to return. "I'm not saying there's no anger there," Torre admitted. "I'm sad. I'm sad."
Derek Jeter released a statement this afternoon:
"Out of my great respect for Mr. Torre*, I have refrained from comment until he had a chance to address the public.
This is classic Jeter. Scripted, predictably bland, but not phony. You get the sense that Jeter really does knows how fortunate he's been, and you know the bond between him and "Mr T" is genuine. Here's the beauty part, which gets to the heart of the matter:
"I have known Mr. Torre for a good majority of my adult life, and there has been no bigger influence on my professional development. It was a privilege to play for him on the field, and an honor to learn from him off the field."
I think that's the truth right there. Jeter, Posada--their baseball father is gone now. I often wonder how Jeter's career will play itself out. I could see him aging poorly, like Cal Ripken in his later years. I hope I'm wrong. Regardless, it will be fascinating to see how he goes about getting along with a new manager next spring. Not that it will necessarily change his game much (and it'll be easy for him if it's Mattingly of Girardi who takes over), just that it will be so new, so different.
Aren't you curious?
Yankee Panky # 29: After the reign
"All things end badly, or else they wouldn’t end."
I apologize for the Bill Simmons-like "Cocktail" reference to open this column, but I thought it appropriate, given what’s gone on here in New York over the past week. The last five days have been borderline apocalyptic for many Yankee fans, between the end of Joe Torre’s managerial tenure and the Red Sox coming back from 3-1 down to advance to the World Series. I was tempted to post on Saturday, following Friday’s media frenzy regarding the Torre news, but decided to be patient to gauge whether the tone would change once the analysts had time to move past their knee-jerk reactions.
The newsrooms had to be jumping Thursday afternoon and evening. I was involved in that atmosphere, and I’m continually amazed at how quickly the outlets can pump out information on so tight a deadline. Each local paper had a unique take on the scope of the event. They got into the meat-and-potatoes of the Tampa summit; put 12 years of success — or perceived success, depending on your perspective — into historical context; played the “who’s right, who’s wrong?” card; went into the public relations mess that the Yankees find themselves in based on how Randy Levine and Hank and Hal Steinbrenner handled the conference call; and more than anything, played up the cause-and-effect of Torre’s departure on players like Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriguez.
The media excelled in presenting Torre’s exit as a case of history repeating itself. Torre noted this in his own press conference — how the Yankees were seen as bullies and not demonstrating the greatest people skills, going back to their dynastic years of the 1940s and 50s. Newsday, as part of its 16-page special section, made the apt comparisons of Torre’s exit to those of Joe McCarthy and Casey Stengel, while the Times’ Richard Sandomir one-upped Joe Gergen, noting that Torre’s ouster occurred 47 years to the day of Stengel’s.
I enjoyed reading the contrarian viewpoints presented by the Times’ Murray Chass, whose Friday column gave the impression that he sided with the Yankees and Steinbrenner. On a second read, I can see where he makes sense, especially on the premise that Steve Swindal's exit left Torre vulnerable. Chass said that if a player can hit .220 and get a raise, then by that standard, Torre should have also, but Torre did not live up to his boss’s expectations. Did that merit a raise? By that logic, no. The Yankees, first and foremost, are a business, and the contract was presented in a corporate, business-like manner. Michael Kay also played the pro-Yankees card on his 1050 ESPN Radio show, adding that Torre being gone will not affect the moves made by the Yankees’ top-tier free agents.
I’m not going to get into the press conference, because Cliff Corcoran did an admirable job breaking down the inferences in this space Friday. Like many of you, I was riveted. I’m also thankful that the Yankees allowed YES to carry it live. Given what was presented as an acrimonious departure, I was curious to see how the Torre presser would be played.
Decisions, Decisions, Decisions
Joe Girardi interviewed for the managerial job yesterday with the Yankee brass down in Tampa (Pete Abraham has audio from Girardi). Hank Steinbrenner and his brother, Hal, are suddenly in the spotlight. Donnie Baseball is up next; Tony Pena follows tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Randy Levine does not think he has been treated objectively by the media in the past week. Richard Sandomir has more in the Times.
The Jorgie and Mo Show
According to Jon Heyman at SI.com:
The Yankees are moving fast to try to lock up both Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera to new contracts, but the early word is that more progress is being made in Posada's case.
Okay, here's my question. Which one of these guys will be wearing pinstripes come 2008: Mariano, Jorgie, Andy Pettitte, Bobby Abreu and Alex Rodriguez?
A Bitter Pill
Bigger, Better, Bullies
As much as I hate to say this, I will. Congrats to the Red Sox for winning the pennant. Tough team, man. Couple of the greatest hitters in the game, the best money pitcher going, an outstanding closer, and more. They deserve to be the AL champs.
Most of all, congrats to all of the cool Sox fans out there (and this means you, Josh). After Josh Beckett dominated the Indians in Game 5 did anyone think the Sox were going to lose? I pinned all of my hopes on Fausto Carmona, and when he got spanked on Saturday night, I knew it was over.
Before Game 6, I got an IM from an old Sox friend of mine who boasted, "We're winning this thing." He was dead-serious too. My, how times have changed. In the post '04-World, anything is possible in New England. The Sox have been a very good team for years now, the Patriots practically own the NFL, even the Celtics have a promising season ahead with the additions of KG and Ray Allen. Yup, a new world.
Disgusting, isn't it? (Especially in New York, where Red Sox gear has infiltrated every yuppie neighborhood in the five boroughs.) So while the Sox--and their fans--become more and more like the Yankees and their fans (elitest, entitled, overbearing, obnoxious, hated throughout the rest of the country), we can do nuthin but watch (Hey, maybe Season 4 of The Office will start getting good any week now...). A bitter pill, indeed. After the last couple of games, I might not have the stomach to look at the World Serious. Not to see the Sox roll over the Rocks, no thank you.
But there will also be enough continuing drama in Yankeeland to keep our minds of things, that's for sure. Time to commiserate. Whatta ya got?
We Want the Airwaves
For those who are on-line, I'm going to be on Yankee Fanclub Radio at around 6:20 this evening. Give a listen or watch their live videocast below:
Listen to the archived show here. I come in at the 21:00 mark.
Boras Seizes the Moment
"I would say that state of flux is a grand issue. I'm not saying that information and time can not resolve it. But it's going to take time for us to know how these things are resolved. We're talking about a long-term contract here, and to make that decision is difficult, knowing there are that many issues up in the air." --Scott Boras
Alex Rodriguez's agent, Scott Boras, is good at his job, and he's seized upon the turmoil of the last few days to apply pressure to the Yankees not only to drive a dump truck full of money to Alex Rodriguez's front door, but to hire a manager, convince Andy Pettitte to come back, and send trucks of money to Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada's houses as well. Sez Boras, "Without Pettitte, Rivera and Posada, it's not the same team."
Rivera and Posada seem determined to test free agency, but Rodriguez's deadline to opt out of his contract will arrive six days before free agents are allowed to sign with other teams (see sidebar), so something will have to give. That said, it seems a given that the Yankees will name a new skipper and pick up Bobby Abreu's $16-million option comfortably in advance of Rodriguez's opt-out date (for those doubting the Abreu move, Bobby hit .309/.396/.520 over the final four months of the season).
Meanwhile, Joe Torre has turned down an offer from FOX to join Joe Buck and Tim McCarver in the broadcast booth for this year's World Series citing family commitments. I assume those are commitments he made after the Yankees were eliminated from the postseason.
Sweeping Up the Crumbs
The Record's Ian O'Connor, the reporter who obtained the now infamous George Steinbrenner interview during the ALDS defends himself in his column today:
Other writers in the market are closer to Steinbrenner than I am, and have a better understanding of how the organization functions than I do. But I got lucky. For one night, anyway, Jeffrey Maier reached over my outfield wall.
I'm willing to take O'Connor at his word, but just because it appeared to be serendipity to him doesn't mean that there wasn't someone behind the scenes pulling the strings. Mike Vaccaro extends that man-behind-the-curtain metaphor in unofficially annointing Levine the new Boss (same as the old Boss), while Bob Klapish anticipates a Yogi-Berra-like freeze-out of the Yankees by the spurned Torre.
Over at the paper of record, the graphic accompanying this Murray Chass article shows that Torre made more than the next two highest paid managers in baseball in 2007, and Tyler Kepner reminds us that Torre was willing to except a one-year extension back in spring training, but the since-ousted Steve Swindal told him to wait until after the season (and, by the way, said a pay cut would be mandatory). Of course, a one-year extension in spring training would have meant Torre was, in essence, working on a two-year contract, so his stance was actually consistent there, though it does bear a striking similarity to Gary Sheffield's inability to play in the final year of a contract without insisting on an extension.
Kepner also quotes Brian Cashman as saying that he wasn't the only one who wanted Torre back:
"Everybody in that room wanted him back; I have to disagree with him there," Cashman said Friday night. "Joe knows I'm an ally because there's a bond there. But I've got to speak for everybody else in the room, and they did want him back, too."
Maybe they did want him back (I still have very strong doubts about Levine), but only on their terms. To me the most telling part of the entire affair is the team's unwillingness to negotiate with Torre. That his meeting with them lasted only about 20 minutes is, to me, the most damning fact of all.
Finally, Cashman has confirmed that he has reached out to Don Mattingly, Joe Girardi, and Tony Peña in his search for Torre's replacement. Peter Abraham spoke to Cashman directly:
Cashman said the process could be culminated swiftly. But he also warned that it could take until after the World Series. "I'll expand the pool of candidates if that is what I need to do," he said.
Picking Up The Pieces
Joe Torre held a press conference at the Rye Town Hilton in Rye Brook, New York at 2pm today. At 4:30 he spoke by phone with Mike and the Mad-Dog on WFAN. From those two appearances as well as the Yankees' official conference call on Thursday, I've been able to piece together the following sequence of events leading to Joe Torre's departure from the team.
In both of his appearances, Torre stressed a need for trust and commitment from the organization and said on WFAN that he felt that trust and commitment begin to disappear following the Yankees' 2004 ALCS loss to the Red Sox, saying, "from that time on, it started going downhill."
Confirming the tone of his press conference after Game 4 of this year's ALDS and the reports of the mood in the clubhouse that night, Torre said that he did indeed assumed that night that he had managed his final game for the Yankees. However, the lack of news from the team in the week that followed led him to believe there was a chance he could keep his job.
General Manager Brian Cashman contacted Torre a few days before the actual offer was made and told him there would indeed be an offer forthcoming, but that it would involve a pay cut.
On Wednesday evening, Cashman told Torre by phone what the actual offer was: one year, $5 million, with million-dollar incentives for making the postseason, the ALCS, and the World Series for a maximum total of $8 million.
Torre traveled to Tampa with Cashman the next morning with the intention of negotiating with the team (though Cashman did tell him that, in Torre's words, "he felt that this offer was it, that there was no wiggle room in it"), or at the very least coming to a face-to-face understanding with the organization. Torre's main goal was to get the team to look beyond this year's playoff loss to his twelve-year record of success. Among the arguments he was determined to make were that none of the last five World Series Champions made the postseason the year after winning the title, something the Yankees did all four times they won the World Series under Torre, and that the Yankees were the only team to make the postseason in both 2006 and 2007.
In Tampa, where it is assumed he met with the same group who took part in the conference call (Cashman, team president Randy Levine, COO Lonn Trost, George Steinbrenner--who was not on the conference call--his sons Hank and Hal, and his son-in-law Felix Lopez), it was immediately made clear to him that the offer was indeed non-negotiable, at which point Torre officially declined it. Torre said that his arguments were "dismissed real quickly. At that point I realized that it was the offer or nothing, so at that point is when I said goodbye. . . . There really was no negotiation involved. I was hoping there would be, but there wasn't." The meeting lasted about 20 minutes, according to Torre.
Torre wanted a two-year deal that would have shown a commitment to keeping him as a manager rather than what he saw as a lame duck. "It's not totally money. It's commitment, and commitment is a two-way street. . . . I think players put undo pressure on themselves when they think they have to save the manager's job. That's the type of pressure I've tried to take out of the clubhouse. . . . Two years would have opened the door for further discussion, but it just never happened."
He also "took exception" to the incentive clauses, which he "took as an insult," and the suggestion that they were required as "motivation," said he "resented" that he would have to accomplish certain things to get back the money taken away from his base salary, saw it as "a punishment." "If someone is reducing your salary, it tells you they're not satisfied with the job you're doing. . . . I didn't need to be reminded that getting to the World Series is what this organization is all [about]. And that this may make you try harder . . . that insulted me, there's no question. . . . It was a generous offer, but it still wasn't the type of commitment of trying to do something together instead of, 'Let's see what you can do for me.'"
It was widely assumed on Thursday that the Yankees' offer was designed precisely so that Torre would reject it, allowing the organization to save face by framing Torre's departure as his own decision. Most saw through that immediately, as did Torre, who would have preferred that the team told him flatly and immediately that they didn't want him back. "I think that would have been a lot more honest," he said on WFAN. Torre said he began Thursday's meeting by asking if the team really wanted him back. They said yes, but he clearly didn't believe them. "If someone wanted me to be managing here, I'd be managing here."
Torre said he did believe that Brian Cashman wanted him back, but was unsure if anyone else did. He said he had a mutual respect with George Steinbrenner, but never had any direct dealings with Randy Levine.
One of the more telling moments in Torre's press conference was when he indicated that he believed that George Steinbrenner's statement during the ALDS and the fact that The Record's Ian O'Connor was able to reach him by phone was orchestrated by the organization. Francesa and Russo pointed their fingers squarely at team president Randy Levine as the man who orchestrated the Steinbrenner statement. Francesa, an unapologetic Yankee fan, was particularly virulent, painting Levine as an interloper from the business side of the organization who is attempting to thrust himself into the power vacuum in the Yankees' front office. It was Levine who announced the offer and Torre's decision in the conference call yesterday, and it is believed that it was Levine who led the movement to get rid of Torre. Francesa called for Levine to be fired, saying that Levine, who joined the team in 2000 after Torre had already won three World Series and was on his way to a fourth, is exploiting his role in the plans for the new stadium to insert himself into the baseball side of the organization despite a lack of knowledge about the game.
Finally, though Torre handled the himself with his usual class, dignity, honesty, emotional openness, and humor today, it's telling that he refused to say that he'd be willing to come back for any ceremonial purposes. Pressed on that point by Francesa and Russo he said, "all of a sudden you just have the feeling that they don't want you around, and the way it was done, it's going to take some time."
And so the Joe Torre era is over. There are two immediate responses to this. The first is to honor Torre and his twelve years as the Yankee skipper, the third most successful managerial term in Yankee history:
The second response is to ask what effect Torre's departure will have on the 2008 New York Yankees. That's a much more difficult question to answer, in part because it depends on both whom the Yankees chose to replace Torre as manager, and on how that choice impacts the contract decisions made by Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, and Alex Rodriguez. Only those four men know the answer to the latter. As for whom the Yankees might hire to replace Torre, here's a look at a some likely (and far less likely) candidates.
The Joe Torre Era appears to be finally over. Unless the Yankees or Torre have a sudden about-face, which seems unlikely, it's done. "And that's that," as Martin Scorsese's father said in Good Fellas over Joe Pesci's fallen, and bleeding body.
Torre became an icon as manger of the Yankees, a native son who was one of the most popular and famous coaches New York has ever seen. He was far and away the most successful manager under George Steinbrenner. And he managed more than twice as many games as anyone under the Boss. Torre made the playoffs in each of his twelve years in New York. But the Yankees have not won the World Series since 2000 and Torre makes more than twice as much as any other manager in the game. Today, the Yankees made Torre an offer he could refuse. It was not an outrageously insulting offer, but it is one they could reasonably expect him to turn down.
Torre did and now is out, but on his own terms. "He finally showed some balls," barked a friend of mine. I didn't think Torre would ever walk away from the Yankees, but I like him more for it. And he still comes out smelling like a Rose. To be honest, I agree with Joe Morgan and several other talking heads I've heard tonight in seeing both sides of the equation. I understand why Torre turned them down. After all of his success you'd think he'd get more than a one-year deal. But I also understand that the Yankees would still be paying more well more than any other manager is earning. It's not bad business on their part.
I don't know if the Yankees have any idea of what they are doing (Also, I find Randy Levine to be crude without having any of Steinbrenner's charm). It's funny, but even hardcore Yankee fans are skeptical about the idea of Don Mattingly as manager. Some are terrified. Which is about how I feel too, even though I loved Mattingly as a player. But I thought Torre was a bum when they hired him too, so one never knows...
I'd still expect to see Posada and Rivera back, even without Torre. Who knows with Alex Rodriguez and I'm not so certain about Pettitte either. I'm okay with the Yankees moving on. It makes things exciting. But it also feels uneasy. So much change: the loss of Bernie and now Torre, the decline of Steinbrenner. Who knows what the roster will look like on Opening Day?
I will also miss Torre very much. I grew accustomed to his face, as the song goes. I love watching him on TV--he gives great press conference--and am a flat-sucker for the Poppa Joe routine. I was 25 and had just moved to Brooklyn when he was hired. Torre looked like an undertaker or the butcher from the neighborhood. His time with the Yankees will always stand out as a way to look at a certain time of my life--from being single and working in the film business, to being married and writing about baseball. In fact, it was the great Yankee run of the late nineties that compelled me to start writing about baseball in the first place.
Torre has been a wonderful manager and I've never been especially bugged about his shortcomings, though I recognize he's got plenty. I'll especially love the days with Don Zimmer, not only because the Yankees were winning all the time, just because those two were so amusing. Torre sure loved being Yankee manager and without the pinstripes he may be a little bit like Superman without the cape and suit. But I'm sure he'll land back in the broadcast booth--if he doesn't go and manage the Dodgers or something like that--and still be appealing.
Thanks for the memories, Joe. You done good.
The Yankees offered Joe Torre a one-year contract for $5 million. With that, Torre would make an extra million bucks for each round of the playoffs they Yankees won next year. Finally, there was a team option for 2009.
Joe turned them down.
Whatta ya hear, whatta ya say it ain't so Joe!
Yankee Panky # 28: Roll with the Changes . . . Whenever they Happen
Annual organizational changes are part of the Yankees’ credo. For the Yankees, the “brain trust” meetings in Tampa are usually a harbinger of what’s to come in the winter. At this point, with nothing happening and the team not tipping its hand, reporters had nothing to report except that there was nothing to report. Sadly, that’s still a story.
Real Dumb or Real Genius? (Is there a Difference?)
"Man, I'm just happy to do something special like that. I'm not trying to show up anybody out there. I'm just trying to go have fun. If somebody strike me out and show me up, that's part of the game, I love it. I like that. I like to compete, and when people strike me out and show me up, it's all good. It's not a hard feeling. I ain't trying to go out there and show anybody up."
Reggie Jackson spoke to a group of reporters in the Yankee dugout last week before Game 4 of the ALDS. Initially, he talked about Alex Rodriguez, but soon, he was talking about himself. He recalled how he used his large ego to help him succeed in the playoffs. He talked about how tough Fausto Carmona's sinker was against the Yankees in Game 2, and then about how daunting it was facing Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman and John Matlack in the 1973 World Series.
Eventually, someone brought up Manny Ramirez, and Jackson smiled. "Did you see that?" said Jackson referring to Ramirez's game-winning home run in Game 2 of the Red Sox series against the Angels. Jackson mimicked Manny's celebration at home plate and cracked everybody up.
Clearly, Reggie admires Manny. He likes the chutzpah, he likes Manny's flakiness. ("How can you be offended by Manny?" he suggested.) Mostly, he likes the fact that nothing fazes Manny and that Manny hits bombs. How much better can it get?
Ramirez, who has been ridiculously locked-in at the plate this October, pulled his usual home run schtick the other night even though the Red Sox were losing 7-3. Mike Lowell wasn't sold on the routine, but most of the Indians didn't seem to mind. Nobody really cares because it's just part of Ramirez's make-up, because showboating is an accepted part of the game, and because, like Reggie, most players simply admire Ramiez's talent.
Yesterday, Manny told reporters:
"We're not going to give up," he said. "We're just going to go, play the game and move on. If it doesn't happen, so who cares? It's always next year. It's not like the end of the world."
Now, how do you bother somebody with that kind of attitude? Perhaps you can't.
Yankee fans of my generation grew up knowing nothing else but the world of George Steinbrenner. Now that the Boss has receded into the background, it has become harder to predict what will happen and when with these Yankees. The Tampa Summit ended yesterday with no official word on Joe Torre. GM Brian Cashman reiterated the team's stance on Alex Rodriguez; otherwise, bubkus.
All we can do is guess as to what's gunna happen. The Daily News speculates:
It has become clear that three scenarios are being considered: Bring Torre back on a two- or three-year deal; bring him back on a one-year deal for considerably less than what he earned last year; or let him go and move forward, likely with Don Mattingly taking over as manager. Neither Mattingly nor any other candidate besides the incumbent was discussed yesterday.
Pete Abraham thinks the Yankees have become boring while Mike Vaccaro speaks to a baseball executive who thinks the Yankee situation is more interesting than what's going on in the playoffs.
I like Joel Sherman's take.
Go Away and Come Back Tomorrow (Today?)
Leave it to the Yankees to hold a suedo-secluded-super-serious meeting of their top officials, and have them come up with a big, fat "no comment" after Day One. Joe Torre's future with the team is still very much in doubt. According to the Post:
How tough is it to fire somebody?" [former Yankee coach, and current enemy of George Steinbrenner, Don] Zimmer asked. "If you want to fire somebody, you can do it the right way. But to let somebody hang is wrong."
Joe's older brother, Frank, isn't thrilled about how things are playing out, but for now, he's curbed that famous temper of his.
Although I like Torre, I understand why the Yankees would want to move on. That said, I agree with Zimmer. There is a right way and a wrong way to handle these things. Unfortunately, in baseball, they are generally handled the wrong way.
Pete Abraham hit the nail on the head yesterday when he wrote:
It's always amusing to me when team executives act like they're determining the course of the free world.
They would treat Torre like step-child because they can, because, in some ways, he's allowed it, but mostly because in an organization like the Yankees, the level of insecurity and jealousy is off-the-charts. This is about power, and Torre's popularity and fame does not sit well with some of the higher ups.
The Yankee executives may simply not agree on what they should do yet. I'd believe that. In the meantime, Joe, as he has always done, waits it out. Mum's the word. Either he's noble or a sap. Which one of these?
Card Corner--Ron Davis
Other than Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada, no Yankee was more critical to the team’s second-half surge than Joba "The Heat" Chamberlain. Taking over what had become a seventh and eighth-inning quagmire, Chamberlain lent both stabilizing and dominating elements to the team’s bullpen equation, giving the Yankees their most effective bridge to Mariano Rivera since the days of Jeff Nelson and Mike Stanton. Chamberlain also evoked comparisons to a young Rivera, who in 1996 turned the seventh and eighth innings into ongoing nightmares for most opposing hitters. Yet, Chamberlain reminds me just as much of another great Yankee set-up reliever of long ago, one who has been mostly forgotten, even by the team’s diehard observers.
Ron Davis was never a top-notch phenom in the manner of Chamberlain, who leapfrogged through the Yankee system this summer—just one year removed from being drafted out of the University of Nebraska. A non-descript reliever with a common name, Davis came to the Yankees from the Cubs in the middle of the 1978 season. Davis was the unheralded return for a washed up Ken Holtzman, who had become the bane of both Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner. Davis was actually the player to be named later in the deal, with the official announcement of his inclusion not happening until two days after Holtzman had been dispatched to the Windy City. I’m sure that few Yankee fans gave a second thought to hearing the name of Ron Davis for the first time.
Late in the 1978 season, Davis made his major league debut. He hardly made a stirring impression. In four relief appearances, he coughed up runs at a rate of nearly 12 runs per nine innings. Numbers aside, Davis didn’t look very impressive from a physical standpoint, either. With his oversized wire-frame glasses, pointy nose, and wide hips, the tall and gangly Texas looked like a misshapen schoolteacher. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Davis never pitched in the major leagues again.
Meeting of the Minds
Well, we all know what team He is pulling for. And wouldn't you know it, the Red Sox and Indians are still playing baseball (my guess is that the ALCS will go at least six). But in Yankeeland, all thoughts are focused squarely on the future. First up, of course, Joe Torre. As Ed Price reports, Don Mattingly, thought to be the leading candidate for Torre's job, may not be interested in the position after all.
So far, there is no news to report yet, but that may change over the course of the afternoon.
In the meantime, whatta ya hear, whatta ya say?
Who's in Charge?
According to a report in the New York Post yesterday:
Hank and Hal Steinbrenner will share leadership of father George's beloved Bronx Bombers in an arrangement to be further ironed out at top-level meetings in Tampa this week.
The Power of Joe
Once again, the Yankees have left Joe Torre twisting in the wind. And once again, Torre might have them exactly where he wants them. In recent days, the New York papers have been filled with support for Torre--from columnists to players (Robinson Cano, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Ron Villone, Mariano Rivera and Roger Clemens to name a few). Heck, even David Ortiz praised Torre yesterday.
The Yankees are expected to sort out Torre's future with the team early next week when top executives meet in Tampa. The latest has them offering Torre the job with a significant paycut (from $7 million to 4). Torre will still come out smelling like a rose if the Yankees decide not to bring him back, and by being silent, he's putting the onus squarely on them.
We all know how much Torre loves being the manager of the New York Yankees, and we know he's been willing to take a certain amount of crap from the front office--maybe he just lets it roll off his back--in order to keep the position.
So, regardless of whether or not you think he should return, here's my question: Will Joe Torre be managing the 2008 Yankees?
I'll be kicking off a player-by-player analysis of the 2007 Yankees in the coming days, but before that, here's a quick look at the team's collective performance.
The 2007 Yankees stumbled out of the gate. With Chien-Ming Wang on the disabled list, Carl Pavano became the default Opening Day starter and blew an early lead. The Yankees would comeback to win that game, but went 2-3 on the homestand, then 3-3 on their first road trip as Pavano and Mike Mussina also hit the disabled list. They returned home to sweep the Indians behind a trio of rookie starters (Chase Wright, Kei Igawa, and Darrell Rasner), but then lost their next seven straight, including four to the Red Sox. That losing streak dropped them below .500, where they would remain until mid-June.
On May 30, the Yankees were in fourth place, 14.5 games behind Boston in the AL East. They won 14 of their next 17, including two of three in Boston and a 8-1 homestand against interleague opponents, but followed that up with a disastrous 1-7 road trip through Colorado, San Francisco, and Baltimore that ended with a rain-suspended game which the Yankees led, but wouldn't officially win for another month.
On July 2, the Yankees were still a losing team. Though they had crept back up to second place in the East, they were 37-41 overall, 10.5 games behind Boston, and in sixth place in the Wild Card race, nine games behind Detroit. That night and the next, they beat the Twins by a combined score of 13-1 behind Roger Clemens and Chien-Ming Wang. Beginning with those two games, the Yankees went 56-27 over their final 83 games--good for a .675 winning percentage, the best in baseball over that stretch. By season's end, the Yankees stood just two games behind the Red Sox and beat out the Tigers for the American League Wild Card to extend their franchise streak of consecutive postseason appearances to 13, one short of the Atlanta Braves' record.
While the Yankees' second-half schedule was littered with what I termed "cupcake" opponents, the distribution of their opponents was not that unbalanced. Forty-one of the Yankees first 79 games came against teams that finished with winning records, while 40 of their final 83 came against eventual winning teams. The Yankees went 17-24 in those first 41 games against winning teams and 26-14 in the final 40, which is evidence that the change in the Yankees' fortune had more to do with how the team played than who their opponents were.
True, the weakest of those winning teams, the Toronto Blue Jays, accounted for 14 of their 40 games against winning teams in the second half and just four of their 41 games against winning teams in the first half, but even if you remove Toronto from the equation, the Yankees went 16-21 (.432) against the remaining winning teams they faced in the first half and 17-11 (.607) against non-Toronto winning teams in the second half.
The Yankees had the best offense in baseball in 2007 as they scored nearly a half run more per game than their closest competitor, the NL East Champion Philadelphia Phillies. As a team, the Yankees hit .290/.366/.463 and posted a 123 OPS+, the later a dead match for Derek Jeter's career figure. The Yankees were also fourth in the American League in stolen bases and had a higher success rate than two of the three teams ahead of them.
The offense's splits were telling, however. The Yankees scored 5.40 runs in the first half, which ranked a close second to the Tigers. In the second half, however, they scored an incredible 6.63 runs, a 1074-run pace over a full season. That, more than anything else, was responsible for their second half surge.
Torre's Time Should End
One year ago, I staunchly defended Joe Torre, proclaiming the seemingly impending decision to fire him and replace him with Lou Piniella as borderline ridiculous. Given that position, some readers might find it strange that I’m now calling for a change at the Yankees’ managerial helm.
So what has happened in the last 365 days to make me alter my opinion? Principally, a third straight defeat in the opening round of the postseason, with the Yankees once again losing to a beatable American League opponent. It’s not that any one or two strategic maneuvers by Torre resulted in them losing, but rather, it was the generally poor tenor of the team’s play. The Yankees didn’t play aggressively, failing to take chances against Victor Martinez, who has had a checkered career when it comes to throwing out baserunners. They once again lacked any killer instinct, failing to hit in the clutch against C.C. Sabathia in Game One and failing to tack on a second run against Fausto Carmona in Game Two. Again, these aren’t necessarily errors on the part of the manager, but they have become part of a trend of ineffectual play for the Yankees in the postseason, dating back to those final four games against the Red Sox in 2004. The Yankees just don’t seem to come to the postseason prepared the way they used to be. After awhile, the manager has to be accountable, at least in part, for a dreadful record of 4-13 in the team’s last 17 postseason games.
There were tactical mistakes, too, that may not have lost the series on their own, but certainly didn’t help matters. Torre should have called upon Phil Hughes as his first reliever in Game One, once it became apparent that Chien-Ming Wang couldn’t direct his sinker downward. Instead, Torre turned to the less experienced Ross Ohlendorf, essentially putting up a white flag on a game that was still in question. In Game Three, Torre didn’t need to put Joba Chamberlain in for a two-inning stint, not with a five-run lead. (Torre and the coaches also looked disjointed as they frantically waved their arms toward Robinson Cano, whom they apparently wanted to relay a message to the bullpen.) That misjudgment ultimately didn’t cost the Yankees, since Chamberlain wasn’t needed in Game Four, but imagine if the Yankees had held a one-run lead going into the seventh with a tiring starter on the mound? How would Chamberlain have responded to pitching back-to-back days after throwing 38 pitches? Torre also blundered in Game Four, when he failed to pinch-hit for Doug Mientkiewicz after Wang had been knocked out. Minky was playing only because of Wang’s groundball tendencies; once Wang went to the showers, the Yankees needed to immediately switch to a better bat, like that of Jason Giambi’s, to attempt a comeback against Cleveland. Instead, Torre stayed with Minky until the sixth inning, when he called on Shelley Duncan. Giambi remained on the bench until the eighth inning, by which time the Yankees’ season had nearly reached the stage of desperation.
Beyond the postseason failing, the Yankees’ poor first half of the season also stands as a black mark against Torre. Yes, there was a bevy of injuries to the starting rotation, but there was also listless play in the field, a lack of intensity during too many at-bats, a ridiculous reliance on Miguel Cairo as the everyday first baseman, a refusal to take an injured Johnny Damon out of the lineup, and continued mismanagement of the bullpen. Torre has to be accountable for some of those problems, all of which put the Yankees in such a hole that they would have to end up settling for a wild card instead of a division title.
Torre’s legacy will remain overwhelmingly positive and it’s only a matter of time before he takes his place in Cooperstown. But no one manages in one place forever. Not Joe McCarthy, who resigned under fire in the middle of his 16th season in New York. Not even Casey Stengel, who managed the Yankees for 12 years, just like Torre, but was eventually fired. In my mind, 12 years has been enough for Torre, too. There should be no shame in making a managerial change one time in over a decade. Let’s just hope the Yankees move decisively and don’t let Torre unnecessarily twist in the wind. He doesn't deserve that, and the team needs to get on to the business of player personnel as quickly as possible.
In addition, there are certainly some qualified candidates to choose from, making this the right time to make a change. Some are in-house, some are out-of-house, but all have their merits. Let’s take a look at some of the possibilities.
A smart, overachieving ballplayer during his Yankee career, Mattingly has paid at least some of his managerial dues as a batting instructor and bench coach. Players raved about his work as a batting coach, citing his work ethic and breadth of hitting knowledge. On the down side, Mattingly has never managed in the minor leagues, has never been a third base coach, and has only a couple of games of experience as a fill-in skipper replacing Torre during suspensions. Mattingly also lacks charisma and flair in his dealings with the media, which could make him a target once things start to go wrong on the field. I’d feel a lot better about Mattingly if he managed a season at Double-A or Triple-A, but he’s never expressed an interesting in doing so—and neither have the Yankees.
He’s probably the longest of long shots, but figures to be at least one of the minority candidates interviewed by Brian Cashman. He’s a onetime American League Manager of the Year who has done good work in improving Jorge Posada’s defensive game. He also figures to communicate well with young Latino players like Wilson Betemit, Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera, and Edwar Ramirez, who represent a good chunk of the Yankee future. Unfortunately, Pena’s first managerial tenure in Kansas City ended quickly and badly, brought down by some serious personal problems.
He might be an even longer shot than Pena, but Steinbrenner has always been intrigued by Valentine’s personality and IQ, and would love nothing better than to take a shot at the Mets along the way. Valentine certainly has no fear of New York, has World Series experience, and knows the game as well as any manager or coach. Valentine’s problem has always been his ego—he thinks he knows the game better than anyone, always a dangerous thought—which could clash quickly with Cashman, any of his coaches, and the owner.
At first, the mention of LaRussa’s name seemed like a long shot, but George Steinbrenner likes big-name managers who have won elsewhere. (Dallas Green and Billy Martin are prime examples of that.) LaRussa brings several positives to the table, including a high intelligence, a willingness to buck convention, and a terrific pitching coach in Dave Duncan (who happens to be the father of the Yankees’ Shelly). Unfortunately, there are problems. LaRussa struggles in relationships with players (see Scott Rolen and Albert Pujols) and overmanages the bullpen, forgetting that he doesn’t have that great five-man bullpen in Oakland anymore. Yes, it’s been a long time since the days of Gene Nelson and Rick Honeycutt setting up Dennis Eckersley.
This should be the man. He’s been terrific as a part-time analyst on the Yankees’ YES Network, but his primary passion remains managing. Who can blame him, considering the marvelous job he did with Florida on his way to winning the National League Manager of the Year? (I don’t buy this criticism that Girardi somehow "abused" his starters in Florida, when only Dontrelle Willis pitched over 180 innings and had no subsequent arm trouble in ‘07.) Girardi is exceedingly intelligent, well-organized, and highly driven, all favorable characteristics for a field manager. I’ve read some claims that Girardi would be a bad fit for the veteran-laden Yankees because of his hands-on, attention-to-detail approach that, in the minds of some scouts, makes him another Buck Showalter. Well, that assessment is bulldinky, to borrow some terminology from In Living Color. Girardi, already knowing many of the players in New York from his days as a coach and broadcaster, is smart enough to make the adjustment from leading a team of youngsters in Florida to managing more of a mixed bag in New York. Combining old school values of toughness and discipline with a new school understanding of statistics and computer technology, Girardi would be the ideal choice to succeed Torre in pinstripes.
Bruce Markusen is the author of eight books on baseball. He also writes "Cooperstown Confidential" for MLB.com and contributes articles to the MLB Alumni Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bruce Markusen is the author of eight books on baseball. He also writes "Cooperstown Confidential" for MLB.com and contributes articles to the MLB Alumni Association. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Yankee Panky # 27: The Silly Season Begins
Coverage of the Yankees' aftermath begins in the second week of October for the third straight year. Had the Yankees received better starting pitching from their ace and gotten timely hits in more than one game, we might be talking about the insane hype of Yankees-Red Sox IV instead of counting down the days until spring training.
So now, we ask a ton of questions and simultaneously search for answers to what went wrong, and what's next. Aside from Joe Torre, the A-Rod question looms largest among all the potential players who could be gone in 60 days or so. The Post's Mike Vaccaro notes A-Rod's reluctance to answer that question immediately following Game 4.
Perhaps our friends at Replacement Level summed it up best:
"I'm not sure what I feel right now. I'm disappointed obviously, and there will be a tendency to find scapegoats and blame people on the Yankees, but the Yankees lost to a pretty damn good team in Cleveland. Sometimes you get outplayed by a team that is better. I'll be pulling for them in the ALCS."
Now we enter the silly season of coverage. Where "sources close to the situation" determine everything, and a greater emphasis is placed on getting the story out as opposed to getting it right. In such a competitive atmosphere to scoop everyone, this is understandable — the rumors sell papers — but it blurs the line of truth even further. Just yesterday SI.com's Jon Heyman told the talk-radio audience that Tony LaRussa is the leading candidate to replace Joe Torre. If you're Bill Madden, you're absolutely positive that Steinbrenner wants LaRussa and have anonymous sources to back it up. If you're George King of the New York Post, your sources say LaRussa isn't interested and that Don Mattingly's the favorite to replace Torre, followed by Joe Girardi. This is, of course, provided that Torre either opts not to return or is ordered not to.
The bitterness and anger that followed last year's early exit was gone this year. By no means was it a love fest, but in general I thought the papers and the broadcast media did a good job of capturing that emotion and the closeness that this Yankee team appeared to have compared to others that have faltered in recent years. The way the stories were presented — especially from those who ventured away from the podium in the press cafeteria — I got the sense that the players viewed this loss as a greater disappointment than the last two, that there was an even greater sense of finality. (More on this below)
Order Of Operations
Some of you have noticed the changes I've made to the sidebar in the wake of the Yankees ALDS loss to Cleveland. For those who haven't, I've separated the Yankees' pending free agents from the remainder of the 40-man roster in the Players section at the bottom, and have put some of the key offseason dates in the Upcoming Schedule section.
The first date in the latter is November 11, which is the last possible date for Alex Rodriguez to opt out of his contract. His actual opt-out deadline is ten days after the end of the World Series. If the World Series goes a full seven games, that will be November 11. If it ends sooner, that date will move up accordingly.
The Yankees will make every effort to sign Rodriguez to a contract extension prior to his opt-out deadline, as well they should, but Brian Cashman is standing by his insistence that the Yankees will not pursue Rodriguez if he does opt out. The reason for that is that the Yankees are due more than $21 million from the Texas Rangers over the final three years of Rodriguez's contract, but if Rodriguez voids his contract, the Yankees will not see a penny of that money, even if they resign Rodriguez as a free agent.
Meanwhile, Rodriguez's agent, Scott Boras, is starting the public negotiations out at ridiculous heights. According to Peter Abraham, Boras is saying that Rodriguez, who turned 32 in July, "can play until he's 45, hit 1,000 home runs and be worth up to $1 billion for a regional cable television network. He seems to be seeking at least a 10-year deal worth an average of $33 million a year."
By way of comparison, only three baseball players made more than $20 million in 2007, all of them Yankees working on contracts signed in 2001 or 2002, when the market was at its peak.. Meanwhile, Carlos Beltran got seven years from the Mets and Vlad Guerrero got just five years from the Angels, both entering their age-28 seasons. The idea of a ten-year deal for a 32-year-old player with an average salary over $30 million is flatly insane. That said, if the Yankees can get Rodriguez to agree to an extension of, say, seven years or less for an annual salary in the twenties, they should probably do it. With the new stadium due to open in 2009, and the team payroll shrinking due to an increased contribution from young players not yet eligible for free agency and some of those big contracts (such as Giambi's and Mussina's) due to come off the books, they shouldn't have any problem affording it. Rodriguez, meanwhile, has exceeded my expectations as a Yankee, winning (I believe it's safe to assume) two MVP awards in his four seasons in the Bronx.
The Yankees' first order of business, however, has to be naming a manager for the 2008 season. Though the team has made no announcements, George Steinbrenner's statement earlier in the week, the tone of Joe Torre's press conference, and reports of the wake-like atmosphere in the Yankee clubhouse after Monday night's loss make it seem as though Joe Torre's Yankee career is indeed over. If so, the Yankees should make it official and name his successor soon, as the team's choice of manager is sure to influence not only Rodriguez, but also Andy Pettitte, who said he will either pick up his $16-million player option for next year or retire, and free agents Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera.
Among the top candidates are bench coach Don Mattingly, 2005 bench coach and 2006 NL Manager of the Year Joe Girardi, and Torre's successor in St. Louis, Tony La Russa, who's most recent three-year deal with the Cardinals has expired. I'm sure you could throw in base coaches Tony Peña and Larry Bowa as well (the Yankees will have to at least include Peña to satisfy the requirements of the league's minority-hiring initiative). Those who want to waste time can also toss in Bobby Valentine, Davey Johnson (who took an advisory position in the Nationals' front office this past season, but hasn't managed since he skippered the Dodgers in 2000), and Torre's predecessor in St. Louis, the soon-to-be 76-year-old Whitey Herzog.
Mattingly seems to be the heir apparent, but he has no managerial experience at any level. I'd like to see Girardi get the job. My only concern with Girardi, who did a great job with an extremely green Marlins team in 2006, is that he might be too much of a taskmaster for a veteran team full of stars who are used to Torre's gentler style of management. Girardi may also be unable to endure the persistent slights from both the media and ownership that Torre shouldered with such dignity over the past dozen seasons. Mattingly, on the other hand, is both a gentle man and one who, as a player, endured those slights with a similar professionalism during the worst of the Steinbrenner years. My only real concern about Donnie is that, from what little I saw of his in-game management when Torre was ejected or suspended this season, he seems to have a tendency to over-manage a bit, putting on small-ball plays at inappropriate times. Perhaps that tendency will fade once the novelty wears off. I certainly hope so.
As for those free agents, Mariano Rivera told the Star-Ledger that, since the Yankees declined to sign him to an extension during the season, he's going to test the market. Jorge Posada said similar things earlier in the year. It should be noted that the Yankees are a large part of that market, and that it is simply a good negotiating tactic for them to take that stance. I expect both to return, though Posada's leverage increased some yesterday when the Tigers picked up Ivan Rodriguez's $13-million option.
Finally, Ron Guidry has said that he would be willing to continue on as pitching coach under a different manager, and Kevin Long is considered a key to luring Rodriguez back to New York. Bullpen coach Joe Kerrigan (honestly, how many of you remembered he was on the staff?) may be on the way out, however. I wonder if triple-A pitching coach Dave Eiland, who has worked closely with most of the organization's young arms, is being considered to fill that role. I also wonder if that would be a misuse of Eiland with so many more talented young hurlers still progressing through the system.
At any rate, the Yankees' order of operations is to first name a manager and then sign Alex Rodriguez to an extension. Then, and only then, can the organization set about a strategy for building next year's team.
Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, and Bobby Abreu each hit late-inning home runs last night, but none of them came with men on base, and the three runs were not enough to dig the Yankees out of the early hole in which Chien-Ming Wang put them. Thus the Yankees' plan of winning one game at a time to salvage their season came up two wins short, ending their thrilling season with the franchise's third consecutive first-round playoff exit.
As much as I hate to see any one player take abuse for a team's collective failings, Chein-Ming Wang has to be the goat of this series. After giving up eight runs in 4 2/3 innings and taking the loss in an ugly Game One, Wang put the Yankees in another early hole last night. Grady Sizemore homered on Wang's third pitch to start things off, and singles by Travis Hafner and Jhonny Peralta made it 2-0 before the Yankees even got their first turn at bat. Still, Hafner's single was a ground ball (albeit a hard hit one) that found a hole near third base with Alex Rodriguez playing the lefty slugger to pull, and the three outs Wang recorded in that inning also came on the ground, so it seemed as if he was settling down.
He wasn't. The first two batters in the top of the second singled. Eric Wedge then signaled for Kelly Shoppach, his ninth-place hitter (and Paul Byrd's personal catcher), to bunt, but Wang's 1-0 pitch, which Jorge Posada wanted over the plate at the knee, sailed up and in sending Shoppach spinning to the ground. The ball appeared to ricochet of the barrel of Shoppach's bat, but, after conferencing, the umpires agreed that it had grazed his right hand, thus loading the bases with no outs for Sizemore, who had already homered of Wang in this game.
Again operating with the quick hook with his team facing elimination, Joe Torre called original Game Four starter Mike Mussina out of the pen (the arguments and umpire conferencing over the hit-by-pitch gave Mussina enough extra time to get warm). Mussina did what Wang couldn't by getting Sizemore to hit into a double play, trading a third Cleveland run for the two outs, but then gave up an RBI single to Asdrubal Cabrera and walked Hafner before getting out of the inning with the Yankees trailing 4-0.
The Yankees slow climb back into the game began in the bottom of the second when Derek Jeter beat out an infield single with the bases loaded and two outs to drive in the first Yankee run, but the Bombers would never reach the apex. Paul Byrd kept the Yanks off balance all night, stranding two men in the first, three in the second, and one each in the third, fourth, and fifth. Meanwhile, Mussina allowed two more runs in the fourth when Victor Martinez singled to plate Shoppach and Sizemore, who had started the inning with a ground-rule double and a walk. Before the night was over, every man in the Yankee lineup would leave at least one man on base, with each of the top eight hitters stranding at least two.
Robinson Cano's home run, his second of the series, came leading off the sixth and drove Byrd from the game in favor of lefty Rafael Perez. After singles by pinch-hitter Shelley Duncan and Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter hit into his third double play in the last two games to end the inning.
Rodriguez's homer came off Perez with one out and none on in the seventh (Rodriguez had singled in his previous at-bat and hit .267 on the series after going 4 for 9 in the final two games). Hideki Matsui would draw a two-out walk later in the inning only to be stranded by a Cano groundout.
Trailing by three, the Yankees went down 1-2-3 against Rafael Betancourt in the eighth. That set up Jeter, Abreu, and Rodriguez for the ninth against Joe Borowski. Jeter, who hit .176 on the series, popped out on a 1-1 pitch. Abreu homered into the upper deck in right to make it 6-4. Rodriguez flied out to the warning track in right on a 1-2 pitch up and away. Posada, who hit .133 on the series, struck out on three pitches: a called high strike, a would-be home run that curved just a few feet foul down the right field line, and a slider in the dirt that he flailed at hopelessly to end the Yankees' season.
It may seem strange, but I think the Yankees are in a better position having fallen behind 0-2 in this series then rallied to force a game four than if they had split in Cleveland then lost their home opener last night. In either case they'd be down 1-2, but I believe that, being on the verge of elimination and faced with the task of winning three straight to prolong their season, the team's approach is different than it would have been otherwise. As I wrote in my pregame post yesterday, the Yankees have to do to the Indians what the Red Sox did to them in 2004: Take the field each day with the goal of winning only that day's game.
That sentiment was echoed by Joe Torre and several of his players last night, including hitting stars Johnny Damon and Robinson Cano.
With that in mind, Joe Torre has decided to start Chien-Ming Wang tonight on short rest to take advantage of his extreme home/road splits. Wang has never started on three-days' rest in the majors before, but his ERA at home during the regular season was more than two runs lower than his ERA on the road. Over his three years in the majors, the difference is smaller, but still in excess of a run and a half. Perhaps Wang's just more comfortable on the Yankee Stadium mound. Perhaps it's that his fielders, upon whom he's very reliant, are more familiar with the bounces they're likely to get, or the speed with which the ball moves through the infield grass in their home park. Maybe Wang doesn't deal well with air travel or hotel stays. Whatever it is, it's a meaningful difference, and one that likely cost the Yankees a win in Game One when they had C.C. Sabathia on the ropes only to watch Wang cough up three runs in the first and get bounced in the fifth as the Tribe put up a five spot.
More evidence of the split can be found in Wang's performance down the stretch. He was actually fantastic, going 6-1 with a 2.67 ERA in eight starts, seven of them quality starts, but the one non-quality start (which was also the one loss) came on the road in Boston. Meanwhile, here's what he did in his last three home starts combined (against Boston, Seattle, and Toronto):
21 1/3 IP, 12 H, 3 R (2 ER), 1 HR, 8 BB, 10 K, 0.94 WHIP, 0.84 ERA, 2-0
As for the theory that sinkerballers do better on short rest because being too fresh can often cause them to keep the ball up, negating the effects of their sinkers, there's no evidence of that on Wang because he's never pitched on three-days' rest, but here are the splits for Kevin Brown, who despite being abhored by Yankee fans, was a borderline Hall of Fame sinkerballer (he also provides a reasonably large sample size):
3 Days: 2.98 ERA
It's a minuscule difference, but it's there.
The Indians are sticking with their original plan by starting Paul Byrd tonight. Byrd has an interesting home/road split of his own, with an ERA two runs lower on the road. The Yankees beat him badly in August (2 IP, 7 R), but that was in Cleveland. Last year they faced him twice, once in Cleveland (another beating: 3 2/3 IP, 9 R) and once in the Bronx. In the latter he turned in a gem, holding the Yanks to one run over seven innings only to lose a 1-0 game to . . . wait for it . . . Chien-Ming Wang.
There's one other relevant Paul Byrd start I wanted to mention, that came at Yankee Stadium in Game Three of the 2005 ALDS when Byrd was with the Angels. The Yanks got to Byrd but good then too (3 2/3 IP, 4 R), but Mike Scioscia worked a quick hook and Randy Johnson and Aaron Small gave it all back plus some and the Yankees lost 11-7.
So, really, anything could happen tonight, but, if the Yankees do pull out another win, they'll have tied the series and will head back to Cleveland to play a double-elimination game with Andy Pettitte pitching on full rest against C.C. Sabathia. That's Wednesday, though. The Yankees need only concern themselves with today.
Baseball's other three division series ended before the Yankees came to bat last night, and, in the early going, it looked as though the Yankees would go down as meekly as the Cubs, Phillies, and Angels. Roger Clemens got two ground balls to start the game, but Derek Jeter threw the second past Jason Giambi for what was absurdly ruled an infield single by Asdrubal Cabrera. Clemens then fell behind Travis Hafner 3-0, eventually walking him, and, after a Victor Martinez fly out, gave up an RBI single to Ryan Garko.
Thus the Yankees came to bat already behind 1-0 in a game in which they faced elimination. Johnny Damon singled to start things off, but Jeter, fresh off his non-error, bunted foul then ground into a double play. The pattern repeated itself in the second when Trot Nixon, whom Eric Wedge devilishly started in right field against Clemens, homered to make it 2-0 Cleveland, and Jorge Posada ground into a double play to erase a leadoff single by Alex Rodriguez (yes, Alex Rodriguez, what of it?).
The key event of the second inning, however, came on the second pitch to Kenny Lofton, who was leading off the inning. Lofton bunted a ball foul down the third base line and, in breaking off the mound, Clemens felt his tender left hamstring grab on him. When Casey Blake ground out to second after Nixon's homer, Clemens made a move to his left and the leg, in Clemens' words, "locked up" on him. Following the inning, Clemens went back into the clubhouse to have the leg tightly wrapped, but he was unable to finish his pitches and started the third by walking Hafner again and going full on Martinez before getting him swinging on a lame 92-mile-per-hour fastball right over the plate. With that, Joe Torre and trainer Gene Monahan made their second visit to the mound of the inning and called on Phil Hughes. Roger Clemens, for the night, and possibly for his career, was done.
Hughes' bounced his second pitch past Posada to move Hafner to second, then gave up a bloop double to right by Jhonny Peralta that ran the score to 3-0, but got out of the inning without allowing Peralta to score. Whatever damage Clemens' leg was going to inflict on the Yankees' hopes of keeping their season alive had been limited by Joe Torre's quick hook.
In the bottom of the inning, Hideki Matsui led off by beating out a bouncing ball hit toward second base for an infield single and moved to second on a Robinson Cano groundout. Melky Cabrera then hit a ball straight into the dirt in front of home that rolled fair. Martinez pounced on the ball and threw to third as Matsui attempted to advance, but Matsui got to the bag just ahead of the throw, aided by an excellent hook slide to the outfield side of the bag. Despite having his knee drained a week ago, Matsui was running with the abandon of a man who refused to accept defeat. Johnny Damon followed by singling Matsui home for the first Yankee run of the series not scored on a home run. Jeter then hit into another double play to kill the rally, but the Yankees had life.
Things got even brighter when Hughes turned in a 1-2-3 fourth inning, striking out Nixon (fastball up and away, swinging) and Grady Sizemore (fastball at the knees, inside corner, looking) and pitched around a one-out single by Hafner in the fifth, striking out Garko (fastball inside, looking) to end that frame.
Jason Giambi struck out to start the bottom of the fifth, but Matsui again got things going by going the other way with a Westbrook pitch for a single to left. Robinson Cano followed suit, slicing a double into the left field corner to push Matsui to third, and Melky Cabrera did the same with an opposite-field single that plated Matsui to bring the Yankees within one. Johnny Damon then took a pitch in the dirt and another just low before launching the 2-0 pitch from Westbrook into the old Yankee bullpen in right for a game-changing three-run home run. It was like an instant replay of his back-breaking grand slam in the deciding game of the 2004 ALCS, except this time for the home team. It was a season-saving shot, and the Stadium absolutely exploded when it cleared the fence. Damon came out to take a full, Reggie-style curtain call and, though their lead was a slim two-runs, it suddenly felt like the Yankees were out of harm's way.
After another scoreless frame by Hughes in the sixth, the Yankee bats piled on Westbrook and reliever Aaron Fultz for three more runs. The inning started with an infield single by Alex Rodriguez, which chased Westbrook. Posada then singled off Fultz. Doug Mientkiewicz hit for Giambi and bunted the runners over, prompting the Tribe to walk Matsui. Robinson Cano followed with a single to right that, delightfully, Trot Nixon failed to scoop, allowing it to roll to the wall as the bases emptied and Cano raced around to third.
Joba Chamberlain came on in the seventh to retire the top three batters in the Cleveland order on 16 pitches, striking out Sizemore on a wicked slider and Asdrubal Cabrera on three pitches, a 99-mile-per-hour fastball, a 79-mile-per-hour curve that dropped into the zone, and an 87-mile-per-hour slider that dive bombed out of it.
Joba stumbled a bit in his second inning of work. He got the first two outs on seven pitches when a Garko double play erased a leadoff single by Maritnez, but he then walked Peralta and gave up a single to Lofton and an RBI double to Nixon before getting Casey Blake to fly out a little too deep to right field for comfort's sake. All totalled, he threw 38 pitches in his two innings, his major league high.
With a still-comfortable four-run lead, Mariano Rivera worked a ten-pitch ninth, striking out Cabrera (high heat swinging) and Hafner (fastball away looking) on a total of seven pitches to seal the Yankees' 8-4 victory and send them to a now-necessary Game Four.
Chien-Ming Wang will be the Yankee starter in Game Four, starting on three-days rest for the first time in his major league career. That's the right call. Wang is significantly better at home than on the road. What's more, sinkerballers tend to suffer when they're too strong, leaving the ball up. Being slightly less fresh usually works to their advantage as they get more natural sink on their pitch. Beyond that, with Hughes having been burned last night, starting Wang tonight allows the Yankees to reserve Mike Mussina for long relief duty, and would also allow Andy Pettitte to start a possible Game Five on normal rest. Not that anyone's looking beyond tonight, of course.
Chamberlain, unlike Hughes, will be available tonight, though he did seem to tire in the eighth last night (the three hits he allowed in that inning, as well as the scary flyout by Blake, were all on fastballs up in the zone that were clocked in the mid-90s, rather than his usual high-90s). It could be that Joba will only be available for one inning, or even just a portion thereof if he's needed to come in and kill a Cleveland rally, but Rivera, who threw just ten pitches last night, should be able to pick up the slack.
The Indians will stick with Paul Byrd as their starter tonght, perhaps hoping for a win that will allow them to reserve C.C. Sabathia for Game One of the ALDS. The Yankees aren't looking ahead. They'll stick with trying to win today.
It's been a curious postseason thus far. Not one of the trailing teams in any of the four division series has won a game, while both NLDS ended in sweeps. In each series, the story has been the same, the losing team just isn't hitting. Check these numbers:
Phillies: 2.67 runs per game, .172/.274/.366
In the top three cases, the losing team was favored coming into the series, in part because of its explosive offense (the Yankees and Phillies were the top two offenses in the majors during the regular season, the Angels were sixth, curiously the Cubs were the third worst offense in baseball on the road).
By the time former Yankee Jake Westbrook uncorks his first pitch at Yankee Stadium tonight, the Yankees could be the last of those four teams standing, as Curt Schilling and the Red Sox take on Jered Weaver and the Angels at 3:00 EST. This is a particularly odd spot for the Yankees to be in, but here's a curious fact: This is the Yankees' 25th postseason series under Joe Torre. In the previous 24, they've only fallen behind 0-2 three times. In two of those series, they lost the first two at home then rallied to win the series (the 1996 World Series and the 2001 ALDS against the A's--the latter remains the only time in major league history that a home team lost the first two games of a best-of-five series and came back to win the series). The third was the 2001 World Series, in which they lost the first two in Arizona, then won three straight at home, and later held a lead in the ninth inning of Game Seven.
The point is, this ain't over. I still believe the Yankees can win this series, but they have to do to the Indians what the Red Sox did to them in 2004: Take the field each day with the goal of winning only that day's game.
Roger Clemens isn't a bad guy to have on the mound when you have a big game to win, and though the fact that he's only made one start since September 3 due to a series of nagging injuries to his 45-year-old body and is pitching on 20-days' rest could and should be a concern, I suspect that all that rest will actually benefit the old codger. Clemens has made three starts on ten or more days of rest this year (including his first, which was delayed by a "fatigued groin") and has posted the following line in those starts:
18 IP, 17 H, 1 HR, 5 BB, 19 K, 1.22 WHIP, 2.50 ERA, 2-0
Included among those three starts was his last, which came in Boston on September 16 as the Yankees were fighting for the division. Clemens allowed just one unearned run on two hits and three walks in six innings in the Yankees' 4-3 win. With Joba Chamberlain rested and debugged this evening, a similar performance should get the Yankees to Game Four tomorrow.
As for Westbrook, he'll be making his postseason debut tonight, just as Fausto Carmona did in Game Two. Westbrook is a sinkerballer like Carmona, though he's not as nasty. Still, he tends to throw strikes and get ground balls. He got ten of them against the Yankees on August 12, but also allowed four runs on nine hits and a pair of walks over seven innings while taking the loss. In his nine starts since then, he's posted a 3.22 ERA, allowed just three home runs, and struck out 6.44 men per nine innings, an excellent rate for a ground-ball pitcher. That ERA is a bit skewed by a pair of gems in late August, however. Over his last seven starts, Westbrook's ERA was a more pedestrian 4.12. Still, the lack of homers and solid K-rate persist.
Collectively, the ten Yankees most likely to start tonight (adding Jason Giambi to the nine who have started the first two games of this series) have hit .326 and slugged .553 in their careers against Westbrook, with Giambi, Posada, and Matsui leading the way, each with OPS figures over 1.200. Melky Cabrera has been the worst of the lot, going 1 for 11 against Westbrook in his career. It seems unlikely that Hideki Matsui's knee would allow him to play the outfield, however, which makes Giambi at first-base the most likely change in the Yankee lineup tonight. Besides, Melky's one hit off Westbrook was a home run.
If the Yankees win tonight, they'll get to face Paul Byrd tomorrow, as Eric Wedge has already said he won't bring back Sabathia on short rest. That's tomorrow, though. The Yankees need only concern themselves with today.
Still Bossy (after all these years)
Ian O'Conner of the Bergen Record gets the money scoop of the season: he talks to the Boss directly on the phone. I'm happy to report that the Boss sounds like the same old Boss you always knew and loved to hate.
"I have full control," Steinbrenner says of his organization. "I'm doing all right, I'm fine." The Boss is angry that the Yankees lost the first two games of the ALDS--"They'd better show what they're made of," he said.
Dig this Vintage George 101:
Well, there you have it. The King, thought to be lost, reminds us that above all, this is still is his team. We all know his bite can be worse than his bark. If the Yankees lose tonight, all bets are off.
No pressure, guys.
Hey folks, I'll have a full Game 3 preview up a bit later, but I wanted to put up a little reminder for you all to check out Alex's coverage of the series over on Fungoes. Alex will be in the press box tonight, covering the game for SI.com, so look for something from him over there a few hours after the last pitch. Oh, and for those who missed it, I did the same for the just-completed Rockies-Phillies NLDS. If anyone cares to check it out, my Fungoes coverage is here (a new post should be up shortly), and my two game stories can be found here and here.
Oh, and two quick notes on the Steinbrenner interview:
1) Remember that Torre is not in danger of being fired. His contract is up. Rather, he's in danger of not being rehired, and Torre hasn't even said for sure whether or not he wants to continue managing (though given his affection for his players, you assume he does).
2) In expressing his outrage over the fact that Game Two wasn't halted due to the bug infestation, Steinbrenner says that crew chief Bruce Froemming, "won't umpire our games anymore." Which is partially true, because Froemming is retiring, but also untrue because he'll be umpiring in the Bronx tonight, which could hint at the effectiveness of Steinbrenner's words in general now a days. Note that George says of Torre "I don't think we'd take him back." Though Steinbrenner says he's in full control, it could be it's not his decision to make anymore.
Bug a Boo
Where to begin? How about that the Yankees are down 0-2 and one loss away from an early playoff exist for the third straight year? How about that their season rests in the hands of the legend Rocket Clemens, who has pitched exactly twice (10 innings) in the last month, and who could conceivably be pitching the final game of his career? Or how about that Game 2 of the ALDS was a magnificently tense game that featured two memorable starting performances from Andy Pettitte and Fausto Carmona, not to mention heroic relief outings from Rafael Perez and Mariano Rivera?
Or how about the game going down to the bottom of the 11th, bases loaded, two men out, full count, when Pronk Hafner singled home the winning run against Jose Vizcaino to give the Tribe a 2-1 win? I'm sure I'm not the only one who felt dubious about the Yankees' chances of winning when Vizcaino walked Kenny Loftonwho killed the Yankees againto start the 11th. When the count went full to Hafner, how many of you thought he was going to walk the winning run home? Raise your hands.
The game was highlighted by a swarm of tiny, black, flying ants. The ants infested the infield (and were most intense at the pitcher's mound) and became a distraction by the seventh inning. The players and umpires doused themselves with bug repellent and an inning later, there was a frenzy. They shot into the players' eyes and mouth. They crawled on their skin, sucking in their sweat on an unseasonably humid night at the Jake.
Who will ever forget the close-up shots of Joba Chamerlain looking like something out of David Lynch's "Eraserhead," his neck, face and entire head covered with a dozens little flying ants, as he unraveled and allowed the game-tying run to score?
The Yankee hitters were limited to three lousy hits. Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu, Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui, Jorge Posada and Robinson Cano were a combined 2-27. Posada hit the ball hard twiceGrady Sizemore made a smooth diving catch to rob him of extra bases. Rodriguez struck out three times against Carmona--sinkers in, in, in. He was both overmatched and jumpy and he'll receive the most attention for the team's offensive failures, but the truth of the matter is, all of the hitters were stymied. Carmona, and then Rafael Perez once again, were just that tough.
Carmona and Pettitte were a contrast in styles but they were both terrific. Carmona was efficient and his stuff was simply overwhelming. Pettitte, on the other hand, repeatedly pitched his way out of trouble, but was equally in control. Using four pitchescurve ball, slider, cutter and a four-seam fastballPettitte held the Indians down, in one of the best playoff performances of a career that already boasts more than a few gems. It was a sheer pleasure to watch.
Too bad it didn't lead to a victory.
No, instead it was a long, harrowing night for Yankee fans. And anyone who stayed up late enough was treated to Manny Ramirez's game-ending, three-run home run against the Angels. All around, an awful night to be a Yankee fan, and a great night to root for the Red Sox. I was surprised to learn that it was the first time Manny has hit a "walk-off" home run since he's been in Boston. I have to admit, I smiled when he hit it. The standing at the plate for ten minutes was garbage, but not unusual. Maybe I was just thinking, "Tonight can't get any worse." But I was also pleased on a gut-level that K Rod blew the game. One hot dog deserves another, right?
Now, the Yankees are up against the wall, with nowhere to go but home. They'll turn to Clemens on Sunday, and if he falters early, Mussina, Hughes and everything but the kitchen sink. Alex Rodriguez and the mighty Yankee offense need to wake-up, but fast. With all due respect to Jake Westbrook, he's a far cry from the likes of Sabathia and Carmona. I should think the bats will break-out in a rather royal way come Sunday. If they don't, it'll be three-and-out again, with a host of off-season questions that'll need to be answered.
ALDS Game Two: Up For The Down Stroke
After tripping up in the first game, the Yankees must to win Game Two in order stay in this series. A loss tonight would spell certain doom for the Bombers. But if the bats keep the same approach they had last night against C.C. Sabathia, you have to like their chances. This could even be one of those games they really blow open. But if they get anxious and swing early in the count, they'll be playing to Fausto Carmona's strength and things could get ugly. After all, we've seen this Yankee team score in bunches this year, and we've also seen them collectively disappear.
Good Andy or Bad Andy, which one shows?
Cold Crush (ed)
The Yankees took it on the chin last night in Game One of the ALDS, getting smacked around by the Indians to the tune of 12-3. Chien-Ming Wang was absolutely awful and was duly pounded. The Yankee offense made C.C. Sabathia throw a lot of pitches early, and had him right where they wanted him, but Sabathia worked out of a bases loaded jam in the top of the fifth inning, the Indians scored five in the bottom of the inning, and the game was essentially over.
Yanks will look to old reliable Andy Pettitte late this afternoon in Game Two.
ALDS Game One: Can I Start This?
Well, here we are again. One year later and the Yanks are in the post-season once more. Before the game starts, I just want to express how grateful I am that our team is back in the playoffs. It's something that's simply not to be taken for granted, cause it ain't going to last forever. Moreover, I want to let you guys know how much Cliff and I appreciate the fact that you keep coming back to chill at the Banter. You make blogging a true pleasure.
I think that Sabathia is going to overwhelm the Yanks tonight. I hope I'm wrong, of course. It's on our boy Chien-Ming to match Cleveland's big fella. I know he can, but will he? Will the Yanks' left-handed hitters be able to do anything against CC? Will the Yankees' fielding hold-up for Wang?
I'll feel good about the Bombers' chances so long as they can take one of two games in Cleveland, won't you?
Yo, I'm amped for the game. I'll be blogging the entire series over at SI.com (just as Cliff is blogging the Phillies-Rockies series). While you are making the rounds, sure to check for Emma's blog over at Newsday.
Now, damn the torpedos, full speed ahead.
Let's Go Yan-Kees!
ALDS Preview: Yankees and Indians
The position-by-position comparison is a tired old trope, but it's fun as hell, and it's actually a decent way to compare two teams. Or it almost is. Rather than compare two teams by position on the field, I prefer to compare them by position in the lineup. This corrects for teams that have, for example, power-hitting shortstops that hit in the middle of the order and banjo hitting first basemen who hit at the bottom. Rather than compare the apples and oranges of, say Alex Rodriguez and Casey Blake, I'll compare Rodriguez to the Indians cleanup hitter and Blake to Doug Mientkiewicz. I reserve the right to fudge the lineups just a smidge to produce better comparisons, though in this case I only need to swap Hideki Matsui back up to the fifth spot, where he hit often enough this year anyway. Also included below are comparisons of the pitching staffs. The Yankee lineup (save for the flop of Matsui and Posada in the order) and roster below reflect those announced by the team. The Indians have yet to announce their roster, so the below is my best guess.
This one is closer than the stats might have you believe. Johnny Damon struggled through the first half of the season with a variety of injuries, compounding his problems by resisting (and ultimately avoiding) his first ever trip to the disabled list. Looking like a very old 33, Damon lost the center field job to Melky Carbrera by June 1, and by July 20, he was hitting just .234/.338/.322. It was then that Joe Torre finally decided that starting Damon at DH wasn't sufficient, that he needed full days off as well. Damon did not start the first game of the Yankees' double-header against the Devil Rays on July 21 and, almost as if the lack of rest was wearing him down mentally as well as physically, Damon flipped the switch in the nightcap and hit .319/.369/.493 over the remainder of the season. Looking at his monthly splits, Damon has improved every month since June as he's slowly healed up from his rough first half. I'll still give the edge to Sizemore, who, at 24, is still making improvements in his game that are not health related (he drew nearly twice as many walks this year as he did in his rookie season in 2005, and is no longer a liability against lefty pitching), but with Damon back at full strength and performing like he in his first year as a Yankee, it's very close, especially when you consider that, despite Damon's early struggles, Sizemore struck out nearly twice as many times as Johnny this season.
This one is the mismatch the last appeared to be on first glance. Cabrerra didn't become the Tribe's starting second sacker until mid-August, when the team finally realized that they could no longer both fight for the division and wait for offseason acquisition Josh Barfield to break out. Cabrera, who was acquired from the Mariners last June for Eduardo Perez, spent most of the 2007 season playing shortstop for double-A Akron while posting a hitting line not unlike Jeter's above. Of course that was at double-A, and Cabrera had never hit like that before in his life save for a short stint at A-ball in 2005. Nonetheless, the Indians figured anything was worth a try, and were pleasantly surprised when the 21-year-old Venezuelan thrived at second base, hitting .308/.361/.477 over his first month in the big leagues. He cooled off over the final two weeks, of course, so it's anyone's guess how he'll perform in the postseason with just 159 major league at-bats under his belt, but it's safe to say he's unlikely to out-perform Jeter. The Yankee captain was hobbled in the second-half of the season, suffering from a nagging knee injury that sapped his power, but he rallied in September to hit .311/.363/.495 and finished the season with a 15-game hitting streak during which he hit .386/.397/.653. What's more, Jeter's poor success rate on the bases was largely a first-half phenomenon. Jeter was a mere 7 for 14 on the bases in the first half, but stole 8 of 9 successfully in the second half. Perhaps his sore knee forced him to steal with smarts rather than with speed.
Yankee Panky # 26: Playoff Prep
In any other year, the Yankees would be starting their Division Series with the inappropriately-logoed team from Cleveland today, or even yesterday. But by virtue of MLB's insane methodology to let TV further dictate start dates under the guise of giving the team with the best league record "an advantage," we must wait until Thursday.
But we won't have to wait too long. With early starts to all the games in the Yankees-Indians series — Games 1 and 2 start at 6:30 and 5 p.m., respectively, Sunday's Game 3 start is scheduled for 6:30, Game 4 is next Monday at 6 and Game 5 next Wednesday at 5 — we have at least a week before we see the annual "playoff games should start earlier so kids on the East Coast can stay up to watch it" column from Post Sports TV critic Phil Mushnick. I'm looking forward to that one, because he always cuts through the B.S., and provides me with a good laugh.
At any rate, since we do have some extra time, let's quickly reflect on the 2007 regular season coverage and look ahead to the playoffs. Feel free to agree or disagree with your comments below.
Disclaimer: The opinions presented are not reflective of the proprietors of Baseball Toaster or my esteemed colleagues here at Bronx Banter, who allow me to put my warped thoughts in this space.
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BEST NEWSPAPER BLOG/BLOGGER
BEST BEAT WRITER
Honorable mention: Dom Amore, Hartford Courant. A veteran beat man who's witnessed plenty of Yankee history. I'm continually amazed at the accuracy of his quotes, given that he barely jots down notes or uses a recorder. His brain capacity is incredible. I've seen him in action. It's uncanny; because many of us aren't directly exposed to him due to his Hartford base, he doesn't get the credit he deserves.
BEST YANKEECENTRIC BLOG
BEST YANKEES BLOGGER • There are many talented Yankee wordsmiths. For consistency in tone, fairness, humor, etc., Steven Goldman is the best.
BEST YANKEES TV COMBINATION
We saw it at the tail end of last year; there's no way to replace Jim Kaat. With so many permutations of people to match with primary play-by-play men Michael Kay and Kenny Singleton, YES's two-man setup suffered a bit because Kaat transitioned so well between the analyst role with Kay and the dual role with Singleton.
With that said, I was very impressed with some of the three-man arrangements, particularly the ones noted above. If Joe Girardi doesn't take a managerial job next year, I look for his workload in the booth to increase to 75 games or so. Same with John Flaherty.
Flaherty and Girardi prove one of the unwritten rules of baseball coverage: if you want to gain information on the team and learn more about game strategy or what makes opposing players tick, the backup catcher is the best resource.
BEST YANKEES STUDIO ANALYST
Now to the general on-field stories…
STORY OF THE YEAR I
STORY OF THE YEAR II
WEIRDEST MEDIA-RELATED DRAMA
STAT THAT RAISED MY EYEBROWS
* * *
To review, I thought the composite coverage during the regular season was solid. There are always going to be some kinks, but over the course of an eight-month grind, mistakes will be made and quotes, columns and stories will be misinterpreted.
We're all wondering whether guys like A-Rod, Abreu, Clemens and Mussina will raise their games against the Indians. (The "pressure's on A-Rod" stories were published in full force Tuesday, and Mike Greenberg issued a "cut him some slack" missive on Wednesday's ESPN Radio show.) I've found that the writers are at their best in the postseason also. Do you agree? Do Playoff Pullout sections of the local papers enhance coverage or is it a bit gluttonous? Overall, what improvements do you think should be made from the mainstream coverage? If you were on the beat or were being paid to lend your opinion to the postseason Yankees coverage, how would you make your coverage stand out in the various media platforms, given the various constraints that may be placed upon you by your employer? How would you juggle staying at a press conference to get a quote with going to the clubhouse to get something that may be more useful? These are all considerations that must be made on the fly, as the entire coverage process becomes more standardized and teams relinquish control of information flow and player availability to MLB.
Next week … a review of TBS's TV coverage and YES's pre and postgames.
Is everyone sick of the Alex Rodriguez playoff storyline yet? I know many people are, but it'll be hard to avoid until Rodriguez has that one or two big offensive games for the Yanks. In the meantime, Pete Abe has some interesting audio from Rodriguez, and Howard Bryant has a nice, long piece on the potential King of New York. I like this quote from Kevin Millar:
"When is he just going to say, 'I'm the baddest [dude] out there?' " Orioles first baseman Kevin Millar says. " 'I hit .320 with 40 and 130 RBIs, every [stupid] year, and what about it?' What is anyone going to say to that? Nobody can challenge him in this game because nobody else is that good. He spent a lot of time trying to be liked. I just want him to say, 'Don't [mess] with me, because none of you [guys] can do what I do.' That's all he has to do, 'cause he's a straight-up gangster."
...All you heard was Papa don't hit me no more!
The Waiting Game
Man, it feels strange having to wait another couple of days for the Yankees playoff season to start, doesn't it? I'm already getting hyped-up and there's a long time to go before first pitch, Thursday night. (Wonder how Alex Rodriguez feels? No pressure, big dog.) Meanwhile, the Yanks are "hopeful" that Roger Clemens will start Game 3.
We've got time to kibbitz. What do you make of the non-prime time schedule? What about Shelley Duncanstein possibly getting the Game One nod over Hideki Matsui? Yo peoples, whatta ya hear, whatta ya say?
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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