"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice



The Yankees traded El Duque Hernandez to the Expos yesterday, in a three-team trade which featured Bartolo Colon moving to the White Sox. In addition, Expos recieved another pitcher, Rocky Biddle, outfielder Jeff Liefer and cash from theYankees, who in turn picked up right-handed reliever Antonio Osuna, and minor leaguer, Delvis Lantigua. The White Sox also got $2 million from the Yanks.

Most importantly, the Yankees prevented Colon from landing in Boston. Here’s the skinny from the papers in Boston and New York…

The Globe reports:

Call it what you will, Red Sox fans: a crushing defeat, a squandered opportunity, or the natural byproduct of prudent management. In New York, they viewed the three-way deal that sent Bartolo Colon yesterday from the Montreal Expos to the Chicago White Sox as a joyous coincidence.

In the final act of a bargaining drama that dwarfed all others in significance this winter, the Yankees indirectly thwarted Epstein by sending righthander Orlando Hernandez and $2 million to Chicago, which in turn traded Hernandez, righthander Rocky Biddle, outfielder/first baseman Jeff Liefer, and more than $2 million to Montreal for Colon and minor league infielder Jorge Nunez. The Yankees received righthanded setup man Antonio Osuna, minor league pitcher Delvis Lantigua – and the pleasure of depriving the Sox of a star who could have shifted the balance of power in the American League East.

…Epstein ranked among Minaya’s most aggressive suitors, offering him countless proposals involving Sox players before he launched a national search for a third party to complete the deal. Before it was over, Epstein tried to recruit at least 10 teams to help meet Minaya’s often-divergent demands.

”It was close a couple of times,” Minaya said. ”Two days ago, we were trying to find a third player, from a third team. We discussed guys who might have gotten it done, and some would have possibly gotten it done.”

But none did, though Minaya went out of his way to praise Epstein for his persistence and creativity.

…Beyond derailing the Sox in the Colon chase, the Yankees met one of their greatest needs by acquiring Osuna to help fill the void created by the departures of setup men Ramiro Mendoza and Mike Stanton. Osuna appeared in 59 games last season for the White Sox, going 8-2 with 11 saves and a 3.86 ERA. A hard thrower, he struck out 66 in 67 2/3 innings.

Minaya also met his goals, though he may have settled for less than he could have received from the Yankees when they offered Hernandez, first baseman Nick Johnson, and outfielder Juan Rivera last month before the deal hit a snag when Minaya sought more cash than New York cared to invest for Colon.

”I think it’s fair to say that I started out hoping to end up with a package of players that had higher ceilings,” Minaya said. ”I didn’t get what I originally hoped to get, but the market this year has been different.”

Minaya said his effort to move Colon was aggravated by several factors, including Contreras becoming a free agent and the Braves trading Kevin Millwood to the Phillies, eliminating Philadelphia’s interest in the Montreal ace.

”The past month and a half, I don’t wish on any GM, especially a first-year GM,” Minaya said. ”It got a little scary there for me.”

Imagine how it felt for Epstein.

Here is how Bill Madden called it in today’s Daily News:

The Red Sox could have had Colon had Theo been willing to give up their prize young lefty starter, Casey Fossum. Once Epstein balked, it gave the Yankees another opening to orchestrate the Colon sweepstakes.

Fossum may blossom – even into a No. 1-2 starter for the Red Sox. But when he does, where will Nomar Garciaparra and Pedro Martinez be? Boston’s two franchise players are both free agents after the 2004 season, and with nearly $100 million tied up in Manny Ramirez alone through 2008, the financially strapped Red Sox almost certainly won’t be able to keep them both.

As one baseball person, neutral to the Yankee-Red Sox war, observed yesterday: “Other than the Yankees, who are always in a win-now mode, no other team in baseball needs to win in 2003 as badly as the Red Sox. Their future is definitely now.

And yet, they let Casey Fossum stand in the way of getting Colon, who along with Pedro, would have given them the most formidable 1-2 pitching punch this side of Randy (Johnson) and (Curt) Schilling. Can you imagine Steinbrenner doing that?”

Actually, at one point Steinbrenner was willing to give up still-promising lefty slugger Nick Johnson and El Duque to get Colon for himself. That was, of course, before he outbid the Red Sox for Contreras. Now it would seem he’s gotten everything he could have hoped for this winter without having to sacrifice Johnson.

To which a resigned Red Sox Nation would only say: What else is new?

Tony Massarotti, adds a “cry-me-a-river” opinon piece in the Boston Herald:

You have to wonder sometimes if Red Sox fans ever will get it, if they ever will realize that they are nothing more than an unwanted speck of lint on those dapper, deep blue baseball caps in the depths of the Bronx. Rivalry? What rivalry? In New York they must see it for what it is, an inferiority complex of the highest magnitude. Think Empire State Building and you’re starting to get the idea. Yes, size does matter.

If the Red Sox really wanted to, they could have had the blocky Colon, who is built like a mailbox (what a melon, eh?) and has the force of a mail truck. The man was there for the taking. The Sox could have given up Shea Hillenbrand and Casey Fossum and maybe thrown in some cash, and they could have entered the season with The Big Three of Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe and Colon at the front of their starting rotation.

The Sox chose not to.

So what exactly does that have to do with the Yankees?

It has all become a convenient excuse now, a way for the Red Sox to explain decades of frustration in their traumatized little minds. WHERE WOULD WE BE IF NOT FOR THE YANKEES? HOW MANY TITLES WOULD WE HAVE WON? WHY HAS FATE DEALT US SUCH A CRUEL SENTENCE? In the eternal, piercing words of Nancy Kerrigan, WHY ME?

Sometimes, when the anxiety level reaches its apex, you can’t help but think that Red Sox officials have succeeded only in perpetuating this madness. If Sox oligarchs John Henry and Larry Lucchino did not understand the psychological damage the Yankees have inflicted over the years, they surely do now. Longtime Furious George adversary Lucchino made the mistake of referring to the Yankees as the “Evil Empire” after the Yankees undercut the Red Sox in the Contreras Affair last month. In the same aftermath, the sincere Henry lamented the plight of competing with The Money Store.

Like it or not, that is the reality of owning the Red Sox or supporting them. It just is. Baseball has made attempts in recent years to restore competitive balance to a game that has indisputably gone awry, but those changes will not help the Red Sox as much as they will hurt. The Oakland A’s and Minnesota Twins each won more games than the Sox last season, and they did so with combined payrolls equaling less than the number spent by the Red Sox. Both of those clubs would love to have the money that we throw around in Boston, unless, of course, you happen to be Billy Beane.

But please. Stop whining. Stop blaming the Yankees for everything that goes wrong.

For goodness sake, try to have just a little self-respect.

To add insult to injury, the Sox have also apparently lost former Marlin Kevin Millar to Japan after all, according to report in Baseball Weekly.

Over at espn, Jason Stark has a good piece on the method to King George’s Madness. Here is an excerpt:

“[George] treats his employees the same all the time,” [a] baseball man said. “He doesn’t just treat them that way when they don’t win. He treats them that way when they win, too. His schizophrenic behavior with his employees is legendary. But his commitment to winning is also legendary.”

That’s a great thing if you’re a Yankees fan. But after a winter in which Steinbrenner added digs at Joe Torre and Derek Jeter to his standard rants and raves, our buddy Peter Gammons suggested the Boss has gotten so insatiable, he has actually taken the fun out of winning for his troops and his fans. There’s some truth in that.

But Steinbrenner’s supporters say that even if that’s true for some people, it beats the alternative.

“Hey, he’s involved in a sport,” says one friend of Steinbrenner. “Sports is about winning. George puts winning at a premium. So what? How is that wrong? That’s why you get into the business. Why did George get into this business? He wanted to win, and he wanted to make money. And he’s been very, very successful at both.”

“You know, you need seven starters to win a championship these days,” said one GM the other day. “Just usually, you keep a couple of them in Triple-A.”
“I don’t even worry about it,” said another AL East general manager, Toronto’s J.P. Ricciardi. “I knew coming into this job that they would be like this, so it’s not surprising. You always know the Yankees are there. It’s like playing football in the Big East. You know you have to play Miami sometime. So when you compete with them, you just work on trying to beat them. We don’t get caught up in worrying about how they do it. We just worry about our own house.”

Mark Shapiro, Cleveland’s GM, says: “I don’t look at the Yankees with envy. I don’t look at the Yankees with jealousy. I don’t look at the Yankees with resentment. I look at them as an organization that makes good decisions with their money and plays the game the right way. There’s a lot more to like about the Yankees than to dislike, even as a competitor. If you’re another organization trying to compete with them, you need to frame what you need to do internally, not judge yourself against someone else.”

“They’ve got a right to do what they do,” one NL club executive said of the Yankees. “As we’ve all learned, just because you spend a lot of money doesn’t mean you’re going to win a lot of games. They’ve got the resources to do what they do, and they do it well.

“So they signed a guy like Contreras. Yeah, it gave them a surplus. But that surplus also allowed them to keep certain players (like Contreras and Colon) away from other teams. If you’ve got the resources, who cares if Contreras makes 15 starts and spends the rest of the year in the bullpen? If he’s in Boston, he might make 30 starts and win 15. It means they have to pay more luxury tax, but to them, it’s all relative. Whatever they have to pay in tax isn’t as bothersome as Contreras pitching in a Red Sox uniform.”

But just because the Yankees kept upping the ante (and the payroll) this winter doesn’t mean they aren’t paying attention to the labor deal.

They’re well aware of how much tax they’ll have to pay if they can’t move Mondesi, Sterling Hitchcock or Rondell White. But they’re also well aware that in a year, the contracts of Clemens, Mondesi, White, Hitchcock, Andy Pettitte, Robin Ventura and David Wells all expire. That’s more than $50 million off the books. So they’re in the midst of a long-term retooling, not a succession of one-year quick fixes.

They also needed to take only one look at the throng that showed up for Matsui’s press conference this week — a throng bigger than your average Devil Rays crowd — to look at his signing as a business deal as much as a baseball deal.

So there’s a method to their madness. But does that mean it isn’t sometimes madness all the same? Well, no. It’s just classic Steinbrenner madness.

For the Chicago angle on the trade, here are two articles from today’s Chicago Sun Times (one, and two), as well as Rob Neyer’s take on how Colon changes the shape of the AL Central.


El Duque was one of my favorites. It’s hard to resist a guy with such an enigmatic past, not to mention a beautiful pitching delivery, especially when he was m-o-n-e-y in most every big game he pitched for the Bombers. When he arrived midway through the 1998 season, who knew what to make of him? Hideki “Boo Boo” Irabu was already proving to be a major disappointment, even though I always thought he was funnier than hell (with all the straight-shooters on the Yankees boasted, they needed at least one screw up). But if Irabu looked like a combination of Ralph Kramden and a second-rate Elvis impersonator, El Duque came across like Yul Brenner. There was something inherently serious and grave about Hernandez, while Irabu proved to be nothing more than a tempermental clown.

El Duque has quite a temper too, and it’s another reason I’ve enjoyed watching him so much. Knowing that Jorge Posada had spent most of the day instigating Hernandez into a competitive fury, and then watching the two red asses have it out during the course of a game, was a sincere delight.

There is an excellent account of Hernandez’s life and career in Cuba titled, “Duke of Havana: Baseball, Cuba, and the Search for the American Dream,” by veteran newspaper men, Steve Fainaru, and Ray Sanchez. The book reads more like a Graham Greene novel of political intrigue than the average baseball biography, but it’s very well written and offers a compelling portrait of Hernandez as a complicated, even haunted man (the relationship Duque had with his older brother is especially revealing).
George Willis has a the first of what I hope are several appreciations of Duque in today’s New York Post.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver