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Monthly Archives: December 2003

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KICKIN’ IT IN THE BIG EASY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A ROD DEAL DEAD; SADDAM CAPTURED

Fear and Loathing in New Orleans

After two days at the winter meetings, I can safely say that this is one of the oddest experiences I’ve ever had. Jay Jaffe and I arrived late Friday night at our hotel

WILD WEEKEND…

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

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

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

SHRILLTOWN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AND AWAY WE GO

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOOD GOD

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

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

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

WHEN IT RAINS…

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

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

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

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

HEAVEN’S ABOVE

GOSSIP

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

So much for the Yankees’ number one priority. Stay tuned…

BAD BOSS RISING

ZOOLANDER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COLD COMFORT

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

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

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

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

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

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

BRONX BANTER INTERVIEW: TOM VERDUCCI

THE PRO’S PRO

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

Bronx Banter: Did you grow up playing sports?

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

BB: Where did you fit in?

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

BB: Do you have any sisters?

Verducci: I have four sisters.

BB: Wow, thatís a nice, healthy brood.

Verducci: Yup.

BB: And you played for your dad?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LEVERAGE

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

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

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

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

DON’T KNOW MUCH ABOUT HISTORY?

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

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

FREE AND CLEAR

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

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

DISSED (AND DISMISSED?)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM THEIR FRIENDS (AT MLB)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter Gammons reports that this deal is about Rangers owner Tom Hicks, and Boston’s owner John Henry, along with Alex Rodriguez and his agent, Scott Boras. Clearly, A Rod is going to have to bend

YIKES

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

Red Sox owner John Henry met with Alex Rodriguez yesterday.

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

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

P.S. NO FUNNY STUFF

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

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

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

GOOD AND GOOD FOR YA

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

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

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

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

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

THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

from the 1984 Baseball Abstract

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

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

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

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

From the 1988 Baseball Abstract

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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