In other news, another report on George Steinbrenner’s health.
The Yankees have until midnight on Sunday to make a decision on Gary Sheffield’s $13 million option for 2007. As Alex previously reported, Brian Cashman’s plan has been to pick up Sheffield’s option, but only after finding a team willing to trade for Sheffield and assume his entire salary. Sheffield caught wind of this plan last week and was predictably upset (if there’s one thing Gary won’t stand for it’s the lack of a long-term contract).
Sheffield’s public outburst, in which he said “there’s going to be a problem” if the Yankees pick up his option and then trade him, appeared to endanger Cashman’s plans. But, as the final paragraph of this extended version of the AP story above indicates, the possibility of obtaining Gary Sheffield at one year/$13 million in lieu of shelling out a Beltran-like nine figures over seven years for an over-30 Alfonso Soriano has generated a great deal of interest around the league. According to today’s Newsday, a trade is still the most likely scenario to result from Sunday’s deadline. That Newsday story cited an unnamed AL official as saying that Cashman is looking for “a package of prospects, bullpen help or a starting pitcher” in return for the surly 38-year-old right fielder who is coming off a soft tissue injury to the left wrist which generates a great deal of the power in his swing.
Here’s hoping it works out. The Yankees already have outfielders Bobby Abreu, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Melky Cabrera, and the major league-ready Kevin Thompson and Kevin Reese under contract for 2007. What’s more, they will likely need that $13 million to help improve their starting pitching. They have no need for Sheffield, who in addition to his age, injury and attitude, proved to be an awful defensive first baseman (though his transition did occur under far from optimal conditions). Despite all of that, Sheffield remains a valuable asset. Cashman’s plan, if successful, will turn Sheffield’s redundant value into more beneficial assets for the ballclub, yet another sign that the Yankees’ decision making is headed in the right direction.
As for the other two option decisions the Yankees have to make, they’ll have until a week from Sunday (Nov. 12) to decide whether or not it’s worth an extra $3 million to keep Jaret Wright around (his buyout is a whopping $4 million). The deadline on Mike Mussina’s $17 million option is the following Wednesday (Nov. 15). I assume the Yanks will opt to buyout Mussina for $1.5 million. The only suspense there is whether or not they’ll work out a new, less expensive two-year deal with Moose by that deadline, or if they’ll wait and bid on him along with the other 29 teams as the offseason progresses. My guess is the former, given their failure to retain Jon Leiber under similar circumstances two years ago. That is, of course, if Moose is amenable to their offer.
Jeez, well that wasn’t even close, now was it? The Tigers kicked the ball around for five games, couldn’t hit worth nuthin’, and got stomped by the Cardinals. It wasn’t a particularly exciting Serious. Actually, other than the Mets-Cards, the entire playoffs were boring.
My immediate thoughts go out to Brian Gunn, Larry Borowsky, Will Leitch, Dayn Perry and all the other great Cardinal fans I know out there. First championship for St. Louie since 1982–good for them. Who would have called it, right? And our boy Jeff Weaver pitched a whale of game last night–guess he fixed that lazy three-quarter arm angle problem that kept him a mediocre pitcher for so long. The only regret I have is not getting to see The Gambler out there in Game Six with his back to the wall. Oh well. A surprising champion in what was a most entertaining year in baseball. We don’t have to like it, but we’ll take it.
How many days ’til pitchers and catchers, again?
Desperate to get his offense going down 2-1 in the Series, Jim Leyland has dropped ALCS MVP Placido Polanco to the seventh spot in the order, moved Carlos Guillen into the vacated third spot and Sean Casey into Guillen’s fifth spot. Curtis Granderson and Ivan Rodriguez, who, like Polanco, are 0 for the World Series, remain batting first and sixth, however. Good luck with that, Jimbo.
Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and Players Association Executive Director Donald Fehr have been vilified for a laundry list of reasons over the last two decades, often for good reason. But when the first post-strike Basic Agreement expired in late 2002, the players and owners averted a work stoppage for the first time since 1970, reaching an agreement right at the August 31 deadline. Last night, Selig and Fehr appeared at Busch Stadium in St. Louis just before Game 3 of the World Series to announce that, with the 2002 agreement set to expire in December 19, they’ve not only avoided a work stoppage yet again, but they’ve beaten the deadline by nearly two months.
More impressively, despite last night’s game being something of a snoozer (a 5-0 Cardinals win behind a dominant outing from Chris Carpenter), the news of the new agreement appears to have been something of an afterthought to the mainstream media this morning. As well it should be. A dozen years after the World Series was cancelled as a result of what was then the longest work stoppage in professional sports history (thanks NHL!), order has finally been restored with the game on the field stealing the headlines from what, given the history* of labor strife in the sport, is actually a far more remarkable event. While it’s clear that timing of this announcement was in no way coincidental (Selig’s has had the specter of the 1994 World Series hanging over his head throughout his commissionership and is clearly still desperate to exorcise it), it remains apt. Though it is somewhat contradictory to do so, I think Selig and Fehr deserve to be celebrated for conducting this round of labor negotiations outside of the media spotlight, and for allowing the new agreement to be brushed aside by the media as a boring business story secondary to the game itself.
That said, a new labor agreement is big news, regardless of the temperature of the fire in which it was forged. The full agreement hasn’t been posted yet (though once it is, it will likely appear here), but here are a few highlights as cribbed from the official press release.
I thought that we would all be spending a good deal of time during the Hot Stove season talking about Labor/ Management politcs. But it looks like that won’t happen. Go figure. Talk about an unexpected, but happy surprise.
Here are two Yankee items of interest in today’s Daily News:
1. Scott Boras says Alex Rodriguez will be a Yankee next year.
2. According to Bill Madden, the Yankees plan to pick-up Gary Sheffield’s option only to trade him.
Elsewhere, Jack Curry has a piece on Joe Girardi today in the Times; Mike Plugh has a knucklehead idea; SG takes a closer look at Mr. Matsuzaka, and finally, Steve Goldman and I chatted about Curt Flood recently, and our conversation is part of the latest installment of “The Pinstriped Bible.”
Pine-tar or not, the new-and-improved (and very demonstrative) Kenny Rogers continues to roll. The man has not allowed a single run in three playoff starts. He must have sold his soul to the Devil. How else to explain how the formely timid Gambler has turned into the Raging Bull of baseball? You gotta laugh about it at this point. Wha’ happen, dude?
…Or battle of the once and future chumps, however you’d like to put it. After the Cards rolled over the Tigers in Game 1, it’s Jeff Weaver and Kenny Rogers in Game 2. It’s been my feeling all along that Rogers won’t win a pressure game this October. This isn’t exactly a 2-0 game, or a 2-2 game like the one Weaver started in the NLCS, but there is some heat on the Tigers to win tonight. Let’s see if the real Gambler finally shows.
If there are any Met fans you are trying to console today, you might want to point out the following quote:
“It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, you rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then, just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”
-A. Bartlett Giamatti
I feel you, bro, I can relate.
After Game One of the ALDS, I was riding home on the subway when I ran into a charming couple. They were both wearing Chien-Ming Wang shirts and in no time we got to chatting. They are originally for Tawain but met at Syracuse University. They now live in California and were on the East Coast for a week. First, to see Wang pitch, then to return to Syracuse to get married. Just the two of them (they will have a ceremony for their families back home at a later date). Anyhow, Jason and Ann were absolutely delightful, friendly and warm, and when I told them that I had recently gotten engaged myself, they just lit up and insisted I take a picture with them. I agreed only if they promised to send me a photo of their wedding. Dig it (and forgive the bounciness of the subway):
Now for the real scoop:
Jason and Ann, who is cooler than you? Here’s wishing you a long and happy life together. (And yo, if you catch this, e-mail me again, I lost your address.)
Rick Cerrone, the Yankees head of media relations (not the former Yankee catcher), will not be back next season. Jason Giambi had surgery yesterday, with Andy Phillips and Randy Johnson up next.
Game 7 tonight at Shea. Let’s hope it’s a good one.
It’s a beautiful thing. Writers from both sides of tonight’s Game 7 match-up have typed words today that baseball fans of all stripes (pin and otherwise) would do well to take to heart.
The beautiful and the terrible thing about baseball is that good teams will lose a third of the time, and bad teams will win a third of the time. The only thing the players can really control is the amount and intensity of effort they pour into the game. So long as the effort is genuine, we Cardinal fans (and I think most fans everywhere) are willing to accept the result for what it is. Someone has to win, someone has to lose — all we as fans can reasonably ask for is that everyone competes as hard as he can. (Thanks to Viva El Birdos for the link)
The frustrating beauty of baseball is that you can never trust what you’re watching. Any hitter can have a 4-for-4 day if everything breaks right; you have to build a team that ignores the daily randomness and simply compiles the raw numbers that lead to bulk wins over the course of the season. General manager Billy Beane of the Oakland A’s, innovator of the famously subversive “moneyball” method of building a roster, lamented that his approach “doesn’t work in the playoffs.” He was right, but not in the way most people understood him. It’s not that his approach in particular didn’t work; it’s that nobody’s does. It’s almost entirely luck.
Much is written by statistical analysts about “sample size” in baseball, and the playoffs are the most extreme example. If the Royals, one of the worst teams in baseball, played the American League champion Detroit Tigers in a 10-game postseason series, they’d win at least 3–probably more. A bad team beating a good team is not particularly difficult, or unusual. Yankees fans can take some solace in this. The Yankees were an outstanding team this year. In the playoffs, though, they ran into three Tigers pitchers who pitched dominant games those particular days. The Yankees didn’t lose because A-Rod wasn’t “clutch” or because Joe Torre forgot how to manage a baseball team or because the Tigers had more “heart.” They lost because the Tigers happened to win three games in a row.
It happens all the time during the regular season. We just don’t notice. Sportswriters say the Tigers “got hot at the right time,” but they weren’t saying that one week earlier, when they lost three at home to the Royals to end the season. Did the Royals just have more heart?
And finally from Alex Nelson at Mets Geek:
I know better now. One game is impossible to predict. Trends are just trends, streaks can be broken, and the mighty humbled. It’s going to come down to a coin toss.
And because of that, in my own twisted mind, it’s going to come down to everything. The umpiring. The winds at Shea. What I eat for breakfast. It may come down to the number of comments we get during the game. It could come down to Eric Simon’s Endy shirt. Or my lucky Mets cap that I started wearing on September 28th in an effort to change the team’s mojo and have worn ever since, despite ripping it off my head after Game 2 and stomping all over it.
It could come down to karma. Last week, I was sure it would, and I don’t even believe in the stuff. Heck, I don’t even really know what it is or how it works. There’s nothing like an uncontrollable situation to turn a rational being into a superstitious mess.
And here we are at Game 7. Another coin flip. Or maybe one last series of coin flips. I’m hoping for lots of “heads.”
The Cardinals broke serve in the NLCS on Tuesday night by defeating Mets ace Tom Glavine. Last night, the Mets broke back with a 4-2 win over defending NL Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter.
John Maine was inefficient, but effective, escaping a bases loaded jam in the first and stranding men on the corners in the third. Though he walked four, one was an intentional pass to Albert Pujols (2 for 3 with the walk, but neither a run scored nor driven in). Meanwhile, he struck out five in 5 1/3 innings and allowed just two first-inning hits.
On the other side of the ledger, Jose Reyes set the tone by following Maine’s first-inning Houdini act with a home run on Carpenter’s third pitch of the night. Reyes would go 3 for 4 with that homer, a pair of steals and a second run scored later in the game. Singles by Carlos Beltran, David Wright and Shawn Green increased the Mets’ lead to 2-0 in the fourth after which I, sitting high up in the stands over first base, felt the Shea Stadium upper deck sway for the first time.
I’d feel that sway again in the seventh after Paul Lo Duca followed two-out singles and stolen bases by pinch-hitter Michael Tucker and Reyes with a two-RBI single off former Met closer Braden Looper. Those two insurance runs proved to be the difference as Billy Wagner–following 2 1/3 scoreless innings from Chad Bradford, Guillermo Mota and Aaron Heilman–coughed up the only two St. Louis runs of the night in the ninth on a Juan Encarnacion single, a Scott Rolen double, and a two-out, two-RBI pinch-hit double by So Taguchi before finally getting David Eckstein to ground out to send the series to a decisive seventh game to be played in Flushing tonight.
After the Mets tied the series at 2-2, I posted a comment stating that I expected the series to go seven games, but that it looked to me like the Cardinals would ultimately prevail. My reasoning was the Mets’ lack of a viable Game 7 starter. I’m more optimistic now that the seventh game is a reality. Not having to use Darren Oliver since he threw six scoreless innings in relief of soon-to-be ex-Met Steve Trachsel in Game 3 will allow Willie Randolph to have an extra-quick hook with announced Game 7 starter Oliver Perez. Perez didn’t actually pitch all that well in Game 4, but kept the game close long enough for the Mets offense to start raking for what remains the only time this series. Should Perez start to falter tonight, Randolph should have no qualms about going to Oliver early, after which, it will be all-in. Only Wagner threw more than 14 pitches last night, only Bradford and Mota threw in each of the last two games, and of those two Bradford has thrown most combined pitches with a mere 21.
Of course that optimism is all dependent on the Mets breaking through against Jeff Suppan, who held them scoreless on three hits over eight innings in Game 3. But this is Jeff Suppan after all. The Mets had no problem with him back in May, the only other time they faced him this year.
A couple of other notes on attending the game last night:
Maybe I’m just bitter, but there doesn’t seem to be nearly as much negativity among Mets fans as there are among their cross-town counterparts. Even when Billy Wagner pulled his John Wetteland act in the ninth, the stadium got quiet, but no one was ranting or raving about how terrible he was or predicting the imminent demise of their team’s season. Maybe its the difference between the upper deck crowd and the bleacher creacher crowd I’m used to in the Bronx, but I can’t get through a regular season game without hearing countless predictions of failure from the Yankee “faithful” (“their gonna strand these runners” “he’s gonna hit into a double play” “why’d Torre bring him in, he’s gonna blow the lead” “here we go . . .”). Meanwhile, in the Mets first NLCS appearance in six years, down a game and facing elimination, I didn’t hear a single fan get down on the home team. You gotta believe indeed.
That said, when the Mets increased their lead to 4-0 in the bottom of the seventh, a good number of fans headed for the exits. These people should be banned from Shea for life. How can you leave Game 6 of the LCS (never mind that its the first one your team has been in in six years) after seven innings with a mere four-run lead and the top of the opposition’s line-up due up in the top of the eighth? That’s mind boggling to me. Another exodus started after Heilman cleared the one-through-four hitters in the Cardinal order in the top of the eighth. I’m sorry, if you’re at Game 6 of the LCS with your team fighting for it’s postseason life, you don’t leave until the last out, never mind the score, but especially when a grand slam could still alter the outcome.
Finally, I’m convinced that the Mets are benefiting from positive sartorial mojo. They’ve worn their alternate black uniform tops just once this postseason, that being in their ugly Game 3 loss in which Trachsel failed to get out of the second inning and the offense was shut out by Suppan and Josh Kinney. Otherwise they’ve stuck to their proper home whites and road greys. Down two games to three with their backs against the wall, what did they wear for Game 6? Pinstripes and all-blue caps, just like it oughta be. They even ditched their two-tone batting helmets for solid blue, and though it was hard to find proof, stuck with blue for their undershirts and socks as well. Kudos to the Metropolitans for that one. Now if only they’d ditch the black drop shadow and those nasty two-tone helmets and alternate unis altogether for 2007. Meanwhile, I’m hoping for those pretty blue caps and pinstripes again tonight, as well as a ballgame that lives up to the tight, well-played contests of the last two nights, regardless of the outcome.
You Gotta Believe.
The first Alex Rodriguez trade rumor has sprouted up, what with Sweet Lou taking over for Dusty Baker in Chicago. Rich Lederer asks some initial questions. Also, while you are there, check out Jeff Albert’s examination of Derek Jeter’s swing.