Tag:New York Yankees
Posted on: April 20, 2011 5:54 pm
Edited on: April 21, 2011 9:52 am

Kansas City Here I Come

At the beginning of the 2008 baseball season, I was chatting with a couple of friends about how well I thought the Tampa Bay Devil Rays would be. They looked at me with a sincere look of confusion. The Devil Rays had gone 66-96 the year before, how good could they be one year later? They finished in last place in the American League East, and still would have to play against the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees nineteen times each. They went to the World Series that year, and my friends were more amazed day by day as they continued to be division front-runners and even more when they won the division.
I would like to think that this year's team that will do the same is the Kansas City Royals. They have similar recent history of being terrible. Add that to the the fact that Dayton Moore traded away the only true staff ace that Kansas City has had in years with Zack Greinke, and you have to wonder where this sentiment comes from. The Royals are in second in the American League Central division, trailing only the Cleveland Indians. I truly don't expect the Royals to have the same run as the Devil Rays did back in 2008. I think they have as much of a chance of making it to the World Series this year, as I have of being their opening game starter in that World Series. I do not believe they will win the AL Central, but I believe that they certainly could win that division and make it to the playoffs.
By trading away Zack Greinke, the staff ace, a guy that had won the American League Cy Young Award with them a couple of years previous, that they were again retooling for the future. They did get Alcides Escobar, who potentially has the tools to be a fantastic shortstop and alleviates the club of the woes that they had previous years between Yuniesky Betancourt and others at that position. Perhaps Moore was more aware than any of us would give him credit for. Escobar has been a refreshing surprise for the club. He still isn't a fantastic hitter, but that should improve and keep pace with his defense and baserunning ability.
Luke Hochevar has helped alleviate the loss of the staff ace. He was a first round draft pick from the 2006 draft, so perhaps it was a now-or-never situation to force him to take the reigns of the staff. He certainly has the talent, and with a few years of experience under his belt, he has been a stabling presence at the front of the rotation. His struggles will certainly show during the season as a young pitcher, but he has the talent. Joakim Soria may be the best closer in baseball. His strikeout numbers are fantasic, and he's about as unhittable otherwise as any reliever in baseball. The pressure on him the past couple of years has been immense, as the Royals don't typically get themselves into cushy 3-run save situations, but he has shown his dominant stuff at the end of games for three and a half years now. Jeff Francis may be the best free agent signing by a club this year. He brings an experience of winning that these young pitchers are unfamiliar with at the Major League level. Just a few years ago, he was a staff ace for the Colorado Rockies that went to the World Series. His presence may be exactly what this young staff needs to mentor them through this season. He along with Bruce Chen and Kyle Davies will support Hochevar in this rotation. Robinson Tejeda and Tim Collins have stuff nearly as nasty as Soria. They can sit down batters in the seventh and eighth innings to get Soria those save opportunities.
Billy Butler is hitting as well as he ever has. His plate patience is evident also, as he has an on-base percentage of .493 right now. He finally has some protection in the lineup this year. Alex Gordon has been as fantastic as all that hype about him said he should have been; it just took a few years longer than it was expected. If he can keep this pace up throughout the season, he would probably get some consideration in Most Valuable Player discussions. It's exciting to see him hitting for average and power, and showing more patience at the plate than previous years. Something must have clicked in the off-season, because he has broken out this year like a true superstar. Jeff Francoeur and Melky Cabrera have brought that winning experience to the lineup that Francis brought to the rotation. Both are having solid hitting seasons along with Chris Getz and Wilson Betemit who may finally be realizing some of the potential that was expected when he was drafted years ago. If Kila Ka'aihue can bring his average up and continue to hit for power, the corner infield positions will make a positive impact in games. The catcher position seems the weakest with Matt Treanor, but if Jason Kendall can come back and produce like his normal self, that position will be fine.
Probably nobody expects the Kansas City Royals to seriously contend this year. I really like the team, and I certainly don't expect them to have the same level of success that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays did in 2008, but I am not counting them out of possibly making the playoffs. They have the fortune of playing in the AL Central, which is likely the best situation for this team. They don't have the talent that the Devil Rays had three seasons ago. The Chicago White Sox are a big-market team, and the Detroit Tigers have a history and a fanbase that will allow them to typically spend some money, but I would hardly call them a big-market team. Cleveland has struggled almost as mightily as the Royals, and the Twins may be in the worst situation that they have encountered in quite a few years with Mauer being on the DL already this year. The White Sox haven't done anything to warrant serious discussion about winning anything. The Tigers have some top-end talent, but I don't believe they have a truly competitive roster. Whoever wins the AL Central will be expected to be fodder in the first round of the playoffs. It will be a winner by default, as they will likely have a worse record than any other division winner and possibly the wildcard winner. For this reason, I'm not counting the Royals out.
Regardless of what happens, I am truly hoping that they can have success down the road based on the first signs of success this year. Tampa Bay has made themselves much more relevant for successive years since 2008. With any luck, the Royals can catapult themselves to competitive status. The Zack Greinke trade may have given them a couple of solid pieces to that puzzle; not only did they solidify the shortstop position for years to come, but they also got Lorenzo Cain in that trade along with pitching prospects Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi. Lorenzo Cain is another highly touted prospect that should keep the outfield well represented. I remember the days that George Brett used to man third base, and Bret Saberhagen was the staff ace for the Royals. It was a better time for baseball. Let's hope this is the platform season for us to return to a time that the Kansas City Royals are contenders again.
Posted on: April 10, 2011 11:15 pm

Is This Baseball Heaven or Purgatory?

Jered Weaver just pitched the game of his life tonight; he pitched seven innings, allowed one run, struck out a career-high fifteen batters. Absolutely fantastic achievement! As I was reviewing the article about his triumphant game, I started to think about Jeff Weaver's career. Jeff Weaver was a fantastic young pitcher with Detroit when I first started to like him. The Tigers were terrible, but Weaver put up a few winning seasons to start his career. Assuming a normal player will continue to improve, I thought he was going to be a star of the game for years to come.
When he got traded to the New York Yankees, I thought they had stolen him from the Tigers--how could the Tigers give up a guy in his young twenties that they could build their rotation around? I was disappointed also because I am a Boston Red Sox fan. The Yankees had bolstered their rotation with one of the best young arms in the league. The Red Sox had fallen further behind merely because they had gained. Jeff Weaver had a modicum of success with the Yankees. By Yankee standards, he was a failure. He went 12 - 12 over his year and a half in pinstripes.
There are websites and blogs set up around players that flopped for the Yankees. It makes sense, there are numerous players they have traded for or signed that have come to New York and failed. Some were able to get out of New York before they had ruined their careers beyond repair.
Carl Pavano got paid $40M to pitch about 145 innings and go 9 - 8. He was 18 - 8 the year before with Florida. In 2010 he pitched 221 innings for Minnesota and went 17 - 11. What happened in New York? Chuck Knoblach was an All-Star second baseman for Minnesota. After one year in New York, his career fell precipitously until he had to be benched because he couldn't throw the ball to first base, and because his batting had dropped over 100 points. He had never had more than eleven errors in a season, his last full season in New York, he had 26.
Do the Yankees cause these players to fail? Is it the pressure of playing in the American League East? Is it the spectacle of the city, the franchise, the media? Or is it bad scouting and management in the Yankee organization?
Some fans will say that Brien Taylor is the biggest bust in franchise history. He got a lot of money and was the number one overall draft pick, yet he never played in the majors. That is different than the Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez stories--those players were already stars that had established themselves before going to New York. Taylor never had anything more than hype.
George Steinbrenner may have made the Yankees great after purchasing the franchise back in the 1970's. He certainly was willing to put himself out there as a figurehead of the team, but he was also willing to put his money on the line. He could not imagine what the Yankees had become after the decades of amazing teams that he remembered as a kid. He would do whatever it took to return the franchise to its rightful esteem. He was willing to lose money if that's what it took. In some ways Steinbrenner made the Yankees a better team, and in others he was a part of their failure. He had every right to do whatever he wanted, but his style of management cost him and the team. Managers and coaches got fired at the drop of a hat, players were constantly feeling scrutinized about their play, and executives wondered constantly whether their jobs were secure.
Were these conditions the cause of some of the great players' failures in pinstripes? It takes a special type of player to play in New York and succeed. There are expectations on any player on a team that spends that much money with the intention of winning every year. Guys like Chuck Knoblach who play in smaller markets with lower expectations might have a hard time adjusting to the cruel businesslike feel of playing with so much pressure. Perhaps Knoblach would still have played at an All-Star caliber for years if he hadn't gone to New York. Kevin Brown played in Los Angeles for the Dodgers, so he was used to playing in a big market, but the West Coast is considerably different with their sports attitude. Los Angeles really hasn't made a valiant effort to get and NFL team back in the second largest US market. Do you think they put a pile of pressure on its baseball teams? One can understand the trials that Hideki Irabu had coming over from Japan; he was facing social and cultural changes. They play the game differently across the Pacific.
It takes a special type of player to succeed in New York, but with that success comes history. Sure the Steinbrenners will continue to put pressure on their players, perhaps not as much as George did, but they are already making headlines in their own right. The city will continue to revere its sports heroes and criticize those that aren't capable of handling all the spotlight has to offer. The failures of these stars and many others has kept some players from signing contracts there--Cliff Lee comes to mind immediately. One thing is for sure, if money were more of an object, the failures of these players would have had more of a lasting effect on the franchise and its ability to compete. Instead, they throw more money at more players than anyone else can. If you are a Yankees fan, consider yourself blessed that your team can afford to burn money on the failures, and still go out and compete year after year. Major League Baseball would be a considerably different league if all franchises could do this.

Posted on: April 8, 2011 11:11 pm

This is How You Treat Us?!

Manny Ramirez retired today. It's the end of an era that should have probably ended a couple of years ago. This isn't Manny being Manny as his attitude has so affectionately been described, this was Manny getting out with the last shred of respectability that he could leave with. If he had stuck around, he would have undoubtedly been suspended. The last time he was suspended it was for 50 games; I don't recall right off what the suspension for subsequent issues involving performance enhancing drugs (PED's) is. Would this have been a one year suspension? If so, did Manny just speed up the inevitable? He retired rather than face the humiliation of another suspension. Another suspension would have brought his career to a halt anyway.
Manny hasn't been exceptionally relevant in baseball for a few years now. If you are into fantasy baseball, do you remember when Manny was his generation's Ryan Braun? He was a first round pick, which as an outfielder is huge. My guess is that you probably didn't even consider drafting Manny in this year's fantasy baseball draft. If you did, other owners in your league snickered as you picked him up, but secretly hoped that he didn't perform to 75% of what he used to do, and probably still could do. If so, he was a steal. Imagine picking up a player in the 20th round of the draft that batted .275, hit 20 homers, had 85 RBI with 75 runs scored--that would be the find that won your league!
Thanks for the memories Manny. You provided that lethal combination with David Ortiz that got the Red Sox a couple of World Series rings this century. You provided a bit of comic relief in an otherwise stodgy old sport. It was fun cheering for you to take those massive swings against the rival Yankees, and be successful. I remember hearing that the Red Sox signed Manny and thought: this is the guy they need in the middle of their lineup. I wasn't excited about the amount of money, but wasn't it great when the commissioner's office devalued the contract so that it ultimately became less than what he would have gotten if he had gone and resigned with the Cleveland Indians with the contrac they offered? Still eight years and $160M was a lot of money to a guy that was arguably a poor outfielder with a bat.
I remember being at the Philadelphia Phillies game that first time they were playing interleague play at Citizen's Bank Park in Philadelphia. I had seats right over by the third base line and quite near the front--it was the section of the stands that juts out very close to the foul line. Manny made an amazing catch while sliding into the wall that night. I was so close to the play that I couldn't see Manny because he had disappeared below the level of the wall. He got up with that wry smile that he had when he knew he just exceeded people's expectations of him, but not his own expectations. The guy I had gone to the game with had gotten up to go to the bathroom; when he got back, I told him that he had just missed the play of the game.
I remember that same smile while watching the Red Sox against the Yankees--I forget the year and the circumstances. I do remember the opposing player. Enrique Wilson had just nutted a fly ball over the left field wall in Yankee Stadium. Manny somehow got to the spot at the wall where the ball was going over. It seemed like he was jumping seven rows into the stands to rob Wilson of his homerun, but it was probably just the front row. Because it was Manny, it was larger than life. Enrique was rounding the bases in the fashion of a person who had known that he hit it out of the park. As he rounded second, the look on his face went from glowing delight to bewilderment; why were his teammates not lauding his achievement?! He looked at Manny, and there was that wry smile. Manny had not only robbed Wilson of that homerun, he had robbed the entire Yankee team and all of their fans in attendance, watching on television, and those that would later find out as they watched the highlights.
I just wish those were the ilk of memories that flooded my thoughts. Instead, I'm stuck with the memories of how Manny left Boston, how his attitude became bigger than the team could handle. I remember the irritation I felt when Manny refused the Dodgers' contract offer of one year and I believe $20M. He wanted two years and $50M. Nobody else was bidding anywhere near that, but he refused to believe that his career was ebbing. He got big money and two years from the Dodgers. I don't believe it was $50M, but I think it was close. I really stopped paying attention during that ordeal. Manny was overpricing himself, and distancing himself from his adoring fans. The game was no longer the game that it was while he was playing in Cleveland. It was no longer the game/business it was while playing in Boston, where he was worth the hassles because he truly was one of the few difference makers in the game. This was Manny's narcissism. Unfortunately, there were still some that were willing to feed that hubris.
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com