Dodgers GM Ned Colletti has acknowledged only a "mutual interest" between his club and prospective manager Joe Torre. This after forcing Grady Little out the door and engaging in an open flirtation (including a disputed handshake agreement) with Joe Girardi and non-stop reports that not only is Torre set to manage the Dodgers, but will bring Don Mattingly along with him as his bench coach. Is anyone else as tired as I am of the "GM-speak" that has become so prevalent with almost every general manager in baseball? Is there a point to all the nonsense that guys like Brian Cashman, Theo Epstein, etc, etc spew in an attempt to say something without saying anything at all? I understand that with the internet and the proliferation of 24-hour sports talk radio and television that the general manager is more out front; I also know that this isn’t the first time I’ve gone on about it, but when is enough going to be enough? Until the fans simply tune out when these guys are continually saying things that amount to either out and out lies or specifically designed bs, it’s going to continue and we’ll never be liberated from them wasting our time with their relentless, obnoxious and empty nonsense.
The reason given for Joe Torre’s reduced contract offer (that was widely believed to be a way of firing him without firing him) was that the Yankees hadn’t won a World Series in seven seasons, yet now they’re in such a state of turmoil that Hank Steinbrenner has openly stated that the fans should have patience with the way the team is being turned over. Wasn’t the lack of patience the reason that Torre was dispatched? Isn’t the lack of patience the reason why all these dominoes—-the hiring of Joe Girardi, the departures of Alex Rodriguez, Don Mattingly and the questionable returns of Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte—-are beginning to fall in the opposite direction of the Yankees intentions? There are questions that need answers and Yankees fans should be more concerned than they’ve been since the winter of 1995. In the twelve seasons since the abrupt and decried change from Buck Showalter to Torre, the team has made the playoffs every single season regardless of slow starts, injuries, illnesses and other tragedies. Now a playoff spot is not as guaranteed as it was. Are Yankees fans comfortable that Joe Girardi is the answer to all of these problems?
Since when does one year of managerial experience, in which Girardi’s team was expected to lose 100 games and instead flirted with .500 and a playoff spot before falling out of contention in September qualify as enough of a resume boost to take over the New York Yankees and replace a Hall of Famer? Girardi’s positives and negatives are impossible to ignore. His dedication, intelligence and discipline were a major part of the reason that the Florida Marlins were able to play as well as they did in 2006; but the young players that GM Larry Beinfest and the Marlins scouts were able to acquire through trades and the draft were a large part of that equation as well. It seemed that Girardi was not only getting far too much credit for things over which he had little or no control, he took a little success and his first managerial job as a validation of everything he was doing. That he alienated just about every Marlins front office person and found himself shoved out the door after winning Manager of the Year should give any team pause; and this isn’t "any team" we’re talking about, it’s the New York Yankees who just let Torre go because he failed to win the World Series. Is such an expectation going to be realistic for Girardi? He of the one year experience in Florida in which he was fired after what was considered a successful season?
Since the Yankees have chosen Girardi over Don Mattingly, they had to have performed their due diligence on exactly what happened in Florida that caused Girardi to be fired after one successful season. If they’ve taken everything that happened, siphoned through it and decided that he’s still worth the risk, then fine. If they’ve decided that they’re going to hire Girardi despite some of the things that were said to have caused the ugly parting of the ways with the Marlins, they could find history repeating itself; and there’s a major difference between the Yankees making a mistake in their managerial hire and the Marlins making that same mistake. If history repeats itself with Girardi and the Yankees, there will be questions as to what the point of getting rid of Torre was in the first place.
There’s no questioning Girardi’s positive skills and presumably he’s smart enough to consciously keep more of a hands-off attitude toward his veteran players with the Yankees. The first thing he’s going to have to do is forge a bond with Derek Jeter as a conduit to the clubhouse. Girardi was on top of everything in Florida and the Yankees veterans would probably chafe at his constant interference in every aspect of their lives. One thing that should be a concern to the Yankees is if they get off to another 21-29 start and Girardi has to right the ship. The most natural thing to do for someone who is such a control-freak is to revert to what he knows. Girardi is going to have to use every fiber of his being to keep his hands off and allow his veterans to police the clubhouse. If there is another bad start and the Yankees find themselves in third or fourth place in the division and eight-plus games out, it will only be a matter of time before the "anonymous quotes" start working their way into the beat reporter’s stories; then if things don’t improve, the griping will become public and the Yankees may have a full-fledged mutiny on their hands.
There will be a new regime in place in the coaching staff as well. Those young Yankees pitchers are bound to experience growing pains the second time around the league. To expect Joba Chamberlain to be as dominant as a starter as he was as a reliever; Philip Hughes to automatically become a 200-inning, 15 game winner; and Ian Kennedy to be a big league starter is entirely unrealistic. In fact, it wouldn’t be a shock to see at least two of them to struggle so mightily that they wind up back in the minor leagues. The Yankees are betting their entire future on some very large questions. Already the Yankees are in the process of losing their MVP third baseman in Alex Rodriguez. Of course most of ARod’s decision to opt out of his contract has to do with wanting more money, but who’s to say the prospect of Girardi’s Buck Showalterish reputation didn’t exactly make ARod comfortable in the prospect of returning to the Yankees?
Brian Cashman has placed his entire future as the Yankees GM on this hire. If things go badly, not only will Cashman quite probably lose his job, but his crafted reputation as the Yankees "architect" will be gone as well. Girardi is also without excuses. Since his firing in Florida, Girardi was mentioned as a candidate for managerial jobs with the Cubs, Nationals, Orioles and Dodgers. Since he sat out for so long and gave varied excuses—-parental illness, not wanting to uproot his children from school three times in a year, it not being the right time—-for not taking the jobs, it certainly appears that he was also partially waiting for the Yankees job to open up. Now he’s got what he wants.
This is not going to be a situation where if he keeps his team from losing 100 games and rides a parity laden National League to a surprising finish close to .500 and a Manager of the Year award, everyone will be jubilant. With the Yankees he’s going to be expected to win, and win big; he has to remember who he’s working for. Despite Hank Steinbrenner’s maudlin request for patience, the Yankees fans and media are not going to sit by quietly if the Yankees are floundering with Joe Torre and Don Mattingly sitting in the dugout for the Los Angeles Dodgers and ARod is wherever ARod winds up and the team is wondering what went wrong and why Torre was let go in the first place.
If the Yankees get off to a fast start and are playing well, there shouldn’t be a problem; but if they don’t, we’ll see whether Girardi’s reality matches the expectations. They’ve taken huge risks with these decisions and if things go badly, there will be plenty of blame to go around.
Much was made of the way Girardi was confident, self-assured and prepared in his interview with the Yankees as to why he was awarded with this prized job. I have a sneaking suspicion that, when perusing the Yankees propaganda, there are some suppressed smirks, raised eyebrows, knowing head shakes and furtive glances being exchanged in the offices of the Florida Marlins with the quiet comment regarding Girardi: "He nailed the interview with us too."
Whatever Alex Rodriguez and his agent Scott Boras do, they attract heat. Of course it was inappropriate for the news that ARod was opting out of his Yankees contract to come out in the middle of the Red Sox World Series clinching game; but I get the impression that Boras tells ARod that he’s going to have to do some "things" that ARod might not want to know about during this whole process and ARod simply signs off on it secure in the knowledge that in the end he’s going to get his money, which is apparently one of the main factors in their decisions. Ignoring the impropriety of the timing of the announcement, there are legitimate and understandable reasons for this decision other than money. While ARod obviously wants to be compensated with contractual numbers that dwarf anything any baseball player (other than ARod) has ever received, those other factors shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. Here are the viable reasons for the opt-out:
- He wants more money. Obviously, despite the value of his current contract, Boras is confident he can get a longer term, more lucrative contract somewhere else. That ARod wound up in Texas the last time he went free agent and couldn’t wait to get out of there is not relevant in the here-and-now.
- He’s tired of the constant pressure, crisis-a-day work environment, living in the shadow of Derek Jeter, management upheaval, and intense focus on every move he makes in New York with the Yankees. Until he delivers and is an integral part of winning a championship, he’s never going to be accepted as a Yankee. There’s always going to be a mercenary and phony quality to ARod that the fans find off-putting. Jeter is just as much of a polished performance artist as ARod is, but he’s accepted because he came up through the Yankees system and won championships. I certainly don’t think Jeter is a phony, per se, but I do think he could have made the transition of ARod easier by letting go of grudges from his and ARod’s turbulent past. While the excuse that the transitions in ownership, management, coaching and players may seem flimsy, it’s not completely absurd. ARod left Texas because he couldn’t deal with not being accorded the superstar status he felt he deserved from hands-on manager Buck Showalter; Joe Girardi has acquired a similar reputation. Hoping that Girardi will ease up on a veteran team like the Yankees is a bit of a risk to take for a long-term commitment. I don’t believe that ARod had any deep emotional attachment to Joe Torre, or forged any similar bond to Don Mattingly, but at least he would know what to expect from both. The ownership situation could also be a problem. Who’s going to be running the team? Will it be Brian Cashman? Hank Steinbrenner? Hal Steinbrenner? Randy Levine? It’s a bit much to ask a player of ARod’s stature, coming off the season he just had (playoff failure or not) to step into ten years of the unknown. ARod also has a right to know that the other veteran free agents such as Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte are going to be there. If the Yankees are going to turn over a substantial part of their roster, ARod may not want to be a part of that either.
- He simply wants to play somewhere else. New York isn’t for everyone and after four years of dealing with everything about it, good and bad, ARod wants to spend the last half of his career somewhere where he’s not going to be hounded by ten to twenty reporters a day and asked the same questions over and over again. Perhaps he doesn’t want to be a superstar among superstars only accepted if he hits .800 in the post-season and carries his team to a championship; perhaps he wants the unconditional love some fans give their players regardless of their personal lives and on-field failures. There’s a certain hypocricy that has to be accepted when playing for a team like the Yankees. They’ll harrass a player for days on end because of one mistake and then profess their love when they do something positive, only to repeat the process again. It’s the same in any high-pressure team environment like New York, Boston or Philadelphia. Maybe ARod doesn’t want to deal with that any more or sign up for ten more years of such a situation.
In the end, it was in his contract to opt-out and, for whatever reason, he’s done so. The timing may have been staged and ill-conceived; he may make fans everywhere angry and jealous of him for doing it, but it’s his right to exercise, like it or not.
An interesting question is where ARod is going to wind up now that the Yankees have steadfastly denied that they’re going to participate in a negotiation with Boras on an entirely new contract. Here are the teams in order of my judgement of their probability:
- San Francisco Giants: The Barry Bonds circus has finally left town and the Giants need a new superstar to build their team around. Their main weakness last season was offense, ARod could play either shortstop or third base and the Giants have the money to pay him. San Francisco is also supportive of their players and is a city cosmopolitan enough for ARod to have all the big city perks without most of the drawbacks. Manager Bruce Bochy is well-liked and respected throughout the league and the Giants young starting rotation will make them a playoff contender next season. It also helps that there will be few trips to New York for ARod to be relentlessly booed as a supposed ungrateful turncoat.
- Los Angeles Angels: They have the money; openings at both shortstop and third base; the need for a power bat to protect Vladimir Guerrero; with their pitching staff would be a odds-on favorite for the World Series. Mike Scioscia is a highly respected manager and Los Angeles is laid-back enough for ARod to be able to relax while playing.
- Boston Red Sox: If the Red Sox wanted to, they could do this very easily on a number of fronts. They have third base opening up with Mike Lowell’s impending free agency and if ARod wanted to move back to shortstop, I doubt they’d let Julio Lugo stand in the way of that. Manny Ramirez’s contract is coming off the books after next season, so they’d have $20 million freed up to pay ARod afterwards and the Red Sox would love to stick it to the Yankees even further by taking their best player right after winning the second Red Sox championship in four years. ARod would hit 75 home runs playing in Boston and shooting for that wall.
- Los Angeles Dodgers: With the Dodgers needing a third baseman to make up for Nomar Garciaparra’s woeful lack of production; Joe Torre apparently set to become the new Dodgers manager with Don Mattingly as his bench coach; the calming effect of knowing what to expect from his management team; and all the other previously mentioned perks of Los Angeles, he’d be a good fit and they have the money and the need to make a big splash.
- Philadelphia Phillies: They need a third baseman and that lineup would be frightening with ARod added to Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins. The Pat Burrell contract is coming off the books after next season as well, which would free up the money necessary for ARod. He might hit 80 home runs playing in Philadelphia.
- Chicago Cubs: ARod loves Cubs manager Lou Piniella, the Cubs shortstop position is open and they have the money. The problem is that the team is being sold and they may not be able to take on a gargantuan contract under these circumstances.
- Seattle Mariners: Why not return to his first home? They have the money; the team is pretty good; and while they have a young shortstop in Yuniesky Betancourt, he’d be someone to trade for some pitching.
- There are other teams that have the money like the New York Mets and the Detroit Tigers. The Mets could move Jose Reyes back to second base, install ARod at shortstop (or perhaps trade Carlos Delgado and try to convince ARod to move to first); but ARod would probably want to get away from New York entirely and the Mets aren’t going to pay him the money he wants anyway. The Tigers would have been a perfect fit because they have the money, are moving Carlos Guillen to first base and were going to need a shortstop. ARod is also close with Tigers DH Gary Sheffield; but the Tigers acquired Edgar Renteria from the Braves, so they have no place for ARod.
My best guess is that ARod goes to San Francisco to play for the Giants.
While Jonathan Papelbon didn’t win any of the awards for his playoff performances; is not going to win either the Cy Young Award or the MVP of the American League; and has been somewhat overshadowed amid the other stories emanating from the Red Sox clubhouse, his contribution to this championship should never be forgotten by Red Sox fans for one simple reason: it was Papelbon’s utter selflessness that led him to go to manager Terry Francona and ask to be put back into the closer’s role in spring training. Without that move, it’s quite possible that the Red Sox would not even have made the playoffs and instead of a parade in Boston and splashy celebratory headlines all over their city newspapers, there would have been a rash of firings beginning with Theo Epstein and extending all the way down to Terry Francona. All of that was prevented by Papelbon realizing what no one in the Red Sox front office would publicly admit to: they didn’t address the closer situation properly when they decided to move Papelbon into the starting rotation last winter.
What would have become of the Red Sox season had they actually gone through with the intention to have such names as Joel Piniero, Devern Hansack, Craig Hanson, Mike Timlin or whoever as their closer? I surmised before the season that the probability was that unless the new closer got off to a fast start and built some momentum, it was only a matter of time before a series of blown games and infighting (starting with justified complaints from Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling about their quality starts going to waste because of an insufficient closer) caused the Red Sox to either move Papelbon back into the bullpen by May, or overpay for one of the available relievers from another team; by then they they might have been ten games out of first place. Papelbon’s selfless decision to return to the bullpen saved the Red Sox season.
This wouldn’t have been the first time that the Red Sox went into a season with some vague idea as to whom their closer was going to be. They did it in 2003 with the now infamous attempt to utilize a "closer by committee" that cost them the American League Eastern Division and the possibility of avoiding the Yankees entirely for an easier road to the World Series. Theo Epstein seemed intent of making Papelbon a starter even though by the end of spring training, he and everyone else in the Red Sox hierarchy had to know they had no one to close. Could Hideki Okajima have become an effective closer? Possibly. But that’s too much of a variable to count on with so much riding on the effectiveness of a team’s bullpen in the way the game is played today. Combine the disastrous signings of J.D. Drew and Julio Lugo along with Papelbon starting and not having a closer is a recipe for unavoidable disaster. Papelebon essentially took the wheel of a vehicle that was careening over a cliff and steered it not only to safety, but to victory.
It’s not as if Papelbon’s decision is simply performance based. Closers make far less money than top starters do; and given how his arm tired in late 2006, he may even be shortening his career by a few years. There’s no way to know how good he would have been as a starter; he might have imitated Derek Lowe and won 20 games, but this year he was needed more in the bullpen to save the Red Sox front office from themselves. This season could very easily have gone up in flames by May. Papelbon prevented all of that by volunteering to go back to the ‘pen for the good of the team. That is the epitome of the selfless player and while he may not have a piece of hardware (other than a big gaudy championship ring), he deserves more appreciation than he’s probably going to get because what he did is a rarity these days—-he put the team above himself, and he deserves some recognition for it.
The New York Daily News is reporting that it appears as though Joe Girardi is the leader in the race to become the new manager of the Yankees (Girardi Story). This "news" should be taken with a grain of salt however. In recent years, The Daily News has been famous for reporting stories as "done deals" and then those stories wind up being wrong. I admire Bill Madden’s baseball writings greatly (today’s News story isn’t written by him), but this is the second year in a row that he’s been wrong about the Yankees managerial situation. Last year, he had Lou Piniella replacing Torre with all that remained was a crossing of the "t’s" and a dotting of the "i’s". Torre ended up surviving. (I believe that Madden got his information from George Steinbrenner himself, so it’s understandable why he was so sure of the veracity of the story.) And this year, he had Tony La Russa replacing Torre; La Russa has since returned to St. Louis after Torre twisted in the wind for a week and a half. The Daily News also reported, complete with a giant headline, that the New York Knicks had hired Mike Fratello as coach, only to see Lenny Wilkens announced a day later. Girardi may indeed be the next manager of the Yankees, but I won’t believe it until I see him standing in front of a podium amid the familiar Yankees pomp, circumstance and campy press conference holding a Yankees uniform and making some lame speech rife with predictable pronouncements and tiresome cliches. For the record, I still think they’re going to give the job to Don Mattingly.
Both Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees need each other. ARod because the Yankees are probably the only team that is going to pay him the money he wants; the Yankees because with the team in flux in the manager’s office and not having won a championship in seven years, they need their marquee player.
That ARod and his agent Scott Boras have been so open to the idea of opting out of his current contract is more of a negotiating ploy than anything else. There isn’t an agent in the world in any field better than Boras at playing this game of bluffing and then finding someone to give him what he wants, be it the previous team or a new team. Boras getting J.D. Drew the contract he got from the Red Sox owes to both the skill of the agent and the obsession teams like the Red Sox have with the misleading on base percentage stat and the expectation/blind hope that Drew will eventually fulfill his potential. With ARod though, there’s no reason to utilize puffery to enhance his value. Alex Rodriguez is quite possibly going to go down as the greatest baseball player in history and Boras is going to want his client paid accordingly. Even with all of that, ARod is not in the best position to be making threats and actually opt out of his contract.
If he expects another team to pay him the amount of money that the Yankees will, he may be in for a rude awakening. The Angels owner, Arte Moreno, has been lukewarm to the idea of ARod; the Cubs are being sold and no one is going to want to purchase a team with a player under a $300 million contract; the Mets didn’t want to pay ARod before and probably won’t now; the Red Sox are making noises about the possibility, have the money, the payroll space and positions open (shortstop and third base), and love tweaking the Yankees (and what better way to top off a second World Series win in four years by stealing the Yankees best player as well?). But that may be Boras’s only hope. ARod and Boras have been publicly silent about the Yankees saber-rattling about not getting involved with ARod if he does opt out of the contract, so they’re going to be taking a huge monetary risk if they follow through with it, but the same can be said for the Yankees.
With a new manager coming on board, the Yankees have to decide the risk/reward of playing this game with ARod. They probably wouldn’t do much worse on the field; they’d find someone to play third base and the rest of their offense would account for ARod’s departure, but do they want to do that? Of course there is always the possibility of more Machiavellian Yankee subterfuge. By that I mean that they may not care if ARod does leave for the same reason that they wanted Joe Torre out as manager. The odds are the Yankees are going to make the playoffs one way or the other with a new third baseman and a new manager; if that’s the case, they can’t do any worse than losing in the first round. Their only problem would be if ARod left and went to the Red Sox, because then it would be difficult for them to win that division against such a loaded Red Sox team.
Stranger things have happened and ARod and Boras might call Brian Cashman’s bluster and opt out of the contract hoping that desperation from the Torre firing and public outcry would force their hand. The manager the Yankees select will also play into the equation. ARod seemed to have a peaceful coexistence with Torre, no more, no less; and it’s hard to imagine an athlete the stature of ARod with his immense pride and ego ever forgetting the fact that Torre saw fit to bat the slugger eighth in the final game against the Tigers in 2006. I don’t think ARod was all that bothered to see Torre go. If Don Mattingly is the new manager, then ARod will have the respect for Mattingly’s career and acceptance of the laid back manager he’d probably be that it wouldn’t be a factor; if Joe Girardi is the manager, ARod might chafe at the likelihood of the hands-on reputation that Girardi got in his year as the Marlins manager. Also because Girardi was an average player at best, ARod and others might not be all that impressed with taking orders from him.
Everything will come clear in the coming weeks as the Yankees name their new manager and meet with ARod and Boras. If the Yankees name Girardi as manager, we’ll have a pretty good idea that they’re willing to move forward, with or without ARod. They’d better have a plan though, because the decisions that both are making may explode in their faces for years to come.
Some brief notes about the World Series and post-season in general:
- Why there are so many anointing headlines regarding Curt Schilling’s performance last night is a mystery to me. He pitched well enough to win, kept his team in the game and gutted his way through, but 5 1/3 innings isn’t a performance that warrants the attention it’s getting. The guys who deserve the credit are Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon.
- With the Rockies returning to Colorado in their current hole, the temptation is great to make some snide comments about the team with the mandate to acquire players who adhere to "Christian moral values". A mediocre team that got hot at the right time and emerged from a parity (maybe parody would be a better word) laden National League shouldn’t think that this is some validation of the way they run their team after so many years of mediocrity and worse. It wouldn’t be a shock to see them fall to fourth place in the NL West next year either.
- If the Red Sox go on and win this series, I’m curious as to whether Theo Epstein, Larry Lucchino, et al are going to continue with the line of fiscal responsibility and play the Moneyball card when they are, in fact, a big market team that throws money at their problems. They’ve built an excellent farm system and are a money-making machine on a worldwide basis—-much like the Yankees. But the insistence that they’re going to be a financially conscious team when they have a $165 million payroll is an insult to the intelligent fan’s knowledge of the game. There’s nothing wrong or immoral about the way they build their team and fix their problems, but some honesty about the facts would be welcome.