Saturday, April 18, 2015

CASHMAN'S "AROD PLAN" IS UP IN FLAMES


Brian Cashman must be having a miserable April. Have you ever put together a plan with great thought and consideration and then watch it fail to the point where you start wondering if some supernatural power is out to get you? Where things that worked a million times before fail for the first time ever – galactically – and you wonder why you got out of bed in the first place?


Welcome to Brian Cashman's world. Maybe not his whole world, but certainly the part of it that deals with Alex Rodriguez. It's been reported that Cashman has been trying to get rid of Alex for a few years now. I understand his frustration. He has paid $25M+ per year for a guy that did not play 100 games two of the three years prior to last year's suspension.


Then there was that "Memorial Day" plan. Remember that bit of noise that made its way through the rumor mill this past winter? We destroyed it here on BYB. Read "YANKS TO RELEASE AROD" STORY WITH ZERO DEPTHAllegedly, the Yankees were planning to release Alex right after Memorial Day. There was no confirmation, but who really believes that there was not at least a shred of truth to it? Remember that as of right now, there is a conspicuous absence from the Yankees Press Guide that we are four Rodriguez homers away from BonusGate, where Alex will pass Willie Mays on the all-time home runs list, the Yankees will refuse to pay his bonus, and all-out war will ensue.


The entire Memorial Day plan hinged on the assumption that with Alex being away from the game for so long, and pushing 40 years of age, there was no way he would be playing well. Poof. There goes that plan. He has been the one guy that has been hitting consistently for both average and power. Maybe with the kids coming up and veterans recovering from injuries, the team would be hitting well and they could say that they did not really need him. BOOM! Blown to smithereens! Well, he has always had a bad attitude, so the team would be better off without him. Instead, he has not made a single complaint about not playing third - the position he lost. He arrived at spring training early, in spite of the media circus surrounding his return to baseball, and put in his work. He took grounders at first, since the team might need to rest Mark Teixeira and they could use an extra bat in the DH slot. When asked to DH, he quietly picked up his bat and did what they needed him to do. Brian Cashman’s Memorial Day plan has gone completely up in flames.


Look, I am no fan of Alex Rodriguez. None of his good behavior through March and April excuses his use of PED’s, his lawsuits against MLB and the players’ union, and all his other activities that have drawn attention away from the game of baseball. Furthermore, six weeks of staying out of trouble does not guarantee what May through October will bring. Nevertheless, I cannot help but notice the stark contrast between his behavior and his reputation. Let us imagine that he lived up to the image of the self-centered egomaniac that many believe he is. He could have shown up to spring training late, with a “who cares” approach. He could have referred to last year’s lack of offense and asked, “Did you miss me?” He could have copped an attitude, saying “Hey, if you want to pay me $25M to sit here on the bench, my pleasure.” Worse, he could have gone to the media and pointed out how the Yankees cannot seem to score more than one run per game without him in the lineup. Notice that he has not done any of that. He has DH’ed when asked. He has played first when asked. He has played third when asked. He has pinch hit when asked. He has deflected baiting questions from reporters, especially when on the road, about the robust, loud boos and the fans turning their backs. He is doing EXACTLY what he is supposed to be doing. It is obvious even to a critic like me.


In a couple of weeks, Alex Rodriguez will hit career home run number 661, passing Willie Mays. If the Yankees refuse to recognize and pay, as everyone expects, Brian Cashman will have an even worse May than his April. The pettiness has gotten the attention of practically everyone in the press. You know, the people that will put “BonusGate” on the back page of every newspaper, at the top of every sports website and blog, and milk it for everything it is worth, for as long as they can make it last. Given the Yankees’ propensity for pushing an image of honor and tradition, this could spell disaster for Cashman. Being on the receiving end of criticisms labeling the Yankees as “petty” will wear on the Steinbrenners. My advice to Brian Cashman – give up the battle and win the war. Alex Rodriguez is not your problem. Not winning is your problem. Trying to duck a bonus payment just to make a point is moot when your team is in last place and all that your fans are talking about is how they expect this to be a long season. Recognize those that are doing well – including Alex – and work on fixing the rest. Then we can put these controversies to bed and get back to focusing on winning.



Originally posted on Bleeding Yankee Blue.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

PETE ROSE BELONGS ON THE INELIGIBLE LIST


Pete Rose’s chances of finally getting into the Hall of Fame have never been better. Robert Manfred, baseball’s newest commissioner, has publicly stated that he believes Pete Rose should be able to apply for reinstatement and that he is entitled to a fair and unbiased hearing. The only problem is that he admitted to betting on baseball. Betting on baseball puts you on the permanent ineligible list, and quite clearly according to the rules. Even if it is going to be a fair hearing, I cannot see how it turns out any differently for Rose than it does right now – with him on the ineligible list.


Rule 21 of the Major League Rules is a collection of standards that define baseball’s code of conduct for players, managers, umpires, and anyone connected to Major League or Minor League baseball. It is fairly all-encompassing and has 7 sections labeled A through G. They cover intentionally losing a game, bribing other players, bribing umpires, and acts of violence. Section F is the famous “best interests of baseball” section that gives the commissioner a blank check on matters of discipline. The two that I would like to focus on are sections D and G because they are at the heart of the case against Pete Rose. Section G states that the entire Rule 21 must be posted in every clubhouse of every major league team in both English and Spanish. Therefore, ignorance is not an excuse. Section D states “Any player, umpire, or Club or League official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform, shall be declared permanently ineligible.” That means that even if you are a bench warmer watching the game and you bet on that game, you are immediately out of baseball. The intent does not matter. Your ability to influence even the slightest aspect of the game does not matter. If you bet even a dollar on the game, Section D applies to you and you are permanently ineligible.


Pete Rose ran into trouble in early 1989, when allegations came up that he bet on baseball. He had been gambling for years, but betting on baseball was a different matter entirely, and then-commissioner Bart Giamatti hired attorney John W. Dowd to investigate. The Dowd Report came to be, and they reached a settlement where Rose accepted entry onto baseball's ineligible list and MLB would not make pursue action on the gambling allegations.


This is where things got hairy. Without any documented findings on his actions, lots of discussions opened up about whether or not Pete did anything wrong. In fact, Pete started a lot of that discussion. He adamantly refused to admit that he was guilty of any part of the things of which he was accused. He insisted that he did not bet on baseball. Pete is a popular guy, so many of his fans – myself included – rushed to his defense. Feelings of outrage at the injustice were commonplace among his fans – again, myself included. Baseball trapped him in a settlement from which there was no way out, and the commissioners – from Fay Vincent to Bud Selig – would not give him his application for reinstatement and a platform from which to state his case. Don’t even get me started on the despicable treatment that he got from NBC’s Jim Gray at the All-Century Team ceremony (yes, I signed the petition to have him fired).


Then he went and wrote an autobiography, “My Prison Without Walls”. In it, he admitted to betting on the Reds when he was the manager. He qualified it by saying that he only bet on them to win, never to lose, but that is a moot point (see above – Section D of Rule 21). He went on to admit it in his own voice on the radio and on TV. That is the point at which I changed my position. The rules were clear, and he broke them. The penalties were obvious, and he was living with the consequences. The rules are not there to be a killjoy. Rule 21, in particular, is there to protect the integrity of the game. Fans need to trust that the teams play the game fairly. Unless there is something that we do not already know, when he bet on games that he was managing, he violated the rules and the trust of the game and the fans.


Despite all this, Robert Manfred feels that Pete Rose is entitled to a fair hearing. I applaud him for saying that, and I will further applaud him when he carries it out. This ugly dance between Pete Rose, MLB, the media, and the fans needs to end. Manfred has the opportunity to bring fairness to a process that has lacked integrity and transparency. Honestly, I feel bad for Pete Rose. In his interviews, he seems to be a very likable guy. He was certainly very popular. His career accomplishments have been well documented – most career hits (4256), the 44-game hitting streak, and a million images in the fans’ minds of him going all out to get an extra hit or an extra base. I know my editor and many of my fellow writers love him.


Honestly, I do not see how he gets into the Hall. If his admission and the language of the rules were not so clear, he might have a chance. In case the thought enters anyone’s mind, a fair hearing does not mean that Manfred gets to change the rules. Changing the code of conduct to allow a rule breaker to enter the Hall of Fame puts baseball on such a slippery slope, I could write volumes on all the problematic situations out of which Manfred would have to wriggle. Nobody could be that dumb. However, I do hope that it brings some closure for Pete and his fans and that we can move on.



Originally posted on Bleeding Yankee Blue.

Friday, April 3, 2015

KIDS TO WATCH: RAMON FLORES


With Spring Training now in the home stretch, Bleeding Yankee Blue is continuing this series, highlighting the kids that are vying for a coveted spot on the major league roster, and that we may see later this season. We are going over their respective backgrounds – how they have been playing, their strengths, their weaknesses, and what to look for.




Ramon Flores has quickly gotten our attention and that of the Yankees coaching staff. He is a 23-year old outfielder from Venezuela, signed by the Yankees in 2008. Despite missing some time last year due to an ankle injury, he has shown the Yankees some pop in his bat and good coverage in the field. He was able to generate an OPS of .815 and an OBP of .343 at the AAA level, where he spent essentially almost the whole year.



The thing that stands out to me about this kid has been his performance in the last week in stress situations. Last week in a game against the Detroit Tigers, in the Yankees' final at-bat and down by two, he hit a walk-off 3-run home run for the win. This week, when the Yankees were down by one with men in scoring position, he hit a sharp single to tie the game. I know the sample set is small, but the kid is showing a lot of heart that is not always obvious from the stats without looking deeper. It would huge for the team to have a clutch player performing at that level.


He comes with some issues that he and the Yankees will have to work out. He is very patient at the plate, but the criticism on him is that he can take too many pitches. He has a lot of walks, but he also has a lot of strikeouts, particularly of the reverse-K variety. The other problem - maybe the bigger problem - is that the Yankees have a crowded outfield. At best, barring injury, he would be the Yankees 4th outfielder.


The Yankees need clutch players, ones that will win the game with one swing of the bat. Those players need to have a road paved for them to the Bronx. Did I mention that he hit a walk-off 3-run home run? Clearly, he can handle pressure, and he can play. Now we need Mr. Cashman and Mr. Girardi to figure out how to get him in Bronx pinstripes.

Originally posted on Bleeding Yankee Blue.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

CC IS HAVING A ROUGH MONTH



By the time you read this, the bottom-feeding rags that some call news sources will have started a feeding frenzy on CC Sabathia dropping the F-bomb after another poor spring outing. Granted, he had just walked off the field from a minor league game where he gave up 4 runs in five innings. He gave up two home runs, to bring his spring total up to 5 over 9 2/3 innings. It’s not pretty.


Some reporters have observed that CC doesn't seem to be too upset about it. I think that’s na├»ve. He’s been the ace of the staff since he signed in 2009, with one World Series win under his belt. He is coming off consecutive seasons where his performance was down and time on the DL was up, and probably looking to reestablish himself as the anchor of the staff. So he goes out in his first start of the spring and gives up 2 runs in 2 innings. Nothing too crazy to worry about. Then, in a game against the Mets that got a lot of fan attention – as if the game mattered – he gives up a leadoff home run, followed by two more home runs, and leaves the game with an 11.57 ERA for the spring.


Then the off-the-field movements start. Masahiro Tanaka – deservedly – is named the Opening Day starter. In one felled swoop, he loses the title of Ace and Opening Day starter for the first time in his Yankee tenure. That could not have been easy to swallow. To his credit, he’s kept his chin up.


One could understand why he would be upset. Let’s be realistic about this. He is coming off a serious injury, and his primary concern has to be his health, strength, and durability. So maybe he is just focusing on his velocity, and the strength of the movement on his pitches. By all accounts, those indications look good. Brian McCann, who caught Sabathia on Saturday, confirmed that he looked strong all 5 innings. His velocity topped out in the low 90’s, which is good for this point in the spring. It’s especially good for someone coming off an injury to do so and feel good. Top it off with 7 strikeouts and only 2 walks in those 5 innings, and it should have been a good day. Giving up a pair of home runs tends to dampen things.



Listen, I’m not saying that there isn't reason to be concerned about CC. The Yankees owe a lot of their winning over the last 6 years to him. When he has faltered, the Yankees have faltered. When he has succeeded, the Yankees have done well. The Yankees and their fans owe him their loyalty for that. So when a reporter presses him after having gone through everything I listed above, he may say that he doesn't give a f—k what people put stock in. Give him a break. I, for one, give him my sympathy and support. As his legs get stronger, I would like to see him get to that place where his ERA is in the low 3’s and he’s putting 18-20 wins up for the season. Whatever happens, we’re pulling for him.

Originally posted on Bleeding Yankee Blue.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

KIDS TO WATCH: TY HENSLEY


With Spring Training now in full swing, Bleeding Yankee Blue is continuing this series, highlighting the kids that are vying for a coveted spot on the major league roster. We are going over their respective backgrounds – how they have been playing, their strengths, their weaknesses, and what to look for.


Ty Hensley is a 21-year old right handed pitcher, drafted by the Yankees in the 1st round (30th overall) of the 2012 MLB June Amateur Draft. Despite missing all of 2013 due to hip surgery, he showed a lot of promise with the Gulf Coast League Yankees before making it to the Staten Island Yankees, where he finished the 2014 season. He had 10 starts on the year, with very good success. At each level and in every season, his K/9 is in double-digits - 11.5 for his minor league career overall – and opposing batters hit less than .245 – his minor league career OBA is .217. That kind of domination is something that has the attention of the scouts in the Yankees farm system.


You have to admire this kid’s grit. We mentioned his hip surgery, after which he worked his way back to baseball. You may recall that he was victim to a gruesome attack this past January – we covered it here: Bleeding Yankee Blue: TY HENSLEY = HEART. About a week after the attack, he is back out pitching. Less than three months later – just this past week – he is pitching in a minor league game. He pitched two innings, gave up zero runs, zero hits, struck out four, and walked one. All indications are that he is still on track.


One place where he will be challenged is his innings and pitch count. He is still a kid, but he needs to get to the place where he can throw 6-7 innings per game. His history shows that he falls short of that. The other place, which is typical of strikeout pitchers like Hensley, is his control. He is averaging one hit batsman per just over 5 innings. Some of us may appreciate that when we are facing the Red Sox – I kid! Seriously, he has plenty of time and opportunity to fine tune these areas and become a force in the Yankees rotation.


The Yankees drafted Hensley out of high school, and he spent his first year in the minors with the Gulf Coast League Yankees. He is very likely on the Yankees’ 2016 or 2017 plan, but that is not a bad place for a 21-year old to be. We wish him luck, and hope to see the fire and determination at the major league level sooner rather than later.


Originally posted on Bleeding Yankee Blue.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

ALEX RODRIGUEZ, MENTOR


With all the negative press that has surrounded Alex Rodriguez, it is hard to picture him as a role model for young, up-and-coming ballplayers. Yet over the last 2 seasons, that is exactly what he has become to Greg Bird, a highly target and promising ballplayer in the Yankees farm system. Andrew Marchand did a great piece covering Alex Rodriguez' influence on Greg Bird in the minors (read HERE).


Bleeding Yankee Blue recently did a piece on Greg Bird and his meteoric rise through the minors (read HERE). We noted that 2013 was his breakout year, when his home runs and his OPS got the attention of scouts throughout the organization. It should be no surprise that the mentorship of a seasoned veteran was involved in his sudden success. The Yankees organization promotes this value year after year in spring training. They bring back the old stars to impart wisdom and guidance to some of the younger players vying for a spot on the Major League roster.


What is surprising is that it is Alex Rodriguez. Ok I admit it – I am not a fan. I cannot sign on to what he has done, what he has been associated with and how he has handled the resulting media scrutiny. Nevertheless, if I am going to be fair, I have to say that what he has done with this kid is admirable. As he was rehabbing his way back from his hip injury, ARod could have lived up to his reputation as a self-absorbed egotist whose only interest is collecting on the dues of his contract. Instead, he spent time with the kids and encouraging them and giving them advice on making it to the next level.


I do not know what is in Alex's heart. I am hopeful that in everything from taking grounders at third, taking grounders at first, and all the talk about helping the team, that there is some sincerity in what he is doing. Nonetheless, what he is doing with Greg Bird is great, and he should get props for that.



Originally posted on Bleeding Yankee Blue.

Friday, March 13, 2015

SO …. WHO’S OUR ACE?



There were a lot of questions going into this spring training, especially considering how the Yankees did last year, as well as all the roster changes. Who is our third baseman? Who is our second baseman? Who is our closer? Who is replacing Derek Jeter? What is the plan for first base? The Yankees have answered some of these questions, and some answers are still working themselves out. It has made for a lot of noise in spring training. Add to that the media’s addiction to all things Alex Rodriguez, and I think it serves up for some major distractions from bigger issues.


The biggest question right now is around the ace of the starting rotation. Who is it? Well, for a few years prior to last season, the answer was C.C. Sabathia. He was signed as an ace, and he delivered as an ace for the early part of his contract. Now, C.C. is recovering from various leg injuries, and the last two seasons have made him more of a question mark. Masahiro Tanaka provided a lot of firepower to make the case for him being the ace last year, but then UCL injury happened, and his future is not as obvious as it once was.


You might be asking, why is the ace so important? Simply put, the ace sets the tone for the rest of the rotation. He is the guy you expect to win 80% of the time or better, the point in the rotation where the team expects to win the game because the pitcher is going to throw a gem. Because they always throw a gem, it sets the tone for the rest of the rotation and the rest of the series in play. It's also why the ace usually starts the first game of an important series. They almost always start Game 1 of every postseason series. It's much easier to win when you have the momentum of the previous game's win under your belt. The team is more relaxed when leading the series, regular season or postseason.


Who will it be for the Yankees this season? C.C. Sabathia needs to get his ERA below 4 for him to get consideration, not to mention the durability of his knees and ankles. Masahiro Tanaka needs a miracle in his UCL, while returning to his first-hand 2014 form. An uphill battle, to say the least. Then, of course, Michael Pineda's name has been mentioned as an anchor of the rotation. When he's healthy, he certainly has the stuff to do it. But I suspect there's more than a few pools where people are picking the day he goes on the DL (the over/under on that is June 1 - kidding!). His judgment is also questionable, following last year's pine tar incidents.


I entitled this piece with a question, and I'm not giving any good answers. Good possibilities, but nothing predictive. The fact is that this is a key area to watch. If no one steps up, this is going to be a long season. But if one more of these guys delivers at ace level consistently and for the duration of the season, be prepared to see some serious magic this year.




Originally posted on Bleeding Yankee Blue.