Chemistry, the start of what could be a busy trade season, some reality about ex Yankees, interleague mercifully over with and more as MLB’s season draws closer to the midway point.
Yesterday afternoon at Fenway Park, Kevin Youkilis hit an RBI triple that marked the end of his Red Sox career. Once a key member of a feared Red Sox lineup, Youkilis’ batting average and OBP had taken steep declines in 2011 and 2012. With a contract that expires at the end of this season, and having been replaced by rookie Will Middlebrooks as the Red Sox starting third baseman, it was inevitable that Youkilis would be traded for the best deal that Red Sox GM Ben Cherington could swing.
This trade was a no brainer for both clubs involved. The White Sox had a glaring need for a third baseman and even with Youkilis’ offensive production being down, one would have to think that he’ll still be an improvement at third base for the White Sox over Orlando Hudson. With the Red Sox agreeing to pick up a little over 5.5 million of the 8 million dollars remaining on Youkilis’ contract, the White Sox traded two players with little realistic upside and are taking a small gamble that adding Youkilis can help them stay in contention in the AL Central.
Youkilis had reportedly had issues with some of his teammates off the field as well as a public clash with manager Bobby Valentine earlier this year. Because of this, the media coverage of this trade in the last 20 hours has emphasized one of the most ridiculous clichés used in regards to baseball, chemistry.
The Red Sox historic collapse lead to the firing of manager Terry Francona after revelations of clubhouse clashes and pitchers playing video games while drinking beer and eating fried chicken. As amusing as many found the jokes that followed, the bottom line is that poor play on the field in September was the reason that the Red Sox missed the playoffs, not clubhouse squabbles or Popeye’s fried chicken.
If the Red Sox had won two more games in September, it is very unlikely that any of the fried chicken jokes and reports of clubhouse squabbles ever would have seen the light of day. It is also very unlikely that Youkilis would have been traded yesterday if his offensive production was at the level it had been prior to 2011. Baseball is a game that is about talent and production. Players who don’t produce are replaced by players who display more talent or production. The guys who sit on the bench while you hit can’t help you hit a slider away or a fastball up. Production in baseball is up to the individual player and can only be controlled by that player.
Professional athletes are paid millions of dollars to perform at the highest level and expected to perform as professionals. There are very few people alive, if any, who haven’t personally disliked some or many of the coworkers they have had to deal with at their jobs. Their bosses still expect them to perform their duties to the best of their ability. When you are being paid millions of dollars to pitch or hit a baseball, the excuse of not liking some teammates in the locker room rings very hollow. The San Diego Padres could hold team sleepovers and make smores while holding hands and singing Kumbaya but it won’t help them hit or pitch the ball better.
Some Red Sox fans and mainstream MLB media apparently expect the good times to roll now that Youkilis is gone. Apparently “team chemistry” has been improved. For those of us who stopped believing in fairy tales long ago, we’ll stick with the notion that the Red Sox season hinges on the return of and production of some key injured players.
Mercifully, interleague play came to end last night as the Yankees defeated the Mets 6-5. The AL continued its dominance of interleague play, winning 142 games and losing 110. The Rangers showed the way in interleague play, going 14-4. They were followed by the Yankees(13-5), Angels(12-6), and Baltimore, Boston, and Detroit who all went 11-7. Only three teams in the AL had losing records in this year’s interleague play. Cleveland, Kansas City, and Seattle all went 8-10. Only six teams in the NL had winning records in this year’s interleague play. The Diamondbacks lead the way at 9-6. The Pirates and Nationals went 10-8. The Mets, Cardinals, and Padres all went 8-7.
Interleague play was a gimmick that was introduced in the 90′s after MLB’s attendance and popularity took such a huge hit following the strike season of 1994. It can be argued that at the time, interleague play had a purpose.
At this point in time, many fans and players and managers dread interleague play and for good reason. The AL’s annual dominance basically serves to shorten the season by 18 games. The “rivalries” are more invented than they are real, the schedule unbalanced, and the lack of a DH in games played in NL parks hard for AL fans to take.
Last May, Tigers manager Jim Leyland told the Detroit News that the appeal of interleague play “has worn off for me. It was a brilliant idea to start with, but it has run its course.”
I couldn’t possibly agree with Leyland any more than I do. It will be very nice to get back to games this evening that involve teams that are actually battling each other for the same playoff spots.
The Youkilis deal yesterday was the first of the bigger names to be dealt this season as the trade deadline approaches a little over a month away. Last season, ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick and I got into an exchange about the lack of activity in the trade market. Jerry mused over the day after day of checking all of the media sources for trades and finding nothing and referred to it as a month-long episode of Seinfeld.
The Phillies have a decision to make on Cole Hamels, and that decision seems to be becoming harder to make by the day. After being swept by the Rays yesterday, the Phillies trail the Nationals by 9 games in the NL East and are now 5 1/2 games out of the wildcard. More troubling than being 5 1/2 games out of the wildcard position is how many teams are between the Phillies and the wildcard position. The Phillies would have to pass 6 of the 7 teams they trail in the wildcard race and that is a very tall order even if Howard and/or Utley return to the lineup and produce.
It seems very unlikely that the Phillies will resign Hamels at season’s end with their payroll already stretched and the high price tag that Hamels is sure to bring. The Phillies can either stick with Hamels and hope to battle their way back into contention and be content with a draft pick when he leaves or try to get a good return on him in a trade. A trade seems the more likely of the two options.
The Brewers are in even worse shape than the Phillies are in terms of their playoff hopes. Hopelessly behind in the wildcard race, the Brewers trail the Reds by 6 1/2 games in the NL Central. The Pirates and Cardinals are also between the Brewers and first place.
Pitcher Zack Greinke and the Brewers failed to reach a deal on a contract extension before the season began and it would be stunning if Greinke didn’t head to free agency at year’s end unless he is traded to a team that does the extension.
Greinke is almost certain to be traded, with the only question being how soon a contender is willing to pull the trigger on him.
While the majority of big deals are done closer to the deadline in recent history, I expect either Greinke or Hamels to be dealt by the end of the all-star break.
Excuses, Alibi’s, and Reality
As Melky Cabrera and AJ Burnett continue their torrid seasons, some amusing and not so amusing comments have been made by Yankee fans, media, and Yankee hitting coach Kevin Long.
Apparently in the world of the Yankee fans, coaches, and GM Brian Cashman, no one in New York ever makes a mistake.
Melky Cabrera has followed up his great 2011 season with a spectacular 2012 season. Cabrera is hitting .351 for the Giants so far this season. Cabrera also has a .512 slugging percentage and an OPS of .900 as he heads to a sure all-star spot for the NL.
This past week New York Yankee hitting coach said the following to Joel Sherman regarding Melky and his current success:
He’s a hell of a player,” said Long. “He has totally gotten committed to his career. He doesn’t drink. He doesn’t take anything for granted any more. His personal trainer is with him all the time. When you go all in and have talent, this is what happens — and it is evident he has the talent.
“If Melky committed himself to the Yankees as he does now, he would still be a Yankee,” added Long. “And he would say the same thing. He made himself tradeable then.”
This was a cheap shot by Long in my opinion, and an unnecessary one. Cabrera was reportedly very upset by being traded from the Yankees, yet he never took a shot at the Yankee organization or anyone there.
The last time I checked, it was under the job description of managers and coaches to take talented young players who may need some cracking down upon and mold them into mature players.
In this case, the Yankees obviously decided that Cabrera’s talent couldn’t be harnessed in a timely fashion and made the decision to trade him and they got burned. Getting burned is bad enough, but attempting to bypass taking responsibility for a bad decision is absolutely unacceptable.
It is rather ironic that Long felt the need to bring up drinking in regards to Cabrera considering that Yankee pitching coach Dave Eiland took a personal leave of absence in 2010 in June for what many have reported to have been a rehab stint. Which of course leads us to the subject of AJ Burnett.
AJ Burnett has been on fire with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Acquired for two very low-level minor leaguers with the Yankees eating 20 million dollars of what was left on Burnett’s contract, Burnett is now 8-2 with a 3.24 ERA.
Burnett has made 12 starts this year for the Pirates. Burnett allowed 12 earned runs in one disastrous start against the Cardinals in only 2 1/2 innings on May 3rd. In Burnett’s other 11 starts he allowed 3 ER’s once, 2 ER’s six times, and no ER’s four times.
Destroying the notion that his success this year is strictly due to being in the NL Central is the fact that Burnett went 4-0 against the AL in interleague facing the Indians, Royals, and Tigers twice. In 26 innings pitched in those 4 interleague games, Burnett allowed only 6 earned runs.
Burnett’s 2009 season in the AL with the Yankees was very successful and his stellar game 2 performance in the 2009 World Series that prevented the Yankees from falling into an 0-2 hole before traveling to Philadelphia for 3 games is considered by many people to have been the pivotal performance in that World Series.
Burnett’s misery in 2010 and 2011 is well-known, and most of the blame is on Burnett himself. Burnett still had good stuff and stepped up in game 4 of the 2011 ALDS against the Tigers with the Yankees best postseason pitching performance while staving off elimination for another day.
Upon being traded this past offseason, this is what his 2011 catcher Russell Martin had to say to Wallace Watthews regarding the theory that Burnett was tinkered with too much by Yankee pitching coaches:
Russell Martin, one of the few Yankee catchers to develop a rapport with A.J. Burnett – or at least, not get fired by him — agreed with Burnett’s assessment that he allowed “too many people to tinker” with his delivery during his stormy three-year stint as a Yankee.
“Exactly,” Martin said. “A big part of getting better is knowing what information to retain and knowing what information to block out. The best way to do it is, when you’re working on something, work on something specific, work on that well and make it muscle memory. Once you get that going, you can move on to something else. If you’re trying to tinker with eight things at the same time, you’re not going to get any progress.”
Obviously the Pirates have done a better job with AJ than the Yankees did. Again, part of the job description of a pitching coach is to get pitchers to utilize their talent to the fullest extent possible. No one can be sure how much Eiland taking a powder mid-season in 2010 had to do with Burnett, but it is relevant to note that Burnett’s 2010 took an awful turn exactly when Eiland took his leave of absence.
The notion that Burnett couldn’t do what he is doing now in NY this year is a popular one, and also pure nonsense.
Let’s take a theoretical look at Curtis Granderson and wonder what would have happened if he had been traded after their initial year in New York.
Granderson was acquired before the 2010 season and was miserable in his debut year with the Yankees. Granderson worked hard on his swing with Long and on his own in the offseason between 2010 and 2011 and had a huge year in 2011. Granderson’s average has slipped but his power remains a huge element in the Yankee’s order this year. But suppose the Yankees had traded him after 2010? Suppose they decided that “Granderson couldn’t take the pressure of NY”? If Granderson had gone on to do with another team in 2011 and 2012 what he is doing for the Yankees, would the apologists be screaming that Granderson “proved” he couldn’t do it in New York?
Sadly, many would indeed have used that logic if Granderson had been traded. Even sadder is the fact that Long has been willing to accept credit for his success with Granderson(which he deserves) but equally willing to throw Cabrera under the bus with this past week’s comments.
After this past season GM Brian Cashman utilized the “he wouldn’t have done that in NY” logic in regards to pitcher Ian Kennedy‘s season with the Diamondbacks and pointed out that he was pitching in the NL West. Of course, it’s questionable as to how much Cashman really believes what he said in regards to Kennedy seeing as he then signed NL West pitcher Hiroki Kuroda to a one year, ten million dollar contract!
Every team’s management and coaches make mistakes, no one is perfect and no one should expect them to be. The forecasting and development of players is an inexact science, to say the least. It’s not the mistakes, which are bad enough, but the insane rationalizations and excuses being offered for them which are the crime. As one of my favorite twitter pals @BeckyBravo always says, it’s about ACCOUNTABILITY.
New York may be a harder place for some players to perform, but it certainly isn’t the only place in baseball where a player can display talent and success and be validated. How about some credit where it’s due and some acceptance of mistakes from the classiest team and fans in the world?
If The Playoffs Started Today
In the AL, the Orioles would host the Rays in a one game playoff to determine who faced the Rangers in the next round.
The Yankees would have home field advantage as the 2 seed against the White Sox
In the NL, the Pirates would host the Mets in a one game playoff to determine who faced the Dodgers in the next round.
The Nationals would have home field advantage as the 2 seed against the Reds.
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