After weeks of speculating that the Braves were trying to acquire Mike Gonzalez for Adam LaRoche in order to spin Gonzalez to the Yankees for Melky Cabrera, the first part of the deal was completed as they acquired Gonzalez for LaRoche.
I’m not quite sure what to make of this deal. Gonzalez is a valuable commodity in that he is lefty and has experience closing games. LaRoche hit 32 homers this season and his stats have improved year after year; for his career LaRoche hasn’t had much success against left-handed pitchers. He’s considered a Gold Glove caliber first baseman. Gonzalez has had great success against left-handed batters; but right-handed batters haven’t done particularly well against him either. LaRoche to me is a replaceable component; while it is very difficult to find quality arms for the bullpen—–especially 28-year-old lefties.
Another aspect of the trade to look at is the track record of the respective general managers. John Schuerholz is going to end up in the Hall of Fame; Dave Littlefield is, well, Dave Littlefield. This deal comes down to the value of that which is traded; by that calculation, the Braves got the better end of the trade.
I have great respect for the Florida Marlins and the way they run their organization; they’re always mining other teams for their most talented prospects; they rebuild quickly and efficiently; they’re not afraid to spend money when they feel they can win; they’re willing to make bold and decisive moves that may not be popular (such as firing Joe Girardi). But for a team whose fan base only shows the slightest bit of interest when their team is in contention to win the World Series, if I were the citizens in Florida, I wouldn’t be happy at all about the prospect of state funds being used to build a new $500 million stadium for an organization that no one seems to care whether they’re there or not until just before they win a championship.
I don’t claim to know all the machinations and back room dealings that go into a team getting a new ballpark, but this problem has existed for the Marlins since they came into being. The state of the team has always had little to do with the support that they receive in South Florida. The Dolphins, win or lose, have always been first and foremost in the hearts of South Florida sports fans. The Marlins have been well run and well organized for years now. They’ve had committed ownerships that have done everything they can possibly do to invite fans into being dedicated Marlins supporters; but now there is talk that there will "finally" be a new ballpark on the horizon for the Marlins. But will it make a difference? Will the fans all of a sudden go to the Marlins games because there is a new venue in which to watch them? Perhaps initially. But what about after that?
Teams that struggle to maintain attendance can’t be choosy about the types of fans that they attract; but the types of people that are going to attend games because it’s the trendy thing to do are always going to be fickle. The Marlins should want to have a fan base that is going to appreciate all the work that has been put into building and rebuilding their team over and over again; not one that is going to show up because it is the cool thing to do at the moment. Even if they get the new stadium, it remains to be seen whether the team is going to develop a loyal enough following to warrant such a public expenditure. There are plenty of other towns that would be desperate for a baseball team to call their own; especially one that is as smartly run as the Marlins. Why there is this constant and desperate attempt to keep a team where they aren’t particularly appreciated is a mystery to me.
What will we do without the ignorant, unhinged, ranting and raving Stephen A. Smith and his now canceled show Quite Frankly With Stephen A. Smith?
I know! We may get a knowledegable, factually correct voice to disseminate sports insights to enhance our viewing experiences. But then again, it is ESPN; we’ll probably get a show with someone else who screams a lot; or another show about poker. At least I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t watching Stephen A. Smith humiliate himself night after night; ESPN took notice of the dearth of viewers and pulled the plug.
Quite frankly, we are greater for having lost him.
After the Mets were eliminated in the NLCS, Mets upper management stated unequivocally that they wanted to reward manager Willie Randolph with a contract extension for his role in the team’s rapid turnaround from laughingstock to one on the verge of the World Series; but after three months, nothing has been completed. This leads me to wonder whether Randolph and his representatives have their eye on another prize should it come open—–Randolph’s original home in the Bronx with the Yankees.
After so many years of paying managers with lucrative guaranteed deals and receiving mediocre to poor results, the Mets were prudent in their handling of the Randolph contract negotiations. Randolph received an entry level managerial contract, which despite his experience as a bench coach and winning player, was more than fair considering that he had never managed before in his life. After the 2005 season in which Randolph instilled discipline and personal accountability on and off the field, the Mets made a rapid jump into the playoffs in 2006.
Truth be told, Randolph was learning to manage on the fly. His disciplinary procedures and judicious way in which he molded a predominately young team into a well-behaved and cohesive unit doesn’t alter his strategic failures in his rookie season as a manager. The mistakes were so egregious to my eyes that I fired off a letter to Omar Minaya following the season that stated matter of factly that the Mets would probably be better off if they replaced Randolph with Lou Piniella. His rookie errors in 2005 cost the Mets between 5 and 10 games; that is enough to win a playoff spot. I felt that unless they hired a strategic minded bench coach (a la Don Zimmer) Randolph wasn’t going to be able to learn quickly enough to win with their roster; if they were going to spend the money to import high profile players such as Billy Wagner, the players had to know that their manager wasn’t going to continuously make the same mistakes over and over again to cost them games. As it turned out, the best thing that the Mets did was to switch roles of their 2005 first base coach Jerry Manuel and bench coach Sandy Alomar Sr. Randolph improved markedly in his handling of game situations; some of which is due to what he learned as a rookie; some from having Manuel next to him instead of Alomar. (I wrote a blog entitled "Mea Culpa" for my suggestion that the Mets fire Randolph, although I did have viable reasons for the suggestion.) Now that Randolph’s entry level contract is due to end at the conclusion of the 2007 season, and the extension has yet to be completed, I have to wonder whether the thought has crossed the mind of Randolph that he might be able to return to his baseball home to continue his career as a manager after cutting his teeth with the Mets.
I have no way of knowing one way or the other what the thought process of Willie Randolph is regarding his demands in signing an extension; nor do I know how much longer Joe Torre intends to manage the Yankees. But the thought is intriguing. Now that George Steinbrenner has aged to the point where his public appearances are few and far between; that GM Brian Cashman and managing partner Steve Swindal were able to talk Steinbrenner off the ledge of firing Torre in favor of the then-available Piniella following the Yankees embarrassing loss to the Tigers in the ALDS, the Yankees job isn’t as transient as it once was. The question has to come to mind as to whom the Yankees front office really wants to replace Torre when he decides to step down.
The speculation has been that Don Mattingly’s elevation to bench coach is a portent of his eventual replacement of Torre; but Randolph has proven that no matter how much coaching experience a man has; no matter how great a player he was; there is a period of adjustment to being the man in charge. Randolph did play for such managerial luminaries as Billy Martin; Tony LaRussa; and Tommy Lasorda; and he coached for Buck Showalter; and Torre. He should have been ready to manage; but such a transition is exacerbated when the person who is slated to manage has never managed before anywhere at all, regardless of his experience with other managers.
Joe Girardi’s availability and new job as an analyst for the Yankees has fueled speculation that he, and not Mattingly, may be the replacement for Torre once the time comes. Having watched Girardi and Randolph, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I would rather have Randolph by a wide margin; not just because I think Randolph is a better field manager (he is); but because he has shown more of an aptitude of being able to coexist with a wide variety of people both in the clubhouse and in upper management.
Randolph and Minaya should have been able to come to an agreement on an extension rather quickly with Randolph being paid commensurately with his newfound experience and success. He shouldn’t receive Tony LaRussa/Jim Leyland/Lou Piniella money; nor should he be lowballed like Bob Geren/Bud Black/Terry Francona. Randolph should receive a two or three year extension which would place his current salary somewhere above the middle of the managerial pay scale; with escalators if he reaches and wins the World Series.
The Mets are not a cheap organization; but perhaps Randolph was irked at the contract that he had to sign in order to get that first chance to manage. Perhaps he would like to keep his options open. He and Torre still talk and grew close while Randolph was with the Yankees. Everyone knows that friends talk about personal issues surreptitiously; perhaps Torre knows that Randolph would prefer to be wearing Yankee pinstripes one day; perhaps Randolph knows how much longer Torre intends to manage. One way or the other, it is curious that it is taking so long for the extension to be completed.
As for the Mets, if this ever does come to pass, where would they go for a new manager? Randolph has developed into a good manager, but I don’t believe that anyone is irreplaceable. Any good GM (and Omar Minaya is one of the best) always has a list of two or three names in his head should anything occur in which he needs someone to replace the current man at the helm; and despite his improvement, Randolph isn’t exactly Billy Martin when it comes to strategy. The Mets have developed a system and organization in which no individual is bigger than the team. I like Randolph, but if this situation doesn’t resolve itself, the Mets would move on; my guess is that they wouldn’t miss a step. I want Randolph to stay with the Mets—–but only if he’s truly committed; and I have to wonder after three months: What is the holdup for completing the extension?
So, let me get this straight: Barry Bonds goes over to a teammate’s locker, takes a pill bottle out and ingests something about which he knows nothing; not what it is; not where it came from; not what it does. If the report that Bonds claimed that he took a pill of unknown origin out of Sweeney’s locker is true, then Bonds is either the stupidest human being alive; or he thinks that the people to whom he is proffering this excuse are the stupidest people alive.
Who in their right mind would believe such a nonsensical story? And who in their right mind would take some unknown substance? The pill could have been Cialis, in which case Bonds would have been advised to be head to the hospital if he sustained an arousal of more than four hours; or it could have been birth control for Sweeney’s wife. If could have been anything—-if the story were true, which of course it probably isn’t.
Now there is a report that Bonds has said that Sweeney had nothing to do with any of this. Who knows what to believe? As for the amphetamine use, it is something that has been going on in baseball for years and years and years. That they are now cracking down on it is one thing; but the fact that these supposedly "sealed" drug tests are somehow being leaked is bound to diminish any remaining trust that the players had in their bosses, and rightfully so. This seems to be more of the same repeated attempts to embarrass players who are putting their reputations on the line by believing that the results of said tests are going to be kept confidential. Bonds is still Bonds—-a selfish, babyish, polarizing figure—-but he has rights. He doesn’t deserve to be dealing with this disclosure when the test results were supposed to be kept anonymous for every player, Bonds or not.
The players should demand that if these supposedly "sealed" results are leaked, then the punishment, if any, should be null and void—-the equivalent of a criminal not being read his rights or given access to an attorney. If this type of thing is continually allowed to reach the public, there is no reason for the players to continue to participate in the programs, because they have absolutely nothing to gain and everything to lose if this is the way things are going to proceed. Once a player’s name is out there involved in any type of banned substance, it is very, very difficult for him to regain his reputation; this simply is not fair and should be handled appropriately.
A mediocre journeyman like John Thomson should probably think twice before speaking his mind on issues that are irrelevant to his current situation. Thomson recently signed a one-year, $500,000 contract with the Toronto Blue Jays; then he announced (unsolicited evidently) that he rejected a similar big league contract with the Mets. Thomson’s quote: "As far as just looking at Paul Lo Duca across the field, I’mnot really into how he acts behind the plate." Then he praised Vernon Wells’s defense and mentioned Cliff Floyd’s defense as a reason that he wouldn’t want to play for the Mets if Floyd were still there.
All of these comments may or may not be legitimate; but one would think that a guy whose career has consisted of bouncing from one team to another with a modicum of success; who received a bargain bin deal with the Blue Jays; and whose main attribute as a pitcher at this point is that he has a pulse and his arm is still attached, would keep his mouth shut in the event that he becomes desperate for a job in the future and is forced to sign with a team that he might not particularly want to join due to the lack of other offers he may receive. A guy like John Thomson is in no position to be burning bridges with potential employers and would be well advised to think about that before opening his mouth in such a way to reporters when it was unnecessary to do so.
Had Mark McGwire sat in front of that congressional panel on March 17th, 2005 and jabbed his finger in the direction of his inquisitors and vehemently denied any steroid use ever in the same manner as did Rafael Palmeiro, would McGwire be celebrating his induction into the Hall of Fame today along with Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn?
Palmeiro’s denials struck a chord because of the insistent way in which he put them forth. That Palmeiro was busted in a drug test having taken the performance enhancer stanozolol five months later portrayed Palmeiro as not only a liar, but as a first rate actor as well. Palmeiro claimed that had he taken anything illegal, he did so unknowingly; a reasonable explanation would present itself once everything was sorted out. We’re still waiting. Perhaps the reasonable explanation is resting safely in the hands of the "real" killers of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman whom O.J. Simpson is so relentlessly pursuing.
Thankfully, Palmeiro has receded into the shadows where he belongs; rife with embarrassment and shame for being so stupid as to deny guilt in such a way, then to see that he couldn’t perform without the drugs as he desperately fought a losing battle to get his 3000th hit. Maybe Palmeiro thought that he wouldn’t get caught; maybe whoever was providing the drugs told him that they were undetectable; maybe he thought he had an effective blocking agent. Whether it was arrogance of ignorance, the final result is that Palmeiro was caught shortly after issuing that denial; as a result, his Hall of Fame candidacy is gone. But what of Mark McGwire? What if it was McGwire who issued a denial with the vehemence of Palmeiro?
Mark McGwire tried to be genuinely aboveboard at the congressional hearings. He refused to deny that which everyone suspected——he was using performance enhancing drugs. All that non-denial did though, was shine a light of suspicion upon him; whereas before there was only an unproveable suspicion, there was now a documented cringe-worthy moment to see McGwire squirming as he did everything he possibly could to avoid answering the question directly.
The simple fact is that had McGwire denied any drug use during his career, there is a great chance that he would be in the Hall of Fame right now. McGwire was retired. There were no forthcoming drug tests; no desperate attempt to hit one last home run; one final single to place himself into the pantheon of other players who had achieved such lofty statistics. All there was was a claim of collaborative drug use from one of the most universally reviled players of the era; one who was quite open in his disclosure that he had a vendetta against baseball for a perceived persecution and blacklisting.
That player, Jose Canseco, who had become known for everything he did between the white lines, suddenly became famous for everything that occurred in his life away from the stadium. From the bar fights; to the speeding tickets; to the various incidents with his wives and girlfriends; to the claims of being kept out of baseball by the commissioner’s office; to the final attempt to squeeze every last dollar out of his career by preparing to write a "tell-all" book——Canseco was universally despised and discredited. Only when he and the other players were summoned before congress did the reality hit. That reality being that simply because the messenger is someone who is despised, doesn’t necessarily mean that they are lying.
Things might have worked out for McGwire had he sat in front of that panel and stated unequivocally that he was never involved with any illegal drugs at any time. Instead, he tried the opposite approach by not saying anything at all. Whether that was a decision he made on his own or he was given some faulty advice is not known because McGwire has barely been seen or heard from since.
Both McGwire and Canseco were seated at that long table in front of congress. What would have happened had McGwire simply said that he was innocent of the allegations while Canseco was claiming that McGwire was guilty? Who would have been believed? Would it have been Canseco with all of that negative baggage? Or would it have been McGwire—–baseball’s version of a cartoon superhero who almost single-handedly rescued the game from the abyss of the lost World Series of 1994 with his rampant display of power, kindness and humility? People would have believed McGwire because they would have wanted to believe McGwire. No one would have been able to prove anything to the contrary because there was no tangible proof of any wrongdoing. No one could say without a shadow of a doubt that McGwire’s muscles were the result of anything other than long hours in the gym and legal supplements (Androstendione included).
Now, the situation is what it is. Did Mark McGwire use performance enhancing drugs over the course of his career? Obviously, the answer is yes. But there is no proof other than the claims of Jose Canseco and McGwire’s stumbling testimony in front of the congressional panel. At this point, it is highly unlikely that McGwire is ever going to come anywhere close to induction into baseball’s Hall of Fame, even though he deserves it based on his power numbers. The writers don’t appear ready to change their minds about him; the Veteran’s Committee is definitely not going to elect him. One has to wonder what goes through the head of Mark McGwire when he’s alone in the dark and reflecting on what has become of his career. Does he wish he had presented an angry denial in front of the entire world? Or is he comfortable in that, while he didn’t tell the truth, he also didn’t lie. It all depends on how important induction into the Hall of Fame is to the former hero. Which would be more important: The shaky semantics of his testimony; or the idol-worship that he enjoyed over the last years of his career? Unless McGwire emerges from his self-imposed exile, we may never know. But the question will always linger: Was it worth it?
With the Randy Johnson trade now complete, the Yankees and the Diamondbacks both got what they wanted. The Diamondbacks re-acquired the best pitcher in their history and a best-case-scenario return to that which won them their championship; the Yankees remove a dour and inconsistent pitcher from their clubhouse and their roster and gain some relief from an unconscionable payroll.
Despite Johnson’s advanced age the Yankees expected to be getting a reasonable facsimile of the pitcher that had dominated the National League for the majority of his stay in Arizona. The numbers Johnson put up in Arizona were reminiscent of an in-his-prime Sandy Koufax; the Yankees, with their elite closer and ability to put up runs in bunches had every right to expect that they were going to get their money’s worth with Johnson. It didn’t work out that way. The Yankees were hoping to formulate a fearsome rotation headed by an intimidating future Hall of Famer. While Johnson won 17 games in each of his two seasons in New York, the performances that merited his paycheck and cachet of greatness were few and far between; what’s worse were his terrible performances in perhaps the most important starts in his Yankees career against the Angels in the 2005 ALDS and the Tigers in the 2006 ALDS.
The Yankees are the type of team that has such a strong closer and lineup that average pitchers are going to be able to rack up 12-16 wins without pitching all that effectively. Johnson’s performance during his two regular seasons in New York, along with the palpable awkwardness with the stifling attention that that the Yankees and their players receive all year long, never matched up with the salary and expectations. Now they were able to get Luis Vizcaino who has shown to be a useful and reliable reliever; and they received some players who, at worst, are going to provide depth to the organization. That the Yankees had to kick in some money to get Johnson off the team is not all that important as it was for them to move along without the 6’10" lefty who seemed thrilled to head back to the West Coast.
As for the Diamondbacks, they have little to lose in this deal either. If Johnson is healthy, then he should provide them with his customary 200+ innings; his statistics should improve with a return to the National League; at worst he’ll contribute 13 or so wins; at best, 18.
The idea that the Diamondbacks can repeat the success of the Johnson and Schilling formula that they had in the early part of the century with Johnson and Brandon Webb isn’t as absurd as it seems on the surface. The National League West is going to be notoriously weak and eminently winnable for the team that can play consistently well enough to win 88 or so games. There isn’t really an offensive powerhouse in the entire division, so Johnson and Webb should win their share of games. The Diamondbacks depleted an already suspect bullpen with the inclusion of Vizcaino in the Johnson trade; Jorge Julio is not the guy I would want to trust as my closer; but they’re no worse than any of the other mediocre teams in the division. If things break right, they should contend at least into the summer; and with all the teams bunched together, the division winner may come down to whichever one makes the boldest mid-season deal.
With Johnson comfortable in his surroundings and healthy, the Diamondbacks have a solid 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation. As he is also the best pitcher in their history and is on track to win his 300th game sometime next season will also provide a gate attraction to the team. They didn’t really give up all that much to get him and they’re in a position to contend. It’s worth the gamble for the Diamondbacks and was essential for the Yankees to retreat from the haphazard and mindless way of building their teams in recent years. It’s a win-win for both sides regardless of the overall results.
I just got back after a few days in Washington; now I’m sick. So, I should be back with some pearls of wisdom later on today (hopefully).
The things that the Yankees can offer Roger Clemens—–money; reuniting with Andy Pettitte; a great chance to win—–are important, but the things that the Astros can offer are going to be equally important; they also offer things that the Yankees don’t—–specifically the freedom to come and go as he pleases and the opportunity to play in the big leagues with his son.
The Yankees are going to be extremely interested in bringing Clemens back to New York for the second half of next season, especially when they unload Randy Johnson. But will Clemens’s desire to play with his close friend Andy Pettitte and for a team with a championship mandate preclude the opportunities that the Astros offer?
Joe Torre and Brian Cashman will probably be willing to ease up on some of the restrictions that the Yankees players adhere to without exception for the chance to add Clemens to their rotation; but they won’t acquiesce to the perks that the Astros provide. The most I can see Torre doing is allowing Clemens to stay in Texas an extra day or two when the Yankees leave town after playing the Rangers. As for the other things, such as not even showing up to the ballpark when Clemens isn’t scheduled to pitch, I find it hard to believe that the Yankees are going to tolerate such a bending of the rules regardless of the player.
The Astros have spent a lot of money this off-season while standing firm on their offer to Pettitte. The front office has been aggressive and creative and has refused to allow Clemens and Pettitte to hold the team hostage for another off-season. Runs shouldn’t be as hard to come by with the signing of Carlos Lee; Jason Jennings is in his free agent year and should be counted on for a solid to excellent season; Woody Williams is what he is and should contribute his 12 wins or so. Along with Roy Oswalt, that is a solid top three starters who will keep the Astros in contention until Clemens makes his decision.
The Astros have also not been shy about paying Clemens what he feels he is worth in addition to all the other benefits he receives from the team; but one thing with which the Yankees will not be able to compete is the prospect of Clemens playing in the big leagues with his son Koby. Koby Clemens played in the high A level of the Astros minor league system last season. A third baseman who doesn’t appear to be much of a prospect, Koby is undoubtedly a carrot for the Astros to dangle in front of his father. Clemens is, first and foremost, family oriented as evidenced by his constant references to his wife and children; the idea of playing in the big leagues with his son is going to be too enticing for Clemens to turn his back on the Astros and draw the ire of the entire organization simply to play for the Yankees as a career swan song for a couple of months. That Koby’s statistics indicate that he isn’t much of a prospect will only add viable reasons to the decision to return to the Astros. If Clemens does go to the Yankees (or less likely, the Red Sox), it’s highly doubtful if Clemens and the Astros cut ties, that Koby Clemens will last much longer in the organization. With all of these factors taken into account, it is very probable that the team for whom Roger Clemens pitches next season will be the Houston Astros.