DAMASO MARTE ACTIVATED — TELL TCHAIKOVSKY THE NEWS
Funny how those extra lefties start showing up right before a team faces David Ortiz in Fenway Park. Ortiz hasn’t hit much this year, but if you’ve seen him do well it was most likely at Fenway, where the Pesky Pole forgives sins of age and PED abuse. The .234/.322/.487 he’s hit at home, including 13 home runs in 278 at-bats, is just dangerous enough that dragging in that extra southpaw is justified, especially when your primary LOOGY is Phil Coke, who has problems with the home run.
I DON’T NEED TO FIGHT TO PROVE I’M RIGHT AND I DON’T NEED TO BE FORGIVEN
One comment on Jim Rice’s Little League rant, and it’s the same one that everyone else is going to have. Rice said:
“You see a Manny Ramirez, you see an A-Rod (Alex Rodriguez), you see (Derek) Jeter … Guys that I played against and with, these guys you’re talking about cannot compare … We didn’t have the baggy uniforms. We didn’t have the dreadlocks,” Rice said. “It was a clean game, and now they’re setting a bad example for the young guys”
Rice is a misanthrope, we knew that. Still: A-Rod, Manny … and Jeter? The worst thing Jeter has ever done is shill for cars with low MPG ratings. He does not deserve to be associated with two PED users, nor dreadlocks or baggy pants, though dreads and baggy pants don’t really reflect anything significant except an era in which baseball and all sports have relaxed uniform codes to allow for individual expression.
As for the game of Rice’s era that was so clean, one word: cocaine. I’m not saying Rice used, but so many ballplayers did, prominent ballplayers. Some like Willie Wilson, LaMarr Hoyt and Vida Blue, went to jail. At least a few, like Alan Wiggins, Steve Howe, Rod Scurry and Eric Show, eventually died as a result of their drug habits. More than 20 ballplayers were cited for substance abuse during the 1980s, and that was just the tip of the iceberg — it was speculated by some, among them Keith Hernandez, that close to half of ballplayers were using cocaine at that time. It would also be interesting to ask Hall of Famer Rice if he ever took or had knowledge of players taking amphetamines in his clean game.
In any case, barring some amazing revelation of malfeasance, Jeter is going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, whereas Rice is someone that the Baseball Writers are going to spend decades apologizing for passing. There are 50 players who should be in ahead of Rice; when Jeter becomes eligible it will be 51. Years from now, Rice will be as much of a Hall of Famer as is Chick Hafey and Rick Ferrell and Jesse Haines — he’ll have a plaque on the wall, but no one will take it seriously, passing it by on the way to view those of Ruth, Gehrig, Williams, and many more … including Jeter.
20-GAME WATCH: YANKEES VS. RED SOX
|Red Sox||11-9||5.4||5.8||.265||.356||.471 19||11||4||1.5||4||7.7|
Since last we left the Red Sox, they’ve gone 7-3 against Detroit, Texas, and Toronto. The principal change the Red Sox have undergone since leaving New York is the addition of shortstop Alex Gonzalez, imported from the Reds. The veteran can’t hit much (career .246/.293/.393) — every few years he has come close to posting a league-average OPS — and this year, having lost all of 2008 to knee surgery, he’s not even halfway there, hitting .214/.258/.298. However, he remains a good glove, certainly better than Nick Green, and Boston hadn’t gotten an ounce of offense from their shortstops anyway, just .220/.291/.327. If the Red Sox slip out of the wild card by a few games, the margin of loss will be exactly the size and shape of the missing shortstop production…
The pitching matchups seem to favor the Yankees this series. Since being abused by the Blue Jays and Angels in consecutive starts at the beginning of July, Andy Pettitte has been very solid, allowing just 10 runs in 39.2 innings, walking 10, and striking out 43. Pettitte has an ERA of 3.63 in 34 career appearances at Fenway Park. In the same period that Pettitte has been pitching well, Friday’s starter Brad Penny has been roughed up, allowing 26 runs in 34 innings and giving up seven home runs. Opponents are hitting .299/.353/.537 against him over that span.
Saturday’s conflict has the occasionally enigmatic A.J. Burnett facing rookie Junichi Tazawa. Tazawa’s Minor League numbers were good, and he pitched well against Detroit in his first start, but the Tigers don’t have a lineup half as deep as that of the Yankees. If the Yankees can lay off of Tazawa’s splitter, or he’s a bit twitchy in locating it, he’ll be out of the game quickly. Finally, Sunday’s 8 p.m. game has CC Sabathia and Josh Beckett dueling, and with Sabathia’s recent run of good starts and Beckett’s great stuff, that should be a game worth tolerating Joe Morgan for. Keep in mind that whatever happens with the starters, the two best bullpens in baseball this year are contained in Fenway Park during this series. The Yankees are No. 1 in wins added, the Red Sox No. 2.
The Yankees are playing with the house’s money here. If they lose the series, even if they get swept, they would retain a significant lead. If they win or sweep, they can probably put the champagne on ice. The Red Sox are tough at Fenway (38-18, .679) but all the pressure is on them. Unlike the last time these two teams met, the only way this series will be historic is if the Yankees execute another sweep for a New Millennium version of 1978’s Boston Massacre. It ain’t over ’til it’s over, but with a 9.5-game lead, it would be pretty darned close.
MORE FROM ME
As always with Yankees-Red Sox series, I’ll be filing updates throughout the weekend. See you then.
Writing before the start of this series, I asked if CC Sabathia would rise to this challenge, and asked if it was fair to expect him to do so given his performance to date, one that was, by his own standards, weak. I don’t have to tell you how Sabathia answered that question. The next question for Sabathia — there’s always another one — is if he can take the fire he showed against the Red Sox and carry it with him through the rest of the season AND have enough left in the tank for his increasingly likely postseason appearances. Sabathia’s postseason record is the mirror-image of Mariano Rivera’s; he has a 7.92 ERA in five starts. The reason seems to be not nerves, but fatigue. In the past two seasons, Sabathia worked so hard getting his team through September (Milwaukee’s rare postseason appearance last year was his personal work), he was gassed in October. Such an outcome would reduce Saturday’s triumph to the level of a Pyrrhic victory.
And a glorious victory it was. With the Yankees’ second straight shutout, the Red Sox are now batting .144 for the series. The Yankees have discovered Boston’s hidden shame: once you get past Kevin Youkilis, Jason Bay, and (recent acquisition) Victor Martinez, there’s not a whole lot of high-impact hitting going on — and Bay isn’t in this series. While they don’t have any hitters who are total pushovers aside from shortstop (though David Ortiz, hitting .208/.262/.377 in the second half, may soon qualify), they also don’t have anyone aside from the aforementioned three who transcend the level of merely good.
With the win, the Yankees are on a pace to become the club’s first 100-win team since 2004 and the 19th such team in club history. Eighteen of those teams went to the postseason–the 1954 Yankees are the exception, and 12 of them won the World Series. The teams that didn’t make it all the way: 1942, 1963, 1980, and the 2002-2004 teams. Sweeping the series from the Sox would go a way towards avenging humiliations suffered earlier in the season, but it won’t mean much if it doesn’t happen as Boston will decamp trailing by at least 4.5 games. They face 10 games against good teams in the Tigers, Rangers (their immediate rival from the wild card), and Blue Jays, six on the road, before hosting the Yankees from the 21st through the 23rd. The Yankees get three at home against the Jays, followed by an always-difficult western road trip to Seattle and Oakland. The latter, at least, should be less of a challenge than in the past.
WISHING ON THE WILD CARD
In doing such damage to the Red Sox, the Yankees have helped to recast the wild card race. Seven days ago, the Red Sox had a 2.5-game lead on the Rangers and a 5.5-game lead over the Rays. Five straight losses later, the Rangers are a game out and the Rays are 1.5 out. The Rays have six games remaining with the Red Sox and seven with the Yankees (and three with the Rangers next week), so if they just hang in they’re going to have a chance to make noise right until the very end… If you’re thinking about how the Yankees might best avoid seeing the Angels this fall, the Red Sox are 4-2 against the Angels, the Rays 1-2 (they play this week), the Rangers 3-8.
? When Manny Ramirez was suspended, he was hitting .348/.492/.641. Since returning, he’s hit .262/.363/.514. That’s still good, but it’s more like Nick Swisher than Manny Ramirez.
? With Saturday’s seven shutout innings against the Tigers, Carl Pavano is 4-0 with a 1.48 ERA against Detroit, 6-8 with a 6.61 ERA against everyone else.
? When Carlos Lee hit his 300th career home run last night, the Astros became the only team to have three players reach that mark in the same season. This sums up the whole problem with the Astros.
? That Josh Willingham is having a terrific year (.309/.417/.595) shouldn’t be a surprise–his numbers were neutered by the Marlins’ ballpark. He always had it in him to be this kind of hitter.
DISTANT EARLY WARNING
I’ll be hosting a live chat at Baseball Prospectus on Thursday at 1 PM EST. As always, if you can’t make it to the event itself, you can put your questions in the queue at the link above and I’ll look ’em over when we start up. I look forward to exchanging thoughts with y’all.
Ever see a clubhouse picture of Joe DiMaggio with his shirt off? There are a few that pop up in books about the Yankee Clipper. His biceps have a bit of definition, but otherwise the only thing that really pops out at you is his ribcage — he looks as if he just came off of a hunger strike. Had I been a writer at the time, I would have been tempted to bring him bowls of pasta. Steaks. Freshly killed zebras. Joe DiMaggio was not a bodybuilder. Thank you for that, Joe.
The foregoing is an oblique reaction to Manny Ramirez’s 50-game suspension for failing a test for a so-called performance-enhancing drug. According to one article, that substance was a gonadotropin, a substance used to light a fire in underperforming testicles (I believe that in 10 years of writing this feature that is the first time I have typed the word “testicles”). In other words, these drugs kick off testosterone production. Testosterone helps build muscles. Muscles make you stronger. Stronger makes you… Well, we really don’t know that stronger makes you anything but stronger, but you see the reasoning that is at work here.
As always, what is depressing about this development is not its actual impact but the dishonesty that comes with getting caught. Ramirez’s statement on the matter said, “Recently I saw a physician for a personal health issue. He gave me a medication, not a steroid, which he thought was okay to give me. Unfortunately, the medication was banned under our drug policy. Under the policy that mistake is now my responsibility.”
No, Manny, actually it’s your doctor’s responsibility too, and I fully expect that you will be suing him. Thing is, we know Manny won’t be suing, because then this tissue-paper excuse would collapse. For that matter, he would also appeal the suspension, submit medical records as proof of his contention, and make every effort to stay on the field and clear his name. That’s not what he’s doing. Rather, he’s meekly taking the rap.
Ramirez is seemingly oblivious to much besides his personal comfort level, so I don’t expect him to have much feeling for his place in the game or its history, but it sure would be nice if we had a player or two who felt an obligation to the game who had made them famous multimillionaires and exercised due caution, even excess caution, so they did not get into these situations, whether by choosing to do drugs that the public considers to be cheating, or by asking some extra questions of their physician so as to make sure they don’t get poor advice, as Ramirez supposedly did. In the end, it’s really not what the drugs do, but what the public thinks of them. Unfortunately, all the propaganda has been in the service of the Incredible Hulk Theory of PEDs (baseball has chosen to capitulate rather than educate), so rightly or wrongly, when you get caught the public starts thinking of you the way they used to think of Shoeless Joe.
As such, Ramirez now gets a seat at the table that now holds Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Alex Rodriguez. This is a hitter who, whatever controversies have surrounded him, has been an All-Star every year since 1998, who has 533 career home runs and nearly 1,750 RBIs, whose career slugging percentage is .594. Whatever one thinks of Ramirez personally, be you a Yankees fan, Red Sox fan, Dodgers fan, if you’re a fan of baseball it is disgusting and abhorrent to you that a hitter of this stature is now perceived to have fallen.
A note of sympathy for Joe Torre, a guy whom must have been cursed to live in interesting times. His team has the best record in baseball, in part due to Ramirez’s terrific start. He now finds himself suffering a violent drop in production in left field, from Ramirez to Juan Pierre. That is, to quote Tom Petty, freefallin’. The Dodgers do have some Minor League outfielders that can play a bit, including prospect Xavier Paul at Triple-A (.344/.385/.542 and a big grain of salt at Triple-A) and journeyman bat Val Pascucci.
If they choose to be more assertive than just surrendering to the Pierreness (rhymes with “unfairness”) of life they can try to patch a bit. Regardless, Torre has his work cut out for him. Needless to say, this is one of those meadership moments that can make for a good line on one’s Hall of Fame plaque — if the Old Man can pull a rabbit out of his hat.
If not, the Dodgers, one of baseball’s best teams in one of its biggest media markets, a club off to a record-setting 13-0 start at home, becomes another casualty of steroids hysteria combined with a player’s ignorance, stupidity, and selfishness. Good work, congratulations to everyone. And so we ask again, “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?”
Actually, if he were here, we’d probably get on him for his cigarette habit. Alas, no one is perfect.
THAT’S JUST THE WAY IT WORKS
Can’t complain about the Yankees’ exhibition showing against the Rays on Thursday, and can’t get overexcited about it given that the Rays brought not their B or C squad but maybe Squad Q, the squad you turn to when all else has failed and the monsters are at the door, but not any time before that.
I was excited to see Phil Hughes’ cutter again, but the Yankees denied me, having the lad work on his other pitches, and two barely hit batsmen aside the results were just fine. Ditto bullpen-bound Phil Coke, who with Damaso Marte should give the Yankees a rare set of matched lefty long men, rather than the more ubiquitous pair o’ LOOGYs. Joe Girardi should keep in mind that “long man” is not equivalent to “infinite man” — he forgot with Marte a couple of times last season.
On the offensive side, it was a very good day for Jorge Posada, with a double and a home run, and that means it was a good day for the Yankees, as a resurgent Posada could be decisive in this year’s race. Again, let’s not get too worked up about the results of one game of DH-work and a home run against Chad Orvella, who looked so good a few years ago and looks so lost now. On the bad news side, Brett Gardner went 0-for-2, but then so did Melky Cabrera so we’ll say that Gardner is still ahead based on Wednesday’s home run.
On the Rays side, Squad Q did supply one clue as to why the former underdogs have a chance to repeat in the form of starting pitcher Wade Davis, a 23-year-old who reached Triple-A last year, putting up a 2.72 ERA in 53 innings. He throws in the 90s, he has a full complement of pitches, and there is currently nowhere to put him. The Rays have so many pitching options that unless they suffer an ’87 Mets-like staff-wide breakdown, they should be able to patch pretty easily should anything go wrong. You saw Davis whiff Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano on Thursday, and he’s surplus.
A NOTE OF DEREK JETER APPRECIATION
Jeter didn’t do anything special, but seeing him out there, realizing that he’s in the declining days of his career, made me feel a bit like I’ve taken him for granted at times. The cult surrounding Captain Intangibles is so fervid in its hero worship that it provokes the opposite feeling in the realist sector. It has become fashionable to criticize Jeter’s defense, and such criticisms are accurate and entirely fair. Still, the excellence of Jeter’s career should not be missed in the rush to paint a more accurate picture of him, and we should also not fail to acknowledge the sheer miracle of his existence given what the Yankees had at shortstop between 1950, Phil Rizzuto’s MVP season, and 1996, Jeter’s arrival.
With apologies to Tony Kubek, Bucky Dent and even the Scooter himself, the years where shortstop was something the Yankees dragged limply behind them, even when winning, far outnumbered those when they received the kind of all-around contribution that Jeter is capable of providing at his best. I grew up watching the Yankees try Paul Zuvella, Jeff Moronko, Bobby Meacham, and the occasional hotel clerk at short, while at the same time seeing all-time greats like Alan Trammell and Cal Ripken come through and batter the heck out of them whether at the plate or in the field. It seemed like it would never end. If Tony Fernandez hadn’t become injured in 1996, it never would have ended.
As we again debate Jeter’s defensive abilities and remaining offensive capabilities this year, let us remember the good years. And no, this doesn’t mean that the Yankees should sign Jeter to an extension after his current contract is completed. They shouldn’t.
THE AROUND (AND ABOUT)
? Manny Ramirez rejected what seemed like a fair offer from the Dodgers on Thursday. Yesterday I wrote a story about Joe DiMaggio’s 1938 holdout. One thing I came across, but didn’t use in the story, was one of the top Yankees, either owner Jacob Ruppert or general manager Ed Barrow, saying of DiMaggio (I paraphrase), “His demands are just so ridiculous that we don’t really believe he’s holding out, we think he’s just trying to get out of spring training.” That seemed silly when I read it, especially because the Yankees and the Clipper were only $5,000 apart — for whatever reason, the team had decided it wasn’t going to compromise with DiMaggio no matter what, so they were trying to cast the blame on him. With Ramirez, though, I can almost believe it.
? Remember how I complained about Frankie Cervelli leaving Yankees camp to play in the WBC when he really needs the time with the team? The Royals are going to go through the same thing with Mark Teahen, who is heading out even though he’s trying to revive his career by making the transition to second base. That’s just wrong.
? It’s wonderful that the Tigers have a pitcher in camp named Fu-Te Ni. Globalism has its defects, but it’s wonderful to follow the game in the age of universal baseball.
? One more reminder that on Sunday at 2 p.m. I’ll be appearing with Kevin Goldstein, Christina Kahrl, and Cliff Corcoran for a Q&A/signing at the Yogi Berra Museum in Montclair, New Jersey. Come for the baseball talk, stay in Montclair for the Yogi-ness and the great restaurant scene. That’s my plan.
SPRUNG FROM THE BUNKER WITH A BIG FACE
I couldn’t let Friday end with that face at the top of the screen. It’s like a cellulite eclipse. Let’s tear through a few items before breaking for the weekend. Someone write in and remind me to take a break from editing the Baseball Prospectus annual (Pre-order now! I don’t get anything if you do! Not a dime! But you should.) to spend an hour on the treadmill. They’re going to let me go back in the Dot-com Bunker on the next show, Jan. 8, 2009. This time I might sneak onto the main set when no one is looking, just to see what it feels like to sit in one of those comfy chairs the New York Times guys get. I can dream, and yet the positive to not being in the plush chairs is that they don’t issue rations when you’re in the Bunker, so weight loss is pretty much inevitable. I skipped lunch yesterday, and after about two hours in my cell I was getting pretty low. It’s hard to answer questions about CC Sabathia when you’re thinking, “I wonder if Bob Lorenz would be good with barbecue sauce?” Did you see how they cut to me before my second segment? Next time, instead of working at my computer, you might see me opening up a pizza delivery box.
No, no, no. No pizza. Treadmill, Steve. Treadmill.
In yesterday’s Hot Stove show thread there was something of a debate on the subject of Mark Teixeira vs. Manny Ramirez. To me, the most interesting thing about said debate is not the players involved but the apparently universal sense that the Yankees need to bolster the offense. The sense that they need to improve the defense as well is not universal, or no one would be arguing for Manny. The correct answer, though, is “both,” especially if the Yankees want to fully exploit the Scrooge McDuck money they just put into arms. Think of it this way: Teixeira, as a Gold Glove defender at first base and a top hitter, is all positive. He’s not only adding runs above average on offense, he’s taking them away from the bad guys when in the field. Say Teixeira is worth 50 runs over the average player with the bat, and 10 runs above average with the glove, so you could say that his total contribution to the winning effort is 60 runs.
With Ramirez, the math is different. As Rob Neyer wrote this week, under normal conditions he’s such an egregiously indifferent outfielder that most metrics see him as being worth about 20 runs below average. Those runs have to be held against his offensive totals, such that if Ramirez is worth about 60 runs over the average player with the bat, after fielding is considered, he’s really only a 40-run advantage — or less than Teixeira. Another way of looking at it is to say that Teixeira adds about five wins over the average player with his bat, then gives his team another with the glove. Ramirez gives his team six wins with the bat, but also contributes two losses with the leather.
We haven’t even talked about the elephant in the room with Manny, which is, “If he’s paid, will he give a damn?” but we don’t have to, because there’s another consideration, which is that if he’s signed to a three-year deal, his team is buying his age-37, 38 and 39 season. Hall-of-Fame hitter or not, this is a dangerous thing to do. Ramirez’s fielding is already a problem. If he loses a half a step, he’s not just going to be damaging in the field, he’s going to be a visible joke. Sure, he could DH, but the age is still an issue — at some point age is going to set in, and while we don’t know if it will happen during those three years, there’s a good chance that it will. In contrast, the team that buys eight years of Teixeira will get him from age 29 through 36. His contract will end where Ramirez’s begins. That consideration alone should swing the discussion toward Teixeira.
What we still don’t know is the Yankees’ position on all of this. They’ve signed two starters, supposedly don’t want to go crazy with their budget, and yet are rumored to be looking at still one more free-agent pitcher. This last point would almost certainly be overkill. Few teams go five deep in quality starters in their rotation, and the Yankees have sufficient alternatives in, at the very least, Phil Hughes, winter ball-reborn Ian Kennedy, and Alfredo Aceves, that if one falters they can move to Plan B without too much trouble. Foregoing Andy Pettitte at No. 5 would probably be worth half a Teixeira. Establishing Hughes, Kennedy, or Aceves in the rotation would mean a couple of seasons of pre-arbitration, pre-free-agent salaries at that roster position, along with the possibility of buying that now-established player out of their arbitration/free-agent years, such that their costs are controlled for years. This beats going back to the free-agent market for next year’s A.J. Burnett. Plus, you get to save the offense and the defense. To put it another way, send $22.5 million a year on Teixeira now, save $10 million on Pettitte this year, save $17 million on Burnett II next year, and the year after that, and for however long the team controls the young pitcher it puts into the fifth spot in 2009. At that point, Teixeira starts to look darned cheap — $12.5 million for him, plus the $10 million you would have wasted on an old pitcher anyway.
Stay safe and warm this snowy weekend. The Pinstriped Bible rides again on Monday or with breaking news, whichever comes first.
10. Sports radio talk show hosts and callers that endorse $100 million over four years for Manny Ramirez, but not $200 million over eight years for Mark Teixeira.
9. People who can never admit when they’re wrong, even on the brink of disaster. That is, grown-up infants.
8. Those same Manny Ramirez advocates who insist that the Yankees cannot sign Teixeira because they must keep first base open for a superannuated Jorge Posada, as if there’s some equivalence there, as if an elderly Posada would hit and field like a first baseman, any first baseman, in the prime of his career.
7. My complete inability to get a contractor to commit to redoing my front walk. How do these guys make money when they never, ever show up? I’ve had four separate guys give estimates, then disappear.
6. The realistic possibility that the Yankees will have no young players in the lineup or starting rotation to start the season. In the long term this is a recipe for disaster.
5. The guy in this very crowded train who either just expired of a digestive meltdown or is consuming rancid sauerkraut. Also, the woman who, prior to the radioactive cabbage incident, perfumed herself in this same car. You’d think this was a German attack at the Somme. Ladies: spraying your perfume around in enclosed public spaces is just selfish and cruel. A rose by any other name would smell just as rank if its odor had been forced on you.
4. The Baltimore Orioles. The most competitive division in baseball could be one-fifth more exciting with a real team in Maryland. Exception: their automatic Rookie of the Year catcher.
3. So-called collaborators who leave you holding the bag. Also, the Carolina parakeet. You never see them around anymore.
2. The extremely lethargic way the winter market is proceeding. At this pace, half the teams in baseball will be unsettled on the eve of spring training.
1. Tie: Mark Teixeira on the Red Sox/It’s always about you, isn’t it?
HOT STOVE SHOW OPEN THREAD
Your thoughts here, because I want to know. Also, I might have trouble thinking for myself. You wouldn’t want me to freeze up on cable, would you? Bob Lorenz might yell at me. Also, any number of ex-girlfriends might be watching, and if I can’t appear handsome and prosperous, with your help I might at least seem intelligent. I’ll be checking in during the middle segment of the show, when they keep me locked in the closet.