Since new Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos let it be known that he would not object to trading Roy Halladay within the American League East, there has been much speculation about another Yankees-Red Sox competition for the veteran right-hander’s services. If true, this almost ensures that Halladay will be traded in the division, because these are two teams deep in resources who will be motivated to top each other, thus escalating their offers above and beyond what teams outside the division would be willing to offer.
This news is both exhilarating and depressing. The Yankees just won a World Series by leaning on three starters, and their 2010 rotation is unsettled beyond CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. Halladay is one of the best starters in the game and an additional asset in new Yankee Stadium given his groundball tendencies. The depressing part is that Halladay will cost a lot, particularly if the Red Sox and other teams are bidding up the price. It would be sad to see Phil Hughes and Jesus Montero blossom in a Blue Jays uniform. Halladay will be 33 next year, while Montero will be 20, so even if Halladay spends the next five years in pinstripes, Montero will still be in his prime for years after the Doc has checked out.
The “other hand” to that is that flags fly forever, and maybe you trade 20 years of Montero for two more World Series appearances with the present group. Perhaps by that time there will be some other Montero around to distract from the 30 homers a year the original is hitting at the Rogers Centre. On yet another hand (the fifteenth hand, I believe), the Yankees’ position players are rapidly aging, and keeping a player like Montero around may help keep them competitive in ways beyond what Halladay might contribute. We’re lost in Borges’ Garden of Forking Paths here.
Were the Yankees to let the cup of Halladay pass from their lips, it might not be a bad thing. The odds are that Hughes or whoever the Yankees might trade won’t develop into a Cy Young pitcher of Halladay’s caliber, but they might, or might be good enough that the Yankees prosper anyway. Hughes will be 24 next year. In seven years he’ll be 31. Seven years from now, Halladay could be on the golf course 12 months a year. Were he to go to the Red Sox it would be a tough thing, as Halladay has pitched very well against the Yankees over the years (though not nearly so well against the Red Sox), but like the Yankees, the Red Sox have problems that Halladay can’t solve; in fact the same problem, an aging roster. The replacements that Theo Epstein trades for Halladay in December he might need by July.
Here’s another argument for trading for Halladay: Commissioner Selig and his umbrella Perkins say that each postseason series will not have 43 days off between games next year, with no series running less than six weeks each. As such, were the Yankees again to make it to October with just three trustworthy starters, Coffee Joe could not get around it by starting the Golden Trio on short rest–that fourth starter would almost certainly come into play. In addition, the same relievers could not be used in every game. If Halladay gives you anything, he gives you length, so he would be a help to any team trying to work through a more reasonable schedule.
And then there’s the Mayan calendar. If that’s right, then none of this matters anyway.
I’m offended by the notion that what put Mike Scioscia on top for the American League Manager of the Year award is that his team succeeded despite Nick Adenahrt’s death. Adenhart’s death was tragic and futile, and no doubt the young men of the Angels’ organization were deeply affected. That said, I have more faith in the professionalism of the ballplayers on that team, a fairly seasoned lot, than to believe they would have packed it in on April 9 for any reason, no matter how upsetting.
Further, as one who deals with existentially-flavored depression on a fairly regular basis, I find it impossible to believe that any manager, Scioscia, Joe Girardi, Joe Torre, Connie Mack, John McGraw, could jolly anyone out of a true bout of sadness. Words just don’t mean that much when you’re staring into the abyss. Nor has anyone said that Scioscia held individual counseling sessions or did anything out of the norm except report to work and keep making out his lineup cards. What else can you do in such a situation except keep playing?
Finally, in the most basic baseball sense of things, the loss of Adenhart was not necessarily something decisive the Angels had to overcome. While he was projected to be a big part of the team, and certainly had talent, he had not yet established himself in the Majors. In the same way that Joba Chamberlain or Hughes has advanced one foot and retreated two, Adenhart might have had steps back in his future. Certainly his Minor League record suggests that would have been the case.
The Angels had many such baseball situations that they had to work through to get to the postseason. Howie Kendrick slumped early. Vlad Guerrero and Torii Hunter got hurt, as did John Lackey, Ervin Santana and key bullpen piece Scot Shields. Brian Fuentes was always a blown save away from losing his job. At the same time, they were also the only really solid team in a weak division, something you can’t say about Girardi’s Yankees and Terry Francona’s Red Sox, both of which had their own baseball-oriented problems to deal with. They didn’t have to confront death, and that’s something we can all be thankful for, but just because Scioscia’s team did have that occur doesn’t necessarily make him the best manager in the league last year. Treating Adenhart’s untimely demise as an excuse to lionize a manager is both trivializing and exploitative.
MORE OF ME, SORT OF
Last weekend, NPR had a “Write a song” contest. I was too swamped by the Baseball Prospectus annual to do much more than kibbitz about a few words in the item ultimately entered by my songwriting partnership, but perhaps that was a blessing to the song that was ultimately created. If you’re interested in a completely different and heretofore unpublicized aspect of my creative output (as here embodied by my collaborator, Dr. Rick Mohring), you can find it on the scroll list halfway down the page under the name “Casual Observer.” I hope you enjoy listening to our “Carrie and Pierre.”
Without endorsing the idea of the Yankees acquiring Roy Halladay, I want to point out that one universal theme of the commentary regarding such a trade, that the Jays would be unlikely to deal Halladay to a divisional rival like the Yankees, is one of those stock things that writers say without really thinking it through. Anyone who writes that must not watch YES much, because the obvious counterpoint is a fixture in the booth. How do they think David Cone got to be associated with the Yankees?
On July 28, 1995, the Blue Jays traded David Cone to the Yankees under very similar circumstances. The general manager at the time was Gord Ash, not J.P. Ricciardi, but I guarantee you his preference wasn’t to send Cone across the water to New York, but he did. The Yankees had prospects to deal (none of them worked out, unfortunately) and they were willing to risk Cone leaving as a free agent (he did declare for the market, but was re-signed about five weeks later). Halladay isn’t a free agent until after the 2010 season, but the expense of his current contract is going to scare off a lot of teams given the economic environment. A team that picks him up tomorrow is going to be on the hook for half of this season and all of next year, which comes out to something like $23 million. It could be that the pool of bidders will be small enough that Ricciardi will have no choice but to look closely at the Yankees.
That’s if the Yankees are interested. I don’t know if they are, or if they even should be, but being division-mates with the Jays hasn’t stopped them in the past and won’t stop them now.
A QUICKER NOTE ON ACEVES VS. MITRE
Good call by the Yankees plucking Alf Aceves out of the bullpen to make Thursday’s spot start against the Twins. As outlined in an earlier entry, Mitre’s Major League track record is spotty enough that Thursday would have to be rated a throwaway game, regardless of his current minor league record. Pitchers are the ballplayers most likely to reinvent themselves, but a 5.36 career ERA is what it is… kind of like Brett Tomko’s 4.69.
The only disturbing aspect to the decision is that it exposes Joe Girard’s proffered rationale for stranding Aceves and Phil Hughes in the bullpen, that they could not be “stretched” in time, as a canard. Why not just give an honest answer, which would have been something like, “We’re having a pretty fun time with the current bullpen composition and we just don’t want to mess with it?” That might not have been the correct answer to the problem of the spot start, but it would have been truthful.
With Aceves sprung, possibly for more than one start, the Yankees do have to identify an option to replace his very productive relief work. Right now they’re carrying a pen that is two pitchers short of a full load, given that Brian Bruney isn’t exactly trustworthy right now and Brett Tomko doesn’t have any function beyond trash-time relief, if that.
I’d still like an explanation of why it’s more valuable to the pennant-winning effort to have Tomko in the Majors and Mark Melancon and his 2.50 ERA in the minors. I know he walked five guys in three innings in the majors, but at Scranton he’s walked just two batters per nine innings, the same rate he had last year. Meanwhile, the same minor league staff that allowed him to throw nearly 100 innings last year, after the pitcher already had Tommy John surgery, is using him for two and three innings and appearance. If the Yankees don’t use him soon, he might break before he can be used.
AN EVEN QUICKER QUESTION (UNANSWERABLE FOR NOW) ON SABATHIA
Is it meaningful that CC Sabathia’s strikeout rate is his lowest since 2003?
THE NEVER-ENDING STORY
Brett Gardner, May to present: .312/.414/.496.
Melky Cabrera, May to present: .265/.319/.395.
Gardner starts again tonight. All hail Joe Girardi.
SO LONG TO FRANCISCO CERVELLI
He’s athletic and mobile and therefore fun to watch… but as a hitter he wasn’t any better than Jose Molina. The difference between the two is that Cervelli has a small chance to be better than that, whereas Molina is what he is. Cervelli’s 48 percent caught stealing rate is something special, and if he continues to throw like that he’s almost guaranteed to have a long Major League career even if his bat stays exactly where it is right now.
OK, NOW THAT WE’VE GOT HALLADAY OUT OF THE WAY …
Roy Halladay has made 31 career starts against the Yankees in his career, or about one full season’s worth. With last night’s victory, his record against them improved to 16-5 with a 2.79 ERA. In 216 1/3 career innings, he’s allowed 190 hits, walked 47, and struck out 167. He’s thrown five complete games and hurled two shutouts. Halladay’s three best teams are the Tigers, Orioles and Yankees. One of these things is not like the other.
For the Yankees, losing to Halladay was the closest thing to an inevitability in this series. Now they have to face Scott Richmond, a 29-year-old righty with 11 career appearances under his belt. Though he is 4-1 with a 3.29 ERA, he’s also had a great deal of luck so far. He’s a fly-ball pitcher who has already allowed a fair number of home runs. Combine that with an unimpressive walk rate and mix thoroughly, and the recipe should produce some crooked numbers. It hasn’t so far, because despite the walks, Richmond has held opposing batters to a .222 average — this despite another unimpressive stat, his rate of line drives allowed. I know this is a bit stat-heady, but stick with me for a moment: Line drives are hits the vast majority of the time. A high number of balls in play against Richmond are line drives, ergo there should be a high number of hits to go with them. In Richmond’s case, there aren’t. Opposing batters are hitting just .245 on balls in play, a rate that’s way, way below average — the league average on balls in play is .305. That suggests that Richmond has had a great deal of good luck so far, with balls practically taking sharp turns and honing their way into fielders’ mitts.
If this suggests to you that the Yankees could rampage around the Rogers Centre tonight, you’re right, but only sort of. With the Yankees order being so dramatically depleted — tonight’s order has Robby Cano batting fifth, Melky Cabrera batting sixth, Brett Gardner seventh, Ramiro Pena eighth, and Frankie Cervelli ninth — they may not have the firepower to rampage over a mound of Jell-O. Oh, those injuries, oh, that lack of second-line talent. This has been a recurrent theme since 2000, a direct contributor (to borrow a title from Buster Olney) to the last night of the Yankee dynasty, and a major issue in most seasons since. With the June draft almost upon us, it might be worth asking if anything in the Yankees’ player procurement and development philosophy has changed given these problems, but this isn’t really the draft to be asking about, given that they vented their picks on free-agent compensation.
Oh well. The more things change the more they stay the same. Perhaps no one drafting in the 900 picks ahead of the Yankees will want to meet Stephen Strasburg’s price of $50 gabooblebillion and he’ll fall out of the first 17 rounds to whenever the Yankees finally get to pick … Nah, won’t happen. Still, at this stage the Yankees could do just as well with a bunch of league-average outfielders. That seems almost like a bigger dream than projecting a Strasburgian Icarus act on draft day.
MORE OF ME …
… Later on. In the meantime, a transcript of yesterday’s chat is available in the lobby.