A year ago, I wrote about how weird it was to have the New York Yankees, the historical power and biggest spender in Major League Baseball, playing the role of seller at the trade deadline. They seemed poised for a rebuild, and I was confident Brian Cashman was smart enough to see that through, but it did not feel right. 2016 was a weird year, and the Yankees bracing to rebuild does not even come close to the top fifty strangest things that happened last year, but 2017 appears to be reverting to what we know as normal, at least in a baseball sense. The Yankees are back, and for some reason, I’m okay with it.
After dealing Andrew Miller to the Cleveland Indians and Aroldis Chapman to the Chicago Cubs, setting up the crucial late inning match-ups the World Series, there was the rise of Gary Sanchez. Sanchez, a catcher, batted .299 and hit 20 home runs in just 53 games, and finished second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. Two great months from a rookie catcher do not immediately make a team a contender, and the expectations for New York were still that of a team building through the farm system to be great in a couple years heading into 2017. Then Aaron Judge happened.
If you told me the next great Yankee was an outfielder as big as Rob Gronkowski, who hits the ball harder than Giancarlo Stanton, and who is so humble he’s more likable than Derek Jeter and Mariano River combined, I would have thought you were crazy. There could not be a human like that. Aaron Judge is such human. Last year, he was a strikeout machine, and this year he has transformed himself into a baseball crushing machine who is quickly becoming one of the faces of baseball. It was only a matter of time before the Yankees had another transcendent icon of the game. They always land on their feet in that regard, but who would have thought it would be one like this? Baseball players aren’t supposed to be that big, and if they are, they become pitchers. All I can do is sit back and be amazed.
With their rebuild fast-tracked by a baseball unicorn, the Yankees resumed their normal role of buyers at the trade deadline, and they bought, and bought, and bought. They acquired third baseman Todd Frazier, starting pitcher Tommy Kahnle, and relief pitcher David Robertson from the Chicago White Sox, relief pitcher Jaime Garcia from the Minnesota Twins, and capped it all off by acquiring right handed ace Sonny Gray from the Oakland Athletics. The Yankees did not get the biggest names that moved this trade season, as the Texas Rangers sent Yu Darvish to the Los Angeles Dodgers and the White Sox sent Jose Quintana across town to the Cubs, but they acquired quality in volume and filled the most needs of any postseason contender. It also helped their cause that they made trades to bolster third base and the bullpen, taking players off the market in the most glaring places of need for their forever rival Boston Red Sox.
These are the Yankees I remember.
As much as I hate to admit, the Yankees being good is good for baseball. They are the lightning rod for the hate of the other 29 fan bases. The villain role in sports is something that should be embraced. As a Patriots fan, I embrace it. The Yankees are better at being the bad guy than anyone else in Major League Baseball. In the years since they last won the World Series in 2009, several teams have had the chance to take the Iron Throne of Evil from the Yankees, but the fit has never been quite right. The Red Sox, in spite of their three World Series titles since they last met the Yankees in the postseason, cannot get out of their own way year to year. The San Francisco Giants won three World Series titles in five years, but were irrelevant in the off years. The Dodgers, for all their regular season success and high payroll, have not won the National League Pennant since 1988. The Cubs only got good in the last two years and before 2016, the last president to be alive for a Cubs championship team was Lyndon Johnson, who was born two months earlier in 1908. They are not ready for that kind of role. The Red Sox are 13 years removed from becoming winners, and they aren’t even ready for it.
The team that came the closest was the St. Louis Cardinals. They have won the most titles of any team in the National League, they rub other fan bases the wrong way with their “best fans in baseball” mentality, and their was an actual FBI investigation into front office members hacking the Houston Astros (and somehow Deflategate got more coverage?). They should have become the most hated team in baseball, but animosity towards the Cardinals translated more into Cardinal fatigue more than Cardinal hate for me. It just wasn’t the same.
The Yankees are the Alabama football or Duke basketball of Major League Baseball. Nobody is indifferent to these teams. If you follow that respective sport, you have strong feelings one way or the other, and that keeps you engaged even if your own team is not a contender. I should be upset that the Yankees were not bad for a longer period of time, but hating a middling team or a team with a losing record is just not as much fun.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Oakland Athletics earned critical acclaim and notoriety for fielding competitive baseball teams in spite of their noncompetitive payrolls. The success with the deck stacked against them made Billy Beane the poster boy of the baseball analytics movement and Michael Lewis’ 2003 book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game spawned a genre of outside-the-box-front-office-strategy books from Jonah Keri’s The Extra 2% about the Tampa Bay Rays, to Molly Knight’s The Best Team Money Can Buy about the Los Angeles Dodgers, to Travis Sawchik’s Big Data Baseball about the Pittsburgh Pirates, to Steve Kettmann’s Baseball Maverick about Beane’s mentor Sandy Alderson and the job he rebuilding the New York Mets into a contender. Fast-forward to 2016, and the A’s still have not reached the World Series since 1990, yet they still have the reputation of baseball intellect that has carried them through the lean years as The Ringer’s Claire McNear so aptly pointed out earlier this week.
The landscape of Major League Baseball has changed since 2002, with revenue sharing and even a change in ownership in Oakland, yet the A’s are still content to act poor to show the world how smart they are. They found themselves as sellers at the trade deadline for the second straight year, which to be fair, is something big budget teams like the Red Sox are more than capable of doing as well, and there are more than a couple of former Oakland A’s making meaningful contributions to contenders in 2016. A popular move in the Billy Beane playbook has been to trade away a star player for prospects before he has to pay them like a star. Josh Donaldson being dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays the winter before his 2015 American League MVP season was just the most recent in a long line of stars Oakland fans got attached to even though they knew they should not have. In 2014, they traded Yoenis Cespedes to the Red Sox at the deadline for Jon Lester, who was set to become a free agent at the end of the season. Before them, it was Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, Nick Swisher, Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi. In Oakland, there will always be good players, but the front office does not want to invest enough in them for fans to justify investing in that specific star’s jersey.
In my opinion, the Lester/Cespedes Trade was the one the A’s missed on the most, even more than the Donaldson Trade. As a Red Sox fan, it’s not like I’m over the moon about the way that whole situation played out (The Sox had low-balled Lester in contract extension negotiations after he had led them to the 2013 World Series, then traded him and John Lackey away at the deadline with no immediate solution to replace them. They ended up flipping Cespedes that winter to Detroit for Rick Porcello, and while Porcello has been Boston’s most consistent pitcher this year, he’s no Jon Lester.), the A’s gutted the heart of their lineup during a pennant race for a pitcher they were not going to be able to re-sign. Had they stood pat with Cespedes, their rotation was already pretty good with Sonny Gray, Jeff Samardzija, and Scott Kazmir. Maybe they aren’t playing in the play-in Wild Card game against Kansas City, and their postseason doesn’t end after one game. The failure of the 2014 Jon Lester Era A’s ultimately led to Beane blowing up the team with the Donaldson Trade. Sure, Toronto gave up a fan favorite in the form of Brett Lawrie, but like everyone else, Lawrie did not stick in Oakland, while Donaldson has thrived with the Blue Jays. Not only was he the 2015 American League MVP, but he helped end a playoff drought that had been going on since the Jays won the 1993 World Series. If the result of the Lester/Cespedes Trade was a wash, the Donaldson/Lawrie Trade was a clear win for Toronto.
There is something to be said about being on the cutting edge of your industry. There are different metrics to measure success. Is it better to be more popular, or be recognized for doing what you do smarter? Jay Leno consistently had higher ratings, but David Letterman made a bigger cultural impact. Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s fancy themselves as Letterman, if Letterman was doing his show in his mom’s basement on a cable access channel like Wayne Campbell, when the reality is he’s on CBS. Other small market teams have broken through and won the World Series, with the 2015 Kansas City Royals being the most recent example. Other executives have applied analytical practices and won at a high level, perhaps most notably Theo Epstein with the Red Sox and Cubs, and yet a common perception that analytics are synonymous with Beane and the Athletics still persists. Billy Beane does not have a monopoly on smart ideas in baseball, and his teams have not even won an American League Pennant, but he’s the one who gets to be played by Brad Pitt in an Oscar-nominated movie. How is that fair?
I subscribe to the idea of critically acclaimed teams. When people look back at the champions in any sport fifty years from now, that will not tell the whole story. The Steve Nash Era Phoenix Suns, for example, never won a title, or even made the NBA Finals, but they were a fun and exciting foil to the Lakers and Spurs of the mid-2000s, and paved the way for a team like the Golden State Warriors of the last two years to exist and thrive. They never won themselves, but they were a game changer. The A’s of the early 2000s were a game changer, but they’re still clinging onto an identity that made them innovative over a decade ago, but now they’re just another team that hasn’t won anything while others have.
No baseball fan sheds a tear for Brian Cashman, the GM of the New York Yankees who inherited a team that already had the infrastructure of Joe Torre, Derek Jeter, Andy Pettite, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Bernie Williams when he got the job in 1998, and kept that train rolling for a solid fifteen years with the benefit of one of the most free-spending ownership groups in all of baseball. Cashman’s Yankees were sellers at the deadline for the first time in his tenure, and while it was very strange, he will not get the amount of credit he deserves for the haul he got back for the players he traded away, and the praise for inevitably turning the Yankees around will be muted compared to other teams. On the other side of that coin, nobody should shed a tear for Billy Beane and his predicament in Oakland at this point. He doesn’t have the spending power of the Yankees or the Red Sox or the Dodgers, but he likes the position he’s in. If he wins, he’s a genius. If he loses, he’s a genius in a really tough situation. He cannot lose. It’s good to be smart, but it’s better to win, and if I were a fan of the A’s, I’d be tired of the Moneyball routine by now. It never ends, does it?
“And Jesus wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.”
Dean of Students
Greendale Community College
The idea of Community ever getting six seasons and a movie used to seem as far-fetched as The Cape, the ill-fated NBC super hero show from 2011 that first inspired Abed Nadir to shout “Six seasons and a movie!” while cosplaying as the title character in the Greendale cafeteria, getting six seasons and a movie. I would say that stranger things have happened, but it’s harder to come up with examples than it should be. Let’s see: Two and a Half Men got a dozen seasons despite never being funny and having cast turnover that undermined the name of the show, J. K. Simmons is an Academy Award winning actor, but is still the marketing face of Farmer’s Insurance and the voice of the yellow M&M, and the Boston Celtics are one of the hottest teams in the NBA after trading away Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green. These things can all be explained away by things like Nielsen ratings, the work ethic and mindset of a career character actor, the shrewd negotiating of Danny Ainge, and the top-notch coaching of Brad Stevens, but Community‘s survival on the brink of cancellation since the night it debuted in 2009 is a reflection of the world we live in today. Maybe that’s what Kevin Garnett meant when he said “Anything is possible!!!!”
Nothing lasts forever, but now it seems like Community might improbably challenge that statement. This is a show that NBC never felt comfortable promoting, that had its creator fired after three seasons, that was at its best accessible to a very narrow audience, but that audience stood by it through EVERYTHING!!! and now it has outlasted The Office, 30 Rock, Parks and Rec, and the countless bad sitcoms NBC tried to use to push out their last great Thursday night comedy lineup. It has outlasted once immovable fixtures in the sports world like Brett Favre, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Joe Paterno, and Martin Brodeur. It outlasted The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (for real, this time), The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and The Colbert Report, while David Letterman and Jon Stewart plan on getting out of the talk show game before 2015 is over. For a show that could have been cancelled before The Cape even when on its three month run, that’s really impressive.
I do not expect Community to become a multi-decade institution the way The Simpsons or Saturday Night Live have (and quite frankly, I would be worried for Dan Harmon’s health and well being if he had to keep putting in the effort he puts into this wonderful creation of his for an extended period of time), but there are definite parallels between the shows. The Simpsons thrived because the late great Sam Simon had the foresight to build an equally dysfunctional village of characters around Matt Groening’s hilariously dysfunctional family when developing the show. Community was as great as it was because it was about more than Study Room F. It extended beyond the Greendale Seven. Greendale Community College was a character on the show, and it was full of characters.
Like Saturday Night Live, critics have been ready to pronounce Community dead from the moment Chevy Chase left the show. Some things really don’t change in 40 years. SNL got by with the addition of Bill Murray and with increased emphasis on John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, while Community replaced Chevy’s Pierce Hawthorne at the study table with Jonathan Banks’ criminal justice professor Buzz Hickey, and when Donald Glover departed midway through Season Five, filled the void by giving more screen time to Jim Rash, Ken Jeong, and John Oliver. It’s a show about a community college, the kind of school most people only spend a couple of years before moving on, and if the TV landscape it was born into in 2009 had not evolved the way it had with streaming sites and hashtags, it might have been over by 2010, gone the way of Firefly or Freaks and Geeks, a giant “what if?” full of stars who moved on to bigger things. I can’t blame Donald Glover for moving on…or Chevy Chase (who doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone. The way I see it, Community validated how bright his star was in the 70s and 80s.)… or Yvette Nicole Brown… or Jonathan Banks… or John Oliver. The cast keeps changing, but Greendale is still as weird as ever.
For me, Community was the perfect show at the perfect time. In the fall of 2009, I had transferred to Fitchburg State College (now Fitchburg State University) after a freshman year at UMass Dartmouth. It wasn’t community college, but it made me closer to home after not having a great year. It was a show about misfits at an underdog of a school, and it felt like Dan Harmon was writing a TV show for me, personally. Somehow a show with that narrow an audience was allowed to be on network TV, but then again, it was on a network that made Conan O’Brien move to Los Angeles to host The Tonight Show, only to give it back to Jay Leno seven months later, so they had bigger problems than the fact that the only people watching their Thursday night comedies were college kids the next day on Hulu.
We did it. The fans won the age old battle against the network TV system and ratings. I will enjoy Community as long as they keep making new episodes. It began on network TV and now only exists on the Internet. That’s the way things are going. Between Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and Yahoo, interesting creative projects that never would have made it on television are thriving online. Last week, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Tina Feys new sitcom, debuted on Netflix and was amazing. NBC could have had it, but it went straight to Netflix. Good shows don’t need TV, and TV never wanted Community, so the world now makes more sense.
It’s been an up-and-down season for the Boston Red Sox, and while it’s been more down than up, and more than a third of the roster that won the World Series last year is now playing elsewhere, they have had their promising moments as of late. As playoff aspirations are diminished, if not gone entirely, there is one thing to be excited about. The young talent on the roster has shown its share of growing pains, but there is a lot to be excited about. That’s the best thing Red Sox fans can hope for: let the kids play and get them used to the life of a big league ballplayer while the stakes aren’t as high as they were not last year. If the kids can’t develop, it would be a complete waste of a season. John Lackey isn’t coming back, and while I would love for it to happen, Jon Lester is a long shot to come back to Boston in 2015. What we can hope for is the kids who now have bigger shoes to fill. I love baseball, and there’s always a reason to pay attention, even if your team will not be playing big games in October.
Here are some of the names we’re going to hear a lot in the next few years:
Xander Bogaerts. One of the more overlooked moves by the Red Sox at the trade deadline was sending Stephen Drew to the New York Yankees of all teams. The hatred for the Yankees that I once had in my heart is not what it used to be, and while it might come back if both the Yankees and Red Sox are good at the same time in the future, I never thought I would be happy or excited about a player from the Sox getting traded to New York…until now. I didn’t understand why the Red Sox brought Drew back in the first place. This was supposed to be Xander’s year to be the starting shortstop and prove that he belongs there. When the Red Sox decided to sign Drew in the middle of the season, Bogaerts, who had shown improvement of defense as a shortstop, fell off the map at the plate when he was moved to third base. It was as if the Red Sox were punishing him for struggling at short, which they should have fully expected seeing as he’s 21 years old, and his confidence was shot when he got moved to third. As for Drew, hitting like Nomar in his prime would not have been enough to make that acquisition worthwhile. The team was going nowhere, and his presence was stunting the development of a young player who should be a future star in Boston.
Now, Drew gets to show the Yankees, who will have a vacancy at the shortstop position this winter for the first time in nearly two decades, what he’s made of, and he’s hoping to get paid this offseason. Go ahead. I don’t even care that it’s with New York. Since the trade, Bogaerts has been hitting the ball better, and has made some good plays at short. He might never be a Gold Glove winner, but defense was the most overrated aspect of Jeter’s game, too. If the hitting is there, you’ll take average defense at best from that position.
Jackie Bradley Jr. Bradley is already a better defensive center fielder than Jacoby Ellsbury ever was. He’s already a better defensive center fielder than Johnny Damon was. The kid is a really, really good defensive center fielder. He has great instincts, and makes getting to well hit balls look very easy. He also has one of the strongest throwing arms (along with newly acquired teammate Yoenis Cespedes) in all of Major League Baseball, and deserves to win a Gold Glove this season. The questions with Jackie Bradley Jr. revolve around what he does (or doesn’t do) in the batter’s box. If Jackie can figure out how to hit with consistency at the Major League level, he will be an every day player, and maybe even an All-Star. If he does not, Bradley may find himself platooning with Shane Victorino (if The Flyin’ Hawaiian can stay healthy, and I recognize that that’s a very big if) in 2015, with Allen Craig and Yoenis Cespedes holding down the corner outfield positions.
I’m personally rooting for Bradley to become a star in Major League Baseball. I love what he does in the field, and I want him to validate the Red Sox’ decision not to pursue Jacoby Ellsbury in free agency. He’s struggled at the plate this year, but he’s far from the only Red Sox player to struggle in that department in 2014. Hopefully he learns from the growing pains of this season, and has not yet reached his ceiling as a hitter.
Brock Holt. Holt has been the biggest pleasant surprise of the 2014 Red Sox season. The biggest overall surprise of 2014 was just how bad the team has been after being so good in 2013, but you probably already know that since you’re reading a blog post about the silver linings to take away from the 2014 Red Sox. The 26 year old Matt Damon lookalike is a second baseman by trade, but knew he needed to adapt if he wanted to have a future in Boston because they already had some guy named Dustin Pedroia who isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. In 2014, Brock Holt has played every field position except pitcher and catcher, and has secured the hole at the top of the Red Sox’ lineup left by Jacoby Ellsbury when he left for New York. He doesn’t have a defined position, but has proven capable of playing them. He’s a utility player in the sense that he is versatile, but he is an every day player in the sense that he plays every day and the Sox desperately need his bat in the lineup. He’s earned my respect. I’ve learned his name this year, and I’ve finally stopped calling him Steve Holt.
How do you like them apples?
Christian Vazquez. When the Red Sox designated for assignment and eventually released veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski (who has since been signed by the St. Louis Cardinals, who were desperate for help behind the plate with Yadier Molina out with injury) last month, it meant it was time for Christian Vazquez to shine. Vazquez was the top catching prospect in the Red Sox’ farm system, and has adjusted well to the big leagues. He never got to catch for Jon Lester, as Lester was using David Ross exclusively before getting traded to Oakland, bu he’s gotten experience working with pretty much every other pitcher during this month of high turnover. Vazquez also has the luxury of having an experienced veteran and one of the most well liked players in the game in Ross as his backup and mentor. I don’t know if there’s a better catcher to show a younger guy the ropes in Major League Baseball than David Ross these days.
Vazquez is very good defensively, has a great arm, and has been hitting the ball well since getting promoted from Pawtucket. We’ve seen learning curves with young players before, but Vazquez seems to be taking it all in stride and seems more than ready to catch at the Major League level. He is friends with Yadier Molina, who has been the best catcher in the game of baseball over the last five years, and if Vazquez turns into even half the player Molina is, then they’ve got something to be happy about.
Mookie Betts. Betts is even younger than Xander Bogaerts, and he has made it to Boston more quickly than anyone anticipated. Like Brock Holt, Betts is a second baseman by trade, but he’ll have to learn new positions to get playing time because that’s the one position that’s spoken for long term in this town. According to Wikipedia, Betts’ parents named him Markus Lynn Betts so that his initials would be MLB, and that the nickname “Mookie” was inspired by former NBA point guard Mookie Blaylock, making him the second great item of American popular culture inspired by the former New Jersey Net, Atlanta Hawk, and Golden State Warrior. I was surprised. I thought as a baseball player, he’d be more likely named after New York Mets’ fan favorite Mookie Wilson than the grunge-inspiring Blaylock, but I’ve been wrong before.
Betts was ranked as the 74th best prospect by Baseball America going into the 2014 season, and started the year playing for Boston’s AA affiliate Portland Sea Dogs before getting promoted to AAA Pawtucket, but was rushed to the Majors as quickly as he was out of need, when the Red Sox outfield failed to produce with Shane Victorino constantly injured. Since getting there, Betts has shown flashes of brilliance, including this incredible catch in center field. After the trade deadline, the Red Sox suddenly have more outfielders than they know what to do with, but Betts has certainly made a case for himself as Ben Cherington tries to map out plans for the Sox in 2015 and beyond. I love the energy Betts brings to the Red Sox, and I hope to see him become a consistent Major Leaguer in the years to come.
Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster. De La Rosa and Webster were the two young pitchers the Red Sox acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2012 trade that sent Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Nick Punto out of town. If that trade had just been a salary dump, getting those overpaid malcontents off the books and starting over as an organization, the trade still would have been a home run for the Red Sox, considering that they were able to win the World Series in 2013 after picking up the pieces from 2012 with minimal Major League contribution from those two, but getting two promising pitchers makes it that much better. Both pitchers are now in Boston’s starting rotation, and they both pitched well this week. De La Rosa, 25, who has been excellent at Fenway Park this season, had perhaps his best road outing the other night in St. Louis, before the bullpen blew the game and he got a no-decision. De La Rosa has shown flashes of brilliance, and the instruction he’s received from Red Sox legend Pedro Martinez (who will always be my favorite baseball player) has certainly paid off.
Webster had his best Major League start of the season last night in Anaheim, allowing just two runs on four hits over six and two thirds innings against a formidable lineup that includes Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, and Josh Hamilton. At the Major League level, he’s still walking as many batters as he strikes out, but the sample size is still small. He showed resilience by pitching the way he did in Anaheim after getting shelled and pulled out of the game in the third inning in his last outing against the Yankees. Webster is only 24, so I expect him to get better as he goes along.
In addition, there is Brandon Workman, who pitched well out of the bullpen last year, but has been up-and-down as a starter for the Red Sox this season. Anthony Ranaudo got his first win in the Majors against the Yankees last week. Henry Owens might not make it to Boston until next year, but he’s been lighting it up in Portland and Pawtucket in 2014. There is a lot to be excited about with the Red Sox, even if the current American League standings are less than uplifting. The future is soon, and it should be pretty fun.
When Robinson Cano left the New York Yankees this past winter to sign with the Seattle Mariners to the tune of $240 million over ten years, it was the rare case of the Yankees losing one of their own free agents that they wanted to keep. It shocked the fabric of Major League Baseball much the way Dwight Howard leaving the Los Angeles Lakers to sign with the Houston Rockets shook the status quo in the National Basketball Association. Cano has the right to sign wherever he wants and the Mariners offered him a lot more money than the Yankees did. The thing that amuses me is how upset the Yankees are about Cano leaving when they’ve been luring away the star players from every other team since the beginning of free agency some 40 years ago.
Robbie Cano is the best power hitting second baseman in the Majors, and deserves to be paid as such. When he first signed with the Mariners, it seemed like a ridiculous contract, but before he played a game in Seattle, the Los Angeles Dodgers gave ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw $215 million over the next seven years, and the Detroit Tigers gave Miguel Cabrera, the best hitter in the game and the two-time reigning American League MVP, $300 million over the next ten years, and Cano’s deal does not seem so outlandish anymore.
The Yankees have gone out of their way to be bitter about Cano’s departure. They did not prepare a video tribute for when he returned to Yankee Stadium last week as a member of the Mariners (while the Red Sox prepared a tribute for Jacoby Ellsbury who left Boston for the Yankees of all teams), and John Sterling went off in the broadcast about how Cano should have taken the Yankee money. If Sterling was offered that high a pay raise to call games for the Mets, I would wonder if the Yankee money would be good enough for him. Earlier this week, it was reported that Mariano Rivera would rather have Dustin Pedroia at second base than Cano, as Mo wrote in his new book. The Yankees are quick to forget that Cano, not Derek Jeter or Rivera, was their best player over the last five seasons, and was a big part of the World Series winning roster in 2009.
Of all teams, the Yankees should understand a star player’s desire to get paid. That’s why Ichiro Suzuki is in New York and not Seattle. That’s why Jacoby Ellsbury is in New York and not Boston. That’s why Brian McCann is in New York and not his native Atlanta. That’s why C. C. Sabathia is in New York and not Cleveland or Milwaukee. That’s why Masahiro Tanaka is in New York and not Japan. Ever since players gained the right to hit free agency, the Yankees have had their pick of the All-Star litter more than any other team, thanks to their enormous media market and the Steinbrenner family’s willingness to spend big in the name of winning. It’s part of the game, and for once they’re feeling the sting of rejection, but for baseball fans everywhere, it’s fun to see happen in New York. What goes around comes around eventually.
I’ve been so busy writing about the NHL playoffs that I almost forgot to mention Pine Tar-Gate 2014. Earlier this week, in a game between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, Yankee pitcher Michael Pineda was ejected for having a disgusting glob of pine tar on his neck that he was using to doctor the ball. A couple weeks ago, Pineda was warned by Major League Baseball after everyone watching the game on TV noticed the pine tar that was on his arm. That game was also against the Red Sox. This time, it was so obvious that John Farrell had no choice but to come out of the dugout and let home plate umpire Gerry Davis know about it. David went to the mound and tossed Pineda from the game as soon as he touched Pineda’s neck. Pineda was issued a ten game suspension, which is standard procedure for the offense. It’s about time something interesting happened between the Yankees and Red Sox again!
Red Sox vs. Yankees is arguably the best rivalry in baseball, but the only reason it’s an argument is because the rivalry has gone stale over the last decade, allowing Dodgers vs. Giants to creep back into the conversation. The two teams have not met in the postseason since their epic seven game American League Championship Series in 2004, where the Red Sox made the greatest comeback in baseball history on their way to winning their first World Series since 1918. Since then, the regular season games, while very long on average, have not been particularly exciting th past few years. The Red Sox vs. Rays rivalry has become much more intriguing as far as the on-field product is concerned.
It’s a lot harder to hate the Yankees than it was in the past. Alex Rodriguez is serving a one year ban from Major League Baseball, so he’s not in the picture. Last year, Mariano Rivera had a season-long farewell tour, and this year Derek Jeter is doing the same. Jacoby Ellsbury may have defected from Boston and signed with New York, but I didn’t really want the Sox to keep him anyway. Would I have preferred that he sign with San Diego or Seattle or the Chicago Cubs? Sure, but I’m not heartbroken, and I’m glad the Red Sox won’t be paying him what the Yankees will be paying him when he’s 37. Looking up and down the Yankee roster, it’s hard to find a lot of villains to hate, but the Pineda thing may be what it takes to stir the pot.
The next time the Red Sox and Yankees meet, every Red Sox pitcher will be examined under a microscope. So will every Yankees pitcher. I don’t really have a problem with pitchers doctoring the ball, but at least be more subtle about it. There are Hall of Fame pitchers who cheated, but the chance that they could have been doing it even when they weren’t was enough to crawl into a hitter’s head. That’s part of the game. I’m also the guy who liked the Steroid Era and has no problem with steroid users getting voted into the Hall of Fame, so take that for what it’s worth.
The real questions to ask in this whole situation are “how stupid is Michael Pineda?” and “how stupid does Michael Pineda think the rest of us are?” Nobody got fooled on this one.
Babe Ruth. Lou Gehrig. Bill Dickey. Joe Dimaggio. Yogi Berra. Whitey Ford. Mickey Mantle. Roger Maris. Phil Rizzuto. Billy Martin. Thurman Munson. Reggie Jackson. Don Mattingly. Derek Jeter. Jorge Posada. Andy Pettitte. Mariano Rivera. There have been many great Yankees over the years, much to the chagrin of the fans of every other Major League Baseball team, but with the sun setting on the Jeter Era, the next great Yankee has arrived from the Land of the Rising Sun. Masahiro Tanaka is here, and he’s taking North America by storm.
Tanaka, a 25 year old right hander, pitched for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles from 2007 to 2013, signed a seven year $155 million deal with the New York Yankees this past winter after also drawing interest from the Cubs, White Sox, Dodgers, Astros, and Diamondbacks. Tanaka set a record in Japan for posting wins in 26 consecutive decisions from 2012 to 2013, and he hasn’t missed a beat since arriving in the Bronx, and putting on the infamous, yet iconic Yankee pinstripes. In his first 22 Major League innings, Tanaka has thrown 28 strikeouts. This week against, the Chicago Cubs, Masahiro allowed just two hits, but for what it’s worth, both hits were bunts. It’s a small sample size, but right now Tanaka has Major League hitters on their heels, and adjustments need to be made.
The Boston Red Sox tried making a free agent splash like this one in 2007 when they signed Daisuke Matsuzaka. Despite winning the World Series that year, Dice-K never lived up to the hype and was one of the most frustrating pitchers I have ever had to watch as a Red Sox fan. That free agent whiff by the Sox caused the team to shy away from Yu Darvish (who has been very good for the Texas Rangers when healthy) and Tanaka. Sometimes you have to take risks to find a franchise fixing player, and the Yankees have done just that. He’s still young, he’s creating more excitement for the Yankees than established MLB free agents like Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann, and he has a great chance of becoming the face of the franchise once Derek Jeter retires this winter.
Am I overreacting to a few outstanding performances in April? Probably. But then again, this is the New York Yankees we’re talking about. They can never be underestimated, because they always find a way to stay competitive. Their roster was old and overpaid, but Tanaka is adding a spark to the franchise that hasn’t been there in years. Alex Rodriguez is serving a one year suspension, Mariano Rivera is happily retired, and Derek Jeter will be joining Mo in retirement in a matter of months. The Red Sox just won the World Series, and have one of the deepest farm systems in baseball, but the Yankees have something to be excited about. As a Red Sox fan, this terrifies me.
It’s only April, but Masahiro Tanaka doesn’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon.