It’s a beautiful morning.
According to reports, the Yankees have signed free-agent outfielder Randy Winn. And, say those reports, this almost certainly means Johnny Damon is out of New York.
I’ve been following Damon’s off-season closely, and this news has me jumping for joy. But, perhaps not for the reasons you are thinking of.
When Damon left Boston for New York after the 2005 season, he was widely villified in Red Sox Nation. The bearded idiot who embodied the historic 2004 Sox team and became a hero among Sox fans not only ditched us for the money, but he went to the friggin’ Yankees. He might as well have egged Fenway Park and kicked the Ted Williams statue in the stones as he left.
Personally, I was conflicted about it. I hated seeing Damon go, especially to the Yankees. But, on the other hand, baseball is a business. I can’t blame a player for going for the most money . . . especially when it essentially does mean that that team values you more than others. And these players are from all over the country (and world); regional rivalries have little hold on them. I pledged to always be thankful for Damon’s contributions to the Sox, and bid him farewell. No hard feelings . . .
But trouble was brewing in my home. My 2-year-old daughter was a Johnny Damon fan. She had a Johnny Damon T-shirt. And my foolish sister had given her a Red Sox Teddy Bear, which was called “Johnny Bear.” When we told her the news, she said she was going to cheer for the Yankees. Gulp.
Not a problem, I thought. She’s little. She was little more than 3 by the time Damon played Boston as a Yankee the next season. I admit, it caused me much anguish when my own daughter was cheering for the Yankees. But, I said to myself, she’s young. It’s a phase. She’ll forget.
My daughter turns 7 next month. When the Sox and Yanks play, she still openly cheers for the Yankees and taunts me. When she learned the Yankees had won the World Series last year, she let out a “YESSS!!!!” Just the other day, she mocked me by drawing a picture of me with me saying “I love the Yankees.” It needs to come to an end . . . one way or another.
So I’ve been looking forward to the day when I can tell her — with a big smile on my face — that Johhny Damon is no longer on the Yankees. That Damon is now on some other team, like the Oakland A’s or Atlanta Braves. That day is closer than ever.
A report in yesterday’s Boston Globe said the Red Sox are currently shopping Mike Lowell, and may even be willing to pick up half of his remaining salary. Obviously, this looks like they are laying the groundwork to deal Lowell immediately once they are able to work out a deal with San Diego for Adrian Gonzalez.
But I wonder if the Sox feel so uncomfortable by Lowell’s health issues these last two seasons and by his rapidly vanishing range at third base that they feel they need to replace him at third next year regardless of whether they land Gonzalez or not. I’m certainly leaning that way. It looks like Lowell’s days in Boston are over.
Also, I know I’ve said this before, but with the free-agent frenzy ready to kick into high gear next week I’ll say it again: I have a really bad feeling about this off-season. The most cause for concern is the vision of Jason Bay in pinstripes.
Face it, it makes all the sense in the world for the Yankees to go after Bay. They are at the end of both Damon’s and Matsui’s contracts. Getting Bay would be a huge upgrade for them. Even more, by signing Bay the Yankees would be dealing a CRUSHING blow to their rivals, the Red Sox. I really don’t see how this doesn’t happen.
If this does happen, you can all but kiss next season goodbye. Even with Bay, the Sox needed to upgrade their offense. Should they sign Gonzalez, but lose Bay, they are essentially only breaking even. Not to say that Gonzalez and Bay are equal; they aren’t. Gonzalez is a premier offensive force. But the Sox offense needs both those bats to compete with the Yankees. Signing Matt Holliday to replace him isn’t the answer. The way Boras is talking, he would cost too much. Plus, his Colorado years and his early season slump in Oakland leave a lot of questions as to what kind of hitter he really is.
Should the Sox lose Bay, 2010 is a rebuilding year.
Let’s take a break for a moment from bemoaning the evilness of the Yankee purse and their ability to sign Sabathia, Burnett, Teixeira, and possibly more in a single offseason, and instead take a look at some of their vulnerabilities; weaknesses that aren’t going to just go away.
There’s currently an army of bloggers and columnists proclaiming you can’t just give the Yankees the championship right now, because anything can happen. And those people are right. However, right now I will just give the Yankees the division title. This is a team that won 89 games last season despite being plagued by injuries and marching out a starting rotation built on ductape. Now give that team the best young hitter in the game in Mark Teixeira, the stuff of CC Sabathia and a semi-healthy AJ Burnett, and the return of Chen-Mien Wang (sp?), and they should easily win an additional 10 games this season. That will mean a division title for New York, and it’ll set up an interesting Wild Card battle for the Red Sox with an ever-improving Tampa Bay team – a team adding David Price to their rotation, featuring the improving bats of BJ Upton and Evan Longoria, and remember their ace Scott Kazmir was sub-par last season. It should all make for an interesting 2009.
But while the Yankees look imposing and should certainly capture the division crown, even on paper they have deep flaws that could expose them to failure come October.
- Derek Jeter. Before I bash Jeter, let me first say I think he is a hell of a player. Jeter has “it”; he has that same competitive fire and passion that guys like Larry Bird and Lance Armstrong have; that willingness to go all out and come up big when it counts most. We’ve seen it in his legendary play against the A’s; we saw it when he went into the stands to make a catch against the Sox (the same game Nomar sat pouting on the bench). But despite that, Jeter has always been overrated. He has passion; but even in his prime his numbers weren’t overly impressive compared to second-tier shortstops, and his defense was average. Now he’s going to be 35 this season — an ancient age for shortstops. His defense is already a liability. When offensively-gifted shortstops get old, they usually get moved to thirdbase or firstbase. But with ARod and Teixeira in place for the next decade, Jeter won’t be moving to those spots. And you don’t want an aged former shortstop suddenly trying to run around the outfield. The Yanks are stuck with Jeter at short, and that could be a problem for years to come.
- Jorge Posada. Prior to last season, I said Posada’s new contract was a bad deal of monumental proportions. Thanks, Jorge, for proving me right in 2008. Anticipate him being dead weight the rest of that contract too. Take away his suspiciously-good 2007 contract-year campaign, and Posada has never been an exceedingly great hitter. And his catching abilities have many Yankee pitchers grumbling. By this mid-season, it will be apparent to Cashman and diehard Yank fans they need to address the catching issue. Don’t be surprised if they get in on Saltalamacchia or other young prospect discussions. But until then, we’ll watch Jorge drag the Yanks down.
- Crowded Outfield. To fill their three outfield positions and the DH spot, the Yanks have Matsui, Damon, Swisher, Cabrera and Nady. Matsui and Damon are both years passed their prime, have seen their numbers drop, and have been recently plagued by injuries. Maybe Matsui can bounce back, but given his age and injuries, expect him to drop off. At this point in his career, Damon is a shell of himself. Speed was his game, and now it is gone, making him slower on the basepaths and a liability on defense. Nady is good. But Swisher and his .220 average make Dave Kingman look like Rod Carew. (Although, with Swisher being cut from my fantasy baseball team, expect him to have a career year in 2009.) Cabrera is a wildcard — a moderately-talented player with the personal makeup the Yanks are desperate to ship out of town. In the outfield/DH department, both the Sox and Rays have the advantage over The Bombers.
- Starting Pitching. Despite signing Sabathia and Burnett, the dependability of the Yankee starting pitching staff is far from a sure thing. While I’ve often said that, given his size and number of innings pitched, Sabathia will eventually break down, that probably won’t happen this year. It could, but anyone could get injured. And its a safer bet to expect Sabathia to be Sabathia in 2009. That being said, its also a safe bet to expect Burnett to get injured and log under 25 starts. And,even when healthy, Burnett is touchable. Wang is good, but isn’t a top-tier starting pitcher. And while he’s been great at times, he’s also gone through stretches of being very vulnerable. Even if they are all healthy, the Yankee Top 3 aren’t any better than the Top 3 pitchers for the Sox or Rays. After that, the young arms of Chamberlain, Kennedy and Hughes are a wildcard. They all have talent, but given the way the Yankees have mismanaged their development into the bigs, there’s no way to know how they’ll react this season.
Y’know, the more I think about it, maybe it is too early to give the Yanks the division crown.
It’s been fascinating this offseason to watch teams finally calling Scott Boras’s bluff. For years his negotiating practice has been to create phantom offers, telling teams that he had deals on the table for years and dollars beyond all reason, and sending actual teams into panic mode to sign their coveted players. Remember back in 2005, when he said he had in hand an offer for more years and roughly $20 million more for Johnny Damon then what he ultimately signed with the Yankees for? And how come Tek has yet to sign with that team that supposedly offered him three years at an annual pay raise?
Now teams are calling him on it. It’s great to see the Angels and Red Sox saying “Show us your cards.” And how nice was it to see Boras scambling this week, trying to keep the Angels as players as well as the Sox, saying his player was still interested in them, desperately hoping to salvage some kind of bidding war? But now the bidding that many thought could fly well past $200 million is dropping faster than the stock market.
Teams are now going to start being wary of Boras’s negotiating style. And in the end, it might ultimately start to cost his players some money. If teams are hesitant to bid on players, that could keep the prices down. Whereas the Sox might have been willing to approach $190 million for Tex, maybe now they knock ten to fifteen million off that price and dare Boras and Tex to get a better offer (and possibly with a doomed franchise). And maybe – just maybe – players might start being better off with other agents.
Of course, there’s always some desperate team looking to do something stupid to make a splash. The fledgling Washington franchise might just not see the wisdom in restraint and do something crazy. The Nationals are kind of like North Korea with nuclear weapons — a desperate, jittery, insecure, more-than-half-crazy entity that might try to make itself important to the baseball world by dropping a salary bomb on Tex. Then again, we’ve seen this scenario play out again and again. And if Tex signs with the Nats — preventing them from signing other significant players — he deserves his years of misery . . . and so do the Nationals.
Unless you’re still a shameless Manny apologist — of which there are still some out there — you have to get some joy out of the latest development in the Manny Ramirez saga.
According to New York Newsday, Ramirez is unhappy at the lack of interest in his services this offseason. While guys like CC Sabathia, Mark Texeira, AJ Burnett and even Derek Lowe have received all the attention and have each received several offers, Manny has so far been just an afterthought waiting for Teixeira to get signed so he can get the leftovers.
And it has hurt his feelings.
According to the report, Manny has even told friends that he might retire if a suitable job can’t be found. It’s great to see Manny is still being Manny.
Now, we all know Manny won’t retire. And whoever doesn’t sign Teixeira will certainly make Manny a good offer. But, hopefully, not the $20 million a year he would have received with the Sox. The Dodgers pulled their original 2-year, $45 million offer off the table, and they don’t appear in any hurry to put it back out there. If there’s any justice in the world, they’ll tell Manny there has been a market correction since then, and they’ll offer him a lower price. With any luck, Manny will end up with a contract no more than three years at “just” $18 million a year.
Of course, if they Yankees don’t sign Teixeira, they’ll screw everything up and give Manny gobs of money again. He’ll get the paycheck he wants, thumb his nose at Boston, and then we can enjoy watching his diminished skills perform in pinstripes next to those of Johnny Damon.