Sunday, January 30, 2005 Pirates Owner Criticizes Spending

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh's Kevin McClatchy lashed out at other baseball owners Friday for a return of free-agent spending that he fears may steer some clubs close to bankruptcy.

McClatchy, the Pirates' managing general partner, warned of a growing division between big-payroll and small-market clubs that could lead to contentious owners meetings and a much harder stance during the next labor negotiations. The current labor deal with players runs until December 2006.

"I don't know what happened, maybe they drank some funny water, but they all decided they were back on the binge," McClatchy said. "When somebody goes out and pays an average pitcher $7 million a year, then anybody who's an average pitcher says they need $7 million a year. That's very difficult, and when you're giving pitchers $18 million in arbitration, that also makes it difficult."

NL Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens agreed to an $18 million, one-year contract with Houston, a record one-year salary for a pitcher and the equivalent of nearly half the Pirates' projected $40 million payroll. The Pirates' payroll is about $10 million less than that of the Washington Nationals, owned by the other major-league clubs.

Some teams criticized the New York Mets for giving a $22.5 million, three-year contract to former-Pirate Kris Benson, then for giving Pedro Martinez a $53 million, four-year contract and Carlos Beltran a $119 million, seven-year deal.

"I don't know about the bank vault being open," Mets general manager Omar Minaya said Friday. "We competed for Pedro and for Beltran with other clubs that were right there where we were and pretty much ended up paying."

The Pirates' payroll is about $10 million less than that of the Washington Nationals, owned by the other major league clubs.

After two offseasons with relatively few huge contracts, McClatchy was admittedly stunned with what he called a series of signings that were "ridiculous -- at best."

McClatchy's sharp talk mirrors that of the Orioles' Peter Angelos, who said first baseman Carlos Delgado's $52 million contract with Florida reflects baseball's "fiscal insanity."

McClatchy also questions how teams that only recently were talking about financial stress agreed to huge contracts. Arizona signed pitcher Russ Ortiz for $33 million and third baseman Troy Glaus for $45 million, both over four years.

"What you don't want to see is some of these teams spend themselves into bankruptcy -- that's not good for any of the league, that becomes a liability on all of us," McClatchy said. "I'm not sure if some of these people are writing checks with money they necessarily have, and that's a negative thing.

"You wonder how, since they were in a tough financial spot, some of the spending is going to work, how they're eventually going to be able to pay their bills. When you're drawing 1.7 million, and you take your payroll up too high, you just do the math," he said.

The Pirates, by contrast, have signed no free agents to major-league contracts and have handed out only two multiyear contracts -- shortstop Jack Wilson's $8 million, two-year deal and right-hander reliever Salomon Torres' $2.6 million, two-year deal.

McClatchy is rooting for NHL owners to reach a labor agreement that includes a cap or some other harsh salary restraint, something he said baseball badly needs.

"I'm disappointed, very disappointed in the other owners, and I think as we go toward a new collective bargaining agreement, there's going to have to be some sort of constraint put on because these other guys can't control themselves," he said.

McClatchy, who serves on baseball's executive council and long-range labor committee, is promising to be more outspoken in future owners meetings.

"I've think they've created a hawk," he said. "A lot of us are concerned and are definitely going to speak up."

Despite McClatchy's glum financial talk and the Pirates' 12th consecutive losing season in 2004, the team's annual Fanfest opened Friday to what was expected to be record crowds. Attendance was way up during the first week of the team's winter caravan, which featured Wilson and promising pitcher Oliver Perez.

Season ticket sales are up about 30 percent, partly because buyers who keep their seats the following season get the opportunity to buy 2006 All-Star tickets.

Yankee Fans: Scared of Mets?

With the Mets spending some dough, they're going to be better than in 2004. It's not like they can get much worse anyway, but my question is, how are the Junkee fans taking it?

Now this has nothing to do with my being a Mets fan. If you gave me a contract that said that the Mets would not win another World Series for the next hundred years, but neither will the Yankees, I would sign it RIGHT NOW!

But say the Mets have a 90-win season this year, raid the free agent market in '06 and make the postseason, win a World Series or two over the next five years, who knows? It may be 1986 all over again, when the Mets ruled New York and the Yankees were an afterthought.

We all know that the Junkee fans take pride in the Mets stinking up the joint over the past few years, and like the fact that they own New York. But the Mets still have a loyal fan base, so a couple of good seasons (and not 1999 with Derek Bell and Benny Agbyani in the outfield) and who knows - maybe the Mets steal the back pages.

The Yankee fans are shaking in their boots knowing that the Mets are on their way up. We'll wait and see.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Jason Giambi's 2005 Season: .225, 10, 40

No, it wasn't me making that prediction; it was Buster Olney of ESPN. He sees Giambi having a real tough go facing all the jeers and hecklers from the visiting stadiums, not to mention the Junkee fans if he indeed stinks up the joint.

So the Junkees will employ Tino at first, but how will they feel when he hits .270, 15, 80, which is decent for a middle infielder, but for a first baseman? And is he the guy you want up against Matt Clement in Game 6 of the '05 ALCS? Manny and I have already written about how washed up Tino is, and how the Junkees got him only for PR, and who knows - maybe my projected numbers are generous; he could do worse.

I bet the Junkees will regret not signing Carlos Delgado. They need a power first baseman, and they ended up with a guy that nobody else would have taken.

Okay, so they'll still score a ton from the other positions, but the less stability, the better.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Yankees: Done for Offseason?

George has an itchy trigger finger - he loves making deals just for the sake of making deals. Yet it seems as if the Junkees have nothing more to do - they have all their positions filled, even backup catcher, and their pitching staff, so George has to sit it out until April. Sure, he'll try to get rid of Brown, but until now there've been no takers; what makes him think that teams will suddenly jump on the Brown bandwagon?

So this is their team. As Manny Ortiz pointed out the other day, a rusty 1B/DH combo borne of PR, a second baseman who could easily revert back to 2003 form, a shortstop whose numbers are constantly declining, a third baseman who misses playing in a hitter's park, a left fielder who's pretty good, a center fielder whose defense has gone south (as has his offense), a right fielder with a barking shoulder, a catcher whose offense ain't what it used to be, and a pitching staff with question marks all over.

What I think is fascinating is Mariano Rivera. Okay, so he blew the save in Game 4 of the ALCS, which is not terrible, but overall, he's not what he used to be. Who knows - this may be the season where he breaks down. You never know.

Yankee despisers keep hope alive!

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

These Are Not Your Late '90's Yankees

I don't care who they try to bring back anymore. Mike Stanton won't cut it. Bringing back Tino is just a gimmick. I don't care if they have Luis Sojo coaching, or whoever. The days of classy players like O'Neill and Brosius playing for the Yanks are over. Much as the Yanks were ever-so-hateable during the dynasty days, you had to admit they were a classy team. Sure there were exceptions, like Wade "I'll Get My 3000 Hits Elsewhere" Boggs, David Wells, Darryl, etc. But now, the team is full of jerks. And the Big Jerk fits right in with the likes of A-Schmuck, Brown, and Sheffield.

If the Red Sox are a bunch of idiots, then the Yankees are a bunch of jerks. And the Big Jerk looks like he'll enjoy New York about as much as Jose Contreras and Eddie Whitson did. And unlike the idiots, the jerks have yet to win a thing.

One more point: to the Yankee fan salivating over Opening Day with Wells v. Johnson: I guess when your team pulls off the biggest choke in October, all you have to look forward to is April. Enjoy the thrills of the regular season, including those incredible games against the Devil Rays and Blue Jays. See ya in October.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Selig's Tax Dollars at Work

Well, the Schmets have beaten the Yankees in getting Carlos Beltran. And unlike Pedro, this is not a player the Yankees didn't want. Beltran is no prima donna and doesn't carry the injury risk that Pedro does. Not to mention the fact that he's 6 years younger than Martinez. Till a few weeks ago, the Yankees had their eye on Beltran. They wanted him bad. But when the reality of the luxury tax set in, the Yanks balked.

Before last season, Jayson Stark wrote about the potential impact the 2002 CBA would have on the Yankees down the road: "Now we're not accountants. And we don't want to be accountants when we grow up. But by our calculations, that means the Yankees' revenue-sharing and tax bills this year will be over $80 million. Within two years, they'll no doubt blow past $100 million.
That's $100 million over and above their payroll, which could be more than $200 million. There is only one franchise on earth that wouldn't be phased by that kind of I.O.U. And let's just say it sure isn't the Devil Rays. "

Perhaps Jayson was a bit off on this one. The Yanks got cheap here.

And without Beltran, the Yankees' offense starts to look a bit suspect. First base- an old man Tino brought back for PR, and steroid-addled Jason Giambi who they're stuck with- that's bad news.

Tony Womack is a BIG question mark at second base. I still can't figure out why George didn't go for Kent or Nomar. No one can tell me Womack is better. Gotta be due to the tax, too.

They still have Jeter and his incredible intangibles, athough the Yanks sure could use a few more tangibles from Derek.

A-Schmuck is still pretty good, but he clearly misses the friendly confines of Texas's hitters' park.

Shemp Matsui is consistent in left. But CF with Bernie is a disaster. He's done. And at 36, Sheffield isn't getting younger or healthier. Another oldie in Ruben Sierra will still get you a big hit once in a while, but isn't reliable.

The Yankees' pitching may have improved over the winter, but their offense, which was dead for the last 4 games of the ALCS, has not. Okay, they got rid of Tony Clark -- addition by subtraction. But the Junkees sure could've used Beltran. Thanks, Mr. Selig.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Jayson Stark: Yankees Still Face Tall Order

By Jayson Stark
When Randy Johnson throws his first pitch as a Yankee next April, exactly one thing will be absolutely, positively guaranteed:
The Big Unit will take the Yankees to new heights on the mound.
The immortal Stefan Wever and Lee Guetterman (all 6-feet-8 of them) will be greatly saddened -- because they'll no longer be the co-answers to the trivia question: Who was the tallest pitcher ever to start a game for the Yankees?
But that, friends, is about the only thing His Unitness will guarantee.
If you're a Yankee hater, you should still feel free to rant, rave, grumble and mumble about (pick three): the Yankees' money, greed, egomania, Yankee-centric TV network, ticket prices, souvenir shop, parking nightmare, sound-system decibel level, owners-box guest list, yada-yada-yada -- whatever you think you have to vent about to get through this crisis.
But just remember: 10 months from now, all that angst could prove irrelevant -- because Unit or no Unit, there is still lots of stuff that could happen that could prevent the Yankees from winning the World Series.
Once again, we've been directed by the Citizens for Competitive Balance to write the Randy Johnson column everyone but YES network subscribers have been waiting for:
When the Marlins won the World Series two years ago, their entire roster included no pitchers, only one regular (Jeff Conine) and just one bench guy (Mike Mordecai) who were born in the 1960s.
Well, the '60s haven't gotten any more recent since then -- and you can look that up. But the 2005 Yankees, as currently constituted, will include (gulp) 13 players born in the '60s, a total of 19 players who will be 30 or older by Opening Day and (barring a Carlos Beltran signing) an entire starting lineup of guys who will be 30-something by the end of July.
We've never commissioned the National Athletic Trainers Association to do an exhaustive study of this, or anything. But one thing we still feel safe in saying is:
Old guys get hurt more than young guys.
Which could be great news for, say, Bubba Crosby, but possibly not-so-great news for several George Steinbrenner employees we can think of.
No one on this team, however, is older than the Unit himself. He'll be 41 Opening Day. He'll turn 42 by the playoffs. And he'll be 44 by the time his new contract extension expires.
So let's see now. Who's the last pitcher, 41 or older, to win 20 games? That would be Warren Spahn, who did it the year Johnson was born (1963). And Spahn, by the way, was the first to do it since Cy Young in 1908.
OK, here's another one: How many years has it been since a non-knuckleballer won more than 13 games in a season at age 43 or older? Oh, only 77 -- since Jack Quinn did it in 1928. During the Calvin Coolidge administration.
Even the seemingly ageless Spahn won just 13 games the rest of his career after a 23-7 season in 1963, at age 42. So history tells us the Unit is a much better bet to self-destruct than he is to go 24-3. (Consumer note: This offer not guaranteed.)
Yes, friends. Cartilage is, in fact, good. That's one of our mottoes in life.
We bring that up because the amount of cartilage currently found in Johnson's right knee would be approximately ... uh ... zero.
The last vestiges of that cartilage were yanked by surgeons after the 2002 season. Which led to a 2003 season in which Johnson went 6-8, 4.26, and spent three months on the disabled list.
Of course, had the Unit had another season like that in 2004, there wouldn't be much need for us to write this column. So the pursuit of accuracy compels us to report that he was able to compensate last year by getting regular injections of (and this is an actual medical term) elastovicous fluid in that knee.
And 290 strikeouts later, he was elected president of the Elastovicous Fluid Fan Club. (Which is an unpaid position, as far as we know.)
If Johnson duplicates that season this year, there's a good chance Joe Torre and Brian Cashman will be appearing in elastovicous-fluid commercials by Thanksgiving. But sooner or later, all 6-foot-10 guys are likely to miss their own personal cartilage. And sooner could, very conceivably, arrive this summer. (Key word there: conceivably.)
The journey from the National League over to the American League doesn't look particularly perilous, in theory. No native guides, body armor or special inoculations are required by law before you embark, so it would be easy to conclude it's not that big a deal.
Except we can also think of four reasons to conclude otherwise:
Javier Vazquez. Kevin Brown. Miguel Batista. Mark Redman.
What do those four have in common? They were the four most prominent starting pitchers not named Curt Schilling who traveled from the National League to the American League last winter.
So how'd it go? Don't ask. Their ERAs inflated by almost a run and a half a game -- an average of 1.44. It's even money their 401K's didn't beat that rise.
Schilling, on the other hand, survived the journey slightly better, as you may have noticed -- going 21-6, 3.26, despite a soon-to-be-famous bum ankle which bugged him much of the year.
Well, you know Johnson is supremely confident he'll make a Schilling-esque transition. As opposed to a Redman-esque transition. Which he very likely will, if he's healthy. (See cartilage section above.)
Carl Pavano has a career ERA that's north of 4.00.
But accompanying him on this trek are two other prominent National League refugees -- Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright. And suppose their transition to AL life follows the model of those non-Schillings?
Pavano is coming from one of baseball's most pitcher-friendly ballparks (Florida's Pro Player Stadium), where he pitched in front of one of the best defenses on earth. You might also want to note he has won more than 12 games exactly once in his career.
Wright, meanwhile, is leaving a team (the Braves) that sprinkles all new pitchers with special Cy Young miracle flakes. So no wonder he won nearly as many games last year (15) as he had in the previous five seasons put together, stayed healthy all year and had an ERA (3.28) more than two runs lower than his lifetime American League ERA (5.50).
No matter how young those guys are or how electrifying their stuff may be, there is no reason to assume they'll march right into New York and combine for the same 33 wins and 3.13 ERA they rolled up last year. In fact, there's every reason to assume they won't.
And if they don't, who knows where Steinbrenner will want to banish them to -- the Hanshin Tigers?
We all admit that Randy Johnson is one talented human being. But he can't play first base. He can't play second base. He can't catch line drives in the gaps. He can't clone himself. And he can't perform orthopedic surgery in his spare time.
Which is one way of saying that this team did, in fact, have other issues heading into the winter besides its lack of left-handedness on that pitching mound.
What happens, for instance, if Jason Giambi shows up for work, declines all invitations to make himself invisible and spends another season in expensive, but not particularly useful, limbo?
Jason Giambi's health remains a major issue.
What happens if Tony Womack, now in charge of second-base affairs, reverts to being a .226 hitter again?
What happens if the Yankees don't sign Carlos Beltran -- and Bernie Williams continues to regress as a defensive center fielder?
What happens if Kevin Brown can't make it to the mound 30 times -- a feat he's accomplished exactly once in the last four seasons? Or what happens if, this time, the wall punches him before he punches first?
What happens if Gary Sheffield's shoulder keeps barking, or he finds some more ligaments to tear, or his BALCO testimony raises some federal prosecutor's eyebrows?
What happens if Wright turns out to be a one-year wonder, or Mike Mussina's elbow aches, or a bullpen full of 35-36-37-year-olds feels its age?
Yeah, we know what usually happens: The Yankees go out in June and trade for Jason Schmidt, Barry Zito, Ben Sheets, Juan Pierre and Paul Konerko.
But in case you hadn't caught on, the upper levels of this farm system are now thinner than Lindsey Lohan. So there's almost nobody to call up should all those old-timers get hurt -- and not much to use as trade bait to accumulate the next object of Steinbrenner's affection. Which is very dangerous for a team that essentially has been ordered to win the World Series. Then again, we said the same thing last year, too. And that didn't stop them from trading for some guy named Johnson.
These Yankees are definitely the best team 207 million George Steinbrenner bucks can buy, all right. But in the long and glorious history of baseball, not one $207-million baseball team has ever won a single World Series. That's a fact.
OK, so it's also a fact that there has never actually been a $207-million baseball team before this one. But that's beside the point. Sort of.
If the Yankees have proved anything these last few Octobers, it's that there can be such a thing as having too many big-name, big-dollar players on one team.
The Yankees of 1996-2000 were a baseball team, not a Rotisserie team. They were about fitting all the pieces together, not fitting all the glittering 12-page bios into one 600-page media guide.
The Yankees of 2002-2004, on the other hand, have clearly been a team majoring in something other than chemistry. They kept accumulating All-Stars -- not rings.
What exactly did Mike Mussina guarantee them? How about Jason Giambi? Hideki Matsui? Gary Sheffield? Even (shudder) A-Rod?
This team committed nearly 400 million dollars just to those five guys over the last five offseasons -- and not one stinking shred of tickertape has landed on any of their heads.
So does Randy Johnson make these Yankees scarier, more imposing and (as accountants everywhere have noted) more expensive than they were before he arrived? Absolutely.
But so did A-Rod. So did Mussina. So did Giambi. So did many of the highly compensated gentlemen around them. But all the proof the Yankees need that funny stuff can still happen in October is that 6-foot-10 left-hander they just acquired -- because he has won one more World Series over the last four years than they have.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

More Randy Johnson Optimism

(a) Peter Gammons pointed out that Randy Johnson has never pitched in a cold, wet April. In Seattle he pitched indoors, and Arizona is always a hundred degrees, so who knows how he'll respond to 40-degree nights in Junkee Stadium?

(b) Looking at his stats, he can be susceptible to the long ball. With the short right field porch in Yankee Stadium, who knows?

(c) He was not great in '03, so maybe '04 was a fluke, he got lucky, but he's really headed downhill. Then again, they didn't get him for April; they got him for October. So all he has to do is pitch four or five good games.

Again, I could be wrong, but I better not be.