Thursday, January 29, 2009

Are You Trustworthy? Sign on the Dotted Line

Just when you thought that professional sports contracts could not get any more complex, the Yankees are considering adding another wrinkle to future deals.

Due to the backlash from books written by former Yankees David Wells and Joe Torre, management may institute a contract clause forbidding the written disclosure of both negative and private information.

It isn’t enough to include hotel accommodations, personal masseuses, trainers, no-trade clauses, luxury suites, interpreters, and even a spouse’s English classes and equestrian training (true story).

Instead, privacy and trust clauses have become the rational next step toward avoiding bitterness turning into revenge written in black and white. This would have been deemed an insult decades ago, as a man’s word and trust were as important as any signed document.

It is very sad that this is what it has come to in our society, where it seems that being paid millions of dollars to play a kid’s game is not enough. Anything following a dollar sign will make athletes come running, even if it means betraying the trust of those who once respected you.

Reality television has created a monster it can’t control any longer, feeding a limitless appetite for a look into the lives of celebrities. This is where the money is in entertainment, where millions are paid for a simple photograph of kissing or arguing stars.

The Yankees, however, have enough to worry about with regards to local and national media outlets without the added worry of their privacy being exposed by a former associate. Alex Rodriguez had his marriage destroyed (deservedly so) by media reports, and many Yankee careers have been over before they began due to the inevitable NY pressures.

Keeping the happenings of one of the world’s most famous sports franchises secret is virtually impossible, so perhaps a “non-disparagement clause” is a perfect retort to Torre’s book.

The true question is… where are we headed next? Will Manny Ramirez be forced to sign a “non-unhappiness/contract-related-freak-out” clause during his negotiations in the coming months? Will Bobby Abreu be required to sign a “non-fearing-the-wall” clause before he can latch on with a team this offseason?

The Yankees in particular are known for getting very creative with the workings of contracts in order to get deals done. This is well-known following the complex workings of A-Rod’s last contract and the concession of CC Sabathia’s three-year “family-hates-New York” opt out.

It may finally be time for the Yankees to protect themselves a little bit during contract negotiations from here on out. Although it seems ridiculous at first glance, concepts like the discussed “non-disparagement clause” may be the protection that teams in the country’s largest media markets need.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Baseball’s Bigger Problem NOT Rooted in NY

The Yankees won another game of Monopoly this offseason, signing Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, and Andy Pettitte to upwards of $71.5 million for 2009. The Yankees did pass GO; the Yankees did collect 200 (million) dollars in payroll and luxury tax penalties for 2009.

Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenner brothers bought up Park Place and Broadway (which ironically surround the ‘luxury tax’ space on the monopoly board), and are now able to sit back and collect a bounty of countless millions in profit.

This expression of power and wealth has predictably formed a tidal wave of anger and frustration among every other ownership group in baseball. Some are even calling for at least a soft salary cap.

I will make it perfectly clear that I completely agree that the Yankees throwing around dollar bills like a drunken sailor at a strip club is ludicrous. However, they do not represent the true problem within Major League Baseball.

The “small market” teams across the league have been pocketing the Yankees and Red Sox’s millions for many years, beginning with the implementation of revenue sharing and luxury tax programs.

Small market teams have also greatly benefited from the Yankees’ shared memorabilia sales, as well as extreme increases in attendance during Yankees’ road trips.

Intended to help level the playing field, and allow teams to sign and keep their young talent, these programs have been exploited by certain owners to fatten their own wallets.

A perfect example is a team like the Minnesota Twins, who were previously run by Carl Pohlad (RIP). This was a man whose net worth was 2.5 times larger than George Steinbrenner’s.

Instead of using this wealth to his advantage, Pohlad refused to open his wallet. He instead elected to allow key players to walk in free agency, or to be traded for a bevy of prospects.

He also ignored the team’s needs in years when ONE key addition could have made the difference in achieving a World Series Championship.

Another small market team, the Florida Marlins, put most of their roster on sale in the last six months. They deport their established young talent like immigrants with expired green cards, depending on other team’s prospects to become stars for them. At which point, they will simply perpetuate the cycle instead of locking these players up long-term.

The Kansas City Royals, Tampa Bay Rays, and Washington Nationals are proving to be the exceptions to the problem, and are showing that the programs can work if teams use them correctly.

Although not monumental signings, the Royals did spend almost $65 million for Gil Meche and Kyle Farnsworth in free agency over the last year, making clear efforts to improve. They went on to recently extend Zach Greinke, a rising young star in their rotation, to a four-year contract worth $38 million.

The Rays were able to lock up Evan Longoria to a long-term deal, and inked World Series adversary Pat Burrell to a two-year deal. Before signing Burrell, they entertained adding veteran Jason Giambi to their youthful lineup. Tampa also showed a commitment to making a significant playoff run by adding payroll at the deadline last season.

Finally, the Nationals put together a monstrous package for Teixeira’s services that would have paid an annual salary equal to nearly half of their total payroll from 2008. Although clearly aided by a new ballpark, the programs also assisted these plans.

We all know that the Yankees are in their own financial universe, and rival fans love to refer to them as the ‘Evil Empire.’ They could make Bill Gates feel broke.

The issue here is that the Yankees are being blamed for a perceived lack of parity that does not exist.

There have been 7 different champions in the 8 seasons since the Yankees last title. The Astros, Rays, Marlins, Rockies, and Diamondbacks have made the World Series during this span. All of these teams are considered in the lower tier of MLB budgets.

A ‘hard’ salary cap will never get past the player’s association, so you are better off saving your prayers for a playoff system in college football. The extra draft picks and revenues passed down from big to small market teams are the key to creating parity in today’s game.

Run your team correctly, and you will reach the top of your sport. Spend the filtered down money you never even earned, and keep your young stars. Accept that you aren’t the Yankees…but maybe, just maybe…you can become the Rays one day.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Pettitte Back Where He Belongs

During a negotiation that seemed to unnecessarily stretch out longer than Lord of the Rings III, there were many occasions where all hope was lost for reuniting Andy Pettitte and the New York Yankees.

It all started in late September, when the Yankees ordered Andy to receive a medical exam on his ailing pitching arm. The results came back surprisingly positive, determining that rest would heal all of his shoulder troubles. It was also vital that his elbow problems had never resurfaced. The Yankees now knew that 2008 may not be Pettitte’s swan song.

Andy stuck to his word throughout the entire process. He never truly flirted with any other team but the Yankees, even when the perception of larger offers was floated through media outlets. It was going to work out in NY, and result in a chance to pitch in the new stadium, or it wasn’t going to happen at all.

It was clear that Pettitte’s agents (The Hendricks brothers) were clouding his head throughout the process, making him feel slighted and underappreciated by the Yankees offer. Egos were playing a large role. It was not apparent if Andy was thinking independently, or was driven to value his own ego over a fair and balanced contract offer.

If the final decision was to retire and walk away from the game he loves, there could not have been a much better ending. Andy was able to pitch the final baseball game ever played at The House that Ruth Built, and walked off the mound a winner. If it was his last immortal Yankee memory, September 21st would have been a perfect farewell.

Thankfully for the Yankees organization and its fans, Pettitte chose one more chance at a playoff run deep into October. He finally seemed to approach Brian Cashman as Andy Pettitte, and not as Randy and Allen Hendricks’ client. It was not that he came crawling back with his tail tucked between his legs. He simply returned to the negotiating table with the class and level-headedness we are accustomed to seeing.

Able to earn up to $12 million if he remains healthy enough to hit a reasonable innings limit, Andy accepted a deal that makes business sense for both sides. It is a riskier deal than the original $10.5 million guaranteed due to performance incentives, but he is confident that he can remain healthy and perform at a high level.

Following the onset of elbow issues in years past, Andy had dedicated himself to an extraordinary workout routine. Due to the Mitchell report mentioning Pettitte’s name, and the countless hours and days spent defending himself, his offseason training was largely affected.

By his own admission, he headed into spring training far behind schedule, and it resulted in his arm breaking down in the second half. With a full offseason to prepare for the upcoming year, it is anticipated that he will return much closer to the 15-9 and 4.05 form from 2007.
After all, he started last season 12-7 with a 3.76 ERA before his shoulder troubles began in early August. There will be no better fourth or fifth starter in all of baseball if Andy can even come close to that performance for an entire season.

It remains to be seen if Pettitte will be close to the same crafty left-hander that has more wins than any active pitcher in baseball since his rookie year. Either way, it would not have seemed right to open the new stadium without hearing Andy’s southern drawl in a pregame interview.

It felt good to hear it again on Monday. “With every singing that we did, for me it was, ‘OK, I’m coming back, I want to be a part of this.’ I wanted to play for the New York Yankees. I wanted to play in that new stadium.”

I think it is safe to say that the Yankees Universe is glad that you will be.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Hollywood Joe: Torre Tells All For a Buck

It appears that Joe Torre may have had more in mind than simply coaching the storied LA Dodgers when he chose to leave his east coast roots. Hollywood has already begun to influence Joe’s normally reserved and respectful nature.

Torre ironically appeared in a made for TV movie about the Yankees’ portrayal on the big screen, TV shows, and in commercials called Hollywood Pinstripes. Joe will now link Hollywood and his pinstriped past together in a tell-all book entitled “The Yankee Years”.

Joe Torre is a good man. He was the noble leader of a Yankee dynasty for over a decade. He aids countless charities in their quest to cure deadly diseases, and is active in stopping acts of domestic violence he once watched in his own household as a child. He is a family fan, a role model to NY city kids, and a brave cancer survivor.

However, Torre is also a very bright man. That is what surprises me most when reading about his soon to be cash crop. Joe knows the backlash that comes out of a tell-all book, especially in the wake of Jose Canseco and Jay McGwire (Mark’s kid brother). Regardless of its intentions, any negativity will be emphasized, and the writer will be accused of selling his soul for a quick buck.

It is not at all fair to speculate about the book as a whole without reading it in its entirety. What can be determined as of now is that Joe, knowingly or not, has at least partially traced Jose and Jay’s footsteps. They all betrayed the people whose livelihood depended most strongly on their trust.

Tom Verducci, the author of Torre’s book, claims that the focus is truly built around the Yankees in general. It includes a glimpse into how the game changed around them, the influence of the steroid era, and other factors.

Everyone including Joe knows that none of that matters. The only pages of the book that will make national news are stained with negative comments about the Yankees front office, as well as private locker room sentiment among players.

Torre had every right to bash the people that forced him out of the city he grew up in. Anything said about Brian Cashman, Randy Levine, or the Steinbrenner brothers is fair and valid. He was shown a lack of respect, and was never given a reasonable explanation for it.

The problem truly lies in revealing secrets of a locker room. It is the one line that should never be crossed, and is the largest symbol of trust for any professional sports team. What is said in a locker room when the doors are closed stays there, and anything that escapes that room is deemed a betrayal in the highest degree.

To publicly reveal in a book that Alex Rodriguez was ‘obsessed over his rivalry with Derek Jeter’, and was referred to as ‘A-Fraud’ by his teammates is not only in poor taste but rather disgraceful. Joe knows better than that, and Joe is a better man than that.

It will be interesting to see how Torre is received by NY following the book’s release, and if things will ever be the same between the Yankees and one of their greatest managers.

Twelve straight playoff appearances and four World Series titles may prove to be enough to earn Joe a ‘get out of jail free’ card. If not, Joe Torre may end up replacing Billy Martin as the Yankees manager with the strongest love-hate relationship with management and fans.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Is it Spring Training Yet?

The winter feels like an eternity without America’s Pastime. Football leaves fans with one day per week to be excited for, as opposed to the six or seven that baseball programs them to expect. Baseball season also allows for a quicker emotional rebound. It takes just twenty-four hours to wash the bitter taste of defeat from their mouths, as each day leaves their team with another chance.

As the Yankees officially moved their offices across the street to the new Yankee Stadium, fans were reminded that it is almost time to dust off their favorite jersey. It is almost time to stop debating about the upcoming season and successes in free agency, and begin to observe the final product first hand.

Valentine’s Day is centered on true and genuine passion, a day to express how much you love what matters most to you. After all, one-third of all the diamonds sold during the year are given out on February 14th.

What better date could have been chosen for the official start of spring training? Pitchers and catchers will report to Tampa on Valentine’s Day, risking the wrath of a woman scorned as a result of leaving their girlfriends and wives behind. While it may not involve chocolate, roses, and Hallmark cards, fans have the opportunity to show how much they truly care…about baseball.

The abrupt ending to the 2008 season left Yankee supporters with a long list of questions and concerns. Will A-Rod ever translate his MVP status to big games in Sept. and Oct.? Will Jorge Posada ever provide stability at the catcher position again? How will frail veterans Matsui and Damon hold up? Has Cano been exposed? Are Jeter’s best days behind him?

The offseason has helped to quiet many of the concerns, but the free agent frenzy has left fans with a few more. Are injuries going to continue to decimate the pitching staff, especially following the AJ Burnett signing? Will all those extra innings ever catch up to CC’s golden arm?

Regardless of these fears, it is important to remember that this is New York. It is a city with a sports foundation built on confidence, arrogance to a degree, and a steadfast sense of entitlement. Every single baseball season begins with a tunnel vision view toward October.

Yankees fans and players can finally begin to prepare for the long haul that is MLB’s regular season. They can look forward to the opening of their new stadium, otherwise referred to as the Eighth Wonder of the World. October dreams once again have the chance to become a reality.

Valentine’s Day will mean much more to New York this year than simply hugs and kisses. The smiles, pounding hearts, love, and possibly even tears of joy will still all be there. The difference is, for the biggest of Yankees fans, Cupid’s arrow hit us when we were standing outside of the House that Ruth Built.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Hal Has Finally Become a True Steinbrenner

Hal’s brother Hank has always been tagged as the apple that didn’t fall far from George’s tree. He has been portrayed and labeled as the more cutthroat and volatile of the sons.

This of course is true, but ignores that Hank in fact knows nothing about running a sports franchise. He has little if anything to do with the actual decision-making process of the New York Yankees. His only true comparison to his father stems from an occasional jaw-dropping quote.

Meanwhile, Hal has had his assertiveness unfairly questioned simply because he does not lose control like his father did. The message that resonated from Mark Teixeira’s press conference was heard loud and clear; Hal means business.

While George had tragically deteriorated month by month, fans and employees alike wondered what would come of an ‘Evil Empire’ without the presence of Darth Vader. Everyone can rest their worried minds, because the Yankees have fallen into good hands.

Hal not only has earned his last name, but has become the ‘perfect’ Steinbrenner. He not only has the business savvy that George used to help build an empire, but also the poise and self control to not follow a path blindly.

He inherited the nerve to pull the trigger on a monumental decision, yet lacks George’s ego. This ego often prevented him from consulting the brilliant baseball minds the Yankees employ. Hal possesses the ability to step away from a situation and analyze it, as opposed to acting primarily on emotions.

Hal delivered the message in a much more collected manner, but with the same bold confidence that we used to hear in the old regime:

“If some of the owners are upset that we’re trying to invest in our team…I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.”

“We’re going to reinvest it…that’s going to continue whether or not people like it. [The fans] deserve the best team we can put out there.”

On doing and spending whatever it takes to build a champion, Hal added, “This philosophy does not change and this philosophy will not change.”

It was truly a breath of fresh air to hear Hal declare once and for all that the Yankees will be the Yankees for as long as he holds his position.

This is a position that he almost never held. Remember Steve Swindal? He was George’s son-in-law, the man who was nearly handed the Yankee legacy. Fate thankfully intervened, and a DUI and painful divorce forced George’s hand into giving Hal reign of the kingdom.

Hal may take chances in the future that remind us more of George than we may like. He may or may not restore Yankee glory and quickly hang a banner at the new Yankee Stadium.

What we can confidently accept is that Hal is clearly George Steinbrenner’s son, and has inherited all of the qualities that captivated Yankee supporters and enraged everyone else.
The “Gentle George” is now in charge…but he has no intentions of taking it easy on the American League.

Egos Could End Pettitte’s Stellar Career

As the Yankees plan to put together the pieces of another World Series puzzle, they may have also lost another centerpiece of the dynasty years for good.

No one knows for sure if Andy’s recent rejection of an offer in the neighborhood of $10 million for one year is truly the end. What we do know is that we are forever indebted to Andy and all that he has done for this franchise.

Granted, we stood by his side during the Mitchell Report, and refused to let an error in judgment soil a legendary pinstriped career. After all, he merely surrendered to the excruciating pain in his elbow, in order to find a way back onto a mound to help his team.

However, what cannot be overlooked is how good Andy Pettitte really was at his craft, or how equally great a man he is. Andy never once shied away from a microphone, even at the worst of times. He placed blame for every loss squarely on his left shoulder, and excuses were as valuable as dirt to him.

A two-hitter was not good enough if the Yanks lost 1-0, because if he only hit his spot with that last cutter, he could have given us a chance to win.

The most important aspect of Andy Pettitte’s career of course was that he never came up ‘petite’ in the biggest moments (sorry I couldn’t resist). He could always be counted on to deliver in the postseason, showcased by his 13-8 Yankee record in October.

Further analyzing the numbers, Pettitte went 6-1 with a 3.26 ERA in the postseason during the three-peat title run. He also carried an aging and deteriorating 2003 team to the World Series with a 3-1 record and a 2.10 ERA.

We are in the wake of an AJ Burnett signing that will have us all holding our breathe throughout the 2009 season, waiting for a ‘pop’ to send $82.5 million into the garbage can.

Meanwhile, Andy was a model of consistency, delivering 10 seasons of over 200 innings. This while suffering for many of those years with relentless pain that nearly forced him into very early retirement. Never able to blow hitters away, Pettitte did it all with guts and guile, able to battle through any situation on the mound.

Pettitte went 178-101 as a Yankee, producing a win percentage either similar or better than the unquestioned greats of our generation: Glavine, Johnson, Clemens, and Maddux. Pettitte was essentially an equal postseason/big game performer as this immortal group as well.

The only issue I have with the entire Pettitte situation is it seems that his ego, as well as that of his agents the Hendricks, is clouding his judgment.

Andy is a 36 year old coming off of a 14-14 season with a 4.54 ERA. This included a staggering 2nd half ERA of 6.23. As tough as he is, he’s also always one pitch away from retirement.

An offer of $10 million is actually an above market offer in today’s economy. Pat Burrell, a power hitter in his prime coming off back to back 30 home run seasons and a World Series ring, only received $8 million. Pettitte’s offer was also more than Josh Beckett’s 2008 and 2009 avg. salary.

The Hendricks may also forget what occurred in 2004, when Andy was coming off of a 21 win season at only 31 years of age. Pettitte received a 3-year deal worth the same annual salary that the Yanks just offered him.

Salaries have obviously gone up since then, but Andy’s velocity and effectiveness have not. Andy Pettitte has slipped to a 4th starter, and would have been a 5th starter in New York in 2009 if it weren’t for their desire to limit Joba’s innings.

Pettitte has been the perfect Yankee since he came up in 2005, and no one could have asked for anything more from him. If he decides to reconsider, we all would embrace him with open arms.

This is not a low-ball offer like the Yankees placed in front of Joe Torre, when they clearly wanted to save face while forcing him out the door.

This was a fair and competitive offer to a pitcher in the twilight of his major league career. It provided the opportunity to play in the new stadium, and piggyback a star-studded rotation into another October soap opera.

It appears that Andy Pettitte may be ready to hang up the pinstripes he wore with pride for 11 years. If that is the case…it has sure been one hell of a ride.
Member of Boxxet Network, inc ThrillOf (Sports)