Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Stars in Their Courses


The Stars in Their Courses
By David H. Lippman
  

Right before Cole Hamels demolished the Yankees on May 22nd, he made a cryptic statement to the media on how he was hoping he would get a chance to pitch for a contending team in critical games in September and October. As the Texas Rangers were 10-31 before that game, playing with overmatched minor-league call-ups in lieu of skilled veterans like Elvis Andrus and future Hall-of-Famers like Adrian Beltre, it’s unlikely that there will be a pennant chase in Arlington, Texas.

So what did Hamels mean? The answer was simple, of course: later this season, the Rangers, like most teams falling out of contention throughout baseball history, will sell off their higher-priced assets to acquire cheaper minor leaguers for the endless “rebuilding” campaign. Hamels expects to be one of them, and he probably will. He said so.

But what’s interesting about this routine statement was the timing – the Yankees were making their annual visit to the Dallas-Fort Worth blast furnace, and is the one large weakness on this otherwise astonishing Yankee team is their questionable pitching rotation. Despite his age, Cole Hamels would likely fill a critical gap. He knows that. The Yankees know that. And Hamels was smart enough to remind us with that fact before the game and during it.

He’s not the only well-known lustrous ballplayer making such noises. Last year, Bryce Harper, the signature player for the Washington Nationals, told interviewers during the All-Star Game that he didn’t think he wanted to go to the Yankees when his contract expires this fall. Now he’s making noises about the possibility of doing so, reversing his previous stand. And Manny Machado, who is doing a fine job of impersonating a shortstop for the otherwise hopeless Baltimore Orioles, also made similar noises, which got Aaron Judge in trouble when Aaron made them to Manny.

In theory, the Yankees could acquire two of these players (Hamels and Machado) this year, at least as rentals, and all three after the season, putting Miguel Andujar or Didi Gregorius out of a job, or Aaron Hicks out of a job, or filling up holes in the pitching rotation.

Why are these players making these noises? Well, obviously they all want to reel in the immense bucks that the Yankees can (and historically have) throw at the players they want. They also know that playing for the Yankees increases the side money (endorsements and appearances), post-game fun (nightclubs), and opportunities for post-season appearances (and more money). All ballplayers want to ride in the float with their wives and kids down the city’s main street at the World Series Victory Parade. The sole exception was Catfish Hunter, who was a very humble guy – as soon as the World Series was won, he would race for the Stadium exit, the taxicab, and the flight to North Carolina, to return to hunting, farming, and his family.

But this is all a gigantic change from the 1980s and 1990s, when free agents and big-name players would not come to New York and genuinely feared doing so.

Time after time in the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s, the Yankees would make their best pitch to some of baseball’s biggest players, and get turned down repeatedly. A three-team trade that would bring New York-raised master hitter Rod Carew to The Bronx fizzled out when Carew refused to play for the Yankees. Bobby Grich, seen as the possible replacement for Fred Stanley at shortstop after the 1976 World Series, instead signed with the Los Angeles Angels, claiming Yankee owner George M. Steinbrenner III “threatened” him.

The result was that the Yankees could not sign a great number of top-line free agents – even during the mid-1980s time of collusion, when Commissioner Peter Ueberroth convinced the owners to resume treating players as chattel. Nobody wanted to join the Yankees.

The reasons in the 1980s were obvious to anyone who remembers the era. Even long-time Yankee fans have trouble keeping tracks of who was manager in a given year. Billy Martin as a default answer usually works. His presence, paranoia, and fondness for alcohol made him a periodic menace to himself and his own team. The Yankees were in perpetual disarray, and players staggered out of the team dazed, exhausted, confused, and relieved.

This kind of atmosphere and the stories the survivors told in their new clubhouses frightened pending free agent ballplayers and their negotiators. Despite the Yankees’ core of talented players – Winfield, Mattingly, and Guidry – their tradition (which needs no rehearsing), and the numerous advantages of playing in New York (endorsement deals and extracurricular activities), “franchise players” avoided The Bronx, except with their visiting teams.

That “boycott” reached its peak or nadir in the late 1980s, when anybody who’d played in an All-Star Game was eager to flee New York or avoid it in the first place…with the result being the horrific 1990 Yankees, whose high in low was Andy Hawkins losing a Chicago game in which he did not give up a hit. Since he lost, the game is not recorded as a no-hitter.

All that changed once Joe Torre and the Core Four replaced Stump Merrill, Steve Howe, Oscar Azocar, Mike Witt, and Pascual Perez. Once again, the Yankees were the hot place for free agents and their spokesmen to bring their wares.

The Yankees promptly re-filed their lineup with a great many talented ballplayers, to the point that players who had no idea of what being a Yankee truly meant were begging to play in pinstripes.

That had some good results: Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui, Mike Mussina, to name three – and some horrific ones: Kevin Brown, Rondell White, and Carl Pavano of hated memory. Now we have top players dropping their “no-trade” clauses to accept moves to New York, like Giancarlo Stanton.

But despite revenue sharing and post-season defeats from between 2000 and 2008 and from 2010 and to the present, the big players are seeing the point, and headed for The Bronx. Yankee Stadium is the place to be, and the stars are coursing toward The Bronx.

The Yankees may not gain the services of Harper, Hamels, and Machado this year, or even next. But it’s clear that talented and established players will want to come here. They may not push out the young guys – Torres, Andujar, and Bird, for example – but it’s a pleasant problem for a general manager to face, be he or she sitting in a luxurious office in Yankee Stadium or in a less-than-luxurious living room.


5 comments:

  1. Stars, or Corpses....That's the difficulty factor when trying to
    acquire a blue blood pitcher during a race. When the others know you
    need to reload.

    Having trouble reading the trade tea leaves. Perhaps too early.

    Cole Hamels, is he the one? So much money owed, and at the
    cost of a premier talent? I hope not.
    Michael Fulmer, Tigers, age 25, ERA 4.72, throws 95...etc.
    He may be near the top of mgmt's list.
    Fulmer, the key piece in the Met's trade to the Tigers, for Cespedes.
    Giving up young talent, for the Fulmer, is more in line.

    I am in a minority, but I am a big Sunny Gray fan. Three young talents
    went to Oakland for him. Watch him turn things around.
    Back to the tea leaves. No clue as to whom they choose. But the trigger
    will be pulled.

    As for the poster "Unknown", the human septic tank.
    Finally the New Jersey stench has been removed. Long time coming.
    Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I would hear about AJ Burnett's "stuff" all the time, and for two years I would defend him and wait for the turn-around. But two years of a 5.00+ ERA was terrible.

      Is Gray another "stuff never catches up" kinda guy? I really hope not. I would love to see him figure things out and join Severino and the mystery trade guy in the postseason.

      Delete
  2. In closing...Currently there are 20 entries on the comments list.
    I happen to occupy seven of those slots.
    That is sad, and pathetic.

    All winter you guys piss, and moan. It is now June 6th....with a
    dynamic squad running wild, no one is contributing.
    You know what I mean.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Trust me, the lack of commenting has not gone unnoticed.

      We may butt heads, but I appreciate the fact you take the time to comment around here.

      Delete