Awards vs. fans

Robinson Cano won his 4th consecutive Silver Slugger (5th of his career) for being the best offensive 2nd baseman in the AL, at least according to the voters on the awards committee, sponsored by Louisville Slugger. Well deserved once again, this year batting .314, with 27 home runs and 107 RBIs. Honestly, the competition at 2nd in the AL is really down to just a couple of guys, and let’s be honest when it’s not Cano, it’s usually the Red Sox’s Pedroia. Since Pedroia took home the Gold Glove last week, perhaps it’s only fair that Cano took this one. Actually, it kind of lends itself to the kind of 2nd basemen they are; perhaps together they are more like Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, or even Jackie Robinson.

Again, I’m about half-and-half on the results of these awards. It’s always subjective at the end of the day, as the results aren’t always fully in line with what statistics say is the best. Some people consider that a little “old-school”, and maybe it is. But there are things that the statistics can’t capture, the intangibles — the heart, the integrity, the dynamics of the player himself. Sure, the statistics are great to show the accomplishments as a whole, but the fans don’t show up for the numbers they flash on the screen. No, they show up for the player they love and can root for, the guy they consider a great guy on and off the field, the lasting and continuing legacy of a team. And if his numbers are really great, it’s icing on the cake, part of conversations about his possible trip to Cooperstown someday.

One of these days, I’m going to have to do an editorial of sorts (or maybe a series) about the evolution of baseball from the Strike of 1994 to now because I think so many things have been applied to baseball that just aren’t true. Part of building a fan base is knowing your fan base. Like a year ago, most of the Yankee hometown fan base was still in recovery from Sandy. How did the club respond? By holding clothing and food drives and aiding physically and financially in the Red Cross and local recovery effort. When tragedy struck again in December in Newtown, the Yankees again reached out to their community helping out wherever they could, sponsoring a Newtown Day at the stadium, and continuing to support their community.

Maybe that’s why these awards never feel just right (though sometimes it’s hard to complain). The fans aren’t voting for their favorite player because instead the committee is “unbiased” former players or sportswriters or executives or someone else. And maybe a fan vote wouldn’t be “fair”, but rather popularity-based (as we get with the All-Star Game), but I think the fans feel a little gyped with these post-season awards.

Instead, maybe the fans need to remember that they get to speak with their dollars and buy season tickets or some ticket package. Make plans now to attend as many games as possible to use your voice to vote for your favorite club. But like I always say, don’t just go to a professional game (that can be hefty on your wallet), attend minor league games, little league games, workplace softball tournaments, whatever. There’s nothing like a baseball game. So if you’re a fan, vote with your dollars to bring baseball back to the forefront of American pastimes again.

And now, I’m craving a crappy hot dog, cheap beer, and cold bleacher seats while cheering on my team. But that will have to wait a few months. March will be here before we know it.

Go Yankees!

Awards past, present, and future

Seventeen years ago today, the powers-that-be declared the 1996 Rookie of the Year to be Yankees new shortstop Derek Jeter. It was a rather easy and crushing vote for the rest of the AL rookies that year that had the misfortune of having to start the same year as this guy. Jeter’s stats alone for that year actually set the tone for the next decade and a half of his career, 157 games, 104 runs scored, 78 RBIs, 183 hits, 10 home runs, and .314 batting average. With a few minor exceptions (like 2013), Jeter’s season stats have not varied all that much and if anything have only improved over time. Something that cannot be said for the rest of his rookie class.

I had to actually look up the rest of the nominees because I only recognized a handful of the names of the 15 other players nominated that year; about half played until just a few years ago, but some didn’t make it out of their 20s. Career longevity is rare in professional sports, but career longevity at such an excellent level is virtually unheard of. It certainly makes me wonder where this year’s rookie class will end up in 17 years. Will they still be known or some guy some blogger (or whatever the cool thing to do is in 2030) has to look up to maybe remember that name somewhere in the back on their brain.

But it got me thinking about all these post-season awards. Last night, MLB announced the Players Choice Awards for the standard awards (Rookie, MVP, Pitcher, and Comeback Player in each league and overall MVP). The players, with the MLBPA (Major League Baseball Players Association), vote on who they think deserve the awards. And while other teams were graced with the honors for some of them, it was Mariano Rivera, representing the Yankees, who won both AL Comeback Player of the Year as well as the Marvin Miller Man of the Year. The latter award is in recognition of his outstanding on-field abilities and his philanthropic ventures off the field, something Rivera embodies with such grace and class. He was an easy pick, I’m sure, but it was nice to have the recognition. The awards also came with a cash prize to be awarded to the winner’s choice of charity. Rivera selected his church in New York, which is currently undergoing intense renovations to prepare for its role in the New Rochelle area as a source to meet the spiritual and physical needs of its community.

Next week, the awards given by the BBWAA (Baseball Writers’ Association of America) to the MVP, Cy Young (best starting pitcher), Manager of the Year, and Rookie of the Year. Today, they released the names of the finalists, and there’s not a Yankee among them. I kind of get why there’s not a lot of Yankee names to throw up there, but I do have to say I thought Girardi might get at least a nod in his category. Okay, perhaps, if they made at least the second wild card spot, he might have had a chance (based on who actually hit the top 3 on the AL MOY list). But based on predictions from March/April regarding where the Yankees “should be” in September, I would think Girardi was some kind of magician, able to patch together the rag-tag group of whoever into a team that got so close to the playoffs that we were all holding our breaths until that very last week of baseball. Well, my vote (not that it counts) would have been for Girardi.

And like I said, not that it counts because I’m not part of BBWAA, but I know what each of my votes would be for the awards. And now, we’re going to have to wait until next week for the release of the awards (Monday-Thursday). They love the drama, those baseball writers.

Yes, most Hall-of-Famers have a few of these awards to their name, but awards themselves are not indicators of a Hall-of-Fame career. Rivera is one of the least honored pitchers in the league, at least as far as the “big awards” go — a 2003 ALCS MVP, 1999 World Series MVP, and several smaller awards (Heart & Hustle, “DHL Delivery Man”, “ Closer”, Babe Ruth Award, and Player of the Week). And it’s only this last season that he’s been recognized (19 years into his career) with the two above awards and the All-Star Game MVP. Well, yes, you can also say he has 5 World Series rings, 13 All-Star Game appearances, retired uniform number in Monument Park, the All-Time Saves Leader (652), and basically the best closer’s record MLB has ever seen. But that’s the stuff that matters for the HOF — not the awards that are usually popularity-based anyway. Because at the end of nearly two decades of elite level baseball, it’s about what he has contributed to the game and who he is as a man. That’s why Rivera is a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer in five years, and why Jeter will be five years after he hangs up his cleats.

Awards are nice, but that character stuff just lasts forever. And that character stuff is why I’m proud to be a Yankee fan.

Go Yankees!

The free agency dance begins

I realize that the Yankees had a bit of a deadline with their potential free agents, but Monday seems to have been heavily laden with news for its public. Well, not really complete news, more like the beginning of news.

When looking at potential free agents coming off their roster, a club can make “qualifying offers” to agents they don’t want to let go. It’s usually seen as a sign that says “we’re still interested in you and retaining you even if we’re only offering a year contract to you”. Most players don’t take it and opt to go for bigger, longer contracts (even if it’s with the same club), and by doing so, they actually gift the club with a prime draft pick for the next draft (next July). Last year, Nick Swisher and Rafael Soriano were offered qualifying offers, both opted free agency, and both were signed pretty quickly elsewhere (Cleveland and Washington, respectively).

This year, they made offers to Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, and Hiroki Kuroda. There is a lot of speculation already as to what they’re each going to do, and I’ve been doing my own private speculating. But since I don’t speculate here, you’ll know if I’m right after the player deadline of November 11 to respond to the offer — they will either take it and sign for a year with the Yankees or refuse it and try for a better offer elsewhere. And honestly, I think we’ll be looking at three very different results for these guys.

Now, there were some people who didn’t get qualifying offers from the Yankees — Brendan Ryan, Kevin Youkilis, Mark Reynolds, Travis Hafner, Lyle Overbay, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Boone Logan. This means that all of these guys are now officially free agents, and their agents are probably busy exploring all options available to their clients. It will be interesting to see where everyone lands, and honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Yankees picked up a couple of these guys at least for a year or two.

Almost on the other spectrum of things, the National Baseball Hall of Fame has released its latest ballot and is to be voted on next month by the Veterans’ Committee. There are 12 men on that list that have had a major impact on baseball history, including Joe Torre, Billy Martin, and George Steinbrenner. I think in all Yankee fans’ minds all three should get at least the required 75% votes to walk into Cooperstown next year. The annual players ballot will be released later this month and will include the five players who didn’t make the it last year but had enough vote to carry over for this coming year and a whole slew of really amazing newcomers including former Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina.

Like I said, it’s really just a “beginning of news” kind of day. At first, it sounds like there’s news, but really it’s just  something that could develop into news someday soon. But when I think about it, baseball is always an evolving story. Even when a team wins the World Series, they have to spend the off-season rebuilding and focusing on developing their dynasty. The 2012 Giants, for example, barely made any changes last off-season and ended up holding up the bottom of the NL West in 2013; they figured “why mess with success?” and it backfired big time on them. So, now they’re working on figuring out what went wrong with their 2013 formula and what went right with 2012 and then how they can make 2014 work better for them.

And (not that I ever want to glorify the Yankees’ arch-rivals) then you have the Red Sox who were easily the worst team in 2012, fired their manager, shuffled their roster, picked up some prime guys from all over free agency, and somehow powered their way to the top of the AL and became World Series Champions just a few weeks ago. But now, the Red Sox are going to spend their entire 2014 season defending their title. This is actually good news for the Yankees because unlike almost every other team in the league only the Yankees know what it’s like to establish and maintain a dynasty. Is anyone else hoping 2014 starts a new dynasty?

Go Yankees!

New rules…

New rules for this blog for the off-season: Saturday and Sundays are now going to be days off. Once Spring Training gets underway, the “daily” part of this blog will return to normal. Until then, enjoy the other 6 days of baseball news, trivia, legends, stories, and all sorts of tidbits I’m working on for you, my lovely, attentive audience.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend! See you tomorrow!

Go Yankees!

{Edited: The decision made as of November 9 to also take Saturdays and thus the entire weekends off until closer to Spring Training.}

Locking in one Yankee at a time

Being that today is the first day of November, it’s the day I consider the first day of the off-season. Now, technically, the Yankees off-season began the day after their last game in Houston (September 30). But with the final game of the World Series being just two days ago and the continuous replay of Game 6 all day yesterday, I have to say that today was really my first day of the off-season.

But even on this day, the Yankees didn’t disappoint with news. You see, the beginning of November is when all the negotiations begin for the following season. This coming week is the deadline for all sorts of trades, waivers, reinstatements, contract options, assignments, and outrights. (Plus the next two weeks are also awards weeks, like the Silver Slugger, Rookies of the Year, Managers of the Year, etc.) Following all these shifts, which are relatively minor in most of the public, the next week (November 11-13) is the GM/Owners Meetings in Orlando. That meeting is well-known for basic negotiations on current trade possibilities, free agency options, and the future of both their own clubs and the entire MLB. For example, I’m sure there  will be discussion on how instant replay will affect the game next year.

In the mean time, there are some major discussions, negotiations, and contract issues that will cross the Yankees’ desk this off-season. Free agents: Robinson Cano, Joba Chamberlain, Curtis Granderson, Travis Hafner, David Huff, Phil Hughes, Hiroki Kuroda, Boone Logan, Lyle Overbay, Mark Reynolds, Brendan Ryan, Kevin Youkilis, and Mike Zagurski. Arbitration-eligible (a form of free agency more related to retaining with a new negotiation of salary): Francisco Cervelli, Brett Gardner, Shawn Kelley, Jayson, Nix, Ivan Nova, David Robertson, and Chris Stewart.

Now, while most of the postseason gossip (I like to call it like I see it) has been about Cano’s options and his decision for 2014 and beyond (because his contract will probably be the biggest investment the Yankees want to make this off-season), I think many people realized the afterthought of another name in the Yankee clubhouse wasn’t going anywhere and would simply pick up his player option as part of his contract. But since when does Derek Jeter ever do anything expected or by the book?

Okay, the Yankees are very much interested in keeping their payroll under the $189 million salary cap to avoid paying the luxury tax once again, and with some very overpaid players locked into their roster and thus already using up quite a bit of that salary, they are looking to cut corners where they can. However, following what was a disappointing season, the powers that be have changed their tune (slightly) and are now using that number not as a mandate but rather a goal. I think everyone agrees that they’d rather see a winning Yankees team than a cheap one at this point. Once those high contracts have expired (in the next 3-4 years), I imagine the team can recreate their payroll at a more manageable level led by some of today’s current “non-names” or “names-in-the-wings”.

Anyway, Jeter decided to avoid the same drama that last contract negotiations and take control of things himself this time around. In a more one-on-one level with Hal Steinbrenner, they worked out a deal. A player option is written into the contract to allow the player to extend the length of his contract for one year at a predetermined salary; should the player decide to not pick up the option, the contract ends and the player enters free agency. According to Jeter’s 2010 3-year $51 million contract, his 4th year player option was for $9.5 million. I think the entire sports world just assumed he would pick it up and take it because of the sub-par, crazy year he had in 2013. But no, this is Derek Jeter we’re talking about. He opted out of the player option, chose free agency, chose to return to the Yankees (can we actually picture Jeter playing anywhere else at this point?), and negotiated a pay raise — $12 million for the 2014 season.

Now, after this initial announcement, much of the news, social media suppositions, and chatter was regarding how this will affect the Yankees’ luxury tax “goal” (as we’re now calling it). At first, it seemed like it would lower the impact because it’s not seen as an extension, which would hike up the value of the salary, but the people who set the value haven’t really put a value on the new contract. Last estimations (that I could find) seem to think that it will save the Yankees $1 million. That million can actually pay a salary for one of their returning free agents, at least for a year.

I have to admit that I really know so very little about the whole luxury tax, salary cap, contract negotiations, trades and waivers, and the whole free agency thing. Every time I have to write about the business side of baseball, I have to do so much reading and research and verifying, and somehow translate all the legalese into blog-acceptable language. I have great respect for the men and women who make baseball function, setting up all the stuff that only a handful of people will ever understand so that the world can watch their favorite players play a little ball game for a summer. Perhaps, they are the unsung heroes of the sport, they get all the blame when things don’t work and none of the glory when they do.

Needless to say, Jeter’s back for 2014, and we can only hope back at full form and full force ready to lead the Yankees to that increasingly elusive #28.

Go Yankees!