RAT-A-TAT-TAT

So much has happened since I last tortured both you and my editors (so there!), and instead of focusing on simply one item I thought I’d just go (even more) crazy and do some good ol’ fashioned ranting. I’m going to give you fair warning—I’m gonna be making a major scene on a couple of them that would make a teenaged drama queen look positively restrained and even tempered.

Worst. Weekend. Ever.

Saturday: A Troy Glaus grand salami off of Barry Zito puts the Jays up on the A’s 4-0 in the first inning. They’re not done after that, putting guys on base again, only for Jason Phillips to ground into a double play. No problem, Zito is struggling and the Jays are locked in. In the second inning, they load the bases … nada. As the game goes on, they get fewer and fewer chances, while the A’s rally for seven after geting a second look at Dustin McGowan and then feasting off middle relief. Final score: 7-4.

I can deal with this, however. Roy Halladay goes Sunday and the Jays can likely split—all the more so since the A’s are sending rookie Shane Komine to face him. Things start as they should: Reed Johnson leads off with a home run.

Perfect.

However the Jays can only get three more hits off Komine. Halladay pitches well enough, and leaves in the seventh after giving up three runs (two earned). Frustration turns to giddiness as the Jays get to both Kiko Calero and Huston Street and are up 5-3. The Jays send in B.J. Ryan to finish things off, and a three-run shot by Milton Bradley finishes off Toronto.

Adding to my joy is that I log onto my computer while all this is going on and see that the Yankees have acquired both Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle (more on this later) for peanuts. I was in such a foul mood that when I took my dogs outside shortly thereafter, even the mosquitoes kept their distance.

I’m hoping something happens on Monday to turn my spirits around, but nope—J.P. Ricciardi’s body has been possessed by the left-over aura of Pat Gillick, and he stands pat. Just to twist the knife a little bit more, the Yankees add Craig Wilson for Shawn Chacon.

Now the Jays, who are 2-7 on this road trip (with Jason Giambi launching a two out, three-run bomb off of Shaun Marcum in the first inning of the finale as I type this) have me looking forward to 2007. I remain optimistic—there’s a lot of talent here and think they’ll be a viable postseason contender with some creative tweaking. I’m grateful I got to the end of July before cold reality set in.

I’ve got a cold lump in the pit of my stomach that tells me that I’ll look at the Bradley walk-off as the moment the Jays’ postseason hopes were dashed.

Big Papi

It looked like the idle Jays might pick up a half game on the Red Sox. On Monday night, the Indians’ Casey Blake hit a three run bomb in the top of the fifth to give the Tribe and 8-6 lead. There the score remained. In the ninth, Fausto Carmona got two out with Alex Cora and Kevin Youkilis on board. Up comes David Ortiz—a ninth inning menace if ever there was one. Of course, last Saturday Ortiz delivered a game-winning single against the Angels in the bottom of the 11th, but c’mon…how many times can Ortiz come through in these situations?

I got my answer.

I’m of two minds in my fandom. I am a Blue Jays fan, but I’m first and foremost a baseball fan. The Blue Jays fan in me thought nasty words that I usually reserve for David Samson, but the baseball fan in me could only shake his head and smile.

Big Papi is a phenomena.

In Minnesota he was a .259/.342/.434 hitter with 48 home runs in 1477 at-bats. In Boston (at the moment I’m writing this), he’s been a .300/.391/.624 hitter with 166 home runs in 2029 at-bats.

Wow.

I sincerely wish he didn’t play in the same division—or for that matter the same league—as the Toronto Blue Jays, but with the Jays skidding out of the playoff picture at least the baseball fan in me can sit back and enjoy him wreak havoc in the late innings.

Brian Cashman’s incriminating photos involving Pat Gillick, a negligee and David Littlefield wearing only the top half of a Spiderman costume

Well that’s one theory I guess.

The thing is, the Bobby Abreu/Cory Lidle trade to New York for C.J. Henry, Matt Smith, Carlos Monasterios, and Jesus Sanchez I can’t fathom. I understand that in MLB’s current economic landscape that when you take a large contract off of another’s team hands you have done them a favor; ergo they’re not obligated to send much back in return.

There were other factors involved too:

  • Abreu had a full no-trade clause
  • Abreu said he’d only approve a trade to four teams
  • Abreu would only allow those teams not to pick up his 2008 option

I’m guessing that Gillick got marching orders from ownership to completely dump (read: get rid of the entire financial obligations) the Abreu contract regardless of the cost. Of the four teams on Abreu’s list, only the Yankees could realistically take it on. That left Gillick only Cashman to deal with and Cashman knew it.

The Yankees general manager then really turned the screws and insisted that if they were taking on Abreu, then Lidle would have to be part of the deal—no Lidle, no complete assumption of the Abreu contract.

The fact that the Phillies had to pay Abreu to waive his no-trade provision tells me that Gillick was told to get rid of the financial obligation—no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Abreu and Phillies ownership made it impossible to get anything of quality for Abreu and it cost them a huge trading chit at the deadline in Lidle.

I don’t blame Gillick, I blame the Phillies front office. They created the situation by both agreeing to the large contract and giving the full no-trade clause. The Atlanta Braves don’t give out full no-trades, and wisely so, since there’s very little upside and a whole lot of downside to giving a player a contract that would be hard to move in the best of times, especially when the no-trade completely destroys a team’s leverage.

Eventually I hope some teams realize that when you grant both a generous contract and a full no-trade clause to a player, you’re also setting yourself up for a royal reaming when you decide you want to deal the player. For all intents and purposes, all you’re doing is engineering a one-sided trade to the Yankees, since they’re the only team with the resources and willingness to take on enormous contracts.

As I discussed in April 2005, it begs the question about what will happen to the Yankees after George Steinbrenner passes away. What will happen to MLB’s salary structure?

Remember that the last collective bargaining agreement was designed to basically reign in Steinbrenner. He simply scoffed at the luxury tax and kept right on spending. Collusion in the 1980′s was targeted as much toward him as it was the players. Had Steinbrenner not escalated the costs of doing business for other owners, he probably wouldn’t have received the wrath of Fay Vincent in the form of his “lifetime suspension.”

What will Steinbrenner’s successor do? Bear in mind their revenue sharing obligations, and the new stadium on the drawing board (although this would reduce their revenue sharing obligations, it would increase their debt, which would make them run afoul of MLB’s debt rules), and you cannot take for granted that the next Yankees owner will be as generous as Mr. Steinbrenner.

How will the next owner do business? Bear in mind that the next owner will have to pass Bud Selig’s muster, and that he wouldn’t approve of any new Yankees owner that wasn’t “fiscally responsible” and a “good partner” within MLB’s hierarchy.

Furthermore, the current collective bargaining agreement expires at the end of this season; whatever concepts are currently rattling around in the twisted craniums of Selig and his cohorts, you can bet that they’ll be designed to rein in the Yankees, Steinbrenner, and the MLB Players Association.

Under new management, the Yankees blowing the competition out of the water with offers to free agents to drive up the market—both for free agents and players going to arbitration—or insanely outspending the competition might go by the wayside, thereby creating a domino effect. For example: How many teams sign a star player to a large free agent contract thinking that if things don’t go work out, they have an available trading partner that’s willing to take on the contract?

Recently we’ve seen Abreu, Kevin Brown, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson (deferred), Raul Mondesi and Jeff Weaver were all traded to New York at least partially because they were the only club willing to take on their contracts. Will teams be willing to offer long-term, big money deals without the pinstriped safety net? If the Yankees’ new business model changes, will clubs think twice about chaining themselves to a large financial obligation and making it difficult to ever move the contract by giving a player a full no-trade clause?

Would Gillick have found a trading partner—one who would be willing to assume the remainder of the Abreu deal—this year if the Yankees weren’t interested?

In the future this could put a significant damper on the player market. We all know agents use the Yankees as a way to increase offers to their clients. Every time a big free agent hits the market, his representative lets slip that the Yankees are interested. If the post-Steinbrenner Yankees are trimming payroll, paying for a stadium and trying to lower their possible luxury tax obligations, can you see an agent saying that New York has interest in a big-ticket free agent without being laughed out of the room?

One thing is certain, the Yankees financial muscle, coupled with other markets offering large contracts and full no-trades, makes any superstar player a potential Yankee at some point in his career.

As I finish this up the Yankees have completed their sweep of the Jays. Earlier today my dog passed away. Been a pretty lousy week.

R.I.P. Sandy, and thanks for being such a good friend for so many years. He along with his cohort Shadow (still alive) watched a lot of baseball with me.

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