Rivals in Exile: Heating Up

Ben Jacobs: Well now, that’s more like it. After about a month of the off-season, all we had was news about backup catchers (Doug Mirabelli re-signing with the Red Sox, John Flaherty close to re-signing with the Yankees) and I was getting pretty antsy waiting for something to happen.

I guess nothing’s really happened now either, but things have certainly been said and revealed and offered and withdrawn and insinuated and the off-season (as it pertains to the Red Sox and Yankees) is a lot more interesting right now than it was three or four days ago. The things I’m talking about, as you could probably guess are, 1) Pedro Martinez receiving a contract offer from the Mets, 2) the Yankees saying they’re no longer interested in Randy Johnson and 3) the publication of Jason Giambi’s admission that he used steroids and human growth hormone.

Let’s tackle them in the order that they affect the Red Sox first, which leads us to Pedro.

Right away, the Red Sox offered Pedro a contract similar to the extension they gave Curt Schilling when they traded for him last year. Pedro wanted more, so he went to the Yankees to see if he could get them to drive up Boston’s price. Apparently, they weren’t interested at all (there are still stories floating around that they’re looking at Pedro, but I haven’t seen a single indication that they really have any intention of even making Pedro an offer, let alone signing him).

With Option A down the tubes, Pedro apparently decided he might as well just stay in the same city and talk to the Mets. Option B worked perfectly. The Mets offered Pedro a contract with three guaranteed years (worth a little more, I believe, than what he would have gotten in the Red Sox initial offer had he pitched all three years) and an option for a fourth year.

Suddenly, he had a dance partner to make the Red Sox jealous with. That is, if the Red Sox cared. They seem to be willing to completely guarantee the third year (they made it more easily reachable after making their initial offer, but still not an absolute guarantee), but unwilling to even discuss a fourth year.

So, the question now is two-fold. First, does Pedro want to stay in Boston (i.e., will re-sign if the deals are close enough) or would he prefer to leave? Second, is there another team willing to jump in now that the Mets have broken the ice? I think Pedro likes it in Boston, but I’m not so sure any more. Either way, though, I have a hard time believing he wants to leave the World Champion Red Sox for the Fourth Place Mets.

I guess if I had to assign odds right now, I’d give 70 percent to Pedro staying with the Red Sox, 20 percent to him signing with the Mets and 10 percent to some mystery team surfacing and luring him away.

The next item is Randy Johnson and the Yankees apparently deciding they’re fed up with Arizona. I had actually just started conceding Johnson to the Yankees earlier this week, so this is a complete shock to me. As is often the case with me, I’m somewhat torn on the Yankees trading (or not trading) for the Big Unit.

Part of me would like to see it happen under the parameters the Diamondbacks are reported to be seeking because he’s old, he makes a lot of money, it would cost them their youngest starter, it would cost them at least one prospect and they’d have to pay for the privilege of no longer having their youngest starter.

The rest of me wants anything other than to see it happen because he’s Randy Johnson, and he’s damn good and he’d be very scary in pinstripes.

The other part of the equation is this: if they’ve really given up on Johnson (and this isn’t a ploy to scare Arizona), do the Yankees suddenly decide they might be interested in signing Pedro after all? Because if they do, I’d be worried. While I can’t really envision Pedro going to the Mets, even if he’s less than thrilled in Boston, I could easily picture him going to the Yankees if he’s not thrilled in Boston.

That, then, leads to this: if the Yankees don’t want Johnson and Pedro doesn’t want the Red Sox, do the Red Sox find a way to get Johnson? There have been reports that they’ve been talking to the Diamondbacks about a deal that would center around Bronson Arroyo, but there have also been reports that the Diamondbacks don’t love their offer (if, indeed, they made an offer). There have also been reports that Johnson doesn’t really want to go to Boston, but there were also reports that Schilling didn’t really want to go to Boston.

At any rate, this whole line of thought is making my head spin a little, so I’ll say one thing. If the Red Sox can keep Pedro at a reasonable price (i.e. three years and not much more than $40 million), then I would be willing to deal with the Yankees getting Johnson. If the Red Sox keep Pedro and the Yankees don’t get Johnson, I’ll be thrilled. If the Yankees then sign Al Leiter and Eric Milton, I’ll be ecstatic (that’s higher than thrilled, in case you weren’t sure).

On the other hand, if Pedro goes to the Mets and Johnson stays in the NL (or goes to another non-Boston/New York team) and the Red Sox and Yankees are left battling for Carl Pavano, Brad Radke, Matt Clement, Jon Lieber, et al, with both teams needing two starters, I’ll be very unhappy.

Anyway, finally we come to Mr. Giambi. It has long been speculated by many people that he used steroids and now we know that he did, in fact, do so. What does that mean for the Yankees? You’ve said that you expect Giambi to come back and be productive next year, but now that we know for a fact that he used steroids, two things seem more likely than they seemed when we (or at least I) merely thought he used steroids.

The first is that the good seasons he had at the plate were at least partially as a result of his illegal enhancements. Since he seems to have stopped using steroids, it seems possible that he won’t ever get back to the level that earned him such a hefty contract from the Yankees.

The second thing that seems likely is that his injuries in recent years were at least partially as a result of his using and then not using steroids. If that’s the case, then they aren’t simply random injuries that won’t bother him once they heal. They’re a sign of his body breaking down from the drugs, which will prevent him from ever being fully healthy (at least enough for an athlete) again.

Now, I’m not saying these are certainties at all. It’s possible that he was a great hitter in his own right and he’s fully capable of continuing to be a great hitter without steroids. It’s also possible that his injuries are just normal injuries that anybody could sustain and these particular injuries won’t bother him again once he recovers from them. Both things are possible, but both seem a lot less likely now that we know there are steroids involved. As a result, it seems a lot less likely that Giambi will be somebody the Yankees can rely on to ever be a great hitter again.

Man, that’s a lot of news for a couple days. Sure beats a month with nothing better than backup catcher talk.

Larry Mahnken: What’s wrong with backup catcher talk? I would personally have liked to see the Yankees cut bait with Flaherty and bring in a backup catcher with a little pop so they could give Posada an occasional day off… ah, screw it. Never gonna happen.

I know why the Yankees are pursuing Randy Johnson, but I think they’re ready to give up too much for him. What’s worse, I don’t think that they think they’re giving up too much for him. They’re undervaluing Javier Vazquez and Tom Gordon — neither of whom I think are worth Johnson by themselves, but who I think are worth more than the Unit in tandem.

The Yankees’ trade of Kenny Lofton for Felix Rodriguez indicates both that they’re pretty much certain to sign Carlos Beltran (and thank goodness for that), and that they’re ready to trade Gordon. It’s no surprise that they’ve soured on Vazquez, who was okay in the first half of the season and terrible in the second half. I am almost certain he’d rebound next year with a better pitching coach, and confident he’ll be better next season anyway, but the Yankees obviously are unwilling to see fault within themselves for Vazquez’s failures, so off he goes.

Their souring on Gordon makes less sense to me. He was certainly terrible in October, and had some bumps down the stretch, too. The media liked to play it up as a character flaw with Gordon, supporting that claim with his terrible postseason track record. But I don’t think there’s anything real with that, I think it should be obvious that he was terribly overworked. Gordon was one of the most valuable relievers in baseball in the regular season last year, and it would be a mistake for the Yankees to dump him. Rivera, Gordon, Quantrill, Karsay, Rodriguez and Stanton would be a very strong bullpen, and if they were to add Steve Kline as a better lefty, they’d have one of the best in baseball. Maybe they’ll keep Gordon and move Rodriguez, maybe they’ll go with Stanton as the only lefty, but I’ve got a sinking feeling that Flash is on the way out the door, and it’s a damned shame.

Dumping The Run Fairy for Stanton was a good move, too. I know Mets fans hated Stanton, who was actually worse than Paul Quantrill at preventing Inherited Runners from scoring last season. But Stanton is a better pitcher than that, and while he might not be as reliable as he was for the Yankees in the late 90′s, he should give the Yankees reasonable middle relief, something nobody with a glove on their right hand was able to do last season. I’d much rather have Kline for the big situations, but if the choice of relievers comes down to Kline or Gordon, I’ll be willing to go with one lefty in the pen.

But I’m inclined to believe that the Lofton trade makes a Johnson trade more likely. The reported final demand of Vazquez, Gordon, Duncan and one of a long list of pitchers the Yankees don’t have was laughable, but I think it could also be a fabrication — according to Curt Schilling, the supposed demand of Nick Johnson and Alfonso Soriano for him last year was a NY media fabrication, too. I think Arizona will be willing to “settle” for Vazquez, Gordon and Duncan. I still think that’s too much, but I do think the Yankees need to make some kind of move to improve their rotation for next season. I’d much rather they signed Pedro, but Johnson will be just dandy, too.

That hurts them long-term, but the state of their farm system makes their long-term prospects uncertain anyway. They’re best off at this point playing for today, and taking care of tomorrow tomorrow.

And then we come to Giambi.

It’s going to be tough for him to come back next season. It’s going to be tough for the Yankees to have him back next season. But I don’t see any alternative, the Yankees won’t find a way out of the contract, Giambi’s not going to retire, and they’re not going to be able to pull off a trade without getting screwed.

But I don’t think it’s going to be such a bad thing if he comes back, from the on-the-field standpoint. Giambi had a terrible year, but he also had a .638 SLG in May this year, and we knew he wasn’t on steroids at that time. He hit two homers off of Pedro in Game Seven in 2003, and he had stopped taking steroids at the All-Star break, according to his testimony (which was too revealing for me to think he was hiding even more). There’s still something there, the walk rate was still very good and he can still hit for power. There will be an exceptional amount of pressure on him, but I think if he works his butt off to get into the best shape he can and can stay healthy, he can be a productive, if overpriced hitter for the Yankees.

Frankly, I don’t care about the whole steroid issue. It’s my personal opinion that the abusers have cheated their fellow players out of playing time and their teams and fellow players out of money, but I don’t think it’s cheating on the field of play. This is an issue for the players to deal with, because I think they’re the ones with the real grievance, and if they want to make the testing policy stricter, then they have my full support. But as a fan, I don’t see how whether a player got strong by his sweat or by injecting a drug should affect my enjoyment of the game.

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