Tag Archives: New York Yankees

The A’s Contend for a World Series Title Without Breaking the Bank

If money could buy everything, then the Los Angeles Angels, Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Red Sox would be popping champagne in preparation for postseason play.

As this wild 2012 Major League Baseball season has shown, however, general managers around the league should be tossing out their checkbooks and looking for young talent capable of carrying a team through the dog days of August into the pennant races of September.

Unfortunately for MLB scouts, heart doesn’t appear in box scores.  Instead it is usually read in the eyes of a few newbies who had been told by baseball pundits that they didn’t have a chance of making the playoffs with intra-division superpowers Texas and Los Angeles to contend with.

The Phillies, Angels, Red Sox, Marlins and Brewers all rank in the top ten for total payroll for the 2012 season.  None of these teams clinched a playoff berth and only the Angels and Brewers came remotely close down the stretch.

The Oakland Athletics, on the other hand, defied all odds, clinching a playoff berth despite doling out the least money of any team in the big leagues in 2012 at $49,137,500.  The New York Yankees also will be seeing postseason action, but have a payroll nearly four times that of Oakland’s at $195,998,004.

After a slow start to the season, the A’s were the MLB’s hottest second half team, earning a huge role in the playoff discussion as the result of posting a 19-5 record in July.

Headed to the postseason for the first time since 2006 in which they lost to the Tigers 4-1 in the ALCS, Oakland now finds itself tied with the Texas Rangers atop the AL West standings.  A win by rookie phenom A.J. Griffin on Wednesday means the A’s will forgo having to play in the one-game Wild Card round, which will be against the second-place finisher in the dangerous AL East.

Many wonder why Oakland, a team that sticks to a strict system of sabermetrics, an intricate series of statistical algorithms used to evaluate on-field performance and player values, to dictate personnel decisions and keep costs down, is even close to playoff caliber.

What has benefited Oakland so much this season has been a lack of funds to overpay free agents; in other words, the A’s have been blessed to be without a prima donna for the 2012 season.

Hitting .289 with 23 homers, Cespedes has proved to be one of the best free-agent pickups of the year.

No player on the team currently makes more than $8 million and the biggest “splurge” of theirs this past offseason was a contract for Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes, who has been well worth the $6,500,000 paycheck he has earned this season, garnering a decent amount the AL Rookie of the Year talk behind Mike Trout’s lion’s share.

There are even 11 players on the 25-man roster who make under a million dollars.  Would these players like to play for more money?  Certainly–they are human after all.  But the lack of big names and big bucks to assemble the 2012 squad left the A’s with a very important advantage: the ability to have a talented team that can win games in the shadow of big-spending teams that take a great deal of criticism for underperforming.

Even watching a ballgame in Oakland makes it perfectly clear that the A’s have never been about playing big-money baseball.  The O.co Coliseum is arguably the least flashy stadium in the MLB, consisting mostly of concrete and chalk lines for Raiders games.  Despite increases in attendance during their impressive year, much of the upper-deck has remained covered in tarps.

Humble abodes aside, the A’s showed the rest of the majors this season that the phrase “on paper” means relatively little compared to things like a strong farm system and player compatibility.

As the Athletics now look to compete for their first World Series title since the McGwire era, Brad Pitt will still be asking Jonah Hill, “Can these guys get on base?”

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The Yankees Of The West Coast

March 27, 2012 – Probably the happiest day of Dodgers’ general manager Ned Colletti’s life. The Dodgers were sold to a new ownership group, officially ending the Frank McCourt era.

With McCourt gone, the days of shedding payroll were too. Colletti was (pretty much) handed a blank check and given the freedom to make all the moves necessary to turn the Dodgers into contenders.

The new ownership group made this change of culture apparent right away. They bought the Dodgers for $2 Billion when the team was worth approximately $1.2 billion. The new ownership overpaid by $800 million, but they flexed their financial muscles and made a statement in doing so.

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Hanleywood? Nahhh. The Dodgers’ marketing team has some work to do.

So it began. They resigned fan favorite right fielder Andre Either, an upcoming free agent this winter, to a 5-year, $85 million deal.

Later that month, the Dodgers hit the international market. They signed 21-year-old Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig to a 7-year, $42 million deal. Puig hadn’t played organized baseball in a year, but had a breakout season in the Cuban leagues in 2010-’11.

Now the Dodgers have traded for Marlins’ infielder Hanley Ramirez. From 2007-’10, he was a top-five hitter in the national league. Then his career took a downturn. He batted .243 in 2011, and is batting .246 this season. The Dodgers are hoping a change of scenery will help Ramirez right the ship.

This isn’t a Manny-Ramirez-type trade, at least in financial terms. Back then, Ramirez only had a few months left on his contract, with the Red Sox paying most of his remaining salary. That trade was a give-me. No risk involved. If it failed, Ramirez would be gone in two months time.

This time around it’s different. Hanley Ramirez has two years, after this one, and $38 million left on his contract. That’s a lot for a player batting sub-.250 for the past season and a half. The Dodgers needed to make this trade, but it’s risky one. Sure Ramirez is just 28-years-old, but he’s hasn’t just had a sluggish few months, he’s been bad for a season and a half.

The Dodgers are throwing around money like they sleep in it. Sound familiar? They are becoming the Yankees of the West Coast. Their old blueprint of winning with homegrown prospects from their farm system and making payroll-sensitive trades is buried deep in the trash. Now the Dodgers are following the Yankees’ blueprint, becoming a contender by spending big money through free agency and making trades barring financial considerations.

It’s worked for the Yankees so far. Since the Dodgers last won a World Series title, the Yankees have won five. So if the Dodgers’ ownership is willingly to spend money, why not?

The team may not even be done making moves yet. They want another starting pitcher and are targeting Chicago Cubs’ pitcher Ryan Dempster.

Get ready for the Dodgers to be involved in these trade rumors and big free agent sweepstakes constantly because this is a new era in Dodgers baseball – one where the price to build a championship team is priceless.

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Say It Ain’t So, Ichiro!

Monday evening was much of the same for Ichiro Suzuki.

He went through his day just like any other and when it was time to go to work, he left for Safeco Field in his car, waved at the same parking attendant on the way in and headed into to the clubhouse.

Except this time it was the visitors clubhouse.  Sure, Ichiro’s first at-bat brought hearty cheers from the loyal Mariners fans as usual, but they had a much different tone.

Rather than saying, “Let’s go Ichiro!” to one of their few prized possessions of the last decade, they were saying, “Thanks for the memories!” to the newest member of the Yankees.

Every year a similar scene takes place, even if it’s not quite as instantaneous.  No matter how safe we sometimes think our aged hometown heroes are from the sadness of a cross-country trade, the MLB trade deadline always seems to surprise us.

Based on Ichiro’s eleven-and-a-half year tenure with the Mariners alone, Monday’s news came unexpectedly.  The move out of Seattle was one that tugged on the heartstring but made sense from an objective standpoint, considering the Yankees’ need for a reliable left fielder with speedster Brett Gardner out for the season with an elbow injury (shouldn’t have been so quick to dump Melky, no?).

It was almost surreal seeing the future Hall of Famer in pinstripes on Monday, buy hey, it’s a business!

A couple pitching prospects for a Mariners squad desperately in need of rebuilding can’t hurt either.

With the MLB trade deadline less than a week away, we might have already seen the biggest surprise, but a few other big names could likely be on the move.

Here are some of my predictions for what has the makings to be a wild week in baseball:

RHP Cole Hamels to the Texas Rangers:

A few GM’s around the league are skeptical to trade for Hamels and it has nothing to do with his performance.  11-4 with a 3.23 ERA to date, the only drawback of pursuing the All-Star is the fact that he’s a rental in the last year of his contract.  Still, the Rangers are no average team.  With yet another AL West title in sights, they are more focused on getting the guy that can finally get them the last out of the World Series than having to negotiate a long-term contract in the off-season.

RHP Ryan Dempster to the Atlanta Braves:

At 5-4 with a league-best 2.11 ERA among starting pitchers, Dempster’s case is similar in that he’s a rental who could also be headed to a playoff contender.  As of this afternoon, the Braves trailed the 2012 fair-weather fan favorite Washington Nationals by 4.5 games in the NL East and were a mere half game out of the National League’s second Wild Card spot.  The only deterrent to this potential deal?  Dempster, a more than ten-year vet who has been with the Cubs for over five years, can by rule veto any trade his team proposes.  If it falls through, here’s to another year for Dumpster in the world’s longest-cursed sports franchise!

3B (Begrudgingly) Hanley Ramirez to the OAKLAND ATHLETICS?!?!?!

The surprise factor with this potential trade could even trump Ichiro’s.  For the past decade, the A’s have been cheaper than Phil Knight at an Adidas outlet.  This year, something’s different.  Not only did GM Billy Beane spring for power-hitting Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes with a 4-year, $36 million deal, they find themselves in contention for a Wild Card spot (15-2 in their last 17) for the first time since 2006.  Despite his unpredictable attitude and grumblings about having to play third base for the Marlins, Ramirez could be the consistent bat on the left side of the infield that closes the deal for the A’s down the stretch.  He will be seen as a welcome replacement for Brandon Inge, who has been hitting below the Mendoza Line since his arrival in Oakland earlier this season.

So much for the Hanley and Jose Show in South Beach…

OF Peter Bourjos and RHP Ervin Santana to the Tampa Bay Rays:

At 4-10 with a 6.00 ERA, starting pitcher Ervin Santana isn’t exactly having the long-term contract season the Los Angeles Angels had hoped for.  Bourjos isn’t doing much better, with a .223 batting average on the season.  Still, Santana has thrown well enough in recent years and Bourjos is just young and fast enough (25 years old with the nickname “Speedy Petey”) that this deal might be worth taking a chance on (with maybe a prospect thrown in here or there) for the Rays.  With a solid 8-6 record and a 4.39 ERA, Shields is the ideal back-end starting pitcher that could help Jered Weaver, CJ Wilson, Dan Haren and the Angels reach one of the two AL Wild Card spots up for grabs.  It would almost be easier to ask at this point, “Who isn’t in the AL Wild Card race?”

 

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Baseball’s Wild Standings: Will They Hold Up?

So were at the All-Star break in baseball. You what that means? It’s time for some classic division races through the dog days of summer. It’s been the year of the underdog in baseball, with the Nationals, Dodgers, and Pirates atop their division, and the Phillies and Red Sox in last place. Here’s a look at all the current division leaders, and predictions on whether they will hold on to win, and if not, who will take the division crown instead.

AL East – Current 1st place: Yankees, 7 ½ game lead on Orioles

As long as the Yankees don’t choke like in the 2004 ALCS, they should wrap up this division with ease.

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Mike Trout and the Angels are on a collision course with the Rangers. They could meet in the ALCS.

AL West – Current 1st place: Rangers, 4 game lead on Angels

The streaking Angels are coming on strong and look like the second best team in baseball. Too bad the best team in baseball, the Texas Rangers, play in their division. The Rangers have it all: Pitching, hitting, defense, and experience.

AL Central – Current 1st place: White Sox, 3 game lead on Indians, 3 ½ game lead on Detroit

Weren’t the Tigers a sure fire pick to win the AL Central? Easy money in Vegas, right? In preseason, all 45 ESPN Baseball Analysts picked the Tigers to win the division. Well so much for that. The Tigers though still have two great hitters, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, in the middle of the lineup, and arguably the best pitcher in baseball in Justin Verlander. Eventually this talented Tigers team will figure it out, and should win a tight division race.

NL Central – Current 1st place: Pirates, 1 game lead on Reds 

How about another consensus? Before the season, not one ESPN Baseball Analyst out of 45 picked the Pittsburg Pirates to win the division, let alone win one of the two wild cards. Now that’s a surprise party! Heck, I wasn’t even born the last time the Pirates had a winning record, in 1992. The Pirates are 4th in the National league in pitching, one spot behind the Reds. Both are in the botton half of the NL in hitting. This dead-even race should come down to the final week of September. It’s a toss up, but I’m going with the ‘Cinderella’ Pirates.

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Will the Braves or Mets chase down the Nationals in the NL East? Well we already know what Bryce Harper thinks, “That’s a clown question, bro.”

NL East – Current 1st place: Nationals, 4 game lead on Atlanta, 4 ½ game lead on Mets

The 2012 Nationals first place run is the latest surprise in a baseball season full of them. They’ve done it with a major-league best, team 3.20 ERA. Hitting can come and go, but pitching is usually a constant. Nationals will win the division.

NL West – Current 1st place: Dodgers, ½ game lead on Giants

In preseason, only 5 out of 45 ESPN Baseball Analysts picked them to make the playoffs, and that includes the division crown and either of the two wild card spots. And those predictions were based on a healthy Matt Kemp, who has been anything but that. What the Dodgers have done so far has been a fairly tale run. They’ve played far above their heads and everyone’s expectations. But even Matt Kemp’s return won’t save the anemic Dodgers offense. Unless the Dodgers add another bat via trade, the Giants should edge them out for the division crown, and if Tim Lincecum ever figures out his issues, they should run away with it.

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The Importance of Walk-Up Songs

Hitting against major league pitching has often been deemed the single most difficult task in all of sports.

When you think about it, even the physics of the situation are terrifying.   A five-ounce sphere made of cork, rubber, leather and yarn is hurled at speeds that would render a reckless driving ticket by large individuals with wrist sizes that could snap a Livestrong bracelet in no time.

As a coping mechanism, MLB hitters are left with the walk-up song as a means to either help them relax or amp them up for this potentially traumatic experience.

Walk-up songs are the ultimate form of expression—a ten second sample for tens of thousands of a player’s most devoted fans to hear.  It’s a pretty amazing thing knowing one song can make even more of an impact than John Cusack with a trench coat and a boombox.

That having been said, here are some notable walk-up songs from players around the league:

Derek Jeter, New York Yankees: “Stop the Party” by Busta Rhymes

Jeter has always come out to hip-hop songs, even paying homage to Brooklyn’s own Notorious B.I.G. a couple of seasons ago when his song was “Juicy.”  A friendly player who is extremely dangerous at the plate with 3,163 career hits, Jeter’s baseball demeanor fits well with the line “I don’t want to hurt nobody but s*** that’s what it’s coming to.”

Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers: “I Spend It” by 2 Chainz

Currently in the first year of an 8-year, 160 million dollar contract and nursing an injury, it would make sense if Matt Kemp is “spending it.”  Widely considered to be an MVP snub last season after batting .324 with 39 homers and 126 RBI, there’s no man more deserving of a life of “riding around and gettin’ it” than Kemp.

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Kemp had reason to be angry after last season, losing the MVP vote to Ryan Braun, who later tested positive for steroids.

Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays: “Down and Out” by Tantric

In only his fifth MLB season, the three-time All Star and Tampa Bay Rays third baseman is anything but “down and out.”  Batting a robust .329 on the young season, the Trop-dwelling former Rookie of the Year is making it clear, “I don’t need no understanding…I don’t need to change a damn thing.”

Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers: “N***** In Paris” by Jay-Z and Kanye West

Aside from his offseason DUI arrest in Florida this year, Cabrera is “balling so hard” this season that he can’t be fined.  Charting 70 hits and 44 RBI already and hitting middle of a dangerous Tigers lineup that now includes Prince Fielder, pitchers everywhere should be worried now that they let Miguel get into his zone.

Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners: Various

Now in his 12th season with the Mariners, the Japanese-born outfielder is putting together a career that will likely render him the first Asian-born player to be enshrined in Cooperstown.  Throughout his brief journey to nearly 2,500 hits, Ichiro has bumped everything from the Super Mario Brothers theme song to 50 Cent’s “In Da Club.”  With an approach at the plate that says, “If you watch how I move, you’ll mistake me for a player or pimp,” he has had pitchers off balance ever since his arrival in Seattle.

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Tulo learned the hard way that you DON’T MESS WITH THE BIEBS!

Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies: “Levels” by Avicii

“Oh, sometimes, I get a good feeling, yeah.”  Quite the opposite, actually.  Coming off a season in which he finished with an impressive .302/30/105 stat line while walking up to Justin Bieber’s “Baby,” Tulowitzki foolishly strayed from the Canadian superstar’s hit song in favor of “Levels,” and is now nursing a groin injury.  At the time of the injury, an angry Bieber must’ve been saying, “I thought you’d always be mine, mine.”

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