Bonus notes from our MLB on FOX broadcast of the Tampa Bay Rays-New York Yankees game on Saturday, plus more …
As I wrote Friday, the late George Steinbrenner would not have tolerated excuses for the New York Yankees blowing a 10-game lead in the AL East. In fact, “The Boss” might have fired manager Joe Girardi by now and replaced him with, I don’t know, Lou Piniella or somebody.
Steinbrenner’s son, Hal, the Yankees’ managing general partner, is almost the polar opposite of his father. When I asked general manager Brian Cashman of the calamities that might await the Yankees if they miss the playoffs, specifically mentioning Girardi, the GM said two things:
One, “We’re going to make the playoffs.”
Two, “We have objective, patient ownership.”
As opposed to say, the impulsive, emotional ownership of the Boston Red Sox, which threw a fit after the team failed to reach the postseason a year ago, parting with manager Terry Francona and allowing GM Theo Epstein to leave for the Chicago Cubs.
Cashman didn’t say that — I did. And Cashman, by the way, wasn’t guaranteeing a postseason berth, or anything like that. He was merely expressing confidence in his team, which leads the Baltimore Orioles by one game and the Tampa Bay Rays by four games in the AL East.
“We have to earn it,” Cashman said. “Certainly, everyone is going to make us earn it. The bottom line is, we intend to make the playoffs, period. Our intent is to win the division. But we’ve got a fight on our hands.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for what Baltimore and Tampa Bay are bringing to the party. We just have to earn it. We’ll find out if we will. I think we will.”
THE RAYS: FOREVER AT A DISADVANTAGE
My initial reaction to Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg calling the 2013 schedule “terrible” in an interview with CBSSports.com was that he was out of line. Sternberg lamented that the Rays will play AL East opponents 19 times, which is only one more than in recent years.
But in truth, Sternberg had a very good point.
The idea behind creating two 15-team leagues is to give every club an equal path to the playoffs. Problem is, the paths still are not equal, not when the low-revenue Rays play in the same division as two of the sport’s biggest spenders — the Yankees and Boston Red Sox — and must contend with an even more unbalanced schedule than before.
One way to mitigate the Rays’ disadvantage would be to scale revenue sharing so that Tampa Bay would receive a greater percentage than a low-revenue club such as the Cleveland Indians, who compete in a division with lower payrolls.
Something else to consider:
Three teams from the AL East could win more games than the AL Central champion, all while playing a more difficult schedule. Granted, only two of these teams figure to reach the postseason. But does it really make sense for a second-place club from a stronger division to compete in a one-game elimination while a first-place club from a weaker division avoids that fate? Not when their schedules are unbalanced.
I understand — and like — that division titles carry more weight under the new system. The problem is that some division titles are easier to earn than others. And the Rays are a team that faces roadblocks at every turn.
AND ANOTHER THING . . .
Let’s say the Atlanta Braves win the first NL wild card by 10 games; their current lead over the St. Louis Cardinals is seven. It hardly seems fair that the second wild-card winner could render the Braves’ sizable 162-game advantage meaningless by knocking them out in a one-game elimination.
The retort to that argument is simple: Win your division. And in truth, the Braves probably would be at an advantage if they cruised to the first wild card; they could line up their starting pitcher and rest their bullpen for the wild-card game. Their opponent, on the other hand, might be forced to scramble.
But here’s a bigger issue: Let’s say the Braves win the first wild card and finish with more victories than the San Francisco Giants, the likely NL West champion. Why should the Braves draw the team with the best record in the NL, be it the Washington Nationals or Cincinnati Reds?
It would be almost like a double whammy — the Braves would be penalized for only winning a wild card (fair) and penalized again in the seeding for the Division Series (not so fair).
The solution is fairly simple: Wait to seed the Division Series until after the wild-card game.
THE CASE FOR PRICE
The AL Cy Young race could be the next test of how much voters from the Baseball Writers Association of America value advanced statistics. Rays left-hander David Price leads the league in wins and ERA, a combination that historically produces a Cy Young.
The last eight AL pitchers to lead those categories, outright or shared, each have won the Cy, as have 18 of 19 pitchers overall since both leagues started giving the award in 1967, according to research by the Rays’ media relations department.
Voters, though, increasingly view wins as a secondary statistics, and maybe not even that. Detroit Tigers righty Justin Verlander has thrown almost 35 more innings than Price and also leads him by a considerable margin in the most important sabermetric category — wins above replacement (WAR).
The Chicago White Sox’s Chris Sale, leading the league in ERA-plus, is probably the best of the other contenders. The Los Angeles Angels’ Jered Weaver has thrown 50 fewer innings than Price. The Seattle Mariners’ Felix Hernandez has struggled in his last three starts.
Price, though, has made 13 of his 28 starts against the AL East, home to four of the top nine offenses in the league. In fact, he ranks No. 1 out of 140 starting pitchers in quality of opponents faced, according to the rankings of Vince Gennaro, president of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). Verlander ranks 35th.
THE MEANING OF BOWA FOR THE ASTROS
The Houston Astros’ interview of Larry Bowa for their managerial vacancy is an encouraging sign in at least one respect.
Some rival executives worry that Astros GM Jeff Luhnow is surrounding himself with too many like-minded sabermetric types rather than building a diverse baseball operations department.
Bowa, a colleague of mine at MLB Network, is as old-school as they come. Which isn’t to say he would ignore advanced statistics; he’s intelligent enough to understand their importance. He’s just not someone who would be wedded to the numbers.
The bottom line: Bowa’s passion and knowledge would benefit any organization.
THE RISE OF HEADLEY
A rival scout says of San Diego Padres third baseman Chase Headley, “A year ago, he couldn’t hit right-handed, didn’t drive in runs and was challenged defensively. He has improved upon all three of those things.”
Headley, a switch-hitter, has nine home runs in 172 at-bats from the right side this season, as opposed to zero homers in 105 at-bats a year ago (though his OPS batting right-handed actually has dropped from .891 in ’11 to .770 in ’12).
Entering Saturday’s play, Headley also led the NL with 102 RBI, averaging one every 5.33 at-bats, as opposed to one every 8.66 last season. And advanced statistics support the scout’s contention that Headley’s defense is much steadier than in the past.
FISHING EXPEDITION AT THIRD BASE
The Miami Marlins’ preliminary plan for 2013 is to keep Emilio Bonifacio in center field, play Donovan Solano at second and make the acquisition of a third baseman their top priority.
The Padres are unlikely to trade Headley, and the New York Mets are expected to make a strong push to retain David Wright. The White Sox’s Kevin Youkilis, 33, could be the top free agent. Third basemen, in general, are scarce.
So, one alternative for the Marlins is to acquire an outfielder and move Bonifacio back to third base. As I mentioned in this week’s Full Count video, B.J. Upton would be one possibility as a free agent. Upton’s brother, Justin, meanwhile, could be an option in a trade.
For all the Marlins’ faults, their front office generally is quite creative, and owner Jeffrey Loria is hellbent on winning.
As always, the Fish will be worth watching.
TRADED, THEN IGNORED
Sometimes getting traded to the Yankees can be, well, a bummer.
Infielder Casey McGehee, acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates on July 31, has only three at-bats since Aug. 22. In 50 plate appearances, he is batting .174 with a .524 OPS.
Not only did McGehee lose playing time to Steve Pearce, but he also had to spend nearly a week at Class A Charleston (S.C.) after the Yankees acquired Pearce on Aug. 28.
By optioning him to Charleston, the Yankees were able to bring back McGehee before the completion of the mandatory 10-day waiting period; Charleston’s season was ending.
The good news for McGehee is that the Yankees almost certainly will decline to offer him a contract rather than give him a raise from his current $2.5375 million salary in arbitration.
Conceivably, the Yankees could keep McGehee and stash him at Triple A; he has two minor-league options remaining. But not even the Yankees invest millions in such players.
AROUND THE HORN
• Rays closer Fernando Rodney looks like a steal now, but last offseason some rival executives wondered why Tampa Bay even gave him a major-league contract.
Rodney actually had more walks (28) than strikeouts (26) with the Los Angeles Angels last season. The Rays signed him to a one-year, $2 million contract with a $2.5 million club option for 2013.
Methinks they’ll exercise that option.
Rodney leads the majors with 43 saves (in 45 chances) and a 0.66 reliever’s ERA. The only pitcher in major-league history to finish a season with more than 40 saves and a sub-1.00 ERA was Dennis Eckersley in 1990 (48 saves, 0.61 ERA).
• Chicago Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano is one home run and one RBI shy of his first 30-homer, 100-RBI season since 2005. Not bad for a guy who turns 37 on Jan. 7, a guy the Cubs again will try to move this offseason.
The market for Soriano should be better than it was at the non-waiver deadline; the Cubs can involve more teams. Soriano, though, has a full no-trade clause, and still is owed $36 million over the next two seasons.
If the Cubs fail to receive a sufficient offer, they could always bring back Soriano next season and try to move him at the deadline again. The closer an overpriced player gets to the end of his contract, the easier he is to deal.
See: Carlos Lee.
• Thursday’s rainout will force the White Sox and Detroit Tigers to play 20 straight days to end the season. One rival executive says that is an advantage for the Tigers, noting that the White Sox’s bullpen is “taking on water.”
Well, the Sox entered Saturday with a 5.24 bullpen ERA since Aug. 15, the worst in the majors. Right-hander Addison Reed, in particular, is struggling. He has allowed 20 base-runners in his last seven innings, posting a 12.86 ERA.
• Know who Norichika Aoki is for the Brewers? This year’s Nyjer Morgan.
Aoki in 2012: .286 batting average, .779 OPS, 24 stolen bases in 31 attempts.
Morgan in 2011: .304 batting average, .778 OPS, 13 stolen bases in 17 attempts.
• The Pirates were 63-47 on Aug. 8. They’ve since gone 10-24, and now need to finish 9-9 for their first winning season since 1992.