In yesterday's Washington Post, Thomas Boswell joined a host of other writers documenting the offseason as we've seen it. Joe Sheehan wrote a nice piece hinting towards collusion, but only among a certain group of owners. I disagree with Joe, and the best defense I have is the New York Yankees. In past offseasons, the phrase "what George wants, George gets," has held as true as anyything. But that seems to be changing, as Steinbrenner has missed out on targets Curt Schilling and Kaz Matsui, and looks to have a weak grip on Andy Pettite, Gary Sheffield, and Kenny Lofton. Collusion is quite hard to prove when the richest team in baseball is constantly moving to plan two.
Yesterday, a New York radio station, along with the Houston Chronicle, both ran stories that Andy Pettite has all but signed with the Astros. The rumor is Drayton McLane has signed Pettite for three seasons, at $10M per year, stealing him away from the Boss. On the same day, Gary Sheffield talks have started to dwindle, as Sheffield is angry about bonuses, buyouts, and deferred money. Kenny Lofton may feel more loved by San Diego, who can all but match the Yankees one-year, $3M offer. If George is 0/3 with these players, heads will be pounded in the Big Apple. In contrast, the hated Boston Red Sox are moving in a different direction, currently hot after the league's best player.
Where? That is the question circulating Yankee offices in Tampa, as the team currently lacks direction with two-thirds of their top targets (Vazquez, Pettite, Sheffield) may go in other directions. While the present team boasts a lineup fans in Milwaukee and Detroit couldn't dream of, there's one team that's better. There is one team that is smarter, one team that is more active. The Boston Red Sox. While this may be a bit hasty, I'm tempted to say that Theo Epstein is the best thing to happen to this organization in the last 50 years. The type of creativity and intelligence that Epstein brings to the Red Sox front office is second to none, much of the reason Boston is currently a better team, with $50M less.
George has been known to act hastily, so this article may be deemed moot if the Boss gets mad tonight and makes insane offers to both Pettite and Sheffield. In fact, I believe the Yankees will still sign Sheffield, but that's not the point. Whether the 2004 standings indicate this or not, the last two months have been a sign that the tide is changing in the Northeast. While John Henry's pocketbook hardly matches Steinbrenner's, that may be the only thing New York has superior to their arch rivals. Much has been made of the Yankees future problems because of long-term contracts, most notably in the 2006 season, but it's the 2004 team that should be the largest worry.
The Alex Rodriguez deal is going to fall through. Nomar Garciaparra and Manny Ramirez, both blackballed in the organization, may be clubhouse cancers next season. Gary Sheffield will be wearing pinstripes, and Javier Vazquez and Jose Contreras will be in the AL Cy Young top ten. Despite all the problems that may surface on the Atlantic shores, Boston has both heart and level-headedness. While veteran leadership is a mocked term across the Internet, David Ortiz brings much more to the Red Sox than a great left-handed bat. Boston fans make a difference in every home game, and the front office has the creativity and cunningness to improve the team at any time. I'm not sure the Yankees have this. Boston was the better than New York in 2003, much in the same way that I will argue my Cubs were better than Florida. Curses don't exist, and Babe Ruth's shadow will not cast over Fenway any longer.
I am not predicting the Red Sox to win the World Series, or even the division next year. I would bet that the Red Sox win more divisional championships in the next five years, but that is losing focus from the point of this article. While much has been made of baseball's changing markets, the Yankees are no longer the de facto choice of every free agent. If the agentless Sheffield will test Steinbrenner on a contract, what will Boras or Hendricks do? The nation is taking Larry Lucchino's claim of an "evil empire" into their views, and 'Damn Yankees' is more of a prayer than a musical nowadays. New York will have to show renewed direction in the next week to prove to me that the 1980s aren't returning. If not, I'll be forecasting some long years ahead in the Bronx...
OK, after that rant, a few thoughts on the day's transactions...
Vinny Castilla to the Rockies for $2.1M- Why? Doesn't Dan O'Dowd have better things to do than this? Garret Atkins is fine at third, and if the team signs a shortstop, I'll argue Mark Bellhorn is fine there. Second base? Aaron Miles. Left Field? Rene Reyes. O'Dowd: SPEND THE MONEY ON PITCHING! And please, not Antonio Alfonseca like the rumors are currently stating. Note to Rockie ownership: fire O'Dowd! When you look at Castilla's numbers below, it's possible he'll break a .500 slugging percentage in Coors. But, the point is, you don't spend money on hitting in Colorado. Castilla's splits:
Vs. RH: .273/.303/.464 Vs. LH: .290/.333/.452
Home: .280/.308/.419 Away: .274/.312/.497
Pre-ASB: .271/.310/.467 Post-ASB: .285/.311/.452
Fernando Vina to the Tigers for 2 years, $6M- Why? For more money than Mark Grudzilanek? For a platoonable, 35-year-old second basemen? Vina will add the infamous veteran presence for the Tigers, along with a second name that Detroit fans can recognize. There are a lot of holes on this team, but they should never sign any player under twenty-eight, unless needed to fill a roster. Trading for one of the Baltimore second basemens would have been much smarter, but hey, the Tigers don't think like this. Note to Tiger ownership: fire Dambrowski! Vina's splits:
Vs. RH: .271/.326/.414 Vs. LH: .163/.236/.245
Home: .277/.326/.395 Road: .229/.294/.371
1st half: .262/.316/.430 2nd half: .230/.295/.287
Fullmer to the Rangers for $1M- Finally, a good signing. Texas has filled the DH hole for one season as Adrian Gonzalez prepares in the minors, and have almost completely finished their 2004 offense. If Nix, Nivar, and Mench make up the outfield next season, they are finished. Fullmer brings a good left-handed bat to a team, and has an outside chance of being the David Ortiz story of 2004. Most likely, he'll quietly hit .290/.380/.500, and few people will notice. Fullmer's splits, excluding the second half in which he was injured:
Vs. RH: .313/.398/.517 Vs. LH: .267/.324/.400
Home: .265/.336/.408 Road: .343/.432/.583
Finally, let me mention that the Pirates made a nice minor league signing in Daryle Ward, as he probably will figure it out somewhere, someday. But, hopefully this won't deter them from playing Criag Wilson everyday. The Brewers already gave Ned Yost an extension, which seems a little haste. I think Yost did a fantastic job last year, but the team hasn't won enough games to start giving him more money.
I'll be back tomorrow with less cynicism, and more rumors and analysis...