The Winter of Baseball Discontent

We knew A-Rod would be back. Not that it solves anything.

We hate saying, "We told you so." Well, actually, that's not true—we do like saying "We told you so," particularly because we told you before anyone else. Here's what we said back on November 6: "If [Scott] Boras doesn't have such a [super] deal in mind, then he has overplayed his hand. Boras's recent 'Can we talk?' overtures to the Yankees seem to indicate that this is indeed the case and that he'd be willing to come down on the ridiculous $350 million asking price for his client. . . . A-Rod back in a Yankees uniform? Don't bet that it won't happen. After all, these assholes deserve each other."

So, what happened next? Exactly what should have been expected from the moment Scott Boras interrupted the World Series and announced the opt-out. Both sides lost a little face, then gained it back in the compromise. Previous reports had the Yankees offering $240 million over eight years, but the new deal appears to be $275 million over 10. Boras got burned for upstaging the World Series and had to accept a considerably smaller deal than he insisted he'd take for his client. He and A-Rod gained, however, by still coming up with the richest contract in sports plus a marketing deal worth another $30 million for making future home-run milestones. The Yankees swallowed hard on the won't-negotiate stance and forgot about the $30 million they'd now have to pay, which the Texas Rangers were off the hook for. Call it a wash.

The question, though, lingers: After the euphoria over the return of A-Rod, Posada, Rivera, and (probably) Andy Pettitte has passed, where does that leave the Yankees? And the answer is: Just about exactly where they were at the end of last month's playoff flop. Essentially, the Yankees' brain trust—and we use the word in the broadest possible sense—has paid an extraordinary amount of money simply to run in place.

The assumption on the part of Yankee fans is that the new young starters—Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, and, presumably, Joba Chamberlain—will carry the team next year. This is questionable. Promising as this trio is, they have won just nine major league games. Hughes may not develop as fast as the Yankees need him to, and who knows for certain if Kennedy really is a top-flight starter? For that matter, who knows if Joba can be a starter, or, if he can, how long it will take him to develop into the kind of starter who can average six or seven innings per start (which is the only kind of starter the Yankees really need)? (As we go to press, the rumor is that Hughes may be involved in a deal for Twins pitcher Johan Santana. But if the price is Hughes and Melky Cabrera, it's a tossup as to whether the Yankees really come out ahead.)

And what is the bullpen going to be like without Joba? The Yankees are now left with the problem of how to find set-up guys for an aging closer who appeared to be slipping toward the end of last season—and hoping an aging catcher can hold up for all of them.

The Mets are in a situation eerily similar to the Yankees. They signed Johnny Estrada, who hit .278 with 10 home runs in 120 games last season, to replace Paul Lo Duca, who hit .272 with 9 home runs in 119 games. Estrada is four years younger, but otherwise the Mets don't look to be any better off at catchers.

It might have benefited the Mets if Omar Minaya and Tom Glavine had eaten some of the same crow served at the Steinbrenner–A-Rod get-together, before Tom Glavine signed his one-year, $8 million deal with the Atlanta Braves. Just a couple of months ago, after Glavine earned his 300th career victory, Mets fans were arguing over whether he was "really" a Met. It appears they let Glavine's disastrous performance against Florida in the season finale make that decision for them.

Now, Willie Randolph might paraphrase Casey Stengel's reaction back in 1951 when the Yankees let 15-game winner Tommy Byrne go: "OK, now who's going to win 13 games for me?" And given the post-apocalyptic state of the Mets' bullpen—the root cause of their epic collapse—Randolph also ought to be asking: Who's going to make up Glavine's 200 innings? Granted, no one was all that sanguine about how the 42-year-old starter would hold up during another season, but would it really have cost the Mets that much to have outbid the Braves on a one-year deal to find out?

So far, the Yankees and the Mets are reacting to their disappointing seasons in similar ways. The Yankees are pouring tons of money into their problems, but so far have come up with little more than cosmetic surgery by hiring Joe Girardi as manager. The Mets, still traumatized by the last month of their season, let Paul Lo Duca go and saved some cash on his salary, while trading a pitcher, Guillermo Mota, they didn't want for Estrada, a catcher the Milwaukee Brewers didn't want. The Yankees spent, the Mets saved, but essentially, as the year winds down, baseball in New York remains the same.

 
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