Thursday, May 15, 2014

Dear Mr. Steinbrenner... Next winter, when you are thinking of buying free agents to escape this Yankee malaise, you might look harder at Cuba and Japan for talent

That's right, sir. Cuba and Japan.

Last night, Yankee fans watched Masahiro Tanaka save the team's rapidly diminishing hope and pride. He may be the best Yankee free agent signing since Hideki Matusi and Orlando Hernandez - two players still cherished by the fan base, even though the Yankees in recent years seemed to have lost interest in their homelands.

Let's take Hernandez - the great Cuban pitcher known as "El Duque." Once upon a time, your dad hired the Luis Tiant to be the Yankee team emissary to Cuba, hoping to sign star players who escaped from the Castro regime. Often, their first words in public were the stated hope of playing for the Yankees. We foresaw an open tap of talent flowing to New York. Then we signed Andy Morales.

He was a pot-bellied 3B who whacked a home run in an MLB-Cuba exhibition game. In America, he couldn't field well, never hit a lick, his age was questioned, we negated his contract, and there were hard feelings all around. Ever since, the Yankees only dabbled in the Cuban market. Whether it was Livan Hernandez, Arodys Chapman, Yusel Puig, Jose Iglesias and now Jose Abreu (15 HR), the Yankees just weren't interested in bidding wars. We signed the cheap versions, avoiding competition. And today, we have Ronnier Mustellier and Adonis Garcia playing their second full season in Scranton.

Then there was Matsu - "Godzilla," MVP of the 2009 World Series. Why didn't we follow up with Japanese talent? Hmm. Whoops, I know the answer: Kei Igawa. Yep, he was a huge bust - (I still don't know why we didn't trade him after two years) - conjuring hard feelings all around. When Dice K came over, we'd been hopelessly outbid by Boston and panicked. But when Yu Darvish came, we barely lifted an eyebrow. When others came, where were we? Two winters ago, we accidentally won bidding rights to an all-star shortstop from Japan. We refused to negotiate, he stayed in Japan, and then we spent the entire 2013 with nobodies - Alfredo Gonzalez and Reid Whatzizname - playing SS. What a fiasco! What a joke!

So, this morning, sir, as you sip your vodka, imagine where the Yankees would be today without Tanaka. We probably would have lost 11-4 last night. That would have been seven in a row to the Mets. Do you think the Yankiverse would be grumbling?

You spent $60 million this year on McCann, Beltran and Ellsbury - giving up a draft pick for each - and where in God's name would you be without Tanaka?

Here's another thought: Where might the Yankees be with Abreu's 15 home runs? Or Puig's .330 average. Or Chapman in the bullpen. We have been sitting on the wrong sideline. MLB will soon lower the boom on international signings, trying to crush whatever fiscal advantage the Yankees have. It will evolve into an international draft, because billionaires owners love socialism, when it suits them.

Well, here's one Yankee advantage that Bud Selig cannot destroy: The name. We are still the team that foreign players mention when they climb off the life raft. We are still the gold standard of baseball franchises in America and around the world.

Next year, some star from Japan or Cuba will be headed to America. It will mean a bidding war. He won't be cheap. He wants to play for the Yankees. He will not cost us a draft pick.

If you choose to sit it out, sir, you will be choosing mediocrity. Instead of Godzilla and El Duque, you will be siding with Igawa and Morales. Is that the world in which you want to live?

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