Friday, January 12, 2018

With the book closing on Ellsbury, it's near time for a post mortem on the Great Splurge of 2013

It seemed a banner idea, a guaranteed success: The Yankees would recreate 2009, when three newly signed big name free agents - CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and AJ Burnett - led the way to a championship. We'd grab three new stars, infuse the lineup with speed and power, and bag another ring. Thus, Hal Steinbrenner scrapped plans to shrink the team payroll below the then-$189 million luxury tax threshold and pulled the trigger on a set of deals that are still playing out. 

Armed with the checkbook, a newly erect Brian Cashman signed Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury for 15 years and slightly more than $300 million - a shopping spree that, until recently, remained the defining event of his career, and which still roils Cash's critics when sycophantic sportswriters debate where to hang his plaque in Cooperstown. 

Ah, but it was a complicated time, the winter of 2013-14. One year earlier, at the winter meetings, Cashman had famously whined to reporters that "Beggars can't be choosers." Now, with Joggie Cano preparing to leave, the Yankees desperately needed to save face. So Hal tabled his tax-austerity plans - the ones we're dealing with today - and threw money at the team, cobbling together a string of mediocre lineups that couldn't even win a wild card single game playoff. We are still crawling out from under those deals. And soon - maybe this month - Cashman might jettison Ellsbury, the final piece, for whatever table scraps are offered. We could finally close the book on the Great Splurge of 2013-14. Good riddance. 

Here's a brief look back on those three deals: 

McCann: The master of "pitch-framing" - (the fashionable insider-baseball skill set for catchers at the time) - he was going to be a rock behind the plate and a 100 RBI presence in our lineup for the next five years. Unfortunately, 2014 was Year I of the Defensive Over-Shifts, which robbed pull hitters of about 30 points in batting average. It turned McCann's doubles into double plays. In his best season for us, he drove in 94 runs. Last winter, we traded him to Houston, where he "pitch-framed" Astro pitchers to a pennant. Worst of all, his pivotal ground-rule double in Game Six of the ALCS broke a 0-0 tie, giving the Astros a three-run lead, from which we never recovered in that series. It was probably the most important hit in his career, and it killed us. Karma or revenge? Take your pick.

But but but... all is not lost. We traded McCann for two low single A pitchers - Albert Abreu and Jose Guzman - both of whom still show great promise. In fact, we traded Guzman -  who wowed scouts with eye-popping radar numbers in late 2017 - in the recent package for Giancarlo Stanton. Thus, McCann's Yankee legacy lives on. (Abreu, 22, also pops up in Yankee prospect rankings; hey, you never know...)

Beltran: At age 36, he returned to NYC, got off to a great start, then flipped over a wall chasing a foul ball, and looked like a total washout. In his first year, usually batting third, he hit .233 with Chase Headleyesque power. We dealt him in the Great Trade Deadline Purge of 2016 for a reclamation project named Dillon Tate. 

At one point, Tate had been one of the game's top pitching prospects, but Texas had soured on him. The Yankees planned to find his reset button and start over. Now 23, Tate has shown flashes of talent, but he was pulled from the Arizona Fall League at the last minute - never learned why - and his career make-or-break season looms. Could be that the closest we get to a Beltan legacy would be if he someday becomes the first Latino Yankee manager?

Ellsbury: Well, here we are. The latest rumors say Cashman would happily eat half of Ellsbury's $21 million per season salary if somebody - anybody - takes him. This isn't a matter of wheedling for a top prospect. We'd take Zolio Almonte and an Instant-Pot. (Any readers need a cabana boy? Pay half his salary, and he's yours.) It's a sad Yankee ending for a likable, upstanding player who - unlike his tumultuous time in redneck Boston - never saw his character publicly questioned. The problem is Ellsbury's contract, which will outlast Trump's first term. Looking back, it's hard to imagine what possessed Cashman to make that deal.

Ah, but like I said... the times, they were a-complicated. Intoxicated by the rapture of Jay-Z's new formed sports agency (remember that?) Joggy ran off to Seattle, and the Yankee front office moved into Defcon 5. Hal scrapped austerity plans, until the next luxury tax bite arrived, and then he re-declared the need to cut budget. That left us watching Yoan Moncada sign with Boston (who later converted him to Chris Sale) while the Yankees continually floundered.

Until now, right? Yeah, until now...

Now, the Yankiverse brims with hope. 

Now, our lineup brims with power. 

Now, Cashman is bound for Cooperstown, and he looks like a very stable genius to anyone with a brick in the place where memories are supposed to gather. Hope is a crazy thing, eh?


Alphonso said...

I don't think it is a good thing to compliment Cashman, even if it is done with the greatest level of sarcasm imaginable.

Even the mere mention of his name could trigger a mudslide of "deal making."

It is best, as the Dutch do, to place one's head into the loam and hope time passes and the season begins.

If I see and hear nothing, then nothing has transpired, saith the swan.

HoraceClarke66 said...

Yes, the JuJu gods work in mysterious ways.

Those pick-ups were ridiculous, much worse than the pre-2009 ones, which got us very good players in their prime.

The most cursory look at the stats should have told us that McCann was already in decline—as catchers often are at his age—while Ellsbury was often hurt and speed players never get better with age. I always liked Beltran, but we should have got him one of the first two times he was willing to forgo money in order to play in the Bronx.

As it worked out, we would have been better off paying that outrageous salary to Jogginson.

But hey, as Duque so astutely points out, we ended up transforming much of that straw into gold, and potential gold. And whereas if we had merely re-signed Smiley, he would be out there slowly and cheerfully declining at second, these screw-ups ended up imploding the team, and forcing even Coop and Food Stamps to take action.

"Everything is beautiful, in its own way..."

C'mon everybody, sing along!

HoraceClarke66 said...

Meanwhile, as the great Elvis Costello once wailed, there's no action.

Serena Williams baby pictures, a column about some guy in Boston named Tom Brady, a close look at Australian tennis, and the heartbreak felt in North Dakota over the fact that the state university eliminated the women's hockey team—this is what the New York Times considers a sports section.

Our total remains:

Soccer 7, Yankees 1

Anonymous said...

I am a complex man given to complex thoughts yet through the miracle of emoticons I can save us all time and spare myself from having to write some epic mock poem based on "Beowulf" or "Go Dog Go" (Actually one day I really should take a crack at Go Dog Go.) Stop Cashman Stop!

Here's my take...

McCann ��

Beltran ��

Elisbury xx

Just in case that didn't work it was neutral face, thumbs up, and a panicked poop emoji.

Should of done Beowulf.

Doug K.

HoraceClarke66 said...

"Gerrit, what the hell did you do to the Harley?"

"Oh, yeah, man. Really sorry."

Yawns, stretches, lifts stained tee-shirt to scratch his stomach.

"Who told you that you could borrow it?!"

"Oh, well, nobody was around to ask, so I just figured you wouldn't mind. Look, it was just that I had to brake to miss this rabbit that was running across the road."

"A rabbit? The front wheel is totally out of alignment!"

"Yeah, tell me about it. It was a bitch to get home. But that rabbit, man. You know, after I just missed it, it squatted down by the side of the road and just looked at me, like it really knew what was going on, and appreciated it. Almost like there was a human being in there, man. It was all white, too—some sage, old white hare."

"Gerrit, this can't go on."

"Maybe it was a pookah. I think you're going to see some really good luck coming your way, man."

"A pookah? Gerrit, I need you out of my house. I need you out of my head."

"I know, man, I know. I'm lookin'. Hey, wattaya think about Houston? I hear the weather's good."

HoraceClarke66 said...

"Go Dog Go" is GREAT. You know, turns out they were all going to a dog party!

Ah, hell, now I gave away the ending. Sorry.

Der Kaiser said...

Can we discuss the Great Splurge of 2013 without mentioning Tanaka Masahiro?

It was indeed a heady time, marked by people losing their heads. Cashman did make one good move that winter, landing Tanaka despite MLB changing the posting system to screw the Yankees. But his trio of big domestic acquisitions was misguided from start to finish. He signed: (1) a slugging catcher for five years at a time when everyone was talking about all the great catching talent about to emerge from the farm system, (2) an player whom he should have signed NINE YEARS EARLIER, and (3) Ellsbury.

Losing Cano was a hard blow, but letting another team overpay for his decline years was the right choice. The Ellsbury signing is often presented as Cashman's overcompensating reaction to losing Cano, but if you recall, Ellsbury actually signed before Cano went to Seattle. No doubt Cashman had already realised he wasn't going to be able to retain Cano and turned elsewhere - but madness in Seattle is a poor justification for madness in New York. None of the explanations for the signing have ever made sense. The worst was hearing that it was a good signing because "speed ages better than power", an adage that ignores the fact that old sluggers can still occasionally hit one out while no one can think of a single old speedster who was much good whose name doesn't rhyme with Renderson. An adage which had last been wheeled out to defend the Red Sox overpay for Carl Crawford, whose contract was the previous gold standard for foolish MLB overpays.

As usual, Alphonso and the Dutch have the best plan. We should just read the Times sports section until April. When we emerge from media hibernation, fully informed about Ugandan ladies' beach horseshoes and football transfer scandals, it will be spring in Florida, the Golden Snowball will be nearing the home stretch, Andujar and Torres will be wearing pinstripes and manning third and second bases, and Gerrit Alan Cole will be warming up for another team.

Stay the course!

Local Bargain Jerk said...

"Everything is beautiful, in its own way..."

C'mon everybody, sing along!

In the mid- to late-1970s, K-Tel Records was hawking one of those compilations they were always hawking at the time. One of the songs included on this particular collection was Ray Stevens' "Everything is Beautiful".

They had hired Mickey Dolenz of The Monkees to appear in several background mini-videos to illustrate the songs. If you remember the K-Tel schtick, they would have a text crawl over the screen of all the songs on the album. The titles of songs that weren't heard would be in white letters and ones where a clip of the song would be played were in yellow.

When it came time to play "Everything is Beautiful", they cut to a clip of Mickey Dolenz. They timed it so that, just as Ray Stevens warbled "Everything is Beyooootiful...", Dolenz walked across a parking lot and hugged ... a backhoe. He not only hugged the backhoe, he laid his head and cheek on the fender and caressed the top of its hood.

I may have only seen it once but I thought I would die laughing ... at the ripe old age of 15. Does anyone else remember it?

el duque said...

LBJ, listen to me carefully:

Itemize the things you covet, as you squander through your life, bigger cars, bigger houses, term insurance for your wife. Tuesday evenings with your harlot and on Wednesday's it's your charlatan analyst. He's high upon your list...

Local Bargain Jerk said...


I'm not sure I understand. Are you saying you bought that particular K-Tel recording and you don't want me making light of it?

Or are you saying that I covet my charlatan analyst? You lost me in the turn.

It's not the first time I've been lost...I'll go away now and wait for pitchers and catchers...

Until then, there's this.

el duque said...

No. What I meant was that you better take care of business, Mister Businessman. What's your plan? Take care of business, Mr. Businessman, if you can. Before it's too late and you throw your life away.

Ken of Brooklyn said...

Right ON LBJ, I had all of those records, LOL!!!!
I don't remember the Micky Dolenz video, wow, that's some DaDa film making with a sprinkle of Monty Python, or, you were smoking the good stuff, either way, RIGHT OooooNNN!

Local Bargain Jerk said...

Sorry, I missed your point because I've got air conditioned sinuses and dark disturbing doubts about religion.

I'm better now.