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Addressing current needs with Yankees of old

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It’s January 5th and the Yankees have yet to do anything of significance to improve the current roster. Perhaps now that the holiday season has come and gone, things can get moving again so bloggers like us can resume publishing currently relevant content. Instead, today we offer something different that stems from a Twitter discussion yesterday.

The four of us (Randy, Matt, Bobby, and Derek) are doing a quick draft based on this question with a couple of additional stipulations. One, we’re whittling in down to players in our lifetimes. Additionally, it’s a one year assignment, so whoever we pick has no bearing on the Yankees in 2022 and beyond. With that, let’s get to the draft.

News & Notes: Labor War, Boras’ Email, 64 Hours of Derek Jeter

Remember this?

Friends, I miss baseball. A lot more than a normal person should, really, but that’s to be expected. I also miss writing about baseball: it’s been several weeks now that I’ve been mostly completely absent. Of course, we all have the pandemic to thank for that. While I’ve been fortunate to be healthy, it’s altered quite a lot of the day-to-day, hence the silence.

In any case, that’s over now. You can expect much more regular posts in this space again, and frankly, I’m very excited about it. A tinge of normalcy will be nice, and writing about baseball has always been cathartic. (And a special thanks to Randy and Matt is in order, as they’ve managed to keep things rolling here. It’s greatly appreciated.) It’s time for a news and notes post.

But first! A fun highlight: 16 years ago today, the great Mariano Rivera earned his 300th career save. It came against Tampa Bay. Here’s the video:

Miss you, Mo. Our man went on to collect 352 more in his illustrious career, which made him baseball’s first unanimous Hall of Famer. Good stuff. Onto today’s relevant news.

A Labor War, What’s It Good For?

Is baseball going to have a season in 2020? That’s the million dollar question these days. I am actually optimistic – if that’s a word you want to use – that there will be a truncated season of some sort. At the same time, though, there are serious complications to that vision, caused by the broken economics of the sport.

No reader of this site is a stranger to the fact that there have been obvious fault lines in baseball’s economics for some time now. Management and labor – using the term “owners and players” obscures that this is a labor issue at heart – have been battling for years now. We’ve all seen it coming and many of us predicted a work stoppage after the CBA expired next year.

Well, the pandemic has exacerbated that underlying labor crisis and accelerated negotiations because now everyone is feeling the squeeze. Randy and Matt have discussed this and more lately on the podcast, so I don’t need to get into it that much more, but there are a few notable updates over the past few days.

First, MLB presented the MLBPA with a new plan to restart the game. It involves another pay cut for the players, who have already agreed to one. It’s steep for the richest players in the game. Here is the pay scale, per Jeff Passan:

Yikes! In Yankee terms, that means Gerrit Cole would make about $9 million this year, not the $36 he signed for. Nobody will feel sorry for these guys, of course, as 41 million Americans file for unemployment (but not the MiLB players who aren’t getting paid!) these days. But it’s understandable that the union will not go for this deal after already accepting a pay cut, especially to it’s most powerful and visible members. For what other purpose would MLBPA even exist if not to push back on this?

And they are pushing back. Via player union official Max Scherzer, the players will not engage with the league any further on this issue. Here is his statement, which, again, can be read on behalf of the entire union:

The union is also now pushing back on the 82-game proposal for a longer season – going back on previously agreed upon terms, just like their management friends. Now that at is what I call an impasse. (And, according to one union lawyer on Twitter, a tactically wise one for MLBPA. Check it out.) I don’t think its an insurmountable hurdle by any means, but these are real challenges to getting the league back up and running.

In these scenarios, I am always, 100% of the time, going to side with the players. I truly believe in the maxim that you can’t privatize the profits and socialize the losses. (Well, you *can*, because, well [gestures widely] but it’s an immoral thing to do.) Besides, management takes the risks here, as they like to say. Sometimes, when you take risks, it blows up in your face. That’s what risk means.

At the same time, this is a weird, unprecedented economy. There is no question that teams will take a haircut and earn less money these days. I’d be more sympathetic, though, if the league as a unit wasn’t already squeezing players (and fans!) for every last penny recently, product be damned. I’d bet the union would be more friendly, too, but what do I know. In other words, a live look at MLB:

Trevor Bauer vs. Scott Boras

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Last night on Twitter – where so much of these negotiations are bearing out – Trevor Bauer blasted Scott Boras for “meddling” in MLBPA affairs. Here’s what he had to say:

At the time, I thought that was puzzling not just because Trevor Bauer is a noted idiot but because Scott Boras’ “personal agenda” aligns with the players’ more than just about any other actor in the baseball universe. Turns out that, indeed, Bauer’s actions are puzzling. Today, the Associated Press got access to some of Boras’ “meddling”, and here’s what it was:

In an email obtained by The Associated Press, Boras wrote that players should not alter terms of the March 26 agreement between MLB and the union that called for players to reduce their salaries to a prorated rate based on a shortened season. MLB on Tuesday proposed a series of tiered reductions that would cause top stars to receive the biggest cuts.

“Remember, games cannot be played without you,” Boras wrote. “Players should not agree to further pay cuts to bail out the owners. Let owners take some of their record revenues and profits from the past several years and pay you the prorated salaries you agreed to accept or let them borrow against the asset values they created from the use of those profits players generated.”

Boras has a undeservingly bad reputation, but it’s impossible to deny that the man has a point here. These are lines the players should be trumpeting from the rooftops, so it’s a bizarre choice by Bauer to slam him, but not altogether unsurprising.

But buried in the email was one more interesting point. Perhaps, in fact, it’s the key point of all this: per Boras, “the owners’ current problem is a result of the money they borrowed when they purchased their franchises, renovated their stadiums or developed land around their ballparks.”

It’s an insightful critique and one that gets at the heart of the problem. The league is about much more than just baseball, of course, and that’s the root cause of the labor issues. It’s why salaries have largely stagnated – complex investor groups, complicated land use deals, and other financial arrangements are the language of the game’s books – in recent years and a driver of the labor strife.

These are tangled webs, but I think Boras has the right of it. Owners have made record profits lately. Players should not need to finance their losses now, especially not more than they’ve already agreed to. Again, it’s bizarre for an outspoken player to slam a powerful actor for articulating this stance, but hey, it’s Bauer.

(For a more detailed explanation of the Yankees debt service obligations surrounding the financing of Yankee Stadium, a crucial topic for the team, check out the last answer in this mailbag. I explored it in a bit of detail there.)

Derek Jeter, Ever Heard of Him?

Every non-Yankee fan’s favorite punching bag is back in the spotlight. MLB Network is going to be running 64 (!) consecutive hours of Derek Jeter coverage, beginning tomorrow at 6 am EDT:

That is a crap ton of hours about Derek Jeter and some people are going to get so performatively mad about it. I love it. Jeter, for all his faults, is one of the finest players in league history and a beloved franchise icon – and one of my favorite characteristics of his is to make nearly everyone else mad. You gotta love it.

I’ll probably be tuning in to see some of his many career highlights over that period. Here’s one that never gets old:

The Yankees and the First Round

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Before beginning, a big thanks to Twitter pal and friend of the blog, @AndyinSunnyDB for inspiring this piece with a thread about the Yankees’ drafts.

In 1965, the Yankees made their first ever pick in a June Major League Baseball draft. With the 19th overall pick, they selected Bill Burbach, a right handed pitcher from Wahlert High School in Dickeyville, Wisconsin. A little less than four years later on April 11, 1969, Burbach made his MLB debut against the Tigers. He threw six innings, allowing just one earned run on five hits; he struck out three and walked four. All told, Burbach threw 37 games for the Yankees and totaled 160.2 innings from 1969-1971. He never again pitched in the Majors after 1971 and tallied just -0.9 bWAR in his career. It was an inauspicious career that marked an inauspicious beginning to the Yankees’ success–or lack thereof–in the first round of the draft.

Including Burbach, the Yankees have made 58 picks in the first round, including the supplemental round, up through the 2019 draft when they selected Anthony Volpe, a shortstop from New Jersey. Of those 58 picks, only ten have produced 10 or more bWAR at the Major League level. Of those ten, only three–Thurman Munson, Derek Jeter, and Aaron Judge–have produced that double-digit WAR for the Yankees. 

Primarily, this a reminder–as if we needed one–that evaluating, acquiring, and developing talent is the hardest thing to do in baseball on a team/organizational level. That alone is reason enough for why the Yankees have struggled to be successful in the draft and could apply to any other team. If we add in other reasons, the picture of their draft struggles becomes more complete. 

For most of the draft’s existence, the Yankees have been a good, often great, often elite team. This means lots of drafting in the back end of the first round. Indeed, of their 58 picks, the Yankees have only made five in the top ten and 27 have been at pick number 25 or lower, which gives the Yankees few opportunities to access elite talent. This has become exacerbated with the hard-slotting and spending limits in recent drafts, which have prevented big time talent to slide due to signability concerns. 

Additionally, for a long time, the Yankees eschewed player development in favor of signing big time free agents to long-term deals. They didn’t need to hit big in the draft’s first round because they already had Jeter, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Paul O’Neill, Jorge Posada, and Mariano Rivera, all of whom–except Jeter–were acquired some other way than the first round of the draft. For the most part, it worked well. The Yankees won lots of games and were successful in trading and developing players from the International Free Agent market. 

But as the dynasty years began to fade, the Yankees shifted their focus and attempted to get better at the draft. Regardless of that intent, however, not much has come to fruition. Aaron Judge has been a runaway success, but no one else has. This comes down to two issues.

The first is making bad picks. Picking Cito Culver and Dante Bichette, Jr. in back-to-back first rounds was a terrible decision. Even at the time, they were considered reaches. Not surprisingly, they didn’t pan out. In hindsight, picks like Slade Heathcott and Ty Hensley were ‘bad,’ but only because neither player could overcome injuries. Still, when the decision making is in a space to pick the likes of Culver and Bichette in the first round, it loses the benefit of the doubt. 

Second, and arguably more egregious, is failure to develop. From a presumably ‘Major League ready” arm like Jacob Lindgren to the massive developmental failures of Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes, the Yankees did, have done, a horrible job at developing their top picks. 

The Yankees are an intelligent, analytical, and wealthy organization. However, draft success still eludes them and more or less has for the entirety of its existence. While you can be wildly successful when you hit–see Munson, Jeter, and Judge–a hit rate as low as the Yankees’–especially in the 21st century–is not sustainable. They’ve made steps to overhaul or fix or improve or fine tune the organization in myriad other ways, yet this remains a stumbling block. 

Derek Jeter and Inevitability

In a surprise to absolutely no one, Derek Jeter was elected to the Hall of Fame on Tuesday, garnering 99.7% of the vote. Though he’s embarked on a second career in the Marlins’ front office, his election inches the door closer to shut on his playing career. The manner in which this door is being closed has felt inevitable for some time, even if it didn’t start out that way.

By now, we’ve all heard the stories of a dejected Derek Jeter in a Seattle McDonald’s or of him ready to quit after an error-plagued first pro season. We know the Yankees almost traded for Félix Fermín “just in case” Jeter couldn’t handle the shortstop job in 1996. Jeter didn’t quite; the Yankees didn’t trade for another shortstop–well, not until February, 2004. But even then, this greatness didn’t become apparent right away. Sure he won American League Rookie of the Year in 1996, but it wasn’t until 1998 that we realized the track he was on. 

During his career, Jeter represented to the highest degree the “fame” part of Hall of Fame: endorsements; hosting Saturday Night Live; dating actresses, singers, and supermodels. And in the game, he was revered for his play and his demeanor (even if not universally). He became a Rorschach test. As fans, media, teammates, or competitors, we could see in him anything and everything we wanted to, positive or negative. But in spite of those differences, we all knew where it would end: Cooperstown.

This July, as part of a dais, Jeter will make a speech that will likely sound, inevitably, like his post-game quotes: a ton of words without saying all that much. Some will praise Jeter and his speech too much. Some will jeer Jeter and his speech too much. This is inevitable, given all the discourse about Jeter for most of his career. But, again, no one will dispute his deserving place in the Hall of Fame.

Inevitably, time will pass and the memory of Jeter will fade a bit. He’ll become a face on a plaque on a wall with a good story and an oft-visited Baseball Reference page. On that wall and on that site, visitors will find out, inevitably, Jeter was a damn good player. 

Congrats, Derek. Thanks for a lot of great baseball memories.  

Derek Jeter elected to Hall of Fame

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Today’s announcement comes as no surprise. The Baseball Writers’ Association of America voted Derek Jeter into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown with 99.7 percent of the vote. Jeter’s not the only new entrant to the Hall, by the way. In addition, Larry Walker, Ted Simmons, and the late Marvin Miller will join Jeter.

Jeter’s election makes it the second straight year a prominent Yankee receives a plaque. Last year, the Captain’s longtime teammate and co-member of the Core Four, Mariano Rivera, was unanimously chosen. Like Rivera, Jeter’s Hall of Fame case was a slam dunk:

  • 3,465 career hits (6th all-time)
  • 5 World Series rings
  • 1996 American League Rookie of the Year
  • 2000 All-Star Game MVP
  • 2000 World Series MVP
  • 14-time All-Star

Clearly, it wasn’t a matter of if he’d make it on the first ballot. Rather, would he also be a unanimous entrant? Nope. Just one of 397 voters did not vote for Jeter. Can’t wait to see whose bright idea that was.

Looking to attend Jeter’s induction? This year’s ceremony is at 1:30pm on Sunday, July 26th. It should be a massive turnout given the proximity of the Yankees’ fanbase and Jeter’s popularity.

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