Esquire: "Tony La Russa can't win at anything that counts"

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My take on Tony La Russa: he’s a bizarre, often humorless and mildly unpleasant guy who manages in ways that aren’t aesthetically pleasing to me. But Charles Pierce at Esquire Magazine makes me look like La Russa’s P.R. director:

But the truly remarkable thing about La Russa is his rather unspectacular record at winning anything that counts. Eugene McCarthy once said of Walter Mondale that the latter “had the soul of a vice-president.” Tony La Russa has the soul of a semifinalist. Yes, he’s won a couple World Series — the same number as have Cito Gaston and Terry Francona . . .

. . . What more ably limns La Russa’s career, however, is his remarkable inability to win with talent . . . since moving his law degree and (as far as I know) his ballet school T-shirt to St. Louis, La Russa holds the distinction of bringing into the 2004 World Series against the Red Sox perhaps the least well-prepared 105-win team in baseball history.

I hate to defend La Russa — like I said, I really don’t like the guy — but this is an outrageous reach. The author here is simply trying his best to be provocative while completely failing to acknowledge the nature of the playoffs (i.e. that they’re subject to wildly random fluctuations of luck and circumstance). Even I, an avowed La Russa loather, appreciates that he’s a Hall of Fame manager.

Heck, he has one more ring than my team’s Hall of Fame manager has, and I’d say that my team’s Hall of Fame manager has, over the course of his career, had more talent than La Russa has. Indeed, it’s pretty tough to make an argument that any manager over the past quarter century has been better than old Tony. At most it’s a three-way argument between him, Cox and Torre, quite possibly in that order.

I got all kinds of guff for that Jeter piece the other day. The difference between this and that, however, is that when I’m trying to stir the pot, I’m not going to misrepresent a guy’s record on the field. Indeed, even when I’m messing with Jeter and his many, many fans, I’ll be the first to acknowledge his greatness as a ballplayer.

By the same token, it’s a free country and you can hate on Tony La Russa all you want. But you gotta do way better than this guy at Esquire does in order to even begin to argue that La Russa is not a great manager, let alone make a convincing argument.

The Yankees are paying $86 million for a one-inning reliever

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OXON HILL, MD — The Yankees signing of Aroldis Chapman late Wednesday night came as something of a surprise. And the money — $86 million — was something of a shock. Yes, we knew that Chapman was going to break the bank and likely set a record as the highest paid relief pitcher in history, but seeing it in black and white like that is still rather jarring.

In the coming days, many people who attempt to analyze and contextualize this signing will do so by pointing to the 2016 playoffs and the unconventional use of relievers by Terry Francona and the Indians and Joe Maddon of the Cubs. They’ll talk about how the paradigm of bullpen use has shifted and how relief pitchers have taken on a new importance in today’s game. Chapman’s astronomical salary, therefore, will be described as somehow more reasonable and somewhat less shocking than it first seems.

Don’t buy that jive for a second.

Yes, Andrew Miller and, to some extent, Chapman himself were used unconventionally in the 2016 playoffs, but not long into the 2017 season we will see that as an exception, not the rule. And not just because Chapman showed himself unable to hold up to that level of use in the playoffs. It will be the exception because the Yankees have shown no inclination whatsoever to deviate from traditional bullpen usage in the past and there is no reason to expect that they will do so with Chapman in the future.

As you no doubt remember, the Yankees had Chapman, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller for the first half of 2016. Such an imposing back end of a bullpen has rarely been seen in recent history. All of them, however, were used, more or less, as one-inning-a-piece guys and no real effort was ever made to break any bullpen usage paradigms or to shorten games the way many applauded Terry Francona for doing in the playoffs.

Miller pitched 44 games for the Yankees, totaling 45.1 innings. He pitched more than a single inning on only three occasions. Chapman pitched 31 games for the Yankees, amassing 31.1 innings. He was used for more than one inning only twice. Betances worked in 73 games, totaling 73 innings. On 11 occasions he pitched more than one inning.  It was unconventional for a team to have three relievers that good, but they were not, in any way, used unconventionally. Nor is there any reason to expect Chapman to be used unconventionally in 2017, especially given that Miller is not around and Chapman has shown no real ability to be stretched for multiple innings for a sustained period.

None of which is to say that having Chapman around is a bad thing or that he is any less of a closer than his reputation suggests. It’s merely to say that the Yankees paying Chapman unprecedented money for a closer should not be justified by the alleged new importance of relief pitchers or that changing role for them we heard so much about in the playoffs. Indeed, I suspect that that changing role applies only to pitcher use in the playoffs. And I do not suspect that this transaction alone pushes the Yankees into serious playoff contention, making that temporary unconventionality something of a moot point in New York for the foreseeable future.

It is almost certain that the Yankees are paying $86 million for the same one-inning closer Aroldis Chapman has been for his entire seven-year career. His contract may or may not prove to be a good one for New York based on how he performs, but don’t let anyone tell you now, in Decemeber 2016, that it’s better than you think because Chapman will somehow transform into a 1970s-style relief ace or something.

Report: Yankees sign Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $86 million deal

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Update (12:02 AM EST): Rosenthal adds that Chapman’s contract includes an opt-out clause after three seasons, a full no-trade clause for the first three years of the contract, and a limited no-trade clause for the final two years.

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Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Yankees have signed closer Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $86 million contract. Mark Melancon recently set the record for a contract earned by a reliever at $62 million over four years. Chapman blew that out of the water and many are surprised he didn’t fetch more.

Chapman, 28, began the 2016 season with the Yankees but he was traded to the Cubs near the end of July in exchange for four prospects. The Cubs, of course, would go on to win the World Series in large part due to Chapman. The lefty finished the regular season with a 1.55 ERA, 36 saves, and a 90/18 K/BB ratio in 58 innings between the two teams.

Chapman was the best reliever on the free agent market and, because he was traded midseason, he didn’t have draft pick compensation attached to him.

The Yankees don’t seem to be deterred by Chapman’s domestic violence issue from last offseason, resulting in a 30-game suspension to begin the 2016 regular season.