The State of the Yankees

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Joe Girardi had his annual beginning-of-spring-training news conference yesterday. Marc Carig of the Star Ledger was there. The highlights:

  • Nick Johnson and Curtis Granderson are the top
    candidates for the second slot in the order. I’d probably just plug Johnson and his uber-OBP into that slot, but I assume that Girardi is at least a minor devotee to the “you can’t clog the basepaths” school of thought. My guess is that Granderson is there against right-handers and Johnson there against lefties.
  • Girardi said he’s not going to go crazy pitting Hughes against Joba from the beginning of camp. Rather, he’s going to let them ease into things. Ultimately he wants to make his choice for the fifth starter’s slot decided by March 25th, but if it isn’t it isn’t.  I get the feeling that absent one of them simply throwing bullets in an unprecedented fashion, each of them are going to see some time starting this season. Whatever the case, I’m having a hard time getting excited about this competition. I want Joba to get a clear shot because I think he has more upside, but they’re both good pitchers and these things have a way of sorting themselves out.
  • Granderson and Gardner will both get looks in center and left and Girardi may shift Granderson back and forth during the season.  Based on how many “Granderson is open to playing left field” stories we’ve seen in the last week, however, one gets the sense that the decision has already been made. Girardi says it may turn on who can play left better. Which the cynical side of me sees as a way of saying that Granderson “won” the LF job instead of saying he was moved off of CF. Not that Granderson seems like the kind of guy whose ego needed tended or anything.
  • Girardi is not concerned about the team growing complacent after winning the World Championship.  I realize no one ever knows what goes on in someone’s head, but can anyone point to a team that truly did grow complacent after winning a championship?  These guys are all pros and work hard. Winning a championship is really, really difficult. Things happen. “Complacency” always strikes me as a post-hoc rationalization for why a team fails to repeat. OK, maybe the 1979 Pirates if you count doing mountains of cocaine “complacency” but we’re in a very different era now. Everyone’s in camp more than a week before they have to be. Most guys work their tails off.
  • Girardi is happy that Alex Rodriguez can just focus on baseball and be a leader now. What a difference a year makes. Remember when people were saying that the Yankees would be better off with Colby Rasmus Cody Ransom [whoever] at third as opposed to “A-Fraud?” In other news, absent a 200 point dip in team batting average, I think Mark McGwire will be OK pretty soon.
  • Carig also did something cool: he asked Giradi questions people suggested to him on Twitter.  Sadly, he did not ask the one I suggested to him, which was asking Girardi if he thinks that the 1961-63 Yankees’ success was due to Ralph Houk being at the helm. Marc said I’d have to ask him that one myself when I get down to Tampa in March.

How much ya gimme?

Mike Trout has no interest in being a superstar

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At The Ringer, Michael Baumann published a terrific feature on Angels outfielder Mike Trout. Trout, 25, is a two-time American League MVP Award-winner and the 2012 AL Rookie of the Year Award winner. He’s already the greatest position player of his generation and is well on his way to becoming one of the greatest baseball players of all time.

Recently, I ruffled a few feathers here by calling Trout boring. ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick said as much last year. And the simple truth is that, for reasons Baumann explains, he is boring by choice. Trout wants to be a role model for kids. His agent Craig Landis said, “I have Little League and high school coaches come up to me all the time and tell me that they tell their kids, ‘This is how you do it. Period. In all aspects. This is your role model.'” Trout is the only active big league client Landis has. If he wanted to, Trout could have super-agent Scott Boras on bended knee begging for him to sign.

Trout is friendly to everyone and doesn’t come close to controversy when he speaks to the media. The most controversial thing Trout has said, Baumann recalls, is that his go-to order at Wawa is chicken noodle soup. For the uninitiated, Wawa is a popular gas station-slash-convenience store in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey as well as Maryland, Virginia, and Florida. Wawa is known for its coffee and its hoagies, even starting “Hoagiefest” almost a decade ago offering discounts on hoagies to its patrons. To go to Wawa just to get chicken noodle soup is akin to sacrilege — just ask any Wawa devotee. There are lots of them.

Trout does not bark at other players for playing the game differently, more emotionally. He himself doesn’t celebrate wildly when he does something great on the field, which happens to be quite often. He has taken what is, for a player of his stature, the bare minimum in endorsement deals.

It is a shame for Major League Baseball, and for its fans, that Trout has no interest in becoming a superstar. As you’ve no doubt read here, baseball has had trouble reaching younger audiences. The only sports with a lower percentage of kids 17 years of age or younger watching are golf and NASCAR. 17 percent of those aged 18-34 watch baseball, a far cry from the NBA’s 32 percent and the NHL’s 28 percent. When I was a kid, Ken Griffey, Jr. was arguably the most popular athlete among my peers. We imitated his batting stance when we played backyard baseball and stepped into the batter’s box in Little League. MLB marketed him like no baseball player had ever been marketed before, bringing him into our households on a regular basis. Griffey was in countless commercials, put his face on video games, and was a pop culture personality. Today, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a kid who cares who Mike Trout is — or even Bryce Harper or Clayton Kershaw, for that matter — because they’re watching basketball, football, YouTube, Twitch and numerous other venues of entertainment. And MLB hasn’t made much of an effort to capture their attention.

Major League Baseball should be beating down our doors attempting to show us Trout’s otherworldly talent. Unfortunately, Trout has no interest in becoming the face of the sport the way Griffey did.

Rougned Odor received two horses as part of his contract extension with Rangers

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Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor reached an agreement with the Rangers on a six-year, $49.5 million contract extension. It was announced on Saturday and finalized on Thursday. The contract is pretty typical — a signing bonus, escalating salaries each year — except for one thing: Odor received two elite horses as well, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports.

Here are those horses, per Jared Sandler of 1053 The Fan:

Players do sometimes get perks as part of their contracts. Usually it’s mundane stuff like extra game tickets for family and friends, use of a suite, limo rides, or plane tickets. Sometimes they can get rather specific. For example, in 2005, Troy Glaus got $250,000 per year in “personal business expenses” from the Diamondbacks, which was for his wife’s equestrian training. Hall of Famer George Brett got a 10 percent stake in an apartment complex in Memphis when he signed an extension with the Royals in the mid-1980’s. But as far as my research was able to go, no one received any horses, so that’s new.

Of course, the Rangers certainly think Odor is worth the perks. Last season, Odor hit .271/.296/.502 with 33 home runs, 88 RBI, 89 runs scored, and 14 stolen bases in 632 plate appearances. And at just 23 years old, he has plenty of room to improve.