Report: John Russell is on the hot seat in Pittsburgh

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Ah, the beauty of conflicting reports.

Ken Rosenthal says that the Pirates  “are holding internal discussions about the immediate future of manager
John Russell,” and suggests that he doesn’t have long before he’s fired.  As soon as that report dropped, however, Buster Olney called up Pirates’ President Frank Coonelly, who said that “there is absolutely nothing to the speculation” that the Pirates might change managers. Dejan Kovacevic chimed in later with a report similar to Buster’s, also citing Coonelly. 

I have full faith that, as the day unwinds, people will grant Buster and
Dejan’s reports more credence and will refer to Rosenthal’s report as wrong or bogus or whatever, because that’s just how these things work.  And I’m not just saying this because it’s what happened with my Oswalt report from the other day. It always works this way no matter who the reporters in question are: if an initial report is denied by team management, most people dismiss the initial report as false.

Question: Why are we so quick to dismiss those initial reports? Sure, sometimes it makes sense. People do make up stuff. Even solid reporters get these things wrong from time to time. And of course, you have to at least start from the position of believing what the teams say or else you’ll just burn up in a fiery little ball of cynicism, and that’s not cool. But I can’t help but think that, in many cases — especially in cases where the team has an incentive to be less than forthcoming — some healthy skepticism of management’s word is in order.

This is certainly the case with Rosenthal’s report. Doesn’t it make sense that Frank Coonelly has every reason to deny a report regarding deliberations over the fate of John Russell, even if the reports are true?  For that matter, doesn’t it makes sense that the Rangers have every reason to deny that they’re talking about getting Roy Oswalt if they think that Major League Baseball ultimately won’t let them do it because of their screwed up financial state?  It’s bad for the teams for reports like these to come out because it could cause internal dissension in the case of the Pirates and could serve to discourage the fans in the case of the Rangers.

I can’t speak for the righteousness of Rosenthal’s report, but I think that he has earned some benefit of the doubt when it comes to this sort of thing. He’s gotten things wrong before, but so has every other reporter, Buster Olney and Dejan Kovacevic included. Internal meetings about personnel moves are exactly the sorts of things about which people talk out of school, usually anonymously. When you throw in the fact that Coonelly’s denial has to be viewed as somewhat self-serving — even if Coonelly is telling the truth — I can’t see any reason to reject Rosenthal’s report out-of-hand.

My point, I guess, is that while we all get uneasy with anonymous sources passing along rumors and should be less-than-totally-credulous when we hear such rumors, it’s quite often the case that those sources have no reason to lie. I see no reason why we should be any more credulous when management says something to the contrary in situations when it has an incentive to be less-than-forthcoming.

That rant aside, I don’t think John Russell has committed any crimes against baseball humanity, but I don’t see any compelling reason to keep him around either.  Given where the team is right now it’s a 100% certainty that he will not be around the next time the Pirates contend for anything (heck, my grandchildren might not be around then either).  Because of that, he will be fired at some point. Why not now, when a bunch of young prospects like Pedro Alvarez, Jose Tabata and Brad Lincoln are coming up?  Seems like a natural rebooting point, no?

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.