Rangers bankruptcy judge absolutely reams Chuck Greenberg

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As I said this morning, the bankruptcy judge presiding over the Rangers case had initially set the hearing for July 9th, switched it to July 22nd, but then today switched it back to July 9th after Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan moved him to do so in order to make sure they can own the team before the trade deadline rolls around.  Schedules just kind of jump around like that in litigation, and as I said before, it’s not of great consequence.  What can be of great consequence, however, is the machinations behind the changing of the schedules, and on that score Chuck Greenberg may have just shot himself in the foot.

According to Evan Grant, when the judge initially pushed the schedule back to July 22nd, Chuck Greenberg said, audibly, and in open court, “Rome is burning.”  See, that was really stupid, because rather than merely to serve as a means of voicing his displeasure at the schedule, it served to directly insult the judge. That phrase does not say “but we need to move more quickly.”  It says “you, judge, are like Emperor Nero. You’re a careless tyrant who does not care that the city is burning down while you sit and fiddle.”

This is not mere speculation on my part. You see, I once filed a brief in court in which I made reference to “Rome burning” in an effort to get the case moved along more quickly.  It wasn’t really my choice — higher ups and the client inserted the phrase and demanded that it stay in there — but my name was on the brief and I was responsible for its contents. I should have deleted it, though.

Why? Because the day it was filed I was called down to the judge’s chambers and was torn a new one. The judge saw it as his integrity and his character being called out. Saying “Rome is burning” to a judge is like using the magic words on an umpire (See “Bull Durham” for what those words are). He also told me that if he really thought I was the one who wrote the phrase — which he didn’t, because he was basically aware of who was really calling the shots — he would have held me in contempt. As it was, it was a pretty stark lesson in professional decorum.

While the Rangers judge ultimately moved the hearing date at Greenberg’s request, he clearly felt the same way about the motion and, in all likelihood, the “Rome is burning line” as my judge did. Just listen to what he said today:

“You need to understand that this court will decide whether to
approve this plan . . . and will not decide based on what the fans want . . . what the media wants . . . what Mr. Nolan and Mr. Greenberg want . . . or what Bud Selig wants. If the
plan fails to meet (the requirements of the bankruptcy code), I will deny
confirmation and we will be back to square one, and it will be on the
head of those who supported this motion . . . For the sake of the Rangers, I do not want to
see this team stuck in Chapter 11 until this fall. You guys
— not me — you guys are the ones who pushed for this date.”

Does that mean that the judge won’t ultimately approve the plan and let the team get sold?  No. But based on those comments I think it’s clear that the judge will be much more critical of it than he would have been otherwise.  What he said was, without question, a warning to that effect.  And you can probably bet the farm that if there are minor differences between the creditors and the Rangers following the mediation, the judge will be inclined to rule in the creditors favor, potentially costing the Rangers some money and maybe some time. 

But even if it doesn’t, what does this say about Chuck Greenberg? I understand his sense of urgency here, and Rangers fans should be
pleased that he’s fighting hard to get this done. But he’s a lawyer, remember. One with far more experience than I have and who should therefore know far better than I do about how one should and one shouldn’t talk to a judge. By forgetting that these past few days he and his team really got under the judge’s skin here, and did so needlessly.

Despite doing so, he won the battle over the case schedule.  But did he unnecessarily risk losing the war?

The Marlins have made a “monster offer” for Kenley Jansen

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 18:  Kenley Jansen #74 of the Los Angeles Dodgers delivers a pitch against the Chicago Cubs in the eighth inning of game three of the National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium on October 18, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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OXON HILL, MD — The morning after Aroldis Chapman signed for a record $86 million, the Miami Marlins are reported to have made similarly lucrative offer to the other top free agent closer, Kenley Jansen.

Jeff Passan of Yahoo says that the Marlins have made “a monster offer” of five years and more than $80 million to Jansen. This despite the fact that the club is coming off of a 79-win season and, tragically, lost their top pitcher Jose Fernandez in a fatal boating accident, which will substantially harm their competitive prospects. While it seems like a stretch to say that the Yankees will compete for a playoff spot, thereby making such an historically large investment in a closer a bit suspect, the Marlins doing so is even more questionable.

Meanwhile, the Nationals are said to be interested in Jansen as well, though Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post says the Nats are “uncomfortable” with the financial commitment signing him would require.

Jansen most recently pitched for the Dodgers and there have been no reports that they’re totally out on him, but there has been nothing to suggest that they are pushing hard for him either.

Jansen, 29, finished this past season with 47 saves, a 1.83 ERA, and a 104/11 K/BB ratio in 68.2 innings. That’s not quite Aroldis Chapman good, but he seems poised to collect something close to Aroldis Chapman money.

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.