George Steinbrenner: 1930-2010

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The news is everywhere now. George Steinbrenner has died.

My spiritual beliefs are, at best, conflicted, but I comfort myself with the idea of a great Baseball Valhalla in which all of those who made their mark on the game — for better and for worse — and have since passed now reside. I picture a nice calm, composed and orderly person working the front of the room. Maybe Branch Rickey.  He makes sure no one gets too loud and everyone is sitting at the right table.

That man’s world changed this morning, because Big Stein just opened the door, demanded a seat near the stage, started ordering stuff that’s not on the menu and slipped a twenty to the bandleader to play something with some pep.

In so doing he’d only be keeping true to form.  As we’ll hear over and over again in the coming days, George Steinbrenner changed everything about baseball. He did so without apology.  He did so for one simple reason: because he wanted to win. He was greedy for victory and glory, and in saying so I don’t think I’m saying anything with which he would disagree.  He bought a sports team. The object of sports is to win. Anyone not greedy for such a thing got into the business for the wrong reasons.

I’m not a believer in whitewashing things when someone dies because the last thing we should be doing when we lose someone is telling lies that push their true essence further away from us. To ignore the unpleasant facts — that Steinbrenner was pain in the ass; that his ethics left much to be desired; that for a good decade there he did more to impede the Yankees’ on-the-field success than he did to help it — would be to lose the man a second time, first in body then in spirit.  He was what he was.

And what he was, contrary to what many people have said for so many years, was good for the game of baseball.  For decades before his arrival on the scene — and for some time afterwards, actually — baseball was a boy’s club of collusion and gentleman’s agreements that did far more harm than good.  George Steinbrenner was no gentleman, thank God, because if he was there’s a good chance that players would still be making terrible money and monied old blue-bloods would be agreeing who should play where, to the competitive detriment of the game.

Steinbrenner wasn’t a point man on free agency, but if it wasn’t for him it may very well have been a different beast.  It was Steinbrenner who gave Catfish Hunter that million dollar deal when Charlie O. Finely frittered away his monopolistic rights on Hunter’s contract.  It was Steinbrenner who went after Reggie Jackson, making one of free agency’s first big splashes.  It was Steinbrenner’s money and willingness to use it that caused the other owners to launch a collusion scheme in the 80s that ended up busting the free market open wider for the players in the long run than might have otherwise happened. Steinbrenner wasn’t a saint here — he grudgingly went along with collusion — but he was certainly a prime actor in forming the current free and, in my opinion anyway, fair market labor faces today, and that’s been good for the game overall.

And of course his impact on the Yankees is incalculable. Books have been written about what Steinbrenner meant to the Yankees and what the Yankees mean to baseball.  Many of us chafe at their hegemony, but baseball in the 20th and early 21st centuries cannot be understood without reference to that team, and while there was a brief ten or eleven year respite in the 60s and 70s, most of us living today came to baseball in a Yankees-dominated world in one form or another.  We may not love baseball because of that, but it certainly hasn’t prevented us from loving it either, no matter how much we grouse.

But there’s plenty of time to reflect on his objective legacy, and I’m sure we’ll be doing that more as the day goes on.  In the meantime, we should all just reflect on the force of nature that was George Steinbrenner. The flair. Flair which, truth be told, I figured would have had him dying on the eve of the seventh game of the World Series.
Or maybe on Opening Day. But All-Star day is pretty good too, as
far as these things go.

“Waiter! Keep that shrimp cocktail coming! Don’t you know who I AM!”

Yes, we do Mr. Steinbrenner. Yes we do.

Dallas Keuchel, Astros did talk long-term contract

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Dallas Keuchel‘s agent Darek Braunecker told MLB Network Radio in early January that he had not engaged in any long-term contract negotiations with the Astros’ front office. Two weeks later, the sides reached a one-year, $7.25 million agreement, avoiding a salary arbitration hearing. So was a bigger financial commitment ever discussed?

Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle has the answer, writing in his offseason review that the “Astros and Keuchel have had substantial talks about extensions [this winter] … but to no avail.”

Keuchel carries all the leverage in the world after winning the 2015 American League Cy Young Award with a 2.48 ERA, 1.017 WHIP, and 216/51 K/BB ratio in 232 innings. He also made three appearances in the postseason to a 2.57 ERA in 14 frames.

Keuchel’s $7.25 million salary for 2016 will be a record for a player in his first year of arbitration eligibility. Locking up some of his free agent years (2019, 2020, 2021, etc.) would likely take a commitment of $120 million or more.

Houston has the 28-year-old left-hander under contractual control through 2018, and it sounds like the plan is to go season-to-season with his salaries.

He’ll remain a huge value to a good-looking Astros team.

Yadier Molina gets cast removed from surgically-repaired thumb

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Yadier Molina underwent surgery to repair a ligament tear in his right thumb shortly after the Cardinals were eliminated from the NLDS by the Cubs, and then he needed a followup procedure two months later.

It’s been an offseason of rest and rehab for the seven-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glover, though he’s about ready to ramp up the intensity of workouts with the beginning of spring training approaching …

Brayan Pena was signed to a two-year, $5 million free agent contract this winter to provide more reliable depth behind the plate. He’ll be the Cardinals’ starter at catcher come Opening Day if Yadi isn’t quite ready.

Molina started a whopping 131 games behind the plate in 2015.

Jose Fernandez wants $30 million a year, Marlins don’t plan on paying

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You’ve heard the stories by now. Jose Fernandez does not get along with Marlins management and is doubtful to sign a long-term contract with the team.

There’s still time for those relationships to be repaired — Fernandez can’t become a free agent until after the 2018 season — but we also have a monetary issue at play.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald writes Sunday that the Marlins are “under the impression” Fernandez and his representatives want $30 million per year on a long-term deal, a figure the Marlins “have no plans to meet.”

If the Marlins won’t pay, Fernandez and his reps will seek that number when the ace right-hander reaches free agency. That could be the same offseason Bryce Harper tries for $500 million.

A friend of Fernandez told Jackson that the 23-year-old native of Cuba was upset about some of the trades the Marlins made last summer and the removal of pitching coach Chuck Hernandez. You probably heard talk of Miami shopping Fernandez this winter, but the asking price was predictably sky-high.

Fernandez has been limited to 19 starts over the last two years because of Tommy John surgery and a biceps injury, but he boasts a stellar 2.40 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and 10.5 K/9 in 289 career major league frames. He will make $2.8 million in 2016 and carries two more years of arbitration eligibility.

If he can put together a run of 30-start, 200-inning seasons, Fernandez will get that $30 million per year and probably much more.

Michael Brantley’s timetable off shoulder surgery is “hazy”

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Paul Hoynes at the Cleveland Plain Dealer has an in-depth look at how the Indians will manage their outfield during the early part of the 2016 season, in the absence of star Michael Brantley.

Brantley underwent labrum surgery on his right shoulder this past November and has not picked up a bat all winter. “In the off-season people know I love to hit,” Brantley acknowledged to Hoynes late last week. ”I hit a lot. It’s just been a change in my timetable.”

Hoynes says the projected date for Brantley’s 2016 debut is “hazy,” guessing that it might happen around late April or early May if everything continues to go smoothly. Shoulders can be tricky, for hitters and pitchers.

Rajai Davis, Abraham Almonte, and Lonnie Chisenhall figure to make up Cleveland’s primary starting outfield while Brantley is finishing his rehabilitation. Collin Cowgill and Joey Butler could also be in the mix. It’s a lacking group, tasked with replacing one of the most productive players in baseball.

Brantley, 28, has slashed .319/.382/.494 over the last two seasons, tallying 35 home runs, 90 doubles, 181 RBI, and 38 stolen bases in 293 games.

Could the talented Tribe be in for another slow start?

Shouldn’t this club be spending more money?