The winners and losers of the Cliff Lee deal

32 Comments

The easy answer is that the Phillies and their fans are the biggest winners here. That goes without saying and explanation, I hope. But let’s look at the others in this epic story to see who comes out ahead and who comes out behind by Cliff Lee joining the Phillies:

WINNERS

Ruben Amaro: I said last night on Twitter that Amaro was a ninja for coming in so quietly for the kill. I’m thinking this morning that “ninja” doesn’t do it justice. Amaro is certainly not perfect as a GM — I still don’t like the Ryan Howard extension and his trading away of Cliff Lee last year cost him tens of millions of dollars to get him back — but in terms of approach and tightness of the ship he runs, Amaro is without peer. No one saw this coming before yesterday. No one believed it once it happened. Impressive.

The Red Sox: The Yankees didn’t get their man. They’re not done of course, but when your arch rival loses out on his primary objective, you can’t help but be happy. For the Yankees to improve their pitching staff now, they will have to give up talent. Talent which could have been used to make other moves later.

Andy Pettitte: This is bad for the Yankees, but good for the pocket book of the guy who this morning finds himself in much greater demand today than he was yesterday.

Carlos Ruiz: I lost it in the Twitter onslaught late last night, but someone made an excellent point: Chooch just has to sit back and catch the ball for seven or eight innings, four out of every five games. The men throwing it have a better plan than he could come up with on his own. And they’ll more often than not put it right where he places his glove.

The Rangers: I’ve said it multiple times, but they didn’t need Cliff Lee, even if it would have been nice to have him for a couple of years.  They don’t need the risk a six-year deal would have entailed. They have the pieces to compete in the AL West for several years. For them, losing out on Lee was really winning.

Any team shopping a starter: The Yankees, for the first time in modern memory, are desperate. I don’t want to overstate things — I’m sure Cashman and his guys thought about what might happen if they don’t get Lee — but they certainly need to deal. There are a lot of teams who will now reassess which of their pitchers are available in light of this deal.  I’ll throw one out there: Frank Wren: call Brian Cashman and see if he’ll take Derek Lowe’s entire contract off your hands!

LOSERS

The Yankees: for reasons stated.

The Braves and the rest of the NL East: I won’t suggest that having four aces will guarantee the Phillies the World Series — just ask the 1991-94 and 1996-2005 Braves how that worked out — but over the course of 162 games there is no way this rotation doesn’t grind their division rivals into dust. I suppose this is why God created the Wild Card.

LeBron James: See, it’s possible to take a bit less money and to go someplace where you’re not the top dog in the hopes of winning a title without being a deluded, self-important jerk about it. Really, if it wasn’t for “the Decision” James wouldn’t be getting the crap he’s getting. It was all about manner, not destination. Lee just made his decision and let the reporters take over. James could have done that too.

Playing card manufacturers: If someone hasn’t already placed a call to get a license for a deck of Phillies cards with Halladay, Lee, Hamels and Oswalt as the four aces then I don’t believe in humanity anymore.

I’m sure there are others, but those are all who spring to mind at the moment.

Derek Jeter: no longer the media’s darling

Getty Images
2 Comments

There was a time, not too long ago, where the baseball press practically gave Derek Jeter awards for providing them no information whatsoever. As a player, he turned not answering questions into an art form. To the point where, eventually, the press just stopped asking him substantive questions almost entirely.

Unlike a lot of players who shut out the media, Jeter did it rather politely, so he did not get that passive aggressive treatment — or, occasionally, the aggressive-aggressive treatment — the press often gives uncommunicative players. To the contrary. He was positively lauded for his lack of communication. Lionized, even.

Take this column from Jeff Peralman at CNN.com from 2014, under the headline “Derek Jeter: Baseball’s Humble Hero”:

Throughout the first 18 seasons of his career, Jeter has often been labeled “dull” by the media. His answers to questions are unimaginative and full of cliché baseball nothingness blather. In hindsight, however, such lameness is almost to be admired. We live in an era where too many athletes feel as if they need to draw attention to themselves — for confidence, for commercials. If you’re not tweeting trash talk, you’re texting trash talk. Or making bold promises. Or demanding money or respect . . . he’s a guy who merely wanted to be a guy.

How about this from the New York Times around the time of his retirement:

Jeter’s ability to maintain a posture of sustained inscrutability — or, if you must, dignified comportment — has extended especially to the spoken word . . . he has played his best defense in front of his locker: catching every controversial question thrown to him and tossing it aside as if it were a scuffed ball unsuitable for play.

In a major league career that dates to the Clinton administration’s first term — he is the only Yankees shortstop a generation of fans has known — inquiring reporters have gathered around Jeter in the clubhouse thousands of times. He has maintained eye contact, answered nearly every question posed to him — and said nothing. This is not a complaint, but rather an expression of awe; of admiration, even. His batting average and fielding percentage aside, this kid from Kalamazoo, Mich., entered the New York meat grinder two decades ago and came out the other end looking as sharp as Joe DiMaggio’s suit.

This opinion of Jeter was pervasive throughout his career, but especially pronounced at its end of it. Jeter was deified by the press for saying nothing to the press. Praised for making the media’s job harder by the media itself. That’s pretty amazing when you think about it.

Times, however, have changed.

Some minor grumbling about Jeter’s non-answers to media questions began soon after he took over as Marlins co-owner. Ken Davidoff of the New York Post wrote a column about it all back in October, saying Jeter’s “Crash Davis Rules of Media Relations don’t apply anymore.” Not too many people echoed that at the time, probably because it came in the wake of a pretty boring introductory press conference and the stakes were pretty low. I did wonder at the time, though, if the media was waiting to turn on Jeter once he actually started making moves in his new role.

I think we can now say the answer to that is yes.

In the wake of the Giancarlo Stanton trade, a lot of baseball writers had a lot of questions for Derek Jeter. Jeter, however, decided that he didn’t even need to show up here at the Winter Meetings to answer them, despite the fact that he lives just a couple of hours away.

On Monday morning Buster Olney of ESPN made conspicuous note of it:

Later in the day Jeter deigned to talk to the media via a conference call. As usual, he said mostly nothing, but unlike 1997, 2007 or 2014 (a) he got testy about it; and (b) the press made a note of it:

They likewise noted when he passed the buck to someone below him on the org chart:

Last night I think a dam broke, and I don’t think Jeter will ever be able to sweet non-talk his way out criticism again. It all happened at a football game:

To sum up:

  • Jeter is now bad for not talking to the press;
  • Jeter is not lauded for his composure anymore; and
  • Jeter is being called out as a poor leader who does not face the music.

What a difference a few years and a change of role makes.

All of which, one would think, would make me at least a little happy. I mean, I’ll totally own up to rolling my eyes at the kid glove treatment Jeter got back when he played. About how his attributes, however great, were elevated even above their actual greatness and how his faults were, perversely, spun into attributes. You’d expect that, in light of that, I’d be sorta pleased that the tables have turned.

I’m not happy, though. Indeed, I have something approaching sympathy for Captian Jeets.

Why? Because, while I’d like to see him face the press, defend his moves as owner and explain his vision to Marlins fans everywhere, I know that he cannot. I know that he has no good answers to any of the questions he might be asked because the real answer to all of them is “hey, we need to make money for the ownership group and everything flows from that” and that’s not an answer he’s prepared to give.

Have some sympathy for Derek Jeter. He’s really in a tough, tough spot. Even if he put himself into it.