Aces

The winners and losers of the Cliff Lee deal

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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.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.