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Off Season Thoughts

Baseball friends…it’s already December and the off season is in full swing. The Winter Meetings have passed and there have been big roster moves. The countdown to spring training and Opening Day have gotten a little closer and we can start to set our expectations for the 2015 season.

Personally, December has been a difficult month for me and many people close to me for many reasons – which is why I haven’t written anything in more than two weeks. While dealing with these difficulties, I’ve of course followed baseball news and have some thoughts on the off season so far. Some of these topics could be an entire post themselves, but here are the highlights –

Corey Kluber wins the A.L. Cy Young Award

Cleveland is my hometown, and I couldn’t be more excited about this. Throughout the season, a friend and I often discussed the possibility of Kluber winning and both thought that if it didn’t happen this year, it never would. No, we don’t have psychic abilities and have no idea how his career will progress from here, but it was a gut feeling for both of us. Unfortunately, I do not see the Indians being a big threat in 2015 – but I do believe they will be a decent team. Kluber winning the Cy Young is great for team morale, and great for the city of Cleveland. (I’m over Lebron’s “coming home” – it’s time to get excited about Kluber/the Indians.)

Nelson Cruz signs with the Seattle Mariners

There’s a lot I could say about this, and not much of it is good. It’s not that I have anything against the Mariners, or free agency, or even any of the details of the deal (4 years, $57 million). It does piss the Orioles fan in me off that he didn’t seem to give much consideration to staying in Baltimore after they were seemingly the only team who would sign him after his PED suspension.

Nick Markakis signs with the Atlanta Braves

This move hurts – it’s like your best friend is moving away. I’m not sure there was any other guy on the team more well liked and respected than Markakis. Since he was drafted by the Orioles, he’s been a solid part of the team and, along with his wife, has been very involved with the community. He seems like an all around nice guy. I fully expected him to retire as an Oriole and see him at team celebrations in the future beside Cal Ripken. Going to Atlanta means going home for him, but he will truly be missed in Maryland. Fans have already said they were putting their Markakis shirts away – for now – but that his name would always be popular in Baltimore. To me, that shows just how well this guy is liked here.

New York Yankees trade Shane Greene to the Detroit Tigers

I’m not sure what it was about the kid, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching Greene pitch this year! Obviously, the Tigers also really liked him, and I definitely understand his trade value. Aside from a few rough patches (which I attribute to age and inexperience in the major league), he was a pretty solid pitcher for the Yankees. I saw a lot of potential in him and expected him to continue to develop into a strong pitcher – and still do, although he’ll be doing so for another team.

David Robertson signs with the Chicago White Sox

At the top of my off season wish list was for the Yankees to resign Robertson. (I wrote about how that should have actually happened months ago.) Of all days, it was my birthday when I woke up to see the report that Robertson signed with the White Sox – of all teams in Major League Baseball. (There are two MLB teams I hate – the Red Sox, and the White Sox.) The only thing that made me hate this deal more was hearing reports that the Yankees met with Robertson/his representative(s) only to tell him they would not be making him an offer. I’m not saying he’s the best pitcher in the world, and I’m not even sure he’s worth the money he will be making ($46 million for 4 years), but he was a product of the Yankees farm system and learned from the greatest closer ever. While I love Brett Gardner, it’s a little disappointing to think he’s the only veteran homegrown Yankee.

Chase Headley signs with the New York Yankees

This deal makes a lot of sense. Headley may not be the most outstanding third baseman in history, but he was very reliable after being traded from the Padres. Something very important he brings to the team that no stat can reflect is his enthusiasm – which most of the team seemed to seriously lack last year. He seems like a great guy to have in the clubhouse and was one of the first players to celebrate any victory last season. With Francisco Cervelli gone, the team needs someone who will get excited and fire up other teammates.
What I dislike about this deal is the intense focus on what it means for Alex Rodriguez. While I am one of the biggest Rodriguez fans ever, Headley’s return really isn’t about him (and so far he’s said nothing – so he isn’t making it about himself). Of course this is a topic that would eventually be discussed. Instead of overshadowing Headley’s return with speculation about Rodriguez’s future, just let Headley have his day. The Rodriguez story will inevitably come up again, but for now it should be about Chase Headley, his return, and what he will bring to the team.

There’s still plenty of off season left, but just remember – spring training is getting a little closer each day!

The Case for David Robertson

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One of the great stresses I have experienced at the end of this season, and into this off season, is the question about who the Yankees closer will be in 2015. I’ve said in the past that I was impressed with David Robertson’s performance as closer this season, and that I am hopefully he somehow remains on the team for next season – or better yet, many more seasons down the road.

Reports indicate that the Yankees will make a qualifying offer to Robertson tomorrow – at this year’s cost of $15.3 million. I’m still in shock over the price of qualifying offers for this year, but I still feel this is a deal worth at least considering.

I don’t understand why the Yankees haven’t already signed this deal like they did earlier this year with Brett Gardner. Both Robertson and Gardner have come up through the Yankee system, and are valuable parts of the team in their own way. Even with the uncertainty of whether Robertson would be able to fill the void left by Mariano Rivera retiring, he was still a valuable relief pitcher as Rivera’s setup man, and during his previous five years pitching at the major league level.

It wasn’t until the end of spring training that the Yankees decided Robertson would in fact be the closer in 2014, but he lasted the full season and produced very respectable numbers. His record from the season was 4-5 with a 3.08 ERA and 39 saves in 44 chances. While several sources expected him to easily earn 40 saves during the season, 39 saves is the 3rd highest save total in the American League – or tied for 8th highest in both leagues (with Steve Chishek and Jonathan Pabelbon). He wasn’t always perfect, but that’s not a bad year. There were a few blown saves (I saw one in person in Baltimore – I think all of Camden Yards could hear my heart breaking) and there were runners on base a little more than fans would like. Quite honestly, no one is perfect, and he had big shoes to fill.

After he retired, Mariano Rivera wrote a book called The Closer. In the book, he refers to David Robertson as “my bullpen buddy.” It’s a nice image – a baseball legend in his final seasons, sitting next to the young pitcher who very well may take his job. But it’s more than just a friendship – it’s David Robertson literally sitting next to greatness.

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There’s no doubt that Mariano Rivera is the greatest closer in this history of the game. Fans who hate the Yankees even admit that – because he was an extraordinary pitcher, is a wonderful man in general, and there will never be anyone like him. There is likely one pitcher in the world (Robertson) who can say he learned how to do his job from the greatest ever.

But there’s the money, and $15.3 million is a lot of money – a whole lot more than the $5.25 million Robertson made this year. Are pitchers worth that much? Is a relief pitcher worth that much? Is David Robertson worth that much?

To put it in perspective, Mariano Rivera did not make $15 million a season until 2008 – when he was in his 13th year and the world already knew he was going down in baseball history.

Yankees management stated an intent to bring the payroll under $189 million. It’s a nice goal – but in reality, it’s not going to happen anytime soon. There were already multiple bad contracts in place with players making far too much money for what they were producing on the field. More big contracts were handed out with the signing of Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brian McCann, plus the Brett Gardner 4 year extension. If the Yankees want to get under $189 million, they need to be realistic about the contracts in place now, and realize it’s not going to happen for several years.

So now we’re at the eve of the alleged $15.3 million qualifying offer. Do the Yankees actually make the offer? Does David Robertson accept the offer?

If the Yankees do in fact present Robertson with a qualifying offer, I think it shows they’re serious about wanting him back on the team next year.

Robertson could take the offer and make a huge sum of money – and likely more money for one season than any other deal would get him. But, it is a one year deal and he would go through all the uncertainty again next season (bring me and my nerves right along with him).

Alternatively, what if he leaves? The obvious choice is to have Dellin Betances take over as closer. No doubt he’s been great this year – but he only has 3 years and 78 games of experience. There’s a chance he could become a closer in the future – but in his career he has only one save to date (which I actually saw in Cleveland this past July). Before Robertson officially became the closer, he had 8 saves in 6 seasons. If there was uncertainty surrounding Robertson last year, it seems logical for even more uncertainty about Betances.

Also if Robertson leaves, there is a good chance he comes back to face the Yankees wearing another uniform. If he doesn’t sign with New York, outside interest will certainly be there – look at the bullpen collapses in the playoffs this year (Detroit particularly comes to mind). Do the Yankees want to take that risk?

There is the saying “you can never have enough pitching” and that is becoming especially true in recent seasons. The one strength the Yankees had this year was pitching. The big bats who were supposed to be hitting the homeruns and driving in runs did not produce. There are a few big name pitchers who are free agents this off season, and there are rumors the Yankees may be interested. Is it worth the risk to sign a big name (and therefore big money) starter and risk a weaker bullpen? Think again about the Tigers in the ALDS and their trio of Cy Young starters.

Yes, we have Betances. Yes, there are great pitchers coming up through the farm system now. Currently, we have some pitching strength and a now proven closer other teams will be jumping to sign if he walks. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Ideally, I would actually like Robertson to decline the qualifying offer and work out a deal with the Yankees to stay for a few more years. I think it gives both sides a little more confidence going forward. Yankees should have made this deal months ago – but hopefully they get it right now.