The Changing of the Old Guard

 

The recent news regarding the retirement of Mark Texeira and Alex Rodriguez marks the official end of the George Steinbrenner era. The Yankees are now entering the Hal Steinbrenner era: where every risk is calculated, and money is being spent more wisely. Rodriguez and Texeira are remnants of an era in which the Yankees shelled out top dollar for players based on past performance. More often than not, the second half of these massive contracts had the Yankees overpaying former stars whose best days were behind them. Texeira because of injury, and Rodriguez because of age, but neither of these former stars have played well enough to warrant consistent playing time this season. George wanted to win, and decided the best way to go about this was to shell out top dollar to acquire premier players. The biggest problem with using this strategy recently is that the MLB has employed a revenue sharing system. The teams that exceed a certain payroll figure (The Yankees have every season since the adoption of this rule) must pay a luxury tax, which is then distributed amongst the teams below the luxury tax threshold. Revenue sharing has effectively evened the playing field of Major League Baseball. The first signs that outspending everybody in order to win is not a sustainable strategy is the 2003 World Series. The Yankees, having the highest payroll in baseball by a wide margin were outplayed by the Florida Marlins, a small market team with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball. The Yankees were literally paying for some of the Marlins’ salaries due to luxury taxes being distributed to the Marlins.


With the recent trades of Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, Carlos Beltran, and Ivan Nova, the Yankees got younger, and have set themselves up quite nicely for the future. The Yankees of the 1990’s (Jeter, Bernie, Pettitte, Mariano, Posada) were built during a time in which George Steinbrenner was banned from the daily operations of the team. The Yankees were able to pull themselves out of the worst era in franchise history (mid 1980’s- mid 1990’s) by building through the farm system. This has been a successful strategy because it allows the team flexibility in terms of money. Younger players that are under team control have contracts that were negotiated long before they reached the big league level. These are players trying to prove themselves on a daily basis in order to earn a lucrative contract extension. In the upcoming years the lineup will be set with players that are young, durable, and cheap. With a solid foundation of younger players there is also flexibility to pay for top free agents or to acquire established veterans via trade. This was done in the cases of Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez, Roger Clemens, and David Justice, all key pieces to championship teams of the late nineties. In case you weren’t sure, I love the moves that the Yankees made. The contracts of Beltran, Chapman, and Nova were set to expire at the end of this season anyway, and in receiving top prospects such as Clint Frazier, Gleyber Torres, Justus Sheffield, and Dillon Tate The Yankees finally have eyes towards the future. The one trade that I thought twice about was Andrew Miller to the Cleveland Indians. Miller has 2 more years on his contract around $12M per year. That amount is well below his free agent market value. The Yankees took a top down approach and realized that a poor offense combined with a strong bullpen wouldn’t win enough games to compete for a championship, and that two premier prospects in Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield would favorably shape the future. This outweighed having Andrew Miller around for the next two years. The Yankees traded everyone that was tradeable, with the exception of Didi Gregorious, Starlin Castro, and Dellin Betances, all young players on team-friendly deals that will play a part in the future of the franchise without clogging up payroll flexibility. Among players that were un-tradable: Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, CC Sabathia, and Chase Headley will continue to clog payroll flexibility until their contracts expire.


The sudden news of Mark Texeira’s retirement came as a surprise to most of us. Just this February he said that he wanted to play until he was 40, but watching him play this season showed that his body wouldn’t allow him to reach that goal. His offensive skills have diminished in both power and average as he is batting just .201 with 10 home runs and 28 RBI (as of 8/14). He was once one of the most feared hitters in the Major Leagues, and only just recently was able to get his batting average above the dreaded Mendoza line. He has been hurt on and off all season, and is only playing because he provides value on the defensive side at first base. He is still one of the best in the game at scooping up poorly thrown balls by other infielders. If Greg Bird was healthy I doubt we would be seeing much of Texeira for the rest of this season. I would not have been surprised if he and A-Rod both stopped playing altogether after the game last Friday if Bird were available. Mark Texeira is a classic example of paying boatloads of money to a player based on past performance. Texeira seemed to be one of the best first basemen in the league when the Yankees signed him to an 8 year/ $180M contract before the 2009 season. In that first season he did not disappoint, leading the AL in homers and coming in second place in voting for the AL MVP. It was all downhill from there as he could never replicate the batting average he was capable of in Texas, Atlanta, and Anaheim. Although his batting average diminished he was able to sustain his power numbers up until recently.

Yankees vs Red Sox

Alex Rodriguez celebrating a walk-off home run against the Boston Red Sox in 2009

The case of Alex Rodriguez is an entirely different story except for the ending. Rodriguez was traded to the Yankees before the 2004 season in exchange for Alfonso Soriano and a player to be named later. Rodriguez put up astronomical numbers early on for the Yankees and won the 2005 and 2007 MVP’s. He even had 13 straight seasons with 30+ Home Runs and 100+ RBI’s from 1998-2010 dating back to his time with the Mariners and Rangers. At one point, A-Rod was on pace to break a lot of career records, and people were contemplating whether he could break the international home run record, that of Sadaharu Oh’s 868 home runs in the Japan Central League. When the MLB and its fans came down hard on Barry Bonds around 2007, A-Rod was viewed as the golden child and steroid- free savior of Major League Baseball; The guy who was able to crush home runs and play entire seasons without the help of steroids. On two occasions Rodriguez denied using steroids, and that ended up coming back to haunt him. Before the 2009 season, Rodriguez held a press conference, not because he wanted to, but because Sports Illustrated reporter Selena Roberts uncovered classified information that confirmed he had used steroids in the past. The worst part about this was not that he used steroids, but that he had been dishonest multiple times when questioned. If Alex had never lied to any members of the media about his steroid use, this would not be as big of a deal. The fact that he tried to cover it up for so long when he had the opportunity to come clean on various occasions is what angered fans most, and permanently tainted his legacy. In the 2009 season after admitting to using steroids it seemed as if A-Rod had set some of his personal demons free. He was playing like he had something to prove, and he had the best playoffs of his career in leading the Yankees to their 27th world championship. It seemed like every big late inning situation that Alex was at-bat he would come through with a clutch double or home run. This cleared his name as a choker in the post season, which he gained during the playoffs of 2004-2007. In one instance he was demoted to the eighth spot in the lineup against the Detroit Tigers during the 2005 ALDS. When the Yankees beat the Phillies in game 6 of the 2009 World Series Hideki Matsui won the World Series MVP, but if there were such thing as a playoffs MVP A-Rod would have easily earned it as he batted .365 with 6 home runs and 18 RBI throughout the 2009 postseason. Following the 2013 season Alex’s name was linked to steroids again, as he was mentioned in the Biogenesis Scandal. As a second offender of the MLB’s performance enhancing drug policy, he was given a 211 game suspension, which was then reduced to 162 games and the entire 2014 postseason. There were rumblings that he would just retire, or that the Yankees would release him outright, or they would try and find a clause in his contract so they could release him without owing him a dime. None of this happened, and after sitting out all of 2014, Alex set the world on fire the first half of 2015, and ended up with 33 home runs and 88 RBI, his best season since 2010. The entire year off allowed for him to heal his injuries, and his legs were fresh for the first time in years. The second half of 2015 and thus far in 2016 Alex looks like the 41 year old that he is. Unable to play the field in any capacity, he is strictly a designated hitter. Alex has not done much this season when given the opportunity, batting only .200 with 9 home runs and 31 RBI’s. The Yankees have changed gears to give the younger players at bats so that they learn the ropes. Sadly, Alex can’t even finish out the last year and a half of his contract, the Yankees will be paying him $27M next season to sit around and instruct younger players, something he would be doing if he were playing anyway. Instead of chasing the home run records of Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, and Barry Bonds, Alex is stuck at 696, 4 away from the monumental 700. The lesson to be learned from Alex is to own up to your mistakes, because if you don’t at first, the repercussions of admitting them later will be much worse than if you just admit them early. Alex was one of my favorite players, and it saddens me to see him go out this way. He is not held in the same regard as Derek Jeter, who was given a farewell tour and showered with gifts from every team. Alex is going out as a steroid user with inflated numbers, when he once had the potential to become so much more than that. The retirement of Alex Rodriguez and Mark Texeira put the Yankees rebuilding mode in full effect, and they are now geared to give opportunities to younger players in order for them to improve their skills. This is a much more viable option than filling the lineup with aged players who have recognizable names but diminished skills. I wish that A-Rod and Tex aren’t retiring in such sad fashion, but I am sure excited to see what the future holds for the Yankees next season and beyond.

Photo Credits:

1)http://assets.nydailynews.com/polopoly_fs/1.2002484.1415335483!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/article_750/bp7s-17-web.jpg

2)http://assets.nydailynews.com/polopoly_fs/1.407635.1314511787!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/article_750/alg-steinbrenner-jpg.jpg

3)http://cdn.fansided.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/258/files/2016/07/aroldis-chapman-mlb-chicago-white-sox-chicago-cubs-850×560.jpg

4)http://l.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/W9V0E6uhCffxqlpd.xS6Yg–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjtzbT0xO3c9ODAw/http://media.zenfs.com/en/homerun/feed_manager_auto_publish_494/240fa2ecf9625e05cb91e3d748325956

5)http://ww2.hdnux.com/photos/50/66/40/10709025/3/1024×1024.jpg

6)http://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/timesonline.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/f/be/fbeb04d6-5c49-11e6-8122-a3105236790f/57a6a2b65a568.image.jpg?resize=1200%2C1058

7)https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f2/Mark_Teixeira_basepaths_2011.jpg

8)http://m.mlb.com/assets/images/0/2/6/143004026/cuts/Greg_Bird_1280_vjkz4l45_y7twdt4d.jpg

9)https://mlblogsnycoleman.files.wordpress.com/2009/10/a-rod20award2.jpg

10)http://www.baseballessential.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Aaron-Judge2.jpg

11)http://yankees.lhblogs.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Austin1.jpg

12)http://www.baseballdailydigest.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Sanchez-1024×683.jpg

 

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Are the Knicks a Threat to Make the Playoffs in an Improved Eastern Conference? How Close are They to Becoming Contenders?

New York Knicks V Atlanta Hawks

NEW YORK,NY – OCTOBER 29: Kristaps Porzingis #6 of the New York Knicks goes up for the dunk against the Atlanta Hawks at Madison Square Garden on October 29, 2015

1/30/2016- Through 49 games the Knicks stand at 23-26, six more wins than they had throughout all of last season as they went a franchise worst 17-65. This was one game ahead of the Minnesota Timberwolves for the best chance at acquiring the number one overall selection in the draft lottery. The Knicks held the second worst overall record in the NBA which means they had the highest odds at obtaining the second overall pick before the lottery. They got unlucky once again in the lottery as the Lakers obtained the second overall pick. New York was slated to pick fourth as they swapped positions with the Lakers as a result of the lottery. Phil Jackson once again saved the unluckiest franchise in the NBA as he went against the wishes of even the most prudent fans and selected the 7’3’’ white unicorn, Kristaps Porzingis. If the Knicks held the second selection instead of the fourth selection in a redraft they would still pick Porzingis due to what he already provides and his tantalizing potential. The Knicks ended up getting a steal at the number four spot in Kristaps Porzingis.

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 12.35.19 PM

The Knicks current record is good for ninth place in the Eastern conference playoff picture. Although the ninth seed doesn’t make the playoffs, they currently stand two and a half games behind the Indiana Pacers for the eighth and final playoff spot. Although it may seem as if the Knicks are on the outside looking in they stand just five games behind the Chicago Bulls for the third overall seed in the East. There are six teams that have records within two and a half games of each other in the Eastern conference playoff picture: the Bulls, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Detroit Pistons, and Indiana Pacers. The Knicks will have plenty of opportunities to advance in the Eastern conference playoff picture as they have ten matchups remaining with the aforementioned teams. There is little doubt that the Knicks are talented enough to compete for a playoff spot. If the Knicks were in the Western conference they would currently occupy the eighth seed, as they have one more win than the 22-26 Portland Trail Blazers. If the Knicks can get on a hot streak there is little doubt that they will be in the hunt for the eighth and final playoff seed.

2681151-1178318134-hi-re

Andrea Bargnani during his short Knicks tenure

So you must be thinking: can the Knicks really overtake one of the teams currently ahead of them in the Eastern conference standings? I think that they actually can. They hold a 6-6 record against the teams currently seeded 3-8 in the East and have played significantly well against the Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics in particular. They hold a combined 3-0 record against Atlanta and Boston in their past three meetings.[1] There is no incentive to tank this season because James Dolan dealt the upcoming first round pick to the Toronto Raptors for Andrea Bargnani. ANDREA BARGNANI PEOPLE! Andrea Bargnani is why the Knicks must avoid another lost season and sneak into the playoffs. Their schedule for the rest of the season is somewhat favorable. Let’s take a look at all of their remaining games.

1/31/2016 vs. the Golden State Warriors: I am not going to even try to argue in favor of the Knicks against a team on pace to overtake the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls for the greatest single season record in NBA history. They finished 72-10. Verdict: loss

2/2/2016 vs. the Boston Celtics: The Celtics are one of the hottest teams in the league and winners of five straight. At home this will be a close game but the Celtics are the hotter team and will prevail. Verdict: loss

2/4/2016 @ the Detroit Pistons: In their first meeting of the season the Knicks beat the Pistons 108-96 in the Garden. Carmelo dropped 24 points and 6 assists for the Knicks. Home court advantage will loom large for Detroit in a game played in a playoff type atmosphere. Verdict: loss

2/5/2016 vs. the Memphis Grizzlies: The Grizzlies ended up beating the Knicks in the first meeting due to a strong showing in the fourth quarter. In the Garden, the result will be different. Verdict: win

2/7/2016 vs. the Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets are an extremely young team in rebuilding mode. The Knicks will dismantle Carmelo’s old team at home. Verdict: win

2/9/2016 vs. the Washington Wizards: The Wizards are one of the biggest disappointments in the NBA this season after beating the fourth seeded Raptors in the first round of the Eastern conference playoffs last season. The Knicks will take care of business at home. Verdict: win

2/19/2016 @ the Brooklyn Nets: The Nets are one of the worst teams in the NBA. If the Knicks have any hope of making the playoffs they will have to defeat the Nets in Brooklyn. Verdict: win

2/20/2016 @ the Minnesota Timberwolves: The Timberwolves are in position for another lottery selection in the upcoming draft. They are stockpiling young talent and have a bright future ahead. The Knicks will handle the Wolves on the road. Verdict: win

2/22/2016 vs. the Toronto Raptors: The Raptors are the hottest team in the NBA and are winners of ten straight games. The New York crowd will be going wild and hoping for a victory but the Raptors will use a strong showing from their all stars Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan to squeak out a victory. Verdict: loss

2/24/2016 @ the Indiana Pacers: The Knicks play the Pacers for the first time this year. This game is a complete toss up but the Paul George vs. Carmelo Anthony matchup will be what people want to see. Carmelo’s squad wins in a close one. Verdict: win

2/26/2016 vs. the Orlando Magic: This is Tobias Harris’s homecoming but his team will be dismantled by a much more talented Knicks team. Verdict: win

2/28/2016 vs. the Miami Heat: The season series sits at 1-2. Miami has cooled off as of late and have even slipped behind the Boston Celtics in the playoff picture. The Knicks will even up the season series at home. Verdict: win

3/1/2016 vs. the Portland Trail Blazers: the Trail Blazers are one of the biggest surprises of this season. They lost four of their starting five from last season but are currently the eighth seed in the West. The Knicks will figure out a way to contain Damian Lillard at home. Verdict: win

3/4/2016 @ the Boston Celtics: The season series is currently 1-2 in favor of the Celtics. Home court advantage will prove to be huge for Boston. Verdict: loss

3/5/2016 vs. the Detroit Pistons: At home the Knicks will defeat the Pistons in their third matchup of the season. The Garden crowd will cause Andre Drummond to miss free throws in crunch time. Verdict: win

3/8/2016 @ the Denver Nuggets: Although the trip to Denver will be tough on the Knicks players as well as the altitude change, the Knicks will squeeze out a surprisingly close game on the first game of their West coast road trip. Verdict: win

3/9/2016 @ the Phoenix Suns: The Suns are one of the worst teams in the league this season after having a decent 2014-15. The acquisition of Tyson Chandler has done little for the Suns in terms of wins. I’m so glad he’s not the Knicks problem anymore. Verdict: win

3/11/2016 @ the Los Angeles Clippers: The Clippers crushed the Knicks the last time they met. I expect a similar outcome unfortunately. The Clippers are too much to handle for this Knicks team. Verdict: loss

3/13/2016 @ the Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers and Knicks were in similar positions last season as two of the worst teams in the league. The Knicks have improved tremendously while the Lakers have remained in the same spot. Verdict: win

3/16/2016 @ the Golden State Warriors: The Warriors will prevail once again as they inch closer and closer to the 95-96 Bulls record of 72 wins. Verdict: loss

3/19/2016 @ the Washington Wizards: The Wizards have gotten so much worse this season even though the only starter they lost from last season is Paul Pierce. Pierce’s clutch shooting has been sorely missed in the nations capital. Verdict: win

3/20/2016 vs. the Sacramento Kings: the Kings are one of the NBA’s surprisingly most improved teams. The addition of Rajon Rondo has made them a threat to enter the West playoff picture as the eighth seed. The Garden crowd will be too much to handle for George Karl’s squad down the stretch. Verdict: win

3/23/2016 @ the Chicago Bulls: In the first game of a home and home series the Bulls will defend their home court and wind up victorious. Verdict: loss

3/24/2016 vs. the Chicago Bulls: In the second game of the home and home the Knicks will fix the mistakes they made the previous night in Chicago and end up with the W in the Garden against a strong Bulls squad. Verdict: win

3/26/2016 vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers: Will this be the first time that the Knicks can hold onto the lead for an entire game against Lebron and the Cavs? I don’t think they will be able to against the best team in the East. Verdict: loss

3/28/2016 @ the New Orleans Pelicans: The Pelicans are one of the biggest disappointments this season after a strong showing in the first round of the playoffs against the Warriors last season. The Knicks will get a victory in the big easy. Verdict: win

3/30/2016 @ the Dallas Mavericks: The Mavs defeated the Knicks in their first head to head meeting. The matchup to watch will be Dirk vs. Porzingis, two of the greatest NBA imports from Europe. I don’t see the Knicks taking one from the Mavs at home. Verdict: loss

4/1/2016 vs. the Brooklyn Nets: Once again if the Knicks intend on making the playoffs this season they will have to defeat Andrea Bargnani and the Nets. Verdict: win

4/3/2016 vs. the Indiana Pacers: In the second matchup of the season with the Pacers, the Knicks will find a way to win at home against a team currently seeded higher than them in the Eastern conference playoffs. The Knicks will pull one out in the final seconds of a thriller. Verdict: win

4/6/2016 vs. the Charlotte Hornets: In Jeremy Lin’s homecoming, the Knicks will show Lin what they have become despite his absence. This victory will prove that Linsanity was in fact a fluke. Verdict: win

4/8/2016 @ the Philadelphia 76ers: The 76ers are the worst team in the NBA and it was disappointing that they took the Knicks to double OT the last time they met. The Knicks will send the Sixers a message on their home floor. Verdict: win

4/10/2016 vs. the Toronto Raptors: At home the Knicks will prevail against a solid Raptors team. The Knicks will have their hopes of reaching the playoffs riding on this game, and they will find a way to limit Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan in a close victory. Verdict: win

4/12/2016 @ the Indiana Pacers: In the final game of the regular season the Knicks will travel to Indianapolis with the eighth seed on the line. The Pacers will use a strong showing from Paul George and Myles Turner to pull out a victory against the Bockers. Verdict: loss

If the remaining games pan out the way I am predicting them to, the Knicks will finish the season on a 22-11 run. Their final record would be 45-37, definitely a respectable record a year after finishing just 17-65. If this were last season, they would qualify as the sixth seed in the Eastern conference, just one game behind the fifth seed Washington Wizards who finished at 46-36. If the Knicks continue their upward trend and end up making the playoffs, this season will be considered an enormous success. The Knicks future certainly looks bright and I can’t wait to see what Phil Jackson can do this offseason before his third season as president. I look forward to seeing where the Knicks will finish this season. Hopefully we will get to watch a playoff game in the garden for the first time since Jason Kidd retired. Let’s go Knicks.

Continue reading New York Sports Please for all of the latest news and speculation on the New York Giants, Knicks, and Yankees.

[1] http://www.nba.com/knicks/schedule

Photo Credits:

  1. http://upl.stack.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/12103755/The-Reason-Why-Kristaps-Porzingis-Has-Been-a-Put-Back-Dunk-Monster-STACK.jpg
  2. https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&es_th=1&ie=UTF-8#q=eastern+conference+standings
  3. http://static.giantbomb.com/uploads/original/14/141373/2681151-1178318134-hi-re.jpg

The Starlin Castro Effect

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Robinson Cano batting for the Yankees during a game against the Oakland Athletics in 2008.

In Yankee Stadium the second base position has been nothing short of a disaster since Robinson Cano bolted for the Pacific Northwest following the 2013 season. The Yankees offered him a seven-year/$175 Million free-agent contract that he declined in favor of a ten year/$240 Million deal with the Seattle Mariners. Cano said he felt “disrespected” by the Yankees offer and that he “didn’t see any effort” to resign him.[1] Cano cited a desire to “[have] a contract to end [his] career [with]”[2]. Cano didn’t want to risk re-entering the free agent market in 2020 as a sluggish 37-year-old limited to the designated hitter role. Cano valued the extra three years of financial security the Mariners were willing to give him at an average of $24 Million/year more than he valued staying in the New York spotlight for an average of $25 Million/year over three fewer years. Can you really blame him for taking the extra $72 million in guaranteed money? Conversely, can you blame the Yankees for not wanting another unmovable, poison pill contract like A-Rod’s on the roster? When Cano left so did the best second baseman in baseball. Cano’s departure left the second base position in the Bronx an uncertainty, something that Yankees fans have taken for granted since Cano was called up in 2005.

Brian Roberts

Brian Roberts after striking out in the ninth inning of a game against the Houston Astros in 2014

The Yankees have pieced together their second base position with a combination of gum and duct tape since Cano departed for Seattle. Their first move at attempting to replace the void Cano left was signing Brian Roberts at the back end of his career. Entering the 2014 season he was a 36 year-old two-time former all-star who had not played over 100 games in a season since 2009. He was known during his prime to steal bases, hit doubles (he led the American league in 2004 and 2009 with 50 and 56 respectively), and play a solid second base (he holds a career .986 fielding percentage). The biggest knock against Roberts was his inability to stay healthy. In his last four seasons with the Baltimore Orioles before coming to New York he played in 192 games out of the 648 scheduled. This is just 29.6% of the Orioles total games from 2010-2013, further proving his reputation as a fragile player. Brian Cashman gambled on Roberts’ pedigree and offered him a one-year pact for $2 million. During the 2014 season Roberts was a shell of the player he was during his prime. He hit only .237 compared to his career batting average of .276, and flirted with the Mendoza line (.200) throughout most of the season. His fielding numbers declined as well, as he committed 34 errors and attained a fielding percentage of .974, .012 off his career pace. Although Roberts was active for his highest number of games since the 2009 season, he still only managed to play in a measly 91 games, or 56.2% of the Yankees scheduled contests. The Brian Roberts gamble was not paying off in the Bronx and it became time to look for a replacement for the once impactful veteran. Roberts retired following the 2014 season, at 36 years old he had suffered countless injuries throughout his career. His body was no longer able to keep up with the daily grind of the MLB schedule.

Screen Shot 2016-01-09 at 12.33.52 PMRoberts and Cano’s comparable statistics from 2005-09. Cashman hoped to catch lightning in a bottle with Roberts for 2014, but his talent level was nowhere close to what it was during his prime.

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Stephen Drew committing an error against the Philadelphia Phillies during a spring training game on March 4, 2015

Next came Stephen Drew whom the Yankees acquired in a deadline deal with their archrival, the Boston Red Sox. They gave up Kelly Johnson, a misfit utility infielder in order to acquire Drew. The selling point on Drew was that he was a key piece to the Red Sox 2014 World Series championship run. He was known in Boston for clutch hitting and playing a solid second base. Drew struggled throughout his first half-season in the Bronx, and was unable to bat higher than the Mendoza line. Drew finished the year with a .150 batting average, the worst in the majors. His struggles were often blamed that he was rusty due to the fact he sat out most of the first half of the season while looking for a suitable contract offer. Despite his struggles during the second half of the 2014 season, the Yankees decided to re-sign Drew on a one-year/$5 Million deal. He was not much better in 2015 for the Bombers, batting only .201 with a fluky 17 home runs[3]. In the second half of the season a slumping Drew was replaced with the likes of Rob Refsnyder and Dustin Ackley.

al-baseballRob Refsnyder reaching for a bouncing ball at second base during the 2015 season

Refsnyder is a work in progress; he was drafted in the fifth round of the 2013 draft out of the University of Arizona. Refsnyder had a statistically solid first season in the majors. He only committed one error in 52 chances for a .981 fielding percentage. Refsnyder also managed 13 hits in 43 at bats for a .302 batting average. This is a small sample size; however these are well above average numbers if he were able to maintain them for an entire season. A majority of Yankees fans believe Refsnyder was not given a fair shot at winning the second base job when it was up for grabs during last season’s playoff push. With the acquisition of Starlin Castro, Refsnyder has been relegated to AAA or as a backup infielder with the major league club.

Dustin-Ackley1Dustin Ackley getting a base hit during a 2015 contest with the New York Mets

Dustin Ackley was acquired midseason from the Seattle Mariners in order to bolster the lineup with a left-handed bat and to provide flexibility as a second baseman, first baseman, outfielder, and designated hitter. Ackley was not viewed as an everyday second baseman by Brian Cashman and only appeared there in nine games for the Yankees. Ackley is not the solution to the second base problem in the Bronx. It was clear that the position had to be addressed during the offseason through the signing of a free agent or via trade.

3f7ededebb1d30ee7348b9cc7238dd49-originalBen Zobrist fielding a ground ball while playing second base for the Tampa Bay Rays

The biggest free agent name I believed the Yankees were going to pursue this offseason was Ben Zobrist. The Yankees discussed making a trade with the Oakland Athletics for Zobrist before the 2015 trade deadline, but Oakland ended up dealing him to the Kansas City Royals. Zobrist is known as a clutch hitter and a solid fielder that can play first base, second base, shortstop, left field, and right field. He is a two-time all star who even came in eighth place for the 2009 AL MVP while with the Tampa Bay Rays[4]. That year he batted .297 with 27 home runs, 91 RBI, and an eye-popping .405 OBP[5]. The biggest issue I perceive Brian Cashman had with Zobrist is his age: he will be 35 this upcoming May. The Cubs signed him to a relatively large contract, at four years/$56 Million. This is an average of $14 Million/year, similar to the contract an aging Carlos Beltran received. The Yankees are trying to get younger as a team, and avoiding the singing of veterans to long-term deals will get them closer to their goal. The signing of Zobrist made 25 year-old Starlin Castro expendable in Chicago.

from left: Starlin Castro, Adam Warren (top), Brendan Ryan (bottom)

On December 8, 2015 the Yankees agreed to a deal with the Chicago Cubs, sending pitcher Adam Warren and utility infielder Brendan Ryan to the Cubs in exchange for Starlin Castro. Castro was once considered the future of the Cubs organization and is already a three-time all-star in just six full seasons in the majors. He was moved from Shortstop to second base following the promotion of Addison Russell during the 2015 season. Castro struggled during most of 2013 and 2015, combining to bat just .254 across both seasons[6]. Russell is a consummate top of the lineup hitter who is used to seeing a lot of at-bats. He holds a career batting average of .281. His best season came in 2011 where he hit .307, with 22 steals, and a league leading 207 hits. He also led the league in at-bats that year with 674[7]. The part of Castro’s game he has to work on most is his fielding. He is only a career .963% fielder and has committed 138 errors in his six seasons. That will have to change if he hopes to remain at second base in the Bronx for the foreseeable future. With Castro, the Yankees have acquired an unfinished product. Although he is still extremely raw especially as an infielder, Castro is a noticeable upgrade over the players the Yankees have been plugging in at second base since Robinson Cano skipped town. Castro is a proven hitter that will see a lot of at-bats at the top of the Yankees lineup. Maybe a change of scenery will help Castro regain his 2011 form and ascend him to stardom in the Bronx. With Starlin Castro, the Yankees have solved their issue at second base. Although Castro is not the same caliber player Cano is, the Yankees have acquired a young, talented hitter who will improve his skills at second base over time. It is much easier to teach a player how to field than it is to teach a player how to hit. Hopefully the trade for Starlin Castro will pay off in favor of the Yankees. If the trade works out he will become a fixture in the Yankees infield for the next fifteen years. Let’s see what Starlin can do for the Bombers in 2016. At least the search for Cano’s successor is over. Let New York Sports Please keep you updated with all things Giants, Knicks, and Yankees. Thanks for reading!

from left: Starlin Castro and Robinson Cano

 

Footnotes:

[1] http://www.newsday.com/sports/columnists/david-lennon/robinson-cano-says-he-got-no-respect-from-yankees-1.6599125

[2] http://nypost.com/2013/12/12/robinson-cano-all-smiles-at-seattle-intro/

[3] http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/d/drewst01.shtml

[4] http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/z/zobribe01.shtml

[5] http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/z/zobribe01.shtml

[6] http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/c/castrst01.shtml

[7] http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/c/castrst01.shtml

Photo Credits:

  1. http://a.espncdn.com/combiner/i?img=/i/headshots/mlb/players/full/30450.png&w=350&h=254
  2. http://d39ya49a1fwv14.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/cano.jpg
  3. http://images.hngn.com/data/images/full/37731/major-league-baseball-second-baseman-brian-roberts.jpg
  4. http://www.thebaseballcube.com/reports/compare.asp
  5. http://image.nj.com/home/njo-media/width620/img/yankees_main/photo/17172956-mmmain.jpg
  6. http://assets.nydailynews.com/polopoly_fs/1.2296998!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/article_635/al-baseball.jpg
  7. http://cdn.riveraveblues.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Dustin-Ackley1.jpg?ccc875
  8. http://cdn.chatsports.com/cache/3f/7e/3f7ededebb1d30ee7348b9cc7238dd49-original.jpg
  9. http://www3.pictures.zimbio.com/gi/Chicago+Cubs+v+St+Louis+Cardinals+j6Ueg-U29vWl.jpg
  10. http://www.rantsports.com/mlb/files/2014/04/Adam-Warren.jpg
  11. http://cdn.riveraveblues.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Brendan-Ryan2.jpg?ccc875
  12. http://a.espncdn.com/photo/2011/0910/mlb_u_castro11_576.jpg
  13. http://i.usatoday.net/sports/_photos/2012/08/01/Chamberlain-returns-as-Yankees-thrash-Orioles-I11VTJ6M-x-large.jpg

Is Tom Coughlin to Blame for the Giants 6-10 Season? Who is the Best Candidate to Replace Coughlin?

gal-tom-matt-jpgIt is the end of an era. The Giants and their head coach since 2004, Tom Coughlin have parted ways. Coughlin announced during a press conference on Monday that he will be stepping down after 12 seasons at the helm. It is widely believed that the Giants allowed him to step down instead of firing him so that he could make the $7 Million he is owed in 2016. I am not so sure how to react to the news. Coughlin has been the coach of the Giants for Eli Manning’s entire career. Think about that: Eli Manning, a proven veteran and two time Super Bowl champion has only known one coach during his entire professional career. The most shocking part of the Coughlin and Manning dynamic is that Eli Manning is the NFL’s current ironman; he has started the most consecutive games of any active player. This streak will continue week one of the 2016 season with a coach other than Tom Coughlin. Is Coughlin to blame for the Giants dismal 2015 season?

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Jason Pierre Paul’s mangled hand following a July 4th fireworks accident

The Giants finished this season at 6-10, their third straight season below .500 despite entering the season with super bowl expectations. The train started to fall off the tracks on July 4th when pro-bowl defensive end Jason Pierre- Paul had two and a half fingers removed following a fireworks accident. This left the Giants most proven and effective pass rusher out until week nine, unable to play exactly half of the Giants regular season schedule. The Giants finished the season with only 23 sacks, good for third worst in the NFL[1]. Their inability to rush the passer gave opposing quarterbacks adequate time to locate open receivers and deliver accurate passes for large chunks of yardage. The Giants inability to sack the quarterback is exactly the reason why they allowed the most opposing passing yards at 298.9 per game[2]. Just last year Pierre-Paul had 12.5 sacks compared to the one sack he registered this season. If the Giants had 11.5 more sacks as a team they would have had 34.5 total sacks, comparable to the total of 36 the Arizona Cardinals accumulated. The Cardinals allowed the eighth fewest passing yards to opposing offenses, at 230.4 per game[3], and are considered one of the top defenses in football. The mistake of one player on the Giants might have relegated a potentially lethal Giants defense into one of the worst defenses in the league. So no, Tom Coughlin is not to blame for the Giants defensive woes. The poor decision of lighting off fireworks by Jason Pierre- Paul, which caused him to miss eight games is rationale for why the Giants defense was one of the worst in the league this season.

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Victor Cruz celebrating a touchdown catch against the Miami Dolphins during week 8 of the 2011 season

Although the defense was the Giants weakest link this season, the offense couldn’t come through when it counted most. The presence of Odell Beckham Jr. alone was enough to make New York forget about the absence of Victor Cruz. Cruz, the target Eli Manning trusted most before the arrival of Beckham, tore his patellar tendon against the Philadelphia Eagles in week 6 of the 2014 season. While rehabbing from the patellar tendon injury, Cruz suffered a setback and injured his calf, effectively ending his 2015 season before it even started. Nobody knows how good the Giants receiving corps could have been with the trio of Beckham, Cruz, and Rueben Randle lined up along the outside. Beckham was suspended for a pivotal game with the Minnesota Vikings as a result of his antics against Josh Norman of the Carolina Panthers the previous week. Manning had problems connecting with his other receivers in the absence of Beckham, and the Giants went on to lose in blowout fashion. This loss squashed any of their remaining hopes of winning the NFC East and making a surprise playoff berth. If Victor Cruz was on the field against the Vikings the outcome might have been different, but may have been the same due to the inability of the Giants defense to stop even mediocre quarterbacks. Coughlin is not to blame for the Giants underperforming, it is lack of talent to fill the voids left by injuries. The end of Tom Coughlin’s tenure has left us with a lot of what ifs.

Four of Tom Coughlin’s potential replacements. (From left: Steve Spagnuolo [top], Sean Payton [bottom], Ben McAdoo, Jon Gruden)

Now that Tom Coughlin is officially out as head coach who is going to replace him at the helm of the most storied NFL franchise in New York? (Sorry Jets). The Giants have already interviewed their offensive and defensive coordinators if they decide to promote from within. The defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo is arguably the reason why the Giants defense was able to stop the Patriots undefeated and historically potent offense in the 2008 Super Bowl and bring the title back to New York. Although the defense had a terrible year due to injuries, Spagnuolo is a solid candidate with head-coaching experience. “Spag” was the head coach of the St. Louis Rams from 2009-11 and was plucked right off Coughlin’s 2008 Super Bowl championship staff. The more intriguing candidate if the Giants decide to promote internally would be offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. Hired in 2014 to replace Kevin Gilbride, Eli Manning has thrived in McAdoo’s system. McAdoo’s scheme Emphasizes the use of quick, short passes to create a higher completion rate and in order to avoid quarterback sacks. Eli Manning has had two of his better years under McAdoo in terms of yards, completion percentage, touchdowns, and interception rate. If the Giants plan to keep Eli Manning happy by ensuring he doesn’t have to learn another new system, they will decide to hire McAdoo as Coughlin’s successor.

Eli_Manning

Eli Manning’s approval is vital in finding the next head coach of the Giants

It is fun to speculate who the potential replacements are for Coughlin if the Giants decide to bring someone in from outside of the organization. The hottest name being talked about among teams with head coaching vacancies is Sean Payton, the current head coach of the New Orleans Saints. The Saints have struggled since Payton was suspended for the entire 2012 season due to the infamous “bountygate” scandal. Players were financially rewarded for knocking opposing players out of the game by injuring them purposely. Before the scandal was uncovered, he brought the Saints organization a level of success they had never experienced. Payton led the Saints to their lone championship, a 31-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. Payton’s credentials alone warrant him consideration for the head coaching job in East Rutherford, but he also has connections to two former Giants coaches. Payton was a coach under both Bill Parcells and Jim Fassel, two of the coaches who preceded Coughlin. If the Giants have the opportunity to interview Payton I am curious to see how interested he is in the position. If there is mutual interest the Giants would have to give up players or draft picks in a trade to acquire Payton’s rights from the New Orleans Saints.

img24045873

Jon Gruden during a broadcast of Monday Night Countdown, a position he has held since 2009.

The next potential head coach of the New York Giants that brings me the most excitement is Jon Gruden. Gruden is the youngest head coach to win a Super Bowl and is a current host of Monday Night Countdown. Gruden is known as a quarterbacks guru. Every week he takes the two quarterbacks facing off on Monday Night Football and analyzes exactly what they do well and what they need to improve upon. Gruden won Super Bowl XXXVII as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, defeating the team he coached the previous year, the Oakland Raiders. Gruden is known to be a fiery personality, which is exactly the type of temperament the coach of the Giants needs to have. The only drawback is that Gruden has been out of coaching since 2008 after being fired by the Buccaneers, and has turned down offers throughout the years to return to coaching in order to remain a broadcaster with ESPN. What is so special about the Giants job that would lead him to accept it? The answer is that New York is the biggest media market in the country, and that the Giants have a two time Super Bowl MVP as their quarterback. If the unexpected happens and the Giants name Jon Gruden their next head coach, their overall outlook for 2016 would improve immediately. Stay tuned to see who the Giants choose to lead their team in 2016 and beyond.

 

Photo Credits:

  1. https://thenypost.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/coughlin.jpg
  2. http://assets.nydailynews.com/polopoly_fs/1.64116!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/gallery_1200/gal-tom-matt-jpg.jpg
  3. http://content-img.newsinc.com/jpg/415/29712891/25654510.jpg?t=1442506740
  4. http://static01.nyt.com/images/2011/11/06/sports/dog-giants/dog-giants-articleLarge.jpg
  5. http://web.yesnetwork.com/assets/images/8/0/4/154674804/cuts/AP_429448946219_aa1fiosk_r9au8jmz.jpg
  6. http://img.bleacherreport.net/img/images/photos/003/471/895/hi-res-6063a2ff1d8f90e338d6fbdf0a91130a_crop_north.jpg?w=630&h=420&q=75
  7. http://cdn.wegotthiscovered.com/wp-content/uploads/Sean_Payton.jpg
  8. https://pbs.twimg.com/profile_images/2147356197/gruden-775801dddd.jpg
  9. http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/simpsons/images/7/78/Eli_Manning.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20111208001118
  10. http://sports.cbsimg.net/u/photos/football/nfl/img24045873.jpg

Footnotes:

[1] http://www.nfl.com/stats/categorystats

[2] http://www.nfl.com/stats/categorystats

[3] http://www.nfl.com/stats/categorystats

A Short Term Fix for NYK Without Altering Their Long-Term Outlook

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The arrival of Kristaps Porzingis has brought back a buzz to Madison Square Garden that has been nonexistent since undrafted Harvard star Jeremy Lin was knocking down game winning jumpers during a few weeks of the 2012-13 season. After this stretch of games better known as Linsanity, Jeremy Lin came to represent the face of the future to Knicks fans all over the globe. Shortly after Carmelo Anthony rejoined the team from injury, Jeremy Lin injured himself and was forced to miss the remainder of that season. The Knicks were expecting to re-sign Lin to a long-term contract that offseason, cementing his status as a centerpiece of the franchise’s future. Surprisingly the Houston Rockets offered Lin, a restricted free agent, a 4 year/ $28.8M deal. The Knicks were unwilling to match such a large offer for a mostly unproven player, effectively ending his Knicks tenure and making him a Rocket. Lin never achieved the same level of success in Houston that he experienced in New York, and has bounced around from Houston to Los Angeles, and now to Charlotte.The departure of Jeremy Lin represented a prolonging of the Knicks future, which has been in doubt ever since the Knicks lost to the Spurs in the 1999 NBA finals after a surprise appearance as the East’s eighth seed.                                             091214-NBA-james-dolan-attends-knicks-press-conference-ahn-PI.vresize.1200.675.high.60The owner of the Knicks, James Dolan, has a painful history of dealing away future draft picks for big name players that are well past their primes. This is a terrible strategy of building a team that ignores the key to building a dynasty. The biggest aspect to building a perennial winner in the NBA is boasting young talent on team-friendly contracts, which are acquired mostly through the draft. There are very few instances in sports where giving up future financial flexibility has actually paid off with immediate success. The 2008 Celtics and 2009 Yankees are examples of anomalies in where acquiring multiple players with large contracts in exchange for future draft picks has actually resulted in a championship banner. James Dolan has to realize that this win-now and sacrifice future assets strategy has not and will not pay off for the Knicks.knicks-forward-kristaps-porzingisKristaps Porzingis, the youngest, most talented Knick since Patrick Ewing was acquired via the draft. The draft is how great teams are built. Look at the Oklahoma City Thunder. Just recently they had three straight draft picks that panned out tremendously. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden. Three superstars that the Thunder DRAFTED. The draft is the only way to grow a middle of the road NBA team into a playoff contending NBA team.                                                                                                                    1395157077000-RSI-USA-KNICKS-JACKSON

The biggest roadblock in Phil Jackson’s master plan to rebuild the franchise that James Dolan has tried so hard to destroy over the past decade and a half is the lack of a first round pick in the upcoming NBA draft. In the 2013 offseason the Knicks made a bonehead deal for Andrea Bargnani, giving up expiring contracts along with two second round picks and their 2016 first round pick. The decision to give up three draft picks for a soft European seven-footer with no defensive skills whatsoever was done solely with the short-term in mind. Bargnani’s contract has already expired and the ‘Bockers did not attempt to resign him. Bargnani underperformed in Manhattan and the trade is widely viewed as a complete bust. Bargnani has moved onto Brooklyn on a two-year deal for the veteran’s minimum, a better financial representation of his value to a team. The Knicks are still being punished for their Bargnani mistake; they do not have the ability to pick another piece of their future in the upcoming draft. The next piece of young talent will have to be selected in 2017, pushing back Phil Jackson’s timetable for rebuild another year. bargnani                        This season the Knicks have been surprisingly competitive. There is no incentive to tank this season because no matter how bad their record is they will not be receiving a lottery pick, or any first round pick for that matter. At 14-15, they currently stand just outside of the playoff picture but have even played the Cavs closely and have been in a position to win most of the games they’ve played. What will the Knicks do in the short term to remain competitive? Arron Afflalo has proven to be a valuable addition and has complemented Carmelo Anthony as a go-to scorer quite nicely. Robin Lopez has not entirely lived up to the hype that surrounded his signing this past offseason but has shown strong leadership skills as well as playing solid defense. Derrick Williams has been an occasional offensive spark off the bench but his defensive deficiencies and laziness are glaring weaknesses in his game which limit his minutes. Kyle O’Quinn and Kevin Seraphin have provided valuable front-court depth, and one of them should be unloaded in a package for guard help. I have put together a potential trade between the Knicks and the Clippers that the ESPN trade machine has approved. Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 12.47.34 AMThe deal has the Knicks unloading Seraphin’s one-year deal along with Derrick Williams’ two-year deal in exchange for the one-year deals of Jamal Crawford and Josh Smith. Josh Smith has underperformed in Los Angeles, and the rumor is that the Clippers would love to get rid of his cancerous personality from their locker room. A change of scenery for Smith may reignite his offensive effectiveness just as it did last year when he was moved from Detroit to Houston. Jamal Crawford has been one of the best 1 on 1 scorers of the past decade. His ability to shoot the long ball as well as his premier ball handling ability allows him to beat his defender off the dribble and finish around the rim. The Knicks are in desperate need for guard scoring off the bench. According to John Hollinger, if the Knicks were to make this trade they would improve their win total by three full wins. This is the difference between missing and making the playoffs. It would be viewed as a huge success by the Knicks front office and their fans if Madison Square Garden were to host even two playoff games a year removed from a seventeen win season.

Although Jamal Crawford and Josh Smith are not long-term answers for the Knicks, they would go a long way to make this current Knicks team more well-rounded. Hollinger’s projection that the Knicks would gain three more wins to their current projected win total is plenty of reason to add Crawford and Smith even if they are only to serve as rentals for the rest of the season. Fixing the Knicks is no easy task, Phil Jackson is being paid $12M/ year to climb the Knicks out of the hole that James Dolan has excavated them into over the past fifteen years. The Knicks will have to build via the draft if they wish to create a dynasty similar to the Spurs. The Knicks have no reason to lose games this season because they do not have a draft pick in the upcoming draft. Rewarding Melo for his improved hustle and desire to help the team win with two proven veterans may cause the Knicks to end up in the playoffs. Stay tuned for all things Knicks, Giants, and Yankees. Thank you for reading!