Jeter Finally Boots One

Maybe prior job experience isn’t such a bad thing.

Over the course of a 20-year career, I can barely remember Derek Jeter ever making an error in a big spot but the Giancarlo Stanton trade looks to be a miscue no one will forget.

Since becoming CEO of the Miami Marlins in September, Jeter has had to endure criticism as his new ownership group has jettisoned some long-time franchise favorites like Mr. Marlin, Jeff Conine (note to future baseball executives: try to find a role for Mr. Fill in the Franchise Name people). It’s not an easy task to let go of people but if the Marlins really did let go of a scout while undergoing cancer treatments, that probably could’ve been handled better.

Operating under a dubious mandate to cut payroll, Jeter was not dealt the best hand in trying to unload Stanton’s potential albatross-like $295 million/no trade 10-year contract. Because the contract dwarfed even the giant 6 foot 5 Stanton, there wasn’t going to be a big market for him, so Jeter’s potential options were limited. However, there were missteps in negotiating potential deals with the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals (such as, not getting Stanton’s agreement to be traded to either place) and suddenly the Yankees became an unlikely landing spot for the Marlins slugger.

If Jeter’s priority was cutting payroll, he accomplished that goal. The Yankees will reportedly pick up $265 million of Stanton’s remaining salary. Because the Yankees are picking up so much of Stanton’s contract, Jeter’s Marlins won’t be receiving any of the top prospects in the Yankees flourishing farm system. They’re receiving low level, far-away-from-the-major-league minor leaguers, so hopefully the Marlins’ Director of Player Development and Scouting Gary Denbo brought along his crystal ball when he left a similar position with the Yankees to follow Jeter to Miami.

Of course, the optics of Jeter trading Stanton to the Yankees doesn’t look good. Fairly or not, at best, it looks like his former team schooled the inexperienced baseball executive and at worst, that Jeter wanted to help the Yankees (which I can’t imagine to be true). Jeter will have to explain to his Marlins customers why in his first major move as a major league CEO, his Marlins were made to resemble an ersatz Triple-A farm team for the Yankees, a latter-day Kansas City Athletics. Back in the 1950s, Arnold Johnson, a former business associate of the Yankees ownership, owned the Athletics and the Athletics frequently traded young talent, including Roger Maris, to the Yankees in exchange for financial relief and veteran players, leading many to grumble about collusion.

The Yankees can’t be blamed for acquiring Stanton and creating a modern day Murderer’s Row in their starting lineup. Despite the Yankees talk about not wanting to pay luxury taxes, winning championships is their constant priority.

Jeter might’ve helped himself if he hadn’t felt pressured to deal Stanton immediately and just let Stanton report to spring training and treated trading Stanton’s contract as a less desperate move. Jeter is definitely experiencing a learning curve in his new position. Whereas in New York sports, he’ll always be a well-deserved legend, to the Marlins fans, he’s an executive who’s on the clock to remake a franchise. Perhaps like Michael Jordan in his post-playing career as a team owner, he’ll find it’s easier to be Derek Jeter than field a team of Derek Jeters.

Aaron, Eli, and Lessons From Jerry Coleman

On a day where the two biggest sports stories in New York were the introduction of Aaron Boone as the new manager of the New York Yankees after eight years in the broadcast booth and the return of Eli Manning to calling signals after one week on the sidelines, I found myself drawing parallels to the career of the late Jerry Coleman in both cases.

Coleman was a solid contributor at second base to the Yankees championship teams of the 1950s and after a short stint in the Yankees front office, he became a broadcaster over the next 50 years, most notably for the San Diego Padres. He was beloved for his unintentionally funny descriptions (“He slides into second with a stand-up double.”). He’s in the broadcasters wing on the Baseball Hall of Fame and perhaps more significantly, he’s in the Marine Corp Sports Hall of Fame, having been a decorated Marine pilot, with combat duty in World War II and the Korean War.

Yet, 20 years into his Hall of Fame broadcasting career, the Padres general manager summoned Coleman from the broadcast booth to the dugout as he managed the Padres in 1980. It was an unlikely move (people fainted at the press conference, Coleman later joked) and it didn’t go well. The Padres finished in last place at 73-89 and Coleman returned to the broadcast booth in 1981. I’m not dismissing Boone’s chances of success as the Yankees’ skipper but based on Coleman’s experience, it won’t be easy (although Coleman’s managerial career might’ve lasted longer if he had Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez in the lineup).

However, Coleman was also part of a Yankee tradition where the veterans groomed the rookies who’d replace them. Coleman was a beneficiary of this as a rookie in 1949 and as his career wound down, he mentored the next great Yankee second baseman Bobby Richardson.

Eli Manning’s situation in recent weeks has reminded me of Coleman’s role as student and mentor. As the Giants fortunes have fallen, their chances of drafting the next franchise quarterback have risen and there’s talk of Manning wanting to leave the Giants if they draft a quarterback with their top pick.

Obviously, Kurt Warner wasn’t a Giants legend when Eli replaced him when the 2004 Giants still had a shot at the playoffs but he understood Eli was the future QB of the franchise and by all accounts, he handled it with grace. Wouldn’t Eli want to stay and help groom his successor? I don’t know the answer to that but I think I know what Jerry Coleman would’ve done.

Flexing the Jeffrey Maier Muscle

Yankee fans are entitled to a Saturday morning headache today and not just the kind of headache you get when that first cup of coffee arrives later on a Saturday than during the week.

The 9-8 loss in 13 innings to Cleveland in the ALDS was brutal because they squandered a five run lead. It was especially brutal because replays showed umpire Dan Iassogna incorrectly awarded Lonnie Chisenhall first base on a hit batsman call just before Francisco Lindor’s game-changing grand slam in the sixth inning. It was excruciatingly brutal because manager Joe Girardi didn’t challenge the call.

It’s ironic that Girardi didn’t review the call because Girardi called for expanded replay after a couple of incorrect calls by the umpires cost the Yankees Game 2 of the ALCS against the Tigers in 2012. Five years ago, a frustrated Girardi said, “Let’s have instant replay and not just … homerun, fair, foul.” Five years later, expanded replay was available but Girardi didn’t call for it. Joe Girardi is one of the best managers in baseball but he made a mistake last night.

Of course, for people not rooting for a 28th World Championship by the Bronx Bombers, the reflexive response is “Jeffrey Maier.” They’ll point to 12-year old Jeffrey’s interference on Derek Jeter’s pivotal  “homerun” in the Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS against the Orioles and show how it not only lead to a win in Game 1 but winning that ALCS and winning four World Series in five seasons.

The Yankees have dug themselves a hole but they can dig themselves out quickly if Tanaka pitches well and the Yankees win Game 3.

Yankee fans, your headache will pass. The future is bright for the Bombers. Be grateful it’s not a Jeffrey Maier headache. Those things can last for years if you let them.

Mets Fumble Terry’s Departure – It’s Not the First Time

With Terry Collins departing as Mets manager under a cloud of unnamed sources, people shook their heads at how their longest tenured manager was being besmirched rather than celebrated on his way out the door. Yet, somehow like a toddler who throws a tantrum because he doesn’t want to leave the playground, perhaps the Mets have trouble with transitions.

Given his age, when Collins signed his last two year deal after the 2015 World Series at the age of 66, it seemed fairly clear to me, and probably to most followers of the team, that 2016 and 2017 were going to be his final two years as skipper. As time progressed, and Collins mentioned the strain of the 2016 season only to be followed by the team’s disappointing 2017, the expectation that this would be Collins’s last tour as manager became, if anything, more certain, especially since the idea of dismissing Collins mid-season was never really discussed.

Why then, as the season ended, did Collins’ future as manager, or lack thereof, seem to catch the Mets off guard? Shouldn’t there have been enough lead-time to orchestrate a dignified departure for Collins rather than read how Fred Wilpon had saved his job over the years? Perhaps someone in the front office was upset that Collins had said he wasn’t “retiring,” at the end of the season but I read Collins’ remarks to mean he’d like to work until 70 even if he wasn’t managing. Memo to the unnamed source in the front office: a lot of people “work” after “retiring.”

Interestingly, this kind of controversy has happened to the Mets several times over the years and it doesn’t seem to matter who was in the front office or even owning the team. Just last year, Wally Backman and the Mets parted ways bitterly. If anything, I think Backman’s departure a year ago signaled that 2017 would Collins’ last year as Mets manager because the front office knew there would be popular pressure to hire the 1986 hero if he was still managing Triple-A Las Vegas.

The Collins situation brought to mind the unsightly (though probably not unjust) firing of Willie Randolph in 2008 during the Minaya regime after Randolph flew across the country as the team embarked on a west coast trip. But in fairness, the Wilpons didn’t originate awkward Mets managerial transitions. Way back in 1972, many people were uncomfortable when the Mets announced the hiring of Yogi Berra on the day of Gil Hodges’ funeral. I’m sure the prior owners of the Mets had their reasons for this announcement – just like they had their reasons for trading Tom Seaver five years later (who of course, returned in 1983 only to be gone after one year when he was left unprotected in the 1984 free agent compensation pool).

Collins now has a spot in the front office so maybe all’s well that end’s well. Is there a good way to say good-bye to a manager? Even the Yankees and Joe Torre didn’t engage in a group hug when they parted company. There probably isn’t an easy way to say good-bye, but there should be a dignified way.

Thanks, Yanks – It Was a Fun Two Years

As the Yankees playoff drive traveled to Citi Field this week for three games against the “hometeam” Tampa Bay Rays, and filled the stadium with Aaron Judge jerseys, I pictured Mr. Met stepping out of his office, and like any good host, welcoming them to Citi Field. Being the graciously good host that Mr. Met is, I’m sure as he departed their clubhouse, he would have said, “Thank you for loaning us the city for two years. You can have it back now.”

What a marvelous two years it was Mr. Met and company. The team made the postseason in consecutive seasons for only second time in franchise history. They made the World Series for the first time in 15 years in 2015 and taken together, 2015 and 2016 were among the franchise’s best pair of consecutive seasons.

Think about the optimism Mets fans were able to enjoy for two years. Finally they had a pitching staff worthy of comparisons to Seaver/Koosman/Matlack or Gooden/Darling/Ojeda.

Of course, who could forget the generosity of the Bronx Bombers to loan New York City to their neighbors in Queens for two WHOLE years. In contrast, back in 2000, they loaned the city to the Mets for about two innings – as in the time the Mets led Game 1 by a score of 3-2 – before the Yankees prevailed in extra innings.

They were a little more generous in 2006 when the Mets owned the city for about 10 days after the Yankees were bounced from the ALDS amidst a lot of Joe Torre dropping A-Rod to eighth in the lineup drama while the Mets fought their way to Game 7 of the NLCS before Adam Wainwright froze Carlos Beltran with a called strike 3.

It is striking though to think how quickly these two years passed. To compare September 14 statuses, the 2017 Mets would’ve trailed the 2015 version by 21 games (83-61 vs. 63-83) in addition to the fact that the 2015 team was 9.5 games up in the standings while the 2017 team is 26 games back of first place. Pitchers who were supposed to dominate for years can’t quite seem to stay healthy for one year. Two years after the Mets clinched the NLCS in four games at Wrigley Field, the Cubs swept a three game series in the Windy City by a combined score of 39-14.

Ironically, the Yankee record is about the same this year at 79-66 as it was two years ago at 79-64. However, the trajectory of the 2015 team was down as the team was aging and the trajectory for the 2017 seems to match the trajectory of an Aaron Judge Home Run Derby moonshot. They’ve managed to rebuild without plummeting.

On the other hand, the trajectory of the Mets seems to have matched the trajectory of a pop up to the catcher – straight up and straight down.

But let’s be gracious like Mr. Met. Thank you, Yankees. It was a fun two years.