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Phillips: Cano's demands, Braves/Brewers and best GM moves

Steve Phillips
9/26/2013 9:52:50 PM
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TSN baseball analyst Steve Phillips looks at Robinson Cano's contract demands, who was in the wrong in the Braves/Brewers brawl, the best and worst moves made by GMs this season and the end of the Yankees' run.

1. According to an ESPN report, 30-year-old second baseman Robinson Cano is looking for a 10-year, $305 million contract when he hits free agency after the World Series. Will recent bad examples (A-Rod, Pujols) of such long-term deals make it any harder for Cano to get what he wants, or is it still safe to say someone will pony up?

I completely understand why Robinson Cano would ask for a 10-year, $300M+ deal. Why not? His agent wouldn't be doing his job if he didn't start by asking for the biggest deal ever. Cano is the best player available this off-season and typically that guy asks for the most money ever. The union likes it that way. It is somewhat predictable.

Cano is a Yankee. They have the highest payroll in the game which empowers agents. Considering that the Yanks didn't make the playoffs this year for only the second time in the last 19 years, Cano's camp may sense some desperation on the Yankees behalf to retain him. Desperate teams are easy prey for wily agents.

Robinson Cano is the best second baseman in baseball. Plus, he is the best player on the Yankees. That is worth a ton of money.

Teams with interest in Cano are going to have to weigh the length and volume of the contract. Any player who makes the kind of money that Cano is seeking or that ARod and Pujols are making, effectively own the organization.  Clubs have to decide whether to mortgage the future of their franchises to sign one player. It is risky stuff.

I dealt in chump change back when I was general manager. In 1998, I signed Mike Piazza to a seven-year, $91 million contract, the biggest at the time. That worked out pretty well, although Piazza wasn't nearly the same player the last few years of the deal as he was the first four years.
 
I offered Mike Hampton a seven-year, $105 million deal that he thankfully rejected and signed with Colorado (eight years, $120M). I remember uttering my proposal to Hampton's agent and immediately regretting it. Instant buyer's remorse. I was scared to death to sign a pitcher for that period of time. I was lucky as Hampton turned out to be a bust.

Alex Rodriguez's 10-year, $275 million contract is an albatross around the Yankees' neck. They would love to get out from underneath it. Even if Rodriguez weren't tied to steroid usage, the Yanks would want to dump him. His performance has declined so significantly and he has been hurt so much that they aren't coming close to getting their money's worth. Rodriguez has had numerous off-field issues as well, which have caused distraction and frustration for the organization.

On the other end of the spectrum, Albert Pujols is one of the best human beings in baseball. He is one of the hardest workers and most disciplined players in the game. He works hard and prepares. He cares and he wants to win. He takes care of his body. He is a superstar with a utility man attitude. His contract for 10 years and $240 million looks to have been a bad investment so far, too. Pujols has underperformed during his first two years as an Angel. He has been hampered by injuries, ultimately having his 2013 season ended because of a tear in his foot. What seemed like a great investment in one of the best people/player combinations has quickly unraveled.

There will be very few teams that will even consider Cano. Some teams will be eliminated because of the length of the contract and some because of the annual average value. Even owners who may want to make a splash could quickly be chased away by the Pujols and Rodriguez stories.

The main players in the Cano sweepstakes are likely the Yankees, Dodgers, Angels, Mets and Tigers. For each club though, there is reason to doubt their willingness to spend the big bucks. The Dodgers have big dollars tied up in a number of players already. The Angels have spent money on Pujols and Josh Hamilton over the past two years. How much more risk can they assume?  The Mets are still digging themselves out from the Bernie Madoff mess and were clearly burned by the Johan Santana mega-deal. Plus, the Mets will not start a bidding war in NY that they can't win. The Tigers have been big spenders in a middle market and you have to wonder how much more is in the bank. 

That leaves the Yankees. They have been burned by the ARod deal. Plus, they want a payroll under $189 million and signing Cano would make that nearly impossible.

The rational me thinks that Cano won't get a 10-year deal and he won't get $30 million per year. But the experience in me says that it only takes one team and whenever the Yankees are in the mix, big money will be spent. Remember, there is always one more Yankee dollar than any other club can pay.

My prediction is that the Yankees let Cano test the market where he realizes that the $305 million isn't there. The Yanks ultimately get a deal done in the eight-year, $184 million range.

2. Brian McCann and Carlos Gomez got into it after Gomez had a very slow home run trot in the Brewers win over the Braves on Wednesday. It's the second time McCann has gotten into someone's face this month. Who was in the wrong?

The Braves/Brewers game on Wednesday night was ugly. Carlos Gomez was out of line. He crushed a home run. It was a blast worthy of admiration. Good for him. But you just aren't allowed to stand at home plate and admire it in the big leagues. And admire it, he did. Straight away center field about 12 rows up. The ball sailed out of the park. It hit a seat and bounced another 8-10 rows up. It was only as the ball was rolling back down through the stands that Gomez finally touched first base. What he did violated one of the unwritten rules of baseball: "Thou shall not show up the opposition." When you win a confrontation in baseball, it is not proper etiquette to over-celebrate and rub it in. Gomez clearly did that. He was in the wrong.

The Braves were appropriately angered by Gomez's behavior and let him have it as he ran around the bases, particularly first baseman Freddie Freeman and catcher Brian McCann, who blocked home plate. It is the first and only time I have ever seen a catcher block home plate when the homer went out of the park. He was holding Gomez accountable for his behavior. He was confronting it. Someone had to do it.

Gomez was clearly in the wrong. The Braves were disrespected and needed to address it with Gomez.

The mistake on the Braves part though is that they put at risk their post-season hopes. When McCann's confrontation with Gomez escalated to a bench-clearing brawl, the Braves put at risk their entire season of hard work that put them atop the NL East and a shot at the best overall record. All it takes is one nut job from the Brewers to sucker punch McCann or Freeman or Jason Kimbrel and the Braves' World Series chances would have been greatly diminished.  As it stands, OF Reed Johnson was given a one-game suspension for punching Gomez. Freeman who was also ejected but did not receive a suspension. That is fortunate as the Braves would not catch the Cardinals for the best overall record without him.

So Gomez was more wrong but the greater risk belonged to the Braves.

3. Now that the season is just about done, what was the best move of the year made (or not made) by a GM, and what was the worst?

Over the course of the year, each general manager makes decisions that are good and bad. They find a diamond in the rough or sign a player who gives them exactly what they expected. But they also all miss on a player or two. They trade for a player or sign a player and that guy just doesn't live up to expectations. The teams that go to the playoffs are fortunate to have more players perform than not. They also tend to stay healthier than other teams.

The best move of the year goes to Boston Red Sox. It wasn't any of their acquisitions of Koji Uehara, Matt Thornton, Ryan Dempster, Jake Peavy, Mike Carp, Stephen Drew, Jhonny Gomes, Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli or Joel Hanrahan. Many of those acquisitions have been phenomenal and have paid huge dividends.

The Sox's biggest and best move though was the trade which sent utility man Mike Aviles to the Toronto Blue Jays for manager John Farrell. Blue Jays fans are probably going to scoff at this but it is true.

If fired manager Bobby Valentine managed this same roster, the Sox would not have the best record in baseball. Farrell brought in stability and repair. He brought back the stability that existed under Terry Francona without being Terry Francona. Even Francona couldn't have done the job Farrell did because of the baggage that remained from his dismissal.

The key for the Sox coming into the season was the repair of John Lester and Clay Buchholz. Of course, the rest of the staff needed to perform as well but these two young guns needed to get their careers back on track. In 2012, Lester was 9-14 with a 4.82 ERA. This year, he is 15-8 with a 3.67 ERA. Buchholz is 11-1 this year under Farrell with a 1.60 ERA, despite some arm issues after going 11-8 with a 4.56 ERA. 

In order for the Red Sox to be successful this year, Farrell needed his leaders Dustin Pedroia (.296, 9HR, 83 RBI) and David Ortiz (301, 29 HR, 100 RBI), to be productive and focused in a way that they weren't a year ago. They haven't disappointed as both of them are having highly productive consistent seasons.

Farrell has blended a group of new players into the Red Sox way of doing things, too. It is difficult to assimilate so many new players on the same roster and to get them to quickly feel like a team. He did it like a 20-year veteran manager.

By the way, the next best move made by a team was the Cleveland Indians hiring of Terry Francona. He is as good a game manager as there is and he is great at handling people. He singlehandedly changed the atmosphere in the clubhouse and the dugout. He got the young kids to believe in themselves. He also managed an underwhelming pitching staff to the point where they had success and gained confidence.

The worst move of the year has to be the Angels' signing of Josh Hamilton. I didn't anticipate this one. I actually thought Hamilton with Albert Pujols and Mike Trout in the Angels lineup would be a powerhouse.

Hamilton struggled early and was never able to find his stroke. His .248/.304/433 slash line is the worst of his career. He averages .294/.354./.530. He only has 21 HR and 76 RBI as well. He has looked lost at the plate most of the year. He never had one of his patented hot streaks.

I know that the first year with a new team and a big contract can weigh heavy on players, especially those with the propensity to want to be liked like Hamilton. But he doesn't make adjustments and his bat looks slow. Hamilton will end up with over 160 strikeouts for the second straight year. Maybe all of the years of hard living have caught up to him.

If you couple the poor performance from Hamilton and the injury-plagued production of Pujols, you can understand why the Angels struggled so much this year. That is bad but it is made worse by the fact that the Angels have another $330 million owed between the two of them. If they don't turn it around significantly, we may not see the Angels be competitive for the next decade.

Fair or Foul

The Yankees are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. It is only the second time in the last 19 years that they will be watching October baseball instead of playing it. They have had a great run of success. Over almost two decades, the business plan and baseball plan of the Yankees has worked perfectly. They had good players, which allowed them to win and make money. The additional money allowed them to buy better players and win more games. Which in turn started the cycle all over again. It worked so well that they won five World Series championships, created a regional sports network, built a new stadium and made a great profit.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. And it sure feels like an end is here. Attendance numbers have dropped each of the last three years. YES network ratings have fallen off significantly. Revenues are down. The business plan is falling apart.

The roster has gotten old, too. The Yankees face the reality that Alex Rodriguez (38) is half the player he used to be while his contract is more than three times what he is worth. Mark Teixeira's performance has continued to decline and he lost almost the entire season to injury. He is scheduled to earn $22.5 million per season through 2016. CC Sabbathia's (33) performance has declined as he has thrown almost 3000 innings in 13 years. The captain Derek Jeter (39) hardly played this year as his legs are giving out on him. Andy Pettitte (41), the most successful Yankee starter over the last 19 years, is retiring along with the best closer in the history of the game Mariano Rivera (43). Starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda (38) is a free agent as well as outfielders Curtis Granderson and Ichiro Suzuki (39).

The Yankees best player, Robinson Cano is a free agent as well. Cano is seeking over $300 million for 10 years. The problem is that the Yankees need to make significant additions to a team that had Cano. If they lose him, they have that much deeper a valley to pull themselves out of to get back to a playoff roster. The Yankees are desperate to keep him, which means they may give him a contract they regret five years from now.

General manager Brian Cashman does a great job. But the Yankees need help everywhere. They are old and slow and have tons of money committed to declining players. Factor in that the Steinbrenner boys want the payroll below $189 million and the reality is that the Yanks can't get enough in the free agent market or in trades to get the train back on the tracks.

It was a good run but it is over. The Yanks will be closer to the bottom than the top of the AL east for the next few years and quite possibly longer.

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