RIP Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali died last week. His passing was properly “above the fold” news on the front page as well as on the sports page in most US newspapers. There are celebrity/athletic/cultural icons whose passing is important news across multiple segments of our society. Ali was such an icon.

Many of the best writers of the day wrote a eulogy for Ali and/or memoirs of their interactions with him over the weekend. I will not even try to add anything to their words and their memories.

Rest in peace, Muhammad Ali…

In the beginning of May, the NY Yankees were in last place in the AL East. At that time, they were on pace to lose more than 100 games this season and no Yankees team had done that since 1912. As a reference point, William Howard Taft was the President in 1912.

The Yankees’ GM, Brian Cashman, was majorly displeased with the team record and the team performance at that point and he told the NY Times that there was just so long that one could put up with that sort of nonsense and at some point it had to stop. When I read about this a few weeks ago, I was not sure if this was some sort of “Cover Your Ass” maneuver on the part of Cashman as he sought to focus blame on the players and the manager for the un-Yankee-like performance to start the season. Or perhaps, this malaise was a coded message to the Yankees’ roster that any or all of them could be shipped out to “the hinterlands” of MLB if things did not get better.

I made a note to myself at the time I read the reports about this that perhaps Brian Cashman was getting ninth-dimensional communications from George Steinbrenner about doing something with the current Yankees’ roster – even if it meant trading away hugely over-paid players to other teams and having the Yankees eat a majority of the salary that the player would get with his new team.

That was then; this is now. In the intervening weeks, the Yankees have escaped the cellar in the AL East; at the moment, the Yankees are solidly ensconced in 4th place in the AL East which is made up of 5 teams. [Outside NYC people will note that they are precisely one-half game ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays, but that puts them in 4th place in the AL East and not 5th place.] However, the Yankees are the only team in that division who sports a sub-.500 record against the other teams in that division. For the record, that is not a good thing…

You can blame the Yankees’ players on the field for most – if not all – of this mess; the lack of performance is something the players need to own; the Yankees’ record to date is not a fundamental shortcoming of manager Joe Girardi. You could also – if you were cynical bastard – lay the blame at the feet of the GM who assembled the roster that manager Joe Girardi has to put out on the field every day. Here is how I see the Yankees’ problems.

In previous years, the Yankees behaved like – well, the Yankees – and signed god players who were well into their careers to huge contracts that spread out over long periods of time. When a team does that, the realistic expectation ought to be that the player will do well for the early and middle years of that contract but “underperform” in the later years as Father Time catches up with him. It appears to me that is the case with the 2016 NY Yankees; their opening day payroll was $225.9M; the team is performing like a bargain-basement squad. Consider:

    CC Sabathia: Signed in 2012 to a 5-year deal, he is making $25M this year. His record is 3-4 with a respectable 2.58 ERA. The problem is that he is not performing at the “$25M-level” at age 36. For the record, Sabathia has a vesting option in his contract that will guarantee him another $25M next year if he:

      1. does not end 2016 on the disabled list with a left shoulder injury,

      2. does not spend more than 45 days in 2016 on the disabled list with a left shoulder injury or

      3. does not make more than six relief appearances in 2016 because of a left shoulder injury.

    Mark Teixeira: Signed in 2009 to an 8-year contract that runs out at the end of this season, he is making $22.5M this year. For that, the Yankees are getting a guy who is hitting .180 with 3 HRs and 12 RBIs in 48 games.

    Alex Rodriguez: His contract also runs through the end of the 2017 season. He is making $20M this year – plus incentives – and will make another $20M next year – plus incentives. A-Rod is 40 years old; he is hitting .211 so far this year in only 29 games. He has struck out 36 times and walked only 7 times.

    Brian McCann: Signed in 2014 to a 5-yeqar contract, McCann is making $17M this year and will do so through the end of the 2018 season. He is 32 years old and in 45 games this year he is hitting .220.

    Brett Gardner: Signed in 2015 to a contract that runs through the 2018 season, Gardner is making $13M this season. He is 32 years old and in 51 games this year he is hitting .237 with 5 HRs and 12 RBIs.

I am not trying to pick on those players; those are the stats and the salaries and I think it is fair to say that these 5 guys are underperforming their salary levels; in combination, these guys make $97.5M.

So, who created this situation? Was this Cashman’s doing to sign these guys to deals whereby they would all be here for “declining years” at the same time – and with contracts that would make them untradeable even if they did not have trade protection clauses? Or was this an “ownership” initiative?

Ultimately the fault lies with the players on the field. The manager, Joe Girardi in this case, might come in for some blame if he made bad in-game moves on a routine basis but he cannot be held responsible for the population of the roster. It will be interesting – at least to me – to see what the Yankees do with Carlos Beltran at the end of this season. Beltran is 39 years old now and is making $15M. Compared to the stats above, he is far closer to earning his money; he is hitting .269 and slugging .568. Might the Yankees be tempted to give him a 3-year deal?

Lest any Yankees’ fans think that I am picking on the team, the phenomenon of giving expensive long-term deals to players at points in the players’ careers where the final years would be “underperforming” the salary is not limited to the Yankees. Let me cite one other specific example to demonstrate that case.

    Ryan Howard (Phillies): Signed in 2012 to a contract that expires at the end of this season, Howard is making $25M this year. He is 36 years old and at the moment, he is on the bench much of the time because he is hitting .151 and slugging .336.

Finally, Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald got some mileage from a very reliable source – José Canseco’s Twitter feed:

“Jose Canseco tweeted that when a “yellow stone” park volcano blows it’ll destroy the continental U.S. I don’t know about you, but I prefer to get my scientific forecasts from people who know that ‘Yellowstone’ is one word.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………