Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Why the Yankees are the Yankees

Sunday the New York Yankees proved once again why they are the Evil Empire to so many baseball fans. Desperate for pitching help, the Yankees announced Roger Clemens would return to the Bronx Bombers signing a pro-rated contract that makes Clemens the highest paid player in Major League Baseball for 2007. In signing with the Yankees, Clemens spurned the Boston Red Sox the organization Clemens first played for. At the end of the day Clemens proved once and for all, he is no more a Boston Red Sox than Johnny Damon will ever be considered a cherished former Red Sox. Both Clemens and Damon are what they appear to be, athletes driven by greed and the all-mighty dollar – as far from Fenway Park’s Yawkey Way as winning, committed baseball players have ever been. Ever the opportunist Roger Clemens is nothing more than a gun for hire, a very costly gun for hire.

Decimated by injuries to several starters and ineffective pitching by the healthy starters the Yankees started May staring at a 6.5 game Boston Red Sox lead in the division. The Red Sox with four healthy starters and the expected return of Jon Lester later this month, the strongest Red Sox bullpen in years, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman knew he had to make a dramatic move if the Yankees were going to legitimately challenge the Red Sox.

The Yankees offered Clemens a pro-rated $28 million contract. Clemens will be paid about $18.5 million, the prorated share of his $28,000,022 salary, according to a high-ranking Yankees official with knowledge of the contract, the largest single-season contract in baseball history. (The $22 is a nod to his jersey number.) Then factor in the 40 percent payroll tax that will be added to the cost of the Yankees signing Clemens ($7.4 million) the Yankees Sunday committed $25.9 million to Clemens. The Yankees will pay Clemens $153,846 a day for the balance of the 2007 season.

The Red Sox ‘final offer’ was a prorated $18 million contract, and with the caveat Clemens would join the Red Sox in late June, not the late May or early June date the Yankees have targeted for Clemens return to pinstripes. The Yankees need was immediate, the Red Sox believed one less month of Clemens pitching would make the 45-year old more effective in October.

The Red Sox were left ‘stunned’ by Clemens decision. Clemens agent Randy Hendricks spent last Monday and Tuesday in Boston meeting with the Red Sox and were left with the belief The Rocket Man would as he had said all along make his decision at the end of the month.

"We met with Randy Hendricks earlier this week and, at Randy's request, made an offer to Roger Clemens," the Red Sox said in a terse statement. "We offered a substantial salary and suggested, for health purposes, that Clemens return on approximately the same timetable as last year. Today we learned from Randy that Clemens has signed elsewhere."

The Houston Astros, who signed Clemens to a full-season salary rate of $22,000,022 last June, never offered a contract according to a USA Today report but were discussing the parameters of a deal, general manager Tim Purpura said. The Astros wanted Clemens for the final three months but not four months.

"It's disappointing, but we've gone through this for three years," owner Drayton McLane told the Houston Chronicle. "We can't continue with this uncertainty year after year. We didn't know how to set the team up. … We've kind of been left high and dry."

The Yankees were in Arlington last week to meet the Texas Rangers in a three game series. Cashman contacted Hendricks and suggested it might be a good time for the two to meet once Hendricks returned to his Houston offices Wednesday. The two never held a face-to-face meeting, but managed to negotiate an agreement by Friday. The Yankees won their three game series in Texas but Hendricks and Clemens knew they had the Yankees where they wanted them – desperate for their help. They’re bargaining position would never be stronger than it was last week. What is important to understand – not only do the Yankees need starting pitching but with the Red Sox staff looking stronger than it has in years the Yankees greatest fear wasn’t Clemens signing with the Red Sox, but the Yankees would fall so far behind the Red Sox, the AL East would be lost and the Bronx Bombers would find it difficult to win the AL Wild Card.

"The Yankees said, 'We're ready when you are. We want you now,' " Hendricks said. "The Astros and Red Sox said late June, early July.

"It came down to this: If he's ready by the end of May, there's no sense in waiting."

The Yankees agreed to a set of terms and conditions with Clemens they found unacceptable for the last three years. Similar to his series of one year contracts with the Houston Astros Clemens will be free to come and go with the Yankees. He will only be expected to be with the Yankees on the days he pitches. The Yankees have used 18 pitchers since opening day, including five rookie starters. The Yankees rotation has a 5.25 ERA, fourth worst in baseball. Their starters have lasted six or fewer innings in 23 of their 29 games.

Desperate times result in decisions that once may have seemed to not be part of how the Yankees want to run their organization, but the Yankees have always been about winning – and if they have any chance of winning in 2007 they had to sign Roger Clemens and agree to whatever Clemens wanted as long as those terms and conditions included The Rocket Man starting every fifth day.

"This is a unique individual," Cashman told the media Sunday, "and one who would allow the situation to work. He'll be here at times; he won't be here at times."

"But I know one thing: We'll be happy every five days when he shows up on our mound."

Said Steinbrenner in a written statement: "Roger Clemens is a winner and a champion, and he is someone who can be counted on to help make this season one that all Yankees fans can be proud of. The sole mission of this organization is to win a world championship."

The Yankees not famous for offering a flare for the dramatic announced Clemens return in spectacular fashion with longtime Yankees public address announcer Bob Shepard asking Yankees fans to turn towards owner George Steinbrenner’s ownership box at the start of the seventh inning stretch.

"I'm coming back to do the only thing they know how to do with the Yankees, and that's win a championship," Clemens bellowed out to the assembled Yankees fans. "Anything else is a failure, and I know that."

"I've got a lot of responsibility on my shoulders, and I understand that," Clemens said. "But I have a lot of help here to get this club where it wants to go. Everyone wants to be a champion. In New York, it's a different level, and I understand that."

The Yankees, because they play in New York (and have the resulting marketing and sponsorship opportunities), have their own cable TV network, have sold more then 4 million tickets for the 2005 and 2006 seasons (and will certainly accomplish that feat this year) have the financial resources to be able to go out and trade for ‘missing parts’.

Simply put other ‘pretenders’ may believe they can go out and match the Yankees on and off the field but at the end of the day only the Yankees talk the talk when they’re doing the walk. The Yankees not only can stand the heat in the kitchen, they’re the ones putting more wood on the fire.

Have the Yankees done anything wrong – no, they’ve improved their team through MLB’s current CBA. If anyone wants to start assessing responsibility, point the fingers at both players and owners collectively for creating an uneven economic playing field that allows teams who can afford to spend whatever they want to spend to do so, as long as they’re willing to pay the price. Hate the Evil Empire if you’d like but you have to admire their business acumen for working within the system to make their team more competitive.

Let this quote from MLB CEO Bob DuPuy to Darren Rovell who was then working for ESPN.com, from Wednesday, August 14, 2002 serve as a reminder how little MLB has learned since they last tried to negotiate a sense of financial sanity into the game.

"The goal of the luxury tax would be to have no one paying it at the end of the day," said DuPuy,. "Ideally, it would compress the ratio from top to bottom teams so that winning would have more to do with personnel decisions and pure brain power than sheer economic advantage."

"It's possible it won't be perfect, but (the luxury tax has) got to help," DuPuy said. "We think it will reduce the Yankees' payroll and it will allow the Kansas Citys, Milwaukees and Torontos to climb back."

And what about the Torontos DuPuy referred to in 2002. The Blue Jays have lost their last six games, are in last place in the AL East and are in ‘trouble’. The challenge the Blue Jays face, the loss of their closer B.J. Ryan. The Blue Jays signed Ryan to a five-year $45 million contract before the start of the 2006 season. Ryan appeared in 42 games for the Blue Jays last year saving 38 of those games. Ryan was the real deal for the Blue Jays last year, 2007 has been a complete disaster for Ryan and the Blue Jays. Ryan showed up at spring training injured, tried to start the 2007 season before ending up on the sixty day disabled list. The Yankees dealt with their pitching problem(s) by signing Clemens, the Blue Jays don’t have the financial resources the Yankees do, nor will they ever.

Reaction to the news Clemens was back in the Bronx was predictable.

"With Roger, what he brings to the table in a clubhouse and the team, it's just a big lift for everybody," Yankees manager Joe Torre said.

"Everyone's excited," said Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. "Rocket's stuff is still good. For the last few years, he's been just as good as ever. He's one of those rare players who gets better with age. But you know, Rocket works hard. He goes out there. He knows how to pitch."

"He's going to help us out," Damon said. "Hopefully, he can get here soon and we can move on his career in wins and strikeouts and everything. The guy is a dominant pitcher, and it's going to be great for our ballclub."

"We knew there was a possibility in the spring," Torre said. "I talked about it with several players. I just felt that Roger's addition to this club would do a few things for us -- obviously, help us win, but another thing, not have to rush the young guys along. We just felt he was a great addition for more than one reason."

Even Daisuke Matsuzaka weighed in on Roger Clemens signing with the Yankees.

"I just heard that he signed with the Yankees and I am surprised," he said. "With his long career and such a fabulous track record, there would have been a lot of things that I probably could have learned from him had we had the chance to play together. But at the same time I don't feel disappointed that we're not going to play together. I think if I really want to take a close look at his pitching, I probably have a better chance to do that if I'm not actually throwing in the same game."

Said fellow Texan Josh Beckett of Clemens: "The greatest pitcher that ever lived to pitch on your staff would be a plus. But we're doing all right without him."

Curt Schilling also noted that Jon Lester should be back sooner than later.

"He was 7-2 last year," Schilling noted. "You never want to say you have enough pitching. We made that mistake last year. But the fact of the matter is, [Clemens] didn't work out here. The bottom line is it's Roger's decision, and nobody's business but Roger's.

"I bet you a lot of guys, if they could play half the year and make $12 million to $14 million for a few months, they'd do it. The [Yankees] can spend the cash. There are only two teams that can do it."

David Ortiz: "Having Clemens in the game is just a plus for baseball. You don't want to see a guy like that gone. It means a lot to the game, a guy like that playing the game. It's good for baseball. It's like Sammy Sosa and those guys."

And reaction in Toronto and in other American League cities with any realistic chance, the Blue Jays and the Yankees and Red Sox opponents had to win in 2007 none but then again their post hopes for 2007 are – all but going, going and gone.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: MLB.com, USA Today and the Boston Globe

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