The Week That Was in Baseball: December 2-8, 2013
Ten Red Sox Players Who Donned Pinstripes • Robinson Cano Lands in Seattle
Leonys Martin Sues his Agents/Captors • Is $500 Million Coming to Mike Trout?
From New England to New Enemy
Turncoats. Traitors. Dead Sox. Nothing says “(expletive deleted) You” more than a Boston fan gnashing his teeth watching one of their long beloved Red Sox players put on pinstripes in New York with the archrival Yankees. This past week, Red Sox Nation was once again shaken and stirred by the free agent signing of center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who left Boston for a seven-year, $153 million deal with the Yankees.
The Boston-New York Express often seems to be a one-way ticket; you don’t see as many ex-Yankees coming the other way to Beantown. To illustrate this history, here’s a list of ten fabled Red Sox players, besides Ellsbury, who eventually made their way to the Bronx:
Wade Boggs. After 11 seasons in Boston—the last of which was easily his worst with a bad back and a .259 average—the perennial batting champ was lured away by George Steinbrenner to a three-year, $11 million deal considered pricey for the times. Boggs responded with a return to .300+ form, hitting .313 over the next five years, making four All-Star appearances and collecting the only World Series ring of his career when the Yankees overcame Atlanta in 1996.
Roger Clemens. The Rocket arrived in the Bronx by way of Toronto after two brilliant years with the Blue Jays—who basically gave him to the Yankees as part of a bizarre gentleman’s agreement in which Clemens basically said, “You can’t have me anymore, so send me to New York.” With the Yankees, Clemens gave the Yankees five years of quality service from 1999-2003 with a stellar 77-36 record (despite a not-so-stellar 3.99 ERA) and then—goodness gracious!—returned in 2007 from one of his many short-lived retirements for what would be his final hurrah on a mound.
Johnny Damon. The long-haired, bearded one became a folk hero to Boston fans when his two homers and six RBIs in Game Seven at New York sank the Yankees and capped the Red Sox’ historic 2004 ALCS comeback; rather than get mad, Steinbrenner got even by signing Damon as a free agent for 2006. The agile outfielder was forced to comply with the Yankees’ clean-shaven rules, going from the Haight-Ashbury look to someone who could have fit in Beaver Cleaver’s neighborhood, hitting a solid .285 and twice setting personal bests with 24 homers (in 2006 and the championship 2009 campaign) over a four-year period before going vagabond in the twilight of his career.
Duffy Lewis. Popular in Boston, the left fielder starred on three championship teams in the 1910s while fans referred to the steep earthen upslope behind his position (before the Green Monster came into being) as “Duffy’s Cliff.” But when Lewis missed the 1918 season after being called to World War I duty, an everyday spot opened up for the Red Sox to take advantage of pitcher Babe Ruth’s very impressive hitting skills, and shortly thereafter Lewis was dealt to New York in one of the first of Boston owner Harry Frazee’s many one-sided trades to the Yankees.
Sparky Lyle. The quote-spewing reliever spent his first five years in Boston and endeared himself to Red Sox fans as he evolved into one of the best closers of the 1970s, when such players were often asked to pitch more than just the ninth inning. Then, in one of the worst trades in Red Sox history, Lyle was sent to the Yankees in exchange for versatile Danny Cater, who flamed out in Boston—while Lyle continued his borderline Hall-of-Fame career with the Yankees, twice leading the AL in saves while racking up two World Series rings during a seven-year tenure in pinstripes.
Red Ruffing. The last significant giveaway to the Yankees before Tom Yawkey came in and put the franchise back on its feet in 1933. Yet at the time, Boston clearly thought it was getting a steal in dealing a pitcher who was an awful 39-96 in six-plus years with the Red Sox in exchange for a back-up outfielder (Cedric Durst) and $50,000. But as usual, the Yankees got the last laugh; inspired by the winning Yankee culture, Ruffing transformed into an excellent and durable pitcher, peaking in the Yankees’ four straight championship seasons of 1936-39 when he won at least 20 each year.
Half of the 1919 Red Sox Team. What Boston fans saw after the end of World War I would, in large part, be embraced over the next ten years and beyond by New York fans as Harry Frazee sent away, one by one and sometimes more, components of a Red Sox team that had helped win four world titles during the 1910s. Eleven players of the 1919 Red Sox would eventually end up in pinstripes—including practically the entire starting rotation (Carl Mays, Sad Sam Jones, Herb Pennock, Waite Hoyt, Bullet Joe Bush) and, most famously, breakout megastar Babe Ruth, sold to the Yankees after 1919 for a then-eye-popping $125,000 and $350,000 in loans (with Fenway Park as collateral).
George Scott. Nicknamed Boomer, Scott was the Red Sox’ first incarnation of David Ortiz, a first baseman/DH popping home runs with a burly frame—and yet he finished his career a Yankee. Scott’s New York stay wasn’t too painful for Red Sox fans as he was picked up in a desperate attempt by the Yankees to catch up and win the AL East (they didn’t, finishing 13.5 games behind Baltimore).
Luis Tiant. Like Scott, the beloved El Tiante found himself in New York in 1979 via free agency and gave more impact, going 21-17 over a two-year period. Nearing the age of 40, Tiant wasn’t sorely missed by Red Sox Nation, but he did remind them of greatness past by winning two of three decisions against Boston in five starts with a 2.80 ERA.
Kevin Youkilis. His best years clearly behind him, the third baseman who gave the Red Sox six strong, memorable seasons hooked on with the Yankees for 2013 and faded out early with severe back issues, hitting just .219 in 28 games. His forecast for playing anywhere in 2014 is cloudy at best.
The Robinson Cano free agency saga came to an end this past week when he found a surprise middle-class suitor in the Seattle Mariners, who gave the All-Star second baseman a ten-year, $240 million. The signing followed a rash of conflicting reports in which Cano and his agents had a deal, then didn’t when the Mariners were heard to angrily react to rapper/agent Jay-Z’s last-minute demand for a tenth year, then did when everyone finally agreed. (The Mariners’ reported outburst wasn’t their first to be leaked to the public, after a scathing Seattle Times weekend story exposed an acrimonious and dysfunctional front office in Seattle.)
In the end, Cano didn’t get the deal he originally imagined when Jay-Z’s team demanded a $300 million pact, but the $240 million deal struck with Seattle was much better than most on the outside had anticipated he would get—especially after the incumbent Yankees were offering a take-it-or-leave-it option of seven years for roughly $175 million.
There were murmurs during the weekend that Cano didn’t want to return to New York anyway, because he disliked manager Joe Girardi.
It remains to be seen whether the signing of Cano can turn the Mariners into an instant contender in a highly competitive AL West. Seattle has a bunch of swing-and-miss hitters and a thin rotation buffeted by some young prospects (Taijuan Walker, James Paxton) who the M’s hope mature fast; and there’s no promise that Cano will produce Yankee Stadium-like numbers in a park (Safeco Field) that’s still not entirely hitter-friendly, even with the recent moving in of the fences.
Meanwhile, back in New York, the Yankees now have a very shaky infield with two injury-prone stars (Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira), a third baseman (Alex Rodriguez) who may miss all of 2014 to suspension and a replacement for Cano (Kelly Johnson, for the moment), who’s been bouncing around—and for good reason.
The Week of Who’s Where Now
The Yankees made up by strengthening their roster with the addition of Ellsbury and, after losing Cano on Friday, Carlos Beltran—who signed a three-year, $45 million contract and will likely be the team’s DH. They also talked out of retirement pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, who at age 38 was the team’s most effective starter last year with a 3.31 ERA despite an 11-13 mark.
This week also saw significant movement among many players and free agents, including:
Curtis Granderson, another Yankee loss, moving across town to the New York Mets for four years and $60 million. It’s a fine pickup for the Mets, who could use some flash in their lineup.
Mike Napoli, who returns to Boston for two years and $32 million. Hopefully he passes the physical this time.
Brian Wilson, who impressed the Los Angeles Dodgers enough with his post-injury audition that he’ll return to the Southland for a one-year deal and $10 million plus a player option for 2015.
Infielder Rafael Furcal, who missed all of last season in St. Louis with Tommy John surgery, is headed to Miami after signing a one-year, $3.5 million deal—with incentives. It wasn’t the only acquisition by the Marlins; they also nabbed former Boston catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia for three years and $21 million. This hardly adds up to Miami’s pre-2012 spree, but the moves are of a sign of a bounce back after giving everyone away before the 2013 season.
Finally, pitcher Scott Kazmir was rewarded for his return to form by signing a two-year, $22 million deal with the Oakland A’s—who also made news by trading for Baltimore closer Jim Johnson, Texas outfielder Craig Gentry and San Diego reliever Luke Gregerson.
Smart Move, Baltimore?
The willingness for the Orioles to send away Johnson was particularly interesting. Yes, free agency is emerging for the closer, but no American League closer before Johnson in 2012-13 saved 50 or more games in back-to-back campaigns—and given the Orioles’ penchant for winning close games over the last two years, his departure could be crippling for their chances in 2014.
The Man With the Money Not Spent
For fans of the Oakland A’s who’ve made a dartboard with Lew Wolff’s picture on it, Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle wants to remind you that the person you really should be venting at for the team not spending money is the true owner of the club: John Fisher.
Obtained, Trained—and Chained?
The dark side of freedom for Cuban baseball refugees was exposed this past week when three people were arrested in Miami for conspiring to smuggle, kidnap and extort 14 Cuban baseball players—including Texas outfielder Leonys Martin.
It’s a complex story, but this is basically the bit of it: When Martin fled Cuba, he was helped by three people said to be running a baseball academy in Mexico targeted toward foreigners looking to make it big in MLB. Once in Mexico, Martin was housed, fed and trained for baseball—but he claims he was also held against his will, as was his family in Miami, by the same people holding him in Mexico. Ultimately, the three accused demanded 30% of all MLB paychecks written out to Martin; at one point, he did cut them a $1.35 payment, allegedly doing so out of fear for his family.
Two of the three charged are already in prison for participating in a Medicare fraud scheme.
Led by One of Their Own
The Major League Baseball Players Association made it official this week and named Tony Clark as their new leader, taking over for the late Michael Weiner. Clark, a slugger of 15 years with 251 career homers for six different teams—most prolifically with Detroit in the team’s final years at Tiger Stadium—becomes, at age 41, the first ex-player ever to lead the union. Although he’s only been out of the game for four years, he’s been actively involved in the union since 1999 and impressed enough people to be given the job.
If you think the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim spent a bank load of money to bring in Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, then strap yourselves in. Troy Renck of the Denver Post sees the future for Mike Trout and it ain’t cheap; he thinks the spectacular Angels outfielder can grab a ten-year, $500 million deal when he becomes a free agent in 2017. Think about it: Half a billion bucks for one player. Baseball, indeed, is a business.
Real Estate Home of the Week
Got $23.5 million lying around? If so, Barry Bonds’ Beverly Hills home can be yours. That’s the figure Bonds is putting up to sell the palatial 17,000-square foot compound on 1.85 acres he bought in 2002 for $8.7 million. According to the real estate web site Zillow, The mortgage payment on a 30-year fixed for this place is estimated at nearly $100,000.
It Said What?
“Remember Pearl Harbor with bombs and kamikazes.” —Message placed on marquee sign outside of Murphy’s Bleachers near Chicago’s Wrigley Field this past Saturday, December 7. The owners went on social media to apologize and blamed it all on the “actions of our staff.”
TGG Chats With Steve Sax
Check out the latest installment of our They Were There sction as Ed Attanasio sits down with former Dodger and Yankee Steve Sax on a number of topics, including Sax's mental block at second base, life on two championship teams in Los Angeles and his appearance on The Simpsons.
Updated on TGG
The Teams section has been fully updated to reflect the advancement of many active players on the Top Ten lists based on their 2013 performances, as well as changes to the lists after sensible adjustments were made to our two TGG metrics, the Productivity Index and the Efficiency Index. Check it out!
The Comebacker's Greatest Hits: Click here to look at the TGG Comebacker archive going back to the start of the 2008 season.
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