Jan. 29 -- A-Rod thoughts

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I don't have an advance copy of the Joe Torre book -- I'll pick up my copy Tuesday like the rest of you. But I have been enjoying the coverage.

One of the things that still amazes me, after all the years he's been here, is how Alex Rodriguez always takes shrapnel even when it's not his fight.

I'm sure Torre didn't set out to put A-Rod in the middle of controversy about the slugger's maddening personality. According to the reprint quotes we've seen, it appears all Torre offers about A-Rod is some objective analysis of the same things about him that frustrate us all -- his obsession with appearance, his paralyzing need for acceptance and acclaim. Rodriguez has always been a mystery -- How can a guy who has so much going for him be so insecure? And it seems as if Torre is merely articulating his own efforts to solve it.

Are we really surprised to know that A-Rod wants to be Derek Jeter? As somebody who spent significant time in that clubhouse the past five years, I'm certainly not. A-Rod has, since becoming a Yankee, worked hard to be like Jeter in his dealings with the media -- closed-off, cliche-happy and boring. The difference is that Jeter does all of that naturally, while A-Rod has to work at it.

A-Rod is actually an interesting guy to talk to about baseball. He loves the game and works so hard at it that he has a great deal to offer in terms of analysis -- of his own game and other people's. I have had many one-on-one conversations with him about baseball, and they're almost always educational. We've discussed technical aspects of playing third base and of basestealing. We've talked about the perception of him as a poor "clutch" player, what he thinks of that and how he copes with it. When you ask him a good question about the game, he can help educate you about the game. The hardest part is finding him. Or getting him to take those stupid headphones off and talk to you.

Are we really surprised to hear, from Torre, that A-Rod "needs people to make a fuss over him?" This couldn't be more obvious to anybody who watches the guy. Every movement is measured, every ounce of attention absorbed. When all the Madonna stuff was going down last year in late June and early July, I talked to a person in the Yankees' clubhouse and asked how he was handling it. The answer: "Are you kidding? He loves this stuff. He loves being a big enough star to be on the cover of US Weekly. This isn't going to bother him one bit."

Did you ever see Alex slap his hands together, ala Paul O'Neill, after a big hit? Yeah, no coincidence. He copied that right from O'Neill, and here's why. Alex is fascinated, jealously so, of the late 1990s Yankee teams. He asked a teammate, during his first year in New York, why the fans love Scott Brosius so much. Brosius was a good player, but well short of Hall of Fame caliber, Rodriguez thought. So why all the adulation?

The answer is, of course, the thing that A-Rod doesn't get. Oh he gets the superficial part of it -- the fact that Brosius, O'Neill and Tino Martinez are so beloved in New York because they won championships. Rodriguez burns to win one, if for no other reason than to cut out the most glaring bad spot on his resume.

But there's a deeper reason Brosius and those guys attained an affection that Rodriguez can't. Brosius never carried himself the way A-Rod does -- as if he needed people to notice the things he was doing, as if he couldn't really be great unless somebody told him they knew he was great. Brosius carried himself like a guy who only cared about doing his little part to help the team win that day's game. He didn't fake it. He didn't spout cliches about it. He just did it, without pretense.

Think further back. Think about Don Mattingly. Unlike Brosius, Mattingly was a great player -- borderline Hall of Fame caliber. But he never appeared to need people to know how great he was. He was just great, on his own, and if you didn't think so it wasn't going to matter to him.

Why does A-Rod always take shrapnel, even when it's not his fight? Unfortunately, it's for a reason of his own making. He attracts attention because he so obviously needs it. And when you're as great and as public and as obviously emotionally needy as he is, you're going to attract all kinds of attention -- positive and negative -- whether you deserve it or not.

Dan

Jan. 23 -- Mets Pitching Update -- Sheets, Perez, etc.

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Over the past couple of days, I have talked with some Mets people and some people outside the organization familiar with their thinking, and here are some of the notes I've come up with:

-With the signing of Freddy Garcia, the Mets are taking their cue from the Red Sox and the way they've approached their off-season. Boston signed Brad Penny and John Smoltz to low-base, incentive-type deals because they're injury risks that could, if healthy, be spectacularly helpful. This is why the Mets haven't totally ruled out a Pedro Martinez return -- thinking that a rotation of Santana/Maine/Pelfrey plus two-of-three from the Garcia/Martinez/Redding group (depending upon who's healthy) isn't a terrible fallback if they can't get another big-name guy.

-However, they are still pursuing another big-game guy, and right now there's a lot of discussion about whether that guy should be Ben Sheets. Omar Minaya and other high-ranking officials are thought to prefer Oliver Perez, but there are people in the organization who think their money would be better spent on Sheets, since he's a real No. 1-caliber pitcher when healthy and Perez is, at best, a No. 2 or 3 (with the walk rate of a No. 5). The thinking is that, with Garcia and Redding in the fold and Jonathon Niese at Triple-A, the Mets could "baby" Sheets -- be ultra-protective of his arm, get him extra rest when possible and make sure they have him healthy for September and (hopefully) October. The pro-Sheets voices in the organization fantasize about a Santana/Sheets combo that would potentially be the best 1-2 rotation punch in the National League.

-One issue, of course, is what kind of contract Sheets wants. Back in December, the Yankees were kicking around the idea of a two-year, $26 million guarantee with two option years that would vest if he stayed healthy during the guarantee portion of the contract. Time having passed and the market having slowed to a halt, Sheets probably wouldn't require $13 million per year to sign now. But the Mets are reluctant so far to offer two years, given Sheets' injury history. Perhaps the Texas Rangers' apparent interest could spur them to offer more, though it might also spur them to up their offer to Perez, if that's the guy they decide they prefer.

-The other issue, according to one person who's been in contact with the Mets' front office, is the fear that Sheets wouldn't be the only pitcher the Mets would have to "baby." There's a feeling in the organization that John Maine's shoulder problems, coming as they did after the departure of former pitching coach Rick Peterson, were no coincidence. Peterson had a program that sought out extra days of rest for Maine when the schedule permitted (off-days, rainouts, All-Star break, etc.) because he feared Maine's delivery made him a breakdown candidate if he pitched every fifth day for months at a time. Maine did break down in the second half last year, and some wonder if they'll have to build in extra rest for him in 2009 to make sure he's healthy. There is a companion concern about Mike Pelfrey, who pitched more innings in 2008 than he ever did before, though that concern is based more on theory, since Pelfrey did not have Maine's injury issues last year.

You get the picture. If the rotation is Santana/Maine/Pelfrey/Sheets/Garcia, that's three guys with injury/health concerns that would have to get extra rest whenever possible. Perez, whatever else he is, is durable and wouldn't need to be "babied." Putting together a rotation with so many guys who have had arm problems could create a logistical and managerial nightmare.

But one thing that's come through consistently in the conversations I've had about the Mets is that they're in no rush. They love Garcia. They think Redding is going to be very useful. They think Niese is ready to help at the major-league level. Basically, they feel they have options at the back end of the rotation and that there's still enough starting pitching on the market (we haven't even mentioned Jon Garland and Randy Wolf here) that they'll be able to add one more guy to the front and/or middle. Spring training may only be three weeks away, but that timetable isn't pushing the Mets to panic into a move they don't want to make.

Jan. 22 -- Well, now I'm convinced

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Yeah, this does it. I'd never really believed any of that huge pile of evidence, circumstantial and otherwise, that Mark McGwire did steroids. But now that his estranged, no-name, obviously-desperate-for-money brother is writing a book that says he did...wow. My eyes are open.

Sheesh.

I have two points on McGwire. I consider them unrelated, though people seem desperate to relate them. They are:

1. I do not vote for him for the Hall of Fame. I believe, on the strength of his numbers, he would qualify easily. But I also believe he cheated in an effort to attain those numbers, and my personal feeling on my role as a Hall of Fame voter is that I should not reward that. Others feel differently, which is their right. This is where I come down on McGwire. It hasn't changed so far. Could it change in the next 12 years and lead me to vote for him? Of course. But it's hard to imagine how.

2. I believe he did the game a disservice by not coming clean in front of congress, and I believe he continues to do the game a disservice with his continued silence on the issue. There would be value in an in-depth, thorough, well-informed investigation into the steroid era. (i.e., something a lot better than the scratch-the-surface Mitchell Report) Baseball could learn and grow from a hard look at the way it all went down and the reasons for it. I believe Mark McGwire, who was obviously at the center of it, could obviously help with such an investigation. And as somebody who loves the game, I wish he would.

However, this has no impact on my Hall of Fame decision regarding McGwire. Had he come clean in front of congress, or were he to apologize now, it would not change my mind. I believe he cheated in an effort to go from great player to Hall of Fame player, and I don't think it's my job to reward that. Just because a guy apologizes and admits what I already believe about him doesn't change what he did, or its impact on my decision.

I think McGwire should come clean because I think he could help the game by doing so. But the debate over whether he would/should somehow be "forgiven" or elected to Cooperstown if he came clean is, I believe, silly. And not as important as the good that could come of his (and many others') so-far-elusive honesty.

Jan. 19 -- Varitek tears a page from the A-Rod book?

11:24 AM

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Hmmmm....Where have we heard this before?

A Scott Boras client, failing to find the open market as open as he'd hoped he would, goes back to the team for which he played last year on his own, without Boras, pledges his undying loyalty to the team and says he'd like to do a deal after all.

It worked like a charm for Alex Rodriguez last winter, and Jason Varitek hopes it works for him this year.

At the time that A-Rod pulled the trick on the Yankees, signing for a deal that was bigger and better than the one he supposedly offended them by opting out of, it smelled fishy. The whole idea of some kind of "split" between Boras and his best client was hard to swallow. I have always believed it was Boras' idea, and a great one. ("Alex, here's how we play it. Go back to them, tell them you want to cut me out and talk to them face to face. Let me be the bad guy. I can handle it. Been doing it my whole career, and it's worked out real nice.")

Last year, it worked so beautifully because both sides had reason to go along, publicly, with the ruse. Rodriguez got to look like the returning hero, ditching the big, bad agent for the sake of his love of the pinstripes. The Yankees got to look as if they'd pulled one over on the big, bad agent, and they got the player they wanted all along.

Like him or not, Boras isn't just good at his job. He's great at his job. Right now, it looks like he made a rare miscalculation when he advised Varitek not to accept arbitration. But if he can finagle a couple of extra million bucks out of John Henry by pulling the same trick he pulled with A-Rod on the Yankees a year ago, then good for him.

He'd just better be careful. This starts happening every winter, somebody's going to catch on...

Jan. 14 -- Mets' pitching options post-Lowe

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A couple of Mets people I talked to yesterday sounded crushed that Derek Lowe had signed with the Braves. These are people who preferred Lowe to Oliver Perez because the former is more reliable and the latter...um...a touch flaky.

Another part of the concern is that the Mets don't yet know how their new ballpark is going to play. Omar Minaya has, in recent years, sought out flyball pitchers that he thought would benefit from spacious Shea Stadium. Perez and John Maine are two examples of flyball pitchers Minaya was able to get at low cost because most teams prefer groundball pitchers.

But while studies seem to show Citi Field will be an extreme pitcher's park, perhaps even more than Shea was, the Mets aren't sure, and some in the organization felt like Lowe was a better bet than Perez because he keeps the ball on the ground.

But the Mets didn't want to give Lowe four years, and they didn't want to give him $15 million a year, so off he goes to Atlanta, and now they turn their attention to Perez.

Right now, the Mets feel like they can get Perez at their price, because they don't think anybody else is interested. But two weeks ago, nobody else was interested in Lowe, and he ended up in Atlanta. It's certainly not beyond Scott Boras to wrangle Texas or the Dodgers or somebody like that into a Perez deal, and if his price gets to $60M/4 as Lowe's did, he's not coming back to the Mets.

Which leaves them with...what? Randy Wolf? Jon Garland? Pedro Martinez? Those are the names you hear, depending on which Mets person you're talking to on a given day. But I have a couple of outside-the-box ideas that the Mets should at least consider:

1. Andy Pettitte. Why not? They know he can pitch in New York. Last year wasn't a great one for him, but he still won 14 games with a 4.54 ERA in the tougher league. A switch to the NL might benefit him, and they could probably get him for one year and $12 million. They were willing to pay Lowe $12 million a year for three years. Why not Pettitte for the same money and less of a commitment?

2. Ben Sheets. Until yesterday, Mets people had been consistently saying the same thing about Sheets all winter -- too concerned about the injury history, not interested. But there's a movement among some in the organization to take a shot on Sheets, who's as talented as any pitcher in baseball when he is healthy.

When the Yankees were talking Sheets in December, their plan was to offer him a two-year deal for about $12 million - $13 million per year, plus team options for 2011 and 2012 that would increase in value (and possibly vest) if he stayed healthy in 2009 an 2010. The price may have come down since then, and it's worth thinking about. A rotation of Santana/Sheets/Main/Pelfrey/Redding would be pretty good during the stretches when Sheets is healthy, and they could pick up another desperate veteran or two (Josh Towers? Jeff Weaver? There are a million of these guys out there.) that they could stash in the bullpen or at Triple-A in case Sheets got hurt or they needed to rest him to keep him healthy.

Just a couple of ideas in case the Ollie thing falls apart, that's all.

Jan. 13 -- My Hall of Fame Regret

What's the most disappointing thing about this year's Hall of Fame voting for me?

Not that Jim Rice got in and Bert Blyleven didn't.

Not that Lee Smith got twice as many votes as Tim Raines, who helped win so many more games.

Not that Rickey Henderson wasn't unanimous. (A truly ludicrous thing about which to be upset, I think. People can vote or not vote however they want, and the people who don't know what it's like to cast this vote have no business haranguing those who do for their decisions, no matter how crazy they may seem.)

No, the most disappointing thing for me is that David Cone didn't get enough votes to stay on the ballot.

A player must get at least five percent of votes cast to remain on the ballot the following year. Cone got just 21 votes in a year when 539 ballots were submitted -- 3.9 percent. His name won't be on next year's ballot, or any of the ballots to follow.

It wouldn't have made the difference (he needed six more votes to stay on the ballot, 384 more to get in), but I wish I'd voted for Cone. No, the numbers don't get him there. A 194-126 record, 3.46 ERA, 2,668 strikeouts in 2,898 innings. Those numbers say "really, really good pitcher." They do not say "Hall of Fame."

But there was so much more to Cone's career. He won the Cy Young Award in 1994 and finished third in 1988, fourth in 1995 and 1998 and sixth in 1999. He was a five-time World Series champion who had a 2.12 ERA in six World Series appearances (his last the one-third-of-an-inning job in 2000 when he relieved an angry Denny Neagle and popped up Mike Piazza to end the fifth inning of Game 4).

During his career, Cone played in 15 postseason series. His teams won 12 of them.

But the thing that will stand out for me, and for so many others who covered Cone, is the guy he was in the clubhouse. He was ever a leader, a spokesman, a go-to guy for media who covered the team. He was as good at this part of the game as anybody I've ever seen.

Joel Sherman of the New York Post, who's done this longer than I have and covered Cone for many more years than I did, has a regular speech he makes when talking about this aspect of Cone. He says Cone knew the difference between a beat writer and a national writer, between a national writer and a columnist -- that he knew what each person or group of people who stood before him with pen and paper needed and he made sure to deliver.

This may not seem like much to fans who care only about what happens on the field and little about whether the reporters get treated well, but it's a big part of the game. The media, like it or not, are a conduit between the fans and the players. We get to go into the clubhouses and onto the fields and ask the questions fans would like to ask if they had our passes. As a result, the fans' understanding of the game is enriched in a way it can't be in sports (like football) where the access is so much more limited.

Cone was a big part of that, and I submit that the fans' enjoyment of the teams on which he played was enriched by his perpetual willingness to help the reporters who covered those teams write better stories. That's a unique contribution to the game and its history, and I wish six more of us had cast ballots to reward it. David Cone probably wasn't a Hall of Famer, but he is the kind of guy who deserves to have his name on that ballot every year, the way guys like Don Mattingly and Dave Parker and even Harold Baines do.

I wish I'd voted for him, and I wish he'd got enough votes to stay on that ballot. It would have been a nice way to say thanks.

Dan

Jan. 12 -- Hall of Fame voting results

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No real surprise -- Rickey Henderson gets in easily and Jim Rice barely (by eight votes!). I'm on record on Rice (see post below), and I agree with what Joe Sheehan just said on ESPN -- that this opens the door for other corner outfielders in the future to say, "I was as good as that guy; I should be in too."

Andre Dawson and Dave Parker can make that case right now, and maybe Dale Murphy. Had any of those three had a PR campaign behind them with the strength of the one Rice had for the past decade, they'd probably be in right now. But that's the way it goes, and while I disagree with the decision, it's not my business to tell anybody they shouldn't have voted the way they did.

I'm surprised Bert Blyleven and Tim Raines didn't show more improvement. Blyleven picked up two votes from last year and Raines lost 10. But overall, the whole ballot remained pretty steady. Here are the 2008 totals vs. the 2009 totals for some key guys:

Player 08 09 =/-
Rice 392 412 (+20)
Dawson 358 361 (+3)
Blyleven 336 338 (+2)
Lee Smith 235 240 (+5)
Jack Morris 233 237 (+4)
Tommy John 158 171 (+13)
Raines 132 122 (-10)
McGwire 128 118 (-10)

Rice and John both got that "boost" you hear about in their final years on the ballot. For Rice, it was enough. For John, not even close. But very little movement on those other guys. Dawson and Blyleven are currently in the percentage range of guys who will eventually get in, but they have to be wondering why they stalled out this year.

As for Raines, I really thought he'd pick up some votes this year. There's been a lot of attention on his candidacy, mainly because the stat-head sector favors him strongly. (I am with them on this, incidentally.) But maybe the voting reflects a backlash against the statistical evaluators and their expanding platform. After all, they don't like the Rice pick, and his number improved each of the past few years. And knowing a little bit about the way the BBWAA voting base and the statistics crowd do their business, I don't think the possibility of a backlash is farfetched.

Anyway, I remember two years ago, when Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn went in as no-brainer slections. As always, there was much attention paid to who didn't get in and why. (That was McGwire's first year on the ballot, for instance.) But in the end, that year's election and ceremony became about the greatness of those two players, which was nice. This one should evolve into a celebration of the quirky brilliance of Rickey Henderson, who stands as one of the greatest players ever to play the game. Neither the presence of Rice, who doesn't belong, nor the absence of Blyleven and Raines, who do, should detract from that.

Dan

Jan. 12 -- The Week Ahead: Hall of Fame and maybe a Derek Lowe decision?

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The results of the annual BBWAA Hall of Fame voting will be announced this afternoon. Rickey Henderson's a sure thing, but the drama will revolve around Jim Rice and others on the cusp.

This is my fourth year as a Hall voter, and I voted for four players this year -- Henderson, Tim Raines, Bert Blyleven and Jack Morris. I explained this ballot in my final blog post for nj.com and The Star-Ledger some weeks ago, but the basics on Rice, for me, are these:

1. The numbers aren't good enough.

2. Fenway was an extreme hitter's park (especially a right-handed power hitter's park) during Rice's career, which means the numbers (which aren't good enough) are inflated.

3. Rice's case isn't demonstrably better than those of Andre Dawson, Dave Parker and Don Mattingly (did you know Parker had five top-five MVP finishes to Rice's six?), so if I voted for him I feel I'd have to vote for them, and I don't, because as great as they all were, they weren't great enough for this particular honor. In my opinion. Which is what this is -- a collection of the opinions of the people who have at least 10 years of membership in the BBWAA.

I consider my opinion very deeply every year, and reserve my right to change my mind on players from year to year. I still could be convinced to vote for Alan Trammell next year, or David Cone if he stays on the ballot. But I thought very hard about both of them, and all the other names on the ballot, and this year they didn't make my cut.

Anyway, I do think Rice will get in this year, and maybe Dawson and hopefully Blyleven (I still don't understand the case against him). But I'll check back on this, today after they're announced and tomorrow from the press conference in New York.

As for the locals, the Yankees are probably quiet this week unless Pettitte makes up his mind. I still say the Mike Cameron trade isn't dead -- especially if Pettitte goes elsewhere (where, though?) or if they can include Nick Swisher or Kei Igawa in the deal (which has been discussed). My best guess is that Pettitte signs in the coming weeks and they deal Xavier Nady sometime in spring training, but we'll see. Lots could still develop before pitchers and catchers report.

The Mets are waiting on Derek Lowe. Some reports suggest that the Braves have moved into front-runner status here, but I'm not sure it's that clear-cut. Even those reports say the Braves aren't expected to offer more than about $40 million or $42 million for three years. I've talked to people familiar with the Braves' thinking who say they're not eager to add a fourth year. And I've talked to people familiar with the Mets' thinking who say that $40-$42 million range is not out of the realm of possibility for them. (Their first offer, after all, was $36M for three years.)

The reports suggesting the Braves are front-runners seem to presuppose that Lowe would choose Atlanta over New York if all things were equal. But why would we assume that? Lowe liked pitching in Boston, in a big market and under perennial pennant race pressure, so he wouldn't steer away from New York for reasons that other small-market-minded players might. If the offers come in equal or similar, who's to say he wouldn't pick one from the Mets?

The Mets people I speak to are under the impression that their offer will end up being similar to Atlanta's and that they stand a good chance of having Lowe pick them. They believe they probably could get him by adding a fourth year to their offer, and of course they might. But right now they don't want to, and the main reason is that they don't see any other suitors for Oliver Perez, who's their second choice for the rotation if they don't get Lowe. They are confident they'll get Lowe OR Perez for a price they like, and either will be fine with them.

Obviously, Scott Boras' hope is that they crack, add the fourth year out of fear of him going to Atlanta, and then he can go out and drum up a market for Perez. But so far this winter, the Mets have proceeded at their pace and demanded that players meet their price. I've heard nothing yet to indicate that they're about to change that.

Jan. 10 -- Is Fernando Martinez keeping Manny Ramirez out of New York?

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Well, no, of course not. But a couple of comments on an earlier post were interesting as they pertained to F-Mart and the Mets' corner outfield situation. Here they are, in order, courtesy of "grab22":

Dan, do you think this is the year that Fernando Martinez will finally break out? I fear that if he has another "average" year (.285 7 HR, etc.), that his status as a top prospect will officially start to drop. If he does indeed break out, could he see regular playing time with the Mets?

and...

It seems as if Omar is content with standing pat in regards to the offense based on the success of last year (offensively speaking). But there should be concern about Delgado possibly regressing to his 2007 levels again. If that happens, the offense is in deep trouble. Do you think it's a mistake for Omar not to be pursuing an offensive upgrade for left field such as Adam Dunn?


I liked the second one best, because I could answer each of its parts succinctly: (1) Yes, it does. (2) Yes, there should. (3) No question. (4) Absolutely.

The Mets' plan to go with a left field platoon of Daniel Murphy and Fernando Tatis is a flawed on, based on a few good months from each in 2008 and ignorant of the very real questions about what they can expect from their right fielder and, yes, a first baseman they were thinking about releasing as recently as mid-June. I think they need to add a bat. I think they should be pursuing Manny Ramirez, but as we've addressed many times, they won't. So I think they should be after a guy like Dunn or Bobby Abreu.

But...

More than one Mets official I've spoken with since the end of the season has mentioned Fernando Martinez as a potential part of the 2009 puzzle. They don't expect that he'll be ready to be on the team at the start of the season, but there's a belief in the organization that he could be ready at some point in 2009. If that happens, they don't want him blocked. They think he's going to be an impact hitter at the big-league level very early in his career, and they see him as a low-cost offensive solution when he does come.

So it's not that they're holding a spot for him. More like, they're not as worried about their corner outfield offense because they think they might, if things break right and the kid stays healthy, already have the answer in the organization.

Jan. 9 Mets Update -- Tim Redding, Derek Lowe, etc.

7:20 PM

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The Mets today signed right-hander Tim Redding to a one-year contract that guarantees him $2.25 million. The deal won't be announced until Redding passes a physical, which should be sometime next week.

The Mets wanted to bring a veteran in to compete with Jon Niese for the No. 5 spot, according to a person familiar with their thinking, and Redding was their top choice. They also had been considering Pedro Martinez for that role, and it's unclear whether the Redding signing closes the door on Pedro. But assuming they go sign Derek Lowe or Oliver Perez (and they remain confident they will get one of them), it certainly makes it harder for Pedro to win a spot in the rotation if he does come back.

As for Lowe, the Braves are talking about $14 million per year for three years, according to a different person familiar with their thinking. They have yet to make a formal "offer," but as I'm sure you can tell that's all semantics anyway.


What do we mean by that? Well, we all know the Mets discussed a proposal with Lowe a week or so ago that was for three years and $36 million. Is that an "offer?" Depends on your perspective. The Mets may have considered it one, in that they'd have been prepared to sign that deal had Lowe and his agent said they liked it at the time. Lowe and his agent may not have considered it one, since it wasn't in writing or, more importantly, what they had in mind. "There can be suggestions about things, but whether it's accepted by us as an offer is an entirely different matter," that agent, Scott Boras, said last week at the Mark Teixeira press conference. He was speaking generally, not about the Lowe negotiations specifically, but you get the idea. Both sides have reasons to say there have or have not been "offers," but what it all means is that until a deal is done, a deal is not done.


From what I can tell from taking to Mets people today, they're sure they'll get either Lowe or Perez and they still expect they'll get Lowe. They'll probably be willing to go as high as $42 million for three years and may be willing to talk about a fourth-year vesting option. They believe the Braves want Lowe, but they don't think Atlanta will actually outbid them. This jives with what I'm hearing from people familiar with the Braves' thinking -- that the Braves hope to make an offer comparable to the Mets' offer and convince Lowe that Atlanta is the better place to play.

If that happens, the Mets people say, they'll take their chances. And if they make a good offer and he takes the same or a little less to go to Atlanta, then they'll turn their attention to Perez, who right now has no other suitors.

Of course, that's a little dangerous. After all, Perez's agent is Boras, who didn't have any other suitors for Lowe a week ago before the Braves appeared out of nowhere. Boras is the master at finding the suitors and getting the deal he wants.

As of now, though, the Mets are counting on the brutal facts of the current economic marketplace in their belief that they can get the pitcher they want for the deal they want. It worked when they needed a closer, and they believe it'll work now that they need a starter, too.

You can take the clown out of New York....

7:14 PM

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I mean, Carl Pavano. What a tremendous disaster of a human being.

You may have heard the former Yankee (yes, he really did pitch for them -- it's just so hard to remember, jumbled as the actual appearances are with the real injuries, the made-up injuries, the car accidents and the hopping around the country from doctor to doctor looking for somebody, anybody who'd tell him he needed surgery) signed with the Cleveland Indians earlier this week.

Well, today, the big fella talked with the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and managed to take a shot or two at his former organization.

"All that stuff only makes you stronger," said Pavano. "When you're down, you expect your organization to support you and not kick you. I had a lot of setbacks in New York. A lot of trials and tribulations. It just made me stronger."


Somewhere, there is steam coming out of Brian Cashman's ears. Right? Cashman has defended this guy so much -- at the expense of pieces of his own reputation -- that it's incomprehensible for this clown to go off to Cleveland and say something like this.

Look, I'm not some big Yankee rooter here. They make mistakes, they waste money, it's not going to break me up. Somebody says something bad about them and it's justified, I'm not going to rush to defend them. But this guy? He'd be a lot better off shutting up and thinking about all the money the Yankees just paid him for four years for doing absolutely nothing.

Jan. 9 Yankees payroll analysis -- Does Pettitte still fit in?

2:55 PM

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I'll go ahead and spoil the ending by answering the question up front: Yes, there is still room on the Yankees' 2009 payroll for Andy Pettitte. They can still sign him (assuming he's willing to sign for their $10M price) and project a payroll slightly less than last year's.

However, as Brian Cashman said earlier this week at the Mark Teixeira press conference, it's become more complicated since Teixeira signed.

Currently, the Yankees have 14 players signed to 2009 major-league deals that project to be on their 25-man roster. Those contracts total $190.15 million. This is the breakdown:

-Alex Rodriguez, $32 million (Yeah. It starts going up now.)
-CC Sabathia, $23 million (Includes his $9M signing bonus, all of which is due by July 31).
-Mark Teixeira, $22.5 million (Includes half of his $5M signing bonus).
-Derek Jeter, $20 million (Remember him? Now the team's 4th-highest paid player).
-A.J. Burnett, $16.5 million (Yes, even if he's hurt).
-Mariano Rivera, $15 million (First guy here who seems underpaid?)
-Jorge Posada, $13.1 million (for three more years).
-Johnny Damon, $13 million (Can you believe this deal is up already?)
-Hideki Matsui, $13 million (This one too, though it may have gone on too long).
-Nick Swisher, $5.3 million (Assuming they don't trade him by Opening Day).
-Chien-Ming Wang, $5 million (President of the Underpaid Club).
-Damaso Marte, $3.75 million (There's nothing snappy to say about him).
-Robinson Cano, $6 million (Good deal if 08 was a fluke).
-Jose Molina, $2 million (Yeah, it was a two-year deal. I forgot too).

Add to that Xavier Nady, who projects to make at least $5 million or $6 million in arbitration (though is more likely than Swisher to get dealt before April), and it goes to $196.15 million for 15 players. Add to that a collection of Phil Hughes/Joba Chamberlain/Melky Cabrera types who don't make any real money yet, and you can tack on about another $5 million.

So they can pay Pettitte $10 million, if he'll take it, and get to $211.15 million, which would be right around where they'd want to stop.

Now, if Pettitte doesn't take their money (and really, he's nuts not to have taken it already in this pitiful market), there are some things they could do.

-Keep both Nady and Swisher, using the latter as a "super-utility" player who can play first base and all three OF positions. My hunch: He'd end up the regular center fielder once Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner prove they can't hack it.

-Revive the Mike Cameron trade. Contrary to some reports, neither side has fully closed the door on this. At the time of the Teixeira signing, the Yankees' message to the Brewers was that they'd have to move some other things around if they were to bring on Cameron and his $10 million salary. And the sides still never agreed on how much of that salary the Brewers should pay as part of the deal, or whether they'd take Kei Igawa and his $4 million annual salary in return. So there'd be a lot of work to be done on this, but Cameron remains a guy the Yankees can imagine in center field -- especially if they were to trade Nady, bid Pettitte good-bye and go with Hughes as the No. 5 starter.

-Jump in late on Derek Lowe. They did like him earlier in the off-season. And if he's not being offered any more than $14 million per year by the Mets or Braves, the Yankees could decide that they'd rather have him than Pettitte and deal Nady to make up the difference. This is speculation on my part. The Yankee people I talk to say they're not in on Lowe at all. But that's what they were telling me about Teixeira a week before he signed, too.

-Reduce ticket prices. HAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHA. Good one.

Your questions, my answers

8:27 AM

(2) Comments

I got a whole bunch of comments on this entry from yesterday -- a first-week blogger's thrill that I believe I owe to my friend Matt Cerrone -- and I started to answer them in the comments section. But then I thought it might be a better idea to take the questions and answer them in a whole separate entry. So I hope those of you commented yesterday are still reading today, and that I can help answer your questions.

QUESTION from "bmfc1":

Dan--please correct this portion of a sentence:
"the Mets have the Yankees called"

Who called whom?

ANSWER:

Sorry. Fixed that. It should have read (and now reads) "the Mets have called the Yankees" several times about Xavier Nady. Guess I will miss those editors after all...

QUESTION from "2P093xMdle5gI05cPTCFB5bUEQ--":

Dan, which has a greater chance of happening? The Mets getting both Lowe and Perez, or Pedro coming back for a 1 year incentive based deal?

ANSWER:

I have to believe the latter. As I understand it, their hope is to get Lowe OR Perez (preferably Lowe) and then go out and get another veteran starter to compete for the #5 spot. That's where Tim Redding and guys like that come in. I guess Pedro could fit that description, if he'd do it, but the likelihood is that they'll cut ties with Pedro.

QUESTION from "2P093xMdle5gI05cPTCFB5bUEQ--":

Is the Wilpon's disinterest in Manny due to the money he'd command, or the controversy he'd stir with his antics?

ANSWER:

Catchy name, by the way. The Wilpons' lack of interest has to do with having Manny in their clubhouse. They don't want him on the team. If it was about money, they'd have traded for him in July when he was practically free (the Red Sox paid the rest of his 2008 salary, remember, when they dealt him to the Dodgers), made the playoffs with him and said good-bye before he hit the open market. They fear he'd create distraction, which is silly. Who wouldn't trade for all the success the Red Sox had the past six years with Manny on their team?

QUESTION from "grab22":

Why is Orlando Hudson still not signed (or even rumored to be close to signing)? Is he really holding out for the outside chance the Mets could deal Castillo?

ANSWER

I have heard, about Hudson, that he wants to play in New York and is waiting to see if the Yankees or Mets make a move with their second basemen before signing somewhere else. If that's the case, he's likely to have to wait a long time. The Yankees aren't likely to find a deal they like for Robinson Cano, and the Mets aren't likely to find anybody to take Castillo off their hands. I think a big part of the Hudson situation is that there just isn't much market for him yet. The big pitchers signed. The big sluggers are only now starting to sign. The market's taking its time to get to the second basemen, and Hudson has to wait.


QUESTION from "fallingissa"
:

Dan, firstly, I'm glad to see that you are up and commenting on baseball again. I imagine you must be looking for a new NY gig. Any possibilities?

I am a likely minority but kind of lean Ollie in terms of who the Mets resign. My real hope is that the Mets follow the Dodgers lead and BUY OUT LUIS CASTILLO!!!! That would open up a spot for Orlando Hudson who is rumored to want to play hear and probably save Castillo's mental health as this year, he's in for HELL!

Further, small suggestion, perhaps a date for each of your postings?

ANSWER:

Thanks, yes, and not as of yet.

You may be in the minority in terms of Ollie, but there are people in the Mets' organization who believe as you do -- that Perez would be preferable to Lowe because of the age difference and the fact that he's left-handed. But the decision has been made to prioritize Lowe, and they're doing that for now.

They have no plans to buy out Castillo, and it's a shame that he's in for hell. He's a good guy and a good player who had a rotten year, and there's no reason to think he won't come back and make SOME kind of contribution in 2009 if given the chance.

As for the dates on the posts -- that's driving me NUTS. I spent an hour trying to figure that out today, changed templates, did all kinds of things. Maybe I need my friend Matt Cerrone's help on that too.

Anyway, thanks for all the comments, and keep em coming. I'll do my best to return the favor.

Derek Lowe/Braves Update

7:06 PM

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I was just told by a person familiar with the talks that the Braves' offer to Derek Lowe is "not significantly different" from the offer the Mets have made. This person is under the impression that the Mets may have increased their offer to the $39 million-$40 million range (over three years), and that the Braves' offer does not exceed three years and $40 million.

If that's the case, then Lowe would basically be picking between similar offers from the Mets and the Braves, and it would come down to where he wanted to play. The Braves hope he would choose Atlanta over New York, which is why they've decided to jump back in.

A person familiar with the Braves' thinking told me today that nothing has changed their plans in the past month. Just because they lost AJ Burnett to the Yankees and John Smoltz to the Red Sox doesn't mean they're going to overspend to bring in Lowe or somebody like that. They were offering five years for Burnett because they thought he was a special case, and they don't put Lowe in his class, so they're not going to just take their planned Burnett money and shift it to Lowe.

They do like Lowe at around $13 million - $14 million per year, though, and at three years. And they hope he'd prefer Atlanta to New York, though I haven't found anybody who has any insight into what Lowe is thinking on where he'd rather live.

Incidentally, the person familiar with the Braves' thinking told me Atlanta would have "minimal" interest in Oliver Perez if they couldn't sign Lowe.

Mets Update -- Derek Lowe, Xavier Nady, Chad Cordero

10:16 AM

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A person involved in the negotiations confirmed this Boston Globe report that Derek Lowe and his agent are meeting with the Braves in Atlanta today. This person said they weren't sure whether the meeting was at the Braves' request or at the request of Lowe and his agent, and for me that's the heart of the matter. These are two very distinct possible scenarios:

1. If the Braves have requested a meeting with Lowe, that means they may be changing the approach they were planning to take for the rest of the off-season. When they failed in their big-money attempt to sign AJ Burnett, a Braves official told me they had no plans to bid on Lowe or any other big-money starting pitcher the rest of the winter. They'd considered Burnett a special case, a special talent worthy of busting their budget for, and they weren't going to swim in the deep financial end of the pool for any of other pitchers that were out there.

However, it appears Lowe isn't going to cost quite as much as it did when we were in Vegas last month. The Mets' have offered $36 million for three years and don't seem inclined to add much money or any years to the offer. The Braves, according to the person I spoke with, could go to four years for Lowe, though it's doubtful they'd want to meet his $16 million-per-year asking price.

Atlanta didn't really think John Smoltz would leave them, and now that Smoltz appears headed to Boston, they may have decided they need a veteran arm in the rotation, which is why it's possible they requested the meeting with Lowe.

2. The more likely scenario, in my opinion, is that Scott Boras requested this meeting (and leaked it) in order to scare the Mets. The Mets' top outfield target (Raul Ibanez) already signed with the division-rival Phillies. The thought of their top starting pitching target (Lowe) signing with Atlanta could be enough to scare them into upping their offer. It's a good strategy, and if Atlanta really does have any interest in Lowe, it's got a chance to work.

Based on the conversations I've had, Mets people don't seem worried. They're probably willing to add between $1 million and $2 million per year to their offer -- to take it up to around $40 million for three years -- but as of this morning they don't think Lowe is going to get a much bigger offer anywhere else, so they're playing it cool.

They also don't hate Oliver Perez as a fallback option, and think they can get him at their price if Lowe does find a beefier offer elsewhere.

So we'll see what happens here. Boras is going to do what he can to get the best deal for Lowe. That's what makes him a good agent. But if he's bluffing, the Mets don't look ready to call it.

In other news, a person familiar with the Mets' meeting with Boras said Manny Ramirez was not a topic of conversation. The Mets have made it clear to Boras that they're not interested in Ramirez, and Boras now seems more focused on stirring up a bidding war between the Dodgers and Giants.

The Mets are, however, on the lookout for corner outfield help and have been trying hard on a familiar name. A person connected with one of the teams told me the Mets have called the Yankees "several times" since the Mark Teixeira signing to express their interest in Xavier Nady. The Yankees have a surplus, and are likely to trade either Nady or Nick Swisher before the season starts. The Mets liked Nady when they had him in 2006 and would like to make thier lineup more right-handed if they can. So they've been aggressive in trying to see if they can get him from the Yankees. But so far, the Yankees are being patient, assuming there will be much interest between now and April in both of those players, and waiting to see how good the offers get.

Ken Davidoff repors in Newsday that the Mets will be one of the teams waching reliever Chad Cordero throw in California this week. This seems like a match that almost has to happen, right? Omar Minaya has tried about 6,000 times over the past three years to trade for Cordero. Now that the guy is a free agent, unless his arm comes flying off his shoulder during the workout, you have to believe the Mets will land him. No real risk, I'm sure -- he'll end up with a low base salary and incentives that kick in if he's healthy, and he fits the Mets' desire to colleck back-end bullpen guys who have experience as closers. So that seems like a no-brainer to me.

But that's me.

Once again, Mets -- not pitchers -- hold all the cards

7:23 AM

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Flash back a month, to when the Mets were negotiating with free-agent closers. By the time the winter meetings opened in Vegas, Omar Minaya knew he'd be getting one of the top guys on the market at a price he liked. He had them ranked (Francisco Rodriguez was the Mets' top choice from the group that also included Brian Fuentes, Kerry Wood and Trevor Hoffman), and he hoped to get his first choice, but he'd surveyed the market and knew he'd get a closer he liked for a deal he liked.

There was nobody else looking to spend big money on a closer. (Witness: two-year deals for Fuentes and Wood, no deal yet for Hoffman, who's talking one- and two-year proposals with the Dodgers and Brewers.) The Mets knew they were in charge of the free-agent closer market, and they let it work for them. Their patience got them the guy they wanted for a three-year deal and even left them in a position to snatch JJ Putz away from the Mariners a day later to set up for him.

OK, so back to the present, where Scott Boras is meeting today with the Mets about Derek Lowe and Oliver Perez. Boras is a tough negotiator, as everyone knows, and he wants more than the three years and $36 million the Mets have so far offered for Lowe. But he's not too likely to find it today at Citi Field.

The Mets made their offer after surveying the market. They don't see another team that's willing to beat their offer for Lowe. The Braves, Phillies, Red Sox and Yankees -- all teams that had Lowe on their November and December radar -- have all moved on to other things. The Mets think their offer is the highest out there and see no reason to raise it. Maybe they talk vesting option, or some perks, or even a fourth year if they can drop the AAV, but the fundamental parameters are unlikely to change much. And if Lowe wants to go somewhere else and try to find more, the Mets have an offer ready for Perez (likely three years and closer to $10 million per year).

And if Boras doesn't like that one -- if he barks about how young Perez still is and how good he is in big games and how he's had success in New York -- and he wants to take Perez out and try to get him more somewhere else, then the Mets will move on to Randy Wolf, who they believe they could probably get for two years. And they'll play on Tim Redding and maybe even Pedro Martinez, with the idea of bringing five or six proven guys to camp to compete with Jon Niese for that last rotation spot.

Talking to Mets people in recent days, they feel really good about where they are. They believe this is the closer market repeating itself. They have Lowe ranked as their top choice, but if he won't come for the deal they want to give him, they're prepared to call his bluff. Go sign with that mystery team, Derek. Go ahead.

This is a buyer's market, folks, and so far the Mets are playing it almost perfectly.

Almost, I said. I still think they should be trying to get Manny Ramirez.

Hey, Boras has him too. You think he'll bring him up today?

On Andy Pettitte, the reluctant Yankee

6:20 PM

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I spoke with a Yankees official about Andy Pettitte today at the Teixeira news conference, and this person basically explained the team's thinking with regard to its role in the current negotiation stalemate (paraphrasing):

The Yankees have evaluated Pettitte as an $8 million pitcher for 2009. They're willing to pay him $10 million because of the relationship they have had with him since the early 90s and because they don't have to worry if he can handle New York, the way they would with some other pitchers they might look at bringing in. But they're not going over $10 million.

This has been communicated to Pettitte, who so far has let the Yankees know that he deems that offer unacceptable. It represents a significant pay cut from the $16 million he made in 2008, and he doesn't think he should have to take that. So things drag on.

"As of right now, our plan is to have the kids (Hughes, Kennedy, Aceves, Coke) come to camp and compete for that (rotation) spot," Brian Cashman said today. "But that could change. Everybody knows how we feel about Andy and what he's meant to this franchise. So we'll see."

The Yankees are content to wait for Pettitte to come to them and accept their offer, and they have good reason to be content. This market is obviously team-favorable (regardless of the player-favorable deals the Yankees have been handing out for the past month), and the Yankees have no reason to believe Pettitte will get or take a better deal from another team.

Personally, I'm with the Yankees on this one. I think Pettitte is nuts. Somebody's offering you $10 million on Jan. 6 in this market, with Derek Lowe, Oliver Perez and Ben Sheets still unsigned? You take it. He's not going to get more anywhere else, and if he waits around, he might find he has to take less. Unless he really is considering retirement, which he's mentioned a few times over the past few years. And if that's the case, from the Yankees' standpoint, they'll wish him well and move on. They want him back, but at their price. Anything more than $10 million, and they don't think he's worth it.

Mark Teixeira meets New York

4:53 PM

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So I went to old Yankee Stadium today for the Mark Teixeira announcement, and I got home and sat down to write about it, like I've done for the past nine years' worth of off-season Yankee press conferences, and then I realized...

I don't have anywhere to put it.

Due to certain recent events, the people for whom I used to do my baseball writing can no longer accept it, either in print or online. And so, according to a tradition that dates back at least five years, I have decided to create a place where I can put my own writing, and people can come and find it if they want to.

Quick background: I have covered Major League Baseball for 14 years, the last nine for The Star-Ledger on the Yankees and national baseball beats. I am, it's fair to say, entering a transitional phase of my life and career. But I'm going to keep writing baseball, try and maintain my sources and see if people who are interested in following what's going on with the Yankees, Mets and the rest of MLB still care enough to read my reporting and my take on it. Eventually, my hope is that somebody will once again be willing to pay me money to cover baseball for them. But in the meantime, the buyout terms from The Star-Ledger are generous enough that I can do this on my own...for a while, at least.

Anyway, Teixeira. This was a typical off-season Yankee dog-and-pony show, where the player shows up weeks after everybody knows he signed, puts on the hat and jersey and smiles for the cameras while the Yankees give his wife flowers and sing hymns about how wonderfully generous and giving the Steinbrenner family ownership is to its fans. They do it a couple of times every winter, whenever they have a big signing or trade acquisition to introduce, and it's always basically the same.

The only major difference today, incidentally, was the food. The Yankes (in conjunction, strangely, with the Dallas Cowboys) have started their own catering company, which will provide the concession food in the new ballpark. And their deal with their old catering company appears to have expired at the end of 2008. So today, instead of the standard carving-board-and-fried appetizers fare, they had a couple of hot food stations. I greatly enjoyed the sizzling sauteed shrimp/crab/asparagus dish they cooked up. Upgrade, I'd say.


Teixeira said all the usual stuff about how he wanted to be a Yankee and how there was nothing like it, while everybody in the room knew he wouldn't have been a Yankee if the Yankees hadn't been willing to pony up the $180 million, and the flashbulbs popped and everybody interviewed everybody from the player to the agent to the wife to Hal Steinbrenner.

There isn't much to say about Teixeira, other than that he'll wear No. 25, which is Jason Giambi's old number. Teixeira always wore 23 in his previous stops because he was a Don Mattingly fan. But the number is retired with the Yankees because of Mattingly, and 25 was open, what with Giambi taking his act back to Oakland and all, and so 25 it is for the new guy at first base. He said he'd be happy hitting third or fourth, and Joe Girardi didn't seem to think it would be a problem to slot him into one of those spots. There was much talk about his defense (which is stellar) and his makeup (which seems somewhat A-Rodian, outwardly, as he presents himself as the typical, ultra-polished, ultra-rehearsed Scott Boras client), but Girardi said the biggest thing is that he eases the team's concerns about its offense.

Girardi said the losses of Giambi and Bobby Abreu left him with concerns about the middle of his lineup, and the signing of Teixeira eased them "a significant amount."

"I think you could look at our lineup and expect it to be pretty consistent every day," Girardi said. "If everybody's healthy."

The biggest question, of course, about Teixeira and any player who ever finds himself in his current situation, is whether he'll be able to handle New York. Obviously, he said he expects that he will.

(No surprise. Nobody ever came to town and said, "Whoa. There are a lot of people here with cameras and notebooks and microphones. I'm not sure I can hack this." The closest we've ever had to that was Mike Mussina's thin-smile "You guys got enough pictures yet?" at his introductory press confere.)

Teixeira said he might feel otherwise if he'd been coming right from Texas, where he played his whole career until July of 2007. But he said having stopped in Atlanta and Anaheim over the past two years, and experiencing the differences between those markets and his original one, helped broaden his perspective and prepare him for what awaits.

"I think I've gotte a little taste of a little bit of everything," he said.

Which is cute, because, you know...he realy has no idea what he's in for, right? I mean, he could handle it brilliantly. But there's no way for us -- or him -- to know for sure. Right?

"We've seen guys come to New York and take to it," Girardi said. "We've seen guys come to New York and struggle at the beginning and figure it out. And we've seen guys come to New York and never figure it out."

Brian Cashman admits the same, and is well aware of his past failures to predict which players will fall into which of those categories. But he was impressed enough in his face-to-face meeting with Teixeira early last month, and his conversations with players who've played with him, that he's optimistic.

"His makeup is one of extreme confidence in his abilities," Cashman said. "That he will perform and be the player he's capable of being. He seems to be in control of his inner world. I think he's a very structured person, and I think that will serve him well here."

For example, Cashman said Teixeira is usually a slow starter. And he knows how Yankee fans can be with slow starters making big money (see: Giambi, Jason; Rodriguez, Alex; et al). But he believes Teixeira's confidence in his ability to turn around a slow start will help him handle whatever comes from the fans.

"In our research, there was no panic," Cashman said. "He knows it's a long year. He knows the ebbs and flows of the season."

The Teixeira signing looks excellent for the Yankees. He's 28. Switch-hitter. Looks and sounds good on camera. Has things in perspective. Long as he stays healthy, he looks like a keeper at first base in the new ballpark. And in terms of handling New York, if Tuesday was his first test, he passed it easily.

What happens next, we'll all have to wait and see.

There was lots of stuff from here on Andy Pettitte and some stuff from Scott Boras about Derek Lowe and the Mets, and I plan to post it in the coming hours. But I guess I just wanted to say hi. Sorry it went on so long, but I fear I may be one of those bloggers that writes long.