Front and Central in the playoff chase

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Front and Central in the playoff chase

Post  RedMagma on Sun Jan 27, 2008 4:28 pm

Front and Central in the playoff chase
Indians, Tigers take different paths into title contention
By Jason Beck and Anthony Castrovince /

DETROIT -- Take a drive out of town down Interstate 75 after the morning rush, and you can be in Cleveland in time for lunch. It's a trip of three hours or less that's shorter than some Spring Training road trips in Florida, and it would be shorter still if not for Lake Erie.

Geographically, Detroit and Cleveland are similar: two Midwestern cities that catch the brunt of winter's fury before warming up for baseball season. Though Detroit boasts a larger population with its sprawling suburbs, the cities share many of the same economic woes that have come with lost manufacturing jobs, and their quest for revitalized downtown areas are seemingly separated by only a few years.

They're neighbors in the same situation, and they might well provide baseball's best 2008 playoff race without the hype of Yankees-Red Sox.

"It has the potential to be a great rivalry," Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "The only thing is that throughout the years, and they talked about this last year, rarely have the two clubs ever both been good the same years over the same time span. If we maintained that and Cleveland maintained that, it would be a real good rivalry. It's a good rivalry right now."

Indeed, last year was the first time since 1986 and the fifth time in the last 50 years that both teams had a winning record in the same season. The only other times they've finished first and second were 1940 and 1908.

They're both good now, and they're built to stay good for a few years. In terms of how they've gotten there, however, they're almost on opposite coasts.

On core young talent alone, both have earned their place among the leading candidates to get to this year's Fall Classic. However, while the Indians have stuck with their plan of building from within, the Tigers surprised most of baseball with changes, wheeling and dealing for Edgar Renteria and Jacque Jones before pulling off the offseason's biggest swap to add Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis from Florida.

What already ranked among baseball's most dangerous lineups with Magglio Ordonez, Curtis Granderson and Carlos Guillen now looks fearsome. And what has been one of baseball's best comeback stories has taken on the subplot of matching the big-market clubs.

It was a perception that Tigers manager Jim Leyland raised at TigerFest.

"People don't like us right now in baseball, I can tell you that," Leyland said. "I think we're almost to the point of the Red Sox and Yankees right now where people say, 'Aw, they're spending money.' That offends some people, and I understand that. I've been on both sides of it. I'm not going to get trapped into all that stuff."

Nor is Indians general manager Mark Shapiro. Detroit can think about competing with Boston and New York, but Cleveland is the Central's incumbent team to beat.

• Mon. Jan. 21: Can the Red Sox repeat as champs?
• Tue. Jan. 22: Where will Johan play in '08?
• Wed. Jan. 23: What milestones will be reached?
• Thu. Jan. 24: Is this the last hurrah for some veterans?
• Fri. Jan. 25: Who will win the AL Central?
• Mon. Jan. 28: Whose farm system will be the talk of 08?
• Tue. Jan. 29: Will Clemens and Bonds play in 2008?
• Wed. Jan. 30: Which import will have the biggest impact?
• Thu. Jan. 31: Who are the top ROY candidates?
• Fri. Feb. 1: Can A-Rod win a title?
• Mon. Feb. 4: Who will be this year's surprise team?
• Tue. Feb. 5: Who might be a surprise breakout player?
• Wed. Feb. 6: Which contender might have toughest time?
• Thu. Feb. 7: Can these big names rebound to contribute?
• Fri. Feb. 8: Can the Jays, Rays or O's break out?
• Mon. Feb. 11: Will Torre or Girardi have a bigger impact?
• Tue. Feb. 12: Can the Cubs break the curse?
• Wed. Feb. 13: TBA
• Thu. Feb. 14: How did NL West go from worst to first?
• Fri. Feb. 15: Who will win the World Series?

"[The Tigers] have the third-highest payroll in the game, and we're 23rd," Shapiro said. "But we tend to focus on what we can control. Their payroll is not something we can control. You just build your club to be the best it can be."

Following a Game 7 loss to the Red Sox in the ALCS, the Indians expected to be quiet in the offseason. By locking up its young core to long-term deals over the last few years, the club had no major holes to fill. The Tribe's only notable move came in the signing of Japanese reliever Masahide Kobayashi.

Even when the Tigers became the talk of the Winter Meetings, Shapiro stuck to his guns, insisting the Indians would not make reactionary moves simply to steal headlines.

"We've been involved in every conversation with a player of significance, other than Johan Santana, and we've determined it's not in the best interest of the Cleveland Indians to make any of those deals," Shapiro said. "The majority of those deals would have involved Major League players and not just Minor League players.

"We've decided to take the rare opportunity to return a team that won 96 games and was very successful and give them a chance to build off their experience and see what they're capable of."

Actually, the Tigers' intent was similar. They filled their biggest need the day after the World Series with Renteria. Once free agents Todd Jones and Kenny Rogers re-signed, they were set. A call from owner Mike Ilitch asking about Cabrera's availability sent Dombrowski exploring.

Up to that point, top prospects Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin were untouchable in trade talks, two key future pieces. The combination of youth and talent with the 24-year-old Cabrera and the 25-year-old Willis convinced Dombrowski otherwise.

"We made this trade to win now. I mean, it's obvious," Dombrowski admitted when the deal was announced. "However, I don't buy the thing that you're in a position where you're only going to win for a couple years. You might only win with the makeup of this club for a couple years, but it doesn't mean that this piece can't be added or that piece can't be added."

The defending AL Central champion Indians and Tigers are expected to battle all season for the division title. Here is how the season series between the two clubs went in 2007:
Indians 7, Tigers 5
Indians 6, Tigers 3
Indians 5, Tigers 3
Indians 11, Tigers 5
Indians 12, Tigers 11
Tigers 9, Indians 5
Tigers 9, Indians 2
Indians 5, Tigers 4
Tigers 6, Indians 4
Tigers 12, Indians 3
Tigers 6, Indians 2
Indians 5, Tigers 2
Tigers 2, Indians 1
Indians 11, Tigers 8
Indians 3, Tigers 1
Indians 6, Tigers 5
Indians 7, Tigers 4
Indians 4, Tigers 2

Ilitch has been a catalyst behind many additions following their 119-loss season in 2003. He personally recruited free agents Ordonez and Ivan Rodriguez, promising them that he'll do what it takes to win. The 78-year-old patriarch has talked often about wanting to duplicate the success he has had with the Red Wings, but only in the last few years have his efforts paid off. Detroit's payroll this year could top $125 million, up from $98.5 million last year.

"Dave told me after he signed me that he was getting close to his budgets," Jones said. "He was worried he wasn't going to be able to do stuff. Then he landed Dontrelle and Cabrera. It just goes to show you the opportunities given with Mr. Ilitch."

While the Tigers have been dealing to add pieces, the Indians have successfully developed them. Asdrubal Cabrera, acquired from the Mariners at the 2006 trade deadline, helped Cleveland pull away from Detroit down the stretch last season, taking over at second base in his first big league experience. Fellow late-season callup Rafael Perez became a big piece in the bullpen. Fausto Carmona, of course, went from deposed closer to extra starter to All-Star. And that's on top of the core they've developed the last four years.

They've still added pieces when needed, but scouting savvy and discipline have been their strength. They received a tremendous boost from the farm system -- an area Shapiro and owner Larry Dolan agreed would be a focus of their rebuilding plan six years ago.

The Indians won 96 games with a team that had an Opening Day payroll of about $61.7 million. This year, with several notables such as Sabathia, Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore and Victor Martinez receiving built-in bumps in salary, their payroll will likely increase to around $78 million.

"The way I look at it," Dombrowski said, "is that Cleveland has a good ballclub. They came one game away from beating the Red Sox last year. And I think when they evaluated their situation, they felt like they didn't need to make many changes. When you look at their rotation, it's a good one. Their bullpen pitched well for them. They have a very good lineup. Tied to that, they also have a lot of good young players."

Many of those young players are also locked up for the long term, which is where Cleveland has been aggressive. They have decisions looming on Sabathia, who could become a free agent next winter, and Victor Martinez, who like Detroit's Cabrera has two years left. However, Sizemore is signed through 2011, and Hafner through 2012.

And though it has been a quiet winter in Cleveland, the Indians still believe they have the pitching, depth and potential for offensive upside if they see improvement from Hafner, to repeat.

"Last year, the pitching staff was the strength of our ballclub, and it looks like it could be a strength again this year," Hafner said. "We feel really good about the team we have. We are a team that should have went to the World Series. But we've got everybody coming back, and we feel good about that."

The Tigers feel very good about their situation, too. Time will tell who feels better at season's end, and it could take well into October to decide.

Jason Beck and Anthony Castrovince are reporters for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


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Re: Front and Central in the playoff chase

Post  RedMagma on Sun Jan 27, 2008 4:33 pm

Comments from Mets Fan Part 3 on Santana and Yankees

“I also wouldn’t take anything Cashman says very seriously. In the above quote, he seems to be stating the direction that he wants the Yanks to take, not necessarily the direction they are taking. The last part might be especially telling, when he says he hopes ownership and the fans can sit through what might be some growing pains.
It sounds to me that the Yanks aren’t too keen on starting the season with three young arms in their rotation. It also sounds like they’re seriously considering going for Santana.
I think Cashman is just shooting off his mouth so he can say I told you so if their guys wind up panning out for the Twins down the line.”
Being able to recognize this is brilliant, a star for sploort here.

In all actuality, the Yankees remain a major player for Johan Santana’s acquisition, which means so are the Sox and any other phantom team out there. I mention this because dont anyone believe the Mets could obtain Santana for a low ball offer. Hopefully the Mets can somehow still pull this one off but until it’s official, dont count your chickens.

Always been a big fan of Santana as it is. Just a huge baseball fan in general. And now that we are so close to possibly getting him I am pumped. We havent had such an ace pitcher like him in so long. Pedro wasnt an ace anymore when we got him. Mike Hampton was the closest thing but for one year. Leiter was more of a good #2 starter. We actually can have a legit sud pitcher for the next 6 years! Why is Omar even thinking about this? Are our prospects really that good that they arent worth getting us Johan freaking Santana!?


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Re: Front and Central in the playoff chase

Post  RedMagma on Sun Jan 27, 2008 4:37 pm

Chien-Ming Wang

The last impression Yankee fans had about Chien-Ming Wang was about as awful as it gets. With the Yankees leaning on him as a number #1 playoff starter, he instead gave up a horrendous 12 runs in only 5 2/3 innings spread over two games. Can he bounce back from this awful playoff performance? The debate about Wang has always centered around whether he is a true ace or strictly a number #2. The more important question is whether he can consistently command his slider and changeup to completement his devasting sinker. Will he develop this consistency with his secondary pitches this year? Can he continue to defy conventional wisdsom and continue to post low ERAs with such a low strike out rate? Do you trust him to headline the rotation in another playoff series? What are your expectations of him, to be our stopper or to just put up the consistently good numbers he has in the last few years or to even take a step back under the psychologically burden of blowing it in last years playoffs?


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Re: Front and Central in the playoff chase

Post  RedMagma on Sun Jan 27, 2008 4:39 pm

Breaking down the Cano deal

by Lane Meyer (
January 26, 2008

Sports Illustrated’s John Heyman reported yesterday that the Yankees and Robinson Cano reached an agreement on a long-term contract. Cano gets four guaranteed years for a total of $30 million – the deal is worth $28 million in salary, and contains two option years that are worth $2 million if not picked up. If the Yankees pick up the option for the fifth year of the contract, Robbie will get a $13 million salary in 2012. If they pick up the second option in 2013, he will make approximately $15 million.

In order to fully understand this deal and what makes it a positive for the Yankees, we first need to examine the basic structure of how baseball players are paid. When a team calls a player up to the Majors they effectively control that player for six years, after which the player is eligible for free agency. The first three years of service time the player logs are basically at Major League minimum, with the player having no say over his salary – he takes what the team offers him. After he accumulates three years of service time he is eligible for salary arbitration – a process by which the player submits a salary request, the team submits what they are willing to pay, and then an arbitrator decides which figure is more appropriate (the arbitrator cannot split the difference or negotiate a different figure, he/she must choose one of the numbers submitted). If the player and the team can come to an agreement before the case is reviewed, the arbitration is cancelled.

In a handful of cases players are eligible for arbitration before they accrue three full years service time, a group known as Super Twos. The Super Twos are determined by finding all the players who have more than two years of service time, but less than three. The top 17% of these players (in terms of days of service time) are considered the Super Twos, and are eligible for arbitration a year earlier. Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean that they aren’t controlled for the same six years still, it just means that they get four years of arbitrations instead of only three. In the end this nets the player more money because they replace one year of ML minimum salary with an arbitration year. Cano hasn’t played three full years in the Majors yet, but because he was called up so early in the year his rookie season and then played two more full years after that, he was in the top 17 percent of players with two-plus years of service time, and was thus eligible for arbitration this offseason.

So the bottom line here is that Robinson Cano was controlled by the Yankees through 2011, regardless of what he wanted to do about it. He earned ML minimum until he was arbitration eligible, and even then his salary would only climb incrementally, as arbitrators do not use the free agent market as a barometer of what players should earn. On top of all that, none of the money is guaranteed. If Cano had gotten injured or his skills had fallen off the Yankees could elect not to pay him much or simply release (non-tender) him. To give you an idea of how a (star) player’s salary progresses while he’s still under control of his team you can look at most any all-star in the majors, in this case Derek Jeter:

Year Salary
1996 $130,000
1997 $550,000
1998 $750,000
1999 $5,000,000
2000 $10,000,000
2001 $11,000,000

You can see that the first three years of his career are around ML minimum, and then once he reached arbitration in year four, he began to make good money. In Cano’s case, because he’s a Super Two and reaches arbitration in year three, his progression would have looked something like this:

Year Salary
2006 $381,000
2007 $490,800
2008 $4,000,000
2009 $7,500,000
2010 $10,000,000
2011 $13,000,000

The figures for 2008 and beyond are estimates based upon arbitration cases historically, and make the assumption that Cano continues to be one of the best second basemen in the majors. Because the arbitration process is done on a year to year basis, if he has a bad year anywhere along the way his salary will reflect it the following season. If he has a career ending injury in 2008, the Yankees can simply release him and not take any monetary hit. As you can see, the present salary system greatly benefits the baseball owners when it comes to young players.

So now we come to Cano’s deal, which is essentially a four year, $30 million pact. Many people when seeing these numbers don’t consider the fact that it is the Yankees buying out his remaining arbitration years, and immediately assume that it’s a great deal because they’re “only paying him $7.5 million a year on average.” Well, considering what we’ve just discussed here, the Yankees were going to own his right for those four years anyway, they weren’t going to have to guarantee anything except the present year’s salary, and they could essentially dictate his salary for the most part. The approximation of Cano’s salary arc laid out above puts his next four years’ salary at roughly $34,500,000, and again, this assumes that he remains healthy and one of the best players at his position for all four years. A four year, $30 million contract is not nearly the bargain that it appears to be at first glance – the Yankees are buying out his arbitration years, this is not a free agency contract.

This brings us to the following question: If the Yankees are only going to save less than $5 million at best, why on earth would they guarantee four years that they already own? There are two potential answers:

By guaranteeing the player’s arbitration years, the team is hoping to get a noticeable discount on the total cost of those years. If a player stands to make around $30 million over his next four arbitration years, the team may try to offer him a three year deal for a guaranteed $23 million or so.

By guaranteeing the player’s arbitration years at what he would likely make, the team is hoping to extend the contract beyond the remaining time the player is under control and start buying out some of his free agency, too. If a player stands to make around $30 million over the next four arbitration years, the team may offer him a five year deal for a guaranteed $42 million. By doing this they’re locking in the $30 million over the remaining four arbitration years, and as a compensation for doing this, the player is allowing the team to “buy out” a year of his free agency for $12 million. Seeing how salaries have exploded again recently, locking in a player beyond their six years at a reasonable rate is an extremely valuable thing.

Since the Yankees can afford the luxury of paying slightly more for each arbitration year, saving a couple of million dollars isn’t worth taking the chance of guaranteeing three to four years that they already own. We can see that Cano is getting a very fair payout on his remaining four arbitration years, so it’s obvious that the Yankees aren’t trying to save on them. This brings us to the important part of the contract: two team option years - 2012 at $13 million, and 2013 at $15 million.

The beauty of the Cano contract is in the option years. In return for guaranteeing Cano what he was reasonably likely to make in the next four years, the Yankees obtained rights to not one, but two of his free agency years. The fact that they gained these rights in the form of team options is incredible. It cannot be stressed enough that they did not have to guarantee any of the really big money. Most of the pre-arbitration, multi-year contracts being signed in recent years guarantee some, if not all, of the free agent years the team is given access to. It would have been reasonable to expect Cano’s contract to be five years, $41 million or six years, $56 million; this would have still been a great deal because the Yankees were buying some of Cano’s free agency at what is likely to be a heavily discounted rate. However, the team did that one better by gaining the rights to the two free agent years, but not having to guarantee them. Almost every other pre-arbitration contract you see (David Wright, Jose Reyes, Grady Sizemore, Justin Mourneau, etc.) guarantees at least one of the free agency years the team is granted access to. Cano gave the Yankees two years of his free agency, and they didn’t even have to commit to them right now.

In the end it is important to understand that there is a big difference between a contract signed in free agency and a contract signed in a player’s pre-arbitration or arbitration years. Non free agency contracts will always have lower total values than those signed on the open market. A four year, $30 million deal for Cano would be a dumb move for the Yankees to make without the option years, because they already held his rights at relatively cost-controlled rates for those years. However, when you factor in that the Yankee gain two years of Cano’s free agency at reasonable rates, and don’t even have to guarantee them, the deal becomes an excellent one.


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