A Midsummer Day’s Hit List

My annual All-Star break edition of the Hit List is up at Baseball Prospectus. The Yankees hold the #5 spot, but even with their win last night to return to .500, I remain unconvinced, consistent with my recent ranting:

Don’t kid yourselves, Yankee fans–despite the high ranking and the upcoming soft schedule, it’s all over but the shouting and pouting, not to mention the laying of bets on whether Joe Torre, Brian Cashman, or Alex Rodriguez will be around for the next step. The team’s worst first half of the three-division era has left the Yanks needing to play .684 ball the rest of the way to reach the 95-win level of the last two AL Wild Card winners, not to mention a .737 clip to match Boston’s 99-win pace. Injuries, age, and overpriced underachievement are the predominant themes here, and neither Torre nor Cashman deserve a pass for building a weak bench, forgetting first base, or the puzzling bullpen management which has contributed mightily to a 6-14 record in one-run games. For all the finger-pointing, Cashman’s efforts to rebuild the organization’s pitching depth may pay off down the road, and keeping his head at the trading deadline should merit sparing his neck come October.

Of course, even the news of the Yanks reaching .500 has been trumped by the fact that the team’s overtures to extend A-Rod’s contract have been rebuffed both by uber-agent Scott Boras and by Rodriguez himself; he’ll exercise the opt-out clause in his contract and become a free agent at the end of the season. Say what you will about the odiousness of Boras, he’s the best in the biz because he has the foresight to protect his clients with such loopholes in addition to prising the most money out of teams in the first place.

Rodriguez took the high road: “I think it would be selfish on my part to talk about my contract status when our team desperately needs wins… My goal is to win as many games as we can, focus on my teammates and really play at a real high level in the second half. That sort of thing I leave to the people upstairs. My only concern is to play baseball and play at a high level.”

Of course, what A-Rod could have said is that the team and its fans deserve to sweat a bit for the shoddy treatment they afforded him last year; he owes them no discount for the times Joe Torre, Derek Jeter, unnamed front office officials (you think that Post cover happened naturally?) and a certain segment of the fan base (to say nothing of the rabid media) have thrown him under the bus. I’m reminded of the great Simpsons “Trash of the Titans” episode, where Homer’s stint as sanitation commissioner ends with the re-election of the man he deposed, Ray Patterson. Upon returning, Patterson tells the crowd, “You know, I’m not much on speeches, but it’s so gratifying to leave you wallowing in the mess you’ve made. You’re screwed, thank you, bye.”

As it is, even without the verbal dis, Rodriguez’s dealing the team a painful enough blow by invalidating a contract to which the Texas Rangers are still contributing some $21 million over the next three years, plus another $3 mil a year (unclear for how long) in deferred payments. If the Yankees want to re-sign A-Rod, they’ll be paying all the freight next time around. Payback is a bitch.

As for the rest of the Hit List, there’s more Simpsons to be had, along with nutritional information, robot overlords, Harvey’s Wallbangers and other fun stuff. Enjoy!

• • •

On a separate note, I just got word that the first copies of It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over: the Baseball Prospectus Pennant Race Book–to which I contributed six chapters, including the book’s first two narratives, on the 1967 AL and 1959 NL seasons–have made their way into editor Steven Goldman’s hands, which means I’ll hopefully have my copies in hand next week. Both Basic Books and Amazon lists August 13 as the publication date, and the latter is pre-selling the hardcover for $17.13. It’s never too soon to reserve your copy!

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