Verducci Q&A (cont.)
Will the Rays be able to compete in this division again?
It's easy to believe that window for the Rays is certainly closing. I don't know if it's slammed shut, but with the Yankees and the Red Sox they leave you no margin for error. The Rays can win 90 games next year and miss out on the playoffs by seven or eight games and never come close, be eliminated with more than a week to go. I do think it will be very hard for them to duplicate what they did last year because all their young pitchers had to pitch a seventh month. For that same thing to happen, and all of them to stay healthy two years in a row is a very difficult assignment to do. David Price should help but again they'll be playing with expectations. But the biggest thing is the bar is set so high.
Are the Yankees bad for baseball?
I think it's more a problem of perception than reality. This is a year the Yankees had $88 million coming off the payroll. They're going to add Andy Pettitte or someone else for $10 million to be their No. 5 starter. It just looks bad, especially in this economy, but when you break it down it's business as usual for the Yankees.
It's a good thing for baseball if the Yankees have to play the Darth Vader of baseball. It's good for the sport to have that real goliath out there that everybody wants to knock out. In 2006 they had five of the nine highest-paid players on the same team and they got knocked out in the first round by the Tigers. It's easy for everybody to hate them in terms of what they have in resources, but it puts enormous pressure on those players. They're the only team that reports to spring training with the mandate of getting to the World Series. There's enormous pressure and it can be a joyless ride when it's World Series or bust. The newer players will have to live with that. Their profile says they should be OK with that kind of pressure but the fact is there are going to be those expectations.
Joe Torre was praised for his ability to manage a lot of large egos. Is Joe Girardi likely to be able to do the same thing?
That question remains open because we've never seen him manage in a pennant race and never seen him manage with these expectations. He's a very intense guy, he really really hates to lose and I think that he's going to have to grow with this team. He'll probably have to take his foot off the accelerator a little bit because of all the pressure that comes with this team.
What does this say about the rest of the free-agent market?
It proves what we knew to be true already, which is that you're not going to outbid the Yankees. If you value a player at x the Yankees are always going to pay that player x + y. As much as it made for a nice homecoming story that the Orioles and Nationals were involved with Teixeira, it simply wasn't going to happen. It was about the money. They were obligated to get into it but that was a Hail Mary pass on the part of both of those franchises. There's nobody, as the Red Sox found out again, who can compete with the Yankees.
Where do some of the other free-agents -- Manny Ramirez, Pat Burrell, etc. -- go from here?
I think one of these hitters will wind up in Anaheim. The Angels get affected by this more than anybody else. Teixeira was perfect for them, and there's a big drop between Teixeira and Kendry Morales and there's a bigger drop between him and the next best left-handed hitter, either Bobby Abreu or Adam Dunn. They have to get another bat in that lineup, but I don't know where they go. The Red Sox are better off because they'll be able to compete, assuming Lowell and Ortiz are healthy. They don't have to go get another bat because they're all right, but the Angels have pressure on them. Whatever they say about Manny, they at least have to kick the tires on him because they could give him a three-year deal. He's too good a hitter, whether he's right-handed or left-handed, to ignore. He'd make a big difference no matter where he goes.
Where do the Nationals go from here?
They clearly stepped up into big-time financial territory here. I understand why you would do it, but they've sort of teased their fans know into thinking they've got money to spend. They've got to show their fans they're ready to commit. I would expect them to get in it for Dunn very heavily, and frankly even Manny Ramirez. When you look at their TV ratings, their radio ratings, no one's paying attention to that team. Does signing Manny Ramirez make you a contender? No. Does it make you relevant? Yes. You almost have to get involved at some point.
Manny is not part of a long-term philosophy. They are developing some good young players, particularly pitchers, but Manny is a short-term player to inject some life into that franchise. I don't think Manny would set back the team-building that they have in place. I think it's a long shot. I think he winds up with either the Dodgers or the Angels.
Are there difference-makers left on the market?
Sometimes it's that second-tier player who can make a difference in a pennant-race. Milton Bradley can make a big difference for the cubs if they can work out a deal. And Derek Lowe becomes a valuable piece for the Red Sox right now. He missed the energy in Boston and made no secret of the fact that he'd like to go back. He's a real good fit for them, given his durability and the fact that he's played there.
When will we see the rest of the market start to move?
First week or two after January. I think you'll see a lot of guys continue to fall, but not a lot between Christmas and New Year's. A lot of these guys are not far along enough in negotiations to get things done, but when it gets to January, players and agents begin to count the number of jobs and the openings and say, "I better grab a chair now." The market has played out exactly the way we thought. Top-tier guys are going to get their money; the economy hasn't affected them at all. When those guys drop first week of January, you'll see a rush of signings. In this market you don't want to be the last guy out there at the end of January. In terms of length, you're looking at a one-year deal if you haven't signed by then. It's a big risk to wait.
How do you expect the Yankees to do in 2009?
On paper, this team should win 95 to 100 games. I don't think there are many people who would argue with that. The biggest advantage the Yankees have is not that they sign players, it's that they can afford to miss on players. If Burnett breaks down, it doesn't change the way they operate at all. They spent $86 million on Carl Pavano and Kei Igawa and you could argue it was a negative return, but it doesn't change the way the Yankees operate. But if other teams made $86 million in mistakes it would set them back a matter of years.
Even if one or two of these deals don't work out, it doesn't mean they can't go out and win.
We all know people who have been affected by this economy and if the Yankees keep going to New York City for more tax-exempt bonds it doesn't sit well with people. The perception in this economy is that the Yankees are going overboard but in fact their 2009 payroll may be a little less than the 2008 payroll.
Neither the Yankees nor the Red Sox vacate the field for their rival to go unopposed. The Red Sox's culture is very interesting. They establish a value for a player and they won't go further. They did it with A-Rod a few years back, they did it with Jose Contreras, and they did it here. We know John Henry was not going to change his evaluation because Scott Boras pushed the needle here. I give them credit that they're willing to walk away rather than change their valuation. It cost them players, but that's their business model.
Now with these signings, they're giving up draft picks and last year they didn't sign two of their first three. That's another thing a lot of teams out there can't do. Some teams don't want to sign Brian Fuentes right now because it will cost them a draft pick. For a few years there the Yankees started to get some religion but [the draft] almost becomes a moot point when you have some impact players lined up with multi-year contracts. The other issue here is how these contracts impact Derek Jeter. This guy's contract is up in 2010 and the Yankees are handing out boatloads of money. Are they going to all of a sudden hold the line on their franchise player? That's something they're going to have to deal with next winter. They'll have to give him an extension into his 40s, just like they did last winter for A-Rod. The bank has still got some money left in it. A lot of teams have been scared off on length of contracts because they don't know where the money is going to be coming from. It was always a straight shot up but that wasn't the case this winter, and it's hard to give someone a four- or five-year deal when you don't know what will happen with the economy.