I would never waste my time reading an entire book about the Yankees — I wouldn't even allow it in my home — but fortunately the New York Times has two reporters, Tyler Kepner and Jack Curry, speed-skimming The Yankee Years, by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci. Each unearthed some choice material on new Indians starter Carl Pavano.
Because Carl Pavano was constantly injured and unreliable, his teammates disliked him. Torre asked Cashman to have Pavano, who was on the disabled list, join the Yankees on a road trip at the end of 2006 so his teammates could harass him. Instead, the players ignored Pavano.
Torre recalled an instance where Joe Kerrigan, the bullpen coach, told the manager that Pavano said, "I’m not blowing my arm out for this organization." So Torre met with Pavano and asked him a pertinent question.
"Pav, this organization gave you $40 million and has been patient with you," Torre said. "What I want to know is, for what organization would you be willing to risk blowing out your arm?" Pavano said he didn’t recall saying that to Kerrigan.
Rob Neyer has observed that most managers think they know more about psychology than they really do, and this is a prime example. While this doesn't put Pavano in a great light, more than anything it illustrates the natural conflict between player and team in situations like this. Pavano evidently doesn't consider this contract his last or largest and doesn't want to jeopardize his chance at a long career. That said, any halfway decent agent would tell you that in most cases, unless you're healthy, productive and approaching free agency, your current contract probably will be your largest, even if you're a prospect still living off a signing bonus..
Then again, it may just be that Pavano didn't trust the medical and training advice he was getting from the Yankees, and given the screw-everything-win-now mentality that has characterized the Steinbrenner Yankees, often distorting sound long-term decision-making and player development, would it surprise anyone to find that their medical guidance tended to be too aggressive? Again, the best takeaway probably is that we don't really know, either way.
UPDATE: The New York Post has published Pavano's official response, released by his agent:
But a source with knowledge of that meeting told The Post that Pavano's comment was taken out of context.
"I'm extremely disappointed that someone I had a lot of respect for would make these types of comments in his upcoming book," Pavano, now a Cleveland Indian, told The Post.
"I wish nothing but the best for Joe Torre and my former teammates. But with that said, it does explain why I haven't received any Christmas cards from Joe the last few years."
I don't know why The Post even published that first sentence — my guess is that "a source with knowledge of that meeting" is just Pavano's agent. Note that it doesn't say first-hand knowledge, nor does it say it's a current or former Yankees official or player. Pavano's response, no doubt crafted by his agent, speaks for itself. [end update]
The Yankees should have talked to Tim Raines before signing Carl Pavano. Raines, the former Yankee who was coaching with the White Sox when Pavano signed, had played with Pavano in Montreal. During Pavano’s first Yankees season, Raines told Borzello: “He didn’t want to pitch except for the one year he was pitching for a contract. I’m telling you, he’s not going to pitch for you.”
Of course, by then, the Yankees already had a bad feeling about Pavano — team officials were startled to see him rudely rebuke his mother in April, using a mild curse word. Why? He was angry at his mother for wearing a Yankees’ NY in face paint on her cheek to the game.
Oy. Are we really going to get into the relationship between a player and his mother? Look, I am very pro-Mom, but you never know what kind of craziness exists within anyone's family relationships, and you certainly don't know who's fault it is. Would I hope never to show disrespect like that to a parent, especially in front of anyone else? Absolutely. Is it a possible a family member could find a way to provoke me in front of other people? Hell yes. Dying to know what a "mild curse word" is, by the way. If it's mild, is it really a curse word? In the Torre Years, was using a mild curse word as bad an infraction as having mild facial hair?
Now about Tim Raines. I got nothing bad to say about the guy, but this is not a direct quote, and there are several dubious elements here. First, Raines and Pavano were teammates for all of five weeks at the end of the 2001 season, during which Pavano was 25 and Raines turned 42. Pavano was fully three years removed from free agency at that point. Both players spent most of that season on the DL, and Pavano, when active, was terrible, posting a 6.33 ERA over eight starts.
The following season — 2002, still two years prior to his walk year — he was significantly healthier and more effective, although still not all that healthy or effective. He posted a 5.42 ERA over 22 starts and a 3.80 ERA in 15 relief appearances, and he was traded mid-year to the Marlins. Over the prior offseason, Expos owner Jeffrey Loria had taken over the Marlins while selling the Expos back to MLB, and Loria brought almost the entire Expos baseball operation with him to Florida. Those people, who knew Pavano best in those days, acquired Pavano from their old club via trade. The season after that — 2003, still one year prior to his walk year — Pavano had by far his most effective and healthy season to date, making 32 starts and posting a 4.30 ERA, a hair worse than league average for all pitchers.
Is he motivated by a walk year? Maybe. I think I would be. Then again, we've got him in a walk year. But Pavano's record shows one example of a strong walk year and many examples of simply struggling to remain healthy, regardless of the year. Pavano was in a walk year last year, too, and the best he could do was a 5.77 ERA over seven starts. So his walk years, so far, have been his best season and his second-worst season. There is a clear pattern here, but it's only that Pavano is a guy who is rarely healthy and almost never above-average. The real "Yankee Years" story here is that Cashman's front office has been pretty bad evaluators of player value for an entire decade, and Pavano is only one example of that.
Do I think that the 41-year-old Tim Raines, who eight years ago was teammate to a 25-year-old Carl Pavano who was still three years away from free agency, has some fascinating insight into Pavano being motivated in a walk year? No, I do not — certainly not until I hear it directly from Tim Raines himself, it's hard to give this comment anyway weight at all. Is it possible that Pavano is deeply skeptical of team motivations when it comes to utilizing players and compensating them? Sure, that's very possible. And he woudln't be wrong.