If the Mets want Omar Minaya, they should just hire Omar Minaya

MLB, Uncategorized

minaya

For weeks now, the New York Mets have been dropping hints that Omar Minaya is their preferred choice to return to his former role as general manager on a permanent basis. Minaya, who was rehired in spring training as an assistant to GM Sandy Alderson as a troubleshooter to blunt relentless and fair criticism of the club’s minor league system, is a current member of the triad of baseball decision makers along with John Ricco and J.P. Ricciardi. The three have been running things since Alderson’s leave of absence to address his recurrence of cancer. Alderson’s exit has been labeled a firing without a firing. Alderson himself all but said if he were making the hiring and firing decision on the job he’s done in the past two years, he’d have fired himself.

Recognizable names like Ben Cherington, Dan Duquette and Kim Ng among others have been mentioned to replace Alderson, but the looming presence of Minaya is a constant. Already, various incarnations of the same story have surfaced with Minaya either spearheading the entire search or as an inherited, non-negotiable part of any new front office structure.

Whether the Mets truly intend to conduct an exhaustive search or not is known only to them. With the strategic leaks emanating from the club saying Fred Wilpon wants someone more old-school and that Minaya is a candidate to pull a Dick Cheney, be put forth as the person overseeing the vetting process before jumping into the fray himself with a, “hey, how about me?” move, he could very well get the job.

Perhaps it’s calculated and the Wilpons have already made clear to Minaya that once the smoke clears and they can effectively sell it to a perpetually angry fan base and dubious, hypocritical media, he’s the guy.

There is reason to be hesitant to again entrust Minaya with the fate of the organization. However it’s a mistake to base that hesitancy on faux baseball “experts” who are granted a forum and have an inexplicable following as they respond to the mere suggestion of Minaya with such florid and baseless made-for-social-media responses such as “facepalm” or “eyeroll” without formulating a well-organized and cogent critique and what credentials the Mets should be looking for in their new GM instead of those Minaya brings to the table.

Reading Moneyball/Astroball/Whateverball does not make one an expert; nor does having a basic grasp of sabermetrics or the ability to regurgitate stats and scouting terminology while posing as a peer of experienced baseball people. Of course, a critique of Minaya’s time as Mets GM can be done. There were positives and negatives to the regime, but that can be said about any executive in any business.

During Minaya’s first tenure, the club relied on antiquated strategies even for the time-period as the sports information boom had yet to explode and permeate the game as it has today. Advanced statistics were scoffed at and ignored. While the aggressive spending on Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran and Billy Wagner worked in the immediate aftermath, the patchwork to fill holes and salvage the remnants of their near misses from 2006 to 2008 resulted in a series of sunk costs and declining, injured veterans. The farm system was decried at the time, but in later years, it was found to be far stronger than that the prospect rankings suggested. Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Jeurys Familia, Lucas Duda, Steven Matz among others were already present.

As innovative and advanced as statistical analysis has become, every team has a department dedicated to using the new metrics to assess players. They’re mostly working from the same playbook with subtle differences in how diligently they rely on the numbers. With much of the playing field leveled by these advancements, something of a necessary reversion is taking place with a greater reliance on the unquantifiable and eyeball assessment – something Minaya is good at.

When he’s doing crisis control, such as clumsily firing Willie Randolph, when Tony Bernazard was accused of abusive and arrogant behaviors, or dealing with incidents like Francisco Rodriguez beating his pseudo father-in-law in the clubhouse family room, he’s repetitive and clueless.

There’s no debating that Minaya has a checkered past as Mets GM and is certainly not the type of person who fits in the mold of this era’s preferred top baseball executive. If they’re going to do this, the key to its success is to examine and understand Minaya’s strengths and weaknesses and remove the weaknesses from the equation.

When flashing his glittering smile in a finely tailored and stylish suit while introducing his glossy new free agent signing or trade acquisition, Minaya is great – one of the most charismatic baseball executives around. His ability to persuade players to believe in what he’s doing and sign with the Mets when the club’s history and inherent issues – namely the Wilpons – would normally give pause to any player and agent with options is notable and impressive. Even when he doesn’t get what he wants at first, he revisits the idea and makes it happen where the player has no choice as he did with trading for Carlos Delgado one year after he spurned the Mets’ free agent pursuit to sign with the Florida Marlins.

Letting him head baseball operations and leaving Ricco to do the hatchet work and organizational spokesman stuff when the inevitable problems crop up can work.  Certainly, Minaya is not the guy to hire if an organization is looking for the creation of a new algorithm. That this is even up for consideration and knowing how Minaya operates as a Euro-fútbol manager who buys international stars implies that the Wilpons were not lying when they said their finances are stabilized and they’re ready to start pouring money into the team again. Why else would it be floated that they’re considering a move of Amed Rosario to center field unless they’re ready to unleash Minaya to do what he does best and go on a big game hunt for Manny Machado to take over at shortstop?

The easy answer for the Wilpons is to follow the current trends and hire a 30-something numbers guy with an impressive degree from a high-end school and let him or her move the Mets into the present and future with a technocratic tilt. Besides the reality that doing that doesn’t guarantee success on the field, more damage can be done when hiring a top executive due to outside pressure than by hiring someone who has known flaws but is trusted and familiar to ownership. Already any outsider is handcuffed by inheriting Minaya and Ricco while simultaneously needing to mitigate Jeff Wilpon. That hire might be told when getting the job that there will be reasonable autonomy, but that will last until the new baseball “boss” walks into Wilpon’s office with a trade proposal that will yield five prospects for deGrom and receives a bemused hiccuppy laugh followed by, “We’re not trading deGrom.”

Then what?

Minaya knows the deal and he loves the Mets. The Wilpons trust him. He’s well-liked throughout baseball. If he’s allowed to stay in his lane, he could legitimately achieve what the club has been pushing since mid-summer amid mocking and ridicule and return the Mets to contention by 2019.

Rather than adhering to what will get them better media coverage and nods of approval from those whose opinions are irrelevant, they should do what they’re comfortable with. If that means rehiring Minaya, so be it.

Advertisements

What do the Yankees do with Gary Sanchez?

MLB, Uncategorized

Sanchez passed ball

The New York Yankees have run out of alibis for Gary Sanchez. The “Joe Girardi was too hard/soft on him,” “he’s a work in progress,” “he’s young,” “he’s got plenty of room for improvement,” “he’s injured” storylines have run dry like The Fast and the Furious films only with Sanchez, it’s “The Slow and the Lazy.”

How should they deal with him?

If Sanchez played any other position, it’s likely he would have been traded already. But he doesn’t. He’s a catcher. Even in this era of the launch angle, hitting the ball in the air and everyone trying to hit home runs, finding a catcher who will hit 30-plus home runs is nearly impossible. The market is not exactly saturated with top-tier backstops with Sanchez’s talent, lackadaisical and indifferent or not. He has a cannon for an arm and has, in the past, been successful throwing out base stealers. This somewhat troublesome combination tightens the vise the organization is in.

The simple solution is to move him to another position. While there have been numerous catchers who have successfully transitioned from behind the plate to third base or the outfield (Joe Torre, Todd Zeile, Josh Donaldson and Brian Downing to name a few), Sanchez has two positions where his expectations would be reasonable and he could concentrate on hitting: first base and designated hitter.

Given Greg Bird’s struggles and the likelihood that Luke Voit’s sudden success stems more from a lack of familiarity on the part of the pitchers than a miraculous career jump when he’ll be 28 early next year, the position could be available in 2019 if they choose to make it available.

What this boils down to, however, is the Yankees placating and essentially rewarding Sanchez when he has not earned such accommodations with his work ethic, attitude and performance. Already, they have given him a pass other players would not have been accorded because of his talent and, more importantly, the position he plays occupies.

His offensive numbers have been horrendous in 2018, but for that, he does deserve something of a pass. Or at least those numbers must be placed in the proper context.

An OPS of .694 and an OPS+ of 83 is embarrassingly bad, but he does have 15 home runs in 300 plate appearances. His on-base percentage is still slightly shy of .100 points above his batting average. He has hit in absurdly poor luck with a .191 BAbip; his line drive percentage is down significantly and that is worrisome, but if he does deserve something of a do-over, it’s at the plate.

That does not address his deficiencies nor justify his behavior behind the plate.

For a functional catcher, blocking balls in the dirt and getting on the same page with the pitchers is non-negotiable. Making matters worse is that the problem with passed balls can be fixed relatively easily if he simply does what a catcher is supposed to do, what a catcher is trained to do by dropping to his knees and corralling balls in the dirt so they don’t roll between his legs, ricochet of his glove or shin guards and bounce away. Then he compounds those terrible fundamentals with a total lack of hustle.

After the debacle in Tampa Bay where he repeatedly slogged in a “fat guy trying to lose weight by jogging” way after the seemingly endless number of balls that ended up behind him or bounced away to the left or right and then ended the game by not running out a ground ball, he was put on the disabled list with a groin injury.

Let’s suspend suspicion of the injury that kept him out more than a month was part legitimate and part time-out to sit in the corner and think about what he did. Let’s say he was 100 percent injured. What about the series in Oakland against the Athletics when he again did his slow trot after passed balls without the injury excuse? What does it take to get it through his head that he needs to put in the effort to do the basics of his job as a defender and sheer talent won’t get him by.

Except the Yankees keep granting him that pass. The question is how long they will continue to do so.

An idea was floated earlier in the summer that the Yankees could put a package together to trade Sanchez to the Miami Marlins as part of a deal for their star catcher J.T. Realmuto and solve the litany of problems they’re having at the position. Before getting into the rehash of the allegations of Yankee-centric attachment and criticism Marlins CEO Derek Jeter faced after essentially giving the Yankees Giancarlo Stanton (an unfair accusation as Stanton forced his way to the Yankees, leaving Jeter with no choice), it would look far worse for a commodity like Realmuto to be traded to the Yankees in exchange for Sanchez when Sanchez’s value has never been lower and could still get worse. Add in the reality that Sanchez plays for the Yankees and doesn’t hustle. Imagine him playing in Miami and losing 95 games a year. They’d be lucky if he even showed up at the park for the start of games.

If he was plain bad defensively, it wasn’t for lack of effort and he was producing offensively, the team would be within reason to shrug it off and hope that with hard work, he’d improve sufficiently to be passable enough that he was not a blatant defensive liability.

It’s not only that he’s bad. He’s bad and lazy. He plays a position where the tolerance for missteps is far higher than it is for just about any other position. Their farm system is largely devoid of another top-level catching prospect to replace him and getting rid of him right after the season would be addition by subtraction in the short-term, but counterproductive in the long-term.

For now, the only answer is that he must sit and occasionally function as the DH with Austin Romine catching every day. Then the real decision on how to handle him can be made, whatever decision that is – if there is one at all.

For the Cardinals, was it firing Matheny, changing the roster, or both?

MLB, Uncategorized

Shildt

At first glance, the St. Louis Cardinals’ season turned around on July 14 when they fired manager Mike Matheny and replaced him with bench coach Mike Shildt. It’s an easy story to tell. Given the focus on the manager, especially a polarizing one like Matheny, the simple act of making a change can be labeled as the flashpoint. Firing the manager won’t make a bad team good, but it can make an underachieving team achieve. There’s certainly no defending Matheny, whose fate was sealed not just by the team’s lackluster play, but by the bursting into the open of clubhouse fissures and a veteran-rookie caste system that he not only failed to corral, but tacitly encouraged.

It never looks good for the former manager when, after his dismissal, the team behaves as if it was released from a Soviet gulag. This will undoubtedly affect Matheny if he tries to get another managing job. With his current perception throughout baseball, his best route is to be a bench coach or front office assistant and just be present if the club’s current manager is fired and he’s the guy standing there to take over on an interim basis.

That aside, the Cardinals’ jump to the second-best record in the National League goes beyond a managerial change. Often, such a change is cosmetic and/or a capitulation – and with the Cardinals, assessing their subsequent moves after pulling the trapdoor on Matheny, it might have been a bit of both.

As watered down as it is, there must have been a certain amount of “maybe this’ll light a spark” thought process in the Cardinals front office. Clearing some unproductive and problematic players truly ignited it. This is not to downplay the searing hot streak that has pushed Matt Carpenter to the top of Most Valuable Player contention, but that alone would not have carried the club to where it is now.

After firing Matheny and installing the steady Shildt, the following also happened to benefit them:

Fowler and the organization have been at odds all season. The hatred between player and manager was palpable. As much as teams say salary and contract have no bearing on lineup decisions, a .576 OPS and an embarrassing 58 OPS+ are sufficient to bench any player. When adding the implications of Fowler’s lackadaisical play, he should not have been playing. What reason other than salary can be used to justify Fowler’s continued presence in the lineup before he got hurt?

An unproductive player whose presence in the lineup is based on nothing more than salary and status sends a ripple through the clubhouse that a merit-based strategy comes in second to other factors. A steadier lineup configuration with Carpenter moving to first base, Jed Gyorko installed at third, and Jose Martinez moving shifted to right field not only removed the stigma of ancillary factors holding sway, it made the team better simply by Fowler’s absence.

Pham was largely justified in his anger at the organization. The chip on his shoulder was legitimate. The club keeping him in the minors far longer than it should have and failing to give him a chance until it had no other choice has cost him several years of his prime and a significant amount of money. That lingering rage, though, is something that can permeate a clubhouse and stoke tensions even if it is kept at a low simmer. It’s a sigh of relief when the multiple tensions of managerial missteps and failure to lead; a player who was getting by on minimal effort and shielded by a contract; and a player who was perpetually pissed off are all out of the picture.

With Pham gone, Harrison Bader was installed in center field. He’s a better defender than Pham and it also let them make the previously listed lineup maneuvers sans Fowler.

  • The pitching was reconfigured.

Greg Holland was a disastrous late-spring training signing. He walked as many batters as he struck out and never seemed to overcome the missed time in the spring. That he has pitched well since joining the Washington Nationals makes it appear that his problems were, partially, atmospheric.

They acquired Chasen Shreve from the New York Yankees for Luke Voit and Shreve has been excellent since arriving in St. Louis.

John Gant and Austin Gomber have filled in nicely in the starting rotation.

***

Dumping the manager is an easy sacrifice, especially when the team is underachieving and the manager is generally perceived to have the job because of looking the part rather than tactical acumen. What appears more likely is that the attitude change and using different players was as, if not more, important than the act of firing Matheny even if firing Matheny is the easy story to write about the Cardinals’ turnaround.

On David Wright, Peter Alonso and the Mets

MiLB, MLB, Uncategorized

Wright pic

It’s clear by now that the Mets are treating David Wright’s rehab with the passing glance of practical indifference. The comments of one-third acting GM John Ricco hammered home this point.

 

In other words, the Mets are saying “if he wants to try, go nuts” while not granting him any accommodation because he’s a franchise icon and the captain of the team. By assessing him as they would any other player, the Mets can make the decision of whether to activate him based on baseball-only considerations.

“Baseball-only” also encompasses the insurance they are collecting while he’s injured. It’s 75 percent of his contract. It’s not a few bucks. It’s a lot. To imply that the organization should not calculate the value of Wright playing a game or two as a sentimental sideshow in a lost season is nothing more than searching for ways to rip the organization when they are not only within their rights to think about money, but would be stupid not to think about money in this context.

Were they contending and Wright had the capacity to provide an emotional boost and serve as a useful bat off the bench down the stretch, then there’s a minimal argument for activating him. With the team playing out the string and Wright’s litany of injuries capable of putting him back on the shelf – perhaps permanently – at any moment, what’s the point?

This is a prime example of the Mets being criticized regardless of what they do. If they activated him, it would be to sell tickets. Since they’re not activating him, it’s because they’re cheap and don’t want to forfeit the insurance they’re collecting on his contract.

If this is how they’re treated, they might as well do what’s in the organization’s best interests and that means refusing to kowtow any longer to this fantasy of a Wright return not just in some semblance of his old form, but for him to return to the major leagues at all.

Peter Alonso

On a busy Tuesday for an also-ran, the Mets also said they were not recalling prospect Peter Alonso for a September looksee. Their stated reasons – no spot in the lineup, poor defense – is clashing with the rea$on others are citing in that they do not want to put him on the 40-man roster and perhaps save money in the long run by keeping him in the minors and off the 40-man, thereby delaying his chance at arbitration.

When other teams do this, they’re being smart by manipulating the rules to their advantage. When the Mets do it, they’re being petty and cheap.

Again, as with Wright, there’s no way for the club to win when the argument takes this turn. And again, with that in mind, they should and are looking out for their own interests.

Alonso expressed his disappointment and his agents made some comments into the wind about which the Mets do not and should not care. He has no bargaining power and his agents are in the “Should we say something? We have to say something” phase to which the Mets should roll their eyes at its meaninglessness.

The Yankees peddle class but embrace pettiness

MLB, Uncategorized

Girardi pic

“He was invited and declined” is the excuse the Yankees give for the glaring omission of the mere name “Joe Girardi” from their celebration of the 1998 World Series champions, portrayed as one of the greatest if not the greatest teams in history.

Regardless of where you sit on the spectrum of Girardi’s contribution to that team and whether the Yankees were obligated to make a note of him even though he was absent from the festivities, the contradiction between how the Yankees sell themselves and how they really are is exemplified by their behavior in these very situations. There is a basic “if this, then that” attitude that comes from the top and more noticeable than it otherwise would be if they simply exhibited the class they relentlessly sell and avoided the infantilism that is a blatant hallmark of how they truly are by just noting that he was a part of the team.

Lest anyone believe it was a circumstantial choice not to mention those who were absent and it was not an intentional act, the Yankees made certain to avoid any player who was not there. That list included Orlando Hernandez, Mike Stanton, Ricky Ledee, Chad Curtis and Hideki Irabu.

The only ones of the group for whom a blotting out of existence is explainable are Curtis, who is in jail for some pretty terrible crimes, and Irabu, who committed suicide, so it’s understandable that they would avoid mentioning them. But should Girardi be in this category?

Those unaware of the Yankees’ deviousness in using plausible deniability to advance their agenda in these relatively meaningless situations could say that it was a decision not to talk about players who weren’t there and that’s that. When looking at the Yankees’ past with how they treat players and people who have become persona non grata for reasons reasonable and ridiculous, it is to be expected that they would treat Girardi as the invisible man and white him out of existence.

What is more galling is that he did not choose to leave them. The psychological issue of treating rejection as if it was a decision on the part of whomever was rejected is obvious, but this is the exact opposite. It’s a false equivalency to say that a former manager who was fired is the same as the former manager and player refusing to join a celebration that he had every right to attend and was, in fact, invited to attend.

Technically, his contract as manager was not renewed, therefore he wasn’t “fired” in the truest sense of the word. But make no mistake about it, for all intents and purposes, he was fired. The argument that the wound is only just starting to scab so it can heal is missing a critical ingredient: Girardi has been nothing but complimentary to the organization and stayed silent over how he was treated. There have been no whisper campaigns; no columns in which Yankees insiders immediately recognize Girardi as the source; no passive aggressive comments one often sees during a bitter divorce.

Girardi’s predecessor as Yankees manager, Joe Torre, was briefly excommunicated from the Yankees universe – complete with being figuratively shit on by Randy Levine’s flunky, the buffonish mouthpiece of the Ministry of Propaganda at YES, Michael Kay – because of his book The Yankee Years and that he did not recede quietly into the night once his tenure as manager ended. With Girardi, there is no book detailing his decade with the Yankees as he attempts to turn himself into St. Joe II.

For someone who was the manager of the team for its last World Series title in 2009, oversaw a pseudo-rebuild and kept the team from falling to the depths that most teams do as they reconstruct their roster and move from one era to the next, Girardi has the right to be bitter as he sits on the sideline watching Aaron Boone drive his Ferrari. But he’s stayed silent.

Mentioning his name hurts no one. It could have been done at the end of the ceremony in which the players who were present or, as Derek Jeter strangely did amid the flimsy excuse that it was his daughter’s birthday, give a statement via video, as those who were not there were referenced innocuously: “Key parts of that team who are unable to join us today…”

It’s as simple, professional and classy as the Yankees seek to present themselves. Of course, they chose to be petty and vindictive for reasons known only to them, if there even is a reason.

No, this is not a major conspiracy for which the organization should be held accountable; no, Girardi was not a giant and irreplaceable part of that championship team and they likely would have been just as good had they used another backup catcher; but they could have said his name rather than saying, “we invited him and he said no” as if that’s some form of justification to edit to the narrative so he no longer exists.

Urena-Acuna shows the right way and wrong way to send a message

MLB, Uncategorized

AcunaUrena

The Marlins’ Jose Urena drilling the Braves’ Ronald Acuna on the elbow with the first pitch of Wednesday night’s game was clearly intentional and it was done because Acuna had hit home runs in five consecutive games and leadoff home runs in three straight. Four came against the Marlins.

That was the catalyst of the benches clearing and the ejections of Urena and Braves manager Brian Snitker. Immediately, the outrage began on social media eagerly followed by columnists and analysts staking out their positions of the propriety or lack thereof of Urena’s act complete with proposed penalties for Urena and Marlins manager Don Mattingly.

Despite attempts to frame it as a matter of right and wrong, it is anything but that. It was a misapplication of how to handle these specific situations in a competitive atmosphere. The circumstances dictate how to do it properly.

The simple way to categorize what Urena did and why it was wrong is to point out the difference between retaliation and a message. Urena retaliated when he really should have sent message.

There’s a difference.

With retaliation, had there been an exchange of beanballs and pitchers throwing at hitters – for any reason – then, to put a stop to it or bring matters to a head by lighting the fire for a bench clearing brawl to get the bad blood out in the open, the pitcher should drill a hitter. Doing so is part of inside baseball competition that most non-playing analysts, observers and fans have about as much of a concept of as they would what it’s like to walk on the moon. There is a primordial, instinctive, animalistic nature to sports that cannot be transferred to a series of numbers or boardroom machination. The heat of competition will sometimes start a blaze. Anger, irrationality and that ingrained sensibility will take hold. Were the Marlins truly angry at a transgression no matter how legitimate or trivial – a bat flip; a slow trot around the bases; a hard slide; untoward comments directed at a player or the organization; a beanball war – then Urena’s method was appropriate, like it or not.

But that wasn’t the case. What Urena did was punish Acuna for doing well by hitting him on purpose. And that is blaming the opposing player for the Marlins’ faults in not being able to get him out.

To do what Urena should have done – send a message – there should have been a first pitch slider that was so far out of the strike zone that not even Vladimir Guerrero would have swung at it, much less hit it. The next pitch should have been a fastball that was so far inside that it was either going to get Acuna to move his feet or hit the dirt, but was not high and inside to the degree that there was the risk of him getting hit in the area above the neck.

That is not a “we suck and you’re killing us, therefore I’m gonna injure you” pitch. It is a strategic maneuver akin to a hard slide. It is part of the game. Sometimes, when a pitcher does this, the ball will get away from him and the batter will get hit. Provided it isn’t in the head, most professionals will understand that. Of course, some will get angry and react. So be it.

It must also be remembered that Urena is one of the rare pitchers in baseball today who is unafraid of pitching inside. He led the majors in hit batsmen in 2017 and is leading the National League in 2018. It’s part of his game.

The question of whether throwing at Acuna was part of a coordinated strategy from inside the Marlins clubhouse is where we get into the fog of allusion and plausible deniability. Internal discussions from postgame Tuesday to pregame meetings Wednesday were likely lamenting how comfortable Acuna was and that he needed to be made less so. That’s something that is spoken of among the players, sometimes with and sometimes without a winking nod from the coaches and manager. Pregame team meetings would not have openly said, “We need to pop this guy” as they might in a series with lingering tensions and the need to retaliate. As a preplanned decision to get him off the plate and break the lock of his current hot streak, there’s no doubt the Marlins decided to throw inside with a “we need to buzz this guy.”

Buzzing and drilling are on totally different sides of the spectrum. The Marlins just chose the wrong pitcher and the wrong way to do it.

It’s not old-school, grunting meatheadedness as some will reactively suggest. It’s a tactic. With tactics, whomever puts it into action is key. Like Urena, they might not be very adept at it and there is occasionally collateral damage. That, more than the act itself, is the problem.

A clarification, not a review, of “Astroball”

Books, MLB, Uncategorized

Luhnow

Some – not all, but some – of Astroball by Ben Reiter came about because of the author’s half-joking prediction in 2014 that the then-worst team in baseball if not one of the worst teams in baseball history, the Houston Astros, would ride their rocket scientists, mathematicians, corporate veterans and Ivy League college graduates who permeate their front office to baseball dominance and a World Series win in 2017.

The story would be interesting but not so easily salable had that freak guess not happened to come true.

But it did.

To his credit, Reiter acknowledges the lightning bolt nature of that prediction/guess/divine intervention– whatever you want to call it – coming to fruition. However, the remainder of the book serves as a love letter to the architect of the Astros’ rise, general manager Jeff Luhnow, to the degree that even his wrongs turned out to be not so wrong; even his mistakes contained a method behind the perceived madness; and any glaring gaffe stemming from arrogance, ignorance or coldblooded inhumanity could be mitigated and explained away.

As the Astros and Reiter bask in the afterglow of the achievement of their ultimate vision, it’s ironic that the relentless criticisms of the organization that had receded into the background rose again with the near simultaneous release of the book and, within 20 days, the club’s acquisition of closer Roberto Osuna who was only available from the Toronto Blue Jays because he was under suspension by Major League Baseball for an alleged domestic violence incident for which he was arrested with the case still pending in Toronto.

In one shot, the Astros regained their reputation for putting performance above people; for indicating that profit takes precedence over right and wrong.

In the immediate aftermath of the trade for Osuna, the handwringing on Twitter and outright criticism by columnists and radio hosts made it seem as if the Astros had never exhibited this type of borderline sociopathic tendencies in the past when it is precisely how they behaved to get so far, so fast. The World Series title and the narrative of how it was achieved gave them an “it worked” safety net.

Suddenly, the intriguing stories of Carlos Correa, Justin Verlander, Carlos Beltran and Sig Mejdal – for the most part, positive portrayals of generally likable people – were jolted back to the ambiguity of some of the Astros’ clever, manipulative and underhanded tactics used to achieve their ends.

What cannot be denied and was shown again with the Osuna trade is the Astros did and do treat human beings as cattle whose survival is based on nothing more than their current usefulness; that any pretense of acceptable and unacceptable behavior hinges on cost and usefulness. The book’s attempt to humanize Luhnow and his staff in contrast with the manner they run the team was immediately sabotaged by acquiring Osuna.

The big questions about “Astroball” should not center around what’s in the book, but what’s not in the book.

Those who are either not invested in the concept of the Astros’ new way of doing things being the wave of the future or did not walk into the movie when it was half over and remember exactly what happened during the reconstruction will wonder about the following:

  • How is the name Andrew Friedman mentioned once for his role as president of baseball operations for the Los Angeles Dodgers and not as Astros owner Jim Crane’s first choice to be the Astros GM – with Luhnow the second choice?
  • How is it possible that the name Jon Singleton, who received $10 million for nothing, is nowhere in the text?
  • Why were the circumstances under which manager Bo Porter was fired completely ignored and treated as part of a planned process?
  • Why was the rushed trade for Carlos Gomez a shrugged off mistake with one sentence dedicated to it?

One man’s reasonable explanation is another’s farcical alibi. Depending on one’s perspective and agenda, both can appear true.

The drafting of Brady Aiken and subsequent attempt to lowball him following an agreed-upon contract was adapted to show how brilliantly conniving Luhnow was for offering the precise bonus amount to benefit the club in the subsequent draft should Aiken reject the offer as they knew he would – in fact, there’s an attempt to make Luhnow look benevolent for how Aiken was treated.

The release of J.D. Martinez is an admitted mistake…but then-manager Porter was blamed because he only gave Martinez 18 spring training at-bats the year Martinez arrived touting a new swing as if Porter was not being told what to do and had any choice in the matter as to who played.

“He (Porter) also couldn’t fail to provide someone like J.D. Martinez enough at-bats for the organization to make an informed decision about him.” (Astroball, page 143)

Are they seriously saying that Porter did not have it hammered into his head what the front office wanted and which players were to be given a closer look; that he was not an implementer of front office mandate with little-to-no actual say-so?

The above quote is one of many in the book that provide a between-the-lines elucidation of what the entire goal of the book is: to tie all the loose ends from that 2014 prediction to the prediction coming to pass, objective truth be damned.

Porter’s firing, rather than being due to the clear insubordination and an attempt to go over Luhnow’s head to Crane regarding how the team was being run, was mystically transformed into a preplanned decision.

Porter and numerous veteran players had an issue with former first overall draft pick Mark Appel being brought to Minute Maid Park for a bullpen session with pitching coach Brent Strom to see if they could fix what ailed him. (They couldn’t.) It was then that Porter and Luhnow were at an impasse and Luhnow was right to fire him. But part of the “process”? After Porter’s hiring when Luhnow made the preposterous statement that he might manage the team for two decades? How does that work? How is this explained away other than it being ignored?

It’s these and many other subtle and not-so subtle twisting of reality that call the entire book and its contents into question on a scale of ludicrousness and goal-setting to cast the Astros in the best possible light, all stemming from that silly prediction from 2014 when it was an act comparable to casually throwing a basketball over one’s shoulder with eyes closed and somehow hitting nothing but net.

One cannot discuss “Astroball” (the figurative New Testament for the reliance on statistics in baseball) without mentioning the Old Testament, “Moneyball”.

“Moneyball” gets a passing mention as the text that kicked open the door for baseball outsiders with ideas that were once considered radical and antagonistic to baseball’s ingrained conventional orthodoxy, but the two stories are intertwined like conjoined twins for whom separation would mean unavoidable death.

Reiter takes clear steps to avoid the same mistakes Michael Lewis made in “Moneyball”. Instead of it being an overt baseball civil war where the storyline was old vs. new and Billy Beane sought to eliminate the antiquated, Luhnow is portrayed as integrating the old guard and formulating strategies to quantify their assessments.

Whereas “Moneyball” took the MLB draft and turned Beane into a “card counter”, Astroball acknowledges nuance and luck in the draft.

While ““Moneyball”” treats the postseason as an uncontrollable crapshoot, “Astroball” implies the same thing without trying to eliminate any responsibility for continually losing as the Athletics have done repeatedly.

Astroball does its best to inclusive, albeit in a borderline condescending way, while “Moneyball” sought to toss anyone not on the train under it and then, for good measure, backed over them to make sure they were dead.

To that end, Astroball is somehow more disingenuous than “Moneyball”. “Moneyball” is how the old-schoolers are truly viewed in the new-age, sabermetric circles while their extinction is pursued opaquely in Astroball, making it easier for them to carry it out.

Those invested in the story being considered true will not give an honest review, nor will they ask the questions as to why certain facts were omitted even if they know the answers.

With that, the narrative of the Astros and their rise under Luhnow and Crane presented in Astroball is complete and a vast portion of readers and observers will believe every single word of it just as they did with “Moneyball”. They get their validation. And it’s irrelevant whether that validation was the entire point, as it clearly was.

Discarding facts from the past aside, the Osuna acquisition drops an inconvenient bomb right in the middle of their glorification. It’s that wart that shows who the Astros really are. If they just admitted it, they would deserve grudging respect. They claim to care about a player’s conduct and give hedging statements as to “zero tolerance” with that “zero” only existing when he’s an Astros employee. In short, they don’t care about Osuna’s alleged domestic assault just as they didn’t care about Aiken; they didn’t care about Porter; they didn’t care about Martinez; they didn’t care about any of the people who were callously discarded because they did not fit into the tightening circle of those who believe what they believe or will agree to subvert their own preferences as a matter of survival in a world they neither know nor understand.

For those who have a general idea of what is truly happening in baseball front offices and do not take these tall tales at face value, the book is entertaining enough in a televised biopic sort of way as long the creative nonfictional aspect is placed into its proper context. That context goes right back to the 2014 “prediction” that would have been largely ignored had it not happened to come true.

The Mets’ embarrassment could spark real and necessary change

MLB, Uncategorized

Ricco

The Mets’ 4-2 loss to the Braves Thursday could be viewed as “another day, another loss” in a season of promise that devolved into a disaster at stunning speed, even for them. But with each passing day, it grows clearer that the solution to repair what ails the club cannot come from inside the organization. For the duration of Sandy Alderson’s tenure as general manager, assistant GM John Ricco was rightfully viewed as his heir apparent. He preceded Alderson with the organization and his private sector resume largely mimics Alderson’s when Alderson was plucked from a law firm that was representing the Athletics and, with no baseball operations experience, was named the club’s GM. Ricco is also an attorney and worked in the MLB commissioner’s office before joining the Mets.

The transition would have been relatively seamless and moved forward whenever Alderson decided to leave had the Mets not disintegrated in consecutive years as they did in 2017-18.

Alderson has left the club, ostensibly to treat his recurrence of cancer. Seated next to Jeff Wilpon at the press conference to announce that news, Alderson himself essentially said that if it were up to him, he’d fire himself for the club’s downfall following their 2015-16 postseason appearances. So, Alderson is out and not returning. In his stead, they have a tri-head GM of Ricco, J.P. Ricciardi and Omar Minaya. This is unworkable in the short and long term. With clubs looking to deal with the Mets not knowing whom they should call and how long it will take for them to reach a consensus, the team is in stasis. Since the Mets made their highest value targets – Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard – off-limits barring a loony offer, the changes they did make are cosmetic.

The biggest problem for the Mets has morphed from the appearance of disarray to actual disarray.

On the bright side, the Mets are somewhat lucky in that they’re getting an in the trenches view of how Ricco would function as the fulltime GM. That trial run as the club spokesman and potential final decision maker is not helping his case to be given the job. With every press conference in which he serves as the organizational front man, he goes from “the guy whose voice we never heard” to “the guy whose voice we hope to never hear again.” It’s irrelevant whether he’s been a competent and evenhanded voice behind the scenes. He lacks the infectious personality that will automatically make it seem like he at least has a plan and believes in it and can get others to follow him. It’s clinical. He sounds like a doctor telling a patient that tests reveal a sexually transmitted disease. That is not going to work, especially in New York and specifically with the Mets.

Part of the search for the new GM goes beyond any blueprint he or she presents in an interview. It must be a person who can be sold to the fan base and media simply by mentioning the name. Listing potential names is generally a waste of time and more of a function of market research than anything else. Hiring a person who seems to check all the boxes and serves to placate the fans and media is not enough of a reason. Mickey Callaway has proven that.

Alderson is being blamed for the roster construction and the perceived dilapidation of the organization in general, but Ricco and Ricciardi were present and had a significant amount of sway for the entire time Alderson was there. Minaya was the GM who oversaw the rise and fall of the Mets from 2005-10. Can any one of the three make a case that he is the one who should be entrusted to fix this?

This goes beyond picking a new GM who is salable to the fans and has a background and clearly delineated plan. Because they have already stated their intention to contend in 2019, a new GM who might have wanted to trade away deGrom, Syndergaard and any other player of value to boost the farm system, clear some salary and reboot has already been told before interviewing that there will not be a rebuild. Right there, it puts a potential GM at a disadvantage as he will be walking in with parameters and residue from past failures rather than a clean slate.

Wilpon is another issue. He trusted Alderson enough to leave him alone as much as Wilpon leaves any of his underlings alone, but he had two decades of experience in the game from about every perspective a front office person can have. He’d earned the benefit of the doubt. While Ricco is liked within the organization, the first instinct Wilpon will have is to tighten his grip, not loosen it. Add in Ricco’s poor showing thus far as the team spokesman and it cannot work.

The beneficial aspect to the Mets slide toward what will be close to 100 losses is the urgency to act and willingness to change. It will spark the necessary action of hiring a veteran baseball man with experience and flexibility to adapt. Working the owner is part of the job. With none of the three current baseball men running the club capable of doing it, it is vital they find someone from outside – someone to be the baseball CEO; someone who knows what the hell he’s doing.

No replacing Yoenis Cespedes, so here’s another idea for the Mets

MLB, MLB Trade Deadline, Uncategorized

<a rel=

Yoenis Cespedes, set to have surgery on both heels and expected to miss up to 10 months and perhaps more leaves the New York Mets in a predicament of how to replace his production. He has been riddled with injuries since signing his four-year, $110 million contract to remain with the Mets and the team’s fortunes have spiraled in direct proportion with his absences. When he’s played, they’ve been good; when he hasn’t played, they’ve been bad.

The positive aspect to the announcement is the end to the ambiguity. The Mets had functioned with a daily dread that even when he was deemed healthy, he was one step away from another injury that would keep him out for three months.

So, now they know.

Replacing him is a separate matter, especially considering the uncertainty in the front office with the departure of Sandy Alderson, the current tri-head GM of John Ricco, Omar Minaya and J.P. Ricciardi, and the club’s unknown strategy and payroll going forward.

There are calls for the Mets to tear down the entire structure and rebuild, but such a position is absurd. Trading the likes of pending free agents Asdrubal Cabrera, Jose Bautista, Devin Mesoraco and Jerry Blevins is obvious. Players under team control through 2019 – Zack Wheeler and Wilmer Flores – should be moved if there is a sufficient return, albeit steeper than what they will get for those approaching free agency.

Regarding the idea of trading Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard, what sense does that make when there are three different people who are vying to get the top job and no set plan in place?

If the Mets are truly thinking about trading deGrom or Syndergaard, that is a decision that must be made by the new permanent head of baseball operations, whoever that is.

That brings us to how best to move forward if the Mets truly intend on competing in 2019.

Given the structure of the club being built around pitching and the opportunity to get younger, a spin from Alderson-led strategy of slow-footed, feast or famine players who played station to station and did little other than hit occasional home runs, the Mets have an opening to do something that has not been done full tilt since the Whitey Herzog St. Louis Cardinals of the 1980s: build a team based on speed and defense with the pitchers to back up that strategy.

The Mets have been notoriously slow in recent years. They have been lacking athleticism, devoid of versatility, and shoddy defensively.

The words “small ball” have been largely extinguished if not outright excommunicated from the game like they’re a toxic disease that only anti-vaccination fanatics fail to see the damage they can do, but with deGrom getting losses or no-decisions in 12 starts in which he pitched at least six innings and surrendered 3 or fewer earned runs, would the Mets not have been better-served to get runners on base in the early innings, push the envelope by stealing bases, bunt them along when appropriate, get a lead and force the other manager’s hand to make desperate moves because they cannot fall behind by one run?

This is contingent on starting pitching – something the Mets have in comparative abundance.

Some have indulged in delusional speculation that with the money the Mets will save via insurance payments for David Wright and now Cespedes, they should go big in this winter’s free agent market by pursuing Manny Machado and/or Bryce Harper. Hypothetically, if the Mets were willing to make that level of expenditure, why would players in demand like Machado or Harper want to join the Mets with the club’s reputation for disarray, dysfunction and injury?

More to the point, the type of players who would fit into the aggressive style of play are available should the club be willing to eschew the glossy signing and go for an actual planned construction with players who can do more than one thing.

Ian Kinsler may be 36 and struggling at the plate in 2018, but he remains a superlative defensive second baseman with speed to steal 15 to 20 bases and hit 20 home runs. He’s a free agent, won’t cost a draft pick, nor ask for a long-term contract.

Billy Hamilton is available and despite his poor OPS, he’s a defensive stalwart in center field who, if turned loose, could easily steal 80 to 100 bases.

With Amed Rosario playing better and more aggressively, Brandon Nimmo’s skill at getting on base, the remaining potential in Michael Conforto, hackers like T.J. Rivera and Jeff McNeil who might not bring the precious walks that sabermetrics advocates pine for, but collect hits, would this type of team have a better chance at competing than the ones the Mets have put on the field in 2017-18?

When the club is slumping offensively and is not hitting home runs, what do they do to score? There’s no stopping speed; there’s no viable defense for the panic that ensues when there’s a runner on base who might steal at any moment and the team is aggressively forcing the action with hitting and running, exhibiting derring-do on the bases and showing fearlessness. In games where they’re not hitting or getting on base, their defense will be a contribution.

Since the Mets have failed in every other attempt to fill in and replace costly players who are hurt; with their annual strategies imploding as if that was their intent, how much worse could they be if they did something that hasn’t been done since the mid-1980s – and worked – with their most hated rival at the time that twice sabotaged the dominant Mets teams of Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry?

Those Cardinals ran wild on the bases, caught the ball, and won three pennants in six years. This is a preferable strategy to the Mets trading their cost-controlled faces deGrom or Syndergaard for “Random Prospects X, Y and Z” and the team couldn’t be any worse than it is now. They’d certainly be more interesting.

What can the Yankees do with Gary Sanchez? Nothin’.

MLB, Uncategorized

Gary Sanchez

Let’s not get into a debate as to the validity of the recurrence of Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez’s groin injury that sent him back to the disabled list. Questioning a player’s pain threshold, how much a supposed injury is affecting his game, and if the organization is making liberal use of the vagaries of MRIs and strains to put a player in time-out in lieu of overt punishment is a maze rife with traps. We can’t know.

Accurate or not, I believe that if this was a key part of the schedule in September or the postseason, Sanchez could play through his ailment. Since it is July and the outrage at Sanchez’s lack of hustle costing the Yankees both offensively and defensively in Monday night’s loss to the Tampa Bay Rays has reached tsunami-like proportions and his ongoing lack of effort has shown no signs of changing, the club came to up with a way to sit him without it being a daily question as to when he’ll play again and if he got the message. It’s easier to do this while he’s batting .188 with an OPS of .699 and an OPS+ of 87.

The references of him being the “best hitting catcher in baseball” are a bit much with these numbers. Perhaps the word “potential” or “in 2017” should be inserted into the statement.

The laziness is secondary to that lack of production at the plate. His bat as a catcher is the entire reason he’s in the lineup to begin with; why there’s justification for the Yankees tolerating behavior from him they would not from anyone else. To put into context how terrible he’s been, let’s look at two former Yankees catchers. For the Arizona Diamondbacks, John Ryan Murphy has an OPS+ of 81 with 9 home runs in around 100 fewer plate appearances than Sanchez. For the suddenly searing hot Pittsburgh Pirates, Francisco Cervelli has an OPS+ of 129 and 9 home runs. Neither Murphy nor Cervelli are the defensive liability that Sanchez is. Both have squeezed every ounce out of their abilities. Can Sanchez say the same? Or is he satisfied to the point of complacency?

He’s not shaky defensively. He’s bad. That badness is compounded by his laziness. If he was hitting as he did in 2016-2017, then the club could grit its teeth and swallow it. But he’s not. The defensive lapses and la-de-da effort has gotten progressively worse the more established he’s become. What’s he going to be like if he has financial security with a $100 million contract and he’s in his late-20s and early-30s?

There are multiple scenarios under which the club could accept it and none are applicable. If he was hitting consistently; if he hustled; if he was simply bad defensively and his issues weren’t due to lack of effort – all are less than ideal, but could be shrugged off given his substantial assets including his cost control and fearsome power.

The catch-22 for the Yankees is that even when he’s 100 percent healthy, the defensive issues are not going away and they’re certainly not going to get better. There will not be an epiphany where he decides that he’ll adhere to the basics of being a functional defensive catcher. He’s in his second full season and already displays a stunning lack of commitment and an overtly shocking lack of interest in improving.

Under team control through 2022, he’ll be the Yankees catcher for the foreseeable future because of his bat and, most importantly, because he’s essentially irreplaceable from within and from outside the organization. If he acted like this as an outfielder, he’d already be gone.

For now, their only option is to wait for his stint on the disabled list to end and hope he got the message. Nothing else has gotten through. At age 25, he’s quickly earning the label as coach-killer because he was a part of why the Yankees parted ways with Joe Girardi and has sparked the first real crisis in the relatively smooth transition to Aaron Boone. Using coach-speak, there’s a good chance that he’s “that guy” or “one of those” meaning he’ll be punished, will be sufficiently chastened for a few days and be inspired to play hard, then revert to the behaviors that got him in trouble in the first place.

Apart from what the Yankees have already done to try and get him in line, there’s nothing else they can do except maintain hope that one day, it will click and he’ll decide he wants to work not just when he feels like it but when he doesn’t feel like it; not when he’s yelled at or pulled aside by teammates, but when no one is watching because no one needs to watch.