Viewer Mail 1.31.2011

Hot Stove

Joe writes RE Milton Bradley:

No one hits like Albert Pujols. I am sure they would put up with Milton Teixeira though :)


Jeff at Red State Blue State also writes about Milton Bradley:

Hell, if the dude hit like Wilson Betemit they’d— wait, nevermind, the dude does hit like Wilson Betemit. But he’s making more cash than Wilson could ever dream about.

The M’s have become laughable. It’s sad really.

He was a terrific risk for the Mariners a year ago since, for no other reason, it got Carlos Silva‘s contract out of town; Silva was owned $25 million guaranteed; Bradley $21 million.

Bradley had an MVP-quality year in 2008 with the Rangers and whether you chalk up a large portion of it to playing in Texas and their hitter-friendly ballpark, he was good enough on the road for the Cubs to expect production—2008 splits link.

Feeling they could control him wasn’t far-fetched since he behaved in Texas. Lou Piniella had the reputation that suggested he’d handle a hothead like Bradley because Piniella himself is a hothead. Coming off their failed run in 2008, the Cubs needed a bat the type which Bradley was in 2008 for the Rangers.

On the field his numbers with the Cubs were somewhat respectable—albeit not in the stratosphere they were in 2008 with the Rangers. But there were the repeated incidents that hover over Bradley like a vulture.

In retrospect, the Mariners got rid of a pitcher, Silva, who was a disaster for them and saved $4 million on the contracts; but Bradley was a terror off the field—again—and he didn’t hit.

Taken by itself, this latest incident is unresolved and wouldn’t be enough to dump Bradley and eat the remaining $12 million on his deal. But it’s not an isolated incident; it’s an endless pattern in the history of Milton Bradley.

Add in that the Mariners were a dysfunctional, poorly behaved nightmare on and off the field last season and the question has to be asked: When is enough is going to be enough?

New manager Eric Wedge has a lot of work in front of him straightening out the on-field product and heading off the disciplinary issues that doomed Don Wakamatsu; he managed Bradley in Cleveland and they didn’t get along there either; do the Mariners really want to put Wedge in this situation where it’s a matter of when, not if, Bradley does something else? It could be arguing with an umpire; fighting with a teammate; or something worse off the field.

It’s interesting that you mention Wilson Betemit, Jeff—Betemit was much better than Bradley last season and not only in the context of the year Bradley had. Betemit had 13 homers in 315 plate appearances; batted .297 and had a .378 OBP and the Royals had him on a minor league contract!!

There is no reward to having Bradley on the team. Even if he comes back and plays well—and he’s been written off before and come back—what’s the trade-off? The Mariners have no shot at contention and a message needs to be sent to the rest of the team that they’re not going to tolerate misanthropic behavior. His mere presence is more of a negative than eating the money would be and I wouldn’t let him anywhere near spring training.

Mike Fierman writes RE my Saturday posting on the Mets and Bernie Madoff:

One of your best- I don’t even think the LaRussa/Ankiel comparison was needed.

I’m not one to shy away from compliments!

You may be right about the Tony La Russa/Rick Ankiel analogy, but I wanted to get something on-field and baseball-related in there to make clear how insane it is that the red flags of Madoff’s operation were missed by some very smart people.

In this NY Daily News story, Fred Wilpon and family are said to be “devastated” by the lawsuit and implication that they knew what was going on.

Naturally we don’t know what they knew and didn’t know.

A kind and generous man, I do not think that Wilpon “knew” what Madoff was doing; but because he wasn’t paying close attention to the preposterous nature of the consistent gains regardless of economic times, he’s not absolved.

As I said on Saturday, what was he going to do if he did find out about it? He could’ve pulled his money out and blown the whistle, but sometimes it’s just easier to feign ignorance when the evidence of a “too good to be true” nature is everywhere.

Savvy people can sense when something in their realm of expertise is off; someone close to Fred Wilpon had to have sensed something. They had to have.

Norm writes RE the Mets and Madoff:

The funniest thing about the Madoff-Wilpon story has had to be Mike Francesa’s take on it. He went from months of berating callers who were trying to explain how the Wilpons lost tons to a complete about-face yesterday without anything close to a ‘whoops’ or a ‘my bad’.

Apologize?

Acknowledge being wrong?

Mike….Francesa?

Are you kidding?

I don’t have an issue with saying the words, “I don’t know” when I don’t know. But Francesa, so immersed in his own ego that he can alter any event into him having a Nostradamus-like foresight as to its outcome—whether he said it publicly or not—won’t ever say those credit-accumulating words: “I…was…wrong.”

It’s not hard; nor is it an admission of weakness to not know everything.

On a whole other level, if he were to admit to having not known the scope of the Wilpon financial hit, his self-proclaimed image of an insider would disappear. The Wilpons were in financial trouble and no one told Mike Francesa about it?

If he didn’t get wind of the story from a credible source off-air, then it couldn’t be true. In his mind anyway.

Come on, Norm. This is a guy who had his football picks altered to be more accurate than they were; were you expecting any utterance of contrition for being wrong about this? NEVER!!!!

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Randy Levine and Chuck Greenberg bickering over Cliff Lee:

I care about what Levine said to Greenberg. I think other Yankee fans care too. And the consensus is – Good for Levine! Greenberg has been sniping at the Yankees and their fans since Mrs. Lee whined about having beer dumped on her at Yankee Stadium. He was apparently made to apologize by MLB. But it continues. I think Levine was trying to say, “Enough already. Just worry about your own team.”

I think they both need to keep quiet.

Levine could’ve turned around and said exactly that. “Worry about your own team.” But he didn’t.

The “welfare “stuff was ridiculous.

The Other Mike in The Bleacher Seats has two comments; first RE Levine vs Greenberg:

From what I understand, Greenberg didn’t direct his comment about Lee at anyone in the Yankee organization. He was asked a question by a fan at the local Ranger Fan Fest and he gave his [purely speculative] opinion.

He wasn’t sniping at anyone, as far as I can tell. Somebody seems to be a little overly sensitive [speaking about the Yankee front office, not Ms. Heller above].

I’m channeling my inner Don King when I suggest a fight between Levine and Greenberg under the promotional title: Greenberg vs Levine—Two Jews Slap-Fighting.

And RE the Mariners:

As far as the Mariners go, I feel bad for those poor fans up in the Pacific Northwest. I am a Rangers fan and I grew up hating [but respecting] Griffey Jr. and his organization.

Still, to see them fall so far in recent years, after their one decent stretch in the ’90s, leaves me with a fair amount of sympathy.

They need to rebuild. They need to do what the Rangers did just 4 years ago and tell their fans “Please stick with us, we won’t be this terrible forever. We’re turning this ship around.”

Part of that process would probably involve letting their GM go, as he seems both dazed and confused most of the time. Then you sell off the pieces you don’t absolutely need and get younger.

Off the top of my head, I would hold onto King Felix, Gutierrez, and Ichiro. I suppose you also give Justin Smoak an opportunity to prove himself [I never understood why fans around here were so excited about the guy or why the M’s seemed just as excited].

After that, restock your system and put a few warm bodies on the field until fresh talent comes up.

I suppose all of that sounds easier than it is, but at least it’s a plan. Right now they just seem to be wandering in the dark, hoping some natural disaster wipes out the rest of the American League or something.

Jack Zduriencik is a very intelligent baseball man who made a lot of moves to slash money, import and dispatch players.

His three biggest downfalls stem from the appellation of “genius”—which wasn’t his fault; the over-aggressiveness to get better fast rather than let the team grow organically with a cautious approach; and the shunning of responsibility and personal conduct exemplified in the blame game firing of Wakamatsu; and the bad actors brought into the organization.

I’d give Zduriencik a pass for the player moves that failed; but the lack of discipline in the organization is inexcusable.

I would not move Felix Hernandez; I’d keep an open mind on Franklin Gutierrez but wouldn’t be inclined to deal him.

I’m not a fan of Ichiro Suzuki; I think he’s a losing player who senses which way the wind is blowing in terms of club fortunes and goes for stats once the season is lost; he’s overpaid and underproductive. Last season, I got into a monthlong series of debates about Ichiro. I insist he could hit for more power if he decided to do so but would prefer to accumulate his gaudy hit totals with singles to left field.

That’s neither here nor there.

Apart from these players, if you look up and down the Mariners roster, there’s a limited number of players other teams would: A) want; or B) give up anything of significance to get.

We won’t know about the Zduriencik drafts for some time and he may not be there to reap their rewards, if any.

Pat Gillick lives in Seattle. And the Hall of Famer hasn’t officially retired.

I hope I’m not being cryptic.

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Sunday Lightning 1.30.2011

Hot Stove
  • Theater of the idiotic:

The carping between the Yankees and Rangers is like one of those arguments of indefinable origin that escalates without anyone remembering how it started in the first place.

Randy Levine with the Yankees and Chuck Greenberg with the Rangers seemingly can’t stop themselves from taking shots concerning Cliff Lee—whom they both failed to sign.

The latest is Greenberg’s assertion that the Rangers stayed in the Lee sweepstakes long enough to prevent the Yankees from nabbing him early in Lee’s free agency jaunt, allowing the Phillies time to cobble a suitable offer to swoop in and get him.

Levine responded with the following:

“I think Chuck is delusional,” Levine told ESPNewYork.com. “He has been running the Rangers for a few minutes and seems to believe he’s mastered what everyone else is thinking. I think he should let Cliff Lee speak for himself. I’ll be impressed when he demonstrates he can keep the Rangers off welfare. What I mean is make them not be a revenue-sharing recipient for three years in a row, without taking financing from baseball or advance money from television networks. Then I’ll be impressed.”

You can read the entire ESPN column here.

Apart from the desire to get the last word in, what’s the point in all of this?

Why is Levine even responding to an assertion from Greenberg that has no basis in any statement anyone from the Lee camp has made? From what I understood, the Phillies were always lurking around Lee and had told his agent that before signing anything to please come back to them and give them a chance to make an offer.

What difference does it make anyway? The Yankees are smarting from the hit they’ve taken as they aura of financial invincibility was damaged not by any economic downturn, but by a player choosing to go elsewhere for less money.

As for the revenue sharing comment, how is that Levine’s business? It’s a bullying tactic from one who believes they’re supporting another by saying, “I’m paying you, therefore I own a part of you; so you do what I say and shut up.”

It’s authoritarian from a entity that is not an authority.

Worse, it actually sounds like something Lenny Dykstra would say.

When Dykstra talks about one of his many familial financial squabbles, his argument is that because his relatives worked for him in running his car wash franchises, that he—Lenny—“bought” their houses.

How that makes sense is up to you to judge.

Does Randy Levine feel comfortable with using logic similar to that of Lenny Dykstra?!?

Because the Rangers spend less money on players and the Yankees more, the rules of baseball dictate that the Rangers get money from the higher spending teams; that has nothing to do with Levine—who’s not an owner of the Yankees—and is specious reasoning at its best; at worst it’s plain stupid.

Regarding the idea that Lee should “speak for himself”, why should he comment? He’s being dragged in the middle of a custody fight between two parties who haven’t the right to claim he belongs to them in any capacity after the fact. Lee decided to go to the Phillies; the Yankees and Rangers are still bickering over the remnants of a player who is not a member of either organization and decided to go to the other league.

Did the Rangers offer hold things up as Greenberg claims? Who knows? More importantly, who cares?

  • Aaahhh!! My eyes!!!!

Is this somehow related to Billy Beane‘s lost Midas touch?

Are they trying to regain his Moneyball aura of infallibility with the new golden uniforms they’re going to wear?

If nothing else the A’s new uniforms will distract opposing hitters because they’re so awful, but I’m wondering who was in charge of: A) designing them; and B) approving them.

They’re hideous and if this is Beane’s doing—if he touched the uniforms and they turned this color—then he should stop touching things. Immediately.

  • Perhaps I can find new ways to motivate them:

The above line is from Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi and it implies pretty much what you think it implies.

Take this for what it’s worth, but Buster Olney said the following on Twitter in reference to the Athletics pursuit of Mariner infielder Chone Figgins:

The Figgins conversations with Oakland/Seattle happened three weeks ago. Seattle not motivated to move him; it was never close to happening.

“Not motivated to move him”?

Really?

Of course we don’t know what the A’s offered for Figgins; what the financial deal would’ve been; what the Mariners were willing to do, but “not motivated to move him”?

How could they not be motivated to move him?

Figgins was awful last year; the Mariners are going to be terrible; he’s making a lot of money; he acted like a baby as the Mariners season crashed around him and nearly got into a fistfight with then manager Don Wakamatsu over lack of hustle.

With the Mariners current circumstances—in a full-blown rebuild and mired in a tough division—why wouldn’t they be “motivated” to move Figgins?

To give Figgins the benefit of the doubt last season, you can say that the way the Mariners played and behaved—after years of Figgins being in a controlled and organized atmosphere of the Angels—must’ve come as some sort of a culture shock; the tone around the club was poisonous. He played better in the second half of the season and I do think he’ll have a normal year in 2011—.290 average; .370 on base; 40+ stolen bases; good defense back at third base; I also think Eric Wedge’s presence in the manager’s office will prevent some of the nonsense that went on last year; but “not motivated”?

Why?

There are few players on the Mariners roster for whom it makes sense to say they’re not listening to offers. Felix Hernandez and Franklin Gutierrez are two. Other than that, why not listen? Why not see what they can get back? And why not be aggressive in bringing in pieces that are cheaper and more pliable to a long-term future of good play and good behavior?

This comes on the heels of the decision to keep Milton Bradley and the earlier discussions involving David Aardsma (before he needed hip labrum surgery) that they wanted an “impact bat” for him.

“Not motivated”? An “impact bat”?

They need a reality check in Seattle. Soon.

I’ll respond to mail/comments tomorrow.

Logic, Reality And Madness

Hot Stove

Let’s say you’ve got a friend who claims to have a foolproof system to win at blackjack. He’s got other people involved with him who are giving him money to play at the table, he’ll take a small percentage of the winnings and you don’t have to do anything other that front him to the money with which to play.

You give him, say, $100.

He takes that $100, plays blackjack, doesn’t appear any more skillful at the game than any of the other hacks sitting around the table and the dealer has a 20. Everyone loses. This continues for most of the night; he wins some hands; loses some; doesn’t appear to be doing any better than anyone else. There’s no pile of chips in front of him at any point.

But your friend comes to you at the end of the night and hands you $175. You got your money back plus an extra $75.

“How?” you ask. “I saw you losing.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he replies. “I got a system.” Then with a wink and a knowing smirk, he walks away.

You shrug, don’t ask questions and continue giving him money to play with. Hey, you’re making money; why ask questions?

Logically, shouldn’t you know that something shady is going on? That maybe he’s not “winning” at all; that maybe he’s giving you money he got from someone else and is playing and playing and playing and playing with other people’s cash, accumulating volume without any realistic profits? A false gain?

You probably would know if you have any common sense at all, but given the nature of the situation, that you’re not hurting anyone directly and you don’t have implicit knowledge of his scam, what’s the difference? But you’re complicit. You’re benefiting. And you’re leaving yourself wide open for consequences if the well runs dry and he can’t find people to continue fronting him cash.

Sounds like Bernie Madoff, doesn’t it?

Let’s try another, baseball-related analogy that has to do with ridiculous gains during tough times—a hallmark of the Madoff scheme and his “always win” results.

Tony La Russa is a true baseball innovator; as close to being a genius as there is in a manager. That said, he’s taken advantage of his reputation for knowing what he’s doing to try things that might get another manager fired. If the inexperienced Don Mattingly comes up with some basis for batting the pitcher anywhere but ninth, his bosses are going to scream, “What the hell are you doing?!?” La Russa does it, and it’s an innovation based on research. He gets away with it because he can.

It was the same thing with his conscious decision to compartmentalize his bullpen and have defined roles for his pitchers. While it’s been suggested that La Russa was the originator of the concept that the closer only pitches the ninth inning (inaccurately), it was his alteration of the way bullpens are used that spun into the Jeff Torborg-type of manager who became an automaton with no room for nuance, thought or differing viewpoints.

But La Russa has made his mistakes—some of them of the gigantic variety.

Rick Ankiel is one such mistake.

Starting the then-21-year-old phenom in the opening game of the 2000 NLDS may have been a good idea on paper, but it showed a lack of judgment on the part of the manager. Could La Russa, experienced baseball man that he was, have sensed that Ankiel was so tightly wound that he was eventually going to implode from the pressure? Pressure placed on him by the manager in starting him in a game of that magnitude—the opening game of a playoff series?

Maybe.

But the mistake was made, Ankiel blew up and lost any and all command of where the ball was going and his career as a pitcher collapsed into dust under the weight of expectations, demands and pressure.

It didn’t happen all at once.

Ankiel made it back as an everyday player and has been useful. He has power; speed; and, naturally, a great arm in the outfield. He won’t ever be a commensurately gifted hitter as he could’ve been as a pitcher; there won’t be any MVP candidacy; but had he maintained his composure as a pitcher, he was a Cy Young Award candidate.

He’s built a career for himself where there wouldn’t have been one had he not been able to hit.

And it took seven years for him to make it back to the majors as a hitter. He didn’t give up pitching until 2005; didn’t get back to the big leagues as a hitter until 2007.

Equating this to the Madoff scam, in a best case scenario and considering the gains his investors made, it was as if Ankiel failed as a pitcher in game 1 of the 2000 NLDS and the Cardinals made him into a hitter in time for him to bash his way through the NLCS two weeks later.

As seamless transitions and fantasy stories go, it’s wonderful; but use your intelligence. Does it make sense? Would you believe it if someone suggested it to be possible? Casual baseball fan or not, you know about the history of the game and how difficult it would be to make such an early-career switch. It’s transferable to any career whether it’s sports, financial or whatever.

In the Bernard Malamud book, The Natural, it took Roy Hobbs years to make it back to baseball after being shot. He couldn’t pitch anymore because of his wounds and came back as an outfielder. The book was a nihilistic morality play on how fate can touch the most gifted of us.

The savviest scouts don’t nail every prospect; the best manager makes mistakes; the “genius” GMs gaffe in a bunch of trades.

No one hits on everything he does.

They don’t.

The Wilpons had to know what was going on with Bernie Madoff.

There’s no other explanation for people who are seemingly so smart that they were able to amass these fine fortunes to have been taken in by a clear swindler.

It was unrealistic (at best) to think that during economic downturns the profits would keep on coming in regardless of markets and failure. Sometimes prospects, like Ankiel, don’t make it for one reason or another. It’s the same thing in the stock market. There could be a terrific idea that, for one reason or another, fails.

How could those investing and profiting from Madoff not realize what was happening? Even the most obtuse and hands-off among us would’ve spotted the oddity of his consistent success.

No one is right 100% of the time.

Do you mean to tell me that Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz—the Mets current owners and we don’t know for how much longer—didn’t smell something fishy?

Really?

Whether they were directly complicit in the scheme is beside the point. I don’t know if they were or weren’t; but like Madoff’s family claimed to not have a clue that what they were doing was a giant Ponzi scheme, use your common sense. Simply because they didn’t “know-know” doesn’t absolve them of responsibility.

If an advantage is being taken and they adhere to the old standby of “it’s not hurting anyone” and “we’re all profiting”, they’re still part of the plot by indulging and accepting benefit.

I’m not a financial person and I’m a pragmatist. There’s no moral high ground with me. There wasn’t much for those who were making money with Madoff to do aside from pulling their assets from his operation and who in their right mind is going to do that while they’re making more and more money year-after-year?

Blowing the whistle wouldn’t have done any good. With the intricate way the Madoff scam had wormed its way around the entire world and the people involved, nothing would’ve been done to stop it.

They understandably turned a blind eye and stayed silent. But the truth came out and the “money” that wasn’t actual currency is gone. What has to be understood is that when someone is called a “billionaire”, they most likely don’t have a billion dollars in the bank; what they have is assets and credit. It’s elusive and floating in the air and, as the Madoff case proved, it sometimes doesn’t exist as anything other than a whisper in limbo uttered by a ghost.

The Mets are trying to sell a share of the club.

They’re saying it’s 25% without a controlling interest so the Wilpons can maintain their command. A cash infusion is needed. The media and fans are in an uproar over having been misled or “lied” to by the Mets owners who said that the Madoff mess would not affect club operations; the estimate of how much is being sought in the government’s recovery lawsuit—for the Wilpons who gained in the scam—is said to be in the area of as much as a billion dollars.

Now the sportswriters and commentators are questioning why anyone would pay the nearly $200 million pricetag to have no voice in club operations for a quarter of the franchise. Without any knowledge of this process, I would think that some wealthy person would be interested in a deal to purchase part of the Mets with either a chance to buy out the Wilpons by a fixed date or to sell out and earn a percentage markup of what they put in.

That could be worked out in some way to make it attractive to a potential investor.

This is neither here nor there.

For a long time, it’s been suggested that the Mets owners were damaged severely by the collapse of the Madoff house of lies. This too is irrelevant in the context of worldwide damage.

They had to know subconsciously that something was wrong. Any denial is just as unbelievable as the above analogies.

Certain fantasies have no place in objectivity; any normal-thinking person who can examine a series of insane tales and spot their sheer unlikeliness; unprecedented success is unprecedented for a reason. Whether they’re willing to admit it to themselves or not, they had to know.

Was it due to greed? Ignorance? A silent contract between a schemer and his beneficiaries?

Does it matter?

The end result is the same. The Mets are a financial morass right now in part because of Bernie Madoff; and in part because the red flags of his crimes were shrugged off because everyone was “winning”.

The Mets are not winning anymore on or off the field and the madness is spiraling.

The Mets are for sale because the Wilpons don’t appear to have a choice. They’re paying the price for their involvement with Madoff, directly or otherwise.

This is the only way it could end.

It’s unavoidable.

The inevitable is becoming reality.

As it always does.

The Seattle Zoo

Hot Stove

Despite his arrest on charges of threatening a woman, Mariners outfielder Milton Bradley will be brought to camp this spring—Seattle Times Story.

This is on the heels of a hellish 2010 season; a season that was incomprehensible in terms of everything that could have gone wrong not simply going wrong, but going beyond wrong into the ludicrous and felonious.

Oh, and non-roster invitee Adam Kennedy was arrested for DUI Wednesday night.

Individually, the events that have befallen the Mariners organization in the past year can be chalked up to humanity and “stuff” happening; but as a whole, the team appears to be a dysfunctional, enabling, morally and ethically challenged zoo poisoned by a culture of subterfuge and semantics and protected by those who have a stake in the current regime’s success.

The suggestion that I’m harping on the negatives of the tenure of GM Jack Zduriencik as some means of advancing my own interests is nonsense. Since he took over, I’ve taken great steps to do two things: One, I’ve said that he’s a smart man and qualified baseball executive; two, I’ve emphatically suggested that the appellation of “genius” after one season on the job was not only hasty, but unfair, inaccurate and potentially damaging.

It’s not a mystery as to why those who are so immersed in their own agendas are clinging to the notion that Zduriencik—with an affinity for stats and information along with a background in scouting—is destined to lead the Mariners to glory. But there comes a time for reality—objective reality that is so often trumpeted as the true way to run a club effectively.

And the objective reality is that the Mariners have degenerated into a laughable nightmare on and off the field.

No one could’ve lived up to the hype that Zduriencik has endured in his rise and ongoing fall. Much like the Moneyball crowd has altered their rhetoric and the participants and facilitator—Michael Lewis—adjusted to account for the book’s inaccuracies in theory and practice, the goalposts are being moved for their beloved Jack Z.

None of that is relevant.

Had the Mariners gone from an 85 win club and rising force to 100 losses, it would’ve been tolerable and chalked up to happenstance. Everything that went right in 2009 went wrong in 2010. Fair enough. But the off-field incidents and allegations of malfeasance on the part of the GM are getting to be too much to withstand.

The way in which the Mariners backed out on a supposedly agreed upon deal to send Cliff Lee to the Yankees was shady but explainable. That the deal they did make brought them Josh Lueke, who’d pleaded no contest to a sexual assault while in the Rangers minor league system, and the subsequent spin doctoring and misleading statements from the club were indicative of the disconnect that’s still going on.

The Ken Griffey Jr. napping episode; Chone Figgins‘s near fistfight with then-manager Don Wakamatsu; the firing of Wakamatsu as an exercise in “here, blame him”; the Bradley drama that never ends—it’s all within the confines of criticism for those who are running the organization.

And they’re bringing Bradley back.

The Mariners are giving the impression of disinterest in the behavior of their employees. That would be somewhat acceptable if Bradley could still play!!!If he’d done anything last season on the field to warrant being given another chance!!! If there was a reason to keep him apart from his $12 million salary for 2011!!!

Bradley batted .205 last season; his on base percentage was .292; he hit 8 homers and struck out 75 times in 278 plate appearances.

What use is he other than as an explosion waiting to happen?

If the Mariners are keeping Bradley because of his salary or through some misguided notion that he’s still able to contribute, then they need to re-think their analytical skills. The money is gone; maybe they can reach a financial settlement rather than go through a legal avenue to void the contract based on morals clauses and habitual offenses—that’s debatable—but he’s useless to them.

The theme is recurring.

And it has to stop.

For all the success they’ve had in the past four seasons, I’m convinced that the Rays turnaround stemmed not  from the name change of “Devil Rays” to “Rays”; not from the number one draft picks and prospects accumulated by the current and prior regimes; not from their luck changing, but because of the conscious decision after the 2007 season—which had eerie similarities to the Mariners 2010 season—to dispatch of any and all malcontents and misanthropes in the organization.

The Rays dumped the gifted Josh Hamilton; traded former number one draft pick Delmon Young; and traded Elijah Dukes. Pitching coach Jim Hickey’s DUI appeared to be the final straw for the club in 2007; after that, they didn’t tolerate any more off-field garbage. Bringing in character players like Eric Hinske, Troy Percival, Carlos Pena, Dan Wheeler and Cliff Floyd helped; but it was the “no…more….crap” edict that I believe altered their fortunes.

It doesn’t matter than Hamilton has blossomed into a star; that the Young deal was a terrific one for the Rays; nor that they were right about Dukes—the results with those players means nothing. What was important was the message that if these players and employees didn’t want to adhere to a reasonable code of personal conduct, they could go elsewhere.

The Mariners need to do this.

The statement, “If you don’t want to be here, we will accommodate you” isn’t a threat; it’s not a warning; it’s a fact.

If Milton Bradley hit like Albert Pujols, I’d understand and agree—put up with it—but he doesn’t.

Have the Mariners, after the last year, not reached that threshold?

The broken window policy is a key to regaining respect as an organization. What happens on the field is secondary to the perception that the Mariners are a place where you don’t want to be if you’re a player.

I was of the opinion that the Mariners, regardless of their on-field results, had to act appropriately off the field if Zduriencik is going to survive as GM. It’s January and already they’re in the front part of the newspaper rather than the back where they belong—twice.

It’s not a good start to a new year.

Not at all.

How much are they willing to take? And when’s it going to stop?

When?

Teetering

Hot Stove

Barring anything miraculous in the positive or negative sense, there are teams that we pretty much know their collective fates.

The Red Sox and Phillies are at the top of the food chain; the Yankees, Braves and White Sox can expect to be good; the Royals are basing their entire future and present on the fact that everyone worships their packed farm system—they’ll see you in 2014, just you wait!!

The Mets know where they’re at; the Pirates are the Pirates.

But other clubs have pressing questions of the make-or-break variety; questions that could lead to their rise or fall, depending on the answers.

Here are those teams and things can go right…or wrong in 2011.

Toronto Blue Jays

They’ve done a lot of stuff, but I don’t necessarily know if they’ve gotten better from last season.

Stacked with young pitching, they’ve signed or acquired veteran relievers Octavio Dotel, Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco to augment young starters Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek, et al.

With the departures of Vernon Wells, John Buck and Lyle Overbay, they lost 71 homers and replaced them with nothing but hope. Hope that the atrocious seasons from Aaron Hill and Adam Lind were nothing more than blips; hope that Travis Snider will hit the way he did in the minors; hope that Edwin Encarnacion and Yunel Escobar won’t join forces to send new manager John Farrell to test the benefits of the Canadian health care system’s mental program; and hope that the young pitchers improve rather than stagnate or regress.

The Blue Jays could easily fall to 75 wins or rise to 90.

Minnesota Twins

The departures of Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Jon Rauch and Brian Fuentes have gutted imperative parts of their bullpen. Joe Nathan is returning from Tommy John surgery and Matt Capps is still there for the late innings, but the foundation of their bullpen was based on the above names—names that are no longer there. The Twins won with competent, mediocre starting pitching and a deep, reliable bullpen.

They still have the mediocre starting pitching, but without the bullpen, they could have a problem.

Justin Morneau is a question mark returning from his concussion; Delmon Young had his career year in 2010; they’re replacing Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy with Alexi Casilla and, the biggest wild card, Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

I don’t care what the scouting reports say about a player coming over from Japan, you never know what you’re getting until they play in North America. You could be getting Hideki Irabu; you could be getting Hideki Matsui. You don’t know.

If the Twins bullpen falters, that’s going to damage their starting pitching—starting pitching that isn’t all that great to begin with. With the new middle infield, they could take a drastic tumble. They’re also in a division with two good teams in the White Sox and Tigers.

Florida Marlins

The front office has had unreasonably high expectations in the past and it, along with the enabling of diva-like behavior from Hanley Ramirez, combined to cost Fredi Gonzalez his job as manager at mid-season, 2010.

They have an impressive array of talent, but there’s something…off about them. Wes Helms at third base? Chris Coghlan in center field? 3-years, $18 million for John Buck? Trading for relievers Edward Mujica and Ryan Webb when, in the past, the Marlins set the standard for building a bullpen the right way by finding cheap, discarded arms?

Javier Vazquez is a good pickup for the deep rotation as he joins Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez.

That division is a nightmare with the Phillies likely to disappear into the distance a month into the season and the Braves probably the second best team in the National League.

Manager Edwin Rodriguez is on a 1-year deal and the club has had an on-again, off-again flirtation with Bobby Valentine. Owner Jeffrey Loria wants a “name” manager to helm his club heading into the new ballpark in 2012 and Ozzie Guillen, another object of his desires, just had his contract option for 2012 exercised by the White Sox.

Rodriguez did a good job after taking over for Gonzalez, but he’s not box office.

Like a prospective romance that for a variety of reasons all parties insist is over, Valentine and the Marlins are still eyeing each other lustily. Unless the Marlins are right in the thick of the playoff race in June, don’t—do….not—be surprised to see Valentine managing the Marlins.

San Diego Padres

The starting pitching has been compromised with the departures of Jon Garland and Kevin Correia; they still have Clayton Richard and Mat Latos at the top, but after that?

I dunno…

Then they dealt away Mujica and Webb for Cameron Maybin who’s done nothing to justify his top prospect status as of yet—he’s not a prospect anymore, it’s either do it or don’t.

Who knows how the loss of Yorvit Torrealba—a terrific handler of pitchers—will affect the staff.

The offense is devastated by the trade of Adrian Gonzalez; they brought in Maybin, Jason Bartlett, Orlando Hudson, Brad Hawpe and Jorge Cantu.

Again, I dunno…

“I dunno” is not cutting it in a rough division.

The Padres could fall from 90 wins to 75 if their pitching doesn’t perform.

The Policy Of Truth

Hot Stove
  • The mouth that roared:

Brian Cashman needs to shut up.

Now.

This new honesty doctrine under which he appears to be living is hurting Cashman and the Yankees organization and needs to stop.

The days in which Cashman spoke in circles, responding to questions without responding to questions, never letting the public or players know what he was really thinking and protecting club and selfish interests, are gone.

Long gone.

And it’s not good.

After the ridiculous, borderline offensive and inappropriate disclosure that he didn’t want their marquee signing of the winter, Rafael Soriano, Cashman unleashed this series of gems during appearances with WFAN’s Mike Francesa at a breakfast Q and A (Diet Coke for breakfast? Why not?!?) and on Michael Kay’s ESPN show:

Derek Jeter could eventually move to center field.

Andy Pettitte doesn’t want to pitch, but he’ll let them know if he does.

Joba Chamberlain is staying in the bullpen and hasn’t been the same since his shoulder injury in 2008.

You can read the column from which these were culled here—link.

The actual content of what Cashman was saying is irrelevant in the grand scheme. Did he have reason to want to keep the draft pick rather than sign Soriano? Yes. He had several. Is it silly to think that Jeter might have to be shifted from shortstop due to diminished range? No.*

*But center field? Don’t you need range out there too?

Chamberlain’s stuff now translates better to the bullpen? Did Cashman discuss his part in the ruination of Chamberlain with the absurd usage dictates, limits and fluctuating roles?

This new policy of truth to which Cashman is adhering is an exercise in self-immolation; rather than being a boon to running the club “his way” as the repeated mantra states, he’s harming the effort by not knowing when to evade or simply keep quiet.

Is he channeling his inner J.P. Ricciardi? Ricciardi, whose mouth was the main obstacle to his tenure as Blue Jays GM, was great to listen to because he had a volcanic temper and no filter separating brain and mouth.

Is this what Cashman wants?

The Yankees are an organization and Cashman is their front man. What he feels and says behind closed doors should remain behind closed doors. There’s a significant difference between doing what’s right for the organization and yapping relentlessly to get one’s own name in the headlines with splashy statements.

There’s an egomaniacal, power-mad tint to his statements and actions now and it should be troubling to the Yankees and their fans. It seems to be all about him. The contentious Jeter negotiations were off-putting; his behavior during the press conferences of Jeter (looking at his cell phone in a disinterested fashion as Jeter expressed his displeasure at how things spiraled out of control) and the open disagreement with the signing of Soriano are not in his job description.

Does he want out of the Yankee universe?

What’s the purpose of all this?

None of the answers to these questions bode well. If he wants to leave, then he’s well on the way out the door with his actions. Alienating bosses and other members of the organization with honesty is self righteous; he’s still the club’s GM. Because he was overruled in the Soriano decision and the Jeter contract negotiations degenerated as it did doesn’t give him the free pass to behave like a misanthropic buffoon expressing private misgivings in public forums.

This is a problem.

And I can’t believe that the Steinbrenners, Randy Levine, colleagues and friends haven’t told Cashman to tone it down. If he doesn’t, he’d better. That’s if he wants to stay with the Yankees. But maybe Bill Madden was right on Sunday. Maybe he doesn’t.

If that’s the end he has in mind, he’s well on his way to achieving it. It’s all great for the fans and media to have something to sink their collective teeth into and debate, but it’s not good for the organization; in fact, it’s making them look petty and discombobulated—precisely what Cashman wanted to get away from when he consolidated his power by demanding full autonomy in baseball decisions.

He’s blowing up the bridge while he’s standing on it and may be taking a load of people with him.

Someone has to muzzle the renegade GM. Immediately.

  • Viewer Mail 1.26.2011:

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Brian Cashman and Bill Madden’s Sunday column:

I read Madden’s piece on Cashman today in the Daily News and maybe he does want to leave the Yankees when his contract is up. On the other hand, maybe there’s no other Yankees news to write about and Madden needed a story where there isn’t one.

It’s possible that even Madden is told to add certain things to columns by editors, but it’s not as if there’s no evidence to back up the speculation that Cashman might like to try his luck elsewhere. Given some of his decisions that didn’t involve spending money, he’d better be careful what he wishes for. I wouldn’t have the same faith in Cashman as a GM able to succeed anywhere as I would with a Pat Gillick.

We may be about to find out.

The Other Mike in The Bleacher Seats writes RE Jon Heyman:

Don’t misunderstand, I have nothing against Heyman. He’s good at what he does and I appreciate that he’s in the middle of things, breaking stories.

But…
He is prone to hyperbole in a similar fashion to other sports media is, such as suggesting that such-n-what team has the best rotation/bullpen/bat-boy/etc in baseball.
I would also appreciate it if he had personal and professional Twitter accounts that were separate. I follow him more for baseball news and less for ‘what I did on my red-eye flight to NY’ kinds of updates.

He blocked me on Twitter because I’m scaaaaryyyy, so I dunno what he tweets about.

Joe writes in two separate comments about Vernon Wells, Mike Napoli, the Angels and Blue Jays:

Lateral leap in the short term? Napoli is as good if not better than Wells. Rivera might be as good too.  Neither is expensive, while Wells is.  And before last year, when Wells was good, he was below-average for 3 straight years, and makes $20 million a year. This is one of the worst trades in baseball history, easily.

****

Playing Wells in center means costing runs on defense.  He is a corner-outfielder now. If they play him in center, he will give back some of the runs that he gives them on offense. The last 4 years — not just last year — Wells has been below-average, overall.  You don’t pay players like Wells $20 million. Rivera might be as good as Wells, and Napoli is too.  The Angels play a black-hole of a catcher, rather than trying to find a guy that plays defense and gets on base even 30 percent of the time. Mathis has a career .199 average, .266 OBP.  He is awful.  They could easily have found someone better, who has the skills they value — acceptable defense, veteran leadership, etc.  The point is, they GAVE UP something to get Vernon Wells.  Why did they have to give something up?  It was a poor contract, for an above-average AT BEST player.  If they wanted a more reliable center fielder, they could have found one at a much cheaper price, who probably isn’t that far off production-wise.

Judging from their decision to trade him to the Rangers for Frank Francisco, the Blue Jays didn’t think much of Napoli either. This is especially curious since the Blue Jays current starting catcher is the no-hit Jose Molina and they could’ve used Napoli.

So is it that the Angels didn’t appreciate what they had in Napoli? Or did they know what they had? Or are the Blue Jays just as dumb as the Angels days after they were “brilliant”?

The Blue Jays saw the same thing in Napoli that the Angels saw: a part-time player who was good as a part-time player but was exposed when asked to do too much.

The phrase: “What would he do if given the opportunity to play every day?” has two answers. Some flourish; some falter. With Shin-Soo Choo, he became a terrific all-around player; for Napoli, we saw what he was in 2010—a .240 hitter; some pop; and he strikes out a lot.

All of a sudden the Angels, after years of annual contention and playoff appearances, have gotten stupid? I don’t buy it. They take rapid steps to repair perceived mistakes as evidenced by their replacement of Gary Matthews Jr. with Torii Hunter after one year of Matthews as their center fielder.

I can’t imagine that they intend to play Jeff Mathis regularly. If anything, he’ll split time early in the season with Hank Conger, then they’ll go with Conger as the season moves along.

One of the “worst trades in baseball history”, Joe? You’re making this assessment in January? Really? With your life dedicated to the principles of objective analysis, this seems pretty subjective to me.

And please tell me what center fielder is available to the Angels now? Or left fielder for that matter?

You can’t because there isn’t one.

Mike Fierman writes RE Wells and the Angels:

First of all I don’t know why you would say Abreu is bound to come back because he’s been so good for so long. More likely he is in his inevitable decline. i’d be shocked if he hit 20 homers. Even his great OBP has been steadily declining. I can see your point that the Angels can more easily absorb this atrocious contract, but to conclude a mostly interesting post with “they are contenders again because of the acquisition of Vernon Wells.”  is going just too far. Especially since you had just posited that they need another bat …a bat they don’t have yet. Beltre would have been a much better option for them.

I’m not so quick to think Abreu is done. The hitters surrounding any batter do have an affect on his production. Without Kendry Morales and with Howie Kendrick having down years, Abreu still had a good year by any measurement apart from his own. 63 extra base hits is pretty good to me. If he repeats those numbers with Wells adding 25 homers and the return of Morales, the Angels starting rotation will be well-supported to win plenty of games.

They went after Adrian Beltre and didn’t get him.

Regarding the phraseology, maybe “they are contenders in part because of the acquisition of Vernon Wells” would’ve been better, but that’s arguable.

With their repeated success, the Angels deserve the benefit of the doubt that other organizations don’t. This reactionary response before one game has been played is ludicrous.

Mania

Hot Stove

The speed with which we get information today can be a good or bad thing. Many times it’s positive as in cases of Amber Alerts and dangerous occurrences; other times it’s not. From the premature reports of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords’s death to the comparatively trivial injury to Bears quarterback Jay Cutler in which he was accused of giving up and begging out of the NFC Championship on Sunday when he was really hurt, people’s lives and reputations are affected.

It’s reactionary and ill-thought out.

Now we’re seeing the same thing with the Los Angeles Angels and their so-called “desperation” trade for Vernon Wells.

In the immediate aftermath of the deal’s announcement, I too was bewildered at why any team would want to take Wells’s contract from the Blue Jays with negligible relief (said to be $5 million) on the remaining $86 million guaranteed. That the Angels gave up two productive and cheap pieces in Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera made it all the more confusing.

But then I looked at it more deeply.

The trade, after cursory internet reaction, was awful. When examined closely, it made a certain amount of sense. Now, after studying the Angels; their situation; their division; their needs; and what Wells and subsequent additions will provide, it could get them back into the playoffs.

The Angels faded out last season for three reasons: a lack of scoring; injuries; and a bad bullpen.

If the Angels make one more acquisition to bolster the lineup, the scoring problem will be mitigated. The negatives of Wells—apart from his salary—are known and accurate: he’s streaky, doesn’t get on base and is overrated defensively. But for the Angels, he fits into what they want to do.

Affording them the option of not having to rely on a 24-year-old Peter Bourjos to save their season, they can play Wells in center field if necessary. This would free them to do a couple of things. They’re pursuing Scott Podsednik or Vladimir Guerrero.

The Podsednik talk elicits ridicule in stat zombie circles, but isn’t a terrible idea at all. He can still run and play solid defense in left; with a career .340 on base percentage, he’d give RBI chances to the bats behind him. Plus he’d be cheap.

I’d go after Guerrero before Podsednik. Guerrero’s rejuvenation in Texas was not due simply to him being in a hitter’s heaven of a ballpark at home; I think he was healthy again. Guerrero hit well on the road last season and if he returned to Anaheim and provided 25 homers and 90-100 RBI—not absurd requests—the Angels offensive woes at DH are solved.

In addition to that, who can tell how much Guerrero’s absence as a father figure to Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis contributed to their poor seasons? If Aybar and Izturis hit somewhere close to the way they did in 2009, the Angels will have far more scoring opportunities.

The offensive woes were evident in greater detail after Kendry Morales‘s season-ending ankle injury. Right there, the Angels went from having a power hitting first baseman and a rightfully part-time power hitting catcher in Napoli to having Napoli playing every day at first base and the no-hit Jeff Mathis catching.

Losing the big power threat affects everything. Napoli was admirable in an unfamiliar role, but it meant that he was playing every day; that Mathis was playing regularly; and that Bobby Abreu was relied on more than was feasible given his age.

Certain players are better off not playing every day because once they play every day, they’re exposed. This is what happened to Napoli playing first base in place of Morales.

With Wells in and Napoli and Rivera out, the Angels not only have another power bat in their lineup, they’re free to address other needs at either DH or left field.

The Angels troubles were exacerbated by Howie Kendrick‘s poor year accompanying the down seasons from Aybar, Izturis and Abreu. Was Kendrick exposed like Napoli after he was forced to play every day following the free agent departure of Chone Figgins? Considering his career in the majors and minors, I’d say no; he’s been a .300 hitter at every level.

Abreu, despite his age, has been too good for too long to have another down year like he had in 2010. Being left alone in the lineup didn’t help Abreu either. The lineup’s better, Abreu will be better.

So let’s say Abreu gets back to 20 homers, and a .370 on base percentage; that Wells hits 25 homers and drives in 90; that Morales bats .300, has 25 homers and 100 RBI; that they get either Guerrero or Podsednik; that Kendrick, Aybar and Izturis have better seasons—don’t you see how much that will improve their offense?

In addition to losing Morales, the injuries to Joel Pineiro and Scott Kazmir sabotaged the Angels badly in 2010. Pineiro was on his way to a fine season before a strained oblique landed him on the disabled list. Kazmir hadn’t pitched all that well, but he provided innings at the back of the rotation.

Amid all the stories of the failed pursuits this winter—most notably Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre—it’s forgotten that the Angels made a significant mid-season upgrade in their starting rotation when they got Dan Haren from the Diamondbacks. Replacing the hittable Joe Saunders with Haren gives the Angels two top-tier starters fronting their rotation with Jered Weaver and Haren; right behind them is another very good pitcher, Ervin Santana; then you have Pineiro and Kazmir.

That’s one of the top rotations in baseball.

The bullpen?

Even if you don’t trust Fernando Rodney as closer, they acquired lefties Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi. Downs—durable, underrated and able to get out hitters from both sides of the plate—will help a lot. Takahashi was invaluable to the Mets in a variety of roles from starter to long reliever to set up man to closer. He’s fearless and the Angels are presumably going to use him in a similar way as the Mets did. There were many games that Takahashi entered with the Mets trailing by multiple runs; he quieted things down and gave the club time to chip away. The work he did as a closer was impressive.

The Angels have a slight hole behind the plate with the departure of Napoli, but they do have a prospect in Hank Conger to share time with Mathis and Bobby Wilson. Conger has hit at every minor league level—minor league stats.

Manager Mike Scioscia—a tough as nails, defensive-minded catcher as a player—likes his catchers to be able to handle the pitching staff first and foremost. If Conger can do that, he’s an under-the-radar Rookie of the Year candidate.

I’d shut my eyes and play Conger.

As for their competition in the AL West, is it so crazy to think the Angels could emerge from the three team scrum with the Rangers and Athletics?

The Rangers can really hit, but have questions in their starting rotation; their bullpen won’t be as good as it was last season; and their manager Ron Washington is a walking strategic gaffe waiting to happen. They’re the American League champs and will be so until they’re knocked off the perch, but they’re beatable.

The Athletics are a trendy pick (again) because of the aggressive acquisitions of David DeJesus, Josh Willingham, Hideki Matsui in the their lineup; Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour for the bullpen. But their starting rotation is very, very young; young pitchers tend to fluctuate in performance as they’re establishing themselves. It’s not an automatic that Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden will repeat their work from last season.

There’s an eagerness to leap back onto the Billy Beane bandwagon—an overeagerness based on the desire to “prove” Moneyball as having been accurate in advance of the movie even though there’s no connection to what Beane did this winter to Moneyball the book or film.

But I digress. I’ll swing that hammer when the time comes.

Are the Angels, with their success over the past decade, suddenly fodder for ridicule? Isn’t it possible that they calculated the pros and cons of taking Wells’s contract for Napoli and Rivera and decided it was worth it?

Regarding the money, what’s a reasonable amount to pay for the top earners on a club? How much of a percentage is doable? For the Blue Jays, with an $80 million payroll, Wells’s onerous deal, with $23 million coming to him this season, had to go; for the Angels, with a $120 million payroll and substantial money coming off the books after this season, it’s not crazy to handle Wells’s deal without complaint. How much is a viable percentage for a team’s big money players in relation to the club’s payroll? For the Blue Jays, Wells didn’t make sense; for the Angels, he does.

The key for the Angels in 2011 is that they score enough runs to support that starting rotation. With Wells and one more offensive player added, they’ll have achieved that end. In the final analysis, that’s all that really matters in making them a legitimate playoff contender again; and no matter what print and online criticism they receive, they are contenders again because of the acquisition of Vernon Wells.

The Remainders

Hot Stove

As spring training approaches, the Rays weekend signings of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez diminishes the number of remaining free agent “names” available in star power and financial obligation.

But that doesn’t mean these names can’t help.

In certain cases, their presence could make the difference between a playoff spot and going home for the winter.

Let’s have a look at some of the recognizable players and where they could and/or should wind up landing.

Vladimir Guerrero—DH/very part-time OF

Guerrero proved he can still hit last season and it wasn’t a creation of Rangers Ballpark because his numbers were similar at home and on the road—link.

What does he want? Is he looking for more than a 1-year deal? Does he want to go to a specific place?

He’s hindered in that he can’t play the outfield anymore, eliminating the entire National League.

He could go back to the Rangers if they decide they don’t want to play David Murphy every day; don’t trust Chris Davis or Mitch Moreland at first base and shift Michael Young there; or are concerned about Josh Hamilton‘s injury history. But these are not guaranteed at bats and Guerrero proved he still deserves to play regularly.

It’s a comparable situation with the Angels as they appear intent on at least giving Peter Bourjos the chance to play center field every day with newly acquired Vernon Wells in left and Bobby Abreu as the DH. Guerrero is still a fit if they determine that they’d be better overall with Wells in center, Abreu in left and Guerrero as the DH.

I understand why the Orioles would consider Guerrero because of his still productive bat and that he’d be a great influence on the young players like Adam Jones and Felix Pie. One would assume Vlad’s mother would be accompanying him wherever he goes; it can’t be discounted how important that influence and home cooking was to both the Angels and Rangers young Latin players.

But do the Orioles need Guerrero and, at this stage in his career, does he want to be a pure babysitter for a team that has literally no chance at contention? Manager Buck Showalter would love to have Guerrero as a conduit to the players, but to me, it’s not the right fit.

That doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

The Blue Jays could use his bat and maybe—maybe—Guerrero could get through the thick skulls of Edwin Encarnacion and Yunel Escobar.

The best place for Guerrero could be the Tigers. They don’t have a pure DH; it would be a short-term deal so they wouldn’t have to be concerned about clogging up the DH slot for Miguel Cabrera/Victor Martinez and they’re a legitimate contender.

Most importantly, it wouldn’t be because of off-field leadership; they’d be getting Guerrero to try and win now. And they can.

Joe Beimel—LHP/Ron Mahay—LHP

Contending teams are missing an opportunity with Beimel or Mahay. Every year they’re floating around looking for work as a lefty specialists and are generally the last ones out there, signing right before spring training.

Inexpensive and wise for clubs who are smart enough to foresee the future, they’re necessary.

The Yankees have three lefties in their bullpen with Pedro Feliciano, Boone Logan and Damaso Marte, but Marte is a question as to whether he’s going to be healthy. If the Yankees truly intend to go with a bullpen-based pitching staff, get what they can out of the starters after C.C. Sabathia and mix-and-match depending on the situation, they’re going to need all the arms they can get and an extra lefty could mean the difference between making the playoffs and not. Joe Girardi’s bullpen machinations aren’t trustworthy and if he’s entering the season with it in mind to micro-manage on his micro-managing, it could be a problem.

The Red Sox are going to be coming at them with Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz and J.D. Drew—the Yankees are going to need the extra left-handed arms.

The Phillies also only have J.C. Romero, Antonio Bastardo and Mike Zagurski as lefties—none of whom is going to scare anyone. they do have Dan Meyer in camp, but Meyer is historically better against righties than lefties.

Looking ahead to possible post-season matchups with the Braves and Red Sox isn’t paranoia, it’s forward thinking and another reliable lefty is going to be a necessity.

It’s not that Beimel or Mahay are frightening, but they’re good at the role of lefty specialist.

Jorge Cantu—1B/3B

If I thought he could still play second base, I’d say the Mets should have a look at Cantu, but I doubt he can.

Cantu didn’t hit for the Rangers after they got him from the Marlins, but he has a habit of disappearing for a year or two and coming back with a big year. He fights through at bats and has good power. If he’s looking for a starting job, he’s going to have trouble finding one, but if he wants a backup role, the Phillies and Yankees could both use him. If he hits, he might be the Angels best option at third base on a cheap deal.

Teams will sorely regret missing a playoff spot or championship because they scrimped and saved where they didn’t have to. Lefty specialist, power bat off the bench and on/off field positive influence are valuable; with the above players, they’re not costly either.

Viewer Mail 1.23.2011

Hot Stove

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE the Mets:

As always, I feel like I’m getting an honest reaction to the Mets mess from you… but I wonder, what in the world was the reasoning behind making an official announcement (IN JANUARY) that Mike Pelfrey would be the Opening Day starter?

IN JANUARY!?!?!??!

It’s a new trendy thing and I don’t understand it either.

For certain teams, it’s known who the opening day starter is and it’s generally more of an honorific than any strategic reason. Bobby Valentine was the first manager I remember doing it with Pete Harnisch of the Mets in 1997. Harnisch pitched okay that day, but then missed the next four months of the season with depression related symptoms. It’s hard to know whether the pressure from being named the opening day starter long before the season exacerbated the condition—this is an extreme case—but it’s possible.

To me, the pressure of being anointed as the “number 1” can do more harm than good. Mike Pelfrey knows he’s the main man on the Mets staff until Johan Santana gets back and I understand the idea that they’re giving him the heads up. If he can’t handle knowing he’s the opening day starter, how’s he going to handle a playoff start?

I get it.

But I’m of the mind that the media and public get information on a need-to-know basis; it was clear to everyone that Pelfrey was going to take the ball on opening day. Was announcing it necessary? No.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Brian Cashman and Rafael Soriano:

According to the beat writers, Cashman owed it to them to explain his reversal on the Soriano signing. It would have been totally disingenuous for him to say he’s adamant against signing Soriano one minute and then turn around and announce the signing – without explaining to the media what happened. Can’t fault him for being honest. I don’t, anyway. Was it awkward? Absolutely.

I don’t think he owed them anything. The first mistake he made was making such a declarative and “final” public statement regarding Soriano. If his bosses were considering Soriano as a fallback plan, Cashman should’ve kept his mouth shut. Perhaps this was an attempt, on Cashman’s part, to pressure Hank and Hal Steinbrenner and Randy Levine to back off on Soriano so as not to appear to be undermining their GM.

Then again, he’s been with the Yankees a long time; I doubt he’s that naive.

I do fault him for being honest. He started a bonfire for no reason other than his own ego. It’s his job to take the hits for his bosses and if he thinks he’s bulletproof, well, all he needs do is look at how Jack Zduriencik’s star fell after being cast as a “genius” in some quarters and whose job is on the line. (I preached caution with Zduriencik, a fact for which I’m remarkably smug.)

I was going to say some things about this today, but will wait. Bill Madden wrote an interesting piece on Cashman in today’s NY Daily News speculating whether he’d like to go elsewhere and build a club the way he wants to without interference and big money from above—link.

Rather than comment on it, I’m planning a similar GM dissection as to the ones I, um—inflicted? perpetrated? completed? Which word is best?—on Sandy Alderson and Josh Byrnes while the Mets were in their decades long interview phase of finding a GM to replace Omar Minaya.

It’ll be an evenhanded look at Cashman from start to finish and may take a couple of days to complete. Of course it’ll be worth it.

Max Stevens writes RE the Angels and Vernon Wells:

Prince – What is your take on the big trade between the Halos and the Jays? I think the Angels FO panicked and that this will prove to be a huge mistake.  Aside from Wells’ huge multi-year contract, there’s now some serious age on the Angels outfield…

I went into this yesterday and didn’t mention the word “panic”, but it’s not something to discount. They were shut out on everything they tried to do and had their hearts as set on Carl Crawford as the Yankees had on Cliff Lee. Then they saw Adrian Beltre go to the Rangers; watched the Athletics drastically improve both their offense and bullpen; and had a team that was essentially the same as the one from last season—aside from the additions of Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi—that fell under .500.

It’s not as horrific as is being suggested; the Angels have a lot of money and cash coming off the books after this season—$33 million for Scott Kazmir, Joel Pineiro, Fernando Rodney and Bobby Abreu; and Torii Hunter‘s coming off after 2012—the money’s not an issue with Wells.

Maybe they looked at the free agent class for next year and didn’t feel confident they could lure a Jose Reyes or Prince Fielder to improve the offense; the free agent outfield crop looks weak. I wouldn’t have done this if I were the Angels, but I don’t see it as out-and-out panic.

Norm writes RE the Mets, Blue Jays and Sandy Alderson:

Re. Wells- I think once the Jayson Werth signing raised the bar for 30+ year old decent 5 tool player contracts, the Wells contract starts looking more reasonable.
As a Toronto (and occasionally a Met) fan I see a probable problem: notwithstanding the financially sound move of removing Wells’ contract from the Blue Jays’ books, the move smells of a ‘diminish expectations’ strategy, similar to the one Alderson seems to be employing.

****

Alderson seems like a disingenuous careerist and a master at diminishing expectations.  And his hiring of two Moneyball acolytes fails the smell test too.  And of course begs the question why did the Mets need to pay big bucks to 3 GM types for the purpose of making zero important moves in the off season?  You could have paid any sabermetric geek 100 grand to negotiate a Chris Young contract and to try and get rid of Perez and Castillo?  Are you telling me that the Mets needed to ‘lock down’ Ricciardi and DePodesta before some other organization grabbed them so that when the Mets are ready to spend (2012?2013?) they will be available to them?!!  Who the heck was going to hire JP?!!

I edited it down for space, but you can read the full context of Norm’s comment here.

The difference between Wells and Werth is that the Wells contract was already signed and is of shorter duration now; Wells will be able to a contribute to a better team, faster, than Werth will. Maybe I underestimate ownership/GM stupidity, but I can’t imagine a player the caliber of Wells/Werth getting that kind of contract again.

The Blue Jays expectations are somewhat muted. It seems that they’re getting their ducks in order for a full-fledged run in 2012 and beyond; part of that is getting rid of the Wells contract. Alex Anthopoulos is a very bright GM; he paid short money to bolster the bullpen, cleared Wells, and got players in Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera who will help the team this season.

The Blue Jays are relying on young pitching which is always a risky proposition. Development of Brandon Morrow and Kyle Drabek is paramount to their future and the prospect of the Blue Jays making a run this year is contingent on them. Before this trade, they had a lot riding on younger players coming off bad years (Aaron Hill; Adam Lind); kids (Morrow, Drabek, Travis Snider); question marks as to what they really are (Jose Bautista); and people you want to strangle (Edwin Encarnacion).

Contending in that division is a lot to ask of the Blue Jays.

I had similar concerns about Alderson. But he’s backed away from Moneyball like it was a poisonous cobra and he’s sorting through the wreckage of Mets dysfunction—it’s not an overnight process. I’m not sure what he was supposed to do in terms of bold maneuvers when the market was limited, the chance at contention this year dim and contracts like Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez due to expire after 2011. If he’d gone after Lee, Werth, Zack Greinke or any of the other names, the Mets wouldn’t be any better and they’d be making the same mistakes the prior regimes did in trying to win immediately and damning the future.

My assessments of Paul DePodesta are well known, but people say nothing but nice things about his as an assistant. He happened to be an atrocious, wood-headed GM; that doesn’t mean he’s not a useful assistant; it’s happened before that the lieutenants don’t make it as commanders—we’re seeing it with Dayton Moore and Zduriencik.

Ricciardi has a good baseball mind; he can’t be a GM because his mouth is almost completely uncontrollable; he was working in the Red Sox front office for a day before he took the Mets job—and the Red Sox are pretty clever.

If the Mets didn’t allow Alderson to bring in the people he wanted, they would again look like the same haphazard, backbiting mess they were under Minaya and that’s precisely what they want to get away from.

Gabriel writes RE the Blue Jays and Wells:

Actually, I think the Blue Jays now don’t have to send cash to the Angels, it was a straight two-for-one trade. I’m not very happy because I like Wells as a player. I just hope that money that came off the books is well spent and takes the Blue Jays into contention, since the division is a nightmare.

It’s been reported in a couple of places that the Angels got $5 million from the Blue Jays. The money is somewhat irrelevant considering what they were paying Wells and how the Blue Jays made out in the deal.

The Blue Jays have stacked the organization with pitching and I trust Anthopoulos for the most part. All the pieces are in place for them to contend soon—this year if everything works right, but definitely by next year.

Hot And Not

Hot Stove
  • Brilliance either way:

The overwhelming reactions to the Rays “combo” signings of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez have tended toward the ludicrous with a fair amount of ignorance thrown in.

To think that the Rays do anything just “because” is missing out on the way the front office has run their club since gaining their footing after a rough first year.

Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez for a combined $7.25 million for 1-year? In what world would this be considered laughable, risky or something any club wouldn’t do if given the opportunity?

Contrary to prevalent perception, the Rays were still going to be dangerous this season despite the free agent losses they mostly allowed without a fight. Of all the players they lost, the only two they presumably lament are Carl Crawford and Matt Garza, and they had justifiable reasons for their departures; apart from that, Carlos Pena was a declining force at the plate; Grant Balfour, Lance Cormier, Rafael Soriano, Jason Bartlett—all were pickups whose value was extinguished and are replaceable.

They couldn’t afford to keep Crawford—plain and simple—and they didn’t put up the pretense of an offer that was doomed to fail. Garza was growing more expensive and the Cubs gave up a massive package for him to augment the already bursting Rays farm system. Along with all those draft picks they accumulated with the other free agent defections, the Rays are well-stocked for the future.

With the rotation and lineup—a sum of the parts entity that was third in the American League in scoring despite having no DH; a first baseman batting under .200; and subpar performances from Ben Zobrist and Bartlett—they’re still dangerous.

It’s conveniently ignored that the majority of the players who left had ready-made replacements or were part of a bullpen that the Rays patched together with stuff they essentially found in the dumpsters of other clubs.

Manny was not the Manny we’ve come to expect last season, but he’s not finished either. His overall numbers—9 homers, 42 RBI, 25 extra base hits, a .298 average and .409 on base in 90 games look pretty good to me considering that the Rays designated hitters from last season were Pat Burrell (released) and Willy Aybar (whose main problem is that he’s Willy Aybar).

Manny Ramirez for $2 million? The Yankees would’ve jumped on that deal too.

Add in that the Rays know how to build a bullpen on the cheap and will have the prospects to be able to make a big mid-season splash if they need to bolster the bullpen. As I said a few days ago, there are going to be a lot of closers entering their walk year; a couple of their clubs are going to have down seasons and look to deal. If something can be worked out with Francisco Rodriguez‘s contract option from the Mets, he’s one to watch as are Francisco Cordero of the Reds and Heath Bell of the Padres.

The question of where this places Desmond Jennings is reasonable, but I wouldn’t be stunned to see Damon playing some first base to ease—not eliminate—but ease the amount of running he’d have to do on the Tropicana Field turf. People don’t realize that the first baseman, sometimes, does more running than an outfielder with covering the base and functioning as the cut-off man, but the Rays are willing to think outside the box and their current first baseman is listed as journeyman Dan Johnson. Why not Damon there for 50 games or so?

Teams that win know when to take a chance on a veteran who is approaching the end of his career, but still has something useful left. The Rays got themselves two and they got them cheap. If you’re laughing at them for it, it’s either due to fear of what they might accomplish this year or because you haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about. These are two brilliant moves even if they don’t work.

  • Then there’s this:

This deal isn’t as awful as it’s being portrayed, but it still makes little sense for the Angels.

The Angels and Blue Jays completed a trade that sends Vernon Wells and $5 million to Anaheim for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera.

It’s January and Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos deserves to win executive of the year for getting Wells’s contract off the Blue Jays books and getting pieces of use in the process.

The Blue Jays are still relying heavily on a very young starting rotation and their offense is diminished from last season; they’re also hoping either Octavio Dotel or Jon Rauch can close—they have issues of concern—but getting the Wells contract off the books is a tremendous coup. That they received Mike Napoli—who replaces the no-hit Jose Molina as the primary catcher—and Juan Rivera, who will hit his 15-20 homers and play a serviceable left field, makes the trade a total win for the Blue Jays.

As for the Angels?

So it’s not that terrible. But that doesn’t make it wise.

Here’s the big problem with Vernon Wells: he’s a good player making Albert Pujols-level money. And this can’t work. Apparently $5 million went from the Blue Jays to the Angels as if that’s going to make a dent in the financial catastrophe that is the Wells contract which still has $86 million to go through 2014.

The Angels have money to spend—judging from this move, money that was disagreeable to owner Arte Moreno to hold onto. That’s dismissible I suppose. As long as it doesn’t stop them from making other necessary moves, it’s explainable. But what about the players?

They’re shifting Wells to left field for Peter Bourjos to get a legit shot at center field and Bobby Abreu to DH. Does this make them any better? They’re replacing Napoli behind the plate with Jeff Mathis (can’t hit, mediocre defensively); Bobby Wilson (28-years-old and yet to hit in the big leagues; has a good arm); or Hank Conger (23, has hit and thrown well in the minors). Unless Conger delivers at the plate, do you see the problem here?

It’s a lateral leap and doesn’t help that much in the short or long term.

The caveat of “not that bad” aside, this makes no sense for the Angels right now. If, in the short term, it catapulted them over the divisional competition—the Rangers and the Athletics—for 2011, then it made sense; but they picked up a financial albatross at age 31 who has pop, but doesn’t improve on what they gave up and it costs them a ton of cash.

The Angels offense and bullpen were their main obstacles to contending before and this doesn’t do one solitary thing to fix that; if anything, it makes them more expensive and less flexible.

It won’t be a disaster, but it won’t be good either.