Redemptive Realization

Hot Stove
  • The Mets know where they’re at:

More importantly, so do the fans.

I also think the media and the critics who take cheap shots at the Mets as a matter of course to compensate for a lack of ingenuity and wit are aware of it as well.

As new GM Sandy Alderson and his staff sift through the dysfunctional mess that was left behind after years of disorganization and infighting, they’re making maneuvers designed to limit expenses, maximize reward (as much as it can be maximized) and bide their time until their hands are free to be aggressive and drastically improve the club.

For some impatient fans and the media who make a living on attacking the Mets, this acceptance appears to have hit home. Because Alderson is so respected, he’s getting the benefit of the doubt on his lack of movement. At the very least there’s a plan. Whether it’s going to work or not is a different matter, but there’s a plan.

Right now, the plan is to wait out the expiring contracts of Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo (who are unlikely to be on the roster for opening day); see what happens with Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes; and sign players who elicit yawns and eye rolls to inexpensive, incentive-laden deals.

No one who’s looked at Chris Young over the past few years can reasonably think the Mets are going to get anything of substance from him. So hungry for something to attach themselves to, fans were repeatedly mentioning Chris Young‘s name as if he was a consolation prize for the club not jumping in on Cliff Lee.

He’s not.

He’s a fine pitcher if he’s healthy, but he hasn’t been healthy for 2 1/2 years and when he was, he had a tendency to tire out at the end of the season after quick starts.

That’s not to say he can’t have value if that’s what they’re getting. A key to building a successful franchise isn’t collecting stars, but maximizing the abilities of what you have. Earl Weaver was a master at that. John Lowenstein and Gary Roenicke were two players who—examined alone—were mediocre and not suited to playing every day; combined, they were a match for the best left fielders in baseball. Pat Kelly used to hit well in April and May, so Weaver would play him a lot in the early part of the season, then reduce his playing time as the season wore on.

It was cold-blooded and rational and it worked because Weaver had a plan and didn’t let sentiment or outside influences affect his decisions.

And the players? Weaver couldn’t care less what the players thought.

The Mets signings of Young, Scott Hairston, Tim Byrdak, Taylor Buchholz, Taylor Tankersley; Ronny Paulino; Willie Harris—all might seem negligible in the now-now-now sense that permeates today’s culture; but they’re a means to an end in eliminating the instability that played a large part in the team failures between 2007-2010.

I truly believe that Alderson has learned his lesson from his decried tenure as president of the Padres in which he cultivated an atmosphere of mistrust among the different factions and their beliefs. It’s a dictatorial strategy to have everyone looking behind them and wondering who’s holding the knife; it keeps all power in the hands of the person in charge and it’s not a viable way to win over the long term; nor is it a positive reputation to have as one who encourages such behaviors.

Everyone with the Mets—including the fans—are on the same page now. You rarely see people screaming about the club refusing to indulge in an overpriced free agent crop that would do little to help the Mets now as they’re finding their way; they certainly wouldn’t help in the years ahead when the team is ready to make a move into contention.

Apart from generating headlines, Lee, Jayson Werth, Carl Crawford, Rafael Soriano—none of these players would do much to alter the Mets fortunes for 2012; in fact, pursuing and spending the money to get one of these players would’ve done more harm than good.

The Mets are building their bullpen the right way with available names on the cheap. That’s the way you build a competent bullpen—having a good closer and pitchers who will accept their roles looking for the big payday, and that payday will undoubtedly have to be achieved elsewhere.

Will the fans be silent as the Phillies are running off with the division and the Braves are right behind them? As the Marlins are ahead of the Mets in the standings? As the Nationals have made flashy (and stupid) acquisitions to garner attention while simultaneously doing little to improve their fortunes for 2012?

Some won’t. But most have accepted the need to do what Alderson is doing. 2011 will be dedicated to weeding out the players who aren’t going to be part of the solution. One will definitely be Beltran who—if he’s at all competent at playing the position—will win the center field job based on nothing other than the fact that it increases his trade value at mid-season. If Beltran’s hitting, they’ll be able to extract valuable pieces for him.

Reyes is a different matter. While hoping he is reasonable with a contract extension, the Mets are going to keep and open mind in dealing him. And if he loves the Mets so much, perhaps he’d be willing to accept a second half trade to another club and the Mets could pursue him as a free agent.

I’d let it be known—as I’m sure Alderson has—that the club will be open to anything and everything as the season moves along.

The Mets are being smart rather than desperate to placate critics. This is the first step in turning things around in the short and long term. The short term may not be clearly indicated in the standings, but the Rays began turning around the organization when they stopped tolerating bad behavior from the likes of Elijah Dukes, Josh Hamilton and Delmon Young. Many people didn’t notice, but it was the first step in getting them to where they are now.

The Mets can and are doing the same thing.

There are no contractually mandated scholarships for playing time anymore.

  • Viewer Mail 1.21.2011:

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Brian Cashman and Carl Pavano:

I agree that it would have been lunacy to bring Pavano back. Cashman really revealed his desperation on that one.

I’d be frightened that it wasn’t desperation; I’d be concerned that he genuinely thought it was a good idea. Desperation would be a more acceptable reason.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE Cashman:

Forget the idiocy of Pavano talks, how ’bout Cashman’s candid “this isn’t my decision” speech during the Soriano press conference. Um… can you say… awkward? I imagine if Mozeliak did that to DeWitt, Mozeliak’s ass would be gone. Why does Cashman get a pass?


Gabriel also writes RE Cashman:

What Jeff mentions is what shocked me the most. As an employee, how do you react to your boss saying that he didn’t want to hire you? Terrible PR.

I don’t get it either. Is Cashman so concerned about his image that he doesn’t want to be seen as having “lied” or misled the media when he stated he was not going to give up the draft pick for Rafael Soriano?

He’s a baseball GM—it’s his job to mislead; given Cashman’s known skills at speaking for an extended period while saying nothing at all, where was the nuance?

I’m not a fan of this, “don’t blame me” stuff as if it’s a protective cloak if something doesn’t work. He’s the Yankees GM—an underling—and it’s part of his job to take the bullets if something fails.

I’m not going to go so far to suggest that Cashman is exhibiting an “I don’t care anymore” pretense, but these outward showings of inner-organizational debates are in the same ballpark.

The smart thing to say would’ve been, “After discussing it as an organization, we felt that since all other avenues of improving the club have been exhausted, Soriano was the correct decision for us at this time. I didn’t want to lose that draft pick because of the value I place on them, but this improves the team’s chance to win now.” Then when asked if he would’ve done the deal, he could’ve parsed as he usually does without confirming or denying.

I’m wondering if Cashman’s gotten too immersed in his numbers and “plan” to realize he might be willingly placing his head in the hangman’s noose. Honesty is one thing. Flinging the bosses under the bus is another, but they must’ve been okay with him doing it.

Whether they were or not, I don’t think it’s good.

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Blind And Blockheaded

Hot Stove

Carl Pavano agreed to a 2-year, $16.5 million deal to remain with the Twins yesterday.

But that’s not the story regarding Pavano. There’s never a simple “player signs contract” thing with Pavano.

No.

The story behind this story is in fact far more interesting than any comeback Pavano has made; any rejuvenation of his tattered reputation after a disastrous four year tenure as a member of the Yankees.*

*I almost said “with” the Yankees; but he was rarely “with” the Yankees in any area but on the payroll and as the butt of cheap and laser precise satire from the entire organization.

The Yankees and Carl Pavano played remember when, apparently without remembering when.

In a Rod Serling-style, Twilight Zone episode that’s so ridiculous that it has to be true, Yankees GM Brian Cashman acknowledged pursuing Pavano to rejoin the Yankees—MLBTradeRumors Story.

The level upon level in which this idea is insane are many.

Let’s take a look.

Reunions and acceptance of mistakes.

It takes a secure executive to step back and admit a mistake.

Ruben Amaro Jr. is one such executive.

The Phillies GM tried to outsmart everyone and succeeded only in outsmarting himself as he traded Cliff Lee—whose free agency beckoned and was no sure thing to return to the Phillies (in December of 2009 anyway)—for Roy Halladay. It was a lateral move.

As the season got underway, the Phillies shortness in starting pitching was a gaping hole that risked the entire season. Criticism abounded of Amaro and his decision to simultaneously maintain the Phillies farm system, keep a reasonable payroll and win with veterans at the big league level. Rather than let his ego get in the way of proper decisionmaking, he traded for Roy Oswalt in what was a highly favorable deal for the club in all aspects. Then after the season, he swooped in and got Lee back as a free agent.

Amaro’s ego and perception was shunted in organizational interests.

Is Brian Cashman taking the same course? Or is he trying to garner credit for himself as the architect of the Yankees regardless of viable questioning of his maneuvers and “process”—his term of choice for, well, everything he does?

There’s always a sense of  “I want my name in lights too!!” from Cashman.With Billy Beane and Theo Epstein “star” GMs who are credited for their individual achievements, Cashman was always along for the Yankees ride. His personality is vanilla and charisma negligible to non-existent. Yankees money and Gene Michael’s foundation, along with Joe Torre‘s guiding hand were the basis for the dynasty. Cashman was just sort of there.

As time passed and George Steinbrenner receded into the background, Cashman took charge and did thing he wanted to do such as develop his own pitchers rather than purchase the property of others; he hired the manager he wanted in Joe Girardi—a manager who would follow organizational edicts rather than use his charm and resume to do his own thing as Torre did; and Cashman embraced statistics and the draft as the way to build an enduring and successful franchise.

This idea was all well and good until the young pitchers Cashman developed faltered as Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy did; Phil Hughes is the one of the three who’s an established and successful big leaguer.

It took one season of missing the playoffs, in 2008, for this plan to be adjusted on the fly. Throwing money at the problem with C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett, the Yankees won another World Series.

Again, Cashman was drenched in champagne, held the World Series trophy and got himself a gigantic ring. But did he get the credit? Or was it the old standby of Steinbrenner money that did the trick?

Was his decision to bring Javier Vazquez back—despite his prior failure and baseball-wide belief that he can’t handle the pressure—for the benefit of the club or to prove something?

There are players for whom reunions work. David Wells was reviled in the clubhouse and throughout the organization as a human being, but on the field he was respected for his abilities. He made it in New York once; he made it in New York twice. He could handle the pressure and do his job.

What was Vazquez?

I thought it was a mistake to bring Vazquez back, but never conceived that he’d be as awful as he was in 2010. With the Yankees, their lineup, bullpen, Vazquez’s durability and pending free agency, there was every reason to believe the Yankees would get a serviceable year from the righty. That his 2004 collapse was said to be, in part, due to pitching injured could only bolster the contention that they could use Vazquez for a year as a back-of-the-rotation innings-eater and let him leave.

I still wouldn’t have done it, but it wasn’t absurd.

Carl Pavano is absurd. It would be pure and utter arrogance and ignorance of ancillary factors such as team reaction, personal history and reality—not stat-based, “objective” reality that the stat zombies love to preach—but reality reality.

Is this objectivity?

Blindly, examining Pavano’s 2010 numbers with the Twins and not knowing who the pitcher was, yes he’d be a great risk for the Yankees to take. In fact, it wouldn’t be considered a risk at all. Pavano was terrific for the Twins last season, but that’s beside the point.

This is the second time in his career that he’s been staring at free agency dollars. The first time was with the Marlins and he went 18-8 and was one of the most sought after free agents in baseball the winter of 2004-2005.

Never once have I given the Yankees and Cashman a hard time for misjudging Pavano and his suitability for New York. No one could’ve known that he’d be such a disinterested disaster; and had the Yankees not paid him, the Red Sox, Tigers and Mariners were prepared to.

After the way his Yankees career disintegrated, that Cashman would harbor any inkling on bringing him back is lunacy and only highlights the disconnect Cashman has developed when looking at statistics and ignoring all other player positives and negatives.

Why?

After the contentious Derek Jeter negotiations and the bizarre admission that he didn’t want Rafael Soriano, was Cashman ready to put his job on the line—because that’s what would’ve happened—and brought Carl Pavano back?

Is he that obtuse?

And trust me, given his history, I would not want Carl Pavano at my back in a dark alley unless there was a modeling agency next door to a beach next door to a Porsche dealership on the other side.

Looking at Pavano’s 2010 season, you could justify bringing him in, but the problem with stat-based analysis is that it tends to discount human beings. Taken to its logical conclusion, you see such maneuvers as the re-acquisition of Vazquez and the idiotic kicking the (Porsche?) tires of Pavano. These are not faceless, nameless automatons plugged into a computer to get the desired result and the Pavano-New York marriage didn’t just fail, he was quite possibly the worst free agent signing in the history of baseball.

Did they want to try that again? Even for a low base salary and heavy incentives?

The mere suggestion should’ve yielded the following response from Cashman: “I don’t care if the team loses 100 games and I get fired, I am not bring Pavano back here.” No one—not baseball people, analysts or fans—would’ve disagreed. He was honest about Soriano, why would this brand of honesty be out of line in the current atmosphere?

You can’t reinvent the wheel and you certainly can’t reinvent it with stupidity.

The necessary check.

As the Yankees dynasty was dismantled and replaced by hired mercenaries and glossy names, the blame went to the Tampa faction and “shadow government” installed by George Steinbrenner to oversee and occasionally overrule that which Cashman and the New York baseball people wanted to do.

But what if George was a necessary check on his GM?

What if some of the things that Cashman wanted to do were just as dunderheaded as the prospect of a Pavano-Yankees second go-round?

Cashman’s pitching decisions have been horrible when he hasn’t been going after the superstar. C.C. Sabathia is a given—one of the best, most durable and guttiest pitchers in baseball; he’s building a Hall of Fame career and is a no-brainer.

The others?

Steve Karsay, Kyle Farnsworth, Kevin Brown, Vazquez, Chan Ho Park, the awful strategies used to “develop” the youngsters? This is all Cashman.

And he wanted to bring back Pavano?

The public and media reaction to this was emotional and angry. I can only imagine what was coming out of the mouths of Derek Jeter—who never failed to openly humiliate Pavano in the confines of the clubhouse because of his settlement and satisfaction of being on the disabled list. Or what was said and thought by Andy Pettitte; Mike Mussina; Alex Rodriguez; Jorge Posada; Mariano Rivera—warriors all who gave everything they had on the field while Pavano whittled away the hours with injuries from the real to the laughable.

The guy missed an entire season with a bruised buttocks.

Cashman wanted to bring that back?

He can spew all the garbage about not affording the luxury of emotion in his “process”, but this is different; it’s ignorant of history, perception and performance.

He wants the credit, but along with that comes the blame too. That blame would’ve fallen squarely at his desk if this had come to pass. And if it was the predictable nightmare that it would likely have been, he might not have been able to survive it as the Yankees GM.

Nor would he deserve to.

Cashman was not to blame for missing out on Lee. The Yankees pursued him aggressively and lucratively; he chose to go elsewhere. It happens. It also happens that the current market for other pitchers is terrible and the next best free agent option was Pavano; but Pavano never, ever should’ve been considered for the Yankees. Ever.

I’d be very concerned about this if I were a Yankees fan. Their GM is losing touch and once it’s completely lost, it’s hard to get it back.

Carl Pavano?

The Yankees?

Really?

Viewer Mail 1.19.2011

Books, Hot Stove

Ah, the mail.

The Other Mike at (or is it “in”) The Bleacher Seats writes RE Rafael Soriano and the Yankees:

This is one of the better (and more rational) analyses that I have read regarding this signing. Jon Heyman’s gut reaction was “best ‘pen in the majors” and I have a serious problem with that. Soriano only really serves to replace the loss of Kerry Wood from last year’s squad. I doubt he’ll be doing much more work than Wood did for them down the stretch.

What the Yankees really needed was to get at least one starting pitcher and somehow address their older (and slower) fielders. Russ Martin was a good pick-up, but his hitting is questionable in my mind.

As far as having the “best set-up/closer combo” I don’t know about that. I’ve seen the Rangers’ Ogando/Feliz combo and in a 1-to-1 pitch-off I think it’s a push. Especially considering that Ogando and Feliz will be older and wiser after their first full seasons in the bigs.
[Disclaimer: I am a Rangers fan, so I’ll admit that I am a bit biased. I tried to think of another set-up/closer combo, but I’m not familiar enough with anyone else’s roster to know set-up men.]

I’m surprised that more people aren’t looking at what this means for the reliever market in the next couple of seasons. $12MM/year is an awful lot of money to pay someone that isn’t even your closer. Even if he were the closer, he’s only topped 10 saves twice in 9 seasons.

Considering that a player’s value is often based on how much he is getting paid compared to how much other players in similar positions (and with similar skill) are getting paid, what might this mean for signing relievers in the future? At $12MM, will anyone besides Boston or NY be able to afford a top-of-the-line closer?

I straddle the line between rational and deranged depending on the moon and the tides.

Jon Heyman’s gut reactions are of little interest to me; I respect his ability to get a story and that he’s not mean-spirited in the way he presents them, but he’s got a super-thin skin and his analysis leaves a great deal to be desired.

The “best” is a term that can only be used in retrospect. Will Soriano be good for the Yankees during the regular season? I say absolutely…mostly. I don’t trust him in a big game given his history; the attitude problems won’t be an issue in the Yankees clubhouse…I don’t think.

The Yankees starting rotation is currently so short that they’re going to have games in which they have trouble getting the game to Soriano/Rivera. We can debate “best” forever; doing it before the season starts is a war of attrition.

The Red Sox bullpen is excellent; the Athletics bullpen is deep and diverse; you can make a case for Alexi Ogando/Neftali Feliz. It’s an endless stream of speculation. Which is more important? Having the ironclad, “it’s Soriano in the 8th and Rivera in the 9th” to take the game out of manager Joe Girardi’s (and the Blue Binder’s) hands? Or is Tony La Russa with his mixing and matching result in a “better” bullpen?

I don’t see the Soriano contract as a problem, per se. It’s the Yankees; they have the money; they have more money to spend on mid-season acquisitions and free agents after the season; and the opt-outs are much ado about nothing; the only way Soriano leaves is if Rivera gets hurt, Soriano takes over as the closer and has a 2008 Brad Lidge-style run leading the team to a championship. The odds of that are about non-existent since Soriano has seen his market (and not the closer market, his market) crash; he was saved by the Yankees desperation this winter.

Next winter the list of free agent closers with a better resume than Soriano will include Jonathan Papelbon, Lidge and possibly Francisco Rodriguez. Also available, as of right now, will be Heath Bell and Fernando Rodney. Closers with club options on their contracts are Jose Valverde, Joe Nathan and Francisco Cordero. Trade possibilities are Jonathan Broxton and Huston Street.

Is Soriano that stupid to opt out of a guaranteed $11 million in 2012 and $14 million in 2013? Forget it.

Performance wise, he’s a huge question mark in a big game and his attitude is similar to the mercenary-types the Yankees imported to terrible results as they frantically tried to win another championship, eschewing the cohesion that was a hallmark of the dynasty.

Teams are backing away from the big money closer and the saturated market will keep prices down in 2012. In fact, we might see four or five of them sitting out and waiting into January/February waiting to see who blinks.

And then there are the Moneyball comments.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes:

If it has a good soundtrack and the occasional flash of female nudity, I will go and see it.

But I am a pig and easy to entertain 😉

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes:

I can’t figure out why you’re so fixated on this movie! It’s rare when Hollywood stays faithful to a book when shooting an adaptation. “Reimagining” happens all the time – and with good reason a lot of the time. Moneyball won’t be a documentary; it’s a fictional tale loosely based on the book. I’m looking forward to it, mostly because it’s about baseball.

Joe writes:

The only place I ever even hear the word ‘Moneyball’ is here…

And Norm writes:

Will the movie address the steroid usage?  The fact that the A’s success was predicated on PEDs?
Nah, the movie will just try for a subtle rehash of The Blind Side, facts be damned.  And without the Black Man as Jesus character, I can’t foresee boffo box office.

Here is something people don’t seem to get: I’m trying to expose the reality behind a fantasy. It’s not on a level of debunking biblical myths; nor is it the exposing of a scam, but it’s an attempt to provide some background into a story—and that’s what it is, a story—that was crafted, marketed and created based on nothing other than an agenda by Michael Lewis to prop Billy Beane up as “better” than everyone else and replace the old-school baseball people who inhabited front offices before the book with Ivy League educated “geniuses” who were reinventing the wheel and steamrolling—with stats—anyone and everyone who got in their way.

The “revolution” so often referred to by those who are still placing relevance on the book’s supposed accuracy petered out; it wasn’t because of blowback, but because when taken to the logical conclusion and used as a blueprint, Moneyball doesn’t work.

Lewis and his supporters can move the goalposts all they want with the shaky, “you weren’t supposed to take it literally” defense, but maybe I read a different book than what Lewis wrote—and interpreted it wrongly.

I don’t think I did.

I have a fundamental problem with people who have neither the competence nor practical knowledge believing they know more than a lifelong baseball person or one who’s watched the game and its participants long enough to be able to come to a conclusion with information and experience rather than pure statistics.

Others seem to be afraid to protest because of the shouting down that occurs whenever a dissenter is posted on Baseball Think Factory or a chat forum created to have a back-and-forth of ideas.

A numbers cruncher walking into Bruce Bochy’s office and suggesting he bat pitcher Woody Williams second? In what world—corporate or otherwise—would someone have the audacity to go to a baseball lifer and, because of numbers, be that idiotic and wood-headed that they: A) thought it was a good idea; and B) didn’t have the social skills to realize the breach of etiquette in approaching the manager of the team with such stupidity?

And it’s not an isolated incident.

The book created a culture of would-be experts who don’t know basic facts about baseball, the history, and the participants.

The movie will have nothing to do with the book and main characters from the book either pulled their names and likenesses from the project as Paul DePodesta did (and I respect him for it); or will presumably want to crawl into a hole and disappear if the screenplay drafts which have been leaked are anywhere close to what’s going to be thrust upon us.

Billy Beane had a long run as Teflon Billy. It was a circular entity. Beane was a genius because Moneyball said so; his maneuvers/wheeling and dealing failed, but he had the numbers to back up everything he did, so it was all okay; nothing was his fault. The A’s lost in the playoffs? Get rid of the manager. He wanted to clean out the house of all veterans just because? He did it. He traded for veteran stars like Matt Holliday and abandoned objectivity when using sentimentality to justify bringing back a shot Jason Giambi? It was all justifiable because he was Billy Beane; because he’d become this totem to worship rather than a baseball executive whose very touch didn’t turn everything to gold. And it all stems from the book.

Yet the remaining holdouts who have a stake in being “right” ramble on about their “revolution” that no longer exists. If they were correct, it was about data; if someone thinks differently and uses an breadth of experience in studying the sport to come to their conclusions and are correct, they were “lucky”.

It’s not hard to win an argument when never admitting to be wrong; when continually shifting the playing field to an area where their way works. The arrogance and stifling of debate is more off-putting than anything in the tale itself.

Norm mentions The Blind Side and it’s a clear window, along with Moneyball, into Lewis’s agenda. He’s a skillful writer who saw an opportunity and ran with it. While it’s made Billy Beane famous and accrues him respect and a ridiculous speaking fee, more than a few people in baseball who were savaged without remorse, pity or concern about their reputations and lifelong work haven’t been sad to see Beane get his comeuppance.

Here’s a revelation for those who wonder why I don’t write a point-by-point dissection of Moneyball and the failures therein: I did.

It’s fragmented and needs to be edited and streamlined, but there’s a book there.

And here’s another revelation: I sent an outline to a publisher for whom I’ve done some reviews and received the following email:

Thank you for sending us your outline. It’s an interesting outline, but unfortunately, we switched distributors to W.W. Norton who published Moneyball and our relationship with them precludes us from considering a book on the subject.

As far as rejection letters go, this is one of the better ones. It’s not on a level with one Charles Bukowski received that said, in caps, “WHAT THE <BLEEP> IS THIS?!?”, but I’m getting there.

What are they afraid of?

If I’m a crank and a lunatic (as some see me); if their way is the “right” way, then why not let me come after them publicly and have an in-print basis for their contention that I’m wrong?

I understand money; I understand business; and I understand the tie-in Lewis, the book and the movie have with publishing and studios; but what are they afraid of?

Would they have a viable response? Let’s see what they have to say then as I singlehandedly carpet bomb their “revolution” using nothing but facts and reality; something that Hollywood and Moneyball advocates knows absolutely nothing about.

Hollywood, Publishing, Baseball

Hot Stove

How long will it take?

Out of convenience and profound lack of innate knowledge, how many people will conflate into one the 2011 Oakland Athletics, Billy Beane being a “genius”, and Moneyball the book and movie?

I say not long.

Not long at all.

Of course anyone who follows baseball, doesn’t take an agenda-driven tale literally and isn’t invested in the book somehow being proven as accurate will know that there’s no connection whatsoever between any of the entities. In fact, all the Athletics have done in recent years is deliver evidence that Michael Lewis’s tale was just that—a tale.

A tale he intended to tell and was going to tell one way or the other regardless of reality; a bit of creative non-fiction—skillfully twisted; masterfully marketed; promoted endlessly; and crafted into a screenplay that, in and of itself, has nothing to do with the book!

The current construction of the A’s is nowhere near the premise of the book; a premise built on Beane’s Midas touch and being somewhere between one and five steps ahead of everyone else as he wheeled-and-dealed and made fools out of anyone and everyone who didn’t do things the way he did. And if you disagreed with him? You were mocked, humiliated and outright bullied.

Is that the business model in Michael Lewis’s world?

Undervalued talent was the theme and Beane was the conduit to getting that concept into the public consciousness.

Oh, it’s not real?

So what?

Never mind that Moneyball, when taken to its logical conclusion, was an ghastly failure; forget that those who were major characters in the book either saw their reputations eviscerated or were forced to try and live up to the narrative therein; that trying to live up to the story sabotaged and destroyed any competence they might have had as a direct result of the attention derived from the book itself.

The expectations of stat-derived “genius” caused this and now, as quickly as those who were propped up by the book—Sandy Alderson, Paul DePodesta, J.P. Ricciardi, Theo Epstein, Bill James, Beane himself—they’ve either subtly backed away from their infomercial-style perceptions to suit themselves or run from it entirely. Having to explain the story and their role in it over and over again must be exhausting, but they took part and took advantage when it was helping them; now they have to face the consequences.

Oh, the irony.

Now the movie has been “adjusted” from the original Steven Soderbergh concept of a pseudo-documentary/biopic of Beane, Bill James and how the statistical method came to be; its long-awaited fruition is being twisted into a more fan-friendly epic that will bear little resemblance to the book.

The waitress-romancing, handsome and gifted “Billy Beane” played by Brad Pitt, will oversee a group of castoffs melded into a unit that succeeds despite obstacles like being fat (Jeremy Brown); having a clubfoot (Jim Mecir); or cast off (Scott Hatteberg).

It’ll be a Bad News Bears for the 21st Century.

One problem.

It’s not real!!!!

It’s a book; it’s a movie; and the Athletics of 2011—contenders though they may be—are not comparable to the made for public consumption farce.

The 2011 Athletics have spent money on relief pitchers Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentesbig money for relievers.

Balfour will receive $8.1 million over 2-years. Is he an “undervalued” talent? Or did the Athletics pay him more than would normally be feasible to make sure they got him? Considering Balfour’s history, under no circumstances is he a guarantee to pitch as well as he did in 2008 and 2010 with plenty of strikeouts and a low ERA; he was a journeyman before he got to the Rays and he couldn’t throw strikes. Will he pitch well for the Athletics? I think he will, but that’s a lot of money for a maybe and has no relationship whatsoever with what Beane supposedly espoused in the book.

Brian Fuentes has also reportedly agreed to terms. While unofficial, it’s said to be for 2-years at around $10.5 million. Fuentes has been a closer and is a two-time All Star; he strikes out around a better per inning and gets by with mediocre stuff and a funky, sneaky delivery. If you examine his numbers without any backstory, he’s a solid pickup; if you examine how he walks people, that his stuff is mediocre and that he allows a lot of home runs, he too is a risk—albeit the veteran, “I can pretty much know what I’m getting” type of risk.

Is overpaying for relief pitchers part of the Moneyball concept? Are they undervalued? Or was there an tweaking of the rules under which Beane lived by (according to the story) to, y’know, win?

The other Athletics acquisitions bolster a dreadful offense that was the cause of their woes in 2010. Josh Willingham can really hit and will garner more appreciation with the A’s and attached to the “genius” than he’s gotten in his prior stops, the Marlins and Nationals.

David DeJesus and Hideki Matsui were added as well. The A’s will score more runs to help along a very young and talented starting rotation; they have a deep and diverse bullpen.

This is a contending team and a good bet to win the AL West in 2011.

But does it all combine to validate Michael Lewis, Aaron Sorkin, the book and movie?

No.

But you won’t know that by the way it’s presented as one whole entity to be taken as a grand scheme by the diabolical “genius” Billy Beane.

In fact, it’s going to be fascinating to watch. You’ll have a movie based on a book, yet altered significantly to make it more palatable to the masses; you have a book, that will undoubtedly again climb the best-seller lists as an attachment to the movie, but the book won’t be similar to the movie and the book itself is a joke; and you have a team that will be battling for a playoff spot around the time the movie comes out, but the team doesn’t come close to mimicking either the book or the movie.

I’ll be paying close attention and have every intention of pointing out these inconsistencies. Naturally, those invested in the entirety of the nonsense will carefully try to gloss over said inconsistencies to foster belief in their non-existent “revolution”.

Salesmanship is one thing; success in practice is quite another.

Context?

Reality?

Truth?

What are they?

This is publishing.

This is Hollywood.

This is baseball.

Stuff Even I Don’t Know

Hot Stove

Contrary to popular belief, there are things I don’t know. In some cases I may think I know them, but really don’t.

I’m not alone in this regard.

In reference to the side aspects of a human being—not an athlete,a human being—there are many things that go on in an individual’s life that affect their work. Sometimes it’s self-created; others it’s just…life.

I got to thinking about this after reading Bill Madden’s column yesterday and how Rafael Soriano‘s reputation has taken a beating for his behavior as a member of the Rays and Yankees GM Brian Cashman’s reluctance to sign him.

According to Madden, the Rays despised Soriano:

But losing his No. 1 draft pick wasn’t the only thing that bothered Cashman about signing Soriano. The 31-year-old Dominican’s makeup is – and should be – of great concern. Despite his league-leading 45 saves and 1.73 ERA, Soriano was hated by almost everyone in Tampa Bay last year. His periodic hissy-fits over being brought into games in non-save situations, or being asked to pitch more than one inning wore thin on Rays manager Joe Maddon. The final straw was the last game of the season – Game 5 of the ALDS versus Texas – when Maddon asked Soriano to pitch the ninth inning with the Rays trailing, 3-1. After throwing a tantrum in the bullpen in front of all his fellow relievers, Soriano trudged into the game and promptly gave up a single to Nelson Cruz and a game-breaking homer to Ian Kinsler.

This is an example of “stuff” I didn’t know. I was aware that Soriano didn’t like entering games in non-save situations, but had no idea it had reached the level of public tantrum in a playoff game—a game that was still within reach; in reach until Soriano came in anyway.

The easy answer is to blame Maddon for this; to suggest that the B.J. Upton lack of hustle and clear absence of discipline that’s present in the Rays clubhouse—amid the new age culture cultivated by Maddon—is responsible for the players feeling they can get away with anything. But I don’t see this as the fault of Joe Maddon; it’s people showing who they really are.

Did Soriano have it in mind that entering a game in a non-save situation wouldn’t add to his number of saves and, by extension, not contribute to his paycheck in free agency?

Of course.

Is this natural with a human being?

Yes, but here’s the difference between the Soriano-type and another player who would have an eye on the numbers both statistically and financially—the other player, while selfish, would do his job for the team absent of the shortsightedness displayed publicly by Soriano.

Curt Schilling could be considered an attention-seeker who liked to hear his own voice and have his face plastered all over the newspapers with stories—that may or not have been accurate—of his on-field heroism. This, more than anything else, is why the “bloody sock” was seen as a possible ruse. It was very convenient and sounded like something Schilling would do. During his time with the Phillies when he showed up his teammate Mitch Williams in the 1993 post-season by draping a towel over his head, it was an act that shouldn’t have taken place. Was Schilling intentionally playing to the camera? Or did he genuinely not want to watch?

It was probably both.

With all of that, Schilling has been an impossible person to categorize because he has done so many nice things for people with money and time that I get the impression that his acts of kindness—while making him look good—are done because he is a decent man.

As an athlete he left it all out on the field and would’ve done anything for his teammates.

Is Soriano willing to leave it all out on the field? The suggestion that Mariano Rivera will be a calming and positive influence on Soriano is not without merit; but I have concerns about players getting their clubs to sign or acquire friends.

I don’t want players making personnel moves. In fact, the players should have no say whatsoever in the composition of the team.

If an executive is so tone deaf to the clubhouse and its hierarchy, he shouldn’t be running a club in the first place. Any good manager or executive has to know the difference between a divisive force and a player who straddles the line of positive and negative influence to the other players.

As they were phased out as team stars in the late 1980s, Gary Carter and Keith Hernandez both became somewhat embittered by their descending career trajectories and didn’t help the Mets move on into new clubhouse leadership.

It’s a fine line and this is why you’ll see a good front office dispatch veteran players who, while still having something left on the field, aren’t so indispensable that they’re worth the oncoming aggravation. Getting rid of a player at the right time is a risky proposition.

On the one hand, it’s a message: “If we’ll get rid of him, we’ll certainly get rid of you!” On the other hand, making a drastic clubhouse change can blow up something that was working. It’s not to be done for the sake of it and makes nuance an imperative. A good leader has to acknowledge and take steps to counteract these factors.

You can equate this to the new concept of the field manager being a “middle manager” who takes orders from the front office; the public castration has stripped that manager of authority; if the manager doesn’t have clear support from the front office, there are players who will bully and push the envelope with the manager. Not every superstar is Albert Pujols who leads by example and supports his manager. Star players have and will continue to get their coaches/managers fired by one method or another.

The front office must support the manager.

Off-field team camaraderie is not of utmost importance to win. Some of the best clubs in history—the Athletics of the early-1970; the Yankees of the late-1970s—had players who literally hated each other personally. But on the field, if you went after one of them, you went after all of them.

Sometimes a team that gets along too well off the field is indicative of a loser on it. If a season is lost and the passion dissipates, what’s there to fight about? A team united in their disinterest is far worse that players fighting because they care.

This is why we can’t accurately assess everything on a club. We can listen to and read stories such as the Madden piece about Soriano, but until they’re proven accurate in the long term, we don’t know.

With the Rays there was much talk about the aforementioned Upton and the dugout confrontation between him and Evan Longoria after Upton failed to hustle for a ball hit into the gap in a mid-season game against the Diamondbacks.

To imply that to have been the first time someone on the Rays from teammates to coaches to the manager to the front office had confronted Upton about his lackadaisical play is ridiculous. Something like that only goes public when propriety is thrown out the window because co-workers have had enough and aren’t waiting until they’re out of the camera’s eye to let an Upton known that they’ve had enough.

Over the course of a season, these things happen hundreds of times between teammates and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it.

The easy answer with a team like the Rays is to blame the manager, but Soriano and Upton would act this way no matter who they played for. When the Rays made the deal for Soriano, they had to have weighed his reputation with the risk/reward of acquiring him. He was expensive ($7.5 million for the 2010 season), but the Rays were only giving up Jesse Chavez to get him and they knew that without an established closer, they’d have trouble competing with the Yankees and Red Sox. Then there was the draft pick they were going to get when he left.

Soriano’s free agent aspirations were a boon and a detriment as he was determined to have a big statistical year, but threw what Madden called a “hissy fit” when asked to do anything more than accumulate a save.

Presumably he won’t behave that way with the Yankees, but you never know. The one thing the Yankees have an advantage with is that manager Joe Girardi has a terrible temper and won’t hesitate to drag Soriano into his office by his shirt collar and let him know that selfishness is not tolerated in his clubhouse.

As far as the off-field stories go, we all hear rumors. Some of the players and people who have great reputations as bastions of their community may not live up to the portrayal. Others who are seen negatively are oftentimes not putting up a pretense for public consumption and that’s not what the employers, image makers and fans want.

They don’t want a human being; they want the idol to worship.

I think that’s worse because when the person falters—as he inevitably does—it jades those that thought the object of their affection was something that he never really was in the first place.

These are not issues to ignore. The only thing a club can do in the case of a Soriano or anyone else is mitigate them with checks on the behaviors. Apart from that, they have to hope it doesn’t tear the clubhouse apart.

Abandonment

Hot Stove
  • The Joba Ruination leads to opportunity:

The Yankees should make Joba Chamberlain into a starter.

They should do so without constraints or rules.

He should be allowed to pitch until he either is no longer effective or his pitch count has expanded to a maximum reasonable number—and that is contingent on his mechanics and how manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild think he looks.

The Yankees organization has done a nearly flawless job in taking a hot prospect with All Star ability, making him feel entitled; turning him into a paranoid and intrinsically frightened worrywart (“I can’t get hurt!!”); demoting him; and now they appear to be on the verge of taking offers to dispatch him.

Without getting into a Selena Roberts/Alex Rodriguez bit of pop psychology, Chamberlain’s turbulent home life with a troubled mother and polio-afflicted father can be transferred to the way his second home, the Yankees organization, is treating him as if he was their meal ticket only to abandon him when he didn’t immediately become Roger Clemens—the pitcher to whom he was most compared when he burst onto the scene.

Chamberlain’s not blameless here. He hasn’t pitched well; he’s obnoxious and immature; and we don’t know the scope of his off-field antics, but the Yankees are responsible for what he’s become.

And they still have time to fix it.

GM Brian Cashman has repeatedly justified the treatment of the Yankees young pitchers with historical facts, medical reports and analysis that are meant to maximize the talent while minimizing injury.

Has it worked?

When the Yankees “big three” young starters burst onto the scene I, with a prominent memory of the Mets Generation K disaster of Bill Pulsipher, Jason Isringhausen and Paul Wilson, preached caution. You can’t automatically anoint young pitchers as future cornerstones given the same history from which Cashman and his minions conveniently picked and chose their methods of development.

You never know.

Ian Kennedy was supposed to be the most polished and big league-ready from the Chamberlain, Kennedy, Phil Hughes triumvirate; he was the worst of the three in practice. On the field he had no control and didn’t listen; off the field he couldn’t keep his mouth shut and invited the ire of everyone in the clubhouse. He was traded to the Diamondbacks in the deal that brought Curtis Granderson to the Yankees and began to fulfill his potential in the Southwest; but he’s never going to be a top-of-the-rotation starter; nor is he going to be a Greg Maddux-type control artist. His stuff isn’t that good.

Hughes has been held back by his own set of rules and used as a reliever and starter; but there was never, ever any suggestion that he’d stay in the bullpen despite his excellent work there in 2009. He’s a starter; they made him a starter; and he’ll be a good starter for a long time.

The “Hughes Rules” haven’t gone smoothly either as the club appeared to bully the young pitcher out of a start against the Dodgers near his hometown and in front of family and friends in the interests of keeping his innings down; Hughes had a slump—I believe because he lost his groove—immediately after that club-imposed “break”.

It’s stunning to me how quickly the Chamberlain bandwagon emptied at the first hiccup on his way to becoming a star. Cashman is as responsible as anyone because he’s the one in charge, but I can picture the Yankees GM shaking his head in bewilderment at the new push to try Chamberlain in the starting rotation. It wasn’t so long ago that Cashman was ridiculed, lampooned and outright screamed at for his repeated insistence that he sees Chamberlain—with his four pitch arsenal—as a starter. I understood Cashman’s reasoning, but disagreed with it; I thought he’d be a dominant reliever. He was that for a time—that brief and hypnotizing month of September of 2007 when he was unhittable and created a phenomenon that no one could live up to.

In hindsight, having lost to the Indians in the ALDS that season, Cashman must regret putting Chamberlain in that position. Had they won the World Series with Chamberlain as the star set-up man, the entire fabric of his career might have gone differently. In retrospect, since the team lost, it was a long-term hindrance to Chamberlain professionally and personally.

But there’s a glimmer of hope for Chamberlain and the Yankees.

They can start him and they can do it right. They can let him pitch and learn without someone tapping him on the shoulder if he’s rolled through the 4th, 5th and 6th innings, but has reached his arbitrary number of 100 pitches and taking him out of the game.

A pitch count is a guideline that should not be taken to the logical extreme to which the Yankees have taken it with Chamberlain. If an athlete is conditioned properly, there’s no reason he can’t throw 120 pitches and be able to make his next start. It has nothing to do with his arm or how many pitches he’s thrown; it has to do with how hard he’s worked and, more importantly, his mechanics and the assessments of the field personnel—the manager and pitching coach—who should not be beholden to a number, but should have the experience and know-how to accurately gauge their charges.

The stat zombie “revolution” and such idiocies as The Verducci Effect have created a culture of experts who have no in-the-trenches experience to be as smart as they think they are. Studying statistics and reports does not make one an expert. Following a set of rules that have pigeonholed everyone into the same category is factory-created garbage that can be found anywhere. It’s not plugging numbers into a machine and achieving the desired result; these are human beings.

For every pitcher they cite who’s gotten hurt from too heavy a workload at a young age, there’s Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton and Roger Clemens—pitchers who were allowed to pitch and didn’t have the catastrophic arm injuries that have befallen the hot new prospects like Stephen Strasburg or were handcuffed by failed strategies like those imposed on Chamberlain.

Strasburg couldn’t have been more closely monitored and he still got hurt. I’m convinced—and will remain so—that members of the Nationals organization were relieved when Strasburg required Tommy John surgery for the simple reason that they’d adhered to his usage dictate and he got hurt anyway—there was no one to blame.

This is not good. When you have underlings more worried about their own position rather than how their charges do their jobs, you’ve got a disconnect that’s only going to get worse as time passes and more information disguised as prescription comes available.

Chamberlain should start.

He should be allowed to pitch.

That’s the only way to save him now.

  • Viewer Mail 1.16.2011:

Rob writes RE my quote of a lack of fan interest in the Rays:

“A certain freedom comes with a dearth of attention.”

http://www.tampabay.com/sports/baseball/rays/television-ratings-for-tampa-bay-rays-on-the-rise/1111241

The economy is exceptionally poor in Tampa Bay.  Don’t let attendance numbers fool you.  There is plenty of interest in the Rays.

This is a fair point, but Florida has always given the impression of being uninterested in their baseball teams until it’s playoff time; it’s as if they’re saying, “we’ll do this until the football season—college and pro—starts”.

Plus, with the number of transplanted New Yorkers in Florida, one has to wonder whether they’re watching the games for the Rays or to watch the Yankees, Mets and whoever else they may have an interest in.

That team is young, good, feisty and well-run. The ballpark is hideous, but they should attract more interest than they do.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE Kyle Farnsworth:

I’m sure you know where my jaw was when I read about the Farnsworth deal.  Looks like $2 million too much… the dude makes me sick, but hell, more power to him.

I have to give the Rays a benefit of the doubt that Royals GM Dayton Moore doesn’t deserve. They’ve replenished so many lost causes in their bullpen that maybe—maybe—they can recreate Farnsworth.

Matt Minor writes RE Joba Chamberlain, Rafael Soriano and the Yankees:

The big question I can’t stop wondering about is whether the Soriano signing will prompt the Yanks to give Joba yet another look for their starting rotation. Let the games begin anew.

Joba is a waste as a middle reliever. I understand the lack of trust in him as a set-up man and why upper management overruled Cashman on Soriano and, as I said above, they have a chance with this signing to make it into something positive for everyone.

Cashman would be wise to hold the line with Chamberlain and say “he’s a reliever” until spring training starts to avoid controversy, then spring it that Chamberlain’s going to start.

Mike Fierman writes RE Soriano and Joba:

“He won’t be a disaster, but he won’t be the savior either.”

um….you had to go there?  No one is remotely calling him a savior or anything close to it…He’s a nice fill in piece. It’s nice for Yankee fans for our team to be able to spend $36mill for a set up man. End of story.

The off-season has been a disappointment obviously because of Lee, but there simply weren’t any SP fallbacks that they missed out on. I happen to like the Russ Martin signing which more might have been made of in the press had the yanks gotten their #1 priority.

I may have misjudged the Russell Martin signing—his throwing has been historically good and that’s been a big problem for Jorge Posada since his surgery. Francisco Cervelli couldn’t throw (or hit) either.

I totally understand the Soriano signing on numerous levels both practically and conceptually. The team had done little this winter to generate any buzz aside from snickers that they lost out on Cliff Lee despite all the talk that Lee was “gonna be a Yankee, period”.

The money itself it irrelevant—they have it, spend it. The opt-outs are stupid and unnecessary as is overreaction at the lost draft pick.

That said, the concerns about Soriano are real. He gives up too many homers and is not the personality type to thrive in a big game. His refusal to pitch more than one inning for the Rays despite manager Joe Maddon’s request that he do so brings back memories to what sabotaged the Yankees in the middle part of the last decade—they had a load of self-interested players like Randy Johnson and Gary Sheffield who didn’t fit into the cohesive unit that was a hallmark of the dynasty.

Gabriel writes RE GMs and full autonomy:

The practice of ownership meddling is prevalent in most professional sports, since sometimes the owners are worried about the course the team is taking, and they feel they have to do something to steer the ship. The (mostly) lack of it is something that I like in the Philadelphia Eagles organization, since their head coach is also their president of football operations, therefore Andy Reid knows exactly what to expect from a player and how he fits in the team. A GM/Manager in baseball would be an interesting concept to explore, and one that will reduce (I think) the meddling of the owners.

Jack McKeon and Bobby Cox went down on the field from the GM’s chair when their clubs were floundering; eventually they had to relinquish the GM title; and that was back in the late 1980s, early 1990s when the job wasn’t as 24/7 as it is now. Whitey Herzog did it too; he actually left the field to go through the Cardinals minor league system to clear out troublemakers and players who didn’t fit into what he wanted to do with speed and pitching. Herzog also eventually gave up the GM role.

It couldn’t happen today in baseball, nor do I think it’s a good idea. I like having a little disagreement and even antagonism.

Monolithic systems end up coming apart.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE the Steinbrenners and Brian Cashman:

I’m glad Hank and Hal overruled Cashman. It’s their money and if they wanted to spend it, so be it!

I know what you’re saying, but it could’ve been handled better. There was no need to undermine Cashman after he said they weren’t interested in Soriano; they could’ve told him that they wanted to come to a consensus regarding the possibility of signing Soriano vs the value of the draft pick and that Cashman shouldn’t say anything publicly that could come back and bite him—as it has.

Joe writes RE Billy Beane and the Athletics:

I never heard that Beane was most likely “forced” to make that trade.  Where did you hear that?

It was in the wind more than anything else, but it was implied on various platforms.

Jon Heyman wrote the following in this Sports Illustrated column in early 2009:

Billy Beane, A’s GM: The legendary Beane, who is one of the smartest people in baseball, followed owner Lew Wolff‘s directive to go for it this year(…)

Also, it was suggested here on Shysterball; and denied adamantly on Yahoo here.

Here’s my take: What is Lew Wolff going to say? “Yes, I told Beane to do this,”? Considering the way the Steinbrenners undermined Cashman, Wolff was not going to do the same thing to his superstar GM who, at the time, was the only marketable and recognizable commodity the Athletics had.

Because the “Beane legend” has grown to such monumental proportions due to the ridiculous Moneyball and Michael Lewis’s creative non-fiction—crafted to achieve his own ends—Beane has to maintain that aura of invincibility even if those who know anything about baseball see through the propaganda and league-wide abandonment of the Moneyball principles.

Wolff wasn’t going to humiliate his guy, but that doesn’t mean he’s sitting by silently as the Beane legend fell apart. For Wolff to be telling people he was tired of losing and to have Beane make a trade that was diametrically opposed to what he espoused and believed makes it an easy assumption that Beane, while probably not “forced” to make the Holliday trade, was influenced heavily by his increasingly impatient boss.

Full Autonomy

Hot Stove

No one has it.

At least not in the “full” sense; not in the context of doing whatever they want without interference or subtle nudging from the owners and bosses.

Brian Cashman is the general manager of the New York Yankees. It’s a great job with lots of money available; accolades; respect (fleeing though it is); and cachet.

He also has bosses. The bosses he has now aren’t as difficult as the previous one, but they’re still bosses.

When it was said that Cashman was refusing to consider giving up the compensatory draft pick to sign Rafael Soriano, there were two possibilities: 1) he was saying it so that Soriano and his agent Scott Boras would think that the Yankees were out unless they dropped their asking price to a level that Cashman deemed reasonable—a negotiating tactic; or 2) Cashman didn’t want to consider giving up the Yankees draft pick to sign Soriano.

Yesterday I speculated here and on Twitter that Cashman didn’t want to sign Soriano and was forced to do so. In today’s NY Daily News, that’s exactly what Bill Madden and Roger Rubin wrote—link.

This is nothing new and it can’t be blamed on the late Boss, George Steinbrenner as many things were—especially if they didn’t work.

No.

This was Hank and Hal Steinbrenner. What’s glaring is that the more prominent of the two in baseball operations—Hal—apparently overruled his GM; a GM with whom he seemed to be in lockstep after Hank was pushed into the background after numerous public gaffes of a explosiveness.

It’s a common setting in the Yankees and any club’s operations.

No GM has full autonomy. Even as Cashman demanded and recieved the so-called “final say” in player decisions when he re-signed (especially when George was still around), he’s an employee; he does what his bosses tell him to do regardless of any language in a contract or tacit agreement that such is not the case.

To the contrary, even the most accomplished, respected and lauded GMs (whether they deserve it or not—more on that in a moment) have someone who’s above them in organizational hierarchy. It’s not as if the Yankees are rife with shadowy operators either.

Never mind the bloviating Hank; Hal is involved with the club and has always portrayed an image of quiet confidence and an unsaid, “I’m in charge here” persona. Randy Levine and Lonn Trost didn’t get where they are without being aware of political fiefdoms, positional wiggleroom and backroom machinations to suit themselves.*

*If you check the Yankees front office page on their website, next to the names of Levine and Trost it says, “Esq”; I’ve found that people with the term “Esq.” next to their names tend to like having their voices heard. Also, George is still listed as chairperson; if anyone can run things from beyond the grave, it’s The Boss.

These are smart, cagey people.

Any power-broker could’ve gotten into the ear of one or more of these people and, with a head shake/concerned sigh, let it be known that the Yankees team without Cliff Lee; without a guarantee of Andy Pettitte; with A.J. Burnett and young Phil Hughes behind C.C. Sabathia and question marks abounding that something drastic needed to be done.

The one drastic thing that could be done now was to sign Soriano. As far as we know, no big name pitchers of the Lee stratosphere were available via trade; they tried for Felix Hernandez and were rebuffed; Zack Greinke wasn’t going to work; Matt Garza? The Rays would probably have preferred not to trade him in the division and if they were going to, the cost was going to be significantly higher than what they got from the Cubs—and they got a lot from the Cubs.

The other names who might be on the market once the season starts aren’t going to be on the market until the season starts. The Ubaldo Jimenez, Chris Carpenter, Chad Billingsley type would be a good fit for the Yankees, but they wanted to do something now.

It’s understandable but telling.

Telling that the GM makes a recommendation to ownership and, for the most part in situations like that of Cashman, ownership signs off on the recommendation without a second thought; in this case, they overruled him as they have every right to do.

The days in which the GM was the boss and final decisionmaker ended with Connie Mack and John McGraw. Charlie Finley, who had a reputation as vindictive, mean, cheap and impossible to work for was actually a very astute and underrated baseball man, excellent judge of talent and brilliant marketer.

Hank is capricious, easily-influenced and short-sighted as his decision to take Alex Rodriguez back after he opted out of his contract after 2007 showed. The Soriano case is different (albeit with the same agent, Boras). Hal appears to have been on-board with the Soriano signing.

So what’s it all mean?

Now we know that the “full autonomy” stuff is only a concept. GMs are given parameters in which to work and, in some cases, allowed to do pretty much whatever they want as long as the bottom line is maintained. Looking at some of the more venerable GMs in baseball and the successful clubs for which they work, you see instances of interference and outright meddling with club operations.

The Marlins have one the best staffs at talent recognition in all of baseball, but Larry Beinfest answers to the difficult and disliked David Samson and petulant owner Jeffrey Loria.

The Dodgers have an aggressive and mostly successful GM Ned Colletti who’s dealing with the Frank and Jamie McCourt circus.

Omar Minaya demanded “full autonomy” when he agreed to return to the Mets in 2004 and it lasted as long as the club was doing well and Minaya’s moves were working; after that came the fiddling from Jeff Wilpon and end around maneuverings from the disloyal and ambitious underlings and organizational gadflies.

John Henry of the Red Sox lets his baseball people do their work, but there have been public rifts between Larry Lucchino and Theo Epstein—one which led to Epstein’s tantrum-induced resignation and subsequent return.

And the exalted hero, the handsome prince who rose from the depths of despair from his failed career as an athlete and achieved a fame and fortune as a front office warrior and now as part owner; acquired a status greater than all other mere peon baseball executives before him; one who slew the dragons of the baseball world whose ineptitude and outright stupidity were exploited by his golden touch; whose heroic adventures were recorded on stone tablets and delivered to the masses as a means of expressing thine commandments of running a baseball team, achieved best-selling status and will soon be a movie in which our brave hero will be played by one of the most handsome men in the world; the fable/biblical text/farce of the stat zombie—Moneyball—and its hero therein, Billy Beane, has a boss!!!!

That boss, Oakland Athletics owner Lew Wolff, was said to have forced Beane to make the criticized trade of Carlos Gonzalez and Huston Street among others for Matt Holliday and to sign a shot Jason Giambi as more of a sentimental return to glory than intelligent baseball move; who tried to get his club to run before they could walk and paid for it with lost money and prospects.

It’s normal in the baseball world. To think otherwise is ignorance, romanticized notions and fantasy; the Soriano signing, while not on a level with the A-Rod contract in terms of idiotic interference, is a window into what really goes on with a franchise.

Everybody works for someone and if they want to keep their jobs, sometimes they have to do what they’re told and act like they’re on-board even if they disagree with it.

And take the blame if it doesn’t work.

I’ll answer the mail/comments tomorrow. Also there will be stuff about Joba Chamberlain and his starter/reliever status; some of the player moves of the past week; and other stuff.

They Wanted The Stone Cold Killer…

Hot Stove

…and instead got El Profesor de Gack.

Amid all the implied intent of the “shutdown bullpen” the Yankees supposedly have with the addition of Rafael Soriano and the romantic hearkening back to the glory days of 1996, there are a few important factors that are being glossed over.

Yankees fans, stung by this disastrous off-season in which they failed to acquire their targets and sat by impotently as the Red Sox built a juggernaut, are clinging to the notion that they’ll be able to repeat the six inning strategy stumbled onto by Joe Torre; a strategy that won them a championship.

It’s a dream.

Here’s why.

Is Rafael Soriano comparable to Mariano Rivera?

Of course it’s a stupid question.

But in the Yankees current universe, as Soriano is supposedly part of “1996 revisited”, he has to be Rivera.

Like Buck Showalter before him, Torre didn’t know what he had in Rivera until the season was underway and Rivera was not only dominant, but he was dominant for multiple innings.

Look at Rivera’s 1996 Gamelogs—link.

What do you see?

You see a pitcher who was not a prototypical, one-and-done set-up man who pitched the eighth inning and gave way to the closer who racked up the saves and the glory. Rivera was exactly what Goose Gossage and the old-school closers who lament the diminished workload and accompanying degeneration of the “save” stat say he isn’t. He was a multiple inning workhorse.

Rivera appeared in 61 games that season; he pitched 107 innings; he provided multiple innings 42 times!!!

And it wasn’t simply multiple innings in which he went the occasional 1 2/3 innings; Rivera was regularly pitching 2-3 innings to hand the game from the starter directly to closer John Wetteland.

Rivera’s 1996 season was worthy of the Cy Young Award and MVP because of his importance to the club. Without him, they would have gone nowhere. In those 107 innings, he struck out 130; allowed 73 hits and one homer.

He was invaluable.

Can you find someone who could and would do that today? If you’re ridiculously lucky with a young pitcher, maybe. But it’s pretty unlikely.

Is Soriano—who is known to have refused to pitch multiple innings for the Rays and manager Joe Maddon—going to do the same thing? Even if he wanted to, could he? He pitched multiple innings once in 2010.

Once.

So it’s safe to say that Soriano is not going to be the 1996 Rivera.

There will never, ever be another Mariano Rivera as a set-up man or as a closer; to suggest that this desperation signing is anywhere close to that is absurdity at its height; hype from the Yankees fans and apologists who are justifying the maneuver as smart when all it is is a case of reluctantly taking the last item on the shelf.

The Yankees signed a “last item on the shelf” once before. I remember it well.

His name was Danny Tartabull.

Eerie similarities:

The Yankees have tried this before.

They’ve spent money on set-up men—big money.

Since we’ve established that Soriano is not Rivera, we can look at the other set-up men they’ve signed to be the bridge to the closer. Is Soriano going to be a Jeff Nelson/Mike Stanton?

Or is he more in line with Paul Quantrill; Tom Gordon; Steve Karsay; and the butt of everyone’s jokes (as long as he’s not in arm’s distance) Kyle Farnsworth?

Gordon pitched well in the regular season for the Yankees (when he was healthy) and was awful in the playoffs. Then he got hurt.

Karsay was good for a year, got rocked in the playoffs and then he got hurt.

Farnsworth was terrible.

Is Soriano—whose performance is eerily close to that of Farnsworth prior to his New York arrival—going to be trustworthy to get those outs in the playoffs?

The home run ball has been the bane of his existence. He allowed 2 homers in the ALDS for the Rays last season (his one and only opportunity in the post-season in his career) and no one felt comfortable with him in the game. The second homer he gave up was particularly devastating and not unexpected given his history.

The Rays were trailing 3-1 in the top of the ninth inning of game 5 and facing Cliff Lee; Soriano was called upon to keep the deficit at 2. Nelson Cruz singled to lead off the inning; then Ian Kinsler homered.

3-1 became 5-1. With Lee pitching for the Rangers, the game and the series were both over.

Sounds familiar.

Farnsworth had been brilliant for the Braves in 2005 until, called on to close out the series, he allowed a 2 out, 2 strike game-tying homer in game 4 of that series to…Brad Ausmus!

Had Farnsworth gotten that last out, the Braves were on the way to the NLCS.

That was the game in which Roger Clemens pitched three innings of relief for the Astros as they won game 4 on a homer by Chris Burke. They won game 5 and eventually went to the World Series.

Soriano, like Farnsworth, is susceptible to the home run ball. He gets nervous in important games; he tightens his grip and tries to throw too hard; his fastball flattens and he’s taken deep.

I have questions about his fortitude, his willingness to do what’s best for the team and his determination to grind it out and do what needs to be done for the team. I don’t think he and New York are a good fit.

Bullpens and grinders:

Bullpens win in the playoffs; but bullpens don’t automatically make the playoffs.

Back to the comparison of the 2011 Yankees to the 1996 Yankees and you see two starting rotations in radically different states of undress.

The 1996 team had Andy Pettitte, David Cone, Jimmy Key, Kenny Rogers and Dwight Gooden.

The 2011 team has C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova and someone else (Sergio Mitre? Justin Duchscherer?).

With the 1996 team, you can criticize the back end if you so choose, but there was always the hovering specter of Rivera lurking to end the game after six innings. Now? Soriano’s not ending anything after six innings; Joba Chamberlain? David Robertson? Pedro Feliciano?

All this talk about the “best bullpen in baseball” is terrific; it’s wonderful…but it’s meaningless because teams with great bullpens don’t have much success in the playoffs if they don’t make the playoffs.

And with that starting rotation this team is not, under any circumstances, guaranteed a playoff spot. The AL East is an utter nightmare; the Red Sox are still far better than the Yankees; the Rays, despite their free agent losses are good and deep; the Blue Jays have a load of young pitching and can hit; and the Orioles will be whipped into a frenzy at the thought of beating the Yankees by manager Buck Showalter.

The other playoff contenders in the American League have something of an easier road to win cheap games because of the weakness at the bottom of their divisions. The Tigers, White Sox and Twins have the Royals and Indians to abuse; the Rangers, A’s and Angels will torment the Mariners.

There’s no walk into the post-season this time.

Good teams need to have grinders—players who aren’t mercenaries looking to get paid and latch onto the wagon of a championship team.

The relentless collection of star names was what doomed the Yankees in the early part of the 21st century.

Whereas the 1996 team epitomized teamwork and everyone chipping in to achieve the ultimate goal, the teams from 2002 onward had the likes of Jason Giambi; Gary Sheffield; Randy Johnson; Jose Contreras; Alex Rodriguez—players who wanted to get their money and their rings.

Good players in an individual sense doesn’t necessarily translate into fitting the team dynamic that was the hallmark of the championship clubs.

Go back through the World Series winners since 2001 and you see an interesting similarity—they all battled it out and fought for the title they wanted with courage and fearlessness of failure. That includes the Yankees 2009 champions.

Will this 2011 team and its glaring flaws be able to overcome that perception that they’re taking whatever’s left on the shelves because they have to do something to make this winter of emptiness look a little better because they got Soriano?

The money and the draft pick:

$35 million for 3-years to Rafael Soriano is an insane contract and another example of why Scott Boras is a genius. The Yankees had the money left over from the failed pursuit of Lee; the draft pick isn’t something to ignore, nor is it something to be overly concerned about.

I have to wonder whether GM Brian Cashman’s bosses told him to just do it and forget the draft pick; that the fans were getting restless and Soriano was a recognizable name to sell as improving the club.

There’s been a harping on Cashman having “lied” in saying that he wasn’t going to give up a draft pick to sign a free agent. I don’t consider that to be a “lie”, but a statement as part of a negotiation. Or perhaps Cashman didn’t have any interest in Soriano and was forced to do this.

We don’t know and he won’t ever say it publicly; I’m going to guess that Cashman didn’t want to surrender the draft pick and sign Soriano.

Cashman’s pitching acquisitions have been notoriously iffy and ignorant of their capacity to handle New York. Javier Vazquez and Kevin Brown are two of the more egregious examples and the worst case scenario for Soriano; it’s not something to dismiss.Making the mistake with Vazquez once was understandable, but Cashman did it twice!!

As for the money, yes the Yankees probably could’ve gotten Soriano cheaper, but this was a case of “just get him”. There was always a chance that the Angels—as desperate and experiencing as terrible a winter as the Yankees—would’ve grabbed Soriano. Had that happened, the Yankees would have nothing.

The money’s irrelevant.

The final analysis:

Will Soriano be a flop in New York?

No. I think he’ll get the job done most of the time in the regular season.

Will he be the key to a Yankees “shutdown bullpen” like in 1996 and the other championship years of 1998,99 and 2000?

No.

He’ll give up his homers; he’ll have the deer in the headlights look in a big game and blow them. He won’t gut his way through as the Riveras, the Nelsons and Stantons did because he’s not that type of pitcher. Like the other big money set-up men the Yankees have signed before, Soriano will be good enough during the run of the mill regular season game against the Orioles; but against the Red Sox? In Boston?

Do you trust Soriano with his history?

Do you?

Spending big money on set-up men hasn’t worked before especially when they’re of the selfish, “I got mine” variety. Soriano has shown neither the stomach to handle an important game nor the attitude that was the main reason the Yankees battered the Braves, Indians, Mariners and Athletics in their title-winning years.

He won’t be a disaster, but he won’t be the savior either.

1996 revisited?

Dream on.

Mutually Beneficial

Hall Of Fame, Hot Stove

It’s easy to scoff at Kyle Farnsworth because of the absence of success that is attached to a pitcher with a 100-mph fastball; someone who looks like he should be a star, but has never achieved that status. But Farnsworth still throws hard and because of that there will always be a team willing to take a chance on him.

In 2011, that team is the Rays.

Farnsworth agreed to a 1-year, $3.25 million contract with an option for 2012.

On the surface, it seems like a reach for the Rays; but Farnsworth fits into the template of what the Rays look for in stocking their bullpen. He’s an underachiever who’s considered a failure; he’s not expensive; he throws hard and strikes people out; and he’s not going to demand that his “role” be defined.

You can list the names of pitchers who’d washed out elsewhere and rejuvenated their careers in Tampa. Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, Randy Choate and Lance Cormier pop to mind immediately. The Rays signed them cheaply, used them and discarded them when they grew too expensive. Now they’re on the lookout for other, similar types of pitchers.

The Rays have the advantage of being able to run their organization correctly because of the lack of fan interest and scrutiny of everything they do. This is why they were able to trade Scott Kazmir to the Angels in late 2009, dump his salary while getting some useful youngsters; this is why they were able to re-stock their farm system in trading Matt Garza to the Cubs.

A certain freedom comes with a dearth of attention.

The Rays are a team that is truly able to utilize a bullpen by committee. Other clubs aren’t in that position. The Red Sox have tried it, but had to abandon the idea because of pitchers who couldn’t get the job done; whiny veterans who wanted to know they were pitching the seventh, eighth or ninth innings and wanted the glossy and moneymaking save stat; or that the club had resisted finding an available, relatively reliable arm who had the capacity—mentally more than anything else—to record those final three outs.

The fan/media resistance to the idea of the closer by committee and that the manager at the time, Grady Little, wasn’t on board didn’t help either.

The Rays are under no such constraints. No one in that refurbished bullpen is in a position to say a word if the dugout calls and says that anyone and everyone should be ready to pitch at any time. It’s good to have definition in a bullpen if the pitchers prove that they deserve to have that designated role.

Bringing in pitchers who have no right to complain removes this pressure from the Rays. They won’t hear Farnsworth complaining to the media that “saves are where the money’s at”; “I need to know where I stand” because he’s not in a position to say such things.

This also benefits the players because they see how much money a Benoit has gotten from one terrific year in Tampa and know that if they perform similarly, they can do the same. It’s mutually beneficial.

The Rays have made it a habit to grab available and underachieving arms and turn them around.

Given Farnsworth’s repeated failures, pitching coach Jim Hickey has his work cut out for him; but Hickey has managed to turn around the careers of the aforementioned pitchers; if he gets Farnsworth to fulfill his potential, he’ll enter the Dave Duncan realm of reclamation project pitching coaches.

Have the Rays found another gem in Farnsworth who needs a tweak here and there? The initial reaction is probably not; but who knows?

Worst case scenario, they can use Farnsworth’s intimidation factor and reputation to try and frighten B.J. Upton into hustling. That would be worth the contract in and of itself.

  • Viewer Mail 1.13.2011:

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE Trevor Hoffman:

If Hoffman is a HOF’er, then Lee Smith has to be. Pandora’s Box? Slippery slope? Only time will tell!

There’s been a profound absence of fingers on the pulse of the voters in recent years. Barry Larkin was seen as a shoo-in and then he didn’t come close in his first year of eligibility. No one knows what they’re going to be thinking five years from now and you’ll also see a bunch of names who’ve been closing start to approach the numbers Hoffman has; with that will be a greater comparison; with that will be more names like Lee Smith, John Franco and Roberto Hernandez who elicit eye rolls when the mere suggestion of Hall of Fame induction is mentioned.

If he was up for election immediately, I’d say he has a better chance; his accumulation of stats is going to look worse as time passes.

Mike Fierman writes RE Trevor Hoffman:

He always seemed to fail in big moments..how about 2007? I’m trying to remember the particulars. was it against the brewers that he blew the save so that they had to play the game 163 against the Rockies that he also blew?

Those were two bad ones. He blew the game on the Saturday against the Brewers (in a weird bit of irony, giving up a game-tying triple to Tony Gwynn Jr. with 2 outs in the ninth); then gacked a 2 run lead in the bottom of the 13th inning in the one-game playoff in Colorado.

These are not small issues for Hoffman to overcome with stat compiling.

Muddled

Hall Of Fame

Trevor Hoffman retired yesterday and the Hall of Fame argument as to his worthiness has already begun.

While he was playing there was a debate in judging his career with some calling him an automatic Hall of Famer and others—some former players among them—scoffing at the notion based on the perceived easiness of what it was Hoffman and the other closers of the era did.

So which is it and are we going to have to listen to the back-and-forth for the next five years? Let’s look at the pros and cons, defenses and indictments of Hoffman’s career.

Should he be punished or rewarded because of strategies?

Tony La Russa has been unfairly blamed for the proliferation of the “one-inning closer”. Naturally, it’s a misapplication of blame. When he was managing the White Sox, La Russa used his closers as closers were used in the late 1970s-early 1980s. They pitched multiple innings and were worked hard.

It was when he got to Oakland and installed Dennis Eckersley that he ushered in the era of the “specialist”; middle-men, set-up men, closers backing up a pitcher who was generally only asked to give 6-7 innings fostered the notion of La Russa altering the game.

The truth is that La Russa used Eckersley that way because that was how Eckersley was best suited to be used as he made the transition from starter to closer. The truth is, Eckersley pitched more than one inning somewhat regularly during his heyday of the late 1980s; he didn’t pitch 2-3 innings as Goose Gossage, Bruce Sutter and Dan Quisenberry did in the early part of the decade, but no short reliever does that anymore. Brian Wilson does it occasionally and he’s an anomaly.

Managers who don’t have La Russa’s nerve to innovate—the Jeff Torborgs—took the theory to its logical conclusion. Such was evident by Bobby Thigpen‘s 57 save season in 1990 pitching for Torborg with the White Sox. The hollowness of the save stat became highly pronounced just as Hoffman and John Franco were beginning their careers.

Putting it into context—with Gossage’s lament—it’s not the same as it was; you can’t compare what the relievers do today to what they did before.

Just as players like Wade Boggs shouldn’t have been punished for using the Green Monster in Fenway Park for target practice, how do you blame Hoffman for the way he was used? This was the game when he was pitching; he did as he was told and did it well. The save stat has been made less than what it was when it was created and that’s not Hoffman’s fault.

But maybe he shouldn’t be rewarded for it either.

Was it him or was it the song?

This isn’t a joke.

Did the echoing of AC/DC’s Hells Bells influence the thought that, “Oh no, Hoffman’s coming in!”?

Or was his stuff such that opposing teams and fans threw their hands up in the air or packed their belongings when his name was announced as the new pitcher?

Hoffman wasn’t style over substance, but it was a cool thing to hear the tolling of the bell in the song. That his out pitch wasn’t a Gossage 100-mph fastball; a Sutter split-finger; or a Mariano Rivera cutter lends credence to the idea that teams were more fooled than devastated by Hoffman’s money pitch change up.

Again, not his fault; but something to think about.

There was no “moment”.

Hoffman’s case would be made easier if he’d won a World Series. In his one chance in the Fall Classic, the Padres were swept away by the 125-50 Yankees; but the series wasn’t as much of a washout as the four game sweep suggests.

In game 3, the Padres were clinging to a 3-2 lead in the top of the eighth inning when manager Bruce Bochy called on Hoffman with a runner on first and no one out. Bernie Williams flew out to deep right; Paul O’Neill walked; then series MVP Scott Brosius homered to give the Yankees a 5-3 lead. A lead that Mariano Rivera held giving the Yankees a 3-0 series lead.

Had Hoffman saved the game, could the Padres have won the series? Probably not; but the longer it went, the more of a chance they would’ve had; if they’d gotten it to game 7 with an in-his-prime Kevin Brown ready to pitch, who knows?

But Hoffman gave up the big homer rather than getting the big out.

It’s not a small blip for a borderline Hall of Famer.

Accumulation is not the mark of a Hall  of Famer.

Hoffman accrued stats. The one closer of today, Rivera, who’s going to waltz into the Hall of Fame accrued championship rings and the reputation as unflappable because he got the outs in the post-season.

The argument that Rivera had a better team and more opportunities in the playoffs is not without merit, but that has nothing to do with what Hoffman accomplished.

The “woulda, coulda, shoulda” isn’t the same as looking at a Bert Blyleven and examining his career based on the teams he played for and his contemporaries.

I’ve always wondered why the “woulda, coulda, shoulda, argument was enough to get Kirby Puckett into the Hall of Fame when his career ended because of glaucoma, but not good enough for Don Mattingly, who was a far more dangerous hitter than Puckett—was in fact the dominant player in baseball position for five years—but didn’t get the same treatment because his back problems ruined his greatness.

The magic number of 300 wins and 500 homers is being ignored now because the game has changed. Jamie Moyer and David Wells have more wins that some Hall of Famers, but aren’t getting in; members of the 500 club aren’t receiving the honor because of PED allegations. And the save stat has been diminished because of the one-inning save.

You have to put eras into perspective if you’re going to compare them at all.

Will Hoffman get in?

I honestly don’t know.

I’ve gone back-and-forth on the subject myself. Will his numbers be enough when the vote comes around? He’s not going to have the passionate support that Blyleven had from stat zombies; nor is he going to get the old-school support.

If you examine Eckersley—a deserved Hall of Famer—his candidacy was only made viable by the fact that he was a great starter and a great closer. I feel that same thing will push John Smoltz over the top.

Hoffman?

Is he a Hall of Famer?

Right now, I put him in a similar category with Lee Smith, Jeff Reardon and John Franco; based on that, I’d vote no.