George Steinbrenner’s A.J. Burnett Missive From Beyond The Grave

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Is Billy Connors still a Yankees employee?

Or did his role as the organizational “pitching guru”—real or imagined though it may have been—die with George Stienbrenner?

One of the problems with the top down management style in which the GM is the boss is that there’s a continuity of strategy that can occasionally be debilitating when a different approach is needed.

Sometimes friction and undermining—on a limited basis—is useful.

Brian Cashman is in charge of the Yankees baseball operation…mostly. This holds true except when Randy Levine decides he knows more than Cashman does and signs a player like Rafael Soriano whom Cashman wanted no part of.

With that “almost” in charge responsibility comes the conscious decision to trust his manager and pitching coach in handling whatever comes up with the pitchers. That means manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild are entrusted with deciding what to do and how to fix—if he’s fixable—A.J. Burnett.

I don’t know what to do with Burnett; I don’t know what the Yankees are going to do with Burnett; I don’t know what the Yankees should or can do with Burnett. Having not seen his latest hideous start in which he allowed 9 runs in five innings to the Orioles, I can only go by the boxscore.

But that’s enough.

9 hits, 9 earned runs, 3 wild pitches and 2 homers in five innings is pretty much what it is—there’s no dressing it up.

Whether you believe Burnett’s story that he was cussing at the umpire and not Girardi upon his removal from his last hideous start (and I do believe him), the Yankees can’t keep trotting him out there if this is the performance they’re going to get; it’s every start now and it’s not fair to the rest of the team to play behind a pitcher who has become so thoroughly noncompetitive at the big league level that they’re going to either get blown out in the early innings or have to climb from a huge hole to win and burn out the bullpen to do it.

Freddy Garcia‘s cut finger bought Burnett some time and ended the Yankees six man rotation; but Garcia’s ready to come back. Burnett will again be safe because upcoming doubleheaders and an absence of off-days will require six starters; but once that’s done, how can they rightfully keep Burnett in the rotation when all returns to normal? What does it say to the rest of the team when someone is clearly holding onto his spot because of his paycheck, circumstances and the GM’s insistence that his signing was worthwhile?

And what would George Steinbrenner do?

If he was alive and at his bloviating peak, the first thing he’d do is scream like a raving maniac at someone about Burnett. It might be Cashman, Levine, one of his sons, an unfortunate secretary or a hapless assistant. But someone. The rant would resemble the following: “My GM tells me he’s getting me a great pitcher, I pay the guy $80 million *bleeping* dollars and he can’t even beat the *bleeping* Orioles!!!”

Then it would be leaked to the media that Steinbrenner’s not happy with Burnett; that he wants his manager Girardi and pitching coach Rothschild to do something about it. “It’s up to the manager and his experienced, veteran pitching coach—who has a long, respected history in the game—to figure out what to do with that struggling young man.”

Then he’d turn to a sycophantic member from the “Tampa faction” of the baseball ops, Connors.

This strategy’s logic is irrelevant; that’s what Steinbrenner would do.

Steinbrenner’s adherence to beliefs from his days coaching college football extended to his baseball ownership. For him, motivation emanated from fear and yelling. Sometimes it even worked. There have been times since his deterioration and passing that the Yankees needed a lightning rod to distract from issues that are now being taken up by Cashman; and Cashman has sometimes been tone deaf as to what he should and shouldn’t say. He’s not really suited to the role of organizational bad guy; Steinbrenner relished and cultivated it.

Would Connors or anyone else have success with Burnett? A bewildered shrug is the only answer I can formulate. I think former tennis star Jimmy Connors might be a viable choice to straighten Burnett out; if nothing else, he’d help with sour faces, carping at officials and showing some fire on the field while he’s on the field rather than when his manager inevitably comes to take the ball after another woeful start.

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Verlander’s MVP Chances, Hurricanes And Hackery

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A confluence of events are bringing back a controversy from 12 years ago as the borderline incoherent ramblings of a writer with a partisan agenda and flimsy excuses should again be brought to light.

Justin Verlander‘s candidacy for Most Valuable Player in the American League is discussed in today’s New York Times by Baseball-Reference‘s Neil Paine.

Naturally the arguments will pop up as to whether a pitcher should be considered for the MVP. This debate is generally based on them having their own award (the Cy Young Award); and that advanced metrics dictate that a pitcher’s contribution—no matter how good—doesn’t have the affect on team fortunes that an everyday player’s does. These awards are subjective and voted on by the baseball writers. There are some who know what they’re talking about; some who don’t; some shills for the home team; some simply looking for attention; and some who do what’s right rather than what would be palatable based on team and employer allegiances. Anecdotal evidence doesn’t imply guilt or innocence in a particular vote and there are no rules to dictate who should win various awards. It’s a judgment call.

I look at the MVP as a multiple-pronged decision.

Was the player (pitcher or not) the best in the league that particular year?

Would his club have been in their current position with or without him?

Who are his competitors?

Paine says that Verlander probably won’t win the award—and he’s right; one thing he fails to mention when talking about pitchers who’ve won and been snubbed is how one or two individuals can make a mockery of the process by injecting factional disputes or self-imposed “rules” into their thought process.

In 1999 George A. King III left Pedro Martinez off his ballot entirely.

Martinez’s numbers that season speak for themselves. Martinez went 23-4; struck out 313 in 213 innings; had a 2.07 ERA to go along with the advanced stats Paine mentions. He finished second in the voting to Ivan Rodriguez of the Rangers and should’ve been the MVP in addition to his CYA; but that’s irrelevant compared to King’s response to the rightful criticisms levied upon him.

In this NY Post retort, King discusses a life and death experience surviving a hurricane while he was on vacation as the controversy was taking place. Whether this is a maudlin attempt at sympathy or to provide “perspective” for life out of baseball’s context is unknown. I have no patience for this in a baseball-related discussion because it’s generally disguised as social commentary and a learning tool when in reality it’s a clumsy and self-serving attempt to sound philosophical. Adding his pet and children into his tale of survival is all the more ridiculous.

The most glaring parts of King’s response—in a baseball sense—are also the most inexplicable and unbelievable.

King’s argument that Martinez’s exclusion from his ballot was that he was convinced—EUREKA!!!—the year before that pitchers should not win the MVP.

However, after listening to respected baseball people at last year’s Winter Meetings grouse about giving $105 million to a pitcher (Kevin Brown) who would work in about 25 percent of the Dodgers’ games, I adopted the philosophy that pitchers — especially starters — could never be included in the MVP race.

Furthermore, pitchers have their own award, the Cy Young, something position players aren’t eligible for. Martinez, the AL Cy Young winner, appeared in 29 games this year for the Red Sox. That’s 18 percent of Boston’s games. For all of Martinez’ brilliance, shortstop Nomar Garciaparra was more valuable to the Red Sox. So, too, was manager Jimy Williams, the AL Manager of the Year.

Jimy Williams?

More important than Pedro Martinez?

Then King takes swipes at other writers who ripped him by calling them a “pathetic group of hacks”.

Presumably this group included Hall of Famer Bill Madden, who eloquently discussed the absurdity in this NY Daily News piece; and Buster Olney, then a writer for the NY Times, said it made all writers look dumb.

Leaving Martinez off the ballot is one thing—it was obviously done with the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry in mind and that Martinez was public enemy number 1, 2, and 3 for the Yankees in those days; but to compound it by insulting the intelligence of anyone who can see reality with this kind of whiny, “what does it all mean” junk while simultaneously ignoring the initial point by attacking “hacks” who disagreed with him and said so was, at best, contradictory; at worst, it was pathetic. If King came out and said, “you really think I was gonna vote for Pedro Martinez as MVP after all the stuff he’s pulled against the Yankees?”, it would’ve been unprofessional as well, but at least it would’ve been honest.

I don’t know what’s going to happen at the end of the season; I might even agree if Verlander is bypassed for the award; Adrian Gonzalez, Curtis Granderson, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jose Bautista, and Michael Young all have cases to win; but Verlander deserves to be in the conversation and everyone should adhere to the rule that there is no rule for MVP eligibility and be truthful without self-indulgent qualifiers.

One thing I was unaware of is that King works hard and plays harder. I suppose that’s important as well. But it might alter my decision to call him a Yankees apologist who had a vendetta against Pedro Martinez when he cast his 1999 MVP ballot and left him off intentionally. Was there a rule against voting for then-Red Sox manager Jimy Williams as MVP? I don’t know.

I haven’t decided where I’m going with this as of yet and my excuse could have something due to the rampaging Hurricane Irene heading for New York.

I’ll let you know.

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Blaming Peter Angelos For Mike Flanagan’s Suicide Is Despicable

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Former Orioles star pitcher, Cy Young Award winner, executive and broadcaster Mike Flanagan committed suicide yesterday.

One reason being presented for the act is that he was despondent over the state of the club for which he dedicated most of his professional life, the Baltimore Orioles. The TV station that reported this somewhat unbelievable line of reasoning—WBAL-TV—is backtracking while “supporting” the reporter, Gerry Sandusky.

There was no note and police are saying it was “financial difficulties” that led to this. The police had interviewed Flanagan’s widow to come to this conclusion.

Who did Sandusky speak to?

Multiple unnamed sources.

If Mike Flanagan’s personal problems caused his suicide—whether they were real or imagined—and it turns into an indictment of the baseball ownership of Peter Angelos or stuff the media and nameless, faceless people are saying about Flanagan’s work in the Orioles’ front office, then it’s a despicable attempt to pin a sad event on a reviled owner.

Saying that Angelos’s stewardship of the Orioles led to this is akin to saying that Gabe Paul’s death in 1998—at age 88—was caused by the stress of working for George Steinbrenner.

In other words there’s no direct connection between the two and making one with speculation and rumor is not only ludicrous, but it’s vile.

Angelos is the owner of a baseball team; his team has been poorly run and dysfunctional for the past 15 years. Flanagan worked for them for much of that time. Equating one with the other by implying friends said that was the reason is idiotic.

Those overreacting to the prospect of Flanagan having killed himself because of a perception that he ruined the Orioles clearly don’t understand what small things can go through a suicidal, depressed, mentally ill person to drive them over the edge. It could’ve been anything. He should’ve asked for help and if the philanthropically minded Angelos knew that things were heading to this point with Flanagan, he absolutely would’ve helped him.

But partisan voices are trying to sully Angelos because he’s run a baseball team badly. This selfish storytelling is making a terrible situation worse and it has to stop. Now.

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Weaver And Hendry’s Rational Self-Interests

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Refreshing?

A tribute to the type of people they are?

These are the kinds of things that are being said about Angels pitcher Jered Weaver and former Cubs GM Jim Hendry.

Weaver took less money to sign a contract extension with the Angels when he could’ve been a free agent at the end of the 2012 season and made probably double what he’s getting from the Angels—$85 million over 5-years.

Hendry continued working for the Cubs after he was informed that he was being let go last month.

These acts are being treated as if they saved orphans from a burning building and found them loving new homes.

Did Weaver leave money on the table and presumably ignore the preference of his agent Scott Boras by re-upping with the Angels? Of course. He said all the “right” things that the tone-deaf Alex Rodriguez would never have said.

But A-Rod is seen as money-hungry, spotlight-hogging and perception-clueless.

Never mind that it’s within A-Rod’s rights to go for every penny he could possibly make—and did; never mind that Boras got him that money even when the rift between the two became public after A-Rod’s opt-out during the 2007 World Series. But Weaver is seen as a “better” person than A-Rod because he’s going to somehow survive on $17 million a year through 2016.

There have been testimonials as to the integrity of both Cubs owner Tom Ricketts and former GM Jim Hendry because Hendry was willing to stay on—for continuity sake—through the signing of the Cubs draft picks even though he knew he was fired.

Hendry is well-respected person within baseball and he’d been with the Cubs for a long time; he wasn’t going to sabotage the place on the way out the door, so it was a personal thing for him to continue doing his job after being fired.

But he was also under contract—presumably he could’ve left immediately upon his firing. But why? If the organization is asking him to stay and help and he’s still being paid, whom did it hurt? No one.

In fact, it makes Hendry’s reputation for professionalism look all the more impressive when he sifts through offers from other clubs to be a member of their front office because he helped the Cubs as he did.

Weaver and Hendry were behaving with rational self-interests in mind and it’s being framed as selfless and courteous.

Selflessness and courtesy were certainly a part of their decisions, but they weren’t acts of charity.

There will be the pursed lips, thin smiles of satisfaction and nods of approval to validate what both Weaver and Hendry did. Obviously they were doing what they saw as the right thing; but the right thing was also convenient for what they wanted and needed. That shouldn’t be forgotten during the love-fest.

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MLB Waiver Claims 8.25.2011

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Carlos Pena

The Yankees claimed Pena on waivers and it’s now being said that a deal isn’t going to happen; the Yankees never engaged with the Cubs and the Cubs told Pena they’re pulling him back.

A complete absence of dialogue doesn’t make any sense. Shouldn’t either club have contacted the other to see what the offer was or what could be extracted? The Yankees probably wouldn’t have given anything flashy, but why not ask?

Pena’s contract with the Cubs calls for him to be paid $5 million by the Cubs in January; they might want to bring him back next season; and if they offer him arbitration, he’ll probably take it. You know what you’re getting with Pena: good defense; a good guy; home runs; walks; and a .200 batting average.

But there are reasons to trade him too. The Cubs are going nowhere this season and if they can get a power arm; a limited bat; or a defensively minded infielder/outfielder from the Yankees system, hey, take it.

There are worse things in the world than having Pena as your everyday first baseman, but the market is going to be flush with first baseman this winter and I’m not only talking about Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder; I’m talking someone more viable, cheaper and who’d take a shorter-term contract than the big fish—Lance Berkman.

Berkman’s super-productive and the Cubs have a chance to be pretty good next year. There are others like Derrek Lee and James Loney who will or should be available.

Non-exploration is just stupid.

Heath Bell

Bell’s reputation is taking a beating. It seems he’s not happy with crossing a bridge or detonating it after the fact, but he has to blow the thing up while standing on it.

The Giants claimed Bell and it’s being said that it was a block to keep him from the Giants’ competitors or a contingency in case Brian Wilson‘s elbow issue—that’s sent him to the disabled list—is a lingering problem.

For years, Bell has whined about his treatment by the Mets because he was on the Norfolk shuttle back-and-forth to Triple A; that pitching coach Rick Peterson didn’t like him; and that he never really got a chance.

The first two are accurate; the third isn’t.

Does it matter now?

With the Padres, was it necessary for Bell to publicly announce that he was going to accept arbitration from the Padres this winter as he enters free agency? Did he have to hamstring the organization while they were considering their options of trading Bell, signing him or whatever?

He’s self-destructive.

Now he’s singing the praises of the Giants:

”I feel pretty honored. They’re the world champs, they want me to be part of their organization,” he said. ”But nothing has happened right now. I’m a Padre, and I’m pretty happy about that.”

If I were a member of the Padres organization, I wouldn’t want to hear this flapping; from an outsider’s perspective, I’m getting the idea they’ve had just about enough of Bell but don’t want to lose him for nothing.

I’d pull him back from waivers; call his bluff that he’s going to accept arbitration this winter (he might, he might not); if he doesn’t, let him sign elsewhere; if he does, trade him. If he accepts arbitration, they could trade him immediately after and the trading club would have him for the year; let him be someone else’s problem a year from now with his mouth and pending free agency. You can always find another closer in the same way the Padres found Bell.

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Thome Talk Is Sentimentalist Nonsense

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Jim Thome would help any team he joins whether it’s the Indians, White Sox, Yankees, Phillies or whichever other team that puts in a waiver claim for him; but for the two teams that have been most prominently associated with him—the Indians and White Sox—it’s an acquisition that’s more about sentiment than reality. For both of those teams, their only hope to make the playoffs this season is if the Tigers totally collapse and either goes on unlikely hot streaks. It would help the Indians and White Sox because it might bring a few extra fans into the park down the stretch, but that’s it.

The Indians have played far above what was predicted for them at the start of the season, leaped into first place and were 15 games over .500 in late May. Since then, they’ve been 15 games under .500. They’re still in contention because of the weakness of the AL Central, but the Tigers have taken command and currently lead by 6 games. The Indians have been aggressive with trades for Kosuke Fukudome and Ubaldo Jimenez; they could use Thome especially with another season-ending injury to Travis Hafner, but if you think that Thome will be the catalyst for a Major League-style Indians run, you’re deluding yourself. It would be a pleasant story for Thome—after hitting his 600th homer as a Twin—to return to his first baseball home in Cleveland where he’s still immensely popular, but that’s all it would be.

With the White Sox, why would anyone suddenly think they’re going to be anything more than the disappointment they’ve been all year long? They got off to a terrible start; have endured an embarrassingly disastrous year from Adam Dunn; have been screamed at, ridiculed and threatened by their manager and general manager, have played well for spurts and settled back into a helpless mediocrity.

The White Sox and Indians have six games each with the Tigers, but are playing each other eight times; the rest of the Tigers schedule is filled with the Athletics, Twins, Royals and Orioles. They’re not blowing it this time.

Thome, at 40, is still a productive player; but he’s been injured and wouldn’t even be playing regularly for the Twins had they not been beset by injuries; he’d be a welcome addition to any team, but he’s not a deciding factor for those that need a lot of help, a lot of luck, a major improvement in play or all three to make the playoffs.

Sentimental moves are generally either meaningless or wind up being mistakes. So enough with the Thome talk because on the field is where it counts and on the field it won’t make much difference one way or the other.

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Stop Enabling Billy Beane

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Just stop it.

It’s enough already.

The latest set of alibis for Billy Beane and Moneyball comes from Tyler Kepner in today’s NY Times and—in the greatest insult to our collective baseball intelligence yet—they’e being utilized in the same way to excuse his mediocrity as they were to build the foundation for his myth of genius.

He didn’t have any money and had to figure out a different way to compete; he doesn’t have any money now so that’s why he’s losing.

He was in a small, relatively unappealing market where players wouldn’t go unless they had no other choice; he can’t get players to come to Oakland.

He didn’t have a state-of-the-art ballpark with modern amenities; he doesn’t have a state-of-the-art ballpark with modern amenities.

There were stupid people in baseball; the stupid people have suddenly gotten smart and are using his innovations.

What’s next? Mediocre reviews of the film or a lack of connectivity between book and movie are turning players away from joining a club that partakes in such dramatic license in the interests of propping up a story? The old ballplayer line of rejecting a job based on cinematic liberties?

Why is there this investment from the media in trying to salvage what’s left of the farce that was the appellation of “genius” on the part of Beane?

Beane’s justifications are taking on the ludicrous nature the type you’d hear from a bust on To Catch a Predator.

“I just came to talk to her.”

“I wanted to explain that she shouldn’t be meeting men on the internet.”

“She needs to do well in school, study hard and get into a good college.”

It’s not believable; in fact, it’s nonsense.

This isn’t to imply the issues of revenue, venue and increased knowledge from his counterparts aren’t hindering Beane’s efforts to maintain a competitive team—of course they are—but you can’t use the same arguments to create the illusion of brilliance as you do when explaining away mistakes. It doesn’t work that way.

The biggest irony is the “kinder, gentler Billy” persona that Beane—quite the actor himself—is putting forth.

It’s laughable that the same character who ranted, raved, cussed, broke things and bullied subordinates is now a cerebral, down-to-earth, somewhat resigned caricature who’s using those ridiculed excuses from above as a protective cloak to shield himself from all criticism; what makes it worse it how he’s being willfully assisted by the sycophants in the media and his remaining apologists whose agenda is clearly in line with their so-called “stat revolution” that was supposed to turn every Major League Baseball front office into something resembling a combination Star Trek convention and Ivy League school reunion.

I’ll bet that the “Billy Beane” in the film, played by the likable Brad Pitt, won’t be smashing any chairs on-screen. The Beane in the book is not likable at all. The character in the book was tearing into conventional baseball wisdom and running roughshod over the old-school scouts and antiquated thinkers who were invested in their own version of running a team; the movie person will be more palatable to the mainstream audience it’s seeking to attract.

Is the objective reality that so often referenced as to why Beane did what he did?

Beane was supposedly too smart and too much of an analyst to make it as a player, so he transferred his self-destructive intensity into the front office and turned it into a positive while simultaneously flipping the world of baseball upside down; but now he’s finding the same varied list of whys to maintain the veneer that his terrible team is not his fault.

Whose fault is it?

Beane had his chance to go to a big market club when he agreed to take over as GM of the Red Sox and backed out.

I’ve repeatedly stated how much of a disaster that would’ve been as his plans included trading Jason Varitek and signing someone named Mark Johnson to replace him; moving Manny Ramirez to permanent DH, precluding the signing of David Ortiz; signing Edgardo Alfonzo who was near the end of the line; and sending Kevin Youkilis to the Athletics as compensation for Beane joining the Red Sox.

Luckily for the Red Sox, Beane walked away from the deal and chose to stay in Oakand. Michael Lewis’s story was that Beane finally had a monetary value placed on his work with the Red Sox offer—documented evidence of what he could get were he to auction his stud services to the highest bidder. That was enough for him and he returned to the A’s. Family considerations played a part in Beane’s decision to remain with the A’s, but there were other, unsaid factors.

Isn’t it easier to stay somewhere where the expectations are muted and you’re treated as a demagogue? Where you’re about to be given a portion of a billion dollar business all as a result of this concept of being a genius? Where there are always ways to stickhandle around any missteps with the financial/ballpark/venue/competitive problems? Of existing in a vacuum?

If I hired a “genius”, I’d expect the miraculous. I’d expect him to figure it out regardless of what obstacles stand in his way.

Beane isn’t, nor was he ever, a genius. He filled a gap and exposed a market that was rife for exploitation. Once everyone else figured out what he was doing and started using the same techniques he did, he was right back where he started from. Genius is innovation and in that sense, there was a shred of “genius” in what Beane did; but he’s no innovator in that he created something new. He found a weapon and used it like some megalomaniacal James Bond villain.

He’s been able to gloss over repeated rebuilding projects where he traded away the likes of Nick Swisher, Dan Haren, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder for returns that have been weak or abject failures. He’s dispatched managers for shady reasons—but if the managers don’t get credit for the wins, nor should they be saddled with the losses. His “card-counting in the casino” approach to the draft was the stupidest thing in the book and has been proven to be an utter absurdity with continually terrible drafts. His pitchers have gotten injured over and over; wouldn’t a “genius” find a series of preventative measures to keep his players healthy apart from referring to the idiotic Verducci Effect—which Beane says he does?

How long is this going to last?

Is it going to last until the movie is in and out of theaters when the bloom is off a rose that’s existed far too long and has been protected from reality in the interests of selfish motivations? Will others join me in stating the obvious? Will Beane finally be seen for what he is?

Or will there still be pockets of protest trying to refurbish the crumbling facade of Moneyball?

Moneyball lives, but in a different form; it’s a shape-shifter; a chameleon bent on survival at whatever cost.

I tend to think, as the A’s stumble to a 90 loss season, there will be other voices saying the same thing I do.

But I said it first.

Beane’s corporate terminology and sudden reliance on the reviled “subjectivity” to protect his legacy and fairy tale status has failed in theory and practice.

No one’s buying it anymore.

They’re just waiting until after the film to admit it.

And that only makes the subterfuge and self-indulgence worse and those documenting it less and less credible.

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MLB Waiver Deals 8.23.2011

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Rockies claim Wandy Rodriguez.

It was something of a surprise that the Rockies claimed Rodriguez with his contract and their payroll constraints.

There are several factors surrounding Rodriguez that make his movement simultaneously iffy and possible.

The Rockies argument to the Astros will be that they’re giving them payroll relief to adhere to pending new owner Jim Crane’s payroll reduction demands and therefore shouldn’t be asked to give up anything significant for Rodriguez. The Astros can turn around and point out that Rodriguez is a good, durable pitcher who’s worth the money he’s getting.

I like Rodriguez a lot and always have, but if I’m the Astros, I consider the big picture and desire to start fresh with a lower payroll and let Rodriguez go for whatever the Rockies are willing to give…within reason. A couple of good-moderate prospects with upside or some attribute like a power fastball or speed on the bases would do it for me.

I think a deal is somehow going to get done. The Astros need to clear that payroll will supersede any reluctance to take limited return for Rodriguez.

Blue Jays trade Aaron Hill and John McDonald to the Diamondbacks for Kelly Johnson.

This is a worthwhile trade for both clubs.

Hill is signed through 2014 with team options in 2012 ($8 million), 2013 ($8 million), and 2014 ($10 million). He’s been offensively inept for two years running after a breakout 2009; he’s a good fielding second baseman.

McDonald is a useful utility glove who doesn’t hit; he’s versatile defensively and a feisty player.

I’m not the biggest Kelly Johnson fan. He was good with the Braves to start his career, had injury problems and slumped and they non-tendered him; the Diamondbacks picked him up and he was very good in 2010; this season, he’s hit for pop with poor on base/batting average production. He’s a free agent at the end of the season and it’s hard to imagine the Blue Jays doing this if they didn’t intend to try and keep him.

I’ll guess Johnson will be offered arbitration by the Blue Jays and accept it to try and increase his value for another shot at free agency after 2012. This benefits the Blue Jays because they have their eye on a playoff run next season—and they’re going to make a serious one.

If I were the Diamondbacks, I would be extremely concerned about Hill’s precipitous decline at the plate; but he’s signed for a similar amount of money that they’d wind up paying Johnson if he were offered arbitration and accepted it; you’re not going to get a talent like Hill for a pending free agent like Johnson when he’s hitting.

It makes sense in all aspects.

Rockies acquire Kevin Kouzmanoff.

Didn’t the Rockies do this before the season when they got the same player as Kouzmanoff in Jose Lopez?

It didn’t work then; given Kouzmanoff’s consistent disappointment, I don’t see this working any better than Lopez did.

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A Scheme From LaRussa’s Nemesis?

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Matt Holliday had to leave the field during the Cardinals-Dodgers game last night when a moth flew into his ear. The clip is below.

It was similar to the earwigs used on captured prisoners by Khan in Star Trek II to set a trap for Captain James T. Kirk and exact revenge. And it worked.

I couldn’t help but wonder whether one of LaRussa’s long-lost enemies (Dusty Baker? Michael Lewis? Kirk Gibson? Scott Rolen? Jose Canseco? Hawk Harrelson?) had come up with a scheme to incapacitate Holliday and be worthy of a bit of overracting along the lines of the following.

Some of the above mentioned individuals aren’t known for their brilliance, but it might be a cover; and I’d love to see LaRussa scream some version of: KHAAAAAAAANNNNNN!!!!!

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The Mets Have To Get Better Players

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It’s unfair to compare the rebuilding Mets under a first year front office that’s diametrically opposed to the previous one and the Phillies who are in the midst of a run of excellence they haven’t enjoyed since the late 1970s-early 1980s, but it’s instructive to look at the two teams to understand why the Phillies are where they are and what the Mets need to do to get there.

Let’s take a look.

Draft, scout and develop.

The Phillies have benefited from a strong farm system in a multitude of ways. Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, Ryan Madson, Vance Worley and Carlos Ruiz all came up through the Phillies organization; Shane Victorino was found in the Rule 5 Draft; Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence were acquired in trades because the Phillies had prospects other clubs coveted; Raul Ibanez, Cliff Lee and Placido Polanco were signed as free agents; and even Wilson Valdez, a journeyman castoff from the Mets, has been a valuable utilityman standing in at various times for the injured Utley, Polanco and Rollins.

The Mets have some players from their system with promise. Jonathon Niese, Lucas Duda, Ruben Tejada and Bobby Parnell all have potential. They also developed Jose Reyes and David Wright. but others have failed for one reason or another. Fernando Martinez can’t stay healthy; Josh Thole isn’t going to hit enough; Ike Davis is hurt. The Mets didn’t have the prospects to trade for veterans as the Phillies did and their rampant dysfunction in recent years made them an unappealing destination for players with choices. Players will want to go where a team appears to have its house in order or will pay them more money than anyone else. That’s essentially how the Mets got Jason Bay, Francisco Rodriguez and Johan Santana. While the Phillies have gotten production from their free agents, the Mets haven’t.

Role players should be role players.

When talking about Phillies utilityman Valdez, it’s instructive to look at the Valdez-type players the Mets have and see that they’re playing more frequently than would be optimal for a good team.

Justin Turner, Scott Hairston, Dillon Gee, Jason Isringhausen, Pedro Beato—all have use on a limited basis—but the Mets are utilizing them as regular, key players. When limited players are playing almost every day, they’re going to be exposed for what they are; and when 4-5 of them are playing every single day, it’s going to catch up; that’s what’s happening to the Mets.

They’re not a good enough team and they don’t have enough good players. The only reason they’ve stayed as close to .500 as they have is because the rest of baseball is so laden with parity that no one can tell which teams should be bad and which should be atrocious.

Play the game correctly.

It was laughable when, in the waning days of the 2010 season, Utley took Tejada out on a play at second base and the Mets reacted like a bunch of Southern women at a church social, indignant that such a thing would occur. There was talk of retaliation and the team taking a different approach to plays on the bases and at the plate.

Different approach? How about playing the game correctly without it being a response?

It was about time the Mets decided to stop being so nice to their opponents and let them have it when the opportunity arose. Following Utley’s take-out of Tejada, Carlos Beltran slid hard toward Utley and, in typical Mets fashion, missed him completely.

Had Utley been knocked into left field, he wouldn’t have said a word about it because he’s old-school, keeps his mouth shut and plays the game the right way.

You want to send a message? When Utley blocks second base with his knee as an opponent is stealing second, drive your spikes so hard into his leg so to break the skin. You don’t like him standing so close to the plate, dawdling and messing with the pitchers’ heads? Hit him in the back.

It’s called doing something about it other than yapping.

This is playing the game the way it should be played and is one of the reasons the Phillies are where they are and the Mets are where they are.

Be aggressive, smart and lucky.

This isn’t to imply that the Phillies do everything correctly because GM Ruben Amaro Jr, has made some horrible gaffes and silly free agent signings in his time as GM; it’s been glossed over by the way the team has played and that he rectified the bigger mistakes by trading for Oswalt a year ago and getting Lee back via free agency last winter; but those two deals stemmed from the fact that both Oswalt and Lee were willing to join the Phillies because the Phillies were contenders and in an atmosphere the players wanted to be a part of. Neither Oswalt nor Lee wanted to join the Mets because the team was in such disarray and the club’s reputation has taken a brutal beating due to the off-field mishaps and lawsuits surrounding team ownership.

But the Phillies weren’t exactly the bastion of cohesion until they started winning. In fact, they were a joke for 14 years from 1994 through most of 2007 before the Mets collapse and Phillies rise.

These things change quickly. The Mets have a new drafting style, a top-down chain of command that won’t be usurped as it was with Tony Bernazard running roughshod over the organization, a plan of attack and a GM able to express himself coherently—all of this gives them every chance to turn things around within the next three years.

All they have to do is adhere to the principles elucidated above.

They have to be a more than a little lucky.

They have to get better players and not use roster-filler on a daily basis in key roles.

It’s that simple. And that difficult.

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