Tony LaRussa Was A True Innovator

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The easiest thing to do when examining a manager’s—or anyone’s—record is to look at the numbers.

Tony LaRussa‘s managerial numbers are up in the stratosphere of baseball history and will be there forever.

He managed for 33 years; made the playoffs 14 times; won 6 pennants; and 3 World Series.

He won 2728 games and had a .536 winning percentage.

But that doesn’t explain what it was he accomplished in baseball.

LaRussa was one of the true innovators, using data and in-depth scouting reports to adjust his lineups, fielder’s positions and pitching maneuvers according to what would best enable him to have an advantage and win the game. Before stats became so prevalent that laymen thought their utilization made them a baseball expert, LaRussa epitomized the best of both stat-based/detailed information decisionmaking and old-school baseball instincts.

Being a journeyman infielder who batted .199 in 203 career plate appearances in the big leagues and lasted for 15 years in the minors (he had a few good minor league seasons), he soaked up the knowledge that contributed to his innovations as a manager; his legal training (he graduated from law school) provided a linear method of thinking that he adapted to baseball; and he had the courage of his convictions.

There were no, “I’m doing this to keep my job” moves with LaRussa. Immediately upon getting the White Sox job, the likes of Billy Martin and Sparky Anderson—baseball lifers and great managers—noticed and were impressed with his fearlessness and attention to detail.

Blamed for the advent of the “bullpen roles” with the Athletics and Dennis Eckersley, that too was an example of coldblooded rationality rather than reinventing the game. In his early seasons managing the White Sox, LaRussa used his short relievers for multiple innings just as every other manager did; it was when he got to Oakland and the veteran former starter Eckersley was making the transition to the bullpen that LaRussa decided it was best to use him for only one inning at a time. He had the other relievers in his bullpen to do it and it worked.

No one told the rest of baseball that this new strategy was the template of how to run a club without deviation—that was never the point—they were copying while LaRussa was creating.

The stat people cling to the concept of a bullpen-by-committee. This can only succeed, in part, if there’s a manager who can’t be questioned if he decides to use it—the 2011 Cardinals used the closer-by-committee with eight different pitchers recording saves.

Planning hand-in-hand with his pitching coach/aide-de-camp Dave Duncan and his GMs Sandy Alderson, Walt Jocketty and John Mozeliak to find players who fit into what he wanted to build, he rejuvenated and saved the careers of dozens of players. Without LaRussa and Duncan, there’s no Dave Stewart; Mike Moore would’ve been a “what might have been” disappointment; Chris Carpenter would’ve been a journeyman bust; and Eckersley would’ve been finished at 33.

Rightful in his indignation at his portrayal in Moneyball as a “middle-manager” who wasn’t supposed to have his opinions granted any weight, he won and won and won and did it under a budget—his Cardinals teams were generally in the top 10 in payroll, but never competed financially with the Yankees and Red Sox.

Moneyball became the bane of his existence long after its publication as his longtime Cardinals GM Jocketty was forced out as the club mitigated the power of both LaRussa and Duncan and tried to use numbers and baseball outsiders to save money and restructure the organizational philosophy. LaRussa rebelled. Competing in the big leagues is hard enough without having one’s experience and strategies questioned by outsiders who think that calculating a formula can replace 40 years of analytical observation and in-the-trenches baseball.

He fought back viciously and eventually won that organizational tug-of-war.

He didn’t have much patience for young players who didn’t catch on quickly; his doghouse was entrance only and his feuds with players like Scott Rolen bordered on the embarrassing; he could be condescending, thin-skinned and Machiavellian; he overmanaged in circumstances where he shouldn’t have; he was a skillful manipulator of organizational politics to maintain influence; and his teams didn’t win as much as they should have judging by their talent.

But when a team hired Tony LaRussa to manage, they would never be outworked and if he was given the players to compete, he’d get them to the playoffs. Sometimes he got them to the playoffs when he wasn’t given the players to compete.

In an interesting footnote, the championship teams—the 1989 Athletics; 2006 Cardinals; 2011 Cardinals—weren’t anywhere near as good as the teams that got bounced in the playoffs or shocked in the World Series. The 1988 and 1990 A’s were better than the 1989 team; the 2004-2005 Cardinals won a total of 205 games, but those teams didn’t take the title.

The 2006 club collapsed in September and nearly missed the playoffs; once they got in, they regained their footing and, carried by a journeyman starter Jeff Suppan and a rookie closer (who wasn’t a closer) Adam Wainwright, they were the underdogs in every post-season series and won them all.

In 2011, the Cardinals were all but finished in late August before getting a reprieve because they had a great September and due to the Braves falling apart. Seemingly overmatched by the mighty Phillies and the pitching-rich Brewers, the Cardinals took both out. Then, down to their last strike twice in the World Series to the superior Rangers, the Cardinals came back and won an unlikely championship.

I have to wonder whether LaRussa takes more pride in winning when he wasn’t supposed to win or wanted to win with the teams that were great in every conceivable metric other than taking home the World Series trophy.

One accomplishment lends itself to his managerial skill; the other to his ability to put a club together over a long year from the winter to the fall. Neither is more important than the other, but more credit is doled for winning when a team isn’t supposed to win.

LaRussa got away with the things he did because he won and in a circular occurrence, he won because he had the nerve to do things that other young managers might not have done. He didn’t do them to be quirky; he did them because he believed in them. As much as he tried to keep his thumb on everything in his world, he was a big picture, deep strike thinker who took risks for big rewards.

Not every manager can say that.

Most new managers are going to make calls that are safe; that can be explained to the media and meddling bosses; that will keep the players in their corner—but not LaRussa.

He was a rarity among mangers for that fervent adherence to his theories and the courage to implement them.

There won’t be another LaRussa not only because he won, but because of the way he won.

He went out on top and walked away from a lot of money.

There have been intermittent and idiotic caveats from know-nothings diminishing all he did in baseball.

They need to be ignored.

LaRussa deserves to be applauded for his dedication to the game and a career that won’t be surpassed in its duration and scope.

He’s one of the best managers in the history of baseball.

LaRussa’s retiring on his own terms and he’s going out as a World Series champion.

It fits the story of his managerial career perfectly.

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The Prince Fielder Free Agency Profile

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Name: Prince Fielder.

Position: First base.

Vital Statistics: Age-28; Height-5’11”; Listed Weight-275; Actual weight-more than 275; Drafted in the 1st round (7th pick) by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 2002 MLB Draft.

Agent: Scott Boras.

Chances of returning to the Brewers: None whatsoever.

Teams that could use and pay him: Boston Red Sox; New York Yankees; Toronto Blue Jays; Baltimore Orioles; Minnesota Twins; Texas Rangers; Los Angeles Angels; Seattle Mariners; Washington Nationals; Florida Marlins; Chicago Cubs; Los Angeles Dodgers.

Positives:

He has massive power and patience; a fiery competitor; he’s intense and hits or walks in the clutch.

Fielder will hit his home runs wherever he goes and draws plenty of walks. For a power hitter in today’s game, he doesn’t strike out that much—135 a year is reasonable in comparison to the likes of Ryan Howard.

His intensity and on-field confrontational nature is a dual-edged sword; it indicates a simmering anger, but it fuels him.

Put him in a batting order with a good hitter in front and major protection behind him and he’d put up bigger numbers than he did in Milwaukee.

Negatives:

His weight—listed at 275—hasn’t been as much of an issue as it would be with a player who actually has to move. He’s supposedly a vegan, which I find very strange. Mike Tyson was over 300 lbs, became a vegan and slimmed down to fighting trim; Fielder became a vegan and got bigger.

For a player who relies on speed or attributes related to his size, it would be a problem; Fielder doesn’t. Stress on his knees will be a concern if he gets heavier and a fat contract can contribute to a fat player getting fatter, but Fielder will always hit his homers and walk. A club has to and will accept this when signing him.

Can he DH? Is he willing to DH? It’s not as easy as it sounds. While he’s a better hitter than Adam Dunn, Dunn couldn’t adjust to DHing or the American League and was a disaster with the White Sox—no one could’ve anticipated it.

It’s a super-small sample and I’m not dissecting it for pitchers, ballparks and other factors, but Fielder is 18 for 78 in his career as a DH with 3 homers and a .295 on base percentage. It’s not something to ignore.

Fielder won’t want to DH regularly and his defense is bad and going to get worse. He catches the balls he can get to; he’s quicker than he looks, but he’s not, nor will he ever be, a good defensive first baseman.

What he’ll want: 8-years, $190 million.

What he’ll get: 6-years, $148 million guaranteed with an easy option to raise it to 7-years, $173 million.

There will be a player opt-out mid-stream and a guarantee the team that signs him won’t offer arbitration at the contract’s conclusion so he won’t cost a compensatory draft pick (if that rule is still in existence).

Teams that might give it to him: Orioles, Blue Jays, Mariners, Rangers, Cubs.

I’m not predicting where he’s going to go; nor will I do so with other free agents aside from the most obvious ones like Albert Pujols—the obvious ones tend to stay where they are or have ties to a particular club pursuing them.

If you look at the predictions for Jayson Werth a year ago, no one had him going to the Nationals; most “mainstream insiders” had him signing with the Angels, Red Sox, Giants or Yankees and they were all wrong.

Cliff Lee was just about guaranteed to be a Yankee and no one considered the Phillies.

Werth wound up with the Nationals for $126 million—an amount of cash that aghast the industry.

Lee went back to the team with which he was comfortable, the Phillies, for less money than the Yankees offered.

Would I sign Fielder if I were a GM? No.

Will it be a “bad” signing for the club that does pay him? No. He’ll produce as long as they know what they’re getting and put him in the right circumstances.

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Nick Swisher Will Be Back In Pinstripes In 2012!! (Unless They Trade Him)

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To “eliminate” speculation of his possible departure from the Yankees, Nick Swisher‘s 2012 contract option for $10.25 million was exercised last night.

This means almost nothing in terms of Swisher’s future with the club if they decide they want to upgrade right field with a Carlos Beltran. Had they let Swisher go, they would’ve been at the mercy of the agents or teams they’d approach for the potential replacements—Beltran, Michael Cuddyer, Justin Upton and others—so of course they’re not going to leave themselves without Swisher and in glaring need of an outfield bat.

If the option was declined, there was every chance that Swisher might wind up in Boston playing right field for the Red Sox or in Toronto as a part-time 1st baseman, right fielder and DH for the Blue Jays.

The Yankees don’t want that.

Exercising it gives them flexibility. They can still go after another outfield bat and then trade Swisher without the onus of desperation hanging over their heads and the accompanying need to overpay for a player they might not really want to replace Swisher.

Swisher has a limited no-trade clause to six teams. He’d be in demand and the Yankees might be able to acquire a Jonathan Sanchez-type from the Giants for that bat/on-base skills and likable gregariousness.

Billy Beane is known to love Swisher and the Athletics have pitching to spare in the rotation and bullpen.

The overwhelming likelihood is that Swisher will be a Yankee next year. He’s a known commodity, well-liked and can play first base as well as right field; but don’t believe that he’s definitely coming back. They can still trade him. And it would be silly not to explore the market.

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Josh Hamilton’s Divine Intervention

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Josh Hamilton once needed a drug and alcohol intervention.

That’s been changed to divine intervention.

The quotes from Hamilton were as follows:

“He said, ‘You haven’t hit one in a while and this is the time you’re going to,'”

The “He” Hamilton was referring to was God; and what He told Hamilton was that he was going to hit a home run in the top of the 10th inning of game 6 of the World Series.

Hamilton did.

Then the Rangers lost the game in 11 innings.

And Hamilton added the caveat that God didn’t specifically tell him that the Rangers were going to win the game, just that he was going to hit a homer.

Um. Okay.

I’m not going to get into a Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens-style rant against religion, but I’m curious of the reaction had Hamilton said something to the tune of “I kept this to myself, but Santa Claus told me last Christmas that I was gonna hit a homer in game 6 of the World Series in 2011, and I did.”

Would people have taken this revelation as seriously as they did his validation from the “real” Almighty?

Or would they have wondered whether he’d either fallen off the wagon or the drugs that nearly ruined his career had sabotaged his brain into a state of delusion for which he should be locked up?

Even for those who don’t take the tenets of religion—any religion—literally, does anyone really believe that God whispered to Hamilton that he was going to hit a home run? If he’s up there, wouldn’t God have things on his mind other than Hamilton and the Texas Rangers?

The entire Middle East is imploding; the United States is broke and embroiled in two ground wars; Thailand is almost underwater; and Turkey just had a massive earthquake, but it’s okay because God is going to take care of it all as soon as he finishes watching the World Series.

If it were my alternate universe and Hamilton was referring to Santa, what kind of jokes would be made at his expense?

But because it’s an uplifting story of someone who overcame demons that almost destroyed his life; one who recovered his one-in-a-million talent and has fulfilled it and more, it’s okay to utter such objective lunacy to the public and not be ridiculed. Since so many others believe (or say they believe) and it’s something he clings to to keep him sober and sane, then it’s okay to engage in this type of fantasy.

I’m not anti-religion. I’m not bothered one way or the other if someone believes; I understand the need for community, charity, connection with something bigger than the self; I’m for anything that keeps the masses under some semblance of control. If there wasn’t religion, people would find some other security blanket to cling to—or other reasons to kill each other. But when the entire roster of candidates for President of the United States from one of the two major parties are taking various biblical texts as if they’re fact and ignoring all scientific studies because of those written words, we’re entrusting the survival of the world to the hands of the mystics.

Do those uttering these ludicrous statements truly believe them? Or are they appealing to a constituency as a means to an end?

I can deal with the latter. The former? Not so much.

Sports are a microcosm of society and this style of divine intervention isn’t isolated. It was Adrian Gonzalez who, following the Red Sox collapse, said:

“I’m a firm believer that God has a plan and it wasn’t in his plan for us to move forward.”

“God didn’t have it in the cards for us.”

If I’m paying Gonzalez his lofty salary, I don’t need to hear a built-in excuse for why he and his team failed. If he really believes this, it’s something I would have a serious issue with.

Evander Holyfield and Reggie White used to claim to have been healed by God and no one really batted an eye. Holyfield was able to fight; White was able to play football, so whom did it hurt? The money rolled in for themselves and their business associates.

But how far is this going to go?

Is it faith?

Is it a coping mechanism?

Is it a way to maintain calm during times of great stress?

Or is it a form of derangement?

Did the fervent belief that Hamilton espouses give him the confidence and calm to be able to ignore the pain of his injuries and exhaustion from a long season to have the power to hit that home run off of Jason Motte?

Perhaps it’s all of the above.

But let’s keep things in their proper context and in the realm of reality here and try to keep religion off the field of play.

Let’s keep things in perspective.

God didn’t hit that homer.

Hamilton the human being did.

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Your 2012 Rangers Seeking A Different—Winning—Result

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Those trying to blame Rangers manager Ron Washington for the World Series loss are looking for scapegoats. Talent aside, there have been many teams who didn’t fulfill their promise for one reason or another; to suggest that another manager would simply have plugged in the correct players at the “right” time are taking second-guessing to its logical conclusion.

The players play hard for Washington and always have; the Rangers knew he wasn’t the strongest game manager going back to his first year and he hasn’t gotten much better; but to blame him?

It’s silly. Another manager might not have even made the playoffs at all.

We don’t know.

He had his closer on the mound with a 2 run lead in the bottom of the ninth inning of game 6 in the World Series; there were 2 strikes and 2 outs and his closer blew it. What more was he supposed to do?

The Rangers have more pressing questions to answer once they get past this devastating loss.

Let’s take a look.

Washington’s contract is up after 2012.

While Washington shouldn’t be dismissed because of this loss, there’s going to be the hovering question—valid or not—as to whether he’s the prototypical “manager to take them to the next level”.

That’s usually an excuse for a club wanting to make a managerial change, but it’s just as random as any other reason—they don’t have to give a reason to make a change.

Washington’s job is safe and he’ll probably get an extension through 2013 so he’s not working in the final year of his deal in 2012.

Mr. Intangibles is expensive.

The player with the most ancillary importance in baseball this side of Derek Jeter—rife with leadership skills and loyalty—Michael Young still might be trade bait.

He’s set to make $32 million through 2013 and is a 10-and-5 player (10 years in the league; 5 years with the same team) so he’d have to approve any trade; there’s something of a redundancy with the club’s position players and Young’s value is never going to be higher than it is now by those who either need someone who’s as versatile and well-liked as he is or are hypnotized by his “aura”.

The Mets for example could use him as a second baseman; the Phillies could use him as a roving utility player who plays every day.

The Rangers will listen to offers—again—for Young.

Contracts and free agents.

Josh Hamilton is a free agent after 2012 and the Rangers have to consider very carefully his injury history and substance abuse history before making a $120 million investment.

Perhaps God will whisper to Hamilton that he should stay in Texas at a reduced rate.

C.J. Wilson is a free agent now and while the Rangers want to keep him, they’re not getting into a bidding war to do it. Those that were suggesting that his price was reducing with every poor post-season outing don’t know anything about baseball, pure and simple. 200 innings are 200 innings and his post-season struggles had more to do with location than any diminishing of stuff. He’s going to get his big contract from someone and it’s probably not going to be the Rangers.

Strategies.

If the Rangers are going to move Neftali Feliz into the starting rotation, they have to make the decision once and for all—in the winter—and stick to it. The “let’s try it in spring training and move him back if it doesn’t work” isn’t a decision, it’s hedging.

Feliz is 23 and after the way the World Series ended for him, the choice has to be made with finality.

Pursuits.

The Rangers have been said to be preparing a pursuit of CC Sabathia if and when he opts out of his Yankees contract. It’s unlikely that the Yankees will let him leave, but worst case scenario, they’ll raise the price the Yankees have to pay and possibly negate them from going after other players the Rangers might want.

Yu Darvish is going to be worth every penny he costs in posting fees and contracts and will be better than Wilson.

The Rangers could use a bat if they decide to trade Young; David Ortiz and Jim Thome would fit nicely in at DH; if they allocate their money to a bat rather than on the mound, Prince Fielder is a target. Mark Buehrle wouldn’t ask for the world in terms of dollars and is a good fit in the Rangers clubhouse.

If they need a closer, Jonathan Papelbon has the post-season history that few closers in baseball do; Francisco Rodriguez and Heath Bell are big names; Brad Lidge, Joe Nathan and Ryan Madson are free agents on the lower tier.

On the trade front, the Rays are always ready to deal and James Shields is durable, good and signed long term. Both the Rangers and Rays think outside the box, so I’d ask about David Price and see what they say.

Would they—Nolan Ryan and Mike Maddux—think they could straighten out Mike Pelfrey? Would Pelfrey and Bobby Parnell and the hope of clearing Young’s salary make a deal possible with the Mets?

The Rangers and White Sox have dealt with one another before and John Danks, Gavin Floyd and Carlos Quentin are up for auction.

Rangers GM Jon Daniels and team president Ryan think differently and are aggressive to address needs. The Rangers are going to make the changes they deem necessary so they’re back in this same position a year from now, but finally achieve a different result—a winning result.

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2011 Feels More 1975 Than 1986 And The Rangers Will Win

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Post-game note: Naturally, hours after I wrote this the Cardinals beat the Rangers to win the World Series. Even with that, the following is an interesting bit on the 1975 and 1986 World Series along with proof that even the most brilliant of us can be wrong; or the most idiotic can be right. Where I fall in there is yet to be determined. Probably both.

Two of the most dramatic game sixes in World Series history happened in 1975 and 1986.

Last night, 2011 joined those two great series in memorable worthiness.

Carlton Fisk‘s “body english” dance down the first base line as he willed his long drive off of Reds righty Pat Darcy off the foul pole just above the Green Monster in Fenway Park has become one of the enduring images and stories in the history of baseball.

But there was an even more dramatic and important moment earlier in that game as pinch hitter Bernie Carbo homered with two outs and two on in the bottom of the eighth inning to tie the score.

In 1986, the Mets dramatic comeback from two runs down with two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the tenth inning against the Red Sox culminated with Mookie Wilson‘s ground ball dribbling through Bill Buckner‘s legs as Ray Knight scored the winning run.

In 1975, the Reds came back the next night and beat the Red Sox 4-3. After leading 3-0 into the sixth inning, Tony Perez hit a two-run homer off a super-slow curveball from Red Sox lefty Bill Lee to make it 3-2; Pete Rose singled to tie the score in the seventh; and the Reds took the lead in the ninth on Joe Morgan‘s bloop hit to center field.  Carl Yastrzemski flew out to Cesar Geronimo in center field as the Reds finally whacked the albatross of unmet expectations off their backs; Reds pitcher Will McEnaney repeatedly leaped into the air, spinning his arms in joy as the ball descended into Geronimo’s glove and celebrated in Fenway Park.

1986’s game 7 saw the Red Sox jump out to a 3-0, second inning lead as well on back-to-back homers by Dwight Evans and Rich Gedman. Sid Fernandez relieved Ron Darling for the Mets and electrified the crowd, striking out four in 2 1/3 innings without allowing a hit. The game was quieted down sufficiently with Fernandez’s performance to set the stage for a comeback; the Mets rallied in the bottom of the sixth to tie the score. Knight homered off of Calvin Schiraldi to lead off the bottom of the seventh; the Mets scored two more runs to extend the lead to 6-3; the Red Sox scored twice in the top of the eighth; Darryl Strawberry hit a two-run shot in the bottom of the inning to make it 8-5. Jesse Orosco struck out Marty Barrett to end the series, then flung his glove into space in a memory that will forever be entrenched in the minds of Mets fans.

There are similarities to both series for both teams playing their game 7 tonight.

The Cardinals win in game 6 was more reminiscent of the Red Sox win in 1975 than that of the Mets in 1986; last night’s game had so many twists, turns and comebacks that the only way it could end was on a walk-off homer.

But as dramatic as the Fisk homer was, people tend to forget that the Reds finally validated their place in history the next night.

After having lost in the World Series in 1970 and 1972; being bounced in the playoffs by the supposedly inferior Mets in 1973, the joke was that the Big Red Machine was equipped with a choke.

The Rangers are in a similar position as those Reds. They blew a game and championship they thought they’d already won a year after losing in the World Series; they thought they’d still be celebrating and now need to come back, play another game and win to prove that their back-to-back American League championships aren’t worthless; that the well-rounded team they’ve constructed isn’t going to go down as a disappointment that falls apart in the big moments.

Before those championships, the Reds stars—Rose, Morgan, Perez and Johnny Bench—hadn’t won anything in a team sense.

The Rangers stars—Adrian Beltre, Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz—are looking for similar validation.

These Rangers rely on a decent starting rotation and ultra-deep bullpen always on call; so did those Sparky Anderson-managed Reds.

There was a sense of foreboding hovering around the 1986 Red Sox from such a devastating defeat and constant reminder of how something always seemed to go wrong to ruin whatever chance they had at finally breaking The Curse. They were destined to lose and they did.

As resilient as the 2011 Cardinals have been, they haven’t played particularly well this series—in fact, they’ve been horribly outplayed. The should’ve lost last night.

The Rangers are starting Matt Harrison tonight with C.J. Wilson on call in the bullpen set to play the Sid Fernandez-role if Harrison gets into trouble. There’s a decided on-paper disadvantage on the mound with Chris Carpenter pitching for the Cardinals.

But that won’t matter.

With that gut-wrenching loss behind them and their ability to overcome drama, on field and off, the Rangers are tougher than they’re given credit for; I don’t get the sense that the Cardinals are a team of destiny like the 1986 Mets.

And that’s why the Rangers are going to win tonight and make game 6 a dramatic and exciting footnote rather than a turning point to an unexpected championship.

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And If Boras Did Ask For Cano’s Contract To Be Reworked?

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The overreaction was widespread and silly.

If Scott Boras did make the request, so what?

Boras is Robinson Cano‘s agent; his job is to get him as much money as possible and put his client in an advantageous situation to do so. If he did try and find a way for the Yankees to nullify the final two years of Cano’s contract—which are options held by the Yankees—what’s the problem?

There was a moderate uproar when the new broke that Boras had called Yankees GM Brian Cashman and checked into getting Cano’s contract options torn up for him to sign a new deal; never mind that the story came from our intrepid, hard-partying, pitchers can’t win the MVP believing, Yankees apologist masquerading as a reporter, George A. King III; if it was a credible reporter, the story wouldn’t be any more or less realistic or reasonable.

Why shouldn’t Boras ask?

Wouldn’t that benefit Cano? Isn’t that Boras’s madate?

The Yankees aren’t in the best situation with Cano even as they hold those two option years at $29 million; Cano cost himself money in the long-run by agreeing to that contract.

On the open market, he could make more money than the current top-tier free agents, but that’s the risk a player runs when he chooses to forego his first crack at free agency.

The problem the Yankees have with being the Yankees is that they’re known to have the money and motivation to keep their players regardless of the cost.

The players are aware (the Cano tagline is “are you not aware?”) that when it comes down to it, in spite of GM Brian Cashman’s desires to keep the payroll within reason, they’re going to eventually ante up and give the players the money they’re asking for—especially the players who are essentially irreplaceable like Cano.

You can make the case that the Yankees would be better-served to nullify the two remaining years on Cano’s contract and lock him up for the next 8-10 years before the price for his services skyrocket even further. If Boras is asking for $180-200 million for Prince Fielder—a first baseman who puts up massive power numbers and is a defensive liability who’s eventually going to have to DH—what’s he going to want for a second baseman like Cano who isn’t a threat to balloon to well over 300 lbs as he ages?

After 2013, with the likelihood that both Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera will both be gone and Cano taking over as the face of a franchise, Boras is going to ask for $250 million.

Wouldn’t it be better to deal with it now and perhaps save some money in the process?

I’m not sure why it’s considered so anger-inducing and ludicrous for Boras to ask.

It’s his job and he’s great at it.

Sometimes he even gets a deranged amount of money for his clients as he did with Jayson Werth.

It was worth a shot.

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Closers In The Now

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You can read game recaps anywhere.

There will be those who question the strategic decisions such as why Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa let Edwin Jackson be announced as the pinch hitter in a bunting situation, then pinch hit for him with Kyle Lohse.

What if Jackson needed to pitch?

Or why Rangers manager Ron Washington pulled Scott Feldman for a pinch hitter with a runner on first base and two outs in the top of the 11th. Even had pinch hitter Esteban German hit a ball into the gap, the runner was the already slowish Mike Napoli who was slowed down further by an ankle injury.

I understood why Washington did what he did; not so with LaRussa.

But my focus is on why the game wound up in the 11th inning in the first place.

And it has to do with Rangers closer Neftali Feliz being unable to nail down the last out in the bottom of the 9th.

What is it about closing that makes it so difficult to get a last out, especially in a championship situation?

Is it the increased determination of the hitter?

Is it the pressure?

Is it a lack of focus?

Is the pitcher gripping the ball too tightly and forgetting any and all strategy?

Much of it comes down to luck. If the pitcher throws the ball underhanded, there’s still a chance that the hitter is going to line it at someone, pop it up or miss it entirely.

But Feliz failed with two outs and two strikes on David Freese.

Where did it go wrong?

Was it the Albert Pujols double followed by the Lance Berkman walk?

Pujols has the ability to shorten his swing in situations where a home run doesn’t do any good—he would hit .400 if he wanted to—so it’s not a shock when Pujols hits a line drive somewhere in that type of circumstance. Berkman has a great eye.

The Freese hit to tie the game was nearly caught by Nelson Cruz in right field—some say it should’ve been caught. The ball was hit hard, but it might as easily have found someone, somewhere to end the game and the series.

I can’t help but wonder if Feliz was thinking about things other than the next pitch. If he was contemplating the excitement of ending the World Series and being the man on the mound when his teammates engulfed him to celebrate; what the post-game festivities would be like; how he’d feel when he went home to the Dominican Republic as a champion and the man who was on the mound for the Rangers first championship.

It’s this type of focus, or lack thereof, that separates the pitchers who got the big outs in the playoffs and those that didn’t. Mariano Rivera‘s laser-like intensity and calm in any situation permeates through the entire Yankees organization and imparts a sense of finality that no matter what happens—good or bad—it won’t be due to the pitcher gacking.

Rivera’s “ice water in his veins” persona is simply confidence and that he’s concentrating on where he is and what he’s doing.

Feliz is 23-years-old so it’s human nature if he was overexcited; it still could have ended positively for the Rangers in game 6 in spite of all the distractions. But now they find themselves in a one-game playoff for the championship.

The Rangers still have a great chance to win tonight, but they could’ve wrapped the series up last night.

And they didn’t.

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The Albert Pujols Thing

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Tony LaRussa‘s going year-to-year as manager and has a 2012 option—he’s going to be back; Chris Carpenter is turning 37 and Lance Berkman 36; the Cardinals have exercised their 2012-2013 contract options on Adam Wainwright; Marc Rzepczynski is far from free agency and has potential as a starter; Jaime Garcia is locked up at a reasonable rate.

The only player on the roster who has a super-long, super-expensive contract is Matt Holliday who’s signed at $17 million per until 2016.

Yadier Molina‘s contract is up after next season and they have to keep him, but apart from that and the “Albert Pujols thing”, the team is set and they’re going to contend in 2012…even without Pujols.

It’s unfathomable to imagine Pujols in a different uniform than the Cardinals red, but there’s always that small possibility that he’ll leave. I’ve said forever that Pujols isn’t going anywhere.

And he’s not.

But what if he does?

What could the Cardinals do?

They could do plenty.

They could shift 2010 top draft pick, third baseman Zack Cox to first base; they could move Berkman to first and sign Michael Cuddyer; they could make a trade; they could keep Edwin Jackson and sign Jonathan Papelbon to have a devastating rotation backed up by a dominant closer; they could sign Jose Reyes to make up for some of the lost Pujols offense in a different way.

Could, could, could…

As long as the Cardinals have LaRussa and Dave Duncan and the core of players—especially the pitchers—they currently have, they’re going to be competitive sans Pujols.

That money allocated to Pujols—$20-25 million per year—would fill multiple holes with high-end players.

And Pujols has as much invested in the Cardinals legacy as they have in him; maybe more.

Would he want to muck with the Joe DiMaggio aura and his aesthetic by having teams other than the Cardinals on the back of his bubblegum card to make a few extra dollars?

It wouldn’t be as attractive as the “one team for his whole career” that is part of MLB lore.

The Cardinals need Pujols.

But Pujols also needs the Cardinals.

Examining it more deeply and with a ruthless and businesslike calculation, it just might be that Pujols needs the Cardinals more than they need him. Judging from their roster, their manager and the sudden availability of money to spend on other players, they’d win without him.

He needs to think about that before looking for the rumored Alex Rodriguez contract because as unthinkable as a Pujols-less Cardinals are, they could let him walk and still be very, very good.

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This Is Probably Not A Youkilis Deal

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As part of the agreement to let Billy Beane got to Boston after the 2002 season, the Red Sox were sending a minor league infielder to the Athletics and their new GM Paul DePodesta as compensation for Beane being freed from his A’s contract.

That player was Kevin Youkilis.

Beane’s ridiculous and obnoxiously arrogant justification for this was that they (the Red Sox) would find plenty of “Youkilises”.

Yeah.

They’re all over the place.

This is just another reason the Beane tenure in Boston would’ve been a disaster of Michael Bay proportions.

Because teams are now so cognizant of a player’s potential and know what they bring to the table both statistically and physically, it’s hard to imagine the Padres are getting a top tier prospect for letting GM Jed Hoyer and assistant Jason McLeod join Cubs new team president Theo Epstein in Chicago.

The Padres don’t seem all that bothered about Hoyer’s abrupt departure mid-contract.

They have a qualified candidate taking over in Josh Byrnes. Byrnes is a good GM; in fact, I wanted the Mets to hired Byrnes instead of Sandy Alderson in part because he’d been a GM more recently; in part because hadn’t engendered the vitriol with his blunt talk and over-the-top credit-seeking behaviors. Byrnes was one of the two finalists for the Mets job that went to Alderson.

It still strikes me as odd that the Padres would be so willing to let their GM go to a team in the same league—a team that they could potentially compete with for a playoff spot or actually in the playoffs.

Compare this with the Marlins decision not to allow their executives to talk to other clubs about potential job openings even if the job is ostensibly a promotion from their current status.

As dysfunctional as the Marlins appear, they’ve kept their baseball operations team largely in place during Jeffrey Loria’s entire tenure as owner. Larry Beinfest, Michael Hill and Dan Jennings have all attracted interest from other clubs and been refused the right to interview. This was the idea when the Marlins signed them to long term deals. The executives exchanged the right to leave for security—much like a player does when he signs a contract.

The Padres are getting something for their decision, but don’t think the player is going to be substantial; he’s probably not going to turn into an MVP candidate like Youkilis did if he makes the majors at all.

I wondered about this in a posting a week ago and I still haven’t seen a viable explanation.

Epstein knows Hoyer and trusts him, but if this were another team asking to interview him and the Padres said, “yeah, go ahead” without concern as to whether he stays or goes, I’d take it as a red flag.

As for Hoyer, he took the job two years ago; why does he want to leave so quickly? And more importantly, why are the Padres so borderline enthusiastic to see him go?

On an entirely different note, in keeping with the Michael Bay mention, here’s “Pearl Harbor Sucked” from Team America: World Police.

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