Because He’s LaRussa…Again

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During that 20-inning loss to the Mets in April of 2010, Tony LaRussa used position players Felipe Lopez and Joe Mather to pitch and lost the game. I said at the time that if then-Mets manager Jerry Manuel had done that, there would be people calling for his job. (Well, more people calling for his job because he was already under siege.)

But because LaRussa is LaRussa, has the reputation he has; the record he has; the Hall of Fame career he has, he gets away with things that other managers wouldn’t.

It’s the same situation with the World Series bullpen mix-up and the freedom Albert Pujols has to call his own hit-and-run plays.

They were mistakes. They happen throughout the course of a season with every team no matter who’s managing, but these were magnified because that might have cost the Cardinals the game and they happened one after the other.

Regardless of your opinion as to whether LaRussa should accord such leeway for a player to call his own risky hit-and-runs, Pujols and LaRussa have both earned the trust to make those decisions.

As for the bullpen gaffe, those that think LaRussa is lying are fools.

He doesn’t have to lie about such a mistake and he took the responsibility on himself. Another manager without such security might’ve said something to inspire accusations of conspiracy because they would have incentive to lie. LaRussa doesn’t.

But still he has to endure the absurd critiques from those in the media who think they know, but don’t know; who have self-created expertise because they understand a series of stats but haven’t the faintest clue of how difficult it is to navigate a roomful of egos; the stifling media; and the competition.

We’ve seen the end result of the “middle-manager” who’s known to be such and hasn’t the experience nor the savvy to handle all aspects of managing in the big leagues.

A.J. Hinch was installed by the Diamondbacks to institute “organizational advocacy”; he’s extremely smart and played in the big leagues, but had zero managerial experience; it was a disaster that cost both Hinch and GM Josh Byrnes their jobs.

Grady Little was fired because, in part, he left Pedro Martinez in too long in game 7 of the 2003 ALCS and the Yankees came back and won. But he was already on thin ice because he wasn’t the type of manager who’d adhere to statistics to the degree that the Red Sox wanted and only a World Series win was going to save him.

LaRussa has been managing in the big leagues since 1979. He certainly doesn’t need to formulate cover stories or lie to the likes of those who have all the guts in the world in a blog post or on Twitter, but would faint if they were in that position in the corner of the dugout making decisions that win or lose ballgames.

Because he’s LaRussa, he gets a pass. And he deserves it.

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The Hits Keep On Coming For The Red Sox

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Judging by the stipulation in his contract that says the 2015 option turns into a league minimum paycheck if he requires surgery due to a pre-existing elbow condition between 2010 and 2014, the Red Sox can’t be surprised that John Lackey is having Tommy John surgery. Presumably, they weren’t expecting it in the third year of his deal; nor did they foresee his results to be mediocre in year one and atrocious in year two.

Now Lackey joins Daisuke Matsuzaka from the 2011 Red Sox staff—the team that was supposed to challenge the 1927 Yankees as the greatest in history—as needing the surgery on his elbow.

I’m trying to imagine the amount of abuse that would be heaped down on a team with a spotty medical history and the perception of ineptitude like the Mets if they had two high-priced imported arms that needed Tommy John; another young stud, Clay Buchholz, who was repeatedly misdiagnosed in treating a back injury; and had their supposed “aces” Josh Beckett and Jon Lester putting on weight as the season moved forward along with the embarrassing beer drinking allegations.

It would be fodder for ridicule for months on end.

Added to the departures of general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona, the Red Sox winter and 2012 hopes are looking more and more daunting.

They officially named Ben Cherington as the new GM yesterday; he’s a qualified baseball man and prepared for the job. He has to hire a manager and then decide what direction to take in improving the club.

Before Lackey got hurt, the starting pitching was still in relatively good shape if everyone came to spring training ready to pitch and healthy. Beckett, Lester, Buchholz, Lackey and a 5th starter from the system, acquired via trade or in a reasonable free agent contract would’ve been solid.

Now they have to replace those 200 innings expected from Lackey.

Can they get it from Kyle Weiland? He can be a big league contributor, but he’s not going to give them 200 innings in 2012.

There’s been discussion of moving Daniel Bard into the starting rotation, but even if they do that he’s not going to be able to give them more than 160 innings at the most. And that’s pushing it. He began his professional career as a starter and was terrible, but that shouldn’t matter.

They have to make up the innings from somewhere and if they do shift Bard into the rotation, they’re going to need bullpen help.

The litany of issues facing the Red Sox aren’t being fully grasped by their fan base; a fan base that is misunderstanding the fallout from a season of failed expectations; a collapse; off-field turmoil and turnover; and relentless competition.

The American League East is a torture chamber. The owner has clearly stated his reluctance to delve into the free agent market and after the disastrous Lackey signing, they’re not going after C.J. Wilson, CC Sabathia or Edwin Jackson. The Matsuzaka nightmare probably leaves them out of the Yu Darvish sweepstakes.

The other names floating around won’t want the years the above pitchers will; they’ll accept a shorter term deal, but Mark Buehrle would prefer a Mid-West venue and don’t be surprised to see him wind up with Epstein and the Cubs; Roy Oswalt would accept a 1 or 2 year contract, but he’d want no part of Boston or New York.

If they want to make a trade, there are names available. Paul Maholm, Gavin Floyd, John Danks and Wandy Rodriguez are quality arms, but the Red Sox system has been gutted by previous trades for Adrian Gonzalez.

Would they be willing to trade Josh Reddick or Jose Iglesias?

They could take a heavy contract (and old friends) Derek Lowe or Bronson Arroyo and wouldn’t have to give up much to get them; Lowe’s been awful; Arroyo would provide innings and is a known, popular commodity in Boston.

They also have to decide what they’re going to do with Jonathan Papelbon and how to replace him if they let him leave; David Ortiz is a free agent as well.

For so long the Red Sox off-seasons were spent trying to improve the club in the interests of contending for a championship. It had become a situation where they continually competed with the Yankees to win the Hot Stove title along with the crown to be the “favorites” in the preseason predictions. Now they’re going to be reorganizing their management team in addition to assessing and addressing all the other problems—on and off the field—while still maintaining relevance.

Tradition, foundation and and competence aside, things spiral after a collapse. And ignoring it doesn’t make it go away.

Cherington’s got a lot of work ahead of him and right now there are more questions than answers; the circumstances are dire whether their fans admit it to themselves or not.

//

A Closer Who Fits With The Mets

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The Twins declined their $12.5 million, 2012 option on closer Joe Nathan and will pay him a $2 million buyout. Twins GM Bill Smith has said that the Twins want Nathan back.

But not so fast.

While in some cases, the teams who have declined an option or traded a player would indeed be “interested” in bringing said player back (see Roy Oswalt and the Phillies or Carlos Beltran with the Mets), it’s highly unlikely that they’re going to pay the amount of money required to get them; so said interest is similar to me saying I’d like to travel into space—technically I could do it, but I don’t have the money to spare nor the intense desire to do so.

The Twins would have the cash available to bring Nathan back and are desperately in need of a closer with both Nathan and Matt Capps on the free agent market, but since they’ve already declined the option, Nathan will be in heavy demand as a moderate risk, massive reward for a short term 1-2-year deal.

The Mets need a veteran closer (they’re not going into the season with uncertainty at multiple positions again) and Nathan grew up on Long Island; went to Stony Brook University; and was a Mets fan growing up.

Nathan’s about to turn 37 and got off to a poor start in 2011 after missing all of 2010 with Tommy John surgery; he wound up back on the disabled list twice with a strained right flexor tendon related to his recovery, but as the summer wore on and he regained the closer’s role from the struggling Capps, he also regained some semblance of the form that made him one of baseball’s top short relievers for many years.

From July on he was mostly reliable and his strikeout numbers were solid (about 1 per inning); his velocity was consistently around 92 all season; and while he’s not what he was in his heyday, he’s a veteran who wouldn’t be intimidated by pitching in New York.

He couldn’t pitch on back-to-back days in 2010, so the Mets would likely have to have someone else capable of doing the job at least part of the time—they can have a spring training competition between Bobby Parnell and Manny Acosta and scour the market for pitchers who’ve been non-tendered; but with Nathan two years out from surgery, he’s a worthwhile gamble on an incentive laden deal to make a comeback at home with the Mets.

//

Of Reyes And Agendas

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I make no secret of reveling in the fact that Moneyball and Billy Beane are, by now, incongruent; that I find it funny that Beane has become a joke; that he’s trying to put forth the portrayal of the hapless everyman who’s been swallowed up by the big money clubs who stole his blueprint and left him behind.

The casual fan watches Moneyball, sees the “genius” with which Beane implemented the stat-based theory and found a means to compete in an uncompetitive world, then looks at the Athletics utter non-competitiveness and questions why he’s still considered a “genius”. Beane’s fall adds a perceptive resonance to the truth and directly correlates it to Moneyball being perceived as “wrong”.

Moneyball isn’t necessarily “wrong” insomuch as it was inaccurate and crafted in such a way to make Beane look smarter than he really was; to appear to be creating something when his main attribute was—as a matter of desperation—using the statistical analysis that few other clubs were using to the degree that he did.

And it worked.

For awhile.

Now it doesn’t work because teams like the Yankees and Red Sox are using the same strategy, buying the players Beane once got for free and covering up the ones that don’t work by flinging money at the problem.

My agenda isn’t to be seen as “right”, but to present the full context.

Others—specifically those who have a personal investment in bashing the Mets—can’t say the same.

Jose Reyes is either going to stay with the Mets or he won’t. They’ll make an offer. It will be a lucrative offer. And if someone vastly surpasses it, he’ll leave; if it’s not a drastic increase, he’ll have a decision to make.

Does the reason he leaves or stays matter?

Only in their warped, egocentric, self-aggrandizing views of themselves.

By “them” and “their” I mean any and all people who criticize an entity because it’s a convenient target like a piñata; because they have a vested interest in its failure or success.

Sandy Alderson was hired by the Mets. In the same scope of the Mets and Reyes, does it matter why he was hired? There are floating ideas that the Mets were forced to hired him by the commissioner’s office who wanted someone they trusted in place to keep an eye on the Wilpons and restore order to one of the big market franchises for whom it behooves MLB to be successful and not a laughingstock.

Alderson is the Mets GM; multitudes were pushing for him to be the GM because they thought they were getting the “father” of the Moneyball movement (another myth); but then he started GMing and wasn’t making the decisions they wanted, therefore he’s not any good.

It’s fan and media logic. And it’s ridiculous.

Alderson made the right decision in biding his time; not sacrificing the Mets limited prospects for veteran players to win 5 more games and appear to be competing in a division that they had no chance of winning or for a playoff spot they had no chance of securing; he dumped Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo; he made low-cost maneuvers that worked (Chris Capuano) and didn’t (Chris Young); he somehow found a way to get rid of Francisco Rodriguez‘s contract without having to take a headache off the hands of the team that took him; and he extracted a top tier pitching prospect in Zack Wheeler for Carlos Beltran.

It’s still not enough.

Whether or not the Mets were under siege due to the Bernie Madoff scandal would have little effect on Alderson’s strategy as GM. Rightly or wrongly, he doesn’t want to have a club with a payroll in the $150 million range; if that’s because he wants to appear smarter by doing it cheaper or that he feels he can stock his team just as well as the super-spenders without the capricious spending doesn’t matter if it works.

If the Mets had the access to funds the Yankees and Red Sox do, there’s still no guarantee that they’d allocate such a large chunk of their payroll to Jose Reyes.

It’s not because Reyes—as a talent—isn’t worth it. It’s because the team has multiple needs; Reyes’s injury history to his legs makes him suspect; a large part of his game is based on speed; and another team might jump in and blow them out of the water.

If that’s the case, they’ll have to move on and figure something else out.

Teams do it all the time.

Is Reyes replaceable? As a shortstop, they’re not going to replace him; but for the same reasons outlined in Moneyball, the Mets could find other pieces at various positions for the same amount of money that would be going to Reyes; they can bring in multiple players on the mound; in the outfield; behind the plate and possibly make themselves better and cheaper in the long run.

The Michael Kays of the world will sit in front of their microphones and rant and rave about how the Yankees would never let a key player leave if they really wanted to keep him. Apparently he’s forgotten that Andy Pettitte left the Yankees after the 2003 season to go to the Astros for less money, in part, because of a lack of respect shown to his work and loyalty; that had George Steinbrenner not made a last second phone call to Bernie Williams, the 1999 Yankees would have had Albert Belle and Williams would’ve gone to the Red Sox.

Alderson was hired to be the adult and not respond to public demands that border on the bratty and bullying.

He’s done a very good job in clearing some of the polarizing personalities; dumping money; restoring order and behaving in a rational, well-thought out fashion to do what’s best for the club. He’s also verbally backhanded every media member who tried to exert their will over him, specifically by intimidating the likes of Mike Francesa and Joel Sherman, slapping them down every time they say something idiotic in reference to what Alderson’s thinking without knowing anything about what he’s thinking, planning, doing.

The entire concept of the movie version of Moneyball—amid more silliness and trickery designed to convince the audience that reality isn’t real—was that Scott Hatteberg was a viable replacement for Jason Giambi and the manager of the club, Art Howe, ignored the GM’s demands to play Hatteberg until he had no other option; when Hatteberg played, he came through.

The public doesn’t want to know that Hatteberg was a regular player from the beginning of the season onward; that the Red Sox were lucky with David Ortiz and it wasn’t a grand design of diabolical brilliance; or that the Mets might be better off in the long run if they let Reyes leave.

Accept it or don’t.

It’s not going to alter objective truth one way or the other.

//

Free Agent Strategizing, Texas Style

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C.J. Wilson is going to want a lot of money as a free agent.

Presumably, he’ll have his eyes on an $100 million payday, but that’s not going to happen. I’d expect something closer to the deals A.J. Burnett and John Lackey signed with the Yankees and Red Sox ($82.5 million over 5-years). Undoubtedly whichever team signs Wilson will hope for better results than Burnett and Lackey have provided.

In an interesting side note to the Wilson free agency wheel, the Phillies declined the 2012, $16 million option for Roy Oswalt and are paying him a $2 million buyout. Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has said he’s open to discussing a new contract with Oswalt, but that’s not going to happen. They have to worry about re-signing Ryan Madson and signing Cole Hamels to a long-term deal; plus they need a bat more than they need pitching.

So how do the Oswalt-Wilson maneuverings connect?

Here’s how: the Rangers aren’t getting into a bidding war for C.J. Wilson especially after the doom and gloom surrounding their loss of Cliff Lee and that they won another pennant without him. They’re said to be interested in Yu Darvish and CC Sabathia, but what would make more sense and be in line with their philosophy is to sign Oswalt—who is a Nolan Ryan favorite; is still a great pitcher when healthy; would love to go to Texas; and wouldn’t demand a 5-year contract—shift Neftali Feliz into the starting rotation; pay for a closer like Heath Bell or Francisco Rodriguez; and spend the money that they’ll offer Wilson (figure around $65 million) on two pitchers to fill three holes instead of using all that money to keep one.

The Rangers would have competition for Oswalt, but he’s often spoken about not playing for that much longer nor having interest in the big city and accompanying aggravation, expectations and attention; Oswalt was reluctant to go to Philadelphia, he’s absolutely not going to want to go to New York and he’s not going to want to go to Boston. He probably would prefer to stay in the National League as well, but would make the exception to go to Texas.

The Rangers have done well with players like Josh Hamilton and a manager, Ron Washington, who’ve had personal problems; they could handle and corral K-Rod or deal with Bell’s quirky personality; and they’re nervy enough to take an established closer like Feliz and move him, once and for all, into the starting rotation just as they did with Wilson.

They’ll be just as good or better and won’t be spending all that money on one player while still having other holes to fill and it would fit right into their budget.

//

Farrell’s Choice

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It’s not as painful as Sophie’s Choice, but has the potential to be as tragic.

Blue Jays manager and former Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell has been mentioned as a possibility to take over for Terry Francona as Red Sox manager.

Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos has said that the club doesn’t have a policy of keeping employees against their will, so the door is open from their end to let Farrell leave if that’s what he chooses to do.

There are reasons for Farrell to go. The Red Sox have more money to spend and it’s familiar terrain for him with the way things are run; he knows the players and the media.

But there are compelling reasons to stay in Toronto.

Let’s take a look.

The known vs the “I think I know, but don’t really know”.

We can get into the romantic idiocy of the “rich tapestry of history” with clubs who’ve been around as long as the Red Sox; but the Blue Jays have a pretty good history of their own and a surprising worldwide loyalty.

Would he have the stomach and the wherewithal to walk in and be a different person that who he was as Francona’s pitching coach? To discipline those that need to be disciplined?

Familiarity with the landscape is fine, but Farrell was the pitching coach and not the manager; it’s a different animal to be the man who has to stand there and answer the questions after the loss rather than one of the lieutenants who has authority, but not total authority.

And if he makes the mistake of thinking, “oh, I’ll get through to those guys; they love me”, then he’s walking the plank before he starts.

Strategy, money, and power.

Farrell handled the pitchers well with the Blue Jays, but as has been the case with other pitchers/pitching coaches who became managers like Bud Black, his strategies were questionable when it came to the offense.

The Blue Jays lineups were oddly constructed and didn’t maximize the awesome production of Jose Bautista; Farrell let them try to steal bases at will, running themselves out of innings.

These types of mistakes wouldn’t be allowed to pass in Boston; the front office demands a large say in how the on-field decisions are made; the fans and the media would latch onto one gaffe and let it drag on for a week.

If he thinks the Red Sox are going to pay him more to be their manager than the Blue Jays, he needs to look at the facts surrounding his predecessor and the way the club feels about their managers. The details of Farrell’s contract with the Blue Jays have never been disclosed; this could be residue of the perceived mistakes made by former Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi letting it be known how lowly paid his managers were, thereby limiting their authority with the players because there would be no hesitation for fire them due to financial obligations.

Here’s news: the Red Sox don’t want to pay their managers either; Francona’s salary didn’t break $1 million until he was with the team for two years and had already won a World Series; he didn’t start making truly big money along the lines of other managers with his accomplishments until 2009.

Francona had moderate say-so in personnel to the tune of “we’ll listen to what you have to say and then do what we want”; Farrell would function under the same constraints and probably less at the start.

The stomach to do what must be done.

Would Farrell have it in him to crack necessary heads in the Red Sox clubhouse? To confront Josh Beckett when he pushes the envelope? To tell Kevin Youkilis to quit whining? To advocate the dispatching of Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield? To hit back against the media?

There’s something to be said for the unknown. Not only do the Red Sox need to clear out some of the poison in that clubhouse, but they have to bring in an outsider as manager who won’t have any interest in “we don’t do it this way here”.

Farrell knows how things were done and would be expected to maintain that template.

Just like Francona couldn’t alter his personality to be the guy who flipped the food table or ripped people in the media, the players would know what they’re getting in Farrell and that would be a negative.

The innocent climb vs the establishment.

The obvious choice would be to jump to the Red Sox, but examining their respective rosters and circumstances in an objective way, the Blue Jays are in far better shape than the Red Sox.

They’re younger; they have a load of young pitching with the underrated Ricky Romero; the Cy Young Award-caliber talent Brandon Morrow; plus Kyle Drabek and Henderson Alvarez.

The media expectations aren’t as stifling; the fans aren’t as expectant of success; there’s not a crisis-a-day atmosphere nor the suffocating aura and underlying anger of what went wrong.

The Red Sox are old; they’re in absolute disarray; the media is still picking clean the bones of the rotting corpse of their 2011 collapse and subsequent departures of Theo Epstein and Francona; and there are painful changes that must be made to the clubhouse culture that would render it unrecognizable from what Farrell was a part of for four years.

The dynamic isn’t what it was when he started as Red Sox pitching coach and it grew more infected as the core group and the same management team was kept together.

It’s easy to survey the situation from the safety of Toronto; to speak to people from the Red Sox to find out exactly what happened—the players and his former bosses—and to come to the conclusion, “it wouldn’t happen with me there”; but it might’ve happened with Farrell there.

The Blue Jays are younger; they have some money to spend; they’re hungry; and they’re ready to win.

The question Farrell has to ask himself is does he want to be the obstetrician and oversee the birth of something that could be special?

Or does he want to be the hospice doctor/coroner and dismantle and dissect what may already be dead?

I’d stay in Toronto.

And that’s what Farrell should do.

//

The Albert Pujols Mock Draft

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If Keith Law were to travel back in time to 1999—before he became the unwitting victim caught in the crossfire in that rare moment of Michael Lewis being completely honest; was subject to the formative mind-poisoning of the diabolical J.P. Ricciardi; prior to turning into Mr. Smartypants who played semantical handball with the truth—where would he place Albert Pujols in his indispensable mock MLB draft?

Without getting into another rant about the negligibility of the MLB draft—that it’s not like the NFL or NBA; there are so many variables in a player making in and succeeding in the big leagues that the moneymaking aspect of the MLB draft has sabotaged all comprehension to its randomness—you can’t give the Cardinals credit for taking Pujols any more than you can blame other clubs for passing on him.

Most recently, the revisionist history of why teams missed out on Pujols and the Cardinals were able to snag him (if you consider drafting someone in the 13th round “snagging”) extended to Jonah Keri’s otherwise engaging book about the Tampa Bay Rays, The Extra 2%.

Keri spent an entire chapter using as a basis for the perceived ineptitude of the original Rays regime that they had a workout for Pujols and subsequently snubbed him even after he rocked line drives all over Tropicana Field.

It’s a shaky premise at best.

Every other team missed on Pujols; it was the Cardinals who selected him.

No one thinks that a 13th round pick is going to make it to the big leagues; will be productive; turn into an All Star; or evolve into this—the monster who hit 3 home runs last night and is the best pure right-handed hitter in baseball since Joe DiMaggio.

The excuses are far-ranging and, in a sense, viable.

He had no position. The competition he played against in junior college was mediocre. His grasp of the language was limited. He was skinny. They don’t know how old he was.

Some of them are still in question.

The PED aspect has and will forever hover around Pujols. Unless his name pops up somewhere in a quack doctor’s notes or some drug middleman’s plea deal, he’ll be innocent; but we can never be sure he’s entirely clean. That’s just the way it is today.

As for Pujols’s age, I still don’t believe he’s only about to turn 32.

Be that as it may, such a tremendous player sitting undrafted until the 13th round is a testament to Pujols’s determination to succeed; his latent talent that may have taken a few years to completely manifest itself; the opportunity to play…and the ridiculousness of the draft.

If Pujols had struggled at any point in the minors, he’d have been released or traded—such is the nature of a later round draft pick in whom little money is invested.

That too, is the way it is.

We can let slide some of the star-level names that were taken in the 1st round of that 1999 draft—Josh Hamilton, Josh Beckett, Barry Zito or Ben Sheets; and we can discount the “tools” players like Mike MacDougal and Alexis Rios.

But Eric Munson? Corey Myers? Dave Walling?

And before anyone comes up with the egocentric idiocy of the Yankees “doing most of their damage” in the 20th round and above, they too let Pujols go sailing by; said myth of the Yankees being so astute that they selected star-level players like Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada past the 20th round of the 1990 draft is retrospective nonsense—they got lucky; maybe if Pujols had lasted until round 22, they’d have grabbed him rather than Chris Klosterman.

Would Pujols have been noticed had his name been Josh Pujols?

These factors are indicative of the capriciousness of the draft and no amount of woulda/shoulda/coulda is going to alter that reality.

Would-be MLB draftiks seeking to mimic the admirable Mel Kiper Jr., endeavoring to create a career where there wasn’t one before are ignorant that I could thumb through a copy of Baseball America a week before the draft and find a series of names that would shield me from criticism (and that’s the most important thing, isn’t it?) for taking a certain player over another without having the faintest clue as to whom he is or whether or not he can actually play.

Albert Pujols hit 3 homers in a World Series game last night; this is while he was enduring a savage media onslaught for daring not to speak to them after game 2.

Pujols has a tendency to shut people up the right way—on the field.

Complain all you want for his absence from the microphones, but do so while bowing to him as one of the greatest baseball players in the history of the sport.

Such an appellation gives an automatic break for “unprofessional” behaviors.

He gets away with it because he can.

And he deserves to.

Because he’s the best.

Period.

//

Don’t Expect Miracles From Theo Epstein

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The Cubs paid a lot of money and are going to send undetermined compensation—a prospect or prospects—for the right to hire Theo Epstein while he still had a year remaining on his contract with the Red Sox—Boston.com Story.

Only hindsight will tell whether or not this is a wise move.

In similar fashion, the Red Sox were set to hire Billy Beane from the Oakland A’s after the 2002 season and send a young infielder named Kevin Youkilis to the A’s for the right to do so.

Beane backed out on the deal that was worth over $12 million and had some insane perks such as letting Beane spend a chunk of his time on the West Coast and run the Red Sox from there.

Retrospectively, it’s hard to see Beane having replicated the success enjoyed by Epstein and his staff with the Red Sox. Two championships; an annual contender with homegrown talent; and daily sellouts speak for themselves.

Now Epstein’s the man with the reputation.

But 5-years at $18.5 million? For a team president?

I’m dubious.

What’s Epstein going to do with the Cubs?

First he’s hiring trusted acolytes from the Padres and his days with the Red Sox including current Padres GM Jed Hoyer.

I wondered yesterday why the Padres were letting Hoyer go without compensation since he’s under contract through 2014, but they’re going to receive prospects from the Cubs as well.

I wouldn’t give up players for an executive, but this is the way business is being done today. Don’t automatically dismiss how good the prospects might be because few knew what Youkilis was before Moneyball.

If anyone’s thinking the Cubs are going to be a lean machine of inexpensive “finds” that the “genius” Epstein discovered using some arcane formula that he and only he knows, you haven’t been paying attention.

Back when Beane was set to take over the Red Sox, an important factor in his potential for success or failure is that the details of Moneyball and Beane’s strategies weren’t widely known because the book had yet to be published. He was operating from a personal strategy borne out of desperation that not all were privy to; now, everyone has the same stats and are, again, reliant on old-school scouting techniques; an intelligent manager; superior coaching; smart trades; good free agent signings; and luck.

Those who point to other clubs who’ve been successful on a budget aren’t delving into the requisite factors of a team like the Rays maintaining excellence without any money and a decrepit, uninviting ballpark—they’ve got a load of starting pitching from being so consistently terrible for years; locked up key components like Evan Longoria; and have been masterful at finding bullpen arms and putting them in a position to succeed with an altered approach and a superlative defense.

There’s a baseline of talent with the Cubs—just as there was one with the Red Sox when Epstein was placed in charge there. It’s not as deep nor as good, but they have some starting pitching with Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster and Carlos Zambrano (who’s a lunatic, but might be salvageable); they have Starlin Castro; and relievers Jeff Samardzija, Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol.

It’s not a barren wasteland and there’s no mandate to cut costs due to monetary constraints.

This whole series of events is a bit incestuous and reminiscent of the decried “old boys club” of yesteryear when former players or loyal executives were placed in the perch of GM rather than finding someone qualified to do the job with a breadth of experience in every aspect of running an organization.

Epstein, who wanted to leap from the Red Sox Hindenburg, got his out—and a lot of money and power—with the Cubs.

Hoyer is leaving a situation where he couldn’t spend big and is grabbing the Epstein ladder to be his top lieutenant and run the club on a day-to-day basis while Epstein acts presidential.

Another former Epstein assistant, Josh Byrnes, is taking over in San Diego.

This is a similar dynamic to that which was rebelled against with Moneyball—that “old boys club”. Outsiders have become insiders, except that now, it’s not a litany of former players and longtime employees, but young college graduates who cut their teeth as interns, crunched numbers and worked their way up; it’s reaching its logical conclusion with the failures of such names as Paul DePodesta, whose tenure with the Dodgers was a nightmare that cannot be conveniently laid at the feet of Frank McCourt as many set out to do in his weak defense.

Beane himself has become a punchline.

And that’s a far cry from what was essentially a blank check and contract that Red Sox owner John Henry used to lure Beane to the Red Sox.

In today’s world, a GM has to be savvy to finances, scouting, development and stats; he has to delegate; and he (or she—Kim Ng is going to interview for the Angels job) has to be able to express himself to the media, saying things without saying anything to get into trouble.

Epstein has all these attributes.

But so did Beane.

Could another GM candidate like Jerry DiPoto or Tony LaCava go to the Cubs and do essentially what Epstein’s going to do? What he did with the Red Sox? Spend money, draft well, make some trades that might or might not work out and cover up any free agent mistakes with more money?

Yes.

And could they do it at a cheaper rate than $18.5 million for Epstein; presumably another $5 million for Hoyer; and the prospects that are going to the  Padres and Red Sox?

Again, I say yes.

Time will tell if this was a smart move. Just as the Red Sox were fortunate that Beane backed out on them and they hired Epstein, the Cubs could see one of the people they had a chance to hire go elsewhere and become the man they think they’re hiring now, except another club will benefit from that unknown.

The Cubs got the man they wanted.

We’ll see if it works out or if they would’ve been better off to have had the negotiations come apart, leaving them to hire someone younger and with the same attributes that got Epstein the Red Sox job in the first place.

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Why Would Anyone Want To Be The Orioles GM?

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The problems are familiar and circular.

One recognizable and respected name after another has taken a job with the Baltimore Orioles and been mitigated by ownership meddling and circumstance.

Even with Buck Showalter in place, nothing much has changed; the enthusiasm and excitement from having a manager of his stature quickly receded into the abyss, drowned by vicious competition and a lack of talent.

Why doesn’t Showalter simply take over as GM?

It’d be much easier for everyone.

The club could hire someone to do the grunt work that no one ever realizes is going on with the rock star status that certain general managers enjoy nowadays; Showalter could pick the players and run the entire show doing things the way he wants.

The names that are coming in for interviews are young, impressive and irrelevant; the only benefit they’ll have is to be able to toss their hands in the air and say, “what could I do?” when things go wrong as they did for Pat Gillick, Frank Wren and Andy MacPhail.

In addition to that, the new “boss” won’t have any final say-so with Showalter as the guy in charge. That’s not an advantageous position for a GM to be in whether he’s onboard with it or not.

It’s a resume-builder to say, “I’ve been a GM before”. They can’t win on or off the field and if the Orioles somehow find a way into contention within the new GM’s tenure, the credit will largely go to Showalter.

The Orioles situation is a continuing saga of inertia.

They can hit, but have very little pitching and not much on the horizon in the high minors.

Jeremy Guthrie, Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, Jim Johnson, Alfredo Simon—all have talent; but in that division, the Orioles can’t compete unless they bring in some legitimate arms, but that leads them back onto that failed cycle of overpaying for veterans, seeing them come to Baltimore and fade, repeating the process all over again. If they want to get a “name” free agent like C.J. Wilson or CC Sabathia, they have to drastically overpay and even then they’re not guaranteed to be anything other than a bargaining chip for another club to match or beat their offer.

At this point, until they’re showing marked improvement, why would any free agent with options want to go to Baltimore? The Yankees, Rays and Red Sox have vast talent that the Orioles don’t; and mark my words: the Blue Jays are going to shock baseball in 2012.

Where does that leave the Orioles?

Where they’ve been for the past 13 seasons—on the treadmill. Going nowhere.

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The Red Sox Defections Continue

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The pitching coach is probably the last thing on the Red Sox front office’s mind at the moment, so when Curt Young wanted to return to the Athletics, it appears as if the Red Sox gave a “yeah, whatever” approval.

They’ll get someone else to be the pitching coach. It’s not a tremendous loss and the new manager has a right to at least have his voice heard as to whom the pitching coach is.

But the departure of Young leaves the Red Sox braintrust completely changed from top to bottom along with important lieutenants.

There’s going to be a new GM; a new manager; presumably a new leadership in the clubhouse if, as would be smart, Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield are shown the door; and now a new pitching coach.

It’s an open secret that assistant GM Ben Cherington is going to take over as the new GM; it remains to be seen how much influence Larry Lucchino will exert now that his erstwhile protege/nemesis Theo Epstein is going to the Cubs; the choice of manager will provide a window into who’s running things.

If it’s a prototypical “middle-manager” who’ll do what he’s told, Cherington’s the dominant voice; if they hire an established name manager who’s going to make his presence felt, it’s Lucchino.

When the Red Sox were conducting interviews to replace Grady Little, Lucchino had a conversation with Bobby Valentine. Valentine seemed to think was more of pre-interview interview and Lucchino considered it a chat; Valentine felt Lucchino was feeling him out to see if he was onboard with the across-the-board criticisms that were doled on Little for failing to remove Pedro Martinez from game 7 of the ALCS.

The move sealed Little’s fate; Valentine’s refusal to criticize Little or even say that he disagreed with Little probably ruined Valentine’s chance at the job.

Would Lucchino want to go the “name” manager route that he clearly weighed in 2003? Cherington would want no part of Valentine; the Red Sox clubhouse presumably would not be thrilled about Valentine either; but perhaps that’s what they need—rather than having someone that would be an agreeable choice to the players (as Terry Francona was to Curt Schilling whom they were trying to convince to agree to a trade from the Diamondbacks), maybe they need someone who’s going to be a conservative, old-school hard-liner.

Valentine’s old-school in his treatment of players, but he’s also a longtime advocate of the work of Bill James and would be a good choice to take over the Red Sox and restore order on and off the field.

It would be an interesting dynamic if they go that route and perhaps bring in a pitching coach with “guru” status like Rick Peterson or Valentine’s highly-qualified ESPN partner Orel Hershiser.

Peterson’s shelf-life as a pitching coach is short; the pitchers tire of his constant haranguing, reminders, preparation, hand on the shoulder and in-your-face style, but there’s no questioning his dedication and history of success.

Hershiser is not only a candidate as a pitching coach, but as a manager as well; the cerebral former pitcher is one of the most intense competitors to ever suit up and has the hardware to prove his knowledge and intelligence to express and to teach.

If they’re not going to make any drastic changes to team construction by dumping a Josh Beckett, they must do something other than what caused the dysfunction in the first place. If Francona was too soft and they’re not going to get rid of some big names from the roster who are still imperative to the team’s success, they have to have some discipline. Valentine would be one big move to drop a bomb into that clubhouse. They have to ponder it to prevent a possible downward spiral that will continue into the next several years.

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