Quality Moves, Under the Radar

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While the Marlins and Angels have garnered the headlines with their spending sprees; the Nationals by their overreaching trade for Gio Gonzalez; the Red Sox with their front office and off-field controversies; and Billy Beane for being Billy Beane and therefore worthy of attention just because, two teams have made drastic improvements amid questions, criticisms, ridicule and camouflage.

The Rockies and Indians are poised to leap into serious contention in 2012 because of said acquisitions and they’ve done it relatively cheaply and without fanfare.

Still needing help with their starting pitching, the Rockies are one of the suitors for the underrated and mean Hiroki Kuroda; if they get him, I’ll like their off-season all the more.

Here are the Rockies moves so far:

Signed OF/1B Michael Cuddyer to a 3-year, $31.5 million contract.

I went into detail about the match between Cuddyer and the Rockies in an earlier posting. In short, his defense in right field won’t be an issue because of the Rockies pitching staff’s penchant for getting ground balls; his hitting will improve markedly playing in Coors Field; and he might see substantial time at first base with the recent injury history of Todd Helton. He’s a better player than Seth Smith and will hit and hit for power.

Traded RHP Huston Street to the Padres for minor league lefty Nick Schmidt.

The Rockies sent $500,000 to the Padres (for Street’s 2013 buyout) and cleared the rest of his $7.5 million salary.

Street was not reliable as a closer, gave up too many hits and homers and was expensive; the Rockies dumped him and his paycheck and have Rafael Betancourt to close and Matt Lindstrom to back him up.

Schmidt is 25 and still in A ball. This was a money spin for an organizational warm body and it was a smart thing to do.

Traded C Chris Iannetta to the Angels for RHP Tyler Chatwood; signed C Ramon Hernandez to a 2-year, $6.4 million contract.

Iannetta has pop and gets on base, but he was never able to put a stranglehold on the everyday catching job; Chatwood was one of the Angels top pitching prospects who had an up-and-down season in Anaheim. He’s a ground ball pitcher who should do well in Colorado.

Hernandez is fine with being a part-timer, has power and throws well. He’ll be a perfect tutor to young prospect Wilin Rosario.

Traded INF Ty Wigginton to the Phillies for a player to be named later or cash; signed 3B/1B/OF Casey Blake to a 1-year, $2 million contract.

Wigginton was a fiery player and hit a few homers, but he’s terrible defensively and limited offensively. They’re paying $2 million of his $4 million salary and signed Blake to a 1-year contract for $2 million—basically they traded Wigginton for Blake and it’s a great trade…if Blake is healthy.

Blake missed most of the 2011 season with multiple injuries and required neck surgery.

His health is the key. He’s versatile and is a good fielder; he has power; and Blake is plainly and simply a professional baseball player who goes unnoticed but is a key component to a winning team—the other players, coaches and managers will tell you how good a player a healthy Blake is.

If they add a Kuroda or Roy Oswalt to go along with the package they got last summer for Ubaldo Jimenez, it equates to a strong top-to-bottom club that has repaired the holes that caused their underwhelming 2011 record of 73-89.

The Indians have done the following:

Acquired RHP Derek Lowe from the Braves for minor league LHP Chris Jones and $10 million.

There’s no defending Lowe’s performance for the Braves, but the Indians got an innings-eater and will only pay $5 million of his $15 million salary. When a durable sinkerballer like Lowe is pitching so poorly, the issue is generally mechanical; if the Indians can fix whatever was preventing him from getting the proper movement on his pitches, he can again be effective; perhaps he just needed a change-of-scenery.

Either way, you can’t go wrong for $5 million. With Jimenez, Justin Masterson, Fausto Carmona and Josh Tomlin, the Indians have a formidable rotation backed up by a strong bullpen.

Re-signed CF Grady Sizemore to a 1-year, $5 million contract after declining his option.

Sizemore was a budding star before microfracture surgery derailed him; he’s worked very hard to come back and it took Carlos Beltran (whom the Indians pursued but lost to the Cardinals) a full season to return to relative normalcy after a bone bruise. Although Beltran didn’t need microfracture surgery, the injuries and recovery times are similar. If Sizemore can be 75-80% of what he was, he’s a bargain.

The Indians finished ninth in the American League in runs scored and are looking for another bat, but with full seasons from Jason Kipnis and Shin-Soo Choo along with some semblance of production from first base (they need to sign someone, perhaps Derrek Lee) and Travis Hafner, they’ll score enough to contend in the winnable AL Central.

The Rockies and Indians need to be watched closely in 2012 because they’re legitimate playoff threats without having spent $300 million as the Angels did or hoodwinking their local government to get a new ballpark as the Marlins did.

They did it with under-the-radar acquisitions, bold and clever.

And they’re going to pay off.

***

I’ll be a guest tomorrow with former MLB player Les Norman on his baseball show Breakin’ the Norm on the ESPN affiliate 810 WHB in Kansas City. I’ll link the appearance and post it here.

Spread the word!

//

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Mid-Season Trade Candidates for 2012—Andre Ethier

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Andre Ethier is a free agent at the end of 2012; the Dodgers are fringe contenders at best; their ownership is in flux; and the relationship between team and player is not good.

That makes Ethier a mid-season trade candidate.

Playing in a pitchers park, Ethier has thrived at Dodger Stadium; in fact, for his career, he’s hit much better at home (career OPS .897) than he has on the road (.791). The lefty-swinging Ethier doesn’t hit lefties very well and is a poor defensive right fielder. But if you put him in a hitters park with a predominately ground ball throwing pitching staff (as the Rockies have with Michael Cuddyer), his offensive production would improve and the other factors would mitigate his flaws.

In spite of the flurry of moves the Dodgers have made this winter, they’re not any better than the 82-79 they were in 2011; if anything, they’re probably worse. The NL West is stronger; they can’t expect Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw to repeat their top-of-the-league performances and the rotation is weaker with the departure of Hiroki Kuroda.

Having signed Kemp to a long-term contract extension, the Dodgers made their choice between keeping Kemp and Ethier. Even if a new owner with deep pockets buys the team, there’s little chance that Ethier stays whether Ned Colletti is the GM or not.

A new owner might prefer to bring a more progressive thinker in as GM to replace the old-school Colletti, and by that rationale, they’ll see Ethier’s flaws defensively and lack of ability in hitting lefties as a reason for letting him go. With Colletti and manager Don Mattingly, the relationship is fractured and presumably beyond repair. Ethier missed substantial time with knee issues and accused the organization of forcing him to play hurt.

Given his own history with injuries hampering his career, it’s hard to see Mattingly doing that.

Ethier’s pending free agency and knee problems will be watched closely as the season moves along; if he’s hitting, he’d be a boost to a contending team in need of a short-term bat. The Dodgers probably won’t get anything more than a couple of decent prospects for him, but they’re not contending and if they run the risk of waiting until the end of the season and offer Ethier arbitration to get the draft picks, there’s a chance he’d accept it—that’s the last thing they’ll want.

It’s wiser to trade him and get something tangible; the time to do it is in June or July.

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Mid-Season Trade Candidates for 2012—Hanley Ramirez

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When considering how to approach this posting, something occurred to me: what are the Marlins going to do if they shift Hanley Ramirez to third base, he’s playing there for awhile—be it a week, a month or half a season—and new shortstop Jose Reyes gets hurt with, oh I dunno, a hamstring pull?

What will Ramirez say if he’s asked to move back to shortstop to replace the injured Reyes and then is asked to move back to third when Reyes returns?

If you pay attention to several of the Mets beat writers, Reyes’s hamstring issues aren’t prevalent; he had them early in his career, was completely healthy from 2005-2008, then tore his hamstring in 2010, in part, because of the Mets shoddy medical diagnosis and decision to play him while he was compromised; in 2010, he had a thyroid problem; in 2011, there were two stints on the disabled list because of his hamstring and he didn’t run all out when he came back after the second because he didn’t want to further diminish his paycheck as a free agent.

These are facts.

Reyes’s hamstrings are a weak point whether or not it’s admitted by those who lament the Mets decision to let him depart without an aggressive offer.

The Marlins haven’t found a utility infielder to play shortstop in case of such an eventuality. I suppose Emilio Bonifacio could play shortstop, but he’s not very good defensively at the position; then again, neither is Ramirez. Bonifacio is serviceable at third; the Marlins would be better off with Ramirez at short and either Bonifacio or solid defender Matt Dominguez playing third for however long Reyes is out.

But would they do that?

And would Ramirez get more aggravated than he already is about the shifting back-and-forth?

The Yankees made it a point not to move Alex Rodriguez to shortstop whenever Derek Jeter was out for a day or two when it would’ve made sense. A-Rod was a better defensive shortstop than Jeter’s ever been, but as a conciliatory gesture to Jeter, they didn’t do it. It was silly, but understandable.

Would the Marlins do the same thing? If they do, they’d better get themselves a backup infielder who can play short.

With Ramirez, the silence has been deafening since the public pronouncement that he didn’t want to move to third. The team has successfully tamped down the drama, but it hasn’t been settled. It’s clear they’re not going to trade Ramirez unless he out-and-out demands it and he’s an important part of their offense; for all the flashy moves they’ve made, they’re still flawed at the back of their starting rotation and defensively shaky.

If it gets messy during the season, the Marlins might put Ramirez on the market. He doesn’t have a no-trade clause; he’s signed through 2014 for $46.5 million; if he’s hitting and healthy, he’d bring back multiple pieces—big ones.

The Marlins have shown no mercy in making trades and in spite of Ramirez’s status as a favored son of owner Jeffrey Loria, Loria needs the team to win next year; he’s not going to sacrifice the season and mitigate this winter’s spending spree to placate any player, even one he thinks so highly of and has enabled since his arrival.

There are already people around the Marlins that have had enough of Ramirez’s selfishness and laziness and felt he should’ve been traded away before now.

He’s not being selfish now because he’s not wrong. The Marlins have spent so much money on outsiders while not taking care of Ramirez as the Rockies and Brewers took care of their cornerstones Troy Tulowitzki and Ryan Braun with extensions on top of similar extensions as the one Ramirez had signed in 2008.

But he was wrong in the other instances and allowed to get away with his behaviors; he won a power struggle with Fredi Gonzalez; he survived being threatened by Andre Dawson. Is it so farfetched to think that the opposite can happen in 2012 if the world is crumbling around a disappointing Marlins club in need of a spark?

No.

Ramirez is a name to watch at mid-season because there are all the ingredients in place for a blockbuster.

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Mid-Season Trade Candidates for 2012—David Wright

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It’s obvious that David Wright is a topic for discussion and a potential trade chip for the Mets to bring back some talent and clear salary.

This has nothing to do with websites who claim to have “sources” saying that Wright is about to be traded. Needless to say, they’re dubious; but that doesn’t alter the fact that Wright could be on the move by mid-season 2012.

The Mets finances are an ongoing catastrophe; you’ll get a good sense of where the Wilpons are and where they’re going here in today’s NY Times. But for now, Wright is the remaining link to the contending Mets teams of 2006-2008; he plays a difficult to fill position; and when he’s healthy, he’s still a dangerous, all-around threat at the plate.

The Mets are in a tough situation with Wright in more ways than just financial.

Wright is under contract for 2012 at $15 million and has a club option for 2013 at $16 million. If the Mets trade him, he can (and will) void the option and become a free agent; if they keep him for 2013, they can still trade him, but at that point, the team will have their ownership mess settled whether it’s with the Wilpons (increasingly unlikely) or some new, deep-pocketed person who’ll be in a better position to spend money on players and presumably would want to keep Wright.

His subpar performances in recent years with rising strikeouts and declining defense make him less attractive than he would’ve been if he were playing as he did from 2005-2008.

With the new, shortened dimensions at Citi Field, perhaps he becomes the Wright of 2007. If that’s the case and the Mets are, as expected, out of contention by June, they’re going to have to at least examine the market for Wright.

Will it be worth it for them to hold onto him? What will the trading team be willing to give up for a pending free agent and would he sign an extension to preclude free agency? Would a change-of-scenery to a contender return him to MVP form?

If a team traded for him now, they’d have him for the entire 2012 season, but they don’t know what they’re getting. It doesn’t help that he missed 58 games in 2011 with a back injury.

It’s not a simple matter of “dump him”.

There are three scenarios where Wright will be traded: A) they’re knocked over with an offer; B) the team is so horrific that there are no fans showing up to the park that it makes no sense to keep Wright; or C) ownership orders GM Sandy Alderson to trade him.

My feeling is that they won’t trade Wright at all.

But those possibilities are real; the Mets situation is fluid; and Wright’s one-time status as a foundational player and face of the franchise is tenuous.

Teams will call. The Mets have to listen to what they have to say and think about it very, very seriously before making a decision.

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Mid-Season Trade Candidates for 2012—Felix Hernandez

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Every year at around this time, I pick a few players who normally wouldn’t be available on the trade market and envision scenarios in which they’ll be dealt.

In the past two years, I’ve been right on two who were considered untouchable—Dan Haren and Ubaldo Jimenez.

Let’s spend Christmas with postings on players who fit this profile for mid-season 2012 and start with Mariners righty Felix Hernandez.

The Mariners are still getting calls on Hernandez and they’ll continue to get calls on Hernandez.

Until the Mariners are in a position where they need Hernandez to compete, teams will puruse him; at some point, the answer may change from “not available” to “I’ll listen” and they’ll let it be known he can be had.

How could it happen?

There are ways.

GM Jack Zduriencik could decide that his best asset will yield the biggest return and a team like the Yankees gets crazy and offer 4-5 players for him; or—and this is the most likely scenario—Hernandez grows frustrated with working so hard for a team with no chance of contending and seeing his prime years go to waste that he quietly asks to be moved.

That’s the key word: quiet.

If it’s out there that Hernandez is in play, the Mariners have to trade him; if it’s kept quiet, they can sift through the offers and make a decision based on what best fits their needs.

The Mariners are sort of on the right track and have been sabotaged by bad luck, tragedy and mistaken judgments both personal and professional. Dustin Ackley’s going to be a star; Michael Pineda is an impressive power arm; unless ownership forces Zduriencik to keep him, they’re going to be free from Ichiro Suzuki in the near future as the mercurial right fielder’s contract is up after 2012; and right now, they’re in the market to spend some money on Prince Fielder.

But the Angels and Rangers are tough competition and by June or July, the frustration could lead to the point of the pitcher saying enough’s enough.

And I think it’s going to happen. He’s signed through 2014 and he’s coveted. The Mariners can rebuild the team in one shot if they get the right package and judging from what the Padres were able to pry loose from the Reds for Mat Latos and what the A’s got from the Nationals for Gio Gonzalez, Hernandez could acquire a greater bounty of blue-chip players.

For a team that’s unlikely to contend for 2012 and probably 2013, what good will it do them to have Hernandez fronting the rotation in his contract year of 2014 when they might—might—be ready to make a playoff run?

It wouldn’t. Hernandez is never going to be more valuable to them than he will be in July of 2012 and if they’re hovering around .500 or worse and out of the race in an impossible division, it makes sense to move him for a group of players who will assist them in multiple areas when they are ready to win.

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Pitching Coach Pep Boys

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How much of what a pitching coach says to his bosses when analyzing a potential trade target is legitimate and how much is said for their validation and consumption?

Is it accurate when a coach says, as Rick Peterson reportedly did when the Mets were considering trading Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano, that he could fix Zambrano “in ten minutes”?

Is it the arrogance inherent in so many coaches, managers, executives and players?

Or is it bluster based on reputation?

Needless to say, Peterson did not fix Zambrano in ten minutes. Nor did he fix him in ten months. And he wouldn’t have fixed him in ten years.

On Thursday, the Nationals completed a trade for Athletics lefty Gio Gonzalez.

Gonzalez’s wildness has been well documented and is in black and white for all to see. 183 walks in two years speak for themselves.

Did the Nationals hierarchy discuss Gonzalez with big league pitching coach Steve McCatty? And did he tell them the truth as he saw it or was he influenced by the club’s clear desire to get their hands on Gonzalez at whatever cost?

McCatty famously slammed his hand into the dugout wall when Stephen Strasburg threw that fateful pitch in 2010 in which he tore his elbow in an injury that required Tommy John surgery. I’ve long said that because Strasburg was injured while the Nationals were following organizational edicts and stringent limitations on his innings and pitch counts, no one could be held responsible for the injury; this made it something of a relief when he did get hurt. There was no documented evidence of abuse; no outrageous pitch counts; no “arm-shredding” reputation for anyone.

This in spite of the fact that then-Nats manager Jim Riggleman was the manager in charge when Kerry Wood was overused and abused during the Cubs run toward the playoffs in 1998.

Somehow the onus for Wood and Mark Prior fell two Cubs managers later and Dusty Baker.

It’s about perception.

Will altering Gonzalez’s mechanics give him better control?

Perhaps.

But will doing so make him easier to hit?

Sometimes when a pitcher has funky mechanics and doesn’t know where the ball is going, it contributes to him getting hitters out. Not only does Gonzalez walk a lot of hitters, but he strikes out a lot of hitters as well; and he doesn’t allow many hits or homers.

The funky motion and wildness could be a large portion of that, so making a change that the pitching coach sees as “fixing” him could damage him.

Such was the case with the Pirates when the fired Joe Kerrigan.

Kerrigan was fired, in part, because of the mechanical adjustments he made to former Pirates number 1 draft choice Brad Lincoln.

The main transgressions on the part of Kerrigan were: A) that he was a quirky personality who made his presence felt and imposed on his already weak manager, John Russell; and B) the changes didn’t work.

What did they hire a name pitching coach for if they didn’t want him to do what a name pitching coach does in trying to address issues he may see in a pitcher’s mechanics and approach?

If he didn’t do anything and the pitchers didn’t improve, would he have been fired for that?

Of course.

Anyone can stand there and do nothing.

For years, Leo Mazzone was seen as the “brains” behind the Braves brilliant starting rotation. Then he went to the Orioles and couldn’t repair their pitchers; he hasn’t been able to get a coaching job since.

Why?

Maybe it’s because you can’t make an Astrovan into a Ferrari; you can’t make Kris Benson and Daniel Cabrera into Greg Maddux and John Smoltz.

Peterson and Tom House have theories, stats, stick figures, computer simulations and innovative techniques to help their charges, but they’re also selling stuff.

It’s hard to take people selling stuff at face value.

In spite of his documented and long history of success, Dave Duncan has never auctioned his services to the highest bidder; he’s never sought a managerial job; he’s shooed away anyone who even approached him with the idea that he manage.

He’s a voice you can trust because he’s not hawking a load of junk.

The others? I have my doubts.

I wouldn’t want a yes-man overseeing any part of my organization; nor would I want someone whose main interest is maintaining a reputation at the expense of doing his job. The attitude I prefer is “don’t ask me a question you don’t want the answer to” and with today’s pitching coaches, I wonder whether they’re of the same mind and working to make their charges better or hiding behind a curtain of agreeable self-protection by interpreting what the front office wants to hear and tailoring their responses to that in order to save themselves.

And that’s not how a team should be run.

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Yorvit Torrealba’s Career Damage Caught On Tape

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Yorvit Torrealba just did his career an untold amount of damage with one stupid act. This wasn’t even an explainable blunder like Delmon Young flinging his bat and seeing it hit the home plate ump in a Triple A game—it’s hard to imagine Young having intended to hit the umpire with his bat.

Bumping an umpire is tolerated as part of an argument in which both men are heated, but to raise one’s hand to the umpire whether it’s in the minors, Venezuela or anywhere else is poison to one’s reputation.

What makes it worse is that Torrealba is well-liked in baseball.

The bond between umpires is strong and that this happened in Venezuela won’t matter to the big league umpires when they see it; this is going to cost Torrealba when he begins playing in the big leagues in 2012 and forever more.

Many umpires see the separation between themselves and players as something similar to the police and society—us against them. Some are friendlier than others, but there’s a palpable separation between the communities.

Torrealba can apologize; suspending or expelling him won’t do much good since the season in Venezuela is almost over, but that won’t matter; the damage has been done.

This is going to follow him everywhere he goes and it’s never going away.

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Simple Questions and Complicated Non-Answers With Sam Hurd

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The main question surrounding the arrest of Chicago Bears wide receiver Sam Hurd is the simplest and shortest: Why?

You can read the details of Hurd’s rise and possible fall here in this NY Times article, but the one question we may never receive the answer to is why.

Why would an outwardly decent person, one who remembered his roots and donated his time and money with an attitude of truly wanting to help be leading a double life that has led to allegations of cocaine distribution and an apparent desire to be an outright drug lord?

It’s a simple and short question and in spite of the rampant speculation from amateur psychologists and would-be insightful writers, the final answer can only be that we don’t know.

We may never know.

What explains the duality?

It defies explanation to risk a lucrative career playing a sport to involve himself in an endeavor that is more lucrative and more risky to both his life and freedom than football could ever be.

Was Hurd trying to use his involvement in children’s camps, his dedication to the church, and seemingly sincere efforts to help others a mere cover for his dark activities?

It’s understandable for those caught in sex scandals; extramarital affairs; (multiple) paternity suits; PEDs; DUIs; gambling; who lose their money in shady and ill-advised deals; and even domestic incidents. Sometimes public shame even scares the transgressor straight. But what Hurd is accused of being involved in isn’t a case of someone who introduced one friend from his neighborhood to a nightclub acquaintance and got caught up in a sting while having done nothing of consequence other than making an introduction; this is a man who’s accused of making the decision to become a rising star in the drug business while he was an active NFL player.

So was it fake?

Was Hurd playing a part to make himself look like an upstanding member of the community who was grateful for his good fortune and wanted to pay it forward to others?

Or was he a hardened criminal for whom jail was a part of doing business and whose selfish interests trumped common sense?

Drug dealers don’t think of themselves as public enemies; their logic is such that they’ll say, “No one’s forcing my customers to buy my product; and if I don’t sell it to them, someone else will; at least I’m doing something positive with a portion of the money by giving back to people who need it.”

There’s occasionally a logical reason behind it when they say they can’t support their families any other way. Sometimes it’s used to make a better life for future generations.

Agree with it or not, it’s logical.

Then the slope becomes even more slippery with such “upstanding” entities like Enron; Bernie Madoff; Bill Conlin; Joe Paterno—legal and respected people, oblivious to the destruction in their wake as they shun consequences and moral propriety by hiding unspeakable awfulness for their own interests, consciously blurring the lines between perceived right and wrong.

Is Hurd an evil entity? Did he get a buzz from the rush of not playing by the rules? Was he thinking he wouldn’t get caught? Or was he trying to accumulate wealth by any means necessary and use a portion of it positively?

The downfall of every gambler and drug dealer is greed.

Because the subsets to the question why are so vast and variable, any response is going to be justifiable in some way whether societally acceptable or not.

And we may never know the full answer.

Because there isn’t one.

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It’s a Gio!!!!

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Let’s look at the Gio Gonzalez trade and its ramifications for all parties.

B-B-B-Billy and the Nats.

As I said in my prior posting, based on the flurry of trades he made and prospects acquired, the floating barometer of genius for Billy Beane is back in the green zone.

Of course it’s nonsense. The players may make it; they may not. You can get analysis of the youngsters here on MLB.com. The way the trade is being framed, it looks like the Nationals overpaid for a talented but wild lefty in Gonzalez.

The A’s are building for a future that may never come in a venue they don’t have assurances will be built—ever.

The Nationals are again hopping between two worlds. On one planet, they’re building for the future with young players Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Ryan Zimmerman, Wilson Ramos, Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen, Danny Espinosa and Bryce Harper—along with the top-tier prospects they’ve accumulated in recent drafts; on the other, they’re signing to massive contracts background talents of advancing age like Jayson Werth.

Which is it?

If he’s healthy and throws strikes, Gonzalez will add to the Nats improving starting rotation.

Those are big “ifs”.

Right now, if things go right for the Nationals, you can make the case that they’re better than the Marlins, are going to be competitive with the Braves and maybe even the Phillies if they begin to show their age.

That would be an extreme case of things going “right”, but we’ve seen it happen in recent years as the 2008 Rays came from nowhere to go to the World Series.

The Gonzalez Chronicles.

The Red Sox were said to be pursuing Gonzalez as well; with their limited cupboard of prospects, they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) match what the Nats traded away.

What their decision to bid on him at all does it open up a series of questions as to how much influence new manager Bobby Valentine is having on the composition of his roster.

When he was the manager of the Mets, Valentine was against GM Steve Phillips’s acquisition of Mike Hampton at Christmastime 1999; Valentine felt Hampton was too wild.

If that’s the case, then what does he think of Gonzalez, who’s walked over 90 batters in each of the past two seasons?

It could be that Valentine has evolved from his earlier beliefs.

Maybe he thinks Gonzalez would’ve been worth it.

Perhaps he’s being conciliatory and flexible in his first few weeks on the job.

Or he’s being ignored.

The Yankees stayed away from Jonathan Sanchez because GM Brian Cashman didn’t want a pitcher that wild. He wasn’t going to mortgage the system for Gonzalez when they’re still after Felix Hernandez.

Other teams were chasing Gonzalez, but the Nats blew them away.

Those teams were smart to steer clear; Beane was savvy to deal Gonzalez now and use the A’s teardown as a cover; and the Nats are taking an enormous leap of faith with a pitcher who’s going to aggravate them with his inability to find the strike zone.

There are better pitchers on the market via free agency (Edwin Jackson; Roy Oswalt); and trade (Gavin Floyd, Jair Jurrjens)—all are superior options to Gonzalez.

Gonzalez is a deep and risky bomb for the Nats that I wouldn’t have attempted.

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Beane Goes Back to Basics and the Worshippers Rejoice

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In trading Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill for packages of prospects, Billy Beane returns to his roots in accumulating pitchers who rack up strikeouts and hitters who have power and get on base.

History has shown that it works…sometimes.

And it doesn’t work….sometimes.

So the lustful Beane demagoguery starts again as he is somehow shielded from blame for anything that’s gone wrong with the team he put together.

Moneyball is over and it’s been shown to be a farce in theory and practice, yet still survives the eager anticipation (it’s almost Christmas morning—an appropriate time of year) for such indulgences as Beane executes another housecleaning.

The up-and-down results of the prior flurries of deals he made can be glossed over; the reasons as to why he’s doing what he’s currently doing can be formulated and chanted like a mantra—there’s an inability to compete in a loaded division; the A’s have limited attendance due to an antiquated and uninviting stadium; they have to tear it down due the uncertainty of a planned new stadium in San Jose—all make some semblance of sense.

Or they’re convenient excuses for him to be absolved for whatever goes wrong while maintaining the credit for being, as J.P. Ricciardi said in Moneyball, “smarter than the average bear”.

Is he smarter than the average bear?

No.

He’s an average bear.

No more, no less.

The Gonzalez trade might have been made even if the A’s were a good team with realistic aspirations of contention. He has trouble throwing strikes and, as I said in an earlier post, is walking the fine line between being a star and turning into Oliver Perez; he’s about to get a big raise in arbitration; his mechanics are clunky; and his style isn’t conducive to consistency.

The trade of Cahill also yielded an impressive cast of young, cheap players; but what’s the point of even trying anymore when you have a consistent, innings-eating winner who’s signed to a reasonably long-term contract and he’s traded away just “because”?

Beane’s list of floating excuses is vast and overused.

Excuses.

For someone who was portrayed as the master of the bottom-line and cutting through the clutter and nonsense, excuses have become the hallmark of Billy Beane and his tenure as the A’s GM.

While he was on top of the world winning with a minimalist payroll, the annual loss in the playoffs was chalked up to the post-season being a “crapshoot”.

His drafts—said to be the dawn of a new era in which card-counting based on verifiable statistics was going to reinvent the game—were as pedestrian as everyone else’s regardless of the methods they were using to find players.

His treatment of his managers has been capricious and occasionally cruel.

And his reputation among the casual fans or curious onlookers who read the creative non-fiction of the book Moneyball and saw the dramatic license (and utter lies) in the movie has been rejuvenated to again give rise to the concept that he’s a transformative figure in baseball.

All he did was have the nerve to implement the statistical analysis that had been around for years yet hadn’t been utilized to the degree that Beane used them; he did it out of sheer necessity and it worked.

But once the rest of baseball caught up to him, he slithered like a snake into his new role: that of the shrugging and hapless everyman wearing a resigned grin; the poor individual who can’t hope to compete due to the untenable circumstances in every conceivable sense.

It’s a vicious circle.

The same things that are being said now were said when he traded Dan Haren, Nick Swisher, Joe Blanton, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder. Some of those trades worked well for the A’s and some didn’t; but to take this latest array of veteran disposal as a return to the days of yore and glory—when Beane had the Midas touch and his mere gaze caused mountains to crumble at his sheer will—is partaking in a fantasy that his worshippers refuse to let go even if reality casts its ugly shadow again and again.

You can find analysis of the prospects he received from the Nationals and Diamondbacks anywhere, but know the truth before buying into it because it’s been said before.

Repeatedly and inaccurately.

And will be so again.

I guarantee it.

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