Prince Fielder Cannonballs Into Detroit

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All the interpretations and projections are meaningless. What the Tigers defense is going to look like with Prince Fielder at first base and Miguel Cabrera at third, the speculation of how they’ll be declining by 2015, and the overwrought aghast at Fielder’s 9-year, $214 million contract—all are secondary and below to a simple analysis of the Tigers’ decision to pay Fielder: Owner Mike Ilitch has the money to spend, the Tigers have the need for a bat, Fielder was available and the Tigers purchased him.

Nothing else really matters.

Yes, he was the biggest player—literally and figuratively—left on the market and will create buzz.

Yes, there’s a legacy issue because it was in Detroit that Prince’s father Cecil Fielder returned from Japan and became a star.

Yes, the Tigers took an on-paper leap past the other teams in the AL Central.

Facts, numbers and contract details are not what Tigers fans want to hear now, nor are they of great concern to Ilitch, manager Jim Leyland or the veterans on the roster who want to win.

Fielder does create something of a redundancy with Cabrera. They’ll have to figure out who goes where when Victor Martinez returns either in late 2012 or by 2013.

Prince and Cecil are not on the best of terms, so this wasn’t due to sentimentality—the Tigers paid and Prince signed.

Ilitch and Leyland are not worried about 2015.

While the afterglow and shock are wearing off and the Eric Ortiz lust piece about last season’s Red Sox is edited by Detroit propagandists to insert the word “Tigers” instead of “Red Sox”, remember that dream teams rarely fulfill those expectations and this signing doesn’t automatically hand the Tigers the division title or a playoff spot.

But they’re better. The owner has a lot of money and he spent it.

If and when the predicted doomsday scenario comes to pass, the Tigers will likely have a new manager replacing Leyland; the owner will be extremely old; and Justin Verlander will have three more years of wear on his arm.

This is a now move by an owner who wants a baseball championship sooner rather than later and building for 2016 isn’t going to do him or Leyland much good.

With Martinez out for all or most of the season, the Tigers 2012 was in jeopardy before February. The contract they gave Fielder rectified the situation now. And in its immediate aftermath, no one’s worried about 2015, least of all the 82-year-old owner who realizes that in spite of all his money, he can’t take it with him.

Money is fleeting. A championship lasts forever. That’s what Ilitch wants and he’s willing to pay to get it.

And pay he did.

//

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The Astros’ New Name

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The Houston Sabers.

It immediately came to me like a bolt of Force Lightning from my Sith fingertips when I read the following tidbit from the NY Times:

ASTROS CONSIDER NAME CHANGE The new Houston Astros owner, Jim Crane, is considering changing the name of the franchise as well as its uniforms.

Crane said Monday that the team would conduct a study to decide whether to switch the name.

The team was established in 1962 as the Colt .45s and has been called the Astros since 1965, when it was changed to coincide with the move to the Astrodome.

Any changes would not happen until 2013, when Houston moves to the American League.

“We had the Colt .45s, and everybody liked that one,” Crane said. “So you can imagine how upset they were when we switched that. What you get when you look at the fan base is the older we get and I’m old, you don’t like to change. But the younger fans are very receptive to change and the older ones aren’t, so that’s what we saw with the American League.”

If the Astros do change their name, I suggest the new name reflect their organizational philosophy and attach itself to something that’s going to attract the Sabermetrics crowd that’s already lining up to worship at the altar of new GM Jeff Luhnow and his lieutenants, the Director of Decision Sciences (whatever that is) Sig Mejdal and Coordinator of Amateur Scouting Stephanie Wilka.

They even interviewed Keith Law! And, depending on who you believe, supposedly offered him a job. Of course that would mean you believe…Law, since Law was the only one who provided any information on this implied (not said, implied) job offer which he graciously turned down (or was never offered) to remain at ESPN.

Apart from a morbid curiosity of how bad they’re going to be; when manager Brad Mills will be fired; which injury lands Fernando Martinez on the disabled list; or if they somehow find a taker for Carlos Lee, there’s really no reason to watch the Astros.

They have to find a way to get people to pay attention to them.

Presumably, Crane will be smart and use this consideration as an opportunity to garner that attention for his club—a club that’s going to be atrocious for the next two seasons before the switch to the American League—and have fans weigh in on what the new name should be.

Whether the new strategies are going to work is the question and I’m curious to see the answer myself.

But if they’re thinking of a new name, there’s only one that fits into the evolving blueprint: the Houston Sabers.

There’s no other choice.

//

Tim Lincecum and the Giants Rewrite the New Age Rules

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Tim Lincecum has never been a conventional pitcher.

From the way he and his stage-father dictated to teams that were interested in drafting him that there would be no deviation in his unique motion, to the Giants decision not to treat him as a delicate flower that would disintegrate at a strong wind by establishing ludicrous and random edicts on his workload, Lincecum’s always been different and the Giants, to their credit, have enabled him.

Unlike other pitchers like Stephen Strasburg, there was no long-term plan to count innings and pitches in a manner that was more applicable to keeping him from getting hurt and shielding the organization from criticism at the expense of developing him to be the best he could be. Lincecum pitched in 13 minor league games before heading to San Francisco. In the minors and majors in 2007, he threw a total of 177 innings. In 2008, he logged 227 and won the first of back-to-back Cy Young Awards. His innings totals have been over 212 in every year since his rookie campaign.

For an organization that’s been called antiquated in their personnel decisions, the Giants may be leading a full circle revival to a return of the old-school days by letting young pitchers pitch and not nitpicking their innings and pitch counts so they can stay healthy when they’re 28 and on the free agent market so the Yankees and Red Sox can give them the free agent money a team like the Giants can’t.

That Lincecum iconoclasm and Giants’ “antiquated” methods are extending to their contract negotiations.

If the performance of Lincecum were replicated in another venue, the team and player would have come to an agreement on a long-term deal after the first year or two of his career. Most would want the mutual security of a guarantee for the player and cost certainty for the team.

Not Lincecum.

He’s willing to put his money where his mouth is and function on what amounts to a biennial back-and-forth of threatening to go to the arbitration table before hammering out a very lucrative—and short-term—contract.

Confident enough to expect to continue having the same success he’s had so far, Lincecum deviates from the norm on and off the field. This uniqueness has led to him becoming something of a cultural phenomenon. He’s extremely small for a pitcher in today’s game; he shuns conventional postgame recovery tactics like icing his arm; and that personality extends all the way to his long flowing black hair and alternative, borderline hippie style.

Because he’s left to his own devices as a player, he’s not subject to the self-doubt that permeates the psyche of even the most established players.

With that in mind, he refused the Giants overtures to sign a 5-year, $100 million contract to buy out his remaining arbitration years and first three years of free agency.

This would’ve provided him with a 9-figure payday even if he never threw another pitch—something that’s a possibility with any pitcher regardless of his dedication and the team’s diligence in keeping him healthy.

But he decided that he wanted a shorter-term deal and to take his chances.

With that in mind, Lincecum and the Giants have reached a verbal agreement on a 2-year, $40.5 million deal to avoid arbitration for this year and next.

He wants to maximize his dollars and if he happens to get hurt before the day he’s on the open market, so be it.

For someone who puts forth the public face of the gentle soul who’d be comfortable living in a commune, Lincecum is ruthless on the field and an unfettered capitalist off it.

Most players would’ve taken the money and ran.

But most players aren’t allowed to think for themselves and figure out their issues on their own without interference from the front office, managers and coaches.

Lincecum is taking a risk by going the short-term route and waiting out his opportunity at free agency, but if he maintains his level of work, he’s going to make a lot more money than he would if he settled for safety rather than trusting himself and what he’s been taught.

The logic on the Giants part seems to be that if his bullets are going to be spent, they’ll be spent as a Giant.

For Lincecum, he’s investing in himself and his belief that the techniques taught to him by his dad will yield long-term durability.

In an age of baseball pitchers being something of an underdeveloped nation through overprotective paranoia, it’s somewhat refreshing.

No.

It’s very refreshing.

//

The Red Sox Freed Up Money To Sign…Cody Ross?

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There’s a strange enthusiasm about the Red Sox signing of Cody Ross.

Here are the facts:

Unless they have another acquisition or deal on the burner, exchanging Marco Scutaro for Ross made no sense.

It’s easier to find an outfield bat for $3 million or less than it is to find a shortstop that can catch the ball and is as productive at the plate as Scutaro was.

The Scutaro trade was a salary dump. Those suggesting that the Red Sox saw “something” in Clayton Mortensen are hedging their bets in case Mortensen gets to Boston and becomes useful—they don’t want to have their words flung back at them. He’s on organization number four—a journeyman—who walks as many batters as he strikes out. He’s an inexpensive long-reliever with a minor league option remaining.

Basically, the Red Sox took half the money they saved on Scutaro, weakened shortstop and signed an extra piece in Ross. They’d have been better off signing Kosuke Fukudome or Rick Ankiel.

And I say this liking Cody Ross because he’s a tough player with pop.

He’s just an odd fit for a Red Sox team that needs another veteran starting pitcher more than exchanging Scutaro for Ross.

This is what the Red Sox just purchased.

Ross is a mistake hitter who, when a pitcher gives him a fastball in a spot he can handle, will take it over the Green Monster. For the most part, he hits the ball back up the middle and his main claim to fame is that he hammers Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels.

Halladay and Hamels aren’t pitching in the AL East.

Ryan Sweeney hits lefties really well, so one would assume that Ross and Sweeney will share right field.

I would not have traded Scutaro for Ross, and I definitely wouldn’t have traded Scutaro for a Ross who’s only going to play against left-handed pitchers.

They paid $3 million for a fourth outfielder who’s going to get 300 at bats.

If payroll constraints weren’t affecting the Red Sox maneuverings, I’d say go ahead and sign Ross as an extra bat; but they are affecting the Red Sox maneuverings and the money should’ve been allocated elsewhere since Scutaro was traded specifically to free up half of it.

Ross is an okay player. He plays good defense in the outfield, can play all three positions and is a feisty competitor. He doesn’t walk and strikes out a lot.

If they decided that he was more valuable than Scutaro—playing a harder position to fill—then I have to question where they’re getting their metrics and scouting judgments…or who’s making these determinations.

Back to the Duquette days.

New GM Ben Cherington began his career with the Red Sox under former GM Dan Duquette and worked closely with Epstein.

I seriously doubt he would choose the Duquette method of fill-in veterans around stars rather than a deep, strong foundation in building his club, but that’s what’s happening and it has the fingerprints of Larry Lucchino all over it.

The Red Sox are not giving Cherington the blank check or the freedoms his predecessor Epstein had. Epstein accumulated the cachet to go to ownership and get the budget expanded to acquire expensive veterans if he said he needed them. After the debacle of 2011, Cherington does not have that ability. He also has Lucchino meddling in team construction and was nudged to hire a manager, Bobby Valentine, he clearly didn’t want.

Let’s call this what it is.

The Red Sox are no longer operating with a plan in place, but are doing things based on haphazard edicts and a regression to the dysfunction that was a hallmark of the club before Epstein took charge.

This is not a good thing.

Duct tape and glued, divergent blueprints

The Red Sox have enough talent to maintain competitiveness, but there’s an air of desperation to “do something” along with financial demands and overt interference from the non-baseball people as if the crumbling fortunes from 2011 were a signal that the baseball ops had lost their collective abilities to do their jobs.

It’s easily forgotten that Epstein never wanted to spend, spend, spend to keep up with the Yankees; the demands of winning evolved to its logical conclusion as anything short of a World Series win became known as failure and the baseball people reacted accordingly and mistakenly.

They spent and overspent on “names”, shunning or dispatching the farm system that was one of the keys to putting the championship teams together in the first place.

Now, rather than intelligently repairing what ails them, they hired Valentine; they traded more young players for Andrew Bailey and Sweeney; they signed Ross.

They’re using duct tape in an attempt to patch the flaws and return to their winning ways.

But there’s nothing coherent. They’re filling in the potholes without fixing them. Multiple factions are gluing together separate blueprints—and that’s very hard to navigate successfully.

They’re all over the place in their decisions and implementations.

It shows on their roster and, unless they have some diabolical scheme ready to be unleashed, it’s going to show on the field as well.

//

Finding Reason with the Red Sox

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The Red Sox have seemed discombobulated since September and that didn’t change once the statuses of manager Terry Francona and GM Theo Epstein were resolved.

(If you were in hibernation, they both left.)

There’s an air of dysfunction remaining as the continuity of maneuvers that was there under Epstein is gone.

Who’s in charge?

Is it new GM Ben Cherington?

Is it CEO Larry Lucchino?

How much say is new manager Bobby Valentine having in the team construction?

Does anyone know?

Epstein deserves a large portion of the blame for the way the team came apart in 2011. Going back as far as 2007, Epstein was purchasing products to impress his neighbors rather than adhering to a plan of attack. It worked in 2007 as they won the World Series, but in subsequent years it became a case of diminishing returns. They literally and figuratively got fat with a bloated payroll and disinterested demeanor.

Regardless of how you view Epstein’s tenure with the Red Sox—whether you think he received too much credit as a media creation backed up by money or was a true front office visionary—there was no question of who was in charge. Following his tantrum-fueled resignation after the 2005 season and eventual return, he won the power struggle with Lucchino.

It was Theo’s team.

Once Epstein left, Lucchino wasted no time in asserting himself with Cherington and whispering in the ear of owner John Henry.

The simplest question as to whom is truly running things was answered when Valentine was hired as manager.

Ask yourself this: Had Epstein stayed, would the Red Sox have hired Valentine?

No.

Cherington was Epstein’s protégé and he would’ve wanted to hire a manager who had less personality, a closed mouth and did what he was told by upper management.

That’s not Valentine.

The latest maneuver the Red Sox made is under scrutiny as they traded shortstop Marco Scutaro to the Rockies for journeyman righty Clayton Mortensen.

This is a clear salary dump and the speculation has centered around freeing up money to sign Roy Oswalt and fill a glaring need in the starting rotation.

You may ask, why would a team like the Red Sox, with a $160 million+ payroll, be worried about the relative pittance that Scutaro is making in 2012, $6 million?

It’s clear by now that the vault is closed. Partially due to the new luxury tax rules that are coming into effect and partially due to the failures of the high-priced signings made by Epstein—Carl Crawford, John Lackey and Bobby Jenks—they’re not going to toss more money into the air to fix it anymore.

It comes down to this: they have enough offense to cover for a lighter-hitting shortstop than Scutaro and can get by with a combination of Mike Aviles and Nick Punto as long as they’re not utterly inept with the glove and bat. They need an arm and needed to clear some cash to get it, so they dumped Scutaro.

Some have suggested that they might shut their eyes and play rookie Jose Iglesias for his glove. I can tell you right now that Valentine is not going to play an untested rookie shortstop while he’s under the mandate to win and working under a 2-year contract.

It’s going to be the veterans Aviles and Punto and the Red Sox are going to make a move on a pitcher.

Would Epstein have done this?

It doesn’t really matter, does it?

Because he’s gone.

But that’s not the problem.

There biggest issue with Epstein’s departure isn’t that he’s irreplaceable; it’s that no one seems to know who’s in charge.

And it doesn’t appear as if the Red Sox know either.

//

Doug Mirabelli’s Post-Career Arbitration Case

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It’s arbitration time in MLB and there are cases being heard and decided all month.

In today’s NY Times Business section there’s an article about former Red Sox catcher Doug Mirabelli winning a different kind of arbitration case—this one against his former Merrill Lynch adviser.

You can read the article here on NYTimes.com.

Briefly, there was an agreement that the investment account was never supposed to go below $1 million; when it did, the Mirabelli was forced to sell some of the assets to cover the loss.

The Mirabellis sued and won.

This type of story humanizes players to a remarkable degree. There’s an idea that because a professional athlete is a professional athlete, that they’re set for life and it doesn’t always work out that way.

Mirabelli’s career earnings as a player—according to Baseball-Reference—were nearly $7 million.

Of course that’s a lot of money, but in a sport where a player like Alex Rodriguez is making almost that amount per month, it’s comparatively low.

Mirabelli carved out an unlikely career and something of a cult following because of his image as a beefy, workmanlike, lunchpail player whose job it was to catch Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.

He was a little bit better than that when he got a chance to play regularly, but that’s how he’s remembered.

But he didn’t make enough money for a family man to live the rest of his life without worries and is now working as a real estate agent in Michigan.

Some players have to work after their careers are over.

It takes this type of revelation to bring to light the humanity of athletes.

Shady people buzz around money and try to sell the public figure with the supposedly big paycheck on investing, spending lavishly and spreading their wealth around—even if they don’t have all that much wealth to begin with.

There are players who toss their cash into the air and see that it’s gone before they realized they had it; then there are others like Mirabelli who put their money in “safe” places and find themselves having to pay for the shortfall because they trusted someone who was working for a company that’s seen as established and respected.

At least Mirabelli was paying attention. There are many other professional athletes who don’t; who find it’s easier not to think about it, don’t worry about it and get caught up in schemes that they had no clue they were a part of and wind up penniless.

For every former athlete like Magic Johnson who invested his money wisely and is something of a business titan, there are ten Antonio Cromartie-types who have loads of kids with loads of women and wind up handing their paychecks over to lawyers and disgruntled former flames.

It’s happened before and it’s going to happen again because averting one’s attention or shirking their responsibility for their own finances is easier than taking control.

It’s also profoundly stupid.

//

The Scorpion That Stung Brian Cashman

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Everyone knows the fable of the Scorpion and the Frog.

A scorpion, looking for a change in his life, set out on a journey to find a new home. He came to a river and, when he couldn’t find a way across, asked a frog if he’d let him ride his back to the other side of the river.

The frog was suspicious that the scorpion was going to sting and kill him. The scorpion explained that he wouldn’t do that while they were going across because then they both would die; nor would he do it when they reached the other side of the river because he’d be so grateful for the help that he’d let the frog live.

Of course, halfway across the river, the scorpion stung the frog. The frog asked the scorpion why he did it and the scorpion said, “it’s in my nature”.

This fable reminds me of A.J. Burnett.

A thing is what it is and can be nothing other than that.

A.J. Burnett is a talented pitcher.

But A.J. Burnett is not a good pitcher.

There’s a big difference. Now, at age 35, the days of possible evolution are over.

They probably never really existed.

This is what he is.

The Yankees are desperately trying to unload Burnett and the $33 million he’s owed through 2013 and unless they eat a significant chunk of it or exchange it for another club’s headache/onerous contract (Chone Figgins for example), no one is taking Burnett.

When the Yankees signed him, they held a joint press conference introducing both Burnett and CC Sabathia. The idea seemed to be that because they were paying him like a superstar and treating him like a superstar, he’d become a superstar.

That hasn’t happened.

But Burnett is being blamed for being Burnett and it’s not fair.

What did they think they were getting?

Burnett’s been somewhat worse than what his career averages were when he arrived in New York, but not by much. It’s been within the margin of expectations as his ERA has risen by a run from his career level in the past two seasons, but that could be a natural decline for a pitcher in his mid-30s rather than any mental or physical limitations.

He’s wild, he allows a lot of home runs and his power fastball/wicked curve combination have never yielded the results over the long term that each and every one of his teams has expected. Of all the teams that had Burnett, the one that got the most value from him was the team that drafted him—the Mets—because they traded him for Al Leiter in February of 1998 and Leiter was a linchpin to the good Mets teams of the late 1990s-2000.

Was it arrogance on the part of the Yankees thinking that slotting Burnett into the middle of their rotation with a strong bullpen and a club that scored a lot of runs would gloss over his frailties and allow him to win 15 games a year, give them 200 innings and render it meaningless when he walked a load of hitters and had the occasional game in which he gave up 10 runs?

Possibly.

It actually sort of made sense.

In the winter of 2008-2009, they had the money to spend and Burnett was coming off a fully healthy season for the Blue Jays where he seemed to have figured it all out. The Yankees wanted to appease their spoiled and angry fanbase with some drastic and expensive signings to make up for their first season of missed playoffs since 1994 so they signed Mark Teixeira, Sabathia and Burnett.

They hoped Burnett would continue evolving and he regressed.

A pitcher like Burnett never figures it out and there’s no reason to blame him for that.

He’s consistent in his inconsistency just as he’s always been.

The Yankees might find a way to get rid of Burnett, but it’s never going to answer the questions of what they thought they were getting when they signed him. There’s no reason to be mad at him for being who he is. They paid for Burnett and that’s who they got.

He’s the scorpion that stung Brian Cashman.

Because he’s A.J. Burnett.

It’s in his nature.

//

Billy Beane’s House of Lies and Simplified Math

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Another defense of Billy Beane and his “strategy” for 2012 is presented by Richard Justice MLB.com—link.

Let’s deal in facts, shall we?

Here are the players the Athletics have acquired this winter and their 2012 salaries:

Seth Smith: $2.415 million.

Bartolo Colon: $2 million.

This is a total of $4.415 million for two exceedingly mediocre “name” new additions.

Here are the departures:

Trevor Cahill: $3.5 million (guaranteed through 2015 at $29 million with options in 2016 and 2017).

Gio Gonzalez: $3.25 million (arbitration eligible for the first time).

Craig Breslow: filed for arbitration and asked for $2.1 million; was offered $1.5 million.

Andrew Bailey: arbitration eligible for the first time; figure a contract of $1.5 million.

David DeJesus: $4.25 million (2-years, $10 million guaranteed from the Cubs).

Josh Willingham: $7 million (3-years, $21 million guaranteed from the Twins).

Hideki Matsui: was paid $4.25 million in 2011 and is unsigned for 2012.

Michael Wuertz: was paid $2.8 million in 2011 and is unsigned for 2012.

Rich Harden: was paid $1.5 million in 2011 and is unsigned for 2012.

All for a total of $29.85 million based on what they’re guaranteed for 2012 or what they were paid in 2011.

These are the raises for players they’ve kept:

Kurt Suzuki: $1.6 million.

Coco Crisp: $250,000.

Brandon McCarthy: $3.275 million.

Grant Balfour: $25,000.

Brett Anderson: $2 million.

Daric Barton: $675,000

Joey Devine: $180,000

Adam Rosales: $175,000

That’s a total of $8.18 million.

Adding $8.18 million+$4.415=$12.33 million.

Subtracting $12.33 million from $29.85 million comes to $17.52 million.

So from a payroll of $55 million in 2011, the A’s have slashed a total of $17.52 million.

Justice writes:

When (Beane) looked at the A’s after the 2011 season, he saw a third-place club that had neither the payroll nor the Minor League talent to make a dramatic improvement. He had $51 million in contract commitments for 2012 and a $55 million budget even before attempting to re-sign his starting outfield of David DeJesus, Josh Willingham and Coco Crisp (only Crisp will be back).

“I had to look at it honestly,” he said. “Look at the moves the Angels and Rangers have made. They’re going to have payrolls rivaling the Red Sox and Yankees. It just seemed foolish to go forward with a third-place team that was losing significant parts. We felt we had to do something dramatic.”

“Honestly”? Beane uses the word “honestly”?

Where is he getting these numbers from?

They could’ve dumped Crisp’s $5.75 million and found another, cheaper center fielder somewhere who would do pretty much the same things Crisp does. Or they could’ve just stuck Josh Reddick out there and given him the chance to play every day. What did they need Crisp for?

McCarthy just had his first season of moderate health after bouncing from the White Sox to the Rangers and having repeated shoulder problems—which also cost him eight starts in 2011—and failing as a top prospect. The only way the Athletics were able to sign him was because he was short of options for a rotation spot. He’s their new ace?

Someone would take Balfour and his fastball.

Barton was acquired in the Mark Mulder trade (one of the prior teardowns) and Beane clings to him as if he’s hoping against hope that someday he’ll fulfill that potential.

The mischaracterizations and fabrications inherent in Moneyball—the book and the movie—are continuing unabated and unchallenged. Replete with salable buzzwords implying the same party line for his constituency, it goes on and on.

There’s a separation from rebuilding and collecting prospects and ratcheting up the rhetoric to maintain the veneer of knowing what one’s doing, having a plan and executing it.

Are you seeing what I’m seeing?

Lies.

Fabrications.

Political-style calculations.

And the masses are still buying it.

Under no circumstances am I questioning the prospects nor the basis for making the trades of Cahill, Gonzalez and Bailey. We don’t know about the players he received and won’t know for awhile.

That’s not the point.

The point is that he’s spewing the same garbage he’s been spewing for years in a self-interested, self-absolving manner to shun the responsibility for the failures of the teams he built.

They’ve failed to meet expectations when they were supposed to contend and now they’re going to meet expectations by falling to 95 losses.

But it’s not Billy’s fault.

I don’t want to be sold something by a clever marketer/con-artist who’s still clutching and using this nonsensical and faulty biography.

Beane’s become a “means to an end” executive and that end is to hold onto that aura of “genius” that was created by Moneyball. There are still those that believe it and take his word for why he does what he does—they don’t bother to check.

Is it because they trust him? That they want to protect him? Or is it because they’re afraid of what they might find if they dig for facts?

The A’s are going to have a lower payroll and they’re going to be much worse than they could’ve been with worse players than they had because of this “strategy” that is played up in the latest piece about Beane.

When does this stop?

When will the true objective reality be examined and cited?

When?

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Managers/GMs on the 2012 Hotseat

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It’s never too early to talk about who might be in trouble in the front office and dugout.

Let’s take a look.

Jack Zduriencik, GM—Seattle Mariners

Zduriencik was hired in late October of 2008. In retrospect, the worst thing that could’ve happened for the Mariners was the turnaround from 2008-2009 when they went from 61-101 to 85-77.

The 2008 team wasn’t 100-loss bad. They sustained crippling injuries to closer J.J. Putz and would-be ace #2 Erik Bedard and the entire season came apart. By the end of May, they were 15 games under .500 and double-digits out of first place.

When the news came out that Mike Morse had signed a contract extension with the Nationals, the trade Zduriencik made sending Morse to Washington for Ryan Langerhans was referenced on Twitter along with the now-laughable ranking of the Mariners of the sixth best organization in baseball a couple of years ago.

The trending topic is #6org as if it’s the most absurd thing in the world.

But, like the rise from 100-losses to moderate contention in the span of a year, it’s all in the details.

Zduriencik has done many good things as he’s reduced the Mariners’ payroll from $117 million when he took over to around $94 million in 2012. His drafts have yielded Dustin Ackley, Daniel Hultzen and Kyle Seager.

He’s also done some stupid things like signing Chone Figgins and engaged in activities that, at best, are described as amoral such as trading for Josh Lueke, signing Milton Bradley and double-dealing on the Yankees in the Cliff Lee trade negotiations.

It’s not all his fault. Some of what’s happened has been forced on him by the front office (re-signing Ken Griffey Jr. and keeping Ichiro Suzuki). But he got the credit for the 2009 rise, he gets the blame for everything else. That’s how it works.

The Mariners are in a nightmarish division and just pulled off a risky trade sending Michael Pineda and prospect Jose Campos to the Yankees for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi. We won’t know the true end result of this trade for years, but if Pineda pitches well in pinstripes and Montero and Noesi don’t live up to expectations, that could be it for Zduriencik. The “right track” stuff won’t play if the Mariners again lose 90 games and with his contract running through 2013, Zduriencik may be running out of time.

Fredi Gonzalez, Manager—Atlanta Braves

Much to the chagrin of the more dialed-in Braves fans, unless they start the season 10-25, he’s not going anywhere.

He did a poor job last season even before the collapse that drove the Braves from a playoff spot that should’ve been assured. His strategic decisions were occasionally nonsensical and he appeared defensive and borderline arrogant in justifying the way he ran his team.

Do the Braves have an on-staff replacement and if they make a change? Would they be willing to hire an unproven Terry Pendleton? Probably not.

One intriguing option was Terry Francona, but Francona joined ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball and I doubt he’s going to step out of the booth and back on the field in 2012. I’m getting the feeling that he took his interviews with the Cubs and Cardinals right after leaving the Red Sox looking to keep managing and when he didn’t get those jobs, he came to terms with broadcasting as a new career option and will enjoy being around the game without the stifling pressure from managing in Boston for 8 years—pressure that negatively affected his health.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Francona doesn’t return to managing at all for the foreseeable future.

The one name that’s possible with Gonzalez—not likely, but possible if the season is spiraling out of control and needs to be saved—is Bobby Cox.

The veterans would welcome him back and while he’d be reluctant to replace his hand-picked successor, if John Schuerholz and Frank Wren tell Cox that Gonzalez is gone whether he takes the job or not, he’ll take the job. Chipper Jones could go to upper management and says enough’s enough with Gonzalez and try to convince Cox to take over for the rest of the season.

Remember that Cox didn’t want to move from GM to manager in 1990 when Russ Nixon was fired and Cox subsequently stayed until 2010 and wrote his ticket to the Hall of Fame.

Dusty Baker, Manager—Cincinnati Reds

Baker and GM Walt Jocketty have never been on the same page. Baker’s contract is up at the end of the season and the only thing that saved him from being fired at the conclusion of his last contract in 2010 was that he won the NL Central.

As evidenced by trading a large chunk of their minor league system for Mat Latos and the signings of Ryan Madson and Ryan Ludwick, the Reds are going for it now and have to win.

There’s no veteran successor on staff and Francona would be an option in Cincinnati if he were looking to get back in the dugout, but he’s not.

One interesting scenario is if Tony LaRussa is bored in retirement and his old cohort from Oakland and St. Louis, Jocketty, comes calling. LaRussa and Baker despise each other and it probably wouldn’t sit well with several of the Reds players, but if they’re not fulfilling their mandate, they’d have no one to blame but themselves and, like the Red Sox with Bobby Valentine, would have to deal with the consequences.

It won’t matter because the Reds are going to play well this year and Baker’s a survivor, but the expiring contract is hovering over the manager and team.

They’d better get off to a good start.

Brad Mills, Manager—Houston Astros

The new front office led by Jeff Luhnow kept Mills, but that may be because it makes no sense to pay a different manager to run a team that’s going to lose 100 games in 2012 regardless of who’s in the manager’s office.

Mills’s contract is up at the end of the season. The Astros mess is not his fault and he seems to be a competent manager, but Luhnow and new owner Jim Crane inherited him and it’s only fair that they hire their own man if that’s what they’d like to do.

One can only hope they don’t hire a new manager and, like Sig Mejdal’s new age title of “Director of Decision Sciences”, they choose to refer to the manager as “Director of On-Field Strategic Interpretations and Implementations”.

Maybe they’ll hire Keith Law to manage the team. I know I’d love to see that as he deals with Brett Myers.

That would be a narrative!

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Signing Manny Involves Zero Risk, No Money and Minimal Potential Headaches

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We’ll soon get a gauge on Manny Ramirez’s desperation to get back into baseball if he signs with the “very interested” Oakland Athletics.

Given their current circumstances as something resembling an expansion team in an impossible division, the A’s-Manny marriage would be one of mutual risk/mutual advantage.

He would be joining Jonny Gomes and Bartolo Colon in what is really the prototypical “island of misfit toys” that was supposed to be the basis of Moneyball (even though it wasn’t).

You have to figure that Manny will sell a few tickets for a team that didn’t draw well when they were good and certainly won’t draw well now that they’ve started another rebuilding project. Oakland fans would be better off going to see Moneyball and reminiscing about an interpretation (as twisted as it is) of the Billy Beane glory days. If Manny behaves and hits, the A’s will be able to trade him to a contender at mid-season and get a prospect or two for him.

Everyone wins.

Well, except the A’s on the field.

But that’s another matter.

There’s no reason not to sign Manny. He’s not demanding a lot of money and just wants a chance; he’s always been able to walk and once he gets his swing down, he’ll hit a few homers; if he does act up, the team that signs him can simply release him.

So why not?

The issues with Manny are non-existent because of these factors.

Of course any team that signs him will have to deal with the suspension for PED use that he, technically, still hasn’t served.

To get a window into how short-sighted Manny can be, if he even harbored the thought of continuing to play, why did he immediately retire when he was informed of the failed test and imminent suspension? He should’ve served the suspension even if he had no intention of playing ever again just in case he did want to play at some point.

Now he’s still under the jurisdiction of MLB’s punitive rules once he tries to get back into the game.

One would assume that since he didn’t play after the suspension, something can be worked out. It would be pretty silly to be so adherent to the rule that MLB says he can’t play until sitting out another 50 games—he sat out almost all of 2011; what’s the difference?

Manny doesn’t need the money and he doesn’t need the aggravation of being the butt of jokes for the once charming assignation of Manny Being Manny. Once it was seen as a term of endearment for everyone who didn’t have to deal with him on a day-to-day basis and now it’s a punchline.

Any team that signs him will have a player who, even if he doesn’t have much left, probably has more in the tank than most players ever had to begin. The opposing pitchers will, at the very least, have to be cautious with him until his remaining skills are evident.

Contending teams should look seriously into signing Manny Ramirez. There’s nothing to lose.

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