Bryce Harper Tears the Cover Off Of Bryce Harper

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GQ’s profile of Bryce Harper has made worse my prediction that he’s going to have big trouble assimilating to the big leagues.

The abrupt piece (its conclusion is hanging there and I was flipping pages wondering, “is that it?”) makes Harper look immature, arrogant, obnoxious and like he’s asking for trouble.

The comparisons to Gregg Jefferies are becoming more and more accurate. Jefferies was another phenom whose self-serving tantrums, self-containment and expectations of greatness from him and everyone else served to ruin his formative years with the Mets because of veteran hatred of the contrived nature of Jefferies’s biography.

Jefferies’s favorite player was Ty Cobb.

Harper’s is supposedly Pete Rose.

Ironically (or maybe not so much) Jefferies’s first big league manager was Davey Johnson.

Johnson is now managing the Nats and he made no secret of his desire to give Harper a chance to play in the big leagues. To make matters worse, he stuck the 19-year-old in center field.

The Nats resisted the temptation to promote Harper in part because he didn’t hit enough to force their hands and in part because they seem to be entertaining the idea of playing him in center field and giving him substantial time at the position in Triple-A.

Center field is a rotten idea on all levels because the mircorscope he’s currently under would be exacerbated. Even if he can play it adequately, it’s a bad idea.

His attitude is awful. I don’t care how talented he is.

Harper is rapidly becoming the Eddie Haskell-type player who utters the clichés to the media massed around his locker to put forth the pretense of humility, but when he’s alone—as he was with the author of the GQ piece Will Leitch—the real Harper comes out. It’s not an attractive picture; nor is it a positive portent for the future.

Of course Leitch and the other reporters don’t want Harper to change. It’s a juicy story when a young player draws the ire of everyone because of his personality. The target on Harper’s back will extend off the field with anyone and everyone trying to sabotage the image he’s trying to portray, but betrays when he’s alone as he was with Leitch.

He’s 19 and, thanks to his prodigious talents, has been enabled and catered to all his life. But when the real Harper comes out it doesn’t bode well for the future once he does get to the big leagues and is scrutinized exponentially to the way players were 20 years ago. Unless the Nats rein Harper in immediately, his behavior could ruin his career.

***

Click here for a full sample of Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide (this link is of the Blue Jays) of team predictions/projections.

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//

The Cold Decision Is To Release Chamberlain

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Joba Chamberlain’s dislocated ankle was so ghastly and dangerous that it was considered life threatening before he reached the hospital—NY Daily News Story.

It was a horrible accident and Chamberlain is being blamed when he shouldn’t be. The suggestion has been made that he was irresponsible for being on a trampoline to begin with and he should’ve known better.

He was at an activity center with his 5-year-old son.

This could’ve happened stepping off the sidewalk.

It was an accident. It could’ve been a tragedy. In a year in which he wasn’t expected back from Tommy John surgery before the summer, after this ankle injury, he’s not going to pitch at all.

If the Yankees are going on a pure business model, they have to release Chamberlain.

It may sound cruel, but Chamberlain is due $1.675 million this season and if they release him now, they’d owe him 45 days termination pay.

That’s a big difference.

There are precedents for players who have had injuries sustained off the field and were released because of them. The Braves had signed outfielder Ron Gant to a 1-year, $5.5 million contract for 1994 after he had his career season in 1993 with 36 homers and a .274/.345/.510 slash line with 26 stolen bases. On February 3rd 1994, Gant had a dirt bike accident and broke his leg. In mid-March, the Braves released him.

You can read details of the Braves’ decision here on Philly.com. (And in an interesting side note, there’s a snippet about Jose Canseco at the bottom of the page and it’s clear that his nutty behavior isn’t limited to his tweets on Twitter; his erratic behaviors go back years.)

Gant signed with the Reds in June and didn’t play in the strike-shortened 1994 season. He revived his career with the Reds in 1995 and played for several more clubs in the subsequent years.

But in 1994, the Braves did the right thing financially by releasing Gant.

Was it punishment for doing something dangerous and putting the Braves’ investment in him at risk? Was it a sound business decision? Was it a combination?

Does it matter?

The Yankees making the cold-blooded decision to release Chamberlain wouldn’t mean they don’t care about him as a person. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Yankees do it and still take steps to help Chamberlain as much as possible and offer him a contract when and if he can come back; but the injury is keeping him out for the a season in which he was only going to pitch for a few months anyway. They’re under no obligation to pay him his full salary and releasing him now is the only way to keep from doing that.

It would be ruthless, but they’d be right.

//

A New Experience For The Cool Kids

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Anyone who was a fringe athlete on a team—be it little league, high school, college or beer league softball—understands what Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda and Mark Sanchez are currently going through.

It’s almost something to snicker at for those of us who were the back-end guys on their teams who generally had to wonder whether they’d have a uniform or get a chance to play.

For the Yankees, Andy Pettitte’s return represents the glorious past where the other cool kids—Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera—were lobbying him to come back and replace someone from the projected rotation.

Nova has never been and presumably never will be respected for the guts he’s shown and work he’s done as a Yankee. They’re too immersed in numbers to appreciate him.

Hughes is wearing out their patience. Ignorant to the multitude of ways they’ve stagnated his development, he Yankees have him fighting for his rotation spot and his tone is growing increasingly curt in response to the endless questions about how he feels regarding Pettitte’s surprise return.

Jets quarterback Sanchez now has to look over his shoulder at Tim Tebow.

As the prototypically handsome quarterback who went to USC, Sanchez never had to worry about his spot. He started as a rookie in the NFL and, despite his struggles, has led the Jets to back-to-back appearances in the AFC Championship Game.

Now he’s got the golden boy behind him. A media darling with a salable life story and outsize personality that he hasn’t overtly cultivated as a means to an end, Tebow is not going to be happy sitting on the sideline wearing a baseball cap and holding a clipboard as many backups are. He’s going to fight for playing time making Sanchez a target to everyone.

Is it fair?

Of course it’s fair. It’s competition at the highest level of sports. Because of that, feelings come in last. One of the reasons teams like the Rays are successful is because of their ruthlessness in dispatching players when they’re no longer needed or if someone better/cheaper comes available.

The Yankees are ruthless in a self-destructive sort of way because they’ve hindered Hughes, Joba Chamberlain (who we won’t see for a long while anyway given his ankle injury—more on this later) and Nova. They’re putting an undue amount of pressure on Pineda to pay too close attention to his radar readings and there’s an unsaid perception (probably accurate) that they wouldn’t have traded for him at all had they known for certain that Pettitte was coming back.

But this is the way things are. It’s a bit of turnabout for those who never had to worry about their spots.

And the cool kids don’t care.

***

Click here for a full sample of Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide (this link is of the Blue Jays) of team predictions/projections.

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//

Let’s Talk Tebow

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Judging by the reaction, the Jets just signed a Christian missionary who hadn’t played football since high school.

This isn’t the 49ers signing Renaldo Nehemiah and sticking him in a pair of shoulder pads because he could run really, really fast; this is the Jets signing a player who has talent that may not translate directly to playing quarterback in the NFL.

But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have use on and off the field.

Of course the Jets may be trying to sell tickets and merchandise, but Tebow isn’t a novelty like Eddie Gaedel or a silly freakshow like Michael Jordan deciding to play baseball. He can play. It’s just that his skills translate differently from the classic pocket passer that John Elway was and would clearly prefer as evidenced by his decision to sign Peyton Manning and trade away Tebow.

Is it the joke that the multitude of football experts in the media, on Twitter and Facebook and everywhere else are implying?

No.

Will it work?

Who knows?

Much like the attempts to separate Tebow from his religion and following, you can’t pigeonhole him as anything because he’s many things. To make the statement, “if he were just another everyday football player” is a waste of time and energy. He is what he is with everything—good and bad—that accompanies it. His piety is apparently sincere and fans have taken to him because of that. He’s also an interesting experiment on the field.

The concept that he’s going to make current Jets’ quarterback Mark Sanchez’s job harder by placing a target on his back from minute one is true, but so what? Sanchez has been inconsistent and if his rumored questionable work habits are accurate, there’s nothing wrong with a little pressure regardless of where it comes from and why. Jets fans are going to be screaming for Tebow not because they think he can play; not because they think the Jets will be better with him than Sanchez; but just to be obnoxious and get a reaction.

It’s not an indictment of Jets’ fans because fans everywhere would do the same thing. Had the Broncos kept Tebow, it would’ve happened with Manning if his recovery didn’t look to be complete and he was playing like it. And that’s Peyton Manning.

That the Jets functioned with backups that were non-threats (and aged Mark Brunell and Kellen Clemens) served to give Sanchez security in his job that he has yet to earn. Joe Montana had Steve Young behind him. The fans called for Young and Bill Walsh benched Montana in favor of Young, inviting Montana’s understated wrath.

It’s the way things are. There’s no loyalty. It’s a business.

Is it a bad move?

Is it a good move?

Depending on whether or not it works, we’ll see.

To think this is a “ridiculous” decision is based on outside interpretation. The Jets supposed failure to read through Tebow’s contract was used as a hammer to beat the organization up, but it appears to have been a misunderstanding and media play on the part of the Broncos.

If the way things were “always done” was the basis of everything that happens in the future, NFL players would be wearing leather helmets and working in sporting goods stores in the off-seasons; there would be no free agency; there wouldn’t have been any black quarterbacks, head coaches or front office people; the forward pass would never have been implemented; and no one would watch the NFL because it’d be too boring and tied to the early part of the 20th Century.

To me there’s nothing wrong with bringing a high-character talent into a lockerroom that had grown toxic. The reasons are irrelevant. Tebow isn’t coming in bible-thumping as his mandate. He’s a football player and should be treated as such.

//

2012 MLB Predicted Standings, Playoffs, World Series and Award Winners

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American League

American League East

Wins Losses GB
1. New York Yankees 94 68
2. Toronto Blue Jays 87 75 7
3. Tampa Bay Rays 85 77 9
4. Boston Red Sox 81 81 13
5. Baltimore Orioles 65 97 29

American League Central

Wins Losses GB
1. Cleveland Indians 91 71
2. Detroit Tigers* 88 74 3
3. Kansas City Royals 81 81 10
4. Chicago White Sox 72 90 19
5. Minnesota Twins 70 92 21

American League West

Wins Losses GB
1. Texas Rangers 93 69
2. Los Angeles Angels* 90 72 3
3. Seattle Mariners 70 92 23
4. Oakland Athletics 64 98 29

*Denotes predicted Wild Card Winner

Playoff Predictions

Wild Card One Game Playoff:

Detroit Tigers vs Los Angeles Angels

Winner: Angels

ALDS 1: Cleveland Indians vs Texas Rangers

Rangers in 4

ALDS 2: Los Angeles Angels vs New York Yankees

Angels in 3

ALCS: Los Angeles Angels vs Texas Rangers

Rangers in 6

AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONS: TEXAS RANGERS

American League Award Winners:

MVP: Jose Bautista—Toronto Blue Jays

Cy Young Award: David Price—Tampa Bay Rays

Rookie of the Year: Jesus Montero—Seattle Mariners

Manager of the Year: Manny Acta—Cleveland Indians

National League

National League East

Wins Losses GB
1. Atlanta Braves 93 69
2. Philadelphia Phillies* 89 73 4
3. Washington Nationals* 88 74 5
4. Miami Marlins 83 79 10
5. New York Mets 69 93 24

National League Central

Wins Losses GB
1. Cincinnati Reds 91 71
2. Milwaukee Brewers 87 75 4
3. St. Louis Cardinals 77 85 14
4. Pittsburgh Pirates 77 85 14
5. Chicago Cubs 73 89 18
6. Houston Astros 60 102 31

National League West

Wins Losses GB
1. Colorado Rockies 92 70
2. San Francisco Giants 85 77 7
3. Arizona Diamondbacks 84 78 8
4. San Diego Padres 80 82 12
5. Los Angeles Dodgers 69 93 23

* Denotes predicted Wild Card winner.

Playoff Predictions

Wild Card One Game Playoff:

Washington Nationals vs Philadelphia Phillies

Winner: Phillies

NLDS 1: Philadelphia Phillies vs Atlanta Braves

Braves in 5

NLDS 2: Cincinnati Reds vs Colorado Rockies

Rockies in 4

NLCS: Colorado Rockies vs Atlanta Braves

Braves in 7

NATIONAL LEAGUE CHAMPIONS: ATLANTA BRAVES

National League Award Winners

MVP: Troy Tulowitzki—Colorado Rockies

Cy Young Award: Tim Lincecum—San Francisco Giants

Rookie of the Year: Yonder Alonso—San Diego Padres

Manager of the Year: Davey Johnson—Washington Nationals

World Series Prediction:

Atlanta Braves vs Texas Rangers

Braves in 7

WORLD SERIES WINNER: ATLANTA BRAVES

Far more in depth analysis is in my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide, now available.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. (This sample is of the Rangers.) My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

//

Bet On the Wilpons Surviving and Thriving

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I’m ambivalent about the Wilpons settling their part in the Madoff lawsuit.

All along, I was relatively disinterested in the entire episode. The circumstances were what they were and once the trial was completed, then the direction of the Mets would be determined. Because they were so badly hurt by the Madoff Ponzi scheme, the money that was once available to the Mets to pursue players was no longer there; they were forced to scour the bargain bins and deal away veterans Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran while sitting by haplessly and avoiding any bidding war for big free agent names that, given their on-field state, likely wouldn’t have come to the Mets under any circumstances apart from the Mets being the highest bidder. (See Jason Bay.)

Now that the lawsuit is over (and you can find details of the settlement here on NYTimes.com), it’s become clear that the supposed experts didn’t know any more about the nitty gritty of these types of deals than the media/social media would-be experts who were lending their opinions regarding issues about which they knew nothing.

Yes, the sources and “experts” might have information and insight about the law and the financial world, but that information and insight stemmed from personal experience and not from what they were privy to in terms of information as to what the Wilpons’ strategy was going to be to save themselves.

In the end, the Wilpons chose to settle and for now they’ve bought themselves time with what wound up as, by all accounts, a very favorable deal considering the alternatives.

What we’re presented with from those who provide commentary to the reporters telling the story is something to the tune of factoids that are kindasorta true, but only true from their point-of-view. These are not absolute facts like in a math/science problem that’s been solved; they’re interpretations.

I don’t recall reading or seeing anyone suggesting that the Wilpons were going to be able to settle the case and save themselves. Every outcome ended with them having to sell the franchise because their financial footing was no longer viable.

Look where they are now.

As much as the context is provided that the case was settled and their creditors are off their backs for the time being, there are ongoing doom and gloom revelations about the bonds that funded the building of Citi Field; the loans to the banks due on the club and SNY; and how the Wilpons are still in dire financial straits.

“X loan with Y bank of $400 million comes due on <THIS> day.”

“The bond interest payments must begin late in the year <BLANK>.”

“They’re still going to put a subpar product on the field because they don’t have the money to pay for players.”

Don’t buy it.

The Wilpons didn’t get rich being stupid.

Guilt, innocence or willfull blindness no longer matter because they settled the case and put themselves in a great position to end up retaining control of the franchise.

I said long ago that the Wilpons and Saul Katz had to know what was going on with Madoff, but there might’ve been a “don’t tell me what I don’t want to know” aspect of the gains they were making with the disgraced swindler.

They didn’t ask. Madoff didn’t tell. And everyone rolled merrily along.

Then Madoff got caught and the Mets were in the middle of the cesspool.

What the chroniclers of the case and the Wilpon-bashers have failed to account for is how smart the Wilpons are. They didn’t get rich being dumb or lucky and they’ve hired lawyers whose specialty is extricating their clients from situations just like these and helping them maintain their businesses and positions.

What I find funny (ha-ha and sad) is that a bunch of non-financial, non-lawyerly reporters felt that they were somehow qualified to provide commentary on issues that they probably only had a baseline understanding of and were simply regurgitating what they were told by “experts” and believed everything that was said because they had neither the aptitude nor the education to question what was being offered as what “would” happen in this lawsuit.

The settlement was pragmatic and smart and you can bet that the Wilpons are going to figure a way to keep control of the franchise when the loan payments become onerous by refinancing and extending the timeframe in which they have to pay.

What this means to the Mets and how they’re going to move forward remains to be seen. Will Sandy Alderson stay? Will the Mets examine a contract extension to keep David Wright past 2013? And what’s going to happen if and when all the decisions they made due to financial constraints wind up being seen as a net positive (a term that became familiar during the lawsuit) because the Mets couldn’t continue tossing bad money after bad money in a self-destructive attempt to placate angry fans and overpay for players who weren’t going to help them one way or the other?

They’ve cleared some players they no longer needed and are moving in the direction of paying players what they’re worth rather than giving them a large contract to keep pace with the big spenders in baseball. Letting Jose Reyes leave could eventually be seen as a smart and lucky baseball decision. They’re concentrating on development and giving their own young players a chance to play.

In a few years, we might one day look back at this and say something to the tune of, “The Madoff mess actually led the Mets back to prominence because of the seeds that were planted out of necessity because there was no money to buy ready made players.”

The Wilpons survived mostly because they, their lawyers and advisers are smarter than you.

Don’t think they’re not preparing to get their other financial ducks in a row, because they are.

//

2012 National League West Predicted Standings

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Wins Losses GB
1. Colorado Rockies 92 70
2. San Francisco Giants 85 77 7
3. Arizona Diamondbacks 84 78 8
4. San Diego Padres 80 82 12
5. Los Angeles Dodgers 69 93 23

Colorado Rockies

I don’t understand the criticism of the maneuvers the Rockies made this past winter or of the decision to trade Ubaldo Jimenez last summer.

They filled their needs by clearing Jimenez when they were going to have to pay a lot of money to re-sign him after 2013 and got two young starting pitchers, one of whom looks like he’s going to be a big winner in Drew Pomeranz; they signed high quality people and grinder type players who are versatile and play the game the right way with Michael Cuddyer and Casey Blake; they signed a good part-time catcher, Ramon Hernandez, to play semi-regularly and tutor young Wilin Rosario; they dispatched a mediocre closer, Huston Street in favor of someone cheaper and probably better with Rafael Betancourt; and they traded a journeyman righty for an underrated all around player Marco Scutaro.

Here’s the simple truth with the Rockies: they can pitch; they can hit; they can catch the ball; they can run; they have one of baseball’s best managers in Jim Tracy and one of its best players in Troy Tulowitzki.

It’s not that hard to do the math if you can add and subtract.

San Francisco Giants

Much is made of their vaunted starting rotation, but after Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner, do you trust Ryan Vogelsong to repeat his amazing work from 2011? Work that was achieved at age 34 after being the epitome of a journeyman?

The bullpen is solid and deep. Their lineup is still shaky and counting on youth (Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford); rockheads (Angel Pagan); and those with questionable work ethic when they think they have a job sewn up (Melky Cabrera). Buster Posey is returning from a ghastly ankle injury.

They made changes, but I don’t see this club as having improved from the 86-76 team they were last season.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Many are in love with the Diamondbacks because of the season they had in 2011 and that they “improved” over the winter.

But did they improve?

I don’t understand the Jason Kubel signing to replace Gerardo Parra once Parra finally began fulfilling his potential offensively and won a Gold Glove defensively.

They acquired a top arm in Trevor Cahill and are hoping for a repeat of the stellar work their bullpen gave them last season.

How much of what happened in 2011 is realistically repeatable? They were good, but they were also lucky.

It’s a stretch to think it’s going to happen again.

San Diego Padres

One thing you can say about new GM Josh Byrnes: he’s fearless.

It took major courage to trade away a young, contractually controlled arm with Mat Latos going to the Reds and Byrnes got a load of young talent for him.

They dealt away another young bat Anthony Rizzo to get a flamethrower with closer potential, Andrew Cashner; they took Carlos Quentin off the hands of the White Sox for two negligible prospects hoping that Quentin would stay healthy in his free agent year and provide them with the pop they need.

Quentin just had knee surgery and will miss the beginning of the season.

The Padres have a load of starting pitching and their offense will be better than it was. They could sneak up on people and jump into the playoff race.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Are the Dodgers prototypically “bad”?

No.

But they’re in the process of being sold and with Matt Kemp having a 2011 season that should’ve won him the MVP and Clayton Kershaw winning the Cy Young Award, it took a major hot streak late in the season for them to finish above .500.

Their starting pitching is okay; their bullpen is okay; but their lineup is not and they’re in a tough division and league. Many structural changes are possible not only in the ownership suite, but in baseball operations as well.

Far more in depth analysis is in my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide, now available.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. (This sample is of the Rangers.) My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

//

Yoenis Cespedes To Play Center Field; Coco Crisp To Play Left

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Athletics’ manager Bob Melvin announced his intention of playing Cuban defector and inexplicable Athletics’ free agent signing Yoenis Cespedes in center field and Coco Crisp in left.

In a baseball discussion, I defy you to justify this decision.

Crisp was signed because he’s a top-notch defensive center fielder. We don’t know if Cespedes can play center in the big leagues and it’s absurd to think he can be even 75% of what Crisp is defensively.

But this is what they’re doing.

Why?

Because they have nothing else to bank their 2012 season on apart from the development and hope that Cespedes can draw interest and fans to a team that promises to be an absolute eyesore on the field.

They didn’t draw well when they were winning 100 games a year at the apex of Billy Beane’s mythical “genius” in the heady days of Moneyball before the rest of baseball caught on to what he was doing and began paying big money for players who got on base and hit the ball out of the park, doing little else.

So where’s the “genius”?

It’s gone.

Genius is not fleeting and judged on the results in and of themselves.

Genius is innovation. Genius is creativity. Genius is having a plan, following through on it and finding a way to make it work.

Is Beane doing any of that with this current Athletics’ configuration? With a series of desperate trades to deal away young, cost-controlled arms for packages of prospects in the “someday” hope that they’ll develop and be playing in a brand new ballpark in San Jose and the A’s will have the cash influx to compete with the big boys of baseball? That at some point during the contract extension that Beane signed to keep him with the A’s through 2019 that they’ll once again be good and his brilliance will again be validated by the subjectivity of the won/lost column?

He’s banking on Bud Selig and MLB finding a way to get the new A’s ballpark approved with the Giants letting the A’s infringe on their territorial rights; they want to sell the idea of the young players they acquired being part of the A’s renaissance in…I don’t know when! Is it 2015? 2016? 2017?

They re-signed Crisp even though he’s not going to do them much good on the field. They’d lose 95 games with him; they’ll lose 95 games without him. He’s still an Athletics’ player because of his speed and defense in center field. Now he’s not going to play center field. He’s going to play left.

No one knows what Cespedes is going to be and he’s the epitome of the type of player that Moneyball specifically said Beane wanted his scouts to avoid: he looks good with no verifiable results.

Maybe they can use his shredded physique in the tradition of Bo Jackson to sell jeans.

There’s no blueprint and Beane isn’t “smarter than the average bear”.

Don’t claim that this is a baseball move.

Don’t say it’s necessary.

Don’t imply some vague, unseen notion of a plan that’s known only to the evil genius Billy Beane.

And do not reference Moneyball as if the book and movie “prove” Beane’s aptitude in running a major league baseball team as if one thing feeds into the other without reality backing up the assertion.

He’s a baseball GM whose reputation became something that no one could live up to based on creative non-fiction and the sale of a story that doesn’t exist. He’s flinging things at the wall in a similar fashion to the reviled “non-analytical” GMs who were the bane of the existence of those who were promulgating the concept of a so-called revolution that would turn every baseball front office into something resembling a Star Trek convention and take over the world rendering the old-schoolers obsolete.

He’s in a war of attrition and running a dying franchise with nowhere to go and nothing to do to turn things around, so he’s reduced to gimmicks.

And he’s losing.

Badly.

Cespedes to center field is more evidence of idiocy and/or desperation.

Don’t dare say it’s anything else.

//

2012 National League Central Predicted Standings

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Wins Losses GB
1. Cincinnati Reds 91 71
2. Milwaukee Brewers 87 75 4
3. St. Louis Cardinals 77 85 14
4. Pittsburgh Pirates 77 85 14
5. Chicago Cubs 73 89 18
6. Houston Astros 60 102 31

Cincinnati Reds

Dusty Baker’s teams have a tendency to win when his job is on the line or his contract is coming to a conclusion—and this is the final year of his contract.

GM Walt Jocketty made a bold move in trading a large portion of the Reds’ farm system to get an ace-quality starter in Mat Latos and bolstered his bullpen by signing Ryan Madson and trading for Sean Marshall.

Offensively, the Reds have some question marks but were second in the National League in runs scored last season and first in 2010. Scott Rolen’s injuries are an issue and shortstop is likely to be manned by a talented rookie Zack Cozart.

But with a deep starting rotation; a very good bullpen; Joey Votto in the middle of the lineup; the emerging Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs; and the additions from the winter, the Reds are a championship threat.

Milwaukee Brewers

If Mat Gamel hits and Aramis Ramirez posts his normal numbers, they’ll have enough offense without Prince Fielder. Alex Gonzalez is a good pickup offensively and defensively to replace the limited Yuniesky Betancourt; Zack Greinke is sure to have a big year heading towards free agency; and the bullpen is superlative with Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford.

The questions surrounding the Ryan Braun failed drug test and technical knockout of his 50-game suspension are not going to go away.

Braun has to hit from the beginning of the season to the end and he’s still going to be hounded with a press contingent waiting for a reasonable answer as to how he failed the test in the first place. A slow start will be the death knell to his season and probably the Brewers’ playoff hopes.

And don’t forget how much vitriol their arrogance engendered throughout baseball last season. When the world-at-large was pulling for a Tony LaRussa –led team, you know their oppenents were despised.

There’s a 2006 Mets feeling about the Brewers that they missed their chance and we know what happened to the Mets in the aftermath of their upset loss to the Cardinals.

St. Louis Cardinals

It’s idiotic to base one’s hopes for a repeat championship on the idea that losing the generation’s best manager (Tony LaRussa); hitter (Albert Pujols); and a magician of a pitching coach (Dave Duncan) are going to be easily covered with Mike Matheny (never managed before—ever); signing Carlos Beltran and shifting Lance Berkman to first base (they’re older players); and Derek Lilliquist (um…).

You cannot dismiss the contributions of those three men—all of whom are Hall of Famers.

As respected and well-liked as Matheny is, there’s a learning curve to manage.

The Cardinals have starting pitching, but their bullpen is still a question mark and Matheny’s handling of said bullpen is going to be an issue.

Beltran and Berkman will make up for Pujols’s production to a degree, but if you’re banking your hopes on David Freese being the same star he was in the playoffs and Rafael Furcal, Jon Jay and Skip Schumaker, you’re dreaming.

This team is rife for a big fall and major turmoil.

Pittsburgh Pirates

We’ll never know what the Pirates’ 2011 season would’ve become had they not been so horribly robbed in that play at the plate and egregious call by Jerry Meals in the 19-inning game against the Braves in late July. Those who think that an entire season can’t hinge on one game are wrong.

The Pirates did many good things mostly as a result of manager Clint Hurdle’s simple mandate of discipline and not taking crap.

They’ve locked up key players Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata and acquired cheap, high-ceiling veteran starters A.J. Burnett and Erik Bedard.

They’re not ready to contend, but they’re getting better and if things go well, they have a shot at third place.

Chicago Cubs

Those expecting a Theo Epstein arrival/revival and immediate rise to championship-level status as happened when he took over the Red Sox need to take a step back.

The Red Sox had a lot of talent and money to spend when Epstein took over in 2003; the Cubs are trying to clear onerous contracts of declining veterans like Alfonso Soriano and already got rid of Carlos Zambrano (and are paying him to pitch for the Marlins).

A large part of my analysis isn’t simply based on what a team has when the season starts, but what’s going to happen as the season moves along. The Cubs are going to be ready to deal with Carlos Marmol, Ryan Dempster and Marlon Byrd possibly on the move.

It’s not going to be a quick fix to repair this organization.

Houston Astros

There’s a perception that simply because they hired a stat-savvy GM in Jeff Luhnow and he’s at work rebuilding the system that the Astros are “guaranteed” to have success in the near future.

Are you aware of what happened to similar thinking baseball people like Paul DePodesta and Jack Zduriencik?

The Astros neglected their minor league system for so long that they’re tantamount to an expansion team. Luhnow brought in high-end talent like Fernando Martinez cheaply; he’s scouring the scrapheap with Livan Hernandez for big league competence while he cleans up the mess; and he’s hired like-minded people to help him.

But it’s not a guarantee and his “success” with the Cardinals minor league system is based on perception depending on your own beliefs and/or biases on how to run a club rather than bottom-line reality.

Here’s what we can agree on: in 2012, they’re going to be terrible.

Click here for a full sample of Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide (this link is of the Blue Jays) of team predictions/projections. My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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2012 National League East Predicted Standings

All Star Game, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series
Wins Losses GB
1. Atlanta Braves 93 69
2. Philadelphia Phillies* 89 73 4
3. Washington Nationals* 88 74 5
4. Miami Marlins 83 79 10
5. New York Mets 69 93 24

*Denotes predicted Wild Card winner.

Atlanta Braves

There’s a misplaced belief that the team that made the most drastic and biggest moves in the off-season is automatically the “best” team.

Because the Braves did nothing to add to the roster that collapsed out of a playoff spot, they’re virtually ignored as a legit contender.

There was addition by subtraction by getting rid of Derek Lowe; they made significant improvements in-season by acquiring Michael Bourn. They’re going to be helped by the gained experience of young players Freddie Freeman, Jonny Venters, Craig Kimbrel and Mike Minor; the return to form from Martin Prado; a healthy “I wanna get paid” year from Brian McCann; a better start and more consistency from Dan Uggla; and, most importantly, a healthy and “he has to be better because he can’t be worse” year from Jason Heyward.

Philadelphia Phillies

Chase Utley is hoping to play in spring training games within this week. Obviously his knee tendinitis will forever be an issue, but a great player like Utley doesn’t need the 6 weeks of spring training to be ready. Inside baseball people would never admit this for financial reasons, but spring training is far too long as it is. Pitchers need maybe 3 ½ weeks to be ready to start the season; hitters far less.

The Phillies are old; there are injury questions hovering around Roy Halladay (as much as people think he’s a machine, he’s not a machine.); their lineup is pockmarked and questionable; but with their starting rotation and bullpen addition of Jonathan Papelbon, they’ve got enough left for at least one more run.

Washington Nationals

They’re the next hot thing for many reasons.

They have a load of top-tier draft picks ready to make the move into big league notoriety; they’ve accumulated starting pitching; they have a devastating back-end of the bullpen; a lineup that can mash; and a veteran manager who has a history of winning.

They’re going to look back on Chien-Ming Wang’s injury and that they couldn’t follow through on a rumored trade of the severely underrated John Lannan and breathe a sigh of relief; the concept of bringing Bryce Harper to the big leagues at 19 needs to be considered carefully and he should not play center field; Gio Gonzalez is not the guarantee the bounty of prospects and expensive, unnecessary contract he received would indicate; and Stephen Strasburg can’t be considered an “ace” as long as he’s on a pitch/innings limit that Davey Johnson would undoubtedly love to toss into a nearby garbage can.

But they’re very talented and a viable contender.

Miami Marlins

Never mind the ownership, the new ballpark and the investigations swirling around the way said ballpark was approved and paid for. Forget about the monstrosity that will be on display whenever a Marlins’ player hits a home run and is sure to cause seizures among a large segment of unsuspecting fans. (See below.)

Cold, clinical analysis will tell you that this team is either going to be a major success or a testament to rubbernecking to see how quickly the clubhouse, manager’s office and front office degenerates into organizational cannibalism, whisper campaigns and a media feeding frenzy.

This is a powder keg. I don’t like powder kegs.

Ozzie Guillen’s teams with the White Sox consistently underachieved; Jose Reyes’s health is a question; Hanley Ramirez did not want to move to third base and is going to eventually pout about his contract; their defense is awful.

With a good pitching staff and all these questions, they could be good. With all the other issues, they could explode. Fast.

New York Mets

Yes. I’m a Mets fan.

Question my analysis, but don’t question my integrity.

Here are the facts: they’re in an impossible division; they’re short on starting pitching; they didn’t improve the club in the winter; the franchise is engulfed by the lawsuit against the Wilpons stemming from the Bernie Madoff mess; and they’re rebuilding.

They’re not good and they’re starting over with young players.

We won’t know much about the future of the Sandy Alderson-led baseball operations or what they’re going to do with players like David Wright until the trial is completed. They might be sold; the Wilpons might maintain ownership; the team might be slightly better than most projections depending on multiple factors.

It is what it is.

Accept it.

Click here for a full sample of Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide (this link is of the Blue Jays) of team predictions/projections. My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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