National League Ticking Tempers Of Ownership

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Earlier I looked at the American League’s ownerships that are (or should be) getting antsy.

Now, let’s look at the National League.

Miami Marlins

Does ownership have a right to be upset?

Put it this way: in spite owner Jeffrey Loria’s past decisions that have been seen as running the gamut from unethical to outright illegal, he spent money on players and a manager this past winter.

With his pro-Fidel Castro comments, the manager they hired, Ozzie Guillen, put the organization in an embarrassing position and almost sunk the ship just after it had been christened. The new Marlins Park is located in Little Havana and they’re trying desperately to cultivate the baseball-loving Cuban-American crowd to bolster their attendance. That attendance is flagging. Guillen’s personality has appeared somewhat subdued following his suspension and apology. They didn’t hire Guillen-lite; they hired outrageous Ozzie who can manage players, win and draw attention to himself.

Clearly praising Castro didn’t fall into that mandate.

On the field, they’re 8-13 and 15th in the National League in runs scored. Two of their big-name free agents, Jose Reyes and Heath Bell, have been terrible. Hanley Ramirez, Giancarlo Stanton and Gaby Sanchez aren’t hitting. Ace Josh Johnson has gotten rocked in three of his five starts.

They’re not getting what they paid for.

What should be done?

Maybe that should be phrased: What could be done rather than what should be done.

They could demote Bell from the closer’s role, but won’t.

They could put the word out that they want to get rid of Hanley Ramirez, but won’t.

They could fire a couple of coaches, but won’t. (It would make Guillen look bad if his coaching staff was messed with in his first month on the job.)

There aren’t many “shoulds” that would help them more than the players and manager they signed/traded for doing their jobs and earning their paychecks.

What will be done?

Loria’s George Steinbrenner side has been evident since he bought his way into baseball.

He’s not going to jump out front and center yet. Within the next week, if the Marlins keep playing like this, Loria’s son-in-law/hatchet man/flunky/team president David Samson will utter a few choice comments in the media that will generate attention. There might be vague threats of looming changes or random, stream of consciousness demands that the manager and coaching staff “do something”.

If that doesn’t work, by May 20th or so, Loria will have his own explosion. Something—a demotion of a Sanchez or Stanton; a benching of Ramirez or Reyes; Bell being relegated to the seventh or eighth inning—will happen.

I can’t say he’s wrong either.

Chicago Cubs

Does ownership have a right to be upset?

No.

I’m quite sure that when Theo Epstein was anointed (not interviewed, anointed) to take over as team president, he told owner Tom Ricketts that the entire farm system needed to be rebuilt, he’d have to clear some dead weight from the big league roster and unless they got some above and beyond the call of duty returns to glory from the likes of Alfonso Soriano, they were going to have a lean year or two. Since Ricketts hired Epstein and let him bring in Jed Hoyer as GM and surrendered actual players to the Red Sox and Padres to get both, he accepted this analysis and is willing to deal with the fallout.

It helps that the Cubs’ fans’ loyalties are such that they’ll support the team whether they win 70 games or 90s games. In 2012, it’s going to be the former.

What should and what will be done?

Under Epstein, the Cubs will do what they should do.

They’ll get rid of Soriano at some point. Even with the remaining $54 million from 2012-2014, the money’s gone; he’s untradeable. Cutting him makes sense.

Ryan Dempster, Carlos Marmol, Matt Garza and even Geovany Soto will attract interest on the market and the Cubs can and should explore every opportunity to get multiple pieces and shave payroll to make themselves better for the year they’re planning on making a legitimate run: 2014.

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American League Ticking Tempers Of Ownership

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Let’s take a look at some American League teams that have unexpectedly struggled or made ghastly blunders that would normally elicit a reaction from ownerships.

New York Yankees

Does ownership have a right to be upset?

Yes.

In yesterday’s NY Daily News, Bill Madden wrote what I’d been thinking about a George Steinbrenner missive being issued following Michael Pineda’s injury.

I’m not going to give Cashman as hard a time as others did for letting Bartolo Colon go and keeping Freddy Garcia—neither could’ve been expected to replicate anything close to what they did last season—but his other pitching mishaps have been horrific. As much of a joke as Steinbrenner was for his instantaneous and combustible temper tantrums, many times he had a right to be angry.

Beyond Cashman, if the Boss was still around, Larry Rothschild would be in the crosshairs for what’s gone wrong with Phil Hughes.

I’m wondering that myself.

What should be done?

There’s really not much they can do. Having already bounced Garcia from the rotation in favor of David Phelps, Hughes has to improve or he’ll be in the bullpen or minor leagues when Andy Pettitte is set to return to the majors.

What will be done?

Hal Steinbrenner will be secretive and deliberate; Hank will be kept away from the telephone. Cashman will continue to spin doctor and “take responsibility” by saying how “devastated” he is about Pineda.

Devastated? Really?

Garcia will be kept around just in case and Hughes is going to wind up being sent to the minors.

The Boss would’ve made Cashman take responsibility in a way consistent with what Madden suggested and he wouldn’t have been out of line in doing so.

Boston Red Sox

Does ownership have a right to be upset?

Yes, as long as they have a mirror nearby.

The best things that could’ve happened to the Red Sox were the Sunday night rainout of the game against the Yankees and going on the road to play the bad Twins and mediocre White Sox. The ship has been righted to a certain degree.

For all the love doled out to departed GM Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona, ownership—John Henry and team president Larry Lucchino—have been left to clean up the mess. Regardless of what you think of Lucchino’s insinuating himself into the baseball operations as he has, you can’t absolve Epstein and Francona. Epstein saddled the club with the contracts of John Lackey and Carl Crawford; Francona’s lax discipline as manager and passive aggressiveness from the broadcast booth as the team spiraled out of the gate gave a sense of the former manager exacting revenge on the franchise that gave him a job with a team ready-built for success when no one else would’ve.

What should be done?

A desperate trade would only make matters worse. There’s no one to fire. They have to wait and hope. Making a final decision with Daniel Bard and sticking to it would end speculation on the pitcher’s role.

What will be done?

They’ll wait it out. Had they continued losing following the series against the Yankees, they might’ve done something drastic like firing Bobby Valentine even though it’s not all his fault. Their winning streak has given them breathing room.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Does ownership have a right to be upset?

Very.

Arte Moreno has been a great owner. He’s let his baseball people run the club and hasn’t interfered. They have everything they ask for and more.

This past winter, he spent an uncharacteristic amount of money to address the offensive woes from 2011 with Albert Pujols and traded for Chris Iannetta.

The bullpen’s missteps have been magnified because set-up man Hisanori Takahashi and closer Jordan Walden have been horrible.

That’s not to say they’d be that much better with a more proven closer than the deposed Walden. In retrospect, they were lucky they didn’t sign Ryan Madson or trade for Andrew Bailey.

Their biggest problem has been at the plate.

When an owner throws that amount of guaranteed money at his roster, he has a right to expect more than 7-15 and 9 games out of first place before April is over.

What should be done?

The Angels released Bobby Abreu on Friday and recalled Mike Trout. They demoted Walden from the closer’s role in favor of Scott Downs.

Apart from waiting for Pujols to start hitting and perhaps dumping Vernon Wells, there’s little else of note they can try.

What will be done?

If Moreno were a capricious, “blame someone for the sake of blaming them” type, hitting coach Mickey Hatcher and bullpen coach Steve Soliz would have been fired a week ago and perhaps first base coach Alfredo Griffin for good measure.

He’s not a quick trigger owner, but if they’re not hitting by mid-May, Hatcher’s gone. This could expose a rift between manager Mike Scioscia and the front office. Scioscia’s influence has been compromised with the hiring of Jerry Dipoto and if one of his handpicked coaches and friends is fired, a true chasm will be evident. Firings will be shots across the bow of Scioscia and, armed with a contract through 2018 (that he can opt-out of after 2015), if he’s unhappy with the changes he’ll let his feelings be known.

It could get ugly.

As of right now, they’ll see if the jettisoning of Abreu, the insertion of Trout and the new closer will help. With Moreno, they have more time than most clubs would, but that doesn’t mean they have forever.

***

The National League will be posted later and yes, that does mean I’ll be talking about the Marlins.

//

Bryce Harper’s Age Is Not An Excuse

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There are dueling and diametrically opposed memes at work with Washington Nationals’ rookie Bryce Harper.

He’s been compared to the greatest baseball players in history for what he can do on the field and described in vulgar street vernacular on the social media sites for his behaviors and attitude.

In what appears to be more of an act of contrarianism for the sake of it rather than an impassioned belief that Harper’s misunderstood, the lukewarm defense of Harper’s arrogance is defended by his age, 19.

It doesn’t work that way.

Age is not an excuse any more than talent is a justification. Harper has benefited from the attention he’s attracted since he burst onto the scene after taking his GED so he could go to junior college early, compete against a higher level of competition and start his career fast. A prodigy who reaps the rewards for his skills doesn’t get the pass that a normal teenager does. The oft-mentioned and comic book style lament of “with great power comes great responsibility” holds true.

What precisely is the benefit of turning Harper into this egomaniacal and reviled monster? Wouldn’t it be better for him to have a Tim Tebow-style story of likability, charm and dedication combined with something Tebow doesn’t have—actual on-field upside commensurate with all that attention? Why would anyone want to be seen as an obnoxious, arrogant and spoiled brat whose behaviors have been glossed over as a nod to expediency to maintain the façade and hold true to the brand?

He’s not even a charming bad boy about whom the masses chuckle and nod in a “boys will be boys” acknowledgement that he’s not really hurting anyone.

On the one hand, we hear about his age, abilities and anointing as a future megastar going back years; on the other we have his age presented as a reason to give him a break for acting entitled.

Is it all his fault? No. When someone is held to a different set of criteria because of a series of gifts that are so unique, it’s going to affect his actions. He is a kid; he is 19 and immature.

Those who are saying how stupid they were at 19 probably weren’t in the position where their stupidity was baited, recorded and analyzed by outside influences 24/7.

In short, nobody cared enough about what you or I were doing at 19 to pay attention to it as the foundation of a debate as to propriety.

Harper doesn’t have that luxury.

There’s no reconciliation between the blatantly transparent and crafted biography of Harper, a Mormon who utters self-deprecating and tiresome baseball clichés and the person who engages in interviews like this GQ profile in which his personality comes blasting out as if a cage had been unlocked and, for a brief moment, he was able to be himself.

His heroes are Pete Rose and Mickey Mantle?

Really?

Based on what?

Rose was disgraced and banned from baseball three years prior to Harper’s birth; Mantle was a legend who, to Harper, could just as easily have been a fictional character out of Lord of the Rings as much as a real human being.

These are his heroes?

It strikes of intent; of what sounds good; of what’s salable.

He’s not going to discuss the posters he may have had on his wall as a kid, he’s going to try to fulfill the legacy and become comparable to one of the greatest and most revered players in history, Mantle; or one of the hardest-working, intense, maximizers of finite limits like Rose.

Is his favorite actor Laurence Olivier? His favorite singer Elvis Presley? Is he in love with Bettie Page?

Where does it end?

It’s a story. Nothing more.

The rarity of Harper’s ability automatically removes him from the overwhelming masses of 18-21-year-olds who are allowed moments of formative stupidity. He’s one-in-a-million on the field and that automatically implies that he’s not categorized among those masses. On his first major league hit—an impressive line shot double over Dodgers’ centerfielder Matt Kemp’s head—Harper sprinted around first and halfway between first and second flung his helmet off with quick upward flick of his hand.

It was indicative of attention-getting behavior because he’s “special”; because he’s enabled to do what he wants as a result of the things he can do on the field.

It has to be addressed and checked.

He’s held to a different standard, as he should be. That he’s 19 is not an acceptable excuse. For no other reason than to maximize that talent, he needs to be reined in. And that’s before getting to his still-developing brain and future as a human being.

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Harper’s Promotion Is Not Just About Playing Baseball

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With the injury to Michael Morse, the Nationals have a huge hole in left field. Ryan Zimmerman is on the disabled list with inflammation in his shoulder that has been negatively affecting his throwing and could be a recurrent problem. Rick Ankiel is a good defensive outfielder, but his offense is limited to an occasional home run and stolen base speed with lots of strikeouts and little plate discipline.

Bryce Harper’s recall from Triple-A is, in small part, baseball-related but there are other factors involved in the decision.

On the field, Harper won’t be worse than the left field combination of Xavier Nady, Roger Bernadina and Mark DeRosa. He has star potential and can provide immediate impact. At worst, he’ll hold his own between the lines.

Off the field, at 19-years-old and as self-involved, bratty, catered to and obnoxious as he’s shown himself to be, is he ready for the scrutiny, attention, jealousy and outright loathing he’ll attract? Probably not, but that will take care of itself.

In spite of a league-best 14-6 record, the Nats are 12th in the National League in attendance and there is a spot in the lineup for Harper—it’s not pure shtick to fill the park. They have nothing to lose by bringing him up now. His arbitration clock is ticking, but he’s not going to be eligible for free agency under any circumstances until after 2018. So why not have a look? They can always send him down.

It’s not going to happen this season, but the Nats’ configuration in the field will possibly have Zimmerman shifting to first base to account for his shoulder and inability to throw. Current first baseman Adam LaRoche is off to a hot start, but has a team option for 2013 that’s unlikely to be picked up. Anthony Rendon is a top third base prospect and Harper can find a home somewhere in the outfield.

The Nats are one of the few organizations in baseball with depth at third base, and they can replicate what the Dodgers of the early 1970s did when they had two big league-ready third basemen (Steve Garvey and Ron Cey) and one—Garvey—who couldn’t throw the ball to first base without it being a hair-raising adventure. They moved Garvey to first base and he became an MVP, perennial All-Star and Gold Glove winner. For all of Garvey’s polished good looks, crafted image and Hollywood star power, the awkward and strange-looking Cey (known as the Penguin because of his odd body type and style of running) was an excellent player in his own right and as much, if not more, of a key to the Dodgers dominance in that decade and beyond.

The Nationals have similar options.

For Harper, it’s not the actual playing of that game that will be the attention-grabber, but how opposing clubs, umpires, the media and even his own team react to his first tantrum.

As far as playing, he’ll be fine, but if the Nats suggest that it’s a purely baseball-related decision, it’s simply not the truth.

My book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide, is now available in the I-Tunes store.

Check it out here.

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National League Patience Or Panic?

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Earlier I wrote of the American League teams that either need to have patience or panic. Let’s look at the National League teams in the same predicament.

Miami Marlins

It’s safe to assume that Marlins’ owner Jeffrey Loria’s office is outfitted with escape hatches, listening devices, nefarious contraptions and trapdoors at various spots on the floor—one of which sends the hapless victim to the airtight, windowless room (complete with Lazarus Pit) in which Jack McKeon is kept.

There’s one small vent as a concession for McKeon’s cigar smoke.

Along with these amenities is, presumably, a dutiful assistant carrying a black box. Inside that black box is the panic button.

When said panic button is pressed, something happens: a manager is fired; a player is demoted; a son-in-law is sent to speak to the media; a pretentiously gauche extravaganza masquerading as art is activated; a fealty-induced political marker is cashed.

Something.

Is it time for the Marlins to panic?

Just about.

Already under investigation by the SEC for the way the new Marlins’ Stadium was financed, with manager Ozzie Guillen under siege for his pro-Fidel Castro comments and the team playing poorly, it’s not long before a Steinbrennerean missive is issued on stationary emblazoned across the top with the words:

From the Mildly Artistic Mind of Jeffrey L.

He learned his lessons from George Steinbrenner in terms of morally-challenged behavior under the guise of business and personal interests and now his team is eerily similar to the Yankees of the 1980s: expensive, underachieving, fractured, dysfunctional and disinterested.

Heath Bell and Jose Reyes have both been atrocious; Hanley Ramirez isn’t hitting; and, on the whole, they look like a group that not only doesn’t know how to play together, but don’t like each other very much.

Loria thought he was buying a contender and that the attendance to see that contender would be commensurate with the amenities of a new park and a good team.

The winning team would attract the real baseball fans; the nightclub, pool, dancing girls, acrobats, restaurants and art would attract the eclectic denizens of Miami who go where it’s cool regardless of the venue.

They’re seventh in the National League in attendance.

The team is flawed and, right now, just plain bad.

Loria’s finger is itching to hit that panic button and it should be because veteran teams in disarray tend to spiral out of control early once they sense the season is lost.

Philadelphia Phillies

No team could function with the spate of injuries that have befallen the Phillies. All they’re trying to do is keep their heads above water until Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Cliff Lee are healthy.

Manager Charlie Manuel has been trying to find a lineup combination that works. He’s playing small ball to account for the lost power and it’s failing. Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco aren’t hitting and as good as Freddy Galvis is defensively, the Phillies currently can’t afford to carry his popgun bat.

If they get healthy, they’ll be fine. The question is what level of Howard and Utley are they going to get when they return and how long is Lee going to be out with a strained oblique? They don’t want to fall too far behind, but the second Wild Card added this year makes it much easier to be patient even in a demanding city like Philadelphia.

Cincinnati Reds

Amid all the preseason talk that the Reds’ decision to trade chunks of their farm system to get Mat Latos and Sean Marshall and the pending free agencies (in 2014) of Joey Votto and (in 2013) of Brandon Phillips made them a “win now or else” team, they’re well-situated for the future with all their pieces in place.

Latos, Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs are all under team control for the foreseeable future; and they signed Votto, Phillips and Marshall to contract extensions.

The loss of Ryan Madson was a blow, but they’ve replaced him with Marshall and Aroldis Chapman can close if necessary.

The pitching has been solid; they just haven’t hit. This core of this Reds team was second in runs scored in 2011 and first in 2010. They’re going to hit.

San Francisco Giants

The Giants’ strength was in their starting rotation and that they had a deep, diverse and organized bullpen with a horse of a closer.

The rotation should be fine but the bullpen is in flux with the loss of Brian Wilson. Bruce Bochy is not the closer-by-committee type of manager, but that’s where he is as of now. He named Santiago Casilla as the closer and proceeded to treat him as if he’s just another arm in the bullpen as soon as he got in trouble in one of his first save chances after being dubbed the closer.

The lineup has been better than expected, but is still carrying potential black spots at shortstop, second base, first base and right field.

And Angel Pagan, being Angel Pagan, will inspire the entire team—individually—to strangle him at least once by forgetting how many outs there are; running the team out of an inning; throwing to the wrong base (or wrong team); or something.

The Giants don’t need to panic, but they do need to be vigilant that unless they settle on a reasonable plan with their bullpen, they’re going to fade by August.

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American League Patience Or Panic?

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Let’s take a look at some teams that, prior to the season, had expectations but have struggled out of the gate. Should they be patient or should they panic?

Boston Red Sox

The Carl Crawford news is getting worse and worse and his contract has been labeled a “disaster” one year into a seven year deal.

Disaster is a bit much since he’s hurt, but the end result is that he’s enduring all sorts of maladies and didn’t play well in 2011.

They acquired Marlon Byrd to replace the injured Jacoby Ellsbury. It’s a morbid race to see which of the injured duo of Ellsbury and Crawford gets back first.

Daniel Bard is starting tonight after his successful return—albeit brief—to the bullpen. It appears as if the team is taking a wait-and-see approach as to what to do with Bard for 2012. I’d expect him to return to the bullpen with Aaron Cook taking his spot in the rotation. The question is when.

The Sunday night rainout and going on the road to play a bad team in the Twins gave the Red Sox and manager Bobby Valentine a much-needed break from the rising viciousness at home.

There’s little they can do at the moment to improve the roster and they have to wait and hope.

Kansas City Royals

The innocent climb is never easy, especially for a team like the Royals that has been mismanaged and plain bad for a long time.

With their high-end young players expected to yield a marked improvement on the field, they won 3 of their first 5 games…then turned around and lost 12 in a row.

The Royals are very talented. That doesn’t always mean they’re going to adhere to a specific timeframe of improvement. They’ve started poorly and now lefty Danny Duffy is missing his Friday start with elbow tightness. Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon and Jeff Francoeur have gotten off to slow starts at the plate; they lost Joakim Soria for the season to Tommy John surgery; and catcher Salvador Perez is out until the summer.

There’s no need to panic and make a desperate and stupid trade. They have to play it out and learn from adversity.

Los Angeles Angels

Most teams with the Angels’ collection of stars would make it through and at least hang around .500 if one aspect of their club—offense, defense, bullpen, rotation—were struggling so terribly. But the Angels haven’t hit; their bullpen has been rotten; the starting pitching inconsistent; and the defense shabby.

Overall, they don’t look right.

It’s as if the holdovers from the years of Angels’ stability, cohesion and familiarity are treading cautiously with a newcomer the status of Albert Pujols.

Pujols is pressing and has yet to hit a home run.

They need to relax. This team is too good to play like this the entire season. They’ve got a hot streak coming. Soon.

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Six Cold, Hard Questions For The Yankees

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On the same night one of the last pitchers the Yankees developed and practically utilized—Andy Pettitte—took the next step in his comeback attempt with a minor league start in Trenton, two pitchers upon whom they’re relying to maintain contention under the new luxury tax mandates were terrible (Phil Hughes) and heading for surgery (Michael Pineda).

The pompous arrogance of the organization, their media wing and fan base all but disappeared in favor of maudlin whimpering, melancholy sadness, silence and the ever-present spin-doctoring to twist matters into a favorable view of blamelessness.

There’s no defense. Only damage control.

To compound the irony, Pineda’s surgery is going to be performed by the Mets’ team physician Dr. David Altcheck.

In the past the fact that Dr. Altcheck is a respected and renowned specialist would’ve been shunted aside by a Yankees’ support group to laugh at this fact if the sequence of events were happening to anyone other than the Yankees.

Reality rears its ugly head and convenient fodder for jokes—the Mets’ team doctor—is suddenly off limits.

But is it ugly? Or is it what it is without discretion, intent or preference?

Let’s take a look at some of the burning questions regarding the Yankees, Michael Pineda and another disaster in the reign of Brian Cashman that can’t be glossed over by lukewarm distractions from that cold, hard reality.

Was Pineda hurt when the Yankees traded for him and did the Mariners know it?

It’s possible.

Anything is possible.

But I doubt it.

If he was hurt, it was probably an injury that would only have been discovered had the Yankees or Mariners been looking for it. Pineda was examined for the shoulder pain that shelved him and robbed him of his velocity in spring training and nothing was found. It was when the Yankees did a more comprehensive examination following his last spring rehab start that they found the labrum tear.

The Yankees have made ghastly errors with Pineda, but ignoring a possible injury isn’t one of them.

Even if he was damaged goods, it’s irrelevant. What’s done is done.

How are the Yankees at fault?

The same arguments that allocate the blame on the Mariners and Pineda can also be shifted to the Yankees.

Much like their signing of Pedro Feliciano and holding the Mets responsible for Feliciano’s shoulder injury by saying he was “abused”, it’s a reluctance to own up to anything for which they can be negatively perceived. It’s cultural and has created this litany of failed pitching prospects.

They’re more worried about what will be thought of them if the pitchers get hurt than they are in having the pitchers do well and evolve as Yankees.

Pineda showed up to Yankees’ camp overweight, but it wasn’t as if they made the trade in October and Pineda stopped exercising and started eating. The trade was made in January weeks before pitchers and catchers reported. Did he suddenly get fat from the day of the trade to his appearance in Tampa? In two weeks?

I think not.

If he hadn’t shown up fat for the Yankees, he would’ve shown up fat for the Mariners.

GM Brian Cashman, immersed in his own egotistical bubble, was the person who publicly castigated the Mets for Feliciano’s injury after he gave Feliciano $8 million to come to the Yankees.

He scurried away when the Mets, for once, fought back.

The trade of Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi for Pineda and Jose Campos made sense. Pineda pitched well for the Mariners last season and his second half struggles and supposed velocity decline weren’t drastic enough to dissuade them from making the deal. They examined him and found nothing wrong.

But the aftermath is a different matter.

Almost immediately, the Yankees propped up the inclusion of Campos as the biggest factor as if a 19-year-old in A-ball would validate any eventuality. Cashman told Jim Bowden that the trade will have been a mistake if Pineda doesn’t develop into a top of the rotation starter. They complained about his weight. When he got to camp, they constantly referenced his velocity—or lack thereof—as if they were waiting for him to launch 98-mph fastballs in early March.

Could Pineda’s attempts to throw harder before he was ready or while he was ailing have contributed to the overstressing of his shoulder and gotten him hurt worse? Did the Yankees place an unfair onus on him? Did running him down affect his mentality when he became a Yankee?

You tell me.

Why are they clinging to this “developmental” strategy?

Cashman’s comments following the Pineda diagnosis were expected as he said various permutations of, “We don’t regret it and we’d do it again.”

This is understandable if he’s spouting a line to protect himself and his organization for making the trade and doesn’t truly believe it. Only a lunatic would say he doesn’t regret making this trade after the Pineda injury.

Like the Yankees’ ridiculous limits, rules and regulations they’ve placed on every pitcher since Cashman took complete command as the top-down boss of the organization, they’re clutching to them in a death-grip as if any admission that they might’ve been wrong is a sign of weakness that would lead to anarchy and revolution.

What would disturb me is if Cashman doesn’t regret making this trade; if he believes that the Yankees method of development that has all but destroyed Joba Chamberlain, has Hughes on the verge of a demotion to the bullpen or minors, and led them to trade away Ian Kennedy were the right things to do.

If Cashman is under the impression that Pineda’s injury was a result of the Mariners using a different strategy of nurturing their pitchers than the Yankees, then the problem isn’t a simple mistaken projection, but a foundational blind spot and inexplicable egomania.

Pettitte didn’t graduate to the majors under any limits and he’s the last starting pitcher the Yankees have signed, built and utilized on their own over the long term.

Looking at his minor league numbers, he was allowed to pitch as a youngster. He accumulated innings, durability and resilience. He learned how to get in and out of trouble without a random number or overactive management to bail him out. He got to the majors in 1995, was a large factor in the Yankees’ playoff berth and threw 175 innings. He wasn’t abused, but he wasn’t babied either.

In 1996 at the age of 24, Pettitte logged 240 innings and won 21 games. Apart from some expected injuries, on an annual basis, he could be counted on for 200+ innings not counting playoffs. He never had Tommy John surgery nor did he have major shoulder surgery.

Now they’re counting on Pettitte to replace the lost Pineda.

Are the Yankees rationally examining these studies they constantly refer to in keeping their pitchers healthy? Or are they blindly sticking to what’s not working just because?

Do Ivan Nova and Chien-Ming Wang prove the righteousness of the Yankees’ methods?

No.

If you mention Nova as a pitcher the Yankees developed and who’s doing well, you need to check the backstory. Nova was not a prospect. They thought so little of him that they left him unprotected in the 2008 Rule 5 draft. He was selected by the Padres and returned to the Yankees.

Nova wasn’t babied because they didn’t think much of him and weren’t overly concerned about the perception from the masses if he got hurt. Now he’s a ruthless competitor who, in spite of their continued disregard for him with threats of demotion and non-existent expectations, is a lifesaver for them.

Wang wasn’t considered a prospect either, but out of necessity they recalled him in 2005 and he blossomed.

Are you seeing the trend?

Pitchers who are left alone become useful. Those who are stuffed in a cookie-cutter mold of paranoid “protective” services turn into Hughes and Chamberlain.

Is the Yankees position on pitching understandable?

It was.

Once.

If they have experts in the medical field versed in sports and biomechanics making recommendations; if they’re listening to experienced pitching coaches and baseball people; if they’re copying what clubs like the Red Sox have done to develop their young pitchers Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, then you can say it was worthwhile to try and build their own starters under the auspices of the innings/pitch counts.

But it hasn’t worked.

One would think that they’d stop and say they have to try something else; that they’d realize that the Rangers, Giants and Mariners have chosen a different and successful route with their pitchers; that perhaps greater flexibility and individual attention is in order.

Sometimes these pitchers are going to get hurt. They’re going to flame out.

But if the Yankees or any other team gets use from them, what’s the difference?

Which is better? Having the pitcher healthy and ineffective like Hughes or using him until he breaks down—as the Diamondbacks did with Brandon Webb—and getting a spurt of greatness that resulted in one Cy Young Award that could easily have been five?

Will this sink in?

If sports talk radio existed in the early 1960s to the degree it does now, we’d be hearing the same forceful pronouncements of a neverending empire; an inevitability of the Yankees’ dominance.

But the Yankees’ reign of terror ended in 1965 in part because they were oblivious to the decay from age, mismanagement and didn’t adapt to the new way in which baseball did business with a draft, divisions and Yankees’ “mystique” disappearing.

By the mid-late-1960s they were a laughingstock and other teams took joy in their humiliation after years of bullying, condescension and abuse.

You don’t think it could happen again?

It’s the circle of life. Dynasties fall and they’re aided and abetted by a blanketed stupidity that has fomented this nightmare of pitching miscalculations.

If they continue down this road, it’s going to get worse and judging by what’s being said and done, they’re not changing anything anytime soon.

They made their own mess and have taken no steps to clean it up.

It’s downhill from here.

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New York Style Injuries And “Knowledge” Of The Masses

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After the news broke that Mike Pelfrey is going on the disabled list—and possibly under the surgeon’s knife—with an elbow issue, the most glaring aspect is that nobody backtracked or expressed regret for ripping Mets’ manager Terry Collins for pulling Pelfrey after eight innings on Saturday.

What you’ll hear is the excuse: “We didn’t know.”

Exactly. You didn’t know. Because you’re not in the dugout and are not a baseball person, the manager is left to take a beating by outsiders stemming from the ignorance that comes from a little bit of self-anointed knowledge of statistics and “experience” accrued by watching games and studying numbers without actually being involved in the activity of playing, coaching and managing a baseball game and baseball players.

It’s remarkably easy to react to something that appears to be wrong in the realm of a layman and go on a tangent on Twitter.

What would’ve happened had Collins done what the masses wanted him to do—after the fact and knowing that closer Frank Francisco blew the game—and left Pelfrey in the game? Would that have been referenced as the time when he got hurt?

We don’t know when he got hurt, but that would’ve been the “when”, true or not.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing and a forum to vent with others actually listening to the venting and giving it credibility with mass agreement makes it worse.

The Mets are being hammered by injuries.

Their frontline roster is competent and they’ve played relatively well to start the season, all things considered; but the main reasons I had the Mets finishing at 69-93 and in last place in the NL East were the notoriously rough division and the profound lack of depth in the organization. Up to now, the young players Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Ruben Tejada, Josh Thole and Dillon Gee have held their own, but when you lose the 200 innings of Pelfrey and a veteran like Jason Bay—regardless of fan perception of the two—it’s going to hurt badly by highlighting the absence of viable replacements for those players.

Those who were celebrating Pelfrey’s and Bay’s injuries have their own issues to deal with. In a baseball sense, the same prevailing lack of logic applies as when there were calls to release Pelfrey and Bay. Who’s going to play left field? (One suggestion last year was for the Mets to get Endy Chavez back; Chavez is currently batting .156 for the Orioles.) And who precisely are they supposed to get to replace the 200 innings that Pelfrey would provide?

Who?

On the other side of town, Michael Pineda’s saga as a Yankee continues. The majority of it is out of uniform and in MRI tubes. He’s getting a second opinion on the diagnosis for his ailing shoulder which, obviously, is not a good thing. If the initial diagnosis was good, why would he need a second opinion?

There’s little to say about the Yankees and their treatment, development and assessment of pitchers other than it’s awful.

One would think that the litany of failures—Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, Andrew Brackman, Pineda—would tell them that perhaps it’s time to do something entirely different as the Texas Rangers have consciously decided to do in pushing their pitchers harder in the minors and letting them work their way through the middle innings in lieu of planting in their heads a predetermined pitch/innings count so they know that they’re coming out of the game.

The most laughable part of the Yankees’ pitching merry-go-round is that there are still Yankees’ apologists in the media trying to put forth a defense of the treatment of Pineda.

Mike Francesa is constantly discussing the prospect the Yankees acquired—Jose Campos—as if he’s the Holy Grail of the trade.

Given their absurd pitching failures, what makes anyone think the Yankees are going to do a better a job developing and using Campos than they have with the other pitchers they’ve ruined with their idiotic rules.

Joel Sherman of the NY Post clumsily altered reality on Sunday by implying that GM Brian Cashman’s statements about Pineda were designed to remove pressure from him as he became acclimated to life with the Yankees.

So saying that he’ll have made a mistake if Pineda doesn’t develop into a number 1 starter and refine his changeup is taking pressure off him? A number 1 starter is generally a Tim Lincecum, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, Roy Halladay-type. Being placed into that category wouldn’t put pressure on a 23-year-old to overdo it?

The Yankees and the media openly questioned Pineda’s fastball when he pitched in spring training possibly leading him to try to throw too hard and light up the radar gun; perhaps ignoring pain in his shoulder while doing it to validate the trade and rhetoric.

Compounding all of this by comparing Montero to Miguel Cabrera only exacerbated the problem.

This idea that they didn’t “need” Jesus Montero is ludicrous. If they were going to trade him away due to an overabundance of hitting and need for pitching, they could’ve done it for someone established. Or they could’ve kept Montero as the DH and allowed Hector Noesi to have a legitimate shot in the rotation.

Regardless of the reasons and actions, this is where they are. They have Pineda and Campos and the trade is already looking like a long-term disaster.

The Yankees currently have the overall pitching and hitting to live without Pineda, but in the future when Andy Pettitte decides to retire once and for all; when CC Sabathia is aging and can’t be counted on for 240 innings every year; and are concerned enough about the luxury tax guidelines that they can’t fling money at their holes, what are they supposed to do then?

Wait for Campos?

They’ll be waiting until 2016 and he’ll be on a series of brilliantly devised limits.

To protect him of course.

The Yankees protection is an implanted time-bomb and I’d rather go without it in every conceivable sense.

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This Is The Yu Darvish The Rangers Paid For—Don’t Forget It

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It wasn’t Rangers’ righty Yu Darvish’s performance that was the most impressive thing in his 8 1/3 spectacular innings against the Yankees last night.

On paper and in practice, he looked great. Allowing 7 hits, 2 walks, striking out 10 and allowing no runs are all well and good, but it was the way he pounded the strike zone (119 pitches and 82 strikes) and displayed the presence and swagger of a star that provided a glimpse into his future.

Star power.

You either have it or you don’t.

The desire to be the center of attention in a big moment.

You either have it or you don’t.

Ability.

You either have it or you don’t.

Darvish has it.

All of it.

In spite of winning two of his first three starts, he’d done so in a shaky manner. His results echoed Barry Zito’s with control problems, wriggling in and out of trouble and always appearing to be on the verge of giving up 5 runs. He accumulated high pitch counts early in games; the Rangers’ bullpen was constantly on alert; he was nursed through and pulled before the games blew up from his walks.

In a game ripe for a meltdown with excuses at the ready (it’s the Yankees; he’s new to the league and North America; he’s getting used to the larger ball) Darvish displayed the stuff, composure and confidence that make him a top-of-the-rotation talent.

There are statistical suggestions that success in the post-season is a random occurrence; that the pitchers who’ve made a name for themselves in big games—John Smoltz, Bob Gibson, Curt Schilling, Dave Stewart, Orel Hershiser—were creatures of circumstance.

It’s nonsense.

Mentally handling pressure is just as important as ability in a big game.

Often, they’re wars of attrition.

Technically, for Darvish and the Rangers, last night’s game against the Yankees was a relatively meaningless start in April. But it wasn’t. Because it was Darvish vs Hiroki Kuroda and Darvish had pitched so inconsistently in his first three starts, the spotlight was on to see how he’d handle the Yankees’ bats and facing his countryman in front of millions of fans in Japan and across the world.

He didn’t survive the test. He embraced it as if to say, “This is my domain. Everyone’s watching and I’m giving them what they came to see. You wanna see something? Here it is.”

There are pitchers you trust in a big game. Darvish is one of those pitchers. He’s got that presence and the goods to back it up. He wants you and everyone else to know it.

Last night was just the beginning.

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Prepare For The Cubs To Clean House

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The Cubs’ recent decisions indicate that Theo Epstein isn’t going to sit on his hands and wait until June or July before cleaning out the house of anyone and everyone for whom he can get value and/or salary relief.

With the sudden trade of Marlon Byrd to the Red Sox, Epstein wasn’t doing his former club any favors. He got rid of Byrd for Michael Bowden and a player to be named later with the Cubs paying Byrd’s salary. To make room for Bowden on the 40-man roster, the Cubs have designated veteran swingman Rodrigo Lopez for assignment.

This is just the beginning.

In the off-season, the Cubs made a series of low-cost signings for veteran competence. Their biggest and most expensive imports were Epstein, new GM Jed Hoyer and his assistant Jason McLeod.

The Cubs paid the Marlins to take Carlos Zambrano to get him out of their sight. This and the Byrd trade echoed a similar strategy. Presumably they could’ve gotten more salary relief had they been willing to take marginal prospects in return for Zambrano and Byrd, but they chose to pay them off and get Bowden from the Red Sox and Chris Volstad from the Marlins. That Epstein was able to get anything for Byrd at all—with or without paying him—is a testimony to the Red Sox’ desperation to do something. Byrd had managed 3 singles in 47 plate appearances for the Cubs.

Epstein’s not stupid. He knew when he took the job that the Cubs were going to require an extensive makeover. The biggest advantage he has isn’t the history of success he had with the Red Sox and the status of being the GM when the Red Sox not only broke their curse in 2004, but won another title in 2007. The biggest advantage he has is the Cubs’ fans’ blind loyalty to their team. In the past, the attendance—good team, bad team, whatever team—has been a dual-edged sword. They didn’t have to be good to attract fans. In the past 10 years, the Cubs have never finished lower than fifth in National League attendance and it made no difference whether they won 97 games or 66 games. The fans will be patient and support the uniforms regardless of the players wearing them.

They took a wait-and-see approach this past winter and signed the likes of David DeJesus to a reasonable and cheap contract; they acquired a veteran third baseman Ian Stewart; and made the aforementioned deal to get rid of Zambrano.

They’ve gotten off to a 5-12 start and got rid of Byrd.

Expect Ryan Dempster to be on the market. They’ll dangle Matt Garza at mid-season safe in the knowledge that he’s not a free agent until after 2013 and they have the multiple options of signing him long-term, trading him in July or sometime within the next year-and-a-half. They might swallow Alfonso Soriano’s contract ($18 million annually through 2014) completely and release him if he doesn’t start doing the only thing he still can do—hit a few homers. Carlos Marmol needs a change of scenery and will be available very, very soon.

The Cubs’ new regime gave them a chance to show they were a possible fringe contender.

They’ve lost 12 of their first 17 games and have looked lackluster and boring while doing it.

There’s no reason to continue the charade with players who won’t be Cubs when and if they’re ready to contend for a championship. Epstein’s got players to trade and he’s going to trade them sooner rather than later.

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