Triple Crown Winners and the MVP

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The reason the Triple Crown is getting such attention is that it’s so unknown to most everyone because it hasn’t happened since 1967 when Carl Yastrzemski won it leading the Red Sox to their “Impossible Dream” pennant. But now, with Tigers’ third baseman Miguel Cabrera on the verge of winning the Triple Crown in the American League, there’s an increasingly contentious debate as to whether leading the home runs, RBI, and batting average will justify Cabrera taking the Most Valuable Player over Angels’ center fielder Mike Trout.

Trout has the accumulation of numbers including great defense and stolen bases to go along with power for a 10.4 Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Cabrera’s WAR has been reduced significantly because he’s a poor defensive third baseman. Discounting defense, Trout is still ahead by .9 wins per game over Cabrera when calculating offensive WAR.

So how is it going to be decided? Will it be based on the player with the big power numbers? The one with the higher WAR and better all-around game? Will the word “value” be taken literally and used out of convenience by the voter to achieve his ends of picking Cabrera or Trout and use a floating, elusive, and adaptive principle to counter disagreement? Will there be the “clutch” stats factored into the equation? Difficulty of opponent? Will it go macro by dissecting when they did their damage and against whom and a myriad of other reasons to do what one would prefer to do? A motivated supporter of either Trout or Cabrera can find a reason to do it. It’s not hard.

I wrote about Trout vs Cabrera recently here, but what’s interesting is examining how players who had previously won the Triple Crown were treated by the MVP voters. Let’s take a look at the Triple Crown winners, some of whom didn’t win the MVP.

(The MVP was called the “league award” before it became the MVP in 1931.)

1925: Triple Crown Winner—Rogers Hornsby, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals; won the MVP

Hornsby won the Triple Crown with 39 homers, 143 RBI, and a .403 BA. He had a 10.1 WAR and won the National League MVP. He also led the league in every major offensive category. His Cardinals team finished at 77-76.

Pirates’ right fielder Kiki Cuyler came in second in the voting and it was far closer than it should’ve been with Hornsby getting 91% of the votes and Cuyler 76%. Cuyler stole 41 bases, had 26 triples, and led the majors with 144 runs scored. Obviously the Pirates winning the pennant with a 95-58 record and pennant helped Cuyler’s case with many of the voters.

1933: Triple Crown Winner—Jimmie Foxx, 1B, Philadelphia Athletics; won the MVP

Foxx had 48 homers, 163 RBI, and batted .356. He also led the league in slugging, OPS, OPS+, and total bases. He had a WAR of 9.0. Foxx won the award relatively easily with 91%. Next was Lou Gehrig at 69%. The only player who warranted consideration based on the way his team finished was third place finisher, left fielder Heinie Manush of the pennant winning Washington Senators, and his numbers weren’t MVP-quality. He led the league in hits and triples.

The Senators didn’t have one significant star who “made” their 99-53 record. They finished 19 ½ games ahead of the A’s, but Foxx won the MVP anyway.

1933: Triple Crown Winner—Chuck Klein, RF, Philadelphia Phillies; did not win the MVP

Klein played for the Phillies who finished in last place in the National League with a record of 60-92. Klein led the league in every significant offensive category and had a 7.3 WAR. Klein had won the MVP in the National League in 1932, but finished in second place to New York Giants pitcher Carl Hubbell (there was no Cy Young Award then). The Giants won the National League pennant that season, Hubbell went 23-12 with a 1.66 ERA and an 8.5 WAR. Hubbell deserved the award.

1934: Triple Crown Winner—Lou Gehrig, 1B, New York Yankees; did not win the MVP

The Yankees finished second to the Tigers by seven games in the American League. Gehrig led the AL in everything from homers, to RBI, to batting average, to on-base, slugging, and total bases. He had a 10.1 WAR. But Tigers’ catcher Mickey Cochrane won the MVP based on the Tigers winning the pennant. There could be no other reason. The voting was close…but it was close between Cochrane and his teammate Charlie Gehringer. Gehringer should’ve won it over Cochrane. Gehrig came in a ludicrous fifth. You could try to make the argument of Gehringer over Gehrig. You’d be wrong, but given Gehringer playing second base well and Gehrig playing first base poorly, along with the Tigers winning the pennant, you could make the argument.

1937: Triple Crown Winner—Joe Medwick, LF, St. Louis Cardinals; won the MVP

Looking at Medwick’s numbers, he reminds me of Don Mattingly. He was a hacker who never walked, but never struck out either. In addition to the Triple Crown numbers, he led the National League in hits, runs, doubles, slugging, OPS, and OPS+. His WAR was 8.1.

The Cardinals finished in fourth place in the National League far behind the pennant-winning Giants. Gabby Hartnett came in second in the MVP voting, but Medwick deserved it and won it.

1942: Triple Crown Winner—Ted Williams, LF, Boston Red Sox; did not win the MVP

Williams led the AL in every offensive category by a lot. The Red Sox finished in second place in the AL behind the Yankees. Yankees’ second baseman Joe Gordon won the MVP. Williams’s WAR was 10.2 and Gordon’s was 7.8. The voting was close with Gordon accumulating 270 points to Williams’s 249. Of course Williams should’ve won. It’s doubtful anyone was paying attention to his shaky, uninterested defense back then, but the voters certainly knew that Williams had no use for the writers and perhaps that affected the voting more than Gordon’s Yankees winning the pennant with a far better team.

1947: Triple Crown Winner—Ted Williams, LF, Boston Red Sox; did not win the MVP

The Red Sox finished in third place, 14 games behind the pennant winning Yankees, but the absurdity of this MVP voting was stark. Joe DiMaggio won it with mediocre (for him) numbers of 20 homers and a .315/.391/.522 split. His WAR was 4.5.

Williams led the American League in every major offensive category and was again playing for a far inferior team. DiMaggio won the award by 1 point when he should have come in third behind Williams and Lou Boudreau.

1956: Triple Crown Winner—Mickey Mantle, CF, New York Yankees; won the MVP

The Yankees won the pennant by 9 games, Mantle led the American League in every major offensive category; he won the award unanimously and deserved it.

1966: Triple Crown Winner—Frank Robinson, RF, Baltimore Orioles; won the MVP

The Orioles won the pennant that year and Robinson won the AL MVP unanimously and deserved it. The interesting part of the Robinson’s 1966 season was how he’d been traded by the Reds the year before because Reds’ owner Bill DeWitt called the 30-year-old Robinson “an old 30.”

Challenging someone as cantankerous as Robinson—even now at age 77—is not a good idea. In truth, this trade in which Robinson was dealt for pitchers Milt Pappas, Jack Baldschun, and Dick Simpson might’ve been something the self-proclaimed experts who think they can study a stat sheet and know the ins-and-outs of baseball would pull and, in theory, it wasn’t a horrible idea.

Pappas has had his name sullied because he was traded for Robinson, but he was a very good pitcher who won 209 big league games. Simpson was 21 and had a big year in Triple A for the Angels in 1965 with 24 homers and 29 stolen bases, a .301 BA and .380 OBP (he was traded to the Orioles a week before they traded him to the Reds). Baldschun had been a useful reliever for the Phillies in the preceding years.

The pride of a man like Robinson was ignored and the trade and comments about why they made it set Robinson off on a mission to prove DeWitt wrong. And he did.

1967: Triple Crown Winner—Carl Yastrzemski, LF, Boston Red Sox; won the MVP

The only thing preventing Yastrzemski from winning the AL MVP unanimously was someone, somewhere who decided to vote for Cesar Tovar. Tovar had led the league in games, plate appearances, and at-bats. He batted .267 with a .325 OBP, 6 homers and 19 stolen bases. He was average defensively. Tovar was apparently voted for the MVP because of his attendance record.

Yastrzemski led the Red Sox to the World Series. The race went down to the wire with the White Sox, Twins, Tigers, and Red Sox all fighting until the end. Yastrzemski hit 9 homers in Sept./Oct. and had a .417/.504/.760 split in that last month-plus when it counted most.

For the most part, the rightful MVP has tended to win. There are mitigating circumstances when humans who rely on various biases and criteria are making the decisions. Some will be starstruck from the Triple Crown because it’s something many probably haven’t seen before. Others will lodge a “protest” vote against the stat people who are rolling their eyes and trying to bully the objectors of Trout’s candidacy using WAR as an end-of-story hammer without taking other aspects into account. Still others will try to use either the Tigers or Angels making the playoffs (or not) as the context of voting for or against either Trout or Cabrera.

When baseball awards are selected, there’s no list of reasons to vote or not vote for a candidate. All that can be done is to make a case and hope others agree. But I don’t see people making a case either way. I just see fighting, and all fighting is going to do is cause the factions to dig in and ignore any list of reasons, regardless of how logical and sensible they are. Being a hardline old-schooler or a condescending and arrogant stat person isn’t going to sway people to either side. That much I can guarantee.

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Red Sox Need To Examine John Farrell Objectively

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Before the Red Sox go crazy in trading players and doling a lucrative long-term contract on their main target to replace Bobby Valentine, John Farrell, they had better make sure that they know exactly what they’re getting. It’s not a matter of, “We’ll hire Farrell and everything will be okay.” That straw man is was erected under the supervision of those who went to the Josh Beckett school of “don’t blame me.” Valentine was part of the problem for the Red Sox this season, but only a small part. Hiring Farrell doesn’t repair the rotation; the bullpen; the pockmarked lineup; and the jockeying for power in the front office.

Because Farrell was popular amongst the players and media and an audible sigh of relief would be exhaled en masse if they hire him is another reason to hesitate. Giving the players, fans, and media what they want is one of the things the Red Sox intentionally got away from when they began rebuilding the organization as far back as Dan Duquette’s era. Considering their brattish behavior when it came to Valentine, the players lost all rights to dictate anything to the front office, let alone whom they wanted in the manager’s office. Many of the players who betrayed the “beloved” Terry Francona are gone; some remain and some undermined Valentine from the start. Now they want Farrell? And the front office is prepared to give them what they want and possibly trade players to do it?

The Red Sox had better look at Farrell objectively, not as a man but as a manager. He’d handle the media better than Valentine and the players wouldn’t overstep their bounds as they did with Valentine, but these are no longer the days in which the Red Sox had such an overwhelming array of talent that they were able to overcome controversies and dysfunction to win regardless of their issues. The team is not very good and Farrell’s managing isn’t much better. Strategic mishaps happen with every manager and they sometimes cost games; but sometimes the mistakes managers make wind up succeeding. I would say that the number of mistakes a manager makes over the course of a game are mitigated by an unknown pitcher having a great game; a hitter doing something he doesn’t normally do; or the opposing manager committing a worse gaffe. There’s a difference between a strategic and a fundamental error and I’m not talking about a shortstop booting a ground ball or the left fielder missing the cutoff man. I’m talking about a manager insisting, “This is the way we play,” when it diametrically opposes what they should be doing and what works.

The Blue Jays were mediocre in 2011 under Farrell, but they had an excuse because they were retooling the organization under GM Alex Anthopoulos. In 2012, they had expectations of playoff contention. Injuries have been proffered as an excuse as to why they’re currently 19 games under .500, but they were a .500 team before Jose Bautista, Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek, and Drew Hutchison got hurt. They’ve gotten a career year from Edwin Encarnacion and are frequently cited as a team with plenty of prospects and money to spend in the upcoming off-season.

When the actual on-field improvement will come is anyone’s guess and a large chunk of their failures have stemmed from the managerial mishaps of Farrell. He allows his players to run wild on the basepaths, stealing bases—and getting thrown out—seemingly at will; they swing for home runs and are over-aggressive at the plate. In short, they don’t play the game correctly.

Last night, for example, the final result of the game looks to be an 11-4 Yankees blowout, but in the bottom of the eighth inning, the score was 9-4 when, with one out, Rajai Davis singled off of David Robertson. Anthony Gose came up, the count went to 2-0, and Gose swung at the next pitch grounding out to the first baseman.

The Blue Jays were down 5 runs with a pitcher who has the propensity to walk people and has been shaky of late, and Gose—a speed player who has shown occasional pop in the minors—swings at a 2-0 pitch. Why? Even if he’d achieved the best possible on-paper result and hit a home run, then what? The score would’ve been 9-6. And the likelihood of that happening, with Gose having hit 1 homer in 151 plate appearances in the big leagues this season, was nearly nonexistent. Had he gotten on base with Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus behind him, there was a chance that one of them would run into a pitch and hit it out of the park to get the Blue Jays back in the game. The proper baseball move was to tell Gose to take a strike. Is it possible that Farrell did that and Gose swung anyway? I suppose. But given the way the Blue Jays play with trying to hit home runs and overaggressiveness on the basepaths, and their overall underachievement, does Farrell deserve that benefit of the doubt?

No.

It’s similar to him not deserving to be anointed the Red Sox manager just because he was a coach on the team when they were contending for World Series wins and that people like him. The Red Sox need to think long and hard before making a desperation move on Farrell because there’s a chance that he might actually make things worse.

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Managerial Tornado, Part I—Acta, Mills, Valentine, Pirates, Marlins

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The managerial tornado is touching down. Some, like the fired Manny Acta and Brad Mills, were caught in its path and disappeared; others landed to clean up the wreckage. The Indians fired Acta yesterday and, predictably, replaced him with Sandy Alomar Jr. In spite of the designation as “interim,” Alomar is going to get the fulltime job in part because the Indians are restarting their rebuild, in part because they don’t have any money to pay a big name manager, in part because if they don’t give him the job another team is likely to hire him, and in part because he’s popular in Cleveland. He’s a top managerial prospect and very nearly got the Red Sox job last year.

With the Marlins preferring a cheaper, younger, calmer presence than Ozzie Guillen and Alomar’s ability to speak Spanish, he’d be a good choice to take over that mess. The Angels’ situation is unsettled and the Rockies job might come open.  Regardless of his denials, Red Sox GM Ben Cherington slipped up by essentially saying straight out that he’ll use a different strategy to replace Bobby Valentine. Cherington later tried to “clarify” his remarks. Just stop it, huh?

Firing the manager is the easy thing to do and sometimes unavoidable. Acta has functioned in bad luck for his managerial career with a lack of talent on his rosters. He was the Nationals’ manager as they were losing so relentlessly that the were able to secure the top picks in the draft two straight years and were lucky enough to have once-in-a-decade franchise players sitting there waiting for them with Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. Two managers later, Davey Johnson is reaping the benefits. With the Indians, injuries and underperformance did Acta in. His firing was fait accompli even though upper management itself, GM Chris Antonetti and team president Mark Shapiro, are under siege for their mistakes. Some have wondered why the Indians didn’t wait until the season was over, but they’ve done this before with Eric Wedge and they were firing Acta anyway, so what’s the difference? He’s a Rene Lachemann-type: someone who knows what he’s doing, is well-respected as a baseball man, and hasn’t had the luck of other, inferior managers like Bob Brenly. Brenly could’ve been replaced by a mannequin, few would’ve noticed and the strategic mishaps would’ve been far fewer.

The mistake that owners and top bosses make is even acknowledging the media’s questions about the managers and GMs when said managers and GMs have long-term contracts. Whether or not they’re thinking of making a change or the decision has already been made, there’s nothing to be gained by replying as if the speculation has validity. Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington and his gung-ho assistant (to the point of sociopathic behaviors) Kyle Stark are said to be on the firing line because of the Pirates’ collapse and Stark’s ridiculous Navy SEAL training regimens for low-level minor leaguers. Team president Frank Coonelly was asked about their job status of his staff and said they’re going to be back for 2013. That’s funcutioning under the assumption that Coonelly is safe and I don’t believe that Coonelly’s job is particularly secure, so if Coonelly is fired, one would assume that the rest of the front office will be out the door as well. I’d have fired Coonelly two years ago.

The Marlins are a disaster and after initially believing that Guillen would survive in part because of his 4-year contract, the team has quit, Guillen dared owner Jeffrey Loria to fire him, and they’re scaling back payroll to $70 million. First the front office led by Larry Beinfest was predicted in jeopardy, now it’s implied that the front office is safe and Guillen is going to be dumped. I believe that Loria’s going to fire everyone and start over.

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American League Contenders Remaining Schedules and Playoff Scenarios

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This is not about playoff possibilities as in a team losing the last seven games of the season with the team pursuing them winning the last seven to forge an inexplicable comeback. Nor is it about unrealistic scenarios. It’s about evenhanded reality and viable opportunity.

Let’s take a look.

New York Yankees

Schedule: 4 games at Blue Jays in Toronto, Sept. 23, 24, 25, 26; 3 games vs Red Sox at Yankee Stadium, Oct. 1, 2, 3

How they’re playing: The Yankees righted the ship after the beginning of September when a collapse looked imminent. If the Yankees somehow fall out of the division lead or the playoffs entirely, it won’t be due to a prototypical collapse as we saw with the Red Sox last season.

What they need: 5 wins would pretty much guarantee the division title. They do not want to find themselves looking at the scoreboard on Monday and wondering what the Angels, A’s, Rangers, Orioles and whoever are doing.

What will happen: The Blue Jays want to get the season over with and are playing like it. They showed nothing against the Yankees last week and the only reason they won two games against the Orioles this week was because the Orioles didn’t capitalize on what the Blue Jays were repeatedly handing to them.

CC Sabathia is pitching well and the Yankees were able to rest Rafael Soriano and David Robertson.

The Yankees are going to the playoffs, but could still blow the division and it wouldn’t be due to a collapse.

Baltimore Orioles

Schedule: 3 games vs Red Sox in Baltimore, Sept. 28, 29, 30; 3 games at Rays in Tampa Bay, Oct. 1, 2, 3

What they need: To have a chance at the division title, they’ll have to go 5-1 and hope the Blue Jays and Red Sox want to stick it to the Yankees and show up to the games trying to win and not get them over with so they can go home, and that the Red Sox and Rays would also like to stick it to the Yankees to the point that they don’t go all out against the Orioles.

All possible I suppose, but unlikely.

4 out of 6 wins should get them in.

What will happen: The Orioles will take care of business against the Red Sox and Rays and get at least those 4 wins and hope the nightmare scenario that I’m going to discuss doesn’t happen in the AL West. If they’re eliminated, the Rays may not even pitch their main starters in those last three games and if the Orioles lose 1 or 2, they’ll have no one to blame but themselves. The nightmare scenario affects the Yankees as well.

Tampa Bay Rays

Schedule: 3 games at White Sox in Chicago, Sept. 28, 29, 30; 3 games vs Orioles at Tampa Bay, Oct. 1, 2, 3

What they need: The Rays have won 7 straight, have to sweep the White Sox—who are fighting for their division title—and hope they’re still alive when they get to Monday against the Orioles. Very, very difficult.

What will happen: The Rays will be done by Monday and have to decide how hard to push to keep up the “integrity” of the pennant race in those last three games. I have a hunch Joe Maddon will play to win without overstressing his young arms.


The Nightmare Scenario

I’ll examine the AL West all at once.

Texas Rangers

Schedule: 1 game vs Athletics in Texas, Sept. 27; 3 games vs Angels in Texas, Sept. 28, 29, 30; 3 games vs Athletics in Oakland, Oct. 1, 2, 3

Oakland Athletics

Schedule: 1 game vs Rangers in Texas, Sept, 27; 3 games vs Mariners in Oakland, Sept. 28, 29, 30; 3 games vs Rangers in Oakland, Oct. 1, 2 ,3

Los Angeles Angels

Schedule: 1 game vs Mariners in Anaheim, Sept. 27; 3 games vs Rangers in Texas, Sept. 28, 29, 30; 3 games vs Mariners in Seattle, Oct. 1, 2, 3

The Rangers are leading the American League in wins with 91, but their division lead is now at 3 games over the A’s and 5 over the Angels. Their problem is that they’re playing two teams that are chasing them. The A’s and Angels have a sense of urgency that I don’t get the impression that the Rangers have had recently. Their playoff spot is not assured as the division winner or as the Wild Card. For them it would take a collapse to miss the playoffs, but it could happen.

Let’s say the A’s win today over the Rangers then beat on the Mariners this weekend. And let’s say that the desperate Angels who are taking every game like a playoff game and have 4 remaining with the playing-out-the-string Mariners win 6 of 7 including 2 of 3 vs the Rangers.

What if we get to Monday and the A’s are either tied with the Rangers or a game behind and the Angels are 2 out with 3 to play? There’s a possibility that the Rangers will enter Monday with 92 wins; the A’s with 91; and the Angels with 89. What if the A’s sweep the Rangers and the Angels sweep the Mariners? The Rangers and Angels would be tied. What if the Rangers sweep the A’s and the Angels sweep the Mariners? The A’s would be either out or hoping that the Yankees or Orioles came undone.

Because the AL West will simultaneously be beating on each other and the Mariners when they’re not beating on each other, the Yankees and Orioles are relatively assured of at least a playoff spot and have to determine who’s going to win the division. But the Rangers could very easily find themselves on the outside looking in with the A’s and Angels either passing them entirely or face the hell of a one-game playoff prior to the Wild Card play-in game.

What will happen: The Rangers will survive and hold onto the division. What will be most interesting will be how they try to manipulate which teams are in the playoffs. Of all their potential playoff opponents, the last ones they want to see are the Angels. If the Angels somehow make it in—relieved to have salvaged a season that looked shot in August and on a blazing hot streak with a deep starting rotation and star bats—they could conceivably make the playoffs and blow everyone away.

The team the Rangers presumably fear least is the Yankees when considering that they’ve beaten them before, the Yankees have rotation questions, and worry as to whether Soriano can handle the post-season. But the Angels have massive obstacles to overcome and it might be too late.

The most probable scenario: The Yankees win the AL East; the Orioles and Athletics take the Wild Cards; the Rangers win the AL West.

Of course, as the last day of the 2011 season showed, this is all subject to change at the whim of the Baseball Gods, closers who can’t close, non-contending teams that want to have company in their misery (see the Red Sox of Boston) and massive managerial blunders.

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Your American League MVP Checklist

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Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout are locked in a duel for the American League Most Valuable Player. In a way, it’s a factional battle for the hearts and minds of the casual fan.

Some quarters look at the conventional batting stats of Cabrera and say that he’s the winner without question. If it’s not a homer or an RBI, then it’s unimportant. If he wins the batting title too? It’s over.

Others examine advanced stats and defensive metrics to give the nod to Trout. Neither side, in general, wants to hear what the other has to say in part because one is the grumpy old man who doesn’t care about OPS+, and defensive runs saved or lost; and the other is higher-educated, pompous, smug, and condescending and lacks the confidence in their argument to lay it out in terms that the old-schoolers are going to understand and accept, so they choose to be dismissive and blatantly arrogant. If it’s not quantifiable, it doesn’t matter and gut instincts from being around the game are claimed not to exist.

So here’s a checklist combining common sense, old-school stats, and new-school metrics to determine what the criteria for AL MVP should be.

Conventional Offensive Stats vs Advanced Offensive Stats

20 years ago, there would be no contest and Cabrera would win. He’s leading the league in batting, RBI, and slugging. He’s near the top of the league in home runs. As for advanced stats, at the plate, he leads the league in OPS and OPS+. Cabrera has an OPS of 1.003 and an OPS+ of 167. Trout has 27 homers and 47 stolen bases in 51 tries. He has a .949 OPS and also has an OPS+ of 167.

But what about BAbip (Batting Average on Balls in Play)? Trout has been very, very lucky with a .379 BAbip; Cabrera is at .330 (his career mark is .345). There’s no doubt that Trout’s speed is important to his high BAbip and his batting average, and Cabrera is slow. So where does that factor in? Should Trout’s luck count against him just as the defense and resulting higher WAR are counting for him?

Defense

It comes down to deciding how many points to deduct from Cabrera for his poor defense at third base and whether or not he should be punished for not being a good third baseman.

Trout is a defensive whiz in center field and saving his pitchers and team a large number of runs because of that. Cabrera was shifted to third base because they had nowhere else to put him in the field upon the signing of Prince Fielder. Cabrera has only played in 33 games in his career as a DH and his numbers—.242/.317/.414—are poor. Not every player is comfortable as a DH and if Cabrera was already feeling threatened by the Tigers bringing in another star in his stratosphere such as Fielder, the last thing they wanted to do was to make it worse by also telling him he’s not going to play the field at all and will be a permanent DH. Cabrera probably would’ve hit as a DH, but with his history of off-field problems, it’s understandable that the Tigers didn’t want to antagonize him.

The idea that the shift third base was a major issue missed the fact that Cabrera wasn’t any better at first base than he is at third. He should be a DH, but if he’s more comfortable hitting and keeps his head in the game better when he’s playing the field, so be it.

He didn’t take the move to third base lightly (so to speak) and showed up to spring training far leaner than he’s been in recent years. But he’s not a good defensive player. Could the Tigers have moved him to the outfield and found a better way to mitigate his deficiencies? Yes. Would that have made him a more agreeable choice to the voters who are weighing Trout’s defense so heavily? Possibly. If Cabrera is going to be punished for his poor defense, it should be attached to the caveat that he’s not good defensively period and using that as the final word is similar to punishing R.A. Dickey because he’s a knuckleballer as opposed to a conventional pitcher—it’s not fair.

The “value” argument AKA “Where would they be without him?”

Trout wasn’t recalled by the Angels until April 28th after they got off to a horrific start amid star-studded acquisitions such as Albert Pujols and preseason World Series predictions. The Angels are 77-54 with Trout in the lineup and 8-14 without him. The Tigers’ record is 82-72 and with Cabrera in the lineup, it’s 81-72. Both clubs have underachieved given the expectations lavished upon them before the season. Is the Tigers’ underachievement the fault of Cabrera? And did the Angels turnaround begin with the recall of Trout? How much does that count in the deliberation process?

I am not one who believes a pitcher should not win the MVP and supported Justin Verlander last season in large part because of the, “Where would they be without him?” argument. The Tigers won the division by 15 games, but that doesn’t tell the whole story of how they did it. Because they ripped off a 12 game winning streak in early September and their closest competitor in the division, the Indians, came apart in the second half, the Tigers were able to make a close race look like it wasn’t close. In truth, had they not had Verlander at the beginning of the season, they would’ve been behind in the division by double-digits. And the “any pitcher could’ve done X” in Verlander’s place is absurd. It was Verlander’s brilliance that kept a struggling team afloat early in the season, making him the most valuable player they had. Without him, they were a .500 team. With him, they made it to the ALCS. This is in addition to his numbers.

So who was more valuable to his team? Trout or Cabrera? And where would they have wound up without them?

Context

The stat people call the concept of lineup protection a myth, but with Fielder behind him, Cabrera’s walks have dropped to 65 from 108 last season and 89 in 2010. Can it not be said that pitchers aren’t so willing to walk Cabrera because Fielder is behind him? He might not have as many homers if Fielder weren’t hitting behind him, but his OBP would definitely be significantly higher. Would that make his case stronger if he didn’t have that basher behind him? Or does it make it weaker because he has that basher behind him? Which is it?

WAR is an overused stat that doesn’t tell the whole story. If you discount the defensive aspect, Trout’s still ahead, but it’s not by as wide a margin. Cabrera has the eye-catching numbers; Trout has the accumulation of other stuff that many don’t pay attention to at first glance.

Trout’s argument is incremental. Will there be enough of a groundswell from his higher overall WAR, his great defense, speed, and that the Angels’ season was heading down the tubes before he arrived? Or will the power numbers that are more obvious on the part of Cabrera take precedence?

Will those who are vacillating be swayed by the forcefulness of the beliefs from the old-schoolers and the stat people? There are many who simply do what the crowd does; what the crowd tells them to do and, like sheep, are incapable of thinking on their own.

The final analysis

Each factional end would be better-served to refrain from the name-calling, eye-rolling, tantrums, sarcasm, and obnoxious dismissals that make the old-schoolers knuckles white with rage and cause the veins to bulge out of their necks like they’re having a heart attack. No one wants to hear that stuff any more than they want to be told, “That’s the way it’s always been,” as if that’s a legitimate reason.

Both players have a case for the MVP and if one side is trying to convince the other, perhaps they’d be better-served in looking at it from their point-of-view rather than just shutting their eyes, covering their ears, and throwing a tantrum in lieu of possibly admitting they’re wrong and accepting that there’s more than one way to hand out arbitrary award with no clear-cut process in formulating a conclusion that everyone will be happy with and accept.

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National League East—2012 Present and 2013 Future

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Click to read about the AL East, Central, and West.

Here’s the NL East.

Washington Nationals

For some it’s a validation and for others it’s an unsatisfactory and paranoid result, but now that the Stephen Strasburg debate has been concluded once and for all, the Nationals are moving on without their best pitcher. They’ve taken a tremendous and rapid leap forward to the playoffs and an all-but-certain division title. They look identical to the Braves of 1991 with a young pitching staff; power bats; and an ownership willing to spend to keep the team together and aggressive enough to improve. They also have something those Braves never had: a bullpen. It’s that bullpen that will counteract the loss of Strasburg for the playoffs. In fact, it’s probably more important to have a deep, versatile bullpen in the playoffs than it is to have a great starting rotation. That’s something else the dominant Braves of 1991-2005 proved year-after-year.

The Nats are here to stay and we’d better get used to them being in the playoffs on an annual basis.

Atlanta Braves

The Braves overcame their collapse better than any other team in recent memory that experienced a similar meltdown. Part of that is due to manager Fredi Gonzalez’s acquiescence in not overusing the bullpen early in the season; Jason Heyward’s comeback season; Michael Bourn’s full-season in his walk year; Kris Medlen’s second-half brilliance with the club overcoming underachievement from Tommy Hanson, ineffectiveness from Jair Jurrjens, the injury to Brandon Beachy, and the stagnation of Randall Delgado.

Their ownership doesn’t spend a lot of money, so it’s hard to see them keeping Bourn. Brian McCann is a free agent after 2013, but with Chipper Jones’s money coming off the books and McCann’s status as a Georgia native, that will get worked out.

With or without spending, the Braves have enough young talent to be contenders for the future.

On a note about the Braves’ bullpen, Craig Kimbrel has been all-but unhittable. I get the sense that the NL Cy Young Award voting will split between R.A. Dickey and Gio Gonzalez and Kimbrel’s going to win it.

Philadelphia Phillies

Now that the dreams of a miraculous comeback suffered a deathblow in Houston by losing 3 of 4 against the rancid Astros, then resuscitated briefly by humiliating the Mets, the Braves all but ended the Phillies’ hopes over the weekend as Roy Halladay got blasted on Saturday in the game the Phillies absolutely had to win.

Now what?

They underachieved in 2012 with a payroll of $170 million-plus and are very old. They re-signed Cole Hamels and with he, Halladay, and Cliff Lee, along with Jonathan Papelbon in the bullpen, they’ll be playoff contenders in 2013. The vault is not going to be as wide open as it was, so any thoughts of Zack Greinke should end now. They’ll need starting pitching so it’s more likely that they pursue a Dan Haren type—a good starter coming off a bad year and on a short-term deal. They need a center fielder and there’s been talk of a reunion with Michael Bourn. I would not overpay for Bourn, but GM Ruben Amaro Jr. tends to go after what he wants regardless of cost. I’d also expect Ryan Madson to return to the Phillies as a set-up man following his Tommy John surgery and lost year with the Reds, and he’ll be good.

It appears as if all systems are go for Chase Utley to move to third base, but his knees are a chronic problem. If he’s unable to start the season again, then the Phillies will be right back where they started from trusting Freddy Galvis at second and having a black hole at third. They desperately need an outfield bat of the Cody Ross variety—affordable and pretty good. If I were Amaro, I’d call the Indians about Asdrubal Cabrera.

New York Mets

Because of their second half nosedive, they’re still viewed as something of a laughingstock, but when examining even worse situations such as the Marlins, Astros, Red Sox, Cubs; and teams that spent big and haven’t gotten bang for their bucks with the Tigers, Phillies, Angels, and Dodgers, the Mets are in a pretty good position.

The young pitching prospects Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler will join Jonathon Niese and R.A. Dickey in the rotation at some point in 2013, and they also have young arms Jeurys Familia and Jenrry Mejia. Jason Bay and Johan Santana are coming off the books after 2013 (unless they can trade one or both for commensurately expiring deals), so they’ll have money to spend after 2013.

This doom and gloom is based on looking for reasons to tear into the organization. The low minor leagues is increasingly well-stocked.

They need a catcher who can hit and desperately have to get a bat for the middle and top of the lineup. Names to pursue are Justin Upton, Shin-Soo Choo, Dexter Fowler, Ian Kinsler, B.J. Upton, and Shane Victorino.

I’d stay away from Bourn.

Miami Marlins

I wrote about them yesterday, but just when it seemed as if it couldn’t get worse, it got worse.

Heath Bell went on a radio show and basically called manager Ozzie Guillen a liar. The host of the show, Dan Sileo, prodded Bell while doling responsibility on everyone but Bell. It’s an awful interview by an awful interviewer topped off by ridiculous baseball analysis. You can find it here.

Whether or not Bell is accurate in his criticism is irrelevant. That Bell still can’t keep quiet is indicative of one of the main problems the Marlins have had: no veteran leader to stand in the middle of the clubhouse and speak up. It was Bell’s dreadful performance that, more than anything else, set the stage for the Marlins’ terrible season. But he…won’t…shut…UP!!!!

Braves’ manager Gonzalez, who was fired by the Marlins, said of Marlins’ owner Jeffrey Loria:

“There’s not a manager dead or alive that Jeffrey thinks is good enough. Not Connie Mack, not anyone.”

Loria called the comments “classless.” Does it help that the comments are 100% true?

It’s going to get worse from here for the Marlins as they plan to cut payroll from $95 million to $70-80 million. (Bet on the under.) It remains to be seen who’s going to get fired and who isn’t, but they’ll desperately try to unload Bell and if that means attaching him to any deal in which a club wants to acquire Josh Johnson, then that’s what they’ll do.

I believe Johnson will be traded this winter; Jose Reyes will be traded during the season in 2013, as will Ricky Nolasco.

All of that said, the Marlins do have some young talent with the acquisitions they made of Nathan Eovaldi, Jacob Turner, and Rob Brantly to go along with the monster Giancarlo Stanton, so they’re not going to be an atrocity and they certainly won’t be as bad as they were in 2012.

Those advocating or actively pursuing a new stadium for the Rays need to take note what’s happened with the Marlins. Florida fans are simply not invested enough in baseball to make it a worthwhile expenditure for either private investors of public referendum. The ballpark should not have been built. Either the club should’ve been contracted, allowed to move to a baseball-friendly venue in the United States, or they should’ve sat tight and waited out the end of the Castro regime in Cuba, hoped for a new, free country 90 miles away from Miami, and moved the team there.

An MLB team in Cuba would be huge. Instead there’s a beautiful new park in Miami with few fans and a top-to-bottom case study in dysfunction and absence of responsibility. It’s a train wreck.

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The Marlins Do Realize They Hired Ozzie Guillen, Right?

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What went wrong in Miami with the Marlins?

Was it the new, cavernous ballpark?

The odd mix of personalities?

The misjudgment of talent?

Injuries? Apathy? Dysfunction?

A combination?

Speculation centers on whom owner Jeffrey Loria fires. First the target sat squarely on the back of President of Baseball Operations Larry Beinfest. Now it’s turned to manager Ozzie Guillen. Given Loria’s history, I’m not going to venture a guess as to what he’ll do. He could say, “I’ve fired managers before, let’s try firing some people in suits.” Or he could say, “I like my baseball people, the manager and players were the problem. I’ll change the on-field personnel.” Or he could do nothing with the manager and executives and get rid of more players. He could fire everyone. He could fire no one.

Loria has a habit of firing managers, but the front office has remained largely intact and is signed long-term. To him, it’s clear that the manager is fungible and not all that relevant. It’s a similar argument in a different context to the new-age stat-based theories that say the manager is an implementer of the strategies laid out by the bosses and can be easily replaced. In his time, Loria’s fired every manager he’s had. Some were deserved, some weren’t, but as the owner it’s his right to do what he wants.

For years he wanted Guillen and took the step of trading minor league players to get him at the end of the 2011 season. Had Loria examined Guillen’s tenure with the White Sox closely and understood what he was getting before jumping in with a heavy financial commitment (4-years, $10 million) and expectant enthusiasm, he probably would’ve hired him anyway.

Was it because he thought Guillen was a good game manager with the background of success and the fiery temperament to keep the heat off of the players and drum up attention in the media? Absolutely. Guillen has all of those attributes. But he also says ridiculous things and doesn’t think before he speaks. There’s no filter and the fine line between being outrageous and offensive is blurred. He casually and without regret crosses into insubordination. Honesty and self-destruction are melded together and Guillen has essentially dared Loria to fire him as related in this blog from The Palm Beach Post.

The Marlins created a carnival complete with colorful uniforms, rampant ballpark diversions, a team of intriguing talent, and negative personalities. The White Sox, under Guillen, won a World Series with a blend of intriguing talent and perceived negative personalities so there was a basis for thinking Guillen could cobble it together again. Instead, the Marlins are a disaster.

But blaming Guillen for being Guillen? It’s an easy case to make that his comments praising Fidel Castro were a tipping point, but that was in April and the Marlins went 21-8 in May. The players don’t care about that stuff; the only time they’re bothered about some off-field controversy is if they’re constantly asked about it. It’s easy to say a calmer, more patient, and respected clubhouse voice would have handled the chemistry issues in a more diplomatic way than Guillen, but I don’t think the results would’ve been any different.

It was the front office who decided to build a cavernous ballpark tilted toward pitching, but put a horrific defense on the field. It was the front office that signed John Buck and Heath Bell; that traded for Guillen, Carlos Zambrano, and Carlos Lee. They put a toxic mix together in a bowl, expected it to smell good and for people to eat it. No one did.

They can fire Guillen; they can fire Beinfest, Michael Hill, Dan Jennings; they can trade away more players and bring in others; but that’s not going to alter the reality that the fans in Miami wouldn’t have gone to see this club play if their record was reversed and they’d hired a manager who had the power to free Cuba rather than one who expressed love for its aged dictator. New ballpark or not, the people in that area don’t care about the Marlins. There’s no reason to go to the park to see this team, but not many people would’ve gone even if there was.

//

The Pirates Navy SEALs Training: Designed to Kill and Get Executives Fired

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Ordinarily, I’d want to have a deeper understanding of exactly what the Pirates were doing when they decided to implement Navy SEALs training techniques for their minor leaguers. It was possible that the Pirates took aspects of the training—including the mindset—and adapted them to baseball. Many different training techniques that have become of value to baseball players such as plyometrics; parachute training; isometrics; cross-training by throwing a football all would’ve been seen as idiotic as recently as 20 years ago. Football coaches—including Vince Lombardi—used to refuse to give water to their players during summer training camp. Watch the film The Junction Boys about Paul “Bear” Bryant to see how deranged training camps were for college kids, the majority of whom were playing because they wanted to. So if the Pirates took the camaraderie that is instilled by Navy SEAL training and the fitness along with it, why not?

But according to the linked pieces I found here on Larry Brown Sports, the Pirates are reinventing the wheel and doing it in a way designed to get the executives who decided it was a good idea fired and drummed out of baseball entirely.

You can read the Dejan Kovasevic piece; the Pirates’ assistant GM Kyle Stark’s email here; and Jeff Passan’s column about it in which he discusses hand-to-hand combat and baseball’s reaction to this decision.

They want them to take the attitude of the Hells Angels? I certainly would prefer not to have my baseball players taking the personae of a sleazy, borderline satirical group with absurd militaristic designations such as “Sergeant-at-Arms” or other stranger-than-fiction silliness. But this is what the Pirates have chosen to do for reasons known only to them. There’s nothing wrong with fostering brotherhood, bonding, or a “take no crap” attitude. But to force teenagers who have substantial money invested in them into this type of training when it’s never been done before is a combination of arrogance and stupidity.

There’s thinking outside the box and tweaking innings pitched and pitch counts; there are theories of teaching hitting advocating patience or aggressiveness; there are varying theories of defensive shifts and positioning. There are many things in baseball that could and should be changed. I’d be an advocate of shortening spring training, among other things. But this? This is something that is so antithetic to baseball—the same sport for which John Kruk said something to the tune of, “I’m ain’t an athlete, I’m a baseball player,”—that people who decided to try it are going to get fired and deserve it.

This isn’t debating on the merits of running sprints vs weight training; it’s training more directed at slitting Stephen Strasburg’s throat rather than getting a hit off of him.

The Pirates were on the way to a very positive place earlier this season and still might be. There’s plenty of talent on the big league roster and in the organization. I see them as similar to the Minnesota Twins of 2001, a team that got off to a great start after years and years of futility and essentially collapsed in August and September, but used the experience as a life-lesson and became the dominant team in the AL Central for a decade with the only thing missing from their list of accomplishments being a World Series. Clint Hurdle has altered the culture and the Pirates are a good bet to take the next step of their innocent climb in 2013 and if I were to start a club with any player, Andrew McCutchen would be at the very top of that list. The future is still bright for the Pirates, but they’re going to be doing it with a new braintrust in the front office.

Stark can live out his tough guy fantasy in some other industry. GM Neal Huntington can go because he was the one who apparently okayed this. Frank Coonelly can be dispatched because he’s been clueless from the time he was appointed as the team president. There are better baseball people and human beings in front offices everywhere for the Pirates to hire.

Hells Angels?

Maybe Stark and Huntington can join them. They’ll be out of work soon enough.

//

A Simple Solution to Cure the New York Times’ Implied Disease of Being a Mets Fan

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If it was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, the end result was closer to finger-in-throat.

Combine pompous verbiage and inept analysis and you get thisthe New York Times article by Michael Powell about the New York Mets that has some calling it the “best” piece written about being a fan of the Mets they’ve ever read.

I suppose it is if you consider “good writing” to be maudlin whimpering masquerading as insightful poignancy.

Powell writes the Gotham column in the Times. That and his identification as a Mets fan somehow qualifies him to speak for the entire fanbase regarding how difficult life is rooting for a struggling, rebuilding team.

First, the writing is a study in attention-grabbing, overuse of horrific metaphors and ludicrous assertions. Some examples:

We step through the turnstiles to find 22 ticket scalpers, lost souls all, clustering around us.

We walk in, a beaut of a stadium with fans scattered in so many nomadic clumps amid acres of green seats.

22? Exactly 22? Did he stand there counting them for accuracy in his portrait? Or is it a nice round, ridiculous number to punctuate the absurdity of what the Mets have become—something similar to just about every other team that is playing out the days of a season in which their playoff hopes are gone?

“Nomadic clumps amid acres”? Good grief!!!

Ruben Tejada, our shortstop, steps to the plate. He’s a soft-bodied, sweet-fielding kid who is hitting .286, an average made up almost entirely of little tear-drop singles to all fields. He replaced Jose Reyes, our rangy and powerful All-Star shortstop whom the Mets, in their infinite wisdom, chose to let walk away without first trying to trade him.

Naturally, without context it sounds like a farce. Is Tejada supposed to imitate Reyes and be something he’s not? Try to steal bases, hit triples, pop 12 homers a year and, I suppose, spend a substantial amount of time on the disabled list?

The Mets didn’t trade Reyes when they had no intention of signing him unless he got hurt and/or his market crashed. This is true. But the Mets were still trying to attract fans to the ballpark in August and September and, misguided as it was, they had no chance of keeping him if they traded him. If they kept him, maybe he would’ve stayed. It was a retrospective mistake, but not a catastrophic one. In fact, it was understandable in a business sense.

The only team that did offer Reyes the $100+ million he wanted were the Marlins, and the Marlins are the team the Mets have beaten in the past two days; the team that spent the money the fans (and apparently Powell) wanted the Mets to spend, but didn’t because: A) they couldn’t; and B) they’ve tried that in the past and it didn’t work.

The Marlins are also the team that will keep the Mets out of the basement in the National League East. They are an organization in far worse shape on and off the field with a new, empty ballpark that has their ownership under investigation because of alleged financial chicanery that got the thing built.

But they have Reyes who, by now, must be growing comfortable playing for teams that are viewed as disappointing at the high end and disastrous on the low.

The most exhausted and cynical Mets fan looks at the Marlins and says, “I’d hate to be rooting for them.”

…[Jason] Bay might recover his stroke and Lucas Duda might stroke homer after homer deep into the periwinkle skies over Flushing Bay.

I’ve mistakenly used the same word twice in short order, but I’m not writing for the New York Times nor do I have an editor supposedly perusing what I’ve written and gently nudging me in a preferable direction. “Stroke” and “stroke” twice within six words? And periwinkle? Good grief!!!!!

Oh, and I looked up “periwinkle.” I had to because I didn’t know what it meant. It means a pale, bluish purple. If nothing else, I’ve learned a new word I’m never going to use.

What’s our choice? To root for the triumphalist Yankees is to describe an impossibility, like walking through Manhattan chanting: “Goldman Sachs! Goldman Sachs!” Instead, we adopt the mien of Scottish highlanders facing the English army — loss is assured, but let’s go out with panache and a touch of humor.

There’s an obsession that Yankees fans have of Lording (in keeping with the rancid English army allusion) their success over the Mets. 27 World Series, blah, blah, blah. Never mind that the Yankees have been in existence over 60 more years than the Mets; that the bulk of those championships were won long before anyone had even formulated the concept of the Mets, but this inferiority complex on the part of Mets fans when it comes to the Yankees and the Yankees superiority is based on absolutely nothing other than an inveterate desire to bully or supplicate. There’s no connection between the two other than what’s created by dueling fanbases and a biased media.

We’re just in time to watch the manager pull Dickey for a pinch-hitter. His chances of winning 20 games officially are on life support; you want to page Manager Terry Collins and point out that Dickey has a better chance to get a hit than any of the Ghandian hitters on the Mets’ bench.

Ghandian?!? GOOD GRIEF!!!!!!

“I have a lot of faith in the Wilpons,” Commissioner Bud Selig told Newsday’s Marc Carig on Wednesday. “I have a lot of faith in Sandy Alderson.” He went on: “I’m very confident about the Mets. Very confident.”

The Mets have, after a fashion, constructed a very 21st-century New York team. Crony capitalism by Flushing Bay, with Selig in the role of crony enabler.

Going back to the Wilpons’ $25 million loan taken from MLB nearly a year ago to meet operating costs, it’s been expected that the financial circumstances surrounding the club due to the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme would sink them once and for all. Based on speculation and extrapolation, but not fact, it was taken for granted that the Mets would be unable to pay all their debts.

Well, to the disappointment of many, the Mets paid back the MLB loan when they settled the case with the government’s trustee of the case, Irving Picard, and still own the team.

Selig is the commissioner of baseball, a position of considerable power, but still an employee of MLB owners. He is not in a position to force an ownership to sell anything. Selig is the crony enabler? Of what? He’s the commissioner, not the King.

Getting past the words and scouring the content of the article itself, I’m having trouble seeing the point.

What was the purpose of this other than to add to the attempted embarrassment lavished on the Mets and to make the fans feel as if they should be ashamed to support their team?

There is a segment in Mets fandom, propped and promoted by the media—Mets haters and not—that takes joy in attacking the organization no matter what they do. It’s a story with a secondary benefit. “Oh, we’re Mets fans. Poor us. We’re destined to suffer.” But is there a team anywhere, including the Yankees, that has a gaudy enough record in recent vintage that would make it a hopelessly losing endeavor to be a Mets fan that a non-self-loathing fan, as the article implies, should abandon the club or accept the lot in life of loser?

The Dodgers were recently a financial nightmare due to the alleged misuse and abuse of the financial coffers on the part of former owner Frank McCourt and are now again one of the high-end destinations in baseball and spending insanely with Magic Johnson as the frontman of the new regime.

The Orioles have launched themselves back into the playoff picture for the first time in 15 years after their reviled owner Peter Angelos ran off one baseball man after another and treated the club as if it was an underachieving, poorly managed offshoot of his law firm.

The Phillies, the losingest baseball franchise ever, became a champion and turned into an incarnation of the Yankees, spending, trading, signing amid fan-booing their way to a $170 million payroll and a .500 record in 2012 with an entire roster laden with stars in their early-to-mid 30s and rolling over the hill.

The Yankees, whose main metric is based on winning a World Series otherwise the entire season is a failure, have achieved their goal once on the past decade with a payroll that dwarfs every other team in baseball.

The Red Sox, the totem of how to rebuild a dysfunctional mess and rejuvenate it to become a contender on an annual basis has come apart with worse infighting and dysfunction that the hard-partying, drugged out, underachieving Mets of the late 1980s never could’ve fathomed.

Being a fan guarantees nothing. Because you like Tom Cruise doesn’t mean you’re going to love every movie he appears in. If you enjoy the writing of John Grisham doesn’t promise the endless enjoyment of every book he writes. And being a fan of whichever team in any sport doesn’t mean you’ll wind up being able to gloat—and that’s the main idea—about “your” team.

The meme transferred from one entity to the other is rife with a egomaniacal narcissism. “We predicted the team would be this bad.” This comes from Mets haters like Michael Kay; from Mets antagonists like Mike Francesa; and self-proclaimed Mets supporters, openly despondent at the state of the franchise, Bob Klapisch and Howard Megdal.

I didn’t hear anyone in June saying the trash they’re saying now because it would’ve made them look foolish and, in a strange way, honest had they so baldly betrayed their poorly hidden agendas by ripping the Mets while they were playing well. Instead, they waited until things came apart. Now, they were “right.” Their “predictions” of doom and gloom came to pass.

Except they weren’t right; their predictions didn’t come to pass in the spirit of honesty.

The theme in the Times article appears to be one of imprisonment. “Woe is me, I’m a Mets fan.” But there’s a solution for Powell and for anyone involved with the club in any fashion as a player, beat writer, a front office employee, or any individual whose life is somehow diminished by being a Mets fan or chronicler. I’ve said on multiple occasions, the Mets have to stand up and tell those who revile the club and themselves to this degree that they’re compelled to write it in so histrionic a manner. It’s simple.

Leave.

Go root for another team. Go play for another team. Go cover another team. Go work for another team. We’ll get someone else. If you have become so jaded that the current situation of your baseball team is infecting your being so you can’t be a professional and need to project that hurt in multiple, self-destructive ways, then say goodbye. Move on. It was this one act that the Rays of 2007-2008 began their rise into annual contender while they were a laughingstock for their entire existence, running into one another like a slapstick comedy with an empty park and no hope. They said, with their actions, that they didn’t want people who didn’t want to support them and be happy to be members of the Rays organization and fanbase. This is what the Mets have to do.

Leave.

Go elsewhere. But you can’t come back. And you can’t whine. And you can’t cry. And you can’t derive the clear supplementary boost you get from identifying yourself as a Mets fan with a shrug and an eyeroll as if it’s a terminal disease for which there’s no cure.

But there is a cure. A simple one. Excise the disease.

Leave.

We’ll start a registry and track you so you can’t come back. But you can go. You’ll be free. With such burdens in everyday life, the last thing I would want is my diversion of a baseball team making it worse.

It’s tragic, it’s horrible, it’s depressing. So end it.

Leave.

In a way, writing is like a mathematical formula without numbers. It’s artistic; it doesn’t have limits; there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to do it, but either it works or it doesn’t. When there’s a forced shoehorning of bad use of language and rotten word choices in an effort to anoint oneself the representative of a large group of people who didn’t nominate you, didn’t elect you, don’t agree with you, and don’t want you, you get the New York Times piece on the Mets by Michael Powell. It’s poorly written, pretentious, self-indulgent pabulum.

And my solution to Mr. Powell is simple. So simple that I’ll say it again.

Leave.

Trust me. We’ll be fine.

The article is entitled “Turn Out the Lights.”

Fine. I’ll turn them out. After you leave.

And don’t come back.

Ever.

//

Rafael Soriano’s Inevitable Opt-Out

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By now there’s no denying that Rafael Soriano’s brilliant work in taking over as Yankees’ closer for the injured Mariano Rivera has taken a bite out of Rivera’s irreplaceable status. Whether it’s a significant bite or a nibble will be determined in the coming weeks.

The designation of “greatest closer in history” is based more on Rivera’s post-season success, his durability, and that he’s accumulated more saves than anyone else. In breaking that down, it’s easy to make a case that it’s not as huge an accomplishment as it appears on the surface. Rivera has had more opportunities to rack up those saves because for his entire career, he’s never played for a club that’s won fewer than 87 games. He’s been in the post-season every single year except one. And he didn’t have to handle the workload that the closers of the 1970s and 80s did.

The mere designation of “closer” is indicative of the change from the ace out of the bullpen pitching 2-3 innings in a game to what the job is now and how it’s news if a “closer” is asked to pitch in the eighth inning. Back then it was “fireman” because Rich Gossage, Dan Quisenberry, Bruce Sutter, Rollie Fingers or any of the greats from years ago were asked to put out a fire in the middle of an inning. They were also called “short men” because they pitched briefly, and “briefly” didn’t mean one inning.

There’s no questioning Rivera’s greatness, but it’s watered down to a degree. He couldn’t have done what the aforementioned short relievers did with multiple innings and maintained his effectiveness and health for all these years. Those pitchers didn’t have to pitch in three separate, pressure-packed post-season series. It can’t be denied that Rivera has come up biggest when it counts with a 0.70 post-season ERA and a cold, brutal, fearless dominance that contemporaries—Trevor Hoffman, Joe Nathan, Billy Wagner—didn’t have.

But what happens with Soriano in the coming weeks will determine Rivera’s perception. The Yankees have won six straight games to solidify their position to at least make the playoffs. The Orioles are matching them win-for-win so the division is still in question, but if Soriano is called upon to save a Wild Card play-in game or 2-3 games in the first round and blows it, Rivera’s legacy is solidified further; but if he does what Rivera did and closes the games out without incident, what then?

The Yankees were well-situated to replace Rivera in the event of a catastrophic injury. Initially, they didn’t go to Soriano and decided to use the succession concept to give the job to David Robertson. Robertson didn’t handle it in his opportunities before he got injured and the Yankees, by necessity rather than design, went to Soriano. Soriano has been at least as good as Rivera would’ve been and possibly even better. It’s in the Fall that his value will truly be determined.

The Yankees have to face the reality that Soriano is going to opt-out of his contract and go elsewhere to close in 2013 and beyond. Unless the Yankees again make a drastic overpay as they did when the signed Soriano against the wishes of GM Brian Cashman and promise him he’ll be the closer again in 2014 (if Rivera retires), he’s leaving. The Dodgers are spending wildly and although they have a dominant closer in Kenley Jansen, his heart problems have repeatedly sidelined him and they’ll need someone they can trust to be healthy. Other teams like the Tigers, Angels, Blue Jays, Reds (if they move Aroldis Chapman into the starting rotation), and Giants might be in the market for a closer and be willing to pay for Soriano.

Soriano is guaranteed $14 million from the Yankees in 2013 with a buyout of $1.5 million. He can certainly surpass that on the market if not on an annual basis, but with a longer-term deal. With Scott Boras as his agent, he’s going to opt-out. Will Soriano be happy to take a secondary role to Rivera again after the year he’s had? Extremely doubtful. Can the Yankees risk Rivera not being able to come back from his knee injury at top form? As ageless as Rivera has been, he’s still going to be 43-years-old. It has to end sometime.

Soriano’s going to walk from that contract, but will the Yankees let him walk away from them? And more importantly, can they afford to—not financially, but realistically?

The true answer will come over the next month and in the front office, they’re asking themselves the same question right now.

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