Meet The Mess Or A Mess To An End?

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There’s no spinning an eight run first inning, a 16-1 loss, and rampant humiliation the type the Phillies have inflicted on the Mets over the last three games. Only the Mets could let a Phillies team that’s dealing with an embarrassing season of their own do this. The Phillies, with a too little-too late comeback, have made their disappointing season a bit more bearable. But it’s still disappointing. That aside, they walked into Citi Field and backhanded the Mets and the Mets took it. Again. No doubt the Phillies were laughing on the bus back to Philly and they had reason to. It can be glossed over through the prism of payroll and preseason expectations or lack thereof, but the Mets participating in the Phillies downfall earlier this season by beating up on them is rendered meaningless by the past three games.

Suggestions that the Mets have quit are inarguable. It’s not about talent anymore, it’s about incompetence. A big league team cannot allow another big league team—regardless of disparity in talent and money—to treat them like a punching bag and leave them lying in the dirt shrugging as if it’s accepted that this is the way things are and will remain. The Mets could’ve hit the Phillies back for once and ended their playoff hopes. Instead, they gave them a lifeline. Behind the Cardinals by 4 with 12 to play and having to leapfrog both the Dodgers and Brewers make a Phillies playoff appearance all but impossible, but it could’ve ended this week and the Mets could’ve been the ones to do the deed. Instead, they chose to lay down.

Are the Mets this bad? No. Were they as good as they looked in the first half of the season when they were one of baseball’s most pleasant surprises and talked of buying at the deadline rather than selling (and did neither)? No. But there’s no escaping the 9 straight home losses and 14 of 16 since August 19th. Comparisons to the 1962 version of the Mets are based on nothing other than attempts at ridicule and pure numbers—there’s no comparison between the situations, but that it’s mentioned in this context is bad enough.

No one wants to hear the likes of Michael Kay saying, “I told you so,” when he had the team winning 50 games before the season. He didn’t tell anyone anything. The end result doesn’t prove the prediction accurate. Nor does anyone want to hear Mike Francesa, who earlier in the season repeatedly stated that Mets’ manager Terry Collins deserved a contract extension and is now speculating on the same manager’s job security. The beat writers have taken to Twitter and other outlets with their passive aggression and self-indulgent agendas.

It’s all meaningless.

But this has to be examined logically. Does it make a difference whether the Mets won 81 games? 77 games? Or 70 games? No. The front office is presumably angry about the perception of disinterest on the roster; that the stands are completely and deservedly empty; but in the big picture, they’ll take the higher draft pick and get a better player.

What can they do to fix this to avoid the same fate a year from now and have the Mets a more welcoming and inviting destination for prospective free agents as they have money to spend with the expiring contracts of Johan Santana and Jason Bay at the conclusion of 2013?

Collins isn’t going to be fired. There are increasing pushes for Wally Backman to take over as manager because he’s a feisty and aggressive, in-your-face type that won’t tolerate the mistakes that are being tolerated now. Backman will be on the coaching staff in 2013 as the bench coach in part to be feisty; in part to provide a link to the 1980s; in part to prepare as a possible heir apparent to Collins. The only coaches on this current staff that will return are Tim Teufel (he’s popular with the Wilpons); and Dave Hudgens (GM Sandy Alderson likes the way he teaches hitting). Apart from that, they’re all gone.

As for the players, the Mets have to get some fighter types who aren’t going to meekly accept the bullying of other clubs. This current group is too cerebral and passive. No one hits back. How about some mindless tough guys who don’t take garbage from other teams?

Jonny Gomes and Kyle Farnsworth are two of the types of players the Mets should consider adding. It’s not because they’re supremely talented or are drastic improvements over what they currently have. We don’t know what Farnsworth will do on the field one year to the next—he’s no worse than what they currently have—but he’s known throughout baseball as someone not to mess with. Gomes has pop off the bench and walks, but more importantly is always ready to drop the gloves and it was him who sent the message to the Yankees and the rest of baseball in 2008 with a spring training brawl that they weren’t going to shove the Rays’ collective heads into the toilet anymore.

Even if it’s a lateral move talent-wise, the Mets have to get some of the faces that have epitomized their fall over the past 5 years. By that I mean trading Bay for something, anything and eating money if they have to. Chone Figgins and Franklin Gutierrez for Bay and $5 million would match up financially and the change-of-scenery might benefit the players, the Mariners, and the Mets. Shin-Soo Choo is going to be available and so will Chris Perez from the Indians. Maybe two bad teams could come to an agreement for a Bobby Parnell, Lucas Duda deal.

The notion of trading Ike Davis was floated recently. The source was in question and the Mets, as usual, were blamed for spreading the rumor that Davis doesn’t listen and parties too much. The truth is that the source in Adam Rubin’s piece was referred to as a “baseball source.” No one from the Mets was said to be that source other than via uninformed speculation. That doesn’t diminish the logic behind the idea. If the Mets can bring in an impact bat at a key position like Justin Upton as part of that deal or in a three-way trade, they have to explore it. I’d try to get Upton or see if the Rangers would want to be creative with Ian Kinsler. That would free the Mets to revisit the proposed trade by the Padres in which Daniel Murphy would’ve gone to San Diego for Luke Gregerson and perhaps ask for the speedy and versatile Everth Cabrera.

Many good things have happened to the Mets in 2012 in spite of the ludicrous conclusion to the season, but they can’t move forward with the roster and coaching staff in its current state. It comes back to the original question of whether this is a mess with an end or a simple mess.

Right now, it’s a combination of both. Behind the scenes and without fanfare, the farm system is being rebuilt well with plenty of young talent infusing the organization. Some, like Matt Harvey, are beginning their big league careers, and Zack Wheeler is on the way; but changes—cosmetic and practical—have to be made if only to put forth the perception of doing something. Anyone would’ve accepted the Mets being outgunned. It was expected. But players who should be happy to have a job can’t been seen as giving up. And that’s what’s happened. Keeping those players who’ve either quit or can’t play—Andres Torres, Josh Thole, Bay—won’t help, but dumping them certainly will if only for the sake of appearance.

Appearance is currently all they have left and, right now, it’s not particularly attractive. In fact, it’s downright ugly.

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American League West—2012 Present and 2013 Future

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I examined the AL East here and the AL Central here.

Now let’s look at the AL West

Texas Rangers

The Rangers are heading for the playoffs again and are a legitimate threat to win the World Series. The one question they have is in the same area that cost them the World Series last year, the closer. Historically, Joe Nathan is good during the regular season and struggles during the playoffs, especially against the Yankees.

The roster has playoff experience; the hitters can mash; Josh Hamilton will want to have a big post-season to increase his paycheck as a free agent; their starting pitchers aren’t expecting to be pulled because of an arbitrary pitch count and have the strikeout capability to get out of trouble and pitch confidently with a great defense behind them.

Whether they win the World Series or not, the upcoming off-season could be one of transition for the Rangers. In addition to Hamilton being a free agent, so are Mike Napoli, Mike Adams, and Ryan Dempster. This can be seen as a negative, but it’s also a positive. They have flexibility to do a great many things, the nerve to follow through on them, and the farm system to make it possible.

There’s been talk that they might be willing to trade Elvis Andrus to make room for Jurickson Profar, but I think it’s more likely that they’ll entertain trade offers for Ian Kinsler, play Profar at second base, and try to get Michael Young’s contract off the books in the deal. They’ve had interest in Ike Davis in the past and the Mets are going to be willing to make drastic moves.

They won’t break the bank for Adams and they have starting pitching to let Dempster go. They’ll set a price for Napoli and if another team surpasses it, will let him leave. I think he ultimately stays.

That leaves Hamilton.

The Rangers are not going to give him $200 million. I wouldn’t expect them to want to give him $140 million, nor would they like to commit to him for 6-8 years. The question becomes: Will there be a team that’s willing to pay Hamilton anything close to his asking price?

I don’t know. I certainly wouldn’t. The teams with the money—the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Phillies, Cubs—either don’t need Hamilton at that price or wouldn’t risk putting him in their towns with his history of substance abuse problems.

The Tigers have been mentioned, but I don’t see that either.

What then?

He won’t get 8 years, but I can see the Rangers going to 5 with an easily reachable set of options if he’s clean off the field and healthy on it to make it a 7-8 year deal. The Rangers have other choices such as B.J. Upton or Shane Victorino or by making a trade. Hamilton doesn’t.

Oakland Athletics

The A’s accumulated a lot of young talent last off-season as they cleared out Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, and Andrew Bailey—that was known. But no one could’ve predicted that their young pitching would come so far so fast; that Yoenis Cespedes would be the impact bat he’s been; that Josh Reddick would become a 30 homer man; or that they’d be on the cusp of making the playoffs.

The financial and ballpark problems that made it necessary for the A’s to restart their rebuild and make those trades are still present. They need a new ballpark and don’t have a lot of money to spend to bring in players; in spite of their good play, they’re still only 12th in the American League in attendance. With that young pitching and the concession when they hired Bob Melvin to replace the overmatched Bob Geren that not just anyone can manage a big league team and be successful, they have the talent to be at least respectable and possibly very good for years to come.

Stephen Drew and Brandon McCarthy are free agents at the end of the season, but both have a good chance to stay with the A’s.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

They have a chance to salvage 2012 and make it to the Wild Card play in game. With a veteran team loaded with starting pitching and power bats, once they’re in the playoffs they’re a threat.

That doesn’t gloss over the management issues that aren’t going to go away.

Mike Scioscia is not the right manager for a team loaded with power hitting stars. He wants to hit and run, play defense, and rely on his pitching. The front office has a new, stat-based, “my manager will take orders” GM Jerry Dipoto, and an owner Arte Moreno who may be tired of making the playoffs just about every year and losing in large part because of his manager’s stubbornness in doing things his way in spite of talent and reality.

Scioscia is signed through 2018 with an opt-out after 2015, but if he wants to leave or they want to fire him, that’s what will happen. It’s not easy to function when one’s power is essentially taken away and that’s what happened with Scioscia. There’s been talk that he’d be a possible candidate to take over for Bobby Valentine with the Red Sox, but since the Red Sox are going back to their own stat-based roots and have publicly said that Bill James will take a larger role in putting their team together, Scioscia would be in the same situation in Boston that he’s in with the Angels. Forget it.

I have a hard time seeing Scioscia managing the Angels next season no matter what happens this season.

On the field, they owe Vernon Wells $42 million through 2014; Torii Hunter’s contract is expiring; they have a team option on Dan Haren; and Zack Greinke is a free agent.

The Angels will look markedly different in 2013, probably with a new manager who’s more in tune with strategies that fit the roster and what the front office wants.

Seattle Mariners

Getting rid of Ichiro Suzuki was a major step in a positive direction. But years and years of losing is finally taking a toll on their attendance figures. The Mariners fanbase is loyal and ten years ago, they had the highest attendance in the Major Leagues. Now they’re tenth. Until they start winning, that’s not going to improve.

They’re loaded with young pitching and led by a true megastar Felix Hernandez. They have some talented bats like Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager, but are plain woeful offensively. Once they have some hitters to go along with that pitching, they’ll be a viable threat, but this ineptitude at the plate is going back a decade just like their attendance decline.

Chone Figgins and Franklin Gutierrez are owed a combined $15.5 million in 2013, but if they take a bad contract and some money (Jason Bay?) maybe they can clear those players and try something different. Apart from that, they have money to spend and prospects to trade to pursue bats such as Justin Upton and B.J. Upton; Mike Morse; Justin Morneau; or possibly try to trade for Jacoby Ellsbury.

Unless they find some people who can produce offensively, the results are not going to change.

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The Ike Davis Trade Rumor Mania

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I would trade Ike Davis if I could get what I want for him. What I’d want for him would be a legitimate outfield bat like Justin Upton of the Diamondbacks; a package centered around Dustin Ackley and one of the Mariners’ young pitchers; or in a deal for the Rockies’ Dexter Fowler and Drew Pomeranz.

Lucas Duda is a better overall hitter than Davis, will hit 25-30 homers if he plays every day, hits lefties better, has a more discerning eye at the plate, can play first base well enough defensively, and hasn’t accrued—in a ridiculously short period of time—the reputation as a whiner and umpire-baiter as Davis has. Davis is streaky; Duda has a compact swing that would be resistant to long slumps.

This is not a controversy nor is it a new concept that the Mets would be willing to part with Davis. His name was bandied about as long ago as last winter when he was recovering from his ankle injury and before he was reported to have contracted Valley Fever. Back then, they wouldn’t have gotten much of anything for him other than a similarly talented player whose future was in doubt. Now, with a big power year, he’s a trade chip. Davis is a limited player who is not, under any circumstances, untouchable.

The frenzy over the Mets willingness to listen on Davis stems from where it came from and why. ESPNNewYork.com Mets beat writer Adam Rubin cited an unnamed source that implied the organization is unhappy with Davis’s unwillingness to listen to coaching suggestions and that he stays out too late after games. Rubin doesn’t say the source is anyone involved with the Mets, but the reaction on Twitter seemed to automatically think it did come from the Mets. Rubin’s piece says nothing of the sort. It says a “baseball source,” which could be anyone from anywhere.

There were even suggestions that the source doesn’t exist; that Rubin made it up to write the story. While there are so-called writers who would have no qualms about creating a phony source; talking to a team mascot outside the stadium and quoting him or her as an “employee” and “insider”; or making one up entirely (see Sherman, Joel of the Post, New York), I don’t believe Rubin would do that.

The conspiracy theories had grown to such loony proportions that it was only a matter of time before Rubin took refuge at the Ecuadorean Embassy seeking asylum from his pursuers a la Julian Assange.

There’s an irrational hatred of the Mets that is difficult to understand and much of it stems from their own beat writers (not Rubin) and those who classify themselves as “lifelong Mets fans” such as Howard Megdal, yet take joy in attacking the organization no matter what they do. Did someone from the Mets drop this nugget to Rubin to send a message to Davis? If so, it’s highly doubtful that they haven’t said it to Davis privately. Putting it out there publicly could be a message for Davis to tone it down. Or it could’ve come from someone who’s not involved with the Mets at all and is relating what he’s been told as the club lays the foundation for a possible trade. It might be speculation based on whispers floating in the air.

We don’t know.

There’s a freedom inherent with using an unnamed source and the reaction tends to be mindless and agenda-laden. If you read what Rubin wrote, there’s no case to finding a guilty party with the Mets, but like the game of telephone, it grew in intensity as if something was said by someone, somewhere and no one knows who, what, or why.

The ancillaries are meaningless. The facts are highly relevant. And the facts are that while the story has veered off into a direction of blame and accusation centered around the Mets and Rubin, trading Davis is a viable idea that the Mets should pursue if they can get what they need to make themselves better.

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The Yunel Escobar “Slur”

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Perhaps this was a joke that went awry. Since players no longer use a tube of black gunk as eye black and it’s now a clean stick-on, a few teammates could’ve taken Yunel Escobar’s supply of eye black stickers, wrote the offensive terms on them in an ink that doesn’t activate until it reaches a certain temperature—presumably from sweat—and watched as hilarity ensued.

Except it wasn’t hilarity to those who saw it or had their attention drawn to it by the media.

If Escobar did this himself, then it’s piling onto the problems of the multi-talented Cuban since he came onto the scene with the Braves and repeatedly angered Bobby Cox and his teammates with his pouting and brainless play that led to the Braves trading such a gifted athlete to the Blue Jays in the first place.

Is this that big of a deal? It’s offensive, but the controversy from 2011 when Braves’ pitching coach Roger McDowell openly mocked fans with homosexual allusions in coarse terms with children nearby was exponentially worse than clubhouse humor that was meant to be a joke among teammates and turned into a huge mess. In the confines of the clubhouse, where teasing about sexual orientation and playacting in such a way is a regular occurrence, it’s not a big deal at all.

What those who are taking such great offense to this are missing is that baseball players are baseball players and sports clubhouses are sports clubhouses. Because there’s greater scrutiny, closer inspection and analysis of what happens on the field, and a larger number of outlets to bring stories to the our collective attention, it doesn’t alter the man’s world that is big time sports. The world is no longer insular; women aren’t relegated to being secretaries and receptionists; players are making their views on society more known and whether it’s due to religion or the macho sensibility that is prevalent among Latin players, this is going on publicly and privately.

Are there gay athletes in every sport from baseball to football to European soccer to hockey? Of course. Do they laugh along with the joking while putting up a front for appearances and to possibly keep their jobs? Absolutely. Is there anything that can be done about it? No.

That Escobar is a Latin player isn’t to be ignored. It was the same term as what was written on Escobar’s eye black—maricón which means “faggot” in Spanish—that was the genesis of one of boxing’s most storied and tragic events when Emile Griffith beat Bennie Paret to death in what could only be described as a visceral rage that isn’t present even in the most hotly contested fight. Paret, at the weigh-in prior to the bout, had called Griffith a maricón. It’s about as big an insult as can be tossed at a Latin. There’s a large amount of one-upmanship and perception that still remains in big time sports. When the Marlins signed Jose Reyes and told Hanley Ramirez that he was moving to third base to accommodate the new acquisition, it wasn’t simply that Ramirez’s position of shortstop was being usurped, but the idea that his territory was being threatened. Whether it was good of bad for the team was secondary to issues that have more to do with a mentality and culture than anything else.

Despite only two of these incidents being known to the masses in recent history, it’s not indicative of an isolated instance. There are higher-educated and self-described “enlightened” people running around professional sports teams than there were in the past. As recently as 15 years ago, baseball executives in top posts were all male and were almost all former players, legacy cases, or men who worked their way up in one form or another. More diversity doesn’t imply greater enlightenment. There will still be people who think women shouldn’t be involved with the men making baseball decisions; there will still be people who allow their own personal feelings to interfere with whom they hire as on-field staff.

The media is acting indignantly at Escobar because they’re supposed to act indignant. Certain new age segments are turning ashen, shocked that such a thing could exist and be accepted in this day and age. These are entities that are either ordered to write about a situation that’s become known and aren’t surprised and those who don’t have the faintest clue about what’s customary inside a big league clubhouse.

MLB is investigating the Escobar incident because they don’t want to alienate a large segment of the population. It’s a business and uttering slurs against any bloc is bad for business. But considering what inside baseball people know of what’s normal in the sanctity of a clubhouse, I’m sure there are many who are shrugging and saying, “It’s just a dumb baseball player or a joke that went wrong.”

Escobar will be punished because MLB has no choice in the matter, but this type of thing is reality that wound up in the news. It’s as monolithic as the farm system, advance scouting, and players complaining about their contracts. One punishment for show is not going to make it stop.

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Schilling’s Cruelest Cut

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While the failure of Curt Schilling’s ill-conceived video game business has presumably damaged his financial circumstances beyond all repair, it’s been a multiple-pronged stabbing to Schilling’s persona and supposed beliefs to not only have his reputation damaged, but to have ostensibly been abandoned by the same conservative coalition for which he donated his time, name, fame, and presumably money.

You can read the tipping point here in the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard as the reality behind Schilling’s collapsed business hits home as it’s compared to a larger scale disaster as the Obama administration’s support of Solyndra.

I’ve said before that I don’t think Schilling meant any harm with his poorly planned and doomed to fail attempts to build a business post-baseball career, but it’s indicative of his insanely high opinion of himself that he chose to take his vast fortune and sink it into such a risky venture amid the hopes that he’d turn himself into a corporate titan and, presumably, become a wealthy man at an endeavor using something other than the gift of a 95-98 mph fastball. What people are missing when they try to adhere to what’s misinterpreted and bastardized as “conservative” principles is that not everyone is able to handle a business; not everyone can create a product; not everyone can transfer success from one narrow market to another market. Bill Gates couldn’t strike out 300 batters in a season and Schilling, as evidenced by the disaster for himself and the people of Rhode Island, can’t run a video game startup. It’s not a remote experience for athletes to try their hand at outside ventures and cost themselves the fortune they accrued as players, an amount of money they could easily have lived on had they not been convinced by others that they should diversify and invest. It’s greed, arrogance, and ignorance.

Schilling was a “believer”. He really felt that the politicians and causes he supported were on the side of right. However, as evidenced by his self-involved behaviors as a player such as when he was unhappy with the new tool known as QuesTec designed to make sure the umpires were adhering more closely to the rulebook strike zone rather than relying on their own interpretation, walked over to the expensive piece of equipment and smashed it like an impulsive, tantrum-throwing child who, unhappy that he’s not getting his way, will make a scene and break things. Presumably, Schilling had to pay for the machine he damaged, but that’s beside the point. If you’re for conservative causes, then you’re for law and order and adhering to the edicts of those in charge. Breaking that with which you disagree is a form of anarchy—the antithesis of what Schilling espoused.

The video game business and its shift to Rhode Island was a means to an end. Schilling’s mandate when he received the $75 million in loan guarantees to move the business from Massachusetts to Rhode Island was contingent on creating jobs in the state. And he did. The problem was that they weren’t bringing any money into the company because their product wasn’t finished and, according to The Weekly Standard piece, they were hiring people to meet the quota. In running a viable business, meeting the quota is secondary to having multiple people doing a job that one could do adequately. It’s circular and stupid.

What’s most ironic is that Schilling, the radical right winger who believes in small government, self-reliance, and a principled core of beliefs, exemplifies that which he rails against when he cost the taxpayers of Rhode Island an immense amount of money and ravaged his own personal finances, then blamed others and implied that it’s not his fault while hinting that he needs a bailout.

But the party that might be willing to bail him out isn’t because he’s not one of them; and the party to which he was inextricably aligned dispatched him because he was no longer of use.

If he were smarter, I’d say maybe he learned a lesson. But he’s not. So he probably didn’t.

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American League Central—2012 Present and 2013 Future

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I recently looked at the AL East, how they’re faring now and their prospects for the future. Now let’s look at the AL Central.

Chicago White Sox

There are few baseball executives for whom their statements should be taken at face value, but White Sox GM Ken Williams is one. Because of that, when he says he misspoke about blowing the whole thing up at the conclusion of the 2011 season, then didn’t blow the whole thing up and instead made moves to try and win while getting younger and more flexible, I believe him.

The White Sox success can be chalked up to: manager Robin Ventura’s calm demeanor in stark contrast to the raving lunacy of Ozzie Guillen; Jake Peavy coming back from injury and pitching like a top tier starter; Chris Sale’s development as a starting pitcher; Adam Dunn’s and Alex Rios’s comebacks; and the parity around the American League.

Ventura and Mike Matheny have become a regular “example” that managers don’t need to have managerial experience to be successful. Of course it’s nonsense and taken greatly out of context. Ventura’s done a good job and his cachet as a former All Star player and popular person in Chicago has helped him greatly, but anyone other than Guillen would’ve been taken as a welcome respite from the daily haranguing and controversy that surrounded the former manager’s big mouth and followed him—with disastrous results—to Miami.

As long as Williams is the GM, the White Sox have a chance to be competitive because he has no patience for long rebuilds and makes aggressive maneuvers accordingly.

Detroit Tigers

The Tigers have been inconsistent in every facet. Their defense, while not being as bad as predicted, still isn’t good; the offense is 7th in the AL in runs scored despite having two MVP candidates Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, plus Austin Jackson having a fantastic year; the bullpen has been shaky; and Justin Verlander has been excellent and is still a Cy Young Award candidate, but has taken enough of a step back from his CYA/MVP of 2011 back to humanity to account for the Tigers fighting for a playoff spot.

There’s been talk that manager Jim Leyland, in the final year of his contract, could be in trouble if the Tigers don’t make the playoffs. It’s silly. Leyland can still handle the egos in that clubhouse and the very last thing the Tigers need to do and, tying in with the concept of a manager with zero experience, is to hire someone young just to make a change.

The Tigers dealt away several prospects including Jacob Turner to get Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez, but they’ve held onto Avisail Garcia and Nick Castellanos. The farm system is not barren and as long as they have Fielder, Cabrera, and Verlander, they’ll be competitive. Changing managers for the sake of it makes zero sense.

Kansas City Royals

It’s ludicrous how those who felt the Royals were going to parlay their loaded farm system into a leap to legitimate contention jump off the train as soon as a rebuild doesn’t adhere to the “plan”. Young players sometimes hit speedbumps on the way up. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are still two players around whom to build; Alex Gordon is a solid presence at the plate and in the field; Billy Butler is emerging as an unknown star; and Salvador Perez and several young pitchers got hurt.

The talent is still there. As long as they don’t panic, there’s no reason they can’t contend in 2013.

They do need to show improvement for manager Ned Yost to keep his job past next May/June; and GM Dayton Moore will probably get one more managerial hire if Yost has to be replaced, then the onus will be on him.

Cleveland Indians

2012 went completely wrong with 2013 not looking much better. They got off to a good start and were hovering around contention through mid-season until they collapsed completely and, since being 50-50 on July 27th, have gone 10-36. Manny Acta has a contract for next season, but since the Indians don’t have much money to spend and are openly ready to listen to offers for one of their few marketable players Shin-Soo Choo, there’s no point in sending Acta back out there as a lame duck when they have a managerial prospect in the popular former Indians’ hero Sandy Alomar Jr. on the coaching staff.

Closer Chris Perez ripped the organization from top to bottom recently and will presumably be shipped out of town for his candor. Considering that Perez is a slightly better-than-average closer, it’s not his place to be opening his mouth. The Indians are short on foundational talent. Asdrubal Cabrera is a very good player; Carlos Santana doesn’t appear to be an everyday catcher and his skills are less impressive as a first baseman; and their supposed top two starters, Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson, haven’t pitched well.

The Indians have a long road ahead of them and may have to restart their rebuild.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins were competitive for a decade after a decade of being so terrible that they were a target of contraction. Now instead of being a target, they built Target Field and spent money to try and win in 2010. To that end, they traded away a top prospect Wilson Ramos for a mediocre reliever Matt Capps; they signed Tsuyoshi Nishioka and repeated the Mets’ mistake with Kazuo Matsui, except Nishioka isn’t as talented as Matsui was; and they brought back their old GM Terry Ryan who still hasn’t had the interim label taken from his title.

Ownership has said that they want Ryan to take the job on a permanent basis. We’ll see. If Ryan isn’t fully committed or ownership wants to go in a new direction with an outsider, manager Ron Gardenhire could be in trouble as well.

Offensively, they’ve rebounded from an injury-plagued 2011 with Joe Mauer back to being Joe Mauer; a tremendous year from Josh Willingham; and Justin Morneau finally returning to form after his concussion problems.

They’re still severely short in the pitching department and are running into identical issues as the Mets did when they moved into their new park after contending for several years and building a canyon instead of a ballpark. The Mets moved the fences in and started a full-blown rebuild. The Twins have yet to do that, but they’re going to have to infuse the organization with more talent to get back to competitiveness.

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Cashman the Weiner

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When former Democratic New York Congressman Anthony Weiner was under siege after a series of racy photos he’d intended to send privately to a female follower on Twitter, he first denied that they were of him hoping that the controversy would die out. Then he kindasorta laid (heh) the foundation for a sex scandal that he still hoped to escape and politically survive by saying, “Well, maybe it’s me.” It was a sex scandal in the weakest sense because it doesn’t appear that Weiner actually got any sex out of the whole thing, which makes it even more of a waste of time and energy.

Naturally the subterfuge failed and snowballed with several women coming forward to relate their interactions with the former congressman. Try as he might to demonize the late gadfly Andrew Breitbart for publicizing the photos, the truth came out and Weiner wound up having to apologize to Breitbart and subsequently resigned his congressional seat.

After reading Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman’s cryptic statement about slumping ace CC Sabathia this morning, I saw Cashman as a Weiner trying to use verbal gymnastics to slap away questions as to why Sabathia’s velocity is down and he’s not the ace he’s been in years past.

The quote is nestled in this game report in the New York Times:

His velocity has dipped enough for General Manager Brian Cashman to say that he might still be fighting through some arm pain.

“Obviously, C. C. was signed to be an ace, so you anticipate that,” Cashman said before the game. “But at the same time, you know recently he was going through an elbow issue, so it makes you curious if that still bothers him or not, whether if he acknowledges it or not.”

So what you’re telling me is that the GM of the team—the most expensive and famous in all of baseball that is in the midst of a seismic collapse that will reverberate for years if they don’t stop it now—doesn’t know whether the ace of his pitching staff is under treatment for arm pain? That he’s unaware of the status of the pitcher upon whom the Yankees doled a lucrative contract extension last winter that essentially pays him at least a guaranteed $30 million in 2016 when he’ll be 36; and as much as $50 million for 2016-2017 when he’s turning 37?

It’s not the crime, but the coverup that dooms the participants. During and after manager Joe Girardi’s shouting match with Joel Sherman of the New York Post a week ago when Sherman asked about Sabathia’s health, was Girardi using anger as a distractive technique to shift the story from Sabathia and the possibility that he’s injured or pitching in pain? Is he hurt or not?

No matter how this season ends, if in its aftermath the Yankees turn around and admit that there was something wrong with Sabathia, how is that going to be spun to blame the media? Will it be used to justify Sabathia’s struggles? To divert attention from the fact that they were asked directly about the big lefty’s health and repeatedly said he was fine? It doesn’t work that way. You can’t say he’s okay to pitch and then use injuries to explain him not getting the job done.

Giving the moral high ground to someone like Joel Sherman is a sign that one needs to reevaluate his life. But on the scale of problems currently facing the Yankees, it’s just another small addition to the list that’s gotten them into this situation in the first place. And first place is something they may not be hearing in reference to their collective names much longer. Then Cashman’s going to have a lot more to worry about than how to navigate his statements to say things without saying them; to imply that there’s an excuse at the ready for whatever befalls the team from here on out.

He may have to worry about his job. Just like Anthony Weiner.

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American League East—2012 Present and 2013 Future

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Let’s look at the current construction of each club and make an honest appraisal of their 2012 status and 2013 future. We’ll start with the AL East.

Baltimore Orioles

As an excuse to justify how brilliant they are and that their numbers are never wrong, it’s en vogue for the stats-obsessed to repeatedly reference how “lucky” the Orioles are because of their negative run differential and that their record under the shaky metric of the Pythagorean Win Theorem has them 12 games worse than their actual record.

The Orioles have three major attributes: they hit the ball out of the park; they have a deep bullpen; and they have a manager in Buck Showalter who knows how to push the right buttons. Bullpens fluctuate so there’s no guarantee that will continue into 2013; they’ll still have players who hit the ball out of the park; and Showalter is discussing a contract extension.

Their starting rotation are all in their mid-20s and they have young players Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado set to make contributions. The Orioles may take a step back next year, but they’ve turned the corner from a laughingstock where no player would choose to go unless they’re overpaid or without options to a viable destination with a plan and a chance to win. And they have a great shot at the playoffs this season.

New York Yankees

Anyone speculating about Joe Girardi’s job security is looking for a scapegoat and trying to distract from the real culprits in the team’s inconsistency and age: Brian Cashman and, to a lesser extent, the Steinbrenners.

If this team doesn’t make the playoffs, they’re going to have to make structural changes to the roster. The constant discussion of their 10 games lead in July is glossing over the fact that they’ve had one good month—June when they went 20-7. Aside from that, they’re around a .500 team and making the playoffs in 2012 is in jeopardy. They’re old, expensive, and worn down. It remains to be seen what this veteran crew is going to have left in the tank even if they do make the playoffs

All of a sudden criticism has been extended to hitting coach Kevin Long for the slide of Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, among others. Long might be gone, playoffs or not. The Yankees minor league system is dwindling in stature and legitimate prospects, thereby limiting what they’ll be able to acquire on the market; their open decision to try and reduce payroll to prevent luxury tax implications will also reduce their options to improve the team on the fly.

If they fall from the playoffs or are a one-and-done scenario, I’d fire Cashman not just for his incompetent trade for Michael Pineda and failure to address needs at the trading deadline, but also because I still have an issue with him having written a reference on team letterhead for either his girlfriend or a woman that was blackmailing him. His judgment on and off the field is highly questionable.

Maybe it’s time for Billy Eppler to get a chance or to even bring back Gene Michael for a 2-3 year run as GM.

Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays are loaded with young pitching, aggressive in making trades, and build a different bullpen every year with the refuse of other clubs. Because they are operating under severe financial constraints and the scrutiny around them is limited, they can do what they want and live with a season of 83-79 or worse to get back to 95 wins the next season. This is what they are and how they’ll remain under the current management.

Toronto Blue Jays

Edwin Encarnacion hit his 40th home run last night. He joins Jose Bautista as a journeyman player who suddenly starting hitting the ball out of the park with a ridiculous frequency for the Blue Jays. But they’re still the same team that discovers a player for whom it clicked in his late-20s, and winds up with a win total between 75-83 and is in third or fourth place in the division.

Their manager John Farrell is in demand to take over the Red Sox and the Blue Jays don’t sound all that bothered about it. Their entire starting rotation has spent time on the disabled list for one malady or another. Their offense is flashy, but as inconsistent as their would-be star pitcher Brandon Morrow.

It’s just off in Toronto. They do noticeable things like make aggressive trades, hit homers and steal bases, but they don’t win. I don’t hear people referring to GM Alex Anthopoulos as a genius much anymore. What are they thinking North of the border when they spent so many years jumping at the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays like a child trying to recover a confiscated toy, then see the Red Sox come apart, the Yankees vulnerable, and the Rays beatable and that it’s the Orioles and not the Blue Jays who are taking advantage?

I thought the Blue Jays would take the next step this season, but that belief has been prevalent for a decade and they’re frozen in place. I’m not picking them again unless they make significant changes on and off the field.

Boston Red Sox

On some level, I understand what they did when they hired Bobby Valentine to replace Terry Francona. I’m not one who’s seeing their atrocious season as validating Francona is some bizarre way. He and Theo Epstein take as much responsibility if not more as Larry Lucchino and Valentine in 2012. They were trying to move forward with the roster as it was, make a few tweaks here and there, and see if it got better. It didn’t and it’s not Valentine’s fault.

They got rid of Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and Carl Crawford, saved money and bolstered the farm system. But if you think they’re going to hire Farrell or whoever; sign a few free agents with the available money or make a big trade and they’ll be back to where they were as World Series favorites, you’ve got another thing coming. There’s a lot of work to do in Boston and it’s not going to be a short-term process. If they go half-in/half-out and try to straddle the line as they did last winter, expect more of the same in 2013.

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Collapses and Comebacks

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Would the Phillies and Brewers have staged these remarkable leaps back into contention had they not made the mid-season housecleaning trades in what was a tacit concession that it wasn’t going to happen for them this season? And where would the Phillies be had they not signed Cole Hamels and been forced to trade him?

The players both clubs acquired in dealing away Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence, Joe Blanton, and Zack Greinke haven’t done anything to help their new teams in the short term, so there are other reasons that they’ve gotten to within striking distance of the second Wild Card in the National League.

The Phillies have taken great advantage of finally being fully healthy in their starting rotation and are beating on dead teams like the Marlins and Rockies. More fuel will be added to the idea of a “miracle” if they take care of business against the Astros this weekend. Because they have that pitching, they’ll be competitive the rest of season, but it’s more likely that reality will strike when they play the Braves and Nationals in 9 of the final 19 games.

In addition to the Phillies and Brewers, the Dodgers, Pirates and even the Padres have a legitimate claim on saying, “Hey, we’re in this thing!” Perception is the key here. The Phillies, Brewers and Padres have nothing to lose and were left for dead, so it’s not going to be seen as a “collapse” if they fall short. The Pirates will be judged as having collapsed; the Dodgers flurry of trades will be viewed as a “failure”. The Cardinals, on the other hand, will be judged in the prism of disintegration. The Cardinals aren’t that good to begin with and certainly not markedly better than the teams chasing them.

In the American League, the Yankees are crawling to the finish line and, before running into the A’s, the Angels were making a run similar to that of the Phillies.

What does all this mean?

In the future, we’re going to see teams reluctant to make drastic mid-season trades to dump salary if they’re within 10 games of one of the Wild Card spots. Unless an offering team bowls them over by overpaying, it makes no sense to simply trade away pieces that could be used to make a run no matter how much of a fantasy, how many things have to go right for that run to happen. On an annual basis, these “miraculous” comebacks are becoming so frequent that they’re not miraculous anymore. There’s a reason they’re happening. Teams can’t coast into the playoffs and the pursuing teams can’t give up. That means players are playing all-out until the end whereas in the past, they might’ve put up a pretense of trying hard and shrugged when it became too much work.

Naturally, there are extenuating circumstances. The Red Sox and Dodgers are two such cases. The Red Sox blew it up knowing that even if they make another managerial change at the conclusion of this season, leaving Josh Beckett in that clubhouse, in that town was not going to work. They cleared money with Carl Crawford, and moved a player who was ill-suited to Boston, the Red Sox, and the East Coast in Adrian Gonzalez. The Dodgers are flush with cash, banking on a new TV deal, and weren’t good enough as constructed at the time of the trades.

The Yankees, seemingly content with their lead in the AL East and knowing they had the two Wild Cards as a fallback if the unthinkable happened, didn’t do much at the trading deadline. Still clinging to concept of getting under the luxury tax threshold by 2014, they didn’t make a move on the big names available such as Cliff Lee. (That the Phillies were entertaining thoughts of trading Lee should tell you how surprised Ruben Amaro Jr. is that they’ve jumped back in the race.) Instead, the disappearing GM Brian Cashman (where is he?) chose to make small and insignificant moves such as Casey McGehee, Steve Pearce, and Derek Lowe. Now they’re staring in the face of being bounced from the playoffs entirely as a casualty in the stunning rise and comebacks of the Orioles, Rays, Athletics, and Angels.

As July 31st approaches, the line between contender and also-ran is increasingly blurry. Teams that win two straight games and “climb” to within 5 games of a playoff spot or lose three straight and fall to 8 back are alternatingly seen as buyers and sellers. It’s permeated front offices and the amount of coverage that the deadline and contracts and “plans” receive are infiltrating logical thinking.

Apart from the lower echelon teams like the Astros, Cubs, and Twins who are so far behind at the deadline that not even a streak of 20 wins in 25 games is going to do much good, we’re not going to have big time players available for the contenders. Teams without a preseason acceptance that they’re not contending are going to stick with their roster from the preseason and see who collapses in front of them. It’s happening to the Yankees, so it can happen to anyone.

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Denial Doesn’t Solve The Yankees’ Problems

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I’m no fan of Chris Russo as a broadcaster, sports analyst, or human being, but his absence as a partner and counterweight (figuratively—there’s no way he could do it literally) to Mike Francesa is sorely missed during the Yankees September swoon. If you listen to Francesa and his guests, this run of poor play is little more than a blip with multitudes of excuses and Fight Club-style group therapy sessions to assuage the small warning light in the backs of their collective heads telling them, “Yes, the Yankees might actually blow this.”

Is it a “blip”? The Yankees were 60-39 on July 27th; since then, they’ve gone 19-23. That’s a quarter of the season. That’s no small sample to be dismissed. Objectively, they’ve had one good month this whole season in June when they went 20-7; aside from that, it’s been this. There’s a disturbing amount of delusional denial within the media of what’s happening with this team.

This from Ken Davidoff in the New York Post today:

You can’t call this your classic collapse. The Yankees are winning too often, playing too well, to draw comparisons to any of the all-time tank jobs.

Really? Is that the barometer? Because they’re not comparable to the 1964 Phillies; the 2007 Mets; the 2011 Red Sox and Braves, then it’s not as bad as it seems? It’s a ridiculous argument that isn’t worth examining the current Yankees circumstances and peeling the layers of other collapses. They’re playing too well? Where? Art Howe used to get roasted in the same pages in which Davidoff writes because he explained away the Mets losses with, “We battled.” Are the Yankees battling? I suppose they are. But they’re also losing those battles.

This overriding theme is the classic excuse of, “It’s not their fault.” But whose fault is it? The umpires? Other teams for not blindly accepting the Yankees’ superiority and letting them win? You can’t look down on other franchises and openly promote historic greatness and then complain when the formula doesn’t hold true. It doesn’t work this way with the Yankees. They don’t want to hear excuses from other franchises as they look down smugly from their self-created perch, so they shouldn’t be indulging in such weak excuses themselves. The Red Sox, Blue Jays, Twins or any of the other clubs on their supposed powderpuff schedule is going to have sympathy, want to hear about how the playoffs aren’t the same without the Yankees or other similar bits of absurdity.

There appears to be a coping structure in place among those whose embarrassment will rival that of the Yankees organization if the team does somehow manage to stumble out of the playoffs; that they’re more concerned with the ridicule they’re going to have to endure rather than honestly analyze why this is happening. Much like the entire YES Network, the media contingent whose lifeblood hinges on the success of the Yankees, and the fanbase, there’s a tacit decision to ignore this reality as if it’s going to go away; as if the schedule will save them.

Every Francesa guest has been offering validation to his underlying pleas to tell him and the listeners/watchers that everything’s going to be okay with little basis for the assertion other than the schedule. From Peter Gammons to Sweeny Murti to Mark Feinsand to anyone and everyone, they’re clinging to what the Yankees were and thinking that it’s still what they are. It’s the furthest thing from the truth. He sounds like one of his callers. If he had Russo—or anyone willing to stand up to him—it wouldn’t pass without protest.

The Yankees’ margin of error that is usually in place in September has been wiped out since they blew that 10 game lead and there are not one, but two teams ahead of them in the American League standings. They’re tied for first place in the division, and three teams are right on their heels. Mistakes or strategic missteps are magnified when the margin for error disappears. Manager Joe Girardi’s strategic moves are under greater scrutiny because they matter. In July, when they were rolling toward the playoffs, one small bullpen call that didn’t work wasn’t an issue because it was a tiny pebble in the river of that lead. Now there’s no river. It’s a disappearing puddle. This is how you wind up with Girardi physically looking like Billy Martin after a 5-day bender and losing his composure at the provocation of the instigator Joel Sherman. Girardi has handled himself as well as can be expected and been a professional. That’s not going to fly with the masses. They want someone or something to blame.

Francesa’s new template is to desperately look at the upcoming schedule and, in an identically ignorant fashion to his annual picking of the Twins in the AL Central since “I awways pick da Twins,” is picking and choosing wins and losses. This isn’t football where there are factors such as quarterbacking, special teams, matchups, and home field advantages that will make a difference.

The Red Sox won last night because the Yankees didn’t capitalize on Jon Lester’s wildness. David Robertson’s luck in getting himself into and out of trouble didn’t work its magic. The idea that the Yankees were going to stroll into Boston and sweep the Red Sox—no matter how poorly the Red Sox were playing—is ignoring how much hatred the key performers in last night’s game, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury, have implanted in their psyches from battles between the franchises over the past decade. That permeates to the clubhouse. The players can feel the buzz in the ballpark and it’s going to spur them to play harder. Manager Bobby Valentine, knowing his time as Red Sox manager is dwindling to these final three weeks, also despises the Yankees from his time as Mets’ manager and would love to put an addendum on what is likely his final ballroom dance as a big league manager with “helped knock the Yankees from the playoffs” instead of having “Red Sox disaster” standing alone as his managerial epitaph.

Semantics and the cuddly positive reinforcement that the heroes from years gone by like Andy Pettitte will tear off his shirt and go into a Superman act to save the day aren’t solutions. They’re dreams. The first step to dealing with a problem is admitting it, but that’s something no one invested in the Yankees is willing to do.

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