Jeff Wilpon’s Lesson: Never Answer Questions

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Would the reaction to Jeff Wilpon be any different had he chosen not to respond to questions about David Wright and R.A. Dickey? If Wilpon, who was in Far Rockaway along with Matt Harvey giving away meals to victims of Hurricane Sandy, had uttered “no comment” to the questions about the club, then that would’ve been the story. He chose to answer and now it’s become more fodder for the franchise its own fans use as a punching bag, a sadomasochistic device, and an exercise in self-mutilation like running to the bathroom to cut themselves and covering it up with a Mets wristband.

Why is it okay for the Red Sox to clear out their entire house at mid-season to give themselves the oft-repeated buzzword “financial flexibility”; for the Diamondbacks to listen to offers on Justin Upton; that the Rays are always open for business on every player under their employ; the A’s do bizarre things and dump all their highly paid players like the Marlins just did, but Billy Beane at the time was still called “smarter than the average bear”, yet the Mets can’t merely mention the word “trade” without it turning into another indictment of the franchise and prophecies of doom that both Wright and Dickey are essentially gone?

No one knows what’s going to happen. Even supposed “insiders” are constantly getting their facts wrong or are twisting what they know to suit editorial edicts in order to forward the storyline that the Mets are in familiar disarray to spur conversation, webhits, and the circular entity of the 24-hour news cycle.

The Orioles were considered a joke until 2012 when, all of a sudden, it’s not such a bad place anymore because they had a shockingly great year; no longer is there the ridicule of their decision to pluck Dan Duquette from oblivion and install him as their GM and players are willing to go to Baltimore for more than just one final payday from a desperate franchise.

In the aftermath of Beane’s winter overhaul/gutting in 2011 when the Athletics traded away every recognizable player and walked away with a haul of prospects, they suddenly found themselves making the playoffs.

The Angels were considered the go-to franchise for top-to-bottom cohesion, and now look totally dysfunctional and clinging to the past with Mike Scioscia and the future with Jerry Dipoto not even reading the same book, let alone on the same page.

And the Red Sox, whose decline from what they were in the winter of 2010-2011 to where they are now doesn’t even warrant the word “plummet”.

Teams spend. Teams save. Teams sign and trade. They dispatch and allow stars to leave. This past season proved that no combination of these is a precursor to winning or losing regardless of what outsider “experts” believe.

No matter what the Mets decide, it’s hard to foresee them receiving more punishment than they currently do, so why shouldn’t they have every option on the table including trades of Wright and Dickey now or at mid-season? Fans and critics have to accept this truth: the Wilpons are not selling the team; they are still digging their way through the financial mess the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme created; and the team is being rebuilt. Whether or not that includes Wright or Dickey is neither here nor there and the team would be remiss by not having every single option on the table. A trade is on that table whether the word is uttered or not.

Wilpon was asked a question and he answered it. That’s all it was.

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Blue Jays Make a Surprising and Solid Choice in Gibbons

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In a surprise move, John Gibbons has been hired as the the new manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. By some, this will be seen as the questionable decision to rehire a retread that had limited success and several public controversies as Blue Jays manager from 2004-2008, but Gibbons is more than qualified for the job and the issues he had in his first go-round were circumstantial.

Here’s why.

He knows what he’s doing strategically

The Blue Jays in those years lived up to their talent level in the standings. Trapped in the AL East with the Yankees and Red Sox at the height of their powers, there was little more that Gibbons could have done. In fact, he brought them home with an 87-75 record in 2006 and in second place in the AL East ahead of the Red Sox.

There’s a stark difference between Gibbons and the former Blue Jays and now Red Sox manager John Farrell—experience running a game and the confidence of knowing what he’s doing. Gibbons has it, Farrell doesn’t.

Few are addressing that elemental problem that Farrell had: he’d never managed before. The Red Sox and their fans aren’t going to like to hear it, but the reality of Farrell with the Blue Jays was that he was clueless how to run a lineup and the woeful fundamentals exhibited by his club emanated from him. If the players don’t think their manager does the job correctly, that manager is doomed. Such is not the case with Gibbons.

Gibbons has managed in the big leagues and is a longtime, successful minor league manager. He developed young players and the veterans know what to expect from him. As a player, he was a catcher giving him experience with pitchers. Strategically, he made the right calls and divided up the innings for his pitchers evenly without abusing them.

Two clubs are inextricably entwined in their choice of manager. The Red Sox took the Blue Jays former manager Farrell and traded Mike Aviles to get him even though it looked as if the Blue Jays were going to fire him if the Red Sox hadn’t come calling. Both clubs reached into their pasts with the Red Sox seen as making a great hire in Farrell and the Gibbons hire likely to be viewed quizzically with only his initial tenure as the reason. Overall, the Blue Jays looked at Gibbons’s work as more than his record; the Red Sox looked at Farrell as a link to the glory years when he was pitching coach. It was the Blue Jays that made the smarter maneuver.

Gibbons’s history is blown out of proportion

What people remember—and will repeatedly mention—are Gibbons’s confrontations with Shea Hillenbrand and Ted Lilly.

Hillenbrand was unhappy with the Blue Jays organization and his diminished playing time and wrote on the clubhouse whiteboard, “This is a sinking ship, play for yourself.” In a clubhouse meeting, Gibbons demanded to know who wrote the message. Hillenbrand raised his hand and Gibbons challenged him to a fight. The entire team and organization stood behind Gibbons. Hillenbrand was designated for assignment and traded. It wasn’t a first time offense for Hillenbrand who had problems with other authority figures with other clubs including Red Sox GM Theo Epstein.

The Lilly incident stemmed from Gibbons removing the pitcher from a game and Lilly arguing with Gibbons on the mound. After the pitcher was taken out, Gibbons followed Lilly down the runway to the clubhouse and a brief fight ensued with Gibbons, surprisingly, getting the worst of it. Here’s a dirty little secret: this type of thing happens between managers and players all the time over the course of a season. The mistake Gibbons made was doing it so all could see; so the media could get wind of it; so it was a story. Lilly was totally wrong for arguing with his manager on the mound and, if anything, it was a “don’t screw with me,” message from Gibbons.

What made these occurrences seem worse was that they happened in such a narrow timeframe leading to an appearance of disarray that wasn’t actually there. These are blips. Gibbons doesn’t take crap and has experience in the job—that’s what the Blue Jays needed after the disaster with Farrell.

The hovering specter of Moneyball is gone

In the days following Moneyball when the book was considered the new “Bible” of how to run a club, teams that followed the philosophy were saddled with its rules. One in particular was that the manager had to be a nameless and easily replaceable functionary who would be paid minimally and implement the ideas of the front office.

In subsequent years, even Billy Beane has backed away from that. At the time Gibbons was hired, his close friend and former minor league teammate with the Mets, J.P. Ricciardi, was the Blue Jays GM and was a solid backer of the Moneyball strategy. In fact, somewhat admirably, of all the Moneyball GMs from Beane to Paul DePodesta to Ricciardi and everyone in between, it was Ricciardi who adhered most closely to the template described in the book.

That said, the way the manager was pigeonholed didn’t do Gibbons any favors with his players. Every team has around 15 players who’ll play hard and do what they’re told regardless of who the manager is; there will be 5 players who might give them some grief every once in a while, but mean well; and another 5 who have to be knocked into line with macho, testosterone-fueled strong arm tactics. Gibbons knocked his players into line, but that shadow constantly cast a pall over the good work he did.

When Gibbons was fired in 2008, it wasn’t done because he had to go. Ricciardi was under fire and there was a groundswell to bring Cito Gaston back due to a strong and positive memory the fans had from Gaston managing back-to-back World Series winners. The GM understandably made the change to save himself.

Now with a GM who worked in the prior regime, Alex Anthopoulos, running the show, there’s no longer a “middle-manager” aspect to the job. Teams are hiring managers and letting them manage. In truth, the autonomy is probably about the same as it was for Gibbons the first time, but the perception is different and there won’t be the open invitation to try and walk all over him making it necessary for him to do what he did with Hillenbrand and Lilly the first time around to maintain order. Sometimes that has to happen, but it won’t be from a wide open gate provided by the front office.

The resume

The Blue Jays looked at Farrell’s resume and made the hire thinking his Red Sox days and vast experience in numerous baseball capacities would yield strong results. They didn’t and two years later, it was proven to be a mistake. Gibbons’s resume isn’t as sexy; he has his black spots; he doesn’t have Farrell’s jutting jaw, intimidating size, straight out of central casting “manager” countenance, and well-spoken manner to charm the media and bosses, but Gibbons is a better choice and with this collection of talent, he will win. The same would not be said for Farrell because there was always that looming in-game ineptitude. With Gibbons, strategy isn’t an issue. The team will play the game properly and with fundamental soundness. The Blue Jays now have a better team and a better manager to go with it.

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YES, the Yankees and Murdoch—A Look Into the Future

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Newscorp is closing in on a deal to purchase up to 49% of the YES Network—NY Times story.

After all those years of pure Yankees partisanship disguised as evenhanded sports news, it’s a relief that a trusted and historically non-partisan, fact-based entity such as Newscorp is buying into YES. Now, with the skillsets of Rupert Murdoch in installing qualified and reputable people to deliver fair and balanced dissemination of information, YES can become something other than the Yankees infomercial it’s been for its entire existence. Let’s look into the crystal ball of what to expect.

Say YES in the Morning with Meredith and John—6  to 10 AM

Meredith Marakovits and John Sterling bring you all the morning sports news with your coffee (and possibly a small shot of bourbon). Join Meredith and John as long as John is able to get up in the morning and clear the bleariness out of his head and eyes.

The audience wins. The….audience…..WWWWIIIIIINNNNNNSSSS!!!!!

The Emperor’s Lair with Jason Zillo—10 AM-11 AM

If you’re wondering what it’s like to be the gatekeeper to the Yankees Universe, wonder no more. Jason Zillo takes you on a tour of the Yankees from the all-seeing, all-knowing, guardian of the brand. From Derek Jeter’s lavish Tampa home to Alex Rodriguez’s star-studded dating history (he can give you a free baseball with his number on it), Zillo grants you, the audience, an audience.*

*Like the evil, all-powerful Anthony from the “It’s a Good Life” episode of the Twilight Zone, this is contingent on you only thinking good thoughts about the Yankees. He is the gatekeeper, after all.

Hank Steinbrenner Bloviates—11 AM-12 PM

With smoke coming out his his ears, nose, mouth and eyes—some of it cigarette related, some not; as well as imparting of baseball knowledge and irrational demands reminiscent of his late father emanating from his behind amid more smoke, Hank Steinbrenner asks, no, demands that you watch. And don’t change that channel.

The Daily National Anthem with Haley Swindal—12 PM-1 PM

You’re a patriot, aren’t you? Well, then you must enjoy Haley Swindal singing multiple renditions of The Star Spangled Banner and God Bless America, followed by stories about the adventures she’s experienced traveling around the world…singing The Star Spangled Banner and God Bless America. It’s a travel show unlike any you’ve ever seen!!

Mike’s On Simulcast—the Mike Francesa Show on WFAN 1 PM-6:30 PM (6 PM in-season)

A better Yankees apologist not officially working for YES you’ll never find. Francesa doesn’t bother with the inconveniences of journalism by deciding to interview or question the likes of Yankees GM Brian Cashman or manager Joe Girardi, he interacts with them providing insight and advice on players from Brandon Inge to Nate McLouth.

Of course Hiroki Kuroda’s going to take a 1-year deal to return to the Yankees!!! Of course he is!!! He prefers the West Coast? But don’t you wanna be a YANKEE?!?!

Watch Francesa drink endless buckets of Diet Coke, rant against the Mets with a faux passion diabolically disguised by raving, incomprehensible lunacy; see him cut Rex Ryan and the Jets down to size better than liposuction and stomach stapling; listen as he makes a difference (because it affected him) with LIPA.

And don’t you ever forget that Darrelle Revis committed pass interference on the doctor when he had knee surgery too.

During the baseball season

Yankees Pregame with Bob Lorenz, Nancy Newman and “analysts”—6 PM-7PM

If you’re looking for validation as to why the Yankees are the greatest thing ever-ever and will never lose but will only run out of innings, the search is over. The team of experts will provide you with a Machiavellian justification to explain away any lingering doubts that the Yankees might not actually be the only team to win a World Series in baseball history.

From April to late October (guaranteed)—Yankees Baseball 7 PM-10 PM

Yankees baseball from start to finish with zero objectivity and intelligent baseball wisdom delivered by the endless stream of broadcasters Michael Kay, Ken Singleton, David Cone, John Flaherty, Al Leiter, Mel Allen, Phil Rizzuto, Suzyn Waldman, Dwight Gooden, Mel Hall, Frank Messer, Denver Wieland, Kyle Hanratty, Dugan McPhasenot, Bell Corling, Deafness Matriculation and the rest of the crew!!

The Yankees Post-Game Show with Bob Lorenz

Detailed analysis of each game from how the opposing team wilted at the mere sight of the pinstripes and the all-encompassing nature of the Yankees aura, or explanations why the Yankees should have won and, in fact, did win even if they lost in that inconvenient “reality” of a completed game.

During the off-season

The Kay Factor—8 PM-9 PM

If you enjoy Michael Kay on CenterStage, you’ll certainly enjoy him in an edgier version of the previous incarnations of his show. Resplendent in leather, Kay will take the Mets to the woodshed; he’ll jab his finger in your face; he’ll threaten to punch Phil Mushnick!! With guests such as Joel Sherman, Dick Morris, Karl Rove, and Richard Gere(?), join Michael for a hard-hitting hour of sports news that’s sure to whet your appetite for chicken parm!

Curry—9 PM-10 PM

Don’t you dare question Jack Curry’s journalistic credibility. He’ll get the story from the PR department of the same organization for which he works and then throw a tantrum if ESPN reports it as well. Prepare to be Re-Tweeted and called a clown for an hour each weeknight if you’re not onboard the unstoppable Curry train!! It’s like Sean Hannity, only with less rationality and more self-indulgent tantrums.

Cash—10 PM-11 PM

Brian Cashman’s entire world is opened up for all to see. From the “obvious process” that goes into any and all decisions, to the “Big Hairy Monsters,” to the pitching development, to the trades, he’ll take you from Carl Pavano to Pedro Feliciano, from Joe Torre to Joe Girardi, from the Joba Rules to his exhilarating nightlife.

Prepare to be stalked with internal baseball knowledge (among other things) from a guy who works hard and plays hard!

The Randy Levine Revue—11 PM-Midnight

One part Dr. Phil, one part Oprah, one part Jim Henson, and one part Frank Caliendo, Randy Levine informs and entertains! With such guests as Rudy Giuliani, a puppet version of Torre in which Randy retorts in a different way each to night to Torre telling him to “Shut the bleep up!”, along with singing and dancing, Randy’s as talented as he is versatile.

If you thought the YES Network was the go-to place before with George Steinbrenner’s looming presence, you have no idea what’s coming. Prepare for the reckoning with Fox News and the YES Network joined together. You’ve always compared them. Now they are one. It had to happen. And finally, it is.

We all win.

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Josh Hamilton—Free Agency Profile

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Name: Josh Hamilton

Position: Outfielder

Vital Statistics: Age—31 (32 on May 21st); Height—6’4”; Weight—240 lbs.; Bats—Left; Throws—Left

Career Transactions: Drafted in the 1st round (1st overall) by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the 1999 amateur draft; drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the Rule 5 draft in December of 2006; purchased by the Cincinnati Reds in December of 2006; traded by the Cincinnati Reds to the Texas Rangers for RHP Edinson Volquez and LHP Danny Herrera.

Agent: Michael Moye

Might he return to the Rangers? Yes.

Teams that could use him, pay him, and might pursue him: Boston Red Sox; Baltimore Orioles; Chicago White Sox; Kansas City Royals; Texas Rangers; Seattle Mariners; Washington Nationals; Philadelphia Phillies; Atlanta Braves; Milwaukee Brewers; Chicago Cubs; San Francisco Giants; Los Angeles Dodgers.

Positives: Hamilton has the power to hit the ball out of any park at any time and is capable of hitting 10 home runs in a week. He is a former MVP, is a good defensive left fielder and can play a decent center field.

Negatives: He’s injury-prone. His concentration lapses amid negativity leading to off-field questions as to how he’ll cope with them. Hamilton’s substance abuse problems and known incidences of drinking since supposedly getting clean raise massive red flags. At age 32, his body has been abused for extended periods making it reasonable to wonder when his physical decline will begin and if it’s going to be earlier than it would be with other players.

What he wants: 7-years, $175 million

What he’ll get: 4-years, $95 million

Teams that might give it to him: Red Sox, Orioles, Rangers, Mariners, Nationals, Phillies, Dodgers

The Red Sox were said to have serious interest in Hamilton, but that was later played down. Unless they’re shut out on every other avenue, the Red Sox are not going to repeat the mistakes they made with players like Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and John Lackey who were not emotionally equipped to handle Boston and the intense pressure and expectations that come along with being a big name free agent signee. That said, with the Blue Jays improvement and a very tough division, they might panic.

The Orioles have the money and a hole in the middle of their lineup. It was at Camden Yards that Hamilton hit 4 homers in one game earlier this year and is a career .370 hitter there. Baltimore is sufficiently less-pressurized than New York, Boston, and Los Angeles that the temptations Hamilton has to face will be limited.

The Rangers and Hamilton have set their winter positions with the Rangers saying they won’t go past 3 years and Hamilton wanting 7. There’s room for negotiation and if they aren’t able to get a Justin Upton, a B.J. Upton, or to improve their offense in another manner, they and Hamilton might agree to re-up.

The Nationals have a ton of money and would be able to make room for Hamilton by moving Mike Morse to first base. The Phillies need an outfield bat desperately, but I would not put the sensitive Hamilton in Philadelphia. The Dodgers don’t have room for Hamilton, but with the money they’re spending and the willingness of GM Ned Colletti to do anything and everything, they can’t be discounted.

Would I sign Hamilton? Yes and no. I would not go over 4 years. If he’s so insistent on 5-7 years, I would give 4 guaranteed and want the option to nullify the contract immediately if he fails a drug test or is caught drinking.

The Players Association would never go for it and nor would Hamilton, so reality dictates that he would not sign with me.

Will the team that signs him regret it? If he signs a 3-4 year contract, no. If someone gives him 6-7 years at $150-175 million, they will absolutely regret it.

Prediction: Hamilton will either sign with the Orioles for 6-years or wind up back with the Rangers on a 4-year contract with a reachable incentive to get a 5th and 6th year and legal language giving the Rangers some recourse if he starts using/drinking again.

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The Blue Jays Managerial Search and the ESPN Disease

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Jim Riggleman isn’t a bad idea as manager for the Blue Jays, but he hasn’t heard from them. You’d never know that unless you followed the story after what Buster Olney said on Twitter:

The Jays are close to announcing their next manager. Two of the final names they discussed were Jim Tracy and Jim Riggleman.

There’s sufficient ambiguity in this tweet to explain it away after Riggleman’s own agent said there had been no contact between the Blue Jays and Riggleman. He also said that Riggleman would be very interested in the job. It could be said that the name was kicked around by the Blue Jays; that the two sentences are unconnected; that Olney has a source telling him this; or that ESPN told Olney to say something provocative regarding the Blue Jays while they’re a hot topic to accumulate some webhits to ESPN.com.

I like Olney. He’s got a thick skin; he can take a joke without freaking out in a “how dare you question me?!?” tantrum; and he writes his columns and reports without vindictiveness or self-promotion, but the ESPN Disease pops up on occasions in which he and other mostly respectable reporters toss something out there that they know is, at best, a twisted exaggeration. One would assume that they’re enacting an editorial order. Similar to a few years ago when there was a “rumor” from somewhere that the Cardinals and Phillies had discussed a trade of Albert Pujols for Ryan Howard, there was a brief uproar with factions arguing and screaming about the mere concept; with Phillies’ GM Ruben Amaro Jr. livid at having to answer questions as to the possibility of a story he knew nothing about. Olney was a guest on ESPN News at its height and the host asked him something to the tune of, “How close is this to happening?” as if, barring a zombie apocalypse, it could’ve happened. And I can picture a drooling zombie looking at Pujols and Howard and grunting, “Nooooooo!!!!” in between guttural growls and throaty sputters. Even zombies know better.

The ESPN employees go along with the program, entertain the nonsense, talk about Tim Tebow, and “report” this stuff because it’s their job, but what they miss is how this style of journalism diminishes quality people and their credibility when they’re forced to engage in cheap attention grabs.

As for the Blue Jays managerial search, the two names that Olney dropped—Tracy and Riggleman—would actually be good choices for that situation. The Blue Jays need to hire an experienced manager and, with the collection of talent they now have, it doesn’t have to be someone with the resume of Joe Torre for it to work. It just has to be someone who knows the terrain; who has managed in the big leagues; who won’t tolerate the same terrible fundamentals as former manager John Farrell did; can deal with the press; and will be respected by the veterans.

Riggleman has the baggage from his resignation from the Nationals hovering over him, but he’s always implied that there’s more to the story than we know. If he’s going to be interviewed for a big league managerial job, he’d better have a ready and reasonable explanation why he walked away from the Nationals amid the perception that he was throwing a tantrum because the club refused to exercise his 2012 option.

Tracy, despite his critics, is a good manager who got a bad rap with the poor endings in his prior stops managing the Dodgers, Pirates, and Rockies. He has all the attributes I mentioned above, the players have always liked him and played hard for him, he’s sound strategically, and is good with the press.

If I were making the decision, before anything else, I’d call Tony LaRussa and see if he’s bored with retirement and if he is, would Dave Duncan like to come along as well? They already reportedly inquired with Bobby Cox and Cox said no, so why not LaRussa? It’s a tailor made situation for him with a rabid fanbase and the new challenge back in the American League. He might be competitively recharged after a year away. He surely seemed to enjoy himself at the All-Star Game.

The Blue Jays cannot make the same mistake they did with Farrell. In addition to all the other problems Farrell had in his two seasons, his eyes were cast back toward Boston with a lusty gaze and the players didn’t think he knew what he was doing. They were right. He didn’t. This Blue Jays team can win, but they’re more likely to fail if they hire a cheap, convenient alternative to manage the club rather than someone who’s got the bona fides to maximize their talent.

That could be Riggleman; it could be Tracy; it could be LaRussa; or it could be someone else—it had better be someone who has the known ability to do the job unlike the last manager GM Alex Anthopoulos hired, Farrell. After so many years of expectations and waiting and hoping, 2013 is the Blue Jays chance and they can’t afford to blow it, especially on an unknown field boss.

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The Marlins: Promises, Lies and Complaints

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The Marlins name should be changed to the Merlins given how quickly and completely they made their entire 2012 roster disappear. In the aftermath of the trade (still pending approval) that sent Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, John Buck and Emilio Bonifacio to the Blue Jays for Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria, Henderson Alvarez, Jeff Mathis and prospects, Giancarlo Stanton said the following on Twitter:

Alright, I’m pissed off!!! Plain & Simple

Stanton’s understandable reaction turned viral and has been analyzed, dissected, and repeated as an entity unto itself. He’s said nothing since.

Now Reyes and Buehrle are saying that the Marlins broke a verbal promise that they wouldn’t be part of a housecleaning as has happened in the past.

Do they have a right to complain, or is this a combination of self-importance, naiveté, blissful “don’t ask/don’t tell” ignorance, and after-the-fact allegations?

Stanton’s tweet was a reaction and nothing more. As a player entering his fourth year in the big leagues, he has zero recourse. He can ask to be traded and the Marlins can say no. He can express his unhappiness—as he did—and the fans and media can use it as Exhibit A as to what the Marlins players think, but under full team control, Stanton has no options. In fact, the Marlins might sign Stanton to a long-term contract as a conciliatory gesture to placate MLB and their few fans by putting forth the impression of “trying”. Of course that doesn’t mean Stanton won’t be traded once he starts making big money, but it’s slightly more palatable to Stanton and everyone else than Stanton’s visceral response and the Marlins saying, “Yeah? So?”

Big money and contracts are the keys to the silly laments made by Reyes and Buehrle. Did they really—really?!?—believe Jeffrey Loria and David Samson when they promised that they wouldn’t trade them if they signed with the Marlins? You can say anything you want about Loria, Samson and the manner in which they’ve used technicalities and gray areas to behave as baseball robber barons and get a new ballpark; convince players to sign with them under the pretense that this time it would be different; that they’re in it for the long-term; but don’t be surprised when they’re exposed as having said what they needed to say to get the girl in bed, promised to call the next day, and never did.

If there were clear indicators as to what the Marlins planned to do, it was: A) that they made these promises, yet refused to put the language into the contracts to guarantee they stuck to it; B) that they backloaded the contracts to the degree that they did.

Reyes’s contract is as follows: 2012: $10 million; 2013: $10 million; 2014: $16 million; 2015-2017: $22 million; 2018: $22 million option with $4 million buyout.

Buehrle’s is similar: 2012: $6 million; 2013: $11 million; 2014: $18 million; 2015: $19 million.

Huge escalations of salaries, no no-trade clause, and the Marlins history place the onus squarely on the players for believing the “guarantee” for which there were no legal means to make sure it was adhered to. If there was this guarantee that they wouldn’t be traded, why couldn’t it be written into the contract? Here’s why: the Marlins had it in mind that they were going to do this at some point. It might not have been this quickly, but there was always that overwhelming likelihood. The Marlins policy of not giving out no-trade clauses is an excuse, not a reason. Players with multiple options and the ability to tell the interested clubs that the no-trade clause will be in the contract or else they’re not signing get the no-trade clause. Both Reyes and Buehrle knew or should have known precisely what they were signing up for. They got their guaranteed money, but invited the risk that the Marlins could turn around and trade them to a place like Toronto where they had no interest in going. It was a gamble against the house and they lost. The promise isn’t the relevant factor. That the players were stupid enough to believe it is.

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The Trout vs Cabrera MVP Battle Is Over, But The Argument Rages On

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Remember a player named Mike Blowers? He’s a broadcaster now for the Mariners and had a few relatively productive seasons for them in the mid-to-late-1990s. One season in particular stands out. In 1995, the Yankees castoff Blowers posted an .809 OPS with 23 homers and 96 RBI for a Mariners team that came back from 13 games out of first place in August to win the AL West. They bounced the Yankees in the ALDS coming back from 2 games to 0 down before losing to the Indians in 6 games in the ALCS.

That season, you will remember, was shortened by the strike, so Blowers only played in 134 games. Had it been a full schedule, he certainly would have driven in 110+ runs. On the surface, it looks like a solid season. But in reality, was it? Or were his RBI totals cushioned by big games? During that season, Blowers had games with RBI totals of: 8, 5, 5, 6, 4, 4, 4, and 7. Right there that’s 8 games out of 134 where he accumulated 43 of his 96 RBI. Add in that he spent the season batting behind Tino Martinez (.369 OBP); Jay Buhner (.343 OBP); Ken Griffey Jr. (.379 OBP); and Edgar Martinez (.479 OBP), and you wonder why he had so few RBI.

This isn’t to pick on Blowers as a random player, but it proves a point that any stat—not just the old-school ones such as RBI—can be torn apart when they’re examined in depth with an end in mind.

The debate between Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera for American League MVP still rages even though Cabrera was given the award. The Cabrera backers present the following case: he won the Triple Crown; his team won their division; the opposing pitchers said they feared Cabrera more than any other hitter in baseball. The Trout backers point to his 10.7 WAR; his defensive brilliance; his speed; his power; and that the Angels were 6-14 when he arrived and went 81-58 with him in the lineup.

None other than newfound political celebrity Nate Silver made his case for Trout on his Fivethirtyeight.com blog here. Along with the stats such as WAR, Silver uses Trout playing in a “harder division” and other bits of randomness to bolster his case, but it’s not as clear-cut as he implies, nor is Cabrera’s case as clear-cut as the other side implies.

You can use a phantom argument as a means of patting the non-stat people on the head by saying, “Look at their record with him in the lineup and without it,” as if it’s connected on its face. I picture Silver rolling his eyes and thinking, “Here, idiots. Here’s a simplistic number you can understand. Wins.” It’s done as a concession to convince. Because Silver drilled the presidential election doesn’t mean his opinion and calculations in baseball are unassailable. In fact, his history at predicting baseball with PECOTA is quite pedestrian even though it’s promoted for its accuracy. PECOTA is a formula. It’s math and math isn’t the determinative factor with baseball players that it clearly is in the political arena. There’s no variable and no analysis. It’s a sum and when it’s wrong, there’s always an excuse of the faults of human beings in not living up to what was expected.

Does that make it okay to be wrong? To suggest that they would’ve been right if X happened and Y didn’t? If (BLANK) great pitcher didn’t mistakenly groove a fastball to Cabrera so he could knock it into space? If (BLANK) mediocre pitcher didn’t throw the best curveball of his life to strike Trout out with the bases loaded?

If we begin with the premise that Trout’s presence was solely responsible for the Angels rise from that atrocious start, how do we figure where it began and when it ended? How about the acquisition of a reliever named Ernesto Frieri who stabilized the Angels’ atrocious bullpen after they’d demoted closer Jordan Walden? The Angels were 10-17 when they acquired Frieri. Is he suddenly the MVP because they were 79-56 with him on the roster? With the Angels talent—dysfunctional and infighting as it was—do you truly believe they were going to keep playing as badly as they started? The concept of a statistical formula like PECOTA would tell you that it wasn’t going to happen; that they’d get themselves straightened out with or without Trout, but that is conveniently glossed over to promote Trout as the MVP because of his “presence”. Did he show up with donuts every day? Did he smell really good to make the other players happy? The presence argument is fleeting and incalculable before or after it happens and is mitigated by both Cabrera and Trout having positive things said about them. Which is accurate and which isn’t? Which counts and which doesn’t?

The comparison of home runs that were hit to whether or not they would have left a different ballpark is questionable as well. The pitchers pitch differently in a bigger park than they do in a smaller one; they might be more willing to challenge a player like Trout knowing who’s batting behind him (a guy named Albert Pujols) and test the rookie rather than run the risk of putting runners on base for Pujols and the other Angels bashers. Everyone knows the numbers nowadays and applies them to a certain degree. With everyone knowing the numbers, the strategies pitching coaches impart to their catchers as a way of devising a gameplan are contingent on what the opposing lineup does with pitches in various locations. Unless everything—everything—is torn apart to examine when, where, how, and why, WAR or the Triple Crown cannot be the final arbiter of the MVP.

You can’t have it both ways. When lobbying for the Hall of Fame, you can’t say that a player like Ron Santo was far superior to Jim Rice because of his defensive greatness at third base, ballpark factors, and plain factional disputes of arguing for the sake of it and then criticize a Cabrera because he was a bad third baseman, simultaneously crediting Trout because he’s a great center fielder. Rice was playing half of his games in Fenway Park with the Green Monster—a spot more nuanced than reliant on speed and range. He was good at playing that wall. Also he was a prideful and somewhat misunderstood black man playing in Boston in the 1970s which put more pressure on him, pressure that can’t be examined through a statistical lens. Third base is a harder to fill position and, despite his defensive inadequacies, Cabrera was serviceable at the position considering the expectations. He made the routine plays, which was all he was asked to do.

Asked to do.

If you’re asked to do something at work, are you criticized because someone whose duties are totally different from yours; whose skills are in a different category; is working in a totally different department, does their job in a “better” way than you do by metrics that are not in line with one another? That can’t be in line with one another?

No. So why do it with Cabrera and Trout?

With that comes the inevitable question, not of replacing these players with a baseline, invisible Triple A player as WAR does, but with an actual person. The Tigers had no one viable to play third base to take over for Cabrera while the Angels could’ve cobbled it together without Trout had they stuck Peter Bourjos out there (a 4.8 WAR player in 2011) and hoped he reverted to what he was in 2011 after a terrible start in 2012. Does that matter?

This is a tribal debate with the stat people on one end jumping up and down for Trout while shouting about the “injustice” and the old-schoolers gloating that Cabrera won. No one’s going to change their minds. But if this is the way it’s going to be, then it shouldn’t be about the Triple Crown, WAR, team results, aura, or whatever. It should be completely dissected pitch-by-pitch, play-by-play, everything-by-everything. Then there will be a final answer. Until that happens, there will be this endless presentation of supposed facts twisted to suit the purposes of the one arguing, truth and willingness to listen irrelevant and ignored for the sake of the self.

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The Marlins-Blue Jays Trade, Part III—Sidelights

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Let’s look at the the Marlins-Blue Jays trade from the perspective of those affected by it, positively or negatively, and those who insert themselves into it.

Social media experts and critics

The self-proclaimed experts on social media reacted with shock and disdain not only that the Marlins did this, but that they didn’t get Travis d’Arnaud from the Blue Jays in the deal as if they knew who he was. He’s a recognizable name to them and nothing more; if they did see him, the vast majority of them wouldn’t know what they were looking at, nor would they be able to interpret his statistics to determine how truly viable a prospect he is. Perhaps the Marlins asked for him and the Blue Jays said no; perhaps the Blue Jays preferred the lower level players they got in the deal; or maybe the Marlins are happy with the young catcher Rob Brantly whom they acquired from the Tigers in the trade that also netted them Jacob Turner in exchange for Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante.

To a lesser degree, it falls in line with fans watching games and reacting to strategies with descriptive histrionics like, “*FACEPALM*” when Jim Leyland plays Delmon Young regularly; or Joe Girardi and Larry Rothschild choose leave Boone Logan in to pitch to a righty; or during the NFL draft when a guy sitting on his couch wearing his team’s jersey declares that he’d take Robert Griffin III over Andrew Luck and throws a fit when the opposite happens—the people actually doing the jobs know more than you do. For the guy on his couch, it’s a diversion; for the ones running the clubs, if they don’t make the correct (or at least explainable) decision, they’re going to get fired.

The media and the Marlins

The glaring response amid the outcry came from Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Unlike the Red Sox-Dodgers trade when Sherman made a fool of himself by turning that blockbuster salary dump by the Red Sox into another indictment of the Mets, he actually made some legitimate points with the following:

Yet this was a deconstruction the Marlins needed to enact. Their roster, as constructed, was a science project gone wrong. Now they have created a layer of young talent with all of these trades — in this latest deal, executives particularly like center fielder Jake Marisnick (some Jayson Werth comps) and lefty Justin Nicolino, and anyone who saw Henderson Alvarez pitch against the Yankees knows he has a big arm.

How much of this is based on deeply held beliefs and how much is another, more subtle shot at the Mets to be true to his narrative is known only to Sherman, but given his history it’s a contrarian viewpoint with a winking dig at the Mets more than a true belief that the Marlins did the right thing. But the fact remains that, overall, he’s right. They did do the right thing.

No one with a brain is shocked by this Marlins housecleaning

Ignoring the litany of lies and managers hired and fired by Jeffrey Loria, that the Marlins gave heavily backloaded contracts to Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle made them mid-season trade candidates in 2013 since their escalators kicked in by 2014. They chose to trade them now rather than wait and see. John Buck and Josh Johnson are both free agents after the 2013 season. Buck isn’t very good and Johnson was going to cost a fortune to re-sign. The charade of being built for the long haul was obvious with the Marlins from the start. The players knew what they were walking into when they didn’t get the valuable no-trade clauses and received guaranteed money they probably wouldn’t get elsewhere in exchange for the likelihood of being sent to a locale they would not have selected if they’d had a choice. Buehrle and Reyes are going to get paid; Johnson, if healthy, will receive a massive contract for his services.

The perception of chicanery and Loria’s blatant disregard for anyone other than Loria is what’s grating the masses. It would’ve been more palatable for observers—chief among them the politicians in Miami who pushed through the stadium deal and baseball itself—had the Marlins tried to win in 2013, but rather than further the sham, they pulled the trigger now. That it’s going to make/save more money for Loria is part of the equation.

The Marlins baseball people have always gotten the right names in their housecleanings. In some cases, it succeeded when they received Hanley Ramirez and Sanchez for Josh Beckett; in others, it didn’t as they received Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller as the centerpieces for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. This is the risk when trading for prospects. Getting talent is controllable; developing that talent is the variable. The Marlins foundation is young, cheap and quite good once we get past the messy way in which it was laid.

The rest of baseball

The balance of power has shifted drastically. The NL East was a monster before the 2012 season started, but the Phillies age caught up to them; the Mets weren’t as bad as expected; the Nationals took their leap faster than most anticipated; and the Marlins were a disaster. Now that they’ve gutted the place, the Marlins are widely expected to be a punching bag in 2013, but truth be told with a group of young players fighting for playing time and jobs, they’ll be at least as competitive as the 69-93 apathy-tinged monstrosity that played out the string for most of the summer.

The American League saw the balance of power shift East to West. While it was supposed to be a two-team race for supremacy between the Angels and Rangers, the Athletics stunned both by winning the division. The Mariners young pitching and money to spend will make them a darkhorse in 2013. The Tigers just signed Torii Hunter for their star-studded lineup. There’s no longer a waltz into the playoffs for 2-3 teams from the AL East.

The Yankees and Red Sox are in moderate to severe disarray with the Yankees having limited money to spend and now three teams in their division that have a rightful claim to being better than they are. The Red Sox purge excised the contracts of Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez. At the time it was an acknowledgement that the construction of the team wasn’t going to work and they intended to start over. It’s eerily similar to the situation the Marlins found themselves in, but the Marlins didn’t give it another try as the Red Sox did following their winter of 2010 spending spree and subsequent 2011 failure, and the Red Sox are going to take the money they saved and put it back into the team while the Marlins aren’t.

The Yankees have done nothing thus far in the winter and are trapped with contracts like that of Alex Rodriguez clogging up their arteries. Brian Cashman is getting what he wanted and learning that being the would-be genius isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. He chafed at the notion that the Yankees teams he helped build were creatures of financial might and longed to be seen in the industry in the category of Billy Beane and Theo Epstein as architects of winning franchises under a budget and with intelligent acquisitions rather than raiders of resources for those that could no longer afford them. Well, he’s getting what he wanted and the results are not good. Under the mandate of getting the payroll down to $189 million by 2014, he can’t take on the contracts that the Blue Jays and Alex Anthopoulos just did. The pitchers he’d hoped to develop to provide low-cost production have either been mediocre or busts entirely. They’re waiting and hoping that Andy Pettitte returns and has another year in him; that Derek Jeter can recover from his ankle injury; that they get something from A-Rod; that Mariano Rivera can rebound from knee surgery at age 43; that Hiroki Kuroda will take a one-year deal to come back (he won’t); that they get something from Michael Pineda.

Do you really expect all of this to happen in a division made even tougher by the Blue Jays’ trades; the Orioles’ improvement; the Rays’ talent; and the Red Sox money to spend and determination to get back to their basics? The Yankees are in a worse position than the Marlins and even the Phillies were because if the season is spiraling in July of 2013, they’ll be trapped by those contracts and the fan anger that they won’t be able to make those conceding trades for the future. This is the team they have and the division they’re in and neither bode well.

Cashman wanted it and he got it. He’s so arrogant that it’s doubtful that he regrets it, but he should. And he will.

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The Marlins-Blue Jays Trade, Part II—The Jeffrey Loria Version

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Anyone surprised by the Marlins is either blind or a fool. The facilitator of the circumstances that led to the trade between the Marlins and the Blue Jays is the the same owner, Jeffrey Loria, who:

▪   Is under investigation by the SEC for the questionable way in which Marlins Park was financed

▪   Is now on his eighth manager (counting Jack McKeon twice)

▪   Dragged Muhammad Ali out as the “surprise” star to throw out the first ball on opening night at the new park

▪   Was busted by MLB for pocketing revenue sharing money that was supposed to go into the team

Since he became involved with baseball first as the owner of the Montreal Expos and then the Marlins, Loria has been flipping the middle finger at convention and propriety with his treatment of underlings, fans, and anyone else who dared not to give him what he wanted. In a way, it’s refreshing that Loria takes baseball’s absurdity to its logical conclusion by repeatedly doing these types of things with impunity.

Technically, it’s his team and he can do whatever he wants. But the sneering, smirking, smarmy brazenness with which he continually does the same thing over and over again is a slap in the face to any fan that chooses to keep supporting the franchise.

And that’s the point.

The Marlins have fans to be sure, but they don’t have enough fans to make it worthwhile to have a team in Miami; they certainly didn’t have enough fans to justify building that ballpark. Was one year a reasonable duration to try and win before gutting the thing? No. But equating the Marlins 69-93 season with this latest razing is ludicrous. It wasn’t 2012 that spurred the series of deals that sent away Heath Bell, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio, Hanley Ramirez, Randy Choate, Omar Infante, Anibal Sanchez and led to the firing of manager Ozzie Guillen. Had the Marlins made the playoffs, there’s no reason to believe that they wouldn’t have done the same thing and found another reason—presumably the disappointing attendance—to wreck it like Gordon Gekko raiding a company and selling off all its assets.

That the Marlins baseball people led by Larry Beinfest have consistently mined other organizations for the right names under the pretense of “burn the village in order to save it” is meaningless as long as there’s a perception of profiteering surrounding the club. The baseball people know talent and know what they’re doing, but they’re perpetually functioning in an atmosphere that puts forth the image of satire where the more absurd the story is, the likelier it is to be true.

In retrospect, baseball should’ve cut their losses with the Marlins before that park was built or allowed them to move to a venue that would support the team. Instead, there’s this.

In Loria’s lukewarm defense, is it his fault that those enabling him are so stupid that they run endlessly on that treadmill like a hamster? Forgetting the methods that got the new stadium built, privately or publicly financed, the fans in Miami were not going to go. It wasn’t going to happen whether the Marlins bought high-profile players or didn’t. The audience matters. Because there are a cavalcade of stars in a film, if that film is shown to Eskimos, they’re not going to get it nor are they going to pay to see it. If a brilliant album is written and it’s sold in a location where the style of music is foreign or unwanted, it’s not going to be purchased.

Mariano Rivera, for all the mileage he’s gotten from his nickname “The Sandman” and how the Metallica song Enter Sandman is attached to his name, has said he’s not exactly a fan of Metallica and that he prefers Christian music. It’s not, “I don’t like that crap.” It’s Rivera being honest without vitriol. The fans in Miami have been honest regarding their interest in baseball: it doesn’t exist.

So they build this new park, buying into Loria’s and team president David Samson’s nonsense as to how the football stadium the Marlins used to play in was the problem; that it was the constant threat of rain that prevented the fans from coming out; that the lack of revenue from the park, concessions and other streams prevented ownership from investing in players. In part, it might have been true, but the end result with the stars, expectations and hype was the same thing as it’s been in the past only worse because not only were they bad, but they were expensive and uninteresting as anything other than an exercise in rubbernecking.

Good or bad, the fans don’t go see the Marlins. People want what they want. They don’t want what they don’t want. And what the fans in Miami don’t want is baseball.

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The Marlins-Blue Jays Trade, Part I: For The Blue Jays

Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

YOU’RE WELCOME!!!!

After my posting yesterday entitled Alex Anthopoulos’s Kitchen Sink wondering what the once-celebrated and now questioned Blue Jays’ GM was doing, he turned around and made a blockbuster trade to, on paper, place the Blue Jays squarely in the center of playoff contention for 2013. There must be a connection.

All they need now is a manager.

Here’s the trade breakdown:

Marlins trade RHP Josh Johnson; LHP Mark Buehrle; SS Jose Reyes; OF/INF Emilio Bonifacio; C John Buck and $4 million to the Blue Jays for SS Yunel Escobar; INF Adeiny Hechavarria; RHP Henderson Alvarez; C Jeff Mathis; and minor leaguers LHP Justin Nicolino, OF Jake Marisnick, and RHP Anthony DeSclafani.

The Blue Jays had a payroll of around $84 million n 2012 and for 2013, with these contracts they just absorbed, that rises by around $30 million based on the additions and subtractions. Over the life of the contracts with Reyes’s and Buehrle’s deals backloaded, they’ve just taken on a lot of money. That’s before calculating the addition of Maicer Izturis and raises/contract escalations for existing players.

The Blue Jays are now a $100 million+ team and their roster implies that they have to contend. They gave up a lot, but are now relevant in the AL East as something other than a building, growing, and hoping entity.

The American League East is in flux. No longer are teams like the Blue Jays and Orioles sentenced to preseason relegation as a moderately annoying inconvenience that might put up a fight early in the season with the pretense of trying to contend only to be slapped down in July and raided for players by true contenders. It’s turned upside down. The Red Sox are a mess; the Yankees are trying to learn to function with payroll constraints and ancient, declining, expensive stars; the Rays are pinching pennies; and the Orioles and Blue Jays have legitimacy.

The afterglow still holds questions. Johnson is one of baseball’s best pitchers when he’s healthy, but has had shoulder issues. Reyes is surely going to be unhappy at having been moved from Miami to Toronto and having to play half his games on turf. Buehrle can pitch on Mars and provide 200 innings. Buck is a feast or famine part-timer. And given the redundancy of Bonifacio and Izturis and that they have nowhere to play him, Bonifacio might be making a brief stop in Toronto and be on the move again relatively soon.

On paper, the Blue Jays have jumped ahead of the Yankees and Red Sox; the 2012 Orioles were a creature of circumstance that will need to get better to maintain. The Blue Jays’ rotation of Johnson, Buehrle, Brandon Morrow, Ricky Romero, and J.A. Happ is already one of baseball’s best. The lineup is invigorated by a healthy Reyes to join Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Their questions are the bullpen and who’s going to manage the team. (Willie Randolph would be a good, under-the-radar consideration. He wouldn’t put up with the fundamental mistakes evident under John Farrell and Randolph deserves another chance.)

24 hours ago, I posed the question of where the Blue Jays are headed. They answered it with a flourish. They’re trying to win. With this collection of talent, there’s no excuse for them not to do that in 2013. In fact, they don’t have much of a choice.

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