A Red Sox Return to the Past

Ballparks, Draft, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

You, like the Red Sox, wanted to travel through time. Not as the basis of a morality play in a Twilight Zone episode, nor a movie whose theme is to appreciate the small things you have rather than lamenting what you don’t have due to opportunities missed. You just want to go back in time to a “better” place.

And you do. Your eyes open and, instead of the cold winter of Boston you’re in Florida. Walking toward the Red Sox spring training facility, there are several puddles on the ground from a morning rainstorm, but the clouds have given way to a bright blue sky and glowing sunshine.

You hear someone nearby say the words, “Let’s go see the idiots,” and immediately feel a twinge of joy, remembering Johnny Damon, Pedro Martinez, Kevin Millar—the heroes of 2004.

You pass a newsstand and glance at the headlines to prove to yourself that it’s actually real. You see:

“Red Sox new acquisitions bring positive vibe to clubhouse and power to lineup”

“Who among the Red Sox proven and talented short relievers will close?”

“President Bush declares U.S. will not bow to terrorist dictators”

“Young players indicate bright Boston future”

“Yankees have more questions than Red Sox”

You breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that your desire to reach back to what was—like that of the 2013 Red Sox—worked. You approach the park and see the sign.

“Welcome to Red Sox spring training…” and your heart stops when you read the words: “Winter Haven, Fla.”

Winter Haven. Wait a second…

The Red Sox haven’t held their spring training in Winter Haven since 1992. They moved to Fort Myers in 1993.

Oh no…

You rush back to the newsstand and grab the paper The Lakeland Ledger and look at the date. March 24….1990.

Oh my God. I went back too far.

You rush toward the spring training facility with your mind calculating the ramifications. President Bush is the first President George Bush; the Red Sox, coming off a disappointing season in 1989, signed Jeff Reardon to join Lee Smith as the second closer; the word “idiot” wasn’t said as a term of endearment, he actually thinks they’re idiots; you arrive at the outer fields and see the minor leaguers and, oh dear Lord, in a Red Sox uniform is Jeff Bagwell, traded late in the 1990 season for Larry Andersen to help win a division championship; Bagwell was third in line at third base behind Wade Boggs and Scott Cooper and was expendable…so they thought. Cooper, Carlos Quintana, Mo Vaughn and John Valentin are four of the minor leaguers who were meant to lead a Red Sox return to prominence. The memories of the disasters come flooding back.

1990 will yield a division championship—having experienced the immediate future following that 1990 season, you see. And you know. More clubhouse “attitude” with Jack Clark. More wasted money and terrible results. Multiple pitchers who can close. A new manager who has a Boston history, minor league bona fides, support of the players and media and a tough guy persona, Butch Hobson. You remember the hope and desperation; the fear of knowing deep inside with an inherent negativity from history—1967, 1975, 1978. And you know.

Then you flash to the most horrifying words to a Red Sox fan, “GM Lou Gorman,” and it sends you into a screaming fit of hysterics that draws a crowd; you’re lying on the ground; people are telling you to calm down, that help is on the way; hovering on the outside of the group is a tall, swaggering man wearing a sportcoat, white pants and sunglasses. He casts a bearing of disinterest and says, “Somebody call the nutsquad for this guy,” you recognize the foghorn voice and gruff, old-school, matter of fact tone to be that of Ted Williams.

Your fear rises.

Medical staff congregates around you. Flashing lights enter your peripheral vision. Wild eyed and shaking, you find yourself restrained and placed in the back of an ambulance. Overhearing the driver say, “The Red Sox can do that to anyone.”

This is not 2004!!!!!!!!

“Would you shut up back there?!?” To his partner, he says, “I can’t stand the screamers.”

The siren wails as you scan for an escape. Pulling hard at the restraints, your resistance is futile. Then you remember. You close your eyes and repeat the words the time-bending shaman instructed you to say following his warning. The entire text enters your vision verbatim:

“He who seeks the future must look into the past. He who seeks the past understands the future. Neither is what you want. Neither is what you expect. Your key to freedom when understanding has reached you are the following three words: ‘Pesky Papi Theo.’ Then you will be home.”

You say the words. Your world spins and you awaken…to find yourself back in 2012. You’re home and relieved…for the moment. Then it hits you. Christmas is coming as is a brand new year to replace the hell of 2012 with Bobby Valentine, the year that was meant to replace the hell of the 2011 collapse. Valentine, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez—all symbols of the passionless and dysfunctional collection of bubblegum cards the front office mistakenly believed would maintain their annual trip to the playoffs on sheer numbers and talent alone. They didn’t. They’re gone, but your calm is transitory. Terry Francona is in Cleveland and Theo Epstein is in Chicago. Nothing’s changed, but everything’s changed. As happy to be home as you are, you look at the headlines. You read of the credit given to the Red Sox GM Ben Cherington for altering a toxic clubhouse with “winning” personalities; for hiring the “right” manager; or “fixing” a shoddy starting rotation and questionable bullpen; for getting back to basics.

But what basics are they? The basics of 2003-2004 or the basics of 1989-1991?

It’s not simply a matter of adhering to the fundamentals, but adhering to the right fundamentals.

John Farrell, Shane Victorino, Ryan Dempster, Mike Napoli (maybe), Joel Hanrahan—a return to what built the new Red Sox in the first place—all reminiscent from the glory of less than a decade ago. Except you traveled to the true mirror of the 2013 Red Sox and see 1990. You see the name Bagwell in today’s headlines, but it’s not as a prospect; it’s for his possible entry into baseball’s Hall of Fame with the insignia of the Houston Astros on his hat. Peter Gammons was enthusiastic then; Peter Gammons is enthusiastic now.

The terror continues.

The early 1990s were another era of so near, yet so far; of hopping from one strategy to another and desperately waiting for one to work. Of maddening trades of youth for age; of signing that “last piece” giving the team what they “need,” be it a new starting pitcher; a new closer; a galvanizing personality in the clubhouse; a center fielder; a new manager—something.

You went back too far. And so have the Red Sox. The results and fallout will be identical with many years to go before truly returning to the glory days that seem so far away.

You wanted to see the future and you saw the past. They’re identical. They’re a nightmare. Except you can’t wake up from it or utter a phrase to go elsewhere. It’s real. And there’s no escape from reality. It has to play itself out. And it will.

It will.

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Hurdle’s Law vs Murphy’s Law—Fighting for the Future of the Pirates

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Pending a physical, the Pirates have agreed to a 2-year, $14 million contract with free agent lefty Francisco Liriano. This winter, in addition to Liriano, the Pirates have added catcher Russell Martin (2-years, $17 million) and retained pitcher Jason Grilli (2-years, $6.75 million negotiated with Grilli’s agent Gary Sheffield. Yes. That Gary Sheffield.) These moves follow last spring’s acquisition of A.J. Burnett from the Yankees and the summer trade for Wandy Rodriguez from the Astros. During the 2012 season, they also received cheap and talented youngsters Travis Snider from the Blue Jays and Gaby Sanchez from the Marlins.

Liriano’s acquisition mirrors the Pirates’ trade for Burnett. Liriano is a superiorly talented underachiever whose results will benefit from the National League and the big Pirates’ park. Looking at the club on the whole, the Pirates have a batch of young players that they’re in the process of surrounding with veterans who have playoff experience and have played for well-run, winning organizations.

The Pirates collapsed in the second halves of both 2011 and 2012; endured rightful public indignation at their assistant GM Kyle Stark implementing ridiculous physical and mental training techniques for their minor leaguers; and struggled to shake the hapless image that has been their albatross for two decades. The entire front office from team president Frank Coonelly to GM Neal Huntington to Stark were said to be in jeopardy of losing their jobs at the conclusion of 2012 and still aren’t completely secure, but owner Bob Nutting retained all three, staying the course along with manager Clint Hurdle and trying—not putting forth the pretense of trying, but actually trying—to win by spending some money.

They haven’t simply taken on onerous contracts of other clubs either, nor have they drastically overpaid in terms of years/dollars to get veteran help. The Pirates got Burnett from the Yankees for low level non-prospects while paying a third of Burnett’s $16.5 million salary in 2012 and will pay half in 2013. They got Rodriguez from the Astros for three nondescript minor leaguers and are paying $8.5 million of his $13 million salary. Now with Liriano, the rotation of Burnett, Rodriguez, Liriano, James McDonald and as early as 2013, Gerrit Cole, the Pirates can compete. Andrew McCutchen is a true all-around star and MVP candidate; Pedro Alvarez has tremendous power; and with Sanchez, Martin, Neil Walker and Garrett Jones, they’ll score enough to support that starting rotation. In the weakened National League Central—with only the Reds substantially better on paper—and the extra Wild Card, there’s an opening for the Pirates.

The front office is constantly on the precipice of doing something stupid and are discussing trading closer Joel Hanrahan. What they get for him and whom they use to replace him should be planned before pulling any trigger and I wonder whether Hanrahan’s pending free agency after 2013 is more of a catalyst to this talk than any potential return or concerns about the righty’s effectiveness. I would not trade Hanrahan unless there are extenuating circumstances or the offer is too lucrative to turn down. They’re going to need him.

As always, there’s a dubious nature surrounding the Pirates’ plans and intentions and much of their rise has been due to a vast number of high draft picks and not overwhelming wisdom from the front office. But in spite of the collateral stories and questioning glances, there’s much to be enthusiastic about in Pittsburgh and it’s not Sidney Crosby (if the NHL ever plays again) or Ben Roethlisberger. It’s McCutchen, Cole and the other youngsters the Pirates have developed along with their shiny new veterans. Players are no longer shunning the Pirates or going to Pittsburgh because they have nowhere else to go. Given the team’s reputation around baseball as a wasteland where young players run out the clock to free agency and veterans go for a final job, that new perception is not a small thing.

There’s still that hovering feeling of Murphy’s Law that everything that can go wrong will go wrong, particularly because of the still shaky status of the front office and the owner’s blindness to the harsh and exhausting realities of being a baseball player. It’s highly possible that Nutting’s expectations will outweigh what the team can accomplish and he’ll let his displeasure be known early if the team isn’t markedly better immediately. At that point, changes might be made in the front office.

Even with the looming dysfunction, they have enough talent to rise from the ashes of their 2011-2012 stumbles, use them as learning experiences, and contend for seven months rather than four. Murphy’s Law says that the Pirates will remain the Pirates, but that’s being counteracted by Hurdle’s Law—the law that dictates not taking crap and not making excuses.

They have the talent to win. And they just might.

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ESPN’s Rob Parker is “Sincerely Sorry,” and “Completely Understands”

Football, Management, Media, NFL

On Twitter, ESPN’s Rob Parker apologized for his comments about Redskins’ quarterback Robert Griffin III. He expressed “sincerity” and “understanding” and completely contradicted the defiant tone he took on that same forum in the immediate aftermath of his intentionally controversial implications about Griffin as a person.

Parker has been suspended for 30 days by ESPN and is, for the moment, keeping his job. Much like Parker, ESPN’s reaction came after the fact when the response was so profoundly and universally negative that they had to do something, so they suspended him and made a flamboyant show of “deciding” what to do with him. This suspension presumably includes the time already served, which means that Parker will be suspended for two more weeks and then be back doing whatever it is he does. Maybe. Judging by ESPN’s usual conduct, they’ll wait and see whether the suspension and apology are enough to quell the anger. If it’s not, then they’ll fire him. His place at the network is still not completely secure.

He says he’s sorry, but I don’t know how sorry he is. There are levels of sorry. When you have someone tied to a chair and are towering over the helpless figure, holding their life in your hands, then yes, they’ll be sorry for whatever they think they’re supposed to be sorry for. In Parker’s situation, it was either be sorry or be fired, so of course he’ll say he’s sorry.

Making it worse is the pure lack of conviction behind Parker’s critique of Griffin. If Parker had a foundation for his criticisms, he’d have the ability to make a cogent argument and defend it rather than using it for selfish purposes. Considering Parker’s replies to those who challenged him on the same platform in which he posted his apology—Twitter—he’s not actually sorry. From start to finish, it’s been a farce. It’s staged. And that typifies ESPN’s conundrum.

Parker wasn’t hired to deliver intelligent analysis on sports. He was hired to do exactly what he did with Griffin—draw attention to himself by any methods necessary. Then it blew out of control. At first he stood behind his statements, then backtracked on them when he got into trouble. I find it difficult accept Parker’s reflection over this episode or that he had a sudden epiphany and realized he was wrong; he apologized because it was either apologize or lose his job.

The underpinning for being truly regretful is to have a set of belief systems to begin with and that is not, nor has it ever been the case with Parker. What does he believe? Does he believe that Griffin’s validity in the black community is in question due to what amounted to accusations because Griffin is reportedly a Republican and has a white fiancée? Or was he stirring things up on ESPN because that’s why they hired him?

That’s the key point: why they hired him.

ESPN didn’t hire Parker for his writing skills because he doesn’t have any. They didn’t hire him because of his sports knowledge because he doesn’t have any of that either. They hired him to garner ratings, webhits and attention by doing exactly what he did. Once the negativity exploded, he was suspended. When a disposable underling has a wide range of freedoms to achieve the ends mandated by his bosses, he can say or do what he wants…until it boomerangs on the bosses and they have to deal with it as ESPN did. Then the empty vessel, in this instance Parker, is on his own.

The only circumstance under which Parker should be fired is if ESPN chooses to abandon the rhetoric that Parker was hired to provide. If they decided to take that route and say, “we’re not indulging in this type of lowest common denominator programming anymore,” and wanted to hammer that fact home by using Parker as an example of what would no longer be tolerated, then yes, Parker should have been fired. But they haven’t done that, nor does it appear that they intend to. They’re still putting forth the pretense of a genuine debate between their personalities when the programming they present is anything but. It’s a show. With that in mind, what’s the difference if it’s Parker or Random Guy or Girl X who would replace Parker if they fired him? There is none.

For the sake of public consumption and the perception of taking a stand, ESPN suspended Parker, Parker accepted the suspension as part of the clear terms of clemency from his employer, and he apologized. But just like Parker’s coerced apology rife with contrite terminology, I doubt its legitimacy because, judging from history and the way this tragicomedy played out for both Parker and ESPN, it’s not legitimate at all.

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Dayton Moore—Desperate; Jack Zduriencik—Genius?

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Desperation and job security are in the eye of the beholder.

Last season Jason Vargas was, in stat guy metrics, more valuable than James Shields with a 2.8 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) compared to Shields’s 2.2. Vargas is a free agent after the 2013 season while Shields is signed through 2014, so the Royals have Shields for two years vs the Angels guaranteed to have Vargas for one, but the return on the trades that sent both from their former homes should be viewed in the same light.

Royals’ GM Dayton Moore was torched for trading top prospect Wil Myers and other young minor leaguers to the Rays for Shields and Wade Davis. Vargas was traded by the Mariners by their GM Jack Zduriencik (a stat guy totem) to the Angels for 1B/OF/DH Kendrys Morales. On the surface, the trades don’t appear to be similar, but in reality, they are.

Vargas isn’t particularly good and isn’t a substantial upgrade for the Angels, but if Zduriencik was in year two of his administration and still getting a pass for what he inherited from Bill Bavasi, would he have made this trade? Or did he bow to expediency to try and get better in the now with an acquisition for a “name” player to try and score a few more runs because he’s in year five and under fire, possibly having to show legitimate improvement to keep his job?

Moore was accused of making a capricious and desperate trade in an attempt to save his job and the Myers trade was added to the list of charges on the indictment.

In comparison, one of the stat persons’ “own,” Zduriencik, has been essentially bulletproof from criticism from the wing that portrays themselves as seeking profundity through statistical truth, but is just as invested in altering the narrative to fit into their desired template. There’s a collision of philosophies when a faction uses one man’s trades (in this case Moore) to advance an agenda; and another’s trades (Zduriencik’s) to defend an agenda. The genesis of these deals is basically the same even if the players are entirely different.

Zduriencik’s tenure as Mariners’ GM somewhat mirrors Moore’s with only perception separating the two. They’ve both rejuvenated dilapidated farm systems and developed prospects that are highly regarded around baseball. They’ve made free agent signings, somewhat going over budget to disastrous results as Moore did with Jose Guillen and Gil Meche and Zduriencik with Chone Figgins. Both are on their third manager. Neither has made meaningful progress in the bottom line win column. Yet comparing the vitriol Moore inspires and the silence that accompanies Zduriencik’s tenure, you’d think they were polar opposites. They might be in terms of philosophy, but in the sum of their reigns? Not at all.

Would the Royals have been better served to keep Myers? Or did they put themselves in the thick of playoff contention for 2013-2014 by getting one genuine All-Star pitcher—Shields, and a pretty good 200-inning arm—Davis? The Royals will more than likely be a better team immediately because of the trade Moore made in spite of viable criticisms of the short-sightedness of the move.

Can the same be said for the Mariners and this trade?

Vargas’s situation is separate from Myers’s because of Vargas’s pending free agency and reputation as a creature of the Mariners’ formerly spacious home park of Safeco Field. When the decision was made to bring the fences in significantly to boost the offense, pitchers like Vargas were either going to suffer statistically or need to be traded. In 2012, 26 of the 35 homers he surrendered were away from Safeco. If he’d stayed with the Mariners, there’s a good chance he’d allow 40 homers next season; and as a pending free agent for a team offensively destitute with pitching to spare, he was a logical choice to go. But for Morales? A rental for a rental to play for a team that has very little chance at contention in 2012? This was a cosmetic trade and won’t make the club markedly better over the long term. They’ll be slightly better in the short term. Moore’s trade doesn’t simply change the optics as Zduriencik’s does. In 2013-2014, it does guarantee to make the Royals better because no one knows whether Myers is truly ready, but we do know what Shields and Davis are and they’re far better than what the Royals trotted out to the mound last season.

For Zduriencik, this winter has consisted of dumping one free agent bust (Figgins) and replacing him with another one (Jason Bay); he traded for Robert Andino; selected Scott Cousins off waivers from the Blue Jays (maybe he can run around the field ramming into other clubs’ stars and knock them out as he did with Buster Posey); and by acquiring Morales.

It’s repeatedly said that the Mariners were “in it until the end” on Josh Hamilton. In the stat person’s world of the definable and “you are what you are,” this would be mocked as the lamentations of a loser. In the Mariners’ case, it’s used as evidence of “trying.”

There are repeated references to prospects on the way for the Mariners. On the way. Eventually. Someday. Much of their talent base are pitchers waiting to graduate to the big leagues for a club whose ballpark is no longer as conducive for pitchers to succeed as it once was. Do you see the dichotomy?

Morales will make the Mariners’ offense better, but how much of his infusion of power will be counteracted by the increased number of homers the pitchers are going to allow? They’re in the AL West with the high-powered Angels; the still-talented Rangers; and the AL playoff surprise Athletics. Barring a shocking rise, massive trade to improve immediately (sort of like what Moore did), or a free agent signing out of the blue, can they contend in 2013? I don’t see how.

At least they’ll be able to beat on the horrific Astros.

Perhaps Zduriencik can again he can use Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman as a handpuppet like he did in the Cliff Lee/Michael Pineda trades. Nothing else seems to be working and, on his GM epitaph, it won’t be a total negative to say, “He torched the Yankees a couple of times.” That might be all he has left.

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Armchair Analysis from Earth to Jupiter

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To highlight the madness surrounding the pigeonholing of players based on factors that have nothing to do with anything, below is a clip from this Joe Sheehan posting on Baseball Prospectus in 2004:

The Joe Mauer Express appears to be steaming down the tracks right now. The 21-year-old Twin has been named the game’s top prospect by both Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America, one of those rare confluences of agreement between the two that mark a player as a future star. ESPN.com had him on their main baseball page on Tuesday, and Peter Gammons wrote glowingly not only of Mauer’s skill, but of the high opinion in which the young catcher is held.

I think Mauer is currently a good baseball player. He’s shown offensive and defensive development in his three professional seasons, and while I still think the Twins should have taken Mark Prior in 2001–how different might their two playoff losses have gone with the big right-hander?–clearly it’s not like they ended up with a bum. Mauer is going to eventually be a productive left-handed hitter; comparable to Mike Sweeney, with maybe a bit more power and patience.

I just don’t agree that Mauer is a future star behind the plate, and it has everything to do with his height. Mauer is listed at 6’4″, and people that height or taller just don’t have long, successful careers at the catching position.

With the freedom of retrospection I can write pages and pages as to why Sheehan’s Mauer projection was ridiculous. Mike Sweeney? Mauer’s height? Mark Prior?

But I’m not referencing this to ridicule Sheehan. Instead, I want to highlight why the Mets’ new catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud shouldn’t be placed into a category due to discriminatory history or his height of 6’2”.

Joel Sherman makes a similarly broadbased statement regarding former Cy Young Award winners—like R.A. Dickey—who were traded for packages of prospects as if the past is a prologue to the future when developing baseball players who come in different shapes, sizes and ability levels. Matt LaPorta headlined the package the Brewers sent to the Indians for CC Sabathia. Justin Smoak was the main ingredient that led the Mariners to walk away from the Yankees’ offer for Cliff Lee and send the pitcher to the Rangers. The Zack Greinke return to the Royals from the Brewers has done little of note.

What this has to do with Dickey, d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard is a mystery.

Or maybe it’s not a mystery. Maybe this type of questioning is undertaken to blur the lines of critique and credit and provide the individual making the distinction some form of credibility for these judgments. This is not to undermine the factual nature of what Sheehan and Sherman wrote, but to show the flaws in the foundation upon which they’re built and the intentions of those who wrote them. Do they really believe this nonsense to be valid or are they appealing to a constituency by being contrary.

I’d hate to think they believe it, but considering their histories, I have a hunch they do. Unable as they are to provide analysis stemming from their own assessments, they have to find “things” like height and “comparable” deals that aren’t relevant or comparable at all. Theoretical science can make a case for anything if one chooses to search for individual occurrences or cherrypicked stereotypes to support it, but use your intelligence and decide on your own whether this makes sense or it’s outsiders digging through the trash for self-aggrandizing purposes.

In what other industry is such a negligible and disconnected set of principles taken as a portent of what’s to come? Sherman’s and Sheehan’s logic is akin to saying that because the Rangers made one of the worst trades in the history of baseball when they sent Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young to the Padres for Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka that GM Jon Daniels is a bumbling idiot; or that because Daniels made up for that horrific gaffe by trading Mark Teixeira to the Braves for a package that included Neftali Feliz, Matt Harrison and Elvis Andrus that he deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame. Or that because James Shields was drafted in the 16th round by the Rays in 2000 means that the Rays’ 16th round pick last season, shortstop Brett McAfee, will turn into a breakout star as Shields did. Or that trading X first baseman for Y relief pitcher and Z young starter will turn into a Keith Hernandez for Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey heist for the Mets and dreadful mistake for the Cardinals.

Or that Mauer shouldn’t have made it as an All-Star catcher and MVP because he’s “too” tall. The same height argument is being made about d’Arnaud now and it’s pointless.

This is why armchair experts are sitting in the armchair and clicking away at their laptops and smartphones making snide comments without consequences simultaneously to experienced baseball people running clubs and determining the value of players; whether they’re worth a certain amount of money; deciding to keep or trade them in the real world. You can’t cover up a lack of in-the-trenches work and knowledge accumulated over the decades with random numbers and baseless statistics. It’s called scouting and it can’t be done with the above attempts to connect the dots, especially when one dot is on Earth and the other on Jupiter.

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The R.A. Dickey Trade Part III—Desperation or Progression for the Blue Jays?

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Since replacing J.P. Ricciardi as Blue Jays’ GM, Alex Anthopoulos has done many things that garnered him credit for running his club the “right” way by combining old-school scouting with new age stats; for showing aggressiveness when the time called for it; and for being fearless. The Blue Jays, in that time, were rebuilding and reloading; clearing salaries and planning for the “future.” They had John Farrell, a stat-based manager with a sterling reputation; they’d accumulated prospects that were just about ready to take the next step forward and, if everything went well, would contend in 2012.

But again, as is the possibility with a club that doesn’t spend a lot of money and is relying on the development of young players, the 2012 Blue Jays were ravaged by injuries and inconsistency, fell from 81-81 to 73-89 and sat by impotently as the Orioles came from nowhere to make the playoffs. After so many years of building for the “future,” when was that “future” going to come? For so long, the Blue Jays have been frozen in place or moving backwards, shoving the rock up the hill only to see it come tumbling back down again, many times right on top of them.

With a bolt of lightning, the Marlins’ latest fire sale led to the Blue Jays acquiring Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, and John Buck for Henderson Alvarez, Yunel Escobar and prospects. After that, with the decision to try and win now essentially made, they surrendered two more top prospects, Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard, to the Mets to get reigning National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey. They signed Dickey to a contract extension worth $25 million to complete the trade.

This isn’t a spending spree for its own sake nor is it a drastic philosophical deviation from one strategy to the other, but it’s more of a realization that the time to go for it is now. The Yankees and Red Sox are shells of what they were. The Orioles overachieved in 2012. The Rays are still fighting payroll constraints. With the extra Wild Card, the door is wide open for a team like the Blue Jays to move up.

Farrell was the equivalent of a replaceable teen idol—he was there because he fit the suit, the fans screamed when they saw him, and he couldn’t actually do any of the things a manager needs to do well. His results were disastrous in every respect and there’s a palpable relief that he’s gone. He’s been replaced by the former Blue Jays’ manager John Gibbons who was horribly underrated for his strategic acumen and is a sound, unexpected hiring.

Having seen firsthand the risks of trading a star pitcher Roy Halladay and, in the subsequent series of deals, winding up with Kyle Drabek (having just undergone his second Tommy John surgery), Anthony Gose, and d’Arnaud, they are rightfully dubious of prospects and their projections.

They didn’t alter strategies on the fly and make panicky maneuvers for Anthopoulos to try and save his job. Nor did they show desperation and haphazardly try to take advantage of the weakness in their division. They’ve made a natural progression based on opportunity and availability.

There’s a difference between the Blue Jays’ winter refurbishing and a Marlins-type spending spree designed to validate a beautiful new ballpark with an owner, Jeffrey Loria, elusively hovering in the dark ready to pull the plug and backtrack on promises and commitments.

There’s a difference between the Blue Jays’ flurry of acquisitions and the Angels signing Josh Hamilton, reportedly on orders of ownership, in order to take some of the spotlight away from their crosstown rivals, the Dodgers.

There’s a difference between the Blue Jays being decisive and the Dodgers new, endless amounts of cash netting Zack Greinke as a free agent and providing them the ability to absorb the contracts of Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett from the Red Sox.

What these clubs and the Blue Jays have done are totally independent of each other.

The simple narrative is that the Blue Jays have chosen to spend with the big boys, but the reality is that they built up the farm system to give themselves the assets to acquire players when they were ready to win. Did they expect it to happen this quickly? Probably not, but Athopoulos was allowed to take on those contracts—many of which are heavily backloaded—and for the first time in 20 years, they have a viable chance to win. The waters parted to open a path and they took it. It’s not a change in the blueprint, but adapting to the situation. Now they’re ready to contend.

The Blue Jays haven’t made the playoffs since their second straight World Series win in 1993. They have a rabid and loyal fanbase and now they now have the goods to make another run—with similar star-level talent to their title-winning teams—two decades later. If they pull it off, the only people who are going to care about the money they spent are the same constituency whose metrics aren’t about winning, but about doing it cheaper than the other guy to prove how smart they are. That faction has become increasingly marginalized into what it truly is: a small, fringe group that shouts loudly into the wind. If the Blue Jays play up to their potential, the money they spent or the prospects they surrendered will be irrelevant because, in the end, it’s about winning. Now the Blue Jays have the goods to do it not just on paper and with best case scenarios, but with superior on-field talent.

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The R.A. Dickey Trade, Part II—As A Means To Bash The Mets

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R.A. Dickey was found money for the Mets. Rather than spend it immediately, they invested it wisely in blue chip stocks to secure their future. It was the smart move. But as a means to bash the Mets, it’s a handy weapon. There’s a movement to lump the decision to cut ties with Jose Reyes (batting champion) after 2011, and Dickey (Cy Young Award) as additions to the prototypical “long list of Mets’ mistakes” as if they just dumped Tom Seaver in a front office fit of pique; to cast it as more of the same from the Mets, a franchise whose main function is to torment their fans by testing their loyalty, seeing how much abuse they’ll take.

It suits the storyline, but comes nowhere close to suiting reality. The sports media has transformed from analyzing and assessing to validating fan anger or writing controversial columns to accumulate webhits and attention.

The truth about Dickey is that while he won the Cy Young Award, he is not in a class with prior winners of that same award. Therefore, he should not be treated as such just because he won the award. Looking at the winners in the American and National Leagues in the past five years alone and you see something akin to Sesame Street’s “Which of these doesn’t belong?”

2012: R.A. Dickey, David Price

2011: Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander

2010: Roy Halladay, Felix Hernandez

2009: Tim Lincecum, Zack Greinke

2008: Lincecum, Cliff Lee

Barring financial constraints and extenuating circumstances, would any of these pitchers have been on the market immediately following the season in which they won the award? I’m not talking about the next summer when the pitcher is a pending free agent or a year later when he’s making it clear he wants a contract extension or wants out. I’m talking about a month later.

Because Dickey is such a unique story throwing a trick pitch; is 38-years-old with a Mets team whose 2013 is unlikely to be much different with or without him, he can’t be placed into a category as a Cy Young Award winner who must not be traded. Unlike Verlander, Lincecum and the others, Dickey was an iffy proposition to be a significant contributor to a potential Mets’ renaissance in 2014 and beyond.

Ignoring irrelevant media and fan responses to this trade, the facts are that the Mets organization was barren at catcher and now, in sending Dickey to the Blue Jays, has a soon-to-be 24-year-old, power hitting catcher who can throw in Travis d’Arnaud. They acquired a 20-year-old, flamethrowing righty pitcher in Noah Syndergaard, a competent veteran catcher John Buck, and a 17-year-old throw-in, outfielder Wuilmer Becerra. They received all of this in exchange for Dickey, whom they got for nothing and whose rise is unlike anything anyone’s ever seen in a non-fiction setting; who, at 38-years-old, wanted another $25 million+ to sign a contract extension to forego free agency after 2013; and whose value was never, ever going to be higher for a team that, tacitly or not, knows their time to try and contend is in 2014 and not 2013. They also sent Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas to the Blue Jays, neither of whom the Mets would need with the acquisitions of Buck and d’Arnaud and who the Blue Jays required to catch Dickey’s knuckleball.

The most fascinating aspects have nothing to do with the deal itself, but the negative reactions to it and that Mets GM Sandy Alderson got the okay from ownership to pull the trigger. Fans are taking their cue from critics and the media and expressing anger at losing their Cy Young Award winner and eloquent, likable spokesman, Dickey. Objectively, however, the return on this trade was beyond anything the club could’ve expected in a best case scenario.

It’s a subtle and Executive of the Year level accomplishment that Alderson was able to impress upon the Wilpons that the short-term pain wouldn’t be any worse than the vitriol they already engender for reasons real and exaggerated, and that the long-term gains were beyond measure. A key part of being a GM, especially when working for an embattled ownership group so cognizant of public perception as the Wilpons, is to dissuade them from short-term maneuvers for short-term gain when the long-term is where their focus should be. Somehow, Alderson managed it and it’s in the best interests of the club and the fans.

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Below are video clips and analysis of d’Arnaud and Syndergaard.

Travis d’Arnaud

His bat wiggle and leg lift are, to a gentler degree, reminiscent of Gary Sheffield. The leg lift is fine as long as he gets his foot down in time—it’s a timing mechanism. There will be slumps due to the moving parts; specifically he will have stretches where he’s behind a good fastball because he’s not getting his foot down in time, but it’s not a giant hitch to be exploited and will be counteracted by his short arms and short swing. For a power hitter, he doesn’t strike out an inordinate amount of the time. At worst, he’ll hit 15 homers and bat .275 in the big leagues, but is more likely to be a 20-25 homer man with a .280 BA, a .350 OBP, and an .820+ OPS.

Considering that the Mets catchers last season (mostly Thole and Nickeas) had a .218/.281/.286 slash line with 5 homers and threw out 24% of stealing baserunners, it won’t take much to top what the Mets had before. The righty-swinging d’Arnaud could bat lefty and surpass that offensive production; he threw out 30% of basestealers in Triple A.

The Mets will keep him in the minors for the first few weeks of 2012 to keep his arbitration clock from ticking, but don’t be surprised to see them sign him long term shortly after he arrives in the majors as the Rays did with Evan Longoria.

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Noah Syndergaard

Syndergaard is big (6’5”, 200 pounds) and has the strikeout-accumulating combination of a power fastball, a sharp overhand yellowhammer curve, a changeup, and that he’s sneaky fast.

Syndergaard already has a mid-90s fastball, but his short and quick pre-stretch (when he brings his arm down after taking the ball out of his glove) and that he hides the ball behind his body as he accelerates will confuse the hitter and make his velocity appear to be closer to 100+ mph.

In general, a pitcher will take a longer time to deliver and the ball will be visible when collapses his back leg to generate power. In Syndergaard’s case, it isn’t. He lifts his leg, separates his hands and ZOOM!!! the ball’s on the way. Because of that rapid fire delivery, the fastball explodes on the hitter, hence the term “sneaky fast.” If he rips off a curve or changeup, it’s very difficult to adjust.

He’s only 20 and spent 2012 in A ball, but it’s not unreasonable to think he could be in New York and pitching for the Mets by late 2014.

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The way to judge a trade isn’t after the fact. The way to judge a trade is to determine if it made sense at the time it was consummated. For the Mets, with Dickey, it did. Any criticism is self-serving and misinformed. They did the right thing and got a lot for a pitcher from whom they expected nothing when the prior regime signed him as an, “Oh, yeah. Him.” It worked out and they took maximum advantage of Dickey’s rise. Anything else would’ve been foolish and the Mets’ future is brighter because of that luck and this ruthless intelligence.

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The R.A. Dickey Trade, Part I—The Rumors Are Lies

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The Mets’ trade of R.A. Dickey to the Blue Jays along with catcher Josh Thole and a minor leaguer for catcher Travis d’Arnaud, catcher John Buck, minor league righty Noah Syndergaard and another minor leaguer is contingent on Dickey signing a contract extension with the Blue Jays by Tuesday afternoon. Until then, it’s not done. But negative analysis of why the Mets are doing this has run the gamut from them being tight-fisted to petulant to stupid.

It’s none of the above.

The easy storyline is to take Dickey’s comments at the Mets’ holiday party as the last straw. At least that’s what’s being implied by the New York media. That holiday party has become a petri dish for dissent and the final impetus to trade players. It was in 2005, after all, that Kris Benson’s tenure with the club was effectively ended when his camera-loving wife Anna Benson arrived in a revealing, low-cut red dress. Then-Mets’ GM Omar Minaya subsequently sent Benson to the Orioles for John Maine and Jorge Julio, which turned out to be a great deal for the Mets.

The Benson trade and the pending Dickey trade are comparable in one realistic way: they got value back. Maine was a good pitcher for the Mets for several years and they spun Julio to the Diamondbacks for Orlando Hernandez, who also helped them greatly. With Dickey, it’s an organizational move for the future and not one to cut a problem from the clubhouse.

Were the Mets irritated by Dickey’s constant chatter? Probably a bit. In looking at it from the Mets’ position, of all the clubs Dickey pitched for as he was trying to find his way with the knuckleball—the Rangers, Brewers, Twins (three times), and Mariners (twice)—it was they who gave him a legitimate shot. He took advantage of it, they got lucky and he became a star because of his fascinating tale on and off the field and his ability to tell it. It’s not to be ignored that the Mets, under Sandy Alderson, gave Dickey a 2-year, $7.8 million guaranteed contract after he had one good season in 2010. They didn’t have to do that. They could’ve waited to see him do it again, wondering if it was a fluke. The Mets invested in Dickey and he agreed to it. For him to complain about the contract he signed with such silly statements as the $5 million club option for 2013 setting a “bad dynamic” and threatening to leave after the 2013 season as a free agent were things better left unsaid considering all the variables.

If the Mets were truly interested in wringing every last drop out of Dickey and seeing if he could repeat his 2012 season while placating the ignorant fans complaining about this brilliant trade, they would’ve kept Dickey on the cheap as a drawing card and worried about later later—just as they did with Jose Reyes.

Rather than repeat that mistake, they dangled Dickey to pitcher-hungry teams and when they didn’t get the offers they deemed acceptable, they waited until the big names (Zack Greinke, James Shields) and medium names (Ryan Dempster, Anibal Sanchez) came off the market and struck. That it was simultaneous to the holiday party “controversy” is a matter of timing convenient for conspiracy theories. Delving deeper into the reality of the situation and there’s no substance to the “Dickey Must Go” perception.

This is a cold, calculating decision on the part of the Mets for the future, not to send a message. If you think Alderson was influenced by Dickey’s comments, you’re misjudging Alderson badly. It’s amazing that he’s been able to convince the Wilpons to make deals for the long-term that won’t be popular with a large segment of the fanbase and will provide kindling for the members of the media to light another fire to burn the embattled owners at the stake, but he did it. Personalities didn’t enter into it. Alderson, as the A’s GM, had Jose Canseco and Rickey Henderson. While they were productive, he kept them and tolerated their mouths and controversies, then discarded them. As CEO of the Padres, he acquired Heath Bell knowing his reputation. It’s not personal until the personal is affecting the professional. Dickey’s situation hadn’t reached that tipping point.

It’s a childhood fantasy to believe that every player in a major league clubhouse is a close friend to every other player in a major league clubhouse. Like any workplace, there’s conflict, clashes and little habits that get on the nerves of others. Did Dickey’s sudden fame grate people in the Mets clubhouse? Were they jealous? Probably, especially since there’s a prevailing perception that a knuckleballer is comparable to a placekicker in football and isn’t really getting hitters out as much as he’s tricking them with a pitch they rarely see. Whether or not that’s true is irrelevant. As we saw in the Cy Young Award voting, no one’s giving credit based on how they got their results. Dickey was among the top pitchers in the National League and garnered enough votes to win the award. The Cy Young Award, like Reyes’s batting championship is a title based on so many factors that it shouldn’t enter into the equation as to whether or not a player stays or goes.

How many players are there about whom teammates, on-field management, front office people and opponents don’t roll their eyes and whisper to media members of how annoying they are? In today’s game, there’s Mariano Rivera. 30 years ago, there was Dale Murphy. Apart from that, who?

Even Goose Gossage, who has replaced Bob Feller as the Hall of Fame’s grumpy old man in residence, doesn’t criticize Rivera personally when going into one of his rants about closers of today that should begin with a fist pounded on the desk and, “In my day…” and end with, “Get off my lawn!!!”

On the opposite end, there are players universally reviled like Barry Bonds. Most are in the middle. People can still do their jobs without loving the person they work with.

The trade of Dickey was baseball related and nothing more. It was the right call.

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Josh Hamilton’s Wife Is Right

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Josh Hamilton’s statements at his introductory press conference with the Angels were predictable with subtle digs at the Rangers, religious references, expressions of happiness to be with the new club, etc. Nothing earth-shattering was said.

In addition to paying him a lot of money (5-years, $125 million), the Angels are doing their best to place Hamilton in the sobriety cocoon and have hired Hamilton’s sponsor/babysitter Shayne Kelley away from the Rangers to keep an eye on Hamilton and try to tether him to the wagon and ensure the Angels aren’t paying for another trip to rehab instead of an outfielder to provide them with 40 homers. It’s a relatively paltry investment to pay Kelley when they’ve got so much riding on Hamilton without benefit of a prenuptial agreement to protect them if he starts using again.

In conjunction with the “marriage” theme, the most poignant and accurate moment wasn’t what Hamilton said, but what his wife said. In comparing the free agent process to a relationship, Katie Hamilton said (clipped from this ESPN story):

“We were with them for five years. If you’re going to date someone, you make it known and official pretty quick,” she said. “They let us date other teams and Josh had said he would give them first chance and they didn’t (make a move).”

The Rangers are, in a sense, the spurned lover. Hamilton “left” them for someone else and didn’t give them a chance to win back his heart. But, in that same context, the Rangers will take a bit of time to reflect on the ups and downs of Hamilton’s tenure; understand with a coldly analytical efficiency that if it were to go forward, the peaks weren’t worth the potential valleys at the cost and commitment it was going to take to retain him and keep him clean and productive.

It’s mentally and physically exhausting to constantly supervise one individual as if he’s an infant who’ll run into traffic once a head is turned. That’s where it was with Hamilton. He’s a 31-year-old, 6’4”, 240 pound infant and is the Angels’ responsibility now.

It works both ways and by using the relationship metaphor, Katie Hamilton is right. The Rangers may not know it yet, but once it sinks it, they’ll be relieved. The bitterness will pass, they’ll wake up after the fog of rejection clears and realize that they’re glad he’s gone. Hamilton did the work by failing to give the Rangers the option to match the deal—something they probably weren’t going to do anyway. Now they can move on without the Hamilton baggage that was getting too heavy and costly for them to carry. It’s for the best.

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Josh Hamilton Fallout

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Let’s look at how the Angels’ signing of Josh Hamilton will affect everyone involved.

Josh Hamilton

Southern California is a far better locale for Hamilton than New York, Boston or Philadelphia would have been and perhaps his time in Texas had come and gone. Amid all the talk of Hamilton being injury-prone, he played in 148 games in 2012. If the Angels get that out of him, they’ll be fine with it. The other storylines with Hamilton from last season suggesting he was distracted and disinterested, or that his numbers took a freefall after his 4 homer game in Baltimore in May are profoundly negative.

The facts are that Hamilton is still in his prime, had numbers nearly identical home/away, and hit 43 homers, with 128 RBI, and a .930 OPS. If he didn’t have the history of addiction problems, he would’ve gotten $200 million on the open market even with the injury history. Those personal demons will constantly be there and no location—Southern California, Arlington, Boston, New York, Philly—would shield him from temptation or the desire to escape when things aren’t going his way. The Angels must put him under what amounts to Secret Service protection/surveillance to keep him straight.

As crazy as it sounds, considering his on-field production, for 5-years and $125 million, the Angels got a discount if Hamilton is clean and healthy for his majority of his tenure with the team.

Los Angeles Angels

Buster Olney said the following on Twitter:

It’s become evident that this Hamilton deal was made over the head of the Angels’ baseball operations department.

If this is true, then the Angels’ situation is worse than I thought.

Their lineup is one of the most intimidating in baseball, but their entire template of speed, defense, starting and relief pitching has changed while they’re keeping aspects of their old methods of doing business (manager Mike Scioscia) and their new methods of doing business (GM Jerry Dipoto) with open interference from non-baseball people that is reminiscent of George Steinbrenner trashing the Yankees in the 1980s after dispatching of all the qualified people—Gabe Paul, Gene Michael, Al Rosen—who put a check on his whims in the 1970s. In those times, Paul was able to say to Steinbrenner something to the tune of, “If you trade Ron Guidry, it’s going to be your deal and you’ll be responsible if it goes bad.”

Steinbrenner backed off because the last thing he wanted was to be the final man standing when the music stops in the game of responsibility.

That’s what the Angels are becoming: the 1980s Yankees, and Arte Moreno is starting to act like Steinbrenner.

It’s going to end the same way as the 1980s Yankees did too.

I get the sense that Scioscia’s not going to last beyond May of 2013 as manager through a “this isn’t working,” “let’s put him out of his misery,” style dismissal. This Angels group isn’t his type of team and perhaps he’d be better off elsewhere, escaping this ship as it starts to leak and before it sinks completely.

One name to watch if this goes bad and Scioscia’s out: Tony LaRussa. He might be rested and bored with retirement; he has the star power Moreno clearly wants; would look at the Angels as an opportunity to win another title quickly; he can deal with Albert Pujols and maybe—maybe—cobble it together if it goes as I think it’s going to go with Scioscia and this foreign, star-studded crew of mercenaries: poorly.

The American League

The Rangers were blindsided by the Angels rapid strike on Hamilton, but much of their dismay could be partially due to not having gotten anything else they wanted—Justin Upton, Zack Greinke—this winter; and partially to keep up appearances as to wanting Hamilton back desperately. I don’t think they did. In the long-run, they’re better off that he left. The relationship had run its course.

The Athletics are so young and oblivious that the vast majority of them won’t realize that Hamilton is on the Angels until they’re in Anaheim and they seem him striding up to the plate. “When did the Angels get Hamilton?” They won’t be too bothered either.

The Mariners are a farce. Now they’re reduced to the née “Amazin’ Exec” Jack Zduriencik signing Jason Bay to “boost” their offense with reports that they were “in the hunt” on Hamilton to the very end.

How nice. So…so….close!!!

Zduriencik’s close to something alright. That something is getting fired. Don’t be surprised if there’s a new braintrust in place in Seattle before 2013 is over with perhaps Pat Gillick returning to the Mariners as the man in charge of baseball ops and Mike Arbuckle as day-to-day GM.

The Yankees and Red Sox are staging their own wrestling match as to which of them can make the more desperate and inexplicable signings to cling to what the world was like 10 years ago instead of accepting today’s reality. Ryan Dempster, Ichiro Suzuki, Kevin Youkilis, Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli—all are short-term painkillers to persuade the fans that it’s all going to be okay. They can look toward the West and worry about the clubs vying for playoff spots as a diversionary tactic from their mano-a-mano battle for the bottom of the AL East, because that’s what they’re fighting for if they stay as currently constructed.

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