Matheny’s Financial Woes Could Cause Problems for the Cardinals

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Mike Matheny and his current financial troubles are an example in wondering what athletes are thinking when they choose to invest money or buy “stuff” in an effort to “diversify” or “make their money work for them.”

The Cardinals manager’s issues came to light over the past few days as a court ruling went against him, potentially wiping out his entire net worth. According to this piece on StLToday.com, Matheny’s goal of making a post-career living in real estate fell flat to the tune of owing $4.4 million and not having the cash or assets to pay it off. We saw Curt Schilling go through a larger-scale nightmare last year and it’s still ongoing as he’s selling his bloody sock among other memorabilia.

The reasoning behind people making unwise financial decisions that could compromise them for years if not for the rest of their lives is presented as preparing for the future. They can happen to anyone and are not a reason to ridicule. Matheny gave a viable explanation with the following (from the above-linked post):

Matheny’s interest in real estate started before he joined the Cardinals in 2000 to be their catcher.

He had been released by Milwaukee and, then, quickly thereafter, Toronto. He was 29.

“I stunk, and saw a bad trend happening in my career,” he said.

Matheny, however, nursed a long interest in real estate, and he started taking correspondence courses while playing ball. “Guys used to give me grief. I was doing homework while we were on the flights.

“I had four kids at the time, and I knew I hadn’t really done enough in the game to just sit back and do nothing,” he said.

Fair enough. He was finding other avenues to earn a living. But the same logic that stated that he needed to take real estate courses and find a post-baseball career should have said to him that the house he built with the amenities listed in the piece were unnecessary. The house had:

  • 17 rooms
  • Indoor batting cage
  • Home theater
  • Pool with a water slide and a private lake with a floating golf green in the middle

Most of the money he made in baseball was earned in the last five years of his career. With the Cardinals, he surpassed $1 million in salary for the first time in 2002 when he made $2.5 million. Over the next two seasons—his final years with the Cardinals—he made $7.25 million.

Matheny signed a 3-year, $10 million contract with the Giants after the 2004 season. He retired after the second of the three years due to post-concussion syndrome and his 2007 salary isn’t listed on his Baseball-Reference page, but because his career ended due to injury and he retired, presumably he got paid for the final year. His career earnings are probably higher than the listed amount of $18.729 million to the tune of another $4.65 million.

That would make over $23 million.

Also, a Major League player has ancillary income from their road per diem—AKA meal money. Clubs aren’t checking to see what players spend it on; they could go to McDonald’s for breakfast and lunch and pocket the leftover cash; plus they’re fed from an elaborate post-game spread after each game, leaving dinner a luxury and not a necessity.

They receive post-season shares, which Matheny got in 2001, 2004 and 2005; there are rights fees for images and other lesser-known streams of money coming in. Usually, the amount of money is negligible in comparison to their salaries, but for younger players or journeymen as Matheny was before he got to the Cardinals, it’s not.

In short, if a player wants to be frugal and save what will eventually come to a lot of money, he can do it.

And here’s a little known fact about MLB pensions clipped from BusinessInsider.com:

MLB players must play 43 days in the majors to earn a minimum $34,000 annual pension plan.  Just one day in the majors gets them lifetime healthcare coverage.  After 10 years in the big leagues, benefits grow to $100,000 annually.

Matheny spent 13 years in the big leagues.

So here’s the question I have to ask of Matheny and Schilling and any other player who blew a massive amount of money on business schemes: How much is enough? Could he not live on the amount of money he made in his career and the $100,000 per year he receives as a pension with free healthcare and the cachet that comes from living in St. Louis and having been a former Cardinals’ player? From the juice that the words, “I played in the big leagues,” have everywhere?

This isn’t simply a personal issue for Matheny. The Cardinals knew about this when they hired him as a surprise choice to replace Tony LaRussa. The players’ comments regarding this coming out were supportive, but that’s not guaranteed to last if the team starts playing poorly.

Matheny had on-field success in 2012, reaching game 7 of the NLCS before being eliminated. By standard assessment, he did a good job because the team won. But in reality, Matheny was functioning with LaRussa’s players; with the freedom of diminished expectations after the departure of the future Hall of Fame manager LaRussa; the best pitching coach of this generation, Dave Duncan; and the best hitter in baseball, Albert Pujols. His rookie strategic gaffes were expected and understandable for a first time manager at any level and could easily be glossed over by the bottom line fact that the team won and came within a game from a second straight pennant.

But how long is the player support going to last? How long will the mistakes be taken as learning on the job when Matheny has to actually do something other than stand in the corner of the dugout, look managerial and let the players play?

If the team is struggling, will his financial missteps be referenced as sapping his concentration and commitment to the team? Knowing how players are, if a pitcher is unhappy with being pulled from a game, will he turn around and whisper to his teammates, “Maybe if I pay off his debts, he’ll leave me in.” Will there be resentment from Matheny himself at the lofty salaries the players, who are essentially his underlings, are making? Will he roll his eyes and think about a hitter batting .220 and being paid $5 million? It’s a human reaction that can set the charges to blow the place up.

The Cardinals are transitioning from LaRussa’s team to something else. They won’t function on cruise control forever and it’s when Matheny has to manage that his evolution will be clearer. He might learn on the job, but he might get swallowed up by its magnitude and what has to be done post-LaRussa/Duncan/Pujols—things he might not be capable of doing.

Matheny’s own statement that it was the money he owed which spurred his return to baseball is also a potential issue. Whether it was what he intended or not, it sounds as if he’s implying that he’s doing the Cardinals a favor by managing the team and if his real estate goals didn’t go bust, he’d have left baseball in the rear view mirror on his way to becoming a real estate titan.

There are a number of ways for this to go and a lot of the “if then, then that” can lead to a dark place for the Cardinals. It might wind up amounting to a personal financial situation that’s being handled legally, but ends up permeating the job he’s trying to do now, festering negatively, and turning in a direction that few will be willing to openly discuss, but is there nonetheless and isn’t going to go away.

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Earl Weaver (1930-2013)

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Glenn Gulliver exemplifies what it was that made Earl Weaver different as a manager from his contemporaries. It wasn’t Jim Palmer, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken Jr.—all Hall of Famers. Nor was it Ken Singleton, Boog Powell, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar—consistently top performers. It wasn’t Steve Stone or Wayne Garland—pitchers who had their best seasons under Weaver; it wasn’t Gary Roenicke and John Lowenstein (an MVP-quality platoon) or role players Benny Ayala and Terry Crowley; it wasn’t even the one year Weaver had Reggie Jackson on his team and punctuated Jackson’s arrival by screaming in his face because Reggie wasn’t wearing a tie on the team plane. (Brooks Robinson found him one and explained how things worked in Baltimore—Earl’s way or…well, it was just Earl’s way. Reggie behaved that year.) It wasn’t the frequent ejections, the foul mouth, the chain-smoking, the public ripping of players, his longevity and consistency.

It was none of that.

It was a nondescript third baseman whom the Orioles purchased from the Indians prior to the 1982 season and who played in 73 big league games, 50 under Weaver. Gulliver, more than any other player, shows why Weaver was ahead of his time. If he were playing today, the two things Gulliver did well would’ve gotten him a multi-year contract as an in demand asset because he: A) walked a lot; and B) could catch the ball at third base.

Gulliver batted .200 in his 50 games under Weaver and walked so much that he had a .363 on base percentage. Weaver saw this, knew this, and could only wonder about the stupidity of those who questioned why Gulliver was playing at all with his low batting average.

Twenty years before Moneyball and everyone thinking they were a genius because they watched baseball for five minutes and knew how to read a stat sheet, Weaver was an actual genius and innovator by using a discarded player who other clubs had no clue was so valuable.

For all the talk of Weaver’s use of statistics, riding his starting pitchers, putting a premium on defense and battles with Palmer and Davey Johnson, the concept that Weaver was a dictator who didn’t know how to be flexible is only half-true. He was a ruthless dictator off the field, but on the field, he was willing to go to whatever lengths he needed in order to win.

Weaver’s teams were always near the top of the league in certain categories. They weren’t always the same. Many times, at the plate, it was on base percentage. On the mound, it was complete games and shutouts. Weaver was known not to be a fan of the riskiness of the stolen base, but as he looked at his transitioning club from 1973-1975 and realized he wouldn’t have the power to win, he let his players loose on the basepaths because he had no other alternative and during those years they were at or near the top of the American League in stolen bases.

If Weaver were managing today, that would be seen as “evolution,” or “adapting.” It wasn’t any of that. Often, the question has been asked how Weaver would function today if he were managing; if the old-school techniques of, “I’m the boss, shut up,” would fly with the multi-millionaire players who can get the manager fired if they choose to do so.

Like wondering why he was using Gulliver, it’s a stupid question. Because Weaver was so ahead of his time as a manager using statistics and that he adjusted and won regardless of his personnel, he would have won whenever he managed.

If a player had any talent to do anything at all, Weaver found it and exploited it for as long as he could, then he discarded them. He did so without apology.

Old-school managers who tear into the absence of the human element, increase of instant replay, and use of numbers are doing so because these techniques are marginalizing them and potentially taking their jobs away. Do you really believe that Weaver wouldn’t have wanted expanded instant replay? To have a better method to find tiny advantages over his opponents through numbers? The older managers who’ve subtly changed have hung around. The ones who couldn’t, haven’t.

On the other hand, Weaver wouldn’t have responded well to agents calling him and complaining over a pitcher’s workload; or to have a kid out of Harvard walking up to him and telling him he should bat X player in Y spot because of a reason that Weaver was probably already aware of and dismissed; or bloggers and the media constantly haranguing, second-guessing and criticizing managers and GMs endure today. But he always altered his strategy to the circumstances and he would’ve continued to do so if he managed in any era.

Interestingly, Weaver retired very young at age 52, then came back to manage a terrible team for a couple of more years before finally retiring for good at 56. In a day when Charlie Manuel, Jim Leyland and Joe Torre managed in their late-60s and early 70s, and Jack McKeon won a World Series at 74 and came back to manage again at 81, could Weaver had continued on? Could he have taken a couple of years off in his 50s and returned? Absolutely. He would’ve been well-compensated and just as successful as he was when he was in his 30s and 40s for one simple reason: he knew what he was doing. And that’s about as great a compliment that a manager can get.

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Lance Armstrong’s Half-Hearted Allocution

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Lance Armstrong, as was shown during his cancer diagnosis and treatment, is capable of nobility. It also showed him to be defiant, determined and unwilling to concede any point that conflicted with his controlling nature. Somewhere the lines got crossed and by some arrogant osmosis, Armstrong’s work with his cancer charity and dogged single-minded intensity to confront any challenge with full force morphed into one another and blurred the concept of propriety. He never learned to place those character traits into a positive direction. Like his cancer, it’s a metastasizing entity. Only this one grew so large and extensive that no treatment could control it until it’s eating him alive. The bullheaded “get in my way and I’ll run over you,” is extending to his initial attempt to show contrition for the damage he’s done and it’s a first-ditch/last-ditch effort to salvage whatever he can of his name and reputation.

He doesn’t know that yet. He still thinks he can beat “it.” Whatever “it” is.

Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey was meant to be a mea culpa. Through his years and years of denials that he used performance enhancing drugs, Armstrong held to the story to a remarkable degree. The avalanche of evidence buried him and he’s no longer holding to the story, but the personality is the same. And that’s the problem. The altered perception has gone from one of admiration for his achievements to bewilderment that he’s not even trying to put forth the pretense of truly being sorry.

Armchair psychologists, attorneys, body language experts, judges, juries, and executioners sat and watched the interview with a ready-made analysis to explain what Armstrong was really saying. Behind the words and faux tears (of which there were fewer than any of us could have expected), there was still the calculating and devious mind as to how he was going to get out of this and the egomania to think he still can.

The remorse the interview was clearly intended to convey conflicted with his beady eyes darted back and forth, the look of smug condescension and remaining sediment-filled puddle of, “I’m Lance Armstrong, I’ll figure a way out of this,” that has served him so well over the years and maintained the veneer of innocence that so many believed because they wanted to believe it. Knowing what truly occurs in the world of cycling—that it’s impossible in this day and age to win the Tour de France without using PEDs—interfered with the myth, so it was ignored out of convenience and, in the case of his advertisers and those benefiting from him, money.

The strangest part of the Oprah interview was that Armstrong didn’t even bother to try and alter his tone to suit those on the fence of how to proceed in their view of him. The people who don’t care about cycling; who understand why he did what he did; who may have made similar decisions and are willing to give him the opportunity to redeem himself; who never truly believed him in his declarations of innocence but were willing to forgive what he did in the interests of the good he spread with his charity work.

Serial killer Ted Bundy looked more sorry during his pre-execution apology for the victims he murdered than Armstrong did in that interview.

The fundamental problem isn’t any psychological block or personal failing. It’s that Armstrong’s brain doesn’t work that way. Amid all the excuses, fake humility, admissions and self-deprecating humor, it’s not registering that he’s shifted from one set of intractable principles in overcoming obstacles to another. First it was battling cancer; then it was making his comeback and winning; then it was charity work; then it was lying about his drug use; now it’s telling the truth about his drug use. There’s no comprehension or categorizing of right or wrong anywhere in that list because Armstrong is only able to conceive the right and wrong as it suits him. Right is what benefits Lance; wrong is what hurts Lance.

Lance, Lance, Lance.

He would’ve been better off having had a mirror across from him instead of Oprah. Not to denigrate the job she did because she did ask all the right questions, but she didn’t ask about inside information that a Steve Kroft-type journalist, cycling expert, doctor or attorney would. It was too comfortable a forum to get any legitimate emotion and possibly dig underneath to find out exactly what Armstrong was actually thinking. The interview was so gentle that Oprah was trying to romance the answers out of him rather than dissect him, trap him, and force him to come clean.

I was waiting for Armstrong to reference his “cousin in the D.R.” as Alex Rodriguez did. Or to come up with absurd ridiculousness as Roger Clemens did in his ill-advised publicity blitz on 60 Minutes and in front of the government panel. Maybe he should have just clammed up as Barry Bonds did or acted as if he didn’t speak English like Sammy Sosa.

Armstrong used the word “sick” when describing some of his actions and behaviors during the years of lies. It’s certainly sick. It’s sick that people can relate more to what someone like O.J. Simpson did in a fit of rage and jealousy than what Armstrong did in systematically demolishing people who simply told the truth and dared to cross him by not sticking to the rules of his world.

His world.

That’s the key to Armstrong. It’s all about him. Still clinging to that idea that everything, everywhere is linked to how it affects Lance, he sees it as unfair that he’s banned for life from competing in marathons and triathlons because it’s being done to him. “Why won’t you let me race?” This while ignoring the scores of people he maligned publicly and dragged into court for telling the truth about his drug use.

Like any dictator or self-anointed monarch, if he’d chosen to let one small incursion into his territory go by unpunished, there would be anarchy. So, as a message to those who would try and try again to bring down his empire, he destroyed them. Now he’s “apologizing,” but is not sorry and maintains the stiff-arm against the world thinking he’ll somehow win.

He won’t.

Armstrong showed nobility in his cancer fight. There’s also a nobility in unrepentance. If he’s not sorry, he shouldn’t say he’s sorry. But he did. If he was trying to alter the public perception of him with his half-hearted allocution, he succeeded. He made it worse.

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Joba Chamberlain’s Spot Not Guaranteed With Yankees

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How far in the eyes of the Yankees and baseball in general has Joba Chamberlain fallen?

The once-ballyhooed righty has avoided arbitration by agreeing to a 1-year contract worth $1.875 million; interestingly the contract is non-guaranteed. It’s a strange and unfamiliar choice on the part of the Yankees not to guarantee a deal for such a comparatively paltry amount considering some of the other players on their roster and that their self-enacted payroll constraints won’t come into effect until 2014. If they’re going to be successful this season, they’re going to need Chamberlain. The departure of Rafael Soriano and the age and status of Mariano Rivera—returning from significant injury—make Chamberlain a necessity and not a luxury.

In years past, the Yankees have been perfectly willing to spend (and sometimes waste) money on pitchers rehabbing from injuries with an eye on them contributing in the future even if that future wasn’t until the next year. They did it relatively successfully with Jon Lieber; unsuccessfully with Octavio Dotel; and the grade is still pending on David Aardsma. Have the Yankees’ cost-cutting hopes reached a level where they’ll be willing to cut Chamberlain to save the bulk of his salary with termination pay if he pitches poorly in spring training? Because that’s what this means. Below is the relevant clip from the basic agreement:

(T)he contract is not guaranteed, so if the player is released during Spring Training, the club would only owe the player 30 days or 45 days salary as termination pay, depending on when the player is released. (A player on an MLB 40-man roster receives 100% of what remains of his salary if he is released during the regular season).

The Cliff Notes version boils down to Chamberlain trying out in spring training and if he pitches poorly, they’ll dump him.

Chamberlain, while being a minuscule fraction of what he was supposed to be, is at the very least a serviceable relief pitcher who, conceivably, could close if Rivera is unable, leaving David Robertson to do the hard work as the set-up man. He has very little value on the trade market unless the Yankees pay a chunk of his salary and take another club’s similar player. If they start offering him around, teams will just wait until the Yankees terminate the deal and go after Chamberlain as a free agent.

It would be understandable if Chamberlain hadn’t pitched last season—as he wasn’t expected to after his accident in spring training in which he injured his ankle—but he returned far sooner than expected from both the ankle injury and 2011 Tommy John surgery and was an important member of the bullpen late in the season. He pitched very well in September as the Yankees were in an unexpected dogfight to make the playoffs. Now he’s fallen to unforeseen depths as a step above a non-roster invitee.

It seems so long ago that the debate regarding Chamberlain’s optimal role had grown so fierce with one side insisting that his dominance out of the bullpen was more valuable than any slightly better-than-average performance he’d be able to provide as a starter and screamed with violent intensity to hammer home the point. The Yankees jerked him around commensurately with the indecision, spurred by their own wishy-washiness on what he was and where he was best-suited to pitch. They played an overwhelming part in his destruction.

That the Yankees are mostly responsible for his ruination has been rendered irrelevant. In recent years Chamberlain had become an annual name on the most-overrated list in polls of other players. He’s no longer overrated. In fact, judging by the non-guaranteed contract, he’s not rated at all. He’s just sort of there and might not be there for very long. That’s a far cry from having been compared to Roger Clemens for those magical two months in 2007 when it appeared that the hype, for once, was real.

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The Mariners Get Morse (Change One Letter and it’s “Worse”)

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Anyone else see the irony of the Mariners and their GM Jack Zduriencik having traded Mike Morse in 2009 while Zduriencik was in the midst of an overachieving first season at the helm and being called a genius, and has reacquired Morse four years later when he’s possibly a losing first half away from being fired?

Or that he traded Morse for the essentially useless Ryan Langerhans and has now traded John Jaso to get Morse back when, with or without Morse, the Mariners are only staying out of last place because the Astros are in the AL West?

The deal, on its surface, isn’t a bad one for the Mariners. All they surrendered was Jaso, but considering their likely finish in 2013, why bother? Why bother doing anything the Mariners have done since the 2012 season ended from moving in the fences at Safeco Field to making trades/signings for bats on the final year of their contracts or final years of their careers?

This is not a logical progression of being ready to win and making the requisite fill-in veteran acquisitions. It’s desperation on the part of Zduriencik—a worse desperation than Royals GM Dayton Moore was accused of when he acquired two big league starting pitchers in James Shields and Wade Davis, both of whom are under team control, in exchange for a large package of prospects. It was said that Moore is trying to save his job. Zduriencik? Where’s the criticism from the stat people who held him up as their totem before reality rendered them silent? On Fangraphs a few years ago the Mariners were labeled as the sixth best organization in baseball, thereby setting themselves and the Mariners up for endless ridicule with the Twitter hashtag #6org. Has there been an update or viable explanation? Or clinging in the hopes that it’ll all end up as the math having been “right”?

Let’s put this into simple terms. Over the four-plus years Zduriencik has been running the team, they rebuilt the farm system based on pitching and brought in players whose forte is defense. In year five of the rebuild, they’ve brought in the fences at Safeco Field, signed or traded for players for whom defense is a necessary evil, and changed the strategy on the fly not because it’s a natural evolution combined with intelligent design, but because what they were doing before didn’t work and now they’re doing something totally different.

If that’s the case, how are they moving forward with the same GM?

A team that had an eye on pitching and defense now has imported the weak defenders Jason Bay, Raul Ibanez, Morse and the mediocre Kendrys Morales. In addition, they traded away Jaso, let Miguel Olivo leave as a free agent and are intent on replacing them behind the plate with Jesus Montero, for whom defense is the main weak point of his game and will have to handle a pitching staff who will already be compromised due to the new dimensions of their home park.

There’s no question that the Mariners needed offense and their offense will be better with the players they’ve acquired as well as Dustin Ackley and Montero, but how much worse will the pitching be with the new dimensions of Safeco Field?

In the past three seasons, their pitchers have posted the following OPS numbers home and away:

2010: .663 home, .768 road

2011: .667 home, .728 road

2012: .676 home, .777 road

In addition, the Mariners’ offense hasn’t just been bad in those same three seasons, it’s been historically bad. Since the 162 game schedule was implemented in 1961 (and bear in mind the numbers are slightly skewed by the strike shortened seasons of 1972, 1981 and 1994), the Mariners of 2010 and 2011 were in the top 100 of the lowest scoring clubs in baseball. That’s out of 1356 teams.

Will Morse, Ibanez, and Morales, plus a full sophomore season from Montero help the Mariners’ scoring improve? Yes. Will the defensive limitations of these players, that they’re in the lineup at the expense of stronger defensive players, plus the new dimensions of the Mariners’ home field hurt them? Absolutely.

This is while the Mariners are playing in a division with the high-priced Angels; the still very good Rangers; and the Athletics who won the division last season. The only beacon of hope the Mariners have is that the Astros are basically a Triple A team, keeping them from looking too terrible in comparison.

The Royals and Moore were savaged for the trade they made with the Rays. But they’re in a weaker division, have enough young talent to at least justify going for a marked improvement with established pitchers who’ve been on playoff teams, and will have those pitchers for a longer time than the Mariners will have the hitters they’ve brought in.

Where are the vitriolic attacks against what Zduriencik has built? Is his credibility based on his work or because he runs his club the way analysts who base their beliefs on stats would run their clubs? Is he being protected in a manner that Moore isn’t because he’s using “objectivity” while crafting a team that is, by all standards, horrific and is now worse than it was when he arrived?

There’s no room for personalities, biases, factionalism, bloodlines, and tribalism in purported objective analysis. Because Moore is the antithesis of what stat people want in a GM, he’s a punching bag whenever it suits them; but Zduriencik exemplifies that which Moore was accused of when he traded Wil Myers: desperation and trying to keep his job.

The Mariners are a weird, toxic amalgam with no definition or plan and Zduriencik’s genius, like the classic sitcom Seinfeld, is about nothing. It worked in TV comedy and in glowing write-ups for Zduriencik before the fact. It’s not working so much at the ballpark and in practice. Nor is it going to for the Mariners in 2013.

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Did the Mets Go McKayla Maroney on Brian Wilson?

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When watching Brian Wilson throw for him in a private workout, did Mets GM Sandy Alderson have the now famous look of “not impressed” on his face as McKayla Maroney did during the Olympics? Or is the assessment of “not impressed” an extrapolation from the New York Post without it actually having been said?

The title of the story written by Mike Puma and scattered across the internet has the two keywords “not impressed,” but when actually reading it, the tone was far more muted and less incendiary to the ego of an athlete—especially one like Wilson who likes the spotlight.

What the story says about Wilson is the following:

“Physically, he’s not ready,” the source said. “He’s got a ways to go.”

That, along with the stated possibility that the Mets will revisit Wilson in spring training if he’s still available doesn’t add up to “not impressed.” It adds up to what the “baseball source” says and should be taken at face value. (Bear in mind that it’s the Post and this source might be a Citi Field custodian who overheard a conversation between Mr. Met and a hot dog vendor.)

If the Mets don’t deem Wilson ready enough to offer a Major League contract, that’s a fair analysis. Wilson is recovering from Tommy John surgery and while certain pitchers are able to return within a year, others take a longer time. Wilson had the surgery in late April of 2012. Expecting every pitcher to be ready to go within 12 months is stretching it. If and when he’s signed, June/July would be a more reasonable expectation for him to be able to contribute meaningfully. If that’s the case, he might be better-served to go to a contending club.

For a team like the Mets, they would have to give him a guaranteed deal for 2014 to get him. It’s up to the Mets to determine the value of a contract for 2014 because it wouldn’t make sense to either Wilson or the still-rebuilding Mets to sign for a few months and end the relationship.

The phrase “not impressed” is simple enough to garner attention and provide a clear-cut analysis of how the Mets felt about Wilson’s workout whether it’s true or not. The problem is it might not have been said or even implied. Perhaps the statement of him not being ready is what it is instead of a conveniently simplistic summary. But that’s not what the masses want. They want their candy now! And the odds are that the majority either read the headline and moved on without taking the full context into account or didn’t read the article at all.

Unless Alderson had McKayla’s look on his face while watching Wilson, “not impressed” probably wasn’t the proper term to use or believe when seeking insight. The intent of that type of word choice is to deliver immediate gratification via webhits and conversation-starting, and that’s what it did.

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Rafael Soriano to the Nationals—Conspiracy Theories and Truth

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Rafael Soriano has agreed to a 2-year, $28 million contract with the Washington Nationals. There is significant deferred money and a third year option that automatically kicks in based on games finished in 2013-2014. You can read about the details here.

Let’s look at the ramifications, theories and reality of the Soriano signing.

Did Scott Boras hoodwink the Nats again?

Boras represents both Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper—both of whose contracts will eventually be an issue for the Nationals—along with Jayson Werth, Danny Espinosa and Anthony Rendon. Accompanying that, there’s the concept that he’s using the same Svengali-like sway he has on his clients to hypnotize Nationals’ owner Ted Lerner into overpaying for a player he doesn’t need.

Boras’s ability to convince Lerner that this (Werth, Soriano, the Strasburg shutdown) is what the club needs to be successful certainly helped, but Boras is a businessman whose clients are his main motivating factor and if the Dodgers, Yankees or whomever had presented a better deal for Soriano, he would have taken it. Boras didn’t make any promises to package his players and make Harper, Strasburg or anyone else more signable for the Nats because, apart from probably being both illegal and against MLB rules, he’s not going to cost one player to serve another one. Sure, he’ll plan and steer clients to certain destinations that will pay that player the most money and simultaneously open up a spot in the prior location for another client, but that’s different from overtly saying, “Sign Soriano and I’ll make it worth your while with Strasburg and Harper later.”

It didn’t happen.

For Rafael Soriano

Boras’s intent was to get Soriano a 4-year, $60 million deal. If Soriano reaches his incentives for games finished (and barring injury or poor performance, he will), the deal will be $42 million for three years. That’s not $60 million over four, but given the market and the draft pick compensation that was attached to Soriano serving to scare away suitors who were unable or unwilling to swing the dowry, it’s a great deal for the pitcher.

The planets aligned perfectly for Soriano in 2012. He was an afterthought as the seventh inning man for the Yankees but the following happened:

  • Mariano Rivera’s knee injury
  • David Robertson’s brief foray as the Yankees’ closer left him with a look on his face like a victim of the creepy kid from The Ring
  • Soriano took over as Yankees’ closer and pitched brilliantly
  • He had the opt out in his contract

All of these factors secured more money and a guaranteed closer’s role for Soriano and it’s with a team on the short list to win the World Series—something that as of now cannot be said about the Yankees. Had he returned to the Yankees, his role would have been either the eighth or back to the seventh inning. His numbers and financial opportunities would’ve suffered for it in his next chance at free agency and his age would affect his marketability as well.

He had his chance to get paid and, wisely, he took it.

For the Nationals

Is Soriano something of an overkill? Yes, if—and it’s a big if—Drew Storen’s elbow is healthy and, more importantly, his head isn’t still muddled by his disastrous game 5 meltdown in the NLDS loss to the Cardinals in which he blew a 2-run lead with two outs in the ninth inning. He wound up surrendering 4 runs as the Cardinals won the game and the series.

Presumably, his elbow isn’t the problem. His head might be.

Nationals’ manager Davey Johnson saw firsthand what can happen to a pitcher who blows a game like that when he was managing the Mets and they rallied against Red Sox closer Calvin Schiraldi in 1986 in both games 6 and 7 of the World Series and Schiraldi’s career as a significant contributor was essentially done after that. Johnson likes to have a deep bullpen, but he also likes to have a closer he knows isn’t going to panic in a big game. He had that with the Mets and Roger McDowell, Jesse Orosco and Randy Myers; he had it with the Reds with Jeff Brantley; and with the Orioles with Myers again. There might have been that underlying fear with Storen that he wouldn’t recover.

Soriano’s not exactly trustworthy in the playoffs either, but he did replace Rivera and do the job in New York, doubly-massive pressure situations.

The argument could be made that the Nationals, if they no longer trusted Storen, could simply have switched roles between him and Tyler Clippard permanently. Clippard closed in Storen’s absence and even after Storen returned last season, so he can do it. But when Rivera got hurt and the Yankees stuck Robertson in the closer’s role adhering to a misplaced rule of succession, it was a mistake. Robertson, like Clippard, did the heavy lifting in the seventh and eighth innings as the set-up man. It won’t be a glorious role until there’s a catchier and more definable stat than a “hold,” and until these pitchers are paid commensurately for the job they’re doing, but it’s sometimes more important to have a good set-up man than the closer, whose job is to accumulate saves and whose main attribute is to handle the job mentally. Clippard can close, but he’s more valuable setting up.

Historically, Johnson has also liked using more than one closer, so it’s possible Storen might get a few save opportunities. With Soriano’s mentality, though, that too would be a mistake. As the “established closer paid to get the saves,” Soriano doesn’t want to hear statistical reasons as to why he’s not pitching the ninth inning in a save situation. He wants the ball and he wants the saves. If anyone else is used in the ninth inning when Soriano is healthy, feeling good and available, he’ll see that as a threat, making it a potential long-term issue.

Johnson will use Soriano to close. Period. It’s not because he doesn’t want to think for himself or do something against new conventional orthodoxy, but because it’s easier for him and the team to do it that way.

The draft pick and the money

According to Forbes, as of September 2012, Ted Lerner was worth $3.9 billion. He’s 87-years-old. Could the player the Nationals would draft at 31 in the 1st round make a difference to them in Lerner’s lifetime? Possibly. Is it likely that the player will be more useful than Soriano? No.

Maybe they’re going to package Storen with Mike Morse in a trade to get another starting pitcher and a lefty specialist; maybe they’ll use them to bolster the farm system with better prospects than they would have gotten in the 2013 first round. If that’s the case, then they’ve benefited themselves in multiple ways.

The Nationals aren’t building. They’re built. Any player they drafted at number 31 isn’t going to be a significant contributor to this current group unless they draft what they just signed—a short reliever. And the likelihood of a college draftee closer showing up and taking over as the Nationals’ closer and anchoring a championship team in 2013-2014 is almost non-existent. The number of college closers that have been drafted as closers and made it to the big leagues quickly to contribute significantly starts with Gregg Olson and ends with Chad Cordero. It’s more probable that they’d end up with a Jaime Bluma—a great closing arm that never made it.

They have the money and the draft pick was negligible. They’re a better team today with Soriano than they were yesterday without him and the 31st pick in the draft. The Nationals are trying to win right now and, considering what was available, Soriano helps them to do that better than the other options. There were no conspiracies nor was it buying for its own sake. They wanted to improve immediately and that’s what they did.

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Does Mike Napoli Miss Mike Scioscia Yet?

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The notoriously contentious relationship between Mike Napoli and his former manager with the Angels Mike Scioscia was probably due to the manager expecting and demanding more from his catchers than Napoli understood. It wasn’t personal. With the deal between Napoli and the Red Sox in suspended animation and each side staking out their positions while showing no evidence of moving anytime soon, Napoli might be longing for those halcyon days when the main thing he had to worry about was whether Scioscia was going to yell at him for calling a curveball instead of a slider in the sixth inning of a July game against the Orioles.

Sciosica’s tough on his catchers. The Red Sox are tough on their prospective free agent signees.

This essence of the Red Sox-Napoli holding pattern stems from a problem the club saw with Napoli’s hip during his physical and it’s being reported that the club wants to shorten the 3-year, $39 million contract that was agreed to in early December to one year. It’s not a small thing and it presents more problems for Napoli than it does the Red Sox. At this late date, the Red Sox can still figure out another option for first base (Mike Morse, Justin Morneau or even taking a flier on Kyle Blanks) and already have three catchers with David Ross, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway able to provide defensive competence and pop. They don’t need Napoli as the final piece to a puzzle that’s already haphazardly constructed and not improved enough from the 69-93 monstrosity they were in 2012 to be considered viable contenders in 2013.

But Napoli needs the Red Sox.

Teams and player agents like to leak information prior to official, legally bound contracts so it’s harder to come undone. Once there’s an “agreement” there’s not an official agreement until the player has undergone his physical and both sides have signed the contract, but the deal is done…unless the club spots an issue and is prepared to use that issue to hold up or nix it. Generally it’s a formality, but with the Red Sox that’s not always the case.

The Red Sox deserve credit and blame for their behaviors in this vein. One one level, many clubs would blow off the concerns they may have found during the physical to spare themselves the embarrassment and aggravation of having to announce that the deal is off or trying to alter it and protect themselves. With Napoli, they’d move forward in spite of the hip problem and hope he stays healthy. On another level, that they’ve held up the finalization for over a month traps Napoli. When news of a signing leaks, both team and player, to an extent, are boxed in. Without the hip issue, the Red Sox would be beholden to signing Napoli regardless of possible second thoughts; Napoli wasn’t going to do better anywhere else.

Now Napoli’s in a cage and the Red Sox have the only key. With public knowledge of the hip problem, what team is going to give him more than the Red Sox newly rumored offer of one year? And forget the $39 million, which is probably more money that Napoli had realistically imagined he’d get in the first place. He’ll be lucky to get a guarantee of half that.

It’s late in the winter, pitchers and catchers report in a month and the hip problem is known leaving any executive vulnerable if Napoli is signed and gets hurt. I suppose a team hunting for offense and desperate to make a splash in an unusually tranquil winter (such as the Yankees) wouldn’t mind taking Napoli away from the Red Sox on a one-year contract. If the Red Sox are steadfast with their new offer and Napoli wants some vengeance on the Red Sox, that’s the way to do it and it would certainly enliven a Yankees fanbase that is growing angrier and angrier by the day. Aside from that, where can he go?

Teams like the Rangers that are looking at the situation objectively and might possibly have had interest in Napoli have filled his role cheaper with Lance Berkman and A.J. Pierzynski. Other clubs like the Mariners and Orioles are destinations, but they’re not going to surpass the Red Sox renewed offer and does Napoli really want to go to Seattle?

Napoli has two choices in the staredown with the Red Sox: sign the reduced deal or talk to the Yankees and secure an offer before telling the Red Sox to take a hike. The fact is that he’s at the mercy of the Red Sox who’ve altered their template from systematically ripping a player and leaking his medical records on the way out the door (Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Bay) to doing it before he walks in the door.

Napoli’s caught in the bear trap and it’s up to him whether he’s willing to gnaw off his limb to escape. A year of captivity and sustenance is better than nothing and that appears to be what the Red Sox are banking on in their hardline stance with a player to whom they offered too much money and too many years to begin with.

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Mets Fans’ Negativity Toward Brian Wilson is Absurd

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Underneath his cautious word choices, poker face, military cachet and known bio as an Ivy League-trained lawyer, Sandy Alderson has the true countenance of a “get the job done however you have to” Marine grunt. We see it occasionally when he’s had enough of answering the same questions over and over again as he did with his snide (and unnecessary) comment about sending chocolates to Jose Reyes; with his crack about currently not having any outfielders; and with his blunt dismissal twelve years ago of Mike Hampton’s decision to sign with the Rockies when Hampton referenced the Colorado school system. (Alderson said, rightly, that Hampton went to Colorado because they offered the most money.)

For the Mets, he wants players who can play and who fit into what he’s trying to build. This concept of signing players who have class and dignity is ridiculous and no one—not even the case study of a club that portrays itself as that, namely the Yankees—adheres to it. It’s a storyline designed to create an image and has no basis in reality.

The absurdity of Mets fans complaining about the “act” of Brian Wilson as a foundation for not wanting the team to sign him is so glaring that one would think it’s satire. But it’s not. Alderson went to watch a Wilson workout and while the erstwhile Giants’ closer is still recovering from Tommy John surgery, the Mets are said to be interested in him. If he’s ready at some point in the early summer and they can to a two-year contract with an option for a third, he’d be a perfect addition to a team that, by 2014-2015, will need a legitimate closer for a playoff run.

Wilson’s off-field personality is a matter of taste. Personally, I think he’s funny. Even if I didn’t, I wouldn’t care about that when assessing whether or not the Mets should sign him. He’s all business on the mound and that’s what counts. As opposed to other closers who are reluctant or outright refuse to throw more than one inning to accumulate the relatively meaningless save stat, Wilson has shown a willingness to pitch more than one inning and sometimes more than two innings to help his team.

Would the fans prefer to have Frank Francisco closing over Wilson? Why? Because Wilson has an over-the-top beard and draws attention to himself? Francisco Rodriguez, the last star closer the Mets had, was arrested for punching his common-law father-in-law in the face in the Citi Field family room and there were fans who: A) didn’t want him traded the next year; and B) wanted the Mets to bring him back to close for them when he became available.

But they don’t want Wilson. The same fans who look back nostalgically on the 1980s Mets whose on-field attitude was closer to that of a street gang than a baseball team and whose partying led to them winning one championship with a squad that should have won at least three and probably five; a team that has had multiple members—Darryl Strawberry, Lenny Dykstra, Dwight Gooden, Wally Backman—in trouble with the law, is seen as a beacon in the organization’s existence, yet they don’t want Wilson because of his beard and Lady Gaga-like “look at me!!” persona.

In his time as Athletics GM in the 1980s, Alderson wasn’t trying to score political points or build a G-rated theme park when he tolerated Jose Canseco’s act and had players who were using steroids without his consent to accumulate cartoonish muscles and hit home runs; he had Rickey Henderson on his team, a player who never met a management who couldn’t irritate; his manager was the notably egomaniacal and difficult Tony LaRussa. Alderson’s not building a military where conformity is necessary. He wants people who can play and help his team win. Period.

Wilson, as quirky as he is, has never had an incident off the field, nor have we heard of him being a clubhouse problem. If the Mets can get him at a discounted rate and he’s healthy, his post-season bona fides and willingness to do whatever is necessary to help the team win without complaint or thought of his own health and future would be a welcome change to a clubhouse that could use his fastball and veteran grit to counteract a vanilla group. Wilson cultivates the publicity and will gladly say, “I’ll take the heat. Follow me.” As much as David Wright is the acknowledged leader of the Mets, he doesn’t have that edge that Wilson would bring.

There’s no basis in saying “no” to him for his beard or tattoos or any off-field reason that’s not hurting anyone. “He annoys me,” is not a reason. Closing is more mentality than stuff and if Wilson has the mentality. If he can return to some semblance of form, the Mets should try and get him because he’d help them win more games. And that’s all that really matters.

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The Rejected Justin Upton Trade: Q&A

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The general reaction to the proposed Justin Upton trade from the Diamondbacks to the Mariners has been, “Why?”

Why would the Diamondbacks and GM Kevin Towers bother negotiating and completing the deal pending Upton’s approval while knowing that approval wasn’t going to come?

Why would the Mariners make such a deal while surrendering four players—Charlie Furbush, Nick Franklin, Stephen Pryor and Taijuan Walker—when the general consensus is that they need more than Upton to compete in a tough division?

Let’s discuss the answers.

Why did Towers bother?

Towers has no choice now. He has to get Upton out of there. He’s put himself in this position and there are lingering questions as to why there’s such a desperation to get rid of a 25-year-old, power hitting right fielder who’s signed to a reasonable contract. Usually in such a case there’s an obvious reason such as open animosity between player and club, money, poor performance or a rebuilding process. None of this is evident with Upton and the Diamondbacks. This is going to permeate the dealmaking process and clubs interested in Upton who may not have heard whispers (if they exist) of the real reason Upton’s available will hesitate and want an answer before they surrender a package similar to the Mariners.

The Mariners offer is important. Furbush is a useful lefty specialist, but the other players are significant. Pryor is a potential closer; Walker has a great power arm; Franklin is a former first round pick as a middle infielder with pop.

Towers was reportedly aware that Upton wasn’t going to okay the deal and perhaps he was hoping that the wearing down of the trade rumors that have gone on for over a year might spur Upton to say, “Let me outta here already.” But it was also a message to the rest of baseball that the cost for Upton is going to be steep for a deal to get done.

It makes sense in a way, but it might have backfired for Towers as the desire to trade Upton has now become a need. The difference between “I will” and “I must” is stark and the Diamondbacks have almost completely crossed that threshold. By that logic, they’re going to wind up with far less for Upton than what they were getting from the Mariners.

How did this help the Mariners?

On the surface, it’s a logical progression to use their farm system to acquire a superstar talent they’ll have at a reasonable cost for the next three years, but the Mariners knew that Upton would reject the trade just like the Diamondbacks did. But they tried anyway. Why?

Here’s why: Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik is in the final year of his contract. A surprising (and lucky) 85 wins in what was supposed to be year one of a rebuild in 2009 has lost its luster. He was referred to as a “genius,” and a new age thinker who used both scouting experience and new age stats to run his club. But disastrous signings such as Chone Figgins and off-field missteps like the allegations of lying in the entirety of his Cliff Lee dealings with the Yankees and subsequently trading for an accused rapist Josh Lueke made Zduriencik appear shady and amoral.

Whether it’s a fair assessment or not is irrelevant. If the on-field product had been better, these issues could be glossed over, but the on-field product has been awful and no one wants to hear about a rebuilt farm system. The Mariners have finished in last place in the AL West in each of the past three seasons and are desperately flinging things at the wall—Raul Ibanez, Jason Bay, Upton, flirting with Josh Hamilton, bringing in the fences at Safeco Field—and hoping to regain some attention from a fan base that’s stopped coming to the park.

Forgetting the on-field issues, here’s the bottom line: when Pat Gillick and Lou Piniella were running the place, the Mariners were first in attendance in baseball in 2001-2002. The last year when Bill Bavasi was GM in 2008 they lost 100 games and were sixth in attendance. In 2009, when they won those 85 games, they were seventh. In 2010, the year they acquired Lee to couple with Felix Hernandez and the Mariners were a trendy pick to make the playoffs, they were seventh. They were eighth in 2010 and 2011 and eleventh in 2012. It gets worse from there unless major names are acquired. They tried that with Upton and he said no.

With Ichiro Suzuki no longer there as a nominal drawing card, what possible reason other than King Felix is there to go see the games as long as the fans don’t think there’s any chance for them to win in a division with the Rangers, Angels and A’s?

The Upton trade was desperation, pure and simple, because Zduriencik’s job is on the line and if the season goes poorly without legitimate improvement, he’s getting fired. In fact, he might get fired during the season before the beginning of summer.

Was it worth it to the Diamondbacks and Mariners?

It was only worth it if they had convinced Upton to accept the trade before it leaked to the media. They didn’t. Now matters are worse for both. In the end, it was a huge gaffe that will define the organizations until the situations are settled and that settlement may not end as either Towers or Zduriencik envisioned unless they accounted for a worst case scenario that is looking more and more likely with each passing day.

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