Josh McCown

Browns’ signing of McCown good news for Manziel

NFL

The Cleveland Browns have been open in their public statements of no longer being committed to Johnny Manziel as their future starting quarterback. Given the public issues that Manziel has had culminating with him entering rehabilitation for undisclosed issues, it’s no surprise. He’s done just about everything he could possibly do to sabotage an NFL career that many still believe stems more from promotional skills of his handlers than actual ability to play in the league.

Whether he can play well enough to be a functional NFL quarterback – let alone the star he was in college – remains to be seen. But his off-field problems will prevent him from even getting on the field if he doesn’t get them under control. There was an intentional opaqueness to the statements from the Browns that Manziel wasn’t guaranteed to be their starter in 2015 and that they were prepared to move on without him if he didn’t begin to take his job as seriously as he did being a bon vivant celebrity who liked to party and enjoyed the “celebrity QB” lifestyle without doing the work necessary to fulfill the “QB” part. They might have been threatening him or they might have been serious. My belief is that it was the former – for now. Given his off-field value to the franchise and the still unknown on-field quantity that he is, it’s worthwhile for them to give him another chance to see if he gets the message.

Unless Manziel shows a commitment to playing in the NFL in lieu of being in the NFL, there’s no logical reason for them to go forward with him. No matter how much Kardashian-style attention and financial benefit they get for having Manziel on their roster, eventually it’s going to be a case of diminishing returns. Fans – even rabid ones – will stop watching a freakshow if the freakshow is an embarrassment and, especially, if the team doesn’t win. The players won’t support Manziel; the coaches won’t support Manziel; the media won’t support Manziel. Eventually, even his most vocal benefactors like owner Jimmy Haslam would acquiesce to the groundswell, accept the situation for what it is and move on.

The Browns being so open about questioning Manziel as their franchise linchpin is in part a fact and a message. The second part of the equation is finding someone who can serve as competition/potential replacement. Given the relative weakness of the pro free agent and trade market and that, barring a trade, they’re not drafting high enough to get a top college quarterback along the lines of Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, they had a choice: re-sign last year’s starter Brian Hoyer or sign a veteran who could play if necessary, but isn’t so head and shoulders above Manziel that he must start. They chose the latter by signing veteran Josh McCown to a three-year contract.

On the field, there’s really little difference between Hoyer and McCown no matter how many sources – identified and not – say that the team has the best chance to win with Hoyer. Hoyer’s a journeyman who somehow parlayed a few brief spurts of good play and a solid attitude into being a “starter” and “leader.” The fact is that when Hoyer was benched in favor of Manziel late in the 2014 season, there might have been some background noise from factions in the Browns’ front office that they wanted Manziel to play, but objectively, the benching was more than deserved as Hoyer had been terrible for a solid month before he was finally pulled. That it was Manziel and there was a movement for him to get his opportunity based on factors ancillary to his readiness or viability doesn’t alter that reality.

A team in need of a quarterback or possibly in need of a quarterback – the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – will sign Hoyer with the intention of him getting a legitimate shot to play with Hoyer expecting to walk in as the first man on the depth chart when training camp opens. That’s not the case with McCown.

Like Hoyer, McCown is the ultimate case of believing too much in what’s happening in the moment and looking at factors that need to be placed in better context. He’s not as good as he was in that late season run with the Bears in 2013; he’s not as bad as his team was in 2014 with the Buccaneers. His resume, however, is at least as accomplished as that of Hoyer which says more about Hoyer and his sudden in-demand position than it does about McCown or Manziel. The difference is that Hoyer will sign a contract befitting a starting quarterback and will not be happy if he’s not the starter regardless of performance. McCown will be prepared to start. He’ll also be willing to sit if that’s what will help the team. If that’s the case, he’ll be happy to try and steer Manziel in the right direction both on and off the field. Would that happen with Hoyer? And is he the player the Browns want to commit to if they’re teetering on giving up on Manziel?

While Hoyer is said to have gotten along well with Manziel, it’s human nature for him to want the younger player to continue partying and damaging his standing with the organization to let Hoyer keep his tenuous hold on the starting job long enough to get a large contract as a free agent. McCown is long past that and is now thinking about a future of hanging around a few years as a respected backup and team player with a coaching job ahead of him. That says that the Browns are still hoping that Manziel will realize that he’s owed nothing and has to work for what he gets rather than have it handed to him because of his public relations team, Heisman Trophy and name recognition.

Only Manziel knows and the Browns can judge whether or not he’s being sincere in changing his ways and is treating sobriety and his career with a seriousness he’s yet to show. It’s difficult to envision him ceasing and desisting with drinking and doing whatever else it was that spurred the (parentally? organizationally?) mandated intervention that sent him to rehab in the first place. This won’t be a matter of him evolving from the immature Johnny Football into the mature John Football. It’s going to take a sacrifice that he may not be prepared to make; one that, given the spoiled life he’s led, he won’t have the first concept of how to make. McCown can help him and, unlike what would be the case if Hoyer were still around, will be willing to help him enough so he can take the starting job and run with it if he’s capable of doing so.

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Josh Hamilton’s relapse: Is it really a surprise?

MLB

Josh Hamilton’s sobriety was always hanging on a spindly tendril that was capable of snapping at any time. For all we know, it had snapped several times including the incident in which he was photographed drinking and partying in a bar and this latest one in which he’s admitted to Major League Baseball that he’d used cocaine and alcohol over this off-season.

Are you surprised?

Really?

I can accept sadness, hope and even religious introspection in response to this news, but surprise? No. You’re not surprised because if you’ve kept an eye on Hamilton from the time he got back into baseball, you’ll know he was always teetering on the verge of another free fall. If you’ve paid attention to Hamilton from the time he was the first overall pick of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the 1999 draft, nearly demolished his career and life with his self-abuse and got clean making a triumphant and inspiring return to baseball, you’ll know that he’d traded one dreamlike state for another. First it was the empty, false bliss of self-anesthetizing through alcohol and drugs, then it was repeated references to Jesus and his faith. Whatever you believe in terms of religion, it was obvious that Hamilton was still shunning full blown personal responsibility.

The dream-eyed, glazed over, “nothing is in my control therefore nothing is my responsibility” was destined to fail. The same media people and fans who are “praying” for Hamilton and writing impassioned pieces regarding their hope for his return to health are showing their hypocrisy after either publicly or privately rolling their eyes when he made such patently ludicrous statements that God told him he was going to hit a home run in the World Series. Now there are again references to an all-powerful being that has seemingly abandoned Hamilton when he needed “Him” the most.

There was hope that Hamilton would stay straight, but the signs have been there for years that he wouldn’t and it goes beyond the first few years of his professional career, frittered away in the spiral of addiction.

While the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – Hamilton’s current employer – will express support for Hamilton on his road to wellness, they’d like nothing more than to speed up time to run the clock out on his contract’s expiration after the 2017 season. While the Texas Rangers placed Hamilton in a cocoon as he blossomed into an MVP and superstar, they refused to go beyond a certain level in what they offered him when his free agency arrived because they knew that it was a realistic, if not inevitable, possibility that he’d fall off the wagon. They seemed somewhat relieved that he left. In fact, they basically pushed him out the door. The Cincinnati Reds and the Tampa Bay Rays – the other teams that employed Hamilton – did everything they could to help him.

Not one did any of this out of care for a fellow human being.

While there might have been a speck of humanity in the decisions on the part of these organizations, there was also the matter of Hamilton’s natural gifts making him worth the risk. Those natural gifts made him the first overall pick in the draft. Those natural gifts got him another chance and, to his credit, he took advantage of it. But to suggest that these teams tolerated the danger of Hamilton falling off the wagon through benevolence, charity and human kindness ignores reality. The fact is that if Hamilton had been a 12th round draft pick who had these same problems, he would have been dispatched and gone from baseball forever with nary a concern as to whether he lived or died, let alone cleaned up. Teams placed him in a protective box because they felt they could take the chance to use his ability to literally do anything on a baseball field. For the Reds and Rangers, it worked. For the Angels, it hasn’t.

It’s somewhat appropriate that his public fall occurred while playing for a team located in Southern California. There’s an unrealistic fantasy that athletes, actors and anyone else who has addiction issues will be able to recover their sobriety and live their lives in a fairy tale of the power of treatment and redemption. Much of this is a crafted tale to promote an agenda and adhere to editorial mandates to push feel good stories to the masses and perhaps inspire those who have the same issues to seek treatment and hold to their sobriety. Whatever the reason, this is no shock.

For those who say “pray” for Hamilton or that he hit a hiccup in his sobriety are also taking the responsibility away from where it belongs: Hamilton. No one forced him to place himself in a situation where he might use again. No one held him down and poured alcohol down his throat. He did this to himself. Perhaps he deserves sympathy. Maybe he’s worthy of pity. But for someone who had been granted a gift to play baseball better than nearly anyone in this generation to take steps to destroy it, make it back well enough to receive $150+ million in guaranteed contracts, and go back to using is the same self-destructiveness that almost ruined his life and career 15 years ago.

According to all accounts, Hamilton is a gentle person; a nice man; someone who cares about his teammates, fans and helping others. On the field, the Angels made a mistake in giving him that contract. Off the field, it was an act of blatant stupidity that was destined to blow up in their faces. It did.

He doesn’t deserve an endless array of entreaties to “pray” for him. According to Hamilton, he did plenty of that himself and it didn’t work. There are many people in the world who deserve prayer if you believe in that sort of thing. Josh Hamilton isn’t one of them.

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Moncada a symbol for Yankees’ disconnect

MLB

The issue surrounding the latest player on whom the New York Yankees “just missed” isn’t about the player himself. By most accounts, Yoan Moncada is a superior talent. He’s very young and needs seasoning, but he’s an asset. A big one. Only time will tell whether or not he was worth the money that he received or if he’ll be another foreign bust.

None of that matters.

We can ignore that the “just missed” narrative was previously relegated to the team across town. We can also ignore that it’s their hated rivals the Boston Red Sox that were the ones that did sign him. As far as we know, there was no chair breaking from Yankees general manager Brian Cashman similar to the oft-told and categorically denied story regarding then-Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein’s reaction when the Yankees signed Jose Contreras in 2002. The Yankees, through intent or circumstance, have laid the foundation for sufficient ambiguity to shift blame and insert a believable tale to explain away why their spending is so low; why they’re hoarding draft picks and accepting their 2015 fate in a way that never would have happened if…wait for it…George Steinbrenner were still alive.

This story isn’t about Moncada and whether Cashman desperately wanted to sign him as some are saying. It’s not about the money that the GM supposedly asked for from Hal Steinbrenner to sign Moncada and was rebuffed. It’s about where the organization is headed and why.

While Moncada is secondary, the symbolism of the Yankees passing on Moncada in their ongoing winter of austerity can’t be ignored. When was the last time the Yankees didn’t get a player they wanted because of money? When was the last time they were predicted to be, at best, a .500 team? And when was the last time that was accepted by the front office without doing something, anything to avoid it?

The Steinbrenner offspring have every right to draw a line in the financial sand that never existed under their intense, win-at-all-costs dad. George Steinbrenner equated winning and losing with greater urgency than he did breathing. That dedication and seriousness doesn’t appear to be present with Hal Steinbrenner – the family front man. Part of George Steinbrenner’s reason for wanting to win was his massive ego. Part of it was ingrained. The sons don’t have that passion. They’re going through the motions and after the 2013-2014 spending spree that obliterated the $189 million plan they’d been preparing for for several years yielded a more expensive version of a worse team, the vault has been shut.

Prognosticators, observers, the media, baseball people and especially Yankees fans spent the 2014-2015 winter waiting for the inevitable financial strike in which the Yankees would sign Max Scherzer or James Shields; trade for Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels and/or Cliff Lee; do something notable and headline worthy. It never came. As one player after another came off the board, the truth hit that they really did intend to stop the endless spending that had been a hallmark of the Yankees for the entire time the Steinbrenner family has owned the team. Now it’s another player – Moncada – that they wanted and the financial concerns prevented them from getting.

Looking toward the future with references to a package of minor leaguers expected to be the next “core” group willfully ignores the fact that the last core group took several years of bad baseball to accumulate and develop. The Yankees from 1996 onward were built in 1989 to 1992 – four years in which the big league club was one of the worst in baseball. They were rebuilt by Gene Michael, who was known to have a talent for recognizing players not through complicated algorithms and formulas, but by his experience.

Ironically, it’s not the Steinbrenner children who are influenced by their father’s looming shadow, but his pseudo-son, Cashman, who is trying to escape it and prove himself in a manner that was impossible while George Steinbrenner was alive. The kids have their own interests. While they’ve tried to adhere to the principles of what their father built, there’s a missing component in that they avoid the spotlight and don’t want to overspend. Considering the realities of the game today, how baseball has taken steps to allow every team to have an equal chance to win, and that the Yankees’ spending has failed to help them achieve their championship goals in every year since 2000 save one, they’re not wrong in saying enough.

That word – enough – should also have extended to their general manager and that’s the case for both sides.

Cashman’s attitude is one that should concern fans far more than the debate as to his competence in assessing players who are not already established stars when they’re purchased. His statements sound world-weary, tired, bitter and angry. His monotonous, self-shielding autopilot of catchphrases and corporate inanities are hollow and dull. There’s an absence of enthusiasm and energy for the job while making a blatant attempt to shun the responsibility while seeking credit. He’s jaded at the perception of him. He’s jealous of the credit other GMs like Billy Beane and Andrew Friedman get for building their teams while he’s seen as nothing more than a creature of the financial might of his employer.

He wants the credit, but pursues it without the known background to run his team in the same manner those who operated under budgetary constraints do. He’s doing it with a multitude of excuses leaked out that his hands are tied; that the former mandate of championship or bust every year led to them having this bloated payroll of ancient, declining stars; that it will take years to get back into a contending position and none of it is his fault.

The laments that they would’ve drafted Mike Trout had he fallen to them and did draft Gerrit Cole are meant to simultaneously assuage implications that the GM doesn’t know how to assess talent and provide a backdrop of “don’t blame me.” The leak that he wanted to sign Moncada and couldn’t because of Hal Steinbrenner turning down his request was strategic and self-serving. Nothing is his fault.

If the Yankees were going down this road, they should have fired Cashman. If Cashman doesn’t have the deep-rooted fire to rebuild correctly and is simply seeking personal fulfillment, then parting ways would also have been better for him.

The team is a dysfunctional mess in a way that was never evident in the years of George Steinbrenner’s dictatorial reign. At least then, there was an amount of care. Now there’s not. Now there’s factions with their own agendas. It’s not about Moncada. It goes deeper than that and it makes the future look worse than even the most realistic and pessimistic of Yankees fans, followers and media members can possibly foresee.

Cole Hamels

Cole Hamels thinks the Phillies will lose. He’s right, but…

MLB

When the media refers to an athlete’s “refreshing honesty,” it generally means that the athlete said something he or she shouldn’t have said. Such is the case with Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels as he told Bob Nightengale of USA Today the following: he would like to be traded (without demanding that it come to pass); he wants to win; and he knows it’s not going to happen with the Phillies.

The first two statements are acceptable in an honest competitor sort of way, but the last one? No.

The media might have been refreshed. The fans might have been amused. I doubt the Phillies felt either refreshment or amusement.

On one level, Hamels is absolutely, 100 percent correct. This Phillies team isn’t bad. It’s terrible. In a best case scenario, if they keep Hamels and Cliff Lee and both have ace-like, 200+ inning seasons with 15-18 wins apiece; if Chase Utley is fully healthy; if they get an identical year from Aaron Harang in 2015 that the Atlanta Braves received in 2014; if Chad Billingsley comes back strong; if their relatively strong bullpen – keeping Jonathan Papelbon – performs, their pitching is solid enough to compete. That’s a lot of “ifs.”

It must also be remembered that they: are planning on an everyday role for oft-injured Grady Sizemore; are basically sentenced to giving Ryan Howard significant at-bats to try and establish some value so another team will take him and his contract; are starting Freddy Galvis at shortstop. In that context, you see the accuracy of Hamels’s statement, proper or not. They’re might lose 100 games.

The Phillies have experienced baseball men permeating their organization. They know the situation. Manager Ryne Sandberg spent almost his entire big league with the Chicago Cubs. Do you really believe there weren’t seasons in which he walked into spring training knowing the team was going to lose 90 games? But as a respected veteran leader, he put up the front of, “You never know”; “We still have to play the games”; “Let’s see what happens,” etc.

Team president Pat Gillick was the GM of the one-year-old Toronto Blue Jays beginning in 1978. Of course he knew that the team was going to be atrocious until they acquired some legitimate talent. Did he openly say it prior to spring training? Or did he hope for the best knowing it would likely be the worst.

We know they’re a terrible team. They know they’re a terrible team. That’s why Hamels is even on the market to begin with. But it’s not a wise thing for the players to be saying it especially if it’s a post-season hero and someone who’s supposed to be a leader and linchpin on and off the field.

Several years ago, Hamels’s former Phillies teammate Roy Halladay found himself in a situation with the Toronto Blue Jays similar to what Hamels currently faces. He knew the team wasn’t going to win and also realized that both he and the club would be better off if they maximized his value and traded him for a large package of prospects. He, however, handled it far differently and in a classy, professional way by quietly saying he wanted out. They accommodated him after the season.

The Phillies are under no obligation to trade Hamels and this doesn’t hurt his marketability all that much. Even if he outright demands a trade, they don’t have to trade him. No team does. When a player asks to be dealt, most teams will try to accommodate him as a matter of courtesy. Often there’s mutual benefit to it. But it’s not a contractual requirement and most players won’t pull the Manny Ramirez trick of acting hurt or jogging around on the field making it an absolute necessity to get rid of him. Hamels hasn’t gone that far, but his words still look terrible.

The behavior illustrates how different they are and how little Hamels learned from Halladay. Halladay is defined by his nickname: Doc. Hamels’s nickname – Hollywood – also fits as he’s behaving like a spoiled, entitled brat who acts as if he cares about the team and winning and is only interested in himself.

684px-A-Rod2009

A-Rod’s apology, the Yankees and salesmanship

MLB

Alex Rodriguez is embarrassing. That much is clear. It’s often difficult to tell whether he’s doing it on purpose or the bewildered, “Why me?” look of lobotomized innocence is real or if it’s more of A-Rod taking to heart the lessons he learned from Madonna years and years ago and makes certain his name is still relevant even if his on-field performance no longer is.

While A-Rod is continuing his consistent act, the Yankees are enabling it for their own ends. If this was the Yankees of 2000 and they had enough depth and George Steinbrenner’s willingness to accept sunk costs and move on, A-Rod would not be an issue because he’d likely be in camp with the Miami Marlins trying to make their roster. He would. Not because he can still play – maybe he can and maybe he can’t – but the Marlins under Jeffrey Loria are smart enough, unrepentant enough and focus on the bottom line so openly that they’d keep him just for the tickets his mere presence would sell.

These forced apologies with faux contrition and the innocent “feel” of the handwritten note take the tone of manipulative salesmanship. There, of course, will be a segment of the population that will believe him. A-Rod would have elicited a better reaction had he mimicked South Park’s caricature of B.P. CEO Tony Heyward and his apology for the Gulf oil spill and done the following:

The sincerity of the apology or lack thereof is secondary to why A-Rod, Heyward, Lance Armstrong or anyone else issued it. It’s in the same category as the reasons the Yankees are keeping him around, news organizations are using handwriting analysts to decipher what he “really” means with his script, and commentators are weighing in with their “take” on the matter: they want attention and to achieve their own ends.

For all the Yankees fans and apologists who continually reference “class” and “dignity” as if it’s transformed from a public relations selling point and actually exists, the reality is that the Yankees are keeping A-Rod around for the same financial and selfish reasons.

The holier-than-thou reactions to A-Rod’s transgressions are coming from those who would either have done the exact same thing he did or probably done worse to achieve the fame and money that A-Rod has. It’s pompous and judgmental self-aggrandizement.

It’s poignant that this is happening in the same week the Yankees announced they’re retiring three more uniform numbers at various times this summer. Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams will all be honored in the same location as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. Their credentials for this are arguable and have even Yankees fans questioning whether it’s right that they’re placed in that stratosphere. But it’s beside the point. The Yankees number retirements have taken the tone of the pricey and lavish wedding for which the never-ending saga of, “If we invite X, we have to invite Y” results in a wedding that was meant for 200 turning into one for 500.

The situation with Pettitte punctuates the ludicrousness and was again played out last year when Robinson Cano did what Pettitte did and left the Yankees. After Pettitte spurned the Yankees to go home to play in Houston with the Astros for three years after the 2003 season, the Yankees gave his soon-to-be-retired number 46 to the following players: Donovan Osborne, Darrell May, Alan Embree, Scott Erickson and Aaron Guiel. In 2014, the season after Cano left for the Seattle Mariners, they gave his number 24 to three separate journeymen: Zoilo AlmonteChris Young and Scott Sizemore.

Familiar pettiness combined with the egomania of the organization on the whole indicates a disturbing victimhood that they can do no wrong when they either tacitly contributed to the circumstances or looked the other way. They disrespected Pettitte, waited until the last moment to up their offer to try and keep him, and acted indignantly when he left. Cano was offered approximately $60 million more by the Mariners than what the Yankees were willing to offer and he was also benefiting from the lack of state income tax in Washington. After they’d repeatedly put him off and failed to make a preemptive offer to stay, what motivation was there for him to provide a discount when they were overpaying for the inferior Jacoby Ellsbury and then spun around, abandoned the pretense of fiscal sanity by going on a spending spree for Masahiro Tanaka, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran?

Yet the uniform numbers on the back of the pinstripes are treated as a fungible punishment amid the “How dare you?!?” tantrum when these players leave and a selling point when their play is recalled fondly upon their return.

Similar to the infantile uniform number circulation and retirements, if the Yankees are so aghast at what A-Rod did, then perhaps they should do the “right” thing and give back the 2009 World Series trophy that they would not have won without A-Rod carrying the team and almost singlehandedly demolishing the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the ALCS.

The hypocrisy is astounding and emanates from the entitlement the organization has come to believe is real. This returns to why the numbers are being retired and why A-Rod is still a Yankee: money.

If A-Rod is so despicable and they don’t want him around on or off the field, why is he still there? It’s a viable argument that they’re hoping that his hips and physical breakdown can possibly yield a full insurance payout if he tries to play in the spring and can’t. It’s highly unlikely that it will happen. Then the question turns to whether he’s worth the tornado of madness that he brings. Wouldn’t it be easier to just say enough’s enough and cut him, eat the money and move on? The money’s gone. He might have to lose a limb for the insurer to pay the contract, so they’re going to have to pay him. Let him be someone else’s problem.

But they can’t and won’t for the same reason that they’re retiring those numbers: fans are not going to come and see this team without Derek Jeter and a 2015 projection of, at best, mediocrity. So they’re looking to cut the payroll and recoup the lost money from an absence of postseason revenue and declining product sales with shtick like three separate days to honor these players and guarantee packed houses. They’re bringing A-Rod back not because they want him, but because fans will go and see the sideshow. Add in that they need some semblance of production from A-Rod because their lineup is so questionable and the aura of “class,” “dignity,” “pride,” and “doing the right thing” goes up in smoke.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise. This is par for the course with the new era, sans Boss Yankees. They’re smart enough to know what their motivation is and arrogant enough to deny it exists. They act as if they’re adhering to the past while selling everything, charging offensive prices and trying to be the Oakland Athletics without having a front office that can function that way. They’ll get what they deserve as they wallow in the muck and still won’t admit why they’re there. A-Rod will be right there with them not because he dragged them down as they’d like to portray, but because they were always there. They were just able to cover it up better than most and had a constituency ready and willing to promulgate the myth.

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MLB managers starting 2015 on the hotseat

MLB

It’s never too early to speculate on managers that might be in trouble sooner rather than later. Let’s look at who’s going to open the season on the hotseat.

John Gibbons – Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays have a weird contract structure in which Gibbons’s contract rolls over with an option kicking on on January 1st each year, therefore he’s never a lame duck.

Gibbons is a good tactical manager, but he’s never had any notable success. It can’t be said that he hasn’t had the talent in his second go-round as Blue Jays manager either as they’ve spent and brought in big names and All-Stars. Some aspects of the teamwide failure – such as injuries to the likes of Josh Johnson in 2013 – are not his fault. In fact, it’s hard to blame him for the failures of the team. Even with that, someone has to take the fall if the Blue Jays stumble again with the American League East as wide open as it’s been since the mid-1990s.

General manager Alex Anthopoulos has been reluctant to blame Gibbons or anyone else for the team’s struggles since they became aggressive with their spending. After an extended flirtation amid questionable tactics and circumstances with Baltimore Orioles GM Dan Duquette their first choice to replace Paul Beeston as CEO and Beeston remaining as team CEO for 2015, Anthopoulos might be swept up in a housecleaning of the front office and on-field staff if this season is another mediocre one in Toronto. It’s easier to change the front office and manager than it is to clear out veteran players with onerous contracts. If the Blue Jays are faltering early in the season, Anthopoulos will have to take steps to fix it with a new manager.

A.J. Hinch – Houston Astros

No, Hinch isn’t on the hotseat because the current front office might fire him if the Astros get off to a bad start, but he’s on the hotseat because the front office might be on the hotseat if the Astros get off to a bad start.

Owner Jim Crane has high – you could even say ludicrous – expectations for this season believing they’re going to make a playoff run. He’s shown unwavering support to GM Jeff Luhnow and his blueprint, but the weight of Luhnow’s gaffes are becoming too heavy to ignore. If it’s late August and the Astros are again mired in last place in a very difficult AL West and the young players upon whom they’re banking their collective futures experience the often inevitable struggles young players experience, then the groundswell for wholesale changes will be too much for Crane to ignore. If Crane fires everyone in favor of Nolan Ryan, then no one, including the new manager, stat guy darling Hinch, will be safe.

Terry Collins – New York Mets

The Mets are expecting to contend this season and Collins is on the last year of his contract. The argument could be made that he’s served his purpose of steering the ship as best he could while the team rebuilt and waited for long-term contracts of useless veterans to expire. It’s not unusual for teams to have a competent, veteran caretaker manager who runs the club through the tough years and then bring in someone else when the front office believes they’re ready to win.

Collins will get the beginning of the season to see if they win under his stewardship. He’s earned that after playing the good soldier and keeping things in line for four years. However, if the team is off to a 9-15 start and there are calls for someone’s head before the season spirals out of control, Collins will be gone.

Mike Redmond – Miami Marlins

Just looking at owner Jeffrey Loria’s Steinbrennerean history with his managers is enough to say that even a successful manager shouldn’t feel too comfortable with his job status. He’s had seven different managers since he took over the team in 2002 and hired Jack McKeon twice. He fires people for a multitude of reasons and won’t hesitate before doing it again. When his teams have expectations, he’s got an even quicker trigger finger. Some believe that the Marlins are set to be legitimate contenders in 2015 putting Redmond in the position of being the obvious target if they get off to a poor start.

At the end of the 2014 season, Redmond signed an extension through 2017, but so what? Loria is still paying Ozzie Guillen for 2015. He’ll fire anyone regardless of contract status. Presumably, he won’t hire the 84-year-old McKeon to replace Redmond, but he’ll find someone to take the job and perhaps fire him at the end of the season too.

Ron Roenicke – Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers thought long and hard about it before deciding to bring Roenicke back for the 2015 season. They essentially collapsed over the second half of the 2014 season after a first half in which they were a surprise contender. That the team wasn’t particularly good to begin with and were playing over their heads when they achieved their heights in the first few months doesn’t matter. It’s the perception that the team faltered under Roenicke that could lead to a change. He’s got a contract option for 2016 and with the team set to struggle in 2015, he’ll be the scapegoat. He’s not a particularly good manager to begin with, so whomever they hire won’t have a tough act to follow.

Don Mattingly – Los Angeles Dodgers

It would look pretty stupid for the Dodgers to fire Mattingly after new team president Andrew Friedman ran from the idea of Joe Maddon taking over after Maddon opted out of his contract with the Tampa Bay Rays and went to the Chicago Cubs. Mattingly isn’t a particularly good manager, but the Dodgers failings in his tenure haven’t been his fault. They’re altering the way the team is put together and need a manager who will follow the stat-centered template they’re trying to implement. Having trained under Joe Torre and played under the likes of Billy Martin and Buck Showalter, it’s hard to see Mattingly willingly and blindly doing whatever the front office says in terms of strategy.

The Dodgers made some odd moves this winter and got worse instead of better. If they get off to a bad start, Mattingly could finally be shown the door for someone who’s more amenable to what Friedman was hired to create.

Bud Black – San Diego Padres

Amid ownership changes, general manager changes and constant flux in the way the ballclub has been constructed, the one constant with the Padres over the past eight years has been manager Bud Black. Black is lauded for his handling of pitchers and running the clubhouse. The media likes him. He’s terrible when it comes to formulating an offensive game plan and this Padres team, reconstructed under new GM A.J. Preller, will be as reliant on its offense as it will be on pitching. He has to actually manage the team this year and his strategies will be imperative to whether the team is an 80 win disappointment or an 86-90 win contender for a playoff spot. That’s not a small thing. Black has overseen two separate late-season collapses in 2007 and 2010 in which mistakes he made were significant influences to the Padres missing the playoffs.

Preller has been aggressive and unrepentant in getting rid of players that were present when he arrived and in whom he had no investment. Black falls into that category. Black is in the final year of his contract and in spite of his likability is hindered by his predecessor, lifelong Padres player and manager Bruce Bochy, having won three World Series titles with the rival San Francisco Giants.

He won’t have much time to show that he can run this sort of team and will be fired quickly if he can’t.

Hannah_Davis_(model)

Sports Illustrated Cover Minx

Media

The 2015 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue with the risqué image of model Hannah Davis on the cover might have been the closest her supposed boyfriend Derek Jeter has come to seeing her naked.

But that’s another cover story.

This story isn’t a story, but a controversy about how far a falling entity like Sports Illustrated has to go to keep itself relevant. Showing supermodels in minuscule bikinis or covering up their breasts with their arms as they wear a skimpy thong was once enough to keep the public purchasing the magazine and ordering subscriptions. But the nature in which sports news is disseminated in real time and the availability of images of any model, actress, singer or famous person who’s famous for nothing other than being famous wearing almost nothing has rendered the Swimsuit Issue as a minor distraction for a day or two and nothing more. Because of that reality, they have to garner attention somehow.

Destined to disappear into irrelevancy, the magazine has gone from having actual editors and photographers determine which model should be on the cover based on aesthetics to focus groups, market researchers, webhits, search engines and pop culture predicating who’s placed on the cover. That’s how Kate Upton wound up as the “rising star” in 2012 and 2013 when, in years past, she wouldn’t even have been one of the models at all, let alone the one getting the cover shot. That’s nothing against Upton, but she’s not a prototypical model in that she’s not skinny; she’s pretty in the “hot co-ed” way and not in the SI, Victoria’s Secret way; and she hasn’t exactly done anything other than accrue fame from a few heavily viewed YouTube clips and by some talentless acting.

So now there’s Davis on the cover because there’s an interest in her supposed boyfriend and that she’s almost showing her vagina. Is this worthy of the shock and outrage or should it be accepted for what it is: a faltering magazine with declining circulation using an ancient business model trying to grasp at its final vestiges of salability with nudity euphemistically covered by the validation of being SI and not Playboy, Penthouse or Hustler? The models who pose in SI wouldn’t willingly appear in Penthouse or Hustler; they might go to Playboy if their careers are spiraling to the point where they need that boost, but it’s acceptable to pose nearly naked in SI as a form of art, visibility, class and self-promotion rather than be affiliated with the sordid image of the other skin magazines.

Today if you’d like to see naked images of Kate Upton, Jennifer Lawrence, Angelina Jolie and any famous woman you can think of, you need only perform a websearch and you’ll find what you want. The SI Swimsuit Issue is no longer an event due to that ease of availability and the saturation of skin that is prevalent in today’s world. That won’t change. In fact, it’s going to get worse. SI, out of necessity, is getting worse too.

What SI will do to combat this is squeeze every ounce of sales and promotion from the Swimsuit Issue by doing what its done in the last few years by pushing envelopes and bowing to expediency with Jeter’s “girlfriend” Davis and non-prototypical-SI models like Upton. Don’t be surprised to see two lesbian supermodels – recently married – canoodling on a cover in the next few years and coming close to being portrayed in images in the interior of the magazine similar to what got Larry Flynt thrown into jail and shot almost four decades ago.

Eventually SI will stop printing a regular issue altogether because it’s simply not financially viable or practical to have sports news and analysis presented on a Friday when the stories were told and forgotten about by Tuesday. They might keep up with the Swimsuit Issue for a few years after the print edition of the magazine is ceased, but that too will disappear because there’s no novelty in it anymore and short of going the truly extreme route, there’s not much they can do to enliven it after pushing beyond the boundaries they’ve already entered to try and save the dying franchise.

666px-Brian_Cashman_by_Keith_Allison

The Yankees’ strategies are justified and destructive at the same time

MLB

The New York Yankees signing Kyle Davies in the same week they passed on James Shields shows just how far they’ve come from the days in which every high-priced free agent could go to the Yankees to either use them as a bargaining tool or get the highest bid to come to New York.

While they were finally serious when they said they were opting for fiscal sanity and an actual plan they would adhere to, the dichotomy between the players they signed then and now is more than a simple matter of looking at their strategies of the past and present and accepting them at face value. If ever there was a simultaneously practical and atmospheric change in the way the Yankees do business, it’s now. Although the current landscape dictates that they had to do something different and the adjustments they’re making are justified, that doesn’t mean the new plan and holding true to it will revert the team back to the one it was in the 1990s and early-2000s. Similar to the change the team had to make from the way they built their clubs from 1920 to 1965 to the era of drafts and free agency, it might take some time and more than a little luck to return to contention, let along dominance. Back then, it took a decade. It took 15 years for them to get back after the Yankees of Reggie Jackson, Graig Nettles, Ron Guidry and Goose Gossage ran its course.

Five years ago – even one year ago – is there any doubt that at least two to three of the big name free agents or available names on the trade market would somehow, some way have ended up with the Yankees? Draft picks and prospects be damned, they would have taken on the entire contract of Troy Tulowitzki; signed Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and/or Shields; and tried to trade for Chase Utley and Cole Hamels. While these deals were destined to create splashy headlines, sell season tickets and placate a spoiled fan base, history has proven that they would not, under any circumstances, have guaranteed a championship. After last year, it became clear to the Yankees that it wouldn’t have been enough to guarantee a playoff spot. In fact, they weren’t even legitimate contenders in 2014 for any reason other than the parity permeating baseball and that they overachieved thanks to the yeoman work done by manager Joe Girardi.

They’re changing their tactics, but not in the old way. George Steinbrenner used to come up with various plans of attack and abandon them, firing everyone in sight, if they didn’t yield immediate dividends. That strategy worked in the late 1970s to the very early part of the 1980s and then it stopped working as other teams wised up and adapted. The Yankees were no longer a trendy destination as they discovered the money and lore of the pinstripes couldn’t mitigate a poorly run, bad team with a terrible reputation. As the Yankees empire collapsed in the late-1980s, it was only Steinbrenner’s second suspension from baseball that allowed general manager Gene Michael to rebuild the club from the bottom up drafting, signing and developing the likes of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams and Andy Pettitte. He sprinkled in players who fit into what he and Buck Showalter were trying to build with power and on-base skills combined with fiery competitiveness.

After the team had been rebuilt and the foundation was in place, they were able to flex their financial might to surround their young core with established veterans. As the years passed, the developmental train stopped and they became a star-studded entity that was more interested in signing the biggest names on the market in lieu of finding players who fit into the template. They were beyond fortunate in the longevity and health of that core group and that, more than money, was why they maintained contention and didn’t fade.

Now they’re all gone without major league-ready replacements, so they’re resorting to patching and rebooting. To make matters worse, the Andrew McCutchen-type, in-his-prime star player who would have ended up with the Yankees because of finances is choosing to sign a contract extension to stay with his current club, the Pittsburgh Pirates. No longer are teams like the Pirates the equivalent of a big league farm team for the Yankees. The new economics in baseball with cash-cow ballparks, revenue sharing and lucrative television deals has given many clubs the money to sign their players instead of trading them away. New statistics, analytical evolution and implementation has also minimized the financial advantage the Yankees had as teams find players for a fraction of the cost the Yankees are paying the likes of washouts like Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran for the same, if not better, production.

The Yankees have set about either planting new seeds or replacing them with recognizable names. They tried the latter in the past several seasons as one star player after another departed and it failed. Now they’re in the midst of repeating what Michael did and shunning the big name free agents that George Steinbrenner coveted to players who are cheaper, fill needs and, perhaps most importantly, don’t cost them picks in the amateur draft – an area that was neglected for far too long.

While it’s laudable and, again, justified that they’ve closed the vault, it’s not because of an understanding of how the game must be played today to build a consistent winner, but because Hal Steinbrenner looks at teams like the Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays and Pirates and wonders why he has to spend $220 million a year to field a competitive team while those clubs are hindered by payroll constraints and revenue streams that, combined, probably don’t match those of the Yankees and they’re consistently better. He’s not changing because he’s finally convinced that the use of new metrics, development and wiser spending instead of lavish buying sprees are better. It’s because he doesn’t want to spend the money anymore and that’s something that never would have happened with his father.

What should disturb Yankees fans and leave them more concerned than ever as to where this club is heading isn’t simply that Hal Steinbrenner is not authorizing the spending he did a year ago, but that general manager Brian Cashman is trying to mimic Michael not because he’s his mentor and not because the Michael methods worked, but because Cashman wants to receive credit for being more than a checkbook GM. In a New York Daily News column, Bill Madden said as much with the following:

Cashman, who has always privately detested being viewed as nothing more than a checkbook GM, took pains this winter to eschew the big-ticket free agents like Scherzer, Pablo Sandoval and even James Shields and set about remaking the Yankees in his own image.

Career fulfillment and pride in one’s accomplishments are fine as long as they’re not getting in the way of doing one’s job. Since baseball is now being seen as a business and not a fun diversion for the ultra-rich, it has to be placed into that context. Does the day-to-day boss of IBM have the right to care if his way was the successful one when there are shareholders making demands? Or is he or she supposed to run the business in a successful fashion with ego shunted off to the side?

If Cashman is seeking credit at the same time he’s trying to build a winner, don’t you see the clash between how he’s going to put the team together and what is needed? Who really cares what Cashman detests and doesn’t? The business model for each team is different and the Yankees’ financial strength is one of the main reasons they’ve won as much as they have in their history. Why walk away from that because of selfish desires?

Cashman was hired and retained to run the Yankees, not bolster his resume and compensate for the perceptions he sees as sullying a self-crafted image of a builder on a level with the people who are considered “top” GMs and organizational architects. He’s never been known as a GM whose talent recognition skills and player assessments have been noteworthy unless he’s buying the CC Sabathia-type – the star in his prime. Why would anyone believe he can become something other than what he’s been for almost two decades as a GM?

In truth, there’s nothing wrong with running a team with the checkbook. When an individual’s ego becomes involved with how the job is done, that’s the real problem. It’s not the strategy. On some level, he too is justified in saying that what worked before with spend-spend-spend isn’t working, but that doesn’t mean the hoarding of draft picks, new focus on saving money and avoiding the big ticket items is going to work.

That, more than anything else, should be what concerns Yankees fans as they go dumpster diving for Davies, Scott Baker and other “why not?” signings that were once non-roster invitees who would catch a brief glimpse of Jeter, Rivera, Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina in the spring training clubhouse before receding into oblivion. Now they’re actually hoping these players can contribute.

This new strategy is reminiscent of 1982 and 1989 rather than 1993. The reasoning behind it, the architects and the implementation are the problems. Unless those factors change, the Yankees are in danger of plunging to depths that the most arrogant and spoiled fans, media members and even club officials could never have envisioned.

473px-James_Shields_on_July_26,_2012

James Shields choosing San Diego over Miami wasn’t only about being close to home

MLB

Even if the Miami Marlins had the highest offer on the table for James Shields – something that has been speculated – and he chose to pitch closer to home in San Diego for the Padres for slightly less money, it’s highly likely that it wasn’t his home base that was the biggest aspect in his decision. The Marlins’ offer, if it was indeed higher, would also have been even more lucrative given the lack of state income tax in Florida.

Shields undoubtedly preferred to pitch closer to home. But after money is considered, he also might have wanted to pitch for a team that is more likely to tell him the truth when it comes to the contract negotiations. History has shown how useless any verbal promises the Marlins make are. At his age and at this stage in his career, it was worth it for him to believe that he wouldn’t be traded away after the first year or year-and-a-half of the contract.

The Padres also have something of a history of spending and then cleaning house of all big contracts when the profits or attendance figures didn’t meet their expectations, but that was under previous owners Tom Werner and John Moores. With the Marlins, it’s the same double-dealing, ruthless businessman Jeffrey Loria who’s running the franchise. No matter what he says, no player can believe him. Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle said outright that he lied to their faces as they signed with the Marlins after the 2011 season and did so without the benefit of a no-trade clause in their contract. The Marlins claim that they, as a club policy, don’t give no-trade clauses. When a team says that and they buttresses it with a illusory “promise,” a savvy businessman will be more keenly aware of the ramifications of going back on it than a naïve player will be. After going back on his word, the owner can shrug and point to the contract while the player laments, “But, but, I was promised…” as if it matters.

Some don’t care where they wind up as long as they’re getting paid. Some, usually veterans with options, don’t want to sign for four years to play in Miami and then find themselves traded to oh, I dunno…Toronto? after the first season or sooner. And that’s the danger with signing for Loria’s team. As a businessman, he’s brilliant. He’s tricked everyone at various times, taken revenue sharing money that was meant for the players and pocketed it, hoodwinked the state political apparatus into essentially giving him a new ballpark, and committed numerous acts of trickery to get what he wants with no apologies and no regrets.

No matter his profit margin, that doesn’t alter the fact that his reputation in baseball is one in which everyone – players, agents, general mangers, owners and the commissioner’s office – thinks he might be blatantly lying to their faces no matter what he says. This is why the talk that the Marlins are one of the up-and-coming teams in baseball has to be taken with a significant amount of hesitation. They’ve been aggressive in trying to improve, but they’ve done that before and gutted the place when there weren’t immediate dividends on the field and off. This is why the smart bets for the first manager fired should be Marlins manager Mike Redmond. This is why prognosticators picking the Marlins as the flavor of 2015 need to step back and look at the club’s history before anointing them. That’s why players and their agents don’t want to go there if they have a choice. Shields had a choice and went to San Diego.

Richie_Incognito

After a disastrous year for the NFL, Incognito’s acts now seem harmless

NFL

After a season in which its player conduct policy, disciplinary procedures and overall management scheme was called into justifiable question, the NFL is undoubtedly happy to have one of the most trying campaigns in recent memory over and done with.

Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy and Ray McDonald were just a few of the names that found themselves in the headlines for something other than a touchdown, an interception, a sack or a moment on the field. The Super Bowl had its own series of issues with the New England Patriots spending much of the ramp up to the game defending themselves against still-unresolved accusations that they intentionally deflated footballs during the AFC Championship Game; Marshawn Lynch refusing to say anything other than, “I’m just here so I don’t get fined”; the Seattle Seahawks unprofessional and borderline repulsive behavior during the game itself and as they threw an embarrassing teamwide tantrum after they lost; and the aftermath of the game in which three separate players who weren’t involved in the Super Bowl – Joseph RandleD’Qwell Jackson and Letroy Guion – were arrested on a variety of offenses that only added to the league’s woes.

The series of embarrassments that the league and commissioner Roger Goodell had to endure and are still in the process of navigating have obscured what had been a “major” controversy that drew worldwide attention and commentary in 2013, former Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito and the accusations of bullying teammate Jonathan Martin to the point that Martin up and left the team. In hindsight, everything that happened since has minimized the Incognito-Martin episode, accusations and complaints into what Incognito and many others portrayed it to be: athletes who took locker room horseplay and went too far with it to the point where Martin quit and Incognito was essentially fired from the team and blackballed from the NFL for an unofficial yearlong suspension.

Incognito’s behavior, while misanthropic and destructive to both himself and his team, was nothing compared to what’s happened with a troubling number of players since. It certainly wasn’t enough for him to have to sit out an entire season while he could still contribute somewhere. Several teams considered signing him, but none did making it a clear question as to whether there was a whisper campaign against him.

For a player like Incognito to return to the league, he needed one of two things: a no-nonsense coach who would put him on notice that he had one strike to play with and if he misbehaved in any way, he’d be gone; or a coach who he’d respect and would be freewheeling enough to make clear to Incognito that there was a certain standard of behavior even when it came to off-field goofing around and if that was violated, he’d be gone.

With the news that Incognito is close to signing with the Buffalo Bills, he’s getting the latter in Rex Ryan. While in Miami, head coach Joe Philbin put forth the impression of the substitute teacher so worried about keeping his job and intimidated by the possibility that the players would simply ignore him if he cracked down that it was easier to look the other way. Ryan is so worshiped by his players that if he’s betrayed, it could be seen as a hurtful affront to the trust he’s placed in those under his charge to protect him as he protects them.

In the linked article detailing the Bills’ pending signing of Incognito, it’s mentioned that Ryan, when speaking at his introductory press conference as the new head coach, said that he was going to “build a bully.” Obviously, that was a poor choice of words given the negative connotations with bullying today and that the league has been trying to put a damper on the hazing that was once an ingrained rite of passage for new players in the league. He certainly didn’t sign Incognito with the idea that he wanted people who had reputations as bullies.

Incognito did some stupid things while he was with the Dolphins and his reputation prior to that was terrible. Now that he’s getting his second chance and playing for a coach who will allow a wide range of personalities on his team to be themselves, he won’t want to blow that with similar acts that got him tossed from the Dolphins and the rest of football for a full season-and-a-half. Considering what’s happened to the league, its players and its commissioner in the time since Incognito was a household name for all the wrong reasons, it’s nothing and he deserves another chance without having to apologize anymore.