MLB Hot Seat – Brian Cashman, Yankees

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Manager Joe Girardi’s contract expires at the end of the season, but if he leaves it will be of his own choosing. There will be an abundance of managerial jobs potentially opening up and all would be appealing to Girardi. The Nationals, Angels, Tigers, Blue Jays, Royals, White Sox and Mariners all have positive aspects. The overwhelming likelihood is that the Yankees will give Girardi a lucrative three-year contract extension no matter who the general manager is. And that’s the question: is Brian Cashman safe? Do the Steinbrenners and Randy Levine want to keep him and does he want to stay?

There is circumstantial evidence that the answer is no on both counts. Hal Steinbrenner’s convening of an organization staff meeting is a signal that ownership is displeased with how Cashman has run the minor league system. Since wresting control of the baseball operations from the Tampa faction in 2005, his strategy for procuring and developing talent has been found wanting in theory and practice. They haven’t developed anyone to the maximum since Cashman took command and now that the club is cutting back on payroll, it’s turning into a problem that can’t be solved by buying their way out of it. When they were able to just spend to cover holes, it wasn’t as much of an issue.

Beginning from the time the Yankees whiffed on Cliff Lee, players are increasingly choosing other venues as free agents. First it was the big names like Lee that shunned the Yankees, then it turned into the Nate Schierholtz, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez-type player. If a club limits its spending and doesn’t have young prospects to use for themselves or trade, they’re going to have a trouble competing. That falls on the general manager.

Another issue for Cashman is the clear chasm between him and ownership. The acquisition of Alfonso Soriano was the second time the GM was overruled by ownership in acquiring a player with the surname of Soriano. Cashman openly disagreed with ownership’s decision to sign Rafael Soriano. In both cases, the deals wound up helping the Yankees.

Before getting into his newfound mouthiness (cursing at Alex Rodriguez; telling Derek Jeter to shop his offer around) and embarrassing peccadillos, his actual baseball work warrants a dismissal. From the viewpoint of ownership, it’s perfectly understandable that they look at the Rays and Athletics, see how they’re able to succeed spending in three and four years what the Yankees spend in one, and place scrutiny on their general manager.

With the newfound austerity, developmental failures and constant drama swirling around Cashman, do they feel comfortable going forward with him as their architect? Hal Steinbrenner is more cautious than his father was. There haven’t been any significant changes made under his watch—no threats to the manager, coaching changes or missives. While they’re patient, they’re not blind either. If the Yankees miss the playoffs this season, someone will be made to pay and the most logical target is Brian Cashman.




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MLB Hot Seat – Alex Anthopoulos, Blue Jays

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The Blue Jays have to make a series of decisions at the conclusion of this season and the first one will be what to do with general manager Alex Anthopoulos. For the first three years of his reign, he received a pass mostly because he wasn’t former GM J.P. Ricciardi. In what was considered a fresh start, the Blue Jays didn’t play much better under Anthopoulos than they did when Ricciardi was the GM. They were mostly mediocre and were never contenders. The focus seemed to be on stockpiling youngsters, staying relatively competitive at the big league level and waiting for the chance to bolster Jose Bautista and the other power bats.

After the 2012 season, a 73-89 disappointment, manager John Farrell was traded to the Red Sox to be their manager and the Blue Jays began a massive reconstruction by acquiring Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Emilio Bonifacio from the Marlins for a large chunk of their farm system. They then acquired reigning National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets for even more prospects and signed Melky Cabrera. Finally, Anthopoulos rehired the same manager who had run the team in the midst of Ricciardi’s tenure, John Gibbons. Needless to say, it hasn’t worked.

Anthopoulos runs the club without the outspokenness, bluster and controversy that seemed to follow Ricciardi around like the stink of a weekend bender, but he hasn’t had any more success than his former boss. In fact, the argument could be made that he’s done worse. Anthopoulos is a frenetic tinkerer who doesn’t seem to have a plan. They dealt with the Ricciardi hangover, built up the minor league system, hired and fired a couple of managers and decided to spend a lot of money to go all in for 2013. They’re in last place.

What now? They can make more trades, free agent signings and bring in another manager and different coaches, or they can fire Anthopoulos and let the new GM plot a course.

If the Blue Jays make a GM change, the call will be for Tony LaCava to get the job. Would it make sense to bring in another GM who worked under Ricciardi and Anthopoulos? The Blue Jays didn’t interview anyone when they elevated Anthopoulos to replace Ricciardi. Safe in the “anyone but Ricciardi” theory, they went with the next guy. They can’t do that again no matter how impressive LaCava is.

Some 35-year-old with a spreadsheet and a degree from MIT making grandiose proclamations isn’t going to fly again. It has to be a totally different approach from the past decade.

Once the question shifts from, “how do we take the next step?” to “what now?”, it’s over. Anthopoulos is on the hot seat because he’s the only one left to blame and there’s no other move the Blue Jays can make that combines the sense and simplicity as firing the general manager.




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Hal Steinbrenner Summons His Yankees Staff

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Hal Steinbrenner is thoughtful, calm and polite. He’s running the Yankees like a business and doing so without the rampant firings, missives and bluster that his father George Steinbrenner used to intimidate, bully and get what he thought were results. It’s the son’s demeanor that is probably even more intimidating to the gathered staff than anything his father ever did. The George Steinbrenner meetings were a regular occurrence with a red-faced Boss shouting, threatening and firing people only to calm down, feel badly about what he’d done and immediately rehire whomever he’d briefly fired. Hal’s different. If he makes changes, they’re made and that’s that.

The news that Hal convened a high-level meeting with his staff is a serious matter to the future of the Yankees’ baseball operations. It’s obviously not lost on him or any of the other Steinbrenners and Randy Levine that the baseball people led by general manager Brian Cashman have been trumpeting home-grown talent in recent years while producing very little of it. For all the talk that the Yankees were going to grow their own pitchers similarly to the Red Sox, Giants and Rays, the last starting pitcher drafted and developed by the Yankees who had sustained success as a Yankee is still Andy Pettitte. That’s twenty years ago.

A new storyline referenced repeatedly is that the Yankees intended to draft Mike Trout in 2009, but the Angels beat them to him. Are they looking for credit for players they wanted to draft four years ago after he’s become one of the best players in baseball?

The defense implying that the Yankees’ success caused them to only have late-round first round draft picks thereby reducing their ability to find top-tier players is weak as well. You can find players late in the first round and in the second and third rounds. The Yankees talk out of both sides of their mouths when they claim that Pettitte (22nd round), Jorge Posada (24th round), and Bernie Williams and Mariano Rivera (undrafted free agents) were due to the Yankees’ methods and then complain about their low draft status and inability to find players. It’s one or the other. Either there’s a Yankees “specialness” or they’re a victim of their own success.

They haven’t signed any impact free agents from Cuba, Japan, Taiwan, Venezuela or the Dominican Republic and their drafts have been failures in the early, middle and late rounds. Dustin Pedroia, Jordan Zimmerman, Giancarlo Stanton, Freddie Freeman, Chris Tillman, Trevor Cahill and Justin Masterson were all second round picks. You can find players if you’re savvy and give them an opportunity. The Yankees’ lack of patience with young players combined with the overhyping to suit a constituency and narrative has certainly played a part in the failures, but they’ve also made some horrific gaffes in evaluation and planning. They have yet to publicly acknowledge that Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova were all mishandled, nor have they indicated a willingness to alter their strategy in building pitchers.

With the military school training that he has, it’s no surprise that Hal—as Commander in Chief of the Yankees—is seeking answers as to why the club’s farm system is so destitute and few players have been produced to help the Yankees at the big league level as they downsize the payroll. If they’re not going to spend as much money on free agents, young players are a necessity to maintain some level of competitiveness. But they don’t have them to use for themselves to to trade for someone else’s more established star. The logical next step after this meeting is to start replacing some of his staff.

This recent hot streak aside, the overwhelming likelihood is that the Yankees will miss the playoffs in 2013. There will be the complaints that injuries were the main reason, but teams with $200 million payrolls really don’t have much of a leg to stand on when coming up with excuses. After the season is over, there will be a lament that “if the season had gone on a week longer” then the rest of baseball would’ve been in trouble; or that the way Rivera goes out with a declining, also-ran team is not befitting his greatness; and that the post-season “loses its luster” without the Yankees.

These are diversions and attempts to make the Yankees more important than they actually are.

No one, least of all Hal Steinbrenner, wants to hear it. He’s the boss now and he’s been patient. He’s justified in looking at the Yankees’ annual payrolls and wondering why, with a roster full of the highest salaried players in baseball for as long as anyone can remember, they’ve been rewarded with one championship since 2000. Why, with the money at their disposal and an ownership willing to green light just about anything to make the organization better, they haven’t been able to find young talent and nurture it to success. Why the Rays, Athletics and Cardinals among others have been able to win and develop simultaneously while spending a minuscule fraction of what the Yankees have spent. And why his GM so openly criticized the acquisition of Alfonso Soriano when Soriano has turned into a bolt from the sky in his return to pinstripes.

What this will do is embolden Hal, Levine and the rest of the Steinbrenners to believe that perhaps the implication of “baseball people” knowing more than anyone else might be a little overplayed.

This meeting is a precursor to a change in the structure of the baseball operations and with Cashman’s repeated public embarrassments, inability to hold his tongue and abject errors, he’s on the firing line. The Steinbrenners have been agreeable, loyal and tolerant to Cashman’s demands and decisions. With the details of this meeting strategically leaked, it looks like they’re greasing the skids to make a change. George Steinbrenner was more emotional than calculating and his meeting would have been eye-rolled and head shaken away as the ranting of a lunatic, quickly dismissed. Hal Steinbrenner isn’t like his father, but the result might be the same when the season ends and he’s not going to change his mind five minutes later.




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Congratulations Ichiro On Hit Number 4,000!! (Make Sure You Purchase Your Commemorative T-Shirt On The Grand Concourse)

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Just remember one thing when quantifying Ichiro Suzuki’s 4,000 combined hits in Japan and North America: Kei Igawa was considered a “star” pitcher in Japan with these gaudy numbers before joining the Yankees. Considering the fact that he was pitching for a powerhouse Yankees team in 2007 and 2008, Igawa could have been less than mediocre and, based on his attendance record, won 12 to 15 games. Instead, in 16 games, the Yankees got an evil 6.66 ERA for their $46 million.

This is not to decry Ichiro’s accomplishment, but how can we legitimately consider this to be worthy of all the attention it’s getting as something other than an attempt on the part of the Yankees to sell some T-shirts? It may not be as silly as my snide Twitter crack that we should calculate O.J. Simpson’s accumulated yards in the white Bronco chase and add them to his NFL rushing total, but it’s in the vicinity.

Because of his contact with an agent, Reggie Bush’s USC football records were wiped out, he surrendered his Heisman Trophy and USC’s wins in 2005 were vacated. Since he was benefiting from these relationships while in college, couldn’t it be argued that he was technically receiving remuneration for his work and was therefore a professional? Shouldn’t his college rushing yards be added to his NFL totals?

You see where I’m going here.

The argument with Ichiro is that he was such an accomplished hitter in the major leagues that he would have had a vast number of hits—probably coming close to 4,000 by now—if he’d spent his entire career in North America. I don’t doubt it. But we can’t give legitimate accolades for a record of this nature based on “probably would have” vs. “would have” and “did.”

If Babe Ruth had been a hitter for his entire career rather than spending his first five seasons with the Red Sox as a pitcher, how many home runs would he have hit? If Josh Gibson or Satchel Paige had been allowed to play in the majors rather than being relegated to the Negro Leagues, what could they have done? There are no answers.

Then we get into the Japan-North America comparison. Do Randy Bass’s 202 homers in Japan get added to his nine big league homers to make 211? Does he jump ahead of Kirby Puckett (207) and Roberto Alomar (210) on the career list?

With a clear stake in the perception of being the top hit-getter in baseball history, Pete Rose diminished Ichiro’s hit total as not being equal in difficulty to his. Any comment Rose made was probably done during a break in relentlessly signing bats, balls and other memorabilia to accrue cash, but he’s not wrong in scoffing at the concept that Ichiro’s 4,000 hits are in any way equivalent to his 4,256 hits. Although he’s banned from baseball and unable to receive Hall of Fame induction, Rose is the true hit king whether Ichiro “passes” him in the next couple of years or not.

The Yankees’ celebration of the achievement was relatively muted compared to what they’ve done for such occurrences in the past. They’ve retired numbers they shouldn’t have retired (Reggie Jackson, Billy Martin, Roger Maris) and created “history” out of thin air even if it isn’t actual history in any way other than to suit the narrative. Michael Kay didn’t have a long-winded and poorly written moment-infringing speech prepared similar to the pablum he recited when Derek Jeter collected his 3,000th hit. The Yankees came out of the dugout to congratulate Ichiro and there will probably be a small ceremony at some point (to go along with the T-shirts), but Ichiro had 2,533 of his hits with the Mariners. His Yankees numbers are those of a fading veteran hanging on and collecting more numbers.

It was handled professionally and appropriately by the Yankees. The problem with this is the idea that there’s a connection between what Ichiro did in Japan and in the majors. There’s not unless you want to start going down that slide to count everything any player has ever done anywhere as part of his “professional” resume. That slide leads back to Igawa. He was a horrible pitcher for the Yankees who didn’t belong in the big leagues and was a star in Japan. For every Yu Darvish, how many pitchers are there like Igawa in Japan against whom Ichiro was getting his hits? Probably a lot. And that means the 4,000 hits is just a number that’s being lost in translation from Japanese to English. It’s an impressive number in context, but a number nonetheless.




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Ryan Dempster Is Your Self-Anointed Sheriff

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The swinging doors of the Fenway saloon burst open. A shadowy figure with a scruffy beard and unruly hair slowly ambled in. He surveyed the gathered imbibers and stated with certainty in his voice and the twinge of a Canadian accent, “There’s a new sheriff in town. And his name’s Ryan Dempster.”

The patrons paused for a moment…then burst out laughing.

Let’s get past the stupidity of Dempster for declaring himself as the judge, jury and executioner of Alex Rodriguez for whatever it was that A-Rod did. Initially it was believed that Dempster threw at A-Rod for his PED use and swirling controversies including allegations that he’s also an informer, but it was revealed in this Yahoo piece that Dempster apparently threw at A-Rod because A-Rod had snubbed him.

Yes, we’re back in the eighth grade and cool kid A-Rod wouldn’t let Dempster play first base in punchball.

The Red Sox fans gave Dempster a loud ovation when he was removed after a performance in which he:

  • Handed a Red Sox lead back to the Yankees in large part because he hit A-Rod.
  • Had A-Rod shove his face in the sandbox with a tape measure home run later in the game.
  • Allowed seven earned runs and nine hits in 5 1/3 innings.

There’s a cost for frontier justice and if it was necessary for the good of the entire community, then there’s a justification for it regardless of the consequences. But business comes first. Will the Red Sox fans think it was worthy of a loud ovation if their team winds up losing the AL East to the Rays by this one game that they could have won had Dempster done his job instead?

“At least we got A-Rod,” is not a suitable gap-filler for a missed playoff spot or division title. The days in which it doesn’t matter whether a team makes the playoffs as a division winner or a Wild Card team are over. I don’t agree with the stat guy assertion (excuse) that the playoffs are a “crapshoot” when it comes to a five or seven game series. However, a one-game playoff as is in place for the Wild Card winners is the ultimate in crapshoots. It can take one great pitching performance, one play, one bad pitch, one home run, one error to send a team home. Was it worth it for Dempster to show A-Rod not to “snub” him? Or not to use PEDs and lie? Or for whatever idiotic reason Dempster decided to do what he did?

Perhaps Dempster was of the opinion that he was bulletproof. “Everyone hates A-Rod and no matter what the reason, selfish or not, I’ll be given a pass.” It was a ridiculous thing to do on all counts. Forgetting about the division race for the Red Sox, this was a two game swing for the Yankees as well. Had the Red Sox won, the Yankees would’ve been 9 1/2 games out of first place and essentially done in the division. They also would have been eight games behind the Rays and Athletics in the Wild Card race. Now the division deficit is 7 1/2 and six in the Wild Card standings. It’s going to be hard for the Yankees to come back considering all the teams they have to jump over, the difficulty of schedule, their age and current struggles on and off the field, but it’s doable.

Dempster made A-Rod into a sympathetic figure at least for a moment; probably got a large faction of his organization mad at him; let the Yankees out of the noose because he decided to play the clumsy assassin himself; and put his own team’s playoff prospects in jeopardy. Managing to combine all these factors into one giant lump of brainless absurdity is an unusual accomplishment on the part of Dempster. If I were the Red Sox, I’d fine him a significant amount of money and move him to the bullpen when he gets back. This was an important game and and he had his own ego on his mind in lieu of the state of the team.

The only salvation the Red Sox have in Dempster’s likely and well-deserved suspension is that he’s been mostly awful and another pitcher taking his spot will be a step up from what he’s given them all season long. And last night he made it worse.




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A-Rod the Trophy Wife and Robinson Cano

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Like most trophy marriages, Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees is comparable to a Hollywood union that wound up in marriage counseling with one side wanting a divorce and the other wanting a substantial payoff to leave. To make matters worse, there’s tantamount to a conviction hanging over the head of one of the participants and financial issues hovering around the other. It’s getting worse and worse with each passing day with no end in sight. There’s no point in analyzing the contretemps and accusations because by the time you read this, there will have been five more statements from each side to outdate the latest war of words.

The Yankees can’t say that after they traded for A-Rod, they didn’t get on-field production. If it was ten years ago and A-Rod was an MVP-contender, the team would be far more willing to stand behind him regardless of what he’s been accused of doing. They owe him $86 million from 2014 through 2017 and don’t want to pay him because he’s an average player at best.

It’s typical that the sides in such a marriage enjoyed a honeymoon of several years when all was good and wonderful. A-Rod began to show his age and underlying problems that the Yankees either glossed over or ignored as long as he was hitting 35+ homers a year. When he opted out of his contract after the 2007 season, it was right after his second MVP season in three years in pinstripes. He’d kept his hotness that attracted the Yankees to him. Factions in the Yankees organization, notably general manager Brian Cashman, wanted to let him leave. Hank Steinbrenner stepped in and lavished a new $275 million contract to keep the marriage together with money. In spite of the idea that the contract was a disaster from the start, A-Rod hit 30+ homers in the first three years of the deal. Then the injuries and controversies began in earnest and he stopped being productive.

This is how these types of marriages end. To avoid a repeat, the Yankees have to examine what made them get into bed with A-Rod in the first place. They and other clubs need to think critically about such a bow to expediency for his star power and ability to put fans in the seats. With A-Rod, they became the Yankees as an entity rather than a cohesive team.

The Yankees teams from 1996 through 2003 were a group that knew and trusted one another. There was a definition of purpose with the club. And that’s with having begun the process of bringing in mercenaries and nuisances like Roger Clemens and David Wells. With A-Rod, they made the conscious decision to bring his sideshow and contract with him. They collected stars instead of getting players that fit on and off the field. That can work as long as there isn’t an albatross of a contract hanging over the team’s head in the latter years of the deal. Had A-Rod not had this PED nightmare of his own doing, the Yankees would have bitten the bullet, dealt with his age-related decline and injury and lived with what he could provide, waiting out its (and his) expiration. Now they just want him gone and they don’t want to pay him. In essence, they’re trying to break the agreement that came with the marriage. While they couldn’t have predicted it would degenerate into this, they had to know that eventually they’d be paying him for what he was a decade earlier.

This directly ties into their current construction of the club and what they’re going to do about Robinson Cano.

Cano’s lack of hustle is getting to the point where he’s not going to bother running on a ground ball at all; he’s simply going to walk back to the dugout as if he’d just struck out. In reality, there’s no difference between the two because with his current effort, if the infielder bobbles or outright muffs a grounder, Cano will still be out by five steps. The combination of the A-Rod mess, the $200+ million contracts that are already disastrous (Albert Pujols), Cano’s age and burgeoning laziness could spur the Yankees to decide that they’re not going to hamstring the franchise in the same way again just to placate the fans and media to keep an admittedly great player who wants an amount of money he cannot possibly live up to.

The Yankees set a line in the sand with Derek Jeter during his last free agent negotiations. They made their offer, Jeter was unhappy with it and they told him to see if he could do better elsewhere. With Jeter, they were safe in knowing he wasn’t going to leave and the rest of baseball wasn’t going to bother pursuing him because they also knew he wouldn’t leave. Cano isn’t Jeter and another team would pursue him if there was an opening. But the situation is similar in that few other teams have the capability and willingness to give Cano $200+ million. The Dodgers are the only ones that come to mind who could and they might shy away from the pursuit.

The Cardinals wound up looking completely innocent and retrospectively brilliant by letting Pujols leave when no one thought he would. That they had just won the World Series gave them some wiggle room, but in the end Pujols chased the money and the Cardinals hid behind their own financial circumstances to justify him departing. The combination of circumstances with the Yankees is different, but their own issues could result in Cano leaving as well. It’s either that or take the amount of money the Yankees offer to stay even if it’s far below what he clearly wants. It will be an amount of money that no one could ever spend. Whether Cano’s ego can deal with not surpassing that magic number of $200 million is the question. But he might not have much of a choice and A-Rod could be held, in part, responsible for that too.




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Why Is Ned Colletti’s Work With The Dodgers Forgotten?

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It’s to be expected that because Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti doesn’t fit today’s profile of what a GM is “supposed” to be, he won’t get any credit for the Dodgers’ blazing hot streak that has them suddenly declared World Series favorites. This is the same team that was on the verge of firing manager Don Mattingly in June and were hurtling toward a financial and on-field disaster. The easiest thing to do is to point to the club’s $220+ million payroll as a reason why they’re now in first place. Although the club’s turnaround has been due in part to their high-priced players Hanley Ramirez, Zack Greinke, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, they’ve really been helped along by homegrown or found talent Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, Hyun-jin Ryu and Yasiel Puig.

Puig is the big one because it was his recall that was seen as the catalyst and it was the decried decisions to pay big money for Ryu and Puig that are now paying significant dividends. Yet Colletti is an afterthought. If it was Billy Beane making these decisions, he would’ve been touted as a forward-thinking “genius” even while the team was struggling. Where are Colletti’s accolades?

The Puig signing was considered “puzzling.” The Ryu signing “foolish.” The Dodgers were torched for absorbing all those salaries from the Red Sox; for trading for Ramirez and moving him back to shortstop; for keeping Mattingly. Yet no one looks at the facts surrounding Colletti’s regime and that he’s dealt with circumstances that were nearly impossible to manage without the flexibility that comes from having spent a life in baseball in a variety of jobs and working his way up from public relations to the GM’s chair.

Having dealt with Frank McCourt’s circus and making the playoffs three times was enough to think that maybe he has an idea of how to run an organization. Now, amid all the talk of money, the fact is that the Dodgers turnaround was based on not blaming the manager for things he couldn’t control and a group of  players that Colletti’s staff selected.

With all the trades the Dodgers have made for veterans over the Colletti years, how many young players have they given up that are eliciting regret? Carlos Santana? He’s a good hitter, weak defensive catcher and not someone who’s missed. Rubby De La Rosa? He has a great arm and is wild. It’s going to take time to harness his control and then time to work on his command. Allen Webster? He’s a back-of-the-rotation starter, maybe. Where are these players the Dodgers should still have? The ones Colletti’s overaggressiveness cost them?

The convenient storyline is that Colletti doesn’t use the numbers as a be-all, end-all and therefore is a dinosaur that has to be euthanized through critical analysis from armchair experts. It’s when the team starts playing well that qualifications and silence are the responses. Coincidentally, Colletti was hired by the Dodgers after serving as an assistant to Giants GM Brian Sabean. Sabean saw his stellar work as the Giants’ GM diminished by the discovery of the “brains” behind the operation, Yeshayah Goldfarb. Also conveniently, few even knew who Goldfarb was before it became abundantly clear that the Giants two championships contradicted the narrative of stats, stats and more stats, so a “reason” was found for an old-schooler like Sabean to succeed. Except it doesn’t fit. It’s a plot device that fails. I’m expecting a similar type of clumsy, collateral attack against Colletti because the frontal attack is no longer working. Unfortunately, some people will buy it as the “truth.”

The Dodgers are lighting up the world and the person who should be given credit for it is the GM, but that’s not going to happen as long as there are these shrieking voices sitting in darkened rooms declaring how things “should” be and running away rather than admit they’re wrong and blow their cover.

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We Know What’s Wrong With The Nats, But How Can It Be Fixed?

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The Nationals were expected to dominate. Instead, the team that won 98 games in 2012 and seemingly improved over the winter is under .500, out of contention and facing a large number of changes this off-season. It’s not hard to diagnose what went wrong and here’s a brief synopsis:

  • Injuries

The Nationals lost Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Wilson Ramos and Ross Detwiler for extended periods.

  • Underperformance

Dan Haren was signed to shore up the back of the rotation and has been awful. Drew Storen is out of his element as a set-up man and wound up back in the minors. Denard Span has been a disappointment. And Danny Espinosa’s numbers (.158/.193/.272 split with a .465 OPS and 3 homers) are worse than those of Cubs’ pitcher Travis Wood (.267/.298/.489 split with a .787 OPS and 3 homers).

  • Bad approach/bad luck

The Nats are seventh in the National League in home runs and next-to-last in the league in runs scored. They’re twelfth in the league in walks and fourteenth in on-base percentage. In 2013, they’re thirteenth in the league with a BAbip of .282; in 2012, they were fourth at .308.

  • Poor defense

The Nats’ catchers have caught 13 percent of the runners trying to steal on them. Anthony Rendon is a third baseman playing second. Ryan Zimmerman is in a defensive funk that’s gone of for the better part of two years.

  • Dysfunction

Manager Davey Johnson has openly clashed with general manager Mike Rizzo. Tyler Clippard ripped the organization for their demotion of his friend Storen. The players appear to have thought they’d have a cakewalk to the playoffs given the hype and star power.

In short, the Nats have gone from an embarrassment of riches to a plain embarrassment. With 2013 essentially over and 2012 long gone in the rearview mirror, what do the Nats have to do to get back to where they were supposed to be? What should they do?

With Rizzo having received a promotion and contract extension, it’s his baby. The luck/design argument is irrelevant. The Nationals happened to be the worst team in baseball two years in a row when once-a-generation talents were sitting there waiting to be picked first overall in Harper and Stephen Strasburg. That’s no one’s fault and to no one’s credit. It just is. Rizzo put a solid team together, but there’s been a semblance of overkill with the signings of Haren and Rafael Soriano. Haren’s performance in 2013 is indicative that his decline that began last season with the Angels was not an aberration. Soriano has pitched well, but he was not really a necessity for the Nats. He was available, they didn’t trust Storen and preferred Clippard as the set-up man. In retrospect, both were mistakes.

The question of who the manager will be going forward is vital. Johnson bears a large portion of the responsibility for this team’s underachievement. As great as his record is and as much as the media loves him for his personality and candor, Johnson’s style was a significant reason the 1980s Mets failed to live up to their talent level. He doesn’t care about defense, he trusts his players far too much in preaching aggressiveness, and the festering anger over the 2012 Strasburg shutdown—that I’m sure Johnson thinks cost his team a World Series—has manifested itself in open warfare between the manager and GM. If Johnson weren’t retiring at season’s end, Rizzo likely would’ve fired him a month ago along with hitting coach Rick Eckstein, or Johnson would simply have quit.

Johnson’s positives (he wins a lot of regular season games) don’t eliminate his negatives (he’s insubordinate and his teams are fundamentally weak). Thirty years ago, Johnson was seen as a computer geek manager. Nowadays, he’s considered a dinosaur. In reality, Johnson is and always has been a gambler and an arrogant one at that. His attitude is that the team he’s managing needs him more than he needs it. He doesn’t want people telling him what to do and he’s never taken well to front office meddling. The Strasburg shutdown and firing of his hitting coach are two instances in which Johnson would like to tell the front office to take a hike and let him run the team his way. Rizzo had problems with Johnson and his predecessor Jim Riggleman. With the next hire, he’d better get someone younger and on the same page. That doesn’t mean he should hire a yes man, but someone who he can work with sans this lingering tension and open disagreements.

With the personnel, a lesson can be learned from the Big Red Machine Reds from 1971. In 1970, GM Bob Howsam and manager Sparky Anderson had built a monster. The Reds won 102 games and lost the World Series to the Orioles. Widely expected to repeat as NL champs, they fell to 79-83 in 1971. With cold-blooded analysis, Howsam realized that the Reds were missing the elements of leadership, speed, intensity and defense, Howsam traded 39-homer man Lee May and starting second baseman Tommy Helms with Jimmy Stewart to the Astros for Joe Morgan, Cesar Geronimo, Jack Billingham, Ed Armbrister and Denis Menke. The clubhouse was transformed and they were suddenly a faster team with Gold Glovers at second base and in center field. In fact, it was that decried move that spurred their run to greatness.

Rizzo needs to look at the team’s deficiencies in the same way that Howsam did and act decisively. If that means getting a defensively oriented catcher, trading Ian Desmond, Clippard and some other names that are supposedly part of the team’s “core,” then they have to explore it. If a team underachieves from what they were supposed to be, there’s nothing wrong with dropping a bomb in the clubhouse. In fact, it’s necessary in order to get back on track. With their youth and talent, the Nats can get back to where they were with the right managerial choice and a gutty trade or two.

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Michael Kay’s Barbie Versatility

Ballparks, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, World Series

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Barbie was such a popular and profitable doll because Mattel constantly came up with new accessories, venues and themes. Michael Kay is having a similar transformation, but it has more to do with trying to deal with the stages of grief that are accompanying the Yankees’ downfall than appealing to the masses. As always, the center of Kay’s universe is key. That center is Kay himself and his self-concocted connection to the Yankees’ unassailable greatness.

Let’s take a look at the different forms of Michael Kay that are manifesting themselves as he comes to grips with reality.

  • “Disappointed Dad” Michael Kay

Robinson Cano doesn’t hustle.

Were you aware of this?

It’s only become a problem recently because the team isn’t winning and a new object of anger must be found. Picking Cano is a bad idea. Cano’s lackadaisical baserunning isn’t going to abate because Kay and his booth cohorts suddenly realize that he runs at about 60 percent speed and rip him for it. Criticizing Cano for getting thrown out at second base on an attempted double as happened on Monday night and Kay noting that Brett Gardner hustles out of the batter’s box as a pointed fact/dirty look won’t help either. Cano doesn’t run hard and has no intention of running hard in spite of manager Joe Girardi’s subtle digs and fan complaints that are slowly reaching a climax.

You know what they’re going to do about it? Nothing. You know what Cano’s going to do? He’s going to take it easier over the final two months of the season.

While Kay went into a deranged and idiotic rant against the Mets when Jose Reyes bunted for a base hit and pulled himself from the final game of the season to clinch the 2011 batting title—ironically over Ryan Braun—Kay began his monologue on the subject with a “from day one” attack on the Mets as if they could do any more about Reyes’s decision than the Yankees can do about Cano. Reyes didn’t steal many bases over the second half of that season because he didn’t want to reinjure his hamstring and further reduce the amount of money he’d get on the open market. Reyes signed a contract worth $106 million, validating his behavior. Cano is looking for a contract for more than twice what Reyes got and will probably get it. With the Yankees going nowhere, he’s not going to risk injury so close to that dream’s fruition.

If Girardi, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, general manager Brian Cashman and any other prominent Yankee figure speaking to Cano about his lack of effort hasn’t done the trick, it’s disturbing that Kay is so egomaniacal that he thinks his commentaries and collateral shots will spur an epiphany in Cano at this late date. Kay folding his arms like Tom Bosley in Happy Days and shaking his head forlornly will be roundly ignored by a player like Cano, who clearly doesn’t care what anyone thinks about his effort or lack thereof.

Following Tuesday’s loss, Kay watched the Yankees file out of the dugout and said something to the tune of them having to “go into the clubhouse and think about it” as if they were naughty children being placed into time out. They’re not thinking about it. They lost. They know where the season is headed and are behaving accordingly. After the game, they went for drinks, dinner and whatever else players do to amuse themselves and are not listening to a scolding from Kay.

  • Memory lane Michael Kay

As the losses pile up, references to the decade-old glory days are appearing during YES telecasts. During the series in Chicago, Kay and John Flaherty spent an inordinate amount of time talking about the 2003 ALCS win over the Red Sox. We heard more talk about Aaron Boone than we’d heard in the past five years combined. Why? Is it because the current on-field product is so repugnant that all that’s left are memories?

This is similar to the dark times of Yankeedom from 1965 through 1975 and from 1979 to 1992 when the team was a dysfunctional, rudderless, horribly run non-contender. “Remember when” is considered the lowest form of conversation and, in this instance, nobody other than the sympathetically delusional Yankees fans and apologists want to talk about anything but the past because the present and future is so hellish that they’re trying to smother it out by reliving 2003. Incidentally, 2003 was a year in which the highlight was the ALCS win because they were upset in the World Series by the Marlins. Inconvenient facts are, well, inconvenient to the narrative of “historical greatness.” That historical greatness was backed up by luck and money. These are two things that are in short supply for the Yankees right now.

They could just as relevantly talk about Babe Ruth. The same amount of luck it took for the Yankees to purchase Ruth from the Red Sox is evident in the fortuitousness involved in the circumstances of a 22nd round draft pick Andy Pettitte; a 24th round draft pick (as an infielder) Jorge Posada; a pitcher they nearly traded in Mariano Rivera; a shy and quiet Bernie Williams; a retread managing loser like Joe Torre; and for owner George Steinbrenner to be suspended at just the right time to prevent them from trading all these young players for veterans and repeating the 1980s cycle to nowhere. It was so long ago that it might as well have happened 100 years ago rather than 20.

  • Bitter and jealous Michael Kay

This Kay changes to shades of green, carries a dull sickle and features a dino buddy (sold separately). During last night’s game—another loss to the last-place White Sox—Kay gave the out-of-town scores and when he got to the Mets, he spoke of Matt Harvey’s complete game shutout over the Rockies. Rather than say something positive like, “Wow, that Harvey’s something,” it became another backhanded compliment by pointing out that it’s amazing what Harvey’s doing for a Mets team that is nine games under .500. Leave it to Kay to take a Mets positive and pee on it in a pathetic attempt to mark a territory that’s no longer his.

It’s a time of panic for Kay and the other Yankees sycophants. Not only are the Red Sox turning around their own disastrous season from 2012 with a likely playoff spot, but the Mets are putting together the foundation for a contender led by a pitcher whose performance and mound demeanor are nearly identical to Roger Clemens in 1986. The Mets—the METS!!!—have attributes the Yankees don’t. They have significant young players contributing with more on the cusp of the big leagues and they have money to spend this off-season. Having to accept these facts will take time and the snippiness will grow worse as he travels the road of denial.

  • Osmosis cool Michael Kay

Dress it in bellbottoms, sort of behind the times but with a “what’s the difference?” shrug.

Kay is the epitome of the guy who shows up at the party without anyone knowing who invited him or how he gained entry. Why is he on the YES Network? Because he roots for the Yankees. One of the reasons I didn’t want him replaced when his contract was up and his return was in question was that YES was likely to find someone worse, so it’s better to stay with the devil you know. Why is he on ESPN in New York? The station wants to attract Yankees fans who are looking for even more homerism than they get from Mike Francesa. He’s the guy who couldn’t play but managed to find a job in which he gets to hang around with the cool kids like Jeter and, through osmosis, hopes that some of their cool becomes part of him. Instead, he’s just a gadfly and hanger-on like a part of the entourage whose presence wouldn’t be missed.

  • Mouthless Michael Kay

Nobody wants to hear it. Nobody wants to hear the caveats, preceded by “I’m not using this as an excuse” despite the fact that the mere use of the phrase says, “Yes, I’m using this as an excuse” when talking about injuries and age and whatever other reason for this mess is proffered. The same logic that was used when the team was riding high in April and May fits now, except in the wrong direction. They were winning with the likes of Vernon Wells contributing mightily. Now they’re losing because Wells fell back into being the player he was for the past three years. It wasn’t “Yankee Magic.” It was a brief renaissance that couldn’t possibly continue. It has nothing to do with the “rich tapestry of history.” It has to do with a short run of good luck that ran out. You can’t say how great Wells and Lyle Overbay were early in the season and trash them now. It doesn’t work that way.

They don’t have the money to spend to buy their way out of their issues, don’t have the young players to trade for immediate help, and their front office doesn’t have the ability to function in an atmosphere when they don’t have $50 million more to spend than their next closest competitor. Kay’s lashing out and whining won’t change that. These are the results you see when these factors are in place and no one, not Kay, not Steinbrenner or anyone could fix it with the speed at which it’s expected to be fixed.

This is reality. These are the Yankees.

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MLB Trade Deadline: Why Didn’t The Phillies Sell?

Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Football, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors

The easy answer you’ll find on Twitter and in sabermetric circles is that Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is, at best, delusional. At worst, they’ll say he’s an idiot. Neither is true.

The Phillies have lost 11 of 12 and are imploding. They’re old, expensive and have few prospects on the horizon. Amaro doesn’t think they’re contenders—he can’t—and he’s not stupid. He’s made some contractual mistakes, but like anything else unless there’s inside information as to whether these decisions were made by Amaro or through nudging on the part of his bosses, it’s unfair to place the entire onus of the burgeoning disaster on him. It’s just easier for the sabermetric crowd and Twitter experts to blame the GM and pronounce with all the courage in the world what “they’d” do. But there’s an underlying reality with the Phillies that has to be examined before calling the failure to sell a mistake.

  • The demands for Phillies’ players were steep

Teams that called about Cliff Lee were reportedly told that the trading club would have to absorb Lee’s $62.5 million contract (plus whatever’s left for this year) and give up several, significant, close-to-ready big league prospects. The number of teams that had the money, the prospects and the willingness to do this was nonexistent and Amaro knew it. In other words he was saying, “I’ll trade him if I get a metric ton for him.” It’s like being a happily married man and saying, “I’ll cheat if Megan Fox hits on me.” Lotsa luck.

  • No trade clauses and other issues

Apart from Lee, the other players who the Phillies could conceivably have had on the block were either hurt (Ryan Howard), have a no-trade clause they said they wouldn’t waive (Jimmy Rollins, Michael Young), have been awful and obnoxious (Jonathan Papelbon) or they want to keep (Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz).

  • The farm system is barren

Amaro assistant Chuck LaMar resigned in a huff last year because of the lack of attention paid to the farm system and Mike Arbuckle left for the Royals when he didn’t get the GM job to replace Pat Gillick. The Phillies development apparatus is in flux in large part because they either neglected it to pay for the big league product or traded it away to add the likes of Roy Oswalt, Lee, Roy Halladay, Hunter Pence, Ben Revere and Young. Even when they dumped a player like Pence, they didn’t recoup what they traded to get him.

They’ve got a few pieces like the recently recalled Cody Asche and Phillippe Aumont, but there’s not a Mike Trout in their farm system—a player to build around. The decision to focus on the majors and allocate the vast amount of resources there was a conscious one. When Amaro basically exchanged Lee for Halladay after the 2009 season, his intention was to achieve cost-certainty and maintain some semblance of a farm system. By mid-season 2010, when the Phillies needed a pitcher, Amaro made a decision that not many GMs would have when he acknowledged his mistake and traded for Oswalt. He went all-in after 2010 be reacquiring Lee as a free agent and with subsequent decisions including paying a lot of money for Papelbon and Mike Adams.

Do the math: the farm directors who helped put the club together are gone; they gave up draft picks to sign free agents; and they traded away their top youngsters for veterans. Having homegrown talent ready to replace their stars immediately is impossible.

  • A housecleaning would gut the major league roster and attendance

As of now Phillies fans are angry and as always aren’t shy about showing it. Some targets, like Papelbon, have asked for it in both his performance and his comments. If the Phillies traded away every possible veteran asset, the fans would stop caring entirely especially with the football season coming quickly. Citizens Bank Park would be a ghost town in September and few players are going to want to join them this winter knowing that a rebuild is in progress.

For a club that is only now starting to again pay attention to the draft and has few prospects ready to make a dent in an increasingly difficult division, it’s better to tread water, keep the veterans and hope for a renaissance with what’s there while simultaneously trying to restock the minor league system.

  • 2014’s roster will be similar to 2013’s with a new manager

As much as the fans and critics will hate it, the Phillies aren’t going to have room to do much this winter. No one will take Papelbon unless the Phillies are taking a similarly bad contract in return and then they’ll need to find themselves a replacement closer. Rollins won’t allow himself to be traded. Lee is still one of the best pitchers in baseball. Cole Hamels is under contract. Howard can’t possibly be as bad as he’s been in recent years. Halladay has a contract option that is likely to be declined, but don’t be surprised to see him sign a contract to stay and re-prove himself.

Of course these are all qualifications and prayers. The odds of it coming to pass are slim, but this is still a more salable marketing strategy than blowing it up. The one thing that’s essentially fait accompli is that manager Charlie Manuel will be out. The decision as to whether to replace him with Ryne Sandberg or a veteran manager will be made, but it’s safe to say that Manuel’s time as Phillies’ manager is over. As far as changes, you’ll see a tweak here and there, but the general core is going to be the same.

In short, they have no real options other than to hope they players they have will rebound and make a run at one of the extra playoff spots in 2014 because many of their contracts are immovable and they can’t convince their grouchy fans to accept a new five-year plan to rebuild while still coming to the park.  The Phillies didn’t make a dramatic series of trades at the deadline because of these factors. It may not be popular, but it’s the way it is and the cost of putting together the type of team that won five straight division titles and was a preseason World Series favorite for a half-decade. It’s the circle of baseball and the Phillies’ circle is closing with a crash that they can’t avoid or prevent. The only thing they can do is limit the damage in its aftermath.

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