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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What Ryan Braun And Lance Armstrong Have In Common

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Lance Armstrong’s long-awaited admission for using performance enhancing drugs set the standard for non-apology apologies. At the time I called it a half-hearted allocution and stated that there’s a certain nobility in blatant unrepentance. Armstrong’s performance combined a clear lack of regret with the type of combativeness that you’ll rarely see in someone who wants to regain public support.

Like most other athletes and celebrities who have to publicly confess to save their careers after a scandal, Ryan Braun has failed to learn from the mistakes or follow the examples of others, especially Armstrong. Rather than take the next step from Armstrong and do the one thing that might have granted him forgiveness—admit what he did without excuses or context—he stuck to a safety-first script hoping it will fly. All he succeeded in doing, however, was to make himself appear to be the same seedy, self-involved liar he was before. This time, rather than openly lying, maligning the character of others and relying on technicalities to be set free, he decided to qualify his behaviors with more excuses.

You can read the statement here. It’s a general, run-of-the-mill public apology made because he had no other choice. Braun claimed that he was dealing with a “nagging injury” and used a “cream and a lozenge.” Then he went into the dull clichés of someone who’s been backed into a corner and can’t lie his way out of it.

If Braun wanted to be forgiven, he should have said the following:

I did it because I wanted to compete and win. I was on a team that was a championship contender, I knew other players were doing it and I was under the impression that what I took wouldn’t be detectable. I knew I was breaking the rules and did it anyway. A lot of other guys were doing it and, while that’s not a justification and not something you want to hear from your children let alone a grown man who’s supposed to be a role model, it’s the truth. The reason I’m standing here is because I got caught. Had I not gotten caught, the likelihood is that I would still be using PEDs simply because they work. After the test came back positive, I knew I was busted and found a technicality to overturn my suspension. In so doing I said some terrible things about an innocent man and lied to everyone. I was desperate and didn’t know what else to do. I’m truly embarrassed about what I’ve done and I only hope that in the future the fans, my fellow players and Major League Baseball will see fit to give me another chance to prove myself as someone worthy of respect.

This would have been a refreshing change from the feigned emotionality that is a prerequisite for a public apology. It would’ve worked. And it had zero chance of happening.

What Braun and Armstrong have in common is that they were perfectly willing to steamroll over anyone who got in their way and threatened the foundation upon which their lies were built. Armstrong had his extended middle fingers hidden behind his back while he was confessing. Braun had his fingers crossed for luck that the public would believe it. Intentionally or not, Armstrong’s way was more honest as it was cohesive with the way he was acting. Braun is still trying to trick people. In the end, they’re both liars and they found methods to justify their lies. They don’t want forgiveness, they want the public’s adoration and approval. The sad fact is that they think these “apologies” were steps toward getting that back, but still have the impenetrable fortresses of arrogance constructed around their egos to be stunned when they don’t.




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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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An All-Around Bad Year for Rizzo and the Nats

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Mike Rizzo said that the Nationals have a “run left in us.” There’s a precedent for teams coming out of nowhere in the final month of the season and making the playoffs. The Rays and Cardinals both did it in 2011 with the Cardinals winning the World Series after having trailed the Wild Card-leading Braves by 10 1/2 games on August 25 of that year. The Cardinals and Reds are currently the National League Wild Card leaders. The Cardinals have been ravaged by injuries; the Reds haven’t played consistently; and the NL Central leading Pirates are still young and collapsed in both 2011 and 2012. There’s some justification for Rizzo not to quit. Prior to yesterday’s game, the Nats claimed David DeJesus from the Cubs. It was seen as a signal that they’re still trying to add to win now and perhaps have a player in DeJesus they can use in 2014.

The assertion that the Nats are still “in it” would likely have been better-received had the team not gone and immediately responded to the GM’s confidence and gotten hammered by the Cubs 11-1. The DeJesus acquisition wouldn’t have looked like Rizzo and his staff are a bunch of screw-ups if there was a hint that they truly wanted DeJesus and it wasn’t a waiver claim mistake that they tacitly admitted by placing DeJesus back on waivers immediately after getting him. And the team might have had a better shot in 2013 if they had played like a cohesive unit with a definition of purpose from the first day of the season rather than an arrogant, self-important group that believed winning a division title in 2012 automatically meant they were going to be a playoff team every single year based on talent alone.

Rizzo isn’t going anywhere, but manager Davey Johnson won’t be back in 2014. This was meant to be his final year in the dugout with the hope that it would be a logical step in the innocent climb from first round playoff loser to World Series winner with Johnson’s experience being a key. Instead, Johnson’s warts—his riverboat gambler’s mentality; the trust in his players; open insubordination—reared their heads. Barring a late-August hot streak, Rizzo might relive him of his duties for the final month in a similar fashion as the Phillies did with Charlie Manuel. The Phillies wanted to have a look at Ryne Sandberg. The Nats might want to do the same with Randy Knorr.

The Nats are dysfunctional mess. The Stephen Strasburg shutdown from September of 2012 is being used to symbolize the organizational hubris and it’s a perfect example of why nothing can be taken for granted.  In 2013, they don’t have to worry about any innings limits or shutting anyone down because the rest of baseball is doing the job for them by sending the Nats home, far from where they thought they’d be and currently having more questions than answers as to where they go from here.




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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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(Over) Reactions To The Phillies’ Firing Of Charlie Manuel

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Considering what I wrote in my preseason book, the Phillies’ decision to fire Charlie Manuel and replace him with Ryne Sandberg should come as no surprise:

Manuel will either resign or be fired (my money’s on a firing because he won’t resign) during the season to pave the way for Sandberg.

It happened yesterday and the responses from fans, media members and players ranged from “Manuel deserved better,” to an attack on general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr., to shock and outrage, to the assertion that Manuel should have been allowed to finish out the season.

In a fictional utopia, I suppose there are arguments to be made for all of the above. In reality, even with its perceived brutality, the decision makes sense. Let’s look at the participants:

Charlie Manuel

Let’s not turn Manuel into a blameless 69-year-old man who is being forced out of a job he wants to continue doing. The same logic that says Manuel isn’t to blame for the Phillies’ 53-68 record also nullifies the credit he receives for the five division championships and 2008 World Series.

Which is it? One, the other or both?

Manuel did a good job with the Phillies and his main attributes were corralling a roomful of egos and not taking crap. The players knew he was in charge and, for the most part aside from Jimmy Rollins, played hard for him day-in, day-out. That said, independent of Manuel’s substantial accomplishments as their manager and as a baseball man in general, he’s 69-years-old and the Phillies are set to undergo a retooling.

Did it make sense to move forward for another day with Manuel when it’s been known for a year that, barring a World Series win, he wasn’t going to be back in 2014? When Sandberg had the heir apparent moniker attached to him from the time he joined the Phillies as their Triple A manager? When the Phillies were 21 1/2 games out of first place in the NL East and 15 1/2 games out of the second Wild Card spot?

Sentimentality is fine and it wouldn’t have hurt the Phillies to let Manuel finish the season, but it wouldn’t have helped either. If they’re going to commit to Sandberg to manage the team, they need to have a look at him and he needs to have a look at the roster as the man in charge. They have to see how he handles the media and the egos. In short, they have to see without speculation and guessing. Giving him the chance now gives them that opportunity.

Ruben Amaro, Jr.

Another line from my book sums up Amaro’s future as GM:

Amaro’s status after the year is also uncertain. Then the long rebuild will begin in earnest as the Phillies come apart.

The Phillies are financially bloated, destitute of impact youngsters and trapped in a division with four other teams that are younger and with brighter futures. While not overtly defending many of the things Amaro has done in his tenure as GM, I understand why he did them. That won’t save him at the end of the season if ownership decides that they need a whole new regime.

Amaro had been completely upfront about Manuel’s future. There was no contract extension offered and given the team’s struggles last season, their age and huge holes, even Amaro knew that everything would have to break right for them to contend. It’s broken wrong and it was time to move on.

Giving Manuel the last month-and-a-half of the season might’ve been the nice thing to do, but why? There’s the “what’s the difference?” argument and there’s the “we have to see what we have” argument. Amaro chose the latter and it wasn’t wrong in a moral or practical fashion. He didn’t callously shove an old man in a wheelchair out a window. He dismissed his manager who wasn’t going to be managing past this season anyway.

Ryne Sandberg

Sandberg is far from a guy who decreed, “I’m a Hall of Fame player and now I wanna be a big league manager. Give me the job.” He began his managerial career in the minors with the Cubs, worked his way up from A ball to Triple A and left the Cubs organization after he was passed over for the big league managerial job in favor of Dale Sveum. He joined the Phillies, managed for two years in Triple A Lehigh Valley before joining Manuel’s coaching staff this season.

Only Manuel knows whether he felt threatened by Sandberg’s presence; whether there was an undermining aspect to Sandberg as to what he would’ve done in certain situations had he been managing. With the decision essentially fait accompli as soon as Sandberg joined the organization and hammered home when he joined the coaching staff, all the ambiguity was gone. Manuel was going to manage in 2013 and, unless there was the aforementioned and unlikely World Series run, he wasn’t going to be back. There was no reason for Sandberg to undermine or run interference because he was going to get the job regardless.

The Phillies organization

The Phillies are entering a new phase. Their signing of Chase Utley to a contract extension and refusal to clean out the house of marketable veterans Cliff Lee, Carlos Ruiz, Jonathan Papelbon and Michael Young is an indicator that they have no intention of starting over again from scratch, but they’re incorporating young players like Cody Asche and must get younger and cheaper over the next several years. Part of that process includes the manager. Sandberg is younger and cheaper than Manuel. They knew what they had in Manuel and don’t know with Sandberg. It might sound cruel, but the Phillies had to break with the past and the only difference between doing it now and doing it after the season is that waiting would’ve postponed the inevitable. It elicited a fiery public response, but it was coming one way or the other. Doing it now was the logical decision.




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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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Randy Levine Is Not George Steinbrenner

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George Steinbrenner is dead. Hank Steinbrenner has been muzzled like one of the Steinbrenners’ prize horses. Hal Steinbrenner is almost Derek Jeter-like in his ability to speak and say nothing at the same time. That leaves team president Randy Levine as the team spokesman with whom the media feels it can light a fuse and ignite an explosion.

The fact remains that Randy Levine is not George Steinbrenner. Whether or not this is a good or bad thing is in the eyes of the beholder. It’s a natural occurrence for memories to focus on the positive after someone is dead and gone. The truth is that George spent a lot of money, fired a lot of managers and had long stretches of dysfunction and embarrassment surrounding his organization. That’s before getting into his two suspensions. The Yankees rebuilt with George suspended for the Howie Spira affair and it’s unlikely that the young players who were part of the Yankees five championships over the past 18 years would have been allowed to develop as Yankees had he been around amid all his impatient bluster. He would have traded them. Through fortuitous circumstances, he returned to a team on the cusp of a championship and his public profile grew from a raving dictator who’d ruined a once-proud franchise into the generous general who led the club and gave his employees everything they needed to be successful.

The Yankee fans who started rooting for the team, conveniently, when they won their first championship of the era in 1996, only remember the “good” George. He was irreplaceable in a multitude of ways, positively and negatively. Writers miss him because their newspapers and websites would be filled with threats, missives, irrational screaming sessions that could just as easily have come from the pages of Mein Kampf, and demands that the team play better with no excuses. The fans miss him—with some justification—because if he were around, there wouldn’t be an $189 million limit on the 2014 payroll and they wouldn’t be trotting the array of cheap and limited no-names at catcher, at third base, at first base and in the outfield as they have so far this season.

But he’s gone. Now there’s a college of cardinals in his place with an interest in making money above winning. They don’t have the passion for the game and competition that the father had. Perhaps it was inevitable that once he was gone the edge would be gone too. The fear that accompanied working for the Yankees has degenerated into a corporate comfortableness. The sense of urgency has disappeared and there’s no one to replicate it.

In this ESPN piece, Wallace Matthews tried to get some answers from Levine and walked away with nothing. Levine has been under fire in recent days because of his comment that the team has the talent to contend. Whether or not he really believes that is known only to him. He’s not a baseball guy, but the Yankees’ baseball guys haven’t done a particularly good job either and that’s something that George would’ve latched onto and, also with some justification, gone into a raving rant wondering why the young players that were supposed to be the cornerstones to the future have, by and large, faltered. If it was George, he’s openly ask why the Rays, A’s, Pirates and others are able to win without a $200 million payroll and his team can’t. It’s obvious, from Hal’s statements, that he too is wondering the same thing. The difference between him and his father is that he’s acting on it by slashing payroll. Levine is the front man, nothing more. He’s not able to do the George thing and cause earthquakes with his bellowing. People sort or roll their eyes at him and/or ignore him.

Levine also failed to give votes of confidence to general manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi. Was that by design? If it had been George in his heyday, both would be in serious jeopardy. The ground under Cashman’s feet should be teetering regardless of whether it was George, the Steinbrenner kids or Levine making the decision; Girardi deserves a better fate and if they fire him, he’ll have his choice of about four to six jobs almost immediately, some very tempting like the Nationals, Angels and his hometown White Sox. Dismissing Girardi would speed the team’s downfall. Dismissing Cashman would probably be a positive given the team’s new financial circumstances and the GM’s clear inability to function under this template.

Levine sounded as if he was trying to be positive and not be controversial. Because he’s not George and because the media and fans are looking for fire and brimstone, they’re clutching at what Levine said, as innocuous as it was, and what he didn’t say. That makes it a no-win, meaningless situation. Nobody really cares what Levine says because he doesn’t have the surrounding lunacy that was a George hallmark. There’s no George Steinbrenner anymore. He’s not coming back. And as things stand now, neither are the Yankees that George’s money built.

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

2013 MLB Predicted Standings, Award Winners, Ballparks, Draft, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

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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