Theo Epstein’s Masquerade

Draft, Free Agents, Games, History, Management, Media, MiLB, Paul Lebowitz's 2013 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors

The increased use of analytics has also given rise to the loquaciousness of the decision-makers. You can pick any of the new age general managers in baseball and find one of their statements when a somewhat controversial decision is made and interchange them. When they fire a manager, it’s generally even longer. The explanation is convoluted and rife with semantics designed to protect their own interests.

This was evident again today when Theo Epstein – someone who clearly loves to hear his own voice whatever the circumstances – gave this long-winded statement as to why the Cubs’ hand-picked manager to oversee their extended rebuild, Dale Sveum, was fired following a 66-96 campaign. The accolades and qualifications Epstein gave to justify Sveum’s firing are little more than a dressing up of the dismissal of an employee.

Was it justified? Did Sveum deserve to take the fall for what was an organizational failure? Should the Cubs have been better than they were?

Considering the expectations (I had the Cubs’ record exactly right in my preseason predictions) they weren’t supposed to be contenders. They traded away veterans Alfonso Soriano and Scott Feldman during the season. They were functioning with journeyman Kevin Gregg as the closer. A team like the Cubs isn’t meant to be judged based on their record alone which lends more credence to the idea that Sveum is being thrown overboard to quiet the rising number of critics wondering when they’ll get Red Sox-like results from Epstein.

With the number of prospects they have on the way up, if the young players like Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Darwin Barney and Jeff Samardzija take steps back, then the manager is going to take the fall for it. That doesn’t mean he gets the blame.

Much like the Red Sox failure in 2003 was passed off on Grady Little’s call not to pull a clearly tired Pedro Martinez in game seven of the ALCS against the Yankees, the Cubs are holding the manager in front of the GM, president and owner like a human shield. Little’s choice in not yanking Martinez was due in part to an old school decision that if he was going to lose, he’d lose with his best. It was also done in part because the Epstein regime had made the conscious choice to go with a favorite concept of the stat guy in the closer by committee and didn’t give Little a competent short reliever he could trust in a game of that magnitude. It all turned out fine as the Red Sox won the World Series the next year only after signing Keith Foulke, a legitimate closer. Crisis averted.

With the Cubs, Epstein has been lauded for his and GM Jed Hoyer’s trades and restructuring of the minor league system. Whether or not that credit will bear fruit in the coming years for the new manager remains to be seen. Until they perform, prospects are only prospects.

Epstein’s big name free agent signings have long been inconsistent. With the Red Sox, he was able to cover it up with John Henry’s money. Whether that will be the case for the Cubs is as unknown as their young players’ development. For the Cubs this season, he signed Edwin Jackson to a four year, $52 million deal. Jackson went 8-18 with an ERA of nearly five. He signed Kyuji Fujikawa to a two year, $9.5 million deal and Fujikawa wilted under the pressure as set-up man and closer before requiring Tommy John surgery. It cannot be said that these were worthwhile and cost-efficient signings.

When Epstein says, “Jed and I take full responsibility for that,” as he discusses the state of the big league product, it’s little more than a hollow accepting of responsibility. He’s been on the job with the Cubs for two years and is ensconced in his job. There might be a small amount of pressure on him because of his reputation and the expectations that surround his high-profile hiring, lucrative contract of five years at $18.5 million and final say powers, but he’s going to get at least two more years before he’s on the firing line. Hoyer is Epstein’s front man and is safe as well.

If the duo is taking “responsibility,” what’s the punishment? They’ll get roasted on talk shows and in print for a while. Attention will be paid to who they hire as manager because GMs and team presidents, no matter how respected, generally get two managerial hirings before the focus of blame falls to them. For now, though, he’s safe.

He says that Sveum isn’t a “scapegoat,” but then two paragraphs later says that the team needs a “dynamic, new voice…” It certainly sounds like scapegoating to me.

I’m not defending Sveum and many times when a firing of this kind is made, there are behind the scenes issues that the public isn’t privy to. Epstein and Hoyer can fire Sveum if they want to. It’s completely up to them. There’s never been anything wrong with firing the manager for any reason that the front office wants to give. In fact, they don’t even need to give a reason. “I felt like making a change,” is a perfectly acceptable response.

However, to take the firing as an opportunity to provide a new line of defense of the front office and disguise it as a “we’re all at fault” line of faux solidarity is an insult to the intelligence of any person who’s been an observer of Epstein’s behavior since he first came to prominence a decade ago as a 28 year old “genius” who was going to lead the game into a new age with his youth and creativity. Getting past the mask, he’s little more than a younger and supposedly more handsome version of the 1960s era of GMs who threatened and bullied employees just because they could and had a job for life. It sounds like the common “blame the manager” rhetoric. The only difference is that it’s camouflaged by a Yale graduate’s skill with the language and ability to make circular sludge sound like the dulcet tones of a gifted tenor.

The firing of Sveum might be retrospectively seen as a the catalyst to the Cubs jumping into contention and breaking their World Series drought. Even if that happens, it can’t be masqueraded as anything more than what it is: they’re blaming the manager. No amount of verbal deftness will alter that fact whether it’s coming from Epstein or anyone else.




var addthis_config = {“data_track_addressbar”:true};

Advertisements

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

barbiepic

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.

//

Farrell Would Fix Some, But Not All Of The Red Sox Problems

All Star Game, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Movies, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

Nine years after he was hired, oversaw two World Series wins, endured a martyred firing, and the inevitable sliming on his way out the door, it’s easily forgotten that Terry Francona was selected by the Red Sox for three main reasons:

  • He would adhere to organizational edicts regarding strategy
  • He would work relatively cheaply for the opportunity
  • He was agreeable to Curt Schilling, whom the Red Sox were desperately trying to acquire

Of course there are macro-reasons behind Francona’s hiring such as being salable to fans, that he was well-liked throughout baseball, he wasn’t Grady Little, among others, but it came down to those three simple factors that made him a reasonable choice. In fact, Larry Lucchino had chatted with Bobby Valentine about the job back then, but the chat never went far enough to warrant an interview because—according to Valentine—he wouldn’t criticize Little’s decision to leave Pedro Martinez in to keep pitching in game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. It didn’t help that Valentine was Valentine and he would’ve wanted a significantly higher salary than Francona accepted.

Now the Red Sox are said to be interested in reaching back to the Francona coaching staff and hiring (or trading for) John Farrell, current manager of the Blue Jays. There are positives and negatives to hiring Farrell that are reminiscent of the hiring of Francona. The negatives of Francona were his atrocious record as manager of the then-talentless Phillies, that his low salary would’ve made him an easy fire if the team didn’t live up to expectations, and there was a chance that the players would tune him out because this was in the aftermath of Moneyball and the manager was seen as a faceless, nameless, and replaceable functionary operating at the “do this or else” whims of the front office. With his record and popularity in subsequent years, Francona was able to break those shackles and get paid more lucratively while being treated with greater respect, but his power within the organization was limited and, as 2011 showed, there wasn’t much loyalty or appreciation considering all he’d done.

Farrell’s negatives include his strategic weaknesses during games, that he’s going to cost the Red Sox a player (the Blue Jays asked for Clay Buchholz last year; expect something less, but still useful); and he hasn’t been successful in the bottom line with the Blue Jays in spite of a powerful offense and plenty of talent.

The media, fans, and players would be fully onboard with the hire—something Valentine didn’t have; prospective players wouldn’t turn down the Red Sox money specifically because of the manager; and there would be a perception of, “Now we’re getting back to the Red Sox way.”

But are they getting back to the Red Sox “way”? Is Lucchino going to step back and let Ben Cherington do what Theo Epstein did and build a team the way he prefers with on base percentage, power, feisty competitors, and reasonable salaries? Or is he going to meddle, make his presence felt, and shoehorn players and people into the mix when they just don’t improve the recipe?

The Red Sox did a smart thing in getting rid of Josh Beckett (he had to go); Adrian Gonzalez (not cut out for Boston or for a leadership role); and Carl Crawford (miserable in Boston, injured). They slashed money and Valentine is clearly going to be out sooner or later. It’s irrelevant that Valentine’s “controversial” interview yesterday was blown out of proportion for soundbite and attention purposes—it’s not going to work with him. But it just as easily might not have worked for Francona had the Red Sox been as dysfunctional in 2004 as they were with Francona in 2011 and with Valentine in 2012. Would it be better with Farrell? It might if they truly get back to what it was they had in 2004. But everyone longing and promoting Farrell’s return had better realize that if they move forward with this same template of broken links in the chain-of-command, Farrell’s not going to have much more success that Valentine did this season of Francona did in September of 2011. It takes more than a managerial change to fix this mess.

//

Because He’s LaRussa…Again

All Star Game, Books, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

During that 20-inning loss to the Mets in April of 2010, Tony LaRussa used position players Felipe Lopez and Joe Mather to pitch and lost the game. I said at the time that if then-Mets manager Jerry Manuel had done that, there would be people calling for his job. (Well, more people calling for his job because he was already under siege.)

But because LaRussa is LaRussa, has the reputation he has; the record he has; the Hall of Fame career he has, he gets away with things that other managers wouldn’t.

It’s the same situation with the World Series bullpen mix-up and the freedom Albert Pujols has to call his own hit-and-run plays.

They were mistakes. They happen throughout the course of a season with every team no matter who’s managing, but these were magnified because that might have cost the Cardinals the game and they happened one after the other.

Regardless of your opinion as to whether LaRussa should accord such leeway for a player to call his own risky hit-and-runs, Pujols and LaRussa have both earned the trust to make those decisions.

As for the bullpen gaffe, those that think LaRussa is lying are fools.

He doesn’t have to lie about such a mistake and he took the responsibility on himself. Another manager without such security might’ve said something to inspire accusations of conspiracy because they would have incentive to lie. LaRussa doesn’t.

But still he has to endure the absurd critiques from those in the media who think they know, but don’t know; who have self-created expertise because they understand a series of stats but haven’t the faintest clue of how difficult it is to navigate a roomful of egos; the stifling media; and the competition.

We’ve seen the end result of the “middle-manager” who’s known to be such and hasn’t the experience nor the savvy to handle all aspects of managing in the big leagues.

A.J. Hinch was installed by the Diamondbacks to institute “organizational advocacy”; he’s extremely smart and played in the big leagues, but had zero managerial experience; it was a disaster that cost both Hinch and GM Josh Byrnes their jobs.

Grady Little was fired because, in part, he left Pedro Martinez in too long in game 7 of the 2003 ALCS and the Yankees came back and won. But he was already on thin ice because he wasn’t the type of manager who’d adhere to statistics to the degree that the Red Sox wanted and only a World Series win was going to save him.

LaRussa has been managing in the big leagues since 1979. He certainly doesn’t need to formulate cover stories or lie to the likes of those who have all the guts in the world in a blog post or on Twitter, but would faint if they were in that position in the corner of the dugout making decisions that win or lose ballgames.

Because he’s LaRussa, he gets a pass. And he deserves it.

//