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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The Royals Should Not Sell

2013 MLB Predicted Standings, Ballparks, CBA, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, History, Management, Media, MLB Trade Deadline, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors

One you reference Joe (the Twins should’ve drafted Mark Prior over Joe Mauer amid dozens of other analytical baseball travesties) Sheehan as the basis for your logic, your foundation is built for collapse. In this SB Nation posting, Rob Neyer suggests the Royals throw the towel in on the season while they’re still within reasonable striking distance of first place by trading Ervin Santana, Greg Holland and Luke Hochevar. Needless to say, I’m not swayed by the Baseball Prospectus playoff percentages that are used as tenets to make these moves and I really don’t care what Sheehan says about anything.

The Royals have disappointed this season. They made a series of deals to try and win now and they’ve been hit or miss. James Shields has been good; Wade Davis inconsistent; Wil Myers, now with the Rays, is looking like the hype was real. The Royals haven’t scored in large part because their approach has been atrocious and Mike Moustakas has played poorly enough that they might want to consider sending him to the minors. But wouldn’t a sell-off of Santana, Holland and Hochevar be giving up on a season when they are still only seven games out of first place behind the somewhat disappointing Tigers? That’s an eight game winning streak away from getting it to three games. They have a large number of games against the White Sox, Mets, Mariners, Twins and Marlins. They have a lot of games left with the Tigers as well. Is it out of the question that they can get to within five games by September 1? If it were a team run by Sheehan or Neyer, would it be justified to give up on the season while still within five games of first place with a month left? Or is the loathing of general manager Dayton Moore so intense that it clouds their judgment to try and get him fired?

It appears that the hardcore stat guys have still not learned the lesson that taking every single player at a certain position and lumping them into a group as what teams “should” do with them based on that position is not analysis. It’s hedging. The lack of consistency in the suggested strategy and examples are conveniently twisted. At the end of the piece, Neyer writes, “We know what the A’s and Rays would do, though” when discussing why closers are disposable. Neyer writes that Holland is “probably worth more now than he’ll ever be worth again.” Yet the Rays, who got the best year of his life out of Fernando Rodney in 2012 and had him under contract at a cheap rate for another year, didn’t trade him when he was in a similar circumstance. The Rays had traded for a big money closer in Rafael Soriano before the 2010 season, much to the consternation of the “pump-and-dump/you can find a closer” wing of stat guys. Which is it? Is there consistency of theory or consistency when it confirms the bias as to what “should” be done?

I also find it laughable when people like Sheehan and Neyer have all the guts in the world to make these decisions while sitting behind a keyboard simultaneously having no responsibility to try and adhere to the various aspects of running a club—doing what the owner wants, attracting fans and keeping the job.

There’s an argument to be made for making deals to get better for the next season if the situation calls for it. If not an outright fire sale, a concession to reality by dealing marketable commodities is the correct move when a team is underachieving. The Blue Jays are an example far more relevant to the concept of giving up in late July than the Royals are. The Blue Jays have a GM, Alex Anthopoulos, who thinks more in line with what the stat people think and is probably more likely to be fired after the season than Moore.

With Neyer, Rany Jazayerli and presumably Bill James (even though he now works for the Red Sox), I can’t tell whether they’re providing objective analysis based on the facts or they’re Royals fans hoping the club comes completely undone because they don’t like Moore and would like someone closer to their line of thinking running the team. If that’s the case there’s nothing wrong with that if one is honest about it, but it’s somewhat untoward and shady to be using stats and out of context examples to “prove” a point.

Regardless of how they’ve played, the Royals are only seven games out of first place. That’s no time to start clearing the decks of players they might need to make a run. And numbers, hatred of the GM and disappointments aside, a run is still possible, like it or not.

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Rethinking the GM, Part I—American League East

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Maybe it’s time to rethink how GMs are hired instead of lauding owners for adhering to stats; for placating media demands; for listening to fans; for doing what they think will be well-received and garner them some good coverage while hoping that it’s going to work in lieu of hiring the best person for the job and all it entails. Some people may have sterling resumes, extensive experience, a great presentation and charisma and then fail miserably at one or another aspect of the job. Just because a GM was great at running another club’s draft, running the farm system or was a valuable jack-of-all-trades assistant doesn’t make them suited to do the big job.

With the struggles of GMs from both sides of the spectrum like the Mariners’ Jack Zduriencik, who built his club based on stats; and the Royals’ Dayton Moore, who rebuilt the entire Royals farm system into one of baseball’s best, after-the-fact and self-indulgent criticisms from the aforementioned factions of stat people, media and fans are essentially worthless. Zduriencik’s bandwagon has emptied since his first overachieving season as Mariners GM in 2009 when the team, which he had little to do with putting together, rose from 61-101 to 85-77 due to luck and performance correction rather than any brilliance on his part. Moore is a veritable punching bag for the Royals collapse from 17-10 after 27 games to 21-29 and sinking.

Instead of ripping the GMs for what they’ve done, perhaps it would be better to look at each GM and examine how he got the job without a retrospective on the moves they made and the teams they’ve built. This isn’t as flashy as dissecting his decisions as GM, but it’s probably more useful to those doing the hiring in the future. In short, was the hiring a good one in the first place and was the decision made based on factors other than putting a winning team together?

If you think it’s so easy to put your individual stamp on the job of being a Major League Baseball GM, then walk into your boss’s office today (if you have a job that is) and tell him or her some of the things you say on blogs and message boards and tweets to Keith Law: “This is how it’s gonna be, and I’m gonna do this my way and you better just give me full control…” On and on. Then, after you’re done, go get your resume ready to look for a new job. It doesn’t work in the way people seem to think it does and the audacity of someone who’s working the stockroom at Best Buy telling experienced baseball people how they should do their jobs needs to be tamped down a little. Actually, it needs to be tamped down a lot.

Let’s go division by division. First the American League East with subsequent postings to be published discussing all of the other divisions in baseball.

Boston Red Sox

Ben Cherington was the next-in-line successor to Theo Epstein when Epstein abandoned ship to take over as president of the Cubs. He’d worked in the Red Sox front office going back to the Dan Duquette days and was a highly regarded hire. His first season was pockmarked by the aftermath of the disastrous 2011 collapse, the interference of Larry Lucchino and John Henry and that he was overruled in his managerial preferences for someone understated like Gene Lamont in favor of Bobby Valentine. Now the team has been put together by Cherington and they’re trying to get back to what it was that built Epstein’s legacy in the first place.

New York Yankees

Brian Cashman walked into a ready-made situation when he took over for Bob Watson after the 1997 season. He’d been with the Yankees since 1986 working his way up from intern to assistant GM and barely anyone knew who he was when he got the job. His hiring inspired shrugs. He was known to George Steinbrenner and Cashman knew what his life would be like functioning as Steinbrenner’s GM. He was taking over a team that was a powerhouse. Little was needed to be done in 1998 and his main job during those years was to implement the edicts of the Boss or steer him away from stupid things he wanted to do like trading Andy Pettitte. If the Yankees had hired an outsider, it wouldn’t have worked because no one would’ve been as aware of the terrain of running the Yankees at that time as Cashman was. He’s a survivor.

Baltimore Orioles

Whether the Orioles would’ve experienced their rise in 2012 had Tony LaCava or Jerry Dipoto taken the job and been willing to work under the thumbs of both Peter Angelos and his manager Buck Showalter will never be known. Dan Duquette was hired as a last-ditch, name recognition choice whose preparedness in the interview was referenced as why he got the nod. Duquette has never received the credit for the intelligent, gutsy and occasionally brutal (see his dumping of Roger Clemens from the Red Sox) work he did in laying the foundation for the Red Sox championship teams or for the Expos club he built that was heading for a World Series in 1994 had the strike not hit. He’s a policy wonk and devoid of the charming personality that many owners look for in today’s 24/7 newscycle world in which a GM has to have pizzazz, but he’s a qualified baseball man who knows how to run an organization. Suffice it to say that if it was LaCava or Dipoto who was the GM in 2012, more credit would’ve gone to the GMs by the stat-loving bloggers than what Duquette has received. All he’s gotten from them is silence after they torched him and the Orioles when he was hired.

Tampa Bay Rays

For all the talk that Andrew Friedman is the “best” GM in baseball, it’s conveniently forgotten that he is in a uniquely advantageous situation that would not be present anywhere else. He has an owner Stuart Sternberg who is fully onboard with what Friedman wants to do; the team doesn’t have the money to spend on pricey free agents nor, in most cases to keep their own free agents unless they do what Evan Longoria has done and take far down-the-line salaries to help the club; and he’s not functioning in a media/fan hotbed where every move he makes is scrutinized for weeks on end.

If he were running the Yankees, would Friedman be able to tell Derek Jeter to take a hike at the end of this season if it benefited the club? No. But if it got to the point where any Rays player from Longoria to David Price to manager Joe Maddon wore out his welcome or grew too costly for what he provides, Friedman has the freedom to get rid of one or all. That wouldn’t happen anywhere else, therefore his success isn’t guaranteed as transferrable as a matter of course.

Toronto Blue Jays

After the rollercoaster ride on and off the field that was having J.P. Ricciardi as their GM, they tabbed his assistant Alex Anthopoulos as the new GM. There were no interviews and no interim label on Anthopoulos’s title. He was the GM. Period. Anthopoulos was a solid choice who had extensive experience in front offices with the Expos and Blue Jays. He’s also Canadian, which doesn’t hurt when running a Canadian team.

Should the Blue Jays have done other interviews? If the former GM is fired because his way wasn’t working, then that’s not just an indictment on the GM, but on his staff as well. No one in a big league front office is an island and if the prior regime didn’t succeed, then interviews of outside candidates—just to see what else is out there—would’ve been wise. It’s like getting divorced and then turning around marrying one of the bridesmaids. Anthopoulos still might’ve gotten the job, but it would not have been done with such tunnel vision.

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The R.A. Dickey Trade Part III—Desperation or Progression for the Blue Jays?

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Since replacing J.P. Ricciardi as Blue Jays’ GM, Alex Anthopoulos has done many things that garnered him credit for running his club the “right” way by combining old-school scouting with new age stats; for showing aggressiveness when the time called for it; and for being fearless. The Blue Jays, in that time, were rebuilding and reloading; clearing salaries and planning for the “future.” They had John Farrell, a stat-based manager with a sterling reputation; they’d accumulated prospects that were just about ready to take the next step forward and, if everything went well, would contend in 2012.

But again, as is the possibility with a club that doesn’t spend a lot of money and is relying on the development of young players, the 2012 Blue Jays were ravaged by injuries and inconsistency, fell from 81-81 to 73-89 and sat by impotently as the Orioles came from nowhere to make the playoffs. After so many years of building for the “future,” when was that “future” going to come? For so long, the Blue Jays have been frozen in place or moving backwards, shoving the rock up the hill only to see it come tumbling back down again, many times right on top of them.

With a bolt of lightning, the Marlins’ latest fire sale led to the Blue Jays acquiring Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, and John Buck for Henderson Alvarez, Yunel Escobar and prospects. After that, with the decision to try and win now essentially made, they surrendered two more top prospects, Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard, to the Mets to get reigning National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey. They signed Dickey to a contract extension worth $25 million to complete the trade.

This isn’t a spending spree for its own sake nor is it a drastic philosophical deviation from one strategy to the other, but it’s more of a realization that the time to go for it is now. The Yankees and Red Sox are shells of what they were. The Orioles overachieved in 2012. The Rays are still fighting payroll constraints. With the extra Wild Card, the door is wide open for a team like the Blue Jays to move up.

Farrell was the equivalent of a replaceable teen idol—he was there because he fit the suit, the fans screamed when they saw him, and he couldn’t actually do any of the things a manager needs to do well. His results were disastrous in every respect and there’s a palpable relief that he’s gone. He’s been replaced by the former Blue Jays’ manager John Gibbons who was horribly underrated for his strategic acumen and is a sound, unexpected hiring.

Having seen firsthand the risks of trading a star pitcher Roy Halladay and, in the subsequent series of deals, winding up with Kyle Drabek (having just undergone his second Tommy John surgery), Anthony Gose, and d’Arnaud, they are rightfully dubious of prospects and their projections.

They didn’t alter strategies on the fly and make panicky maneuvers for Anthopoulos to try and save his job. Nor did they show desperation and haphazardly try to take advantage of the weakness in their division. They’ve made a natural progression based on opportunity and availability.

There’s a difference between the Blue Jays’ winter refurbishing and a Marlins-type spending spree designed to validate a beautiful new ballpark with an owner, Jeffrey Loria, elusively hovering in the dark ready to pull the plug and backtrack on promises and commitments.

There’s a difference between the Blue Jays’ flurry of acquisitions and the Angels signing Josh Hamilton, reportedly on orders of ownership, in order to take some of the spotlight away from their crosstown rivals, the Dodgers.

There’s a difference between the Blue Jays being decisive and the Dodgers new, endless amounts of cash netting Zack Greinke as a free agent and providing them the ability to absorb the contracts of Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett from the Red Sox.

What these clubs and the Blue Jays have done are totally independent of each other.

The simple narrative is that the Blue Jays have chosen to spend with the big boys, but the reality is that they built up the farm system to give themselves the assets to acquire players when they were ready to win. Did they expect it to happen this quickly? Probably not, but Athopoulos was allowed to take on those contracts—many of which are heavily backloaded—and for the first time in 20 years, they have a viable chance to win. The waters parted to open a path and they took it. It’s not a change in the blueprint, but adapting to the situation. Now they’re ready to contend.

The Blue Jays haven’t made the playoffs since their second straight World Series win in 1993. They have a rabid and loyal fanbase and now they now have the goods to make another run—with similar star-level talent to their title-winning teams—two decades later. If they pull it off, the only people who are going to care about the money they spent are the same constituency whose metrics aren’t about winning, but about doing it cheaper than the other guy to prove how smart they are. That faction has become increasingly marginalized into what it truly is: a small, fringe group that shouts loudly into the wind. If the Blue Jays play up to their potential, the money they spent or the prospects they surrendered will be irrelevant because, in the end, it’s about winning. Now the Blue Jays have the goods to do it not just on paper and with best case scenarios, but with superior on-field talent.

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Blue Jays Make a Surprising and Solid Choice in Gibbons

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In a surprise move, John Gibbons has been hired as the the new manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. By some, this will be seen as the questionable decision to rehire a retread that had limited success and several public controversies as Blue Jays manager from 2004-2008, but Gibbons is more than qualified for the job and the issues he had in his first go-round were circumstantial.

Here’s why.

He knows what he’s doing strategically

The Blue Jays in those years lived up to their talent level in the standings. Trapped in the AL East with the Yankees and Red Sox at the height of their powers, there was little more that Gibbons could have done. In fact, he brought them home with an 87-75 record in 2006 and in second place in the AL East ahead of the Red Sox.

There’s a stark difference between Gibbons and the former Blue Jays and now Red Sox manager John Farrell—experience running a game and the confidence of knowing what he’s doing. Gibbons has it, Farrell doesn’t.

Few are addressing that elemental problem that Farrell had: he’d never managed before. The Red Sox and their fans aren’t going to like to hear it, but the reality of Farrell with the Blue Jays was that he was clueless how to run a lineup and the woeful fundamentals exhibited by his club emanated from him. If the players don’t think their manager does the job correctly, that manager is doomed. Such is not the case with Gibbons.

Gibbons has managed in the big leagues and is a longtime, successful minor league manager. He developed young players and the veterans know what to expect from him. As a player, he was a catcher giving him experience with pitchers. Strategically, he made the right calls and divided up the innings for his pitchers evenly without abusing them.

Two clubs are inextricably entwined in their choice of manager. The Red Sox took the Blue Jays former manager Farrell and traded Mike Aviles to get him even though it looked as if the Blue Jays were going to fire him if the Red Sox hadn’t come calling. Both clubs reached into their pasts with the Red Sox seen as making a great hire in Farrell and the Gibbons hire likely to be viewed quizzically with only his initial tenure as the reason. Overall, the Blue Jays looked at Gibbons’s work as more than his record; the Red Sox looked at Farrell as a link to the glory years when he was pitching coach. It was the Blue Jays that made the smarter maneuver.

Gibbons’s history is blown out of proportion

What people remember—and will repeatedly mention—are Gibbons’s confrontations with Shea Hillenbrand and Ted Lilly.

Hillenbrand was unhappy with the Blue Jays organization and his diminished playing time and wrote on the clubhouse whiteboard, “This is a sinking ship, play for yourself.” In a clubhouse meeting, Gibbons demanded to know who wrote the message. Hillenbrand raised his hand and Gibbons challenged him to a fight. The entire team and organization stood behind Gibbons. Hillenbrand was designated for assignment and traded. It wasn’t a first time offense for Hillenbrand who had problems with other authority figures with other clubs including Red Sox GM Theo Epstein.

The Lilly incident stemmed from Gibbons removing the pitcher from a game and Lilly arguing with Gibbons on the mound. After the pitcher was taken out, Gibbons followed Lilly down the runway to the clubhouse and a brief fight ensued with Gibbons, surprisingly, getting the worst of it. Here’s a dirty little secret: this type of thing happens between managers and players all the time over the course of a season. The mistake Gibbons made was doing it so all could see; so the media could get wind of it; so it was a story. Lilly was totally wrong for arguing with his manager on the mound and, if anything, it was a “don’t screw with me,” message from Gibbons.

What made these occurrences seem worse was that they happened in such a narrow timeframe leading to an appearance of disarray that wasn’t actually there. These are blips. Gibbons doesn’t take crap and has experience in the job—that’s what the Blue Jays needed after the disaster with Farrell.

The hovering specter of Moneyball is gone

In the days following Moneyball when the book was considered the new “Bible” of how to run a club, teams that followed the philosophy were saddled with its rules. One in particular was that the manager had to be a nameless and easily replaceable functionary who would be paid minimally and implement the ideas of the front office.

In subsequent years, even Billy Beane has backed away from that. At the time Gibbons was hired, his close friend and former minor league teammate with the Mets, J.P. Ricciardi, was the Blue Jays GM and was a solid backer of the Moneyball strategy. In fact, somewhat admirably, of all the Moneyball GMs from Beane to Paul DePodesta to Ricciardi and everyone in between, it was Ricciardi who adhered most closely to the template described in the book.

That said, the way the manager was pigeonholed didn’t do Gibbons any favors with his players. Every team has around 15 players who’ll play hard and do what they’re told regardless of who the manager is; there will be 5 players who might give them some grief every once in a while, but mean well; and another 5 who have to be knocked into line with macho, testosterone-fueled strong arm tactics. Gibbons knocked his players into line, but that shadow constantly cast a pall over the good work he did.

When Gibbons was fired in 2008, it wasn’t done because he had to go. Ricciardi was under fire and there was a groundswell to bring Cito Gaston back due to a strong and positive memory the fans had from Gaston managing back-to-back World Series winners. The GM understandably made the change to save himself.

Now with a GM who worked in the prior regime, Alex Anthopoulos, running the show, there’s no longer a “middle-manager” aspect to the job. Teams are hiring managers and letting them manage. In truth, the autonomy is probably about the same as it was for Gibbons the first time, but the perception is different and there won’t be the open invitation to try and walk all over him making it necessary for him to do what he did with Hillenbrand and Lilly the first time around to maintain order. Sometimes that has to happen, but it won’t be from a wide open gate provided by the front office.

The resume

The Blue Jays looked at Farrell’s resume and made the hire thinking his Red Sox days and vast experience in numerous baseball capacities would yield strong results. They didn’t and two years later, it was proven to be a mistake. Gibbons’s resume isn’t as sexy; he has his black spots; he doesn’t have Farrell’s jutting jaw, intimidating size, straight out of central casting “manager” countenance, and well-spoken manner to charm the media and bosses, but Gibbons is a better choice and with this collection of talent, he will win. The same would not be said for Farrell because there was always that looming in-game ineptitude. With Gibbons, strategy isn’t an issue. The team will play the game properly and with fundamental soundness. The Blue Jays now have a better team and a better manager to go with it.

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The Marlins-Blue Jays Trade, Part I: For The Blue Jays

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YOU’RE WELCOME!!!!

After my posting yesterday entitled Alex Anthopoulos’s Kitchen Sink wondering what the once-celebrated and now questioned Blue Jays’ GM was doing, he turned around and made a blockbuster trade to, on paper, place the Blue Jays squarely in the center of playoff contention for 2013. There must be a connection.

All they need now is a manager.

Here’s the trade breakdown:

Marlins trade RHP Josh Johnson; LHP Mark Buehrle; SS Jose Reyes; OF/INF Emilio Bonifacio; C John Buck and $4 million to the Blue Jays for SS Yunel Escobar; INF Adeiny Hechavarria; RHP Henderson Alvarez; C Jeff Mathis; and minor leaguers LHP Justin Nicolino, OF Jake Marisnick, and RHP Anthony DeSclafani.

The Blue Jays had a payroll of around $84 million n 2012 and for 2013, with these contracts they just absorbed, that rises by around $30 million based on the additions and subtractions. Over the life of the contracts with Reyes’s and Buehrle’s deals backloaded, they’ve just taken on a lot of money. That’s before calculating the addition of Maicer Izturis and raises/contract escalations for existing players.

The Blue Jays are now a $100 million+ team and their roster implies that they have to contend. They gave up a lot, but are now relevant in the AL East as something other than a building, growing, and hoping entity.

The American League East is in flux. No longer are teams like the Blue Jays and Orioles sentenced to preseason relegation as a moderately annoying inconvenience that might put up a fight early in the season with the pretense of trying to contend only to be slapped down in July and raided for players by true contenders. It’s turned upside down. The Red Sox are a mess; the Yankees are trying to learn to function with payroll constraints and ancient, declining, expensive stars; the Rays are pinching pennies; and the Orioles and Blue Jays have legitimacy.

The afterglow still holds questions. Johnson is one of baseball’s best pitchers when he’s healthy, but has had shoulder issues. Reyes is surely going to be unhappy at having been moved from Miami to Toronto and having to play half his games on turf. Buehrle can pitch on Mars and provide 200 innings. Buck is a feast or famine part-timer. And given the redundancy of Bonifacio and Izturis and that they have nowhere to play him, Bonifacio might be making a brief stop in Toronto and be on the move again relatively soon.

On paper, the Blue Jays have jumped ahead of the Yankees and Red Sox; the 2012 Orioles were a creature of circumstance that will need to get better to maintain. The Blue Jays’ rotation of Johnson, Buehrle, Brandon Morrow, Ricky Romero, and J.A. Happ is already one of baseball’s best. The lineup is invigorated by a healthy Reyes to join Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Their questions are the bullpen and who’s going to manage the team. (Willie Randolph would be a good, under-the-radar consideration. He wouldn’t put up with the fundamental mistakes evident under John Farrell and Randolph deserves another chance.)

24 hours ago, I posed the question of where the Blue Jays are headed. They answered it with a flourish. They’re trying to win. With this collection of talent, there’s no excuse for them not to do that in 2013. In fact, they don’t have much of a choice.

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Alex Anthopoulos’s Kitchen Sink

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Unwed to a particular strategy as his predecessor was, when Alex Anthopoulos took over as Blue Jays’ GM replacing J.P. Ricciardi, he exhibited a freshness that invigorated the franchise. Ricciardi did a better job than he’s given credit for, but a series of poor drafts and feuds with players from his team and others as well as the consistently mediocre, “almost there” results, led to his ouster. Anthopoulos took the controls, executed a series of well-regarded trades getting quality prospects Kyle Drabek and Travis D’Arnaud for Roy Halladay; as well as acquiring Brandon Morrow for Brandon League and was rightfully judged as a solid choice and up and coming executive who could be trusted.

The Blue Jays looked to be a team on the rise with plenty of young talent and a forward thinking GM who knew the numbers, but also trusted his old-school baseball people with flexibility of trying speed in lieu of power and on base percentage. But the on-field results are still mediocre-to-bad and now there’s a rising scrutiny on Anthopoulos. His great moves such as getting Morrow and finding a taker for Vernon Wells‘s atrocious contract have been mitigated by his poor moves such as trading Mike Napoli for Frank Francisco. Colby Rasmus and Yunel Escobar were two players who had worn out their welcomes in their prior stops, but were talented enough to make it worthwhile to get them. Escobar is still a player the front office wants to strangle because of his brain dead behavior and Rasmus has been the same disappointment with the Blue Jays he was with the Cardinals; in fact, he’s been worse.

Now the strange decision to sign career utility player Maicer Izturis to a 3-year, $10 million contract while trading a better player Mike Aviles to the Indians for a scatterarmed reliever (the Blue Jays have plenty of those) Esmil Rogers calls into greater question what the plan is. In 2012, the entire pitching staff was decimated by injuries and the strategy Anthopoulos has used to construct his bullpen with journeymen such as Kevin Gregg, Francisco, Jon Rauch, Octavio Dotel, and Sergio Santos has been a failure. His hand-picked manager, John Farrell, was roundly criticized for game-handling skills that were bordering on the inept and a profound lack of fundamentals that cost the club numerous games.

This kitchen sink strategy is reminiscent of a sous chef getting the head chef job, having many plans and innovative ideas, then overdoing it making things worse than they were before. Anthopoulos is trying a lot of different tactics, but it doesn’t hide the bottom line that his choice as manager was traded away only because the Red Sox desperately wanted him and was in serious jeopardy of being fired if they hadn’t; that the Blue Jays have consistently been labeled a team to watch, but sat by haplessly as the team that finally overtook the Red Sox and Rays in the AL East was a different kind of bird, the Orioles, with a roster that was widely expected to lose 95 games in 2012.

The Blue Jays have yet to hire a manager to replace Farrell. The trade was completed on October 21st. How long does it take to find a new manager? The pedestrian names who struggled elsewhere such as Don Wakamatsu and Manny Acta have been bandied about. How many managers does Anthopoulos get to hire and fire? How many tries at getting the recipe right will he get before the scrutiny falls squarely on him?

Getting Brett Lawrie and Morrow; dumping Wells’s onerous contract; and the perception of knowing what he’s doing have carried him this far. Much of what’s gone wrong with the Blue Jays hasn’t been the fault of Anthopoulos, but there comes a time when there has to be a legitimate improvement on the field before the question, “What’s the problem here?” is asked. That time is coming and if the Blue Jays don’t get better quick, it will be asked of Anthopoulos and right now, given the ponderous managerial search, it doesn’t appear as though he has an answer that will placate the angry masses.

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John Farrell From North of the Border and Back

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The Red Sox traded infielder Mike Aviles to the Blue Jays for the rights to manager John Farrell. Rumors briefly had Adam Lind being dealt to the Red Sox as well, but that’s been denied for now–link.

Let’s look at this maneuver from all the angles.

For the Red Sox

It’s a colossal waste of time to take individual circumstances and compare them as if they’re identical and will yield an identical result. Teams have traded for managers in the past, but the results are meaningless because one thing has nothing to do with the other. It’s the same as comparing a team that traded first basemen for pitchers. Without identifying and interpreting the individuals, it’s broad-based and empty.

A year ago, the Red Sox wanted Farrell, balked at the Blue Jays’ demands for him (reportedly Clay Buchholz) and instead hired Bobby Valentine. That turned out to be a disaster and it wasn’t the fault of Valentine. Had the Red Sox put the exact same team on the field with the rampant front office disarray and factional power struggles, they might’ve wound up closer to .500 than they did under Valentine because they wouldn’t have cleaned out the house at mid-season. They still wouldn’t have been contenders and the end result would’ve been equally as unacceptable in Boston, but there wouldn’t have been anyone like Valentine to kick out the door.

This hiring is more in line with what the Red Sox did with Terry Francona as Farrell is an agreeable presence to the remaining Red Sox veterans, is beloved by the media and liked by the fans. All are susceptible to positive feelings from their years as a title contender and Farrell is a conduit to those days.

But that doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to work unless fundamental changes are made to the constitution of the roster. The Red Sox veterans embarrassed and tuned out Francona; they pigeonholed Valentine as an unwanted interloper and did everything they could to make this season happen exactly as it did. To think that Farrell need do nothing more than walk in to make it all okay; that his sheer presence will eliminate the personnel issues that were present as far as the 2011 season, is delusional.

Unlike Valentine, Farrell has a good reputation among the players so there won’t be the avoidance there was under Valentine. They now have money to spend; it sounds as if they’re retreating to the strategy that helped build the championship contender in the first place with intelligent acquisitions rather than competing with the Yankees for big names; and they got the manager they want. Trading Aviles and possibly getting Lind are side-notes to the main story of the Red Sox wanting Farrell. They got what they wanted.

For the Blue Jays

They had a choice: they could be hardliners and try to acquire decent prospects to give the Red Sox the right to talk to and hire Farrell, or they could do as they did and bring in the useful utility veteran Aviles (and his approximate $2.5 million salary for 2013), and perhaps add Lind to the mix with his $7 million contract and move on.

The Blue Jays didn’t want Farrell back and in the coming days as this story settles down, the anonymous whispers will reveal the truth that Blue Jays’ GM Alex Anthopoulos and the baseball people were unhappy with Farrell’s complaining about the Blue Jays not spending money and casting his lovestruck gaze back toward Boston as if he was straddling the border between the United States and Canada. There won’t be open warfare, but the off-the-record stories will be leaked as to what really happened in Farrell’s two years as the Blue Jays manager.

There appears to be an experiment in baseball engineering with the Blue Jays under Anthopoulos. He’s taken great effort to make sure he’s not perceived as a stat-guy or a scouting guy. He’s using both, as he should, and doing it in a “let’s try this and see if it works” fashion and, as of right now, it’s not working. They need to hire a manager who has some experience or whom they trust not to make the same strategic missteps and have his eye on greener pastures (money-wise in pay for himself and spending on players) as Farrell clearly did.

The talk as replacement is centering around Sandy Alomar Jr. and a few other pedestrian names like Don Wakamatsu. I would not do that. I would hire a veteran manager who is strategically oriented and won’t take crap, someone like Larry Bowa. There’s talent in Toronto—a lot of it—but they can’t afford to have a manager who, bluntly, doesn’t know what he’s doing strategically and that was a major problem with the former pitcher and neophyte manager Farrell.

For John Farrell

Be careful what you wish for. This goes for both the Red Sox and Farrell.

If you were casting a movie and needed a “manager” with the square jaw, dominating physical presence, handsome looks, and manager movements, Farrell would be the first one called in. That doesn’t mean he’s a good manager. Being good and being successful are two different things. The Red Sox need a manager now and not someone to fill the uniform and mandate as Francona did when he was hired.

If Farrell thinks he’s bounding back into Boston and is taking the mantle from Francona and it will be the same situation as it was when he left in 2010, he’s got another thing coming. While the Red Sox have money to spend, they’re not repeating the same mistakes they made that got them into the 2011-2012 mess in the first place by ignoring such aspects as suitability to Boston and the pressure therein, attitude, and professionalism. Farrell can have an affect on that, but bad actors are bad actors and, by definition, are going to act badly.

It’s a lot easier to be the backup quarterback, holding a clipboard with his hat backwards, drinking in the adulation that doesn’t come from anything he’s done, but because he’s not the guy who was there before. It’s an easy sell to take the chanting of his name as validation of his value. But he’s now the one who’s under scrutiny when he actually has the job and the responsibility. It was said years ago when an assistant football coach was hired as the head coach, “Now he’s responsible for the losses.”

The honeymoon is not going to last very long if the Red Sox are 15-25 after 40 games in 2013. We won’t hear about it, but logic dictates that Farrell was in contact with Red Sox people for a long while and made it clear that he wanted the job; that he was unhappy in Toronto; and that they should make it happen if possible. Was Farrell made promises by the Blue Jays that weren’t kept? Probably. Did he, as a totally inexperienced manager knowing that the team was still building, deserve more than that? No.

He didn’t distinguish himself strategically and the players knew it. I got the impression that when Farrell was a big league pitcher and pitching coach, it bothered him when there were runners on base and they were a threat to steal at any moment, so that’s what he encouraged his baserunners to do as a manager. But like a catcher who calls for pitches that are easier for him to throw out runners stealing or arrogantly thinks that pitches he can’t hit are pitches that no hitter can hit, it mistakenly permeates his strategies. Farrell let his Blue Jays runners go bonkers on the basepaths and run themselves out of innings. They were weak fundamentally as well. That falls to Farrell.

The Red Sox under Francona played the game the right way and that’s what the organization has come to expect. The Red Sox of the Francona years didn’t have much strategy for Francona to impart. Everything was delineated from the way the starting pitchers were used to the roles of the relievers to the way the hitters approached their at bats. Francona wasn’t Grady Little and listened to the front office. Farrell isn’t Valentine and is returning to the warm welcome as a savior. This combination is troubling.

Is he a savior? If he thinks he is, it’s a problem. If he takes over and follows the strategies that worked while he was the pitching coach and the Red Sox get better players, it can work.

I’m not convinced that’s what Farrell has in mind.

Everyone here gets what they want.

That’s not always good.

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Red Sox Need To Examine John Farrell Objectively

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Before the Red Sox go crazy in trading players and doling a lucrative long-term contract on their main target to replace Bobby Valentine, John Farrell, they had better make sure that they know exactly what they’re getting. It’s not a matter of, “We’ll hire Farrell and everything will be okay.” That straw man is was erected under the supervision of those who went to the Josh Beckett school of “don’t blame me.” Valentine was part of the problem for the Red Sox this season, but only a small part. Hiring Farrell doesn’t repair the rotation; the bullpen; the pockmarked lineup; and the jockeying for power in the front office.

Because Farrell was popular amongst the players and media and an audible sigh of relief would be exhaled en masse if they hire him is another reason to hesitate. Giving the players, fans, and media what they want is one of the things the Red Sox intentionally got away from when they began rebuilding the organization as far back as Dan Duquette’s era. Considering their brattish behavior when it came to Valentine, the players lost all rights to dictate anything to the front office, let alone whom they wanted in the manager’s office. Many of the players who betrayed the “beloved” Terry Francona are gone; some remain and some undermined Valentine from the start. Now they want Farrell? And the front office is prepared to give them what they want and possibly trade players to do it?

The Red Sox had better look at Farrell objectively, not as a man but as a manager. He’d handle the media better than Valentine and the players wouldn’t overstep their bounds as they did with Valentine, but these are no longer the days in which the Red Sox had such an overwhelming array of talent that they were able to overcome controversies and dysfunction to win regardless of their issues. The team is not very good and Farrell’s managing isn’t much better. Strategic mishaps happen with every manager and they sometimes cost games; but sometimes the mistakes managers make wind up succeeding. I would say that the number of mistakes a manager makes over the course of a game are mitigated by an unknown pitcher having a great game; a hitter doing something he doesn’t normally do; or the opposing manager committing a worse gaffe. There’s a difference between a strategic and a fundamental error and I’m not talking about a shortstop booting a ground ball or the left fielder missing the cutoff man. I’m talking about a manager insisting, “This is the way we play,” when it diametrically opposes what they should be doing and what works.

The Blue Jays were mediocre in 2011 under Farrell, but they had an excuse because they were retooling the organization under GM Alex Anthopoulos. In 2012, they had expectations of playoff contention. Injuries have been proffered as an excuse as to why they’re currently 19 games under .500, but they were a .500 team before Jose Bautista, Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek, and Drew Hutchison got hurt. They’ve gotten a career year from Edwin Encarnacion and are frequently cited as a team with plenty of prospects and money to spend in the upcoming off-season.

When the actual on-field improvement will come is anyone’s guess and a large chunk of their failures have stemmed from the managerial mishaps of Farrell. He allows his players to run wild on the basepaths, stealing bases—and getting thrown out—seemingly at will; they swing for home runs and are over-aggressive at the plate. In short, they don’t play the game correctly.

Last night, for example, the final result of the game looks to be an 11-4 Yankees blowout, but in the bottom of the eighth inning, the score was 9-4 when, with one out, Rajai Davis singled off of David Robertson. Anthony Gose came up, the count went to 2-0, and Gose swung at the next pitch grounding out to the first baseman.

The Blue Jays were down 5 runs with a pitcher who has the propensity to walk people and has been shaky of late, and Gose—a speed player who has shown occasional pop in the minors—swings at a 2-0 pitch. Why? Even if he’d achieved the best possible on-paper result and hit a home run, then what? The score would’ve been 9-6. And the likelihood of that happening, with Gose having hit 1 homer in 151 plate appearances in the big leagues this season, was nearly nonexistent. Had he gotten on base with Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus behind him, there was a chance that one of them would run into a pitch and hit it out of the park to get the Blue Jays back in the game. The proper baseball move was to tell Gose to take a strike. Is it possible that Farrell did that and Gose swung anyway? I suppose. But given the way the Blue Jays play with trying to hit home runs and overaggressiveness on the basepaths, and their overall underachievement, does Farrell deserve that benefit of the doubt?

No.

It’s similar to him not deserving to be anointed the Red Sox manager just because he was a coach on the team when they were contending for World Series wins and that people like him. The Red Sox need to think long and hard before making a desperation move on Farrell because there’s a chance that he might actually make things worse.

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American League East—2012 Present and 2013 Future

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Let’s look at the current construction of each club and make an honest appraisal of their 2012 status and 2013 future. We’ll start with the AL East.

Baltimore Orioles

As an excuse to justify how brilliant they are and that their numbers are never wrong, it’s en vogue for the stats-obsessed to repeatedly reference how “lucky” the Orioles are because of their negative run differential and that their record under the shaky metric of the Pythagorean Win Theorem has them 12 games worse than their actual record.

The Orioles have three major attributes: they hit the ball out of the park; they have a deep bullpen; and they have a manager in Buck Showalter who knows how to push the right buttons. Bullpens fluctuate so there’s no guarantee that will continue into 2013; they’ll still have players who hit the ball out of the park; and Showalter is discussing a contract extension.

Their starting rotation are all in their mid-20s and they have young players Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado set to make contributions. The Orioles may take a step back next year, but they’ve turned the corner from a laughingstock where no player would choose to go unless they’re overpaid or without options to a viable destination with a plan and a chance to win. And they have a great shot at the playoffs this season.

New York Yankees

Anyone speculating about Joe Girardi’s job security is looking for a scapegoat and trying to distract from the real culprits in the team’s inconsistency and age: Brian Cashman and, to a lesser extent, the Steinbrenners.

If this team doesn’t make the playoffs, they’re going to have to make structural changes to the roster. The constant discussion of their 10 games lead in July is glossing over the fact that they’ve had one good month—June when they went 20-7. Aside from that, they’re around a .500 team and making the playoffs in 2012 is in jeopardy. They’re old, expensive, and worn down. It remains to be seen what this veteran crew is going to have left in the tank even if they do make the playoffs

All of a sudden criticism has been extended to hitting coach Kevin Long for the slide of Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, among others. Long might be gone, playoffs or not. The Yankees minor league system is dwindling in stature and legitimate prospects, thereby limiting what they’ll be able to acquire on the market; their open decision to try and reduce payroll to prevent luxury tax implications will also reduce their options to improve the team on the fly.

If they fall from the playoffs or are a one-and-done scenario, I’d fire Cashman not just for his incompetent trade for Michael Pineda and failure to address needs at the trading deadline, but also because I still have an issue with him having written a reference on team letterhead for either his girlfriend or a woman that was blackmailing him. His judgment on and off the field is highly questionable.

Maybe it’s time for Billy Eppler to get a chance or to even bring back Gene Michael for a 2-3 year run as GM.

Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays are loaded with young pitching, aggressive in making trades, and build a different bullpen every year with the refuse of other clubs. Because they are operating under severe financial constraints and the scrutiny around them is limited, they can do what they want and live with a season of 83-79 or worse to get back to 95 wins the next season. This is what they are and how they’ll remain under the current management.

Toronto Blue Jays

Edwin Encarnacion hit his 40th home run last night. He joins Jose Bautista as a journeyman player who suddenly starting hitting the ball out of the park with a ridiculous frequency for the Blue Jays. But they’re still the same team that discovers a player for whom it clicked in his late-20s, and winds up with a win total between 75-83 and is in third or fourth place in the division.

Their manager John Farrell is in demand to take over the Red Sox and the Blue Jays don’t sound all that bothered about it. Their entire starting rotation has spent time on the disabled list for one malady or another. Their offense is flashy, but as inconsistent as their would-be star pitcher Brandon Morrow.

It’s just off in Toronto. They do noticeable things like make aggressive trades, hit homers and steal bases, but they don’t win. I don’t hear people referring to GM Alex Anthopoulos as a genius much anymore. What are they thinking North of the border when they spent so many years jumping at the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays like a child trying to recover a confiscated toy, then see the Red Sox come apart, the Yankees vulnerable, and the Rays beatable and that it’s the Orioles and not the Blue Jays who are taking advantage?

I thought the Blue Jays would take the next step this season, but that belief has been prevalent for a decade and they’re frozen in place. I’m not picking them again unless they make significant changes on and off the field.

Boston Red Sox

On some level, I understand what they did when they hired Bobby Valentine to replace Terry Francona. I’m not one who’s seeing their atrocious season as validating Francona is some bizarre way. He and Theo Epstein take as much responsibility if not more as Larry Lucchino and Valentine in 2012. They were trying to move forward with the roster as it was, make a few tweaks here and there, and see if it got better. It didn’t and it’s not Valentine’s fault.

They got rid of Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and Carl Crawford, saved money and bolstered the farm system. But if you think they’re going to hire Farrell or whoever; sign a few free agents with the available money or make a big trade and they’ll be back to where they were as World Series favorites, you’ve got another thing coming. There’s a lot of work to do in Boston and it’s not going to be a short-term process. If they go half-in/half-out and try to straddle the line as they did last winter, expect more of the same in 2013.

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