American League Remaining Schedule and Playoff Chance Analysis

2013 MLB Predicted Standings, Ballparks, Football, Games, History, Management, Media, Players, Playoffs, Stats, World Series

Let’s take a look at the remaining schedules for all the teams still in the hunt for an American League playoff berth.

Boston Red Sox

Record: 89-58; 15 games remaining

Current Position: First Place by 9.5 games, American League East

Remaining Schedule: 1 game at Rays; 3 games vs. Yankees; 3 games vs. Orioles; 3 games vs. Blue Jays; 2 games at Rockies; 3 games at Orioles

The Red Sox have the best record in the American League by five games. They’re going to have a significant say in which team gets the second Wild Card given their six games against the Orioles and four against the Yankees. They’re not going to lay down as evidenced by manager John Farrell’s somewhat odd – but successful – decision last night to use Koji Uehara is a tie game that meant nothing to them. I’m wondering if Farrell has received advice from Patriots coach Bill Belichick on going for the throat at all costs because it was a Belichick move.

They don’t seem to have a preference as to whether they knock out the Yankees, Rays or Orioles. They’re playing all out, all the way.

Oakland Athletics

Record: 84-61; 17 games remaining

Current Position: First Place by 3 games, American League West

Remaining Schedule: 1 game at Twins; 3 games at Rangers; 3 games vs. Angels; 4 games vs. Twins; 3 games at Angels; 3 games at Mariners

The A’s lead the Rangers by three games and have three games with them this weekend. Strength of schedule can be a dual-edged sword. This isn’t the NFL, but teams whose seasons are coming to a disappointing close are just as likely to get some motivation by playing teams that have something to play for as they are to bag it and give up. The Angels have played better lately and the Mariners can pitch.

Detroit Tigers

Record: 84-62; 16 games remaining

Current Position: First Place by 6.5 games, American League Central

Remaining Schedule: 3 games vs. Royals; 4 games vs. Mariners; 3 games vs. White Sox; 3 games vs. Twins; 3 games vs. Marlins

The Tigers’ upcoming schedule is pretty weak and they have a good cushion for the division. They can’t coast, but they can relax a bit.

Texas Rangers

Record: 81-64; 17 games remaining

Current Position: Second Place by 3 games, American League West; lead first Wild Card by 3.5 games

Remaining Schedule: 3 games vs. Athletics; 4 games at Rays; 3 games at Royals; 3 games vs. Astros; 4 games vs. Angels

The Rangers are in jeopardy of falling out of the playoffs entirely if they slip up over the next ten games. All of those teams have something to play for and the Rangers have been slumping.

Tampa Bay Rays

Record: 78-66; 18 games remaining

Current Position: Second Place by 9.5 games, American League East; lead second Wild Card by 1 game

Remaining Schedule: 1 game vs. Red Sox; 3 games at Twins; 4 games at Rangers; 4 games at Orioles; 3 games at Yankees; 3 games at Blue Jays

With the way they’re currently playing (think the 2007 Mets) they’re not going to right their ship in time to make the playoffs. They’d better wake up. Fast.

New York Yankees

Record: 78-68; 16 games remaining

Current Position: Third Place by 10.5 games; 1 game behind for the second Wild Card

Remaining Schedule: 1 game at Orioles; 3 games at Red Sox; 3 games at Blue Jays; 3 games vs. Giants; 3 games vs. Rays; 3 games at Astros

There’s a reluctance to say it, but the Yankees are better off without this current version of Derek Jeter. He was hurting the team offensively and defensively. Their problem has nothing to do with schedules or how they’re playing, but with age and overuse. They’re hammering away with their ancient veterans for one last group run. Mariano Rivera is being repeatedly used for multiple innings out of necessity; Alex Rodriguez is hobbled; David Robertson is pitching hurt; Shawn Kelley isn’t 100 percent; Andy Pettitte is gutting his way through. If they’re in it in the last week, will there be any gas left in their collective tanks?

Cleveland Indians

Record: 77-68; 17 games remaining

Current Position: Second Place by 6.5 games, American League Central; 1.5 games behind for the second Wild Card

Remaining Schedule: 4 games at White Sox; 3 games at Royals; 4 games vs. Astros; 2 games vs. White Sox; 4 games at Twins

The White Sox are playing about as badly as the Astros without the excuse of lack of talent/innocent youth. They just don’t seem to care. The Indians’ schedule pretty much guarantees they’ll at least be alive in the last week of the season.

Baltimore Orioles

Record: 77-68; 17 games remaining

Current Position: Fourth Place by 11 games, American League East; 1.5 games behind for the second Wild Card

Remaining Schedule: 1 game vs. Yankees; 3 games at Blue Jays; 3 games at Red Sox; 4 games at Rays; 3 games vs. Blue Jays; 3 games vs. Red Sox

The Red Sox are taking great, sadistic pleasure in hampering the playoff hopes of anyone and everyone and have shown no preference in who they’re beating on. This will hurt and/or help the Orioles. The big games to watch are those four with the Rays.

Kansas City Royals

Record: 77-69; 16 games remaining

Current Position: Third Place by 7 games, American League Central; 2 games behind for the second Wild Card

Remaining Schedule: 3 games at Tigers; 3 games vs. Indians; 3 games vs. Rangers; 3 games at Mariners; 4 games at White Sox

I’d like to see the Royals make the playoffs because: A) they’re a likable young team; B) we need some new blood in the post-season; and B) the likes of Rany Jazayerli, Rob Neyer, Joe Sheehan and the rest of the stat-obsessed “experts” who live to bash the Royals will either have to admit they’re wrong (unlikely) or will join together to play a disturbing game of middle-aged men Twister (hopefully clothed) to justify why they were “right” even though Dayton Moore’s moves worked and the Royals leapt into contention and more.

It will be nice having an experienced arm like James Shields for a one-game Wild Card playoff or for the first game of the ALDS. I have a feeling about the Royals making the playoffs. And it’s gonna be funny.




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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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The Royals Should Not Sell

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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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Dusty Baker Has No Leverage With The Stat People

Games, History, Management, Media, Players, Stats

The problem with bloggers, armchair experts and even beat reporters is that they think they know everything based on the numbers, the statements of the participants and history even when they don’t know and much of their critique is based on personal feelings and not facts and reality.

Yesterday the Reds lost to the Pirates in the eleventh inning after manager Dusty Baker didn’t use closer Aroldis Chapman in what is referred to here on HardballTalk as “high leverage situations.” The same piece also asserts that Baker “utilizes his bullpen according to the save rule.”

I have no problem with criticism if it’s accurate, but “managing according to the save rule” is an all-encompassing accusation that is used to hammer home the indictment against Baker even if the numbers defy it. Baker has used Chapman in 27 games this season. 16 were in save situations and 11 weren’t. The statingest of stat-loving clubs have similar numbers with their closers:

Fernando Rodney, Rays: save situations – 16; non-save situations – 9

Grant Balfour, Athletics: save situations – 13; non-save situations – 11

Jose Veras, Astros: save situations – 13; non-save situations – 12

Taking into account that the Reds are 35-22 and have had more opportunities to use Chapman in save situations than the other clubs and that the Reds have had 12 games that are classified as “blowouts” in comparison to the A’s having had 16, the Rays 18, and the Astros 19 (mostly on the losing end), is there a significant difference between people who the stat guys think are managing correctly and what Baker’s done? Add in that for most of the season Baker has had two former closers Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall to pitch the eighth inning and the argument for using Chapman in the eighth inning becomes weaker.

In order for Baker or any other manager to not manage according to the save rule would require a shifting of the entire bullpen to a perfect world scenario of varied arms and no particular role for any—the bullpen-by-committee. The bullpen-by-committee could work if there are young pitchers who can’t complain about their roles, veteran journeymen just happy to have a job, and a manager who’s comfortable in working in such a manner. This confluence of circumstances is hard to come by. In fact, in baseball today, it doesn’t exist.

And I thought the general rule of thumb was to use the closer at home if the game is tied or there’s a close deficit in the top of the ninth inning. If Baker was indeed holding Chapman out for the save opportunity, was it that terrible a decision if just about everyone—barring an emergency—does it? The “everyone” I’m referring to includes teams run by Billy Beane, Andrew Friedman, Theo Epstein and Jeff Luhnow who are idols in stat circles.

It got worse when Baker replied to a question as to why he didn’t use Chapman by saying, “That’s a manager’s decision,” he said. “You can’t put in Chapman all the time. I was saving Chapman for the (save). It’s easy now to say. I don’t know, man, maybe you should come down and manage.”

Chapman hasn’t pitched since Monday and has only pitched twice this week as Keith Law snarkily tweeted:

#allthetime RT @JYerina5: Dusty on why Chapman didn’t face Jones: “You can’t put in Chapman all the time” He has pitched twice this week

Let’s put Law in to manage a club somewhere and see how long he lasts with the amount of abuse the players would heap upon him as a non-player who’s really short, pompous and obnoxious before he ran away crying; how long he was able to take the scrutiny and sudden enemy status of those he thought were “allies” when he has a deer-in-the-headlights look at dealing with everything a manager has to deal with.

The critics wanted Baker to use Chapman in the eighth inning to pitch to Garrett Jones instead of having had Broxton do it. Broxton gave up a game-tying homer to Jones so this is the classic second guess. Is the strategic preference advocated by the “leverage” theory accurate? Yes, I suppose it is if the Reds had a dual-headed closer and used Chapman/Broxton interchangeably to get the admittedly meaningless stat save it would be, but they don’t. No team uses more than one closer, not even the Rays, A’s or Astros. Chapman has not pitched more than one inning since last August and needed to be shelved for a brief time in September because of shulder fatigue. Maybe he can’t pitch more than one inning.

The real culprits to Baker not using a lefty to pitch to Jones is the fact that he doesn’t have Marshall, who’s on the disabled list with a sore shoulder and that the Reds don’t use both Broxton and Chapman to close. If he had Marshall, we’re not talking about this because he would’ve had a lefty to pitch to Jones. If he used either Broxton or Chapman, Chapman might’ve started the eighth inning.

The question then becomes this: Would Baker have gotten ripped for using the myriad of alternatives because he didn’t have an explanation that suited the aesthetic of the critics who tear him to shreds no matter what he does or doesn’t do?

Don’t you think that Baker would’ve found a game to get Chapman into this week if he had the opportunity to get him some work? Chapman pitched on Monday May 27th and on Saturday night recording saves in both games. The game on Sunday was an afternoon game. Could it be that Chapman has something bothering him with his shoulder or elbow and is a bit tender if he’s used too much? He had shoulder problems last season, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that there’s something tweaked and he was only available for one inning.

Could it be that Baker, in an admittedly clumsy fashion as evidenced by the response that was in the linked piece on HardballTalk, was trying to deflect that Chapman might be having some sort of an issue that the Reds don’t want anyone to know about? One that isn’t a long-term problem but could affect the way opposing teams stack their lineup and prepare their bench for the eventuality that Chapman might be used? The easy thing to do for the bloggers and “experts” is to take the decision and manager’s statement as to why he made the decision at face value and go to town in one of their favorite pastimes: unleashing on a manager they despise. It fits into the biases and beliefs of their constituencies that others could do a better job than the actual manager of the team whether they have the whole story or not.

Or maybe it was just a “manager’s decision” as Baker said, one he made based on the players he had available, the ones he didn’t, and the roles that have been assigned to relievers not just by him, but by every team in baseball. It just so happens that stat people hate Baker and use him as their case study of what’s “wrong” with managing. Except it’s everywhere and everyone else does pretty much the same thing.

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A-Rod Upstages the Super Bowl

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Jim Harbaugh. John Harbaugh. Ray Lewis. Colin Kaepernick. Randy Moss. Joe Flacco. And…Alex Rodriguez?

The easiest thing to do in this latest media firestorm surrounding A-Rod would be to set up a table in New Orleans at or around Super Bowl XLVII and let him join in with the frenzy to save time and airfare for everyone. A-Rod has a talent for jumping to the forefront of big events in which he is not participating. In 2007, during the Red Sox-Rockies World Series, it was announced that A-Rod was opting out of his Yankees contract. Blame for the “mistake” in timing was doled on agent Scott Boras. Because Boras is seen as the epitome of evil and a Svengali who latched his claws into the fatherless A-Rod at a young age and unduly influenced him to make decisions he wouldn’t have made if left to his own devices, it’s easy to turn him into the fall guy whether it’s true or not.

Boras no longer represents A-Rod and his problems have gotten worse, not better.

The latest is A-Rod’s name popping up in the notes of a shady anti-aging clinic in Miami—NY Times Story.

I suppose it’s possible that he’s innocent. We can ask the simplest questions: Why would anyone be stupid enough to write the actual name of the client instead of using a code? Why don’t these players just get up and go to Mexico, Switzerland, Iceland, Japan, Mars, Jupiter or anywhere they can simply do what they need to do using a false name, pay in cash and come back with no paper trail and no one the wiser? Why would A-Rod continue to poke the eyes of anyone and everyone for (considering his plummet in the past several years) what amounted to zero return?

A-Rod will be referred to as arrogant, but that may not be the case. It may be insecurity and, in a weird way, a certain nobility of trying to live up to the money the Yankees are paying him by taking PEDs to be able to perform. There will be comparisons to Lance Armstrong, but as far as we know, A-Rod has never wantonly destroyed the lives of those who tried to expose him in an effort to prop up a front of philanthropy and honor. The only person he’s succeeded in destroying is himself. He’s not as arrogant or stupid as he is oblivious.

That obliviousness hasn’t extended to ignorance of reality. He’s still cognizant of plausible deniability and legal ramifications. You won’t see A-Rod sitting in front of Congress denying PED use and wagging his finger in their faces a la Rafael Palmeiro; you won’t see him on 60 Minutes like Roger Clemens. You might see him pleading his case to the media as Barry Bonds did once a sufficient amount of time has passed and he thinks it might be safe to argue his Hall of Fame worthiness. For right now, A-Rod is smart enough to keep quiet and lawyer up.

Major League Baseball itself is again left running into one another like some slapstick comedy worthy of Benny Hill, trying to spin their inability to get in front of these stories and cleaning up the mess after the fact. They knew about this Miami clinic and were investigating it in the hopes that a bolt of lightning out of the sky would provide them with cause to suspend the players who used its services. They were unsuccessful.

A-Rod is the glossiest name on the list, but it’s no shock for him to wind up in the middle of incidents such as these. Gio Gonzalez, whose career has taken a wondrous jump to “ace” is on the list. Nelson Cruz was a journeyman until age 28 when he hit 33 homers is on the list. Melky Cabrera we already know about. Yasmani Grandal is a yet-to-be-established kid and is on the list. Bartolo Colon was trying to hang on and is on the list.

The fine line between developing and using outlawed “helpers” to improve is no longer blurred. It’s gone. Every player is under scrutiny. Which is the real Gonzalez? Did he naturally evolve from his initial opportunities in the big leagues in 2008-2009 when he showed flashes of great talent with terrible results to the rising star in 2010-2011 and then third in the NL Cy Young Award voting in 2012? Or was it in 2009-2010 when someone whispered in his ear that if he went to this Miami clinic, they’d provide him with potions to send his career into the stratosphere?

Any statistical evidence is presented with the benefit of hindsight and all players are suspect.

For A-Rod, we’ll never know if everything was a creation of PEDs or if he was using them at age 25? 28? 30? 35? to perform and make a ton of money; to maintain; to return from injury and live up to his contract. The one thing he has in common with Armstrong is that he’s not credible in anything he says even if, at some point, he decides to “confess.”

A-Rod’s career with the Yankees is over. The Yankees are said to be poring over his contract to try and find a way to keep from paying him. As much as A-Rod is reviled by contemporaries, the MLB Players Association will fight for him to get every single penny on that contract from now until the Rapture and even then, they’ll have to stand in front of Jesus and find a reason not to give A-Rod his money. And they’ll lose. (When I say Jesus, I mean Christ. Not a distant A-Rod relative who did his bidding as a human shield.)

What will happen is this:

MLB will try and find a way to suspend A-Rod and these other players and fail.

The Yankees will try and get out of paying him and fail.

A-Rod won’t agree to the floated insurance scheme that a doctor says he can’t play again.

A-Rod won’t play again for the Yankees; they’ll come to an agreement to pay him off, perhaps deferring some of it so they have cash on hand and it’s not a lump sum payment.

A team like the Marlins, A’s or Rays will sign him against the wishes of MLB. A-Rod will repeat the 2011-2012 performances of Manny Ramirez and provide nothing other than aggravation and a media circus.

Some other embarrassment will occur with A-Rod because that’s like the sun coming up—once you see it happen every day of your life, you just sort of expect it.

A-Rod will epitomize the ending in the novel version of The Natural in which Roy Hobbs doesn’t redeem himself and lives his life wondering what might have been. This isn’t Hollywood, but the ending is just as predictable. Unlike Hobbs, A-Rod will be very wealthy when he fades into oblivion with a career blotted out by a giant asterisk of his own making. There are no excuses and no one left to blame anymore.

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The Rejected Justin Upton Trade: Q&A

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The general reaction to the proposed Justin Upton trade from the Diamondbacks to the Mariners has been, “Why?”

Why would the Diamondbacks and GM Kevin Towers bother negotiating and completing the deal pending Upton’s approval while knowing that approval wasn’t going to come?

Why would the Mariners make such a deal while surrendering four players—Charlie Furbush, Nick Franklin, Stephen Pryor and Taijuan Walker—when the general consensus is that they need more than Upton to compete in a tough division?

Let’s discuss the answers.

Why did Towers bother?

Towers has no choice now. He has to get Upton out of there. He’s put himself in this position and there are lingering questions as to why there’s such a desperation to get rid of a 25-year-old, power hitting right fielder who’s signed to a reasonable contract. Usually in such a case there’s an obvious reason such as open animosity between player and club, money, poor performance or a rebuilding process. None of this is evident with Upton and the Diamondbacks. This is going to permeate the dealmaking process and clubs interested in Upton who may not have heard whispers (if they exist) of the real reason Upton’s available will hesitate and want an answer before they surrender a package similar to the Mariners.

The Mariners offer is important. Furbush is a useful lefty specialist, but the other players are significant. Pryor is a potential closer; Walker has a great power arm; Franklin is a former first round pick as a middle infielder with pop.

Towers was reportedly aware that Upton wasn’t going to okay the deal and perhaps he was hoping that the wearing down of the trade rumors that have gone on for over a year might spur Upton to say, “Let me outta here already.” But it was also a message to the rest of baseball that the cost for Upton is going to be steep for a deal to get done.

It makes sense in a way, but it might have backfired for Towers as the desire to trade Upton has now become a need. The difference between “I will” and “I must” is stark and the Diamondbacks have almost completely crossed that threshold. By that logic, they’re going to wind up with far less for Upton than what they were getting from the Mariners.

How did this help the Mariners?

On the surface, it’s a logical progression to use their farm system to acquire a superstar talent they’ll have at a reasonable cost for the next three years, but the Mariners knew that Upton would reject the trade just like the Diamondbacks did. But they tried anyway. Why?

Here’s why: Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik is in the final year of his contract. A surprising (and lucky) 85 wins in what was supposed to be year one of a rebuild in 2009 has lost its luster. He was referred to as a “genius,” and a new age thinker who used both scouting experience and new age stats to run his club. But disastrous signings such as Chone Figgins and off-field missteps like the allegations of lying in the entirety of his Cliff Lee dealings with the Yankees and subsequently trading for an accused rapist Josh Lueke made Zduriencik appear shady and amoral.

Whether it’s a fair assessment or not is irrelevant. If the on-field product had been better, these issues could be glossed over, but the on-field product has been awful and no one wants to hear about a rebuilt farm system. The Mariners have finished in last place in the AL West in each of the past three seasons and are desperately flinging things at the wall—Raul Ibanez, Jason Bay, Upton, flirting with Josh Hamilton, bringing in the fences at Safeco Field—and hoping to regain some attention from a fan base that’s stopped coming to the park.

Forgetting the on-field issues, here’s the bottom line: when Pat Gillick and Lou Piniella were running the place, the Mariners were first in attendance in baseball in 2001-2002. The last year when Bill Bavasi was GM in 2008 they lost 100 games and were sixth in attendance. In 2009, when they won those 85 games, they were seventh. In 2010, the year they acquired Lee to couple with Felix Hernandez and the Mariners were a trendy pick to make the playoffs, they were seventh. They were eighth in 2010 and 2011 and eleventh in 2012. It gets worse from there unless major names are acquired. They tried that with Upton and he said no.

With Ichiro Suzuki no longer there as a nominal drawing card, what possible reason other than King Felix is there to go see the games as long as the fans don’t think there’s any chance for them to win in a division with the Rangers, Angels and A’s?

The Upton trade was desperation, pure and simple, because Zduriencik’s job is on the line and if the season goes poorly without legitimate improvement, he’s getting fired. In fact, he might get fired during the season before the beginning of summer.

Was it worth it to the Diamondbacks and Mariners?

It was only worth it if they had convinced Upton to accept the trade before it leaked to the media. They didn’t. Now matters are worse for both. In the end, it was a huge gaffe that will define the organizations until the situations are settled and that settlement may not end as either Towers or Zduriencik envisioned unless they accounted for a worst case scenario that is looking more and more likely with each passing day.

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The R.A. Dickey Trade, Part I—The Rumors Are Lies

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The Mets’ trade of R.A. Dickey to the Blue Jays along with catcher Josh Thole and a minor leaguer for catcher Travis d’Arnaud, catcher John Buck, minor league righty Noah Syndergaard and another minor leaguer is contingent on Dickey signing a contract extension with the Blue Jays by Tuesday afternoon. Until then, it’s not done. But negative analysis of why the Mets are doing this has run the gamut from them being tight-fisted to petulant to stupid.

It’s none of the above.

The easy storyline is to take Dickey’s comments at the Mets’ holiday party as the last straw. At least that’s what’s being implied by the New York media. That holiday party has become a petri dish for dissent and the final impetus to trade players. It was in 2005, after all, that Kris Benson’s tenure with the club was effectively ended when his camera-loving wife Anna Benson arrived in a revealing, low-cut red dress. Then-Mets’ GM Omar Minaya subsequently sent Benson to the Orioles for John Maine and Jorge Julio, which turned out to be a great deal for the Mets.

The Benson trade and the pending Dickey trade are comparable in one realistic way: they got value back. Maine was a good pitcher for the Mets for several years and they spun Julio to the Diamondbacks for Orlando Hernandez, who also helped them greatly. With Dickey, it’s an organizational move for the future and not one to cut a problem from the clubhouse.

Were the Mets irritated by Dickey’s constant chatter? Probably a bit. In looking at it from the Mets’ position, of all the clubs Dickey pitched for as he was trying to find his way with the knuckleball—the Rangers, Brewers, Twins (three times), and Mariners (twice)—it was they who gave him a legitimate shot. He took advantage of it, they got lucky and he became a star because of his fascinating tale on and off the field and his ability to tell it. It’s not to be ignored that the Mets, under Sandy Alderson, gave Dickey a 2-year, $7.8 million guaranteed contract after he had one good season in 2010. They didn’t have to do that. They could’ve waited to see him do it again, wondering if it was a fluke. The Mets invested in Dickey and he agreed to it. For him to complain about the contract he signed with such silly statements as the $5 million club option for 2013 setting a “bad dynamic” and threatening to leave after the 2013 season as a free agent were things better left unsaid considering all the variables.

If the Mets were truly interested in wringing every last drop out of Dickey and seeing if he could repeat his 2012 season while placating the ignorant fans complaining about this brilliant trade, they would’ve kept Dickey on the cheap as a drawing card and worried about later later—just as they did with Jose Reyes.

Rather than repeat that mistake, they dangled Dickey to pitcher-hungry teams and when they didn’t get the offers they deemed acceptable, they waited until the big names (Zack Greinke, James Shields) and medium names (Ryan Dempster, Anibal Sanchez) came off the market and struck. That it was simultaneous to the holiday party “controversy” is a matter of timing convenient for conspiracy theories. Delving deeper into the reality of the situation and there’s no substance to the “Dickey Must Go” perception.

This is a cold, calculating decision on the part of the Mets for the future, not to send a message. If you think Alderson was influenced by Dickey’s comments, you’re misjudging Alderson badly. It’s amazing that he’s been able to convince the Wilpons to make deals for the long-term that won’t be popular with a large segment of the fanbase and will provide kindling for the members of the media to light another fire to burn the embattled owners at the stake, but he did it. Personalities didn’t enter into it. Alderson, as the A’s GM, had Jose Canseco and Rickey Henderson. While they were productive, he kept them and tolerated their mouths and controversies, then discarded them. As CEO of the Padres, he acquired Heath Bell knowing his reputation. It’s not personal until the personal is affecting the professional. Dickey’s situation hadn’t reached that tipping point.

It’s a childhood fantasy to believe that every player in a major league clubhouse is a close friend to every other player in a major league clubhouse. Like any workplace, there’s conflict, clashes and little habits that get on the nerves of others. Did Dickey’s sudden fame grate people in the Mets clubhouse? Were they jealous? Probably, especially since there’s a prevailing perception that a knuckleballer is comparable to a placekicker in football and isn’t really getting hitters out as much as he’s tricking them with a pitch they rarely see. Whether or not that’s true is irrelevant. As we saw in the Cy Young Award voting, no one’s giving credit based on how they got their results. Dickey was among the top pitchers in the National League and garnered enough votes to win the award. The Cy Young Award, like Reyes’s batting championship is a title based on so many factors that it shouldn’t enter into the equation as to whether or not a player stays or goes.

How many players are there about whom teammates, on-field management, front office people and opponents don’t roll their eyes and whisper to media members of how annoying they are? In today’s game, there’s Mariano Rivera. 30 years ago, there was Dale Murphy. Apart from that, who?

Even Goose Gossage, who has replaced Bob Feller as the Hall of Fame’s grumpy old man in residence, doesn’t criticize Rivera personally when going into one of his rants about closers of today that should begin with a fist pounded on the desk and, “In my day…” and end with, “Get off my lawn!!!”

On the opposite end, there are players universally reviled like Barry Bonds. Most are in the middle. People can still do their jobs without loving the person they work with.

The trade of Dickey was baseball related and nothing more. It was the right call.

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The Angels’ Toxic Stew

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The Angels are in flux and trying to change on the fly with remnants of the old and facets of the new creating a strange brew that didn’t work in 2012 and is unlikely to work in 2013 and beyond. They have decided to move forward with manager Mike Scioscia after a disappointing and expensive season, but he has still been marginalized in influence. Hiring the best qualified and most impressive people isn’t always the best policy when maintaining what was already in place. GM Jerry Dipoto thinks differently from the manager, field staff and minor league personnel he inherited, but is stuck with them due to contractual obligations and apparent attachments.

On and off field changes are taking place in the aftermath of the $151 million club missing the playoffs while the Athletics—built similarly to the way Dipoto would build his clubs—made the playoffs with a $53 million payroll. Ervin Santana was traded to the Royals; Dan Haren will learn his fate—trade, contract option rejected or exercised—today; Zack Greinke and Torii Hunter are free agents; and in an under-the-radar, behind the scenes decision that might have consequences, longtime minor league manager and scout Tom Kotchman left the organization.

They’re walking the line between the past and the future, but that future is saddled with players like Albert Pujols who will turn 33 in January and is under contract until 2021; there’s a lack of definition in what they are and what their strategy will be.

Scioscia preferred his teams to be old-school and resistant to slumps with deep starting pitching that gobbled innings; a versatile bullpen with a hard-throwing closer; a lineup that hits home runs, but also speed to play small ball; and a very good defense. How much of that is present now with the departure of Santana and possibly Haren and Greinke? The lineup is not adhering to the same template Scioscia wanted. They’re not the same team, but have the same man running it on the field. The remaining bitterness between the manager, the GM and an irritated owner creates an antagonistic atmosphere. This type of dysfunction can work, but it certainly makes life easier for everyone if there isn’t such an obvious split in how things are run.

It extends to everyone. Arte Moreno is a well-liked and committed owner who tries to do the right thing. He encouraged stability with his manager, gave his baseball people free rein, and spent money. But when hiring someone with the mindset of Dipoto, inserting massive stars the level of Pujols into the mix, and essentially castrating Scioscia, the situation spiraled quickly when they didn’t win. They righted the ship to a degree and got back into playoff contention, but it was too late. For a club that was widely expected to win a championship, an 89-73 season doesn’t warrant excuses especially when a team like the Athletics blew past them like they were standing still and infighting, hoping no one would notice and sheer star power would carry them through. They made the mistake that other teams have made thinking that having good people means they’ll be able to work together and ride talent to waltz into the post-season. They didn’t. Now they’re moving forward with the same people that couldn’t get on the same page last season.

If Moreno wanted to go with a different GM, then he would be better served to let that GM hire a manager he wants. That is clearly not Scioscia. This is not an indictment of Scioscia, nor is it a defense of the longtime manager. It’s fact. His overmanaging and strange strategic maneuverings have hindered the club in the past, but at least everyone was in agreement as to the Angels’ way of doing things and they succeeded or failed as one. Now that’s not the case. Now there’s known fracture that’s not being repaired. With the structure in disarray and an ongoing struggle; a very rough AL West; and aging stars, it’s a hard formula to make work.

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The Cheap Shots Against Mike Francesa Are Unnecessary

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WFAN in New York announced yesterday that, starting in November, the longtime AM station on 660 here in New York will be simulcast on 101.9 FM—NY Times Story. How much longer they’re going to be broadcasting with their signature name on the station, Mike Francesa, is unknown, but if the cheap shots perpetrated by media “watchers,” columnists, callers, and critics continue, it wouldn’t be a shock for the 58-year-old Francesa to give it a few more years and walk away for an easier, less time-consuming job. If he chose to relax his schedule, one of the multitudes of NFL shows on CBS, Fox, NFL Network, or many others would certainly have him. Presumably, CBS would be pleased to have Francesa discussing golf and NCAA basketball along with football.

With young children at home, the question for Francesa will change from, “What will I do if I don’t have this outlet 5-6 days a week to talk sports,” to, “Do I need this aggravation and to put in all these hours if I have to deal with 24/7 ridicule for minuscule missteps?”

If you’d like to attack Francesa for his pomposity, egomania, occasional laziness, dismissal of those who disagree with him, and overbearing demeanor, then fine. Go nuts. But in another piece in today’s NY Times, when discussing Tigers’ pitcher Al Alburquerque’s strange decision to kiss the baseball before throwing Athletics’ outfielder Yoenis Cespedes out on a comebacker in game 2 of the ALDS, the author mentions Francesa’s confusion as to what a caller was talking about when he referenced Alburquerque a year ago during the Tigers-Yankees ALDS series.

Why?

Did it fit into the narrative or was it just tossed in there in case someone did a search on the Times website for “Mike Francesa”?

Yesterday another caller cryptically and in an unfunny fashion alluded to Francesa’s famous falling asleep episode from last month while WFAN Yankees beat reporter Sweeny Murti was on. Francesa made the mistake of first denying it happened, and now when it’s broached, he goes into a long diatribe about his 20+ year career in broadcasting, the awards he’s won, etc. If I were advising him, I’d tell him to make a joke about it. It happened. I didn’t see it as a big deal then and it’s not a big deal now. It’s a bigger story if he or anyone manages to stay awake during a Sweeny Murti appearance.

Say what you want about Francesa, but he worked hard to get where he is. No one handed it to him and, at his age, it’s not easy to sit in a studio alone 6 days a week and talk sports for 5+ hours a day. Also, he has to read commercials, do appearances, and the other aspects of being a sports personality that take time and energy to do and that listeners aren’t aware of or think takes much effort.

During the summer, Francesa is often criticized for the amount of vacation time he takes. As stated before, he has young children. The days of working, working, working have to stop sometime. Part of it is his fault for not taking on a partner to replace Chris Russo. The show would probably be better and he’d have someone to pick up the slack, but that’s his choice. What those who seem determined to drive him off the air have to ask themselves is what they’ll be listening to if Francesa chooses to end this losing battle and go do something that isn’t as taxing. If you’ve listened to what WFAN puts on in his stead over those summer months when he’s off, you realize that the alternatives are not only weak, but they’re boring, skittish, obnoxious, and unlistenable unless you prefer them to the choices of Sean Hannity, bad top-40, dated rock, or shutting the radio off entirely.

Keep pushing Francesa out the door and you’ll learn that not only is his afternoon spot going to be difficult to fill literally, but figuratively as well.

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Surprise Buyers—National League

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Yesterday I looked at the American League teams that are somewhat surprisingly in contention and what they should and shouldn’t do. Now let’s look at the National League.

New York Mets

It has to have flashed through the minds of everyone in the organization that if they somehow managed to get into the playoffs, the last thing any opposing club is going to want to see is R.A. Dickey and Johan Santana coming at them in a short series.

The jury is still out on them considering their second half swoons of years past, but few objective people thought they’d have gotten to July not only with the Wilpons still owning the team, but in serious playoff contention.

They’re looking for bullpen help and reportedly contacted the Padres about Huston Street. I’d call the Padres, but not for Street. My preference would be Luke Gregerson.

Grant Balfour of the A’s should be on the radar as well.

They could use an outfield bat. It doesn’t sound as if Seth Smith is available from the A’s right now, but he should be in play at the deadline. The Mets had interest in him over the winter.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Manager Clint Hurdle should have business cards made up that say:

Clint Hurdle

Former SI Coverboy

Busted Prospect Turned 4-A Journeyman

Hitting Coach

Manager Who Knows How to Run A Bullpen

Doesn’t…Take…Crap

The Pirates are for real. They catch the ball and they pitch. Early in the season that kept them around the .500 mark. Now Pedro Alvarez is hitting for some power to assist MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen. They still need one and maybe two bats to be serious contenders. They’re not going to gut the system nor are they taking on a lot of money which limits what they can do. Two players from the Padres make sense. Carlos Quentin is going to get traded and is a free agent at the end of the season. Chase Headley is being bandied about.

I’d be hesitant to do anything too drastic and mess with the Pirates’ current chemistry nor would I go for a big name and sabotage what they’re building.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Carlos Lee has long been an underrated player and is better with the glove at both first base and in the outfield than he’s ever been given credit for. The change to a pennant race might wake up his power bat. But the Dodgers need a bigger, more productive power hitter than Lee.

I’d focus on Justin Morneau.

They could use a starting pitcher and some bullpen help. Ryan Dempster, Cole Hamels and Zack Greinke have been linked with the Dodgers. Balfour, Street, Brandon League, Brian Fuentes and any other available reliever will be a target.

GM Ned Colletti is aggressive and will trade prospects to gets what he wants in trying to win now.

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