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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Billy Beane As Doctor Doom

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It’s amazing how Billy Beane’s “genius” fluctuates based the Athletics’ record. While the A’s were consistently losing despite his best efforts at being a “genius” from 2007 through half of 2012, there weren’t many lusty articles, stories, poems or manuals written as to his management style. His followers were lying in wait for the opportunity to restart their version of the Crusades and they got it with the unlikely, almost inexplicable comeback from 13 games out of first place on June 30 to win the AL West.

With the combination of the early 2012 release of the movie version of Moneyball and the A’s comeback, he’d reacquired the title of “smarter than the average bear” or whatever other adjectives his supporters and those who benefit from the perception of “genius” want to use. Of course there was no connection between Moneyball and how the 2012 A’s were built, but that doesn’t matter when appealing to the casual baseball fan—some of whom decided, “Hey, I went to Harvard. Even though I never watched or played baseball, it’ll be a fun thing to do!!”—and actually managed to get jobs in the game as the new era of “experts” who came late to the revolution.

The 2013 A’s are under .500 after losing to the Mariners yesterday and without their 6-0 record against the historically dreadful Astros (Bo Porter does know the rules regarding wins and losses, right?) and 5-1 record against the staggering Angels, they’re 8-19 against the rest of baseball. Will the “genius” mysteriously return if and when the A’s start winning again?

Beane, a fan of English Premier League soccer/football, said in an NBC Sports piece with fellow stat-savvy writer Joe Posnanski that he’d like baseball to adopt a system similar to the one used in the Premier League in which the team with the best record gets the title. It’s a idiotic idea for baseball based on the fantasy of accruing that ever-elusive championship that he’s yet to achieve in spite of the best efforts of his biographers, mythmakers, and “check your brain at the door” worshippers, but why not? Truth was twisted at Billy’s and Michael Lewis’s combined mighty hands, maybe they can alter the fabric of what’s made baseball what it is today and eliminate the post-season entirely to suit the flesh and blood Billy and the fictional “Billy.”

When he uses the term “gauntlet of randomness” he sounds like Doctor Doom who, in Marvel Comics, is a power-hungry megalomaniac who speaks as if he’s narrating his own life because he is narrating his own life and referring to himself in the third person said, “Every utterance of Doom must be preserved for posterity.”

Maybe it’s because the public version of Beane is a fictional character whose exploits are neither realistic nor real. Those who took Moneyball and transformed it into the stat geek’s New Testament treat is as a basis upon which to live their baseball lives and consider any who protest to be infidels to the new order. Except it’s just a story.

The comic book character analogy is appropriate because Beane uses whatever the situation currently is to determine how he’ll present himself. The A’s were losing, so he became the everyman who was just trying to make his way in the world. They started winning again with a supernatural timing to coincide with the movie being released on DVD and he’s able to turn water into wine, stone into bread, and Brandon Moss into Jason Giambi. There seems to be the impression that Beane was sitting in his darkened office late at night in May of 2012 with his fingers tented and an evil laugh slowly building from his diaphragm on up and in a Dracula voice saying, “Mwaahahhaaa!!! De vorld iz ah-sleep. Ven dey leest expect it, I vill unleash de terrrifyink weh-pohn ov….Brrrrandon Mossss!!! MWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!”

Except the longtime journeyman Moss was in the minor leagues for the first two months of the season while the A’s messed around with Kila Ka’aihue and Daric Barton at first base. If Moss was such a known contributor, why was Beane hiding him while the team was floundering? No answer is given because the answer doesn’t suit the narrative, so the question is ignored but for the results: Moss has played great as an Athletic, therefore Beane is a genius for “discovering” him.

The 2013 A’s are struggling because as a team they’re not hitting home runs with the frequency they did in 2012 in large part because Josh Reddick—32 last season, has one this season and is now hurt. The 2013 A’s are struggling because the starting pitching was very good last season and hasn’t been good this season. You want math? Here’s the math: 12th in home runs and 12th in ERA=one game under .500 in 2013; 6th in home runs and 2nd in ERA=a division title and the GM being called a “genius” in 2012.

The A’s may have a similar second half hot streak as they did in 2012 (and 2002 and 2003 for that matter), but there’s no connection between that and any mystical foresight on the part of the GM. They had a lot of high draft picks, traded for other clubs’ high draft picks, found players who fit certain roles, and they got lucky. If they make a movie about that however, expect it to be more of the same Lewis Moneyball nonsense with the only thing salvaging it is to put Beane in a Doctor Doom costume and having the Fantastic Four put an end to its production before the world is engulfed by the terrifying wrath of the dramatization that people who know nothing about baseball or reality think is all too real.

Thingclobberintime

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The 2012 Athletics Are A Great Story That Has Nothing To Do With Moneyball

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Going to Michael Lewis for a quote about the 2012 Oakland Athletics because he wrote Moneyball as the author does in this NY Times article is like going to Stephen King for a quote on time travel and the Kennedy assassination because he wrote a novel about time travel and the Kennedy assassination. Lewis’s book was technically non-fiction and King’s is decidedly fiction, but the “facts” in Lewis’s book were designed to take everything Billy Beane was doing to take advantage of market inefficiencies and magnify them into an infallibility and new template that only a fool wouldn’t follow.

Lewis had an end in mind and crafted his story about the 2002 Athletics and baseball sabermetrics to meet that end. It’s not journalism, it’s creative non-fiction. Beane went along with it, became famous, and very rich. None of that validates the genesis of the puffery.

The intervening years from Moneyball’s publication to today were not kind to Beane or to the story…until 2012. The movie’s success notwithstanding, it was rife with inaccuracies, omissions, and outright fabrications such as:

  • Art Howe’s casual dismissal of Beane’s demands as if it was Howe who was in charge and not Beane
  • The portrayal of Jeremy Brown not as a chunky catcher, but an individual so close to morbidly obese that he needed to visit Richard Simmons, pronto
  • The failure to mention the three pitchers Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito
  • That Scott Hatteberg’s playing time was a point of contention and Beane traded Carlos Pena to force Howe’s hand to play Hatteberg—Hatteberg was still learning first base and wasn’t playing defense, but he was in the lineup almost every day as the DH from day one

There are other examples and it wasn’t a mistake. The book was absurd, the movie was exponentially absurd, and there are still people who refuse to look at the facts before replacing the genius hat on Beane’s head as “proof” of the veracity of Lewis’s tale.

This 2012 version of the Athletics is Beane’s rebuild/retool number five (by my count) since 2003. The Moneyball club was blown apart and quickly returned to contention by 2006 when they lost in the ALCS. That team too was ripped to shreds and the A’s traded for youngsters, signed veterans, traded veterans, signed veterans, traded for youngsters and finished far out of the money in the American League from 2007-2011.

Then they cleared out the house again and are now in the playoffs. It has no connection with Moneyball nor the concept of Beane finding undervalued talent. It has to do with the young players succeeding, as the article linked above says, and winning “in a hurry”.

Let’s look at the facts and assertions from the book/movie followed by the truth:

The A’s, under Beane, were “card-counters” in the draft

The only players on this Athletics’ team that were acquired via the draft and have helped the club are Jemile Weeks, Cliff Pennington, Sean Doolittle (drafted as a first baseman and converted to the mound), Dan Straily, and A.J. Griffin. The A’s drafts since Moneyball have been mediocre at best and terrible at worst, so bad that Grady Fuson—along with Howe, one of the old-school “villains” in Moneyball—was brought back to the organization as special assistant to the GM.

The hidden truth about the draft is that the boss of the organization probably pays attention to the first 8-10 rounds at most. After that, it’s the scouts and cross-checkers who make the decisions and any player taken past the 10th round who becomes a success is a matter of being lucky with late development, a position switch, a quirky pitch, or some other unquantifiable factor. Beane’s “new age” picks like Brown, Steve Stanley, and Ben Fritz, didn’t make it. The conventional selections Nick Swisher and Joe Blanton did make it, were paid normal bonuses of over $1 million, in line with what other players drafted in their slot area received. Brown received $350,000 as the 35th pick in the first round and his signing was contingent on accepting it.

Beane “fleeced” other clubs in trades

In retrospect, he took advantage of the Red Sox desperation to have a “proven” closer, Andrew Bailey, to replace the departed Jonathan Papelbon. Bailey got hurt and, last night, showed why it wasn’t his injury that ruined the Red Sox season. He’s not particularly good. Josh Reddick has 32 homers—power and inexpensive youthful exuberance the Red Sox could have used in 2012.

The other deals he made last winter? They were of mutual benefit. The A’s were looking to restart their rebuild and slash salary waiting out the decision on whether they’re going to get permission to build a new park in San Jose. They sent their erstwhile ace Trevor Cahill to the Diamondbacks for a large package of young talent with Collin Cowgill, Ryan Cook, and Jarrod Parker. They also traded Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals for even more young talent including Tommy Milone and Derek Norris. The Diamondbacks got 200 innings and good work (that hasn’t shown up in his 13-12 record) from Cahill and are also-rans; the Nationals got brilliance from Gonzalez and won their division. The A’s slashed payroll and their young players, as the article says, developed rapidly.

Sometimes it works as it did with this series of trades, sometimes it doesn’t as with the failed return on the Hudson trade to the Braves in 2004.

They found undervalued talent

Yes. We know that Moneyball wasn’t strictly about on-base percentage. It was about “undervalued talent” and opportunity due to holes in the market. That argument has come and gone. Was Yoenis Cespedes “undervalued”? He was paid like a free agent and joined the A’s because they offered the most money and the longest contract. He was a supremely gifted risk whose raw skills have helped the A’s greatly and bode well for a bright future. The other signings/trades—Jonny Gomes, Bartolo Colon, Seth Smith, Brandon Inge, Brandon Moss—were prayerful maneuvers based on what was available for money the A’s could afford. They contributed to this club on and off the field.

Grant Balfour was signed before 2011 because the A’s again thought they were ready to contend and all they needed was to bolster the bullpen. They’d also signed Brian Fuentes to close. Fuentes was an expensive disaster whom they released earlier this year; Balfour was inconsistent, lost his closer’s job, wanted to be traded, regained the job, and is pitching well.

The manager is an irrelevant figurehead

Howe was slandered in Moneyball the book as an incompetent buffoon along for the ride and slaughtered in the movie as an arrogant, insubordinate jerk. What’s ironic is that the manager hired at mid-season 2011, Bob Melvin, is essentially the same personality as Howe!!! An experienced manager who’d had success in his past, Melvin replaced the overmatched Bob Geren, who just so happened to be one of Beane’s closest friends and was fired, according to Beane, not because of poor results, managing and communication skills, but because speculation about his job security had become a distraction.

Melvin and Howe share the common trait of a laid back, easygoing personality that won’t scare young players into making mistakes. Melvin’s calm demeanor and solid skills of handling players and game situations was exactly what the A’s needed and precisely what Moneyball said was meaningless.

The 2012 Athletics are a great story; Moneyball was an interesting story, but they only intersect when Beane’s “genius” from the book and movie melds with this season’s confluence of events and produces another convenient storyline that, in fact, has nothing at all to do with reality.

The A’s are going to the playoffs and might win the division over the Rangers and Angels, two teams that spent a combined $170 million more in player salaries than the A’s did. It’s a terrific life-lesson that it’s not always about money, but it has zero to do with Moneyball and Michael Lewis is an unwanted interloper as the Beane chronicler since he knows nothing about baseball and is a callous opportunist who took advantage of a situation for his own benefit.

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The Mets Acquired Kelly Shoppach Because…

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I hate to shatter the myths and nonsense that are being floated by the Joel Shermans of the world, but here’s the truth without sycophancy or prophecies of doom.

The Mets acquired Kelly Shoppach because:

  • He was available now

You can ignore the ridiculous notion that the Mets “should’ve” either traded for him earlier this year when they were still hovering around contention or signed him before the season started. Had Shoppach been on the market earlier this season, some catcher-hungry contending team at the time—the Nationals, Brewers, Rangers—would’ve gone out and gotten him with a better offer than what the Mets would’ve surrendered.

As for the idea that Shoppach would’ve signed with the Mets last winter? Yes, he would’ve…if they’re offered him substantially more money than the Red Sox did ($1.25 million). The Mets had precious little cash to spend and what they did have, they used on trying to fix the bullpen. It hasn’t worked, but that’s where the available money went. Shoppach was placed on waivers by the Red Sox, the Mets claimed him and the Red Sox agreed to send him to New York for a player to be named later. The planets were aligned so the deal was there for them to make when it wasn’t before.

Thole has some attributes. He can catch R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball and has shown patience at the plate. But he has no power whatsoever and he can’t throw very well from behind the plate. He’s a slap hitter who’s tried to pull the ball and that’s plainly and simply not going to work. Shoppach has power that none of the other catchers on the Mets’ roster do, he takes his walks, and he can throw well.

  • They know what he is and maybe he’ll want to stay

Sherman posted the following on Twitter:

For those asking why #Mets did this: Why not? 6 week look to see if like someone who could give inexpensive platoon mate to Thole in ’13.

Look to see? Look to see what? Is Shoppach going to be somehow different over the next 6 weeks than he’s been over the first 8 years of his career?

The Mets did this because they couldn’t stand to look at Thole almost every day and they’re aware of what Nickeas and Johnson are (journeyman 4-A catchers). Thole is a backup. Shoppach will be with the Mets for the rest of the season and the team is going to have the chance to entice him with legitimate playing time in 2013 and being on an up-and-coming club with, by and large, a good group of guys. If he was a free agent after spending the season with the Red Sox, other more financially stable clubs with a better chance to win would’ve been pursuing him and the same situation as last winter would’ve been in effect this winter: he wouldn’t join the Mets if he had a choice. Now maybe he’ll want to stay.

This Sherman tweet was after Howard Megdal posted tweets detailing how this is a good move for the team with the predictable caveat that they won’t have any money to spend in 2013 either, so Shoppach is one of the few possibly upgrades they can make.

What you have to understand when taking seriously the mainstream media with Megdal, Sherman, Bob Klapisch and the other cottage industry Mets bashers is that not one of them had it right regarding the outcome of the Bernie Madoff trial. No one predicted a settlement and the consensus was that by now the Wilpons would either have been forced to sell the team or had it legally removed from their possession in some sort of a financial downfall the likes we haven’t seen since Bruce McNall of the Los Angeles Kings.

No one knows what the Wilpons’ finances truly look like. If they don’t have much more cash to spend on next year’s team than the $95 or so million they have this year, I’d venture a guess that GM Sandy Alderson told ownership that it makes little sense to do anything too drastic given the contracts of Jason Bay and Johan Santana next year (combined they’re owed $50 million in salary and buyouts), so what they have to do is sit on their hands and wait until those deals expire. Concurrent to that will be the arrival of Zack Wheeler to go along with Matt Harvey, Jonathon Niese and Dickey in the Mets’ rotation of the future. Spending money on bullpens is almost always a mistake and what they’ll do in lieu of that is to try a different hand with pitchers they find on the market. The difference between the Mets bullpen of 2012 and other, cheap bullpens like those the Rays have put together in recent years is that the pitchers the Mets signed haven’t worked out and the ones the Rays signed did. Billy Beane spent a lot of money on relief pitchers Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour last season and I didn’t see anyone ripping the genius label from around his neck even though they should have half-a-decade ago.

The Mets’ owners get bashed when they interfere and they get bashed when they don’t. This time I think they’re keeping hands off not because of money in and of itself, but because they’re listening to reason from their baseball people that it doesn’t make sense to waste money when the time to spend will be in 2013-2014, like it or not.

This is a good move for the Mets and no amount of twisting and turning on the part of those who have made it their life’s work to tear into the Mets regardless of what they do can change that or turn it into another reason to criticize for things they didn’t do—things that weren’t going to happen if they’d tried.

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Figures of Attendance, Part III—the Genius Can’t Conjure Fans to Come to the Park

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When discussing attendance and its connectivity or lack of connectivity to publicity and results, how can we ignore the Athletics? They’re still pining for a new park in San Jose with the Giants an example of how a new, fan friendly park can help attendance. Would a new ballpark in Oakland help the A’s replicate what the Giants have done? No. The A’s have rarely drawn fans when they were on top of the world and not; when they were the subject of creative non-fiction like Moneyball to turn their GM Billy Beane into a deity or when they were awful for years and living off their GM’s reputation of being “smarter than the average bear”. A new ballpark in Oakland isn’t going to fix that. It’s a football town and the current population doesn’t have the money to pay for the seats no matter how reasonably priced some of them are. The A’s of the late-1980s were an anomaly because they were the highest-paid team in baseball despite not having the resources to be that if the owner ran the club as a business. The Haas family saw the team as a local and public trust; they were willing to take a loss financially to win on the field and they did. When the landscape changed, so did the attendance and payroll. When the Beane-A’s were in their heyday and winning 100 games in 2003, they still wound up 8th in attendance. The 2012 A’s have a good, young team and are 12th in the AL in attendance. That won’t change unless they get the new park in San Jose, something the Giants are understandably resisting.

The Giants did it right for their market. They build around Barry Bonds when he was the home run king and putting up cartoon numbers to go along with his cartoon muscles; they let it decline to 90 losses when they were making the transition from “build around Barry” to “build around pitching” and they’re drawing near the top of the NL again.

Much like the simplistic nature of the argument from stat people who suggest that every team should be run a certain way, it’s a logistical impossibility for the Yankees or Red Sox to allow their clubs to degenerate to 100+ losses and maintain fan attendance, advertising, concession sales and other ancillary moneymakers as the Rays, Astros and Athletics have. Phillies’ GM Ruben Amaro Jr. tried to maintain a winning club while preparing for the future with a deep farm system when he basically exchanged Cliff Lee for Roy Halladay and prospects in a frenzied series of deals. But it didn’t work and fan anger was palpable enough, team struggles so evident that the plan was abandoned in the middle of the 2010 season when he traded for Roy Oswalt and re-signed Lee as a free agent after the 2010 season. He signed his veteran players like Ryan Howard to ludicrous contracts; imported Jonathan Papelbon; ignored the draft and gutted the system. The team has come apart and the Phillies’ oft-mentioned sellout streak has ended.

No kidding.

The Phillies’ fans are quick to jump on and off the bandwagon and boo everything that goes by while on it. The team is 10 games under .500 and has conceded the season with their trades of Hunter Pence, Shane Victorino, and by again listening to offers on Lee. Of course the fans are going to find other things to do.

With these clubs, it’s win and they’ll come back. Simple.

The Rays are allowed to run their team as they do because of the lack of interest on the part of the fans; because the media isn’t hounding them to do something; because they’re not maintaining attendance—there’s no attendance to begin with.

The Astros are in total flux right now and are tantamount to an expansion team preparing to play in the American League in 2013; they’re on the way to losing 110 games and GM Jeff Luhnow has cleared the decks of every veteran on his roster. He’s getting a pass because the team was so rancid when he arrived and there’s a new owner in place and they’re as bad as a team gets right now. He’s new and there’s nowhere to go but up.

Read Part II here.

Read Part I here.

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General Manager is Not a Baseball Job, it’s a Political Office

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Fans of the Mariners should be very afraid if this story from Jon Paul Morosi is true.

Truth is, of course, relative. Mariners’ GM Jack Zduriencik might be following orders from ownership that Ichiro Suzuki is staying with the club no matter what; it might be that he’s saying things he knows aren’t true to keep the media sharks from following him and Ichiro around to ask what’s going to happen; or he could actually plan to keep a declining and old player as a centerpiece of his club on the field and in the lineup. In any case, it’s frightening and piggybacks on the Geoff Baker story from last week that said the Mariners have no intention of contending before 2015.

It’s stunning how the stat people who held Zduriencik as a totem for their beliefs abandoned him. No longer is he referred to as a “truly Amazin’ exec” who worked his way up through baseball in scouting and has embraced advanced stats to build his team. There’s no hope if they intend to move forward with Ichiro. Period.

All of this highlights the difficulty in being a GM in today’s game. Gone are the days when the name of the GM was only known because George Steinbrenner had just fired him. Do you know, without looking, who the GM of the Earl Weaver Orioles was? Or the “We Are Family” Pirates? Or the Red Sox in the 1970s?

No, you don’t. But if you don’t know the names of the GMs in today’s game then you’re not a real fan. It’s not a job anymore, it’s a political office. Not everyone is cut out to be a politician and by now Zduriencik is like a hamster running on a treadmill in some rich guy’s office. If it’s true that he believes Ichiro is still a “franchise player” then he should be fired.

If it’s true that upper management is telling him that Ichiro stays no matter what, he needs to say enough already with the interference and that he must be allowed to run the team correctly if he’s going to stay in the job.

Let’s say that he’s trying to take pressure off of Ichiro and the organization. If that’s the case, then he needs to learn to say the words, “We’ll address that at the end of the season but we have great respect for what Ichiro has accomplished here.”

Now if they do anything with Ichiro other than bring him back, Zduriencik’s inability to effectively play the game of lying without lying is even more reason why he shouldn’t be a GM.

There are the typical GMs and ex-GMs who are treated as idiots by outsiders who haven’t the faintest idea of how difficult a job it truly is. Dayton Moore is great at building farm systems but has proven wanting in making trades and signing free agents. Jon Daniels isn’t that far away from being considered an idiot after trading Adrian Gonzalez for Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka. Ken Williams—who’s won a World Series—had to endure all sorts of absurd criticisms for his management style last winter and now has a team in first place. And like a professional wrestler whose ring persona alternates from “heel” to “face” depending on what the company needs and which feud would bring in the most pay-per-view purchases, Billy Beane has the Moneyball “genius” rhetoric attached to him again because some of the young players he acquired last winter are playing well and manager Bob Melvin has the Athletics performing five miles over their heads.

Again, in spite of the Moneyball strategy no longer existing in the form in which it was presented, Beane is serving as validation for numbers above all else, reality be damned.

Which is it? Are they geniuses? Are they idiots? Are they politicians? Are they people trying to do a job that’s become impossible to do without angering someone?

Do you know?

What makes it worse is the “someones” they’re angering are either using them for personal interests or don’t have the first clue as to what they’re talking about.

If Jeff Luhnow thought he’d be safe from their wrath—unleashed behind the safety and anonymity of computer screens—he learned pretty quickly that he wasn’t. The idea of, “they believe what I believe” didn’t protect him from the poisonous barbs and accusations of betrayal from the everyday readers of Fangraphs when he chose to make Brett Myers his closer. Even the paper thin-skinned armchairiest of armchair experts, Keith Law, to whom Luhnow supposedly offered a job (although I don’t really believe he did) went after his would-be boss questioning the decision.

It’s easy to criticize when not responsible for the organization; when there’s no accountability and one has the option of never admitting they’re wrong about anything as a means to bolster credibility. This, in reality, does nothing other than display one’s weaknesses and lack of confidence. It’s no badge of honor to never make a mistake.

It’s the easiest thing in the world to be the “I’d do” guy. I’d do this. I’d do that. But would they “do” what they say they’d do? Or would they want to quit after one day? After one negative column from a former friend? After understanding that being a GM isn’t about making trades, signing players and being a hero, but about drudgery and having to use ambiguous phrasing to keep from saying anything at all?

Do you think a GM or an inside baseball person wants to hear criticisms from the likes of Joe Sheehan? From Law? From Joel Sherman? Could these media experts handle the job and the savagery to which a GM in today’s game is subjected every…single…day? They’d curl into the fetal position and cry.

I’d never, ever last more than a week as a GM because: A) I don’t have the patience to answer ridiculous and repetitive questions from reporters; B) I can’t play the game of giving nuggets that I know are lies or exaggerations to media outlets and bloggers in order to maintain a solid relationship with them and exchange splashy headlines for the stuff I want out there for my own benefit; and C) I’m incapable of placating an owner or boss to the degree where I lose credibility.

Whichever one Zduriencik is doing is grounds for a change.

There comes a time when enough’s enough and this Ichiro nonsense, to me, is it.

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The A’s Had Nothing To Lose With Manny

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Billy Beane’s decision to sign Manny Ramirez wasn’t the work of a “genius” nor was it a desperate move for a desperate team with a desperate front office.

Was it an attempt to garner headlines for a stripped down club desperately hoping for permission to build a new park in San Jose and without the money nor the cutting edge advanced stats to compete with the clubs that were now paying for that which the A’s once got for free?

Or was it a worthwhile “why not?” risk to provide a reason to watch the A’s other than to see what their newest signing Yoenis Cespedes was going to do and how many games they were going to lose?

The truth about the Athletics’ signing of Manny is in the middle somewhere between promotional purposes and baseball maneuverings.

It’s the fog of baseball. There’s no method to determine the “truth” when there’s no 2 + 2 = 4 truth to begin with.

It was either going to work or it wasn’t. In that sense, it was just like the drafts and the trades and the signings and the so-called “genius” of Beane that wasn’t genius at all, but was the good fortune to stumble onto a method that allowed him to take brief advantage of tools that few others were using at the time.

It ended quickly. Now the A’s are back where they started from and Albert Einstein couldn’t fix them unless he rose from the dead with a 94-mph cutter and a knee-buckling curve while simultaneously building a rocketship to send Michael Lewis into space on an undefined “mission”.

There are plenty of whys in the A’s decision to sign Manny and the answers are all pretty much accurate.

The signing of Manny was done to accumulate attention for the uninteresting A’s. When he joined the club in spring training, he was on his best behavior, doing his Manny thing of not knowing people’s names, acting like the good teammate and behaving appropriately. That he was still set to serve a 50-game suspension for failing a PED test was irrelevant. When Manny was ready—if he was ready—to join the big league club, he’d be recalled and the team would figure it all out later.

Then Manny started playing for the Triple A Sacramento River Cats and batted a respectable .302 with a .349 OBP. That’s fine. But of his 19 hits, 16 were singles and none were homers. He’s 40 and if he couldn’t hit the fringe big leaguers and youngsters that permeate Triple A clubs today; if he couldn’t hit the ball out of the River Cats’ reasonably dimensioned home park, what chance would he have had playing his home games in the cavernous Oakland Coliseum against legitimate big league pitchers with fastballs, control, command and breaking stuff?

The A’s didn’t need him. They’re better than anyone could’ve thought they’d be. Manager Bob Melvin could’ve been sabotaged by Manny’s presence. The DH slot is glutted with Jonny Gomes and Seth Smith. They have plenty of outfielders that deserve to play instead of Manny. The short burst in attendance they would’ve gotten and the merchandise sales of Manny bobbleheads, jerseys and T-shirts would not have mitigated the trouble he might’ve caused once he reverted to the Manny who was reviled in Boston and Los Angeles for on-field and off-field act.

The charm of Manny disappeared with the new revelations that make his antics less a childlike, innocent inability and disinterest to assimilate to the world away from the playing field into more of an overtly stupid and self-involved “I can do whatever I want because what are you gonna do about it?” tale of arrogance and misplaced (though repeatedly validated) belief that the rules don’t apply to him.

He asked for his release and the A’s gave it to him.

The A’s had nothing to lose.

It was worth a shot and didn’t work.

And now he’s gone.

The A’s are better off.

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Billy Beane—2012 Baseball Guide Excerpt

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I’m sure some of those who are familiar with me, what I do and how strongly I feel about the farcical nature of Moneyball the book and how much worse Moneyball the movie was in terms of factual inaccuracy are expecting me to go into a rant about Billy Beane. Again.

But I’m not.

I’m saving that.

This is straight recapping and assessment.

The A’s began another rebuild phase under Beane as he allowed Josh Willingham, Hideki Matsui and David DeJesus to leave as free agents and traded Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey for packages of youngsters. He was intent—so he implied—on waiting out the resolution of the possible new ballpark in San Jose.

But then he did something strange.

He started making maneuvers that were diametrically opposed to a full-scale rebuild. He re-signed Coco Crisp; he signed veterans Bartolo Colon and Jonny Gomes; and then committed the cardinal sin in the context of verifiable stats and knowing what one is purchasing by investing heavily ($36 million over 4-years) in a Cuban defector, Yoenis Cespedes.

Beane says and does whatever he wants.

There’s always an excuse.

The media was focusing on the job status of Bob Geren (Beane’s “best friend”) so he replaced him not because of Geren doing a bad job, but because of media scrutiny being a distraction.

They don’t have any money, so they clear out the house of any and all veterans.

The ballpark is terrible, has no luxury boxes and the fans don’t come so he has to wait and hope the San Jose deal comes through.

No one wants to play in Oakland, so they have to take chances on the likes of Cespedes.

The Angels and Rangers are powerhouses, so why should the A’s bother to try and compete?

If it’s not one thing it’s another.

It’s not hard to be considered a genius when nothing is ever you’re fault; when the sycophants will find an excuse regardless of what you do and whether or not it makes sense.

No one blames him for anything because they’re either invested in Moneyball, don’t know enough to realize that Beane isn’t a genius whose every decision turns to gold or are afraid to protest for fear of being shouted down and ostracized.

He’s flinging things at the wall and hoping they work. That’s not analytical; it’s not based on numbers. It’s pure desperation on the part of the supposed “genius” and willfully blind silence on the part of those who know what he’s doing and refuse to protest are even more guilty.

His team is still terrible and the new template is 2015.

By then they’ll be good and hopefully have a new ballpark.

People in the media and starstruck fans might not want to admit the truth, but people inside baseball are aware. Beane let it be known through intermediaries leaking it to the media that he was willing to listen if the Cubs came calling to run their club.

He wanted the job.

But the Cubs didn’t want him. They wanted Theo Epstein.

People in baseball know he’s a fraud. And he’s trapped in Oakland.

Beane signed a contract extension to keep him with the Athletics through 2019.

That’s where he is and that’s where he’ll stay.

The above is a snippet from my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. My book is now available on KindleSmashwords and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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Beane Goes Back to Basics and the Worshippers Rejoice

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In trading Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill for packages of prospects, Billy Beane returns to his roots in accumulating pitchers who rack up strikeouts and hitters who have power and get on base.

History has shown that it works…sometimes.

And it doesn’t work….sometimes.

So the lustful Beane demagoguery starts again as he is somehow shielded from blame for anything that’s gone wrong with the team he put together.

Moneyball is over and it’s been shown to be a farce in theory and practice, yet still survives the eager anticipation (it’s almost Christmas morning—an appropriate time of year) for such indulgences as Beane executes another housecleaning.

The up-and-down results of the prior flurries of deals he made can be glossed over; the reasons as to why he’s doing what he’s currently doing can be formulated and chanted like a mantra—there’s an inability to compete in a loaded division; the A’s have limited attendance due to an antiquated and uninviting stadium; they have to tear it down due the uncertainty of a planned new stadium in San Jose—all make some semblance of sense.

Or they’re convenient excuses for him to be absolved for whatever goes wrong while maintaining the credit for being, as J.P. Ricciardi said in Moneyball, “smarter than the average bear”.

Is he smarter than the average bear?

No.

He’s an average bear.

No more, no less.

The Gonzalez trade might have been made even if the A’s were a good team with realistic aspirations of contention. He has trouble throwing strikes and, as I said in an earlier post, is walking the fine line between being a star and turning into Oliver Perez; he’s about to get a big raise in arbitration; his mechanics are clunky; and his style isn’t conducive to consistency.

The trade of Cahill also yielded an impressive cast of young, cheap players; but what’s the point of even trying anymore when you have a consistent, innings-eating winner who’s signed to a reasonably long-term contract and he’s traded away just “because”?

Beane’s list of floating excuses is vast and overused.

Excuses.

For someone who was portrayed as the master of the bottom-line and cutting through the clutter and nonsense, excuses have become the hallmark of Billy Beane and his tenure as the A’s GM.

While he was on top of the world winning with a minimalist payroll, the annual loss in the playoffs was chalked up to the post-season being a “crapshoot”.

His drafts—said to be the dawn of a new era in which card-counting based on verifiable statistics was going to reinvent the game—were as pedestrian as everyone else’s regardless of the methods they were using to find players.

His treatment of his managers has been capricious and occasionally cruel.

And his reputation among the casual fans or curious onlookers who read the creative non-fiction of the book Moneyball and saw the dramatic license (and utter lies) in the movie has been rejuvenated to again give rise to the concept that he’s a transformative figure in baseball.

All he did was have the nerve to implement the statistical analysis that had been around for years yet hadn’t been utilized to the degree that Beane used them; he did it out of sheer necessity and it worked.

But once the rest of baseball caught up to him, he slithered like a snake into his new role: that of the shrugging and hapless everyman wearing a resigned grin; the poor individual who can’t hope to compete due to the untenable circumstances in every conceivable sense.

It’s a vicious circle.

The same things that are being said now were said when he traded Dan Haren, Nick Swisher, Joe Blanton, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder. Some of those trades worked well for the A’s and some didn’t; but to take this latest array of veteran disposal as a return to the days of yore and glory—when Beane had the Midas touch and his mere gaze caused mountains to crumble at his sheer will—is partaking in a fantasy that his worshippers refuse to let go even if reality casts its ugly shadow again and again.

You can find analysis of the prospects he received from the Nationals and Diamondbacks anywhere, but know the truth before buying into it because it’s been said before.

Repeatedly and inaccurately.

And will be so again.

I guarantee it.

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So Billy Beane Gets Another Rebuild?

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Isn’t the point of stocking the farm system, accumulating pitching that’s young and high-end and signing them to long-term contracts to bypass their arbitration years meant to help the organization win?

The Athletics were picked to win the American League West last year by multiple outlets, in part, because of that young pitching.

But they’ve already traded Trevor Cahill in spite of Cahill being signed to a long-term contract and being a solid—if slightly overrated—innings-eating arm; they’re listening to offers on Gio Gonzalez and, once he proves he’s recovered from shoulder surgery, are sure to part with Dallas Braden as well. (Be funny if he’s traded to the Yankees.)

Am I missing something? How many more times is this going to go on unchecked by the media at large?

And why does Billy Beane continually get a free pass for what he’s doing based on nothing other than the factually inaccurate and twisted tale of Moneyball (book and movie)?

Is it because he’s a guarantee of webhits and attention for those who write about him glowingly? Is it due to his aura of a fearless and ruthless corporate entity that rose from a failed baseball player without a fancy college degree to the top of his industry?

Doesn’t it matter what’s true?

Whether or not Beane is lauded for the prospects he receives in trades is secondary—the objective truth is that he’s been relegated to throwing things at the wall and hoping that they work. Last year it was rely on the young starters, beef up the bullpen and sign affordable bats.

It failed—just as everything else he’s tried has failed since the last teardown in 2007.

We can go through his entire history and find evidence of this type of randomness masqueraded as a “plan”.

It’s a lie.

After repeated builds and rebuilds, the A’s are awful and trapped in a division that contains two powerhouses in the Angels and Rangers; the Mariners are similar to the A’s in that they have an executive who came from the same thought processes as Beane in Jack Zduriencik, but are also a figurative disaster.

Is the absence of a new ballpark the latest reason for Beane to demolish what he built? How many times does the same architect get to blueprint, construct, try to sell and then bulldoze even if he owns 4% of the property (Beane’s ownership stake in the Athletics)?

The A’s aren’t going to get approval for a new park in San Jose no matter who lobbies, cajoles, bribes, takes to the media and whines. It’s not happening.

They’re a ramshackle structure in a dilapidated and unfriendly ballpark trapped in a high-end divisional neighborhood and—Beane or no Beane—that’s not going to change.

In short, the Athletics are an eyesore run by a man with a reputation and backstory with no practical evidence behind the myth. He’s a creation based on having turned market inefficiencies into opportunities; once those market inefficiencies were discovered and exploited, they were copied and he was back where he was when he took over Athletics GM and had to find a different way to compete.

And he can’t do it.

He was an innovator in that he implemented the strategies, but it wasn’t the work of a genius—it was intelligent opportunism. Now he’s manipulating the belief in his “genius” to do what he wants and again endure 2-3 more years of losing under the guise of lack of funds and other issues that the Moneyball character Beane would roll his eyes at and refer to as excuses for being a loser.

Now Cahill (age 23 and signed at $30 million through 2015) is gone. Gonzalez and presumably any other player in whom an opposing club has interest will be out the door as well.

Judgments of the trades and prospects they receive in cleaning house are irrelevant; the A’s are starting over. Again.

Beane’s taking advantage of his infomercial-style reputation to lose, lose and lose repeatedly and few are willing to confront this reality in a nod to selfish interests and it’s gone on long enough.

Once it becomes trendy to criticize him, then the bandwagon will empty.

How many more managers can he fire? Players can he trade? Whisper winking, underlying complaints that the “system isn’t fair”?

The system supposedly wasn’t fair before and that’s how he became famous as the epitome of one who beat a system that was weighed against him to begin with.

The system was never fair. That was the foundation for his rise.

He’s being exposed for what he is and is still given a pass.

When is this going to end? When will Beane be judged for what he truly is? A mediocre GM and crafted entity who’s using that perception to shield himself from rightful scrutiny?

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