The Red Sox-Dodgers Trade, Part IV—For The Teams, For the Players

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Let’s look at how this affects the teams and the players.

For the Dodgers

The Dodgers are under new ownership and GM Ned Colletti got the nod to go for it now and boy, is he. After trading for Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino, and Joe Blanton, he also claimed Cliff Lee on waivers only to see the Phillies pull him back. There’s a difference between “wanting” and being “willing to take”. Colletti wanted Adrian Gonzalez and was willing to take Josh Beckett in order to get it done. Lest anyone believe that the Dodgers weren’t serious about their willingness to take on heavy salary as Colletti claimed both Gonzalez and Beckett. Had a deal not been consummated, there was a real possibility that the Red Sox would simply have given Beckett to the Dodgers. Not so with Gonzalez. Carl Crawford will be in left field for the Dodgers at some point in 2013 replacing the rotating list of names that included Marcus Thames, Juan Rivera, Bobby Abreu and now the pending free agent Victorino, who most assuredly won’t be back with the Dodgers in 2013.

The Dodgers needed a power-hitting first baseman to replace the light-hitting James Loney; they went after Gonzalez several times when he was still with the Padres; and Beckett is an extra arm in the rotation with post-season success in his past. They have the money and the desire, nor did they give up their top prospects to get this done.

For the Red Sox

This is a housecleaning and fumigation.

Naturally, as is the case with this current Red Sox group, there was additional controversy when closer Alfredo Aceves threw a tantrum and stormed out of manager Bobby Valentine’s office after Andrew Bailey was used to close a game instead of Aceves. It was obscured by the magnitude of this trade, but was a symptom of what’s gone wrong in Boston not just since Valentine took over, but going back to last season. On that note, Aceves is not the long-term Red Sox closer. Bailey is. I don’t think anyone should get worked up over the happiness or unhappiness of a useful journeyman with a long history of injuries like Aceves.

Gonzalez was a bad fit in Boston. He’s quiet and religious and was reluctant to step to the forefront as a leader.

Crawford was miserable and injured.

Beckett had behaved like a spoiled rotten brat and a bully.

Whether the Red Sox are going to keep Valentine for the second year of his contract remains to be seen, but this trade was an admission that they couldn’t go forward with Valentine or anyone else and maintain the construction of the roster and the hierarchy of the clubhouse as it was. They cleared out $261 million and left themselves flexibility to alter the on-field product as much as the poisoned off-field perception that has exemplified their team since 2011.

Let’s say the Red Sox were unable to make a trade like this and they gave in to the complaints of the players regarding Valentine. Then what? What if they hired another manager and that manager irritated the veteran players in a different way. What if he was strategically inept; soft on discipline; unable to handle the media; or what if they just didn’t like him? Then what? Were they going to give the babies another pacifier and fire him too?

They could’ve stuck a mannequin in a Red Sox uniform at the corner of the dugout with the words NOT VALENTINE stitched across his shoulder blades and until those players found a mirror and chose to act and play like professionals, it wouldn’t have made one bit of difference this season or next.

They made a bold decision to cut ties with players who no longer wanted to be with the Red Sox or shouldn’t have been with the Red Sox in the first place. Now they can move on and start again.

Adrian Gonzalez

Gonzalez is a West Coast-type who will be much better off as the silent and powerful lineup partner to Matt Kemp. As gifted a player as he is, he does not want to be the vocal leader. But if he was truly behind the text message to Red Sox ownership complaining about Valentine, then he has to make a decision: either he wants to be a representative of the team and lead or he wants to sit in the background and be left alone and do his job. He can have one or the other, but not both.

Gonzalez will be playing for a kindred spirit in manager Don Mattingly. Gonzalez has been a key member of three separate teams that collapsed in September to blow playoff spots that should have been sewn up. Mattingly’s Yankees teams were forever in turmoil and didn’t turn the corner until Mattingly’s career and greatness were dismantled by injuries. Mattingly wasn’t a vocal leader either in spite of being the captain of the Yankees and when he tried to be, it came out as awkward.

Gonzalez will revert to the MVP-candidate he was with the Padres, back on the Coast he never should have left.

Josh Beckett

It wasn’t his behavior that was the biggest problem with the Red Sox. That’s saying a lot considering how out of shape he was; how unwilling he was to acknowledge any more than the tiniest bit of responsibility nor regret for the Red Sox coming apart under Terry Francona and his part in the debacle.

It was Beckett’s frequent injuries and rancid performances indicative of someone who was saying, “Get me outta here,” in multiple ways.

I’m not prepared to say that Beckett, with his declining velocity, doughy midsection, and injuries will be what the Dodgers want: a post-season performer and ace who loves the spotlight. In fact, I’d expect something close to what he was with the Red Sox for the rest of 2012 at least. Perhaps Kemp and Mattingly can convince Beckett to show up in shape in 2013, but it’s no guarantee.

Carl Crawford

He was terrible offensively. He was terrible defensively. He looked unhappy. And he was constantly injured.

Crawford was a true 5-tool player with the Rays who degenerated to nothing almost immediately upon pulling a Red Sox jersey over his shoulders. Another bad fit who was something of a redundancy with Jacoby Ellsbury already in the Red Sox outfield, Crawford couldn’t get used to the scrutiny that he never experienced in Tampa; and he couldn’t get the hang of the Green Monster.

Crawford’s struggles are one of the reasons that those who criticize Jim Rice as a bad defensive player as an absolutist declaration of his poor Hall of Fame credentials are leaving out facts as convenient to their argument. Rice was a left fielder for the Boston Red Sox meaning that he had to learn to play the quirks and angles of that wall. He did it as well as anyone and found himself on the outside looking in at the Hall of Fame because he wasn’t Dave Winfield defensively.

Crawford might eventually have learned to handle Boston and overcome his injuries to again become the player he was, but this opportunity was too good to pass up for the Red Sox.

As for the Dodgers, they’re getting a great player who can still be a great player once he’s healthy and happy in Southern California.

Nick Punto

Yeah. It’s Nick Punto. He can do some useful things here and there I guess.

James Loney

When Mattingly took over as Dodgers manager I was sure that he was going to exert the same pressure on Loney that Lou Piniella did on Mattingly to turn on the inside pitches and hit for more power. Mattingly did and became an MVP and megastar. Loney got worse under Mattingly.

He’s a first baseman who doesn’t hit for any power at all and is a short-term guest for the Red Sox as a free agent at the end of the season. The Red Sox might spin him off somewhere by August 31st.

Allen Webster

Webster is a right-handed starting pitcher who was picked by the Dodgers in the 18th round of the 2008 draft. He’s put up solid numbers in the minors and, after having watched a YouTube clip of him appears to be a control-type righty with a mechanical, slightly across-his-body motion. Judging from that, he’s a back-of-the-rotation starter and not someone about whom anyone should get into a twist about surrendering…or acquiring.

Ivan de Jesus Jr.

The son of former big league shortstop Ivan de Jesus, De Jesus Jr was the 2nd round pick of the Dodgers in 2005. He’s 25 and was stagnating as a 4-A player. Perhaps he can be a useful utility player.

Jerry Sands

Given the proliferation of statistics, there’s an idea that a player like Sands needs little more than a chance to play and he’ll replicate his massive minor league power numbers with a different organization. Sands has been a big-time power hitter in the minors for the Dodgers (functioning in the light air of Albuquerque) and never gotten a legitimate chance to play in the big leagues.

Think about this for a second. The Dodgers have had a gaping hole in left field going back years and refused to give Sands a chance to play. Doesn’t it make sense that the Dodgers would know more about Sands than some guy studying Sands’s stats and determining that “all he needs is a chance”?

He’s big and he’s righty. Maybe he can benefit from the close proximity of the Green Monster.

Rubby De La Rosa

The Dominican righty is recovering from Tommy John surgery and has put up big strikeout numbers in the minors. The 23-year-old is poised and polished and has a clean motion. Of all the prospects sent to the Red Sox, the one with the highest upside is De La Rosa.

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The Yankees’ Grand Delusion

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In today’s NY Times there’s a piece by Benjamin Hoffman discussing the luck of the Mets in achieving their 28-23 record in spite of a -24 run differential and how the Yankees 27-23 record is about right based on their +15 run differential.

Run differential is usually a ridiculous and out-of-context stat from the start and it’s worse in this case. The Mets’ pitching has had games in which they’ve allowed 18 runs; 14 runs twice; 11 and 10 runs. They’ve scored in double-digits once.

The Yankees haven’t allowed double-digits at all and have had three games that they’ve scored a total of 36 runs.

It’s misleading and used as the foundation for the customary argument that the superiorly reinforced Yankees will eventually start dominating baseball and waltz into the playoffs as an odds-on favorite while the Mets will fade out to their customary mediocrity and continue their rebuild.

What will happen with the Mets remains to be seen, but the Yankees—just like the silly stat of run differential—aren’t exactly what they seem to be when examined as a monolith from 1995 until now. The Yankees’ apologists in the media and deluded fans, under the mistaken belief that because they’ve made the playoffs in 16 of the past 17 years, think that it automatically anoints them that spot. But those teams were different from this one. Mariano Rivera is gone. Alex Rodriguez is a shell of what he was. The starting pitching that once had the veterans David Wells, David Cone, Orlando Hernandez, Mike Mussina and Roger Clemens now has one pitcher who could be mentioned in that group, CC Sabathia, and a series of question marks behind him.

It’s not the same.

Sweeny Murti of WFAN appeared on Kim Jones’s radio show recently and put forth the egomaniacal premise that since the Yankees have won an average of 97 games a season since he’s been covering the team that he expects them to do it again.

What one thing has to do with the other was never addressed.

Mike Francesa pompously and condescendingly (in many ways sounding like the spoiled fans he ridicules) comes up with inane arguments to support the shoddy foundation that since they’ve “always” been there, they’ll be there again. They’ll buy what they need at the trading deadline and off they’ll go.

Listening to this fanciful nonsense a non-baseball fan might think that the Yankees simply win the championship every year as a matter of course and if they don’t there was a glitch or fluke somewhere that prevented it.

They’ve won one championship since 2000. They’re not the dynasty they were in the late-1990s.

Whom are they trading for and what do they have to get these available star players? The Yankees’ main chip, Jesus Montero, was given away to the Mariners along with a useful arm in Hector Noesi to acquire two pitchers—Michael Pineda and Jose Campos—who are both on the disabled list. Of their other “untouchable crown jewels” in the system, Manny Banuelos, is also on the disabled list with a sore elbow and Dellin Betances has walked 46 in 52 innings. They’re not even willing to take on long-term money to get the players they want as they did with Bobby Abreu a few years ago. So what are they doing at the deadline other than making the same types of deals they’ve made in recent years when they got pending free agents Kerry Wood and Lance Berkman?

There’s an aura of “If we keep repeating it, it’ll come true.” The Yankees have the “great” players, but they’re not so great anymore. Salary aside, it’s unfair to hold a soon-to-be 37-year-old A-Rod to a standard of the A-Rod of 2007. It’s lunacy to think that Andy Pettitte is going to be the anchor he was in his prime and that Derek Jeter will keep up his frenetically blazing start to the season.

All of these players are at an age where they should be receding into the background to make way for the new blood; where they should be occasional contributors who can rediscover their greatness in spurts. Yet they’re still keys to the Yankees’ season because the replacements—apart from Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson—haven’t taken the handoff of responsibility.

The competition is hungrier, faster, smarter and has greater organizational depth. The Yankees are contending with the Rays, Angels and Rangers. There are the teams that have struggled amid higher hopes, the Red Sox and Tigers; the Blue Jays are young, talented and have money to spend; the Indians are playing well; the Orioles and White Sox have been surprises.

There’s not an open pass into the post-season anymore and gazing longingly at records and rosters of years gone by while inserting oneself into the narrative as if there’s an unseen connection between the two is a self-important fantasy that’s doomed to failure.

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American League Ticking Tempers Of Ownership

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Let’s take a look at some American League teams that have unexpectedly struggled or made ghastly blunders that would normally elicit a reaction from ownerships.

New York Yankees

Does ownership have a right to be upset?

Yes.

In yesterday’s NY Daily News, Bill Madden wrote what I’d been thinking about a George Steinbrenner missive being issued following Michael Pineda’s injury.

I’m not going to give Cashman as hard a time as others did for letting Bartolo Colon go and keeping Freddy Garcia—neither could’ve been expected to replicate anything close to what they did last season—but his other pitching mishaps have been horrific. As much of a joke as Steinbrenner was for his instantaneous and combustible temper tantrums, many times he had a right to be angry.

Beyond Cashman, if the Boss was still around, Larry Rothschild would be in the crosshairs for what’s gone wrong with Phil Hughes.

I’m wondering that myself.

What should be done?

There’s really not much they can do. Having already bounced Garcia from the rotation in favor of David Phelps, Hughes has to improve or he’ll be in the bullpen or minor leagues when Andy Pettitte is set to return to the majors.

What will be done?

Hal Steinbrenner will be secretive and deliberate; Hank will be kept away from the telephone. Cashman will continue to spin doctor and “take responsibility” by saying how “devastated” he is about Pineda.

Devastated? Really?

Garcia will be kept around just in case and Hughes is going to wind up being sent to the minors.

The Boss would’ve made Cashman take responsibility in a way consistent with what Madden suggested and he wouldn’t have been out of line in doing so.

Boston Red Sox

Does ownership have a right to be upset?

Yes, as long as they have a mirror nearby.

The best things that could’ve happened to the Red Sox were the Sunday night rainout of the game against the Yankees and going on the road to play the bad Twins and mediocre White Sox. The ship has been righted to a certain degree.

For all the love doled out to departed GM Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona, ownership—John Henry and team president Larry Lucchino—have been left to clean up the mess. Regardless of what you think of Lucchino’s insinuating himself into the baseball operations as he has, you can’t absolve Epstein and Francona. Epstein saddled the club with the contracts of John Lackey and Carl Crawford; Francona’s lax discipline as manager and passive aggressiveness from the broadcast booth as the team spiraled out of the gate gave a sense of the former manager exacting revenge on the franchise that gave him a job with a team ready-built for success when no one else would’ve.

What should be done?

A desperate trade would only make matters worse. There’s no one to fire. They have to wait and hope. Making a final decision with Daniel Bard and sticking to it would end speculation on the pitcher’s role.

What will be done?

They’ll wait it out. Had they continued losing following the series against the Yankees, they might’ve done something drastic like firing Bobby Valentine even though it’s not all his fault. Their winning streak has given them breathing room.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Does ownership have a right to be upset?

Very.

Arte Moreno has been a great owner. He’s let his baseball people run the club and hasn’t interfered. They have everything they ask for and more.

This past winter, he spent an uncharacteristic amount of money to address the offensive woes from 2011 with Albert Pujols and traded for Chris Iannetta.

The bullpen’s missteps have been magnified because set-up man Hisanori Takahashi and closer Jordan Walden have been horrible.

That’s not to say they’d be that much better with a more proven closer than the deposed Walden. In retrospect, they were lucky they didn’t sign Ryan Madson or trade for Andrew Bailey.

Their biggest problem has been at the plate.

When an owner throws that amount of guaranteed money at his roster, he has a right to expect more than 7-15 and 9 games out of first place before April is over.

What should be done?

The Angels released Bobby Abreu on Friday and recalled Mike Trout. They demoted Walden from the closer’s role in favor of Scott Downs.

Apart from waiting for Pujols to start hitting and perhaps dumping Vernon Wells, there’s little else of note they can try.

What will be done?

If Moreno were a capricious, “blame someone for the sake of blaming them” type, hitting coach Mickey Hatcher and bullpen coach Steve Soliz would have been fired a week ago and perhaps first base coach Alfredo Griffin for good measure.

He’s not a quick trigger owner, but if they’re not hitting by mid-May, Hatcher’s gone. This could expose a rift between manager Mike Scioscia and the front office. Scioscia’s influence has been compromised with the hiring of Jerry Dipoto and if one of his handpicked coaches and friends is fired, a true chasm will be evident. Firings will be shots across the bow of Scioscia and, armed with a contract through 2018 (that he can opt-out of after 2015), if he’s unhappy with the changes he’ll let his feelings be known.

It could get ugly.

As of right now, they’ll see if the jettisoning of Abreu, the insertion of Trout and the new closer will help. With Moreno, they have more time than most clubs would, but that doesn’t mean they have forever.

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The National League will be posted later and yes, that does mean I’ll be talking about the Marlins.

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A Start Just As Bad Without The Circling Vultures

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While the Red Sox need only look skyward to see the circling vultures, are under intense media scrutiny and increasing fan anger and angst for their horrific start, the Angels have an identical record—4-8—as the Red Sox. That the Angels are operating without the open factions in the front office and players engaging in a cold war with the manager doesn’t alter the fact that the bottom line is the same.

In many ways, the Angels’ situation is worse because they were the ones who made the splashy winter acquisitions, taking the crown of off-season champions that had, in previous years, been co-opted by the Yankees and Red Sox. Confident in their blueprint, the Angels could mitigate firestorms under owner Arte Moreno and manager Mike Scioscia. Whereas the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies have long made the headlines and ramped up their status as favorites from November to February, the Angels have been the tortoise to the hare.

The Angels went slow and steady; worked within a reasonable budget sans gaudy bidding wars; adhered to a template; brought in cogs to the machine rather than creating a new machine to integrate with the old one.

They unapologetically clung to their methods.

That changed this past winter when, after hiring GM Jerry Dipoto, Moreno lavished an open checkbook to his GM to sign Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson.

Wilson is precisely the type of pitcher the Angels pursue—a durable starter who’ll gobble innings.

Pujols is not the type of player they would ordinarily bid on, let alone land. In years past, the Angels have identified a target and made bold, “take-it-or-leave-it”, “do you want to be here or not?” style offers to Torii Hunter among others. This past winter was different and it’s taking time for them to come together as a unit.

Amid the spending spree came another hallmark of the Yankees and Red Sox: the Angels have too many players who have a reasonable argument for playing regularly for too few spots in the lineup.

Bobby Abreu was outspoken in his unhappiness at being in the unfamiliar position of second or third DH and fourth or fifth outfielder. They were trying desperately to unload him in a deal for A.J. Burnett over the winter; then they wanted the Indians to simply take him. Both trades fell apart.

The Angels had been the team that did it their way for a long time. They’ve switched their strategy and it’s taking time to gel. The starting pitching has been shaky; the bullpen a catastrophe; the defense porous; and no one—specifically Pujols—is hitting.

As uncharacteristic as making those huge acquisitions was for the Angels, so too is the attention surrounding this star-studded group.

The Red Sox are openly at war with one another and their manager. This dynamic goes back to last season and beyond. It was glossed over for much of that time because they managed to win in spite of it. The Angels haven’t operated under that pressure. When they were prohibitive favorites it was mostly because they were in an awful division and had the history of winning within their parameters of top-down discipline, cohesion of purpose and pitching and defense.

It’s not the same and they’re off to a poor start.

Unlike the Red Sox, the Angels have time to right the ship before coming under attack as a disaster.

Unlike the Red Sox, there’s reason to believe the Angels will get their house in order.

But they don’t have forever and with the stifling expectations stemming from their winter spending, 4-8 is not how they wanted to start.

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Oswalt Overkill and Desperation

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In the category of unsubstantiated rumors of the day, the Angels are supposedly the “frontrunners” for fussy free agent righty Roy Oswalt and the Red Sox are thinking about moving Daniel Bard back to the bullpen.

Or not in both cases.

If there’s a grain of truth in the rumors, they’re connected to one another in what should happen.

Of course that has nothing to do with what will happen.

First, with the Angels and Oswalt, do the Angels need another name starter? Are they going to use whatever money it costs—even if the template for Oswalt’s contract is the Andy Pettitte deal with the Yankees—to bolster an overwhelming strength in the starting rotation?

With an innings-eating front four of Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, C.J. Wilson and Ervin Santana, the Angels will be perfectly fine with Jerome Williams (who pitched quite well last season) as their fifth starter. In spite of the acquisition of Albert Pujols and what appears to be an overabundance of bats with too few positions to go around, the offense is still shaky with Vernon Wells a black hole; Bobby Abreu whining his way out of town; and the unknown of Kendrys Morales.

As of right now, the only true offensive guarantee they have is Pujols.

The bullpen may need boosting during the season as well. Are they intent on spending the money they have left now on a player they really don’t need in Oswalt?

Why?

Oswalt’s had multiple injuries in recent years and wouldn’t be ready to pitch until May.

And they don’t need him.

It makes no sense.

On the other hand, there’s one destination that makes sense for Oswalt, where he would be a need and not overkill—the Red Sox.

Another rumor that made the rounds this weekend (and was only reported as a possibility in one place—link) is that the Red Sox have seen enough of Bard in the starting rotation and he’ll be shifted back to the bullpen.

There are numerous possibilities surrounding this revelation if it’s true. The Red Sox could be dropping a rock into the water to see the ripples it causes in the public and media; perhaps they wanted to pressure Bard into pitching better in his next start (which was yesterday) after the story came out. His results were similar to what he’s done all spring—not particularly good—but manager Bobby Valentine made it a point to say he liked Bard’s demeanor better than he had in prior starts.

What that means for the future is anyone’s guess.

The Red Sox are not in a position to be putting Bard back in the bullpen. If they do that and move Alfredo Aceves to the starting rotation, they’ll be trading one problem for another. Aceves is not durable enough to be a 180-200 inning starter and he’s too valuable and versatile in the bullpen to start. If they determine that Bard can’t start, their only real option is Oswalt. Apart from that, they’re going to be in bigger trouble that I thought. And bear in mind that I picked them to go 81-81 this year. If Bard is unable to be at least a serviceable starter and they’re relegated to using castoffs in the number 4 and 5 slots in the rotation, they’re in trouble. A lot of it.

Oswalt would be their only choice and the same issues that make him a questionable fit for the Angels would make him a desperation shot for the Red Sox. If they continue down this line of thought, desperation might be all they have left.

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Far more in depth analysis is in my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide, now available.

If anyone has already purchased the book and noticed there were formatting mistakes, they’ve been fixed and republished; so you can re-download the book.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. (This sample is of the Rangers.) My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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The Hall of Fame Debate Has Grown Tiresome

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Barry Larkin was the only player elected by the writers.

Jack Morris’s percentage has risen to 66.7%.

With two years left on the writers’ ballot, Morris might get enough support to make it in by conventional vote. If not, he’s got a great shot on the Veterans Committee.

The debate will rage on until then.

You can make an argument for Morris (post-season hero; innings-eating winner and one of the dominant pitchers of the 1980s) or against him (high ERA; stat compiler).

Nothing’s going to change the minds of those who are for or against him.

Tim Raines received 48.7%.

Raines is seen as a no-brainer by stat people; others think he became a part-time player from his early 30s through the end of his career and he’s a “floodgate opener” whose election would necessitate the serious consideration of the likes of Johnny Damon and Kenny Lofton which would diminish the specialness of the Hall.

Lee Smith received 50.6% of the vote.

I don’t think anyone with an in-depth knowledge of baseball and from either faction whether it’s stat-based or old school thinks Smith belongs in the Hall of Fame.

No matter how convincing or passionate an argument made for the supported players, the other side is unlikely to put their prejudices, personal feelings, stereotypes or ego aside to acknowledge that they may be wrong; and they’re certainly not going to change their votes.

So what’s the point?

What’s made it worse is the proliferation of the younger analysts who may or may not know much of anything about actual baseball, but think they do based on calculations and mathematical formulas who are so adamant that they’re right, it’s impossible to even debate with them.

Bert Blyleven made it to the Hall of Fame, in part, because of the work by stat people clarifying how he deserved the honor and wasn’t at fault for a mediocre won/lost record because of the teams he played for. Another part of his induction, I’m convinced, is that a large chunk of the voters were tired of hearing about him and from him—Blyleven was an outspoken self-advocate and it worked.

I’m wondering what’s going to happen with a borderline candidate like Curt Schilling. Blyleven had likability on his side; Schilling doesn’t; and it’s going to be hard for Schilling to keep his mouth shut if he doesn’t feel he’s getting his due in the voting process. He’s not going to get in on the first shot.

Short of Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Ty Cobb and the other luminaries, you can make a case against any player no matter how great he was; on the same token, you can make a case for a player like Bobby Abreu, who is not a Hall of Famer.

Even Greg Maddux went from being a dominating pitcher from age 22-32 and became a durable compiler with a high ERA who begged out of games after a finite number of pitches and benefited from pitching for a great Braves team to accrue wins.

Of course Maddux is a first ballot, 95+% vote getter when he becomes eligible, but could a motivated person come up with a case against him? How about “he only struck out 200 batters once; he had superior luck with amazingly low BAbip rates; he only won 20 games twice; his Cy Young Awards all came in a row and he never won another; and he pitched for a great team in a friendly pitchers’ park for most of his career.”

It can be done for and against anyone.

Does Tommy John deserve recognition for the surgery that bears his name? I think he does. Others don’t.

Then there are the PED cases like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds—Hall of Famers both—who are going to have trouble getting in because of the writers’ judgments that they “cheated”.

At least they were implicated. Jeff Bagwell never was and he’s on the outside looking in with 56% of the vote this season. (He’s going to get in eventually.)

So which is it?

What makes a Hall of Famer?

Is it being “famous”? (Reggie Jackson)

Is it a long and notable career? (Don Sutton)

Is it the big moment? (Bill Mazeroski)

Is it being great at a particular part of the game? (Ozzie Smith)

Is it numbers? (Hank Aaron)

Is it propaganda? (Blyleven, Phil Rizzuto)

Is it the perception of cleanliness? (Al Kaline)

Is it on-field performance? (Carlton)

Is it overall comportment? (Stan Musial)

Is it domination over a time period? (Sandy Koufax)

There’s no specific criteria, so there’s no single thing to put someone in or keep them out.

But the back-and-forth has become vitriolic and dismissive with eye-rolling and condescension. If you even dare to suggest that Jim Rice is a Hall of Famer, your case is automatically ignored regardless of how organized and intelligent it is.

That’s not debating. That’s waiting to talk.

Simply because you disagree with someone doesn’t make the other side “wrong” especially in a judgment call like the Hall of Fame.

But there’s not much hope because few—especially in sports—are willing to listen to the other side, let alone allow themselves to be persuaded.

This is where we are and there’s no use in fighting it.

So why try?

//

The Policy Of Truth

Hot Stove
  • The mouth that roared:

Brian Cashman needs to shut up.

Now.

This new honesty doctrine under which he appears to be living is hurting Cashman and the Yankees organization and needs to stop.

The days in which Cashman spoke in circles, responding to questions without responding to questions, never letting the public or players know what he was really thinking and protecting club and selfish interests, are gone.

Long gone.

And it’s not good.

After the ridiculous, borderline offensive and inappropriate disclosure that he didn’t want their marquee signing of the winter, Rafael Soriano, Cashman unleashed this series of gems during appearances with WFAN’s Mike Francesa at a breakfast Q and A (Diet Coke for breakfast? Why not?!?) and on Michael Kay’s ESPN show:

Derek Jeter could eventually move to center field.

Andy Pettitte doesn’t want to pitch, but he’ll let them know if he does.

Joba Chamberlain is staying in the bullpen and hasn’t been the same since his shoulder injury in 2008.

You can read the column from which these were culled here—link.

The actual content of what Cashman was saying is irrelevant in the grand scheme. Did he have reason to want to keep the draft pick rather than sign Soriano? Yes. He had several. Is it silly to think that Jeter might have to be shifted from shortstop due to diminished range? No.*

*But center field? Don’t you need range out there too?

Chamberlain’s stuff now translates better to the bullpen? Did Cashman discuss his part in the ruination of Chamberlain with the absurd usage dictates, limits and fluctuating roles?

This new policy of truth to which Cashman is adhering is an exercise in self-immolation; rather than being a boon to running the club “his way” as the repeated mantra states, he’s harming the effort by not knowing when to evade or simply keep quiet.

Is he channeling his inner J.P. Ricciardi? Ricciardi, whose mouth was the main obstacle to his tenure as Blue Jays GM, was great to listen to because he had a volcanic temper and no filter separating brain and mouth.

Is this what Cashman wants?

The Yankees are an organization and Cashman is their front man. What he feels and says behind closed doors should remain behind closed doors. There’s a significant difference between doing what’s right for the organization and yapping relentlessly to get one’s own name in the headlines with splashy statements.

There’s an egomaniacal, power-mad tint to his statements and actions now and it should be troubling to the Yankees and their fans. It seems to be all about him. The contentious Jeter negotiations were off-putting; his behavior during the press conferences of Jeter (looking at his cell phone in a disinterested fashion as Jeter expressed his displeasure at how things spiraled out of control) and the open disagreement with the signing of Soriano are not in his job description.

Does he want out of the Yankee universe?

What’s the purpose of all this?

None of the answers to these questions bode well. If he wants to leave, then he’s well on the way out the door with his actions. Alienating bosses and other members of the organization with honesty is self righteous; he’s still the club’s GM. Because he was overruled in the Soriano decision and the Jeter contract negotiations degenerated as it did doesn’t give him the free pass to behave like a misanthropic buffoon expressing private misgivings in public forums.

This is a problem.

And I can’t believe that the Steinbrenners, Randy Levine, colleagues and friends haven’t told Cashman to tone it down. If he doesn’t, he’d better. That’s if he wants to stay with the Yankees. But maybe Bill Madden was right on Sunday. Maybe he doesn’t.

If that’s the end he has in mind, he’s well on his way to achieving it. It’s all great for the fans and media to have something to sink their collective teeth into and debate, but it’s not good for the organization; in fact, it’s making them look petty and discombobulated—precisely what Cashman wanted to get away from when he consolidated his power by demanding full autonomy in baseball decisions.

He’s blowing up the bridge while he’s standing on it and may be taking a load of people with him.

Someone has to muzzle the renegade GM. Immediately.

  • Viewer Mail 1.26.2011:

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Brian Cashman and Bill Madden’s Sunday column:

I read Madden’s piece on Cashman today in the Daily News and maybe he does want to leave the Yankees when his contract is up. On the other hand, maybe there’s no other Yankees news to write about and Madden needed a story where there isn’t one.

It’s possible that even Madden is told to add certain things to columns by editors, but it’s not as if there’s no evidence to back up the speculation that Cashman might like to try his luck elsewhere. Given some of his decisions that didn’t involve spending money, he’d better be careful what he wishes for. I wouldn’t have the same faith in Cashman as a GM able to succeed anywhere as I would with a Pat Gillick.

We may be about to find out.

The Other Mike in The Bleacher Seats writes RE Jon Heyman:

Don’t misunderstand, I have nothing against Heyman. He’s good at what he does and I appreciate that he’s in the middle of things, breaking stories.

But…
He is prone to hyperbole in a similar fashion to other sports media is, such as suggesting that such-n-what team has the best rotation/bullpen/bat-boy/etc in baseball.
I would also appreciate it if he had personal and professional Twitter accounts that were separate. I follow him more for baseball news and less for ‘what I did on my red-eye flight to NY’ kinds of updates.

He blocked me on Twitter because I’m scaaaaryyyy, so I dunno what he tweets about.

Joe writes in two separate comments about Vernon Wells, Mike Napoli, the Angels and Blue Jays:

Lateral leap in the short term? Napoli is as good if not better than Wells. Rivera might be as good too.  Neither is expensive, while Wells is.  And before last year, when Wells was good, he was below-average for 3 straight years, and makes $20 million a year. This is one of the worst trades in baseball history, easily.

****

Playing Wells in center means costing runs on defense.  He is a corner-outfielder now. If they play him in center, he will give back some of the runs that he gives them on offense. The last 4 years — not just last year — Wells has been below-average, overall.  You don’t pay players like Wells $20 million. Rivera might be as good as Wells, and Napoli is too.  The Angels play a black-hole of a catcher, rather than trying to find a guy that plays defense and gets on base even 30 percent of the time. Mathis has a career .199 average, .266 OBP.  He is awful.  They could easily have found someone better, who has the skills they value — acceptable defense, veteran leadership, etc.  The point is, they GAVE UP something to get Vernon Wells.  Why did they have to give something up?  It was a poor contract, for an above-average AT BEST player.  If they wanted a more reliable center fielder, they could have found one at a much cheaper price, who probably isn’t that far off production-wise.

Judging from their decision to trade him to the Rangers for Frank Francisco, the Blue Jays didn’t think much of Napoli either. This is especially curious since the Blue Jays current starting catcher is the no-hit Jose Molina and they could’ve used Napoli.

So is it that the Angels didn’t appreciate what they had in Napoli? Or did they know what they had? Or are the Blue Jays just as dumb as the Angels days after they were “brilliant”?

The Blue Jays saw the same thing in Napoli that the Angels saw: a part-time player who was good as a part-time player but was exposed when asked to do too much.

The phrase: “What would he do if given the opportunity to play every day?” has two answers. Some flourish; some falter. With Shin-Soo Choo, he became a terrific all-around player; for Napoli, we saw what he was in 2010—a .240 hitter; some pop; and he strikes out a lot.

All of a sudden the Angels, after years of annual contention and playoff appearances, have gotten stupid? I don’t buy it. They take rapid steps to repair perceived mistakes as evidenced by their replacement of Gary Matthews Jr. with Torii Hunter after one year of Matthews as their center fielder.

I can’t imagine that they intend to play Jeff Mathis regularly. If anything, he’ll split time early in the season with Hank Conger, then they’ll go with Conger as the season moves along.

One of the “worst trades in baseball history”, Joe? You’re making this assessment in January? Really? With your life dedicated to the principles of objective analysis, this seems pretty subjective to me.

And please tell me what center fielder is available to the Angels now? Or left fielder for that matter?

You can’t because there isn’t one.

Mike Fierman writes RE Wells and the Angels:

First of all I don’t know why you would say Abreu is bound to come back because he’s been so good for so long. More likely he is in his inevitable decline. i’d be shocked if he hit 20 homers. Even his great OBP has been steadily declining. I can see your point that the Angels can more easily absorb this atrocious contract, but to conclude a mostly interesting post with “they are contenders again because of the acquisition of Vernon Wells.”  is going just too far. Especially since you had just posited that they need another bat …a bat they don’t have yet. Beltre would have been a much better option for them.

I’m not so quick to think Abreu is done. The hitters surrounding any batter do have an affect on his production. Without Kendry Morales and with Howie Kendrick having down years, Abreu still had a good year by any measurement apart from his own. 63 extra base hits is pretty good to me. If he repeats those numbers with Wells adding 25 homers and the return of Morales, the Angels starting rotation will be well-supported to win plenty of games.

They went after Adrian Beltre and didn’t get him.

Regarding the phraseology, maybe “they are contenders in part because of the acquisition of Vernon Wells” would’ve been better, but that’s arguable.

With their repeated success, the Angels deserve the benefit of the doubt that other organizations don’t. This reactionary response before one game has been played is ludicrous.

Mania

Hot Stove

The speed with which we get information today can be a good or bad thing. Many times it’s positive as in cases of Amber Alerts and dangerous occurrences; other times it’s not. From the premature reports of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords’s death to the comparatively trivial injury to Bears quarterback Jay Cutler in which he was accused of giving up and begging out of the NFC Championship on Sunday when he was really hurt, people’s lives and reputations are affected.

It’s reactionary and ill-thought out.

Now we’re seeing the same thing with the Los Angeles Angels and their so-called “desperation” trade for Vernon Wells.

In the immediate aftermath of the deal’s announcement, I too was bewildered at why any team would want to take Wells’s contract from the Blue Jays with negligible relief (said to be $5 million) on the remaining $86 million guaranteed. That the Angels gave up two productive and cheap pieces in Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera made it all the more confusing.

But then I looked at it more deeply.

The trade, after cursory internet reaction, was awful. When examined closely, it made a certain amount of sense. Now, after studying the Angels; their situation; their division; their needs; and what Wells and subsequent additions will provide, it could get them back into the playoffs.

The Angels faded out last season for three reasons: a lack of scoring; injuries; and a bad bullpen.

If the Angels make one more acquisition to bolster the lineup, the scoring problem will be mitigated. The negatives of Wells—apart from his salary—are known and accurate: he’s streaky, doesn’t get on base and is overrated defensively. But for the Angels, he fits into what they want to do.

Affording them the option of not having to rely on a 24-year-old Peter Bourjos to save their season, they can play Wells in center field if necessary. This would free them to do a couple of things. They’re pursuing Scott Podsednik or Vladimir Guerrero.

The Podsednik talk elicits ridicule in stat zombie circles, but isn’t a terrible idea at all. He can still run and play solid defense in left; with a career .340 on base percentage, he’d give RBI chances to the bats behind him. Plus he’d be cheap.

I’d go after Guerrero before Podsednik. Guerrero’s rejuvenation in Texas was not due simply to him being in a hitter’s heaven of a ballpark at home; I think he was healthy again. Guerrero hit well on the road last season and if he returned to Anaheim and provided 25 homers and 90-100 RBI—not absurd requests—the Angels offensive woes at DH are solved.

In addition to that, who can tell how much Guerrero’s absence as a father figure to Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis contributed to their poor seasons? If Aybar and Izturis hit somewhere close to the way they did in 2009, the Angels will have far more scoring opportunities.

The offensive woes were evident in greater detail after Kendry Morales‘s season-ending ankle injury. Right there, the Angels went from having a power hitting first baseman and a rightfully part-time power hitting catcher in Napoli to having Napoli playing every day at first base and the no-hit Jeff Mathis catching.

Losing the big power threat affects everything. Napoli was admirable in an unfamiliar role, but it meant that he was playing every day; that Mathis was playing regularly; and that Bobby Abreu was relied on more than was feasible given his age.

Certain players are better off not playing every day because once they play every day, they’re exposed. This is what happened to Napoli playing first base in place of Morales.

With Wells in and Napoli and Rivera out, the Angels not only have another power bat in their lineup, they’re free to address other needs at either DH or left field.

The Angels troubles were exacerbated by Howie Kendrick‘s poor year accompanying the down seasons from Aybar, Izturis and Abreu. Was Kendrick exposed like Napoli after he was forced to play every day following the free agent departure of Chone Figgins? Considering his career in the majors and minors, I’d say no; he’s been a .300 hitter at every level.

Abreu, despite his age, has been too good for too long to have another down year like he had in 2010. Being left alone in the lineup didn’t help Abreu either. The lineup’s better, Abreu will be better.

So let’s say Abreu gets back to 20 homers, and a .370 on base percentage; that Wells hits 25 homers and drives in 90; that Morales bats .300, has 25 homers and 100 RBI; that they get either Guerrero or Podsednik; that Kendrick, Aybar and Izturis have better seasons—don’t you see how much that will improve their offense?

In addition to losing Morales, the injuries to Joel Pineiro and Scott Kazmir sabotaged the Angels badly in 2010. Pineiro was on his way to a fine season before a strained oblique landed him on the disabled list. Kazmir hadn’t pitched all that well, but he provided innings at the back of the rotation.

Amid all the stories of the failed pursuits this winter—most notably Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre—it’s forgotten that the Angels made a significant mid-season upgrade in their starting rotation when they got Dan Haren from the Diamondbacks. Replacing the hittable Joe Saunders with Haren gives the Angels two top-tier starters fronting their rotation with Jered Weaver and Haren; right behind them is another very good pitcher, Ervin Santana; then you have Pineiro and Kazmir.

That’s one of the top rotations in baseball.

The bullpen?

Even if you don’t trust Fernando Rodney as closer, they acquired lefties Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi. Downs—durable, underrated and able to get out hitters from both sides of the plate—will help a lot. Takahashi was invaluable to the Mets in a variety of roles from starter to long reliever to set up man to closer. He’s fearless and the Angels are presumably going to use him in a similar way as the Mets did. There were many games that Takahashi entered with the Mets trailing by multiple runs; he quieted things down and gave the club time to chip away. The work he did as a closer was impressive.

The Angels have a slight hole behind the plate with the departure of Napoli, but they do have a prospect in Hank Conger to share time with Mathis and Bobby Wilson. Conger has hit at every minor league level—minor league stats.

Manager Mike Scioscia—a tough as nails, defensive-minded catcher as a player—likes his catchers to be able to handle the pitching staff first and foremost. If Conger can do that, he’s an under-the-radar Rookie of the Year candidate.

I’d shut my eyes and play Conger.

As for their competition in the AL West, is it so crazy to think the Angels could emerge from the three team scrum with the Rangers and Athletics?

The Rangers can really hit, but have questions in their starting rotation; their bullpen won’t be as good as it was last season; and their manager Ron Washington is a walking strategic gaffe waiting to happen. They’re the American League champs and will be so until they’re knocked off the perch, but they’re beatable.

The Athletics are a trendy pick (again) because of the aggressive acquisitions of David DeJesus, Josh Willingham, Hideki Matsui in the their lineup; Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour for the bullpen. But their starting rotation is very, very young; young pitchers tend to fluctuate in performance as they’re establishing themselves. It’s not an automatic that Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden will repeat their work from last season.

There’s an eagerness to leap back onto the Billy Beane bandwagon—an overeagerness based on the desire to “prove” Moneyball as having been accurate in advance of the movie even though there’s no connection to what Beane did this winter to Moneyball the book or film.

But I digress. I’ll swing that hammer when the time comes.

Are the Angels, with their success over the past decade, suddenly fodder for ridicule? Isn’t it possible that they calculated the pros and cons of taking Wells’s contract for Napoli and Rivera and decided it was worth it?

Regarding the money, what’s a reasonable amount to pay for the top earners on a club? How much of a percentage is doable? For the Blue Jays, with an $80 million payroll, Wells’s onerous deal, with $23 million coming to him this season, had to go; for the Angels, with a $120 million payroll and substantial money coming off the books after this season, it’s not crazy to handle Wells’s deal without complaint. How much is a viable percentage for a team’s big money players in relation to the club’s payroll? For the Blue Jays, Wells didn’t make sense; for the Angels, he does.

The key for the Angels in 2011 is that they score enough runs to support that starting rotation. With Wells and one more offensive player added, they’ll have achieved that end. In the final analysis, that’s all that really matters in making them a legitimate playoff contender again; and no matter what print and online criticism they receive, they are contenders again because of the acquisition of Vernon Wells.

Hot And Not

Hot Stove
  • Brilliance either way:

The overwhelming reactions to the Rays “combo” signings of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez have tended toward the ludicrous with a fair amount of ignorance thrown in.

To think that the Rays do anything just “because” is missing out on the way the front office has run their club since gaining their footing after a rough first year.

Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez for a combined $7.25 million for 1-year? In what world would this be considered laughable, risky or something any club wouldn’t do if given the opportunity?

Contrary to prevalent perception, the Rays were still going to be dangerous this season despite the free agent losses they mostly allowed without a fight. Of all the players they lost, the only two they presumably lament are Carl Crawford and Matt Garza, and they had justifiable reasons for their departures; apart from that, Carlos Pena was a declining force at the plate; Grant Balfour, Lance Cormier, Rafael Soriano, Jason Bartlett—all were pickups whose value was extinguished and are replaceable.

They couldn’t afford to keep Crawford—plain and simple—and they didn’t put up the pretense of an offer that was doomed to fail. Garza was growing more expensive and the Cubs gave up a massive package for him to augment the already bursting Rays farm system. Along with all those draft picks they accumulated with the other free agent defections, the Rays are well-stocked for the future.

With the rotation and lineup—a sum of the parts entity that was third in the American League in scoring despite having no DH; a first baseman batting under .200; and subpar performances from Ben Zobrist and Bartlett—they’re still dangerous.

It’s conveniently ignored that the majority of the players who left had ready-made replacements or were part of a bullpen that the Rays patched together with stuff they essentially found in the dumpsters of other clubs.

Manny was not the Manny we’ve come to expect last season, but he’s not finished either. His overall numbers—9 homers, 42 RBI, 25 extra base hits, a .298 average and .409 on base in 90 games look pretty good to me considering that the Rays designated hitters from last season were Pat Burrell (released) and Willy Aybar (whose main problem is that he’s Willy Aybar).

Manny Ramirez for $2 million? The Yankees would’ve jumped on that deal too.

Add in that the Rays know how to build a bullpen on the cheap and will have the prospects to be able to make a big mid-season splash if they need to bolster the bullpen. As I said a few days ago, there are going to be a lot of closers entering their walk year; a couple of their clubs are going to have down seasons and look to deal. If something can be worked out with Francisco Rodriguez‘s contract option from the Mets, he’s one to watch as are Francisco Cordero of the Reds and Heath Bell of the Padres.

The question of where this places Desmond Jennings is reasonable, but I wouldn’t be stunned to see Damon playing some first base to ease—not eliminate—but ease the amount of running he’d have to do on the Tropicana Field turf. People don’t realize that the first baseman, sometimes, does more running than an outfielder with covering the base and functioning as the cut-off man, but the Rays are willing to think outside the box and their current first baseman is listed as journeyman Dan Johnson. Why not Damon there for 50 games or so?

Teams that win know when to take a chance on a veteran who is approaching the end of his career, but still has something useful left. The Rays got themselves two and they got them cheap. If you’re laughing at them for it, it’s either due to fear of what they might accomplish this year or because you haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about. These are two brilliant moves even if they don’t work.

  • Then there’s this:

This deal isn’t as awful as it’s being portrayed, but it still makes little sense for the Angels.

The Angels and Blue Jays completed a trade that sends Vernon Wells and $5 million to Anaheim for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera.

It’s January and Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos deserves to win executive of the year for getting Wells’s contract off the Blue Jays books and getting pieces of use in the process.

The Blue Jays are still relying heavily on a very young starting rotation and their offense is diminished from last season; they’re also hoping either Octavio Dotel or Jon Rauch can close—they have issues of concern—but getting the Wells contract off the books is a tremendous coup. That they received Mike Napoli—who replaces the no-hit Jose Molina as the primary catcher—and Juan Rivera, who will hit his 15-20 homers and play a serviceable left field, makes the trade a total win for the Blue Jays.

As for the Angels?

So it’s not that terrible. But that doesn’t make it wise.

Here’s the big problem with Vernon Wells: he’s a good player making Albert Pujols-level money. And this can’t work. Apparently $5 million went from the Blue Jays to the Angels as if that’s going to make a dent in the financial catastrophe that is the Wells contract which still has $86 million to go through 2014.

The Angels have money to spend—judging from this move, money that was disagreeable to owner Arte Moreno to hold onto. That’s dismissible I suppose. As long as it doesn’t stop them from making other necessary moves, it’s explainable. But what about the players?

They’re shifting Wells to left field for Peter Bourjos to get a legit shot at center field and Bobby Abreu to DH. Does this make them any better? They’re replacing Napoli behind the plate with Jeff Mathis (can’t hit, mediocre defensively); Bobby Wilson (28-years-old and yet to hit in the big leagues; has a good arm); or Hank Conger (23, has hit and thrown well in the minors). Unless Conger delivers at the plate, do you see the problem here?

It’s a lateral leap and doesn’t help that much in the short or long term.

The caveat of “not that bad” aside, this makes no sense for the Angels right now. If, in the short term, it catapulted them over the divisional competition—the Rangers and the Athletics—for 2011, then it made sense; but they picked up a financial albatross at age 31 who has pop, but doesn’t improve on what they gave up and it costs them a ton of cash.

The Angels offense and bullpen were their main obstacles to contending before and this doesn’t do one solitary thing to fix that; if anything, it makes them more expensive and less flexible.

It won’t be a disaster, but it won’t be good either.