Bobby Valentine as ambassador to Japan is no joke

MLB, Politics, Uncategorized

bobby-vThe news that former major league player and manager Bobby Valentine might be a candidate to be the U.S. ambassador to Japan under President-elect Donald J. Trump has yielded incredulity while ignoring the reality that he actually has credentials for the job.

Valentine can be described neatly in one simple word: polarizing. This new career opportunity only adds to that perception.

His supporters swear by him; his detractors swear at him.

He’s one of the most skillful strategic managers in baseball history, innovative and gutsy – just ask him and he’ll tell you. That’s part of the problem. His ego and nature as a hardliner has also made him one the most reviled people in the sport.

Through his baseball career, he’s garnered connections that have resulted in a wide array of unique endeavors. For example, Valentine claims to have invented the wrap sandwich in his Connecticut restaurant; he oversaw public safety in Stamford, CT in a cabinet post for the city’s mayor; and he’s a close friend of former President George W. Bush in spite of Bush having fired him as manager of the Texas Rangers.

This is before getting into his career as an athlete. One of the true multi-sport stars coming out of high school, he was also a competitor in ballroom dancing. The Los Angeles Dodgers selected him fifth overall in the 1969 amateur draft one selection after the New York Yankees picked Thurman Munson. It was with that organization that his greatness was predicted, his lifelong father-son relationship with Tommy Lasorda started, he became loathed by his teammates for that “teacher’s pet” persona, and injuries sabotaged his talent.

Once his playing career ended, he embarked on a coaching career that led to him being viewed as a wunderkind manager with the Rangers; he went to Japan when his didn’t get another opportunity for a big league job after his dismissal in Texas; and eventually landed with the New York Mets, winning a pennant, before he was fired in a power struggle with general manager Steve Phillips. Then there was the disastrous year as Boston Red Sox manager in which he is blamed for a litany of issues that fermented the year before under Theo Epstein and Terry Francona and whose stink manifested and grew poisonous while he was steering the damaged ship.

He’s certainly eclectic and has forged a number of relationships sparking a cauterized loyalty among friends and mocking and ridicule among enemies. There are many on both counts.

Without getting into politics and the inevitable battle lines that accompany it, the Trump administration appointing Valentine as ambassador to Japan might, on the surface, seem silly. In truth, it’s not. The tentacles connecting Valentine to all the players in this drama boost his qualifications to take the job. He speaks Japanese, understands the culture, is well-regarded in the country as the second American-born man to manage a Japanese team and the first to win a championship there. He’s an experienced public speaker and has managed a great number of diverse personalities in different settings than this ambassadorship where bureaucratic necessities will regulate the behaviors of underlings in a sharply different way to what he grew accustomed to in baseball.

As with all things Valentine, there’s a caveat to appointing him and it could potentially explode with one “Bobby V” moment. Putting on a fake mustache and glasses and returning to the dugout after having been ejected while managing the Mets; picking unnecessary fights with his star players Todd Hundley and Kevin Youkilis among others; courting outrage with the media for his condescending arrogance; and refusing to be flexible when it meant the difference between keeping his job and getting fired all validate his reputation that ranges from difficult to a ticking time-bomb.

Does he do it on purpose? Is it the nature of his personality to be difficult? Or is it a combination of the two?

In his baseball career, he was a tactician without tact. Should he take an ambassadorship to Japan too seriously, there’s the potential of an international incident.

But the job isn’t one that is designated to someone who has to save the world. The current ambassador to Japan is Caroline Kennedy – most famously known as the daughter of President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy. It was basically her lineage that made her a candidate to get the job and she doesn’t speak Japanese. Why was her appointment acceptable when Valentine’s isn’t?

This is not a partisan issue. Every president doles sweetheart assignments to people who were big contributors or prominent supporters to the campaign as a form of reciprocity. The difference with Valentine is that in spite of his lack of skills as a diplomat in his baseball career, he has the qualifications for the job if it was advertised in an open job search and he applied for it. So what’s the joke?

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Teams Shouldn’t Follow the Red Sox Template

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Much to the chagrin of Scott Boras teams are increasingly shying away from overpaying for players they believe are the “last” piece of the puzzle and doling out $200 million contracts. This realization spurred Boras’s reaction to the Mets, Astros and Cubs steering clear of big money players, many of whom are his clients.

Ten years ago, the Moneyball “way” was seen as how every team should go about running their organization; then the big money strategy reared its head when the Yankees spent their way back to a World Series title in 2009; and the Red Sox are now seen as the new method to revitalizing a floundering franchise. The fact is there is no specific template that must be followed to guarantee success. There have been teams that spent and won; there have been teams that have spent and lost. There have been teams that were lucky, smart or lucky and smart. Nothing guarantees anything unless the pieces are already in place.

The 2013 Red Sox had everything click all at once. They already had a solid foundation with Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Jon Lester and Jacoby Ellsbury. They were presented with the gift of financial freedom when the Dodgers took the contracts of Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez off their hands. Bobby Valentine’s disastrous season allowed general manager Ben Cherington to run the team essentially the way he wanted without interference from Larry Lucchino. John Farrell was the right manager for them.

To think that there wasn’t a significant amount of luck in what the Red Sox accomplished in 2013 is a fantasy. Where would they have been had they not lost both Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey and stumbled into Koji Uehara becoming a dominant closer? Could it have been foreseen that the Blue Jays would be such a disaster? That the Yankees would have the number of key injuries they had and not spend their way out of trouble?

The players on whom the Red Sox spent their money and who had success were circumstantial.

Mike Napoli agreed to a 3-year, $39 million contract before his degenerative hip became an issue and they got him for one season. He stayed healthy all year.

Shane Victorino was viewed as on the downside of his career and they made made a drastic move in what was interpreted as an overpay of three years and $39 million. He was able to produce while spending the vast portion of the second half unable to switch hit and batting right-handed exclusively.

Uehara was signed to be a set-up man and the Red Sox were reluctant to name him their closer even when they had no one left to do the job.

Jose Iglesias – who can’t hit – did hit well enough to put forth the impression that he could hit and they were able to turn him into Jake Peavy.

The injury-prone Stephen Drew stayed relatively healthy, played sound defense and hit with a little pop. The only reason the Red Sox got him on a one-year contract was because he wanted to replenish his value for free agency and he did.

Is there a team out there now who have that same confluence of events working for them to make copying the Red Sox a viable strategy? You’ll hear media members and talk show callers asking why their hometown team can’t do it like the Red Sox did. Are there the players out on the market who will take short-term contracts and have the issues – injuries, off-years, misplaced roles – that put them in the same category as the players the Red Sox signed?

Teams can try to copy the Red Sox and it won’t work. Just as the Red Sox succeeded because everything fell into place, the team that copies them might fail because things falling into place just right doesn’t happen very often. Following another club’s strategy makes sense if it’s able to be copied. What the Red Sox did isn’t, making it a mistake to try.




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Rethinking the GM, Part I—American League East

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

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

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

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

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

Boston Red Sox

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

New York Yankees

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

Baltimore Orioles

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

Tampa Bay Rays

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

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

Toronto Blue Jays

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

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

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The Mouth That Roared By Dallas Green—Book Review

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Given his reputation throughout baseball as a straight-talking, old-school baseball guy, if Dallas Green was going to put his career in perspective with an autobiography, he had to go all-in.

Green doesn’t disappoint in The Mouth That Roared: My Six Outspoken Decades in Baseball written with Alan Maimon.

From his time as a journeyman pitcher who was constantly on the fringes of being sent to the minors, Green was a players’ player who worked as both a union representative in the nascent days of the MLB Players Union and saw the geographical shift from the owners controlling everything to the unfettered free agency that accompanied Marvin Miller, Curt Flood, Catfish Hunter and Andy Messersmith. His feelings on the matter have swung from decrying the players’ indentured servitude, clamoring for some say in their careers, battling for a crumb of the pie from ownership to today wondering how much good the $200 million contracts are doing for the game.

Green has the breadth of experience from functioning as a player clinging to his career with arm injuries and poor performance to a minor league director to a manager to a GM. He helped Paul Owens build the 1970s Phillies who almost but not quite made it over the hump from annual division winner to championship club, then went down on the field at the behest of Owens when the soft, inmates running the asylum approach of Danny Ozark was no longer working, got into the faces of veteran players, benching them, threatening them, ripping them publicly and dragged them to a World Series title in 1980—the first championship in Phillies’ history.

One interesting footnote from 1980 is that with all the complaining from closers of yesteryear about the one-inning save in today’s game, Green didn’t adhere to it during that championship season because nobody adhered to it until Tony LaRussa implemented it in 1988 with Dennis Eckersley. Pitchers like Tug McGraw, Bruce Sutter, Rollie Fingers and any closer worth anything pitched multiple innings. That had drawbacks that aren’t discussed by the “in my day” crowd (Green isn’t one of them) as McGraw pitched two innings in the first game of the World Series, had worked very hard including three innings pitched in game 3 of the NLCS and appearances in games 4 and 5, plus game 1 of the World Series, and wasn’t available to close in game 2 of the World Series with Ron Reed doing the job. That would never happen today.

The original intention was for Green to take over for Owens as Phillies GM with managing only a short-term gig. Owens had no plans to retire as the Cubs came after Green calling—repeatedly with consistently sweetened offers—to take over as their GM with carte blanche to run the team as he saw fit. He turned them down multiple times before finally saying, “Yes.”

With the Cubs, Green turned a perennial loser into a division champion with smart trades in getting Ryne Sandberg, Rick Sutcliffe and Ron Cey. However, as should be noted in today’s game where there’s the perception of the GM with absolute power, it doesn’t exist for anyone and never really did at any time. Even today’s luminaries like Theo Epstein and Billy Beane answer to someone. After his first season as the GM in 1982, Green thought he had a handshake deal in place that would land Dodgers free agent first baseman Steve Garvey for the Cubs. As a corollary to that trade, the Cubs would have traded Bill Buckner (a player Green didn’t want on his team because of selfishness and in whom he took a certain perverse amusement when the 1986 World Series was lost by the Red Sox in part because of Buckner’s error) to the Phillies. The Cubs upper management didn’t okay the deal and Garvey wound up signing with the Padres who, ironically, beat the Cubs in the 1984 NLCS with Garvey helping significantly. It was then that Green learned what he was dealing with working for a corporate ownership in the Tribune Company. It was Green’s constant pursuit of putting lights in Wrigley Field that played a major role in the stadium being saved by their installation in 1988.

After the Cubs won the division and appeared to be on their way up, it became a case of too much too soon. Green’s plan was to use his own long-term contract to rebuild the Cubs’ dilapidated farm system, sign key free agents, change the culture from one that accepted losing, and make wise trades to have a consistent pipeline of talent. When the Cubs won the division in 1984, it was expected that they were going to win a World Series shortly thereafter and when they took a step back in 1985 and came completely undone in 1986 and 1987, Green was fired. The signal that it wasn’t going to work as Green planned with the Cubs occurred when an executive with the Tribune named John Madigan began going to baseball meetings, learned and used the terminology and started interfering with baseball moves. From Green this was an example and a none-too-subtle shot at people who have no baseball experience thinking that learning a few catchwords is a substitute for knowing the game itself through experience.

Following his firing the Cubs won another division title in 1989 with a team comprised of players that Green had acquired and drafted. By then, he was managing the Yankees.

For all the enemies he hammers in the book like Bobby Valentine (“He thinks he knows more about the game than anyone else.”); Gene Mauch (“lack of people skills”; “inherent mistrust of younger players…”); Joe McIlvaine (“I ended up hearing through the grapevine that he might be spending a lot of time on non-baseball activities in Atlantic City.”); and Buckner (“Buck was happy to put his numbers up, but he was never truly content. And he most definitely never embraced the idea of baseball as a team sport.”), Green never took overt shots at George Steinbrenner from his brief tenure managing the Yankees.

No one who knew Dallas Green and George Steinbrenner could possibly have thought it was going to work not just because of the clash of personalities of one person who wanted things done his way and the other one who wasn’t going to take crap (you can pick which would be which), and it inevitably and quickly failed with Green fired in August. It didn’t help that the 1989 Yankees plainly and simply weren’t any good and wouldn’t be good again for another four years in large part because of Steinbrenner hiring people like Green and not letting them do what it was that got them hired and made them successful in other venues in the first place.

Green then joined the Mets as a scout and eventually took over as a “clean out the barn” manager. He couldn’t get through to many players from veteran Hall of Famers like Eddie Murray and young Jeromy Burnitz, but he did forge decent relationships with and got good performances from Bret Saberhagen after a rough start and John Franco. He stated openly that his experience in developing players with the Phillies told him that the Mets heavily promoted trio of “Generation K” Jason Isringhausen, Bill Pulsipher and Paul Wilson weren’t ready for the big leagues as the centerpieces when they were pushed as such. He’s right when he says all three needed more time in the minors to learn how to pitch.

An interesting aspect of Green’s career is the influence he’s had and how players who may have hated him while he was managing them took his lessons into their own management careers. Larry Bowa couldn’t stand Green and felt he was too openly critical of players. The relationship wasn’t bad enough to prevent Green from acquiring Bowa in the Sandberg trade to play shortstop for him with the Cubs and to trust him to mentor top draft pick Shawon Dunston. Nor did it stop Bowa from becoming a manager whose style was nearly identical to Green’s. As a player he didn’t like to be yelled at; as a manager, he learned that some players need to be yelled at. Like Green, he got fired for it.

Today as he’s an assistant in the Phillies front office, he sees the way deals are made with a nearly nonexistent focus on people and a detrimental focus on numbers with the money players are being paid and the almost misanthropic nature of the people making the decisions today in a cold, corporate atmosphere and yearns for a time when baseball people made baseball decisions when he says, “Many general managers today only know how to evaluate talent in front of a computer.”

The final chapter of the book is dedicated to his granddaughter, nine-year-old Christina Taylor-Green. Christina was one of the people killed in the Tucson, Arizona assassination attempt on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. The old-school baseball man Green is also old-school when it comes to the right for responsible people to bear arms, but his case for gun control is coming from someone who doesn’t see any reason for automatic weapons designed for one purpose—to kill people—continue to be sold and has lost a loved one to make this point tragically clear.

While it would have been easy for the book to degenerate into a treatise on the superiority of the old school both on and off the field; for it to turn into a Richard Nixon-like unfettered attack against his lengthy enemies list, Green manages to state his case as he sees it with a matter-of-fact tone that has no hallmarks of a vengeful attack or manufactured controversy designed to create buzz and sell books.

A person whose life has been steeped in in-the-trenches baseball will see their beliefs validated, but those who are relatively new to the game and think they’re experts after learning how to calculate OPS+ will also find value if they read it rather than use it as an indictment of the old school and take what Green says to learn from his successes and acknowledged mistakes.

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No Managerial Replacements Means No Managerial Changes

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If there was an obvious choice replacement manager or two (or three) sitting on the sidelines it’s very possible that both the Angels and Dodgers would have made changes by now. Instead Angels manager Mike Scioscia has received multiple votes of confidence and the speculation surrounding his job status has been qualified with the “it’s not his fault” lament. For the Dodgers, the club has been ravaged by injuries, none of which are the fault of manager Don Mattingly. For both teams, if they turn their seasons around, it will be the steady veteran experience and failure to panic on the part of Scioscia that will be referenced as a reason; with Mattingly, it will be his experience of seeing so many managers on the hotseat in his time as a Yankees player and coach as well as his unending positive enthusiasm (almost bordering on delusion) that the Dodgers will steer out of the spiral. The Angels’ situation is far worse than that of the Dodgers. They’re 11 games out of first place and have shown no signs of life apart from the brief boost they got from Astros manager Bo Porter’s strategic gaffe a week ago that lit a short-term fire under them. Since the three game win streak, they’ve settled back into the dysfunctional mess they’ve been all season. The Dodgers are only 5 1/2 games out of first place so there’s a logic to say that once they get their players back and GM Ned Colletti follows through on his usual burst of mid-season trade activity, they’ll be right in the thick of the race.

We’ve seen from history how worthless votes of confidence, logical explanations as to why it’s not the manager that’s the problem, and positive vibes in the face of adversity are—if teams are under enough pressure and their seasons are on the brink, they’ll withstand the fire for “lying” and make a change. But who would be the replacements for managers like Scioscia and Mattingly?

Because the “deans” of managers—Joe Torre, Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa, Lou Piniella—are all 69 and older and have shown no interest in managing again, who is there to replace a manager on the hotseat to ignite the fanbase and tell the players that something different is going to be done? Torre and Cox are through with managing. LaRussa might be able to be convinced to come back but it won’t be this year for the Angels where, if he succeeded, he might hinder his close friend Jim Leyland’s last chance at a title with the Tigers; he likes to be compensated lucratively and the one thing the Dodgers have to offer along with spending on players is a lot of money—they’d pay him and Dave Duncan handsomely to come and Mark McGwire is already there. Piniella has also said he’s not interested in managing anymore, but he also likes to be paid, was in line for the Dodgers job once before and might be dragged out of retirement.

These are maybes contingent on the whims of the men who no longer need the job or the aggravation. Who is there that could replace any manager who’s on the outs with his current club and who would definitely jump at the job offer? If the Angels wanted to go with the polar opposite of Scioscia (as is the strategy teams like to use when firing their manager) they could hire Ozzie Guillen and wouldn’t have to pay him all that much because the Marlins are still paying him for two-and-a-half more seasons, but that would not be reacted to well by the players. Perhaps that’s what the underachieving bunch needs, but Guillen, LaRussa, Piniella or anyone else isn’t going to fix the Angels biggest problem: pitching. Scioscia’s been there too long, it’s no longer his type of team, a change needs to be made whether they admit it or not, but a change really won’t help in the short term.

If Terry Francona had chosen to sit out another year, he would be mentioned with every job that could potentially be opening, but he took the Indians job. Bobby Valentine can pretty much forget it after the 2012 disaster with the Red Sox. Combining the competent and functional retreads like Jim Tracy, Phil Garner, Larry Bowa and Don Baylor who would love to have a job and probably wouldn’t make much of a difference and the lack of a guy next to the managers on the bench who are viable replacements, it’s easier for the Angels, Dodgers and other teams who might consider a managerial change to just leave it as is and hope it gets better until something has to be done. And by the time something has to be done for cosmetic purposes more than anything else, the season will be too far gone for the new manager to turn around club fortunes. At that point, they can stick whomever they want in the manager’s office and see what happens with zero chance of it helping the team for the rest of this season one way or the other, then decide what to do for 2014.

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Enough About The Red Sox Chemistry

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There is a place for chemistry in baseball and I’m not talking about PEDs. The Red Sox have been lauded for their improved clubhouse atmosphere coinciding with more likable people in the room such as Shane Victorino, Ryan Dempster, Mike Napoli, and manager John Farrell. It’s undoubtedly a more pleasant place without the rampant dysfunction and selfishness that culminated in a 69-93 last place disaster in 2012.

To put the team in context, however, they scarcely could’ve been worse in terms of cohesiveness and being on the same page than they were in 2012. The preponderance of the blame is placed on the desk of former manager Bobby Valentine because he’s a convenient scapegoat and is gone. But there’s more than enough responsibility to go around from owner John Henry with his increasing detachment from the Red Sox day-to-day affairs to focus on building the Fenway sports brand, much to the chagrin of the Liverpool football club’s faithful; CEO Larry Lucchino who spearheaded the Valentine hiring over the objections of the baseball people; and GM Ben Cherington who made the ill-fated decision to trade Josh Reddick for Andrew Bailey among other questionable moves and whose head is now in the noose with the expensive signings of Victorino, Ryan Dempster and the trade for Joel Hanrahan along with the highly dubious decision to trade for Farrell to manage the team, ostensibly because they knew him and he was there when the team was at the height of its powers.

Amid all the chemistry talk and references—specifically from former manager Terry Francona in his book—that the 2011 club didn’t care about one another, all they needed to do was win one more game over the month of September that year and they still would’ve made the playoffs. You can’t blame a bad mix of players for the horrific final month of the season when they were widely regarded as the best team in baseball from May through August. They had two terrible months and they both happened to be in the first and last months of the season. If the players disliking one another wasn’t a problem in the summer, how did it turn into the biggest issue that led to their downfall?

Chemistry is not to be disregarded, but the media constantly harping on the dynamic of the personalities strikes as hunting for a narrative. If they play well, the new players and better communication will be seen as the “why” whether it’s accurate or not. Because the media no longer has to deal with Josh Beckett and his Neanderthal-like grunting and glaring; Adrian Gonzalez with his deer-in-the-headlights reaction to all things Boston; Carl Crawford and his “get me outta here” body language; and Valentine with his Valentineisms, their life is much easier and they don’t have to dread going to work. But so what? This isn’t about the media and the fans having players with a high wattage smile and charm; it’s not about having a manager who looks like he should be a manager, therefore is a manager even though his in-game strategies are widely regarded as terrible. It’s about performing and last night was an ominous sign for the third closer they’ve tried, Hanrahan, since Jonathan Papelbon was allowed to leave without so much as a whimper of protest and an unmistakable air of good riddance.

Closers blow games. It happens. Truth be told, the pitch that was called ball four on Nate McLouth could very easily (and probably should’ve) been called a strike, but big game closers have to overcome that and last night Hanrahan responded to not getting the call by throwing a wild pitch to let the Orioles tie the game, and then served up a meatball to Manny Machado to torch the thing completely.

Hanrahan is better than Bailey and Alfredo Aceves, but he’s never been in a situation like that of Boston where he’s expected to be a linchpin to the club’s success. He’s also a free agent at the end of the season. This isn’t a rebuilding Nationals team or the Pirates. There’s a lot of pressure on him. The starting rotation is woefully short and the aforementioned personnel and management issues haven’t gone away simply because of their attempts to weed out the problem people who are perceived to have led to the crumbling of the infrastructure. They may have been patched the personality gap to the satisfaction of the media at large, but the players also have to be able to play and play in Boston. Whether they can or not has yet to be determined in spite of the feeling of sunshine permeating the reconfigured room.

Chemistry only goes as far. If they don’t find some starting pitching and have a closer that can finish a game, this discussion on how much more positive the Red Sox are will be all they have to talk about in July because they certainly won’t be discussing preparations for a playoff run.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide now available on Amazon.comSmashwordsBN and Lulu. Check it out and read a sample.

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John Farrell’s Meaningless Return To Toronto

Games, History, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2013 Baseball Guide, Players, Stats

Why would the Blue Jays or their fans care about John Farrell’s highly publicized return to Toronto after he was traded (and wanted to go) to the Red Sox? The media seems to believe that there’s a reason to turn Farrell into more than what he was to the Blue Jays.

Here’s the reality:

  • He was a disappointment as Blue Jays’ manager
  • He didn’t do a good job
  • Had the Red Sox not wanted Farrell, the Blue Jays would probably have fired him
  • No one in Toronto from the Blue Jays organization to the intelligent fans and members of the media understood why the Red Sox wanted him in the first place
  • No one in Toronto was sorry to see him go

So what’s the big hubbub about? Are they going to boo him? Why? He did them a favor by wanting to go to Boston. They should be happy that he’s managing a team in their division so the same things he did wrong for the Blue Jays will be done wrong against the Blue Jays and he’ll help his former club win a few games against his new club.

The Red Sox were hypnotized by the past, hoping that bringing an insider from the Terry Francona days would yield a happier, more productive work atmosphere. It all ties into the blame that was loaded onto the desk of Bobby Valentine when the 2012 mess was a communal effort and Valentine had zero chance of succeeding with the forces in the clubhouse and front office lined up against him. The perception will be different with Farrell, but the results will be similar in large part because he’s got everything a team would look for in a manager except for one important element: he’s not good at managing. The Blue Jays saw the stoic countenance, impressive interview skills, imposing size, and glossy resume and thought they were getting one thing when they got another. They’re better off without him and the reaction to his return should reflect that. They shouldn’t care.

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Captainship in Baseball

Award Winners, Books, Football, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Management, Media, Players, Politics, Spring Training, Stats

The Yankees name Derek Jeter captain and it’s part of their “rich tapestry of history.” The Mets do it with David Wright and it’s foundation for ridicule. Neither is accurate. What has to be asked about baseball and captaincies is whether there’s any value in it on the field or if it’s shtick.

The three current captains in baseball are Wright, Jeter and Paul Konerko of the White Sox. In the past, teams have had captains but the most prominent in recent memory have been Jason Varitek of the Red Sox and Jeter. The Mets named John Franco the captain of the team in May of 2001 and he had a “C” stitched to his jersey like he was leading the New York Rangers on the ice for a game against the Philadelphia Flyers. Varitek was named captain of the Red Sox after his somewhat contentious free agency foray following the Red Sox World Series win in 2004. The Red Sox couldn’t let Varitek leave a week after losing Pedro Martinez to the Mets, but they didn’t want to give him the no-trade clause that Varitek had said was a deal-breaker. Varitek’s pride was at stake and the unsaid compromise they made was to give Varitek the captaincy and no no-trade clause. Whether or not Varitek was savvy enough to catch onto the trick is unknown. It reminded me of an old episode of Cheers when—ironically—the fictional former Red Sox reliever Sam Malone and two other workers walked into the boss’s office seeking a raise and were met with a surprising agreeability and open checkbook as long as they didn’t ask for a title. They got the titles and not the raises.

Is the captaincy worth the attention? Will Wright do anything differently now that he’s officially the captain of the Mets—something that had been apparent for years? Probably not.

The Mets have had three prior captains. Keith Hernandez was named captain, similarly to Jeter, while he was the acknowledged leader and the team was in the midst of a slump in 1987 with management trying to fire up the troops and fans. An insulted Gary Carter was named co-captain in 1988 as a placating gesture. Then there was Franco. If the captain had any legitimate on-field value than for its novelty and “coolness” (Turk Wendell wanted the “C” in Franco’s jersey for that reason), a closer couldn’t be an effective captain and then-Mets manager Bobby Valentine certainly would not have named Franco his captain considering the difficult relationship between the two. Valentine’s reaction was probably an eye-roll and, “Yeah, whatever. Make him captain. As if it means anything.” Franco never got over Valentine taking the closer job away and giving it to Armando Benitez while Franco was hurt in 1999 and he got his revenge when, due to his close relationship with the Wilpons, he helped cement the decision to fire Valentine after the 2002 season. Franco could be divisive, selfish and vindictive when he wanted to be.

While the Yankees exhibit a smug superiority as to the “value” of their captains, there’s a perception—probably due to silent implication that the truth doesn’t feed the narrative of Yankees “specialness”—that the three “real” captains of the Yankees in their history have been Lou Gehrig, Thurman Munson and Jeter. But did you know that Graig Nettles was a Yankees captain and thought so little of the “honor” that he angered George Steinbrenner by saying, in his typical caustic realism:

“Really, all I do as captain is take the lineups up to home plate before the game.” (Balls by Graig Nettles and Peter Golenbock, page 20, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1984)

Of course Steinbrenner had a fit:

“The captain is supposed to show some leadership out there. That’s why he’s captain. To show leadership.” (Balls, page 21)

Nettles, the “captain” and so important to team success because of his leadership was traded to the Padres in the spring of 1984 after signing a contract to remain with the Yankees as a free agent after the 1983 season in large part because of that book.

Before Gehrig, the Yankees captain had been Hal Chase. Chase was a notorious gambler and repeatedly accused of throwing games. The Yankees would prefer Chase’s name not be affiliated with them in their current incarnation. Chase wasn’t a “Yankee,” he was a “Highlander.” Two different things I suppose.

After Nettles, the Yankees named Ron Guidry and Willie Randolph co-captains and then Don Mattingly as captain. The team didn’t win in those years and the captaincy didn’t help or hurt them toward that end. The teams weren’t very good, so they didn’t win.

The Yankees made a big show of the captaincy because Steinbrenner liked it. He thought it was important in a similar fashion to his rah-rah football speeches and constant haranguing of his field personnel with firings and entreaties to “do something” even when there was little that could be done.

Depending on who is named captain, it can matter in a negative sense if the individual walks around trying to lead and gets on the nerves of others. For example, if Curt Schilling was named a captain, he’d walk around with a beatific look on his face, altered body language and manner and make sure to do some “captaining,” whatever that is. But with Wright, nothing will change, and like Jeter and Konerko, it won’t matter much. It’s not going to affect the teams one way or the other whether the captain is in a Yankees uniform and has become part of their “storied history,” of if it’s the Mets and the world-at-large is waiting for the inevitable cheesiness that is a Mets trademark. It’s an honor and it’s nice for the fans, but that’s pretty much it.

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Indiana Cashman And The Search For Fossils

All Star Game, Award Winners, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

When asked about the Yankees putting out a feeler for Chipper Jones, Derek Jeter wondered, in his typical dark deadpan sense of humor, if they’d also contacted Mike Schmidt.

That got me to thinking of other options for the Yankees in their archaeological dig for dinosaur fossils hoping to unearth a corner infielder. Here are some of the names I came up with and they’re almost as ludicrous as Jones.

Mike Francesa

For a week he’s been pushing for the Yankees to get Justin Morneau from the Twins. Not “pursue,” but “get,” period. Naturally ignorant of the fact that the Twins are in a similar position to the Yankees in that they have to at least put forth the pretense of placing a competent product on the field at the start of the season to sell a few tickets that they’re not going to sell when they’re heading towards another 90+ loss season and that Morneau, if healthy, will have significant value at mid-season, Francesa expects the Twins to just give him up for whatever scraps the Yankees deign to provide simply because they want him.

It’s not going to happen, but during his vetting, perhaps Francesa should pull a Dick Cheney who, while running George W. Bush’s vice presidential search looked into the mirror, saw the epitome of what Bush needed in his vice president and selected himself. Sure, they’d have to get a muumuu for him to wear and he’d have to stand on first base to prevent every runner from beating him to the bag on a groundball, but with the court striking down New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban on extra-large sodas, Francesa’s Diet Coke predilection will move forward unabated. When returning to the dugout after a long half-inning, he can scream at the clubhouse kids like a real-life Les Grossman, “DIET COKE!!!!!”

Mo Vaughn

In the tradition of players who didn’t work out for the Mets, Vaughn would fit perfectly into what the Yankees are trying to create. It adds to the intrigue that he’s also a former Red Sock and he hates Bobby Valentine. That he’s probably far past 320 pounds and could barely move when he was still playing is irrelevant. Pinstripes are slimming and maybe no one would notice his girth, plus all the balls hitting him in the stomach because it’s extended so far beyond the plate would send his on-base percentage into the stratosphere.

Keith Law

No, he’s never picked up a baseball and he’s far too thin-skinned to last one day in Yankeeland without crawling into a fetal position and sobbing uncontrollably, but he scammed his way into a front office position with the Blue Jays on the heels of the Moneyball revolution; he parlayed that into a job at ESPN as an “insider expert” by regurgitating terms he’s heard from scouts; and he has an inexplicable following based on his stat savviness and that people think his resume denotes credibility in some sort of circular and wrong “if this, then that” manner.

Maybe he can imitate an athlete just as effectively as he’s aped actual scouts.

Bear in mind that his throwing style will replicate what we see below.

Michael Lewis

I have deep psychological concerns about someone who places a ginormous picture of his own face on the back cover of every one of his books, but that can also be a positive. A level of arrogance that geometric leads a person to believe he’s capable of things he’s universally acknowledged as being incapable of. Look at it this way: people think that because he wrote Moneyball, he knows something about baseball when he doesn’t.

Worst case scenario, he can write a book about his adventures, present it in a twisted (and skillful) fashion so the masses believe it and they’ll make a movie about it. He can be played by Aaron Eckhardt—a man with some athletic skills—and it’ll sell, man!! It’ll sell!!!

If it doesn’t work, the epitome of evil lurks in the shadows of the world as a fugitive and is ready to be blamed for the experiment (disguised as evolution) failing: Art Howe.

Lou Gehrig

Dead for 72 years? Try resting and waiting for his opportunity!!!

Truth be told, how much more absurd is it than thinking Jones will come out of retirement for the “privilege” of playing for the Yankees?

Billy Beane/Brad Pitt

True, Beane was an awful player and Pitt is an actor who played an awful player on film, but if people bought into the “genius” aspect when Beane was simply exploiting analytics that no one else was at the time and has been alternatingly lucky and unlucky in his maneuverings since, maybe putting him in uniform would hypnotize the fans long enough not to realize the Yankees are in deep, deep trouble.

Here’s the reality: Jones is not coming out of retirement and if he was, it would be for the Braves and not the Yankees. He’s injury-prone and he’s old. He’s also fat. Considering the Yankees decisions over the past few months, he actually fits. But why, in a normal and logical world, would anyone believe that Jones would tarnish his legacy with the Braves to play for the Yankees? Not only did he win his championship in 1995, rendering meaningless the long-used desire on the part of certain players like Roger Clemens to gain that elusive title, but he was with the Braves his entire professional life and the 2013 Braves are far better than the 2013 Yankees. This concept that everyone “wants” to be a Yankee is one of the biggest farcical examples of “world revolves around us” egomania in sports today and was disproven by Cliff Lee and even such journeymen as Nate Schierholtz who decided to go elsewhere.

The Yankees looked into Derrek Lee, who’s a good guy and a good idea if he’s healthy and wants to play, but if he does, he has to get into camp immediately. They signed Ben Francisco, which is a case study of the bargain-basement strategies of the 2013-2014 Yankees with self-evident on field results. They’re desperate and they’re short-handed. As a result, you get nonsense and panic. This is just getting started. It’s only March and there’s a long, long, looooong way to go. It’s getting longer by the day.

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Keys to 2013: Boston Red Sox

Ballparks, Cy Young Award, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MVP, Players, Playoffs, Spring Training, Stats

Starting Pitching Key: Jon Lester

With Josh Beckett gone and the back of the rotation questionable, someone has to be the leader on and off the field. There are conflicting reports about Beckett’s leadership skills. Those within the Red Sox who’ve commented on it have nothing but good things to say about him; those outside see him as the ringleader to the increasing selfishness and laziness that tore down the Red Sox in 2011. Lester used to follow Beckett around like a baby duck, but he’s the man now and with the Red Sox still in flux after a 69-93 season and the one person who all seemed to blame—Bobby Valentine—gone, if they don’t play better other dominos are sure to fall. Lester’s performance can prevent or at least delay the inevitable.

Relief Pitching Key: Alfredo Aceves

Aceves is already irritating the new regime and manager John Farrell by lobbing balls in during what was supposed to be a live batting practice. What Aceves’s problem is is anyone’s guess, but if he continues to act up after his diva-like behavior in 2012, the Red Sox will have no choice but to get rid of him. The problem is, they need him and he was one of the few players who performed as if he cared during the 2011 collapse. He can pitch multiple innings as a reliever, can close and can start. They need Aceves’s versatility if they’re going to win.

Offensive Key: Jacoby Ellsbury

Ellsbury missed almost all of 2010 with a rib injury and half of 2012 with a shoulder injury. In 2011 when he was healthy, he finished second in the MVP voting and helped keep the Red Sox afloat in the waning weeks of the season. His injuries were impact-related and not pulled hamstrings and similar maladies.

If he’s 100%, he can do it all on the field. His presence will go a long way in the Red Sox being respectable. If they play poorly, he’s trade bait and the return on him could help speed their necessary rebuild.

Either way, he has to be healthy.

Defensive Key: Jonny Gomes

One of the reasons the Red Sox let Jason Bay leave after the 2009 season was his statistically and perceptively poor defense. Jim Rice’s defense was presented as a reason to keep him out of the Hall of Fame, but he was good at playing the Green Monster because he knew its quirks.

Since it was built, playing the Green Monster in Fenway has been more about nuance and understanding the wall. But logic says that if they were worried about Bay’s defense and because Rice’s outfield play is a point of contention in his Hall of Fame candidacy that teams want a prototypically adequate defensive outfielder even for a place like Fenway. For 2013, the Red Sox primary left fielder will be Gomes who, by all comprehensible measures, is a terrible outfielder in a normal outfield. What he’ll look like at Fenway has nightmare potential and could severely harm the already shaky pitching staff.

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