Fung_Ku_Panda likes your photograph and probably doesn’t like Boston

MLB

Pablo Sandoval is lucky that the situation didn’t degenerate further with the Instagram woman in question saying that he was cyber-stalking her, leading not just to embarrassment but to this:

Sandoval’s first season as a member of the Boston Red Sox has grown tabloidish with the revelation that when he allegedly went to the clubhouse to use the bathroom, he grabbed his phone, checked it and decided to like the images posted by the buxom woman. Or, as he claims, he accidentally hit “like” when he checked his phone.

Whatever.

Self-proclaimed baseball “purists” who have fantasy-fueled notions of players who are thinking about baseball 24/7 and working, working, working to hone their craft will react with apoplectic dismay at Sandoval’s supposed breach of etiquette and lack of dedication to his job. In truth, many players will check their phones and tablets during the course of a game for one reason or another. It’s easy to forget that these larger-than-life characters that appear to be superhuman are, in truth, just like everyone else. Sandoval’s story combines this reality with the revelation that he, like everyone else, goes to the bathroom; he, like everyone else, checks his smartphone regularly; and he, like everyone else, is looking for action off the field.

Counting spring training, the season is at least eight months long and nine if the club is a playoff team. No one can maintain concentration and focus on the game for that amount of time without rapid burnout. And what are starting pitchers and backup players whose roles are specified supposed to do in the third inning of a game in June? Sitting and watching the game with rapt attention loses its luster not long after a player has established himself. In fact, it’s quite boring. Most managers don’t care what the players are doing as long as they do their jobs and don’t get caught doing other stuff. The idea that this was a show of disrespect to manager John Farrell is silly. This happens everywhere on every team. The unspoken rule is not to embarrass the manager and organization. Sandoval got caught and embarrassed his already embattled manager and panicking organization. That’s why it’s an issue. If the team was 39-29 instead of 29-39, this elicits a wink and a shrug.

Put it this way, if Sandoval were hitting .330 as he did in 2009 for the San Francisco Giants and the Red Sox weren’t mired in last place and going nowhere in the American League East, no one would have said a word. Similar to him showing up in camp with his belly hanging precipitously over his belt, it only matters if things aren’t going well. In truth, looking at Sandoval’s numbers, he’s doing precisely what he’s done since 2012 and his year-end numbers will reflect that. They’ll be identical to what they’ve been with a batting average in the .270s, a mediocre on-base percentage approximating .320 to .335, 15 home runs, and the questioning glances of those who had no clue what the Red Sox were getting when he was signed. Sandoval’s star status has been built on his post-season performances when he’s made himself into a Reggie Jackson-style spotlight hound.

The overreaction to this is multiplied by the perceived disappointment that Sandoval has been, that the Red Sox are terrible, and that the lack of “character” and focus has been an issue for the club in the not-too-distant past. What Sandoval and the Red Sox might be learning too late is that there are players who are simply not cut out for Boston and its inherent pressures and non-stop scrutiny.

The wild nights of Mike Napoli were only charming because he was productive and helped the team win the 2013 World Series. The Instagram activities of Sandoval are not viewed as fondly because the team is, right now, a bigger underachiever than the 2011 bunch and are dangerous close to being a repeat of the 2012 disaster for which Bobby Valentine got the blame when there were far greater problems with that team than Valentine.

Fans and media members were speculating about the possibility of getting rid of Sandoval before the Instagram incident. Now? They’ll want the club to eat a significant portion of his contract to expedite his departure.

Like players who go to New York, it takes a certain type of personality to make it in Boston. There has to be a thick skin and tough mentality (or complete obliviousness as was the case with Manny Ramirez) to function and thrive there. Some have it, some don’t. Worse is if a player thinks he has it, management thinks he has it, and then they discover three months into a six-year, $100 million contract that he doesn’t.

The idea that the Red Sox will be able to repeat the lightning strikes from August of 2012 to October of 2013, clear out players like Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez who did not belong in Boston, and go on a spending spree with every single one of the players signed contributing to a championship is ludicrous. The 2013 signees were probably doing the same things and worse as Sandoval checking his Instagram account during a game, but they won. So it’s okay. This only serves to explain why this regular occurrence of a player checking his cellphone during a game is being treated as a hangable offense and a symptom of what ails the 2015 Red Sox. They’re worrying about a hangnail when there’s a bone sticking out of the skin. Until they fix that bone, the hangnail is nothing.

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MLB 2015: Opening Day Questions, American League East

MLB

Baltimore Orioles

Did the Orioles do enough to fill the holes left by the departures of Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz?

Markakis is not the great loss that he’s implied to be, but replacing Cruz’s 40 homers is nearly impossible to do with a single player. However, if the Orioles get 15-20 homers from Matt Wieters; if Chris Davis can add 8-10 homers from his somewhat disappointing 26 in 2014; if Manny Machado chips in 20-25; if Steve Pearce can contribute 75 percent of what he provided last season, then the Orioles can make up for Cruz’s departure.

Can they repeat?

Yes. Manager Buck Showalter’s strategic skills are worth a significant amount over the course of a season. It’s difficult to quantify what it is a manager adds or subtracts, but Showalter’s attention to detail and tweaking, as well as his lack of tolerance for that which other managers accept as an unavoidable consequence of managing in today’s game will make any team at least five games better than their on-paper talents indicate. The AL East is as weak as it’s been in 25 years and the Orioles, with Showlater, can take advantage of that and win the division again.

Boston Red Sox

Are the Red Sox as “smart” as their reputation and a lucky World Series win implies?

For all the supposed “brilliance” that comes from the front office led by general manager Ben Cherington, his tenure has not been a good one but for that one miracle year of 2013 when everything went right and they won the World Series. That title occurred in spite of a patched together roster loaded with best case scenario free agents and a manager, John Farrell, who’s had one winning season in his career – the year he won the World Series – and is widely acknowledged as not being very good at in-game strategy.

Much of the “success” the Red Sox have had hinges on that one year. Had they finished where many expected them to that year in the middle of the pack with 82 to 85 wins, that would be half-a-decade of massive payrolls and more massive disappointments.

But that’s revisionist history. They did win that World Series in 2013, buying them time and the belief that they’re a template organization others should copy. The reality depends on your point-of-view. The objective truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

As for 2015, this is a weirdly constructed team. They’ve stuck Hanley Ramirez in left field; are trusting Dustin Pedroia to stay healthy; acquired the fat and in-season lackadaisical Pablo Sandoval to play third; have lost their prospective starting catcher Christian Vazquez to Tommy John surgery; are hoping for a major bounce back year from Xander Bogaerts; their starting rotation is stacked with a sum-of-the-parts crew adding up to an average sum and no intimidating ace; and the bullpen is something of a mess.

Can they overcome these issues?

Although the concept hasn’t even been broached for fear of the expectation and demand that they actually do it, the Red Sox can always demote Bogaerts if he doesn’t hit, stick Ramirez at short and live with his shady defense, and put one of the endless array of outfielders in left field.

Ryan Hanigan can handle the catching duties suitably until Blake Swihart is recalled to share the job. They have a deep farm system and can dip into it to make a move on Cole Hamels, Johnny Cueto, or any other “name” arm that comes available. Bullpens are fluctuating, so who knows whether Edward Mujica, Junichi Tazawa, Koji Uehara or anyone else will emerge and dominate in the late innings?

The weakness of the division and their resources will let them stay in the race.

New York Yankees

Can they count on the key to their season – Masahiro Tanaka – and what if he falters?

I’d written months ago that the Yankees were handling Tanaka’s torn elbow ligament correctly by letting him pitch until he can no longer pitch and then he should go for surgery when he can’t. Now, however, there are troubling signs regarding his health. Tanaka has stated that he’s altered his motion to accommodate his injury. His velocity is noticeably reduced. He’s also adjusted his repertoire to accommodate the injury. All of these factors will lead to the idea that he’s pitching hurt, changing his tactics to mitigate the pain, and is moving forward through an injury instead of functioning normally in spite of it.

Obviously, they can’t count on him for the entire season. In fact, it seems as if they’ll go start-to-start and hope for the best. This leads to the question as to whether the doctors gave him the option of pitching without the surgery if and only if he can stand it. He’s saying that he can stand it when the statements and acts say he can’t.

Tanaka’s situation is often equated with that of Adam Wainwright who pitched with the same injury for five years before the ligament finally blew, but Wainwright never publicly admitted he had changed his motion or strategy due to the injury as Tanaka is doing now. If this is the situation, them maybe he should just have the surgery and get it over with.

Will Hal Steinbrenner and Randy Levine let GM Brian Cashman clean house if the team is spiraling?

It’s hard to fathom the Yankees ever punting a season in large part because they’re so immersed in both the reputation as consummate “winners” and selling tickets for their star-studded show. What they need to realize is that a large percentage of “Yankees die-hards” who spend money on the product became “Yankees die-hards” in 1998. They won’t go see a substandard product and they certainly won’t pay the prices to go to Yankee Stadium to sit through it.

The other problem they have is the profound lack of marketable players. No one is taking CC Sabathia. Might they be able to move Brian McCann? Would another team take Alex Rodriguez off their hands if the Yankees pay the bulk of his salary just to get him away from them once and for all? I can absolutely see the Miami Marlins doing that. If Mark Teixeira is hitting, can they move him? What about Jacoby Ellsbury? Brett Gardner? Carlos Beltran?

The odds are no one’s taking any of these players, but Cashman would dearly love to get rid of all of them to bolster the farm system, clear salary, and open spots for the supposedly hot hitting prospects they have coming through the pipeline.

But Hal and Levine won’t let him because of the message it sends even though it was similarly short-sighted decisions that got the organization in this position in the first place. Yankees fans had better savor the words “first place” in any context since it’s about the closest they’ll get to it this year.

Tampa Bay Rays

Will the team collapse without Andrew Friedman and Joe Maddon?

On the contrary, the departures of Friedman and Maddon reinvigorate the franchise and they made a series of moves to bolster a weak farm system. While Friedman and Maddon were obviously integral to the team’s success, there’s such a thing as stagnation and a spark stemming from change. The idea that Friedman was the sole voice in making all the decisions and that his absence will spur the entire franchise to come undone is silly. There’s no single voice in any organization and the freedom from the expectations that Friedman’s success created has allowed the Rays to move forward and make moves – dumping Wil Myers, Jeremy Hellickson and Joel Peralta – they might not have made had they stood pat in the front office.

Maddon leaping out of the contractual escape hatch actually did the Rays a favor. They were able to get rid of players Maddon wanted on the roster like Jose Molina and Sean Rodriguez. They no longer have to endure his canned quirkiness and the arrogance fomented by the sudden public recognition he received as the “best” manager in baseball.

While the players will say all the right things about their former manager, what he did was inordinately selfish and despicable as he took another person’s job by usurping Rick Renteria with the Chicago Cubs. His act had grown tiresome and the young and energetic Kevin Cash is a new voice with a different message that won’t be as me-centric as it had become with Maddon.

Toronto Blue Jays

Is this the last call for this Blue Jays group?

Put it this way, they’re going to need a new team president when Paul Beeston retires after the season and the new boss – whoever it is (and it still might be Dan Duquette) – will want to bring in his own people and likely gut the place of these faltering veterans. That means GM Alex Anthopoulos and manager John Gibbons know where they stand: win or else.

It’s not an absurd demand considering the financial freedom that Anthopoulos was given and the underachievement of this club. For years, there was the complaint that the Blue Jays would have been good enough to make the playoffs had they not been stuck in a division with the Yankees and Red Sox. Now that the entire division is down and there’s a gaping hole for the Blue Jays to charge through, they haven’t done it. On paper, they’ve improved significantly with Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson. They still have Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes and Edwin Encarnacion. But their pitching is questionable, they’ve gutted the farm system, lost Marcus Stroman for the year, and are functioning with Brett Cecil as their closer.

Can they finally win?

Can they? Yes. Will they? No.

After annually expecting them to finally fulfill their potential and have a little luck, eventually the reality will hit home that this is what they are and they need to make structural changes from the ground up to alter the culture. It’s just not going to work with this nucleus and it has to be changed starting with the front office.

Aiken’s injury doesn’t validate the Astros

MLB

While there are factions using the news of the apparent injury to unsigned former Houston Astros first round, first overall draft pick Brady Aiken to validate general manager Jeff Luhnow’s plan, the truth is that this neither reflects on Aiken, nor does it justify the Astros’ brutal attempt to reduce the bonus Aiken was offered after an issue was seen on Aiken’s elbow in his post-draft medical examination.

This story is being used to its maximum benefit by those who are invested in the success of the Astros’ blueprint of ruthless adherence to running the club as a business, setting lines on how much they spend, and defying conventional wisdom to the degree of risking a top prospect being lost with their attempts to allocate money wisely.

Of course, each side will have its own version of events and try to spin it to its best advantage. The problem the Astros face in running the club as a business is that a conventional business isn’t under the public scrutiny that a sports organization is with real time criticism and a lack of accountability for those making their critiques. No one’s going to apologize either way. They’ll gloat or stay silent, but the arrogance and egomania that comes with being a self-proclaimed “expert” hinders any real analysis as to the turn of events.

In a broader context, when it comes to immediate reaction, long-term assessment, hindsight and a grudging acknowledgement of having been right, this situation is similar to what happened with the Boston Red Sox, Roger Clemens and Dan Duquette after the 1996 season.

Duquette stayed silent after setting an amount he was willing to pay to keep Clemens with the Red Sox as he entered free agency season and let the pitcher depart to the Toronto Blue Jays. Clemens won two Cy Young Awards in Toronto, was traded to the New York Yankees and signed as a free agent with the Astros, winning two more. He was a prime example of the value of hard work and determination.

All the while Duquette kept quiet, endured the glares from Clemens and the overt hatred of his club’s media contingent and fan base not just for allowing Clemens to leave and denigrating him by saying he was in the “twilight” of his career, but watching as Clemens went to the hated Yankees, won the World Series that – to that point – had still eluded the Red Sox, and maintaining the dull, passionless monotone that indicated he didn’t care about baseball in the visceral way that was a hallmark of being involved with the Red Sox.

Through what was promoted as a dedication to an intense workout regimen, a laser-like focus to one’s craft and a determination to prove Duquette wrong, Clemens set the standard for a late-career renaissance, defying age and predictions of a decline with a high-level performance into his 40s.

Of course, in retrospect, it was all a lie. Clemens is widely believed to have achieved his late-career heights through a combination of pitching knowledge, hard workouts and a significant amount of performance enhancing drugs. Duquette’s failures with the Red Sox are now viewed in a different light. He was moderately successful given the circumstances. For laying a large part of the foundation he gets lukewarm credit from those who portray John Henry as the club’s savior and Theo Epstein as the youthful genius and architect of the Red Sox three championship teams from 2004 to 2013 since it was Duquette who traded for Pedro Martinez, Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe, signed Manny Ramirez, and drafted Kevin Youkilis.

Ironically as Clemens plummeted in the eyes of the public and became a baseball pariah – he settled his defamation lawsuit with former trainer, whistleblower and PED provider Brian McNamee just this week – Duquette has gone from a running joke who couldn’t get a job in Major League Baseball to winning Executive of the Year as Baltimore Orioles general manager, rebuilding the team back to relevance after years of embarrassment as a wasteland for over-the-hill veterans desperate for a job and final payday, and was the main target to take over as president of the aforementioned Blue Jays.

1996 seems like a long time ago because it is a long time ago. But it’s a long time ago both literally and figuratively. While Clemens was at the height of his powers and a testament to his love of baseball, competing and greatness, Duquette was viewed as someone who would never again helm a big league team.

Duquette never gloated publicly, but he didn’t have to. In the end, all the vitriol, hatred and criticism is meaningless because in hindsight, he won.

The point of all this isn’t just to point out how Clemens rose and Duquette fell after that fateful decision to let Clemens leave the Red Sox and Duquette’s honest statement that he didn’t believe the then-34-year-old was ever going to regain his dominance. It’s that the perspective of being “right” or “vindicated” can’t be known until the story is told – truthfully and in its entirety – as to what really happened.

The reality of the Aiken situation isn’t linked to prescience on the part of the Astros. If that were the case, why did they only reduce the offer upon which they had a principal agreement with Aiken from $6.5 million to $5 million? Was that an amount of money they felt comfortable blowing on an injured pitcher just to save face for drafting him first overall? And if face-saving is the objective, what does that say about their attachment to numbers and business principles?

The Astros, by then, must have been keenly aware that they’d blown $3.25 million on Jesse Crain, not receiving one single pitch from him in the minors or majors.

The money wasn’t the issue.

The fact is they saw an opportunity for themselves to save that $1.5 million, sign two other players they wanted – Mac Marshall and Jacob Nix – and get Aiken at a discount. If Aiken signed and needed Tommy John surgery, so what? The vast proportion of pitchers who have the ligament replacement procedure are not only able to come back, but they come back even better than they were before. For a pitcher like Aiken who was compared to Clayton Kershaw and who Astros scouts said had a chance to be one of the best pitchers in the history of the game, $6.5 million is a minuscule amount to pay when calculating all the factors into the equation. If they were really worried, why didn’t they do what the Texas Rangers did with R.A. Dickey after he was a first round draft pick who, it was discovered, didn’t have the ulnar collateral ligament in his arm at all and lower his bonus at the same percentage the Rangers did when they reduced Dickey’s offer from more than $800,000 to $75,000?

They wanted Aiken. They wanted Nix. They wanted Marshall. The elbow might have been a slight worry, but it wasn’t so terrible that they walked away from the player. In the end, they might have been right to be concerned, but they weren’t right because of the concerns. They were simply trying to be clever and may have been justified by Aiken getting hurt.

Those among the Astros and in their media and fan base who are doing a full 180 and chortling over Aiken’s misfortune and the Astros’ foresight probably shouldn’t be too impressed with themselves. After their first several years of being shielded by the stat-centric media like some (sober) Secret Service and a fanatical fan base buying into the talking points as if they’re gospel presented from the baseball Gods like a hypnotized constituency hoping and praying that they’ll benefit in the end, the clock is finally ticking on Luhnow and his staff. They have to show on-field improvement this year or there will be a call for changes in the front office and how they conduct business. The Aiken injury might give them some breathing space, but not much and not for the right reasons.

In the next decade, we’ll see who was smarter and whether or not Aiken fulfills the promise or winds up flaming out as a broken down bust. The Astros and their remaining avid supporters would be better-served to keep their mouths shut in public and in private rather than celebrating over an injury to an 18-year-old as a means to prove that they were “right” and hammer home the rightness of a plan that is still yet to yield any tangible, on-field benefits.

Michael Kay’s Diet Coke Stunt: Just For The Lack Of Taste Of It

History, Management, Media, Players, Television

Michael Kay’s first show as the new simulcast of his ESPN radio show on the YES Network replacing Mike Francesa’s WFAN show began with an act that is indicative of what we can expect moving forward. Hopes that Kay would alter his sycophancy, self-promotion, pettiness and pretentious ridiculousness were dashed immediately after 3 p.m. EST on February 3. As the show began, on display in front of Kay was a bottle of Diet Coke. After their introduction, Kay’s flunky/partner Don La Greca lifted a garbage can up for all to see and Kay theatrically tossed the bottle into the trash.

For those not familiar with the reference, Francesa always has an open bottle of Diet Coke in front of him from the beginning of the show to the end. It’s become a running joke known to frequent viewers. In a misguided attempt at humor; to flaunt the fact that he’s replacing Francesa; or simply because he’s obnoxious, Kay’s childish, poorly planned and blatant moment of flamboyance did little more than validate the reputation he’s carried with him since his rise to prominence on Yankees broadcasts first on the radio then for the YES Network. Constantly fighting battles that only he sees or cares about, Kay’s penchant for carrying out personal vendettas over the smallest perceived slights has blurred the line that he himself created as he portrays himself as an objective sports analyst while simultaneously being an employee of the Yankees rooting for, promoting and self-righteously “protecting” the brand.

Lest anyone believe that his new gig with his show being on YES in lieu of Francesa’s would lead to an altering of that template that he’s crafted. The Diet Coke stunt—and that’s what it was, a stunt—clearly indicated that it’s going to be more of the same from Kay. In fact, it might get worse.

What was the purpose of it? It wasn’t a knee-jerk idea that they did without thinking about it. If it was, where’d they get the bottle of Diet Coke? Saying something stupid can be done in a split-second. To put forth the effort to go and find a bottle of Diet Coke, strategically place it in front of him for all to see knowing that Francesa-watchers would understand the symbolism and have his partner pick up the trash can to dispose of it in such florid fashion took planning. It wasn’t well-thought out, it wasn’t funny and, unless Kay’s intent was to say, “Hey, I’m still a jerk!”, it wasn’t necessary.

And that’s the key. If Kay was truly trying to go mainstream and stake a claim for his show as a nationwide entity, he’d have to tone down his act from a Yankees shill who behaves as a petulant infant using his forum to promote his own agenda and alter his persona and content. Whether that was ever a consideration is known only to Kay. Or perhaps he thinks he is toning down his act which would be even more disturbing considering his initial move on the open of his show on YES.

Kay has his shtick that he’s used ad nauseam since he arrived in the Yankees radio booth. From the over-descriptive “interlocking N and Y” as if he’s painting the word picture for someone who’d never ever seen the Yankees hats and uniforms; to the lame catchphrase of “See ya!!!” on a home run; to the “Lllllet’s do it!!” at the first pitch; to the recitation of Billy Joel lyrics to conclude each and every radio show as if he’s doing something different from the rest of the radio talk show world, it’s all about him and what he believes people want to hear from him.

If asked about it, Kay would undoubtedly say, “The fans expect it from me.” It’s irrelevant whether or not he’s aware that the expectation lies more in the reality that he’s the goofy, annoying guy at the party with the lampshade on his head thinking people are laughing at his antics when the truth is they’re laughing because he’s making an idiot of himself and they’re too used to it to tell him to leave.

He enjoys hearing his own voice and insinuating himself into the moment as if the treasured memories of fans extends to his voicing of the narrative. Derek Jeter hits a home run for his 3,000th career hit? The moment has to be endured rather than enjoyed with Kay’s voiceover reading from a prepared and sickening speech about Jeter’s greatness. The Yankees win game 1 of the 2010 ALCS in a startling comeback over the Rangers? Kay takes that as his cue to pronounce the series over after the first game against a very good team that eventually wound up dumping the Yankees in six games. Joe Torre takes on Kay during his tenure as manager? Kay treats it as a personal affront and kicks Torre on the way out the door following his ouster claiming that he “protected” the former manager as if that was part of his stated job description.

His claims of objectivity are exposed as transient when the sets of rules by which he purports to base his analysis are conveniently ignored when the Yankees violate his principles. If it’s the Red Sox or Mets, there’s a “right” way to do things and for the most part, they don’t adhere to it. With the Yankees, there’s a separate, superior plane on which they walk because of their “rich tapestry of history.” Jose Reyes is removed from a game to win a batting title, and the Mets have gotten it “wrong” from “day one.” Bernie Williams does it and it’s glossed over for no reason other than he’s a Yankee.

You can’t be the objective analyst on the radio, then walk into the Yankees booth and blatantly push an organizational perspective as if he’s the game time front man of their PR department. You can’t be a friendly and nice guy off the air and then behave like a buffoon on the air when taking shots at the supposed competition.

That’s another dichotomy with Kay that is difficult to reconcile with the fool who took his pathetic and uncreative shot at Francesa: everyone who meets Kay off the air says he’s one of the nicest and most accommodating media people you could hope to meet. He’s friendly; he takes the time to talk to people; and is likable. Is that the real person? Is the radio personality staged? Or is it both? There are plenty of people in the media—in the New York market especially—who create an image of the generous, nice person and off the air they’re arrogant, condescending, dismissive and hypocritical.

Kay may believe that he got the YES gig because of his talents. In truth, he replaced Francesa because the organization wanted someone who was more in line with the club mandate of showing the Yankees in a positive light on the broadcast arm of their ministry of propaganda. Even with that, he could have begun the show in a positive manner. He could have said something to the tune of, “I know there are people who would prefer the other show to be seen in this timeslot; that many don’t even like me. But I’m here now and I hope you’ll give me a chance. I put on a good show. It’s a different show, but it’s good. The only way you’ll be able to decide is to listen objectively without any preconceived notions.” How would that have been viewed rather than tossing a bottle of Diet Coke in the garbage? He got attention he wanted, but it’s been universally lambasted. It wasn’t clever and it was gutless. Francesa himself summed it up when he replied to Newsday’s Neil Best’s query about it by saying, “Classless, loser move from two guys I have been burying in the ratings for over a decade.”

Like Francesa or not, he hit it right on the button.

If Kay’s intention was to give the new listeners and viewers a summary of what to expect from his YES show and wanted to do it in one brief and ill-advised move, mission accomplished. If YES isn’t already regretting their decision to choose brand loyalty over business, then they will be soon as Kay’s act destroys ratings and ruins what they built with Francesa over the course of his twelve years having his simulcast broadcast on their network. They won’t admit the mistake, but they made one. That became clear by 3:10 p.m. on February 3. Ten minutes after the start of a new era on the YES Network.




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Odds On Tanaka And Why He’ll End Up With The Yankees

Ballparks, CBA, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, Players, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors

Masahiro Tanaka’s deadline to pick a team is Friday. In the past, the waiting game on Japanese players was based on whether the team that won the bidding would make a sufficient offer to sign the player. Limited as it was to a single team, the Japanese import had the options of either using the dull axe—which the team knew would never leave his belt—of going back to Japan, or making the best deal he could.

There was pressure on the team that won the bidding as well. After a month of promotion, ticket sales and hype, winning the bidding meant the player had to be signed.

With the new rules, Tanaka’s a pure free agent with the forgettable and meaningless deadline. The threat of him going back to Japan to play is less than zero. Because of that, instead of the manufactured drama of “will he or won’t he?!?” sign a contract in time, the speculation is where he’ll wind up.

You can log onto the schlock sites, sports news sites and clearinghouses and fall into their trap. Preying on the fans’ desperation for information about Tanaka, they’re trolling you with information that, at best, stretches even the most elastic boundaries of common sense. The sheeple are clamoring and clawing for a minuscule smidgen of news about Tanaka. For the rank-and-file fan rooting for teams out of the bidding, it’s a distraction in the cold winter. For fans of the teams that are in the running for the pitcher, they’re looking for validation as to why their team will get him and “win” the sweepstakes.

Ignoring all the ancillary nonsense, let’s look at the realistic odds based on what we actually know and not what’s planted to garner webhits with speculation, whispers and rumors from invisible sources that might not exist.

New York Yankees

Odds: 1-2

Initially, I thought the Yankees were one of the leading contenders, but not alone at the top of the list. In my estimation, they were even with the Mariners and Cubs. Now, however, the Yankees are the best bet to get Tanaka. In a similar fashion as the Yankees being seen as a darkhorse for Mark Teixeira while the Red Sox were the team with whom he was widely expected to sign, the Yankees dove in and got their man. With Tanaka, they don’t have much of a choice anymore. Their starting pitching is woefully short and in spite of the offense they’re going to get from the outfield additions Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury and catcher Brian McCann, their infield is currently a series of aged question marks, journeymen and massive holes. The bullpen is a mess; the starting rotation is a roll of the dice. Tanaka won’t solve those problems if he solves any at all—no one knows how a Japanese player will transition—but they need him not just on the field but at the box office.

It’s unconscionable that the Yankees have had everything go their way in terms of the Alex Rodriguez suspension, that they received inconceivable salary relief in their goal to get below $189 million and they’re still probably not going to be able to do it. Since they’re near the limit and have those holes to fill, it no longer makes sense for them to put forth the pretense of getting below the limit at the cost of losing out on Tanaka and having a roster that’s equal to or worse than the one that won 85 games last season.

They don’t have any other options apart from pitchers they don’t want in Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza, Ervin Santana and Bronson Arroyo. They could trade Brett Gardner for a middling starter, but that’s not going to sell tickets for a fanbase looking at this team and wondering where they’re headed.

The Yankees have every reason to tell Tanaka’s representative Casey Close that if there’s an offer that surpasses theirs, to come back to them for a final offer to get their man.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Odds: 2-1

When Mike Tyson was at the height of his powers as the heavyweight champion of the world and didn’t have the tax collectors garnishing his salary to pay his debts, he purchased on whims based on his limitless bank account. One story detailed Tyson driving past a luxury car dealership and driving in with one luxury car to purchase another one. He did it because he felt like it, because he could.

That’s the sense I get with the Dodgers.

Whether or not you believe the stories of Tanaka’s wife preferring the West Coast, if Tanaka signs with the Dodgers—or anyone—it will be because that’s the team that offered him the best deal. The Dodgers have locked up Clayton Kershaw and have Zack Greinke. If Tanaka’s anywhere close to as good as advertised, that top three is 1990s Braves-like, if not better. They have the money to spend and both Chad Billingsley and Josh Beckett are coming off the books after 2014. He’s not a need for them. If they sign him it’s because they wanted to. It’s as good a reason as any when dealing with a payroll whose limit appears to be nonexistent.

Seattle Mariners

Odds: 6-1

The Mariners haven’t been mentioned prominently in recent days, but there are numerous reasons not to count them out. They signed Robinson Cano, but the other “big” additions they made were Corey Hart and Logan Morrison. These were downgrading moves from Raul Ibanez and Kendrys Morales.

Other than Cano, what have they done to get significantly better from what they were in 2013? Tanaka will slot in right behind Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma and be in front of Taijuan Walker and James Paxton. The injury to Danny Hultzen limits some of the Mariners’ vaunted pitching depth and they need another arm and another name to draw fans. Cano will spur some ticket sales and if they lose out on Tanaka, the fans might draw some slight enthusiasm from Garza, Santana or Jimenez, but not as much as they’d get from Tanaka. They could trade for David Price, but that would cost them Walker plus others.

No matter who they sign, the Mariners won’t have fans coming to the ballpark if they’re 20-30 after 50 games, Cano or no Cano. Tanaka would bring fans into the park and it’s a good situation for him.

There’s talk that the Mariners are close to the limit on their payroll and they need approval from ownership before spending more on the likes of Tanaka. If they don’t continue to add, the signing of Cano was done for show and little else.

Chicago Cubs

Odds: 8-1

Of course there’s no connection between the two, but it would be interesting if Cubs team president Theo Epstein goes all-in with Tanaka after his negative experience with Daisuke Matsuzaka with the Red Sox. The Cubs are in the middle of their rebuild and Epstein is loading up on draft picks and international signings. Giving Tanaka the time to grow accustomed to North America with a team that’s not expected to contend could be good for him. If Epstein’s plans work, by the time Tanaka’s acclimated, the Cubs will be prepared to take a step forward with him at the front of their rotation.

The Cubs have done absolutely nothing at the big league level this off-season apart from that…unique…new mascot. Ownership, if not overtly meddling, is getting antsy. The Cubs’ attendance is declining and judging by the roster they’re putting out there as of now, that’s not going to change without a splash. Tanaka is that splash.

I doubt Epstein is going to go above and beyond what the other suitors offer while the Yankees will and the Dodgers might, making Tanaka landing with the Cubs unlikely.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Odds: 50-1

He’s not going to Arizona. They don’t have the money to match the other teams. Why they’re even putting on a front of going hard after Tanaka is bizarre. Never mind that he’s still an unknown, he’d immediately walk into the Diamondbacks’ clubhouse and be the highest paid player on their roster by almost $10 million per season. The expectations there would be far more intense than they’ll be in the other venues. It’s a silly idea.

By Friday, we’ll know where Tanaka’s going. But all logic and reality dictates that he’ll end up with the Yankees for $130 million-plus, for better or worse.




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The Positives and Negatives of Stephen Drew for the Mets

Ballparks, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, MiLB, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors

The Mets have spent the last three seasons fielding a lien-up rather than a lineup. Since the Bernie Madoff scandal and the conscious decision to rebuild from the bottom up in part due to finances and in part because it was what they needed to do, the Mets haven’t spent significant money on any players. In retrospect, it will be seen as a positive that the team didn’t overpay and give up a draft pick for Michael Bourn or any of the other players Mets fans were demanding they sign for pretense and little benefit on the field.

Now that they’re free of the onerous contracts of Jason Bay and Johan Santana, the Mets have invested some of their available cash to improve the lineup with Chris Young and Curtis Granderson. They bolstered the starting rotation with Bartolo Colon. There’s a public debate as to whether they should sign the still-floating free agent shortstop Stephen Drew. Let’s look at how Drew fits for the Mets.

Cost

Drew’s market is hindered by the relatively few number of teams that need a shortstop and are willing to pay what agent Scott Boras wants. A year ago, Drew signed with the Red Sox for one year and $9.5 million with the intention of replenishing his value for a big-money contract. He replenished his value all right, but the big-money contracts have yet to present themselves. Drew was everything the Red Sox could have asked for. He was solid defensively, hit for pop with 50 extra base hits, and had an OPS of .777 which was close to his career average.

The problem for Drew remaining in Boston as appears to be his preference is that the Red Sox have a ready-made replacement for him at shortstop in young Xander Bogearts. They also have a competent third baseman in Will Middlebrooks. Neither are expensive and both can make up for Drew’s departure if the price isn’t similar – or slightly higher – than what the Red sox paid for him last season. If his price drops, then the Red Sox will gladly take him back, but it won’t be for a multi-year deal and they don’t need him.

The Yankees have already said they’re out on Drew and it’s not because they don’t need him. They do. But they’re tied to keeping Derek Jeter at shortstop and the idea of signing Drew to move him to third base is insulting to the intelligence of anyone who can see the reality that Jeter will not be able to play a competent defensive shortstop at age 40 as he returns from a serious ankle injury.

Drew has few alternatives other than the Mets and Red Sox. The Mets are being coy and the Red Sox are waiting him out. The Mets can get him if they decide they want him. A decision that they want him would mean they have to pay him. A three-year, $30-33 million deal would probably get it done. Are they willing to do that? Can they afford it?

How he fits

Drew is a clear upgrade over Ruben Tejada offensively and defensively. Tejada can play, but he’s never going to hit for the power that Drew does; he’s similar defensively; and he’s got a reputation of being lazy. The main attribute of Tejada for the Mets is that he’s cheap. But with the signings of Granderson and Young and that they’re intending to start the season with the still questionable Juan Lagares and Travis d’Arnaud in center field and catcher respectively, they’re running the risk of having three dead spots in the lineup before the season even begins. With Drew, they’d know what they’re getting and he would at least counteract Lagares and d’Arnaud. Drew is an up-the-middle hitter and his power comes when he pulls the ball. He wouldn’t be hindered by Citi Field and he’d hit his 10 homers and double-digit triples.

No matter how superlative he is defensively, the Mets won’t go through the whole season with Lagares in center field if he doesn’t hit. They’ll simply shift Young to center for more offense. They’re committed to d’Arnaud and he’ll play every day no matter what. If they want to have a chance for respectability and perhaps more, they can’t worry about whether they’re getting the Tejada from 2013 or the Tejada from 2011-2012. And the Tejada from 2011-2012 was serviceable and useful, but not close to what Drew can do.

With Drew, the Mets would be better in 2014 when they’re striving for respectability and in 2015 when Matt Harvey returns and they clearly have designs on contending.

The Mets pitching staff is not one that racks up a lot of strikeouts. The left side of the infield with Drew and David Wright will be excellent. Daniel Murphy is mediocre at best at second base. Lucas Duda is a solid defensive first baseman. With Lagares in center field, they have a Gold Glove candidate. Young can play the position well. They’re better in all facets of the game with Drew, plus they’re getting offense they will not get with Tejada. The difference between 77-85 and also-ran status and 85-77 and bordering on the fringes of contention might be Drew. That makes the signing worthwhile for on-field purposes.

His Drew-ness

The Drew family has long been known for its prodigious baseball talent. They’re the physical prototypes for baseball players. Along with that, they’ve been the prototypes for Boras clients.

J.D. Drew sat out a year rather than sign with the Phillies when he was drafted second overall in 1997. They didn’t meet his contract demands. The Cardinals drafted him fifth overall the next season and he signed. He was an excellent player for the Cardinals, but flummoxed manager Tony LaRussa with his lack of passion and aloofness. He was traded to the Braves for Adam Wainwright as the Braves expected him to be happier closer to his home. He had his career year and left to sign with the Dodgers. He spent two years in Los Angeles, then exercised an opt-out in his contract to go to the Red Sox.

In short, he was never happy with where he was and was constantly looking for the next opportunity. It could have had to do with money or it might have had to do with a wanderlust. Or he could simply have been treating the game as a business and listening to every single word uttered by the Svengali, Boras.

Stephen Drew has many of the same traits as his brother. Both are injury-prone, though Stephen is not hurt to the extent that his brother was; both are supremely talented and never appear happy where they are; both wanted to get paid and might be making decisions detrimental to their careers in listening to every whisper from their agent.

In retrospect, should Stephen have accepted the Red Sox qualifying offer and tried for free agency in another year when it’s pretty much a certainty that the Yankees are going to be looking for a replacement for Jeter and will be free of any financial constraints? Probably. Does he regret not taking it? We’ll never know because the Drews don’t rattle the Boras cage.

If the Mets go hard after Drew, there’s the possibility that they’re being used to get the Red Sox or the famed Boras “mystery team” to ante up and top the offer. For the Mets, while it wouldn’t be catastrophic not to get Drew, it would extinguish much of the good will they did accumulate by signing Granderson and Colon if they pursued him and failed to reel him in.

The conclusion

The Mets should go after Drew and see whether they can get him at a reasonable price. If Boras will take something in the neighborhood of three-years at $30-33 million, the Mets would have a bridge shortstop until former first round draft pick Gavin Cecchini is ready. They’d be better in the short term and definitely have someone who could help them do what the true intention is: contend in 2015. If Boras is being unreasonable or the feeling is that they’re just waiting for the Red Sox to up the offer, the Mets should move on and figure something else out. If that means they’re hoping that Tejada decides he wants to play and shows up early and in shape, so be it.




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MLB Free Agents, Press Conferences and Respect

Ballparks, Free Agents, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, World Series

The Yankees press conferences/coronations have always gone far beyond your ordinary, run-of-the-mill “I’ve always wanted to be a Yankee” lovefest with the unsaid truth that “they offered me the most money.” Therefore it was no surprise that Bob Lorenz referred to the upper echelon of the Yankees front office as “dignitaries” when the club introduced Jacoby Ellsbury last week.

Dignitaries? They’re guys who run a baseball team. Who thinks they’re dignitaries? Randy Levine is a dignitary? Brian Cashman is a dignitary? Joe Girardi is a dignitary? This is all part of the narrative that is put forth not just in a Yankees press conference, but press conferences across the board that are introducing the new player. The Yankees press conferences are generally banal, pompous and cliché. With Ellsbury, they added “creepy” to the list of adjectives as Girardi said to Ellsbury: “You’re no longer a thorn in our side. You’re a flower in our clubhouse.”

Uch.

Of course these florid displays are done in the interest of selling tickets, getting the photo ops holding up the uniform, uttering the by the book statements about how it had little to do with money and the state of the organization was the key component in the decision to sign. “I felt wanted.” “They treated me with respect.” “I’ve admired X, Y and Z from afar for a long time.” It’s a silent contract between the media and the clubs that there won’t be hardball questions launched on a day of advertising. Naturally this is diametrically opposed to the inherent implied intention based on the title of the event: press conference.

The Mariners press conference for Robinson Cano was much more interesting because of the shots Cano took against the Yankees. Much was made of Cano’s comments about being disrespected by the Yankees when he was introduced as the new Mariners’ second baseman.

Did he have a point or was he just giving a reason separate from the $240 million and no state income tax in Washington?

The term has different connotations based on the context. Respecting the process; respecting the people who are hired to do a job and letting them do it; respecting the players and what they want.

The term of “respect” isn’t to be dismissed out of hand.

When Pedro Martinez signed with the Mets after the 2004 season, he did so because the Mets offered the most money. But at the press conference, he said something interesting about the Red Sox. He asked why he had to wait for the team to offer him an extension after all the work he’d done for the franchise, most of which was gutty and brilliant? They put him off and put him off, letting him reach free agency where, like Cano, there was always the possibility that another team would go crazy to garner the headlines of stealing a star personality from a team that could afford him. In retrospect, the Red Sox were right to let Martinez leave and they did raise their offer further than was their preference to try and keep him. It would’ve been a “severance” contract because they knew he’d probably lose his effectiveness and get injured in the latter years of the deal. He rejected it and signed with the Mets.

Is it a similar dynamic with Cano and the Yankees? Can he feel offended when comparing his situation to what the Yankees did with Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran? The Yankees committed almost $200 million to those two players, one of whom is injury prone and the other who is going to be 37 in April. They were also prepared to spend $150 million on a Japanese pitcher, Masahiro Tanaka, before the posting rules were changed.

“You have the money for them? A 37-year-old? An oft-injured former Red Sox? A Japanese pitcher who will be hit or miss? And you can’t pay me?” These are not selfish or stupid questions. Independent of the money, would you feel wanted and respected if your former team did that?

This has nothing to do with the wisdom of the decision. But the Yankees complaining about payroll issues and then tossing all of this money at Ellsbury, Beltran and the planned bid for Tanaka with more on the way doesn’t mesh with them doing everything possible to keep Cano.

If the Yankees had come close to the Mariners offer, would Cano have left? If they hadn’t signed a far inferior player, Ellsubry, to a $153 million contract with an option for $21 million in 2021, could they have convinced Cano to stay? Rest assured that the option has certain kickers that will guarantee it. They might be games played in the last two years of the deal or a number of at bats, but they’re there. If Ellsbury is healthy, he’ll reach the option. So with the deal they gave to Ellsbury, it matches what they offered Cano.

Wouldn’t you be insulted by that if you were Cano – a player who never misses games and was a homegrown talent – and saw himself offered the same money they gave to a player who’s constantly on the disabled list and isn’t nearly as good? Cano doesn’t seem to be the sentimental type and doesn’t care about having his uniform number retired or a plaque in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium. But if he was and the Yankees tried to talk him into staying for less money, what was he staying for? Mariano Rivera is gone. Derek Jeter is on the way out. Alex Rodriguez may be gone. Andy Pettitte is gone. Eventually, he’d be the only one left from the old guard and it would fall to him to be the leader – something he clearly doesn’t want. So if they’re not offering the most money; not offering the guarantee of a championship run every year; and giving him the mystical future of a “historical place amongst Yankee greats” in lieu of everything else, why not go to Seattle?

In sports, the term “respect” doesn’t necessarily mean what it means in the workaday world. It means you’ll pay me and treat me as if you need and want me. Had the Yankees ponied up, Cano would’ve forgotten the slight and signed. Instead, he went where the money was and that happened to be Seattle. The idea that he wasn’t treated with respect may sound offensive to people who see the money he’s getting and think, “How dare he?!?” But in Cano’s world, it’s not out of line. It came down the money, but it also had to do with the Yankees deciding to pay Ellsbury instead as a preemptive strike in case Cano left. And he did.




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Teams Shouldn’t Follow the Red Sox Template

Books, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

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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ALCS Prediction and Preview: Boston Red Sox vs. Detroit Tigers

Cy Young Award, Games, History, Management, Players, Playoffs, Stats, World Series

Boston Red Sox (97-65) vs. Detroit Tigers (93-69)

Keys for the Red Sox: Take advantage of the Tigers exhaustion; get into the Tigers bullpen; keep the games close late.

The Tigers just finished getting through a long and tough series against the Athletics. They’re a veteran team that’s probably half-relieved to have gotten through the ALDS and half-emotionally exhausted from the difficulty they had winning the series. If the Red Sox jump out and hit them immediately, the Tigers might conserve their energy for the next night.

The Tigers have the advantage in starting pitching, but when it comes to the bullpen the Tigers don’t have a trustworthy closer. Jim Leyland will push his starters as far as he can.

If the games are close late, the Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit is not battle-tested in the role and might crack.

Keys for the Tigers: Ride their starters deep; jump on the Red Sox questionable middle-relief; hope that Miguel Cabrera’s legs are feeling better.

The Tigers have a significant starting pitching advantage and have to use it. In the ALDS, Leyland mistrusted his bullpen to the degree that he used probable AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer in relief. His starters have not been babied by being yanked at 100 pitches. They have the ability to go deeper into games and will be helped by the cool weather and the post-season adrenaline.

The Red Sox middle-relief core is supposed to be “better” with Ryan Dempster out there. That’s not my idea of better and he’s the type of pitcher the Tigers will hammer. Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow, Franklin Morales and Brandon Workman aren’t a who’s who of great relievers either.

The Tigers have a lineup full of bashers with Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter buttressing Cabrera, but Cabrera is the hub around which the Tigers offense is built. If he’s still compromised – and there’s no reason to think he won’t be considering his inability to move in the ALDS – then they might struggle to score.

What will happen:

Game three is almost as if the Red Sox are punting it, scheduling John Lackey to pitch against a hot Justin Verlander. The first two games have evenly matched starting pitchers. David Ortiz is 3 for 3 with two homers in his career against game one starter Anibal Sanchez. The Tigers will be very careful with Ortiz and that puts the rest of the lineup, specifically Mike Napoli, on the spot. If the Red Sox lose one of the first two games, they’re going to be in serious trouble with the game three matchup.

The Red Sox lineup is built on walks, power and being greater than the sum of its parts. The Tigers lineup is overall superior with their ability to hit and hit the ball out of the park. While Benoit is not a trustworthy closer, Koji Uehara’s longball troubles bit him in the ALDS. With this Tigers lineup, it has a good chance of happening again. The Red Sox will have to use Uehara. If the Tigers get depth from their starters, Leyland won’t hesitate to let them finish their games.

As much as a positive influence John Farrell has been on the Red Sox this season, he’s still does a large number of strange strategic things. The advantage in managers falls to the Tigers.

The Tigers have to win one of the first two games. If they do that, they’re going to win the series. And they will.

PREDICTION: TIGERS IN SIX

ALCS MVP: PRINCE FIELDER




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Theo Epstein’s Masquerade

Draft, Free Agents, Games, History, Management, Media, MiLB, Paul Lebowitz's 2013 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors

The increased use of analytics has also given rise to the loquaciousness of the decision-makers. You can pick any of the new age general managers in baseball and find one of their statements when a somewhat controversial decision is made and interchange them. When they fire a manager, it’s generally even longer. The explanation is convoluted and rife with semantics designed to protect their own interests.

This was evident again today when Theo Epstein – someone who clearly loves to hear his own voice whatever the circumstances – gave this long-winded statement as to why the Cubs’ hand-picked manager to oversee their extended rebuild, Dale Sveum, was fired following a 66-96 campaign. The accolades and qualifications Epstein gave to justify Sveum’s firing are little more than a dressing up of the dismissal of an employee.

Was it justified? Did Sveum deserve to take the fall for what was an organizational failure? Should the Cubs have been better than they were?

Considering the expectations (I had the Cubs’ record exactly right in my preseason predictions) they weren’t supposed to be contenders. They traded away veterans Alfonso Soriano and Scott Feldman during the season. They were functioning with journeyman Kevin Gregg as the closer. A team like the Cubs isn’t meant to be judged based on their record alone which lends more credence to the idea that Sveum is being thrown overboard to quiet the rising number of critics wondering when they’ll get Red Sox-like results from Epstein.

With the number of prospects they have on the way up, if the young players like Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Darwin Barney and Jeff Samardzija take steps back, then the manager is going to take the fall for it. That doesn’t mean he gets the blame.

Much like the Red Sox failure in 2003 was passed off on Grady Little’s call not to pull a clearly tired Pedro Martinez in game seven of the ALCS against the Yankees, the Cubs are holding the manager in front of the GM, president and owner like a human shield. Little’s choice in not yanking Martinez was due in part to an old school decision that if he was going to lose, he’d lose with his best. It was also done in part because the Epstein regime had made the conscious choice to go with a favorite concept of the stat guy in the closer by committee and didn’t give Little a competent short reliever he could trust in a game of that magnitude. It all turned out fine as the Red Sox won the World Series the next year only after signing Keith Foulke, a legitimate closer. Crisis averted.

With the Cubs, Epstein has been lauded for his and GM Jed Hoyer’s trades and restructuring of the minor league system. Whether or not that credit will bear fruit in the coming years for the new manager remains to be seen. Until they perform, prospects are only prospects.

Epstein’s big name free agent signings have long been inconsistent. With the Red Sox, he was able to cover it up with John Henry’s money. Whether that will be the case for the Cubs is as unknown as their young players’ development. For the Cubs this season, he signed Edwin Jackson to a four year, $52 million deal. Jackson went 8-18 with an ERA of nearly five. He signed Kyuji Fujikawa to a two year, $9.5 million deal and Fujikawa wilted under the pressure as set-up man and closer before requiring Tommy John surgery. It cannot be said that these were worthwhile and cost-efficient signings.

When Epstein says, “Jed and I take full responsibility for that,” as he discusses the state of the big league product, it’s little more than a hollow accepting of responsibility. He’s been on the job with the Cubs for two years and is ensconced in his job. There might be a small amount of pressure on him because of his reputation and the expectations that surround his high-profile hiring, lucrative contract of five years at $18.5 million and final say powers, but he’s going to get at least two more years before he’s on the firing line. Hoyer is Epstein’s front man and is safe as well.

If the duo is taking “responsibility,” what’s the punishment? They’ll get roasted on talk shows and in print for a while. Attention will be paid to who they hire as manager because GMs and team presidents, no matter how respected, generally get two managerial hirings before the focus of blame falls to them. For now, though, he’s safe.

He says that Sveum isn’t a “scapegoat,” but then two paragraphs later says that the team needs a “dynamic, new voice…” It certainly sounds like scapegoating to me.

I’m not defending Sveum and many times when a firing of this kind is made, there are behind the scenes issues that the public isn’t privy to. Epstein and Hoyer can fire Sveum if they want to. It’s completely up to them. There’s never been anything wrong with firing the manager for any reason that the front office wants to give. In fact, they don’t even need to give a reason. “I felt like making a change,” is a perfectly acceptable response.

However, to take the firing as an opportunity to provide a new line of defense of the front office and disguise it as a “we’re all at fault” line of faux solidarity is an insult to the intelligence of any person who’s been an observer of Epstein’s behavior since he first came to prominence a decade ago as a 28 year old “genius” who was going to lead the game into a new age with his youth and creativity. Getting past the mask, he’s little more than a younger and supposedly more handsome version of the 1960s era of GMs who threatened and bullied employees just because they could and had a job for life. It sounds like the common “blame the manager” rhetoric. The only difference is that it’s camouflaged by a Yale graduate’s skill with the language and ability to make circular sludge sound like the dulcet tones of a gifted tenor.

The firing of Sveum might be retrospectively seen as a the catalyst to the Cubs jumping into contention and breaking their World Series drought. Even if that happens, it can’t be masqueraded as anything more than what it is: they’re blaming the manager. No amount of verbal deftness will alter that fact whether it’s coming from Epstein or anyone else.




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