Bo Porter: Future Managerial Pope?

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Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow said that not only might his rookie manager Bo Porter be running the club on the field for an extended period, but he might be the manager for “decades.”

Considering the shelf-life of most managers, it’s a silly and strange thing to say and as Luhnow moves along in the public eye as a GM, he’ll realize that these hyperbolic pronouncements designed to show support can: A) wind up biting him in the future; and B) create headlines when none are necessary.

Porter’s managerial survival is contingent on his mandate and the managerial mandate for every manager shifts depending on the circumstances. Given their roster, the Astros can’t possibly put forth the pretense of trying to win in 2013 or even 2014 and probably 2015. With that in mind, Porter is there to develop; to teach fundamentals on and off the field (i.e. how to behave like a Major League player); and to learn on the job himself.

While Porter sounds impressive in this interview from Fangraphs, it also takes the tone of someone knowing what will be required to get a managerial job and tailoring his outlook to sound palatable to the people—like Luhnow—who are doing the hiring. He has very little managerial experience (72 games seven years ago in the low minor leagues for the Marlins) and while the details of his contract with the Astros have not been disclosed other than the negligible phrase “multi-year contract,” judging by what other managers who were in their first jobs have received and that the Astros are operating on a cheap-as-humanly-possible dynamic, it would be a shock if his salary is much higher than $500,000.

It’s a positive that as a minor league player Porter practiced what he’s preaching with a high on-base percentage, power and speed. Unfortunately for him, he was born about 5-7 years too early to take advantage of the new reliance placed on what it was he did well and only had brief trials in the big leagues from 1999-2001 with 142 nondescript plate appearances. He was at the tail end of his career and 30-years-old, playing out the string when the wave of teams looking for players exactly like Porter—cheap, available and who got on base—when those stats came to prominence.

Luhnow suggesting Porter as a possible Astros manager until 2030 (2040? 2050? Perhaps he can visit Biogenesis and last in to the next century!) is going to arouse eyebrow raises and eyerolls, questions and ridicule. Much of the criticism will come opportunistically from those who don’t like or don’t understand what Luhnow is trying to do. It’s the nature of the job. In fairness to Luhnow, his own experience as a private businessman and in his nascent years as a baseball executive clearly contributed to his desire to have a manager he knew would work cheaply for the opportunity; would be agreeable to the stat-based theories and middle-manager implementation; and would know his place without rattling his cage too much.

When Luhnow joined the Cardinals, he was hired by the owner of the team Bill DeWitt on the heels of the Moneyball frenzy and walked into a situation where there were old-school baseball men Walt Jocketty as the Cardinals GM and Tony LaRussa as the manager who felt simultaneously threatened and offended by the entrance of “some guy the owner knew” who had reams of stats, theories and numbers with zero baseball experience as a player, scout or anything else. Compounding the dysfunction was the stripping of some of Jocketty’s powers to accommodate this new separate department that was ostensibly working for the owner and operating independently from what the baseball people who’d been running the place for nearly a decade were doing. Jocketty’s eventual departure only made matters worse. LaRussa, contentious, powerful and unafraid to use his status as an unfireable institution did everything he could to take charge of the direction of the organization and won the battle of attrition.

Given that experience, when he was hired as a GM, Luhnow was not going to put himself into a subordinate position to his manager and other underlings who might interfere with his blueprint. That’s why it was a farce when the Astros interviewed Larry Bowa. Bowa, with his resume and old-school crustiness was going to be as impossible to deal with as LaRussa without the Hall of Fame bona fides.

None of the individuals in these various circumstances are wrong. I’m not interested in factions, I’m interested in facts. LaRussa and Jocketty were right; Luhnow was right; Bowa is right; and Porter is right. These determinations are not mutually exclusive.

It’s highly unlikely that Porter will be difficult if one of the stat guys in the front office tells him to bench Brett Wallace in favor of Matt Dominguez or vice versa. That’s what Luhnow and his ilk want: someone who can manage the team on the field with player street cred while also doing what he’s told by the front office. Whether Porter’s tenure is counted in decades or days depends on how he performs in the job and his job description in this new era exemplified by Luhnow requires him doing what he’s told. He’s the right man in the moment. That’s the key: finding someone who is the proper fit for what the organization as a whole is trying to build. By that criteria, Porter is what the Astros wanted and needed. For now. That may not be so in 2020. Then whoever is in charge will find someone else. That’s baseball as a game and as a business. Luhnow, Porter and the Astros will learn that soon enough.

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Jeff Luhnow’s Petri Dish and The Sporting News Misogynist

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Apart from getting webhits for saying something stupidly controversial and drawing the ire of, well, everyone, I’m not sure as to the purpose of this Stan McNeal Sporting News piece about new Astros GM Jeff Luhnow filling out his front office with like-minded people who adhere to stats above all else.

Whether Luhnow’s way is going to work or not is a matter of conjecture. It’s a petri dish of statistical thought and implementation that hasn’t truly been tried before.

J.P. Ricciardi took Moneyball to its logical conclusion by mostly following the book’s tenets to the letter and his results were up-and-down; Paul DePodesta used stats and a total disregard for humanity to destroy the Dodgers and was fired after 20 months; the Rays altered the plot and used a load of high draft picks, fearlessness, intelligence in both old and new school techniques to build a team that made the playoffs in three of the past four years without any money and a rotten ballpark, but no one has done what Luhnow is clearly going to do and has had the time to see if it can succeed.

The posting linked is intentionally offensive and I don’t understand why someone who believes differently would attack his opponent like that. But it’s his column and the Sporting News that has to answer for one of their writers posting it; it’ll resolve itself.

As for the Astros hirings, are you now starting to see why Walt Jocketty and Tony LaRussa viewed Luhnow with jaundiced eyes and were threatened by his presence when he joined the Cardinals? He had the ear of the owner and was coming at baseball decisions from a foreign train of thought diametrically opposed to what they were accustomed to; add in that Jocketty and LaRussa were men with credentials being forced to adhere to a new blueprint and it wasn’t because what they were doing wasn’t working—they’d won doing it their way. Both men could’ve left the Cardinals and would’ve had their choices of jobs immediately.

It’s no wonder the situation got so messy that Jocketty was fired and LaRussa had to resort to sharp-elbowed infighting to get his way.

Is this Luhnow’s fault?

No.

The situation was difficult and the Cardinals fought through the dysfunctional factions and still won.

Now Luhnow’s off on his own and is receiving free rein from the Astros new owner Jim Crane.

“Director of Decision Sciences” is a pompous and ridiculous title for a job anywhere—not just in baseball—but Sig Mejdal fits into what Luhnow wants to create. McNeal calling Stephanie Wilka a “cheerleader” as the lead to her impressive resume and education is idiotic, plain and simple.

If the Astros become a success, the overwhelming probability is that it won’t specifically be because of Luhnow’s stat based theories nor the people he’s hired, but because they’re going to have the number 1 pick in the draft in 2012; they’ll probably have the number 1, 2 or 3 pick in 2013; and are a good bet to be picking that high in 2014 as well.

High draft picks are an equalizer to lots of mistakes as long as Luhnow and his people don’t get too clever.

And they might.

We don’t know.

This is actually a circumstance where I’d dearly love to see draft picks available for trade. What would Luhnow do? Would he pull a Jimmy Johnson NFL move and package the top pick for a series of lower round choices and try to re-stock the organization? Is there a consensus number one pick a la Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper in 2012? MLB is missing a golden opportunity to make the draft irresistibly attractive for something other than hype and manufactured stories about players we’ve never heard of and will likely never see in the big leagues.

Luhnow’s ridiculed predecessor as Astros’ GM, Ed Wade, also gave the club a few pieces upon which to build with Brett Wallace, Jonathan Singleton and J.A. Happ. It’s not much for what’s essentially an expansion team, but it’s something.

The problem the Astros and Luhnow have is that everyone is looking for undervalued talent and using the same numbers to find it. How can you find undervalued talent if there’s nothing left to undervalue?

You can’t.

In the coming years, we’re going to see the end result of the stat-based building of a team from scratch by a front office comprised of baseball outsiders crunching numbers. Doing what McNeal did and issuing misogynistic and ignorant proclamations in the guise of “news” and “analysis” is not forwarding the argument for those who, like me, don’t believe that Luhnow’s way is going to work.

McNeal’s not making a case based on anything. He wanted attention and he got it. It’s not a good way to go about getting it and presumably, he’ll pay the price for being a fool. And he’ll deserve it.

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A Grand Overkill for Andrew Friedman

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It’s readily forgotten that when dollar figures for sports/entertainment people are discussed, it’s not the difference between 80 cents and a dollar; it’s the difference between $80 million and $100 million.

The “oh, just give it to him” attitude is ludicrous when broken down and explained in the way that it should be explained.

It’s a lot of money.

So when you see media people and bloggers saying that Astros new owner Jim Crane should just give Andrew Friedman whatever he wants to take over as their GM, it’s necessary to step back and realize exactly what that might entail.

Ken Rosenthal suggests the following package in this piece:

Offer Friedman autonomy, the title of his choosing, a five-year, $20 million contract, maybe even equity in the club.

Autonomy? No GM/club president has full autonomy. None. They work for someone and have to have their decisions approved; many times there’s a rubber stamp, but it’s not guaranteed. Nor should it be. Everyone needs a check and balance.

Title of his choosing? How about Emperor?

$4 million a year?

EQUITY IN THE CLUB?!?

Just stop it.

Friedman’s a good executive and a very bright man, but to think that he or anyone else is worth that type of compensation is ignoring the history of recent years in which “geniuses” were hired to fix floundering organizations and didn’t; couldn’t.

The idea that Friedman is going to walk into Houston and wave his hand to suddenly turn the Astros into a carbon copy of the Rays is idiotic.

Considering the number of “star” GMs who were hired with much fanfare or had lusty tales written about them and have been proven to be mediocre, unlucky or both, it makes zero sense to overpay Friedman regardless of the perception that he’s a miracle worker.

The Rays had some pieces in place when Friedman arrived; they took advantage of their status as a perennial last place team to accumulate high draft picks; they made some brilliant trades and free agent signings; and they were lucky.

Everyone is working from the same manual now; it’s not as if Friedman scaled the mountains of Tibet and discovered a cave and where lay hidden the “great secret in book form” to building a baseball team without any money. The numbers are there for all to see—everyone’s using stats and similar techniques as the Rays have—and it’s not going to be a journey from Tampa to Houston with that magical book in tow to access and implement at will.

I would never, ever give a piece of the team to any executive.

Ever.

That’s simply too valuable to give away for an unknown.

And even Friedman is an unknown.

Rosenthal’s right when he says that the Astros have so many issues that it’s going to take at least 3 years before they’re respectable again. They accumulated a few pieces in trades fired GM Ed Wade made in getting rid of Roy Oswalt, Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn; they have other veterans to trade in Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers. But they have to wait out the contract of Carlos Lee; the farm system is barren and suffering from years of neglect; they must try to look respectable on the field hoping that Brett Wallace and J.A. Happ grow into their abilities.

There are many qualified GM candidates who have statistical know-how, scouting skills or both.

Giving the keys to the store to Friedman is a way to placate the media and it would be a grand overkill that Crane should ignore in favor of hiring someone who’ll work under a reasonable salary without deranged benefits.

There are many of them out there who can do the job.

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Draft Bored

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To punctuate the absurdity of the attention paid to the MLB Draft as if it’s on a level with the NBA/NFL versions in terms of relevance, I thought it’d be interesting—for context purposes only—to look at each team, their best player(s) and the circumstances under which they drafted, signed and acquired by their current clubs.

I can say this stuff because I’m not attached to a corporate entity with advertising dollars as a circular end like ESPN; not beholden to anyone but myself; do not pledge fealty to anything but the truth as I see it.

Let’s take a look. First the teams, then the “best” player(s) as I see them, then a brief background.

Tampa Bay Rays—Evan Longoria

Longoria was the 3rd pick in the 2006 draft after the Stuart Sternberg operation took full control of running the then-Devil Rays. The Royals took Luke Hochevar with the first overall pick; the Rockies took Greg Reynolds next.

Of the top ten that year, the notable names are Brandon Morrow and Tim Lincecum—forever linked because the Mariners bypassed the local product Lincecum in favor of the more aesthetically pleasing Morrow (and I’d have done the same thing). Brad Lincoln went 4th to the Pirates; Clayton Kershaw was taken at 7 by the Dodgers.

New York Yankees—CC Sabathia/Robinson Cano

You can make an argument for either being the Yankees “best” player.

Sabathia was taken with the 20th pick the 1st round by the Indians in 1998. Pat Burrell went 1st overall; Mark Mulder 2nd; J.D. Drew 5th.

The Yankees paid Sabathia a lot of money to sign with them.

Cano was signed as an amateur free agent in 2001; the Yankees had no clue what he was in the minors because if they did, they wouldn’t have offered him as part of the package for Alex Rodriguez; apparently the Rangers didn’t know either.

No one knew.

In fact, none other than that noted baseball expert Mike Francesa, along with then-partner Chris Russo, took joy in ridiculing the Yankees decision to bench Tony Womack in favor of Cano in 2005 when the move was initially made.

Boston Red Sox—Adrian Gonzalez

A couple of other Red Sox players like Kevin Youkilis could be considered the “best”; Youkilis was drafted in the 8th round of the 2001 draft by Dan Duquette’s unfairly criticized regime.

In an under-reported and swept-under-the-rug fact from Moneyball, Youkilis was going to be the compensation for the Athletics letting Billy Beane out of his contract to take over the Red Sox after 2002.

That wouldn’t have gone well.

As for Gonzalez, he was the 1st overall pick of the Marlins in 2000; Chase Utley was taken 15th; Adam Wainwright 29th.

Gonzalez was traded by the Marlins to the Rangers in 2003 for Ugueth Urbina and won a World Series they probably wouldn’t have won without Urbina.

The Rangers made one of the worst trades in major league history dealing Gonzalez and Chris Young to the Padres for Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka; Rangers GM Jon Daniels has since said that the Rangers had a first baseman in Mark Teixeira and didn’t know how good Gonzalez was.

The Red Sox traded a package of prospects to the Padres for Gonzalez and signed him to a long-term contract for $154 million.

Toronto Blue Jays—Jose Bautista

Bautista is a case study of the ridiculousness of the draft.

He was a 20th round pick of the Pirates in 2000. He went to the Orioles in the Rule 5 draft in 2003; was selected off waivers by the Devil Rays in 2004; was purchased by the Royals three weeks later; was then traded to the Mets for Justin Huber; was spun off immediately back to the Pirates for Kris Benson. This all happened within a few weeks.

He was traded to the Blue Jays for a player to be named later in 2008.

Now he’s a wrecking machine and he didn’t establish himself until he was 29-years-old.

Baltimore Orioles—Adam Jones

Jones was the 37th pick in the 1st round by the Mariners in 2003. He was traded by then-Mariners GM Bill Bavasi to the Orioles in a package for Erik Bedard in what’s turned out to be a horrific trade for the Mariners.

Cleveland Indians—Shin-Soo Choo

If he was 100%, Grady Sizemore might be the Indians “best” player, but he’s not. The Indians took advantage of the fact that Expos GM Omar Minaya was under the impression that there would no longer be an Expos franchise after the 2002 season and got Sizemore, Cliff Lee and Lee Stevens for Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew.

As for Choo, he was an undrafted free agent signee by the Mariners in 2000 and was traded to the Indians for Ben Broussard in 2006.

Detroit Tigers—Miguel Cabrera

Cabrera was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Marlins in 1999 out of Venezuela. The Marlins won a World Series with him as a blossoming and fearless young star in 2003, then traded him and Dontrelle Willis to the Tigers in a salary dump for a package of youngsters after 2007.

Kansas City Royals—Billy Butler

Butler was taken by the Royals with the 14th pick of the 1st round in 2004. Stephen Drew was taken by the Diamondbacks next; Phil Hughes by the Yankees later.

Chicago White Sox—Paul Konerko

Konerko was a 1st round pick of the Dodgers in 1994. He was a catcher who was traded to the Reds for Jeff Shaw; then to the White Sox for Mike Cameron.

Minnesota Twins—Joe Mauer

In 2001, the Twins were ridiculed for taking the hometown, high school hero Mauer when Mark Prior was poised, polished and nearly big league ready.

It was a pick based on sentiment; it was a mistake.

Or so it was said.

Um. No. It wasn’t a mistake.

Oakland Athletics—Trevor Cahill

Cahill was plucked in the 2nd round of the 2006 draft and he was a dreaded….high school pitcher; the exact type of prospect the Athletics and Billy Beane (according to the twisted fantasies of Michael Lewis) were supposed to avoid.

Yah.

Texas Rangers—Josh Hamilton

I think we all know the story of Josh Hamilton by now as a cautionary tale. The first pick in the 1999 draft by the Devil Rays, addiction nearly destroyed his entire life. Now he’s the reigning AL MVP.

Los Angeles Angels—Jered Weaver

Weaver was taken with the 12th pick of the 1st round in the 2004 draft.

Seattle Mariners—Felix Hernandez

The Venezuelan Hernandez was signed as an amateur free agent in 2002 at the age of 16.

Philadelphia Phillies—Roy Halladay

Those who try to manipulate you by not disclosing full details can use Halladay’s status as a 1st round pick in 1995 of the Blue Jays as an example of the value of 1st round picks.

But Halladay was a failure mentally and physically until coach Mel Queen lit into him, broke down his entire being and rebuilt him into the monster he’s become. The pitcher he is now is not the pitcher whom the Blue Jays drafted, 1st round or no 1st round.

Florida Marlins—Josh Johnson

Johnson was a 4th round pick in 2002 and is now one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball.

Atlanta Braves—Jason Heyward

Heyward was drafted in the 1st round by the Braves in 2007 with the 14th pick; he’s an MVP candidate if he can stay healthy.

Washington Nationals—Ryan Zimmerman

Zimmerman was taken in the 1st round of the 2005 draft with the 4th pick.

You can’t quibble with Zimmerman, but that was a very strong draft with Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki, Clay Buchholz and Andrew McCutchen all taken after Zimmerman.

New York Mets—Jose Reyes

Reyes was signed as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 1999 at age 16.

Cincinnati Reds—Joey Votto

Votto was a 2nd round pick of the Reds in the 2002 draft. Brian McCann was taken later in the 2nd round by the Braves.

St. Louis Cardinals—Albert Pujols

Pretty much the only issue I had with Jonah Keri’s book, The Extra 2% detailing the rise of the Rays, was the chapter that discussed how they missed on Pujols as an example of the Chuck LaMar regime’s cluelessness concerning the draft.

Everyone missed on Pujols.

Nobody thinks a 13th round pick is even going to make it, let alone become this era’s version of Joe DiMaggio, but that’s what Pujols is.

Would Keith Law or Jonathan Mayo even have known who Pujols was had they been focusing on the draft to the degree that they do today?

No chance.

Milwaukee Brewers—Ryan Braun

Braun’s selection was discussed in the bit about Zimmerman.

You could make the argument that Prince Fielder, Zack Greinke or Yovani Gallardo are the Brewers “best” players. Fielder was said in Moneyball to be “too fat” for the A’s to draft in a draft in which they were intent on drafting players who weren’t would-be jeans models.

Fielder turned out pretty well I’d say.

Pittsburgh Pirates—Andrew McCutchen

I’m biased because I think McCutchen is going to be a MEGA-star. He too was in the Braun/Zimmerman draft.

Chicago Cubs—Starlin Castro

The Dominican Castro was signed as an amateur free agent at the age of 16 in 2006.

Houston Astros—Brett Wallace

It’s hard to pinpoint a “best” player on a team like the Astros, but Wallace qualifies I suppose.

Wallace was taken in the 1st round of the 2008 draft by the Cardinals and Ike Davis was taken a few picks later. Wallace was traded by the Cardinals to the A’s for Matt Holliday; traded by the A’s to the Blue Jays for Michael Taylor in the complicated series of deals involving Halladay and Lee; then was traded by the Blue Jays to the Astros for Anthony Gose.

Colorado Rockies—Troy Tulowitzki

Tulowitzki was taken in the 2005 draft detailed earlier.

San Francisco Giants—Tim Lincecum

The 10th pick in the 2006 draft, teams were scared off by his diminutive size (listed at 5’11”—YAH!! RIGHT!!!); his unique motion and training regimen that his stage father demanded not be altered in any way.

Back then, I would’ve drafted Kershaw and Morrow before Lincecum myself.

Los Angeles Dodgers—Matt Kemp

Kemp was taken in the 6th round of the 2003 draft. His attitude has long been a question, but his talent hasn’t.

Arizona Diamondbacks—Justin Upton

Upton was the first pick in the oft-mentioned 2005 draft. You can make a lukewarm argument against him, but he’s an excellent player.

San Diego Padres—Heath Bell

You can argue that Mat Latos is their best player, but right now it’s Bell.

Bell was picked by the Devil Rays in the 69th round of the 1997 draft but didn’t sign; he signed with the Mets as an amateur free agent in 1998. Much has been made of the Mets “failure” to give Bell a real opportunity and his clashes with then-pitching coach Rick Peterson.

Despite his frequent travel time on the Norfolk shuttle between the big leagues and Triple A, Bell did get a chance for the Mets and pitched poorly. The trade the Mets made of Bell and Royce Ring for Jon Adkins and Ben Johnson was awful, but I’m sick of Bell complaining about how he was treated by the Mets.

If he’d pitched the way he is now, the Mets wouldn’t have traded him.

Are you starting to get my point?

Watching the draft to the degree that MLB and ESPN are trying to sell it is a waste of time, energy and sometimes money for the observers.

You never know which players are going to make it and from where they’re going to come.

Accept it or not, it’s the truth.

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