Brandon McCarthy vs. Keith Law—Live On Twitter

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An entertaining and extended Twitter fight went into the early morning hours (EST) between Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon McCarthy and ESPN writer Keith Law after Law sent out a tweet decrying the concept of Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera being “locked in” during his three homer night against the Rangers. Cabrera also singled and walked. The Rangers won the game 11-8.

This isn’t about the debate of whether, as Law said, being locked in is a “myth.” Law’s argument centers around there not being any evidence to prove that being “locked in” exists. I don’t agree with the premise. Simply because there’s no study to prove or disprove “its” existence doesn’t mean the “it” doesn’t exist. It’s weak and pompous to suggest that there’s a conclusion one way or the other because there’s no study to footnote. Has anyone even tried to examine the brain-body link when a player is in a “zone” or “locked in” to see if there’s a difference between a hot streak and a slump? Pitchers’ mechanics and hitters’ swings are dissected through attachments of body to computer to spot flaws and correct them, so what about the brain-body link and the possibility of being “locked in”? If it hasn’t been studied, how do you prove it doesn’t exist? And how do you declare it’s a myth?

I feel some semblance of sympathy for Law here. As obnoxious, phony and as much of a created entity as he is, he tweeted one thing and found himself under siege not just by people who dislike him, but by many who actually are fans of his and a big league player who is sabermetrically inclined and cerebral basically telling him he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. It was one tweet that ended with a marathon that I’m sure Law wanted no part of after the first fifteen minutes, but couldn’t find a way to extricate himself from the situation while maintaining his unfounded reputation as an “expert.” It went on for hours and will undoubtedly continue throughout the day. Or the week. Or the month. Or the year. That’s how Twitter is.

I believe in the “locked in” idea and it’s not based on some throwaway line. Anyone who’s ever played a sport—or done anything at all on a regular basis—knows that there are times that it just feels “right” and there are instances when it’s not necessary to think about the things that a pitcher or hitter has to think about, sometimes to his detriment. When a hitter or pitcher has his mind on mechanics—where the hands are, where the feet are, where the landing spot is—and then has to deal with the pitches coming at him or the hitters standing at the plate, it makes it exponentially harder to focus on the one moment they need to be focusing on for sustained success. There are times when it all comes together and there’s no need to think about those mechanical necessities because all is in symmetry and it’s automatic.

The “you never played” argument is treated as if it’s irrelevant by those who never played because they can’t combat the assertion. It’s not easy to make it to the Major Leagues whether it’s someone who understands stats like McCarthy or someone for whom stats are an inconvenience like Jeff Francoeur. It is, however, remarkably easy in today’s game to make it to a Major League front office or into the media as an “expert.”

Law’s entire career has been based on an if this/then that premise. He was a writer on statistics and when the Blue Jays hired J.P. Ricciardi out of the Athletics front office as the Moneyball theory was first starting to be known and implemented, he hired Law. Law worked for the Blue Jays, left to take a job at ESPN and suddenly morphed through some inexplicable osmosis from the arrogant and condescending stat guy who Michael Lewis described in Moneyball (and after the Moneyball movie came out and Law panned it, in an entertaining slap fight between the two) into an arrogant and condescending stat and all-knowing scouting guy. In reality, there’s no scouting guy in there. He’s regurgitating stuff he heard. Nothing more, nothing less. There’s no foundation for his status as the ultimate insider and someone who knows both scouting and stats.

Law didn’t pay his dues as a writer meeting deadlines, covering games and trying to get a usable quote from Barry Bonds; he didn’t play; he didn’t work his way up in the front office from getting coffee for people as an intern to a low-level staffer and eventually a baseball executive. I don’t agree with much of what Law’s fellow ESPN “Insider” Jim Bowden says, but at least Bowden was a scout and a GM who made the primordial climb working for George Steinbrenner and Marge Schott. Law just sort of showed up and was anointed as the all-seeing, all-knowing totem of the stat people.

And there’s the fundamental issue with him.

He’s a creation. The ridiculous mock MLB Drafts, smug style and wallowing in objective data as well as his only recently discovered interest in in-the-trenches scouting is similar to the marketing of a boy band. There had to be something there to start with, of course. Law’s obviously intelligent as he constantly tries to show with his “look how smart I am” tweets in Latin, but that doesn’t translate into industry-wide respect that they’re trying to desperately to cultivate. With a boy band, it’s a look and willingness to do what they’re taught, sing the songs they’re given and be happy that they’re making money and have girls screaming their names on a nightly basis. With Law, it’s his circular status as a guy who’s worked in an MLB front office as if that denotes credibility on all things baseball. Those who hate GMs and former GMs who shun many of the new and beloved stats wouldn’t listen to Omar Minaya, Bill Bavasi or Ruben Amaro Jr. if they were given the forum that Law has, so why does Law automatically receive undeserved respect?

Just like veteran baseball front office people and players have to deal with unwanted suggestions and the presence of people they don’t think know anything about how the actual game of baseball is played, so too do the sportswriters—many of whom worked their way up as beat reporters for box lacrosse until they’re in a coveted baseball columnist position—have to look at people like Law and wonder: “Why’s he here?” “Why does anyone listen to him?”

What must make it worse for the real reporters at ESPN like Buster Olney and Jayson Stark is that for the good of ESPN webhits and advertising rates, they have to promote Law’s writing due to organizational needs and orders from above. According to speculation, Law and Olney aren’t exactly buddies. It must burn Olney to have to lead his followers to Law’s mock drafts that Olney is experienced enough as a baseball writer to know are ridiculous.

Because it was McCarthy, a player who understands and utilizes the same stats that Law propounds in practice as a Major League baseball player and not a “me throw ball, me swing bat” player who isn’t aware of the war going on in Syria let alone WAR as a stat, Law couldn’t use the argument of an eyeroll and hand wave with backup from his minions. That, more than the relatively meaningless debate, is probably what stings most of all.

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King Felix’s Mariners Deal Will Get Done Because It Has To Get Done

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The dual-sided coin of big signings leaked to the media before they’re “officially” official is landing incoveniently for both the Mariners and Felix Hernandez now that there’s a sudden snag in the finalization of his $175 million contract extension with the club. Did he fail the physical? According to this Geoff Baker piece, that’s what it sounds like. But we won’t know until we know even though, technically, it’s not our business. More information will be whispered to various media people by unnamed sources and it will, of course, wind up in front of the fans’ prying eyes.

This puts the sides in an equally unfavorable position. The Mariners were basking in the glow of the positive aspect of keeping their franchise arm through the 2019 season. Hernandez was becoming the highest paid pitcher in baseball and wouldn’t have to worry about being traded or heading into free agency.

The Mariners were presumably worn out from having to answer the phone with, “Hello? Seattle Mariners. Felix Hernandez is not available, how may I direct your call?”

GM Jack Zduriencik’s typical conversations must have gone the same way, fending off Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman’s advances as he tried to cajole, beg, demand and whine Hernandez away from the Mariners. Given his history with the Cliff Lee switcheroo and pawning Michael Pineda off on the Yankees, if Hernandez were truly suffering from a potential elbow problem, Zduriencik would’ve traded him to the Yankees long ago. The Yankees would’ve taken him, signed him and it would’ve been their problem for the future.

Now it’s the Mariners’ risk. They’ll have to live with it.

Buster Olney writes that there is “concern” about his pitching elbow. Of course his workload and the number of innings he’s pitched were referenced with context in the above-linked ESPN piece. Its relevance is cherrypicking considering clubs like the Nationals have taken great pains to limit the number of innings for their young pitchers such as Stephen Strasburg only to see them blow out their elbows anyway. Why point to Hernandez’s workload with the unsaid implication that it’s eventually going to be a problem with long-term durability when there have been pitchers who’ve gotten hurt with lighter touches and others who haven’t despite being “abused?”

This highlights the gray area of giving a player a massive contract and the new practice of making sure the player isn’t signing it with a foreseeable injury already in place and ticking like a time bomb. We saw it earlier this winter with the Red Sox and Mike Napoli as a $39 million deal over three years became a $5 million base salary with $8 million in incentives for one year because of a hip problem. In fact, the Red Sox were something of a pioneer in this practice. Whereas other clubs were signing players without worrying about the future and getting torched for it as the Mets did with Pedro Martinez, the Red Sox made it their life’s work to install protective language in the event of injury. They did it with John Lackey and Napoli. It’s a sound business practice even if it’s going to upset the fans and put players in a situation where they have to shop their services elsewhere. Just as easily as it gets out into the public that a deal is “done,” it can also hinder a player if he tries to go somewhere else if an injury is found and disclosed before he signs.

Deals of this kind would be better for all parties if they weren’t leaked to the media prior to official completion, but every reporter worth anything has his sources in management and with player agents. It benefits the club and the player to have the information out to prevent cold feet, second thoughts or a better offer from someone else. It benefits them, that is, until something unexpected like this happens.

This is bad on multi-levels for each side and why the Mariners will eventually sign Hernandez. The Mariners had their one star locked up and are trying to give their increasingly irritable fanbase a reason to think that brighter days lie ahead.

Now that’s on hold.

With this news, Hernandez’s trade value is slashed significantly. The Mariners would get a big package for him if they chose to deal him now since he’s signed through 2014 and, as far as we know, is healthy enough to pitch in the short-term. It’s nowhere near what they’d get if the trading team thought they were getting him and keeping him for the long-term.

For Hernandez, it’s become public knowledge that there’s something going on in his elbow. If this contract fell through, Hernandez might tell the Mariners to trade him; he might start becoming concerned about what this news is going to do to his value if he winds up on the free agent market, and rightfully so. How would it look for a team to have warning two years in advance that there’s something off in the elbow, then signs him for $150+ million and having him get injured? They’re not getting full insurance on the contract with this out there until he’s been checked and given a clean bill of health from multiple doctors.

The leaks made for a few days of big headlines, but boomeranged on both Hernandez and the Mariners. What was a happy marriage is a shotgun wedding. The deal will get done because now it has to get done.

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Josh Hamilton Fallout

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Let’s look at how the Angels’ signing of Josh Hamilton will affect everyone involved.

Josh Hamilton

Southern California is a far better locale for Hamilton than New York, Boston or Philadelphia would have been and perhaps his time in Texas had come and gone. Amid all the talk of Hamilton being injury-prone, he played in 148 games in 2012. If the Angels get that out of him, they’ll be fine with it. The other storylines with Hamilton from last season suggesting he was distracted and disinterested, or that his numbers took a freefall after his 4 homer game in Baltimore in May are profoundly negative.

The facts are that Hamilton is still in his prime, had numbers nearly identical home/away, and hit 43 homers, with 128 RBI, and a .930 OPS. If he didn’t have the history of addiction problems, he would’ve gotten $200 million on the open market even with the injury history. Those personal demons will constantly be there and no location—Southern California, Arlington, Boston, New York, Philly—would shield him from temptation or the desire to escape when things aren’t going his way. The Angels must put him under what amounts to Secret Service protection/surveillance to keep him straight.

As crazy as it sounds, considering his on-field production, for 5-years and $125 million, the Angels got a discount if Hamilton is clean and healthy for his majority of his tenure with the team.

Los Angeles Angels

Buster Olney said the following on Twitter:

It’s become evident that this Hamilton deal was made over the head of the Angels’ baseball operations department.

If this is true, then the Angels’ situation is worse than I thought.

Their lineup is one of the most intimidating in baseball, but their entire template of speed, defense, starting and relief pitching has changed while they’re keeping aspects of their old methods of doing business (manager Mike Scioscia) and their new methods of doing business (GM Jerry Dipoto) with open interference from non-baseball people that is reminiscent of George Steinbrenner trashing the Yankees in the 1980s after dispatching of all the qualified people—Gabe Paul, Gene Michael, Al Rosen—who put a check on his whims in the 1970s. In those times, Paul was able to say to Steinbrenner something to the tune of, “If you trade Ron Guidry, it’s going to be your deal and you’ll be responsible if it goes bad.”

Steinbrenner backed off because the last thing he wanted was to be the final man standing when the music stops in the game of responsibility.

That’s what the Angels are becoming: the 1980s Yankees, and Arte Moreno is starting to act like Steinbrenner.

It’s going to end the same way as the 1980s Yankees did too.

I get the sense that Scioscia’s not going to last beyond May of 2013 as manager through a “this isn’t working,” “let’s put him out of his misery,” style dismissal. This Angels group isn’t his type of team and perhaps he’d be better off elsewhere, escaping this ship as it starts to leak and before it sinks completely.

One name to watch if this goes bad and Scioscia’s out: Tony LaRussa. He might be rested and bored with retirement; he has the star power Moreno clearly wants; would look at the Angels as an opportunity to win another title quickly; he can deal with Albert Pujols and maybe—maybe—cobble it together if it goes as I think it’s going to go with Scioscia and this foreign, star-studded crew of mercenaries: poorly.

The American League

The Rangers were blindsided by the Angels rapid strike on Hamilton, but much of their dismay could be partially due to not having gotten anything else they wanted—Justin Upton, Zack Greinke—this winter; and partially to keep up appearances as to wanting Hamilton back desperately. I don’t think they did. In the long-run, they’re better off that he left. The relationship had run its course.

The Athletics are so young and oblivious that the vast majority of them won’t realize that Hamilton is on the Angels until they’re in Anaheim and they seem him striding up to the plate. “When did the Angels get Hamilton?” They won’t be too bothered either.

The Mariners are a farce. Now they’re reduced to the née “Amazin’ Exec” Jack Zduriencik signing Jason Bay to “boost” their offense with reports that they were “in the hunt” on Hamilton to the very end.

How nice. So…so….close!!!

Zduriencik’s close to something alright. That something is getting fired. Don’t be surprised if there’s a new braintrust in place in Seattle before 2013 is over with perhaps Pat Gillick returning to the Mariners as the man in charge of baseball ops and Mike Arbuckle as day-to-day GM.

The Yankees and Red Sox are staging their own wrestling match as to which of them can make the more desperate and inexplicable signings to cling to what the world was like 10 years ago instead of accepting today’s reality. Ryan Dempster, Ichiro Suzuki, Kevin Youkilis, Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli—all are short-term painkillers to persuade the fans that it’s all going to be okay. They can look toward the West and worry about the clubs vying for playoff spots as a diversionary tactic from their mano-a-mano battle for the bottom of the AL East, because that’s what they’re fighting for if they stay as currently constructed.

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Yankees Have No Interest Or Need For Josh Hamilton, But…

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Buster Olney said the following on Twitter yesterday regarding the “rumor” that the Yankees were considering Josh Hamilton:

If the Yankees ever reversed course and got into the Josh Hamilton talks, it would mean that what they’ve done in last month makes no sense.

He’s 100% right and the baseball people led by Brian Cashman would want nothing—nothing!!!—to do with Hamilton.

Sure he’s talented; sure he’d help them; but the combination of injuries, age, substance abuse issues, and cost make him a ticking time bomb for a team that needs to get younger and is in the process of slashing payroll.

Is this real? Or is it trolling to create a story where none exists and make it appear that the heretofore biggest whale in the sea is considering Hamilton?

There are advantages to everyone (except the Yankees) that the talk—true or not—is floating around that they might make a move on Hamilton. With options limited, the best thing that can happen to a free agent is for the Red Sox and Yankees to both be pursuing him, so his representatives aren’t going to discourage such talk even if the Red Sox’ interest is contingent on Hamilton’s market collapsing and the Yankees are not interested at all.

If the baseball people have their way, they will not go anywhere near Hamilton, but it’s not always the baseball people who have the final say. Ownership led by the Steinbrenners and team president Randy Levine have done an end-around on Cashman in the past, most recently with Rafael Soriano. Cashman loudly and publicly—bordering on insubordinately—protested the deal and repeatedly used it as a hammer to make clear that he didn’t want the reliever. In retrospect, Soriano’s presence wound up being a benefit when the unthinkable injury to Mariano Rivera happened. Soriano took over as the closer and was brilliant.

Because it wound up working, that can only serve to embolden Levine and the Steinbrenners that they sometimes have to overrule their GM in the interests of the Yankees brand. Currently, the Yankees are uncharacteristically quiet on the free agent/trade front; they lost out on players like Jeff Keppinger and Eric Chavez who, in years past would’ve run to the Yankees; Russell Martin left when the Yankees were outbid by the Pirates. The Wall Street Journal said that Cashman wasn’t allowed to make any deals at the winter meetings. The Yankees denied it and the unnamed “official” quoted in the WSJ story sounds eerily reminiscent of the bloviating Levine. Cashman is following an edict to get the payroll down to $189 million by 2014 no matter what and if the Yankees are sticking to that agenda, they’re not able to do as they have in the past and open the checkbook to fill their gaping holes.

What does all this mean?

The young and nouveau Yankees fan has no memory of the time before Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, and Rivera; before the playoffs were essentially a guarantee; before players wanted to join the Yankees rather than doing so because they offered the most money. That fan cannot fathom players choosing other options. They don’t understand the organization looking so impotent especially when they have needs that supersede wants.

It wasn’t that long ago that the Yankees endured a dead off-season in 1991-1992 when they overpaid for a player they didn’t want or need and had a very limited market in Danny Tartabull. The next year, the Yankees offered the most money for Greg Maddux and felt used when Maddux took less money to go to the Braves. It’s not a new phenomenon that the Yankees are a less-than-preferable destination. The ball got rolling when Cliff Lee decided to go back to the Phillies instead of joining the Yankees and the abuse heaped upon his wife during the ALCS of 2010 certainly didn’t help. Nick Swisher’s open complaints of the fans’ attacking him has warned players as to what they can expect if they don’t perform.

The Yankees are locked in that vacancy of concerns about perception; their multiple weaknesses; age; desire to reduce payroll; player reticence about New York; and fear of irrelevance. Hamilton would function as a bigger name to say, “Hey, the Yankees are still around,” than Soriano did during another quiet off-season in which the GM wanted things to be quiet, but with an exponential cost and potential for disaster.

The Yankees could sign Hamilton because they have the money and the growing desperation. It’s a guarantee that the name has been brought up, not by Cashman, but by the media trolls and by Levine.

The media trolls and schlock sites are what they are, fulfilling their responsibility by accumulating webhits and drawing attention to themselves. They should be brushed to the side and mostly ignored. But Levine is a far more dangerous type of troll to what the Yankees are trying to do. He’s a troll in a position of power to make his delusions a reality. That makes a pursuit of Hamilton a hellish possibility that would expedite the Yankees downfall on and off the field and would be a big mistake for Hamilton himself.

That said, there’s no doubt whatsoever that it could happen.

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The Blue Jays Managerial Search and the ESPN Disease

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Jim Riggleman isn’t a bad idea as manager for the Blue Jays, but he hasn’t heard from them. You’d never know that unless you followed the story after what Buster Olney said on Twitter:

The Jays are close to announcing their next manager. Two of the final names they discussed were Jim Tracy and Jim Riggleman.

There’s sufficient ambiguity in this tweet to explain it away after Riggleman’s own agent said there had been no contact between the Blue Jays and Riggleman. He also said that Riggleman would be very interested in the job. It could be said that the name was kicked around by the Blue Jays; that the two sentences are unconnected; that Olney has a source telling him this; or that ESPN told Olney to say something provocative regarding the Blue Jays while they’re a hot topic to accumulate some webhits to ESPN.com.

I like Olney. He’s got a thick skin; he can take a joke without freaking out in a “how dare you question me?!?” tantrum; and he writes his columns and reports without vindictiveness or self-promotion, but the ESPN Disease pops up on occasions in which he and other mostly respectable reporters toss something out there that they know is, at best, a twisted exaggeration. One would assume that they’re enacting an editorial order. Similar to a few years ago when there was a “rumor” from somewhere that the Cardinals and Phillies had discussed a trade of Albert Pujols for Ryan Howard, there was a brief uproar with factions arguing and screaming about the mere concept; with Phillies’ GM Ruben Amaro Jr. livid at having to answer questions as to the possibility of a story he knew nothing about. Olney was a guest on ESPN News at its height and the host asked him something to the tune of, “How close is this to happening?” as if, barring a zombie apocalypse, it could’ve happened. And I can picture a drooling zombie looking at Pujols and Howard and grunting, “Nooooooo!!!!” in between guttural growls and throaty sputters. Even zombies know better.

The ESPN employees go along with the program, entertain the nonsense, talk about Tim Tebow, and “report” this stuff because it’s their job, but what they miss is how this style of journalism diminishes quality people and their credibility when they’re forced to engage in cheap attention grabs.

As for the Blue Jays managerial search, the two names that Olney dropped—Tracy and Riggleman—would actually be good choices for that situation. The Blue Jays need to hire an experienced manager and, with the collection of talent they now have, it doesn’t have to be someone with the resume of Joe Torre for it to work. It just has to be someone who knows the terrain; who has managed in the big leagues; who won’t tolerate the same terrible fundamentals as former manager John Farrell did; can deal with the press; and will be respected by the veterans.

Riggleman has the baggage from his resignation from the Nationals hovering over him, but he’s always implied that there’s more to the story than we know. If he’s going to be interviewed for a big league managerial job, he’d better have a ready and reasonable explanation why he walked away from the Nationals amid the perception that he was throwing a tantrum because the club refused to exercise his 2012 option.

Tracy, despite his critics, is a good manager who got a bad rap with the poor endings in his prior stops managing the Dodgers, Pirates, and Rockies. He has all the attributes I mentioned above, the players have always liked him and played hard for him, he’s sound strategically, and is good with the press.

If I were making the decision, before anything else, I’d call Tony LaRussa and see if he’s bored with retirement and if he is, would Dave Duncan like to come along as well? They already reportedly inquired with Bobby Cox and Cox said no, so why not LaRussa? It’s a tailor made situation for him with a rabid fanbase and the new challenge back in the American League. He might be competitively recharged after a year away. He surely seemed to enjoy himself at the All-Star Game.

The Blue Jays cannot make the same mistake they did with Farrell. In addition to all the other problems Farrell had in his two seasons, his eyes were cast back toward Boston with a lusty gaze and the players didn’t think he knew what he was doing. They were right. He didn’t. This Blue Jays team can win, but they’re more likely to fail if they hire a cheap, convenient alternative to manage the club rather than someone who’s got the bona fides to maximize their talent.

That could be Riggleman; it could be Tracy; it could be LaRussa; or it could be someone else—it had better be someone who has the known ability to do the job unlike the last manager GM Alex Anthopoulos hired, Farrell. After so many years of expectations and waiting and hoping, 2013 is the Blue Jays chance and they can’t afford to blow it, especially on an unknown field boss.

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I Haven’t Seen Fiction This Ridiculous Since Moneyball

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This is the problem with the proliferation of the world wide web and the hunger for information. People start preferring webhits and attention over accuracy and we see stuff like this on MLBTradeRumors with a link to Bob Nightengale writing something utterly absurd in theory and practice.

The “rumor” has the Red Sox sending Carl Crawford to the Marlins for Hanley Ramirez and Heath Bell.

Yah.

If you read the piece you see what we usually see with a rumor that has no basis in fact. Three writers chime in on it with Ken Rosenthal saying the Red Sox are “determining” Crawford’s market; Nightengale formulating this loony deal; and Buster Olney shooting it down.

Of course it was published with all the “rumors” on MLBTR.

The Red Sox calling teams to gauge their interest in trading for Carl Crawford is similar to disgraced former Senator John Edwards calling the Obama administration to gauge their interest in him becoming Secretary of State in a potential second term. There’s no harm in asking but it’s not going to happen.

It’s unclear whether Nightengale had a dream about an actual marlin talking to a man wearing nothing but red socks in Crawford, Texas and took it a few steps further to create this farce, but at least that would make sense.

Let’s calculate this deal, shall we?

Crawford, before he got to Boston, was a wonderful player, but he’s coming off an atrocious first season with the Red Sox and has just returned from multiple issues with his wrist. A rebound for a great player who’s going to be 31 in three weeks is a reasonable expectation, but Crawford’s contract is even more difficult to swallow than the concept of this fantasy disguised as a trade. Beginning in 2013, Crawford is owed $102.5 million through 2017. Do you really believe the Marlins—new ballpark and increased spending parameters or not—are going to take that amount of money? And if you think sending Ramirez (owed $31.5 million in 2013-2014) and Bell ($18 million for 2013-2014) to the Red Sox will make the deal more tolerable, here’s the math: the Marlins will be taking on an extra $53 million.

Do you really think that’s going to happen? Really?

As for the Red Sox, why would they do this? Yes, they can use Ramirez and have long coveted him going back to the days when Theo Epstein had “resigned” in a power struggle and snit with his boss/father figure/mentor/nemesis Larry Lucchino and Ramirez was traded to the Marlins to get Josh Beckett against Epstein’s better judgment. He tried to get him back multiple times and the Red Sox could use a shortstop who’d mash the Green Monster, but what are they going to do with Bell? Add in that manager Bobby Valentine is already having trouble with several Red Sox veterans and you’re going to drop the pouty nuisance Bell and the lazy Ramirez into the toxic stew? All of this is before getting to the fact that over the first four months of the season, Bell has been about as bad as a big league pitcher can possibly be.

How can this be taken seriously?

Could the Marlins and Red Sox consider doing something drastic after the season if their 2012 results aren’t what was expected? Yes. If Crawford plays well for the rest of the season and is healthy, I’m quite sure both he and the Red Sox wouldn’t mind a parting of the ways. The Marlins are open to trading anyone and everyone if it makes sense and no one on the roster is safe. But this? Now? Ridiculous.

It’s one thing if a blogger or some idiot on Twitter comes up with a rumor, portrays himself as an insider, promotes it and garners attention as a result, but these are supposedly “credible” reporters with “contacts” inside baseball and they’re providing the masses with what amounts to a narcotic designed to give them a fix of “rumors” for the day. Whether or not it’s something that cannot and would not happen is irrelevant.

If you want fiction, read Philip Roth; if you want to be fed garbage, go to McDonalds; but please don’t enable this sludge. It’s a lie and you’re being played for fools.

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ESPN, Hamels and the Home Run Derby—Consume Your Empty Calories

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Anderson Cooper just came out of the closet—TheDailyBeast.com.

It’s no issue to me one way or the other.

If he worked for ESPN he probably would’ve done it as a part of the promotional carpetbombing for the All-Star Home Run Derby (brought to you by State Farm).

You’re being fed empty calories of the mind.

Only the people that started ESPN know if their initial intent over 30 years ago was to create a go-to place for sports information. They were visionaries in the explosion of cable TV at a time when wide swaths of the country and world didn’t have it and didn’t know what it was.

There’s a possibility that they were hoping to make a load of money with the endeavor and get out.

It’s doubtful that they were looking that far ahead, but it’s possible.

Of course that’s led to sports content based on public demand that has little-to-nothing to do with sports news.

The network has developed into a cash machine and a caricature of what a sports network that focuses on sports should be. It’s an embarrassing comedy skit. And it’s real.

Presumably it was inevitable when corporate fealty supersedes evenhanded information and analysis.

During last night’s Mets-Dodgers game the inundation of marketing for the insipid Home Run Derby was such that there was a mention of it at every possible opening. Anyone who simply wanted to watch the game was a captive audience and, like something out of A Clockwork Orange, there was no alternative but to watch.

I could almost see the copy placed in front of the broadcasters and hear the control room telling them to talk about the Home Run Derby. Repeatedly there were discussions of this ridiculous and boring display as if we’re supposed to invest ourselves in it from now until it takes place and then eagerly wait until next year to do it all over again.

The new twist is that we’re back in the schoolyard waiting to see who the cool kids select. Who will team captains Robinson Cano and Matt Kemp pick?

Who cares?

ESPN constantly referred to it; the people in the booth Dan Shulman, Orel Hershiser and Terry Francona along with the sideline reporter Buster Olney relentlessly talked about and dissected it as if they really cared about it and weren’t doing what they were told by the network. There were polls for the fans and other interactive gimmicks to generate webhits, viewers, texting fees and other money-accumulating tactics.

Give MLB and ESPN credit for turning the days before the All-Star Game—days that were generally languid affairs—into a way to make a lot of money. Taking their cue from the NFL in terms of gouging fans with junk they don’t need, it’s the American way.

But don’t think for a second that ESPN is still a sports-centric entity. They want money and don’t care how they get it. In the ESPN era, the line between athletes and media is non-existent. Everything is about content designed to generate cash. That’s why you see stories about Tim Tebow and, if you’re paying attention, wonder why there’s a story about Tebow in the middle of the summer when there’s nothing happening with him or the Jets. That’s why there will be rampant discussion of Bryce Harper or Tiger Woods whether they’re doing something worth talking about.

And then there are the trending topics based on what people are searching for through their websearch engines.

Even though the Phillies are performing their due diligence and preparing for the possibility of putting Cole Hamels on the market, there will be endless stories of the “rumors” of Hamels’s potential destinations if and when he’s traded.

In reality, the Phillies are not going to trade Hamels until July 30-31st if they trade him at all. They’re going to wait until then to see where they are in the standings and how they’re playing. They’ll gauge the market, their chances for a playoff run and how Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay are coming back from injuries. The Phillies are just as likely to be buyers at the deadline looking for bullpen help, another starter and a bat as they are to trade Hamels.

The guess here is that if the Phillies are within single digits of a playoff spot, they’ll hold onto their players and be buyers. If they’re facing a double-digit deficit and their veteran players aren’t performing, they’ll sell.

The ambiguity gives the websites—ESPN, MLB Trade Rumors, MLB.com and the team websites—time to blast their webhits up and spur the conversation of what “might” happen. With the increased webhits go increased advertising dollars.

As for the argument that they’re giving the people what they want, if the population is inundated with coverage of an event, a segment of that population is going to purchase it or pay attention to it. Social media like Twitter and Facebook increase the demand regardless of accuracy. That’s why you’ll see as many as five different “rumors” from five different outlets all in one article or blog posting and it doesn’t matter how ridiculous some of them are or that they’re coming from nowhere with imagined “sources” as their catalyst.

It’s circular. It’s an infomercial that they hide with the shady, “It’s what the people are asking for.” But if they’re hypnotizing the viewers into asking for it by hammering them over the head, are they asking for it or are they being tricked?

It’s this type of thing that can drive a person mad.

The key is that the person is still paying attention.

Load up on the brain-sugar. It’s not adding anything of value, but so what? It will satiate your hunger. Never mind if it makes your head fat. You don’t care and, as a result, nor do those feeding you.

Eat up!

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The Marlins: A Wolf in Tacky Clothing

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

The Marlins are the hot topic, so let’s see how they’re doing what they’re doing and try to come up with reasonable answers to some questions.

Where are they getting all this money?

The Marlins and owner Jeffrey Loria contributed a fraction of the amount of money it took to build their new ballpark, but they’re expecting to double their revenues and benefit from such potential windfalls as parking, concessions, corporates sponsorships and luxury suites.

The parking especially should yield a significant amount of profit because the club is leasing the parking garages from the city at a finite fee.

You can read about the ballpark finances here; the SEC is investigating the sleight-of-hand used by the club to get the park built.

To put it in simpler terms, if I had the capital that Loria had to start with; received 80% financing, friendly loan terms and ancillary income streams to supplement what I already have, I’d have a website and advertising to rival ESPN. I’d have to spend the money to boost my product and that’s what the Marlins are doing. It’s partial justification of the ballpark; partial investment to keep the money rolling in; and a partial attempt to save face.

Channeling his inner Steinbrenner.

Loria’s a mini-George Steinbrenner and that’s extended to this employment of relatives (David Samson is his son-in-law); capricious firings of managers (he’s on manager number 7 if you count Jack McKeon‘s two stints); wild spending sprees and anger at players who don’t perform immediately; and his new dress code which requires Jose Reyes to shave his beard and cut his Predator hairdo.

Loria is a throwback to the Nixon Republicans where Machiavelli’s playbook held sway; there are ironclad rules for conduct and behavior; none are allowed to do anything that irritates or disrespects Loria in any way; and general, societal propriety is fundamentally ignored when it suits one’s ends.

Anyone and everyone walking willingly into a business deal with Loria had better realize that he’s ruthless, petulant and sees litigation and oversight as Don King sees it—a cost of doing business. He was all smiles with Reyes, but if things don’t go as planned, he’ll trade Reyes as quickly as dumping a former favorite son in favor of another when it’s more convenient.

Speaking of which: What about Hanley Ramirez?

The Marlins staff is insisting there’s no issue with Ramirez shifting positions to accommodate Reyes; that he only wants to win; that he’s not going to be traded and other bits of bulletpoint, stick-to-the-company-line propaganda.

Buster Olney said the following on Twitter:

Marlins upset with Hanley, because given his subpar year in ’11, they were greatly surprised he wants more money to change positions.

Have the Marlins met Hanley Ramirez?

I called this three weeks ago and Ramirez has a point. The Marlins—formerly the team whose foundation rested on his shoulders—figuratively and literally shoved him aside for an inferior player in Reyes; in addition to that, they’re paying all this cash that, for years they said they didn’t have, to outsiders like Reyes and Mark Buehrle and offering the dreaded no-trade clause (which they have a policy against) to Albert Pujols because he’s a “special case.”

“Special case” meaning Pujols has the ability to tell the Marlins to take a hike if they don’t give him the no-trade clause.

The Marlins are said to be out of the Pujols bidding.

So Ramirez is being disrespected and shunned at every turn and he’s supposed to be happy about it? While it’s not unprecedented for clubs to extend players (Troy Tulowitzki, Ryan Braun) who are already signed to extensions to keep them happy and assure they’ll be members of their teams until they retire?

For all of Ramirez’s history of being a malcontent, malingering and not hustling, he’s got a gripe.

I’d be annoyed too.

The right thing to do is to take care of Ramirez financially, but Loria and the “right thing” depend on how it benefits Loria. If I were Ramirez, I’d ask to be traded.

This thing isn’t over no matter how many denials and soothing statements the Marlins make and it’s going to get worse before it gets better and may culminate in Ramirez’s departure from Miami. They’d better get a lot for him because a trade of Ramirez for Reyes and a couple of middling players is not a trade the Marlins would’ve made, but that’s what they may end up doing if they don’t mollify Ramirez.

And it doesn’t appear that they’re going to.

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Anonymous Sources And Jonathan Papelbon

All Star Game, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, MiLB, Players, Prospects

Anonymous sources are often used in opinion/news pieces online and in the newspapers. I’ve repeatedly said that these “sources” could just as easily be conjured out of thin air by an unscrupulous or lazy writer who wants to make a statement and bolster it with the “credibility” of a baseball employee.

In this piece by Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, Jonathan Papelbon‘s pending free agency is discussed. Both the pros-and-cons of letting Papelbon go or keeping him are discussed.

The Red Sox will do what they feel is right without sentiment. After the way they coldly dispatched Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra, Johnny Damon and ignored David Ortiz‘s empty threats that they’d better extend his contract—they’ll let him leave if that’s what they think is the right thing to do.

The Red Sox reaction to Ortiz appeared to be a version of, “Yeah? Or what?” which is exactly the way they should’ve responded.

Cafardo quotes an unnamed executive from a National League team wondering about the wisdom of breaking up the Daniel Bard/Papelbon late-inning combination.

Do you know who this executive is? I don’t know who this executive is.

It could be someone whose credibility is unquestioned; it could be someone who works for Nationals and suggested that it was a good idea for the club to trade for Jonny Gomes.

In other words, it could be anyone. That “anyone” makes it possible that it’s a person to whom Red Sox GM Theo Epstein could say—without bullying pomposity, just fact—“who the hell are you to be telling me how to run my team with 2 championships in the past 9 years and an annual playoff berth?!?”

We don’t know who was dispensing this wisdom and it’s due to it being from an “anonymous source”.

I hearken back to the “rumor” that the Phillies and Cardinals were talking about a trade of Ryan Howard for Albert Pujols; supposedly there was an executive in the Phillies organization who leaked this idea. Buster Olney broke it; ESPN discussed it as if it had some validity.

Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. shot it down as if it was nonsense and seemed angry about it because it was so stupid.

It sounded like nonsense because it was nonsense. I said at the time that I’d have found out who it was (if they exist)—one way or the other—and fired that person.

Who knows where it comes from?

Cafardo has a point with Papelbon—there are options available, but those same options could hinder Papelbon’s hopes to land a big, long-term contract. The relationship between pitcher and club has been complicated; he wants to get paid and the Red Sox aren’t going to break the bank to keep him. He might stay because he doesn’t have much of a choice, but it won’t be because the Red Sox are desperate for him to stay.

As a rule, the Red Sox don’t think as much of the designated “closer” role as other clubs do and while Papelbon has gotten the big outs in the post-season, that won’t yield him a 4-5 year deal from them.

Will another team?

That, more than anonymous quotes or writer’s suggestions will determine whether Papelbon stays or goes.

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MLB Trade Deadline Rules To Live By

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And/or die by.

Here’s a logical and well-reasoned list of rules that teams should adhere to when assessing whether or not to buy, sell or stand pat at the trading deadline.

Don’t do something stupid.

It sounds easy enough, but there are always teams and GMs that let ancillary issues like job security of the participants influence what they’ll do. If a GM or manager is on shaky ground and concerned about his own status, of course he’s going to do something to try and make his own situation better whether that hamstrings the team for the future or not.

If he knows his job hinges on 2011 results, what difference does it make to Dave Dombrowski if Al Avila has a solid foundation to rebuild the aging Tigers?

Regardless of what you think of their various strategies, at least you can trust that Billy Beane, Brian Sabean and Larry Beinfest are doing what they think is right for their clubs based on current and future needs rather than what’s going to be perceived as “correct” or “incorrect” by would-be experts in the media and fan bases.

In other circumstances, you can’t say that. Will Dombrowski do something crazy to try and placate his impatient manager Jim Leyland and keep their jobs? Apart from legacy, what stake does Orioles GM Andy MacPhail have with the Orioles as he’s been marginalized by the hiring of Buck Showalter and is likely out the door after the season?

If you see a top prospect traded for a negligible talent like Ryan Dempster or a pending free agent like Carlos Beltran, you’ll get a pretty good idea of the intent and underlying reasons.

Any team that acquiesces to the Padres apparent demands of a top prospect for Mike Adams—a journeyman set-up man with atrocious mechanics and a history of arm problems whose success has been late-coming; is arbitration-eligible and a free agent after 2013 and is 33-years-old—is foolish. Plain and simple.

Don’t say something stupid.

Theo Esptein sounded like a total moron and he was in full self-defensive spin mode after the Yankees had addressed every single one of their needs in 2006 by acquiring Bobby Abreu (whom the Red Sox were after), and Cory Lidle.

Epstein’s quote was something to the tune of “we can’t afford to do certain things; we have to build now and for the future” to explain away their inaction as the season came apart…then after the season, they turned around and spent a load of money on Julio Lugo.

Or Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik explaining his re-acquisition of Russell Branyan with the silly statement that “part of development is winning games” as if Branyan was going to be a key piece to that end.

It didn’t work in any context.

Either speaking in indistinct circles or telling the truth are better than saying something that people are going to remember and toss in your face years later.

Like I just did.

Read every word written by Joel Sherman and think the exact opposite (except when he’s plagiarizing me—click this link and scroll to the section beginning with “Hmmm”).

I don’t care much for unnamed “sources”.

Everyone likes to portray themselves as an “insider” and get credit after the fact for being “right”, but much of the time these rumors are utter nonsense that emanated from some reporter/talk show host’s ass.

A year ago, Sherman had Cliff Lee traded to the Yankees for about 12 hours before—lo and behold—Lee was traded to the Rangers. He went into desperate backpedal in trying to explain the intricacies of when a trade is truly completed and flung his favored “Amazin’ Exec” Zduriencik off the roof of his skyscraper of fantasy consisting of unnamed executives and built on quicksand as he tried to maintain the role of someone who knows what’s going on before the fact when he’s dumber than even the most idiotic and reactionary fan.

You’ll hear the nonsense from Michael Kay, Buster Olney, Jon Heyman and even Peter Gammons.

Ignore it.

Know when to go for it; when to hold off; when to clear the house.

Mets fans have the audacity to take Sandy Alderson’s decisive act of brilliance in getting rid of Francisco Rodriguez and his onerous contract option and are interpreting it as the raising of the white flag.

White flag to what?

If the Mets were in the NL Central and in their exact same position, there’s an argument for holding off on making any trades of veterans.

But they’re not.

They’re in a division with the Braves and Phillies; have inexplicably played about 5 miles over their heads with limited talent and countless injuries; and are not contenders regardless of the propaganda designed to rip them for anything they do.

What do the fans/media geniuses want?

The Mets get aggressive when they’re not contenders and trade Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano and get roasted. They hire Omar Minaya and he convinces the front office to eschew the lifetime severance employment for Al Leiter and John Franco and signs Pedro Martinez and Beltran and try to win immediately, he gets treated as an utter fool after the fact for spending money unwisely.

That Mets team was a Duaner Sanchez car accident and one hit away from a World Series they would’ve won in 2006.

How would Minaya look had things gone a bit differently?

They fire Minaya and hire the cold-blooded and stat savvy Sandy Alderson; he assesses the situation and does the right thing and what happens? The Mets get hammered by the same fans who aren’t even coming to the ballpark now.

Tell the fans to take a hike if they don’t like it.

A team like the Pirates needs to go the opposite direction.

As hard as it is to believe, they’re in the NL Central race. But if you examine how they’ve done it, it’s unsustainable over the long term. They’re winning because of superlative performances from mediocre veterans like Jeff Karstens and a patched together bullpen of journeyman from whom a continuation of this work is not going to happen.

The Pirates don’t have a group of young pitchers who are developing as the Giants had with Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain in the years preceding their 2010 title.

Their defense has saved them and they can’t hit.

The Pirates must make a bold move now to try and win in 2011 because in 2012, it’s more likely that they’ll fall back to 90 losses than to continue the innocent climb.

Have a check on the baseball people.

In retrospect, it was a bad thing that Orioles owner Peter Angelos overruled Pat Gillick and Davey Johnson as they tried to trade Bobby Bonilla and other veterans at mid-season 1996 when they looked hopelessly out of playoff contention.

But back then, it worked as the Orioles got hot and made the playoffs.

In fact, the Orioles were Jeffrey Maier’s act of fan interference on Derek Jeter‘s homer away from beating the Yankees in that year’s ALCS and maybe winning the World Series.

They made the playoffs the next year too.

I’m not saying that the Mets college of cardinals approach in 2004 when they sat there and voted on the trade of Kazmir was the right way to go, but the owner has a right to nix a deal he doesn’t think is the right thing to do. It’s the height of arrogance for a baseball man to sit there and say, “I want to have final say” in the construction of the club. He doesn’t own it, he doesn’t get final say.

It’s not a bad thing to have dissent or questioning from the man signing the checks if he’s willing to listen and analyze rather than bloviate.

If top prospects are traded for veteran rentals, make sure you can sign them or are going to win with them before letting them leave.

Dodgers GM Ned Colletti was criticized for trading Carlos Santana to the Indians for Casey Blake in 2008.

Why?

The Dodgers had a 25-year-old catcher in Russell Martin who, at the time, was heading for superstardom; they were in a winnable and weak division and were built to win immediately. They needed a third baseman/outfielder and solid veteran, so they traded for Blake.

Looking back, you can say it was a mistake, but Blake helped them greatly in both 2008 and 2009 as the Dodgers were a couple of plays away from possibly winning one or two World Series.

Don’t mess with something that’s working just because you can.

The 2004 Dodgers were streaking, rolling and blasting towards the playoffs. They had a devastating bullpen and a team that had grown organically and been built by former GM Dan Evans and manager Jim Tracy; they trusted each other and have a cohesiveness that pure statistical analysis can’t account for.

That didn’t stop then-GM Paul DePodesta from dropping a bomb in the middle of the clubhouse and undermining everything that had been created simply because he could and it made some form of theoretical sense.

Theory and practice are two vastly different things.

Trading the leader of the team and the manager’s favorite player Paul Lo Duca, the best set-up man in baseball in Guillermo Mota and Juan Encarnacion to the Marlins for Brad Penny and Hee-Seop Choi was a failure in every conceivable metric.

Penny got hurt immediately; a proposed trade of Penny to the Diamondbacks for Randy Johnson came apart because Johnson refused to waive his no-trade clause; Mota’s designated replacement Darren Dreifort was atrocious before he predictably got hurt; and Choi was a disaster.

You don’t muck with something that’s good even if you don’t understand why it’s good.

If you follow these simple rules, you’ll have a good chance of doing what’s right rather than what’s popular.

Of course I expect the world at large to ignore me, but they’ll do so having been warned.

It’s in writing.

I’ll be on the Red State Blue State podcast tomorrow. Dig your trenches.

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