Off Season Losers In Retrospect

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Several days ago I listed the off season winners in retrospect discussing teams and the moves they made this past winter. Now it’s time for the losers.

New York Yankees

Acquired: Michael Pineda, Raul Ibanez, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Jose Campos

Subtracted: Jorge Posada, A.J. Burnett, Jesus Montero, Hector Noesi

The YES Network website still hasn’t mentioned Jose Campos since he got hurt. For that matter, nor have they mentioned Manny Banuelos’s recent injury. Maybe they haven’t been informed yet. Yeah. That’s it.

The trade of Montero and Noesi for Pineda and Campos is an absolute and utter disaster—a fireable offense for GM Brian Cashman.

Kuroda’s been good and unlucky.

Pettitte’s unexpected return has been a bolt from the blue and Ibanez has contributed the power I expected.

It’s fine to talk about them “having” to get rid of Burnett, but they’re paying him; they got low minor leaguers for him; he’s pitching well for the Pirates; and the players the Yankees got haven’t played yet in 2012. Had Pettitte not returned I guarantee there would be people now lamenting the loss of Burnett.

Guarantee.

Boston Red Sox

Acquired: GM Ben Cherington, Manager Bobby Valentine, Andrew Bailey, Ryan Sweeney, Cody Ross, Kelly Shoppach, Mark Melancon, Nick Punto

Subtracted: GM Theo Epstein, Manager Terry Francona, Jonathan Papelbon, Marco Scutaro, Josh Reddick, Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek

It’s only when you look at the list above all at once do you realize how rancid an off-season the Red Sox had. Never mind the exchange of GMs/managers. Had he stayed, Epstein probably would’ve had better success fending off the advancing power grab of Larry Lucchino but it would’ve taken a Herculean effort for Epstein to prevent the mediocrity that the Red Sox have become.

I’m sick of seeing Francona complaining about how he was treated in Boston. If it weren’t for the Red Sox, the hot chicks to whom he’s sending candid photos of himself wouldn’t know who he is; not to mention would he not have two World Series rings and respect as a “great” manager—which he’s not.

Bailey got hurt as Reddick is on his way to making the All Star team and has been the Athletics’ best player. Melancon is back in the minor leagues; Shoppach is on the trade block; Ross was playing well before he got hurt; Punto is Punto.

No one’s saying they should’ve overpaid to keep Papelbon, but giving Scutaro away for a journeyman righty Clayton Mortensen made no sense.

Detroit Tigers

Acquired: Prince Fielder, Octavio Dotel, Gerald Laird, Collin Balester

Subtracted: Wilson Betemit, Brad Penny, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, Joel Zumaya

Fielder and Cabrera are doing their jobs at the plate and more. The porous defense created by the signing of Fielder and shifting of Cabrera to third base hasn’t been as catastrophic as expected. That’s unless the pitching staff has it in their heads that they have to strike out more hitters or pitch differently to prevent balls from being hit to the right or left sides of the infield—highly unlikely.

The Tigers are 5 games under .500 because their pitching has been bad. The off-season isn’t a failure because of the signing of Fielder, but 5 games under .500 wasn’t what Mike Ilitch had in mind when he paid all that money to sign a huge bat like Fielder to replace Victor Martinez and team him with Cabrera.

Minnesota Twins

Acquired: GM Terry Ryan, Josh Willingham, Jamey Carroll, Jason Marquis, Ryan Doumit, Joel Zumaya

Subtracted: GM Bill Smith, Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Kevin Slowey

Terry Ryan was supposed to come back into the GM’s chair and start doing things the “Twins’ Way”. Well, that “way” is no longer working. The reason that vaunted “way” worked in the past was because they had talent on the roster and a club that was built for how Ron Gardenhire managed.

That’s no longer the case.

Marquis was released. Carroll hasn’t hit. Willingham’s been fantastic. The Zumaya signing was worth a shot I suppose, but he got hurt again. What he needs now is a friend—a real friend—to tell him that it’s over and he should retire before he damages himself permanently.

Maybe that’s what the Twins need too.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Acquired: GM Jerry Dipoto, Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, Chris Iannetta, Jason Isringhausen, LaTroy Hawkins

Subtracted: GM Tony Reagins, Fernando Rodney, Jeff Mathis, Tyler Chatwood

Pujols has started hitting and the Angels will rise and fall on what he does, but the uncharacteristic decision on the part of the Angels to depart from the template they’ve adhered to for a decade has led to this disconnect between GM Dipoto, manager Mike Scioscia and the club.

Scioscia’s hitting coach, Mickey Hatcher, was fired against Scioscia’s wishes. They never took serious steps to bolster the bullpen and had too many players for too few lineup spots.

Owner Arte Moreno made maneuvers that were not team-related, but related to the TV deal he wanted to secure. And he did.

They did business like the 1980s Yankees and they’ve been playing and behaving like the 1980s Yankees. The one thing that will save them is the thing that was lacking in the 1980s: the Wild Cards.

Cincinnati Reds

Acquired: Mat Latos, Ryan Madson, Ryan Ludwick

Subtracted: Ramon Hernandez, Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Edinson Volquez, Edgar Renteria, Francisco Cordero

The Reds are in first place and playing well no thanks to Latos (he’s been horrific); Madson (out for the year with Tommy John surgery); and Ludwick (.205/.290/.402 slash line with 6 homers in a homer-friendly home park).

It’s not as if they needed Alonso with Joey Votto ensconced at first base. They have a young catcher in Devin Mesoraco so they didn’t really need Grandal. And Volquez has been consistently inconsistent and injured since his great rookie year with the Reds.

But the winter moves are what’s relevant here and if they’d held onto the players they traded for Latos (and I’m not retrospectively ripping the deal since I thought it was good for both sides), they could’ve gotten mid-season help rather than an in-season nightmare.

Milwaukee Brewers

Acquired: Aramis Ramirez, Alex Gonzalez, Norichika Aoki, Jose Veras, Brooks Conrad

Subtracted: Prince Fielder, Yuniesky Betancourt, Casey McGehee

Ramirez is starting to hit and will hit put up numbers by the end of the season. We’ll never know whether the improved defense and pop from Alex Gonzalez and a full season from Mat Gamel would’ve made up for the loss of Fielder because both blew out their knees within days of each other.

It’s not really anyone’s fault. They did the best they could under their financial and practical circumstances.

St. Louis Cardinals

Acquired: Manager Mike Matheny, Carlos Beltran, pitching coach Derek Lilliquist

Subtracted: Manager Tony LaRussa, pitching coach Dave Duncan, Albert Pujols, Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, Gerald Laird, Nick Punto.

So wait…now that the Cardinals are at .500 and freefalling it’s been miraculously discovered that the transition from a Hall of Fame manager/pitching coach combination to a manager who’s never managed before anywhere wasn’t going to go as smoothly as it did when they got off to a hot start?

That replacing Pujols wasn’t as simple as signing Beltran and moving the now-injured 36-year-old Lance Berkman to first base?

Shocking.

Colorado Rockies

Acquired: Michael Cuddyer, Marco Scutaro, Ramon Hernandez, Jeremy Guthrie, Tyler Chatwood, Tyler Colvin, Jamie Moyer

Subtracted: Chris Iannetta, Jason Hammel, Matt Lindstrom, Ian Stewart, Seth Smith

The starting pitching has killed them.

They loaded up on starters, but it hasn’t been enough as Drew Pomeranz got hurt and they gave Moyer 10 starts. It hasn’t helped that Hammel has been very good for the Orioles while Guthrie has been terrible for the Rockies.

Cuddyer has been everything advertised. Scutaro and Hernandez haven’t.

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Jim Leyland’s Enemy Within

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The dueling personality traits of Jim Leyland are on bold display as if he’s replicating the twin personae from the Star Trek episode The Enemy Within where Captain Kirk’s good and bad sides became separated.

Which side of Leyland will win out?

Will it be the smart baseball guy who’s going to do what’s best for the team?

Or will it be the snarky, obnoxious, condescending and obstinate baseball lifer whose entire being exists with an unsaid (or said) “I’m doing it this way; you don’t know nothin’; shut up and leave me alone”?

Since the Tigers signed Prince Fielder, Leyland has been adamant that not only is Miguel Cabrera going to play third base, but Leyland’s not going to remove him for defense in the late innings.

Even after Cabrera got hit in the face with a ground ball, Leyland is still clinging to this deranged decision to move Cabrera to third base—a position he could barely play when he was playing it regularly.

Why?

Once that ball his Cabrera’s face, the opening was there for Leyland to convince Cabrera that it’s not going to work; but they’re still insisting on him playing third base.

How long it’s going to last remains to be seen because Leyland might still be posturing in the hopes that it somehow succeeds. It must be remembered that when Cabrera was last a regular third baseman—in 2008—Leyland reconfigured the entire infield because he was unhappy with his defense and he did it two weeks into the season.

Carlos Guillen had opened the season as the first baseman with Cabrera at third and Leyland switched them almost immediately. That entire season was in disarray as the Tigers were expected to be serious contenders and lost their first 7 games on the way to a disappointing 74-88, 5th place finish and a large part of that was Leyland’s somewhat panicky personnel maneuvers.

So which Leyland will show up after a week or two of Cabrera botching balls at third base? Will he be the old-school baseball guy who refuses to acknowledge he’s wrong even if it’s killing his team? Or will he accept reality and do what must be done by telling Fielder and Cabrera that they’re going to play every day and split time at DH and first base?

The Tigers are lucky that they didn’t lose Cabrera for a significant amount of time after that ball hit him in the face. If they keep putting him at third base, they deserve their fate because they’re being stupid. Plain and simple.

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Detroit Tigers vs New York Yankees

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Detroit Tigers (95-67; 1st place, AL Central) vs New York Yankees (97-65; 1st place, AL East)

Keys for the Tigers: Score early, score often against the Yankees starters; get into the bullpen early; ride their own starters deep into the games; win Justin Verlander‘s starts; Magglio Ordonez.

The Tigers won the AL Central by 15 games, but that’s not an accurate gauge as to how they played this season.

Up until August, their position was precarious in terms of whether they would even make the playoffs; they made a series of trades to get Delmon Young, Doug Fister and Wilson Betemit; the Indians—who had led the Tigers by as much as 8 games in May—came apart.

It was Justin Verlander who carried the Tigers on his shoulders before they took command of the division by ripping off a 12 game winning streak in September. It will be Justin Verlander who will lead the Tigers past the Yankees or into the winter after a first round playoff loss.

They have to ride their horse.

Manager Jim Leyland is insisting that Verlander will pitch games 1 and 5 and under no circumstances is pitching in game 4.

We’ll see.

Fister has been masterful since his acquisition from the Mariners with an 8-1 record and ERA under 2. He’s only allowed 11 homers in over 200 innings this season, but Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson have gotten to him; he lost his only start against the Yankees this season; it was his last start as a Mariner and he went 7 innings surrendering 3 runs on 7 hits.

Max Scherzer is starting game 3 and Rick Porcello game 4. Scherzer has a power fastball and wicked slider, but is either on or off—if he’s got his stuff and control, he’s nasty; if not, he gets hammered.

I wouldn’t trust Porcello in a game 4.

The Tigers bullpen before Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde is a question mark, but Leyland will push his starters further than he does in the regular season. Verlander’s pitch limit will be somewhere in the 140-150 range if necessary and since they’re insisting they’re not pitching him in game 4, don’t expect a quick hook if he gets off to a bad start in game 1.

The Tigers have to decide what to do with their veteran bats who’ve played sparingly in 2011. Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen have handled CC Sabathia in their careers, but will Leyland rely on his vets or stick with the players he was using for the bulk of the time over the second half?

Guillen has a calf issue and is probably out for the ALDS.

I’d play Ordonez against Sabathia.

Ordonez is also 7 for 14 in his career against Mariano Rivera.

The Yankees are starting rookie Ivan Nova in game 2; soft-tossing veteran Freddy Garcia in game 3. Nova and the Tigers don’t have much history. Garcia, however, has a long history with several of the Tigers hitters and has gotten blasted by Miguel Cabrera, Ordonez and Young. Yankees manager Joe Girardi will have a quick hook with Garcia and A.J. Burnett could be important in game 3 if he’s needed to restore order after a Tigers outburst. Burnett’s numbers against the Tigers are quite good.

The Tigers do not want to be nursing 1-run leads in the late innings against the Yankees; they need to build a bigger lead and hold it.

Keys for the Yankees: Beat Verlander; don’t let any pitcher other than Verlander beat them; make Verlander work and get his pitch count up to get him out of game 1 early; get into the Tigers middle-relief; score a lot to make moot their pitching issues; A.J. Burnett; end the series before game 5; Verlander, Verlander, Verlander.

Other than Sabathia, the Yankees aren’t going to mess around and leave their starters in the game if they’re getting roughed up. Burnett will be in the bullpen; presumably Bartolo Colon will be on the roster—they’ll have veteran arms to turn to if Nova or Garcia struggle.

If this were a best 4 of 7 series, I’d seriously consider shifting either Sabathia or Verlander so they didn’t have to pitch against each other. With a 3 of 5 series, that’s not really an option.

Nick Swisher is only batting .167 in 54 career plate appearances vs Verlander, but has 3 career homers. Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Brett Gardner have very solid numbers against him and Ramiro Pena of all people is 3 for 5 in his career facing Verlander. The Yankees needn’t be terrified of the Tigers ace because they’ve hit him before, but they do not want to be dealing with a game 5 and Ivan Nova or anyone other than Sabathia scheduled to pitch; I don’t care how mentally tough Nova is, that’s not a fair position for a rookie to be in and if it happens, they’re going to lose.

Girardi has said that Posada is going to DH in the series and that’s a good move—I always defer to my experienced veterans who’ve been through playoff battles before and if this is Posada’s final post-season in his career, he’ll be looking to end it with an exclamation point.

I wouldn’t be concerned about facing Porcello—if there’s a game 4 and the Yankees are trailing in the series 2-1, they’re going to maul him.

Valverde is one of the best closers in baseball that no one knows. That said, he can lose command and walk people; he also gives up some homers. Andruw Jones is 3 for 7 in his career vs Valverde with a homer and he’s the type of pitcher upon whom Robinson Cano will feast in a big spot.

If the Yankees use Rafael Soriano with a lead, he’s going to give up a homer or three—he cannot abide post-season pressure, or any kind of pressure. He’s pitched 3 post-season innings in his career and allowed 2 homers including a backbreaker for the Rays last season in the ninth inning of game 5 against the Rangers and Ian Kinsler.

The Yankees won’t be worried about Verlander in game 1; if it gets to game 5, they will be worried about him. A lot.

What will happen.

I wouldn’t anticipate mutual dominance between Verlander and Sabathia in game 1. In fact, it could degenerate into a shootout between the bullpens. If Verlander gets knocked out early, would that change Leyland’s strategy in a game 4? Would he bring his ace back on short rest if he only throws 60 or so pitches in game 1?

If they’re down 2 games to 1, I would.

The other starters in the Yankees rotation are only going to be in games as long as they’re getting outs and will be subject to a quicker hook that you or Girardi’s Binder could fathom. Burnett is decried and despised by Yankees fans, but they’d better hope “good A.J.” shows up when that bullpen door opens because if they need him in game 2, 3 or 5 he has to pitch well.

Girardi won’t put Soriano in a big spot; David Robertson tends to get himself in trouble just for the sake of getting out of it. His strikeout prowess comes in handy in those situations.

If the Tigers get a big performance out of Fister and/or Scherzer, the Yankees will be in a lot of trouble. I’d expect one to pitch well. Either game 2 or 3 will be won late and is dependent on whose bullpen performs better, which specialists—Boone Logan of the Yankees; Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth—get the job done. Logan would be called on to pitch to Alex Avila. The Tigers are righty-heavy.

Will the young Schlereth be able to deal with Cano? With Granderson? Cano’s 1 for 4 vs Schlereth with a homer; Granderson 0 for 2 with 2 walks. Coke allowed homers to lefties Chase Utley and Raul Ibanez in game 5 of the 2009 World Series while pitching for the Yankees so he’s not exactly frightening to good-hitting lefties. But the Tigers won’t have a choice. The best case for the Tigers is to not get it to that point.

Two veterans—Ordonez and Posada—with excellent careers behind them and the windows closing on those careers will see important at bats in big situations.

The Tigers will win 2 of the first 3 games.

The Yankees will batter Porcello in game 4; this series will come down to a game 5 in Yankee Stadium with Verlander standing between the Yankees and the ALCS.

And he’s going to slam the door in their faces.

The Tigers and Verlander are taking them out.

PREDICTION: TIGERS IN FIVE.

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The Verlander No-Hit Bid—If You Can’t Do The Time, Don’t Do The Crime

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Justin Verlander‘s bid for a third career no-hitter was—in a bizarre turn of events—a background story when this afternoon’s game between the Angels and Tigers was over.

Angels starter Jered Weaver was ejected in the seventh inning for firing a pitch over Alex Avila‘s head after Carlos Guillen went into a silly bit of histrionics after homering and Weaver yelled at him. This was in response to Weaver also yelling at Magglio Ordonez for standing at the plate on a homer which was barely fair—ESPN Story.

I doubt Ordonez was showing up Weaver; he just stood to see if the ball was fair or foul and Weaver—either angry about allowing the homer or misinterpreting Ordonez—overreacted.

The Guillen act was ridiculous.

But that paled in comparison to what Angels shortstop Erick Aybar did leading off the top of the eighth inning.

Aybar tried to bunt his way on.

Verlander fielded the ball and threw it away. According to Aybar, Verlander said he’d “get” him next year.

The question of propriety is somewhat valid in theory, but both the Angels and Tigers are in a playoff race; in fact, it could be argued that they have a case for competing with one another for the Wild Card if the races break a certain way. These games are not meaningless. The Angels need to win; the Tigers need to win; the score was 3-0. If it was 10-0, Verlander can complain, glare and threaten all he wants. At 3-0, he needs step back and think about the big picture.

Regarding the extracurricular stuff—the Weaver anger; the Guillen prancing; the Aybar bunt; the Verlander threat—if you can’t do the proverbial time, don’t do the proverbial crime.

Guillen acted like a fool and his teammate was thrown at; Aybar bunted to break up a no-hitter, Verlander is presumably going to throw at him with a 100-mph fastball when he gets the chance.

These things will be handled in time. The testosterone-filled, reputation-laden, “right and wrong” world of baseball collided today in Detroit. Barring an unforeseen run into the ALCS for both teams, they won’t face each other again until next season.

They’ll remember this because it’ll continually be brought up by the media, fans and other players until it—whatever “it” is—happens.

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Young Chronicles

Hot Stove

It would be nice if the participants assisted me by doing whatever they’re going to do before I finish my book.

Selfish desires aside, the Rangers are trying trade Michael Young and there are several teams for whom Young is a fit as a person and player.

Contractually? That’s another story.

Despite the protestations of stats obsessed, Young is a very good player; I’ve never quite understood why they don’t like him. He hits for power and average and plays every day. Defensively, he’s limited in range, but versatile in where he can play. His on base percentage is relatively low in comparison to his batting average, but it actually is amazingly similar to…Ichiro Suzuki‘s!

But Young does things that Ichiro doesn’t do such as accumulate hits other than singles.

His contract and that Young nor the Rangers appear comfortable with him DHing are the main reasons for his availability. Young is owed $48 million through 2013; he also has a limited no-trade clause until May in which he can submit eight teams to whom he’ll accept a trade; and coincidentally (or not) Young also becomes as 10-and-5 player in May where he could refuse any trade.

As is said in this ESPN posting, the Rangers don’t want to dump him for nothing; nor do they want to pay a vast chunk of his salary just to get rid of him and acquire a decent return.

With that in mind, let’s see where Young would be a fit.

Colorado Rockies

They could use his bat, but as is being continually reported on MLB Trade Rumors, they can’t afford to take his whole salary. If I were the Rangers, getting Jose Lopez wouldn’t excite me in the least.

An interesting fit salary-wise would be Todd Helton, but would the Rockies trade him?

The Rockies could really use Young at second base, but it would require creativity/concessions on both ends to get it done.

Los Angeles Angels

Young would slide neatly in at third base and give the Angels another bat they desperately need. Young is extremely close friends with Vernon Wells and, as a person, fits perfectly into the Angels clubhouse.

They could absorb the majority of the contract, but would that be enough to spur the Rangers to trade Young within the division to a team they’re going to be fighting with for a playoff spot?

I doubt it.

Los Angeles Dodgers

It’s a perfect fit everywhere but financially.

I can’t imagine that the McCourts can take more salary onto the ledger and they don’t have a contract to exchange for him. Apart from that, they could—depending on defensive preferences—play Young at second or third; Juan Uribe at second or third; and shift Casey Blake to the outfield.

New York Mets

Would the Rangers take Carlos Beltran and one of the contracts of either Oliver Perez or Luis Castillo?

Could the Mets add the $18-24 million they’d need to to acquire Young?

With the way the Bernie Madoff/Wilpons/lawsuit mess has begun, probably not; and I can’t see Sandy Alderson doing this knowing how the season is looking to be a total bridge year in every conceivable sense.

Atlanta Braves

They don’t need him now, but what are they going to do if Chipper Jones can’t come back? They don’t have a viable backup plan; and they’re pinning their playoff hopes on a rookie at one corner—Freddie Freeman; and Jones returning at full strength.

Any deal involving Young would have to include salary relief and would need to wait until the Braves know what Jones is capable of.

I would expect the Young situation to have been settled by then.

Chicago Cubs

Would the Rangers be willing to take Carlos Zambrano?

The Cubs are short on pitching after Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza if they did this, but the slashing of the Zambrano salary (possibly worth $55 million) matches relatively neatly with Young’s deal.

I’m not a big Blake DeWitt fan and Young would bolster the Cubs lineup.

The Cubs shouldn’t have traded Tom Gorzelanny.

Detroit Tigers

Their current second baseman is listed as Carlos Guillen. If you think he’s going to stay healthy, then I admire your faith.

If the Tigers were willing to take Young’s salary and the Rangers took Guillen’s $13 million for 2011, it could work.

Pittsburgh Pirates

No, Young wouldn’t help the Pirates; nor do the Pirates need Young—they can lose 95 games with or without him; but if I’m Jon Daniels or Nolan Ryan, I call the Pirates and put the “used car salesman” hit on Frank Coonelly and Neal Huntington of the Pirates.

“I want you and only you to have the widely respected and versatile Michael Young; all I’m asking for—ALL I’m asking for is Andrew McCutchen. This offer is on the table and will be removed within 5 minutes and I have two other offers that are far better than this; but since we’re friends, I’m willing to do you this favor!”

Who knows? They’re the Pirates. They might bite.