Why Is Ned Colletti’s Work With The Dodgers Forgotten?

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It’s to be expected that because Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti doesn’t fit today’s profile of what a GM is “supposed” to be, he won’t get any credit for the Dodgers’ blazing hot streak that has them suddenly declared World Series favorites. This is the same team that was on the verge of firing manager Don Mattingly in June and were hurtling toward a financial and on-field disaster. The easiest thing to do is to point to the club’s $220+ million payroll as a reason why they’re now in first place. Although the club’s turnaround has been due in part to their high-priced players Hanley Ramirez, Zack Greinke, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, they’ve really been helped along by homegrown or found talent Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, Hyun-jin Ryu and Yasiel Puig.

Puig is the big one because it was his recall that was seen as the catalyst and it was the decried decisions to pay big money for Ryu and Puig that are now paying significant dividends. Yet Colletti is an afterthought. If it was Billy Beane making these decisions, he would’ve been touted as a forward-thinking “genius” even while the team was struggling. Where are Colletti’s accolades?

The Puig signing was considered “puzzling.” The Ryu signing “foolish.” The Dodgers were torched for absorbing all those salaries from the Red Sox; for trading for Ramirez and moving him back to shortstop; for keeping Mattingly. Yet no one looks at the facts surrounding Colletti’s regime and that he’s dealt with circumstances that were nearly impossible to manage without the flexibility that comes from having spent a life in baseball in a variety of jobs and working his way up from public relations to the GM’s chair.

Having dealt with Frank McCourt’s circus and making the playoffs three times was enough to think that maybe he has an idea of how to run an organization. Now, amid all the talk of money, the fact is that the Dodgers turnaround was based on not blaming the manager for things he couldn’t control and a group of  players that Colletti’s staff selected.

With all the trades the Dodgers have made for veterans over the Colletti years, how many young players have they given up that are eliciting regret? Carlos Santana? He’s a good hitter, weak defensive catcher and not someone who’s missed. Rubby De La Rosa? He has a great arm and is wild. It’s going to take time to harness his control and then time to work on his command. Allen Webster? He’s a back-of-the-rotation starter, maybe. Where are these players the Dodgers should still have? The ones Colletti’s overaggressiveness cost them?

The convenient storyline is that Colletti doesn’t use the numbers as a be-all, end-all and therefore is a dinosaur that has to be euthanized through critical analysis from armchair experts. It’s when the team starts playing well that qualifications and silence are the responses. Coincidentally, Colletti was hired by the Dodgers after serving as an assistant to Giants GM Brian Sabean. Sabean saw his stellar work as the Giants’ GM diminished by the discovery of the “brains” behind the operation, Yeshayah Goldfarb. Also conveniently, few even knew who Goldfarb was before it became abundantly clear that the Giants two championships contradicted the narrative of stats, stats and more stats, so a “reason” was found for an old-schooler like Sabean to succeed. Except it doesn’t fit. It’s a plot device that fails. I’m expecting a similar type of clumsy, collateral attack against Colletti because the frontal attack is no longer working. Unfortunately, some people will buy it as the “truth.”

The Dodgers are lighting up the world and the person who should be given credit for it is the GM, but that’s not going to happen as long as there are these shrieking voices sitting in darkened rooms declaring how things “should” be and running away rather than admit they’re wrong and blow their cover.

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Keys to 2013: Cleveland Indians

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Starting Pitching Key: Ubaldo Jimenez

Usually when there’s a big trade of youth for an established veteran the trade can be judged within a year-and-a-half. Sometimes that judgment is floating and interchangeable. The problem with most deals is that there’s an immediate reaction of a “winner” and a “loser” before any of the players even get their uniforms on.

For the Rockies and Indians, who completed a big trade in the summer of 2011 with Jimenez going to the Indians for a package of youngsters including Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, Matt McBride and Joe Gardner, there has yet to be a payoff for either side.

For the Rockies, if Pomeranz doesn’t develop, the trade will be a disaster. I think he will, but he hasn’t yet. White was traded to the Astros; McBride is about to turn 28 and has the looks of a 4-A player. Gardner’s mechanics make him an arm injury waiting to happen; if he doesn’t get hurt, he’s a reliever.

It can be seen as the Indians didn’t give up much of anything for a former All-Star and third place finisher in the Cy Young Award voting, but now that they’re looking to contend, they need the Jimenez from 2010 or, at worst, 2009. He’s been awful from 2011 onward with an attitude to match and his ERA has risen by over 3 ½  runs since the end of June 2010 while his velocity has declined by 4-5 mph. Nobody’s expecting him to keep up an ERA under two, but over five? 92-94 is plenty enough fastball to be effective. He has a club option for 2014 at $8 million that he can void himself since he was traded mid-contract. If he’s as bad as he was over the past two seasons, the Indians will trade him at mid-season or sever ties after the season.

Relief Pitching Key: Chris Perez

Perez’s complaints about the Indians fans not caring and the front office not spending any money were assuaged this past winter, but he has to hold his end of the bargain up by getting the job done in the ninth inning. The Indians are better than they were, but they’re not good enough to afford blowing games in the late innings. To make matters more precarious, Perez’s status for opening day is in question because of a shoulder strain. He could also be traded if the Indians are underperforming and Vinnie Pestano indicates he can handle the job.

Offensive Key: Carlos Santana

For all the talk of Santana being an offensive force and the Dodgers making a huge mistake by trading him to get Casey Blake, he’s been something of a disappointment. Santana’s productive, but not the unstoppable masher he was supposed to be. If he’s able to be a competent defensive catcher then his current offensive numbers are fine; if he has to be shifted to first base, he’s a guy you can find on the market.

Defensive Key: Santana

Whether or not the Indians have the depth to contend is not known yet. I don’t think they do. Regardless with the new manager and the money they’ve spent, they have to be competent and that hinges on the pitching. The starting rotation behind Justin Masterson and Brett Myers are temperamental (Jimenez); young, difficult and have already yapped their way out of one venue (Trevor Bauer); and are scrapheap reclamation projects (Daisuke Matsuzaka and Scott Kazmir). Manager Terry Francona might look at Santana’s defense and realize he can’t win with him behind the plate. Santana at first base would make everyone else move to a different position and force a far weaker offensive catcher into the lineup in Santana’s place.

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Terry Francona Chooses the Indians—Why?

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Terry Francona could conceivably have had his choice of jobs as the baseball managerial wheel spins. But, shockingly (to me at least), he decided to take over as the manager of the Cleveland Indians on a 4-year contract. The move is being lauded widely, but is it the right one for both sides?

Let’s see what this means for the Indians and Francona and why it might’ve happened.

Francona wants to prove himself

After his tenure in Philadelphia and in the throes of the Moneyball craze in which a manager was seen as little more than a faceless automaton whose prime directive is to follow orders from the front office, Francona took over as the Red Sox manager. He was hired because he was willing to do what he was told; would take short money; was agreeable to the players and especially Curt Schilling, whom the Red Sox were trying to acquire from the Diamondbacks; and he wasn’t Grady Little.

Even as the Red Sox won their long-elusive championship and another one three years later, there was forever an underlying feeling that Francona—in spite of his likability and deft handling of the media and egos in the Red Sox clubhouse—was along for the ride. Perhaps he’d like to show off his managerial skills in a less financially free situation such as that of the Indians. The Indians have some talent on the big league roster. Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana, Lonnie Chisenhall, Shin-Soo Choo, Justin Masterson, and Ubaldo Jimenez are the foundation for a decent club. They should also have some money to spend on mid-level improvements with both Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore coming off the books.

In order for a manager to eliminate the perception of what he was in his prior stop, he has to go to a totally different situation. Francona certainly has that with the Indians.

He enjoyed his time with the Indians, has ties to Cleveland, and misses the competition

Francona was a former front office assistant with the Indians and his father Tito Francona was an All-Star player for the Indians in the early-1960s. He knows the front office and there will be a cohesiveness that wasn’t present with the Red Sox. As successful as Francona was in Boston, there was a limit to his sway. With the Indians, his opinions will be heard and he must feel they’ll be adhered to.

That’s not necessarily a good thing. If a club is rebuilding and the manager is trying to justify his reputation, he’s going to want to win. There’s a tug-of-war at play when a manager wants to win and the organization is trying to develop. Francona might not be the same person he was when working for the Indians in his pre-Red Sox days and if the Indians aren’t willing to mortgage the future in a win-now maneuver, there could be unexpected friction.

Being around baseball as a broadcaster isn’t the same as being in the middle of the fight. Francona recharged his batteries, or may think he recharged his batteries after a year away, and wants to jump back into the fray.

He didn’t want to wait and see about other, higher-pressure jobs

The implication of Francona as the prototypical “nice guy” isn’t exactly accurate. He, like Joe Torre, has been a far more calculating presence than his portrayal and persona suggests. He played the martyr following the Red Sox collapse and became a victim to the players’ decision to disrespect him and the front office need to kick someone overboard as a show of “doing something.”

Was he innocent? It’s part of the manager’s job to be hypocritical, but if he was going to get the credit for being laid back when the team was winning and it was okay that the starting pitchers who weren’t working that day were off doing whatever, then he also gets the blame when clubhouse leaks and team fractures result in a disappointing fall. The idea that Francona wasn’t to be held accountable in any way for the Red Sox slide in 2011 (and in 2012 for that matter) is ludicrous. If his calm leadership was credited for them winning in 2004 and 2007, then his porous discipline is part of why they came undone.

Will there be expectations in Cleveland? Based on Francona’s reputation, there will be factions thinking the “proven manager” theory will work. But in the end, it’s about the players. Francona could have sat in the ESPN booth and waited for other jobs with more attractive on-field personnel—the Angels and Tigers specifically—to open. He wants to win, but with the Indians, he won’t get the blame if they don’t.

The Indians presented a plan to spend a bit more freely

As mentioned earlier, the Indians will be free of Hafner’s, Sizemore’s, and Derek Lowe’s paychecks and they may look to trade Choo. That should give them increased flexibility. If I’m Manny Acta, I would be offended if the Indians spend this winter, signing and trading for players who were off-limits due to finances simply because they hired Francona. Acta has been unlucky in his managerial stops. With the Nationals, he oversaw the breaking of the ground in their rebuild and was fired. He got the Indians job and did as much as he could with limited talent and again was fired. It’s a similar situation that we’ve seen with Art Howe and Torre. Howe left the Athletics for the Mets for many reasons. The Mets were going to pay him more than the A’s would have; Mets’ GM Steve Phillips wanted someone he could control better than the fired Bobby Valentine and another candidate Lou Piniella; and he also wanted to prove that his success wasn’t the fluke it was presented as in Moneyball.

Torre was fired by the Cardinals in 1995 and this was well before he became “The Godfather” of baseball and St. Joe—both images promulgated by Torre himself. He was considered a retread who knew how to handle the clubhouse, but wouldn’t do much to help the team one way or the other. If you examine the 1995 Cardinals team that Torre was fired from 47 games into the season, they weren’t very good and didn’t spend any money (20th in payroll that season). They’d allowed Gregg Jefferies, one player who had blossomed under Torre’s gentle hand where he’d failed everywhere else, to depart to the Phillies without replacing him. Back then, Tony LaRussa was viewed as the Mr. Fix-It who could win anywhere by sheer force of will and strategic brilliance. LaRussa was hired as Cardinals’ manager that winter after he left the Athletics as a managerial free agent and, lo and behold, they imported players LaRussa wanted because he had a power that Torre didn’t have and for him to take the job, that guarantee had to be made. A bad team was transformed into a club that lost in game 7 of the NLCS.

Torre, to put it mildly, landed on his feet with the Yankees.

Howe, on the other hand, took over a Mets team in disarray with a power struggle at the top and awkwardly moving on from the late 1990s-2000 years of contention. The 2003-2004 Mets under Howe had a misleadingly high payroll because of prior financial commitments they’d made to declining players. When Omar Minaya took over as GM late in the 2004 season, it was announced that Howe would finish the season and not be retained. The Mets hired an inexperienced Willie Randolph and opened the checkbook in the winter of 2004-2005 spending big money on Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran. They finished at 83-79 in 2005 and would’ve finished with pretty much that same record under Howe. An in-demand manager can say what he wants and have it done. A retread can’t. Torre was a retread; Howe was a bystander; with the Phillies, Francona was a shrug. LaRussa was LaRussa and got what he wanted.

Will it work?

In the end, it’s the players. If Francona’s going to succeed in Cleveland, it won’t be through some “magic” that doesn’t exist. His reputation might be conducive to players wanting to go to Cleveland; his laid-back demeanor will be easier for young players to develop without someone screaming or glaring at them; but it won’t be due to the simplistic, “He won with the Red Sox so he’ll win here.” He didn’t win in Philadelphia because the team was bad. Does that factor in? If not, it should.

If the Indians toss the same roster in 2013 as they did in 2012, they’re not going to be all that much better under Francona than they were under Acta and Sandy Alomar Jr.

If that’s the case, then Francona wouldn’t have taken the job. The “name” manager gets his way, justified or not. If it fails or succeeds, we’ll know why.

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American League Central—2012 Present and 2013 Future

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I recently looked at the AL East, how they’re faring now and their prospects for the future. Now let’s look at the AL Central.

Chicago White Sox

There are few baseball executives for whom their statements should be taken at face value, but White Sox GM Ken Williams is one. Because of that, when he says he misspoke about blowing the whole thing up at the conclusion of the 2011 season, then didn’t blow the whole thing up and instead made moves to try and win while getting younger and more flexible, I believe him.

The White Sox success can be chalked up to: manager Robin Ventura’s calm demeanor in stark contrast to the raving lunacy of Ozzie Guillen; Jake Peavy coming back from injury and pitching like a top tier starter; Chris Sale’s development as a starting pitcher; Adam Dunn’s and Alex Rios’s comebacks; and the parity around the American League.

Ventura and Mike Matheny have become a regular “example” that managers don’t need to have managerial experience to be successful. Of course it’s nonsense and taken greatly out of context. Ventura’s done a good job and his cachet as a former All Star player and popular person in Chicago has helped him greatly, but anyone other than Guillen would’ve been taken as a welcome respite from the daily haranguing and controversy that surrounded the former manager’s big mouth and followed him—with disastrous results—to Miami.

As long as Williams is the GM, the White Sox have a chance to be competitive because he has no patience for long rebuilds and makes aggressive maneuvers accordingly.

Detroit Tigers

The Tigers have been inconsistent in every facet. Their defense, while not being as bad as predicted, still isn’t good; the offense is 7th in the AL in runs scored despite having two MVP candidates Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, plus Austin Jackson having a fantastic year; the bullpen has been shaky; and Justin Verlander has been excellent and is still a Cy Young Award candidate, but has taken enough of a step back from his CYA/MVP of 2011 back to humanity to account for the Tigers fighting for a playoff spot.

There’s been talk that manager Jim Leyland, in the final year of his contract, could be in trouble if the Tigers don’t make the playoffs. It’s silly. Leyland can still handle the egos in that clubhouse and the very last thing the Tigers need to do and, tying in with the concept of a manager with zero experience, is to hire someone young just to make a change.

The Tigers dealt away several prospects including Jacob Turner to get Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez, but they’ve held onto Avisail Garcia and Nick Castellanos. The farm system is not barren and as long as they have Fielder, Cabrera, and Verlander, they’ll be competitive. Changing managers for the sake of it makes zero sense.

Kansas City Royals

It’s ludicrous how those who felt the Royals were going to parlay their loaded farm system into a leap to legitimate contention jump off the train as soon as a rebuild doesn’t adhere to the “plan”. Young players sometimes hit speedbumps on the way up. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are still two players around whom to build; Alex Gordon is a solid presence at the plate and in the field; Billy Butler is emerging as an unknown star; and Salvador Perez and several young pitchers got hurt.

The talent is still there. As long as they don’t panic, there’s no reason they can’t contend in 2013.

They do need to show improvement for manager Ned Yost to keep his job past next May/June; and GM Dayton Moore will probably get one more managerial hire if Yost has to be replaced, then the onus will be on him.

Cleveland Indians

2012 went completely wrong with 2013 not looking much better. They got off to a good start and were hovering around contention through mid-season until they collapsed completely and, since being 50-50 on July 27th, have gone 10-36. Manny Acta has a contract for next season, but since the Indians don’t have much money to spend and are openly ready to listen to offers for one of their few marketable players Shin-Soo Choo, there’s no point in sending Acta back out there as a lame duck when they have a managerial prospect in the popular former Indians’ hero Sandy Alomar Jr. on the coaching staff.

Closer Chris Perez ripped the organization from top to bottom recently and will presumably be shipped out of town for his candor. Considering that Perez is a slightly better-than-average closer, it’s not his place to be opening his mouth. The Indians are short on foundational talent. Asdrubal Cabrera is a very good player; Carlos Santana doesn’t appear to be an everyday catcher and his skills are less impressive as a first baseman; and their supposed top two starters, Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson, haven’t pitched well.

The Indians have a long road ahead of them and may have to restart their rebuild.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins were competitive for a decade after a decade of being so terrible that they were a target of contraction. Now instead of being a target, they built Target Field and spent money to try and win in 2010. To that end, they traded away a top prospect Wilson Ramos for a mediocre reliever Matt Capps; they signed Tsuyoshi Nishioka and repeated the Mets’ mistake with Kazuo Matsui, except Nishioka isn’t as talented as Matsui was; and they brought back their old GM Terry Ryan who still hasn’t had the interim label taken from his title.

Ownership has said that they want Ryan to take the job on a permanent basis. We’ll see. If Ryan isn’t fully committed or ownership wants to go in a new direction with an outsider, manager Ron Gardenhire could be in trouble as well.

Offensively, they’ve rebounded from an injury-plagued 2011 with Joe Mauer back to being Joe Mauer; a tremendous year from Josh Willingham; and Justin Morneau finally returning to form after his concussion problems.

They’re still severely short in the pitching department and are running into identical issues as the Mets did when they moved into their new park after contending for several years and building a canyon instead of a ballpark. The Mets moved the fences in and started a full-blown rebuild. The Twins have yet to do that, but they’re going to have to infuse the organization with more talent to get back to competitiveness.

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The Red Sox-Dodgers Trade, Part III—Ned Colletti’s Style On A Larger Scale

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Because Frank McCourt is gone and the Dodgers have a new ownership that’s going all, all, all out to win by taking on massive contracts, players whose reputations had diminished to nothing, and the injured, it’s seen as a change in strategy from the past. Those who believe this nonsense are parachuting in with a perception based on nothing since they don’t know the history and didn’t bother to engage in the simple act of fact-checking of Ned Colletti’s tenure as Dodgers’ GM.

Even when he was functioning under the disarray of McCourt, he was free with money and prospects operating under the mandated parameters from ownership. If the Dodgers were straddling the line of contender and also-ran, he erred on the side of aggression and brought in veteran players to try and win. You can read about Colletti’s trades here. The difference between then and now is that he has more flexibility to take on money. He exercised that flexibility by agreeing to this gigantic trade with the Red Sox in which the Dodgers acquired Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto for James Loney, Allen Webster, Ivan De Jesus Jr., Jerry Sands and Rubby De La Rosa.

It’s indicative of Colletti’s style and is not a simplistic “take veterans and take money for young players and ignore the future.” If you examine Colletti’s past, he’s never given up any prospects that are regrettable and would be redone if he had the opportunity.

To get Casey Blake, he gave up Carlos Santana, but apart from that he’s never given up anything of note. He was ripped for giving up Santana in that deal’s immediate aftermath, but Santana is a poor defensive catcher whose future is likely to be first base—at first base, he’s a replaceable part. Blake played well for the Dodgers for 2 ½ of the 3 ½ years he spent with them.

In the trades he made and offered to improve the club this year, Dodgers’ top prospect Zach Lee was off the table. It’s a hallmark of Colletti’s limits in trading. He won’t give up the entire house, but will give up what he feels he can replace.

If Colletti claimed Beckett to put an exclamation point on his seriousness in wanting to get Gonzalez, then it was a prescient tactical decision to get them. Beckett was getting through waivers and so was Gonzalez, but Colletti identified what he wanted and took steps to get them. He got the go-ahead from ownership to add this kind of payroll ($261 million to his team) and pulled the trigger. The Red Sox might’ve turned down an offer for Gonzalez alone, but if the Dodgers would take both Beckett and Crawford? They didn’t have a choice but to do it.

It’s safe to expect Gonzalez to be happier and more productive as a background personality and mid-lineup star; for Beckett to keep his mouth shut and behave more professionally (I think); and for Crawford to be relieved to be out of Boston and, once healthy, to return to something reasonably close to his Rays days in 2013 and beyond.

If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, but Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw, and Andre Ethier are with the club as the foundation for the future and they have a supporting cast locked in as well.

Colletti’s more baseball-savvy than he’s given credit for and in spite of these risky financial and personnel moves, it was more than him agreeing to take the money in a desperate deep strike and spending spree as if he just won the lottery which, with the new ownership, he kinda did.

You can read Part I here and Part II here.

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New Dodgers Ownership Is Giving Similar Free Rein As The Old One

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The only difference between the new Dodgers’ ownership, fronted by Magic Johnson and backed by a lot of rich people, is that they’re more well-liked and aren’t plundering the organization to keep up a lavish lifestyle as the McCourts did. In the personnel department, the GMs have been allowed to do what they wanted in terms of player moves and that extends past current GM Ned Colletti and to former GM Paul DePodesta—Frank McCourt’s first hire.

The Dodgers have made a series of bold deals this season in turning over the roster and adding major money and veteran players Hanley Ramirez, Joe Blanton, Shane Victorino, Brandon League and Randy Choate. They were also willing to take on Cliff Lee’s $87 million contract; signed Matt Kemp (while McCourt was selling the team) and Andre Ethier to contract extensions; and invested $42 million in Cuban defector Yasiel Puig.

But is there a difference between what Colletti/DePodesta did then as to what’s happening now?

In 2004, in his first full season as the Dodgers’ GM and functioning with former GM Dan Evans’s players and manager Jim Tracy, DePodesta had a free hand to do what he wanted and took a sledgehammer to a team that was 60-42 and in first place in the NL West by making a series of disastrous trades, decimating what had been one of the game’s best bullpens by trading righty reliever Guillermo Mota along with catcher Paul LoDuca and outfielder Juan Encarnacion to the Marlins for first baseman Hee-Seop Choi, righty starter Brad Penny and lefty reliever Bill Murphy. The entire intent of these deals was to flip Penny to the Diamondbacks for Randy Johnson—adding more money—but Johnson refused to sign off on the trade. Penny made one start for the Dodgers and got hurt. DePodesta also traded for catcher Brent Mayne and outfielder Steve Finley. The Dodgers staggered to the finish line, made the playoffs and were dispatched in the first round by the Cardinals.

DePodesta was fired after the 2005 season when the club, after a 12-2 start, fell to 71-91 amid infighting among other players he brought in with a tone deafness as to clubhouse chemistry. Milton Bradley and Jeff Kent along with the always charming Penny turned the clubhouse toxic and it showed on the field. After the season, McCourt replaced DePodesta with Colletti.

Colletti has never let the media perception and public demands that he bag a season by selling dissuade him from being aggressive and trying to win when his team is within striking distance of a playoff spot. With the Dodgers in last place and under .500 (though close enough to first place to provide ample justification), he went for it at the deadline in 2006 by acquiring Greg Maddux, Julio Lugo and Wilson Betemit. Benefited by the weak NL, the Dodgers went on a hot streak and won the Wild Card before losing to the Mets in the NLDS.

After a disappointing 2007, the Dodgers spent big to hire legendary former Yankees’ manager Joe Torre. In 2008, they traded for Manny Ramirez and all his baggage and Manny went on a tear, leading the Dodgers to the NLCS. They signed him for two more years after that. At the deadline in 2008, they also acquired Casey Blake from the Indians for top prospect Carlos Santana and reacquired Maddux.

In 2009, as they were on the way to winning 95 games and the NL West, they acquired Jim Thome, George Sherrill, Ronnie Belliard and Jon Garland. In 2010, struggling but again in striking distance of the top of the division, they traded for Ted Lilly, Ryan Theriot, Octavio Dotel and Scott Podsednik. It didn’t work and Torre’s managerial career ended with an 80-82 season and the first missed playoff season since before he managed the Yankees.

McCourt owned the team that entire time.

Now, with the new ownership and team president Stan Kasten, the Dodgers are being lauded for “going for it” with money as no object. But it’s the same as it’s been for the past eight years. To say that Colletti is a veteran-centric GM who doesn’t care about prospects is ignoring that he refused to surrender top pitching prospect Zach Lee and that the Dodgers have spent big on draft picks and international free agents; that he drafted Clayton Kershaw and developed him into a superstar; that the club has been willing go after veterans from other clubs and act quickly to rectify mistakes by benching struggling, highly-paid vets like Juan Uribe.

It’s easy to credit Dodgers’ new ownership, but the truth is that it’s the GM—decidedly not a stat guy—who is the one who should be recognized for the way he’s running the team and his ability to ignore outsiders telling him what he should do and instead following his own path. It’s no surprise. The evidence is right there in black and white. This is how Colletti runs his team and that’s the way it was then and the way it is now.

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Mid-Season Trade Candidates–Justin Morneau

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Name: Justin Morneau

Tale of the tape: 31-years-old; bats left; throws right; 6’4”; 220 lbs.

Contract status: $14 million annual salary for 2012 and 2013; free agent after 2013.

Would the Twins trade him?

Yes.

This was reported with an undertone of shock as if it was unheard of before the likes of Ken Rosenthal implied it as a possibility. The Twins took an attitude of “let’s get back to doing things the Twins way” when Terry Ryan stepped back into the General Manager’s seat. Part of that was hoping Morneau recovered enough from his post-concussion issues and other injuries to become the MVP-level player he was until mid-season 2010 when his world—literally and figuratively—was shaken from its axis from a blow to the head trying to break up a double play. Since then it’s been one thing or another for Morneau and the Twins. The team has become a punching bag.

They’re not dumping salary just for the sake of it so Joe Mauer won’t be available, but Morneau is a free agent after 2013, he won’t be around when they start to get better and clearing that salary will free them to spend it on what they need this winter (pitching) and get rid of Morneau while he’s healthy and showing signs of a resurgence.

There’s a thought that the trading of Morneau would allow the Twins to move Mauer to first base, but I don’t think that’s as automatic as is being suggested. Mauer is smart enough to understand that his bat is far more valuable than his ability to catch, but he likes and wants to catch. Had the Twins held onto Wilson Ramos, they would’ve had a capable and young replacement behind the plate. Now they don’t. If Mauer plays first base, it will be on a part-time basis. I’d expect the Twins to find an everyday first baseman on the cheap for a short-term deal until Mauer is past his 30th birthday and is ready to make the permanent shift from behind the plate.

The Twins’ mistake in trading Ramos is now being magnified for the gaffe it was. They got a pretty good reliever in Matt Capps, but he’s most certainly not worth a team’s number 1 prospect whether his path is blocked by a Hall of Fame-level player in Mauer or not. If a team is trading that type of talent there are two things that can save them: 1) have it work as it did for the Marlins when they traded Adrian Gonzalez as part of the deal to get Ugueth Urbina and won the World Series; and 2) have the team that traded for the player either trade him as well or see him fail. Because the Rangers also traded Gonzalez (who wasn’t considered a great prospect by either team), it’s not referenced as a horrible trade.

It’s a dual-pronged defense for the Marlins.

Morneau—if he’s healthy and hitting for power—could be the difference between not making the playoffs and winning the World Series.

What would they want for him?

The Twins need everything from starting pitching to bullpen help to a corner infield bat who can hit.

It’s not outrageous to think they could get legitimate prospects in two of those spots and a moderate prospect in the third. If they’re willing to eat some of Morneau’s salary, they’ll get better prospects. The idea that the Twins are a mid-market team is accurate in name only. The Pohlad family is one of the richest ownerships in sports. The business model exercised by the late Carl Pohlad made it appear as if they held the team payroll in check out of necessity, but that’s not the case. It was a conscious choice. Pohlad was criticized for it, but he was a businessman. Like most offshoots of a wide-ranging structure, the Twins had a budget and Pohlad made his baseball people stick to it without doling endless streams of extra money from the emergency jar.

There’s nothing wrong with that and for the Twins, it worked.

Which teams would pursue and have the prospects to get him?

The Yankees, Blue Jays, Indians, Marlins, Cardinals and Dodgers have the financial wherewithal and prospects to get it done. Other clubs that might be involved if they’re willing to give up what the Twins want in exchange for Morneau and money to pay him are the Indians and Pirates.

What will happen.

Morneau is going to get traded and I’d bet on him winding up with the Dodgers.

Dodgers’ GM Ned Colletti is aggressive and doesn’t mess around. Much was made of his decision to trade Carlos Santana as part of the trade that got the Dodgers Casey Blake in 2008. In the long-term, it was a mistake; in the short-term with a little luck the Dodgers could’ve won a World Series or two with Blake. Had that happened, it would’ve been the same situation as the Marlins had with trading Gonzalez for Urbina. With the new ownership taking over, Colletti will be free to do as he sees fit. Upgrading the offense is paramount for the Dodgers and Morneau fills that bill.

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2012 American League Central Predicted Standings

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Wins Losses GB
1. Cleveland Indians 91 71
2. Detroit Tigers* 88 74 3
3. Kansas City Royals 81 81 10
4. Chicago White Sox 72 90 19
5. Minnesota Twins 70 92 21

* Denotes predicted Wild Card winner

Cleveland Indians

The Indians have all the components to take the next step from their near .500 season in 2011.

There are positives amid the negatives of the old warhorses’ injuries and contract statuses. Grady Sizemore keeps getting hurt, but the Indians couldn’t have expected him to return to form nor expected him to stay healthy. His injury and absence will give them the chance to see what Ezequiel Carrera can do. Travis Hafner is in the final guaranteed year of his contract and some players manage to stay healthy when there’s a large amount of money on the line.

Carlos Santana is a mid-lineup run producer; they have a highly underrated 1-2 starting pitching punch with Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez; and their bullpen is deep.

Detroit Tigers

The entire season will come down to how obstinate Jim Leyland is about the decision to move Miguel Cabrera to third base.

I was about to say “experiment”, but is it really an experiment if we know what’s going to happen?

He can’t play third; the Tigers have pitchers—Doug Fister, Rick Porcello and even Justin Verlander—who need their defense to succeed; and Leyland is adamant in saying that not only is Cabrera going to play third but that he won’t be removed for defense in the late innings in favor of the superior gloves of Don Kelly and Brandon Inge.

Eventually Leyland will probably bow to reality and Cabrera and Prince Fielder will share first base and DH.

I say probably because it depends on whether Leyland is going to be the old-school baseball guy who’ll see weakness in admitting he’s wrong or the one who admits the team’s playoff spot in jeopardy and bows to reality.

The extra Wild Card will save the Tigers.

Kansas City Royals

The Royals are loaded up with young players and have to give them the chance to sink or swim on their own without looking at them for a month and sending them down.

Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas will be in the lineup every day for the Royals for the next decade, but the other youngsters Lorenzo Cain, Salvador Perez, John Giavotella and Danny Duffy have to be given the legitimate chance to play without wondering if they’re going to be sent down immediately if they slump.

The starting pitching is young and improving; the bullpen has been bolstered and is diverse.

Chicago White Sox

Is this a rebuild or not?

Are they going to continue listening to offers for the likes of Gavin Floyd or will they hold their fire?

The decision to hire Robin Ventura as manager was a “he’ll grow with us” maneuver, but the foundation of the team is still in place.

It’s not a rebuild or a stay the course blueprint. They’re just doing things.

When serious structural alterations needed to be made, just doing things translates into 90 losses.

Minnesota Twins

Much was made of Terry Ryan’s return to the GM seat.

But so what?

They made something of a lateral move in letting Michael Cuddyer leave and replacing him with Josh Willingham; they got a solid defender and good on-base bat with Jamey Carroll; and they did the “Twins thing” in signing cheap veterans who can contribute with Jason Marquis and Ryan Doumit.

Their bullpen is loaded with a bunch of bodies and has already lost Joel Zumaya.

Much depends on the health of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau and even if both stay on the field, there are still too many holes offensively, defensively and—most importantly—in the rotation and bullpen to ask how much they can be expected to improve from losing nearly 100 games in 2011.

Far more in depth analysis is in my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide, now available.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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The Tigers Go Big Ticket; the Indians Go Smart

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The Tigers spent $214 million to create a mess with their manager insisting he’s going to harm their defense in the face of reality and, by extension, harm their pitching staff by shifting Miguel Cabrera to third base to accommodate Prince Fielder.

This was in response to the season-ending knee injury to DH Victor Martinez.

Logic would dictate that the best course of action would be to have Fielder and Cabrera share first base and DH duties and to play the defensively minded Brandon Inge and Don Kelly at third base.

But logic has little to do with a stubborn, old-school baseball guy like manager Jim Leyland whose hardline statement that Cabrera is going to play third base appears, for now, as if it’s going to result in Cabrera actually playing third base.

To compound matters, Leyland has also said he’s not going to pull Cabrera for defense late in games.

Whether or not it’s bluster on the part of the manager to get his star player’s ego in check and wait until spring training to talk him and Fielder into sharing DH duties is the question. Will the sight of balls bouncing through the infield at a ridiculous rate and the pitchers’ collective anger trump Leyland’s, Cabrera’s and Fielder’s individual desires and self-interests?

In the normal world, the answer would be yes.

But this isn’t the normal world. It’s baseball.

The Tigers’ biggest rivals in the AL Central, the Indians, made a smart signing for $211 million less than what the Tigers guaranteed for Fielder when they signed veteran Casey Kotchman to a 1-year, $3 million contract.

No one is going to compare Kotchman to Fielder offensively, but defensively, he’s far superior to the immobile Fielder/Cabrera and, if last season is any indication, he’s no longer a liability at the plate as he was in the two seasons prior to 2011.

Because Kotchman fits into the Indians lineup and they’re not creating a redundancy by putting any player out of position to stuff him in, it’s a more reasonable signing than the Tigers’ decision to buy a Lamborghini (Fielder) to replace their damaged Porsche (Martinez) with the lack of space in the garage to make it sensible.

The Indians had been facing the prospect of playing the disappointing Matt LaPorta at first base with catcher Carlos Santana also seeing time at the position. Now they can play Kotchman relatively regularly.

As long as the Tigers don’t move forward with the charade of playing Cabrera at third base, then the Fielder signing is going to help them a great deal; but if they insist on implementing such a defensive catastrophe and do so because of Leyland’s obstinate nature, then it’s a disaster waiting to happen no matter how many homers and massive OPS numbers Fielder and Cabrera combine to provide.

The Tigers are going to disrupt their contact-based pitching staff by hardheadedly concerning themselves more with Cabrera’s and Fielder’s happiness and Leyland’s contrarian nature. The Indians are adhering to their needs by signing a player who slides neatly into their on-field and financial structure.

It can be argued that the Indians made a better overall signing with Kotchman.

Believe it or not.

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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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