Blue Jays’ Hot Streak Saves Them From Painful Decisions

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The Blue Jays were facing a series of harsh choices if they’d continued down the road they were on. With GM Alex Anthopoulos having cast his lot by acquiring veterans with hefty contracts Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes and Josh Johnson; by trading for R.A. Dickey and giving him a long-term deal at age 38; for gutting the farm system; for rehiring the same manager the team had fired in John Gibbons, Anthopoulos’s job was clearly in jeopardy if the Blue Jays would up with 90+ losses. The new GM would’ve undertaken a new rebuilding/retooling project with a different strategy. The fans’ enthusiasm for the club would also have waned if they started over again following a failure of this magnitude.

They were never as bad as they were playing when they were eleven games under .500 on May 10th. Of course, the same holds true for this eleven game win streak. Accumulated not against terrible teams but against the Orioles, Rangers and Rockies, this hot streak has given them some wiggleroom not to do anything drastic in terms of clearing out players at the trading deadline, but instead adding players who can assist them for a playoff run.

When a team makes the series of bold maneuvers that the Blue Jays did this past winter and they immediately fall flat, there aren’t many options available. Their hands were essentially cuffed. It was either this team will get itself straight or they’re all done for in Toronto. That the team somehow reeled off this win streak is a rarity among teams who have pushed all their chips into the pot as the Blue Jays have and got off to a disastrous start, but it’s happening. Two months is generally not enough to come to the determination that the entire thing has to be torn down especially where there are proven players on the roster, but the frustration with so many years of mediocrity and the constant frenetic tweaking on the part of a GM who was a member of the mostly failed regime of former GM J.P. Ricciardi would have created a groundswell to do something else with someone else. The what and who are irrelevant, it would simply be a change for its own sake. And don’t think that firing Anthopoulos would’ve yielded a move to the next in line, the respected Tony LaCava. In that kind of situation, clubs generally move in an entirely new direction, presumably with an older, veteran GM who thinks in an old-school manner.

If it had gotten to July and the Blue Jays were sitting 10 games under .500 and 12 games out of playoff position, a “For Sale” sign at clearance prices could easily have been posted outside the Rogers Centre. As it stands now, they may not make a serious playoff run. They’re still only two games over .500 and the season hasn’t been saved nor have the moves haven’t been validated yet (ironically, they were also two games over .500 a year ago to this day and their current win streak has been due to unsung players like Adam Lind, Chien-Ming Wang and Munenori Kawasaki), but they’re able to make baseball moves to get better and try to win for 2013 rather than play out the string, get rid of money, placate the angry crowds and fickle circling media to start all over again.

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Your Word of the Day is “Pronate” (with Phil Hughes)

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Apparently David Waldstein of the New York Times discovered a new word for the day: “pronate”.

It was present in his entire recap of the latest performance by Phil Hughes of the Yankees.

At the moment that virtually every pitch is thrown by every pitcher at every level of baseball, the throwing hand pronates.

Pronation is one of the major elements in determining how and where a pitch moves once thrown.

When Hughes tried to throw his fastball to the outside of the plate against right-handed hitters, he pronated just a little too much, causing the ball to spin slightly sideways (the opposite of a cut fastball), and making him lose precise command of it.

I don’t care about Phil Hughes’s pronating or not pronating and I tend to believe that the rank and file Yankees’ fan, uninitiated with and tired of the whys of endlessly poor results, doesn’t have much interest in the issue either. The bottom line is that Hughes was bad again. At best, he’s an inconsistent pitcher who, at age 26, has yet to become either an innings-gobbler or a trustworthy rotation stalwart. He’s a mid-to-back rotation arm that you can find relatively cheaply on the market.

The Yankees’ organizational apparatus for pitchers is increasingly suspect—if not outright ridiculous—given the failures with Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy (as a Yankee) and Hughes, along with the trades for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos and babying regulations placed on Manny Banuelos (Pineda, Campos and Banuelos are all on the disabled list), and the demotion of Dellin Betances because he lost the strike zone. Adding to that is the way both Chien-Ming Wang and Ivan Nova evolved into, at worst, solid pitchers when the Yankees didn’t think much of either and didn’t enact the stifling rules they placed on their other, more prized, arms.

Hughes is okay as a useful starting pitcher. Sometimes. But he’s never pitched 200 innings in a season. He gives up a lot of home runs. He’s not a strikeout pitcher. And he’s been bad in the post-season. If he were seen as an arm who’s benefited from pitching for a very good team with a solid bullpen as Nova is and pitched as he has over the past two years, the Yankees might non-tender him and would definitely look to trade him. But since he’s one of the prized prospects “developed” by Brian Cashman, he’s getting chance-after-chance to prove that the Yankees method of nurturing starting pitchers is somehow valid.

You can cover for a prospect that hasn’t fulfilled his potential for so long before reality becomes self-evident. Hughes’s reality is this: a career ERA of 4.46, rampant inconsistency and the clinging to a concept that eventually he’ll turn into something more.

But he’s not improving and he’s not something more. It’s time to accept that this is it, at least as a Yankee.

He didn’t “pronate”? After this season, if Cashman has finally seen and heard enough from Hughes as he did from Kennedy before shipping him off to Arizona, perhaps the GM will do a little “pronating” of his own and flick his wrist to coolly put his cellphone to his ear and listen to offers to ship Hughes out of town. Maybe someone else can straighten him out; or maybe this is what he is. Regardless, it’s clear by now that it’s not going to happen for him in a Yankees’ uniform and it would be best for all involved to move along and let Hughes pronate out of town.

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Six Cold, Hard Questions For The Yankees

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On the same night one of the last pitchers the Yankees developed and practically utilized—Andy Pettitte—took the next step in his comeback attempt with a minor league start in Trenton, two pitchers upon whom they’re relying to maintain contention under the new luxury tax mandates were terrible (Phil Hughes) and heading for surgery (Michael Pineda).

The pompous arrogance of the organization, their media wing and fan base all but disappeared in favor of maudlin whimpering, melancholy sadness, silence and the ever-present spin-doctoring to twist matters into a favorable view of blamelessness.

There’s no defense. Only damage control.

To compound the irony, Pineda’s surgery is going to be performed by the Mets’ team physician Dr. David Altcheck.

In the past the fact that Dr. Altcheck is a respected and renowned specialist would’ve been shunted aside by a Yankees’ support group to laugh at this fact if the sequence of events were happening to anyone other than the Yankees.

Reality rears its ugly head and convenient fodder for jokes—the Mets’ team doctor—is suddenly off limits.

But is it ugly? Or is it what it is without discretion, intent or preference?

Let’s take a look at some of the burning questions regarding the Yankees, Michael Pineda and another disaster in the reign of Brian Cashman that can’t be glossed over by lukewarm distractions from that cold, hard reality.

Was Pineda hurt when the Yankees traded for him and did the Mariners know it?

It’s possible.

Anything is possible.

But I doubt it.

If he was hurt, it was probably an injury that would only have been discovered had the Yankees or Mariners been looking for it. Pineda was examined for the shoulder pain that shelved him and robbed him of his velocity in spring training and nothing was found. It was when the Yankees did a more comprehensive examination following his last spring rehab start that they found the labrum tear.

The Yankees have made ghastly errors with Pineda, but ignoring a possible injury isn’t one of them.

Even if he was damaged goods, it’s irrelevant. What’s done is done.

How are the Yankees at fault?

The same arguments that allocate the blame on the Mariners and Pineda can also be shifted to the Yankees.

Much like their signing of Pedro Feliciano and holding the Mets responsible for Feliciano’s shoulder injury by saying he was “abused”, it’s a reluctance to own up to anything for which they can be negatively perceived. It’s cultural and has created this litany of failed pitching prospects.

They’re more worried about what will be thought of them if the pitchers get hurt than they are in having the pitchers do well and evolve as Yankees.

Pineda showed up to Yankees’ camp overweight, but it wasn’t as if they made the trade in October and Pineda stopped exercising and started eating. The trade was made in January weeks before pitchers and catchers reported. Did he suddenly get fat from the day of the trade to his appearance in Tampa? In two weeks?

I think not.

If he hadn’t shown up fat for the Yankees, he would’ve shown up fat for the Mariners.

GM Brian Cashman, immersed in his own egotistical bubble, was the person who publicly castigated the Mets for Feliciano’s injury after he gave Feliciano $8 million to come to the Yankees.

He scurried away when the Mets, for once, fought back.

The trade of Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi for Pineda and Jose Campos made sense. Pineda pitched well for the Mariners last season and his second half struggles and supposed velocity decline weren’t drastic enough to dissuade them from making the deal. They examined him and found nothing wrong.

But the aftermath is a different matter.

Almost immediately, the Yankees propped up the inclusion of Campos as the biggest factor as if a 19-year-old in A-ball would validate any eventuality. Cashman told Jim Bowden that the trade will have been a mistake if Pineda doesn’t develop into a top of the rotation starter. They complained about his weight. When he got to camp, they constantly referenced his velocity—or lack thereof—as if they were waiting for him to launch 98-mph fastballs in early March.

Could Pineda’s attempts to throw harder before he was ready or while he was ailing have contributed to the overstressing of his shoulder and gotten him hurt worse? Did the Yankees place an unfair onus on him? Did running him down affect his mentality when he became a Yankee?

You tell me.

Why are they clinging to this “developmental” strategy?

Cashman’s comments following the Pineda diagnosis were expected as he said various permutations of, “We don’t regret it and we’d do it again.”

This is understandable if he’s spouting a line to protect himself and his organization for making the trade and doesn’t truly believe it. Only a lunatic would say he doesn’t regret making this trade after the Pineda injury.

Like the Yankees’ ridiculous limits, rules and regulations they’ve placed on every pitcher since Cashman took complete command as the top-down boss of the organization, they’re clutching to them in a death-grip as if any admission that they might’ve been wrong is a sign of weakness that would lead to anarchy and revolution.

What would disturb me is if Cashman doesn’t regret making this trade; if he believes that the Yankees method of development that has all but destroyed Joba Chamberlain, has Hughes on the verge of a demotion to the bullpen or minors, and led them to trade away Ian Kennedy were the right things to do.

If Cashman is under the impression that Pineda’s injury was a result of the Mariners using a different strategy of nurturing their pitchers than the Yankees, then the problem isn’t a simple mistaken projection, but a foundational blind spot and inexplicable egomania.

Pettitte didn’t graduate to the majors under any limits and he’s the last starting pitcher the Yankees have signed, built and utilized on their own over the long term.

Looking at his minor league numbers, he was allowed to pitch as a youngster. He accumulated innings, durability and resilience. He learned how to get in and out of trouble without a random number or overactive management to bail him out. He got to the majors in 1995, was a large factor in the Yankees’ playoff berth and threw 175 innings. He wasn’t abused, but he wasn’t babied either.

In 1996 at the age of 24, Pettitte logged 240 innings and won 21 games. Apart from some expected injuries, on an annual basis, he could be counted on for 200+ innings not counting playoffs. He never had Tommy John surgery nor did he have major shoulder surgery.

Now they’re counting on Pettitte to replace the lost Pineda.

Are the Yankees rationally examining these studies they constantly refer to in keeping their pitchers healthy? Or are they blindly sticking to what’s not working just because?

Do Ivan Nova and Chien-Ming Wang prove the righteousness of the Yankees’ methods?

No.

If you mention Nova as a pitcher the Yankees developed and who’s doing well, you need to check the backstory. Nova was not a prospect. They thought so little of him that they left him unprotected in the 2008 Rule 5 draft. He was selected by the Padres and returned to the Yankees.

Nova wasn’t babied because they didn’t think much of him and weren’t overly concerned about the perception from the masses if he got hurt. Now he’s a ruthless competitor who, in spite of their continued disregard for him with threats of demotion and non-existent expectations, is a lifesaver for them.

Wang wasn’t considered a prospect either, but out of necessity they recalled him in 2005 and he blossomed.

Are you seeing the trend?

Pitchers who are left alone become useful. Those who are stuffed in a cookie-cutter mold of paranoid “protective” services turn into Hughes and Chamberlain.

Is the Yankees position on pitching understandable?

It was.

Once.

If they have experts in the medical field versed in sports and biomechanics making recommendations; if they’re listening to experienced pitching coaches and baseball people; if they’re copying what clubs like the Red Sox have done to develop their young pitchers Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, then you can say it was worthwhile to try and build their own starters under the auspices of the innings/pitch counts.

But it hasn’t worked.

One would think that they’d stop and say they have to try something else; that they’d realize that the Rangers, Giants and Mariners have chosen a different and successful route with their pitchers; that perhaps greater flexibility and individual attention is in order.

Sometimes these pitchers are going to get hurt. They’re going to flame out.

But if the Yankees or any other team gets use from them, what’s the difference?

Which is better? Having the pitcher healthy and ineffective like Hughes or using him until he breaks down—as the Diamondbacks did with Brandon Webb—and getting a spurt of greatness that resulted in one Cy Young Award that could easily have been five?

Will this sink in?

If sports talk radio existed in the early 1960s to the degree it does now, we’d be hearing the same forceful pronouncements of a neverending empire; an inevitability of the Yankees’ dominance.

But the Yankees’ reign of terror ended in 1965 in part because they were oblivious to the decay from age, mismanagement and didn’t adapt to the new way in which baseball did business with a draft, divisions and Yankees’ “mystique” disappearing.

By the mid-late-1960s they were a laughingstock and other teams took joy in their humiliation after years of bullying, condescension and abuse.

You don’t think it could happen again?

It’s the circle of life. Dynasties fall and they’re aided and abetted by a blanketed stupidity that has fomented this nightmare of pitching miscalculations.

If they continue down this road, it’s going to get worse and judging by what’s being said and done, they’re not changing anything anytime soon.

They made their own mess and have taken no steps to clean it up.

It’s downhill from here.

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Pineda to the Bullpen Would be a Disaster

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What reasonable and successful organization would trade their top hitting prospect for a young pitcher of tremendous ability and then consider moving that young pitcher to the bullpen or even the minor leagues in the season after that young pitcher made the All-Star team?

The Yankees of course.

Because of his “lack” of velocity and their glut of starting pitching, Michael Pineda—the prize acquisition who cost them Jesus Montero from the Mariners—is in danger of losing his spot in the starting rotation. With the Yankees deciding which pitchers among the foursome of Phil Hughes, Pineda, Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia will be shifted elsewhere to accommodate Andy Pettitte’s return and the two starters whose jobs are safe, CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda, they’re again returning to the failed strategies that have derailed so many talented arms.

It’s insanity that could only happen with the Yankees.

Rapidly becoming the place where top pitching prospects go to see their careers die, the Yankees rigid rules, regulations and rampant paranoia have gone past a laughable state of ridiculousness and into the realm of George Steinbrenner-style lunacy.

Ask yourself a question: how many starting pitchers have the Yankees acquired or drafted who’ve been nurtured by and successful for the Yankees themselves?

Hughes?

He’s been mostly good and occasionally injured, but realistically had he been pitching for a team that has a history of homegrown pitchers becoming linchpins in their rotations like the Giants, Rangers, Angels or Rays, would he have come close to reaching his potential by now or would he still be on the bubble between rotation and bullpen; trading block and minors?

Nova?

The Yankees have constantly diminished Nova’s abilities and forever been on the precipice of getting rid of him. Much like the circumstances with Mariano Rivera in 1995 when Buck Showalter famously didn’t believe his eyes with the icy fearlessness that eventually made Rivera into baseball’s cold-blooded assassin, the Yankees have become so immersed in “stuff” and stats that they’re not seeing the determination in Nova that will make him a solid starter…somehwere. Yankees fans should hope it’s not in Scranton.

Who else?

Don’t mention Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina and David Wells; and don’t give them a hard time about Carl Pavano.

Pettitte was accorded the room to function and evolve without absurd rules and restraints; but since he arrived in 1995, how many young pitchers have become major contributors to the Yankees?

When trading a young impact bat like Montero, you’d better be sure of what you’re getting back. Pineda is talented and has a power fastball, but the Yankees have done everything possible to make him feel as if the ground beneath his feet is in danger of opening up and swallowing him before the season has started. If they were worried about him; his changeup; his makeup for New York, then why did they trade for him in the first place?

What’s the purpose of whispering about his velocity?

Why put him in the frame of mind where he’s pitching for his job when he’s going to have to adjust to the attention that comes from being 23 and living in the big city while wearing pinstripes?

The Yankees are the team about whom other teams whisper: “Let’s just wait until they get impatient.” Those other teams are watching and sniffing around Hughes, Nova and probably dropping out feelers for Pineda—already—because it’s been consistently proven that the Yankees don’t know how to follow through on creating their own young starting pitchers.

They talk a good game and stoke media buzz and fan expectations, then wonder why the pitchers are unable to live up to that hype.

Ian Kennedy was dispatched and won 20 games for the Diamondbacks; Ted Lilly became an underrated and feisty mid-rotation starter; Jose Contreras helped the White Sox win a World Series; Javier Vazquez could pitch successfully in every uniform apart from a Yankees uniform and they decided they’d bring him back after a nighmarish ending to his first tenure; Chien-Ming Wang was never considered a top prospect either and they treated him as such while he was winning 19 games in two straight seasons.

The template with their young pitching is a disaster and they’ve shown no signs of altering it in the face of the repeated practical failures. Those failures go on and on unabated.

One would think that an intelligent organization would stop, look at what the Giants did with Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner; the Dodgers with Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley; or the Rangers with Derek Holland and Matt Harrison and tweak—if not outright change—what they do.

But they don’t. They’re clinging to these edicts as if they were decreed from the pitching heavens by Cy Young himself and sermonized by Tom Verducci as the agenda-driven deliverer of the message in written form.

If they make the decision to send Pineda to the bullpen, it’s going to be a disaster; it will haunt him and the Yankees for the entire time he’s is a Yankee and grow exponentially worse if Montero hits.

And please, don’t mention Jose Campos—the 19-year-old wunderkind who no one knew before he was anointed as the “key” to the deal while he’s in A-ball. Judging from their work with the above-listed pitchers, what makes you think he’s going to be any good in a Yankees’ uniform if and when he arrives?

The new blueprint in destroying a young pitcher is underway in the Bronx. They’re not learning from the rickety foundation and decried architects; there’s no regulating agency to shut them down.

Making mistakes is one thing; continually repeating the same mistakes in a hard-headed fashion is absolute arrogance and stupidity.

This construct is going to collapse and they have no one to blame but themselves.

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2012 National League East Predicted Standings

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Wins Losses GB
1. Atlanta Braves 93 69
2. Philadelphia Phillies* 89 73 4
3. Washington Nationals* 88 74 5
4. Miami Marlins 83 79 10
5. New York Mets 69 93 24

*Denotes predicted Wild Card winner.

Atlanta Braves

There’s a misplaced belief that the team that made the most drastic and biggest moves in the off-season is automatically the “best” team.

Because the Braves did nothing to add to the roster that collapsed out of a playoff spot, they’re virtually ignored as a legit contender.

There was addition by subtraction by getting rid of Derek Lowe; they made significant improvements in-season by acquiring Michael Bourn. They’re going to be helped by the gained experience of young players Freddie Freeman, Jonny Venters, Craig Kimbrel and Mike Minor; the return to form from Martin Prado; a healthy “I wanna get paid” year from Brian McCann; a better start and more consistency from Dan Uggla; and, most importantly, a healthy and “he has to be better because he can’t be worse” year from Jason Heyward.

Philadelphia Phillies

Chase Utley is hoping to play in spring training games within this week. Obviously his knee tendinitis will forever be an issue, but a great player like Utley doesn’t need the 6 weeks of spring training to be ready. Inside baseball people would never admit this for financial reasons, but spring training is far too long as it is. Pitchers need maybe 3 ½ weeks to be ready to start the season; hitters far less.

The Phillies are old; there are injury questions hovering around Roy Halladay (as much as people think he’s a machine, he’s not a machine.); their lineup is pockmarked and questionable; but with their starting rotation and bullpen addition of Jonathan Papelbon, they’ve got enough left for at least one more run.

Washington Nationals

They’re the next hot thing for many reasons.

They have a load of top-tier draft picks ready to make the move into big league notoriety; they’ve accumulated starting pitching; they have a devastating back-end of the bullpen; a lineup that can mash; and a veteran manager who has a history of winning.

They’re going to look back on Chien-Ming Wang’s injury and that they couldn’t follow through on a rumored trade of the severely underrated John Lannan and breathe a sigh of relief; the concept of bringing Bryce Harper to the big leagues at 19 needs to be considered carefully and he should not play center field; Gio Gonzalez is not the guarantee the bounty of prospects and expensive, unnecessary contract he received would indicate; and Stephen Strasburg can’t be considered an “ace” as long as he’s on a pitch/innings limit that Davey Johnson would undoubtedly love to toss into a nearby garbage can.

But they’re very talented and a viable contender.

Miami Marlins

Never mind the ownership, the new ballpark and the investigations swirling around the way said ballpark was approved and paid for. Forget about the monstrosity that will be on display whenever a Marlins’ player hits a home run and is sure to cause seizures among a large segment of unsuspecting fans. (See below.)

Cold, clinical analysis will tell you that this team is either going to be a major success or a testament to rubbernecking to see how quickly the clubhouse, manager’s office and front office degenerates into organizational cannibalism, whisper campaigns and a media feeding frenzy.

This is a powder keg. I don’t like powder kegs.

Ozzie Guillen’s teams with the White Sox consistently underachieved; Jose Reyes’s health is a question; Hanley Ramirez did not want to move to third base and is going to eventually pout about his contract; their defense is awful.

With a good pitching staff and all these questions, they could be good. With all the other issues, they could explode. Fast.

New York Mets

Yes. I’m a Mets fan.

Question my analysis, but don’t question my integrity.

Here are the facts: they’re in an impossible division; they’re short on starting pitching; they didn’t improve the club in the winter; the franchise is engulfed by the lawsuit against the Wilpons stemming from the Bernie Madoff mess; and they’re rebuilding.

They’re not good and they’re starting over with young players.

We won’t know much about the future of the Sandy Alderson-led baseball operations or what they’re going to do with players like David Wright until the trial is completed. They might be sold; the Wilpons might maintain ownership; the team might be slightly better than most projections depending on multiple factors.

It is what it is.

Accept it.

Click here for a full sample of Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide (this link is of the Blue Jays) of team predictions/projections. My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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The Nationals Need a Pitcher More Than a (Prince) Fielder

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Any team can use a bat that will hit 30-40 homers and get on base 40% of the time, but when that bat is attached to a body of jiggly flesh that’s going to grow larger and more jiggly as time passes; when the team doesn’t have the DH available to stash said player to account for his defensive deficiencies that are going to grow worse as he grows older (and larger); when the player is represented by an agent whose demands are starting at 10-years; and when the team has holes on the mound bigger than in their lineup, it makes little sense to spend the vast amount of money it’s going to cost to sign that player.

The Nationals have the money to sign Prince Fielder; they can certainly use his power; their ownership is very wealthy; and the team is on the cusp of legitimate contention, if not already there. But do they need him?

Their offense finished 12th in the National League in runs scored, but that’s misleading. Jayson Werth was awful in 2011 and will absolutely be better in 2012—in fact, I think he’ll have a very good year. Ryan Zimmerman missed a chunk of the season with an abdominal injury. They’re replacing offensive hindrances with occasional power, Rick Ankiel and Laynce Nix, in the regular lineup.

If Adam LaRoche returns and hits his 20 homers, they’ll score enough to win if their pitching performs; the rotation as currently constructed is good enough to loiter around contention; the bullpen is shutdown with Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen shortening the game. But they need another starting pitcher who can be trusted to take the ball every fifth day and give them a designated number of innings. Mark Buehrle would’ve been perfect, but he signed with the Marlins.

The Nationals will eventually start to win as a matter of circumstance even as the front office does baffling things like trading a package for Gio Gonzalez that would’ve been suitable for a far better pitcher like Matt Garza; signing a good background player like Werth to a contract befitting a star; or seriously considering meeting agent Scott Boras’s* demands for Fielder.

*Do people realize that Boras was a minor league player before becoming an agent of evil? Click on his name above; he was actually a good hitter.

As much as the Nationals are playing up their starting rotation with the addition of Gonzalez, they don’t have a horse at the front. Stephen Strasburg is an ace talent, but your number one starter cannot be on an innings/pitch count—he’s not going to give them 200 innings next season. John Lannan is a good pitcher, but he’s not an every fifth day, “put the team on his back” guy either. No one can predict what Chien-Ming Wang is going to do. Jordan Zimmerman is in the same position as Strasburg.

The Nationals have talked about moving Werth to center field until next winter when B.J. Upton—in whom they’ve long had interest—will be available; Werth can play center field serviceably enough, but the smart thing for them to do would be to steer clear of Fielder; sign a pitcher who will give them 200 innings like Edwin Jackson; sign Cody Ross as a left field stopgap; and install Michael Morse in right.

Also, Bryce Harper is going to get a legitimate shot to make the team out of spring training. The Nats have to be careful with Harper and manager Davey Johnson must learn from the mistakes he made with a similarly hyped prospect and immature personality, Gregg Jefferies. Johnson coddled Jefferies and enabled the diva-like behaviors exhibited by the then 19-year-old; when he stopped hitting and his self-centeredness drew the ire of the Mets veterans, Johnson continued writing his name in the lineup creating a fissure between himself and the players with whom he’d cultivated a relationship from their formative years.

He cannot do that again.

If Harper is in the big leagues and Werth or Zimmerman feel the need to dispense old-school clubhouse discipline on the mouthy youngster, Johnson has to stay out of it; and if Harper isn’t hitting, he shouldn’t play simply because his name is Bryce Harper.

The one free agent bat at a key position they could’ve used was Jose Reyes; like Buehrle, he signed with the Marlins. Now the big offensive name remaining on the market is Fielder. But having a lineup inhabited by two players who are going to be contractually locked in for the next eight years limits flexibility and will result in diminishing returns quickly. If the Nationals have a budget, it will hamstring them financially as well.

They don’t need Fielder.

Signing him would be spending just for the sake of it and not help them achieve their goals any faster than they are now.

They’d be allowing Boras to play them just as they did last winter with Werth and it’s a mistake.

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Stereotypical Stupidity and Yu Darvish

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If teams shied away from making a posting bid on Yu Darvish because they didn’t want to spend the money on the fee and then to sign him to a contract, then okay.

If they weren’t impressed with his abilities, fine.

If they were legitimately concerned that he wouldn’t transition well, fair enough.

If they examined the past successes and failures of big name pitchers who came over from Japan—Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideki Irabu and even Kei Igawa—and decided the risk wasn’t worth the reward, I won’t quibble.

But if teams came up with the simplistic argument that because Darvish is coming over from Japan and the aforementioned pitchers were disappointing that he wasn’t worth a serious look, it’s a ridiculous and illogical case doomed to haunt those who, like me, believe strongly in Darvish’s potential.

Would any GM or scout in his right mind look at a pitcher from Ohio and say he wasn’t interested in him because of the failure of a pitcher from Florida if there were no similarities between them other than they were from the United States?

No. It would be seen as ludicrous and they wouldn’t be in their jobs for very long.

But that’s exactly the argument given when the Yankees–for example—are said to have been stung by Irabu and Igawa and weren’t going to go crazy for Darvish because of those pitchers.

Irabu was a pet project of George Steinbrenner who forced his way to the Yankees; he was hyped incessantly and the expectations were so stifling that no one could’ve lived up to them; Irabu had talent, but he needed to be allowed to grow accustomed to the big leagues without pressure from the media and ownership if he wasn’t spectacular immediately.

Igawa was a response by the Yankees to the Red Sox getting Matsuzaka. I’m convinced that they heard his name, maybe—maybe—looked at his stats and some tape and signed him without knowing what they were getting.

I’d hate the think the Yankees were employing talent evaluators who saw Igawa and decided to invest $46 million in him.

Yu Darvish is not Matsuzaka; he’s not Irabu; he’s not Igawa.

It’s the same thing as saying that because Francisco Cervelli and Wilson Ramos were both born in Valencia Carabobo, Venezuela that they’re the same talent and shouldn’t be viewed as anything other than that.

It’s idiotic.

Why compare Darvish to the pitchers that came over and failed? Why not compare him to Hiroki Kuroda? To Takashi Saito? To other Far Eastern players Chien-Ming Wang and Chan Ho Park? Pitchers who’ve done well?

His pitching has nothing in common with them either, but at least they were good.

Staying away from Darvish makes sense if that’s what scouts and financial freedom say is the smart thing to do, but to dismiss him because of his Japanese League pedigree is stereotypical stupidity at its lowest.

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Strasburg’s 2012 Innings Limit

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I’m not sure how a team that has designs on contention can regulate the innings of the pitcher upon whom the hopes of the franchise are resting, but that’s what the Nationals intend to do with Stephen Strasburg in 2012.

In this ESPN Story, GM Mike Rizzo doesn’t give an exact number for Strasburg, but you can presume it’s somewhere in the 160-175 range.

That number of innings are fine…for your fourth starter; but what are the Nats going to do for the top three slots in their rotation?

They’re said to be ready to spend some money and be aggressive; the name C.J. Wilson has been mentioned; it’s doubtful they’ll want to ante up the cash to get CC Sabathia if (when) he opts out of his Yankees contract, but it was the Nats who gave Jayson Werth $126 million, so you can never say never.

Jordan Zimmerman isn’t going to be ready to give them 200 innings; John Lannan can and is a nice pitcher, but is certainly not an ace. Can they expect 200 innings from Chien-Ming Wang? Doubtful.

What you’ll have, again, is a team that relies heavily on its bullpen; so heavily that the bullpen might be exhausted as it’s been over the past few years with the reliever-abusive Jim Riggleman running the club; Davey Johnson is more judicious in his handling of pitchers, but if Johnson comes back, I’m curious to see how he handles the Strasburg innings-limit situation.

When he was the Mets manager and Dwight Gooden was a 20-year-old phenom and ace and was in the middle of a historic 1985 season, the club was in a desperate run to make the playoffs; GM Frank Cashen went to Johnson and told him basically, “the kid’s going to pitch nearly 300 innings this year and it’s too much; do something”. Johnson, who never met a GM he couldn’t annoy with his sarcasm and ginormous ego responded by basically saying, “what do you want me to do?” and following up with, “how about you give me a computer printout of how many innings and pitches he’ll be allowed to throw; then by the time he reaches the limit, I can go out to the mound holding the printout, show it to him and pull him?”

Johnson’s mellowed since then and he’s more agreeable to the limits predicated on young pitchers by the front office. Gooden’s situation was 25 years ago. But Johnson still thinks he’s smarter than everyone else and many times, he’s right.

So Strasburg will be limited in what he’s allowed to do next season; but I’m curious if the Nats are in contention in September and Johnson’s managing the team, will he toss those limits out the window to try and win? Or will those parameters be ironclad and adhered to at the expense of a possible playoff spot?

It’s then that we’ll see if Johnson still has his insubordinate managerial fastball and ignores the front office trying to win.

It wouldn’t be the first time. But it might be the last.

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Santana May Come Back As A “Crafty” Lefty

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When a pitcher has been a gunslinger—even a thoughtful, strategic gunslinger—it’s not an easy transition to go from “I’ll outthink you. And if that doesn’t work, I’ll blow you away,” to a more cautious approach without that backup weapon of pure power. But that’s where the Mets are with Johan Santana.

Yesterday Santana continued his rehabilitation from shoulder surgery with a “gush-worthy” bullpen session. He’s scheduled to have a minor league start on Friday and the Mets are hoping for a token appearance in the big leagues before the season’s over.

I saw the clips of the session; his arm angle looked to be higher than it had been in his entire time with the Mets—back to where it was with the Twins. It remains to be seen whether that’s a short-term, occasional thing like we saw with Pedro Martinez in his first season with the Mets or is contingent on how he’s feeling that day.

The optimism is fine; the results—so far—are encouraging. Santana has been guarded in his comments and diligent in his work habits and recovery; he’s not trying to be a hero and come back before he’s absolutely ready.

These are positive developments.

But if people are anticipating the Johan Santana from the Cy Young Award years with the Twins or even the Santana from his first season with the Mets, they’re asking to be disappointed.

Apart from the occasional flash you see from a once-great athlete, be it a baseball player; tennis player; or boxer, that Santana will never be seen again on a start-in, start-out basis.

Anyone who’s known greatness can recover that at one point or another—briefly—but it’s not going to return with the consistency that once was there.

It’s far more likely that Santana returns as a pitcher who uses control and changing speeds to keep the hitters off balance—can dial it up 3-5 times a game when he’s in trouble—and records his outs through guile and execution of a plan. His slider has barely been seen in his time with the Mets and it was a key to his dominance with the Twins; his fastball lost a few critical inches as well. Don’t expect that to suddenly reappear on a regular basis.

He’s not going to be Jamie Moyer, Tom Glavine, Randy Jones or Frank Tanana—cunnythumber lefties—nor is he going to be Johan Santana circa-2004.

As a pitcher with a change-up/fastball repertoire, Santana has an advantage over other pitchers who’ve had a similar shoulder procedure and whose comebacks were slow and arduous and are only now beginning to bear fruit (Chien-Ming Wang) or have essentially stopped with their careers likely over (Brandon Webb).

Santana’s recovery is “on the right track” as the linked column says, but don’t believe that the Mets enthusiasm over Santana’s work is going to result in the devastating force that left lineups in ruins on a regular basis.

It doesn’t mean he can’t win; it doesn’t mean he won’t log innings and be a cog in the machine of a successful team. But he won’t be what he was. That pitcher is gone. Forever.

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Ivan Nova’s Wang Underappreciation Complex

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When Alex Rodriguez comes back, if the Yankees send Ivan Nova back to the minors in lieu of releasing Jorge Posada or to give themselves a couple of weeks to soften the blow of dumping Posada, it’s asinine. Pull the Band-Aid off.

Regarding Nova, I wouldn’t go as far as saying such inanities as “Nova’s the number 2 starter”; with the current configuration, I’d trust Bartolo Colon in a game 2 playoff start before a rookie, but Nova’s been above-and-beyond what could reasonably have been expected and is the unlucky one in that he still has minor league options remaining; if you examine his performance, he’s one the last starters that should be removed from the rotation, options or no options.

Much like Chien-Ming Wang, I wonder if there are ancillary factors in the lack of belief in Nova; that they’re not buying his success as a more than function of pitching for a very good team. In fairness to this concept, his production is around league average across the board.

But it’s not as simple as throwing his glove out there while wearing pinstripes and accumulating wins. If it was, there wouldn’t have been the disastrous tenures of Carl Pavano and Javier Vazquez, among others.

When Nova first got to the big leagues last season, he was a stopgap more than a prospect. In his first big league start, he showed that he wasn’t going to be intimidated by anything when he threw a pitch near the head of Blue Jays’ slugger Jose Bautista and stood his ground as Bautista barked at him.

Right there it should’ve been known that he was something different.

Wang wasn’t much of a prospect either. The Yankees treated him as if he was the type of pitcher they could find somewhere. They never went into any meaningful negotiations for a free agency/arbitration precluding contract extension despite his success; he was never truly appreciated for what he was.

Could it have been pure cold-blooded analytics? Concerns about his shoulder and mechanics? Or was it that he wasn’t a “chosen one” in whom they had deep investment—both financially and perceptively—that they wanted to succeed more than the others?

A higher draft pick and vaunted prospect or an expensive free agent simply looks better when he does well as opposed to someone allowed to be selected in the Rule 5 draft (Nova was taken by the Padres in 2008 and returned) or is always on the big league/Triple-A bubble out of convenience.

Wang’s fall doesn’t justify that treatment because his initial injury woes began with his ankle and morphed into the torn shoulder capsule from which he’s still trying to recover.

There are times to look at aspects other than numbers, scouting expectations and “should/shouldn’t bes” and accept what’s there; what’s happening before the eyes.

Nova should stay in the big leagues and in the Yankees rotation because he’s earned it. Everything else is secondary.

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