The Dodgers and Keeping Mattingly

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The Dodgers have yet to make it official, but reports state that the club is planning to bring Don Mattingly back as manager in 2014. In what would normally be an automatic move for a manager whose team won the division and a playoff series, it was in doubt as to whether Mattingly was going to return due to strategies that even have some players complaining about them. If the team goes on to win the World Series, obviously they won’t make a change. If they make it to the World Series, it’s exceedingly difficult to fire the manager no matter how poor an on-field job he’s perceived to have done. But if they lose this NLCS (they’re currently trailing 3 games to 2), are they right to look at their payroll, roster and expectations and say another manager would be a better option?

In sports, it’s not unprecedented for a manager to be fired even after he had what could only be described as a “successful” season or run. Winning a championship doesn’t necessarily imply managerial excellence. Bob Brenly won a World Series with the Diamondbacks, won 98 games and a division title the next season and hasn’t gotten close to getting another managerial job since because he’s not viewed as a good manager. Cito Gaston won two World Series with the Blue Jays, was fired four years later and didn’t get another managing job until the Blue Jays rehired him.

Dodgers part owner Magic Johnson is no stranger to coaching controversies and getting the boss fired if he didn’t agree with his philosophy. In the 1979-1980 NBA season, Paul Westhead won an NBA championship for the Lakers with the rookie Johnson leading the way. They won 54 games in 1980-81 and lost in the first round of the playoffs. In 1981-82, the team was 7-4 when Johnson – unhappy with the strategies employed by Westhead – helped usher him out the door to be replaced by Pat Riley. The Lakers won another title that year. If the players are complaining, the one person in the Dodgers organization who’ll be receptive is Johnson.

As for GM Ned Colletti and CEO Stan Kasten, they’re experienced baseball men who are well aware of Mattingly’s pluses and minuses. If they equate his ability to keep the players playing hard for him and that the ship didn’t sink while the team was struggling early in the summer as more important than negligible strategic choices, then they should keep Mattingly. If they want someone with a better strategic resume, a more iron-fisted disciplinarian style to rein in Yasiel Puig and who will command respect in the clubhouse, perhaps they should consider bringing back the manager who should never have been fired from the Dodgers in the first place, Jim Tracy. Or they could hire Tony LaRussa, Lou Piniella, Dusty Baker or anyone who has more experience than Mattingly does and they’ll know what they’re getting with the star power the Dodgers want.

While hockey is run far differently than any other sport with coaches often fired almost immediately after the season starts as happened with the Flyers and Peter Laviolette last week, there might be a lesson the Dodgers can take from Devils boss Lou Lamoriello.

Lamoriello is entrenched in his job and built the Devils up from nothing to become one of the dominant teams in hockey for a vast portion of his tenure. While accumulating three Stanley Cups and two other finals appearances, he’s hired, fired and rehired coaches 19 times, twice taking the job himself. He has fired coaches right before the playoffs have started and fired coaches who won Stanley Cups for him. If he believes a change is needed, he makes that change. He doesn’t give a reason because he doesn’t feel as if he needs to give a reason and it’s not due to a bloated ego and public persona as has been seen in baseball with the managerial changes made by Athletics GM Billy Beane.

Beane’s managerial changes were based on him and the image that was cultivated through the creative non-fiction of Moneyball that: A) the manager doesn’t matter; and B) he’s an all-knowing, unassailable genius for whom every move is a testament to ingenuity.

He pushed Art Howe out the door in favor of Ken Macha. Macha got the Athletics further than any of Beane’s other managers with an ALCS appearance in 2006 and Beane fired him too. He hired his “best friend” Bob Geren and kept him on through years and years of win totals in the mid-70s, then only fired him because of the attention that his job status was receiving – not because he’d done a poor job. He hired a highly qualified manager who knows how to run his club on and off the field in Bob Melvin and, lo and behold, Beane’s genius returned with back-to-back division titles. Melvin has lost in the first round in those two division-winning seasons and hasn’t been fired. Yet.

There’s a difference. Lamoriello hires and fires for a team reason. Beane did it to shield himself. Lamoriello gets away with it because of the hardware. Beane gets away with it because of a book.

So what’s it to be with the Dodgers? Will Colletti’s loyalty, Kasten’s slow trigger or Magic’s understanding of player concerns win out? They could exercise Mattingly’s contract for 2014 with the intention of making a change if they team gets off to another slow start. Or they could just fire him and bring in a new manager.

Worrying about how it’s going to “look” is a mistake. If they don’t trust Mattingly as manager, then he shouldn’t be the manager. If they’re willing to accept his strategic fumblings because the players overcame adversity, then they should keep him. The best interests of the club are more important and need to take precedence. Make the commitment to Mattingly with all his baggage or make him disappear. It’s one or the other.

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Blue Jays Make a Surprising and Solid Choice in Gibbons

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In a surprise move, John Gibbons has been hired as the the new manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. By some, this will be seen as the questionable decision to rehire a retread that had limited success and several public controversies as Blue Jays manager from 2004-2008, but Gibbons is more than qualified for the job and the issues he had in his first go-round were circumstantial.

Here’s why.

He knows what he’s doing strategically

The Blue Jays in those years lived up to their talent level in the standings. Trapped in the AL East with the Yankees and Red Sox at the height of their powers, there was little more that Gibbons could have done. In fact, he brought them home with an 87-75 record in 2006 and in second place in the AL East ahead of the Red Sox.

There’s a stark difference between Gibbons and the former Blue Jays and now Red Sox manager John Farrell—experience running a game and the confidence of knowing what he’s doing. Gibbons has it, Farrell doesn’t.

Few are addressing that elemental problem that Farrell had: he’d never managed before. The Red Sox and their fans aren’t going to like to hear it, but the reality of Farrell with the Blue Jays was that he was clueless how to run a lineup and the woeful fundamentals exhibited by his club emanated from him. If the players don’t think their manager does the job correctly, that manager is doomed. Such is not the case with Gibbons.

Gibbons has managed in the big leagues and is a longtime, successful minor league manager. He developed young players and the veterans know what to expect from him. As a player, he was a catcher giving him experience with pitchers. Strategically, he made the right calls and divided up the innings for his pitchers evenly without abusing them.

Two clubs are inextricably entwined in their choice of manager. The Red Sox took the Blue Jays former manager Farrell and traded Mike Aviles to get him even though it looked as if the Blue Jays were going to fire him if the Red Sox hadn’t come calling. Both clubs reached into their pasts with the Red Sox seen as making a great hire in Farrell and the Gibbons hire likely to be viewed quizzically with only his initial tenure as the reason. Overall, the Blue Jays looked at Gibbons’s work as more than his record; the Red Sox looked at Farrell as a link to the glory years when he was pitching coach. It was the Blue Jays that made the smarter maneuver.

Gibbons’s history is blown out of proportion

What people remember—and will repeatedly mention—are Gibbons’s confrontations with Shea Hillenbrand and Ted Lilly.

Hillenbrand was unhappy with the Blue Jays organization and his diminished playing time and wrote on the clubhouse whiteboard, “This is a sinking ship, play for yourself.” In a clubhouse meeting, Gibbons demanded to know who wrote the message. Hillenbrand raised his hand and Gibbons challenged him to a fight. The entire team and organization stood behind Gibbons. Hillenbrand was designated for assignment and traded. It wasn’t a first time offense for Hillenbrand who had problems with other authority figures with other clubs including Red Sox GM Theo Epstein.

The Lilly incident stemmed from Gibbons removing the pitcher from a game and Lilly arguing with Gibbons on the mound. After the pitcher was taken out, Gibbons followed Lilly down the runway to the clubhouse and a brief fight ensued with Gibbons, surprisingly, getting the worst of it. Here’s a dirty little secret: this type of thing happens between managers and players all the time over the course of a season. The mistake Gibbons made was doing it so all could see; so the media could get wind of it; so it was a story. Lilly was totally wrong for arguing with his manager on the mound and, if anything, it was a “don’t screw with me,” message from Gibbons.

What made these occurrences seem worse was that they happened in such a narrow timeframe leading to an appearance of disarray that wasn’t actually there. These are blips. Gibbons doesn’t take crap and has experience in the job—that’s what the Blue Jays needed after the disaster with Farrell.

The hovering specter of Moneyball is gone

In the days following Moneyball when the book was considered the new “Bible” of how to run a club, teams that followed the philosophy were saddled with its rules. One in particular was that the manager had to be a nameless and easily replaceable functionary who would be paid minimally and implement the ideas of the front office.

In subsequent years, even Billy Beane has backed away from that. At the time Gibbons was hired, his close friend and former minor league teammate with the Mets, J.P. Ricciardi, was the Blue Jays GM and was a solid backer of the Moneyball strategy. In fact, somewhat admirably, of all the Moneyball GMs from Beane to Paul DePodesta to Ricciardi and everyone in between, it was Ricciardi who adhered most closely to the template described in the book.

That said, the way the manager was pigeonholed didn’t do Gibbons any favors with his players. Every team has around 15 players who’ll play hard and do what they’re told regardless of who the manager is; there will be 5 players who might give them some grief every once in a while, but mean well; and another 5 who have to be knocked into line with macho, testosterone-fueled strong arm tactics. Gibbons knocked his players into line, but that shadow constantly cast a pall over the good work he did.

When Gibbons was fired in 2008, it wasn’t done because he had to go. Ricciardi was under fire and there was a groundswell to bring Cito Gaston back due to a strong and positive memory the fans had from Gaston managing back-to-back World Series winners. The GM understandably made the change to save himself.

Now with a GM who worked in the prior regime, Alex Anthopoulos, running the show, there’s no longer a “middle-manager” aspect to the job. Teams are hiring managers and letting them manage. In truth, the autonomy is probably about the same as it was for Gibbons the first time, but the perception is different and there won’t be the open invitation to try and walk all over him making it necessary for him to do what he did with Hillenbrand and Lilly the first time around to maintain order. Sometimes that has to happen, but it won’t be from a wide open gate provided by the front office.

The resume

The Blue Jays looked at Farrell’s resume and made the hire thinking his Red Sox days and vast experience in numerous baseball capacities would yield strong results. They didn’t and two years later, it was proven to be a mistake. Gibbons’s resume isn’t as sexy; he has his black spots; he doesn’t have Farrell’s jutting jaw, intimidating size, straight out of central casting “manager” countenance, and well-spoken manner to charm the media and bosses, but Gibbons is a better choice and with this collection of talent, he will win. The same would not be said for Farrell because there was always that looming in-game ineptitude. With Gibbons, strategy isn’t an issue. The team will play the game properly and with fundamental soundness. The Blue Jays now have a better team and a better manager to go with it.


The Blue Jays: New Management, Talented Players, Same Mediocre Results

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The Blue Jays have to start winning some games.

Going back to the J.P. Ricciardi years, they’ve been on the verge of something special only to have circumstances on and off the field sabotage them. During that time they were unfortunate enough to be trapped in a division with the Yankees and Red Sox when those clubs were at the height of their rivalry and powers. Then from 2008 onward, they not only had the Yankees and Red Sox to deal with, but the young and hungry Rays rose to prominence as well.

The Ricciardi Blue Jays teams are seen as a retrospective failure in the context of Moneyball because Ricciardi was widely quoted in the book and was the one GM who closely approximated the strategies therein. They also spent money to try and win and didn’t.

Objectively those Blue Jays teams—especially the 2003, 2006 and 2008 squads—would’ve made the playoffs had they been housed in a less imposing division. Sometimes it breaks that way.

Ricciardi was perceived negatively because of Moneyball blowback; due to his un-GM-like proclivity for speaking his mind rather than in the circles favored by the new age GMs; and that he had public dustups (most of his own doing) with media members, players and coaches on his team and others. He made mistakes; he wasn’t a bad GM.

When Ricciardi was fired after the 2009 season, his replacement Alex Anthopoulos immediately made his presence felt with aggressiveness; a less polarizing personality; and fearlessness. He knew the numbers and was also willing to take chances on talented players who might not light up a rotisserie league team, but could contribute to his club in other ways.

The first year of a new regime is generally a freebie but in 2010 as they moved past the days of Ricciardi and the traded Roy Halladay, they rode Jose Bautista’s shocking rise to 54 homers, a power-laden and homer-hungry lineup and a pretty good starting rotation to an 85-77 finish.

Anthopoulos began to put his stamp on the club following 2010 as he hired his own manager, John Farrell, to replace Cito Gaston. He traded for Brett Lawrie; amazingly found a taker for Vernon Wells’s contract while only paying $5 million to cover a portion of it; and signed Bautista to a contract extension.

The 2011 Blue Jays ended at .500. They were a team to watch for 2012.

The original idea was to watch them as they rose in the standings. Instead we’re watching them and wondering why they’re still at .500.

It’s June 14th and they’re sitting at 31-32, tied for last place in the AL East with the Red Sox.

Injuries have robbed them of closer Sergio Santos and starter Brandon Morrow. Kyle Drabek left his start on Wednesday with a popping sensation in his elbow. Adam Lind didn’t hit and was dispatched to the minors, unlikely to return. Colby Rasmus is playing identically to the player who was the rope in a tug-of-war between his former manager with the Cardinals Tony LaRussa and his dad Tony Rasmus. Manager Farrell allows his players to run the bases with abandon and steal bases at odd times.

Are these excuses or are they reasons?

The American League East has five teams that are either over .500 or within one game of .500. But earlier this season, the division was wide open with the Yankees pitching failing them and Mariano Rivera out for the season. The Red Sox were playing terribly and infighting. The Rays lost Evan Longoria for an extended period.

And the Blue Jays didn’t take advantage.


What should be most galling to the Blue Jays and their fans is that it was the Orioles—that perpetual doormat—that jumped to the top of the division with a stunning run of solid fundamental play and led by a far superior strategic manager to Farrell, the experienced Buck Showalter.

At what point does the Blue Jays’ building and rebuilding end and do expectations and demands replace the mantra of “patience”?

There was enough talent on the Blue Jays during the Ricciardi years that they could’ve made the playoffs 2-3 times with a little better luck and a less difficult division. Now they have as much if not more talent in a weaker division and they remain trapped in the vacancy of mediocrity.

When does it stop?

Eventually the Blue Jays have to get past the “we’re building” excuse and start winning some games; to become a legitimate contender when there’s an extra playoff spot to be won and they have the talent and the opening to win it.

Yet here they are at .500 and looking for that missing piece to put them over the top.

Over the top of what is unknown. Is it over the top of the “mountain” of .500? Or is it over the top of their divisional rivals to make some noise in the regular season as something other than a cool pick for the prognosticators who’ll repeat the process from November to February and fall back to what they are?

I don’t know.

And nor do they.


MLB GM/Manager Merry Go ‘Round

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Let’s have a look at the GMs and managers who might be looking for work after the season ends and who might replace them.

First things first, Brian Cashman is not leaving the Yankees; Theo Epstein is not leaving the Red Sox. So forget it.

Baltimore Orioles

Andy MacPhail won’t be back as GM and Buck Showalter has pretty much taken control of the whole operation. Clearly things aren’t going to go as swimmingly as they were when Showalter took over a year ago and the Orioles went 34-23 and then got off to a 6-1 start this season.

Everyone started going crazy based on Buck and Buck alone; apparently they didn’t look at the Orioles’ roster and the division beforehand.

The Orioles are a long-term rebuilding project, especially in the pitching department.

They have to find a GM who’s agreeable to Showalter without said GM appearing to be a puppet for the manager.

John Hart has been mentioned. He hired Showalter with the Rangers and is a veteran baseball man who’ll stand his ground in a disagreement. He’d be a good choice.

Chicago White Sox

There’s speculation that both GM Kenny Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen could both be gone.

Williams isn’t going anywhere.

Guillen’s going to the Marlins.

I discussed this earlier and don’t think it’s a guarantee that Guillen bench coach Joey Cora takes over as the new manager. Cito Gaston and Tony Pena are two possibilities.

Los Angeles Angels

Tony Reagins was said to be in trouble after the disastrous Vernon Wells trade, but how can you fire a man whose team might win the division and, at the very least, will win around 90 games?

You can’t.

Oakland Athletics

I’m saying it now: Billy Beane is going to the Cubs (if they want him); David Forst will take over as A’s GM.

Here’s what’s going to happen: the A’s are going to have a good year in 2012; the Cubs are going to have a good year in 2012; all of a sudden, Billy will be a “genius” again after the fallout of the ridiculousness of Moneyball the film and Moneyball the book.

I’ll be a major facilitator of said fallout.

I can hear it now and almost go on a tangent before it even happens: “It turns out that Billy was a genius!!”

Um…no. He wasn’t. And isn’t.

Seattle Mariners

Jack Zduriencik signed what was referred to as a “multi-year extension”. I suppose a 2-year extension counts as “multi-year”, but it’s not brimming with confidence.

The extension is through 2013 and if the Mariners have a bad year in 2012, he’s going to get fired.

Just out of curiosity, for what purpose are the Mariners writing Willy Mo Pena‘s name in the lineup? They don’t have anyone else to look at instead of the journeyman Pena?

Florida Marlins

Ozzie Guillen is going to be the next manager of the Marlins…unless he gets into an immediate argument with team president David Samson at the introductory press conference. A legitimate possibility.

Buster Olney tweeted that owner Jeffrey Loria and Samson are going to take a more active role in player procurement this winter. Sounds like Jerry Jones with the Cowboys. Which is to say it doesn’t sound good.

St. Louis Cardinals

Tony LaRussa has a 2012 mutual option with the Cardinals. The White Sox would be a place for LaRussa to finish his career in a full circle move to go back where he started; if Albert Pujols leaves the Cardinals, it’s hard to imagine LaRussa wanting to deal with the Cardinals without Pujols, but I think Pujols stays and so does LaRussa.

Chicago Cubs

Beane’s going to the Cubs; given how little he thinks of his managers, it wouldn’t do any harm (in his eyes) for him to hire Ryne Sandberg to manage the team and it would automatically get him in the good graces of Cubs fans.

Houston Astros

The ownership change from Drayton McLane to Jim Crane is going slowly; either way, I believe both GM Ed Wade and manager Brad Mills are going to get fired as soon as it’s done.

Who knows who Crane’s going to bring in as GM? But re-hiring former Astros GM and now Rays executive Gerry Hunsicker is a good plan if Rays GM Andrew Friedman turns them down. If they hire Friedman or Hunsicker, Rays bench coach Dave Martinez is a managerial prospect.

Los Angeles Dodgers

The McCourt ownership situation is what it is. There was talk that Ned Colletti might be a choice for the Cubs, but I doubt he’s leaving the Dodgers; if he does, Kim Ng would be perfect.

Don Mattingly not only deserves to keep his job, he deserves some Manager of the Year votes for keeping the team playing hard and respectably.


White Sox Must Resolve Guillen Situation Quickly

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The long-anticipated and heavily speculated divorce between manager Ozzie Guillen and the White Sox may finally be at hand.

Guillen said last week that he wants a contract extension if he’s going to fulfill the final year of his current deal in 2012. It’s known that the Marlins have interest in Guillen being their new manager as they enter a new life as the Miami Marlins and a new venue as they begin play in their retractable roof, state-of-the-art, baseball-only stadium. The White Sox have stagnated and underperformed in the past three seasons under Guillen’s fiery, blunt, over-the-top leadership.

The White Sox need someone who’s less of a loose cannon; the Marlins need someone who is a bit of a loose cannon and has the cachet and fearlessness to get into the faces of the self-involved rookies like Logan Morrison and diva-veterans like Hanley Ramirez; and Guillen’s worn out his welcome with the White Sox and his GM Kenny Williams.

This has to be done quickly to avoid any legal entanglements and rampant rumor-mongering of what both clubs are going to do. I’m talking about everything happening within days after the season ends.

If I were the White Sox, I’d contact the Marlins to see if they’re still interested in Guillen—and they surely are; I’d go to Guillen and tell him it’s time to part ways; I’d let Guillen’s representatives lay the groundwork for a deal with the Marlins; I’d ask for Chris Coghlan from the Marlins as compensation for Guillen being let out of his contract and move forward.

The White Sox have been expected to win for the past three years and each year have played inconsistently at best.

The Marlins have a load of young talent that needs a good swift kick and a marketable manager to sell to the fans.

Coghlan has collapsed amid the pressures of being Rookie of the Year in 2009 with injuries, position changes and demotions—he needs to start somewhere new.

White Sox GM Williams thinks outside the box when it comes to everything he does; he neither accounts for nor cares about the reaction he gets when he makes a decision; it’s with this in mind that I say the obvious heir apparent to Guillen—coach Joey Cora—might not be the new White Sox manager. Williams almost hired Cito Gaston when he hired Guillen and Yankees bench coach Tony Pena would be a calm presence to counteract the lunacy that was inherent under Guillen.

Either man might be exactly what the White Sox—and Williams—need.

This has to be dealt with and it should be done sooner rather than later for the good of all involved.


How About LaRussa Back To The White Sox?

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The White Sox have accomplished something rare in Chicago: they’re more embarrassing than the Cubs.

Sure, the White Sox have a better record than the Cubs, but they have a lot more talent; no one reasonable was expecting anything more than mediocrity from the Cubs this year and they’ve been terrible; but the White Sox are a train wreck and GM Kenny Williams is going to do something drastic.

The time has passed for him to trade half his roster and he was right to hold his fire at the deadline. They were only 3 games out of first place and had played better to reach .500. Since then, they look like they’ve started their off-season early.

Ozzie Guillen has been rumored to be on the hotseat so many other times and was never fired; he has a contract for next year so there is reason to believe he’ll be back.

But there’s also reason to believe he won’t.

The Marlins wanted Guillen this past winter and the White Sox players don’t seem to be responding to him anymore. The easiest thing to do is to bring in a new manager rather than a boatload of new players especially with the immovable contracts the White Sox have.

The obvious choice in a chain-of-command style scenario would be Joey Cora, but Williams thinks outside the box and does what he wants. Another name I’d expect to be floated is the man who came in second to Guillen when Guillen was hired: Cito Gaston. Gaston didn’t look like he wanted to retire from the Blue Jays after last year and with Jack McKeon and Davey Johnson back in the dugout, it’s not as much of an anomaly to have a much older manager. Gaston will be 68 starting next season.

But how about Tony LaRussa returning to finish his managerial career where he started it?

Owner Jerry Reinsdorf is still close with LaRussa and the Cardinals are in flux despite their flurry of moves to placate the manager and win now.

In fact, the series of trades—that could be referred to as desperate—could be framed as having been made to win immediately in a last ditch effort to close out the LaRussa-era as a winner.

Could the Cardinals be preparing for a future without Albert Pujols just in case he does leave after the season? And would LaRussa have any interest in managing the Cardinals without Pujols?

He’s going year-to-year with his Cardinals contracts and with the rampant dysfunction that’s coming to light with the fight between Yadier Molina and Gerald Laird and the multitude of issues between LaRussa and Tony Rasmus that expedited Colby Rasmus being traded, maybe he and the Cardinals would like to go their separate ways.

If Pujols leaves, the Cardinals are going to be severely compromised in 2012 and at his age (LaRussa will be 67), does he need the aggravation of a Cardinals clubhouse sans Pujols and little chance to win?

The White Sox will have a lot of talent on the roster in 2012 and are ready-made to contend—a perfect spot for LaRussa in both practice and aesthetics.

It’d take a lot for it to happen, but it’s a viable landing spot for a 2-3 year window to try and win another championship and go out in the venue where he came in.


Early Season Blues And Blahs

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This morning I focused on the “oohs and ahs”; now it’s time for the blues and blahs.

The Yankees starting pitching holes:

You can go on and on about Bartolo Colon‘s stunningly great work so far (he has been great); and Freddy Garcia‘s craftsmanship and intelligence (he’s been really smart); but it’s 16 games into the season and they’re not—N.O.T.—not going to keep it up past May-June.

A.J. Burnett is 3-0 and hasn’t pitched particularly well; Phil Hughes is on the disabled list with a “dead arm”. All they have to rely on in the starting rotation is CC Sabathia.

It’s a problem whether you face it or not.

They’re going to have to find a starting pitcher somewhere.

And maybe Brian Cashman is right to keep asking the Mariners about Felix Hernandez.

Buster Olney wrote a piece about the Mariners last week (it’s ESPN Insider access, so no link), but here’s the crux:

If the Mariners’ decision-makers determine for themselves that Hernandez is getting fed up and bored with the losing, then the best time to trade him will be this summer. His value is extraordinary, and similarly, their trade leverage will never be higher, because of what he would immediately mean to any interested team, whether it be the Yankees or the Braves (who could put together a heck of an offer) or the Red Sox.

It’s a longshot, but maybe the Mariners will put Hernandez on the market.

Short of that, the Yankees will have to wait to see who comes available and hope that Colon and Garcia are still of use and Hughes comes back to do….something.

Speaking of the Mariners…

In that same ESPN piece, Olney wonders whether GM Jack Zduriencik will survive the continued losing that the Mariners are going to have to endure for the foreseeable future. The old standby excuse of “there wasn’t much talent there when he arrived” is actually a viable excuse; I can’t fault him for the slow starts of bats who should’ve improved the offense in Jack Cust and Miguel Olivo; but Chone Figgins is batting .162 and, so far, is one of the worst free agent signings in my memory. Giving Figgins $45 million was ridiculous and I said so at the time.

Nor is it Zduriencik’s fault that he was anointed as a genius based on an overachieving/statistical correcting season from 2008 to 2009. The 2008 Mariners weren’t 100-loss bad; the 2009 Mariners weren’t 85-win good.

That said, after last year’s on-and-off the field embarrassments, I would’ve put Zduriencik on notice that the team had better look more passionate on the field and no….controversies….off….the….field!!

Here’s what I would do if I were the Mariners. I’d call the Yankees and offer them Felix Hernandez for: Joba Chamberlain; Brett Gardner; Jesus Montero; either Manny Banuelos or Dellin Betances; and the Yankees have to take Figgins and his contract back.

Take it or leave it.

The key for the Mariners is deciding who’s going to be running the club. If they’ve lost trust in Zduriencik, they have to make a change before trading season gets underway.

Your 2011 Minnesota Twins:

I find it laughable that the likes of Mike Francesa have the audacity to make “predictions” by uttering such inanities as, “I’m pickin’ da Twins because I always pick ‘da Twins”.

Um. Okay.

With that kind of expert analysis, it was a legitimate question as to why I wasted my time and energy writing my book…until the season started.

How about looking at the team before coming to such a conclusion?

The Twins bullpen is awful; their starting pitching predictably mediocre; their defense is shaky; their offense pockmarked by injuries; and I’m convinced there’s a hangover from last season when they put everything they had into finally beating the Yankees and were swatted away like an irritating mosquito.

They’re going to have a long year.

The A’s imported some hitters; so why can’t they hit?

What’s the problem in Oakland?

They bring in three good, professional hitters in David DeJesus, Josh Willingham and Hideki Matsui and none of them are hitting. Their starting pitching has been masterful; the revamped bullpen mediocre. If they want to contend, they’ve got to coordinate their performances a bit.

As much as I wish I could blame Billy Beane for the meager offense, I can’t. They’re not hitting and it’s not his fault.

I’m still ambivalent about the A’s—I don’t think their starting pitching can sustain this pace—but Willingham, DeJesus and Matsui are going to hit eventually.

The staggering White Sox:

Ozzie Guillen‘s job has been “teetering” how many times now? And he’s never gotten fired.

It’s not his fault that Matt Thornton hasn’t been able to close games; that the overall bullpen is killing them. Could Guillen be in trouble? Real trouble with the potential to be fired?

I doubt it, but I’ll say this: in my book, before Guillen’s 2012 contract option was exercised, I speculated that the expectations for this team were high; that they spent a lot of money and pretty much maximized the limits of their payroll—they have to win. If the relationship between Guillen and GM Kenny Williams deteriorated any further, Williams might pull the trigger on his longtime cohort.

I also suggested that Cito Gaston might be a viable replacement; Williams nearly hired Gaston to manage the team before he hired Guillen; I didn’t get the impression that Gaston wanted to stop managing after last season with the Blue Jays.

Then when the White Sox exercised Guillen’s option, I deleted what I’d written.

But could they make a move if the team’s fall continues?

The obvious new manager would be Joey Cora, but Williams thinks outside the box and Gaston is a calming voice with two World Series wins to his credit.

Don’t discount the possibility.


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Challenge, Catastrophe Or Both?

Books, Games, Hall Of Fame, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Podcasts, Spring Training

In yesterday’s NY Daily News, Bill Madden wrote about Tony La Russa and the spate of injuries that could derail the Cardinals season before it gets underway. The big guns Adam Wainwright (out for the year with Tommy John surgery); and Matt Holliday (an appendectomy on Friday) have put the Cardinals in a precarious situation to stay in contention.

Regarding La Russa, Madden wrote the following:

How soon is Tony La Russa going to regret coming back for another season as St. Louis Cardinals manager? Rather than joining Joe Torre, Bobby Cox, Lou Piniella and Cito Gaston in retirement after last season, La Russa opted to sign a one-year extension, in hopes of leading the Cardinals back to the postseason after an extremely disappointing 2010. But a couple of days into spring training, La Russa lost his best pitcher, Adam Wainwright, for the season due to Tommy John surgery and then, Opening Day in St. Louis on Thursday, his worst nightmare was realized as his defensive liability double-play combo, shortstop Ryan Theriot and second baseman Skip Schumaker, both made critical errors and closer Ryan Franklin blew the save in the Cards’ 5-3 loss to the San Diego Padres. The next day La Russa’s cleanup hitter, Matt Holliday, had an appendectomy and is out indefinitely.

Comparing managers is dicey and has to be done on a conditional basis.

Cox and Torre are three and four years older than La Russa respectively; I don’t get the impression Gaston wanted to retire and would come back if an opportunity presented itself; Piniella, understandably, was burned out after spending 3 1/2 years managing the Cubs.

But La Russa?

What would he do with himself if he wasn’t managing?

He’s a lawyer, but would he want to go back to that now? He has his animal charities to keep him busy I presume, but what else is there?

Retirement? Please.

There are baseball lifers who don’t look right doing anything but wearing a uniform. Don Zimmer is one; Tony La Russa is another.

Would he be able to slide into a cushy job at a law firm as what would amount to a show horse? Make himself a lot of money and relax?


Maybe he’d make as much or more money than he does now as the Cardinals manager if he went on the corporate speaking circuit. But would the legal world and adoration of dinner theater drones provide the rush and high profile to help his charities and keep his ego satiated?

La Russa would go insane if he wasn’t managing; the implication that he might regret coming back would make sense if he was ever teetering on retiring, but he never indicated a “will I or won’t I” type of vacillation that has been a hallmark of football coach Bill Parcells and drove fans, media and owners batty in his latter years.

There wasn’t a great deal of soul-searching involved with La Russa. He’s healthy. This is what he does. He’s still great at it. Why shouldn’t he continue doing it?

As for the idea that he made a mistake and regrets it, how could he have known that he’d lose his ace pitcher to a catastrophic injury before the season started? That Holliday would need an appendectomy?

Just as there’s no way to know that good things—like the emergence of Albert Pujols in 2001—will happen, how can you account for injuries to stars to that degree and choose not to manage at all?

You can’t.

A top-heavy team like the Cardinals has to hope their key players don’t get hurt. They’ve relied on stars—Pujols, Holliday, Wainwright and Chris Carpenter—and filled out the rest of the roster with youngsters and foundlings. La Russa and Dave Duncan are trusted to run the games and put the pieces in place.


Perhaps, in some weird way, La Russa is relishing the challenge of winning under trying circumstances. While it might not be as sweet as it would’ve been 10-15 years ago to outwit his opponents and make the media look foolish—again, he can boost his already ginormous ego by guiding a compromised team into contention when every “expert” had written them off as soon as Wainwright went down.

La Russa is thin-skinned and arrogant, but with all the success he’s had, he has a right to be.

Could it be that he might have to do his best managing job of his career to navigate the minefield of lost stars and win anyway? And that it would further cement his status as one of the best—if not the best—manager ever?

He’d never say it publicly, but perhaps he’s taking this as a challenge.

And you’d be unwise to bet against the baseball savvy of Tony La Russa.


My podcast appearance with SportsFanBuzz previewing the season is posted. You can listen here The SportsFan Buzz: March 30, 2011 or on iTunes.

I was on with Mike at NYBaseballDigest and his preview as well. You can listen here.


Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available and will be useful for your fantasy leagues all season long.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on

It’s also out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.