Alex Anthopoulos’s Kitchen Sink

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Unwed to a particular strategy as his predecessor was, when Alex Anthopoulos took over as Blue Jays’ GM replacing J.P. Ricciardi, he exhibited a freshness that invigorated the franchise. Ricciardi did a better job than he’s given credit for, but a series of poor drafts and feuds with players from his team and others as well as the consistently mediocre, “almost there” results, led to his ouster. Anthopoulos took the controls, executed a series of well-regarded trades getting quality prospects Kyle Drabek and Travis D’Arnaud for Roy Halladay; as well as acquiring Brandon Morrow for Brandon League and was rightfully judged as a solid choice and up and coming executive who could be trusted.

The Blue Jays looked to be a team on the rise with plenty of young talent and a forward thinking GM who knew the numbers, but also trusted his old-school baseball people with flexibility of trying speed in lieu of power and on base percentage. But the on-field results are still mediocre-to-bad and now there’s a rising scrutiny on Anthopoulos. His great moves such as getting Morrow and finding a taker for Vernon Wells‘s atrocious contract have been mitigated by his poor moves such as trading Mike Napoli for Frank Francisco. Colby Rasmus and Yunel Escobar were two players who had worn out their welcomes in their prior stops, but were talented enough to make it worthwhile to get them. Escobar is still a player the front office wants to strangle because of his brain dead behavior and Rasmus has been the same disappointment with the Blue Jays he was with the Cardinals; in fact, he’s been worse.

Now the strange decision to sign career utility player Maicer Izturis to a 3-year, $10 million contract while trading a better player Mike Aviles to the Indians for a scatterarmed reliever (the Blue Jays have plenty of those) Esmil Rogers calls into greater question what the plan is. In 2012, the entire pitching staff was decimated by injuries and the strategy Anthopoulos has used to construct his bullpen with journeymen such as Kevin Gregg, Francisco, Jon Rauch, Octavio Dotel, and Sergio Santos has been a failure. His hand-picked manager, John Farrell, was roundly criticized for game-handling skills that were bordering on the inept and a profound lack of fundamentals that cost the club numerous games.

This kitchen sink strategy is reminiscent of a sous chef getting the head chef job, having many plans and innovative ideas, then overdoing it making things worse than they were before. Anthopoulos is trying a lot of different tactics, but it doesn’t hide the bottom line that his choice as manager was traded away only because the Red Sox desperately wanted him and was in serious jeopardy of being fired if they hadn’t; that the Blue Jays have consistently been labeled a team to watch, but sat by haplessly as the team that finally overtook the Red Sox and Rays in the AL East was a different kind of bird, the Orioles, with a roster that was widely expected to lose 95 games in 2012.

The Blue Jays have yet to hire a manager to replace Farrell. The trade was completed on October 21st. How long does it take to find a new manager? The pedestrian names who struggled elsewhere such as Don Wakamatsu and Manny Acta have been bandied about. How many managers does Anthopoulos get to hire and fire? How many tries at getting the recipe right will he get before the scrutiny falls squarely on him?

Getting Brett Lawrie and Morrow; dumping Wells’s onerous contract; and the perception of knowing what he’s doing have carried him this far. Much of what’s gone wrong with the Blue Jays hasn’t been the fault of Anthopoulos, but there comes a time when there has to be a legitimate improvement on the field before the question, “What’s the problem here?” is asked. That time is coming and if the Blue Jays don’t get better quick, it will be asked of Anthopoulos and right now, given the ponderous managerial search, it doesn’t appear as though he has an answer that will placate the angry masses.

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The Astros Experiment In Baseball Engineering

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When the Astros offered Tim Bogar a job to be their new bench coach, Bogar turned it down because the deal included a clause that he couldn’t interview for managerial jobs elsewhere. When discussing this somewhat odd demand, Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow said he didn’t comment on “human resource issues”.

Never before have I heard the words “human resources” referenced in a baseball context, especially by the GM.

This exemplifies the different tack the Astros are taking in rebuilding their club from what amounts to a moribund and barren expansion team. It’s an experiment in baseball engineering that continues from the hiring of Luhnow to the naming of a Baseball Prospectus writer Kevin Goldstein as their pro scouting coordinator, to the unique title they anointed on Sig Mejdal as “Director of Decision Sciences”. Yesterday, they continued the trend of loading their front office with the highly educated when they hired Harvard graduate David Stearns as assistant GM. Whether or not it works will be known only in retrospect, but it strikes me as a reinvention of the wheel. Because Luhnow is so immersed in data crunching, is beloved by stat people for his supposed success in building the Cardinals minor league system into the pipeline for talent, and is running such a horrific and mostly talentless organization, he’s receive carte blanche from owner Jim Crane to do what he wants.

The credit for the Cardinals is a shaky premise at best. Luhnow’s entry into baseball was rocky and stemmed from Bill DeWitt’s desire to recreate the club in the Moneyball image. The insertion of a total outsider who’d come from the corporate world was not taken well by the old-school baseball men in the Cardinals organization and eventually sowed the seeds for Walt Jocketty’s firing and Tony LaRussa’s sharp-elbowed infighting in which the future Hall of Fame manager won the power struggle. It’s easily glossed over that Luhnow was stripped of his power after the 2010 season. I wrote of Luhnow’s drafts in this posting immediately after he got the Astros job. The truth about anyone’s drafts is that there are so many factors that go into a player’s development that blaming Luhnow for Colby Rasmus or crediting him for Allen Craig is a partisan attempt on the part of the analyst depending on his beliefs. Supporters will say that Rasmus is a talent who was mishandled by LaRussa, critics will say that Rasmus is badly overrated. The credit/blame game can go on forever. But now Luhnow’s in charge of the Astros and he’s implementing what he believes. It’s admirable, but admiration doesn’t mean it’s going to succeed.

Does Goldstein have the qualifications to do the job for which he was hired? Is there a joint appraisal process in effect and if the scouts disagree with what the numbers say, who breaks the tie and how does he do it? Goldstein comes from Baseball Prospectus which, like the Ivy League, has become a mill for baseball front offices and in the media. BP has a tendency (if you read the back of their annuals) to relentlessly promote what they got right. “Look, we nailed this, that and the other thing” is a selling point without mentioning what they got wrong as if it was a matter of circumstance and if the players, managers, or front office people had done what they were expected to do, the numbers would’ve played out as correct. It’s a wonderful world to live in in which there’s no possibility of being defined wrong due to a constant shifting of the goalposts after the fact to make oneself right.

I’ve had people credit me for being right about the Red Sox pending disaster (I had them at 81-81; no one could’ve predicted 69-93) with Bobby Valentine and am quick to point out that I also picked the 98-loss Colorado Rockies to the win the NL West. To me, it gives more credibility to embrace the negative and understand why it happened and learn from it to be more accurate the next time.

There is no “way” to build a team nor to make accurate projections in a sport. Nate Silver has had his reputation launched into the stratosphere because of his brilliant and right-on-the-money work with predicting the Presidential election on Fivethirtyeight.com. Inexplicably, that has morphed into a validation of his PECOTA baseball system of predictions, but it’s comparing the Earth to Neptune. There’s no connection. Baseball is not politics and in spite of the different algorithms used to come to the results, it’s easier to calculate a voting bloc than it is to determine how Bryce Harper or Mike Trout are going to function as big leaguers; how the Red Sox players would react to Valentine.

Keeping on the political theme, what we’ve seen recently is baseball’s extreme left wing and extreme right wing grapple for a proximate cause as to why the Giants have won two of the past three World Series. Questions and assertions are popping up as to whether Giants GM Brian Sabean’s old-school sensibility and management style signaled the “end” of Moneyball or if Moneyball is still the “way”. Both premises are ridiculous. Assuming that the Giants’ championships discredit Moneyball is presuming that Moneyball was a solidly researched and accurate foundation to begin with instead of a fictionalized and twisted story that was crafted by a skillful and self-indulgent mythmaker, Michael Lewis.

Moneyball was never an actual “thing,” therefore it’s not something that had to be proven wrong because it wasn’t right in the first place.

On the other side, this piece on HardballTalk discusses a stat guy in the Giants’ front office named Yeshayah Goldfarb. The posting lavishes praise on Goldfarb and doubles as an apparent repudiation of anyone who dare question the value of Moneyball and numbers. It’s written that Goldfarb influenced the Giants acquiring and keeping the likes of Javier Lopez and Juan Uribe for the 2010 club.

Lopez? They needed a stat guy to suggest they trade for a sidearming lefty? They got Lopez from the Pirates who was only a Pirate because, in 2009, he was horrendous for another stat based club with the Red Sox and allowed to leave as a free agent where no team other than the Pirates made him a decent offer.

But the stat guy knew!!

Um…no.

The truth is it had nothing to do with numbers. It had to do with Lopez being a breathing left-handed pitcher. Nothing more. If Tony Fossas at 55(?) years old chose to make a comeback, there would be a team to have a look at him because he’s lefty. Period. And Uribe? Really? So the Giants had a brilliant group of numbers people who advised them to keep Uribe in 2010 and he became a post-season hero, but the non-stat based Dodgers signed Uribe after that season, he’s been a disaster, and Ned Colletti’s an idiot? Goldfarb also gets credit for Tim Lincecum and Buster Posey, yet no one other than a Jewish weekly knew who he was. Amazing. Is that how it works?

No. It’s not how it works in any manner other than looking back at what occurred and finding “reasons” to bolster one’s position. The “Yeah, we’re in!!!” aspect of Moneyball still lives as the front offices are infested with people who didn’t play baseball, but have calculations and college degrees to get them in and become the new age hires. But much like Moneyball and the Giants, there’s a clutching at credit for floating principles that can’t be quantified. If the Astros are in the playoffs in 2-3 years, there will be an explanation for it, but the bickering factions will use their own methodology to determine what it is—both might be right, both might be wrong and neither side will admit it.

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Red Sox Need To Examine John Farrell Objectively

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Before the Red Sox go crazy in trading players and doling a lucrative long-term contract on their main target to replace Bobby Valentine, John Farrell, they had better make sure that they know exactly what they’re getting. It’s not a matter of, “We’ll hire Farrell and everything will be okay.” That straw man is was erected under the supervision of those who went to the Josh Beckett school of “don’t blame me.” Valentine was part of the problem for the Red Sox this season, but only a small part. Hiring Farrell doesn’t repair the rotation; the bullpen; the pockmarked lineup; and the jockeying for power in the front office.

Because Farrell was popular amongst the players and media and an audible sigh of relief would be exhaled en masse if they hire him is another reason to hesitate. Giving the players, fans, and media what they want is one of the things the Red Sox intentionally got away from when they began rebuilding the organization as far back as Dan Duquette’s era. Considering their brattish behavior when it came to Valentine, the players lost all rights to dictate anything to the front office, let alone whom they wanted in the manager’s office. Many of the players who betrayed the “beloved” Terry Francona are gone; some remain and some undermined Valentine from the start. Now they want Farrell? And the front office is prepared to give them what they want and possibly trade players to do it?

The Red Sox had better look at Farrell objectively, not as a man but as a manager. He’d handle the media better than Valentine and the players wouldn’t overstep their bounds as they did with Valentine, but these are no longer the days in which the Red Sox had such an overwhelming array of talent that they were able to overcome controversies and dysfunction to win regardless of their issues. The team is not very good and Farrell’s managing isn’t much better. Strategic mishaps happen with every manager and they sometimes cost games; but sometimes the mistakes managers make wind up succeeding. I would say that the number of mistakes a manager makes over the course of a game are mitigated by an unknown pitcher having a great game; a hitter doing something he doesn’t normally do; or the opposing manager committing a worse gaffe. There’s a difference between a strategic and a fundamental error and I’m not talking about a shortstop booting a ground ball or the left fielder missing the cutoff man. I’m talking about a manager insisting, “This is the way we play,” when it diametrically opposes what they should be doing and what works.

The Blue Jays were mediocre in 2011 under Farrell, but they had an excuse because they were retooling the organization under GM Alex Anthopoulos. In 2012, they had expectations of playoff contention. Injuries have been proffered as an excuse as to why they’re currently 19 games under .500, but they were a .500 team before Jose Bautista, Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek, and Drew Hutchison got hurt. They’ve gotten a career year from Edwin Encarnacion and are frequently cited as a team with plenty of prospects and money to spend in the upcoming off-season.

When the actual on-field improvement will come is anyone’s guess and a large chunk of their failures have stemmed from the managerial mishaps of Farrell. He allows his players to run wild on the basepaths, stealing bases—and getting thrown out—seemingly at will; they swing for home runs and are over-aggressive at the plate. In short, they don’t play the game correctly.

Last night, for example, the final result of the game looks to be an 11-4 Yankees blowout, but in the bottom of the eighth inning, the score was 9-4 when, with one out, Rajai Davis singled off of David Robertson. Anthony Gose came up, the count went to 2-0, and Gose swung at the next pitch grounding out to the first baseman.

The Blue Jays were down 5 runs with a pitcher who has the propensity to walk people and has been shaky of late, and Gose—a speed player who has shown occasional pop in the minors—swings at a 2-0 pitch. Why? Even if he’d achieved the best possible on-paper result and hit a home run, then what? The score would’ve been 9-6. And the likelihood of that happening, with Gose having hit 1 homer in 151 plate appearances in the big leagues this season, was nearly nonexistent. Had he gotten on base with Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus behind him, there was a chance that one of them would run into a pitch and hit it out of the park to get the Blue Jays back in the game. The proper baseball move was to tell Gose to take a strike. Is it possible that Farrell did that and Gose swung anyway? I suppose. But given the way the Blue Jays play with trying to hit home runs and overaggressiveness on the basepaths, and their overall underachievement, does Farrell deserve that benefit of the doubt?

No.

It’s similar to him not deserving to be anointed the Red Sox manager just because he was a coach on the team when they were contending for World Series wins and that people like him. The Red Sox need to think long and hard before making a desperation move on Farrell because there’s a chance that he might actually make things worse.

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Booing The Yankees’ Closer

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The Yankees’ closer has brilliant across-the-board numbers.

He’s saved 33 games in 36 opportunities. He’s only allowed 2 homers in 52.2 innings pitched; has struck out 53, walked 17, given up 46 hits. He’s been reliable and borderline dominant. If you’re interested in advanced stats, his ERA+ is 207 and his WAR is 2.2.

No, I’m not talking about Mariano Rivera. I’m talking about Rafael Soriano.

The same pitcher who the GM Brian Cashman didn’t want and openly said he didn’t want; the same pitcher who was little more than an injury-prone, whining, complaining nuisance in his first season with the team; who refused to get with the Yankees’ program and surrendered the backbreaking homer to Delmon Young in the turning point game 3 of last season’s ALDS; who wasn’t designated as the replacement for Rivera until all other options had been exhausted, has been a key to the Yankees staying in first place and playoff position all season long.

Soriano was booed last night by Yankees’ “faithful” after allowing a 3-run homer (I repeat, the second homer he’s allowed all season) to Blue Jays’ outfielder Colby Rasmus to turn a 6-4 lead into a 7-6 deficit. The Yankees tied the game in the bottom of the 9th when Derek Jeter homered, but lost it in the 11th.

Soriano blew the game, but did he deserve to be booed? Was it simple idiocy on the part of some fans or was it indicative of the problem among segments of the spoiled and greedy fanbase that there can never be failure of any kind. Success is expected and unappreciated; failure is a hanging offense. This is all symptomatic of the onrush to a logical conclusion built for failure: the concept that every player must be an All-Star; that the idea of a workmanlike and useful component can’t fill the shoes of greatness for even one month, one week, one game. How long before a CC Sabathia has his start pushed back because of flulike symptoms and the fans and media inundate the airwaves, web and print with demands to replace him—even for one game—with a star of commensurate magnitude?

It sounds ridiculous? Well, it’s not. Just look at the behaviors from last night. It’s inexplicable audacity for anyone to boo Soriano after the work he’s done not just on the mound, but in withstanding the pressure of replacing Rivera. The concept of “anyone could’ve done it”, which is a stat person’s lament, is ludicrous and selective in its application. The David Robertson as closer experiment was short-lived and the Yankees were retrospectively saved from the replacement “closer” blowing 3-5 more games before a move to Soriano was necessary. Had Joba Chamberlain been available at the time, he too would’ve been ahead of Soriano in the pecking order in spite of Soriano’s experience at doing the job.

Experience.

That’s far more important than stuff in being a successful closer. We can go on ad nauseam as to the true value of the guy who pitches the ninth inning and accumulates the watered down save stat, but it’s not as easy in practice as it is on paper. It’s a mentality that can’t be taught; can’t be drilled in; can’t be transferred to the faceless “PITCHER” as stat people imply. Robertson couldn’t do it and was far more valuable pitching the seventh and eighth innings than he would be in the ninth. But the succession of power dictated that Robertson, the set-up man, take over for Rivera as closer. How many times have we seen a good set-up man unable to pitch the ninth inning? It happens repeatedly. The Red Sox didn’t trust Daniel Bard as their new closer, in part, because he’d struggled in the role during the few save chances he’d had. That led to the trade of Josh Reddick for Andrew Bailey; the installation of Alfredo Aceves as the closer; and Bard being made into a starter, failing, and now rapidly degenerating into a disaster in need of a full mental and physical makeover as he pitches in Triple A as a reliever.

Soriano has not only taken over for the best closer in history, but been a major reason why the Yankees are still in the position they’re in. Had Robertson not injured his oblique and stayed as the closer for another week, where would the Yankees be now? What would they have done? Would they have gone to Soriano for any reason other than not having a choice? Would they have tried to make a trade to get someone else? And how would that have worked?

The Yankees playoff spot is currently not guaranteed. There are 5 spots for 7 teams that are legitimate contenders and eight if you count the floundering Angels, which I do. Manager Joe Girardi also brought up an important point during his press conference yesterday when he said it’s imperative for the Yankees to win the division because the Wild Card spots, while having an extra entry point, are a one-game and out affair. There’s no longer an automatic waltz into a best 3 of 5 series against a division champion for winning the Wild Card. A playoff spot for the Wild Card teams are limited to one game, and in one game, anything can happen.

In the American League overall standings, The Yankees are 2 games behind the Rangers; have a 2 ½ game lead on the White Sox; a 3 ½ game lead on the Orioles and Athletics; a 4 game lead on the Rays; a 4 ½ game lead on the Tigers; and an 8 game lead on the Angels. One bad week and they could fall from second in the league to sixth. Easily. And without Soriano, they probably would be in that position.

Boo Soriano and diminish his accomplishments if you choose to, but understand how he’s saved the Yankees both literally and figuratively before doing so. He stepped into massive shoes and, for the most part, has filled them. Yankees’ fans should consider where they’d currently be without Soriano. That’s, of course, if they’re capable of being objective and comprehending that they don’t have a divine right to the playoffs and that not every player can be a megastar/future Hall of Famer. That greed is their undoing and could be the eventual undoing of the entire organization if they’re not careful, prudent, and smart.

Are they careful, prudent and smart? The fans booing and criticizing Soriano certainly aren’t and, as said before, that attitude spreads like a disease and is getting worse and worse, even incurable, by the day.

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National League Central—Buy, Sell or Stand Pat?

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Cincinnati Reds

Reds’ GM Walt Jocketty is a buyer and wants to win now. The Reds have what it takes to go far in the playoffs with a deep starting rotation and bullpen and mashers in the middle of their lineup. They’re still in need of a bat at shortstop, third base or in the outfield. The only position where they should consider a long-term solution is third base and that’s where they should make a move on Chase Headley. Jocketty and Padres’ GM Josh Byrnes came together on a mutually advantageous blockbuster last winter when the Reds acquired Mat Latos so they’re able to come to consensus on deals.

Apart from Headley, short-term upgrades in centerfield or at shortstop would be better than more expensive, longer-term options. If the Phillies put Shane Victorino on the block, he’d be a positive addition. At shortstop, Stephen Drew of the Diamondbacks is absolutely available. An extra lefty for the bullpen would be of use with Joe Thatcher and Jose Mijares attractive targets.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates have to decide whether they’re going for it with a bomb or going for it with short precision passes.

What I mean by that is if they’re going for it with a bomb, then their top prospects Starling Marte and Gerrit Cole would have to be on the table. The “bomb” type players they could acquire would include Justin Upton, Starlin Castro, Giancarlo Stanton or a similar young bat.

A shorter pass would include Drew or Carlos Quentin.

The Pirates are legitimate contenders and do need a bat, but I would not gut the system to get it. Another concern of mine would be messing with team chemistry by trading for a star player who’s going to be with the club longer than for the rest of this season. They’ve charted a course and need to stick to it because it’s working.

St. Louis Cardinals

GM John Mozeliak has proven himself to be aggressive in the fact of overwhelming odds to the point that he was perceived as desperate and delusional at the trading deadline last season when he made his one marketable young player, Colby Rasmus, the centerpiece of the deal that got them Edwin Jackson, Marc Rzepczynski and Octavio Dotel.

Will the Cardinals make a similar decision this season? Tony LaRussa is gone and it’s doubtful that Mike Matheny’s voice will elicit the same wearing down effect that LaRussa’s whining and organizational politicking did.

The Cardinals are leading the league in runs scored but should bolster their bench with a Ty Wigginton or Jason Giambi. They need a starting pitcher and have the prospects to get Zack Greinke or Cole Hamels. I can’t imagine the Cubs trading Ryan Dempster or anyone else to the Cardinals. For the bullpen, they could look to the Mariners for Brandon League; the Athletics for Grant Balfour; the Padres for Thatcher, Huston Street or former Cardinals’ prospect Luke Gregerson; or the Rockies for Matt Belisle or Rafael Betancourt.

I don’t think the Cardinals are legitimate contenders as currently constructed and will fade without improving the pitching.

Milwaukee Brewers

Mixed signals are coming from Milwaukee. Like the Phillies, they’re waiting and listening. Francisco Rodriguez just replaced the struggling John Axford as closer, but K-Rod is a free agent at the end of the year and would bring back a couple of prospects from a team like the Angels or Rangers. There’s speculation that Greinke is hurt after he was pushed back from his start to “recharge his batteries”—whatever that means. They’re supposedly accepting offers for a free agent they signed last winter, Aramis Ramirez.

I don’t think they know what they are at present.

The problem the Brewers have is that their farm system is essentially gutted and they put everything into winning last season and didn’t. The next two weeks will determine the remainder of 2012, but they have to be open to trading Shaun Marcum, Randy Wolf, K-Rod, Ramirez and calculate the draft pick compensation they’d get for Greinke in comparison to what teams are offering.

They’re not out of contention…yet. Considering where they’re heading with a rebuild/retool on the way after this season, they might be better off adding a Drew, Victorino or Bryan LaHair rather than clean house.

Chicago Cubs

Everything must go.

They’ve denied it, but I think they will absolutely be willing to trade Castro. When the manager of the team, Dale Sveum, has to bench a player and have that player sit next to him to explain why things are happening on the field and quiz him about where he should be in certain situations and what he should be doing, he’s not a Theo Epstein-type of self-starter who plays the game correctly. Castro’s extremely talented, accumulates hits and makes a sparkling play here and there, but he’s not good.

Matt Garza doesn’t have to be traded and that makes him more valuable since he’s under team control through 2013. Dempster’s getting traded; LaHair might get traded; if he was hitting, Geovany Soto would be in heavier demand than he is and might get traded anyway. They should do whatever they can to get rid of Alfonso Soriano and if that means accepting the sunk cost of his contract and paying him off, so be it. Someone might be willing to take a chance that a change of scenery would help the strikeout/walk-machine, on-again/off-again closer Carlos Marmol.

Houston Astros

GM Jeff Luhnow got a couple of useful pieces for Carlos Lee. They were willing to listen on Jed Lowrie, but Lowrie’s hurt. Brett Myers is marketable as is Brandon Lyon. Wesley Wright will be in play as a lefty reliever. The opinions on Wandy Rodriguez are varied and vast. I’ve always liked him and think he’d be a good addition to a team with a solid defense and playing in a park where it’s not easy to hit home runs like the Mets, Angels, Dodgers and Marlins.

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Just In Time For Father’s Day

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It’s ironic that two players—one legitimate star and one would-be star—whose fathers are inextricably attached to their sons’ careers had opposite results on father’s day.

Colby Rasmus’s father Tony was portrayed as an unrepentant meddler in his son’s career. So much so that there was open verbal warfare between former Cardinals’ manager Tony LaRussa and Tony Rasmus that led to Colby Rasmus asking to be traded and being publicly chastised by Albert Pujols. Eventually Colby was traded to the Blue Jays in a deal that was widely credited with galvanizing the Cardinals’ clubhouse and bringing in pieces—Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski—that helped them rally to win the World Series.

Of course it’s simplistic to hold Colby responsible for the Cardinals’ woes up until the trading deadline, but for both parties it was best in the long and short-term to get him out of St. Louis.

Colby had a big day on Sunday—father’s day—going 3 for 4 with a double and homer in the Blue Jays’ win.

Tony Rasmus is still cryptically sniping at the Cardinals and LaRussa in interviews while simultaneously removing himself from the equation—link. He’s a stage father who’s gotten the blame for his son’s struggles. If that’s the case, shouldn’t he get the credit for when his son does well?

Is it fair? Is it accurate? Did Tony Rasmus’s involvement sabotage the Cardinals’ handling of his son? And did that same involvement create the player that was drafted in the 1st round?

Before you answer, think about this: across cross the continent in San Francisco another player whose father was an integral part in his career is slumping horribly.

Tim Lincecum started yesterday and again got shelled. The 2-time National League Cy Young Award winner allowed 5 earned runs and 2 homers in a loss. His record is now 2-8. His ERA is 6.19. He’s walking 4.8 batters per 9 innings whereas last season it was 3.6 and in his best season of 2007 it was 2.7. He’s pitched in some bad luck with a .336 BAbip, but that doesn’t assuage the worries about his lost velocity, control and command.

His once intractable confidence appears shot; no one is saying definitively what may be wrong with him; and the Giants hands-off approach with Lincecum is backfiring because he’s pitching badly.

It was a badge of honor for Lincecum and his dad Chris that the pitcher’s mechanics were honed and perfected by his father’s innovative techniques; that the team that drafted him was told in no uncertain terms that his motion was not to be tweaked; that he wasn’t babied with pitch counts and innings limits. These orders and his diminutive size scared off a great many clubs from selecting him, but the Giants took him 10th in the 2006 draft and were rewarded with a cult hero and superstar whose style and stamina belied the fears that permeated his story.

He didn’t ice his arm; the Giants’ coaches (including respected big league pitching coach Dave Righetti) weren’t permitted to alter him; he did things his way.

And his dad’s way.

Now what?

The critics were waiting for this and using the Lincecum rules as validation that what the Giants did was wrong; that Lincecum’s red flags are now glowing brightly.

Can Righetti and manager Bruce Bochy make suggestions to Lincecum or is it still hands off? Is Chris Lincecum trying to make adjustments to fix what ails his son? Is Tim hurt and they’re not saying so?

Are there any answers?

Amid all the chortling about Colby Rasmus and how the Blue Jays and their fans are pleased that he didn’t work out in St. Louis for reasons on-field and off, it’s ignored that his numbers are eerily similar to those that he posted with the Cardinals even when he was playing well. He has a slash line of .255/.312/.464 and 10 homers. He’s been good defensively in centerfield. He’s a 1.8 WAR player. It’s not bad, but it’s not great. He’s a cog, not the key. That’s better than being a pawn in the ongoing war between LaRussa, Tony Rasmus and the “draft guru” who had usurped much of LaRussa’s power with the Cardinals, Jeff Luhnow, before LaRussa won the turf war.

With the Cardinals, it was impossible to judge Colby on his merits.

That’s not the case in Toronto. He’s in a town where the fans are cheering for him; his teammates aren’t hounding him; the press isn’t baiting him; and the Blue Jays are going to need him to perform to take the next step into contention as a team. There’s not the historical expectation of winning nor the short-tempered, impatient manager with sway that there was with the Cardinals.

In San Francisco what was once viewed as a positive is now a negative and Lincecum is in limbo with rampant questions about hidden injuries and a possible shift to the bullpen.

In Toronto a father’s involvement isn’t taken as interloping, in part, because the Blue Jays have so much riding on Colby Rasmus’s success.

Whatever works.

But what works? And what doesn’t?

A father’s influence is judged based on whether it’s working or it’s not; whether it’s a positive or negative in results and perception.

Lincecum is a mess. Rasmus is what he is.

Fathers and sons were celebrated yesterday. It’s a fabric in baseball.

Sometimes that’s good.

Sometimes it’s not.

And sometimes we don’t know.

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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.

Again.

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.

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The Objective Truth About Luhnow

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Simultaneously searching for a greater understanding through objective analysis, the stat people have taken to using subjectivity to bolster the resumes of the like-minded whether it’s accurate or not.

In this NY Times article by Tyler Kepner, the new Astros GM Jeff Luhnow has his work glossed over in such a way to bypass how he got into the game; the issues that surrounded him with the Cardinals; and that he’s doled credit without full details nor the assignation of blame.

Luhnow was hired by the Cardinals in the heady days following the publication of Moneyball—before the story was proven to be a skillfully written fabrication. The specific purpose of the book was to prop up the supposed “genius” of Billy Beane and designed to document the antiquated nature of those who hadn’t been educated at an Ivy League school, didn’t use numbers as the end-all of existence and trusted their in-the-trenches experience and their eyes to assess players.

Immediately Luhnow became seen as a threat to veteran GM Walt Jocketty and manager Tony LaRussa. He had the ear of owner Bill DeWitt and the organization set about altering the draft strategy. In addition to that, the organizational pitching philosophy, which had been designed by pitching coach Dave Duncan, was scrapped much to the chagrin of Duncan, LaRussa and Jocketty.

The front office had broken into factions with the old-schoolers battling the new age thinkers who, like Luhnow, were imported from other industries and whose presence was viewed as interloping on what they’d always done; what had been successful.

Kepner is sort of accurate (albeit with the count slightly off) when, in describing Luhnow’s first three drafts, he writes:

In those same years, St. Louis drafted 24 future major leaguers, the most of any team.

But is it spiritually accurate?

The list of big league players that Luhnow drafted from 2005-2007 are as follows:

2005: Colby Rasmus; Tyler Greene; Bryan Anderson; Mitchell Boggs; Nick Stavinoha; Daniel McCutchen; Ryan Rohlinger (did not sign); and Jaime Garcia.

2006: Adam Ottavino; Chris Perez; Jon Jay; Mark Hamilton; Shane Robinson; Allen Craig; P.J. Walters; David Carpenter; and Luke Gregerson.

2007: Pete Kozma; Clayton Mortensen; Jess Todd; Daniel Descalso; Michael Stutes (didn’t sign); Steven Hill; Andrew Brown; Brian Broderick; Tony Cruz; and Adron Chambers.

Apart from Garcia, is there one player that jumps out so you can say, “Wow, what a great pick that was!”?

The drafts were pedestrian. Because 24 of the players drafted in those three years made it to the majors, it doesn’t imply “success”.

A player simply making it to the big leagues is contingent on a myriad of factors—some of those for Luhnow are that the players were traded away for veteran help; such veteran help generally only comes from a team that is in need of young talent because they don’t have the money to keep the veteran players they’re dealing away, so they’ll be more open to giving prospects a chance in the big leagues.

Just as wins and losses have become a borderline irrelevant barometer in determining how well or poorly a pitcher has pitched in a given season, the number of big leaguers produced in a draft is rendered meaningless as well.

There’s little-to-no correlation between a draft being judged as “good” and the players making it to the majors for a token appearance.

Succeeding Jocketty, Mozeliak was placed in a position where he had to assuage his cantankerous veteran manager LaRussa (sometimes “yes-ing” him to death to keep him quiet) while fulfilling the mandate of ownership that became clear when they hired Luhnow in the first place.

This was a subtle and underappreciated accomplishment by Mozeliak.

Were the late round players who made it to the big leagues—some of which became star-caliber like Garcia—the result of change in philosophy spurred by Luhnow’s presence? Or was it typical luck that has to be present as it was when Jocketty’s operation picked Albert Pujols in the 13th round of the 1999 draft?

The trades that Kepner brings up came as a result of LaRussa’s sharp-elbowed infighting to get what he wanted due to his stature and accumulated credibility from years of winning his way. They had nothing to do with Luhnow in a concrete sense.

The perception of a star player like Matt Holliday being available via trade is connected to his contract status; he was not re-signing with the Athletics and the 2009 A’s were playing poorly, so they traded him for some players that had been drafted under Luhnow.

One thing doesn’t justify the other.

Luhnow is in a less contentious position with the Astros than he was when he entered baseball as an outsider in 2003. With a new owner; a barren farm system; and essentially an expansion roster, he’s free to do whatever he wants from top-to-bottom and hire people who are of similar mind and will implement what he believes.

But it’s got nothing to do with what he did as a Cardinals executive because his contribution was secondary to having a Hall of Fame manager and a GM who was adept at placating those with differing philosophies that were trying to push him in one direction or another.

If anyone deserves the credit for the Cardinals ability to navigate these issues and still win, it’s Mozeliak.

Will Luhnow be a Paul DePodesta? Someone with the knowledge of numbers and solid resume but was unable to deal with the ancillary aspects of the big job? Or will he be a Jon Daniels? One who overcame a rocky start and muddled ownership/managerial situation, but has become one of the best, if not the best GM in baseball?

We won’t know until we know.

Luhnow’s getting his chance now. He’s the boss of the Astros. For better. Or worse.

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Hot Stove Bat To The Kneecap

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To the best of my recollection, the Mets have won several hot stove championships in recent years.

In the winter of 2001-2002, reeling from having been picked to make the playoffs and stumbling to mediocrity in 2001, GM Steve Phillips acted aggressively in acquiring Mo Vaughn, Roberto Alomar and Jeromy Burnitz.

The brew he concocted was toxic; it neatly paralleled the deteriorating relationship and festering tensions between Phillips and manager Bobby Valentine; the result was a 75-86 record and Valentine’s firing after the season.

They also became the darlings of drastic off-season facelifts in the winter of 2004-2005—Omar Minaya’s first year—by signing the biggest pitching name, Pedro Martinez and the biggest outfield name, Carlos Beltran; and hiring Willie Randolph as the manager.

After briefly flirting with contention, they finished tied for 3rd place with an 83-79 record.

In 2007-2008, coming off a monstrous 2007 collapse, the acquired one of the top three pitchers in baseball, Johan Santana; but the injury to Billy Wagner in August left the club with a bullpen in shambles and they stumbled from the playoff race on the last day of the season.

These are not instances limited to the Mets.

The “hot stove champions” look unbeatable from November to March.

Then they start playing.

If headlines and media/fan approval were championships, the 2011 Phillies-Red Sox World Series would’ve been epic; the 2010 Mariners and their “Amazin’ Exec” GM Jack Zduriencik would be on the way to the Hall of Fame; the 2011 Athletics would’ve provided a fitting conclusion to the Moneyball fantasy as Billy Beane‘s genius coincided with his dramatically licensed and factually inaccurate portrayal in the movie.

The Red Sox collapsed; the Phillies were bounced in the playoffs; the 2010 Mariners lost 100 games and were a embarrassment on and a travesty off the field; and the Athletics are horrible as Beane uses his chameleon-like skills at fostering positive public perception to lay the atrocity off on the lack of a new stadium, others stealing “his” strategies and morphing into the likable and hapless everyman, swallowed up by factors out of his control.

Buy it if you want—if you’re a mindless sheep; if you’re stupid.

Because the Mets haven’t signed Jose Reyes to a new contract immediately upon his filing for free agency the consensus—which appears to be based on faux “sources” and the demands of editors to drum up attention and render web hits—is that Reyes is already out the door.

He might be.

He might not be.

Whether he’s a Met or not in 2012 doesn’t automatically mean the Mets are going to be any better than they’d be without him; nor does it mean the team that signs him will have a stamped ticket to the playoffs.

In spite of what the likes of Joel Sherman and Bob Klapisch write, the Mets winning another hot stove title or treading water and perhaps badly hindering the club’s retooling efforts will not repair the issues surrounding the team for 2012.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the more important time for a team’s success or failure is the summer.

Drafting players that will eventually be tradable; gauging the market and the competition; going for a deep strike or holding fire—making intelligent analysis based on circumstances rather than maneuvering for positive coverage and validation of media imbeciles and reactionary fans—are far more important to winning than anything that’s done in the winter.

The 2010 Phillies were staggering at mid-summer, barely over .500 and entertaining offers for Jayson Werth; relentlessly and rightfully hammered for trading Cliff Lee to the Mariners in exchange for Roy Halladay and gazing into the abyss of a lost season, they fixed the hole they themselves created in the rotation by trading for Roy Oswalt; and they were lucky that Shane Victorino got injured and they had no one else to play center field, so they had to keep Werth.

Those Phillies went on a tear to win the NL East and lost in the NLCS to the Giants.

The same Giants who picked up Cody Ross on waivers and signed Pat Burrell after he’d been released. Both players were key components to the Giants championship.

Slightly over three months ago, the Cardinals desperately traded away their one young star-talent, Colby Rasmus, to acquire Edwin Jackson, Marc Rzepczynski and Octavio Dotel—without whom they wouldn’t have made the playoffs, let alone won the World Series.

It’s all hindsight.

If Reyes signs a $150 million contract and pulls his hamstring in May, will the critics be savaging the Mets for letting him leave?

Money aside, does anyone truly believe that GM Sandy Alderson and his staff don’t have a viable backup plan in the event Reyes departs?

Whatever it is, it doesn’t have to be sexy to be sensible.

Continue reading the blatant partisanship from Sherman among others if you want to have a basis for complaint.

But don’t misunderstand what you’re reading as you indulge in the hackery and do not say you weren’t warned.

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The Brewers Poked The Wrong Bear

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Let’s clear up a few misconceptions about the Cardinals.

Much is being made of the series of trades the Cardinals made at mid-season to drastically alter the configuration of their roster that “led” them to the World Series.

In a sense, the trades in which they acquired Edwin Jackson, Marc Rzepczynski, Octavio Dotel and Rafael Furcal were upgrades on and off the field; by now it’s clear that Colby Rasmus and his dad, while not being responsible for the Cardinals inconsistency, didn’t fit into the clubhouse profile and it’s better that both sides moved on.

Absent of the deranged, maniacal, head-rolling fallout in Boston, the Braves collapse was just about as bad as that of the Red Sox; without it, the Cardinals wouldn’t have made the playoffs at all.

The Braves lost 20 of their final 30 games to present the Cardinals with the opportunity to make the run back into the picture; the Cardinals also benefited from the Phillies retrospectively ill-fated decision to play all-out in the last three games of the season in Atlanta and kick the door open by sweeping of the Braves.

They couldn’t have known it at the time and the playoffs can turn on one game (as we saw), but the Phillies would’ve been better off playing any of the other teams among the Diamondbacks, Brewers and Braves had they been their opponents instead of the Cardinals.

When Nyjer Morgan (or his sociopathic alter-ego The Real T. Plush) and the Brewers goaded the fading Cardinals with taunts and other foolish temptations of fate, they behaved as a club that thought they were better than they were and had seen the last of the Cardinals.

This had little to do with the Cardinals searing, breakneck month of desperation, but it didn’t help the Brewers cause. They chose to poke the bear and the bear got up, grabbed them by their throats and ripped their heads off.

Along the way, the Cardinals were assisted by practical matters. It’s a nice, neat story to say the Cardinals were spurred on by an act of disrespect from the Brewers—and to some extent they probably were—but circumstances had to fall in a certain way for the classic denouement of a group of warriors led by their stoic hero Albert Pujols and legendary tactician Tony LaRussa putting the arrogant, loud and obnoxious group of upstarts in their collective places.

And it happened perfectly, just like in the movies.

Now we’ll hear other made-for-dramatic-effect nonsense of how this could possibly be Pujols’s final series as a member of the Cardinals; that the fate of manager LaRussa is in question with his contract on a mutual option for 2012.

Here’s are two flashes of Force Lightning to detonate such stupidity: Pujols isn’t leaving; he knows it, the Cardinals know it and baseball knows it. The Cardinals will make a reasonable offer that they can afford and still be competitive; Pujols won’t be embarrassed by receiving a contract far below those of Ryan Howard and Prince Fielder; everyone will remain together and stay as they are.

LaRussa has no desire (nor a landing spot) to go elsewhere at this point in his life and career; the 2012 Cardinals team is pretty much set with manager and star returning in spite of crafted implications of other eventualities.

These are the Cardinals.

They’re in the World Series.

They’re staying together.

As for the Brewers,  they’re going home; if they don’t realize why, they’re either remarkably stupid; inexplicably blockheaded; or oblivious to reality.

I’ll hedge and say it’s all three.

And I’ll be right.

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