Dan Jennings represents a new threat to uniformed baseball people

MLB

Widespread bafflement and undisguised anger has simmered from the Miami Marlins’ stunning decision to replace fired manager Mike Redmond with general manager Dan Jennings. The results in Jennings’s first three games at the helm have mirrored what they were under Redmond with discombobulated losses and puzzlement as a team that many had considered a World Series contender looks closer to a club that’s heading for the number one pick in the 2016 draft. While owner Jeffrey Loria and his front office staff are loath to admit this sad fact – and probably won’t – it’s the flawed roster that’s the problem and not anything that the manager did or didn’t do.

That aside, Jennings put himself in this difficult situation by accepting the job. Uniformed baseball people have been anonymously expressing their dismay that the field is now being invaded by “suits.” While the Marlins situation is different from most other clubs in that there is a known quotient of dysfunction from the top down and has been for years, the Jennings hiring isn’t only offensive to those who have dedicated their life to the on-field, nuanced, “you can only learn by watching” portion of the game. It symbolizes the final infiltration of the last enclave in which players and “baseball people” held sacred and thought was safe.

To make matters worse, the Marlins aren’t even a pure sabermetrically-inclined team from whom this type of blurring of the lines of accepted propriety was possible or even likely. The Marlins under Loria are more Steinbrennerean than sabermetrican, lending credence to the idea that stat people are watching closely for the reaction to Jennings among the players, media and fans to see if they too can get away with a non-baseball person going down on the field and taking charge just as they’ve overtaken a large portion of big league front offices.

Uniformed baseball people accepted the new age front offices and statistical adherence not by choice, but out of necessity. These faceless, suit-clad front office people have no qualms about going into the clubhouse as if it too is their domain and they’re free to make “suggestions” to players, coaches and managers that are orders disguised as options. Now, with the Jennings foray down to the field, it might be making its way into the clubhouse completely.

The difference between uniformed personnel who work their way up through the minor league system as players, then coaches, then managers and finally find themselves on a big league staff or are actually in the manager’s office and those who are permeating baseball’s front offices today is that those who are in the front office have options for other forms of employment that will be just as, if not more, lucrative than being a GM or scouting director. Often, uniformed personnel can’t do anything else besides baseball. So it’s either accept the new reality or get a job at Wal-Mart. Another threat they have to parry is presenting itself and they’re resisting it.

The chipping away of the aura of the once insular and sacred realm of “baseball people” began with the widespread popularity and acceptance of the ludicrous stories in Moneyball. It blew up from there and is still multiplying like a disease meant to wipe out those who probably can’t formulate an algorithm, but have an innate sense of when their pitcher is out of gas. It’s easy to see why they’re chafing at Jennings being in uniform.

There’s no threat of the pure sabermetric front offices or even sabermetrically-leaning front offices having their current baseball bosses go down on the field as happened with the Marlins and Jennings. You won’t see Jeff Luhnow, Theo Epstein, Andrew Friedman, Brian Cashman or any of the other GMs who are stats-obsessed pulling on a uniform to run the team on the field. But is it possible that there’s a group of 20-somethings making a load of money in the stock market looking to buy a team with it in their minds to be the next subject of a book by having a non-baseball guy go on the field and win a World Series? The ego and arrogance that has led to the transformation of an endeavor that was once meant to be a plaything – a sports franchise – into a big business in which non-athletes can become sports celebrities. It’s treated as such. It provides a spotlight that these Masters of the Universe wouldn’t get by being mentioned on Bloomberg as a CEO with a $150 million bonus and a mansion in the Hamptons.

This is why the Marlins and Jennings could have unintended consequences throughout baseball. The Marlins are being deservedly ridiculed for what they’ve done. Jennings is a baseball guy, so It’s not “ridiculous” in the context of Bill Veeck’s midget Eddie Gaedel or Ted Turner going down on the field to manage the Atlanta Braves. It is, however, an intrusion into what the uniformed people felt was their domain. If one team does it, another team might do it. That’s what the uniformed people are rightfully afraid of more than they are offended by the Marlins’ breach of accepted protocol.

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The Marlins way

MLB

Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria finally gave in and did what he’s clearly wanted to do by firing manager Mike Redmond. My prediction was off by two-and-a-half weeks.

Let’s not treat Redmond as a victim here. Yes, he got caught in an Oliver Stone-conspiracy style of triangulation of crossfire between the demanding owner, the roster that was thought to be better than it actually is, and the fact that he is, at best, an average manager. He didn’t do a particularly good job, doesn’t have the resume to say that he should have been given more time, and the team is floundering. High expectations can cost a manager his job and if the expectations are reasonable, then the firing is deserved. Unreasonable expectations will get a manager fired, but that doesn’t mean that the firing isn’t justified.

These ambiguities can be viewed as unfair, but they’re part of the landscape when choosing managing a baseball team as a vocation.

When a manager takes a job offered by Loria, it’s not hard to predict how it’s going to end. Like Al Davis with the Oakland Raiders, the manager/head coach is a supporting character in the drama. That said, many clubs in sports treat their field bosses as disposable entities and have been far more callous about it than Loria, doing so with the tacit protection of a starstruck gallery of supporters and media factions invested in selling a myth.

Billy Beane – considered a “genius” – has gone through four managers in his time. Some were fired for cause; others were fired just because he felt like firing them; others were tossed overboard with Beane blaming the media, not the manager, for his failings. Theo Epstein fired both Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria and was given a widespread pass for it from the same people who are unloading on Loria now. Because Epstein got the so-called “best” manager in baseball Joe Maddon, his tactics are somehow more honorable because there’s a reason behind them rather than emanating from Loria’s reflexive response to fire the easiest target: the manager.

It’s partisan nonsense hidden behind analysis and excuses.

Loria is an easy target because he’s the one who was investigated by the SEC, hoodwinked the State of Florida into building him a new stadium, was slapped on the wrist by Major League Baseball for pocketing revenue-sharing money, and fires his manager when things don’t go the way he thinks they should. This is how he does business and he’s successful at it. Who’s to say he’s wrong?

Redmond joins an eclectic group of past victims buried in the body orchard of Loria’s impatience, petulance, anger and blameworthiness that includes respected GM Larry Beinfest; one of the best current managers in baseball Joe Girardi; an underrated baseball lifer Jack McKeon; the mediocre Fredi Gonzalez; the missing in action Edwin Rodriguez; and the magnet for self-inflicted, intentionally-created controversy Ozzie Guillen.

With the daylong speculation as to where Loria was going to go to replace Redmond, the names that popped up included Dusty Baker, Jeff Conine, Wally Backman, and Bo Porter. In a tactical move seemingly designed to surprise, general manager Dan Jennings will take over in the dugout. Jennings has been a respected scout and front office man, but has never managed or coached at the professional level.

While unusual, this is not completely unheard of in today’s game. Former Marlins manager John Boles didn’t play professionally. Nor did former Baltimore Orioles manager Dave Trembley. Their results when managing were poor and while there was limited talent on the teams they managed, it’s naïve and ignorant to dismiss their lack of professional playing experienced as irrelevant.

Playing for a year or two as a low-level minor leaguer with zero chance of making it any further than the bottom rung or professional baseball shouldn’t add any more credibility than someone who worked his way up through the minors. But that ignores the macho, testosterone-fueled nature of baseball.

Hiring Jennings might craft greater organizational continuity between the field staff, president of baseball operations Michael Hill, and, naturally, Loria. Some are questioning the decision, but Loria has – intentionally or not – shielded himself from criticism by a large portion of the viewing public by doing what the stat people say should be done more often and ignore the “experience” factor when making a decision on whom the manager should be. They can’t critique it in anything more than a nitpicky fashion because doing so inadvertently chips away at their own belief system and its tenets.

Jennings might think that since he’s been a longtime confidant and is a trusted member of Loria’s baseball operations staff that he’s safe. If this was a short-term attempt on the part of Loria and Jennings to get a close look at what’s happening on the field and in the clubhouse, then it makes sense on all ends. That may yet be the case. The Marlins run their club differently than other teams do in which the general manager is the ultimate face of the franchise and runs the club on a day-to-day basis. The Marlins have Hill, Loria’s stepson David Samson, Jennings, and Loria himself taking part in how the team is run with numerous advisers and kibitzers jockeying for position. In theory, Jennings can do what he was doing as the GM and still manage the team.

The players are the keys here. They didn’t hate Redmond, so his departure won’t be viewed with a sense of relief. There’s a very real possibility that the team really isn’t much better than a .500 team, so it won’t matter who the manager is unless structural changes to the roster are made. Players, being the entitled, blame-shifting, “nothing’s my fault” entities that they are, will look at Jennings and raise an eyebrow if (when) he simply looks out of place in uniform. Ostensibly, Jennings is the players’ “boss,” but in sports that’s largely meaningless unless the owner himself is taking over the team. Sharing an office with a boss is uncomfortable no matter how good a person is at his or her job; no matter how secure within the terms of employment he or she is. The idea that the “boss” is with them 24/7, watching, judging assessing, scrutinizing is awkward.

The players are the ones with the power and the larger paychecks. They’re the ones who should be blamed, but rarely are. Now Jennings is on the field. Undoubtedly, given the flawed nature of the Marlins’ roster, he’ll learn the same thing that Redmond did: there’s not much he can do to fix it unless the players play better. The biggest problem with this team stems from the thought that they were going to be a World Series contender when they are, in reality, a mediocre team who can make the playoffs if everything goes right. Since it didn’t go right, it cost Redmond his job and put this odd chain of events in motion.

The Marlins Do Realize They Hired Ozzie Guillen, Right?

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What went wrong in Miami with the Marlins?

Was it the new, cavernous ballpark?

The odd mix of personalities?

The misjudgment of talent?

Injuries? Apathy? Dysfunction?

A combination?

Speculation centers on whom owner Jeffrey Loria fires. First the target sat squarely on the back of President of Baseball Operations Larry Beinfest. Now it’s turned to manager Ozzie Guillen. Given Loria’s history, I’m not going to venture a guess as to what he’ll do. He could say, “I’ve fired managers before, let’s try firing some people in suits.” Or he could say, “I like my baseball people, the manager and players were the problem. I’ll change the on-field personnel.” Or he could do nothing with the manager and executives and get rid of more players. He could fire everyone. He could fire no one.

Loria has a habit of firing managers, but the front office has remained largely intact and is signed long-term. To him, it’s clear that the manager is fungible and not all that relevant. It’s a similar argument in a different context to the new-age stat-based theories that say the manager is an implementer of the strategies laid out by the bosses and can be easily replaced. In his time, Loria’s fired every manager he’s had. Some were deserved, some weren’t, but as the owner it’s his right to do what he wants.

For years he wanted Guillen and took the step of trading minor league players to get him at the end of the 2011 season. Had Loria examined Guillen’s tenure with the White Sox closely and understood what he was getting before jumping in with a heavy financial commitment (4-years, $10 million) and expectant enthusiasm, he probably would’ve hired him anyway.

Was it because he thought Guillen was a good game manager with the background of success and the fiery temperament to keep the heat off of the players and drum up attention in the media? Absolutely. Guillen has all of those attributes. But he also says ridiculous things and doesn’t think before he speaks. There’s no filter and the fine line between being outrageous and offensive is blurred. He casually and without regret crosses into insubordination. Honesty and self-destruction are melded together and Guillen has essentially dared Loria to fire him as related in this blog from The Palm Beach Post.

The Marlins created a carnival complete with colorful uniforms, rampant ballpark diversions, a team of intriguing talent, and negative personalities. The White Sox, under Guillen, won a World Series with a blend of intriguing talent and perceived negative personalities so there was a basis for thinking Guillen could cobble it together again. Instead, the Marlins are a disaster.

But blaming Guillen for being Guillen? It’s an easy case to make that his comments praising Fidel Castro were a tipping point, but that was in April and the Marlins went 21-8 in May. The players don’t care about that stuff; the only time they’re bothered about some off-field controversy is if they’re constantly asked about it. It’s easy to say a calmer, more patient, and respected clubhouse voice would have handled the chemistry issues in a more diplomatic way than Guillen, but I don’t think the results would’ve been any different.

It was the front office who decided to build a cavernous ballpark tilted toward pitching, but put a horrific defense on the field. It was the front office that signed John Buck and Heath Bell; that traded for Guillen, Carlos Zambrano, and Carlos Lee. They put a toxic mix together in a bowl, expected it to smell good and for people to eat it. No one did.

They can fire Guillen; they can fire Beinfest, Michael Hill, Dan Jennings; they can trade away more players and bring in others; but that’s not going to alter the reality that the fans in Miami wouldn’t have gone to see this club play if their record was reversed and they’d hired a manager who had the power to free Cuba rather than one who expressed love for its aged dictator. New ballpark or not, the people in that area don’t care about the Marlins. There’s no reason to go to the park to see this team, but not many people would’ve gone even if there was.

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Translating GM-Speak, Votes of Confidence and Threats

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Most of the “rumors” or information from “insiders” is either fictional or planted and has no basis in fact. But there are other instances where baseball people say something without saying something; when they make a statement for selfish reasons, whether it’s to get the fans/media off their backs or to send a message to individuals. In recent days, there have been several such stories. As we saw with Mariners’ GM Jack Zduriencik saying that Ichiro Suzuki was a franchise player, then turning around and trading him, many times there’s an ulterior motive behind the rhetoric.

Let’s take a look at some statements and translate them into what is actually meant.

The Bobby Valentine vote of confidence

It’s called the “dreaded” vote of confidence because the perception is that it inevitably precedes a firing. Valentine just received one from the Red Sox’ front office. It’d be nice if some enterprising stat person with a lot of time on his or her hands did some research, looked into historic votes of confidence and crunched the numbers of a firing or not following the public declaration of job security.

The thing with Valentine is that he needs absolute support from the ownership to counteract the media/fan/player hate he engenders. If he doesn’t have that, there’s no point in keeping him around. If the Red Sox are truly invested in Valentine, they’re going to have to: A) make structural changes to the roster including getting rid of the subversive elements like Josh Beckett (which they’re probably going to try to do regardless of who the manager is); and B) give him at least an extra year on his contract for 2014.

They have to decide whether changing the manager is easier than changing the players and that can only be determined as they gauge interest in the likes of Beckett and even Jon Lester this September.

Translation: They don’t know whether Valentine’s coming back and it depends on a myriad of factors, not just putting up a good showing late in the season or making the playoffs.

David Samson on the Marlins

The Marlins’ hatchet-man, Samson, offered his opinions on this season. Here are the main quotes regarding owner Jeffrey Loria, baseball ops boss Larry Beinfest and GM Michael Hill:

“As we go into the offseason, the fact is, forgetting the injuries, the players we have right now should be winning games,” Samson said. “It’s clear the evaluation was wrong on certain players. It’s a constant process of seeing what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong, and changing. One thing we don’t want to be as a baseball organization is stubborn. We don’t want to not admit mistakes. Who is that serving?”

“Everything may change,” Samson said. “I think it’s going to be an interesting October, a little different than the October we envisioned …. [Loria] is angry and he should be. Me, Larry and Mike are only two, three and four in the disappointed department. He’s number one.”

The Marlins are a disaster, that’s something everyone can agree on. Given the constant changes in field staff and player personnel and that Samson mentioned the words “evaluation” and “wrong” without pointing the finger at himself or Loria, along with the history of Samson and Loria of firing people, there might be front office changes rather than field staff and player changes. The one static department has been the front office. Beinfest and Dan Jennings have been prevented from interviewing with other clubs for positions and they—Beinfest, Jennings, Hill—have super-long term contracts to stay.

Translation: Manager Ozzie Guillen is safe, but members of the baseball operations team are definitely not.

Manny Acta’s job security

Indians’ GM Chris Antonetti didn’t specifically say Acta would be back, but said he has, “no reason to think otherwise.” That’s not a ringing endorsement and the Indians have come undone—through no specific fault on the part of Acta—and faded from negligible contention. There’s talent on the team, but the issues they have stem from front office mistakes than anything Acta has or hasn’t done. Grady Sizemore was brought back and hasn’t played; Johnny Damon and Derek Lowe didn’t work out and were jettisoned; Casey Kotchman reverted back into being Casey Kotchman; Ubaldo Jimenez has been awful since being acquired from the Rockies.

I think they need a change and with Sandy Alomar Jr. still very popular in Cleveland and on several managerial short-lists, they won’t want to let him leave when he’d benefit the front office and shield them from rightful criticism for what they put together.

Translation: Acta won’t be back and will be replaced by Alomar.

Sandy Alderson says the Mets won’t eat Jason Bay’s contract

The Mets are saying they won’t pay Bay to leave. After this season, the Mets owe him $19 million. Those who are saying the Mets should just swallow the money are living in a dreamworld where $19 million is considered absolutely nothing. Yes, the money’s gone whether Bay’s here or not and while the Mets’ financial circumstances may have stabilized with the settlement of the Bernie Madoff lawsuit against the Wilpons, that doesn’t mean they’re going to hand Bay that golden parachute.

It’s not going to work in New York for Bay, but the Mets will exchange him for another bad contract before releasing him. A release would come next year despite the vitriol they’ll receive if he’s brought back.

Translation: The Mets aren’t releasing him now and won’t eat the money, but they’ll eat some of the money and trade him for another contract that’s equally bad. He’s not going to be a Met in 2013.

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Hanley Ramirez’s Brother From Another Mother…And Father

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Hanley Ramirez and Manny Ramirez are basically the same person with Hanley never putting up the numbers that Manny did to justify his self-centered and petulant behaviors.

Hanley, like Manny, forced his way out of his playing venue and wound up with the Dodgers. Manny did it with years of abuse and borderline acts that would’ve gotten him put into jail had they been perpetrated in society and not in the insular world of baseball. Hanley did it with constant tantrums and long stretches of lackadaisical play. Also like Manny, Hanley is going to the Dodgers and will go on a tear for the rest of the season, playing the part of the good teammate and leaving the team, fans and media members to wonder why such a wonderful, hard-working individual was so misunderstood by his prior employer.

Neither player has been misunderstood.

Let’s look at the trade of Hanley Ramirez and what to expect going forward.

Pennies on the dollar

Given his talent and that the Marlins were so resistant to trading him for this long, getting Nathan Eovaldi and a minor leaguer in exchange for Hanley and Randy Choate is a letdown and the equivalent of tossing their hands in the air and saying, “Get this guy outta here already.” Eovaldi has good stuff and that the Dodgers traded a member of their starting rotation is indicative of the confidence that Dodgers’ GM Ned Colletti feels in getting a starter (Ryan Dempster?) in the near future. Hanley was once a top ten player in baseball. Now, he’s not.

The problem a player has when he has a toxic reputation is that when he doesn’t play as well as he once did, the ancillary aspects are no longer explainable. With Manny, the phrase “Manny being Manny” was a term of endearment for those who didn’t have to deal with him on a daily basis; once he became unproductive and still behaved like it was his divine right to be an obnoxious, entitled jerk because he could hit, nobody wanted him around.

I didn’t think the Marlins were going to trade Hanley in-season and wrote that. That they did move him says there are serious structural changes coming to the Marlins and that they felt they had to get rid of him, period.

For all the incidents with Hanley (the ones that we know about), there was a constant circuit breaker in any attempts to discipline him: owner Jeffrey Loria. Loria treated Hanley like his son, enabled him and sabotaged his managers, front office people and advisers who either wanted to get rid of Hanley or do something significant to rein him in. Former players who confronted Hanley like Dan Uggla were dispatched while Hanley was the one Marlins star who was rewarded with a lucrative contract. Like Mike Tyson was coddled by Cus D’Amato with the refrain to Teddy Atlas, “This kid is a special case,” Hanley did what he wanted, when he wanted. Like Atlas, the Marlins had quality people tossed overboard in the choice between Hanley and anyone else.

When Loria had had enough and sent Andre Dawson and Tony Perez to discipline him, Hanley knew in the back of his mind that even if Dawson did as he threatened he would do and knock him out if he said the wrong thing, nothing was going to be done because he had the owner in his corner.

It was eerily predictable that Hanley was not going to be happy with the shift to third base in favor of Jose Reyes. Simple on paper, it wasn’t taken into account the macho perception stemming from where Hanley and Reyes grew up; that it would be seen as an usurping of Hanley’s territory for Reyes to be installed and Hanley moved to accommodate him; that Reyes got the money that Hanley didn’t; that the financial and practical idea of Reyes being “better” than Hanley would eat at his ego.

The Marlins bought a load of expensive baubles to decorate their new home without an interior designer’s input. The gaudy and cold emptiness is evident in the lack of cohesion among the roster.

How does this affect the Marlins?

Yes, they have quality baseball people in their front office in Larry Beinfest, Michael Hill and Dan Jennings, but there was very little in-depth baseball analysis put into practice when the Marlins Scotch-taped this team together. It was buy this, buy that and hope the team wins and the fans show up. The team hasn’t won and the fans haven’t shown up.

It’s not easy to run a club when there’s a mandate to keep costs down one year; to buy players the next; to do things that aren’t predicated on winning, but on the owner’s whims and needs to validate a new park built on the public’s dime. Beinfest has done the best he can under the circumstances. Don’t be stunned when it starts leaking out that there were significant members of the Marlins’ baseball operations team that wanted to trade Hanley two years ago and were prevented from pulling the trigger on better packages than what they eventually got.

The admiration for taking decisive action when the “plan” isn’t working is tempered by fan apathy. The majority of those in Miami aren’t going to notice whether Hanley’s there or not in a manner similar to them not paying attention to what the Marlins are doing at all. It’s easier to clean house when you don’t have any guests and the Marlins’ 12th place position in attendance is bound to get worse because the fans that were going to see baseball—and not get a haircut, visit an aquarium or ostentatious Miami nightspot—aren’t going to the park to watch a team that’s soon to be ten games under .500 and is, for all intents and purposes, eliminated from contention.

Like the Rays and A’s, the Marlins operate in an ambivalent vacuum where their ability to trade anyone and everyone is linked to the disinterest they generate. Nobody cares therefore nobody notices therefore it doesn’t negatively affect the business.

It’s been reported that the Marlins aren’t tearing the whole thing down so I wouldn’t expect Reyes, Mark Buehrle or Giancarlo Stanton to be traded. They’ve gotten themselves two very talented young starting pitchers in Eovaldi and Jacob Turner. But Carlos Lee, Logan Morrison, John Buck, Carlos Zambrano, Ricky Nolasco and Heath Bell (if anyone will take him) should have their bags packed.

They’ve tossed in the towel on this season because it didn’t work and the “Hanley’s fine with the move to third; fine with the money others are getting; fine with the direction of the franchise,” turned out to be cover stories for the obvious truth: it wasn’t going to work. And it didn’t.

How does this affect the Dodgers?

The Dodgers traded for Manny and the Manny package. They got the good Manny and almost went to the World Series. In a mediocre, parity-laden National League, that could happen again this season. They re-signed Manny for a lot of money and watched as he got hurt and was suspended for PEDs.

Manny was being Manny.

They just traded for Hanley and the Hanley package. They’ll get the good Hanley from now to the end of the season and presumably for 2013 because he’ll be looking for a long-term contract. His current deal expires after 2014. By mid-2013, it he’s playing well, he’ll let it be known how much he “loves” Los Angeles and wants to stay there for “the rest of his career.” That’s player speak for “Give me an extension. Now.”

With their new ownership and that Hanley’s going to revert to the superstar he was three years ago, they’ll pay him and keep him. Whether he’s going to repeat the Manny-style downfall and the behaviors that got him dumped from the Marlins and cast out by his surrogate father—Loria—remain to be seen, but judging from his history it’s not hard to imagine Hanley wearing out his welcome with the Dodgers and being back on the trading block not because of his salary or that it would improve the team, but because the Dodgers will realize what the Marlins did and say, “We hafta get him outta here,” due to his overt selfishness and team-destroying antics.

It’s not difficult to foresee—like the failures of the 2012 Marlins.

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Know What You’re Walking Into with the Marlins

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I had thought that the Marlins truly intended to alter their hardline, organizationally advantageous strategies now that they finally have a new ballpark, but the revelation that the biggest holdup in a deal with Mark Buehrle and presumably other “name” free agents is that the team is steadfastly refusing to give out no-trade clauses, I’m not sure.

Are the conspiracy theorists and naysayers right as they scoff at the Marlins’ excessive display in hosting Jose Reyes, C.J. Wilson and Albert Pujols? Were the welcoming committees and promises little more than a publicity stunt in the hopes that the markets for those players would crash and allow the Marlins to acquire them for team-friendly terms without a no-trade clause?

In a separate issue, the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating the aforementioned new ballpark and its financing. You can read about that here in the Miami Herald.

All of this is lending credence to the possibility that any major payroll increase is going to be accompanied by a “wait-and-see” approach. Sans the new park, the situation is eerily similar to former owner Wayne Huizenga’s spending spree in 1996-1997. During that off-season, the Marlins signed Bobby Bonilla, Alex Fernandez, Moises Alou and manager Jim Leyland; during the 1997 season, they were right in the middle of the pennant race when attendance figures weren’t what Huizenga expected; with no new ballpark on the horizon, he decided to sell the team.

Following their World Series win in that year, they dumped all their big contracts in trades and lost 100 games in 1998.

Even with the new ballpark opening, the foundation is there to repeat that strategy.

What happens if the Marlins sign or acquire 2-3 more recognizable players to join Heath Bell (with whom the Marlins agreed on a contract yesterday), they’re in contention and the fans still don’t show up? Will Jeffrey Loria use the star players to have another clearance and reference floating and questionable “facts” as to his finances and employ verbal sleight-of-hand to justify it?

This is not an organization with a history of telling the truth. They’re ruthless and self-interested and have been successful under a strict and limited payroll mandated by ownership. Everyone from Loria to team president David Samson on down through the baseball department with Larry Beinfest, Michael Hill and Dan Jennings toes to the company line and closes ranks when necessary.

If the business will continue to be run like a glossy sweatshop with the brutal and greedy owner calling the shots, Reyes and others had better be aware that if they don’t get that no-trade clause they might sign with the Marlins, play in Florida for a year and find themselves traded to Oakland, Seattle or some other far off West Coast team that they specifically avoided because they wanted to stay in the warmer weather, closer to the East or were hoping the absence of a state income tax in Florida would allow them to bring home more of their paychecks.

All those who are considering doing business with the Marlins—especially Reyes—had better walk into the situation with their eyes open. Obviously he’d be leaving a dysfunctional and cloudy mess with the Mets, but if it’s between the the Marlins and Mets, isn’t it better to be with the devil you know instead of the one you don’t?

Knowing.

That’s the key word.

Anyone preparing to do business with the Marlins had better know the possibilities before thinking they’ve found a home in Miami.

It might be for a shorter than expected stay. Much shorter.

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This Is Probably Not A Youkilis Deal

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As part of the agreement to let Billy Beane got to Boston after the 2002 season, the Red Sox were sending a minor league infielder to the Athletics and their new GM Paul DePodesta as compensation for Beane being freed from his A’s contract.

That player was Kevin Youkilis.

Beane’s ridiculous and obnoxiously arrogant justification for this was that they (the Red Sox) would find plenty of “Youkilises”.

Yeah.

They’re all over the place.

This is just another reason the Beane tenure in Boston would’ve been a disaster of Michael Bay proportions.

Because teams are now so cognizant of a player’s potential and know what they bring to the table both statistically and physically, it’s hard to imagine the Padres are getting a top tier prospect for letting GM Jed Hoyer and assistant Jason McLeod join Cubs new team president Theo Epstein in Chicago.

The Padres don’t seem all that bothered about Hoyer’s abrupt departure mid-contract.

They have a qualified candidate taking over in Josh Byrnes. Byrnes is a good GM; in fact, I wanted the Mets to hired Byrnes instead of Sandy Alderson in part because he’d been a GM more recently; in part because hadn’t engendered the vitriol with his blunt talk and over-the-top credit-seeking behaviors. Byrnes was one of the two finalists for the Mets job that went to Alderson.

It still strikes me as odd that the Padres would be so willing to let their GM go to a team in the same league—a team that they could potentially compete with for a playoff spot or actually in the playoffs.

Compare this with the Marlins decision not to allow their executives to talk to other clubs about potential job openings even if the job is ostensibly a promotion from their current status.

As dysfunctional as the Marlins appear, they’ve kept their baseball operations team largely in place during Jeffrey Loria’s entire tenure as owner. Larry Beinfest, Michael Hill and Dan Jennings have all attracted interest from other clubs and been refused the right to interview. This was the idea when the Marlins signed them to long term deals. The executives exchanged the right to leave for security—much like a player does when he signs a contract.

The Padres are getting something for their decision, but don’t think the player is going to be substantial; he’s probably not going to turn into an MVP candidate like Youkilis did if he makes the majors at all.

I wondered about this in a posting a week ago and I still haven’t seen a viable explanation.

Epstein knows Hoyer and trusts him, but if this were another team asking to interview him and the Padres said, “yeah, go ahead” without concern as to whether he stays or goes, I’d take it as a red flag.

As for Hoyer, he took the job two years ago; why does he want to leave so quickly? And more importantly, why are the Padres so borderline enthusiastic to see him go?

On an entirely different note, in keeping with the Michael Bay mention, here’s “Pearl Harbor Sucked” from Team America: World Police.

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Rosenthal’s Report On The Red Sox, Marlins And Cubs

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Ken Rosenthal discusses several baseball situations in the video report here.

If Rosenthal’s doomsday scenario for the Red Sox comes to pass, they’ll need a series of psychiatrists not to help them get through the grief of blowing a playoff spot, but to try to come to a realistic conclusion why they’d dump the perfect manager for the organization and the city, Terry Francona.

Mike Francesa said the other day (I’m paraphrasing) that the Red Sox are crazy if they fire Francona. He’s right.

They could pull the trick they did with Grady Little and “choose not to renew his contract”—in essence, fire him without firing him; but Francona would be out of work for maybe 5 seconds. He’s not a great strategic manager, but he controls the clubhouse; makes most of the correct maneuvers; handles the media; and will win if you give him the players. Add in that the Red Sox issues are not his fault and it’s absurd to make him the scapegoat. There are things more important than negligible strategic decisions.

With Rosenthal’s foreboding “all bets are off” with the team if they miss the playoffs, it sounds worse that the reality. I don’t know what they could do in terms of players to shake things up. I suppose they could clear out some of the longtime veterans like Jason Varitek, Tim Wakefield and Jonathan Papelbon; maybe they could consider trading Kevin Youkilis; apart from that, there’s not much they can do. They’d love to be rid of John Lackey and may find a taker for him in a contract exchange, but that’s about it.

The relentless speculation of big names with their eyes on the Cubs job is already tiresome.

Now it’s Larry Beinfest of the Marlins.

Beinfest has worked for Jeffrey Loria for years—is the wackiness accompanying that something new? Signed through 2015 and the president of baseball operations, Beinfest has about as much say as a baseball executive is going to get—this concept of “full autonomy” doesn’t exist anywhere. A year ago Loria refused to let the Mets talk to Dan Jennings, GM Michael Hill or Beinfest; what’s the difference from last year to this year?

Is Beinfest really whispering to people that he’d be interested in the Cubs or was he chatting with someone in casual, meaningless conversation and said, “man, I’d love to get my hands on the Cubs”?

There’s a difference between wanting the job or musing over what-ifs like a teenage girl drooling about the werewolf guy from Twilight. (I’m not bothering to look up his name; you know who I’m talking about.)

Watch Cubs owner Tom Ricketts hire someone young and new like Jerry DiPoto and shun the big names.

As always with the lusty media members pushing certain people for selfish agendas, my advice for Ricketts is buyer beware; hire the person you want and not who the media tries to manipulate you into hiring for their own selfish ends.

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The Cubs’ GM Search

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Speculation as to whom the Cubs are going to hire isn’t enough; it’s already turned into the media and fans trying to dictate whom they should hire, and that’s the last thing Cubs fans and front office people should want.

The poorly disguised agendas pop up immediately.

We saw it last Fall when the Mets fired Omar Minaya and conducted an intensive and judicious search by interviewing Al Avila, Allard Baird, Rick Hahn, Josh Byrnes and Sandy Alderson. They wanted to interview Dan Jennings of the Marlins and were rejected; they even had the audacity to ask for permission to talk to current Marlins president Larry Beinfest—they were rejected there too.

Now the names linked to the Cubs are similar and depend on factional allegiances:

Pat Gillick—the Hall of Fame old-schooler who’s rebuilt teams all across baseball.

Andrew Friedman—one of the architects of the Rays who may want to have the opportunity to work with a big payroll and baseball-mad fanbase.

Brian Cashman—his contract is up at the end of the season and despite his protestations that he wants to stay with the Yankees, winning with the Cubs would be a ticket to the Hall of Fame.

Theo Epstein’s name has come up.

Some of the people the Mets spoke to are bound to be in the mix as will Logan White of the Dodgers; Kim Ng of MLB; Royals and former Phillies scouting guru Mike Arbuckle; and others who haven’t been mentioned.

Would Billy Beane be a possibility?

The Moneyball silliness is reaching its inevitable conclusion and Beane’s reputation is in tatters with another on-field nightmare for the Athletics, who have again failed to meet preseason hype. He’d be a big name for the Cubs to pursue; he’s familiar with the stat-based theory they’re said to be looking for; and both he and the Athletics have to move on from one another.

Regardless of who’s hired, it should be the decision of the Cubs ownership and no one else.

Back when the Mets were in the middle of their interviews, the wave of sentiment was twisted ham-handedly in the direction of Alderson by the likes of Joel Sherman of the NY Post.

Sherman may as well have written, “Me want Sandy” and it wouldn’t have been any more skillfully navigated than the stuff he did write; at least it would’ve been honest.

Everyone had their preferred choice for one reason or another be it a convenient story; continuity of beliefs; or name status.

But I wouldn’t want Joel Sherman hiring my GM. (Or my groundskeeper for that matter.)

And the Cubs shouldn’t want any outsiders drumming up sentiment and inviting calls to all-sports radio as to what they ought to do based on nothing other than self-indulgent propaganda.

There are many decisions that will have to be made once the new Cubs GM is in place, most notably with Carlos Zambrano, Aramis Ramirez and manager Mike Quade.

A younger, more insecure GM will want a manager who’s going to “be on the same page” as in “do what he’s told”; someone more experienced could deal with a cult-of-personality type like Bobby Valentine (who’d be a great fit with the Cubs).

Owner Tom Ricketts has to account for what would be best for the current configuration of the roster; who’d handle the Cubs checkered history; how much money there is to spend; and how quickly they’re planning to have a contender in place.

Hiring Gillick is a short-term call to win fast; hiring Friedman or Beane wouldn’t be.

Independent of what the media thinks, it’s a decision that has to be made by the ownership. The stuff coming out now amounts to little more than noise; noise that would be best ignored for the greater good.

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Extrapolating The Marlins

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Nobody, but nobody had speculated that Edwin Rodriguez would resign of his own accord before getting fired. We continually saw “insiders” and “experts” making statements as to the safety or precariousness of Rodriguez’s position.

Logically, he was going to get fired—soon—had he not resigned.

This is something to look at as to the machinations of the decision.

Here’s my guess: Rodriguez resigned because he was about to be fired and the Marlins front office didn’t want to deal with the fallout of firing another manager and be perceived as a chaotic, Steinbrenneresque outfit that overestimates a flawed roster and reacts by sacrificing the easiest and most disposable member of management—the field manager.

In exchange for his resignation and silence on the inner workings of the club, Rodriguez will have a “place” within the organization either as a coach, minor league manager, roving instructor or something.

He’ll be the good soldier because he is a good soldier. Rodriguez is a workmanlike baseball man who got to the big leagues as a manager the hard way and won’t want to sabotage all that work and riding buses in the minors to tell the truth about how he “chose” to resign.

He left before they could fire him in exchange for a different job.

I’m making it a point to ignore all the continued speculation from the mainstream reporters as to what the Marlins are going to do, but here it is in brief.

First it was Bo Porter, a former Marlins coach and the current 3rd base coach of the Nationals. It’s almost unheard of in this day and age for a team to hire a coach from another team’s staff to take over as their manager.

Then Jack McKeon‘s name was mentioned.

I have the utmost respect for McKeon as an old school baseball man with the bushy mustache and unlit cigar sticking out of his mouth—he looks like he was intentionally cast in the role of a baseball professor.

But he’s 80-years-old.

It’s not age discrimination to say that he’s too old to handle the day-to-day aspects of the job and the scrutiny that will center around his age, the youth of the majority of his roster and that the team has collapsed and is in turmoil.

Some have suggested that the Marlins will name an interim manager for the rest of the season and wait for the potential availability of White sox manager Ozzie Guillen.

Guillen’s job has been in “jeopardy” about 15 other times, but he’s still the White Sox manager. His 2012 option was exercised earlier this season. He’s going to remain the White Sox manager. Not only is he still popular in Chicago, but I get the feeling that White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf likes having the antagonistic relationship between Guillen and GM Kenny Williams. That Williams wanted Mike Stanton as compensation from the Marlins when they made a brief overture to speak to Guillen last winter pretty much tells you how motivated he was to let Guillen go.

The thought that longtime bench coach Joey Cora can slide in neatly as Guillen’s replacement is questionable. Cora is a good, feisty baseball man; he deserves and will eventually get a chance to manage, but as has been proven before, the bench coach doesn’t always walk in and replicate the success of his predecessor. John McLaren is an example of this.

Two things tell me the Marlins are going to go for a “name” manager right now.

One, they aren’t giving up on 2011. Nor should they. The parity-laden National League has left the Wild Card wide open and if they get hot they can still climb back to within striking distance of the Phillies. The Marlins don’t do sell-offs in season—they wait until the winter to clear out the house of veterans or players who are becoming too expensive.

Two, they’re heading into the new ballpark next season and want someone who has cachet and name recognition for the casual fan to drum up some excitement.

Bo Porter ain’t it.

Owner Jeffrey Loria let his baseball people talk him out of Bobby Valentine last year. I don’t think he’s going to let that happen again. Valentine will be managing the Marlins at some point be it immediately or after the season.

They have two choices: Valentine or Tony Perez. Perez would take the job on an interim basis, his son Eduardo was recently hired as the hitting coach and Tony has always said he’d like to give managing another try.

With Valentine, the Marlins are going to have to make it worth his while to walk away from his lucrative, cushy and ego-boosting forum on the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball telecast. They’ll have to pay him and give him some say-so over the club construction. Whether the braintrust—Larry Beinfest, Michael Hill, Dan Jennings along with club president David Samson will be on board with this is a question.

Some might, some might not.

But Loria is going to do what he’s going to do.

The Marlins should hire Valentine and they should do it immediately. He’s a great manager, he’d spark enthusiasm and he’d run the team correctly.

He’s the best choice.

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