Managers/GMs on the 2012 Hotseat

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It’s never too early to talk about who might be in trouble in the front office and dugout.

Let’s take a look.

Jack Zduriencik, GM—Seattle Mariners

Zduriencik was hired in late October of 2008. In retrospect, the worst thing that could’ve happened for the Mariners was the turnaround from 2008-2009 when they went from 61-101 to 85-77.

The 2008 team wasn’t 100-loss bad. They sustained crippling injuries to closer J.J. Putz and would-be ace #2 Erik Bedard and the entire season came apart. By the end of May, they were 15 games under .500 and double-digits out of first place.

When the news came out that Mike Morse had signed a contract extension with the Nationals, the trade Zduriencik made sending Morse to Washington for Ryan Langerhans was referenced on Twitter along with the now-laughable ranking of the Mariners of the sixth best organization in baseball a couple of years ago.

The trending topic is #6org as if it’s the most absurd thing in the world.

But, like the rise from 100-losses to moderate contention in the span of a year, it’s all in the details.

Zduriencik has done many good things as he’s reduced the Mariners’ payroll from $117 million when he took over to around $94 million in 2012. His drafts have yielded Dustin Ackley, Daniel Hultzen and Kyle Seager.

He’s also done some stupid things like signing Chone Figgins and engaged in activities that, at best, are described as amoral such as trading for Josh Lueke, signing Milton Bradley and double-dealing on the Yankees in the Cliff Lee trade negotiations.

It’s not all his fault. Some of what’s happened has been forced on him by the front office (re-signing Ken Griffey Jr. and keeping Ichiro Suzuki). But he got the credit for the 2009 rise, he gets the blame for everything else. That’s how it works.

The Mariners are in a nightmarish division and just pulled off a risky trade sending Michael Pineda and prospect Jose Campos to the Yankees for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi. We won’t know the true end result of this trade for years, but if Pineda pitches well in pinstripes and Montero and Noesi don’t live up to expectations, that could be it for Zduriencik. The “right track” stuff won’t play if the Mariners again lose 90 games and with his contract running through 2013, Zduriencik may be running out of time.

Fredi Gonzalez, Manager—Atlanta Braves

Much to the chagrin of the more dialed-in Braves fans, unless they start the season 10-25, he’s not going anywhere.

He did a poor job last season even before the collapse that drove the Braves from a playoff spot that should’ve been assured. His strategic decisions were occasionally nonsensical and he appeared defensive and borderline arrogant in justifying the way he ran his team.

Do the Braves have an on-staff replacement and if they make a change? Would they be willing to hire an unproven Terry Pendleton? Probably not.

One intriguing option was Terry Francona, but Francona joined ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball and I doubt he’s going to step out of the booth and back on the field in 2012. I’m getting the feeling that he took his interviews with the Cubs and Cardinals right after leaving the Red Sox looking to keep managing and when he didn’t get those jobs, he came to terms with broadcasting as a new career option and will enjoy being around the game without the stifling pressure from managing in Boston for 8 years—pressure that negatively affected his health.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Francona doesn’t return to managing at all for the foreseeable future.

The one name that’s possible with Gonzalez—not likely, but possible if the season is spiraling out of control and needs to be saved—is Bobby Cox.

The veterans would welcome him back and while he’d be reluctant to replace his hand-picked successor, if John Schuerholz and Frank Wren tell Cox that Gonzalez is gone whether he takes the job or not, he’ll take the job. Chipper Jones could go to upper management and says enough’s enough with Gonzalez and try to convince Cox to take over for the rest of the season.

Remember that Cox didn’t want to move from GM to manager in 1990 when Russ Nixon was fired and Cox subsequently stayed until 2010 and wrote his ticket to the Hall of Fame.

Dusty Baker, Manager—Cincinnati Reds

Baker and GM Walt Jocketty have never been on the same page. Baker’s contract is up at the end of the season and the only thing that saved him from being fired at the conclusion of his last contract in 2010 was that he won the NL Central.

As evidenced by trading a large chunk of their minor league system for Mat Latos and the signings of Ryan Madson and Ryan Ludwick, the Reds are going for it now and have to win.

There’s no veteran successor on staff and Francona would be an option in Cincinnati if he were looking to get back in the dugout, but he’s not.

One interesting scenario is if Tony LaRussa is bored in retirement and his old cohort from Oakland and St. Louis, Jocketty, comes calling. LaRussa and Baker despise each other and it probably wouldn’t sit well with several of the Reds players, but if they’re not fulfilling their mandate, they’d have no one to blame but themselves and, like the Red Sox with Bobby Valentine, would have to deal with the consequences.

It won’t matter because the Reds are going to play well this year and Baker’s a survivor, but the expiring contract is hovering over the manager and team.

They’d better get off to a good start.

Brad Mills, Manager—Houston Astros

The new front office led by Jeff Luhnow kept Mills, but that may be because it makes no sense to pay a different manager to run a team that’s going to lose 100 games in 2012 regardless of who’s in the manager’s office.

Mills’s contract is up at the end of the season. The Astros mess is not his fault and he seems to be a competent manager, but Luhnow and new owner Jim Crane inherited him and it’s only fair that they hire their own man if that’s what they’d like to do.

One can only hope they don’t hire a new manager and, like Sig Mejdal’s new age title of “Director of Decision Sciences”, they choose to refer to the manager as “Director of On-Field Strategic Interpretations and Implementations”.

Maybe they’ll hire Keith Law to manage the team. I know I’d love to see that as he deals with Brett Myers.

That would be a narrative!

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MLB Draft Slot Bonuses—The Point?

All Star Game, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, Management, Media, MLB Trade Deadline, Players, Prospects, Trade Rumors

What’s the purpose of a “rule” that is universally ignored and bears no punishment for its flouting?

The MLB Draft has a slotting system for bonuses with recommendations for the amount of money that should be given to a drafted player for signing based on where he was taken in the draft.

It’s well-meaning in a communist sense to try and rein in spending on amateurs and level the playing field for clubs who don’t have the same amount of money to spare that the Yankees, Red Sox and a few others do.

But how’s this work when there are no repercussions for disregarding the recommendations? And what of teams that try to be good soldiers and find themselves missing out on players that the big money deviants who roll their eyes at the “stop or I’ll yell stop again” aspect of MLB mandating and spend more than they’re “supposed to” anyway?

It has no teeth.

Check out MLB Trade Rumors for the number of players who signed and whose bonuses surpassed—by a lot—what was preferable to MLB. And it wasn’t only the first rounders either—AL/NL.

If this is some attempt at slight-of-hand by MLB by having clubs use fudging the slotting amounts as a carrot to say, “well, we’re going over-slot for you”, are they seriously thinking that’s going to work on Scott Boras?

Daniel Hultzen, Brandon Nimmo, Anthony Rendon, Taylor Jungmann, Alex Meyer and a whole host of other names who may or may not set foot in the big leagues all signed for a lot of money.

This slotting bonus concept is another MLB “innovation” that is useless in both plan and execution.

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Mocking The Draft

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It’s nearly draft time in Major League Baseball and the leeches looking to sell you things, invite webhits or garner viewers are out in force.

Now I must have my annual rant as to how silly it is to pay attention.

Predicting MLB stardom/productivity/failure is a colossal waste of time.

Regardless of the strategy utilized by various teams—college players; high school players; tools; stats; legacies—you cannot escape the simple fact that the games from amateur to pro are so different, you could conceivably place them in different categories of competition.

In the NBA and NFL, the games are essentially the same.

In MLB, it’s not.

They use aluminum bats in the amateurs. The pitchers have to account for the inability to jam the hitters by tricking them. This diminishes the use of the fastball—unless we’re talking about a lights-out 100+ mph bit of gas from a Stephen Strasburg-like prodigy—and reduces the velocity.

You can scout and project, but to think that the amateur results will translate to the professional ranks is ludicrous in most contexts.

They’re names, nothing more.

The media controls much of a drafted player’s profile. If they’re coming from a big college program, have had success in the College World Series, or Keith Law starts telling people how good they are, suddenly they’re in the public conscisousness.

They’re names.

Gerrit Cole; Anthony Rendon; Bubba Starling; Dylan Bundy; Daniel Hultzen.

Who are they?

I know Cole’s name because there was an article about him in the NY Times by Tyler Kepner—link. He was drafted in the first round by the Yankees out of high school and decided to go to college.

And?

I’ve heard that story before. Repeatedly.

The young player who was primed to be the top pick in the draft, but announced his intention to go to college.

Todd Van Poppel.

Remember him?

In 1990, then Braves GM Bobby Cox was scared away from drafting him because of that ironclad decree that he was going to college.

Instead, the Braves settled for Chipper Jones, a high school shortstop.

The Athletics (under Sandy Alderson) used one of their extra first round draft choices on Van Poppel; lo and behold, money attracted his signature.

Van Poppel, compared to Nolan Ryan in high school (presumably because both were Texans) became an eminently hittable journeyman; Jones is going to the Hall of Fame.

Cole’s about to go in the first round again. Will he make it? Who knows? But because he’s such a revered prospect, he’s going to get chance-after-chance-after-chance not only because of the money invested in him, but for the drafting team to save face for drafting him.

Don’t discount perception in the course of a player’s development or the recognizability of names to drum up press coverage even if the player isn’t any good.

It ain’t a straight shot.

NFL and NBA players are going straight from the amateurs to the big time.

In MLB, they have to work their way up to the big leagues.

Of course there are some college players who are determined to be close to big league ready and will be up sooner rather than later, but that doesn’t happen successfully very often. Chris Sale did it last year for the White Sox, but the White Sox drafted him with the intention of using him almost immediately and told him so.

Sometimes they’re not ready; sometimes they have to be adjusted mentally or physically; sometimes their skills/tools/whatevers don’t translate.

There are a myriad of reasons why a player makes it or doesn’t and they’re all viable and only understood in retrospect.

Glossy and idiotic.

For what purpose do I want to read about a kid that I’m not going to see in the big leagues for 2 years (if they’re on the fast track) to 5 years (if they’re normal) or never at all (which happens more often than not)?

Bud Selig can come ambling out to the echo-chamber of the MLB Network studio and announce the names; the analysts can regurgitate stuff they’ve read or been told as a basis for the drafting of said player; fans can debate about things they know nothing about…and nothing will change as to the survival-of-the-fittest nature of the primordial climb to the big leagues.

These young players better enjoy their moment in the spotlight, because many times it’s the last bit of positive attention they’re going to get for playing the game of baseball.

They’re selling if you’re buying.

It’s cyclical. Go up and down the drafts at random and look at the first round picks; see how many made it and how many didn’t; think about why.

Baseball-Reference has the draft history right here. Take a look.

MLB, ESPN and other sites paying close attention to the draft and making an infomercial-style, glossy sales pitch and the masses are buying it.

That’s on them; and you if you choose to partake in it.

What I’d like to see.

I’d dearly love to see the draft eliminated entirely.

Think about it; it’s un-American to tell a person that he has to go to a specific place against his will. As much as Scott Boras is reviled for his manipulations of the draft and attempts to circumnavigate it with his diabolical chicanery, he’s not wrong.

Imagine if a law school student were subjected to a draft and forced to go to a city not of his choosing.

The government would intervene. The people would revolt.

But it’s allowed in sports.

Eliminating the draft would raise the prices of the top players and would truly indicate which clubs are smart and willing to spend to find players.

Short of that, how about allowing the trading of draft picks? Imagine what the Rays would do with their massive number of accumulated selections from departed free agents? They’d move up and down the board to get the players they want at a reasonable cost while bringing in multiple assets.

I’d love to see a team with the courage to say, “we’re not indulging in the draft; we’re gonna scour the international market worldwide and spend out draft money there to bring in 50 players for the cost of 1 and hope we hit on at least 5.”

How would that work?

It couldn’t be any worse and it would be far more interesting.

There are so many aspects to the draft from development to opportunity to intelligence to scouting acumen that you can’t account for.

Keith Law can play MLB’s version of Mel Kiper Jr. and presumably make a nice living at it; he can travel around, collect names of players in a word-of-mouth fashion and present the myth that this guy is the next Chipper Jones; the next Ken Griffey Jr.

It doesn’t happen that way. Reality intervenes very quickly, but once the reality hits, the “experts” and MLB draftniks are preparing their sales pitch for 365 days hence.

As long as the system stays the same, I’m going to scream at the wind on an annual basis.

The only thing I can say is, you fly back to school now little (Bubba) Starling. Fly fly. Flyflyflyfly….

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