Cashman vs. A-Rod: The War To End All Wars

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The funniest part about Brian Cashman’s statement to the media that injured third baseman Alex Rodriguez needs to “Shut the <bleep> up” is that at the conclusion, it sounded as if he stormed off saying, “I’m gonna call Alex right now,” in a frenzied desire to directly tell his player the same thing he muscularly told the media, then couldn’t get A-Rod on the phone and told him….by email!!!

How’d that go?

Dear Alex,
Shut the <bleep> up.
Love, Brian

Did he then return to the media and declare that he couldn’t get A-Rod on the phone, say that he sent him an email instead and add, “Yeah, well. Maybe I didn’t speak to him directly, but he got the message!!!” jabbing his finger for emphasis?

Since being a GM has become such a prominent role and transformed from a bunch of nameless, faceless men who got the job because they were former players or sycophants to the owners into the corporate, power-suit wearing, catchphrase uttering, recognizable and approachable entities they are now, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a GM tell a player—especially one of A-Rod’s stature—to “shut the <bleep> up.” Not even the most outspoken loose cannons since the GM job has changed like J.P. Ricciardi went that far, and Ricciardi was about as hair trigger as it gets. When Dallas Braden got into his public back-and-forth with, not-so-shockingly, A-Rod, it went on for awhile before A’s boss Billy Beane said he’d speak to the player. He did and it stopped. There was no public, bullying pronouncement from Beane that he called the player onto the carpet and reamed him out.

From the old-school GMs who have been in the game forever to the new age stat thinkers, can you name one—one!!!—who would say such a thing about a player to a media as hungry for a headline as that in New York?

Dave Dombrowski? Brian Sabean? Dan Duquette? Beane? Sandy Alderson?

I’m not even sure Jeff Luhnow uses foul language period, let alone saying something like that about a player before speaking to him and storming off in a huff with a “I’m gonna go call him now!!” and trudging away with the corners of his mouth twisted downward and a fiery look in his eyes like a child sent to time out. (That’s how I envision Cashman anyway.)

Plus, was A-Rod’s tweet this big of a deal? Or is it a big deal because it’s A-Rod?

Cashman’s goal since leveraging full control of the Yankees’ baseball operations has been to be seen on a level with Beane and Theo Epstein as “geniuses” whose vision led their particular organizations to success rather than a checkbook GM who covers up for mistakes by using endless amounts of Yankees cash (it’s like real money, only more cold, corporate and drenched in a self-anointed superiority). Yet the professionalism and CEO-style is lacking. He’s a caricature and a bad one at that. It’s satirical more than evolved.

Cashman’s behavior in the Louise Meanwell scandal was embarrassing to an organization for whom being embarrassed is the last thing they want and he’s still acting like a brat in a mid-life crisis, desperate for credit and the off-field perks that come with a powerful position, but unable to behave in an appropriate fashion when they arrive.

Maybe that’s why A-Rod is such a continuing source of irritation: he embarrasses them. But the solution to A-Rod’s continuous penchant for making headlines isn’t for the GM to make it worse by trumping A-Rod’s headlines with his own. And in this case, what exactly did A-Rod do that was so terrible? The doctor said he was ready to start a rehab assignment and the Yankees haven’t signed off on it. So? All Cashman had to say was, “The doctor who made that call is an outside doctor and the organization’s medical staff will decide when A-Rod’s rehab will begin. It could be next week or it could be next month.” Instead he decided to vent his anger at the easiest target he has in A-Rod and make a new mess simultaneously making the usual villain, A-Rod, look sympathetic.

We can speculate what would have been said if Derek Jeter has made a similar statement and then go into the litany of differences in tone and public perceptions between Jeter and A-Rod, but when digging underneath all of refuse that has piled on during A-Rod’s tenure in pinstripes, it’s not all that different and Cashman most certainly wouldn’t have told Jeter to “shut the <bleep> up.” If anyone needs to follow that advice, it’s the GM whose own tenure is growing more pockmarked by his attitude, statements and behaviors by the day. And he hasn’t done a particularly great job running the team sans the aforementioned “Yankee money” either.

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Rethinking the GM, Part II—American League Central

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You can read the basis of these postings and part I here.

Detroit Tigers

Mike Ilitch is the epitome of the “do the right thing” owner with all of his sports franchises. He hires people who are both perceived to know and do know what they’re doing and gives them the resources to be successful. With GM Dave Dombrowski, there’s none of the “look how smart I am” pretense in which he wants to win but more than winning, he wants credit for winning and being the architect of the franchise.

Dombrowski is the classic old-school baseball guy who worked his way up organically and didn’t trick anyone with an array of numbers and catchy business-themed buzzwords. Some owners want to hear that stuff and it’s usually either the ruthless corporate types who have no interest in anyone’s feelings and putting out a product that will be both practically successful and aesthetically likable; or a rich guy who didn’t work for his money and is interested in seeing his name in the papers, but doesn’t have the faintest concept into what running a sports franchise is all about and isn’t able to comprehend that you can’t run a baseball team like a corporation and expect it to work.

Ilitch knows and understands this and lets Dombrowski do his job. Dombrowski has built three different clubs to success with the Expos, Marlins and Tigers and had a hand in the early 1980s White Sox who rose to prominence under manager Tony LaRussa. For those who consider Dombrowski a product of Ilitch’s willingness to spend money and little else, it’s simply not true and is only presented as an excuse because he’s not a stat guy. He knows talent, spends money when necessary, but also has an old-school GM’s aggressiveness going after what he wants when others wouldn’t know what they’re getting as evidenced by his under-the-radar trade for Doug Fister. Most people in baseball barely knew who Fister was at the time the Tigers traded for him and the acquisition exemplified Dombrowski’s thinking and decisionmaking as he refused to take Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik saying “no” for an answer. The prospects Dombrowski gave up to get Fister haven’t done much for the Mariners and Fister is a solid mid-rotation starter at age 29.

Cleveland Indians

The Indians use the transfer of power approach when they name their GM. John Hart passed his job on to Mark Shapiro and Shapiro moved up to the team presidency and Chris Antonetti took over as GM. This is not a situation where the GM is actually running the whole show. Shapiro may have moved up to a more powerful position above the player personnel fray, but he still has significant input in the club’s construction.

In general when there’s a promotion of this kind, it’s done so that the team president doesn’t have to deal with the day-to-day minutiae that the GM has to deal with. I’m talking about press conferences, giving the final nod on the draft, listening to manager/player complaints and other redundant and tiresome exercises that make a GM want to get the promotion (or demotion) in the first place.

The Indians GM job and other front office positions are rarely if ever in jeopardy. It’s understood that there are payroll constraints and Shapiro and company have the freedom to teardown and rebuild as they see fit. This year is different because they hired a pricey name manager in Terry Francona and spent money on players Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Mark Reynolds and make a bold trade in sending Shin-Soo Choo to the Reds. Much of this is rumored to be due to owner Larry Dolan wanting to boost the product and attendance to increase the franchise’s sale value and then sell it.

Chicago White Sox

The White Sox are unique in that owner Jerry Reinsdorf trusts former GM and now Executive V.P. Ken Williams implicitly and lets him do what he wants even if that includes considering making Paul Konerko player/manager prior to hiring an unproven Robin Ventura who had no managerial experienced whatsoever.

Much like the Indians, Williams moved up to a higher executive perch and Rick Hahn took over as the day-to-day GM with Williams maintaining significant influence on the club’s construction. Outsiders rip Williams but he wants to win at the big league level every year and tends to ignore development. If contending is not in the cards, he reacts preemptively and blows it up. Another reason he’s so loathed by the stat person wing is because he scoffs at them with the reality that they haven’t the faintest idea as to what running a club entails, nor does he care about what they say.

Minnesota Twins

The Twins are insular and won’t bring in a new GM from the outside who’s going to want to clear out the house of former employees, marginalize longtime implementer of the “Twins way” Tom Kelly, and fire manager Ron Gardenhire. With that in mind, when they demoted Bill Smith from the GM position, they reached into the past for the GM of the club during their annual trips to the post-season, Terry Ryan.

The Twins have a packed farm system and should be back contending in the next couple of years. Ryan is decidedly old-school, has a background in scouting and worked his way up like Dombrowski. He’s willing to listen and discuss his philosophy with the stat people at their conventions, but will continue to be a scouting and “feel” GM as he looks for players that fit into what he, Kelly and Gardenhire prefer rather than someone whose OPS jumps off the page but might not behave in the manner the Twins want their players to.

The Twins ownership is one of the wealthiest in sports but there’s a tradeoff with their manner of ownership: they don’t interfere with the baseball people, but they don’t give them any more money than is within the budget. They treat it like a business. There are probably more benefits to that than negatives since they’re willing to have a $100+ million payroll and aren’t asking Ryan to complete the very difficult task of winning with $60 million or less.

Kansas City Royals

What’s funny about Dayton Moore becoming a punching bag for the Royals horrific backwards streak in which they went from 17-10 to 22-30 is that none of his more vicious critics was saying much of anything when the team was playing well and it looked like Moore’s decision to trade a package led by Wil Myers to the Rays for a package led by James Shields was going to yield the desired result.

Moore learned as an assistant to John Schuerholz and played a significant role in the Braves having a fertile farm system through the 1990s and early 2000s, but might not be cut out to be a fulltime GM. He’s good at building a farm system and has trouble sprinkling in necessary ingredients to supplement the youngsters on the big league roster.

When Moore was making the rounds as a GM candidate, he almost seemed to be reluctant to take the job. He interviewed with the Red Sox in 2002 and withdrew from consideration after the first interview. He then took the Royals job at mid-season 2006. Perhaps he knew something that those who touted him as a GM candidate didn’t; maybe he was happy as an assistant and didn’t want the scrutiny that comes from being a GM and took it because he was expected to move up to the next level as a GM.

Whatever it was, I think of other GMs and former GMs who had certain attributes to do the job but weren’t cut out to be the guy at the top of the food chain because of the missing—and important—other aspects. Omar Minaya was like that. Minaya is a great judge of talent, can charm the reporters and fans, has a fantastic rapport with the Latin players and can be a convincing salesman. When he was introducing his new free agent signing or acquisition in a big trade, he was great with a big smile and nice suit as a handsome representative for the team. But when there was dirty work to be done like firing his manager, firing an assistant, or answering reporters’ questions regarding a controversy, his shakiness with the English language and propensity to be too nice came to the forefront and he couldn’t do the job effectively.

There’s nothing wrong with being a great assistant when the alternative is being a mediocre-to-bad GM and winding up right back where he or she started from.

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The Tigers’ Options At Closer (AKA Coffee, Cigarettes And Baseball)

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Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland is openly and passive aggressively letting it be known that he’s unhappy with the concept of Bruce Rondon as his closer. So far in spring training, Rondon has been wild with 5 walks in 3.2 innings pitched, and has surrendered 5 hits and 3 earned runs. That’s in four appearances.

The Tigers spent the entire winter shunning any pretense of bringing back erstwhile closer Jose Valverde (who Leyland wanted back as recently as a few days ago), stayed away from any and all available veterans like Rafael Soriano, Heath Bell or Joel Hanrahan, and essentially handed the job to Rondon. With the regular season three-and-a-half weeks away, Leyland is looking at his loaded club with a powerful lineup, a deep starting rotation and a solid pre-closer bullpen and panicking at the thought of the entire thing crashing down because he doesn’t have someone he can moderately trust pitching the ninth inning. Valverde had some major meltdowns at inopportune times, but in 2012 he did save 35 games and had a solid hits/innings pitched ratio of 59/69. His strikeouts and velocity were way down making me think there was something physically wrong with him that the Tigers kept quiet, attributing his slump to the ambiguity of closing and mechanical woes. To a veteran manager like Leyland, the known and shaky veteran who’s gotten the outs for him before is better than the unknown rookie who can’t throw strikes.

So what to do about it?

Are there still-available closers—apart from Valverde—that are any good and gettable? Carlos Marmol can be had and if he’s in a better situation than with the Cubs, he might work. The Nationals aren’t trading Drew Storen or Tyler Clippard. The Tigers could sign Brian Wilson and hope the remaining bullpen members—Phil Coke, Octavio Dotel, Joaquin Benoit—hold down the fort (or seize the job) until Wilson is ready to pitch. If the Brewers fall out of contention, John Axford might be on the market. Francisco Rodriguez is sitting out. There are outside-the-box arms like Derek Lowe—40 in June—who was an All-Star closer with the Red Sox before becoming a starter and still wants to pitch. He’s said that he doesn’t want to be a reliever, but that was as a long-reliever. Would he want to take a last shot at closing for a championship-level team? Could he do it? Physically, who knows? Mentally, there’s no doubt. His ground ball rate is still superior and he’d be ridiculously cheap.

At his age, Leyland doesn’t need the aggravation of a rookie closer who can’t throw the ball over the plate. If he’s publicly carping about it, you can imagine what he’s saying to his coaches and is only being slightly more diplomatic with his ostensible boss, GM Dave Dombrowski. Leyland has a bratty side and, like any overgrown child even as he protests that he’ll deal with the situation as best he can, his sour face and underlying tone of displeasure combined with his already tense and jittery presence from a lifetime of coffee, cigarettes and baseball is surely felt throughout the clubhouse in spite of his protestations to the contrary. The players know Leyland, know the American League and probably don’t feel any more comfortable with Rondon sabotaging a potential championship season than the manager does. Rondon doesn’t have much time to get his act together. If he doesn’t, the Tigers are going to have to do something about it before it destroys everything they’re trying to accomplish.

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Yankees Modern Art

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If it were 2002 instead of 2012 and the Yankees had been humiliated by getting swept in the ALCS, there wouldn’t be organizational meetings; statements pronouncing the job security of the manager and general manager; assertions that players who had failed miserably would be back in pinstripes. Since their four game meltdown at the hands of the Tigers, there hasn’t been the outraged lunacy in the organization that would’ve accompanied a George Steinbrenner team not simply losing, but getting swept.

They didn’t run into a hot pitcher. They didn’t walk into a buzzsaw lineup. They weren’t devastated by injuries to irreplaceable players to the degree that they should’ve gotten whitewashed. They didn’t lose a tough 6-7 game series and put up a good show while doing it.

They got swept.

Swept like leaves tumbling to the ground during the Fall season that is supposed to belong to the Yankees. Swept like ash from from one of Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland’s ever-present Marlboro cigarettes.

Swept.

Steinbrenner would’ve openly congratulated the Tigers, noting what a great job Leyland and GM Dave Dombrowski did, complete with the glare and unsaid, “And my staff didn’t.”

As capricious and borderline deranged as Steinbrenner was, he served a purpose in creating a sense of urgency and accountability for even the most seasoned and highly compensated stars. They’ve become an organization that tolerates failure and allows indiscretions and underperformance to pass unpunished. Would he have sat by quietly as the team spiraled in September? Would he have exhibited such passivity while the decisions made by the entrenched GM elicited one expensive disaster after another?

Passivity vs accountability is an ongoing problem for the Yankees and there is an in-between, but the Yankees haven’t found it. How is it possible that the GM is not under fire for his atrocious drafts, dreadful trades, and inflexible and unsuccessful development of pitchers? Is it lost on observers that the two teams that are in the World Series made it with an array of starting pitchers who were not babied in the way that Cashman decreed would be the method of acquisition and development for his pitchers—all of whom are either stagnant and inconsistent (Dellin Betances, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain), on the disabled list (Michael Pineda, Manny Banuelos, Jose Campos), traded (Ian Kennedy, Phil Coke), or failed completely (Andrew Brackman)?

Could the Yankees have used George Kontos this year? He’s a forgotten name, but appeared in 44 games for the NL champion Giants and was a useful reliever for a pennant-winning team. In exchange for Kontos they received Chris Stewart, a journeyman backup catcher for whom defense is supposedly a forte and whose numbers, on the surface, imply that he was “better” for the pitchers than starter Russell Martin. In reality, Stewart was CC Sabathia’s semi-personal backstop and 18 of Sabathia’s 28 starts were caught by Stewart. It’s easy to look “better” when catching Sabathia as opposed to Freddy Garcia.

If a team is limiting its payroll and can’t spend $14 million for a set-up man who could be the closer just in case Mariano Rivera gets hurt as they did with Rafael Soriano, they need to keep pitchers like Kontos who could help them cheaply. They can’t toss $8 million into the trash on pitchers like Pedro Feliciano, then look across town to blame the Mets expecting the usual cowering silence for the accusation. (At least the Mets replied for once and shut the blameshifting Yankees’ GM up.)

Firing someone for no reason is not the answer, but firing someone for the sake of change is a justifiable reason to make a move—any move. No one’s losing their jobs over this? The majority of the club—including Alex Rodriguez—is coming back? Cashman hasn’t been put on notice for his on and off field faults?

Manager Joe Girardi has lost a serious amount of credibility in that clubhouse coming off the way he buried the veteran players who’d played hard and hurt for him during his entire tenure. There wasn’t a love-fest going on with Girardi, but there was a factional respect for the job he did that was demolished with his huddling with Cashman in the decision to bench A-Rod.

What they’re doing in bringing back the entire front office, manager, coaching staff, and nucleus of players is saying that there was nothing wrong with the team in 2012; that a season in which, apart from June and September, they were barely over .500 and putting forth the thought that they’ll be the same, but better in 2013. How does that work? The already aging players are a year older, but they’ll improve?

No. That’s not how it goes.

If the Boss were around, there would be demands to do something. It might be a bloodbath, it might be a tweak here or there, it might be a conscious choice to get A-Rod out of pinstripes no matter the cost. But there would be something. Coming from his football/military background, it wasn’t a bullying compulsion alone that Steinbrenner had to fire people and make drastic changes when something didn’t go according to plan. It was a necessity. Occasionally that resulted in stupidity the likes of almost trading Ron Guidry for Al Cowens; of trading Willie McGee for Bob Sykes; of trading Al Leiter for Jesse Barfield; for firing highly qualified baseball men in the front office and as manager and replacing them with sycophants whose main function in life was to make sure the Boss got his coffee at just the right temperature.

Where’s the middle?

Questions would be asked rather than adhering to a plan that’s not working. There was an end to the threats. Now there don’t appear to be consequences. They’ve gone from one extreme to the other when, in his last decade in charge, there was a middle-ground (still leaning heavily to the right) when Steinbrenner was alive.

There have been calls for the Yankees to return to the “feel good” tenets of 1996 and the dynastic confidence of the cohesive and well-oiled machine of 1998-2000. It’s true that during that time there wasn’t an A-Rod magnitude of star sopping up a vast chunk of the payroll and making headlines in the front of the newspaper more often than the back, but those teams were also the highest-paid in baseball. There was no Little Engine That Could in 1996.

With the mandate to reduce the bottom line to $189 million by 2014, it’s not judging how the team failed as they did in 2008 by not making the playoffs, and buying their way out of it with Mark Teixeira, Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett. Players aren’t running to join the Yankees in quest for a championship anymore and the money isn’t as limitless as it once was, so the playing field is level and the venue no longer as attractive.

You can’t have it both ways and claim to be superior to everyone else while having loftier goals than everyone else and being more valuable than everyone else, then run the team the same way as everyone else. It can’t work.

But they’re keeping this main cast together. It’s Yankees modern art where losing is tolerated and the aura of the Boss is mentioned as a historical artifact like the dinosaurs. He really existed once. It seems longer ago than it actually was and it’s fading off into the distance with each passing day and each organizational staff member’s comfort to the point of complacency.

They’re complacent all right; they’re consistent too. Every year it’s the same thing with the same people, and they expect it to change in the next year.

Trust me, it won’t.

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Miguel Cabrera is Not Going to Play Third Base

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Here’s Jim Leyland’s quote when the Tigers signed Victor Martinez:

“He’s going to catch and not be a total DH. And he can play first base to give Miguel (Cabrera) a night off to DH. And this guy is one of the more professional hitters in baseball.”

Here’s what Dave Dombrowski suggested when they signed Martinez:

Dombrowski envisioned Martinez catching “two or three days a week” with Avila being the No. 1 catcher, but allowed that “circumstances will dictate” that arrangement.

Martinez caught a total of 26 games in 2011.

The above quotes were culled from this piece on MLive.com. (It took me awhile to find it.)

Now the Tigers are saying that Miguel Cabrera is going to play third base to accommodate the signing of Prince Fielder.

They’re insisting that both will be playing the field semi-regularly.

It’s offensive (defensive?) that the Tigers are consciously putting up the pretense of Cabrera moving to third base in favor of Fielder.

Do the Tigers have a born-in DH apart from Cabrera and Fielder to make it so ironclad that both players have to play defense?

Martinez is out for the season. If he manages to come back before 2013, it’ll be very late in the 2012 season, so why come up with this silly and hardheaded nonsense from manager Jim Leyland that they’re not only going to play Cabrera at third, but won’t remove him for defense late in games?

Why?

What are they trying to prove?

Is it such a big problem if Brandon Inge, Don Kelly and “Whoever with a Glove” play third and Fielder and Cabrera alternate as the DH?

If they had Martinez playing in 2012, I’d see this as being at least viable that they’re going to try to play Cabrera at third and see if they can get away with it, but they don’t. In fact, it was the injury to Martinez that spurred the signing of Fielder.

What’s the point other than to be contrary and not step on Cabrera’s toes by making it appear as if he’s being usurped from his position for another player?

I can guarantee you this: if Cabrera shows up as heavy as he was last season and Leyland sees that Cabrera is a statue, he’s not going to play him at third.

He’s probably not going to play him at third anyway.

Here’s what’s going to happen: Cabrera will play a few games at third base, but they’ll be around the same number of games that the “catcher” they acquired before 2011—Martinez—played behind the plate. That number, again, was 26. Other than that, he and Fielder will DH.

Then, after the season, they’ll look to trade Martinez.

Miguel Cabrera is not going to be the Tigers everyday third baseman.

I just can’t decide what’s dumber: believing it or saying it to begin with.

It’s probably a tie.

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The Tigers Quick Trigger On Contract Extensions

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The Tigers extended the contracts of GM Dave Dombrowski and manager Jim Leyland. Dombrowski’s goes through 2015; Leyland’s through 2012.

I wouldn’t read anything into the shorter-term nature of Leyland’s contract; he’s not young and presumably doesn’t know how much longer he’s going to manage.

This is a curious maneuver considering that it was only a few weeks ago when owner Mike Ilitch implied there would be changes if this Tigers team didn’t make the post-season. It was a quick turnaround from that to keeping the GM for three more years.

Dombrowski and Leyland are good baseball men and the contract security eclipses a concern that I expressed when there was talk of the club gutting the farm system for veteran help at the trading deadline—that concern centered around a manager and executive whose short-term needs precluded rational thinking for the future.

That’s no longer an issue because whatever problems arise from a trade, they’ll fall on the desk of the GM and manager.

The Tigers have had a tendency to be reactionary in these cases. For example, they doled out contract extensions on Gary Sheffield, Nate Robertson and Dontrelle Willis among others when it wasn’t necessary to do so and all turned out to be costly mistakes.

Because they’ve played better after an inconsistent start and have taken some semblance of control over the AL Central, the Tigers look like a pretty good bet for the playoffs—something that wasn’t the case when Ilitch made his cryptic statement.

They could’ve waited to extend the contracts, but it’s not a glaring mistake to do it now.

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MLB Trade Deadline Stories 7.30.2011

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Beware GMs/Managers on the hotseat…if they’re your employees.

The Tigers acquired Doug Fister and David Pauley from the Mariners for minor league third baseman Francisco Martinez; outfielder Casper Wells; and LHP Charlie FurbushMLBTradeRumors.

Fister’s a pretty good pitcher and, as the linked story notes, is under team control; Pauley has use and the Tigers are a veteran team with a veteran manager and a veteran GM who are under the mandate to win now; owner Mike Illich has said he’d be “extremely disappointed” if the Tigers fail to make the playoffs.

That’s the problem.

What motivation is there for GM Dave Dombrowski to hang onto any of the Tigers top prospects or think of the long-term if it’s basically known that he’s gone if the team doesn’t make the playoffs? And manager Jim Leyland can barely stand rookies to begin with.

When a GM/managerial tandem is on the hotseat as the Tigers duo is, they’re going to do whatever they can to win and keep their jobs; that could cause them to sabotage the system by making a trade that they normally wouldn’t make if they were working under long-term contracts.

Dombrowski isn’t going to save the Tigers youngsters so Al Avila has a strong base to build from when he takes over as GM; this might cause him to do something the club will regret long after Dombrowski and Leyland are out of town.

Nationals trade Jerry Hairston Jr. to the Brewers.

I guess the acquisition of Jonny Gomes made utilityman Jerry Hairston Jr. expendable for the Nationals.

Yes, I’m being sarcastic.

The Nationals appear to have gotten themselves a good prospect for Hairston in Double A outfielder Erik Komatsu, so it’s a smart move in exchange for a mediocre player.

But I have to ask again: why did they need Jonny Gomes?!?

There’s no evidence of a plan in place in Washington unless not having a plan is the plan.

Are the Nats rebuilding? Are they trying to bring in veterans and win simultaneously to developing youngsters? Why sign Jayson Werth and trade for Gomes while acquiring younger players still in the minors?

They’ve got some excellent talent in the organization now, but winning and developing is very, very hard to do. The Nationals haven’t exhibited any type of comprehensive plan to turn things around apart from being terrible year-after-year and getting terrific players in the draft.

That—with Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper among others—is working.

The concerns with Heath Bell.

Much is being made of Heath Bell’s declining strikeout rate.

It could be something significant or it could be a matter of circumstance. He’s only allowed 1 homer this year and that’s a stat I’d be more interested in than his strikeouts.

Teams coveting Bell have to look at his location and consider the possibility that the hitters are squaring him up better than they did before; that, more than his strikeouts, would be an indicator as to whether he’s “lost” something.

The fewer k’s could be due to any myriad of factors like pitch selection or the types of hitters he’s facing and if they’re trying harder to make contact.

If Bell’s velocity and stuff are similar to what they were in prior years, there’s nothing to be overly panicky about when trying to get him.

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Yes, I’m Really Writing About Wilson Betemit

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The Royals had been inexplicably non-commital about trading journeyman utilityman Wilson Betemit saying that they’d move him in the “right deal”. A couple of days ago, I wondered exactly what the “right deal” entailed.

Yesterday they made the smart move by dealing Betemit to the Tigers for two low level minor leaguers, 19-year-old single A righty Antonio Cruz; and 22-year-old high-A outfielder Julio Rodriguez.

The young players are far from the big leagues; Cruz has good strikeout numbers and Rodriguez’s stats don’t say much for him right now—he must be a tools player. That the Royals got something for Betemit, even low-level minor leaguers, is a coup considering how they acquired Betemit on a minor league contract in November 2009 after he’d been dumped by the White Sox.

Betemit gets on base, is versatile and mediocre (at best) defensively at all positions and he has some occasional pop.

The Tigers had to do something at third base. Brandon Inge has fallen from a hitter with some power and little else at the plate to someone who’s hit 1 homer and a pathetic .483 OPS this year; his other strength was Gold Glove caliber defense at third base, but that too has—statistically at least—tumbled into nothingness.

The Tigers are a veteran team with an older manager in Jim Leyland and GM in Dave Dombrowski on the hotseat; they’re in the final year of their contracts and rightfully aren’t worried about what, if anything, Cruz and Rodriguez become in 3-5 years.

For the Royals, it was a good move; for the Tigers it was also a good move. They looked at their respective situations and reacted accordingly so it’s a positive for both sides.

I was a guest on the latest Red State Blue State podcast. It’s entertainment in its purest form.

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MLB Trade Deadline Rules To Live By

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

And/or die by.

Here’s a logical and well-reasoned list of rules that teams should adhere to when assessing whether or not to buy, sell or stand pat at the trading deadline.

Don’t do something stupid.

It sounds easy enough, but there are always teams and GMs that let ancillary issues like job security of the participants influence what they’ll do. If a GM or manager is on shaky ground and concerned about his own status, of course he’s going to do something to try and make his own situation better whether that hamstrings the team for the future or not.

If he knows his job hinges on 2011 results, what difference does it make to Dave Dombrowski if Al Avila has a solid foundation to rebuild the aging Tigers?

Regardless of what you think of their various strategies, at least you can trust that Billy Beane, Brian Sabean and Larry Beinfest are doing what they think is right for their clubs based on current and future needs rather than what’s going to be perceived as “correct” or “incorrect” by would-be experts in the media and fan bases.

In other circumstances, you can’t say that. Will Dombrowski do something crazy to try and placate his impatient manager Jim Leyland and keep their jobs? Apart from legacy, what stake does Orioles GM Andy MacPhail have with the Orioles as he’s been marginalized by the hiring of Buck Showalter and is likely out the door after the season?

If you see a top prospect traded for a negligible talent like Ryan Dempster or a pending free agent like Carlos Beltran, you’ll get a pretty good idea of the intent and underlying reasons.

Any team that acquiesces to the Padres apparent demands of a top prospect for Mike Adams—a journeyman set-up man with atrocious mechanics and a history of arm problems whose success has been late-coming; is arbitration-eligible and a free agent after 2013 and is 33-years-old—is foolish. Plain and simple.

Don’t say something stupid.

Theo Esptein sounded like a total moron and he was in full self-defensive spin mode after the Yankees had addressed every single one of their needs in 2006 by acquiring Bobby Abreu (whom the Red Sox were after), and Cory Lidle.

Epstein’s quote was something to the tune of “we can’t afford to do certain things; we have to build now and for the future” to explain away their inaction as the season came apart…then after the season, they turned around and spent a load of money on Julio Lugo.

Or Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik explaining his re-acquisition of Russell Branyan with the silly statement that “part of development is winning games” as if Branyan was going to be a key piece to that end.

It didn’t work in any context.

Either speaking in indistinct circles or telling the truth are better than saying something that people are going to remember and toss in your face years later.

Like I just did.

Read every word written by Joel Sherman and think the exact opposite (except when he’s plagiarizing me—click this link and scroll to the section beginning with “Hmmm”).

I don’t care much for unnamed “sources”.

Everyone likes to portray themselves as an “insider” and get credit after the fact for being “right”, but much of the time these rumors are utter nonsense that emanated from some reporter/talk show host’s ass.

A year ago, Sherman had Cliff Lee traded to the Yankees for about 12 hours before—lo and behold—Lee was traded to the Rangers. He went into desperate backpedal in trying to explain the intricacies of when a trade is truly completed and flung his favored “Amazin’ Exec” Zduriencik off the roof of his skyscraper of fantasy consisting of unnamed executives and built on quicksand as he tried to maintain the role of someone who knows what’s going on before the fact when he’s dumber than even the most idiotic and reactionary fan.

You’ll hear the nonsense from Michael Kay, Buster Olney, Jon Heyman and even Peter Gammons.

Ignore it.

Know when to go for it; when to hold off; when to clear the house.

Mets fans have the audacity to take Sandy Alderson’s decisive act of brilliance in getting rid of Francisco Rodriguez and his onerous contract option and are interpreting it as the raising of the white flag.

White flag to what?

If the Mets were in the NL Central and in their exact same position, there’s an argument for holding off on making any trades of veterans.

But they’re not.

They’re in a division with the Braves and Phillies; have inexplicably played about 5 miles over their heads with limited talent and countless injuries; and are not contenders regardless of the propaganda designed to rip them for anything they do.

What do the fans/media geniuses want?

The Mets get aggressive when they’re not contenders and trade Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano and get roasted. They hire Omar Minaya and he convinces the front office to eschew the lifetime severance employment for Al Leiter and John Franco and signs Pedro Martinez and Beltran and try to win immediately, he gets treated as an utter fool after the fact for spending money unwisely.

That Mets team was a Duaner Sanchez car accident and one hit away from a World Series they would’ve won in 2006.

How would Minaya look had things gone a bit differently?

They fire Minaya and hire the cold-blooded and stat savvy Sandy Alderson; he assesses the situation and does the right thing and what happens? The Mets get hammered by the same fans who aren’t even coming to the ballpark now.

Tell the fans to take a hike if they don’t like it.

A team like the Pirates needs to go the opposite direction.

As hard as it is to believe, they’re in the NL Central race. But if you examine how they’ve done it, it’s unsustainable over the long term. They’re winning because of superlative performances from mediocre veterans like Jeff Karstens and a patched together bullpen of journeyman from whom a continuation of this work is not going to happen.

The Pirates don’t have a group of young pitchers who are developing as the Giants had with Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain in the years preceding their 2010 title.

Their defense has saved them and they can’t hit.

The Pirates must make a bold move now to try and win in 2011 because in 2012, it’s more likely that they’ll fall back to 90 losses than to continue the innocent climb.

Have a check on the baseball people.

In retrospect, it was a bad thing that Orioles owner Peter Angelos overruled Pat Gillick and Davey Johnson as they tried to trade Bobby Bonilla and other veterans at mid-season 1996 when they looked hopelessly out of playoff contention.

But back then, it worked as the Orioles got hot and made the playoffs.

In fact, the Orioles were Jeffrey Maier’s act of fan interference on Derek Jeter‘s homer away from beating the Yankees in that year’s ALCS and maybe winning the World Series.

They made the playoffs the next year too.

I’m not saying that the Mets college of cardinals approach in 2004 when they sat there and voted on the trade of Kazmir was the right way to go, but the owner has a right to nix a deal he doesn’t think is the right thing to do. It’s the height of arrogance for a baseball man to sit there and say, “I want to have final say” in the construction of the club. He doesn’t own it, he doesn’t get final say.

It’s not a bad thing to have dissent or questioning from the man signing the checks if he’s willing to listen and analyze rather than bloviate.

If top prospects are traded for veteran rentals, make sure you can sign them or are going to win with them before letting them leave.

Dodgers GM Ned Colletti was criticized for trading Carlos Santana to the Indians for Casey Blake in 2008.

Why?

The Dodgers had a 25-year-old catcher in Russell Martin who, at the time, was heading for superstardom; they were in a winnable and weak division and were built to win immediately. They needed a third baseman/outfielder and solid veteran, so they traded for Blake.

Looking back, you can say it was a mistake, but Blake helped them greatly in both 2008 and 2009 as the Dodgers were a couple of plays away from possibly winning one or two World Series.

Don’t mess with something that’s working just because you can.

The 2004 Dodgers were streaking, rolling and blasting towards the playoffs. They had a devastating bullpen and a team that had grown organically and been built by former GM Dan Evans and manager Jim Tracy; they trusted each other and have a cohesiveness that pure statistical analysis can’t account for.

That didn’t stop then-GM Paul DePodesta from dropping a bomb in the middle of the clubhouse and undermining everything that had been created simply because he could and it made some form of theoretical sense.

Theory and practice are two vastly different things.

Trading the leader of the team and the manager’s favorite player Paul Lo Duca, the best set-up man in baseball in Guillermo Mota and Juan Encarnacion to the Marlins for Brad Penny and Hee-Seop Choi was a failure in every conceivable metric.

Penny got hurt immediately; a proposed trade of Penny to the Diamondbacks for Randy Johnson came apart because Johnson refused to waive his no-trade clause; Mota’s designated replacement Darren Dreifort was atrocious before he predictably got hurt; and Choi was a disaster.

You don’t muck with something that’s good even if you don’t understand why it’s good.

If you follow these simple rules, you’ll have a good chance of doing what’s right rather than what’s popular.

Of course I expect the world at large to ignore me, but they’ll do so having been warned.

It’s in writing.

I’ll be on the Red State Blue State podcast tomorrow. Dig your trenches.

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