An All-Around Bad Year for Rizzo and the Nats

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Mike Rizzo said that the Nationals have a “run left in us.” There’s a precedent for teams coming out of nowhere in the final month of the season and making the playoffs. The Rays and Cardinals both did it in 2011 with the Cardinals winning the World Series after having trailed the Wild Card-leading Braves by 10 1/2 games on August 25 of that year. The Cardinals and Reds are currently the National League Wild Card leaders. The Cardinals have been ravaged by injuries; the Reds haven’t played consistently; and the NL Central leading Pirates are still young and collapsed in both 2011 and 2012. There’s some justification for Rizzo not to quit. Prior to yesterday’s game, the Nats claimed David DeJesus from the Cubs. It was seen as a signal that they’re still trying to add to win now and perhaps have a player in DeJesus they can use in 2014.

The assertion that the Nats are still “in it” would likely have been better-received had the team not gone and immediately responded to the GM’s confidence and gotten hammered by the Cubs 11-1. The DeJesus acquisition wouldn’t have looked like Rizzo and his staff are a bunch of screw-ups if there was a hint that they truly wanted DeJesus and it wasn’t a waiver claim mistake that they tacitly admitted by placing DeJesus back on waivers immediately after getting him. And the team might have had a better shot in 2013 if they had played like a cohesive unit with a definition of purpose from the first day of the season rather than an arrogant, self-important group that believed winning a division title in 2012 automatically meant they were going to be a playoff team every single year based on talent alone.

Rizzo isn’t going anywhere, but manager Davey Johnson won’t be back in 2014. This was meant to be his final year in the dugout with the hope that it would be a logical step in the innocent climb from first round playoff loser to World Series winner with Johnson’s experience being a key. Instead, Johnson’s warts—his riverboat gambler’s mentality; the trust in his players; open insubordination—reared their heads. Barring a late-August hot streak, Rizzo might relive him of his duties for the final month in a similar fashion as the Phillies did with Charlie Manuel. The Phillies wanted to have a look at Ryne Sandberg. The Nats might want to do the same with Randy Knorr.

The Nats are dysfunctional mess. The Stephen Strasburg shutdown from September of 2012 is being used to symbolize the organizational hubris and it’s a perfect example of why nothing can be taken for granted.  In 2013, they don’t have to worry about any innings limits or shutting anyone down because the rest of baseball is doing the job for them by sending the Nats home, far from where they thought they’d be and currently having more questions than answers as to where they go from here.




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Off Season Winners In Retrospect

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Let’s look at the teams whose off-season moves are paying off so far in 2012.

Tampa Bay Rays:

Acquired:  Jose Molina, Hideki Matsui, Luke Scott, Carlos Pena, Fernando Rodney

Subtracted: Johnny Damon, Kelly Shoppach, Casey Kotchman, Juan Cruz, John Jaso

The Rays did what the Rays always do. They cut out the players that were getting too expensive or had been signed as a short-term veteran stopgaps and replaced them with youngsters or other veteran stopgaps.

Molina hasn’t hit; Pena is doing what Pena does with a low batting average, good on base percentage and power; Rodney has been brilliant. None of the players they dispatched—Damon, Shoppach, Kotchman, Cruz, Jaso—have been missed or are doing much with their new teams.

Baltimore Orioles

Acquired: GM Dan Duquette, Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Matt Lindstrom, Wilson Betemit

Subtracted: GM Andy MacPhail, Jeremy Guthrie, Luke Scott, Vladimir Guerrero

The Orioles have played over their heads but Dan Duquette got rid of Guthrie and acquired Hammel and Lindstrom who are under team control and have pitched well. Chen has been very good.

Chicago White Sox

Acquired: Manager Robin Ventura, Kosuke Fukudome

Subtracted: Manager Ozzie Guillen, Mark Buehrle, Sergio Santos, Carlos Quentin, Juan Pierre

Getting rid of the volcanic and tiresome personality of Guillen and replacing it with the laid back Ventura has been exactly what the White Sox needed. They cleared salary by getting rid of veterans Buehrle, Quentin and Pierre. They’re not as good as they look right now, but the AL Central is wide open and they have enough starting pitching to stay in the hunt. They underachieved horribly in recent years under Guillen and are overachieving now under Ventura.

Texas Rangers

Acquired Yu Darvish, Joe Nathan

Subtracted: C.J. Wilson, Darren Oliver, Endy Chavez, Matt Treanor

Darvish has been as brilliant as I expected. Nathan is having a good season. They haven’t missed Wilson on or off the field.

Seattle Mariners

Acquired: Jesus Montero, Hector Noesi, John Jaso

Subtracted: Michael Pineda, Josh Lueke, David Aardsma, Jose Campos

For Michael Pineda (disabled list), Jose Campos (hot prospect and on the disabled list), the Mariners got a top hitting prospect in Jesus Montero who’s still finding his way and showing flashes of immense power and a young starting pitcher who’s also learning his craft in the big leagues in Noesi. They got rid of the troublesome Lueke for Jaso who’s been contributing big hits of late.

Oakland Athletics

Acquired: Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, Collin Cowgill, Bartolo Colon, Jonny Gomes, Ryan Cook, Jarrod Parker, Tom Milone, Seth Smith, Kila Ka’aihue, Manny Ramirez

Subtracted: Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, Andrew Bailey, David DeJesus, Josh Willingham, Ryan Sweeney

Reddick has 14 home runs and is heading for the All Star Game. Cespedes was a silly signing for a team like the A’s, but there’s no denying his talent. We’ll see what Manny does and the young pitchers Millone and Parker are high-end arms.

Washington Nationals

Acquired: Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson, Ryan Perry, Mark DeRosa, Brad Lidge

Subtracted: Ivan Rodriguez, Todd Coffey, Jonny Gomes

Gonzalez has been terrific across the board and might deserve to start the All Star Game. Jackson has been consistent despite not accumulating wins.

Miami Marlins

Acquired: Manager Ozzie Guillen, Carlos Zambrano, Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, Mark Buehrle

Subtracted: Javier Vazquez, Chris Volstad, Clay Hensley, Burke Badenhop

Zambrano showed up in shape, has kept his temper in check and is showing why the Cubs gave him that contract in the first place (the majority of which they’re paying for him to pitch for the Marlins). Reyes is getting hot and Buehrle is a leader off the field and innings-eater on it. Bell’s been a disaster, but it pitching better lately.

Guillen was hired to draw attention and he did so negatively when he started trouble almost immediately with his idiotic comments praising Fidel Castro. Jeffrey Loria is under investigation for the stadium deal and looked silly using Muhammad Ali as a human shield to protect himself from getting booed at the regular season opener of the new stadium, but apart from Bell they’re getting what they paid for for the most part.

San Francisco Giants

Acquired: Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan, Clay Hensley, Gregor Blanco

Subtracted: Carlos Beltran, Jonathan Sanchez, Andres Torres, Ramon Ramirez, Pat Burrell, Cody Ross

Cabrera’s not going to maintain this pace, but he’s still a good player and they got him for Sanchez who’s been hurt and had worn out his welcome with the Giants. Pagan is batting .314 with 10 stolen bases and has contributed several big hits to go along with his usual array of space cadet maneuvers. Blanco and Hensley have been solid, cheap pickups off the scrapheap.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Acquired: Trevor Cahill, Jason Kubel, Craig Breslow

Subtracted: Micah Owings, Ryan Cook, Collin Cowgill, Jarrod Parker

The Diamondbacks are struggling because they’re not getting the same above-and-beyond performances from the players that carried them to a stunning division title in 2011. That doesn’t diminish the work that Cahill, Kubel and Breslow have done. If the Diamondbacks don’t right the ship, it won’t be because of the players they acquired over the winter.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Acquired: Chris Capuano, Jerry Hairston Jr., Mark Ellis, Aaron Harang, Matt Treanor

Subtracted: Jon Garland, Jonathan Broxton, Jamey Carroll, Hiroki Kuroda, Casey Blake, Rod Barajas, Vicente Padilla

Capuano is pitching about 20 miles over his head; Hairston is hitting about 20 miles over his head; Ellis and Harang are respected, under-the-radar veterans.

The Dodgers didn’t spend a lot of money this past winter, but are getting far more than they paid for.

Off season losers and incompletes will be in forthcoming postings.

//

Prepare For The Cubs To Clean House

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The Cubs’ recent decisions indicate that Theo Epstein isn’t going to sit on his hands and wait until June or July before cleaning out the house of anyone and everyone for whom he can get value and/or salary relief.

With the sudden trade of Marlon Byrd to the Red Sox, Epstein wasn’t doing his former club any favors. He got rid of Byrd for Michael Bowden and a player to be named later with the Cubs paying Byrd’s salary. To make room for Bowden on the 40-man roster, the Cubs have designated veteran swingman Rodrigo Lopez for assignment.

This is just the beginning.

In the off-season, the Cubs made a series of low-cost signings for veteran competence. Their biggest and most expensive imports were Epstein, new GM Jed Hoyer and his assistant Jason McLeod.

The Cubs paid the Marlins to take Carlos Zambrano to get him out of their sight. This and the Byrd trade echoed a similar strategy. Presumably they could’ve gotten more salary relief had they been willing to take marginal prospects in return for Zambrano and Byrd, but they chose to pay them off and get Bowden from the Red Sox and Chris Volstad from the Marlins. That Epstein was able to get anything for Byrd at all—with or without paying him—is a testimony to the Red Sox’ desperation to do something. Byrd had managed 3 singles in 47 plate appearances for the Cubs.

Epstein’s not stupid. He knew when he took the job that the Cubs were going to require an extensive makeover. The biggest advantage he has isn’t the history of success he had with the Red Sox and the status of being the GM when the Red Sox not only broke their curse in 2004, but won another title in 2007. The biggest advantage he has is the Cubs’ fans’ blind loyalty to their team. In the past, the attendance—good team, bad team, whatever team—has been a dual-edged sword. They didn’t have to be good to attract fans. In the past 10 years, the Cubs have never finished lower than fifth in National League attendance and it made no difference whether they won 97 games or 66 games. The fans will be patient and support the uniforms regardless of the players wearing them.

They took a wait-and-see approach this past winter and signed the likes of David DeJesus to a reasonable and cheap contract; they acquired a veteran third baseman Ian Stewart; and made the aforementioned deal to get rid of Zambrano.

They’ve gotten off to a 5-12 start and got rid of Byrd.

Expect Ryan Dempster to be on the market. They’ll dangle Matt Garza at mid-season safe in the knowledge that he’s not a free agent until after 2013 and they have the multiple options of signing him long-term, trading him in July or sometime within the next year-and-a-half. They might swallow Alfonso Soriano’s contract ($18 million annually through 2014) completely and release him if he doesn’t start doing the only thing he still can do—hit a few homers. Carlos Marmol needs a change of scenery and will be available very, very soon.

The Cubs’ new regime gave them a chance to show they were a possible fringe contender.

They’ve lost 12 of their first 17 games and have looked lackluster and boring while doing it.

There’s no reason to continue the charade with players who won’t be Cubs when and if they’re ready to contend for a championship. Epstein’s got players to trade and he’s going to trade them sooner rather than later.

//

Billy Beane—2012 Baseball Guide Excerpt

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I’m sure some of those who are familiar with me, what I do and how strongly I feel about the farcical nature of Moneyball the book and how much worse Moneyball the movie was in terms of factual inaccuracy are expecting me to go into a rant about Billy Beane. Again.

But I’m not.

I’m saving that.

This is straight recapping and assessment.

The A’s began another rebuild phase under Beane as he allowed Josh Willingham, Hideki Matsui and David DeJesus to leave as free agents and traded Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey for packages of youngsters. He was intent—so he implied—on waiting out the resolution of the possible new ballpark in San Jose.

But then he did something strange.

He started making maneuvers that were diametrically opposed to a full-scale rebuild. He re-signed Coco Crisp; he signed veterans Bartolo Colon and Jonny Gomes; and then committed the cardinal sin in the context of verifiable stats and knowing what one is purchasing by investing heavily ($36 million over 4-years) in a Cuban defector, Yoenis Cespedes.

Beane says and does whatever he wants.

There’s always an excuse.

The media was focusing on the job status of Bob Geren (Beane’s “best friend”) so he replaced him not because of Geren doing a bad job, but because of media scrutiny being a distraction.

They don’t have any money, so they clear out the house of any and all veterans.

The ballpark is terrible, has no luxury boxes and the fans don’t come so he has to wait and hope the San Jose deal comes through.

No one wants to play in Oakland, so they have to take chances on the likes of Cespedes.

The Angels and Rangers are powerhouses, so why should the A’s bother to try and compete?

If it’s not one thing it’s another.

It’s not hard to be considered a genius when nothing is ever you’re fault; when the sycophants will find an excuse regardless of what you do and whether or not it makes sense.

No one blames him for anything because they’re either invested in Moneyball, don’t know enough to realize that Beane isn’t a genius whose every decision turns to gold or are afraid to protest for fear of being shouted down and ostracized.

He’s flinging things at the wall and hoping they work. That’s not analytical; it’s not based on numbers. It’s pure desperation on the part of the supposed “genius” and willfully blind silence on the part of those who know what he’s doing and refuse to protest are even more guilty.

His team is still terrible and the new template is 2015.

By then they’ll be good and hopefully have a new ballpark.

People in the media and starstruck fans might not want to admit the truth, but people inside baseball are aware. Beane let it be known through intermediaries leaking it to the media that he was willing to listen if the Cubs came calling to run their club.

He wanted the job.

But the Cubs didn’t want him. They wanted Theo Epstein.

People in baseball know he’s a fraud. And he’s trapped in Oakland.

Beane signed a contract extension to keep him with the Athletics through 2019.

That’s where he is and that’s where he’ll stay.

The above is a snippet from my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. My book is now available on KindleSmashwords and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

//

Billy Beane’s House of Lies and Simplified Math

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Another defense of Billy Beane and his “strategy” for 2012 is presented by Richard Justice MLB.com—link.

Let’s deal in facts, shall we?

Here are the players the Athletics have acquired this winter and their 2012 salaries:

Seth Smith: $2.415 million.

Bartolo Colon: $2 million.

This is a total of $4.415 million for two exceedingly mediocre “name” new additions.

Here are the departures:

Trevor Cahill: $3.5 million (guaranteed through 2015 at $29 million with options in 2016 and 2017).

Gio Gonzalez: $3.25 million (arbitration eligible for the first time).

Craig Breslow: filed for arbitration and asked for $2.1 million; was offered $1.5 million.

Andrew Bailey: arbitration eligible for the first time; figure a contract of $1.5 million.

David DeJesus: $4.25 million (2-years, $10 million guaranteed from the Cubs).

Josh Willingham: $7 million (3-years, $21 million guaranteed from the Twins).

Hideki Matsui: was paid $4.25 million in 2011 and is unsigned for 2012.

Michael Wuertz: was paid $2.8 million in 2011 and is unsigned for 2012.

Rich Harden: was paid $1.5 million in 2011 and is unsigned for 2012.

All for a total of $29.85 million based on what they’re guaranteed for 2012 or what they were paid in 2011.

These are the raises for players they’ve kept:

Kurt Suzuki: $1.6 million.

Coco Crisp: $250,000.

Brandon McCarthy: $3.275 million.

Grant Balfour: $25,000.

Brett Anderson: $2 million.

Daric Barton: $675,000

Joey Devine: $180,000

Adam Rosales: $175,000

That’s a total of $8.18 million.

Adding $8.18 million+$4.415=$12.33 million.

Subtracting $12.33 million from $29.85 million comes to $17.52 million.

So from a payroll of $55 million in 2011, the A’s have slashed a total of $17.52 million.

Justice writes:

When (Beane) looked at the A’s after the 2011 season, he saw a third-place club that had neither the payroll nor the Minor League talent to make a dramatic improvement. He had $51 million in contract commitments for 2012 and a $55 million budget even before attempting to re-sign his starting outfield of David DeJesus, Josh Willingham and Coco Crisp (only Crisp will be back).

“I had to look at it honestly,” he said. “Look at the moves the Angels and Rangers have made. They’re going to have payrolls rivaling the Red Sox and Yankees. It just seemed foolish to go forward with a third-place team that was losing significant parts. We felt we had to do something dramatic.”

“Honestly”? Beane uses the word “honestly”?

Where is he getting these numbers from?

They could’ve dumped Crisp’s $5.75 million and found another, cheaper center fielder somewhere who would do pretty much the same things Crisp does. Or they could’ve just stuck Josh Reddick out there and given him the chance to play every day. What did they need Crisp for?

McCarthy just had his first season of moderate health after bouncing from the White Sox to the Rangers and having repeated shoulder problems—which also cost him eight starts in 2011—and failing as a top prospect. The only way the Athletics were able to sign him was because he was short of options for a rotation spot. He’s their new ace?

Someone would take Balfour and his fastball.

Barton was acquired in the Mark Mulder trade (one of the prior teardowns) and Beane clings to him as if he’s hoping against hope that someday he’ll fulfill that potential.

The mischaracterizations and fabrications inherent in Moneyball—the book and the movie—are continuing unabated and unchallenged. Replete with salable buzzwords implying the same party line for his constituency, it goes on and on.

There’s a separation from rebuilding and collecting prospects and ratcheting up the rhetoric to maintain the veneer of knowing what one’s doing, having a plan and executing it.

Are you seeing what I’m seeing?

Lies.

Fabrications.

Political-style calculations.

And the masses are still buying it.

Under no circumstances am I questioning the prospects nor the basis for making the trades of Cahill, Gonzalez and Bailey. We don’t know about the players he received and won’t know for awhile.

That’s not the point.

The point is that he’s spewing the same garbage he’s been spewing for years in a self-interested, self-absolving manner to shun the responsibility for the failures of the teams he built.

They’ve failed to meet expectations when they were supposed to contend and now they’re going to meet expectations by falling to 95 losses.

But it’s not Billy’s fault.

I don’t want to be sold something by a clever marketer/con-artist who’s still clutching and using this nonsensical and faulty biography.

Beane’s become a “means to an end” executive and that end is to hold onto that aura of “genius” that was created by Moneyball. There are still those that believe it and take his word for why he does what he does—they don’t bother to check.

Is it because they trust him? That they want to protect him? Or is it because they’re afraid of what they might find if they dig for facts?

The A’s are going to have a lower payroll and they’re going to be much worse than they could’ve been with worse players than they had because of this “strategy” that is played up in the latest piece about Beane.

When does this stop?

When will the true objective reality be examined and cited?

When?

//

Poor Billy

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So you’re trapped in a division with two powerhouses.

You play in an awful, antiquated and uninviting home park that, in spite of your best efforts, will never be suitably habitable for your baseball team, has few amenities and won’t attract the casual fans, season ticket holders and suite buyers looking to impress clients.

You have a few marketable players—young and talented—signed to reasonable contracts for the foreseeable future.

But the expectations are that you can’t compete because of the above factors.

What do you do?

Do you stick to the blueprint you created to combat these obstacles in your path?

Or do you give up the present and dream of a new ballpark; the ability to relocate; a bolt from the heavens to save you from your inescapable fate?

Well, if you’re the Rays you stick to what you have and try to find a way to win.

And you succeed.

If you’re the Athletics and Billy Beane, you continue the trend of playing the hapless everyman locked in the vacancy of a medieval prison and praying on a daily basis to the Baseball Gods that something, somewhere, someone, somehow will help you to escape this purgatory.

You move forward ably assisted by those in the media, fans and industry who are still immersed in your crafted reputation based on a skillfully presented piece of creative non-fiction that is becoming more and more absurd by the day; the same piece of creative non-fiction that was dramatically licensed into a film and made worse with mischaracterizations, twisted facts and outright falsehoods, yet is given credibility because it was made by an Academy Award winning director, Bennett Miller and has the “sexiest man alive”, Brad Pitt portraying you.

You’re still living off of Moneyball. You’re trying to alter the plot to make it appear as if nothing is your fault.

But those inconvenient facts keep popping up.

Of course there are those who still cling to this aura of genius and shield you to the last. They utter such inanities as “Billy Beane isn’t to blame for sad state of A’s” and Bruce Jenkins plays the role as the defense lawyer trying to defend the indefensible.

Through strategic leaks from devoted emissaries, it was made clear that you wanted the Cubs job. “Billy’s willing to listen to the Cubs,” etc. One problem: the Cubs didn’t want you. They never approached you. They had no interest in you. What made it worse was that they had their sights set on someone who might not have existed had it not been for you; for Michael Lewis; for Moneyball. Theo Epstein was their one and only target and they got him. Epstein’s rise came as a direct result of your somewhat understandable, part-family/part-prescient/part legacy decision that led to you staying with the Athletics.

By now we all know what would’ve happened had you followed through on your handshake agreement to take over the Red Sox.

For ten years, Red Sox Nation has had a paper bag handy to collectively hyperventilate at the carnage your tenure would have wrought both financially and practically. They offered you something in the neighborhood of $12.5 million and were going to allow you to spend a substantial amount of time running the team remotely from your home on the West Coast so you could be near your young daughter…and away from the stifling fishbowl that is Boston sports.

But luckily for them, you backed out.

Down the drain went your plans to trade Jason Varitek; to sign a nearly finished Edgardo Alfonzo; to sign someone named Mark Johnson to replace Varitek; to make Manny Ramirez a DH.

Who’s David Ortiz? Would you have known? Would your luck have been similar to that of Epstein to sign a released player such as Ortiz?

The Red Sox won a championship two years after you declined their offer and, as Moneyball the movie says, used the principles that you created.

Except you didn’t create them

You implemented them.

For that you deserve praise, but not to the degree where nothing is ever your fault; where you receive accolades for what goes well and constant, worshipful, caveat-laden pieces on every possible outlet giving you a free pass for what has gone wrong.

You get the credit.

You never get the blame.

What a wonderful world it is in Oakland.

Why would you ever want to leave? You’re an owner now.

Based on nothing.

You’re bulletproof to criticism.

Based on nothing.

You’re doing whatever it is you want looking toward the future ballpark, money, luxury suites, season-ticket sales, WINNING!!! that someday, someday, someday will come.

Based on nothing.

The Rays are living with the hovering terror of the Yankees and Red Sox in a division that is far more treacherous and hopeless than anything you’ve ever experienced and they’ve made the playoffs in three of the past four years.

What have you done?

They detail a plan and execute it.

You fling things at the wall, make your speaking engagements, wallow in the idolatry and reset the computer when too much malware accumulates.

And you make money.

To augment the young pitching you developed, you tried to win in 2009 by acquiring an MVP-quality bat in Matt Holliday, reaching into the past with Jason Giambi and signing a leader-type veteran Orlando Cabrera.

Your team was a disaster.

You retooled.

In 2011, you signed and traded for veteran bats Josh Willingham and David DeJesus along with established bullpen arms Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes.

Again to augment the young pitching you developed.

Your team was a disaster.

So you abandon the young pitching because, obviously, that was the flaw in your plan. Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey were traded away for that “future”.

At least you’ve kept Coco Crisp and are looking at Ryan Ludwick.

That’ll work because you’re a genius.

By my count, this is rebuild number five. The fifth time you’ve retooled and purged the club of any and all players making a reasonable amount of money as you purse your lips and nod, gazing toward the sun and stars.

Someday, someday, someday.

The ballpark, the young prospects, the drafts, the hope, the hype—one day it’ll happen. Then you’ll win. Then your resume will be legitimate and not based on a mythmaker with an agenda.

It’s lasted forever.

Where and when does it end?

When is someone—anyone—going to stop and look at you with the vaunted “objective analysis” that you harped on so ferociously like a hypnotizing mantra that your congregation and followers so avidly repeated and used to shelter you?

It’s enough.

You’re not staying in Oakland because you don’t want to abandon the team in its time of need. You’re staying in Oakland because the industry sees right through you and your propaganda and no one else wants you.

And it’s enough.

You’ve lived off of Moneyball for ten years. Now we’re approaching the logical conclusion as the only salvation you have left is the old standby of “bad ballpark, bad fans, bad competition, bad rules, bad, bad, bad”. Those who are either too stupid to see or too invested in your supposed genius to acknowledge the truth maintain their blindness, deafness, dumbness.

Your team is a train wreck; you gave up on 2012, 2013 and 2014 because you don’t have any answers left and are clinging to a sinking life preserver in a dark, unforgiving sea.

Yet there are no sharks.

Where are they?

Are they responding to editorial edict to continually show you in the best possible light? Are they afraid of the reaction to stating facts that a large segment of the baseball public doesn’t want to hear?

The plausible deniability you maintain in having allowed the disparagement of Art Howe in print and on film is more telling about your selfishness than anything else you’ve done; Howe, who absent the hyperbole you had as a player, had a workmanlike and respected career you could never have hoped to have and saw his reputation as a baseball man torn to shreds by Moneyball the book and then was made worse by tearing him apart as a human being in the movie. Never once was he contextualized. You never said a word when you could’ve and should’ve.

Nothing.

Because it was to your convenience that he—and you—be judged that way.

It’s terrific to use a reputation as a bodyguard; to never have anything be your fault; to receive credit and no blame.

Nothing’s your fault.

Let’s shed a tear and hold a moment of silence for Poor Billy.

It’s not his fault that his team is terrible; that Moneyball was written; that he’s facing the prospect of an Angels team with Albert Pujols now leading the way; that the Rangers—emerging from bankruptcy two short years ago—have taken his stat-based techniques, bolstered them with old-school strategies and scouting acumen and now have back-to-back pennant winners and won the bidding for Yu Darvish.

Moneyball is bankrupt as well, but there’s no Chapter 11 protection from its chapters full of lies. Being morally bankrupt doesn’t count I suppose even with the protections you’ve received.

Nothing’s your fault.

The Rays are in a worse situation than you.

But at least they try.

So wallow in the love. Accept the sympathy. Watch as your team loses close to 100 games.

And know the truth.

//

Ricketts Should Not Fall For “The Verducci Effect”

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I’m not referring to a writer’s research and guidelines on how to use pitchers.

I’m talking about the hiring of a GM.

Cubs owner Tom Ricketts is receiving endless streams of suggestions, cajoling and none-too-clever infomercial style second and third hand job applications for GM candidates. The most prominent of which being Billy Beane.

Hopefully—for Cubs fans—Ricketts performs his due diligence, conducts interviews and hires the person he wants to hire and not because a Beane acolyte keeps suggesting it or thinks “Beane to the Cubs” would be a juicy story.

In his latest piece, Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated wrote the following regarding Beane and the Cubs:

Beane, once excited about a chance to work with money on the prospect of team moving to San Jose, must understand that Oakland is a dead end job. The club will have posted five straight losing seasons, plays in a football stadium and is no closer to getting an okay to relocate. Beane turns 50 next year, and like great GMs of his era — Pat Gillick, John Schuerholtz, Sandy Alderson, Dave Dombrowski, etc. — he needs the challenge of heading another organization for personal growth, if not legacy. Beane is signed through 2014, but owner Lew Wolff will not stand in the way if Beane decides to leave.

“I think it’s something Billy might consider,” said one friend. “I’ll tell you this: if they ever get Billy to come in for an interview, it’s his job. That’s how good he is.”

Personal growth?

Is Verducci referring to Beane’s ridiculous reputation as a genius or his ginormous ego?

These nuggets coming from “friends” and “those close to Beane” are plants because Beane wants out of Oakland; he wants in to the Cubs; and the media and those close to him who may have something invested in Beane being seen as this all-knowing seer of all things baseball are trying to grease the skids and influence Ricketts to make it happen.

Verducci is the same man who wrote a piece in Sports Illustrated weeks ago defending Beane as the Athletics are—again—crumbling around him; he’s also one of the multitudes who picked the A’s to win the AL West this season.

How is it possible to receive credit without the allocation of blame?

So the A’s were good enough to pick to win the division independent of a bad ballpark and indifferent fan base before the season, yet those are two of the reasons the A’s have collapsed to 14 games under .500 and the situation is now a “dead end job”?

The A’s imported 5 “name” players this past winter—Grant Balfour; Hideki Matsui; David DeJesus; Josh Willingham; Brian Fuentes—to join a solid starting starting rotation; they were picked to win…and the team is a disaster.

He fired his manager.

And the team is a disaster.

Beane was supposedly a “genius” because he had no money to work with and somehow found a way to win; now he’s still a “genius” and “that’s how good he is” in spite of annual failures and betrayal of the tenets that crafted his “genius” to begin with?

No.

It doesn’t work that way.

It doesn’t matter how many laudatory and patently ridiculous books are written; it’s irrelevant how much dramatic license is taken in a movie and who’s playing the protagonist; and it’s meaningless how many writers pop up to defend the indefensible with increasingly ludicrous alibis that you’d have to be bottom-line stupid to believe.

Ricketts may choose to hire Beane and Beane might do a good job, but like last season when the likes of Joel Sherman were pushing-pushing-pushing Sandy Alderson on the Mets, it has to be the decision of the man or men in charge that this is who I want running my club.

Writers have an agenda with Beane; understand that before doing what the media and fans want because they’re not the ones who are ultimately responsible for the aftermath.

And Verducci spelled “Schuerholz” wrong too.

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Hating Frenchy—The Jeff Francoeur Experience

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The Royals signed outfielder Jeff Francoeur to a 2-year contract extension worth $13 million. This eliminates a $4 million mutual option he had with the club for 2012; he’d signed a 1-year guaranteed deal for $2.5 million this past winter.

The responses to the Francouer extension were clear the moment it was announced—and that was before the dollar amount was disclosed.

HATE!!!!

It returned to the loathing he engendered from his days with the Braves and Mets; the way he never “got it” that he was supposed to learn to play a different way from what he’d been his whole life and was enabled by the Braves to do; that he rejected a contract extension with the Braves because he wanted more money; that he complained about being platooned by the Mets; that he turned down offers from better clubs like the Phillies to sign with Royals, where he’d have more of a chance to play.

The hatred of Francoeur is visceral, intense, irrational and absurd.

Before getting into what he was and railing against him due to past transgressions, how about looking at the year he’s having with the Royals?

Francoeur’s well on his way to having nearly 70 extra base hits and close to 30 stolen bases; his batting average is a respectable .277 and his on base percentage is acceptable (for him) at .329. Along with his defense and arm in right field, is this not good enough?

If it was anyone other than Francoeur, it would be; but because it’s him, anything he says and does becomes fodder to rehash what’s happened in his career.

Is 2-years and $13 million out of line for that production?

Francoeur isn’t going to suddenly learn patience and become a hitter who can get on base at a 35% clip. If you know that going in, why complain about it when he fulfills the expectations of what he is.

Considering the Royals future is so bright with offensive players Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler and Alex Gordon in the lineup, is it so awful to have Francoeur as a background player at the bottom of the lineup?

Would the Royals have been able to find someone who would put up markedly better numbers at that price in this winter’s free agent class?

The available outfielders via free agency who are viable alternatives are the following: Josh Willingham; David DeJesus; Michael Cuddyer; J.D. Drew; Lance Berkman; and Kosuke Fukudome. You can see the entire list here.

Via trade, presumably Ichiro Suzuki, B.J. Upton and Andre Ethier will be on the block. Going for the deep strike, they could look at the likes of Jay Bruce, Nick Markakis or Logan Morrison to see if their respective clubs are looking to do something drastic.

But examine all those players.

Are any of the free agents going to be worth the money that they’d cost in comparison to Frenchy? Getting the players I mentioned in trades either won’t be a major upgrade or are going to be ridiculously expensive in terms of what the Royals would have to give up to get them.

So why shouldn’t the Royals keep Frenchy?

As for the other criticisms, attacking him for turning down the Braves contract offer and costing himself a lot of money was his decision; he felt he could’ve gotten more than their offer; he invested in himself and lost.

He was a limited player with the Braves and Mets and appears to have found a home in Kansas City. It’s not affecting either of his former clubs with whom he spent substantial time; nor is it bothering the Rangers.

The Royals take him for what he is; he’s played well this year; and he’s signed what’s an affordable contract. If anyone has an issue with that, the problem is with them and not Jeff Francoeur.

Get over it.

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Billy Beane Is Not Ready For His Closeup

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Tom Verducci took great care to rub Billy Beane‘s ego just the right way in the latest piece to justify Beane’s supposed “genius”—a genius that exists only in the realm of the absurd called Moneyball, coming soon to a theater near you.

More built-in excuses permeate the Sports Illustrated article.

Other baseball front offices are using Beane’s innovations, improving and streamlining them and are backed up by big money; the absence of  luxury boxes at the Oakland Coliseum hinders their ability to take advantage of the lucrative ballpark revenue; and limited payroll due to a cheap owner—which was the impetus for him finding other ways to compete at the start—all provide protection for Beane amid the fact that the Athletics were a very trendy selection for the playoffs this season but have again disappointed to the level of embarrassment.

They were picked in 2009 as well.

They were good enough to pick before 2009 and 2011 and when things didn’t go the way they were expected, the “reasons” popped up.

Was the Athletics fetish a byproduct of convenience to the narrative of Moneyball because the movie was on the way? Or did the prognosticators think that this year was when the A’s would turn the corner?

I don’t know.

All I know is that it hasn’t worked.

You can’t say the A’s are going to be good based on Beane’s decisions and then find a multitude of reasons why they’re not good to defend him. It doesn’t work that way.

In 2009, the big trade for Matt Holliday and signings of Jason Giambi and Orlando Cabrera didn’t yield the veteran presence to bolster a young pitching staff. Holliday was traded at mid-season to the Cardinals in the annual Athletics housecleaning and the Cardinals made the playoffs; Giambi was released and wound up with the playoff-bound Rockies; Cabrera was traded to the Twins where he helped them make the playoffs.

At least Beane’s signings helped someone make the playoffs.

Are the Beane cheerleaders going to twist facts into a pretzel to somehow credit him for those playoff berths for the teams that wound up with his refuse?

In 2010, the A’s young pitching took a step forward and they wound up at…81-81.

This, of course, spurred another bout of off-season aggression as they traded for Josh Willingham and David DeJesus and signed Hideki Matsui, Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes to supplement the young pitching staff (again) and step up in weight class to battle with the perennials of the AL West, the Angels and the surging Rangers.

What we see now is a team that sits at (54-68) and is falling fast.

I may have given them too much credit in recent weeks when I’ve said that it’s going to be ludicrous for the film Moneyball to open while the A’s are in the midst of a 74-88 season.

They’ll be lucky to finish at 74-88.

Beane fired his “best friend”, manager Bob Geren, not because Geren was a mediocre manager who had lost the clubhouse.

No.

He fired him and blamed the media for taking the focus off the field and making the manager a story that wasn’t going to disappear until it was addressed.

The A’s hired Bob Melvin to replace Geren and Melvin is talking about what he wants for 2012.

Um, so now Beane’s manager has a say in what’s going on? Where’s the middle-managing ideal of a marionette dancing on the strings of the genius in the front office, doing what he was told and liking it? The same storyline and club that diminished one of the best managers in history, Tony LaRussa, to nothing more than a hindrance to that idiotic organizational ideal is going to let a respectable journeyman manager—in the Art Howe tradition—like Melvin have any say whatsoever in team construction? Really?

They also recently hired Phil Garner to work as a special adviser to manager Melvin.

If anyone remembers how Phil Garner managed, he was the epitome of the man who worked from his “gut”—that means “I don’t wanna hear nothin’ about no numbers”.

What’s he going to do over there? I thought Beane was the titular and all-powerful head of the organization who made every…single…decision based on objective analysis?

What happened?

I’ll tell you what happened: they’re desperate; they’re a laughingstock; and they don’t know where to go or what to do next to save their one asset whose end is nearly at hand—Billy Beane.

He’s what they had.

He was their beacon; the one selling point.

Now as the team is atrocious and the movie is hurtling for the remains of his reputation like an out of control train, they know the questions will be asked after-the-fact: if he’s a genius, why’s the team so terrible?

The book and movie are for the masses who aren’t interested in the backstory and reality of what Michael Lewis was doing. The majority won’t know or care that the book is a farce and the movie is a very loose interpretation of that book—“loose” in this instance meaning unrecognizable.

But the knives are out for Beane.

Many people in baseball who were steamrolled by that same train are watching with breathless anticipation for Beane to get his comeuppance.

And it’s coming.

So what now?

As 20/20 hindsight and reality has shown us the flapdoodle (I looked up a synonym for “ridiculousness” and “flapdoodle” jumped out at me) that is Moneyball, how can any mainstream writer like Verducci have the audacity to still try and defend whatever tatters are left of Beane’s reputation?

His team is a joke.

He’s a joke.

The movie’s going to be a joke.

That’s your objective reality, folks.

Flapdoodle.

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Teams Are What They Are

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Some would-be “experts” might not want to indulge in a stroll down memory lane, but if you look at clubs before the season and in April and May, you’ll see such teams like the Orioles, Royals, Nationals and Mariners who were playing over their heads and eventually fell back into what they are.

Other clubs have talent but excuses for their failures. The Athletics, Dodgers, White Sox and Rockies can be reasonably placed into this category. Without going into detail, you can look at a team like the A’s—who were overrated for numerous reasons—and say that the injuries to their pitchers Dallas Braden and Brett Anderson hurt them on the mound; that the slow starts from Josh Willingham and David DeJesus robbed them of an improved offense.

The White Sox have been a dysfunctional train wreck for whom GM Kenny Williams is about to hit the trapdoor to send his players—en masse—into his James Bond villain style trap of crocodiles with laser beams attached to their heads.

The Dodgers are mired in (Mc)Court with legal proceedings hovering over them. In fairness, had they stayed healthy, they had a chance to be pretty good. (And I’m not pulling a Francesa and saying that because I picked them; it’s true.)

Certain clubs regularly straddle the line between good and mediocre and they do it on an annual basis; they’re treading the fine line between being deadline buyers and sellers. The Rockies are one such club.

Then there are teams for whom the writing was on the wall if you chose to read it. The concept of the Astros replicating the 2009 Padres and making drastic improvement because of a strong second half the previous season was idiotic.  The Padres had a lot of talent to justify their play; the Astros didn’t. It was a groundless, baseless assertion that came from absolutely nothing other than both playing well for a memorably stretch; there was no context, nothing.

And finally there are the overachievers. The Pirates have been around .500 and near first place when no one expected them to do so. While they’ve slumped lately, they gave their fans a reason to think they could get better eventually. The Mets have played above their heads in the face of rampant injuries; they overcame a horrific start and legal/sale issues of their own to play respectably.

The Diamondbacks have been a revelation.

No matter how a knowledgable voice comes to his conclusions, there are bound to be deviations; but for the most part, teams are going to play up to their talent levels. Did anyone believe that the Red Sox were going to have an off year after their atrocious start? With that talent?

Who saw Albert Pujols having the year he’s had?

That the White Sox would’ve gotten similar production had they chosen to the pitcher hit rather than using Adam Dunn as their DH?

Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia doing the work they’ve done for the Yankees?

Joe Mauer being booed?

There’s a reason they play the games and no one’s infallible, but with a fundamental understanding of players and people you can—within a framework—pigeonhole clubs and players as to where they’re going to be and what they’re going to do.

For many, that fundamental understanding is missing, clouded by a smug arrogance and a refusal to admit that they may be wrong.

Either they’re pledging allegiance to a corporate entity nudging them into a certain direction (the Favre Effect of needing webhits and ratings) or they don’t know what they’re talking about.

Or both.

Will they admit they were wrong? Will they come up with a nonsensical caveat? Will they cling to their agendas regardless of reality?

It depends. The insecure, egomaniacal and partisan will justify themselves like a paid endorser; the truth-tellers with self-belief and confidence will admit mistakes and chalk them up to experience.

It depends one where you’re getting your information and what you believe.

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