Alex Anthopoulos’s Kitchen Sink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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John Farrell From North of the Border and Back

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The Red Sox traded infielder Mike Aviles to the Blue Jays for the rights to manager John Farrell. Rumors briefly had Adam Lind being dealt to the Red Sox as well, but that’s been denied for now–link.

Let’s look at this maneuver from all the angles.

For the Red Sox

It’s a colossal waste of time to take individual circumstances and compare them as if they’re identical and will yield an identical result. Teams have traded for managers in the past, but the results are meaningless because one thing has nothing to do with the other. It’s the same as comparing a team that traded first basemen for pitchers. Without identifying and interpreting the individuals, it’s broad-based and empty.

A year ago, the Red Sox wanted Farrell, balked at the Blue Jays’ demands for him (reportedly Clay Buchholz) and instead hired Bobby Valentine. That turned out to be a disaster and it wasn’t the fault of Valentine. Had the Red Sox put the exact same team on the field with the rampant front office disarray and factional power struggles, they might’ve wound up closer to .500 than they did under Valentine because they wouldn’t have cleaned out the house at mid-season. They still wouldn’t have been contenders and the end result would’ve been equally as unacceptable in Boston, but there wouldn’t have been anyone like Valentine to kick out the door.

This hiring is more in line with what the Red Sox did with Terry Francona as Farrell is an agreeable presence to the remaining Red Sox veterans, is beloved by the media and liked by the fans. All are susceptible to positive feelings from their years as a title contender and Farrell is a conduit to those days.

But that doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to work unless fundamental changes are made to the constitution of the roster. The Red Sox veterans embarrassed and tuned out Francona; they pigeonholed Valentine as an unwanted interloper and did everything they could to make this season happen exactly as it did. To think that Farrell need do nothing more than walk in to make it all okay; that his sheer presence will eliminate the personnel issues that were present as far as the 2011 season, is delusional.

Unlike Valentine, Farrell has a good reputation among the players so there won’t be the avoidance there was under Valentine. They now have money to spend; it sounds as if they’re retreating to the strategy that helped build the championship contender in the first place with intelligent acquisitions rather than competing with the Yankees for big names; and they got the manager they want. Trading Aviles and possibly getting Lind are side-notes to the main story of the Red Sox wanting Farrell. They got what they wanted.

For the Blue Jays

They had a choice: they could be hardliners and try to acquire decent prospects to give the Red Sox the right to talk to and hire Farrell, or they could do as they did and bring in the useful utility veteran Aviles (and his approximate $2.5 million salary for 2013), and perhaps add Lind to the mix with his $7 million contract and move on.

The Blue Jays didn’t want Farrell back and in the coming days as this story settles down, the anonymous whispers will reveal the truth that Blue Jays’ GM Alex Anthopoulos and the baseball people were unhappy with Farrell’s complaining about the Blue Jays not spending money and casting his lovestruck gaze back toward Boston as if he was straddling the border between the United States and Canada. There won’t be open warfare, but the off-the-record stories will be leaked as to what really happened in Farrell’s two years as the Blue Jays manager.

There appears to be an experiment in baseball engineering with the Blue Jays under Anthopoulos. He’s taken great effort to make sure he’s not perceived as a stat-guy or a scouting guy. He’s using both, as he should, and doing it in a “let’s try this and see if it works” fashion and, as of right now, it’s not working. They need to hire a manager who has some experience or whom they trust not to make the same strategic missteps and have his eye on greener pastures (money-wise in pay for himself and spending on players) as Farrell clearly did.

The talk as replacement is centering around Sandy Alomar Jr. and a few other pedestrian names like Don Wakamatsu. I would not do that. I would hire a veteran manager who is strategically oriented and won’t take crap, someone like Larry Bowa. There’s talent in Toronto—a lot of it—but they can’t afford to have a manager who, bluntly, doesn’t know what he’s doing strategically and that was a major problem with the former pitcher and neophyte manager Farrell.

For John Farrell

Be careful what you wish for. This goes for both the Red Sox and Farrell.

If you were casting a movie and needed a “manager” with the square jaw, dominating physical presence, handsome looks, and manager movements, Farrell would be the first one called in. That doesn’t mean he’s a good manager. Being good and being successful are two different things. The Red Sox need a manager now and not someone to fill the uniform and mandate as Francona did when he was hired.

If Farrell thinks he’s bounding back into Boston and is taking the mantle from Francona and it will be the same situation as it was when he left in 2010, he’s got another thing coming. While the Red Sox have money to spend, they’re not repeating the same mistakes they made that got them into the 2011-2012 mess in the first place by ignoring such aspects as suitability to Boston and the pressure therein, attitude, and professionalism. Farrell can have an affect on that, but bad actors are bad actors and, by definition, are going to act badly.

It’s a lot easier to be the backup quarterback, holding a clipboard with his hat backwards, drinking in the adulation that doesn’t come from anything he’s done, but because he’s not the guy who was there before. It’s an easy sell to take the chanting of his name as validation of his value. But he’s now the one who’s under scrutiny when he actually has the job and the responsibility. It was said years ago when an assistant football coach was hired as the head coach, “Now he’s responsible for the losses.”

The honeymoon is not going to last very long if the Red Sox are 15-25 after 40 games in 2013. We won’t hear about it, but logic dictates that Farrell was in contact with Red Sox people for a long while and made it clear that he wanted the job; that he was unhappy in Toronto; and that they should make it happen if possible. Was Farrell made promises by the Blue Jays that weren’t kept? Probably. Did he, as a totally inexperienced manager knowing that the team was still building, deserve more than that? No.

He didn’t distinguish himself strategically and the players knew it. I got the impression that when Farrell was a big league pitcher and pitching coach, it bothered him when there were runners on base and they were a threat to steal at any moment, so that’s what he encouraged his baserunners to do as a manager. But like a catcher who calls for pitches that are easier for him to throw out runners stealing or arrogantly thinks that pitches he can’t hit are pitches that no hitter can hit, it mistakenly permeates his strategies. Farrell let his Blue Jays runners go bonkers on the basepaths and run themselves out of innings. They were weak fundamentally as well. That falls to Farrell.

The Red Sox under Francona played the game the right way and that’s what the organization has come to expect. The Red Sox of the Francona years didn’t have much strategy for Francona to impart. Everything was delineated from the way the starting pitchers were used to the roles of the relievers to the way the hitters approached their at bats. Francona wasn’t Grady Little and listened to the front office. Farrell isn’t Valentine and is returning to the warm welcome as a savior. This combination is troubling.

Is he a savior? If he thinks he is, it’s a problem. If he takes over and follows the strategies that worked while he was the pitching coach and the Red Sox get better players, it can work.

I’m not convinced that’s what Farrell has in mind.

Everyone here gets what they want.

That’s not always good.

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Your Final 2012 Manager/GM Hotseats and Predictions

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Some managers have already been dismissed and others will be gone as soon as the season ends tomorrow night. Let’s go through the list of the obvious and otherwise.

Manager Joe Girardi/GM Brian Cashman—New York Yankees

The Yankees are in the playoffs and barring a dreadful stumble in the final two games against a Red Sox team that’s waiting to be put out of its misery, they’re going to win the division. But, as the Yankees from top-to-bottom have repeatedly said, they’re not in it to make the playoffs. Anything short of a good showing in the ALCS and the manager could be in jeopardy. It’s not Girardi’s fault and if he’s going to be tossed over the cliff, I would advise him to handcuff himself to Cashman as they’re going over because it’s Cashman who should be in trouble.

From the trade that sent Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi to the Mariners for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos (both on the disabled list), to his questionable development of pitchers (Manny Banuelos is going to have Tommy John surgery), and his off-field mishaps, there are many reasons to say enough’s enough with Cashman.

In an ordinary situation, firing the manager/GM for a team that has won 90+ games and made the playoffs would be ludicrous, but the Yankees have a World Series or bust attitude and a $200+ million payroll. Add it up and people will be held accountable for a fall.

Manager Bobby Valentine—Boston Red Sox; Manager John Farrell—Toronto Blue Jays

I’ll discuss them together since they’re all tied together.

Valentine’s putting up the front of expecting to be back because no one’s said anything to him directly and he has a contract for 2013, but he’s gone and he knows he’s gone. This Red Sox disaster was not due to the manager. He was part of the problem, but even had they kept Terry Francona or hired one of the candidates preferred by GM Ben Cherington, 2012 wouldn’t have gone much differently.

Farrell and the Red Sox are eyeing one another like desperately lonely singles at a middle-aged mixer and the Blue Jays will take advantage of that and get a player in exchange for Farrell. I doubt it’ll be someone as significant as Daniel Bard, but they might get something of use and not have to pay Farrell off if they wanted to fire him.

The Red Sox had better get Farrell better talent because his stoic countenance, handling of the media, and remembrances of years gone by as the Red Sox pitching coach aren’t going to yield any better results than what Valentine got without massive changes to the personnel. In fact, since Farrell’s in-game managerial skills are poor, the Red Sox might be worse with Farrell than they are with Valentine.

The Blue Jays know what Farrell is, are unhappy with his open flirtation with the Red Sox, and have seen his “strategery” on a daily basis for two years now. If there wasn’t this clear lust between Farrell and the Red Sox with the Blue Jays thinking they can get something out of it and not have to pay Farrell for 2013, they might fire him.

They need a manager who will handle the youngsters and correct mistakes as they happen; someone they can trust to make the sensible game decisions. I’d go with someone older and uncompromising like Larry Bowa, but if (when) Farrell leaves, they’ll hire a Don Wakamatsu-type. Most anyone would be a better game manager than Farrell. After a short honeymoon, the Red Sox will learn, much to their dismay.

The Blue Jays should wait to see what the Yankees do with Girardi. He’d be a great fit in Toronto.

Manager Jim Leyland—Detroit Tigers

Much was made of the Tigers underachievement and that Leyland is working under a 1-year contract with no deal for 2013, but the Tigers problems weren’t the fault of the manager and they came back to win the AL Central. He’ll be back if he wants to come back, but I’m getting the inkling he might retire. The Tigers are a great spot for Francona.

Interim Manager Sandy Alomar, Jr.—Cleveland Indians

The Indians are interviewing Francona, but the team is restarting their rebuild and won’t have the money to pay Francona or to bring in the players he’s going to want to win. It’s a no-win situation for him because he’d be risking his reputation by overseeing a team that’s starting over and would revert to the “nice guy and meh manager” rep he had with the Phillies before he wound up in Boston.

Alomar is a top managerial candidate, is popular in Cleveland and will get the fulltime job.

Manager Mike Scioscia—Los Angeles Angels

The Angels missed the playoffs after spending a ton of money on Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson; GM Jerry Dipoto and Scioscia are not exactly buddies; and owner Arte Moreno is understandably upset.

They’re saying that Scioscia will be back, but I’m not so sure. This is another great situation for Francona.

GM Jack Zduriencik—Seattle Mariners

Zduriencik should be safe to at least fulfill the final year of his contract and see if the team improves in 2013.

The entire Marlins baseball ops

From President of Baseball Operations Larry Beinfest on down to manager Ozzie Guillen, it’s been speculated that the baseball people in the front office were in trouble, then that was quashed after which it was said that Guillen is on the firing line.

I don’t see anyone as safe and I think owner Jeffrey Loria is simply going to fire everyone in a “Kill ‘em all and let God sort them out,” manner.

Team President Frank Coonelly and GM Neal Huntington—Pittsburgh Pirates

After the Pirates came apart in the second half and the scandal of putting young prospects through Navy SEAL training, Huntington’s and assistant GM Kyle Stark were rumored to be in trouble; Coonelly put the kibosh on that, but Coonelly himself isn’t all that secure.

I think they all get fired.

Manager Jim Tracy, Colorado Rockies

There’s an odd dynamic in Colorado in which everything is done in a friendly, agreeable manner. Former GM Dan O’Dowd willingly took a demotion in favor of new Bill Geivett wielding the power in the baseball ops. Manager Tracy has an indefinite, handshake agreement to stay as manager, but it sounds as if they’re going to make a change with Tracy staying in some capacity.

Presumably they’ll go with someone younger in the Chip Hale variety as the new manager.

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Jason Bay For Chone Figgins–Do It Now

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In a trade of retrospective failures, the Mets and Mariners should exchange two disastrous contracts by trading Jason Bay for Chone Figgins.

Contrary to the narcissism of the armchair experts, neither contract could have been predicted to have turned out as badly as they have. Bay has been injured and unproductive. Figgins has been plain bad. At the time that they were signed, the contracts were heavy but no one—no one—could’ve predicted that Bay would fall off the earth and hit for no power while becoming injury-prone; nor could they have expected Figgins to become a hitter who can’t break the Mendoza Line (named for Mario Mendoza because of his terribleness at the plate).

Even if the Mets were desperate to sign a bat and overpaid for Bay when they were bidding against themselves, he’d been productive and a better than rumored outfielder who put up power numbers while playing in Pittsburgh’s big ballpark. He’d handled the pressure of Boston and navigated the Green Monster of Fenway. 20-25 homers wasn’t an outrageous demand and statistics/caveat emptor warnings against him are post-scripted, self-congratulatory and narcissistic.

Bay is being paid $16 million in 2012 and $16 million in 2013. He has a vesting option for 2014 at $17 million with a $3 million buyout. He has a no-trade clause, but presumably he’d waive it to get out of New York. I was never an advocate of simply releasing him. Some foolish, forum-infused (ESPN to be specific), non-experts have postulated that the Mets should’ve released him last season and signed Endy Chavez to replace him.

Great idea.

And by “great” I mean stupid.

But now, with another 3 months of injuries and ineptitude, it makes no sense to move forward with him if he’s not going to be part of the club when they turn the corner; when they have other players like Kirk Nieuwenhuis that need and deserve to play. Bay hasn’t been a Carl Pavano-type of signing where he didn’t want to play; one who appeared to choose the disabled list over being on the field and whose body language indicated someone who doesn’t care. Bay’s a good guy, has worked hard and hasn’t performed well as a Met.

Figgins is a player who appeared out of his comfort zone as a highly paid free agent and key to the Mariners’ resurgence. In the Angels’ structure, where he was able to blend into the background and Mike Scioscia was clearly in charge, he was fine. With the dysfunctional and disappointing Mariners and the jerking back and forth between second base, third base and the outfield and a powerless figurehead manager, Don Wakamatsu, he turned into a different person from what the Mariners thought they were getting.

It’s better in Seattle now with Eric Wedge, but Figgins’s die was cast.

Perhaps the take-no-crap Terry Collins and a new home will revert Figgins into something useful.

Figgins is making $9 million this season, $8 million in 2013 and has a vesting option for 2014 at $9 million. The Mets would have to eat some money in the deal, but they’re going to end up just letting Bay go anyway. It’s not out of the question that Figgins’s versatility and speed could be of use to the Mets where it’s not for the Mariners.

They haven’t worked in their current addresses and both are going to be dropped for nothing. Why not trade them for each other and see if the new venue helps?

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Let Zduriencik Run The Mariners And Get Rid Of Ichiro

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I’ve been a critic of Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik.

Actually, I’ve been more of a voice of reason about him.

While he was continually being referred to as a “genius”, I tried to provide pause to that silly appellation. He’s not a genius; he’s not a moron. He’s a baseball GM who’s made some good moves (drafting Dustin Ackley); some bad moves (Chone Figgins); some morally repugnant decisions (Josh Lueke; firing/blaming Don Wakamatsu); some of questionable tactics (the sleight-of-hand machinations in trading Cliff Lee); and some that made sense but didn’t work (Milton Bradley).

But in this Geoff Baker piece concerning the future of Ichiro Suzuki, it’s clear that Zduriencik has to at least try to set a boundary as to what’s good for the organization on the field.

As Baker points out, the idea that Ichiro should be placed in the same category as Derek Jeter was with the Yankees is nonsense. But I’d go a step further than Baker—the Mariners not only shouldn’t extend Ichiro, but they should see if they can trade him this winter.

Never mind the difficulty in finding a taker for Ichiro and his contract ($17 million for 2012) and that the player is probably not going to accept a trade anywhere; they should try because he’s pretty much used up his value to them on the field and needs to go for the good of Ichiro and the Mariners.

Could Ichiro be convinced that he would have a better chance of winning if he went to another team? Who knows? I’d say no, but if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

The question that has to be presented to the meddlers in ownership is this: do you want to have a winning team or do you want to continue on with the Ichiro charade as if he’s an institution along the lines of Jeter?

Ichiro is useless to the Mariners as they’re currently constructed; signing him to an extension beyond 2012 would be a disaster even if he rebounds next season to something close to what he’s been in past years. The days of him being a focal point for the offense (and defense) are over; the team has had him and been bad for six of the past eight years; they’re not going to get better with him, so they should move on without him.

The Mariners have dispatched “icons” like Ken Griffey, Jr; Randy Johnson and Alex Rodriguez and were better because of it. Why can’t they do the same with Ichiro?

There are trades that could possibly be completed to get rid of Ichiro.

Would they take Carlos Zambrano from the Cubs? Putting Zambrano in a rotation with his countryman Felix Hernandez and getting him out of Chicago, along with the promise of free agency after next season could yield a strong year from Zambrano. I know they’ve been down this road with the Cubs when they got Bradley, but the salaries of Ichiro and Zambrano are nearly a wash.

I doubt Ichiro could ever be convinced to accept a trade to the Cubs.

To the Red Sox for John Lackey? Lackey has over $46 million coming to him including a bonus if he’s traded, so the Mariners would have to take on a significant amount of cash; but the Lackey-Boston marriage is a failure; moving him to a pitcher-friendly ballpark in Seattle and back to the AL West could return him to his Angels form.

Ichiro might be convinced that Boston is a good place for him to play and his game—defense, singles and speed—would be useful for the Red Sox because they, unlike the Mariners, have people to drive Ichiro in. The change of scenery might wake his bat from the stagnation that he’s experiencing with the woeful and rebuilding Mariners.

The Mets for Jason Bay? Again, they’re taking on money, but Bay’s only guaranteed $32 million through 2013. Bay has a full no-trade clause, but my guess is he’d waive it to get out of New York; would Ichiro be willing to accept a trade to the Mets?

The bottom line is this: it’s time for both sides to part and ownership is making Zduriencik’s life difficult—almost impossible—to turn things around with Ichiro on the team.

Judging from Baker’s article though, they’re going to again force Zduriencik to do something that’s not going to do anyone in Seattle any good at all. And it’s a terrible idea.

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When A Positive Becomes A Negative

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With the Mariners having lost an obscene 15 games in a row and beginning a series with the Yankees tonight, their rebuilding project has hit another sticking point.

They were at .500 when this streak started and GM Jack Zduriencik was looking to buy rather than sell.

That’s long gone.

What happens with Zduriencik remains to be seen. He was clearly on thin ice last season not because of the 100-losses, but because of the haphazard and, at best, dysfunctional way in which the team was run.

The excuses for what was there when Zduriencik arrived are all well and good: “The farm system was barren”; “The team was terrible”; “There were bloated contracts and a lack of analytics”; etc.

Fair.

Accurate.

But this team is an embarrassment. Most of the current club’s future were in place before Zduriencik was hired. Felix Hernandez, Michael Pineda, Greg Halman and Carlos Peguero were in the organization.

We don’t know how the drafts under Zduriencik have gone. Dustin Ackley is going to be a star. But we won’t know how well or poorly they did in their selections and other amateur acquisitions for quite awhile.

And the big league team he’s put together is atrocious.

Is Justin Smoak the player he was earlier in the season or is he the slumping youngster he is now? He’s hit at every level, so he’s going to eventually hit in the big leagues. But what else has Zduriencik done to distinguish himself as anything more than misplaced hype based on an agenda?

Zduriencik has brought in Chone Figgins, Jack Wilson, Milton Bradley and Ian Snell—none of whom worked out and many have been utter disasters. He’s done a lot of things that have made no sense like trading for Russell Branyan at mid-season 2010 after letting him leave as a free agent the previous winter and surrendering a youngster who looks like he can play, Ezequiel Carrera, to do it.

Yes, he got Brandon League who was an All Star in 2011, but he traded Brandon Morrow to do it.

He did Morrow a favor by trading him after the unfulfilled promise with the Mariners and that he was never going to get past having been drafted before Tim Lincecum, but it’s a recurring nightmare that for every decision that’s worked, five haven’t.

Everything—the shady trading practices; inexplicable and backwards statements; indecision as to what they are and where they’re headed; sacrificial blame games that were perpetrated on former manager Don Wakamatsu—all adds up to the albatross of heightened expectations.

The combination of his reputation as a scout with an understanding and adherence to advanced stats, the gambler’s mentality in making drastic moves like trading J.J. Putz to the Mets and getting Cliff Lee from the Phillies and that the team radically overachieved in his first season without Zduriencik having done anything significant to improve the team led to the belief that things were getting better faster than they were; faster than they should’ve.

If the Mariners had it to do over again, I’m sure they would quietly admit that they’d have been better off having a 71-91 year in 2009 rather than 85-77. No one would’ve been surprised and the desperation to win immediately would’ve been lessened.

They would’ve had the opportunity to grow organically without the crafted narrative surrounding a non-existent, stat-based revolution the type we’re seeing come crashing to the ground with Moneyball and the Athletics train wreck along with the requisite excuses for the failures that are becoming more and more ludicrous.

A few days ago, I wrote that considering everything that happened with the Mariners in 2010, 2011’s positives couldn’t be ignored despite this horrific run.

That’s still true.

But I’m looking at things from a perch of indifference. I couldn’t care less what Zduriencik’s beliefs in building a club are and I’m not desperate to have my theories proven as “right”. I’m seeing things as they were and as they are. He wasn’t a “genius” nor an “Amazin’ Exec” when he took over and he’s not that now. Nor is he a fool.

But the fans are undoubtedly exhausted by all that’s gone south for the Mariners since that 85-win season. The reputation was media-created, but no one wants to hear that as they’re setting franchise records for losing streaks.

Patience may be wearing thin in Seattle with the regime. And given the work they’ve done—work that is documented and found to be wanting on and off the field—it’s easy to understand why.

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Team Turmoil

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By now you’re probably aware of the Jack WilsonEric Wedge disagreement over Wilson leaving last Wednesday’s game after making two errors at second base—Seattle PI Blog.

Most observers have taken stood squarely behind Mariners new manager, Wedge. I also agree with Wedge’s anger, but have to give some perspective as to Wilson’s position—literally and figuratively—in the matter.

While it’s not as egregious as it was last year, this Mariners early season distraction is a sign of still simmering issues in the clubhouse. The front office flung manager Don Wakamatsu overboard as the team’s promising season was a disaster on the field and a humiliation off. Wedge was hired because he’s more of a known quantity and fearless disciplinarian who isn’t going to tolerate similar nonsense as that which undermined Wakamatsu’s credibility and, in part, cost him his job.

But here’s a legitimate defense of Wilson: he’s a shortstop and not a second baseman; he’s a free agent at the end of the year; and it’s not very fair of the Mariners to do this to him at this point in his career.

Learning a new position on the fly in the final year of his contract is difficult on many levels—financial and practical; clearly he’s going to have trepidation about the shift and won’t be immediately comfortable. We’ve all had moments of “forget this, I’m leaving”; it just so happens that Wilson did it on a major league baseball diamond and had to answer a load of questions about it after contradicting his manager’s statement as to why.

It was a mistake and a lack of communication, but Wilson’s point-of-view isn’t out of order.

Wilson may statistically be seen as inferior defensively to Brendan Ryan at shortstop (and it’s highly debatable), but shouldn’t Wilson—as the returning veteran—have gotten priority to where he plays independent of stats?

Ryan can play second base as well. It’s not as if they imported Ozzie Smith to play shortstop; we’re talking about Brendan Ryan.

Wilson had never played second base professionally before this season and Ryan has. Is it fair to expect Wilson to be able to handle it without missing a beat? Without mistakes and frustration? Even a little fear?

Tsuyoshi Nishioka of the Twins just had his fibula broken by Nick Swisher on a clean play in which Swisher was breaking up a double play. It’s one of the hazards of playing second base and overcoming those mental hurdles without adequate preparation or experience takes time.

Regardless of the new, no-nonsense manager in the Mariners dugout, this provokes greater outside wonderment at the club hierarchy and why they’re so fond of making these questionable changes for negligible reasons. Last year it was the moving of an elite defensive third baseman, Chone Figgins to second base and Jose Lopez to third; this year it’s Wilson to second to make room for Ryan.

It seems that the Mariners are shifting players around based on numbers without accounting for the human being who’s asked to do something he’s unsure of and possibly lacking competency in doing.

As said earlier, Wilson’s a free agent at the end of the year and at age 34 with injury issues and poor offense, his options aren’t going to be great to begin with; it’s probably his last chance at a decent, long-term deal. The last things he needs are an injury or terrible year playing second base instead of shortstop.

As for Ryan, this is the second time this young season he’s been discussed in a bizarre context and neither have been his fault. First there was the NY Times column about which I wrote a posting on March 27th where the Cardinals winning record in games with Ryan in the lineup last season were somehow connected (banished logic included); now he’s caught in the crossfire of a teammate being usurped.

For a limited in talent, journeyman player, Ryan’s getting a lot of—too much—attention and now it’s affecting the whole Mariners team; a team that didn’t need controversy after a disastrous 2010 and hired the new manager specifically to get past all of that.

Instead of turning the page, the Mariners have picked up where they left off. And it’s not good.

****

Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

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//

The Seattle Zoo

Hot Stove

Despite his arrest on charges of threatening a woman, Mariners outfielder Milton Bradley will be brought to camp this spring—Seattle Times Story.

This is on the heels of a hellish 2010 season; a season that was incomprehensible in terms of everything that could have gone wrong not simply going wrong, but going beyond wrong into the ludicrous and felonious.

Oh, and non-roster invitee Adam Kennedy was arrested for DUI Wednesday night.

Individually, the events that have befallen the Mariners organization in the past year can be chalked up to humanity and “stuff” happening; but as a whole, the team appears to be a dysfunctional, enabling, morally and ethically challenged zoo poisoned by a culture of subterfuge and semantics and protected by those who have a stake in the current regime’s success.

The suggestion that I’m harping on the negatives of the tenure of GM Jack Zduriencik as some means of advancing my own interests is nonsense. Since he took over, I’ve taken great steps to do two things: One, I’ve said that he’s a smart man and qualified baseball executive; two, I’ve emphatically suggested that the appellation of “genius” after one season on the job was not only hasty, but unfair, inaccurate and potentially damaging.

It’s not a mystery as to why those who are so immersed in their own agendas are clinging to the notion that Zduriencik—with an affinity for stats and information along with a background in scouting—is destined to lead the Mariners to glory. But there comes a time for reality—objective reality that is so often trumpeted as the true way to run a club effectively.

And the objective reality is that the Mariners have degenerated into a laughable nightmare on and off the field.

No one could’ve lived up to the hype that Zduriencik has endured in his rise and ongoing fall. Much like the Moneyball crowd has altered their rhetoric and the participants and facilitator—Michael Lewis—adjusted to account for the book’s inaccuracies in theory and practice, the goalposts are being moved for their beloved Jack Z.

None of that is relevant.

Had the Mariners gone from an 85 win club and rising force to 100 losses, it would’ve been tolerable and chalked up to happenstance. Everything that went right in 2009 went wrong in 2010. Fair enough. But the off-field incidents and allegations of malfeasance on the part of the GM are getting to be too much to withstand.

The way in which the Mariners backed out on a supposedly agreed upon deal to send Cliff Lee to the Yankees was shady but explainable. That the deal they did make brought them Josh Lueke, who’d pleaded no contest to a sexual assault while in the Rangers minor league system, and the subsequent spin doctoring and misleading statements from the club were indicative of the disconnect that’s still going on.

The Ken Griffey Jr. napping episode; Chone Figgins‘s near fistfight with then-manager Don Wakamatsu; the firing of Wakamatsu as an exercise in “here, blame him”; the Bradley drama that never ends—it’s all within the confines of criticism for those who are running the organization.

And they’re bringing Bradley back.

The Mariners are giving the impression of disinterest in the behavior of their employees. That would be somewhat acceptable if Bradley could still play!!!If he’d done anything last season on the field to warrant being given another chance!!! If there was a reason to keep him apart from his $12 million salary for 2011!!!

Bradley batted .205 last season; his on base percentage was .292; he hit 8 homers and struck out 75 times in 278 plate appearances.

What use is he other than as an explosion waiting to happen?

If the Mariners are keeping Bradley because of his salary or through some misguided notion that he’s still able to contribute, then they need to re-think their analytical skills. The money is gone; maybe they can reach a financial settlement rather than go through a legal avenue to void the contract based on morals clauses and habitual offenses—that’s debatable—but he’s useless to them.

The theme is recurring.

And it has to stop.

For all the success they’ve had in the past four seasons, I’m convinced that the Rays turnaround stemmed not  from the name change of “Devil Rays” to “Rays”; not from the number one draft picks and prospects accumulated by the current and prior regimes; not from their luck changing, but because of the conscious decision after the 2007 season—which had eerie similarities to the Mariners 2010 season—to dispatch of any and all malcontents and misanthropes in the organization.

The Rays dumped the gifted Josh Hamilton; traded former number one draft pick Delmon Young; and traded Elijah Dukes. Pitching coach Jim Hickey’s DUI appeared to be the final straw for the club in 2007; after that, they didn’t tolerate any more off-field garbage. Bringing in character players like Eric Hinske, Troy Percival, Carlos Pena, Dan Wheeler and Cliff Floyd helped; but it was the “no…more….crap” edict that I believe altered their fortunes.

It doesn’t matter than Hamilton has blossomed into a star; that the Young deal was a terrific one for the Rays; nor that they were right about Dukes—the results with those players means nothing. What was important was the message that if these players and employees didn’t want to adhere to a reasonable code of personal conduct, they could go elsewhere.

The Mariners need to do this.

The statement, “If you don’t want to be here, we will accommodate you” isn’t a threat; it’s not a warning; it’s a fact.

If Milton Bradley hit like Albert Pujols, I’d understand and agree—put up with it—but he doesn’t.

Have the Mariners, after the last year, not reached that threshold?

The broken window policy is a key to regaining respect as an organization. What happens on the field is secondary to the perception that the Mariners are a place where you don’t want to be if you’re a player.

I was of the opinion that the Mariners, regardless of their on-field results, had to act appropriately off the field if Zduriencik is going to survive as GM. It’s January and already they’re in the front part of the newspaper rather than the back where they belong—twice.

It’s not a good start to a new year.

Not at all.

How much are they willing to take? And when’s it going to stop?

When?

Managerial Torture Device

Hot Stove
  • The hotseat is almost empty:

I’m an advocate of using power and weapons when they’re available, otherwise what’s the point?

This isn’t a capricious suggestion to bully or abuse those that are weaker, but a logical and organized strategy to achieve one’s ends. It only makes sense to make use of everything available to succeed.

That said, the managerial hotseat—a look at baseball bosses in uniforms and suits—who might be in trouble is always fodder for an interesting bit of speculation.

But what happens when there’s a bloodletting in a prior year? When a spate of managers and executives who were accurately judged to have been on notice that their jobs were in jeopardy and have been replaced or survived?

Obviously, the new people taking over aren’t going to be fired unless they commit some heinous act off the field or they’re presiding over a disaster. We’ve seen this twice in recent weeks as the University of Pittsburgh fired their newly hired head football coach Mike Haywood after a domestic violence arrest—Sporting News Story; and the New Jersey Devils fired their first year head coach John MacLean after an atrocious start for a consistently successful franchise—NBC Sports.

If you look at the usual suspects or teams that had issues a year ago, all have been resolved. The Mets, Cubs, Orioles, Yankees, Royals, Reds and others have settled their situations with contract extensions or new hires. The Rangers aren’t firing Ron Washington the year after he won the pennant; the Diamondbacks new GM Kevin Towers kept Kirk Gibson, so presumably, he’s safe. Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland are both in the final years of their contracts, so if things go badly for the free-spending Tigers, I suppose there could be changes made, but owner Mike Ilich is very loyal and doesn’t fire people for the sake of it; if a change is made, it wouldn’t be until the end of the season and I doubt it’s going to happen anyway because the Tigers are going to be good.

That said, there are a few baseball people starting the season in trouble or could be in trouble if circumstances are right (or, for them, wrong).

Could there be certain people in jeopardy? Maybe?

Let’s see.

Ozzie Guillen, MGR—Chicago White Sox

“What you see here, what you say here, what you hear here, let it stay here when you leave here.”

For time immemorial, this has been a mantra amongst team personnel. Some even have signs up in the clubhouse/locker room to hammer home the point in some similarly phrased context that essentially means, “keep your mouth shut”.

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen’s son Oney either hasn’t gotten the memo or doesn’t care.

Judging from this ESPN Story regarding Oney’s Twitter revelations about Bobby Jenks and GM Ken Williams‘s response, Ozzie has to pull the reins on his son if he wants to have any kind of relationship with his boss; if he’d like to remain as the White Sox manager past this season…or even last the season if the team underachieves.

Ozzie can claim that he doesn’t have control over anything Oney does, but this is about the Ozzie’s job; it’s about the clubhouse and that which should not be out in the public sphere.

This is the responsibility of Ozzie Guillen and it’s undermining his job in a myriad of ways. There’s been controversy and conflict with the White Sox since Ozzie took over—they seem to cultivate it—but this is different.

I’ve wondered about Ozzie’s job security before but the club has never appeared to come close to pulling the trigger. This past winter, they were willing to let him leave to take over the Marlins if the two clubs could come to an agreement on compensation. His contract is up at the end of the year with an option for 2012. Ozzie’s a fine manager and an interesting guy; I fully expect him to be managing the White Sox for this season and in the future, but eventually it’s going to get to a point where enough’s enough.

He needs to tell his son to control his keyboard.

Jack Zduriencik, GM—Seattle Mariners

Ah, the fleeting nature of “genius”.

A year ago, Zduriencik was the toast of baseball having “turned around” the Mariners from the 100-loss, dysfunctional nightmare they were in the final year of Bill Bavasi as GM; he and manager Don Wakamatsu led the Mariners—through pitching, defense, aggressiveness and stat zombieing—to a surprising 85 wins in 2009.

The reality though wasn’t as simple as competent management coming in and straightening out the mess. The 2008 Mariners weren’t 100-loss bad—injuries sabotaged them. Were they as good as some (myself included) suggested they’d be? Good to the point of contention? No. Were they a team that would’ve been that bad had they been healthy and gotten expected performances from the likes of Carlos Silva and Erik Bedard? No chance.

On the same token, the Mariners would’ve had to have everything work as well in 2010 as it did in 2009 for them to achieve the heights that were implied from the “genius” of GM Jack Zduriencik.

They didn’t.

Cliff Lee‘s acquisition and Felix Hernandez‘s Cy Young Award-winning year didn’t help what might have been the worst offense I’ve ever seen in all my years of watching baseball. To make matters worse, there were the off-field controversies to make the team look like a zoo.

Ken Griffey Jr‘s alleged mid-game nap; Chone Figgins‘s confrontation with manager Wakamatsu; the way Zduriencik appeared to double-cross the Yankees to extract more from the Rangers in trading Lee; the acquisition of the criminally charged Josh Lueke; and the firing of Wakamatsu was an unfair sacrifice for Zduriencik’s own failures have all contributed to the declining reputation.

He was retained, but I have to believe that the Mariners front office seriously considered making a change. A good manager who won’t put up with garbage was hired in Eric Wedge, but the team isn’t good and unless they behave themselves and, at the very least, play competently, Zduriencik will be in trouble sooner rather than later.

Genius, huh?

Don Mattingly, MGR—Los Angeles Dodgers; Edwin Rodriguez, MGR—Florida Marlins

I think of one thing when I look at the first year manager Mattingly and the 1-year contract of Rodriguez—Tony Perez.

Tony Perez was hired to manager the Cincinnati Reds by GM Jim Bowden in 1993; the team was floundering after high expectations and, after a 20-24 start, Bowden fired the inexperienced Perez and replaced him with Davey Johnson. Bowden suggested he wasn’t happy with the moves Perez was making, but there were also allegations that Perez was only hired for his Reds ties and to take the heat off of owner Marge Schott after her racially-offensive statements were revealed.

Regardless, Perez was treated shabbily.

With Mattingly and Rodriguez, could something similar happen if their teams’ seasons are going down the tubes?

Mattingly has no managerial experience and a good, veteran Dodgers team. I think he’ll do well given his baseball intelligence, affability and that the veteran players won’t want to let Donnie Baseball down. But a bad start in a tough division exacerbated by managerial gaffes? Who knows? There’s always a “quick-fix” veteran type manager like Jim Fregosi floating around who’d love a short-term job with veterans the type which the Dodgers have; and don’t even dismiss Joe Torre coming back if he’s told Donnie’s gone whether he takes the job or not.

With Rodriguez, there was an air of “oh, whatever, let’s just keep the guy we’ve got and see what happens”. The Marlins again flirted with Bobby Valentine; they openly tried to get Ozzie Guillen; Rodriguez did a good job after taking over for Fredi Gonzalez last year and is getting his shot, but the Marlins have a couple of factors that might make a quick move possible: they have talent, high expectations and a petulant owner who makes rapid-fire, emotional decisions.

If the Marlins are 17-23 after 40 games don’t—do…..not—be surprised to see Bobby Valentine managing that team in June.

I’m saying it now.

Remember it.

  • Viewer Mail 1.3.2011:

Joe writes RE Daisuke Matsuzaka:

Yes, Dice-K is not the best #5 ever.  But being “disappointing” and being “bad” are different. He is still a decent pitcher. And certainly an above-average #5 in this day and age.

He’s not a decent pitcher and I suspect you wouldn’t say he was if he were wearing a uniform other than that of the Red Sox. For every great start he provides in which he throws 8 no-hit innings, he’s awful in about four others.

If you factor in the posting money and his contract, the Red Sox paid $100+ million for him and he’s been—on the whole—mediocre at best; then you look at his attitude and complaining, that he’s a wild, back-of-the-rotation starter and you have a lot of money wasted. If Matsuzaka deserves credit for anything, it’s that they signed Hideki Okajima ostensibly because he was lefty and Matsuzaka’s friend (not necessarily in that order) and got a very good reliever.

It doesn’t matter much because the Red Sox are so good, but they’d love to be rid of Matsuzaka and plug in someone cheaper and better; and that they could easily find someone cheaper and better is a reflection on Matsuzaka more than anything else.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE the NESN column comparing the Red Sox to the 1927 Yankees and Dice-K:

Thanks for the laugh, which is what I did when I read that NESN headline (and story). My friend, a Red Sox fan, said to me the other day, in reference to Dice K:
“I eat my liver every time I have to watch him pitch.” The whole thing is ridiculous on so many levels.

Does he have his liver with fava beans and a nice Chianti? Might as well make it elegant.

And Jane’s posting today—Those Red Sox People Are So Amusing—is reason number 9,897 that I worship Jane Heller—she gave me a shout out!!

Kyle Johnson writes RE Terry Francona:

Interesting to see you listed Joe Torre as a better manager than Terry Francona. Any particular reasoning behind that?

I like Francona as a manager, but the assertion that he’s the “best” manager in baseball? I don’t think so.

To me, the title of “best” should go to someone who makes a significant difference in the team’s fortunes through sheer force of will. Tony La Russa is one such manager.

As successful and well-liked as Francona has been with the Red Sox, I don’t see him as a difference-maker for a bad team. He had a terrible team with the Phillies and the results were predictably terrible. He’s had a very good team with the Red Sox and has won two championships.

The other managers I mentioned had a longer experience and less of a cocoon in which to manage. In his final years as a manager, Torre’s reputation was such that the players seemed to be thinking, “well, we’re supposed to make the playoffs” and would turn it on until they did make the playoffs. Vince Lombardi had that.

Francona is still an implementer of front office edicts. He does as he’s told. He’s entrenched now, but that doesn’t alter the perception that other managers could and would win with that roster. The ancillary aspects of the job in Boston—handling the media, knowing his place and making mostly good strategic maneuvers—don’t eliminate this truth that he was hired to placate Curt Schilling and to follow the orders of the front office that Grady Little didn’t.

He’s a good manager; it’s worked, but only partially because of Francona.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE the NESN column:

This is the sorta thing that keeps me going as a writer. I mean, it’s just more proof that you can make a living writing crap.

Either that, or by doing what one’s told in terms of content. Maybe there was an editorial demand to come up with something so over-the-top that it elicited this kind of response.

It’s aggravating when we’re putting out quality stuff and this type of nonsense is treated as credible on a supposed entity for sports “news” like NESN.

Matt at Diamondhacks writes RE the 2011 Red Sox vs the 1927 Yankees:

I dont know how many games the Red Sox will win,  but the 1927 Yankees outscored opponents by 376 runs.  Today’s equivalent run differential, with the addtl eight games, amounts to 395.

The Red Sox, strong as they appear, wont come close to that:

1998 Yankees 114 wins…..+309 runs
2001 Mariners  116 wins….+300 runs
1975 Reds 108 wins…. +254 runs

You mean the numbers back up my rant?

I’m not sure how to deal with this. Like Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, I’m just a caveman and your numbers frighten and confuse me.