Rethinking the GM, Part II—American League Central

2013 MLB Predicted Standings, All Star Game, Award Winners, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2013 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats

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

Detroit Tigers

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

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

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

Cleveland Indians

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

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

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

Chicago White Sox

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

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

Minnesota Twins

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

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

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

Kansas City Royals

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

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

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

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

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

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Michael Bourn vs. the #11 Pick: Which is Right for the Mets?

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Operating under the premises that if the Mets sign Michael Bourn they will: A) not receive a waiver from MLB to switch the number 11 pick in the first round of the 2013 draft for a second round pick, and B) pay something close to what B.J. Upton got from the Braves and probably more to get him, we can look at what the risk/reward of signing Bourn will be now and later.

The draft pick

The past is not indicative of the future in the draft. A myriad of factors dictate what a club will get from whatever player they draft at whichever spot, but the eleventh pick in the first round is a high pick. From 2003 to 2010, players taken at eleven have been:

2003: Michael Aubrey

2004: Neil Walker

2005: Andrew McCutchen

2006: Max Scherzer

2007: Phillippe Aumont*

2008: Justin Smoak*

2009: Tyler Matzek**

2010: Deck McGuire**

*Aumont and Smoak were both traded for Cliff Lee.

**Matzek and McGuire are mentioned because players selected after them were traded for name players.

After the eleventh pick, the following players were taken in 2003 to 2010 in the first round:

2003: Chad Billingsley, Carlos Quentin

2004: Jered Weaver, Billy Butler, Stephen Drew, Phil Hughes

2005: Jay Bruce, Jacoby Ellsbury, Clay Buchholz

2006: Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain

2007: Jason Heyward, Rick Porcello

2008: Brett Lawrie, Ike Davis, Lance Lynn, Jake Odorizzi, Wade Miley

2009: Mike Trout, Tyler Skaggs, Brad Boxberger

2010: Yasmani Grandal, Chris Sale, Chance Ruffin, Mike Olt

Odorizzi was included in trades for Zack Greinke, James Shields and Wade Davis. Skaggs was part of the Angels trade for Dan Haren. Boxberger and Grandal were traded by the Reds for Mat Latos. Ruffin was traded by the Tigers for Doug Fister.

This isn’t a final determination on any player’s worth, but a clue as to what these draft picks mean. It underscores another underrated aspect of the draft in finding players that a club may not have much of a plan to use themselves, but will develop to trade for established help.

What this shows isn’t specifically connected to the number 11 pick as if it’s a spot that cannot be surrendered. The pick itself is irrelevant in comparison to the talent level in the 2013 draft. Judging the rest of the first round should tell the Mets which is better; which is going to help them more.

The 2005 draft was strong enough that the Red Sox were able to get Ellsbury and Buchholz late in the first round, the 2006 draft was weak. If there isn’t enough talent in the pool to make an impact, then Bourn would make more sense.

The money

It’s not financial, it’s projective. The Mets can sign Bourn even if they have no immediate money to pay him upfront. With Jason Bay and Johan Santana both coming off the books after this season, they can backload any deal for Bourn and get him.

Scott Boras represents Bourn and is willing to keep his clients on the market into spring training without concern as to the public perception, industry ridicule or media panic. Boras has acquiesced with short-term deals for clients that didn’t have much of a resume such as Kyle Lohse in 2008 with the Cardinals. That worked out well for Lohse because he pitched wonderfully in that first year with the Cardinals and was rewarded in-season with the money he didn’t get the previous winter. With established players like Prince Fielder, Boras has waited and gotten his client paid. It’s more likely than not that he’ll eventually be rewarded with Bourn without significantly lowering his demands.

Practicality

The current Mets outfield is ludicrous. I believe Lucas Duda will be a productive bat, but defensively he’s a nightmare. Center field and right field are empty. Bourn gives credibility and quality defensively and offensively. He will certainly help them at least for the next three seasons when he’ll be age 30-33.

Richard Justice reports on the Mets apparent decision to steer clear of Bourn if it will cost them the first round pick. Craig Calcaterra makes a ridiculous assumption on HardballTalk that Bourn won’t help them when they’re “legitimately competitive.” When does he think they’ll be “legitimately competitive”? 2017? 2020? Is it that bad for the Mets? Are they the Astros?

The Mets are flush with young pitching, will be competitive and could contend by 2014; the 2012 A’s and Orioles are evidence that if the planets align, an afterthought team that’s the butt of jokes like the Mets can contend in 2013. For someone who bases his analysis in “reality,” it’s an uninformed, offhanded and unnecessary shot at the Mets for its own sake.

Let’s say he’s kind of right and the Mets aren’t contending until around 2015. Bourn will be 32. Is Bourn going to fall off the planet at 32? In many respects, a player comparable to Bourn is Kenny Lofton. Lofton was still a very good hitter and above-average center fielder until he was in his mid-30s. There have never been PED allegations with either player so there wasn’t a shocking improvement at an age they should be declining with Lofton and it’s reasonable that this would hold true for Bourn.

We can equate the two players and expect Bourn to still be able to catch the ball with good range in the outfield and steal at least 35-40 bases into his mid-30s. Bourn’s not a speed creation at the plate who will come undone when he can no longer run like Willie Wilson; he can hit, has a bit of pop and takes his walks. He’ll be good for at least the next four seasons.

The bottom line

It’s not as simple as trading the draft pick to sign Bourn and paying him. The Mets have to decide on the value of that draft pick now and in the future as well as what would be accomplished by signing Bourn, selling a few more tickets in the now and erasing the idea that the Mets are simply paying lip service for good PR by floating the possibility of Bourn with no intention of seriously pursuing him. As long as they’re not spending lavishly, that will be the prevailing view. They re-signed David Wright to the biggest contract in club history, but that still wasn’t enough to quell the talk of the Wilpons’ finances being in disastrous shape.

What’s it worth to the Mets to sign Bourn? To not sign Bourn? To keep the draft pick? To lose the draft pick? To sell a few more tickets? To shut up the critics?

This is not an either-or decision of Bourn or the pick as it’s being made out to be. The far-reaching consequences are more nuanced than the analysts are saying and there’s no clear cut right or wrong answer in signing him or not signing him. That’s what the Mets have to calculate when making the choice.

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ALCS Preview and Predictions—New York Yankees vs Detroit Tigers

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

New York Yankees (95-67; 1st place, AL East; defeated Baltimore Orioles 3 games to 2 in the ALDS) vs Detroit Tigers (88-74; 1st place, AL Central; defeated Oakland Athletics 3 games to 2 in the ALDS)

Keys for the Tigers: Tack on runs and keep the game out of the hands of Jose Valverde; hold down the Yankees’ bats as the Orioles did; get runners on base in front of Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera.

Valverde has been terrible this year. Yes, he has a fastball and a split that can get strikeouts, but the hitters—and especially the Yankees—know to give him a chance to start walking people and he’ll oblige. His strikeouts were way down this year with only 48 in 69 innings. The Yankees will be supremely confident even if they’re trailing going to the ninth inning with Valverde coming in. The Tigers have the offense to put up big numbers and they’ll feel better en masse if they’re not placing the game in the hands of Valverde.

The focus was on Alex Rodriguez because he wound up being benched, but A-Rod was benched because the Yankees had options to do so. They don’t have that option with their other struggling hitters Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson. Nick Swisher isn’t going to be in the lineup every game if he doesn’t provide some offense early in the series. The Orioles did it with Joe Saunders, Jason Hammel, and Miguel Gonzalez. The Tigers are trotting out Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, and Max Scherzer. Maybe the more familiar pitchers will help the Yankees have better at bats.

With Fielder and Cabrera, the Tigers have bashers that the Orioles didn’t. If the Yankees are in a position where they have no choice but to pitch to one or both, they’ll do damage.

Keys for the Yankees: Hit; don’t hesitate to make lineup changes with Swisher or A-Rod; get similarly great starting pitching as they did in the ALDS.

Mark Teixeira is coming off of a calf injury that could’ve ended his season and is an injury that has a tendency of recurring even when it feels as if it’s back to normal. He’s running hard and his key stolen base set the stage for the Yankees to take the lead in game 5 against the Orioles.

Cano, on the other hand, is running at perhaps 60% of capacity. He does it because he’s allowed to get away with it. It’s unacceptable. I can deal with him struggling at the plate; I can live with an error once in awhile; but this attitude of, “I don’t have to run because I can hit better than 98% of baseball,” is a warning sign to the Yankees that they should think very long and seriously before handing Cano—at age 31 a year from now—a contract for 8-10 years at over $200 million. His laziness on the field could extend to off the field; what once came easy will no longer come easy; and if he’s not willing to run out a double play ball in the playoffs, then what makes anyone think he’s going to work hard off the field to stay in shape when his bat slows down and his reactions aren’t as quick?

He was actually worse that A-Rod in the ALDS because A-Rod has the excuse of age and declining bat speed. I had thought Cano would be mitigated because he wasn’t going to see any pitches to hit, but in the series with the Orioles, he saw plenty of pitches to hit. He just didn’t hit them.

Andy Pettitte, CC Sabathia, and Hiroki Kuroda are warriors; Phil Hughes has the fans and media acting skittish whenever he’s out on the mound, but he’s been able to handle the pressure games and do his job.

By my estimation, Swisher will get the first two games against Fister and Sanchez to see if he produces. If he doesn’t hit, by game 3 when Verlander is on the mound, Swisher will be sitting.

It was interesting that both Joe Girardi and Jim Leyland left their aces out on the mound in a game 5 when they definitely would’ve pulled them in favor of their closers in a less-important game.

What will happen:

The Tigers are not the Orioles. They’re not relying on a bunch of journeymen and youngsters. They’re trotting star power out there with Fielder and Cabrera. Austin Jackson and Quintin Berry are speed players who pose a threat on the bases. Alex Avila and Delmon Young have had big hits in the playoffs. With their starting pitching, they’re more capable of shutting out the lights on the Yankees than the Orioles. Sabathia is not pitching until game 4 after his complete game effort in game 5 of the ALDS against the Orioles.

Cabrera has brutalized the Yankees’ pitchers—link.

Fielder hasn’t been as successful, so the series is going to hinge on him and Young, both batting behind Cabrera.

Valverde has had success against the Yankees, but he can’t be trusted. Nor can Yankees’ closer Rafael Soriano who, despite pitching well against the Orioles, has not been trustworthy in playoffs past. Both Leyland and Girardi will be inclined to leave their starters in the game rather than entrust a close game to questionable bullpen arms when they can help it. Joaquin Benoit has been shaky for the Tigers and David Robertson gets himself into trouble seemingly for the sake of getting out of it and that’s not going to work with Cabrera and Fielder.

I don’t see how A-Rod, Swisher, and Granderson will suddenly rediscover their strokes against better pitching than they saw in the Orioles series. I have no idea what to expect from Cano.

Leyland has bounced the Yankees the two times he’s faced them in the playoffs and with the Tigers lineup performing better than the Yankees and an even matchup on the mound, the Tigers will stop the Yankees again.

PREDICTION: TIGERS IN SIX

ALCS MVP: PRINCE FIELDER

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Cliff Lee—Desperately Seeking A Win?

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

Where is this headed? Are the Phillies, so desperate to get Cliff Lee a victory on the season, going to insert him into a blowout as a reliever after four innings to get him a win?

Lee, with a Cy Young Award and post-season dominance on his resume, is being roasted because he hasn’t won a game yet in 2012?

Who cares?

The Phillies and Lee have bigger problems than to worry about the constant harping on whether or not Lee has a “W” next to his name. This is not a veteran hanging on trying to get his 300th career win; nor is it a pitcher who should be concerned about what’s said by outsiders who still equate the “W” with success or failure.

The “win” has received scrutiny in recent years and while it needs to be placed into context how a pitcher accumulates his total, it’s not something to be ignored entirely. It matters to the participants. It’s only in the past few seasons that a pitcher like Felix Hernandez or Tim Lincecum were able to gain their deserved Cy Young Awards because of advanced stats and that there are voters willing to look at something other than the pitcher who won 23 games vs the one who won 16.

That still doesn’t prevent the argument that Justin Verlander didn’t deserve the MVP award last season because the Tigers would’ve found “any” pitcher (conveniently unnameed) to fill in for Verlander and they would’ve won the division regardless.

This argument is ignorant of the Tigers’ early season struggles and that it was Verlander who carried them when they were stumbling around. Only when they made mid-season acquisitions of Delmon Young and Doug Fister; when Joaquin Benoit began pitching the way they expected; and when the Indians came apart did the Tigers take off and run away with the division. Without Verlander they wouldn’t have been in position to do so.

So there are mitigating factors in all statistics, awards and attempts to analyze.

Because Lee doesn’t have any wins doesn’t mean he’s having a “bad” year. It doesn’t mean the Phillies should put him on the trade block.

His contract owes him $87.5 million after this season and he has a 10 team no-trade list. The teams that could afford that contract and surrender the prospects to get him presumably are on the no-trade list because a veteran pitcher isn’t going to want to go to a place that could pay him more money and would be getting him at a discount over the short term. Lee made clear during his free agency that he wants nothing to do with the Yankees.

Ruben Amaro Jr. is not going to do that to him again and wouldn’t get anything more than prospects to add to a club that is still loaded with immovable long-term deals for veterans. The Phillies are what they are and a rebuild or retool on the fly is not on the table.

Lee hasn’t won any games this season because the Phillies’ offense has been unproductive; the bullpen has been shaky; and Lee has allowed runs late in games to sabotage himself. If the Phillies were the Phillies of years past, Lee would have 4-6 wins.

Would that make it all better?

He’s pitched poorly in his last two starts and for someone as mentally tough and impervious to pressure as Lee, it appears as if the talk of him “needing” a win is getting into his head.

That’s only going to make things worse and compound an issue that isn’t an issue for him to worry about or affect him at all.

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Radio Appearance with Breakin’ the Norm

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Here’s my appearance from Tuesday with Les Norman on Breakin’ the Norm on 810 WHB in Kansas City talking about the Royals, Tigers, Cardinals, Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, Mike Matheny, Tony LaRussa, Albert Pujols, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and many other things. Check it out.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide is available.
Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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2012 American League Central Predicted Standings

All Star Game, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series
Wins Losses GB
1. Cleveland Indians 91 71
2. Detroit Tigers* 88 74 3
3. Kansas City Royals 81 81 10
4. Chicago White Sox 72 90 19
5. Minnesota Twins 70 92 21

* Denotes predicted Wild Card winner

Cleveland Indians

The Indians have all the components to take the next step from their near .500 season in 2011.

There are positives amid the negatives of the old warhorses’ injuries and contract statuses. Grady Sizemore keeps getting hurt, but the Indians couldn’t have expected him to return to form nor expected him to stay healthy. His injury and absence will give them the chance to see what Ezequiel Carrera can do. Travis Hafner is in the final guaranteed year of his contract and some players manage to stay healthy when there’s a large amount of money on the line.

Carlos Santana is a mid-lineup run producer; they have a highly underrated 1-2 starting pitching punch with Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez; and their bullpen is deep.

Detroit Tigers

The entire season will come down to how obstinate Jim Leyland is about the decision to move Miguel Cabrera to third base.

I was about to say “experiment”, but is it really an experiment if we know what’s going to happen?

He can’t play third; the Tigers have pitchers—Doug Fister, Rick Porcello and even Justin Verlander—who need their defense to succeed; and Leyland is adamant in saying that not only is Cabrera going to play third but that he won’t be removed for defense in the late innings in favor of the superior gloves of Don Kelly and Brandon Inge.

Eventually Leyland will probably bow to reality and Cabrera and Prince Fielder will share first base and DH.

I say probably because it depends on whether Leyland is going to be the old-school baseball guy who’ll see weakness in admitting he’s wrong or the one who admits the team’s playoff spot in jeopardy and bows to reality.

The extra Wild Card will save the Tigers.

Kansas City Royals

The Royals are loaded up with young players and have to give them the chance to sink or swim on their own without looking at them for a month and sending them down.

Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas will be in the lineup every day for the Royals for the next decade, but the other youngsters Lorenzo Cain, Salvador Perez, John Giavotella and Danny Duffy have to be given the legitimate chance to play without wondering if they’re going to be sent down immediately if they slump.

The starting pitching is young and improving; the bullpen has been bolstered and is diverse.

Chicago White Sox

Is this a rebuild or not?

Are they going to continue listening to offers for the likes of Gavin Floyd or will they hold their fire?

The decision to hire Robin Ventura as manager was a “he’ll grow with us” maneuver, but the foundation of the team is still in place.

It’s not a rebuild or a stay the course blueprint. They’re just doing things.

When serious structural alterations needed to be made, just doing things translates into 90 losses.

Minnesota Twins

Much was made of Terry Ryan’s return to the GM seat.

But so what?

They made something of a lateral move in letting Michael Cuddyer leave and replacing him with Josh Willingham; they got a solid defender and good on-base bat with Jamey Carroll; and they did the “Twins thing” in signing cheap veterans who can contribute with Jason Marquis and Ryan Doumit.

Their bullpen is loaded with a bunch of bodies and has already lost Joel Zumaya.

Much depends on the health of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau and even if both stay on the field, there are still too many holes offensively, defensively and—most importantly—in the rotation and bullpen to ask how much they can be expected to improve from losing nearly 100 games in 2011.

Far more in depth analysis is in my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide, now available.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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Tim Lincecum Trade Pa-Troll

All Star Game, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Movies, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

*NOTE 8:22 AM, NYC: The original piece on Bleacher Report that was linked was significantly altered after mine was published. The words “herky jerky” were removed and the entire context was changed.

Reading the teaser headline and you’d automatically take the “news” on a slow day as an inviting and irresistible lure to read the article.

But clicking and reading reveals the truth and the truth is that there’s no “there” there.

I saw the mentioning of the words “Tim Lincecum” and “trade” on Twitter and instantly knew it was nonsense and/or trolling because: A) the Giants aren’t trading Lincecum; B) the Giants aren’t trading Lincecum; and C) the Giants aren’t trading Lincecum.

Being it’s a slow day (do the math), I checked the search engines to see if there was anything to explain this silliness in a sensible, reasonable fashion.

I found this on Bleacher Report in which a Lincecum trade is speculated.

Sort of.

In the next two years.

But not now.

Of course it’s ludicrous in every sense.

It’s ludicrous that Lincecum and Barry Zito are compared in any way.

It’s ludicrous that Lincecum is treated like a normal pitcher.

It’s ludicrous that the Giants are going to start a rebuild in the next two seasons.

Ludicrous.

How do you compare Lincecum to Zito? With the Athletics, Zito was a contact pitcher who benefited from being on a very good team and having great luck on balls in play. Lincecum has left lineups in ruins. Zito’s fastball could never approach the Lincecum fast lane in spite of Lincecum’s fastball having dipped slightly from its upper-90s heyday; he’s still plenty fast enough to strikeout 230 hitters a year. Zito is trying to trick people and get by on guile.

Zito’s margin of error was nonexistent and it’s worse now; Lincecum gets by when he’s off his game because of pure quality of stuff.

Lincecum cannot be compared to “normal” pitchers, nor can he be placed in any specific category because he’s been treated differently since the time he signed. The Giants were not allowed to alter Lincecum’s mechanics; this was one of the reasons so many teams were reluctant to draft Lincecum. It’s the same way today even as he has two Cy Young Awards and a championship ring; to this day I wonder what pitching coach Dave Righetti says to Lincecum when the pitcher is struggling and Righetti visits the mound. Do they talk about girls? The weather? Fisherman’s Wharf?

Because Lincecum has always been left to his own (and his dad’s) devices, he’s something of a closed society about which nothing can be physically determined in a sociological baseball study. The conventional rules don’t apply to him and, by extension, nor do the concerns.

With that in mind, it cannot be said that the skinny pitcher with the unique motion is going to replicate other pitchers whose arms blew out in year three of an eight-year contract. He’s altered all the rules so far and can’t be pigeonholed.

As for a Giants rebuild, forget it.

You may have a short memory of the way GM Brian Sabean runs his club, but going back to the Barry Bonds years, it was always build around the stars; ignore the draft and minor league system; and try to win with veterans to augment Bonds.

In short, Build Around Barry.

The concept that Sabean is “stupid” because he’s old-school and follows a blueprint that doesn’t emanate from new age statistics is easier to process than trying to understand what he’s doing, but if you look at it, it makes sense.

Bonds was the most dangerous hitter in baseball and the Giants were contenders as long as he was around; it made perfect sense to run the team the way they did during that time. When Bonds was gone, the Giants rebuilt through the draft with pitching and they finally broke through and won the World Series that eluded them with Bonds. Sabean isn’t going to tear the thing down by trading Lincecum for a package of youngsters because that’s not what he does. He’ll ride it as long as he can and move on.

Simply because there’s a media-created “genius” across the Bay who always has a reason (excuse) for doing the things he does isn’t a determinative factor in which GM is better. If you go by the flexibility in knowing what he has and what to do with it, Sabean is a successful GM also functioning under a budget, but without the lusty propaganda.

As long as the Giants have two star pitchers, Matt Cain and Lincecum; an All-Star talent, Madison Bumgarner; and a top-tier closer, Brian Wilson, they’re going to be competitive if they hit at all. Whereas they were built around Bonds 10 years ago, now they’re Timmy’s Team.

The linked column doesn’t stop with simple practical idiocy; it delves into unprofessional randomness by ignorantly calling Lincecum’s motion “herky jerky”.

Doug Fister is herky jerky; Lincecum is a Tom Seaver-like study in using one’s whole body to generate power.

Then it says: “You give an eight-year contract to a fully built workhorse, not a small-framed pothead.”

You can question his size—I’ve done it myself—but to call him a “pothead” considering what some other pitchers have indulged in (Dock Ellis pitched a no-hitter on LSD) is a cheap shot to “prove” a non-existent theory and add a tier to the reasons to trade him.

These “rumors” of a Lincecum trade are crafted by those who attempt to see into the “future” with their mystical powers of prescience and are providing generalities that can be adjusted after the fact to make it appear as if they were “right”.

On a quiet day on the baseball front, it’s a non-story to accumulate webhits and pageviews—something that Lincecum’s name is always good for.

Honest speculation of a possibility is one thing; a flashy headline designed to fool the reader isn’t.

It’s the perfect storm—at least until you read the content and realize you’ve been played. Poorly.

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MLB CBA—The Draft Changes Explained In Plain English

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The changes to the draft are complicated and their understanding is fluid—the reactions to the announcement of the changes were immediate and angry and didn’t appear to be fully grasped before they were made public.

Jim Callis explains the changes and why they might not be as awful as feared here on Baseball America.

Wendy Thurm explains the entire deal in the most easily graspable piece I’ve read on the subject here on Baseball Nation.

I’ll go bit by bit. (If I’m inaccurate or wrong, let me know. I won’t yell…this time.)

Limiting the bonuses.

There will be a yet-to-be-defined limit on how much teams can spend on their selections in the first 10 rounds without penalty.

The limit will be based on what was spent in total (aggregate) the prior season; it will be higher than the year previous.

Penalties are as follows (from the Baseball Nation piece):

Teams that exceed the ceiling by 5% will be taxed 75%; teams that exceed it by 5-10% will be taxed 75% and lose a first-round draft pick the following year. If a team goes over by 10-15%, the tax will be 100% with the loss of first- and second-round draft picks. Draft spending at 15% more than permitted will be taxed 100% and the team will lose two first-round picks.

Callis explains why it’s not going to be as horrible as initially thought:

In 2011, clubs spent a record $228 million on draft bonuses, and 20 of them exceeded their aggregate slot totals for the first 10 rounds by at least 15 percent.

However, the initial assumption that the new penalties would be based on something near the old slots doesn’t appear to be correct. Last year, MLB valued the total worth of the 331 picks in the first 10 rounds at $133 million. Those slot numbers were less that MLB’s guidelines from five years earlier, however, and were 44 percent lower than the $192 million teams paid to sign 303 of those players.

MLB won’t get to unilaterally decide the worth of draft picks going forward, though. It negotiated the values with the union, and they reportedly (and not surprisingly) will be much higher.

To the best of my understanding, this means that teams won’t be able to dump wads of cash on players who are consensus blue-chip stars without penalty. There won’t be any Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper bonuses nor a Major League contract.

Teams won’t be as willing to take shots on players who are coming out of high school or are college juniors  and offer then a check with enough zeroes to coax them to sign.

If a club thinks the player is worth it, then they’ll pay to get him signed. A Strasburg-level talent is going to get his money one way or the other, it just won’t be $15 million.

The players aren’t exactly free to take their talents elsewhere.

Like a fee for a loan or a closing cost, the percentage of the penalty can be folded into the bonus and shared by the team and the player. If a player isn’t interested in signing or having his check reduced, he’ll have a choice of not signing; but if he has nowhere to go and his amateur status has run out, he and the team that selected him will have extra motivation to get a deal done.

Where’s Strasburg going if he doesn’t sign?

I’m sure Scott Boras has a scheme running through his head as he sits in his darkened lair, his fingers tented, head bent slightly downward with his hooded eyelids barely glaring off into the unknowable darkness, but what he’s going to do to circumvent the new draft rules and the restrictions?

Fewer high school players will be selected in the early rounds if they’re represented by a Boras-type who’s going to demand they get paid regardless of any penalties.

“This is a special talent that deserves special treatment,” he’ll say.

But if there’s an Alex Rodriguez sitting there, a team is going to pick him and pay him.

Fewer clubs will gamble on a Todd Van Poppel.

In 1990, Van Poppel repeatedly said he was going to college at the University of Texas and that MLB clubs shouldn’t bother wasting a pick on him. This was a windfall for the club with the first pick in that year’s draft—the Braves—because they wound up taking Chipper Jones as a “consolation”.

Some consolation.

The Athletics had extra picks in the draft that year, so they picked Van Poppel 14th, offered him a $500,000 bonus and a Major League contract.

He signed and had a journeyman career. Whether or not going to college would’ve exposed his flaws—a lack of movement on his fastball; poor secondary stuff; terrible control—or helped him hone his talents is the height of 20/20 hindsight. Who knows?

Teams will undoubtedly go for a deep strike in this way if they can afford it. Those Athletics under then-GM Sandy Alderson spent money at all levels of the organization and were a championship caliber big league team willing to “waste” a pick for that kind of notable talent. That will happen again independent of financial penalty.

The expected quality of the next year’s draft and who will be available will directly influence this kind of decision; if there’s a weak draft class, a team isn’t going to spend crazily for a “maybe” and risk losing the next year’s picks and vice versa.

The owners; current big leaguers; and “choosing other sports”.

Owners care about saving money; big league players don’t care about the amateurs and are somewhat jealous of players who’ve accomplished nothing professionally getting a huge payday for being a draft pick.

As for the “great athletes going to different sports”, it’s a little presumptuous to believe that a young athlete can translate his talents from baseball to basketball (where height is a great equalizer) and football (where the monetary benefits are limited; the contracts are not guaranteed; and the abuse on one’s body is exponential).

Intelligent pragmatism will take precedence.

At 5’11”, 150 pounds, could Greg Maddux have chosen to play football? Maddux was so small that when he reached the majors, then-Cubs manager Gene Michael thought he was a new batboy.

Carlton Fisk was a terrific basketball player, but he’s 6’3″. Would that have worked out better than baseball, where he became a Hall of Famer?

I suppose Prince Fielder could play football and be an offensive lineman; Matt Kemp could be a linebacker; the 6’8″ Doug Fister could be a forward in basketball. But how many players truly have that option?

Mark Schlereth told the story about his nudging of his son Daniel away from football into baseball. Daniel Schlereth was a quarterback, but is 6’0″. The number of NFL quarterbacks who are that short and get a chance to play are extremely limited. The Hall of Fame caliber offensive lineman Mark Schlereth‘s “nudge” can put you through a wall; in this case it sent his son to baseball.

Even if they’re not getting a $7 million bonus for signing their names, $2 million is still a lot of money—enough money to have a pretty nice, leisurely life provided they don’t purchase ten cars and impregnate 5 women simultaneously; in other words, as long as they’re not stupid.

If a player like Joe Mauer (who’s used as an example in the Baseball Nation article) decides he wants to go and play football and baseball in college and walk away from a still-large bonus and run the risk of having his knee torn out in a scrimmage and having nothing, then that’s his choice.

It’d be pretty short-sighted though.

The draft is the ultimate crapshoot.

The idiocy of the Moneyball “card-counting” concept in which the Billy Beane-led A’s were drafting “ballplayers” rather than jeans models looked terrific…until they began playing the game professionally and their verifiable results from the amateur ranks, lo and behold, didn’t translate to the professional arena.

Some made it to the big leagues and played well; some made it to the big leagues and didn’t; some failed in the minors; some got hurt.

In other words, it was a typical draft.

The 2002 Moneyball draft for the Athletics was about as mediocre as the those of the teams that weren’t led by a “genius” nor guided by a computer.

This concept that teams who invest in the draft or have a “system” are going to get an automatically positive result through that conscious choice are ignoring the fact that the draft is the ultimate crapshoot. It’s perception that feeds the circular viewpoint that building through the draft is a guarantee to success. For every team like the Rays and Giants who’ve benefited from a detailed focus on player development and savvy trades, there are clubs like the Indians that hoarded their draft picks and dealt away veterans for top prospects and got middling-to-poor results.

These alterations will actually benefit teams in ways they haven’t thought about before.

The changes to the draft bonus money will limit the number of players who are kept around mainly because they had a large amount of money paid to them and the front office wants to save face by not admitting they made a mistake.

The days of “projects” or “tools guys” who are allowed to hit .220 and be baseball clueless or have zero command, zero breaking stuff, a lights-out fastball and little else will mercifully end. Performance or a deep belief in the ability of the player will be placed to the forefront rather than salvaging money or preventing public embarrassment for drafting and paying a player who couldn’t play.

The media tantrums.

You’ll see people in the media and bloggers who make their way and garner attention “analyzing” the MLB draft squawking in self-righteous indignation at the way the draft is bastardized and small market teams will suffer.

It’s an agenda-laden lament stemming from a hidden self-interest.

Because the number of players from whom to select will be limited, there won’t be the opportunity to “assess” and conjure mock drafts.

The mock-drafts and attempts to turn the MLB draft into an extravaganza the likes of the NFL, NHL and NBA are ignoring the limited knowledge of the players drafted and that the game of professional baseball, unlike the other sports, is totally different from the amateurs.

In football, they use different schemes and tactics from college to the NFL, but the game is the same.

In basketball, the 3-point line is closer in college; in the NBA the defense is better and the players are faster, but the game is the same.

In hockey, it’s hockey. The players are bigger and faster; the goalies are better, but it’s the same activity.

None of those sports make it possible to function as an entity unto oneself.

But in amateur baseball, they’re using aluminum bats and living under the thumbs of coaches and parents who tell the players what to do and when to do it under the threat of lost scholarships and playing time. In the pros, they’re using wooden bats, playing in poorly lighted stadiums with pebble-strewn infields in front of sparse crowds and clawing their way to the big leagues in a primordial rise where winning is secondary to the battle between pitcher and hitter.

In the other major sports, players cannot function without their teammates; in baseball, it’s individualism with a team construct and this cannot be replicated from one venue to the other.

The bottom line.

Changes are part of baseball and initially scoffed at as “ruining the game”.

Branch Rickey created the first farm system by buying up minor league franchises; it was ridiculed an eventually became the norm.

Baseball adjusted.

The draft was designed to prevent the Yankees from signing all the top players because they had all the money, championships and “lore” to lure (see what I did there?) to get the players to want to be Yankees.

Baseball adjusted.

The end of the reserve clause; divisional play; expansion; the Wild Card; advanced stats—you can find any change that was proposed and implemented and find fault with it; locate blanket statements from “experts” or “insiders” talking about ruining the game.

But the game’s still here.

It’s evolving.

It will adapt.

It will survive.

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Verlander Casts A Spell

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When Roger Maris had the infamous asterisk* attached to his home run record because of the extra 8 games played in Maris’s time as opposed to Babe Ruth‘s time, Maris rightfully and indignantly said something to the tune of, “Which 154? The first 154? The last 154? The middle? A season’s a season.”

For the record, there was never an asterisk*; there was a 162 game season and 154 game season separation.

It’s a similar comparison to Justin Verlander and those who say that his mere job of being a pitcher and only participating in 34 games a season should eliminate him from consideration for the Most Valuable Player award.

But what about the games in which the other candidates Miguel Cabrera, Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson and Jose Bautista did absolutely nothing while Verlander was dominating for 27 of those 34 starts?

It’s impossible to quantify the importance of a particular player based on his position.

Would the Tigers have won 95 games without Verlander?

Of course not.

Because they had such a blazing hot streak of 12 straight wins in September and ran off with a weak division, the contribution of Verlander is being mistakenly muted.

Early in the season, when the Tigers were essentially playing Verlander Incanter (the French word for cast a spell—yeah, I’m going high-end; do something about it) that the rest of the starting rotation would provide something—anything—of use so the Tigers could win a few games that Verlander wasn’t starting, the team would’ve been buried without him.

Max Scherzer was inconsistent to start the season; Rick Porcello was mostly terrible; Brad Penny was Brad Penny; and Phil Coke was yanked from the rotation after 14 starts.

In conjunction with his production, the “where would they be without him?” argument is a viable reason to give someone an MVP vote.

The momentum from the leader of the staff grew so the Tigers were able to stay near the top of the AL Central and make mid-summer trades for Doug Fister, Wilson Betemit and Delmon Young to bolster a flawed team. On August 17th, they only led the division by 2 games and were 9 1/2 games out in the Wild Card; at that time, it was generally assumed that the Wild Card was going to come down to which team between the Yankees and Red Sox didn’t win the AL East. The dynamic changed drastically in September for everyone. For the Tigers, their playoff position was not assured until September despite winning the division by 15 games.

It’s not only about where the team and player ended, but how they got there.

The Tigers would’ve been nowhere without Verlander.

Once we accept that it wasn’t a situation of the Tigers being so deep that they were going to win that division anyway, Verlander’s value becomes stronger.

In their precarious position, the Tigers held the Ace every fifth day; on the morning of a Verlander start, they knew they had a great chance to win because of Verlander. Added to that overriding feeling of foreboding for his opponents and comfort for his teammates, he led the league in starts, wins, strikeouts, ERA, ERA+, WAR (and not just pitcher WAR, WAR period), and WHIP.

My criteria for MVP is, in no particular order: performance; importance; indispensability.

Based on performance, you can make the case for any of the top 5 finishers, but the final trigger for me in such a close race comes down to Velrander’s irreplaceability.

The Blue Jays were a .500 team with Bautista and they misused him by failing to get players on base in front of him and trying to steal too many bases for no reason to run themselves out of innings.

The Red Sox came apart in spite of Ellsbury’s heroics.

The Yankees would’ve found someone to play center field and hit well enough to account for not having Granderson and had the surrounding players to survive his absence.

The Tigers could’ve found a first baseman (perhaps Victor Martinez who was DHing) to play first base and gotten 25 homers from that spot and had better defense.

Given the difficulty in finding quality pitching, can anyone honestly say that the Tigers could’ve replaced Verlander’s innings? His dominance? His mere presence? And still been anywhere close to the 95 wins they accumulated?

No.

The MVP is not for everyday players alone because the pitchers have the Cy Young Award—that’s a faulty premise. The Cy Young Award is for pitching performance independent of team—that’s how Felix Hernandez won the award with a 13-12 record in 2010; the MVP is an all-encompassing award based on the team and the individual, and by that judgment, Verlander is the Most Valuable Player in the American League for 2011.

Period.

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Shifting The Moneyball Goalposts Yet Again

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As much as Moneyball tried to paint the picture that “this is the way to build your team and if you ignore it you’re an idiot”—and succeeded to some degree—it was never the “way” to build a team. It was a strategy borne out of necessity and opportunity.

In fact, Billy Beane is not, nor was he ever, a “genius”. What he did took nerve, but that nerve stemmed from being locked in the vacancy of having limited funds and competing against teams that were raiding his cupboard on a year-to-year basis.

The truth is becoming more mainstream with articles such as this one in today’s New York Times discussing how smaller markets have grown smarter and therefore more competitive.

Are they getting smarter?

Possibly.

Are they more competitive?

Definitely.

Is there a connection to Moneyball?

Um. No. Not really.

Considering the teams remaining in the playoffs, you have one that connected on a deep strike to try and win this year while they still had a mid-lineup combination among the best in baseball with Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. The Brewers brought in a Cy Young Award winner in Zack Greinke; a solid mid-rotation starter in Shaun Marcum; and traded for an All-Star closer to function as their set-up man in Francisco Rodriguez. As a result of this, they’re in the NLCS under a moderate budget. But their farm system is gutted and once Fielder and K-Rod leave, they’re going to be hard-pressed to repeat this success. As long as Greinke, Marcum and Yovani Gallardo are healthy, they’ll still be competitive, but this good and able to cover up flaws like an atrocious defense that cost them dearly last night? To protect a vanilla manager who does bizarre things? It’s hard to see.

The Cardinals have the best manager of his generation in Tony LaRussa and made a series of “win now” maneuvers signing Lance Berkman and trading Colby Rasmus for ancillary, depth pieces to augment LaRussa’s frequent bullpen usage. They also benefited from a superior Braves team collapsing and allowing them the opportunity to make the playoffs.

The Tigers are a big money team that spent lavishly on a set-up man in Joaquin Benoit and made smart deals in getting Doug Fister and Delmon Young at mid-season for basically nothing. But without one of the three best pitchers and hitters in baseball—Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera—they’d be golfing now.

The Rangers were built by a young GM in the Moneyball mold of someone who’d never played but was well-versed in statistics. It took awhile for Jon Daniels to gain footing and he survived making one of the worst trades in baseball history in sending Adrian Gonzalez to the Padres for Adam Eaton; but since then he made some trades that were absolutely brilliant by raiding the Braves farm system for Neftali FelizElvis Andrus and Matt Harrison when they traded Mark Teixeira a year-and-a-half before he was up for free agency. That took nerve, but it was only possible because the Rangers weren’t contending and in desperate financial straits to the point where they could ignore fan entreaties to keep their star. Now that they’re in better condition financially, they’ve been able to use a loaded farm system to acquire a Cliff Lee in 2010 and the numerous bullpen components that have brought them to the verge of a second straight pennant.

It all goes in cycles.

Moneyball was trendy because it was a neat story of a triumph over adversity for a “can’t miss” superstar who transferred his inability to fulfill that promise on the field, but became a star off the field.

The problem was that what Beane did was more gutsy than smart. He’s an actor. And his new role is that of the boxed-in everyman; the excuses are that everyone else is using his template and doing so with more money than he has and his antiquated ballpark has made it impossible to draw fans and attract marquee free agents. But if he’s a genius, shouldn’t he figure something else out?

It’s laughable that Beane was politicking for and openly wanted the Cubs GM job and they didn’t even ask to interview him, instead focusing on and apparently getting Theo Epstein.

Like the X-Files, the truth is out there and those who aren’t invested in the concept of “Beane as genius” are seeing it and shunning him or at least questioning the portrayal.

The dismissive way in which Moneyball writer Michael Lewis discusses the Rays (“they have investment bankers running it and have been lucky in the draft”) is exactly the same argument that people used to contradict his salable and practically ridiculous narrative of Moneyball. I’m wondering whether he sees that or is blocking out this reality in a psychiatrist’s dream case of egomania.

Beane’s persona-switch from hard-charging, ruthless, corporate monster to happy-go-lucky, shrugging man of the people who’s trapped where he is in a system that’s swallowed him up doesn’t explain away a series of horrible trades and drafts. But that doesn’t fit into the story.

There is no one way to build a successful team—a team that’s going to win the World Series. The 2011 storyline is that the big money clubs, rife with superstars and recognizable names, all got bounced in the first round or missed the playoffs entirely due to humiliating collapses. Next year it might be the opposite; or it could be something different entirely; or the same thing.

But the mythmakers will look for an angle, even if they have to conjure one from nothing just like Moneyball. And just like the moving the goalposts of Moneyball, it’s a desperate act that’s still occurring as we speak.

The public and media are beginning to see it.

Finally.

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