What’s Wrong With The Marlins?

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, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

In a sane world, rather than find someone to blame and sacrifice for a poor performance, an organization steeped in common sense and with confidence in their decisionmakers and strategy would look at what’s wrong and try to fix it.

That’s in a sane world.

The world I’m talking about is that of the Miami Marlins and it’s anything but sane.

After today’s loss to the Blue Jays, the Marlins are now 33-38 and, pending the Phillies’ game being played as of this writing, are in last place in the National League East.

It’s a plummet from the heights that owner Jeffrey Loria envisioned in the first year of the new Marlins Park and after the money he spent to import expensive names Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell, Carlos Zambrano and manager Ozzie Guillen.

Not only has the team floundered, flipped and flopped on the field, the attendance is 10th out of 16 teams and the empty seats have become more and more noticeable. Judging from their history the fans in Miami and surrounding areas have had other things to do on a warm summer night than to go see the Marlins. That’s been the case whether the team was good or not. With the team playing this brand of uninspiring and disinterested baseball, there’s no reason to go to the park at all.

In some circles, the Marlins were a trendy World Series pick.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t holes and questions.

The starting rotation had Josh Johnson returning from injury and Zambrano, who had worn out his welcome with the Cubs to the point where they paid the majority of his $18 million salary for the Marlins to take him. The bullpen added Bell and, in spite of his declining strikeout numbers and reputation of annoying his bosses, he should’ve been expected to convert the majority of his chances in the negligible save stat. As set-up men they’re using the homer-prone Edward Mujica and a pitcher with a great arm, Steve Cishek, who gives up rockets all over the place whenever I see him pitch. Many times those rockets are hit right at someone making his numbers better than what they should be.

The lineup has been a disappointment and is 12th in the National League in runs scored. Two of their everyday players, John Buck (.165) and Gaby Sanchez (.195) are trapped on the interstate. Reyes has a slash line of .270/.347/.381 with 16 stolen bases. It’s not bad, but not what he was for the Mets in 2011 when he won the batting title and was a phenomenon for much of the season. Hanley Ramirez is hitting better now after a rancid start. Emilio Bonifacio is on the disabled list. Logan Morrison has 7 homers and a .721 OPS.

In the past, the question for Loria has been, “Who can I fire?”

It worked in 2003 when Jeff Torborg was replaced by Jack McKeon. It didn’t work last season when Edwin Rodriguez was replaced by McKeon. Guillen has a 4-year contract at big money and isn’t going anywhere.

This group was Scotch-taped together with big names from the open market without consideration as to gelling and functioning as a unit.

And they’re not functioning as a unit. They don’t put forth the on-field impression that they like each other very much. The Marlins play as if they don’t care; as if they’ve accepted that this is the team, this is their status, and as long as the paychecks are signed and cashable, whatever.

We’re days away from a Loria explosion dutifully filtered through his hatchet man/son-in-law David Samson. It’s generally been Samson who’s been the public face for Loria’s displeasure. That’s coming soon.

One would expect threats and demands will be leaked into the media to express ownserhip’s displeasure. But when does something get done?

A threat is worthless unless it’s carried out in some form and the Marlins under Loria have never been shy to follow through on their threats.

Will they try to trade LoMo? Shake up the bullpen? Or fire someone?

Who is there to fire?

Team President Larry Beinfest has been with the Marlins for a long time and for the most part has done a good job. It wasn’t long ago that he was widely considered one of the best executives in baseball for functioning in that world with Loria and Samson; without money to spend; with the other issues surrounding the club. He still placed a competitive team on the field. This team is a mess. It’s possible that Beinfest wasn’t onboard with the lavish spending spree the club undertook. That’s a dual-edged sword because if that’s the case, he’s expendable.

I doubt that Beinfest will be tossed overboard.

GM Michael Hill is another story. It’s known that Beinfest has been the man running the show and if the Marlins want to do something, firing or demoting Hill would be pretentious and useless, but that’s never mattered to Loria or Samson.

At 33-38 they’re going to do something. It all depends on who winds up in Loria’s crosshairs.

By now, it could be anyone.

The Marlins wanted to make a splash last winter and they did. But that splash is turning into a tsunami and it’s engulfing the club and everything in its path.

//

Advertisements

Combustibility And The Marlins

All Star Game, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Trade Rumors

The most prominent name associated with the job as Marlins’ manager for 2012 has been current White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. Guillen has a contract with the White Sox for next season and owner Jerry Reinsdorf has said he wants both Guillen and GM Kenny Williams back, but if the Marlins come calling, it’s very possible that the White Sox will let Guillen leave without compensation and move on. This is the third straight season in which the White Sox will miss the playoffs amid preseason expectations of contention; the last two seasons especially have been major disappointments. Williams isn’t going anywhere, so if the White Sox make a change, it will be in the manager’s office and not the GM.

So what would happen with Guillen and the Marlins?

It’s hard to say what kind of sparks would fly when the combustible personalities of Guillen, owner Jeffrey Loria and team president David Samson all exist in the same vacuum. Guillen is going to make his presence felt and he’s most definitely not going to tolerate the diva act from Hanley Ramirez; on the other side of the coin Guillen—a social media user himself—won’t give Logan Morrison a hard time about his Twitter account.

Guillen has experience with difficult players. He won a World Series with A.J. Pierzynski, Carl Everett and Bobby Jenks on his roster so he can handle the Marlins. It might be that Loria, while not wanting to trade Ramirez as some (Jeff Conine, Keith Hernandez and myself) have suggested, he might want someone to reign in his prodigal and wayward son.

Under Loria, the Marlins have hired: Jeff Torborg; Jack McKeon; Joe Girardi; Fredi Gonzalez; Edwin Rodriguez and McKeon again. All were forced out in one way or another. Torborg had the team playing the way Torborg’s teams generally have in all his managerial stops—stiff and mediocre at best; with the team reeling in May of 2003, he was replaced by McKeon and the Marlins wound up winning the World Series under McKeon’s old school leadership style; Girardi clashed with Loria and was fired despite winning Manager of the Year with an overachieving, young and minimalist roster; Gonzalez’s teams played at or above expectations and he was fired because of strategic differences with upper management and overreaching beliefs that they should’ve done better; Rodriguez acquitted himself well, but resigned as the team came apart this past June; McKeon was kicked upstairs after 2005, went back into the dugout to replace Rodriguez and isn’t going to be back next season.

Loria, as is his right as owner, has been very free with the “you’re fired” card.

I have no issue with that. I don’t begrudge any manager or GM—from the late George Steinbrenner to Billy Beane—the right to make a managerial change for whatever reason he wants—he doesn’t have to give a reason. “I wanted to make a change” is good enough for me.

But what will Loria do with Guillen if he’s the choice? Samson notably got into an argument with Bobby Valentine during Valentine’s interview to replace Gonzalez; Valentine would have and would still be an excellent choice for a talented Marlins squad that needs discipline and a solid strategist.

But Guillen would be a good choice as well.

Loria wouldn’t be able to fire him though. And how the Marlins organization would function with that kind of restraint over their petulant owner is an interesting dynamic that has to be considered before making the move for an established manager who’s going to require a lot of guaranteed money and say-so to take the job.

//

Extrapolating The Marlins

Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Players

Nobody, but nobody had speculated that Edwin Rodriguez would resign of his own accord before getting fired. We continually saw “insiders” and “experts” making statements as to the safety or precariousness of Rodriguez’s position.

Logically, he was going to get fired—soon—had he not resigned.

This is something to look at as to the machinations of the decision.

Here’s my guess: Rodriguez resigned because he was about to be fired and the Marlins front office didn’t want to deal with the fallout of firing another manager and be perceived as a chaotic, Steinbrenneresque outfit that overestimates a flawed roster and reacts by sacrificing the easiest and most disposable member of management—the field manager.

In exchange for his resignation and silence on the inner workings of the club, Rodriguez will have a “place” within the organization either as a coach, minor league manager, roving instructor or something.

He’ll be the good soldier because he is a good soldier. Rodriguez is a workmanlike baseball man who got to the big leagues as a manager the hard way and won’t want to sabotage all that work and riding buses in the minors to tell the truth about how he “chose” to resign.

He left before they could fire him in exchange for a different job.

I’m making it a point to ignore all the continued speculation from the mainstream reporters as to what the Marlins are going to do, but here it is in brief.

First it was Bo Porter, a former Marlins coach and the current 3rd base coach of the Nationals. It’s almost unheard of in this day and age for a team to hire a coach from another team’s staff to take over as their manager.

Then Jack McKeon‘s name was mentioned.

I have the utmost respect for McKeon as an old school baseball man with the bushy mustache and unlit cigar sticking out of his mouth—he looks like he was intentionally cast in the role of a baseball professor.

But he’s 80-years-old.

It’s not age discrimination to say that he’s too old to handle the day-to-day aspects of the job and the scrutiny that will center around his age, the youth of the majority of his roster and that the team has collapsed and is in turmoil.

Some have suggested that the Marlins will name an interim manager for the rest of the season and wait for the potential availability of White sox manager Ozzie Guillen.

Guillen’s job has been in “jeopardy” about 15 other times, but he’s still the White Sox manager. His 2012 option was exercised earlier this season. He’s going to remain the White Sox manager. Not only is he still popular in Chicago, but I get the feeling that White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf likes having the antagonistic relationship between Guillen and GM Kenny Williams. That Williams wanted Mike Stanton as compensation from the Marlins when they made a brief overture to speak to Guillen last winter pretty much tells you how motivated he was to let Guillen go.

The thought that longtime bench coach Joey Cora can slide in neatly as Guillen’s replacement is questionable. Cora is a good, feisty baseball man; he deserves and will eventually get a chance to manage, but as has been proven before, the bench coach doesn’t always walk in and replicate the success of his predecessor. John McLaren is an example of this.

Two things tell me the Marlins are going to go for a “name” manager right now.

One, they aren’t giving up on 2011. Nor should they. The parity-laden National League has left the Wild Card wide open and if they get hot they can still climb back to within striking distance of the Phillies. The Marlins don’t do sell-offs in season—they wait until the winter to clear out the house of veterans or players who are becoming too expensive.

Two, they’re heading into the new ballpark next season and want someone who has cachet and name recognition for the casual fan to drum up some excitement.

Bo Porter ain’t it.

Owner Jeffrey Loria let his baseball people talk him out of Bobby Valentine last year. I don’t think he’s going to let that happen again. Valentine will be managing the Marlins at some point be it immediately or after the season.

They have two choices: Valentine or Tony Perez. Perez would take the job on an interim basis, his son Eduardo was recently hired as the hitting coach and Tony has always said he’d like to give managing another try.

With Valentine, the Marlins are going to have to make it worth his while to walk away from his lucrative, cushy and ego-boosting forum on the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball telecast. They’ll have to pay him and give him some say-so over the club construction. Whether the braintrust—Larry Beinfest, Michael Hill, Dan Jennings along with club president David Samson will be on board with this is a question.

Some might, some might not.

But Loria is going to do what he’s going to do.

The Marlins should hire Valentine and they should do it immediately. He’s a great manager, he’d spark enthusiasm and he’d run the team correctly.

He’s the best choice.

//

Marlinating

Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Players

You can read stories saying Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez is safe; you can read stories about him being fired very soon.

People are covering their bases. I guess that’s a guaranteed way of being “right”.

But all you need to do to get a grasp on the situation is look at history.

Fredi Gonzalez did a fine job with the Marlins and was fired. Joe Girardi won Manager of the Year and was fired. Jeff Torborg was a close friend of the owner and was fired.

Rodriguez is on a 1-year contract; he doesn’t have the name recognition that the team is going to want heading into their new ballpark next season; there are expectations of contention surrounding the team in 2011; and they’ve lost 18 out of 20 games.

Rodriguez got ejected from last night’s game—a 5-1 loss to the Rays—in what was likely one of his final memorable acts as manager.

It’s not Rodriguez’s fault that Josh Johnson and Hanley Ramirez have been injured; that John Buck and Omar Infante have been borderline train wrecks; that Chris Coghlan has hit so poorly and done a defensive tap dance in center field that he’s been demoted.

Rodriguez is a fall guy for a team that fires first and asks questions later—something with which I do not have a problem.

My question is: what were they expecting?

Another note about the Marlins, could they try something drastic like listening to offers for Ramirez?

They’ve listened before when the Red Sox came calling, but nothing came of it. They’ll listen on and trade anyone.

Ramirez is a viable alternative for teams that have been pursuing Jose Reyes and would extract a substantial amount even though he’s had a bad year and been on the disabled list with a back problem.

He’s signed through 2014, is guaranteed around $50 million and does not have a no-trade clause.

The Marlins have already fired a hitting coach; demoted a former Rookie of the Year; and are about to fire their manager.

If they’d like to drop a bomb in their clubhouse, trading Ramirez is the way to do it.

//

The Son To The Father

Books, Games, Hall Of Fame, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players

It’s not uncommon for a spy to be sent in to a situation to assess and report.

Could that be the case with Eduardo Perez taking over as the new Marlins hitting coach?

Could it be that notoriously impatient owner Jeffrey Loria is thinking of making a managerial change and wants to know what’s going on in the clubhouse before pulling the trigger?

That perhaps the insertion of Eduardo Perez is a signal that Marlins special assistant to team president David Samson, Hall of Famer and former Marlins manager himself Tony Perez might be in line to take over for Edwin Rodriguez if the team continues to stumble?

While a bit too conservative for my tastes, Rodriguez has done a fine job with the Marlins since he took over for Fredi Gonzalez a year ago; the players seem to like and respect him; he has a quiet, understated and professional way about him and this team has been overrated repeatedly by the owner.

Rodriguez is working under a 1-year contract.

The Marlins have glaring flaws that can’t be covered by the hiring of a new manager, but that appears to be where things are headed with the essentially meaningless, warning shot firing of hitting coach John Mallee in favor or Eduardo Perez.

The hitting coach is only doled credit when things go well, blame when they don’t; in reality and unlike the pitching coach, the hitters take what they want from the disseminated advice and use it when it suits them. For the most part, it’s cosmetic.

The Marlins have never shied away from making managerial changes. In the case of Gonzalez, it was ridiculous to fire him considering the job he’d done; in fact, it appeared that Loria was taking sides with his star player and prodigal son Hanley Ramirez over Gonzalez even though Ramirez was disciplined by Tony Perez and Andre Dawson for lazy, selfish play and power-mad arrogance.

Loria fired Joe Girardi because of purported insubordination and he fired his close friend Jeff Torborg and replaced him with Jack McKeon.

The Torborg/McKeon change is relevant in this case.

On May 10th 2003, the Marlins were floundering at 16-22 and in 4th place in the NL East; 9 games out of first place and 7 games from the Wild Card lead.

Loria fired Torborg and replaced him with the savvy, cigar-chomping 72-year-old veteran baseball lifer (and part of the Marlins front office at the time), McKeon. The team went on a tear, won the Wild Card and eventually the World Series over the heavily favored Yankees.

Tony Perez is 69. A widely respected baseball man, he’s part of the Marlins front office; managed the club in 2001 and there’s long been the perception that he’d have liked to give it a legitimate try and not be a caretaker.

In a Cincinnati Reds, Big Red Machine clubhouse that housed Johnny Bench, Pete Rose and Joe Morgan the true leader was the understated Tony Perez.

Given the way the Marlins have done business in the past, there’s a precedent for a move of this kind.

I had speculated in my book that the Marlins would be struggling around .500 into June and the on-again/off-again flirtation with Bobby Valentine would lead to Valentine taking over as manager.

It’s still possible I suppose, but the easiest thing to do now would be to give Tony Perez the job.

That might have been the idea when Eduardo Perez left ESPN to take the job as hitting coach.

It’s not fair to blame Rodriguez.

Like the concept of existence, it just is and fair has nothing to do with it one way or the other.

Keep an eye on it.

It could be coming any day now.

//

Watchfulness

Books, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Podcasts

With the season starting today, here are some early season things to keep an eye on.

Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Bullpen refurbishments:

Rafael Soriano is already raising eyebrows everywhere with his Madonna-like behaviors. The fans are wondering what to make of him, the media is searching for a juicy story and the club personnel appears perturbed at his demanding nature and reclusive tendencies.

What’s going to happen if he allows a big homer or blows a game or two early in the season and the fans and media smell blood? He’s sensitive and nervous and had better get off on the right foot or his time in New York could go sour very, very quickly.

The Twins are a bullpen-based club that lost the core of their bullpen; they have a group of mediocre starters behind Francisco Liriano and the up-the-middle defense is an unknown. If the replacements for Jesse Crain, Jon Rauch and Matt Guerrier aren’t able to handle the job, the Twins are in for a long year. And one can’t help but take a deep breath about Jeff Manship, Glen Perkins and Dusty Hughes.

The Braves have a two-headed rookie closer in Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters and the objective Braves observers have concerns about manager Fredi Gonzalez’s maneuverings with his relievers. These young pitchers have to perform.

****

Jobs on the line:

Edwin Rodriguez did an admirable job with the Marlins after taking over last season but owner Jeffrey Loria was already squawking about his team’s poor play…in spring training.

Expectations are high; the team is strangely constructed with a good pitching staff and awful defense; and they’re moving into a new ballpark in 2012.

The flirtation with Bobby Valentine went hot and cold; Loria had his eye on Valentine before and with Ozzie Guillen‘s option with the White Sox for 2012 having been exercised, he won’t be available. If the Marlins are struggling, Rodriguez will take the fall and, Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN gig or not, Valentine will be hovering.

The Mariners were an embarrassing train wreck on and off the field last season. GM Jack Zduriencik’s “genius” label has degenerated into something resembling a questionable human being for the Josh Lueke episode and the team is horrendous.

If anything—anything—that goes in the front of the newspaper rather than the back happens, ownership might want to bring in someone with historic competence and Mariners ties.

Pat Gillick still lives in Seattle and hasn’t officially retired.

The Athletics have very high expectations and Billy Beane isn’t going to take the fall if they get off to a bad start. Manager Bob Geren has survived for a variety of reasons—not the least of which he’s Beane’s “best friend”.

We’ll see how long that “friendship” factor lasts if Beane is under fire.

****

Ownerships:

The Mets and Dodgers ownerships have legal issues—the Wilpons are being sued; the McCourts are divorcing—they’re the butt of endless jokes and may not have the money to run their clubs on a day-to-day basis.

Both teams could be on the market sooner rather than later.

When Hank and Hal Steinbrenner and Randy Levine overruled GM Brian Cashman on Soriano, they hearkened back to the days of George Steinbrenner jumping in and doing things that weren’t part of the planned agenda of their “full autonomy” GM.

If the Yankees are behind the Red Sox into the summer—and possibly out of playoff position entirely—will they insist on Cashman including young players he doesn’t want to trade to get a Chris Carpenter, Francisco Liriano or Ryan Dempster? And would that spur Cashman to want to leave at the end of the season?

Panic follows desperation and the pursuit of Carl Pavano and signing of Soriano exemplify desperation from both Cashman and the Steinbrnners.

****

My podcast appearance with SportsFanBuzz previewing the season is posted. You can listen here The SportsFan Buzz: March 30, 2011 or on iTunes.

I was on with Mike at NYBaseballDigest. last night. You can listen here.

****

I’ll be hosting a forum every day starting today on TheCopia.com. I’ll give the details on Twitter and Facebook. Click on the links at the top of the page for my Twitter/Facebook accounts.

****

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.

Now it’s also out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.


//

Viewer Mail 3.14.2011

Books, Management, Media, Players, Spring Training

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Chuck Greenberg and Cliff Lee:

Seeing Greenberg get the boot from the Rangers made me smile. And btw, he didn’t “fire back” at the Yankees; he was the one who fired the first shot and the Yankees responded, at which point he meekly apologized. As for Lee, I agree that his responses are honest and that his straightforward, no-nonsense attitude is part of what makes him such a great pitcher.

Tying the responses to the Lee/Greenberg comments shows an interesting dichotomy. Jane’s a (mostly) rational fan, but Greenberg’s pokes at the Yankees struck a nerve. I don’t think Greenberg was sorry; he was apologizing because of pressure from MLB itself and, obviously given his ouster, Nolan Ryan.

In the realm of rationality, I doubt most Yankee fans are going to share the grudging admiration for Lee; he’s persona non grata at Yankee Stadium because he refused the Yankees money and isn’t shy about saying why—all the more reason to believe him when he says the spitting incident in the ALCS had nothing to do with anything; clearly he had a list of reasons why he spurned the Yankees that superseded his wife being spit on. And that’s not good.

Joe writes RE the luck/intelligence argument with Johan Santana, the Red Sox, Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron:

Well “lucky” only has so much to do with it. I don’t know that they knew anything anyway. But it is obvious the risk associated with pitchers on long-term deals. The problem with that, is the Red Sox handed out long, expensive contracts to Lackey and Beckett after that. And the Yankees to CC and Burnett. And Johan at the time, was better than at least 3 of those guys. So their philosophy either changed some, or well, I don’t know.

***

I am not sold on Ellsbury offensively or defensively either. But I think he can be a decent player this year. And Cameron offers much more flexibility playing in RF and DH’ing against some lefties. And he can play some center too, of course. Also, he is 37 now. So having him play sometimes, rather than everyday, should benefit him, keeping him healthy and fresh.

Of the names you mention, the only contract comparable to Santana’s is C.C. Sabathia‘s; in fact, the Red Sox got both John Lackey and Josh Beckett for close to what the Mets gave Santana in guaranteed money. Lackey’s contract is nearly identical to that of A.J. Burnett.

I still hold to the argument that neither the Yankees nor the Red Sox wanted Santana. They knew they’d have to surrender Jon Lester/Phil Hughes and then give Santana that contract to keep him. The fears regarding any hindsight-laden “expertise” have conveniently coincided with Santana’s injury.

Regarding Cameron/Ellsbury, the logic is that they have Ryan Kalish, Darnell McDonald, Josh Reddick and Daniel Nava so they can afford to move Cameron.

The same argument holds for keeping Cameron and dealing Ellsbury; in fact, they’d get more in a trade for Ellsbury than they would for Cameron and the reasons are more applicable to those you imply are in favor of keeping Cameron—age and wear; plus Ellsbury costs nearly nothing financially for the foreseeable future.

The Other Mike in The Bleacher Seats writes RE the Marlins:

Do you think the Marlins are contenders? Or are you just saying that they’re ahead of the Mets?

The Marlins are talented but flawed.

Their defense is atrocious and unless they take the reins off Matt Dominguez and shut their eyes, they’re relegated to either using Wes Helms or some configuration of Chris Coghlan, Omar Infante and Emilio Bonifacio at third/second base; using Coghlan would require a panicky shift of positions as they have Coghlan in center field—a position he’s never played as a professional.

I’m not a fan of the drastic bullpen alterations they’ve made.

The rotation is young a supremely talented; the lineup will score.

But do you see the mismatched puzzle pieces of the Marlins?

They have a starting rotation that, for the most part, gives up an even number of hit balls to the outfield and infield and a terrible outfield defense; they have a lineup of mashers and an inexperienced manager—Edwin Rodriguez—on a 1-year contract who, in his brief time last season, preferred small ball to going for the big inning.

It doesn’t fit.

They are contenders for the Wild Card at least, but it all has to go right. For everything to go right, there has to be continuity from the front office to the manager to the rest of the roster.

It’s not there.

Given their looming questions and the new ballpark set to open next year, I still believe that Bobby Valentine will be managing the Marlins at some point, but by the time that happens they’ll too far out of first place to be factors in the division race.

As for the Wild Card? They can hang around and hope for a hot streak to swipe it.

But I don’t see it.

And yes, the Marlins are better than the Mets.

The above bit about the Marlins is what you can expect (albeit in greater detail) based on stats and rational/deep-strike analysis from my book.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN.


//

Teetering

Hot Stove

Barring anything miraculous in the positive or negative sense, there are teams that we pretty much know their collective fates.

The Red Sox and Phillies are at the top of the food chain; the Yankees, Braves and White Sox can expect to be good; the Royals are basing their entire future and present on the fact that everyone worships their packed farm system—they’ll see you in 2014, just you wait!!

The Mets know where they’re at; the Pirates are the Pirates.

But other clubs have pressing questions of the make-or-break variety; questions that could lead to their rise or fall, depending on the answers.

Here are those teams and things can go right…or wrong in 2011.

Toronto Blue Jays

They’ve done a lot of stuff, but I don’t necessarily know if they’ve gotten better from last season.

Stacked with young pitching, they’ve signed or acquired veteran relievers Octavio Dotel, Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco to augment young starters Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek, et al.

With the departures of Vernon Wells, John Buck and Lyle Overbay, they lost 71 homers and replaced them with nothing but hope. Hope that the atrocious seasons from Aaron Hill and Adam Lind were nothing more than blips; hope that Travis Snider will hit the way he did in the minors; hope that Edwin Encarnacion and Yunel Escobar won’t join forces to send new manager John Farrell to test the benefits of the Canadian health care system’s mental program; and hope that the young pitchers improve rather than stagnate or regress.

The Blue Jays could easily fall to 75 wins or rise to 90.

Minnesota Twins

The departures of Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Jon Rauch and Brian Fuentes have gutted imperative parts of their bullpen. Joe Nathan is returning from Tommy John surgery and Matt Capps is still there for the late innings, but the foundation of their bullpen was based on the above names—names that are no longer there. The Twins won with competent, mediocre starting pitching and a deep, reliable bullpen.

They still have the mediocre starting pitching, but without the bullpen, they could have a problem.

Justin Morneau is a question mark returning from his concussion; Delmon Young had his career year in 2010; they’re replacing Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy with Alexi Casilla and, the biggest wild card, Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

I don’t care what the scouting reports say about a player coming over from Japan, you never know what you’re getting until they play in North America. You could be getting Hideki Irabu; you could be getting Hideki Matsui. You don’t know.

If the Twins bullpen falters, that’s going to damage their starting pitching—starting pitching that isn’t all that great to begin with. With the new middle infield, they could take a drastic tumble. They’re also in a division with two good teams in the White Sox and Tigers.

Florida Marlins

The front office has had unreasonably high expectations in the past and it, along with the enabling of diva-like behavior from Hanley Ramirez, combined to cost Fredi Gonzalez his job as manager at mid-season, 2010.

They have an impressive array of talent, but there’s something…off about them. Wes Helms at third base? Chris Coghlan in center field? 3-years, $18 million for John Buck? Trading for relievers Edward Mujica and Ryan Webb when, in the past, the Marlins set the standard for building a bullpen the right way by finding cheap, discarded arms?

Javier Vazquez is a good pickup for the deep rotation as he joins Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez.

That division is a nightmare with the Phillies likely to disappear into the distance a month into the season and the Braves probably the second best team in the National League.

Manager Edwin Rodriguez is on a 1-year deal and the club has had an on-again, off-again flirtation with Bobby Valentine. Owner Jeffrey Loria wants a “name” manager to helm his club heading into the new ballpark in 2012 and Ozzie Guillen, another object of his desires, just had his contract option for 2012 exercised by the White Sox.

Rodriguez did a good job after taking over for Gonzalez, but he’s not box office.

Like a prospective romance that for a variety of reasons all parties insist is over, Valentine and the Marlins are still eyeing each other lustily. Unless the Marlins are right in the thick of the playoff race in June, don’t—do….not—be surprised to see Valentine managing the Marlins.

San Diego Padres

The starting pitching has been compromised with the departures of Jon Garland and Kevin Correia; they still have Clayton Richard and Mat Latos at the top, but after that?

I dunno…

Then they dealt away Mujica and Webb for Cameron Maybin who’s done nothing to justify his top prospect status as of yet—he’s not a prospect anymore, it’s either do it or don’t.

Who knows how the loss of Yorvit Torrealba—a terrific handler of pitchers—will affect the staff.

The offense is devastated by the trade of Adrian Gonzalez; they brought in Maybin, Jason Bartlett, Orlando Hudson, Brad Hawpe and Jorge Cantu.

Again, I dunno…

“I dunno” is not cutting it in a rough division.

The Padres could fall from 90 wins to 75 if their pitching doesn’t perform.

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.