MLB Trade Deadline: Relievers and the Eric Gagne-Jesse Crain Parallel

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It’s safe to say the two veteran relief pitchers the Red Sox just signed to minor league contracts, Brandon Lyon and Jose Contreras, won’t be the missing pieces to their hoped-for 2013 championship puzzle. Suffice it to also say that neither will pitch as terribly as Eric Gagne did when the Red Sox surrendered three players to get the veteran closer from the Rangers in 2007. If they do, it’s no harm/no foul.

The trade for Gagne was meant to create shutdown eighth and ninth innings with Gagne and Jonathan Papelbon and lead them to a World Series title. They won the title with no help from Gagne, who posted a 6.75 ERA with 26 hits allowed in 18 2/3 innings after the trade and pitched as badly in the post-season as he did in the regular season. In retrospect the trade wasn’t one in which the Red Sox are lamenting letting young players they needed get away.

For Gagne, they traded former first round draft pick outfielder David Murphy, lefty pitcher Kason Gabbard and young outfielder Engel Beltre. Murphy has been a good player for the Rangers, but the Red Sox haven’t missed him. Gabbard was a soft-tossing lefty whose career was derailed by injuries and actually wound up back with the Red Sox in 2010 for 11 Triple A appearances and hasn’t pitched since. If the Red Sox wind up regretting the trade it will because of Beltre who is still only 23, has speed, occasional pop and can play centerfield. Regardless of what happens with him, few will hold it against them for trading a 17-year-old in the quest of a championship that they wound up winning independent of Gagne’s terribleness.

The trade could have been far more disastrous than it was and it was due to the club overvaluing both the player they were getting and the importance of a relief pitcher who was not a closer. Interestingly, as written by Terry Francona and Dan Shaughnessy in The Red Sox Years, the Red Sox original intention was to use Papelbon as a set-up man and install Gagne as the closer. They went so far as to go to Papelbon’s home prior to pulling the trigger to discuss the possibility of letting Gagne close. Papelbon objected and the club made the trade anyway to use Gagne as the set-up man. As the numbers show, it didn’t work and it might have been hellish had they made Gagne the closer by alienating Papelbon, angering a clubhouse and fanbase still harboring dreaded memories from the failed 2003 attempt at a closer-by-committee, and repeating a mistake that the Red Sox have—even today—continued to make in undervaluing a good and reliable closer.

No one is expecting Lyon or Contreras to be key contributors to a title run, but they’re “why not?” moves to see if they can get cheap production from a couple of veterans. It’s doubtful the Red Sox are going to give up a top prospect for a non-closer again. Already the club inquired with the Mets about Bobby Parnell and the Mets reportedly asked for Jackie Bradley Jr., to which the Red Sox wisely said no. The Mets are willing to move Parnell if they get that kind of offer but it’s hard to see that happening, so it’s unlikely that they trade him. However, one relief pitcher who is on the market and will be traded is Jesse Crain of the White Sox. What happened with Gagne should not be lost on a team hoping to bolster their relief corps by acquiring Crain.

Gagne, before the trade, was closing for the Rangers. He’d saved 16 games, posted a 2.16 ERA, struck out 29 in 33 1/3 innings and allowed 23 hits. For the White Sox this season Crain made the All-Star team and is in the midst of the year of his life with a 0.74 ERA, 31 hits allowed in 36 2/3 innings (with a .337 BAbip), 46 strikeouts, 11 walks and no homers. Crain has always been a solid set-up man, strikes out more than a batter-per-inning and is a free agent at the end of the season. He’s a good pitcher, but he’s not worth what the White Sox are going to want for him and might possibly get from a desperate team looking to help their bullpen. In reality, the team that acquires Crain won’t win the championship because of him if he pitches as well as he is now, nor will they lose it if he falls to earth.

There are times in which it’s worth it to give up the top prospect to get that last missing piece if the championship is the goal. The Marlins traded former first pick in the draft Adrian Gonzalez to get Ugueth Urbina in 2003. That trade is nowhere near as bad as it would’ve been if Gonzalez had blossomed for the Rangers and the Marlins hadn’t won the World Series, but the Rangers also traded Gonzalez (no one knew how good he really was), and the Marlins did win the World Series that year. They might’ve won it with or without Urbina, but the bottom-line perception is what counts and the title justifies anything they did to get it. It’s the same thing with Gagne. The Red Sox won the title, so nothing else really matters.

Will Crain yield that for the team that acquires him? Is it likely? Probably not on both counts. The only time to give up a significant piece for a known set-up man is if you’re getting Mariano Rivera from 1996 Yankees or the Rob Dibble/Norm Charlton combination from the 1990 Reds’ Nasty Boys. Other than that, a team is better off doing what the Red Sox did with Lyon and Contreras and tossing a dart at a dartboard or finding a reliever who isn’t in the midst of his career year as Crain is and hoping that a move to a contending team and more than a little luck turns into a “genius” move when it was exceedingly lucky.

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Francona: The Red Sox Years by Terry Francona and Dan Shaughnessy—Book Review

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It’s a fine line between revenge and clarification. In his new book detailing the eight years he spent as manager of the Boston Red Sox, Terry Francona straddles the territory between the two. In Francona: The Red Sox Years written with Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy, Francona does so with a mostly objective point of view and occasional digs at those who sought to undermine him and diminish his substantial accomplishments during his time at the helm.

The book functions as a biography, telling the story of Terry Francona’s father Tito Francona’s Major League career; the younger Francona’s life of frequent address changes as his father switched teams; the experience of hanging around the clubhouses with his dad; his own playing career as a college star and first round draft pick; the injuries that sabotaged him and relegated him to journeyman whose lifelong dream ended at age 31. When he became a manager in the White Sox system, he was making the same innocent climb that players make first running a single A club in Indiana, then spending three years in Double A. The second year was notable because it provided Francona a crash course in a media circus managing basketball star Michael Jordan during his yearlong break from the NBA and foray into baseball.

By the time he was 38, he was named manager of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1997. The Phillies were a bad team and Francona, by his own account, didn’t do a very good job running the club. Fired after four seasons, he seemed more relieved than unhappy. Following the firing after the 2000 season, he burnished his resume by working in the Indians’ front office in 2001, as the bench coach for Buck Showalter with the Rangers in 2002, and Ken Macha with the Athletics in 2003.

While with the Athletics, Francona received a first hand look at his future in two different ways, neither of which he likely saw when he was traveling with his dad, playing or working his way up as a field boss: the general manager of the new millennium was openly interfering with the way in which a manager ran the games. All through 2003, Macha was constantly fending off the regular “suggestions” (more like interrogations) that the A’s manager was forced to endure from the newly minted star of Moneyball, Billy Beane. Also in 2003, Francona was on the opposite bench when the Red Sox, then managed by Grady Little and in year one of their remaking with Theo Epstein as their GM, came from 2 games to 0 behind to defeat the Athletics in a dramatic 5 games series. It was a glimpse into the future for Francona with the tentacles of chance gripping him, Little, Epstein and the Red Sox, sometimes around their throats.

In the very next series, Little’s decision to leave Pedro Martinez in to pitch game 7 of the ALCS against the Yankees cost him the job and opened it for Francona. Francona, ironically, was friends with Little for years and they even lived together when Francona served as Little’s bench coach in the Arizona Fall League in 1992. Also ironically, Francona—jokingly or not—told the Red Sox during the arduous interview process that he would have taken Pedro out of game 7 of the ALCS as Little was supposed to do. The interview process included written tests and games of the computer simulated baseball game “Diamond Mind” against Epstein’s assistants to see how Francona would react to game circumstances. Did Francona tell the Red Sox people what he knew they wanted to hear in terms of Little or would he have acquiesced to the demands of the numbers and ignored that the Red Sox bullpen didn’t have that one big arm in the bullpen that the manager could unequivocally trust in lieu of his ace?

Only Francona knows, but given the old-school sensibilities he exhibited, it’s not as cut-and-dried as implied that he wouldn’t have done the exact same thing Little did—the thing that got him fired.

This clash of civilizations is a key contention in this book and the books written by other managers such as Joe Torre with the Yankees who were unceremoniously relieved of their duties after immeasurable success that had not been enjoyed by their respective clubs for decades prior to their arrivals. The new landscape in baseball makes it necessary for managers to agree to listen to information that may or may not have real world validity in an exercise of going along to get along. Some managers like Joe Maddon embrace it; others, like Torre and Little, rebel against it with a head shake and bemused smirk; still others like Francona and Joe Girardi listen to the advice and try to incorporate it where applicable.

The fundamental civil war makes being a big league manager in today’s game an exercise in tightrope walking by maintaining respect with the players and not appear as a puppet while accessing and sifting through the reams of information burying them like corn in a silo. Torre, in fact, had his own issues magnified due to the presence of the big market rival using stats to build a club that was cheaper and better than his Yankees were. The Red Sox were Patient X in this experiment and where the entire virus got its start.

Little unabashedly ignored the advice. Francona was nuanced as he ignored some of it too, rebelling when he couldn’t tolerate it and telling Epstein to have his people back off a bit.

If anyone has the breadth of experience to be a manager and do his job without the overbearing interference of a staff of numbers crunchers and find methods to meld the highly paid egos, deal with the media, and make the players perform on the field, it’s Francona. The numbers crunchers that managers are forced to endure today may never have picked up a baseball and would be swallowed alive after two days of inhabiting the same space as Manny Ramirez, yet they see fit to question, criticize and send suggestions that eventually take the tone of orders.

For a pure baseball lifer, it’s a conundrum and necessary concession. Any manager who doesn’t adapt to the way baseball is run today is not going to get a job.

The battles he fought as manager were mostly with a front office that in the ownership suite didn’t appreciate the job he was doing. Francona was lowballed in his contract when he was initially hired and was saddled with the onus that he was taking orders from his bosses in every single aspect of on-field decisionmaking (this was right after the publication of Moneyball), and that he was selected because he was one of the few managers for whom Curt Schilling wanted to play. The Red Sox were closing in on acquiring Schilling simultaneously to hiring Francona. The Red Sox and Francona deny this, but the denial is formulated on a shaky premise. They didn’t decide out of the blue to get Schilling and it would certainly help to grease the negotiations if he knew he was getting a manager he wanted to play for instead of, say, Bobby Valentine.

The book doesn’t discuss significant conflict between Francona and Epstein in spite of Epstein making Francona’s life difficult with the overbearing and constant presence of the GM and his youthful assistants, or with acquisitions of the likes of David Wells, but there’s an unexplored and unmentioned tension that Francona may not admit or realize existed between him and Epstein.

Epstein, in fact, comes off as profoundly immature when the Red Sox fell behind the Yankees 3 games to 0 in the 2004 ALCS and his assistants decided that he couldn’t be left alone. Did they think he was suicidal? He couldn’t be left alone? It was a baseball game that they lost badly in a series they were about to lose, not life or death.

Rather than jump off the Green Monster, Epstein got drunk on a friend’s couch and passed out. As the GM was drowning his sorrows, the manager who was supposed to be manipulated by the “geniuses” in the front office was calmly saying that his team would show up to play and the series wasn’t over. While Epstein has continually denied the story of breaking furniture in Nicaragua when the Red Sox lost the bidding for free agent Cuban Jose Contreras to the Yankees, this type of story makes me believe that maybe he really did break the furniture in a tantrum that a 20-something is known to throw when he doesn’t get his way.

Reading between the lines, Epstein comes off looking immature, arrogant and self-centered.

The owners John Henry and Tom Werner, along with CEO Larry Lucchino are presented as the nemeses of Francona with Epstein serving as a buffer between the manager and the out-of-touch front office, but the book—again in an unsaid manner—presents Lucchino as the hatchet man carrying out the edicts of the two owners. More a devil’s advocate and overseer, Lucchino didn’t harass Epstein and Francona as much as he dared to question them and want an answer other than a spiraling stack of sludge that would placate a less-informed front office person or owner.

Francona’s health problems were much more serious than has ever been publicly revealed and his life was in jeopardy due to blood clots. He still endures terrible pain because of his wounds from a long playing career and the well-known issues with deep vein thrombosis. His use of pain medication was a point of contention and weaponized by someone with the Red Sox to impugn Francona’s reputation and justify his firing as if he was an addict whose use of the medicines, combined with the separation from his wife, led to a lack of focus allowing the players to run roughshod over all sense of propriety and culminating in the beer and chicken “scandal” that engulfed Francona and his team during their collapse in September 2011. The book explains Francona’s use of the medication in an evenhanded manner.

The players took advantage of Francona’s old-school demeanor in letting the players run their clubhouse. It’s an excuse to say that the beer and chicken had little to do with the collapse. If the players—especially pitchers Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and John Lackey—had been in better shape, perhaps they wouldn’t have pitched as poorly as they did down the stretch and the team wouldn’t have missed the playoffs in the first place.

What Francona getting and losing the job hinged on was chance and the slippery slope of “if-thens.”  Would he have gotten the nod had Bernie Williams’s looping single in game 7 of the 2003 ALCS fallen into the glove of Nomar Garciaparra and the Red Sox held on to win the game and advanced to the World Series? Would he have retained the job if Dave Roberts hadn’t been safe by a hair on his stolen base in the ninth inning of game 4 in 2004, sparking the inconceivable four game comeback? Would he have lost the job if the Red Sox had been able to win two more games in September of 2011?

The final portion of the book centers around Francona’s estrangement from the Red Sox and his continued and understandably obsessive questioning of everyone as to who leaked to the media that he had a problem with prescription medications. Lucchino is alleged to have said he was going to find out who it was, but never did. Henry, the detached Dracula whose presence was rare and awkward, contributed his beloved stats and was notably out-of-touch in his attempts to get a grip on his crumbling would-be dynasty, had no reply for Francona. Werner was too busy trying to bolster his own bona fides and overemphasize his influence.

The book is not a vengeful and vicious, “I’m gonna get back at the guys who screwed me,” as Torre’s, at times, was. It tells Francona’s side in a context to put him in the best possible light, to be sure; he’s more calculating than an “Aw shucks,” baseball man who’s happiest at the ballpark and with the players. Clearly he’s hurt by the way his tenure ended especially considering he accomplished something in winning a World Series that hadn’t happened for 86 years prior to his arrival, then he turned around and won another title three years later. The concerns about his perception might have been the catalyst to jump back in the ring in a situation that isn’t ready-made to win immediately with the Indians. He took a job while the jobs were still being offered.

Francona gets his story out there, highlights how difficult the job of Red Sox manager truly is, and that it’s a borderline miracle that he: A) lasted as long as he did; and B) had the success he had while maintaining some semblance of sanity.

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2012 MLB Award Picks—Cy Young Award

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Let’s look at the award winners for 2012 starting with the Cy Young Award with my 2012 picks, who I picked in the preseason, and who I actually think is going to win regardless of who should win.

American League

1. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

Verlander won the Cy Young Award and the MVP in 2011. His numbers in 2012 weren’t as dominating as they were in 2011 and the Tigers had a better team in 2012, so he’s not an MVP candidate this season, but he still did enough to outdo the competition for the CYA.

Verlander led the American League in innings pitched, strikeouts, complete games, and was at or near the top in advanced stats such as Adjusted ERA+ and Wins Above Replacement (WAR).

The WAR argument is a factor, but not the factor to set the stage for the MVP analysis between Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout.

2. David Price, Tampa Bay Rays

Price led the AL in ERA and wins, but was far behind Verlander in innings pitched and strikeouts.

3. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

If he hadn’t had two terrible games in September in which he allowed 7 earned runs in each, he would’ve been higher. In addition to those games, he allowed 6 earned runs in two other games; and 5 earned runs in three others. He was pitching for a bad team that couldn’t hit, pitched a perfect game, and threw 5 shutouts.

4. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels

Had he not gotten injured and missed three starts, the Angels might’ve made the playoffs. It wouldn’t have won him the award unless he’d thrown three shutouts, but he’d have had a better shot. He won 20 games and was third in ERA, but only logged 188 innings.

5. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox

In his first year as a starter, it was Sale’s smooth transition to the rotation that led the White Sox to surprising contention.

***

My preseason pick was Price.

The winner will be Verlander.

National League

1. R.A. Dickey, New York Mets

Which will win out? The story of Dickey and how he rose from a first round draft pick whose contract was yanked from under him because his elbow didn’t have an ulnar collateral ligament, then to a 4-A journeyman, then to a knuckleballer, then to a sensation? Or will the fact that he is a knuckleballer and the perception of him using a trick pitch sway some voters away from his numbers to the concept of giving the award to a “real” pitcher (as ridiculous as that is).

When Jim Bouton was making a comeback as a knuckleballer in 1978, he pitched well against the Reds of Joe Morgan, Pete Rose and Johnny Bench. The Reds quantified their inability to hit Bouton with head shakes at how slow his offerings were. Bouton’s friend Johnny Sain said something to the tune of, “You’ve discovered a new way to assess a pitcher’s performance—go and ask the opponent what they thought.”

How Dickey did it and debiting him for using a “trick pitch” is like refusing to give Gaylord Perry the Cy Young Award or Hall of Fame induction because he admittedly threw a spitball. Everyone knew it and he got away with it. It’s the same thing with Dickey except he’s not cheating.

Dickey won 20 games for a bad team and led the National League in strikeouts, innings pitched, complete games, and shutouts.

2. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

I wouldn’t argue if Kershaw won the award. You can flip him and Dickey and both are viable candidates.

Kershaw led the NL in WAR for pitchers, was second in adjusted ERA+, led the league in ERA, was second in innings pitched and strikeouts. He was also pitching late in the season with a hip impingement injury that was initially thought to need surgery. (He won’t need the surgery.)

3. Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves

I am not punishing a great pitcher for being a closer. Saying he’s not a starter is similar to saying that a player like Derek Jeter isn’t a great player because he never hit the home runs that Alex Rodriguez hit. He’s not a slugger. That’s not what he does. It’s the same thing with Kimbrel and Mariano Rivera. Make them into a starter, and it won’t work. But they’re great closers.

Hitters are overmatched against Kimbrel. And yes, I’m aware you can make the same argument for Aroldis Chapman, but Chapman’s ERA was half-a-run higher than Kimbrel’s, but Kimbrel’s ERA+ was 399 compared to Chapman’s 282. For comparison, Rivera’s highest ERA+ in his career is 316; Eric Gagne won the 2003 NL CYA with an ERA+ of 337.

4. Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds

Cueto was second in WAR (just ahead of Dickey), third in ERA, first in adjusted ERA+, and third in wins.

5. Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals

Gonzalez won 21 games, but didn’t pitch 200 innings. He has a Bob Welch thing going on. Welch won 27 games in 1990 and won the Cy Young Award in the American League, but Dave Stewart had a far better year than Welch and Roger Clemens was better than both. Welch was the beneficiary of pitching for a great team with a great bullpen. Clemens was second, Stewart third. Dennis Eckersley had an ERA+ of 603 (that’s not a mistake) and walked 4 hitters (1 intentionally) in 73 innings that season. Welch had a good year, but it’s not as flashy as it looked when delving deeper into the truth. This is comparable to Gonzalez’s predicament.

***

My preseason pick was Tim Lincecum.

Kimbrel is going to win on points as Dickey, Gonzalez, and Kershaw split the vote among starters. I see some writers punishing Dickey for being a knuckleballer due to some silly self-enacted “rules” or biases just as George King of the New York Post deprived Pedro Martinez of a deserved MVP in 1999—link.

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The Red Sox Should Just Fire Valentine Now

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The Red Sox 2012 season is a washout. We all know that. More importantly, they know that. Already they’ve publicly said that Bill James is going to take a more prominent role in the evaluation of players. Whether that’s to keep him from commenting about current events as he stupidly did regarding Joe Paterno or that they want his increased input is known only to them, but it sounds as if they’re looking at what went wrong not just in 2012, but also in 2011, 2010, and 2009.

In fact, the mistakes can be seen to have extended as far back as to 2005 when the cohesive chain-of-command took a hit with Theo Epstein’s tantrum and “resignation” amid a power struggle (which he won) with Larry Lucchino. The Red Sox were not intended to be a team that tossed money at all their problems in an effort to win every…single…season, but to build an organization that was a moneymaker, that developed their own players, that signed free agents that fit into their on-field template and off-field budget, and endured the valleys that came along with the decision to plot their own course rather than look for every star that was on the market and pay for it.

The winter of 2006-2007 can be lumped in there too. Even though they won the World Series in 2007, it was the checkbook that was perceived to have been the “why” for their second title in four years. In reality, the players they signed—Julio Lugo, J.D. Drew, and Daisuke Matsuzaka—didn’t do all that much to help them that season. In the long-term, Drew was of use, but the Red Sox would presumably have preferred do-overs on the other two as well as Eric Gagne, whom they acquired during the season. In subsequent years, the still had notable success, but the developmental train became secondary to signing free agents. Any season not culminating in a World Series win was a disappointment and nothing they did—losing game 7 of the 2008 ALCS; making the playoffs in 2009; overcoming endless injuries in 2010 to win 89 games—was good enough. So they spent, spent, spent on players who were essentially mercenaries and poor fits for Boston.

They dumped manager Terry Francona when the team collapsed; Epstein left; and they became a case study for the logical conclusion of the mistakes they made in incremental stages to create the nightmare of 2012. Manager Bobby Valentine is the epitome of everything that’s gone wrong even though a majority of the poison had infected the organization’s blood. They’ve dispatched Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and Carl Crawford; Valentine isn’t going to be back in 2013. They’re getting back to their roots from over a decade ago.

For right now, however, there is an opportunity to salvage this season and make it memorable for something other than a disaster: They can do to the Yankees what the Orioles, Rays, and to a certain degree the Yankees, did to them a year ago by knocking the Yankees out of the playoffs.

The Red Sox are playing six games against the Yankees with a 3-game series in Boston beginning on Tuesday and the final three games of the season at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees are reeling; their fans and media sycophants are panicking and cuddling one another in a delusional group therapy session, counting the days until the season is over and hoping that their condescension and arrogance isn’t reverberating on them in the most cruel and ironic way by authoring a collapse similar to those experienced by their two most hated rivals, the Red Sox and Mets.

I can tell you right now that if the Yankees don’t win the AL East, they’re not making it to the Wild Card play-in game. The Red Sox can take part in that if they win half of those games against the Yankees. Can they do it? Not as they’re currently constructed, and by that I mean with Valentine as manager.

He’s going to be fired; he’s become the embodiment of this organizational downfall in spite of him having nearly nothing to do with it; after his interview on Wednesday in which a joke was blown out of proportion to sound as if it was an “ugly confrontation” with an obnoxious radio host, his time in Boston is coming to a merciful end. It makes no sense to move forward with him after tomorrow, especially with the Yankees series starting on Tuesday. The Red Sox talent level and effort is currently that of a last place team, which is what they might be by Monday. The Yankees are fighting for their playoff lives. The current Red Sox players presumably know they’ll have a new manager in 2013, but there’s a rampant disinterest in how they’re playing now; an expectation to lose. A portion of that might be not wanting to play well enough to leave any possibility that Valentine is going to return. They’re not tanking, but they’re not enthused either. Firing him now and replacing him with an empty uniform to run the team could provide a spark and wake them up for the last three weeks and those six games against the Yankees.

Would it feel better going into the winter laughing at the Yankees and their fans for enduring a collapse that’s worse than what the Red Sox and Mets suffered? Of course it would.

Keeping Valentine postpones the inevitable and could help the Yankees, so just pull the plug now. They could leave a better taste going into the winter by dragging the Yankees into the same abyss that they’re currently in. If they pull that off, most of 2012 will be forgotten.

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The Red Sox Had A Right To Their Celebration Without Rehashed Drama

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Since the Red Sox have invited every former player, coach and manager to attend the 100th anniversary celebration of Fenway Park, will Eric Gagne be there? Grady Little? Joe Kerrigan?

The problem with inviting everyone to a celebration like this is that there are bound to be people who you don’t want to show up but only invited because you were inviting everyone and it would cause more of a distraction if you picked and chose who could and couldn’t come.

What makes it worse than the person showing up is when they make a great show of pronouncing that they’re not showing up and go into graphic detail as to why.

It’s like a wedding. “Well, if we invite X, then we have to invite Y! We have to!”

The Red Sox have done a Mets-like job of botching things since the final month of the 2011 season when they acted as if a playoff spot was an entitlement rather than something they earned; as if spending money on stars and formulating mathematical calculations based on runs scored and runs allowed that they’d make the playoffs on an annual basis and waltz into another “ultimate matchup” between themselves, the Yankees and the Phillies.

None of those teams made it past the first round of the playoffs.

There’s no right or wrong answer in designing this type of party, but like the aforementioned analogy of a wedding, for the organizers, it’s a case of not having it degenerate into a YouTube disaster.

The Red Sox made the mistake of adding fuel to the fire from the fallout of 2011 with the public dustups with Theo Epstein’s and Terry Francona’s “are they coming or are they not?” twin gaffes.

Francona was invited and initially declined because of the circumstances in which he was dismissed, then reversed course. He did it publicly and it was intentional.

Apparently, Epstein hadn’t been invited at all—a horrific mistake in propriety.

The way to handle situations like this is to rise above the fray. What the Red Sox should’ve done was asked Francona and Epstein to come and left it there.

If Francona said no, they needn’t have called him or gotten into a war of words in the media (dutifully blown up to increase the scrutiny on the reeling organization and shift the onus away from the “beloved” former manager) to rehash the back-and-forth that went on all winter as to whom said what and who’s been allocated the majority of blame for the collapse.

The right answer was the simplest. “We invited Tito and Theo. Of course we want them here for the celebration. It’s not about 2011. It’s about 1912 to 2012 and they contributed greatly to this organization. If they don’t come because of any lingering animosity, we regret that and they’re going to miss a beautiful ceremony.”

Bang.

Who looks worse if Epstein and Francona decline?

Francona’s not Mr. Innocent here.

Don’t think he was hit by a bolt from the blue of magnanimity and changed his mind after dredging up accusations of what led to the ugly split between him and the club. If you believe that, I have a ballpark on 4 Yawkey Way in Boston to sell you.

It’s 100 years old, but was recently refurbished and is a beloved landmark.

Make an offer.

Ask yourself this: if the Red Sox were 10-2 instead of 4-8 and reeling on and off the field under new manager Bobby Valentine, would Francona have so willingly decided to attend?

To an absurd degree, Francona’s been shielded from his part in this club’s decline. In truth, he’s lucky he’s out of there because as long as they keep playing like this and resorting to organizational cannibalism and self-preservation (“Hey, don’t blame me!!!”), he looks better and better when he probably shouldn’t.

Francona is getting his revenge on and off the field and when he steps out and hears the cheers and chanting (“Come back Ti-to!!!”). It’s a kick in the groin for Larry Lucchino, John Henry and Valentine.

Players on the roster will seek Francona out, hug him, shake their heads and complain about the new regime; they’ll express their regret for Francona being dismissed while shirking the reality that their behaviors caused the dismissal. That’s what players do.

The Red Sox are coming apart. Valentine is under fire from the players and media as the lightning rod when much of what’s gone wrong falls at the desks of both Epstein and Francona.

With Epstein, it’s ridiculous that he wasn’t invited. Both he and Dan Duquette played major roles in the rejuvenation of the franchise and deserve acknowledgement for that. They’re not among the generic “non-uniformed personnel” who were, as a rule, not asked to come.

All of the responsibility for what’s currently going wrong for the Red Sox is falling on the remaining actors in the ongoing tragi-comedy. Lucchino, Henry, Josh Beckett, Kevin Youkilis were there for the explosion and are dealing with the fallout. Valentine was parachuted in like a banished general who hadn’t been in combat for a decade and is seeing first hand the factional disagreement, media vultures and fan anger. It’s becoming clear that even the polarizing Valentine had no idea what he was getting into. He thought he was managing a baseball team, not overseeing a zoo.

The entire off-field drama is a distraction from what this celebration is meant to be about: the ballpark and the history of the franchise.

Like it or not, that history going to be intensified by this downfall. It was inevitable as soon as they abandoned the initial blueprint they’d designed and altered the template to be the Yankees and purchased gaudy trophies in lieu of maintaining financial sanity and getting needs over wants.

They’ve succeeded in becoming the Yankees.

But it wasn’t the 1965 Yankees they had in mind.

Let them enjoy their day.

It’s going to get worse from here.

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Myers to the Bullpen and Luhnow’s Betrayal

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It must’ve been a kick to the gut of the hard core stat people who felt that they finally had one of their own running a club in the way they would run a team if given the opportunity when the GM of the Astros, Jeff Luhnow, okayed the move of Brett Myers from starter to closer.

The reactions ranged from anger to bewildered to non-answer answers in trying to “protect” Luhnow because they don’t want to put forth the impression of infighting in the mostly monolithic “this is how to do it” world of hardline stat-based theory.

Luhnow doesn’t need your protection and obviously, he’s not going to follow a specific set in stone blueprint in running his club.

The underlying sense I got from the responses I saw on Twitter were indicative of righteous indignation and the feeling of betrayal as if a spouse had cheated on them.

(Insert your stat guy/spouse joke here.)

“But, but, but…you’re one of us!!!”

In truth, the shifting of Myers to the bullpen can be argued both ways.

He was a good closer with the Phillies in 2007 and enjoyed the role, the adrenaline rush and the game-on-the-line aspect of doing to the job.

He’s a durable starter who can give a club 200 innings and, at times, pitch well.

The Astros need a closer because they don’t trust Brandon Lyon and the other candidates—David Carpenter and Juan Abreu—are inexperienced.

What you have to do in trying to understand the Astros’ thinking is examine what the long-term strategy is.

They’re not going to be a good team either way and when they are, Myers is not going to be on the roster in any capacity, so how would having Myers for 2012 best help expedite their rebuilding project?

Myers’s contract pays him a guaranteed $14 million with $11 million for 2012, a $10 million club option for 2013 and a $3 million buyout.

Teams have frequently overpaid for good relievers as opposed to mediocre starters in trades in recent years. The Nationals got Wilson Ramos for Matt Capps; the Rangers gave up young talent for Koji Uehara, Mike Gonzalez and Mike Adams; the Rangers got Mike Napoli for Frank Francisco and got David Murphy for Eric Gagne.

What would be the most lucrative return on Myers at mid-season? It depends on whether he’s pitching as he did last season as a starter or as he did in 2010; either way, he probably wouldn’t be a contributor in the post-season for a team that gets him in that role. But as a reliever he would be more attractive to teams with their eyes on post-season help.

It’s cold reasoning not in the Astros using Myers for themselves on the field, but using him to get a few pieces to make themselves better in the future.

Moving Myers to the bullpen could end up being seen as a smart move.

At least there’s an argument for it.

But stat people are reacting as if Luhnow has betrayed them and it displays the lack of in-the-trenches understanding of how to run a team that led them to relying on stats rather than intuitive, subjective interpretations of circumstances to begin with.

They’re a crutch.

Crunching numbers, reading and regurgitating lines off a stat sheet and steering an organization by rote is not how a successful team can and should be run.

Jeff Luhnow knows that.

Do you?

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An Early, Forgotten Casualty In The McCourt Ownership

Games, Management, Media, Players

Now that the Frank McCourt ownership of the Dodgers is (maybe) reaching its conclusion, early mistakes are washed away in the litany of gaffes which have occurred.

One forgotten error was the decision to replace inherited GM Dan Evans.

Evans is the unsung hero in the on-field success the Dodgers had under McCourt’s ownership. It was Evans who built the foundation of the team in 2002 as, in subsequent years, he kept Jim Tracy as manager; made Eric Gagne a closer; acquired Guillermo Mota for nothing; managed to get the Yankees to take Kevin Brown‘s contract off the Dodgers hands; and was at the helm when the team drafted James Loney, Jonathan Broxton, James McDonald, Chad Billingsley and Matt Kemp.

Had Evans and Tracy been left alone, the Dodgers could’ve been an annual contender with homegrown and cheaper talent. The club had been built organically and grown up together, with Tracy at the helm and a cohesion on and off the field.

McCourt, whose 13-year-old son was enamored with Paul DePodesta after reading Moneyball, had an influence on the Dodgers new owner—his dad—as Evans interviewed for the job he already had and didn’t get it.

DePodesta took over and Evans left the organization.

Evans landed on his feet first as a scout for the Mariners and then as, get this, CEO and president of West Coast Sports Management. He’s an agent.

With a little luck and presumably much to the chagrin of MLB, the Dodgers could have won a World Series or two during McCourt’s tumultuous (and ongoing) time with the Dodgers. Had that happened, would Evans have received his share of the credit?

He deserved it. Whether he would’ve gotten it is a different matter entirely.

Evans should never have been forced out as Dodgers GM. But like the McCourt ownership, it’s 20/20 hindsight.

In an odd quirk, Evans wasn’t the Dodgers GM for much longer than DePodesta was with a far greater record of success. But it’s DePodesta who’s constantly defended by people who try to alter his 20-months as Dodgers GM as something for which he’s not responsible and Evans is forgotten.

Acknowledged or not, he still warrants recognition for being a smart baseball man and for the part he played in the successful Dodgers teams of recent years.

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