Passing The BuckBall

Books, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Players

At what point are marketability and reputation trumped by results and overt alibis absolving oneself of blame?

I was wrong about one thing regarding the Billy Beane press conference announcing the dismissal of manager Bob Geren: he didn’t go into a long-winded academic, condescending, intimidation-tinged manifesto about taking personal responsibility for what’s gone wrong with the Athletics this year.

He blamed the media.

He mentioned the “continued speculation” about Geren’s job status; that the “focus” needed to be shifted away from the manager.

The change from Geren to Bob Melvin—a good manager and quality person—is supposedly going to achieve this end.

In retrospect and judging by what Beane’s reported to have said, he’d have been better off taking my advice from a few days ago and uttering the generalizations that all GMs have to learn when making a change.

“This is no reflection on…”

“We’re all responsible for…”

“I’m the GM and I have to take the hit for the club’s failures…”

Etc.

Etc.

Etc.

But without having seen the entire transcript of the press conference, there appeared to have been none of that.

Because Geren’s job was such a topic of discussion, that was the relevant issue above his haphazard bullpen usage, lack of relationship with his players and mounting losses.

I thought Geren had done as best he could with his prior Athletics teams based on talent level. Most of the club configurations weren’t particularly good and—apart from 2009 for which he should get one pass—there were limited expectations and drastic flaws with every roster.

But what world are we living in where the manager doesn’t talk to his players? Huston Street‘s comments about hating to play for Geren were telling; Dan Haren said that Geren’s credibility was a question mark when he replaced Ken Macha in 2007 due to the perception that Beane was running the team from afar.*

*But wasn’t that known from the sacred text of Moneyball?

After the Brian Fuentes dustup and the atrocious streak of losing, Beane made the change.

How can a manager fail to talk to his players? It’s one thing to be stoically quiet and still in charge like Gil Hodges; it’s another to be oblivious and disinterested.

Even if you’re yelling at them, at least there’s some dialogue going on; but to say nothing at all? Have them wondering what you’re thinking? How do you function that way? How do you run a clubhouse? Why should they listen when you do talk?

If the manager is screaming at his players like a raving maniac, that’s showing some form of interest in them. But to say nothing? To disregard the common courtesy and credibility enhancing act of telling a veteran like Fuentes—to his face—that he’s been demoted and then call down to the bullpen for him to warm up in the seventh inning of a game?

It’s unconscionable.

Geren had talent to work with in 2011, was expected to win, and was in the final year of his contract it’s no surprise that he was sacrificed as the team is spiraling like a headless goose; but for Beane to imply that results aren’t part of his job description is deranged.

This “genius” is based on what? A book? A movie?

It’s as if he’s openly scoffing at that which is supposed to be the basis of his team-building philosophy—results over aesthetic; like he’s saying, “Don’t blame me! I’m a genius; I’m still smarter than you!”

Five straight seasons of—at best—mediocrity don’t have a bearing on this crafted image of infallibility.

It it seems like I’m writing the same things over and over again, it’s probably because I am.

For how long is Beane going to be absolved for his capricious maneuverings and self-justifying circular corporate terminology and having a reason for doing what he does as a protective cloak if they don’t work?

Unlike Joe Morgan, I’m aware that Beane had nothing to do with the way Moneyball was presented. I don’t blame Beane for using that portrayal to his advantage. He’s made a lot of money and now has a piece of a major league baseball team—something that would never have happened without that book.

In the end, he’s a stereotypical GM without the filter; absent of fear for his job.

The Athletics should be a contending team this season. It hasn’t worked. None of the acquisitions they made to bolster the lineup—Hideki Matsui, David DeJesus and Josh Willingham—have performed up to expectations; Daric Barton hasn’t followed up on his excellent 2010 season; injuries have decimated an impressive young pitching staff and the bullpen has been spotty.

The American League is quite muddled and laden with parity, so it’s not out of the question that the team can get hot and crawl back into contention, but it won’t be due to a managerial change and it won’t be a validation of “genius”.

These are independent issues.

If Beane were just another GM, what would be said right now?

Would an even-handed look at his callous dismissal of the work of his managers Art Howe and Ken Macha be accepted so readily? Would faulty trades and signings—Esteban Loaiza; Matt Holliday; Jason Giambi (his second go round); Orlando Cabrera; Tim Hudson—be seen as part of the “process” and chalked up to the paucity of money in the Athletics coffers?

You can’t get credit without receiving blame.

It doesn’t work that way.

All Macha did was win, but Beane fired him because of a “lack of communication” after a season in which the A’s came within four wins of going to the World Series. How was Geren around for five years since a large chunk of his players say he never spoke to them?

My hunch is that Macha didn’t kowtow to Billy Beane; didn’t worship at his altar because he saw through the facade and didn’t put forth the pretense of hiding his disdain. That’s not the way to last with a dictator.

It’s the media’s fault? He’s still clinging to the concept that the manager is meaningless?

In certain cases, yes, the manager is meaningless; but with a young team that’s had zero success since 2006 and a make-or-break circumstance, the manager matters. A lot.

Geren was costing them games with his mistakes.

And what does it say to the new manager Melvin that Beane clearly thinks so little of the manager’s job that he doesn’t believe it makes a difference whom the manager is?

I’m hoping to read the full context of Beane’s remarks in the press conference, but can’t find it anywhere on the web; apparently there were technical difficulties (part of a diabolical, James Bond Villain-style scheme on the part of Beane?). All I’ve been able to piece together are rampant displays of disturbingly overwhelming arrogance in which Beane’s “shifting the focus” means he’s blaming everyone but himself.

Maybe there’s an explanation for Beane’s obnoxious skill at maintaining this absurd perception of “genius” based on a fairy tale. Perhaps Michael Lewis’s shelved “sequel” to Moneyball would take advantage of the popularity of vampires and Beane—with his clear inability to see his own visage in a reflective surface—could be The Vampire GM.

You don’t have to worry about the Moneyball sequel though. I got it covered. And it won’t be punctuating the story. It’ll blow the thing to smithereens.

It’s what I do.

Years ago, there was a professional wrestler named Rick Martel who took on the bad guy personality of a pure narcissist who told anyone and everyone he was a model and promoted a cologne called Arrogance.

Let’s revive Arrogance.

Professional wrestling fits neatly with Beane’s famous chair throwing incident at the scouting department’s drafting of Jeremy Bonderman before Beane consolidated his power over the whole team.

Tantrums, bluster, bullying, self-justification—this is not what I want in my totem.

I want confidence and competence.

Is that what the Athletics have in Beane?

Let’s abandon Moneyball and the Billy Beane “genius” and let him push something more applicable.

The sweet smell of Arrogance isn’t so sweet when tearing away the layers and examining the truth.

Beane no longer passes the smell test unless said smell is a whiff of failure.

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Objectively Ollie

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

Amid all the celebratory grave-dancing as if Oliver Perez were a dictator who’d been overthrown, there’s a great deal of selective memory and retrospective criticism for the Mets decision to re-sign Perez after the 2008 season.

Much of it is designed to laugh at the Mets without accuracy or context—some is directed at Perez himself for his failures on the field and his perceived selfishness in exercising his right not to go to the minor leagues; some at the prior regime led by fired GM Omar Minaya for doling out the contract; a portion is used as a hammer to symbolize Perez as an outlet for the fall of the Mets from 2006 until now.

But the story behind the story tells otherwise; of course it’s easier to engage in 20/20 hindsight at the expense of facts, but the truth is that very few people were openly against the Perez signing and no one could’ve predicted what a disaster the pitcher became.

There was the hedging “if Ollie gets his head together”; or “will he live up to his prodigious talent?”; or “can the Mets solve the enigma of Perez?”. But nothing to the tune of “this is a horrible mistake that the Mets will regret immediately.”

Indulging in such ambiguity is not making a prediction. It’s an if/but/maybe.

With that in mind, let’s have a look at Perez’s tenure with the Mets, sans self-serving vitriol.

Perez had been good enough for the Mets to justify the deal.

Oliver Perez was a throw-in from the Pirates at the trading deadline in 2006.

The Mets—reeling from the still-hidden injury to Duaner Sanchez in a car accident (why not blame him too?) and ostensibly putting forth the pretense of bolstering their bullpen for the stretch run with Roberto Hernandez—acquired the 25-year-old Perez as a “Rick can fix him” guy in reference to then-pitching coach Rick Peterson; Perez had abundant talent, but pitched so terribly for the Pirates that they sent him back to the minor leagues.

Thrust into the spotlight after injuries and desperation forced the club into using him as a starting pitcher in the NLCS, Perez performed admirably.

In 2007, he went 15-10 and pitched well enough to have won 18 games.

In 2008, Perez was inconsistent for the first half and regained his groove after the firing of Peterson and hiring of Dan Warthen as pitching coach. It appeared as if the constant, in-your-face style of Peterson had worn not just on Perez, but all the Mets pitchers and Warthen’s more hands-off, less technical jargon-infused style meshed neatly with the pitching staff.

He was durable (371 innings in 2007-2008); he was pretty good (25-17 record with a terrific hits/innings pitched ratio of 320/371); and good strikeout numbers (354). Perez was and always would be wild; a mechanical nightmare; and mental question mark.

Based on talent and performance, keeping Perez after the 2008 season was the correct move without discussing the money.

These were the options and they weren’t good, logistically, practically or financially.

Here’s a rundown of the pitchers who were traded or signed elsewhere as free agents in the winter of 2008-2009 when the Mets re-signed Perez to a 3-year, $36 million contract.

CC Sabathia (7-years, $161 million) and A.J. Burnett (5-years, $82.5 million) signed with the Yankees—the Mets weren’t approaching either with that kind of money.

John Smoltz and Brad Penny signed 1-year, incentive-laden contracts with the Red Sox; both were gone from Boston by late August after being, at best, mediocre.

Carl Pavano signed a 1-year, incentive-laden contract with the Indians—the Mets were not going there.

Randy Wolf is often discussed as a pitcher the Mets should’ve pursued instead of Perez. In 2008, Wolf had his first fully healthy season since 2003; he logged 200 innings for the Padres and Astros and pitched well; but he wasn’t exactly in demand as he only managed a 1-year, $5 million base with innings-incentives from the Dodgers.

Were the Mets supposed to go after Wolf instead of Perez? In retrospect, considering Wolf’s career resurgence and health, yes; no one knew that then.

Derek Lowe—with whom the Mets were negotiating—signed a 4-year, $60 million contract with the Braves. He’s been durable, but inconsistent in his two seasons with the Braves; the Mets weren’t matching that contract; and he’s owed $30 million through 2012. The Braves were equally as desperate for pitching as the Mets.

Randy Johnson signed a 1-year, $8 million contract with the Giants. Johnson pitched very well when he was healthy; he wasn’t going to the Mets or back to New York.

Edwin Jackson was traded from the Rays to the Tigers for Matt Joyce. Joyce was a top prospect and there’s a question as to whether the Mets had a similar young player to exchange for Jackson.

Jason Marquis was traded to the Rockies for Luis Vizcaino; Marquis was a guaranteed innings-eater; he too would’ve been a better option for the Mets.

Javier Vazquez was traded from the White Sox to the Braves; the Braves also received Boone Logan in exchange for a package of minor leaguers—none who are missed.

Minaya loved Vazquez; in a similar vein of  “woulda, coulda, shoulda”, Vazquez was one of the best pitchers in the National League in 2009; but after his shaky 2008 for the White Sox and bad experience with the Yankees (which was repeated in 2010), the Mets weren’t gutting the system to get him.

Then there are the fliers and journeymen—Mark Hendrickson; Scott Olsen; Mike Hampton; Russ Ortiz; Jeff Weaver and Kevin Correia.

Correia’s the one pitcher who’s been any good; he signed with the Padres for nothing after the Giants non-tendered him.

So what were the Mets supposed to do?

They were still harboring thoughts of contention; Minaya took steps to fill the holes that had sabotaged the team in 2007-2008 by acquiring J.J. Putz and Francisco Rodriguez. Did any of the above listed names—the ones who were considerations for the Mets—clearly supersede the signing of Perez to the point where the retention of Perez could’ve been ripped so savagely? Prior to Perez’s odious performance, was it said to have been a grave mistake?

No.

And before you start mentioning Jason Vargas, whom the Mets traded in the Putz deal, here’s my advice: don’t mention Jason Vargas.

Vargas was horrible for the Mets. He didn’t pitch at all in 2008 after Tommy John surgery. His stuff is mediocre. He pitched well for the Mariners last year and for portions of 2009, but to unload on Minaya for “missing” out on Vargas is second-guessing at its height. No one was holding a candle for his departure and selling Vargas as a viable replacement for Perez was not going to cut it.

Seek and ye shall find.

If you’re actively searching for mistakes GMs have made, they’re all over the place and it doesn’t matter if it’s a GM who’s the subject of idol-worship or a perceived dunce.

The Royals’ Dayton Moore signed Gil Meche to a 5-year, $55 million contract.

The Dodgers’ Ned Colletti signed Jason Schmidt to a 3-year, $47 million contract.

The Yankees’ Brian Cashman signed Carl Pavano to a 4-year, $40 million contract—and then after that disastrous and humiliating tenure, tried to bring him back this year for another $10 million!

Former Mariners GM Bill Bavasi signed Carlos Silva to a 4-year, $48 million contract.

The Red Sox paid over $100 million in posting fees and salary for Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Even the exalted ruler and object of lust; the king of all he surveys; the corporate-speaker par excellence; the man who finds himself being portrayed by Brad Pitt in a forthcoming film; Michael Lewis’s Midas—-Billy Beane—signed Esteban Loaiza to a 3-year, $21 million contract.

It happens.

Teams make mistakes.

Mining through the reasoning behind said decisions is much more useful and productive than ridicule for its own sake.

Bidding against oneself and monetary scales.

Omar Minaya is not the first general manager to have been judged as “taken” by Scott Boras (Perez’s agent). It happens time and again and it seemingly is always a Boras client who winds up getting overpaid.

In the past two seasons, it was Matt Holliday and Jayson Werth upon whom industry shaking contracts were lavished.

And it’s going to happen again.

Did Perez have other clubs pursuing him in that winter of 2008-2009? I remember the Reds, Cardinals and Braves as talked about landing spots. Was it real or a rumor floated by Boras and his minions? Does it matter?

Had the Mets held firm to a different deal as they did with Lowe; with Joel Pineiro; with Bengie Molina, either Perez would’ve stayed because he had no other serious suitor; or he’d have gone. We don’t know what would’ve happened subsequently.

Perhaps, if he’d signed with the Cardinals, Dave Duncan would’ve done another miraculous clean-up on Perez and created a 15-game winning, 200-innings man and the Mets would currently be lamenting the loss of Perez.

Financially, the $36 million is in line—considering money available and payroll factors—to the Athletics mistake with Loaiza; in fact, the A’s mistake was worse because the Mets (before getting into the ownership’s current legal issues) were better equipped to swallow the money if Perez faltered as he did.

The Mets kept Perez. It didn’t work out.

This will happen again.

Oliver Perez wasn’t the first mistake a team has made with a questionable talent and won’t be the last. To imply that it was a foreseeable, preventable error based on his results after-the-fact is nonsense.

The Mets are moving forward. You should move forward as well. Gloating over this is tawdry and precisely the type of behavior that the Mets—from organization through fanbase—wanted to get away from with Sandy Alderson’s hiring as GM.

There are better things to do and larger holes to address than this overt party at the termination of Oliver Perez‘s Mets career.

It wasn’t as cut-and-dried “wrong” as the backtracking “experts” say as they take their cheap shots and aggrandize themselves.

It made sense and didn’t work.

He was terrible.

His money is gone.

He’s gone.

It’s over.

Move forward.

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Believe it or not, I needed to do some research as to which pitchers were available, traded and signed as free agents elsewhere in the winter of 2008-2009 and I used my own book from that year as a reference!!

This year’s version is available now.

I published a full excerpt of my book on Wednesday here.

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


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