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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Rethinking the GM, Part II—American League Central

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

Detroit Tigers

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

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

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

Cleveland Indians

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

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

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

Chicago White Sox

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

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

Minnesota Twins

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

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

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

Kansas City Royals

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

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

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

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

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

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Compromised Cardinals

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By themselves, the departures of such important cogs in the Cardinals run of success would be manageable. But any team losing a Hall of Fame manager, a Hall of Fame pitching coach and a the best hitter of this generation is going to have a hard time replacing one of those people. The Cardinals have to replace three.

One is doable. Two is tough. Three might be impossible.

Tony LaRussa’s retirement was surprising yet understandable.

Albert Pujols’s departure for Anaheim was a punch in the stomach.

Dave Duncan’s leave of absence is family-related and sad.

Can Mike Matheny step into LaRussa’s role having never managed before in his life?

Will the offense withstand Pujols’s defection?

And will Derek Lilliquist successfully forge the bonds, concoct the strategies and tweak the mechanics of his pitchers as Duncan could and did?

Of the three, the most dramatic and stunning loss is the easiest to navigate.

As great as Pujols was, the money the team is saving in not having to pay a player listed at 32 (but suspected to be older) $250+ million is a long-term benefit. They didn’t force him out. He left. They’re cheaper and more flexible with Lance Berkman shifting to first base and the two-year contract given to Carlos Beltran. Their pitching is going to be their strength with the return of Adam Wainwright to an already solid starting rotation.

Once they come to grips with Pujols’s absence—this should happen in spring training—they’ll be fine.

But what of the dugout?

Matheny’s leadership and toughness are known, but he’s never managed before. In a veteran-laden clubhouse overseeing the World Series champions, he and the Cardinals walk into 2012 with a bulls-eye over the head of the redbird on their jerseys. Matheny is going to make mistakes as another former catcher who became a manager without any experience, Joe Girardi, did. In his first stop with the Marlins, Girardi bickered with ownership and was fired despite winning Manager of the Year—an award that was due more to the perception that the 2006 Marlins were supposed to lose 100 games and didn’t than anything Girardi contributed. Girardi endured a rough transition managing former teammates and contemporaries with the Yankees in 2008. It took him three years to find his stride as a manager.

It’s not easy to do and with these wholesale alterations, we’re not talking about the same car with a different driver—the entire Cardinals cast is different.

Duncan is the biggest loss. The one thing that was going to truly help Matheny was Duncan’s decision to return. The rapport with pitchers, ability to spot flaws and, most importantly, know how to fix them was what made Duncan the best pitching coach in baseball.

Presumably Lilliquist learned a great deal from Duncan and oversaw a large part of the day-to-day implementation of his strategies, but being an assistant is different from being the one responsible for everything.

Now Lilliquist is responsible for everything.

I’m not an advocate of standing pat. I think it breeds complacency. But there’s a difference between trading one good player for another, bringing in a new manager and/or pitching coach and doing all three not as a matter of choice, but as a matter of necessity.

The landscape is entirely different and drastic changes of this kind are rarely smooth.

All of this leads to warning signs that can’t be ignored and potentially big trouble for the Cardinals.

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All Jose Reyes Wanted Was Love…and a Check for $106 Million

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You’re surprised that Sandy Alderson can be obnoxious, arrogant and say idiotic things?

Some laud him for his “blunt” manner; others think he’s a jerk.

This is the same man who openly scoffed at Mike Hampton‘s (admittedly idiotic) statement that the Colorado school system played a large part in his signing with the Rockies; who tried to convince the masses that he wanted manager Bruce Bochy back when he allowed his Padres manager to speak to the Giants while he was still under contract; and said, in Moneyball, that he didn’t think there was any harm in making Billy Beane an advance scout because he didn’t think an advance scout did anything.

Are you stunned that he came up with a snarky retort about Jose Reyes when he said, “If you’re asking whether I should have sent him a box of chocolates, perhaps I should have done that. On the other hand, the box of chocolates wouldn’t have cost $106 million either.”

Alderson shouldn’t have said that, but the media and fans are looking for another story and latching onto this to hammer away at the Mets, their GM and ownership.

People like Bob Klapisch are writing long-winded pieces about how the Mets should’ve shown Reyes more love; that Reyes is “naive”; that the continued pursuit and daily phone calls make a large difference in signing or keeping a player.

Klapisch has used this same type of romanticism to aggrandize the 1980s Mets in spite of that group being one of the biggest underachieving collections of talent in the history of baseball.

The reporters loved Reyes because he was interesting, sometimes controversial and always spoke to them with a smile.

But here’s reality: The Marlins offered Reyes $106 million and it’s a figure the Mets couldn’t match.

Klapisch references the Mets daily, monthlong phone calls to lure Carlos Beltran in 2005; but the Mets: A) wound up offering Beltran the most money; and B) would’ve lost out on Beltran had the Yankees agreed to sign him when Scott Boras offered the outfielder’s services for less money and fewer years.

The players who take less money to play in a preferable location are very limited. Cliff Lee took less money from the Phillies, but it wasn’t substantially less than what was offered by the Rangers and Yankees.

It happens, but rarely.

Look at Albert Pujols, St. Louis icon and now a member of the Los Angeles Angels. Does it matter whether he’s paid $200 million or $250 million? Really? Unless they’re absolute morons, can anyone spend that amount of money in 20 lifetimes?

It’s the player’s right to take the most money, but don’t make it into a lovefest and “feeling wanted”.

If Alderson had sent Reyes chocolates along with a contract for $107 million, he’d have stayed and probably given the chocolates to his kids.

It came down to the money and nothing that the Mets could’ve said or done short of paying Reyes would’ve kept him in a Mets uniform.

Nothing.

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Know What You’re Walking Into with the Marlins

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I had thought that the Marlins truly intended to alter their hardline, organizationally advantageous strategies now that they finally have a new ballpark, but the revelation that the biggest holdup in a deal with Mark Buehrle and presumably other “name” free agents is that the team is steadfastly refusing to give out no-trade clauses, I’m not sure.

Are the conspiracy theorists and naysayers right as they scoff at the Marlins’ excessive display in hosting Jose Reyes, C.J. Wilson and Albert Pujols? Were the welcoming committees and promises little more than a publicity stunt in the hopes that the markets for those players would crash and allow the Marlins to acquire them for team-friendly terms without a no-trade clause?

In a separate issue, the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating the aforementioned new ballpark and its financing. You can read about that here in the Miami Herald.

All of this is lending credence to the possibility that any major payroll increase is going to be accompanied by a “wait-and-see” approach. Sans the new park, the situation is eerily similar to former owner Wayne Huizenga’s spending spree in 1996-1997. During that off-season, the Marlins signed Bobby Bonilla, Alex Fernandez, Moises Alou and manager Jim Leyland; during the 1997 season, they were right in the middle of the pennant race when attendance figures weren’t what Huizenga expected; with no new ballpark on the horizon, he decided to sell the team.

Following their World Series win in that year, they dumped all their big contracts in trades and lost 100 games in 1998.

Even with the new ballpark opening, the foundation is there to repeat that strategy.

What happens if the Marlins sign or acquire 2-3 more recognizable players to join Heath Bell (with whom the Marlins agreed on a contract yesterday), they’re in contention and the fans still don’t show up? Will Jeffrey Loria use the star players to have another clearance and reference floating and questionable “facts” as to his finances and employ verbal sleight-of-hand to justify it?

This is not an organization with a history of telling the truth. They’re ruthless and self-interested and have been successful under a strict and limited payroll mandated by ownership. Everyone from Loria to team president David Samson on down through the baseball department with Larry Beinfest, Michael Hill and Dan Jennings toes to the company line and closes ranks when necessary.

If the business will continue to be run like a glossy sweatshop with the brutal and greedy owner calling the shots, Reyes and others had better be aware that if they don’t get that no-trade clause they might sign with the Marlins, play in Florida for a year and find themselves traded to Oakland, Seattle or some other far off West Coast team that they specifically avoided because they wanted to stay in the warmer weather, closer to the East or were hoping the absence of a state income tax in Florida would allow them to bring home more of their paychecks.

All those who are considering doing business with the Marlins—especially Reyes—had better walk into the situation with their eyes open. Obviously he’d be leaving a dysfunctional and cloudy mess with the Mets, but if it’s between the the Marlins and Mets, isn’t it better to be with the devil you know instead of the one you don’t?

Knowing.

That’s the key word.

Anyone preparing to do business with the Marlins had better know the possibilities before thinking they’ve found a home in Miami.

It might be for a shorter than expected stay. Much shorter.

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The Marlins Sign a Name—Heath Bell

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If any team exemplifies the ability to find someone (anyone) to accumulate the save stat and do a reasonable job as the closer it’s the Florida Marlins.

The Marlins signed Heath Bell to a 3-year, $27 million deal with a vesting option for a fourth year at $9 million; this is more about getting a “name” and “personality” to drum up fan interest than acquiring someone whom they can trust as their ninth inning man for a club that clearly has designs on contending.

To be clearer, the Marlins have an intent on looking like they’re trying to contend.

So it was that they made offers to Albert Pujols, Jose Reyes and made a great show in hosting C.J. Wilson.

What the offers were and whether they’re truly competitive enough to snag any of those players is a matter of leaks, ignorant guesswork and storytelling.

The Marlins traded for a feisty and successful “name” manager as well when they acquired Ozzie Guillen from the White Sox.

They’re doing a lot of stuff.

Bell will be at least serviceable as the Marlins closer and probably good. $27 million over 3-years isn’t a ridiculous amount of money, but if the Marlins were still running the team as they did under Jeffrey Loria in the days of saving money and collecting revenue sharing fees while putting forth the pretense of being broke and desperate for a new (publicly financed) stadium, under no circumstances would they have paid Bell.

And that’s the point.

On an annual basis, the Marlins closer was dynamic and interchangeable with a bunch of journeyman names that changed (in more ways than one considering the situation of Leo Nunez AKA Juan Oviedo) and were decent at an affordable price.

Braden Looper, Ugueth Urbina, Armando Benitez, Todd Jones, Joe Borowski, Kevin Gregg, Matt Lindstrom, Oviedo—all were the Marlins nominal closer at times. Some were very good; some were mediocre; some were bad. But all accrued saves for a team that was on the cusp of contention for much of that time and they did it cheaply. Would the Marlins have had a better chance to make the playoffs had they been trotting Mariano Rivera to the mound to the blistering tune of “Enter Sandman”? They might’ve won a few more games and it might’ve made a difference, but Bell is not Rivera.

This is something the stat people don’t understand when they say “anyone” can get the saves. It’s true, but not accurate in full context.

The 2008 Phillies could’ve found someone to be the closer, but that closer wouldn’t have been as great as Brad Lidge was in the regular season or the playoffs and with them teetering on missing the playoffs entirely, they might not have made it at all without Lidge.

Rivera’s aura says that the game is essentially over upon his arrival; his ice cold ruthlessness behind a pacifist smile and post-season calm provides the Yankees with a not-so-secret weapon; the biggest difference between themselves and their closest competitors during their dynasty was Rivera.

The Phillies could’ve kept Ryan Madson to be the closer and saved a few dollars rather than paying Jonathan Papelbon, but with the way they’re currently built around starting pitching, it made no sense to risk blowing games or overuse those starters because of an untrustworthy closer. Their window to win in within the next 3-4 years and they needed someone with a post-season pedigree and the known ability to handle a high-pressure atmosphere like Philadelphia.

That’s aptly describes Papelbon.

With the Marlins, they have so many other holes to fill that Bell is a nice bauble to acquire; he’ll generate some headlines and send a signal to the rest of baseball and the free agent market that they’re not putting on a show to garner attention, but are legitimately improving. They could’ve done it in a different, cheaper way, but it’s not about Bell and Bell alone—it’s about several things including public relations, media exposure, selling tickets and that aforementioned message to the other free agents to say, “hey look, we’re not doing this just so people talk about us.”

Whether it works and they lure free agents to Florida is another matter; and if they’re going to do that and get Reyes, Wilson, Prince Fielder, Mark Buehrle, Pujols or any combination of the group, they’ll have to write them a check substantially higher than the $27 million they just handed Bell.

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Who Cares What the Red Sox Players Think?

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Terry Francona was the proper choice at the time in 2004 because he’d work cheap; he wasn’t Grady Little; he’d do what he was told by the front office; and he was agreeable to Curt Schilling, whom they were trying to convince to accept a trade from the Diamondbacks to the Red Sox.

The “middle-manager” worked.

If you examine some of the big name, splashy hirings of established managers, their appropriateness is based on circumstances.

Lou Piniella was a failure for the Devil Rays because they didn’t have any players. The last thing a rebuilding team needs is a cranky old man who wants to win immediately.

Buck Showalter is adept at building and teaching, making him a good fit for the Orioles.

The Marlins are intent on contending and drawing interest with big personalities—hence, Ozzie Guillen.

The Red Sox current roster dynamic is static so the only thing they could do was to bring in the opposite to Francona and keep the same group together. That means Valentine.

“Sources” saying that Red Sox players are sending each other text messages with complaints about Bobby Valentine sounds like something from a teenage girl’s Facebook page complete with the frowny face. :( sad

It’s a non-story for webhits and attention.

If it’s true, who cares what Josh Beckett and the rest of them think?

They had a manager who was hands off and left them alone and they somehow found a way to blow a playoff spot and get the manager fired.

Now they have to deal with Valentine.

What are they going to do? Not play?

They made this mess and now they have to deal with the fallout.

And that fallout is Valentine.

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MLB CBA: The Wild Card Play-In And Expanded Replay

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Let’s look at some more of the changes to the game in the new collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the MLB Players Association. You can get an understandable explanation of everything in the deal here on Baseball Nation.

I’ll talk about the draft changes tomorrow. They’re complicated and convoluted and will take some time to sift through.

The Wild Card play-in game.

There will be an added Wild Card team, but it’s not exactly an expansion of the playoffs. It’s a one-game playoff. The three division winners in each league automatically make the playoffs; the next two best records will play one another to join the party.

I’ve gone to great lengths to formulate a better set-up for the leagues. You can read it here, but the gist would be to eliminate the leagues; place the teams in divisions based on locale; and expand the playoffs to 10 teams.

Shifting the Astros to the American League is simplistic and stupid.

The extra Wild Card team isn’t exactly an “extra” team in the playoffs. They’re getting a chance and that’s it.

This will provide incentive for teams to win the division—no one wants to roll the dice in a one-game playoff if they can help it—and will improve late-season competition.

As for the suggestion that one team might wind up playing another team that was double-digits behind them in the standings, it’s not unprecedented and teams that benefit from that accident of circumstance need not apologize.

The 1973 Mets of Tug McGraw, Yogi Berra, Willie Mays and “ya gotta believe” and “you’re not out of it ’til you’re out of it” went to the World Series after winning the war of attrition NL East, then upset the Big Red Machine Reds in the NLCS.

The 1987 Twins with two starting pitchers—Bert Blyleven and Frank Viola—won 85 games, upset the Tigers in the ALCS and won the World Series.

The Marlins have won two World Series, yet have never won a division title.

They’re quirks. They happen. And will happen again and again, expanded Wild Card or not.

Expanded replay.

When does this end?

Now it’s trapped balls and foul lines?

How about base plays?

Balls and strikes?

Pickoff plays?

Checking home runs was enough.

Because there are so many high-profile blown calls and the proliferation of HD replays and over-and-over viewings, the mistakes are more glaring; it’s ignored that the umpires do a tremendous job getting it right most of the time.

To keep game lengths from going out of control, managers have to be given a challenge on those new additions to replay; they get one and that’s it for the game.

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Giants/A’s—Same Area, Different Universe

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The Athletics problems are not going to be solved by the planned new ballpark in San Jose because the supposed “last hurdle” is a one that the Giants are not going to remove.

After reading this piece from Ken Rosenthal, I’m left wondering why there’s such ill-will at the Giants choosing to protect themeslves by refusing to give up their territorial rights to San Jose and allowing the Athletics to build a new ballpark.

Why should they?

These quotes from Rosenthal struck me:

The Giants, who draw a significant part of their fan and corporate bases from the counties south of San Francisco, remain adamantly opposed to relinquishing their territorial rights to San Jose and the South Bay region.

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The Giants, projecting a payroll of about $130 million next season, will need to draw at least 3.2 million to break even, one source said. The team, which drew nearly 3.4 million last season coming off its first World Series title, cannot afford much slippage.

If their profit margin is so narrow and they have a large payroll directly as a result of their success in recent years, they’re faced with the prospect of taking the chance of surrendering a significant portion of their game attendees and giving them to the Athletics. That doesn’t necessarily mean that people are going to root for the Athletics if they move to San Jose—some would—but if they’re Giants fans, they’ll remain Giants fans; despite that, a closer park would provide an option for those who might have gone to AT&T Park to watch the Giants to go to the nearer venue to watch a baseball game, any baseball game. Even the A’s.

Because the Giants have become a star-laden team with a budget, they’re going to have an even smaller window to remain competitive and financially stable. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain are both going to make substantial sums in the coming years as they head for free agency and if the Giants want to keep them, they’ll have to pay them. They’re still on the hook for Aaron Rowand and Barry Zito; Rowand’s been released, Zito has been atrocious and injured.

The difference between the Giants and A’s is that the Giants have fans that will come to the ballpark to watch the team whether they’re good or not and the A’s don’t. That star power of Lincecum and Cain now and Barry Bonds 5 years ago washes away the pain of a non-contending team.

Who do the A’s currently have that fans are going to want to go to the park to watch? They can’t blame fiscal difficulties for a series of horrible drafts and bad trades.

Charlie Finley put together one of the best teams in the history of the sport from 1972-1974 as they won three straight World Series. They never drew well.

Apart from the late 1980s-early 1990s when they were a star-studded, highly-paid club managed by Tony LaRussa and with recognizable personalities Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, they were never in the top-tier attractions in baseball. You can blame the miserable ballpark, but it’s questionable how much a new park would fix matters for them now. If the fans weren’t enthused enough to spur them to finish any higher than 6th in attendance from 2000-2006 when the team was consistently good and run by a supposed “genius” who was becoming a worldwide celebrity, Billy Beane, what difference is a new park going to make?

Fans would apparently prefer to go to the movies to watch Brad Pitt play a fictional genius—as was the portrayal in the movie Moneyball—instead of the on-field train crash that the real Beane built in 2011.

Propaganda-crafted fame aside, fans are not going to go to the ballpark to watch a GM do his GMing, so the Beane lust is essentially meaningless.

We’re going to get a gauge on how a new ballpark influences a baseball-disinterested population in Miami in 2012 with the Marlins. What’s going to make the judgment clearer is that the Marlins are intent on spending money to put a better product on the field in an effort to legitimize the franchise and justify the new park. The spending spree has been tried before with the organization and the Marlins won a World Series in 1997 after buying a load of star players, but when there wasn’t any immediate off-field rise in attendance or attention as anything more than a passing fancy for fair weather and “be here to be seen” fans; after 1997, then-owner Wayne Huizenga ordered a dismantling of the team and sold it.

Another championship under Jeffrey Loria in 2003 didn’t yield a drastic increase in attendance and then that team was torn apart.

Despite the amenities and non-baseball distractions inherent with a new park, a segment of fans might’ve been avoiding the Marlins games because of the constant threat of rain and a football stadium or because they’re not interested in baseball. Owners really don’t care why people are coming to the park as long as they purchase tickets, pay for parking, buy food and souvenirs; but if they’re not into baseball then they’re not into baseball and the new ballpark novelty wears off rapidly if the team isn’t winning. The Mets are proving that now and the Mets have a larger reservoir of hard core fans than the A’s do.

They don’t like baseball in Oakland.

Don’t think that an influx in money from a new park would guarantee a marked improvement in the on-field product either. Beane hasn’t distinguished himself in putting a club together since the rest of baseball caught onto what he was doing; the sentiment about Oakland that was expressed by C.J. Wilson—amid much vitriol—during the past season is shared in a less overt fashion amongst the players. They’ll only join the A’s if they have no other choice. Beane was once able to take advantage of that with former stars like Frank Thomas who needed the A’s to rejuvenate his career; the A’s could offer him a place to play everyday on an incentive-laden deal and hope to hit lightning. Many times they did. Now other teams are thinking the same way and with that revelation, Beane’s “genius” disappeared.

At least Florida is a year-round home for many players and has the absence of a state income tax to make it a sound personal choice. What attraction is there to go to the Athletics and Oakland?

There are none.

There are other venues that could support a team, so why is there this desperation to stay in Oakland where they can’t get a new park and the fans don’t care?

Either eliminate the team or move it to a place that won’t infringe on a healthy club. The casual fans in Oakland didn’t appreciate them when they were good and they’re definitely not invested in them now that they’re bad and not getting better anytime soon.

You can’t help those who don’t help themselves and if they lose their franchise, it’s because they never bolstered it to begin with.

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Hanley Ramirez—A Tantrum We Can Get Behind

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As much of a diva and malcontent as he can be; as many tantrums as he throws and pushes his ostensible “superiors” around with his status as the favorite son of owner Jeffrey Loria, Hanley Ramirez isn’t wrong if the stories of him being unhappy with the concept of shifting positions to accommodate Jose Reyes are true.

Can’t you picture Ramirez’s sour face? Hear him utter the words concerning Reyes, “Why do I hafta move? Why can’t he move?”

Already he’s supposedly said, “I’m a shortstop” when asked about his feelings on a position shift.

For all the behaviors that have drawn the ire of everyone in his clubhouse and with the organization—apart from Loria—this isn’t a situation where Andre Dawson can go down to talk to Ramirez—with Tony Perez in tow to make sure Dawson doesn’t hurt the young star—and “straighten” him out.

He’s been the highest paid and best talent on the team for years; he signed a reasonable contract extension without a no-trade clause; so now that the Marlins are heading into a new ballpark and are putting forth the pretense of spending big money and pursuing high-profile free agents Reyes, Albert Pujols, Mark Buehrle and others, Ramirez is supposed to sit by quietly with his current contract and shift positions to boot?

It’s not fair.

And if the Marlins play the Marlins “thing” of being hard-liners with team president David Samson as the hatchet-man when it suits them, and they tell Ramirez that he signed the contract and there’s no connection between his contract and the deals they’re inking to new players, he has every reason to squawk.

There’s a perception that the Marlins chasing name free agents is only a ruse; that they have little-to-no intention of spending the cash required to sign the above-mentioned players.

I don’t believe that to be the case.

The Marlins have no choice but to get at least two of the players they’re pursuing no matter what they have to do to get it done. That includes Reyes, Pujols, Buehrle, Francisco Rodriguez, Ryan Madson, C.J. Wilson or anyone else.

It’s probably not going to do much good for the recruitment of fans in the football and basketball-oriented city of Miami, but they threw themselves out there and must follow through.

There are multiple precedents in recent years of teams extending players when they were under no mandate nor any obligation to do so. The Rockies gave a super-long-term contract to Troy Tulowitzki that guarantees he’ll be in Colorado for his entire career; the Brewers did the same thing with Ryan Braun.

Ramirez’s current contract has $46.5 million remaining through 2014; if the Marlins suddenly have this stadium windfall and he’s that close to the owner, why can’t they extend the extension to keep him happy?

If the Marlins won’t do that with Ramirez, whatever happens will be their own fault and it won’t be as simple as rolling their eyes at Ramirez being a brat.

Because he’ll be right.

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