NLDS Playoffs Preview and Predictions – Atlanta Braves vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

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Atlanta Braves (96-66) vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (92-70)

Keys for the Braves: Their young starting pitchers must handle the pressure; get the ball to Craig Kimbrel; hope that B.J. Upton continues his past playoff performances; don’t let etiquette get in the way.

Tim Hudson was lost for the year when his ankle was stepped on by Eric Young Jr. of the Mets. Paul Maholm was left off the division series roster entirely. That leaves the Braves with a preliminary starting rotation for the NLDS of Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran and…Freddy Garcia(?). Yes. The Braves left Maholm off the roster in favor of Garcia. In truth, Garcia might actually be a better bet than Maholm. He’s got the experience and won’t be rattled, plus he pitched well in his time with the Braves. We’ll see if the Braves follow through with the decision if they’re down two games to one in Los Angeles.

For the record, I’d have started Teheran in the opening game.

The young pitchers have to pitch well. It sounds simplistic, but it’s true. The Braves offense is shaky and they’ve taken one of the primary home run hitters, Dan Uggla, off the roster in favor of Elliot Johnson. If they don’t get serviceable starting pitching, they’re not going to win.

Kimbrel is a machine in the closer’s role and the rest of the bullpen has been solid. One thing manager Fredi Gonzalez has truly improved upon is how he handles his relievers.

B.J. Upton found himself on the cover of Sports Illustrated along with his brother Justin Upton and Kate Upton. The only reason I can see for this is to sell a few more magazines because Kate Upton is on the cover. If that was the idea, then perhaps they should have put her in a bikini and had her lounging around the batting cage in various states of undress. Otherwise, you can download much racier images of her from the internet and not spend the money to get SI.

On the field, B.J. Upton had a history of doing well in the playoffs with the Rays when he had seven career homers in 25 post-season games. It was also B.J. who didn’t hustle on a double play ball in the World Series against the Phillies five years ago, so either or both of his on-field M.O. – the lazy player or the playoff masher – could show up.

I didn’t discuss this when it happened, but now is as good a time as any: precisely who do the Braves think they are? For the second time in September, the Braves got into a confrontation with the opposing team because of a breach of etiquette. First it was with the Marlins after pitcher Jose Fernandez homered and stood admiring it. The second was with Brewers’ outfielder Carlos Gomez for doing the same thing and yelled at Maholm as he was running around the bases. There was history between the two following a hit by pitcher earlier in the season. Freddie Freeman had a fit, Brian McCann intercepted Gomez before he got to the plate and gave him a loud, red-faced lecture and Reed Johnson took a swing at Gomez.

In both cases, for some inexplicable reason, the opposing teams and players apologized to the Braves.

Why?

This attitude is bringing back memories of the days before Chipper Jones became a respected and popular player throughout baseball and his mouth and overt love for himself made him one of the most reviled players in the game. The Braves of the 1990s were arrogant, condescending and obnoxious. It wasn’t done in a blustery, cocky way either. It was a smug, “we’re better bred than you” type of attitude you might see at Georgia Republican fundraiser where Newt Gingrich was the guest of honor.

Who elected them as keepers of etiquette? And why don’t they pull that stuff with a team like the Phillies who would tell them to go screw themselves if they did?

I’d like to see what the Braves are going to do if Yasiel Puig does a little showboating in the playoffs. Are they going to pull the same nonsense? If they do, someone’s going to get drilled because Zack Greinke doesn’t put up with that stuff and the Dodgers have a few tough guys of their own. Suffice it to say there won’t be an apology.

Keys for the Dodgers: Get good starting pitching; hand the game straight to Kenley Jansen; don’t change their game plan.

With Clayton Kershaw, Greinke an Hyun-Jin Ryu in the first three games of the series, the Dodgers have a distinct advantage over their younger counterparts. Kershaw has been all-but unhittable; Greinke not far behind; and Ryu is the type of pitcher who shines in the post-season with his crafty lefty stuff. All three are mean and all three will only have to worry about certain segments of the Braves lineup.

The Dodgers set-up men have been inconsistent, but their closer is dominating. It’s important to get depth from the starters and try to hand it right over to Jansen.

There has been concern about the potency of the Dodgers’ offense because Matt Kemp is out and Andre Ethier is hurting. It’s not something to worry about. They have enough power with Puig, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Juan Uribe, a player who has hit some big homers in the post-season. They shouldn’t worry about making up for the power that’s missing. They have enough to get by.

What will happen:

The Braves clearly looked at the pluses and minuses of playing Uggla at second base. He’s become like Carlos Pena without the defense. He either hits a home run, walks or strikes out and is a defensive liability. With both Uggla and B.J. Upton batting under .200 this season, much has been made of the combined amounts of money they’re making – over $25 million in 2013 – for that dreadful production. Suffice it to say that if the Braves didn’t win and hadn’t been so adept at developing prospects, GM Frank Wren would have a lot to answer for.

Johnson isn’t a particularly strong defensive second baseman either and he doesn’t hit much. This says more about Uggla at this juncture than it does about Johnson. It’s a risky move to pull and if the other bats don’t hit, they’re going to regret it.

What it comes down to for the Braves is if the Upton brothers hit and Jason Heyward is completely recovered from his beaning. The Braves are notoriously vulnerable to lefties and the Dodgers have two lefty starters and two lefties in the bullpen.

Ramirez has been on a mission this season; Gonzalez is back to the player he was before he joined the Red Sox; Puig is the kind of player who might use the post-season as his grand stage and hit five homers in the series; and the Dodgers starting pitching is simply better.

The Braves have too many holes in the lineup, too many vulnerabilities, too many questions surrounding their young starters and too much animosity has been built up against them throughout baseball for a veteran team like the Dodgers to back down.

The Dodgers will send the Braves back to charm school.

PREDICTION: DODGERS IN FOUR




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National League East—Buy, Sell or Stand Pat?

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Washington Nationals

They have the minor league system to do something significant, but looking at their roster and the players they’re due to have eventually returning from injury, they don’t need anything.

Their offense has been somewhat disappointing as they’re 10th in the NL in runs scored. They’re not particularly patient at the plate, but they spent a large chunk of the first half of the season without Michael Morse and Jayson Werth; they lost Wilson Ramos and were playing Rick Ankiel in centerfield.

When they have their regular, everyday lineup out there and put either Bryce Harper or Werth in center to replace Ankiel, they’ll be fine in the run-scoring department.

Their bullpen has been lights out and Drew Storen will be back. In regards to Storen, I wouldn’t put much stock in his rehab results—he got blasted yesterday; as long as his velocity and movement are there, let him get back in shape without worrying about how he pitches.

What do they need? Some bench help? Okay. That’s something that can be acquired after the trading deadline when more teams are willing to clear out some players. Marco Scutaro, Ty Wigginton, Mike Aviles, Justin Turner are names to consider, but the Nats will be perfectly fine if they simply stay where they are and move forward with who they have.

Atlanta Braves

They need to buy but I don’t know if they will.

The Braves could use a big time starting pitcher but as has been the situation in the past, are they going to add payroll to get it?

GM Frank Wren made a big show of looking for a shortstop after Andrelton Simmons got hurt and then was forced to act when Jack Wilson got hurt as well. He traded for Paul Janish.

That’s not a big, bold maneuver.

They’ve been linked to Zack Greinke but I’m not getting the sense that the Brewers are ready to sell. Recently the suggestion was made that they were looking at Jason Vargas. Vargas and the words “impact starter” were used in the same sentence. Vargas is not an impact starter, but if I were a Braves’ fan, Vargas or someone similarly meh is what I’d expect them to obtain.

New York Mets

The three game sweep at the hands of the Braves is being taken as a calamity, but the Mets have been resilient all season long. They’re not buyers and nor are they sellers. They’ll look to improve within reason and not give up a chunk of the farm system to do it. Can they add payroll? No one seems to know. I’d guess that they can add a modest amount in the $5-10 million region and that’s only if it’s a player that the front office believes can make a significant difference and/or they’ll have past this season.

I’d avidly pursue Luke Gregerson for the bullpen and inquire about Joe Thatcher, both of the Padres.

Here’s one thing I would seriously consider: crafting an offer for Justin Upton centered around Ike Davis and Jordany Valdespin. The big time pitching prospects in the minors—Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler—are off the table. The Mets could move Lucas Duda to his natural position of first base and get a 25-year-old, cost-controlled, potential MVP in Upton.

The Diamondbacks can consider moving Paul Goldschmidt for pitching.

Miami Marlins

They should probably just stay where they are and hope, but they have little choice but to be buyers.

Carlos Lee was acquired from the Astros to try and fill an offensive void and he hasn’t done much so far. Would they think about including Logan Morrison in a trade to shake things up? Justin Ruggiano is killing the ball in his first legitimate opportunity to play regularly in the Majors and his numbers mirror what he posted in the minors as a regular. But he’s 30. They have to determine its legitimacy.

The bottom line is this: they need pitching in the rotation and bullpen and are running out of time. Francisco Liriano is a target as is Grant Balfour, Jonathan Broxton, Huston Street and any of the other suspects.

Philadelphia Phillies

Here’s the situation: In spite of winning the last two games of their series against the Rockies, the Phillies are still 39-51 and 14 games out of 1st place in the division. They’re 7 ½ games back in the Wild Card race. Some of the teams still in the Wild Card race are going to fade. Realistically it’s going to take around 88 wins to take the last Wild Card spot. In order for the Phillies to reach that number they’re going to have to go 49-23 the rest of the way. Even with Roy Halladay returning tomorrow night, it is an almost impossible feat for them to pull off. If they were playing reasonably well, I’d say, “Okay, maybe they can do it.” But they’re not.

I have no idea what’s going to happen with Cole Hamels as the new talk is that they’re preparing a substantial offer to keep him. Maybe it’s true. But they need to get rid of Placido Polanco and Shane Victorino; see what they can get for Wigginton.

It’s not their year and if they sign Hamels that will probably assuage the angry fans—to a point—if Ruben Amaro Jr. concedes the season and gets what he can for the veterans who definitely won’t be back.

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Managers/GMs on the 2012 Hotseat

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It’s never too early to talk about who might be in trouble in the front office and dugout.

Let’s take a look.

Jack Zduriencik, GM—Seattle Mariners

Zduriencik was hired in late October of 2008. In retrospect, the worst thing that could’ve happened for the Mariners was the turnaround from 2008-2009 when they went from 61-101 to 85-77.

The 2008 team wasn’t 100-loss bad. They sustained crippling injuries to closer J.J. Putz and would-be ace #2 Erik Bedard and the entire season came apart. By the end of May, they were 15 games under .500 and double-digits out of first place.

When the news came out that Mike Morse had signed a contract extension with the Nationals, the trade Zduriencik made sending Morse to Washington for Ryan Langerhans was referenced on Twitter along with the now-laughable ranking of the Mariners of the sixth best organization in baseball a couple of years ago.

The trending topic is #6org as if it’s the most absurd thing in the world.

But, like the rise from 100-losses to moderate contention in the span of a year, it’s all in the details.

Zduriencik has done many good things as he’s reduced the Mariners’ payroll from $117 million when he took over to around $94 million in 2012. His drafts have yielded Dustin Ackley, Daniel Hultzen and Kyle Seager.

He’s also done some stupid things like signing Chone Figgins and engaged in activities that, at best, are described as amoral such as trading for Josh Lueke, signing Milton Bradley and double-dealing on the Yankees in the Cliff Lee trade negotiations.

It’s not all his fault. Some of what’s happened has been forced on him by the front office (re-signing Ken Griffey Jr. and keeping Ichiro Suzuki). But he got the credit for the 2009 rise, he gets the blame for everything else. That’s how it works.

The Mariners are in a nightmarish division and just pulled off a risky trade sending Michael Pineda and prospect Jose Campos to the Yankees for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi. We won’t know the true end result of this trade for years, but if Pineda pitches well in pinstripes and Montero and Noesi don’t live up to expectations, that could be it for Zduriencik. The “right track” stuff won’t play if the Mariners again lose 90 games and with his contract running through 2013, Zduriencik may be running out of time.

Fredi Gonzalez, Manager—Atlanta Braves

Much to the chagrin of the more dialed-in Braves fans, unless they start the season 10-25, he’s not going anywhere.

He did a poor job last season even before the collapse that drove the Braves from a playoff spot that should’ve been assured. His strategic decisions were occasionally nonsensical and he appeared defensive and borderline arrogant in justifying the way he ran his team.

Do the Braves have an on-staff replacement and if they make a change? Would they be willing to hire an unproven Terry Pendleton? Probably not.

One intriguing option was Terry Francona, but Francona joined ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball and I doubt he’s going to step out of the booth and back on the field in 2012. I’m getting the feeling that he took his interviews with the Cubs and Cardinals right after leaving the Red Sox looking to keep managing and when he didn’t get those jobs, he came to terms with broadcasting as a new career option and will enjoy being around the game without the stifling pressure from managing in Boston for 8 years—pressure that negatively affected his health.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Francona doesn’t return to managing at all for the foreseeable future.

The one name that’s possible with Gonzalez—not likely, but possible if the season is spiraling out of control and needs to be saved—is Bobby Cox.

The veterans would welcome him back and while he’d be reluctant to replace his hand-picked successor, if John Schuerholz and Frank Wren tell Cox that Gonzalez is gone whether he takes the job or not, he’ll take the job. Chipper Jones could go to upper management and says enough’s enough with Gonzalez and try to convince Cox to take over for the rest of the season.

Remember that Cox didn’t want to move from GM to manager in 1990 when Russ Nixon was fired and Cox subsequently stayed until 2010 and wrote his ticket to the Hall of Fame.

Dusty Baker, Manager—Cincinnati Reds

Baker and GM Walt Jocketty have never been on the same page. Baker’s contract is up at the end of the season and the only thing that saved him from being fired at the conclusion of his last contract in 2010 was that he won the NL Central.

As evidenced by trading a large chunk of their minor league system for Mat Latos and the signings of Ryan Madson and Ryan Ludwick, the Reds are going for it now and have to win.

There’s no veteran successor on staff and Francona would be an option in Cincinnati if he were looking to get back in the dugout, but he’s not.

One interesting scenario is if Tony LaRussa is bored in retirement and his old cohort from Oakland and St. Louis, Jocketty, comes calling. LaRussa and Baker despise each other and it probably wouldn’t sit well with several of the Reds players, but if they’re not fulfilling their mandate, they’d have no one to blame but themselves and, like the Red Sox with Bobby Valentine, would have to deal with the consequences.

It won’t matter because the Reds are going to play well this year and Baker’s a survivor, but the expiring contract is hovering over the manager and team.

They’d better get off to a good start.

Brad Mills, Manager—Houston Astros

The new front office led by Jeff Luhnow kept Mills, but that may be because it makes no sense to pay a different manager to run a team that’s going to lose 100 games in 2012 regardless of who’s in the manager’s office.

Mills’s contract is up at the end of the season. The Astros mess is not his fault and he seems to be a competent manager, but Luhnow and new owner Jim Crane inherited him and it’s only fair that they hire their own man if that’s what they’d like to do.

One can only hope they don’t hire a new manager and, like Sig Mejdal’s new age title of “Director of Decision Sciences”, they choose to refer to the manager as “Director of On-Field Strategic Interpretations and Implementations”.

Maybe they’ll hire Keith Law to manage the team. I know I’d love to see that as he deals with Brett Myers.

That would be a narrative!

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Is Adam Jones Wearing a Ken Griffey Jr. Costume?

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Not that I’m aware of.

Adam Jones is not Ken Griffey, Jr.

In fact, Adam Jones isn’t even Brady Anderson.

But that’s not stopping the Orioles from horribly overvaluing Adam Jones. Nor is it answering the questions of why the Braves were asking about Jones and at least willing to discuss Jair Jurrjens and Martin Prado in a trade for him to begin with.

If Orioles GM Dan Duquette indeed asked for Jurrjens, Prado and “at least two” of the following: Brandon Beachy, Randall Delgado, Arodys Vizcaino Julio Teheran and Mike Minor, then it’s clear that time away from the trenches didn’t mellow Duquette’s trading style at all. His method of dealing as GM of the Red Sox and Expos was to offer what he was willing to trade and ask for about a 60% markup on what it was worth. Sometimes it actually worked as evidenced by his trade for Pedro Martinez and when he acquired Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek for Heathcliff Slocumb.

Braves fans should be relieved that GM Frank Wren turned down that preposterous request.

But the Orioles are going to build around Jones? The Braves are pursuing him?

Why?

Jones’s star has fallen. In 2008, he was an excellent defensive center fielder; in 2009-2010 he was slightly above average; and he 2011, he wasn’t good at all.

At the plate, he seems to have some power.

“Seems” is the operative word because of his 25 homers in 2011, 19 came at Camden Yards. It could’ve been an anomaly because in prior years, his production was around even home to road, but it’s a concern especially if he’s being sent to Turner Field—not exactly a hitter’s paradise.

He doesn’t walk and strikes out a lot. His attitude left much to be desired before the arrival of Buck Showalter; the prior regime had told Jones he needed to play deeper in center field and he replied, “I’ll think about it.”

There haven’t been any public issues under Showalter.

And where are the Braves going to put him? In left field? If they’re going to do that, his poor defense in center field won’t matter, but if they’re even considering swapping Jurrjens and Prado for a bat, surely they can get someone who’s better than Jones.

The rumors are conflicting and the sense I get is that it’s more rumormongering and blowing a casual chat out of proportion into a substantive negotiation in the interest of webhits and discussion on a slow baseball news day.

Either way, if the Braves are pursuing Jones and the Orioles are looking to build around him, each side needs to take a step back and examine him more closely because he’s nowhere near as valuable as they think he is.

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The Braves Said No To Papelbon For Vazquez?!?

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Yes. And they were right to do it.

Peter Gammons revealed on Twitter that in 2009, the Braves turned down an offer from the Red Sox of Jonathan Papelbon for Javier Vazquez.

Vazquez was subsequently traded along with Boone Logan from the Braves to the Yankees for Melky Cabrera, Mike Dunn and Arodys Vizcaino.

At first glance, it’s easy to say, “How could Frank Wren turn down Papelbon for Vazquez?!?”

But if you think about it and consider why the Braves were trading Vazquez in the first place, it made sense.

As great as Vazquez was in the 2009 season, he was on the block because he was making too much money and had the most trade value for the Braves at the time coming off a reputation-rejuvenating year; they would’ve preferred to have traded Derek Lowe, but with Lowe’s $15 million salary and length of contract, that wasn’t happening. The Braves were flush with cheaper starting pitching and had Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Lowe and Jair Jurrjens in the majors and youngsters Kris Medlen and Mike Minor on the way; they also had Kenshin Kawakami. Vazquez was a salary dump and trading Vazquez’s $11.5 million for Papelbon’s $10 million defeated the purpose of doing it. They got Cabrera who was coming off a solid season and playoffs for the Yankees and was set to be paid over $3 million in arbitration; they also received the lefty arm of Dunn whom they sent to the Marlins for Dan Uggla, and the big minor league prize, the flamethrowing Vizcaino.

They could’ve used Papelbon, but they signed Billy Wagner for $6.75 million; Wagner was excellent for the Braves in 2010 and wasn’t looking for a long-term contract. They also knew they had an option on Wagner for 2011 if he decided to pitch and Craig Kimbrel nearly ready—they were set for the future at closer.

In exchange for Vazquez the Braves got Uggla, Vizcaino, Cabrera and Wagner.

That’s a far better haul than Papelbon for Vazquez straight-up.

In hindsight, Papelbon would’ve been good for the Braves; Vazquez likely would’ve been a disaster for the Red Sox; it worked out well for all sides that the deal didn’t happen.

That doesn’t immediately assuage the shock when reading a splashy report that said the deal was offered, but Wren did the smart thing.

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Stat Guy Strong Arm

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Dave Cameron of USS Mariner and Fangraphs provides this prescription to begin fixing the Mariners woes for 2012.

Here’s the clip from the above link:

Transactions

Trade RHP Michael Pineda, RHP Brandon League, OF Greg Halman, 3B Chone Figgins (with Seattle absorbing $16 of remaining $17 million on Figgins’ contract), and SS Carlos Triunfel to Cincinnati for 1B Joey Votto and C Yasmani Grandal.

Trade 1B Mike Carp to Milwaukee for 3B Casey McGehee and RHP Marco Estrada.

Trade OF Michael Saunders and RHP Dan Cortes to Florida for RHP Chris Volstad.

Trade LHP Cesar Jimenez to New York for OF Angel Pagan.

Sign Chris Snyder to a 1 year, $3 million contract.

Sign Erik Bedard to a 1 year, $4 million contract.

Sign Jamie Moyer to a 1 year, $500,000 contract.

That’s only part one; I can’t wait for part two. Maybe there he’ll send Miguel Olivo and Brendan Ryan to the Yankees for Jesus Montero.

This thinking epitomizes what one William Lamar Beane—aka Billy Beane—said to Tom Verducci in one of the “it’s not Billy’s fault” pieces that came out to defend Beane (in advance of the homage known as Moneyball, THE MOVIE) for putting together a bad Athletics team; a team that Verducci himself picked to win the AL West before the season.

Beane’s argument was that the new breed of GMs have burst into baseball and are doing essentially what Cameron is doing; they’re saying “here’s what we’ll give you and if you’re smart, you’ll take it” in a Luca Brasi (or Frank Wren) sort of way.

Short of kidnapping his family or putting a gun to his head, I don’t know what Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik could do to Reds GM Walt Jocketty to get him to accept the above package for Votto.

Though I see Tommy John in his future, Pineda’s very good; League is a guy you can find very cheaply on the market; Halman strikes out too much, doesn’t walk and from his numbers is a bad outfielder; Triunfel hasn’t shown he can hit in the minors; and you can have Chone Figgins and we’ll pay him. For that, you can give us a top catching prospect and one of the best hitters in baseball. We all done? Okay. Good.

The other deals are just as delusional.

What is this obsession with Erik Bedard and the Mariners? Haven’t they had enough?

Moyer? Again? He’s had a wonderful career, but he’s almost 50. Move on.

You want Pagan? He’s yours.

Why the Marlins would take Cortes and Saunders at all, least of all for Volstad, is unclear and unexplained.

Without getting into a long-winded “my way’s better” critique of Cameron’s plan, how about—before anything else—Zduriencik walking into ownership on hands and knees and begging to let him get rid of Ichiro Suzuki? Signing Josh Willingham? Pursuing Jose Reyes or Prince Fielder? Making a major bid for Yu Darvish? Jim Thome? David Ortiz?

Wouldn’t these be preferable options than making a lunatic proposal for Votto that would be rejected?

These deals are typical of the concept that outsiders with a forum and a stat sheet envision as the simplicity as to how deals are made. We call you, you accept and we’re done.

Much like the same people have the audacity to say—in a grudging tribute to Tony LaRussa on the day of his retirement and immediately after he wins a World Series—“I didn’t always agree with his strategies, but…” they have this vision of innate knowledge that doesn’t exist; of what they’d do.

They cling.

They cling to Moneyball being “real”; cling to the likes of Charlie Haeger, R.J. Swindle and Dale Thayer; and cling to a so-called revolution that was self-serving from the start.

It’s fine to print an off-season prescription of a scenario that could only exist in Tolkien, but this is reality; you’re not getting Votto for that package even if you do put a gun to Jocketty’s head and/or kidnap his family.

Jocketty would say, “kill me first”.

And I would say that too.

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Why Would Anyone Want To Be The Orioles GM?

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The problems are familiar and circular.

One recognizable and respected name after another has taken a job with the Baltimore Orioles and been mitigated by ownership meddling and circumstance.

Even with Buck Showalter in place, nothing much has changed; the enthusiasm and excitement from having a manager of his stature quickly receded into the abyss, drowned by vicious competition and a lack of talent.

Why doesn’t Showalter simply take over as GM?

It’d be much easier for everyone.

The club could hire someone to do the grunt work that no one ever realizes is going on with the rock star status that certain general managers enjoy nowadays; Showalter could pick the players and run the entire show doing things the way he wants.

The names that are coming in for interviews are young, impressive and irrelevant; the only benefit they’ll have is to be able to toss their hands in the air and say, “what could I do?” when things go wrong as they did for Pat Gillick, Frank Wren and Andy MacPhail.

In addition to that, the new “boss” won’t have any final say-so with Showalter as the guy in charge. That’s not an advantageous position for a GM to be in whether he’s onboard with it or not.

It’s a resume-builder to say, “I’ve been a GM before”. They can’t win on or off the field and if the Orioles somehow find a way into contention within the new GM’s tenure, the credit will largely go to Showalter.

The Orioles situation is a continuing saga of inertia.

They can hit, but have very little pitching and not much on the horizon in the high minors.

Jeremy Guthrie, Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, Jim Johnson, Alfredo Simon—all have talent; but in that division, the Orioles can’t compete unless they bring in some legitimate arms, but that leads them back onto that failed cycle of overpaying for veterans, seeing them come to Baltimore and fade, repeating the process all over again. If they want to get a “name” free agent like C.J. Wilson or CC Sabathia, they have to drastically overpay and even then they’re not guaranteed to be anything other than a bargaining chip for another club to match or beat their offer.

At this point, until they’re showing marked improvement, why would any free agent with options want to go to Baltimore? The Yankees, Rays and Red Sox have vast talent that the Orioles don’t; and mark my words: the Blue Jays are going to shock baseball in 2012.

Where does that leave the Orioles?

Where they’ve been for the past 13 seasons—on the treadmill. Going nowhere.

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The “Other” Collapse

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While the trail of controversy, drastic changes and clubhouse disharmony is surrounding the Red Sox, there was another embarrassing collapse in Atlanta with the Braves.

Shortly after they completed the disaster by losing in extra innings to the Phillies, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said that his entire coaching staff would return intact.

This was about 12 hours later.

It was absurd to suggest that a team like the Red Sox doesn’t have the right to consider a managerial change from Terry Francona following the way they came apart.

So it was similar that it was patently ridiculous for Gonzalez to say the Braves wouldn’t make any changes.

This point was hammered home on Friday when the Braves fired hitting coach Larry Parrish.

Amid all the fingers pointed at the injuries to the Braves starting rotation and the overwork of the bullpen, the big problem was the offense. Parrish advocated an aggressive approach and it cost the Braves dearly in their on-base percentage, runs scored and walks. Even hitters who have historically walked a lot, Dan Uggla and Chipper Jones, didn’t in 2011.

Holding Parrish responsible for that is right and fair and Gonzalez had better be careful if they get off to a slow start next year because GM Frank Wren is not going to sit by quietly and watch his team—loaded with talent and in a nightmarish division—get off to an 18-25 start and not make a move.

Gonzalez was publicly castrated when Parrish was fired and it was a message.

The other stories surrounding the Braves involved Derek Lowe and Jason Heyward not being guaranteed to maintain their current positions in 2012.

Lowe’s 9-17 record and ERA over 5 speak for themselves; but he still only allowed 14 homers in 187 innings; he’s in the last year of his contract at $15 million and if they’re sufficiently motivated to move him for another expensive contract, someone will take him. 200 innings are 200 innings.

With Heyward, the Braves clearly didn’t learn the lessons of overhyping a young player after what happened with Jeff Francoeur. Heyward’s sudden fall is mirroring that of Francouer. Francoeur was called “The Natural”; Heyward was compared to Willie Mays and Willie McCovey and both found themselves to be targets when they didn’t achieve those heights.

Now that Heyward’s been booed, criticized, ripped and benched for not living up to that idiotic comparison, Wren—who had a major rift with Francouer—is threatening Heyward’s job.

There are even stories being circulated that the Braves might be better off trading Heyward.

That’s not going to happen, but if Heyward flames out in Atlanta the way Francouer did, the Braves have no one to blame but themselves and need to seriously reconsider the way they treat their would-be star position players.

Once is a mistake; twice is a trend and they’re well on the way of having the same thing happen again.

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Heads Will Roll(?)

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The difference in perception is stark.

Tony LaRussa is entirely safe in his job with the Cardinals despite underachieving for much of the year and looking finished in the playoff race three weeks ago. Had the trend continued; had the Braves played even mediocre baseball, no one would’ve said a word about LaRussa or Braves’ manager Fredi Gonzalez and their respective job securities.

LaRussa’s job is safe no matter what and the Cardinals—despite their best efforts to open the door for the Braves to clinch with inexplicable losses to the Mets, Cubs and Astros—are tied for the Wild Card lead.

The Braves are reeling, shocked and desperate.

This could all be moot in 16 hours if the Braves win and Cardinals lose.

Tim Hudson is pitching for the Braves against the Phillies. The Phillies have clinched everything they can clinch and are starting Joe Blanton.

If the Braves lose tonight, they have no one to blame but themselves…and their manager.

Stability was one of the reasons that Bobby Cox lasted as long as he did with the Braves.

That and he won.

What’s going to happen if the Braves gack up this playoff spot that should’ve been wrapped up two weeks ago?

Gonzalez’s strategic mistakes and injuries to the team’s starting rotation are independent of one another. Their offense is not good.

But Braves fans are notorious frontrunners and nostalgic toward history.

What if a firing is necessary in the interests of placating the angry?

Are Cox’s batteries recharged after a year out of the dugout?

And would GM Frank Wren—with whom Cox had a somewhat stormy relationship—be on board if upper management says that Gonzalez has to go and Cox is willing to come back?

Jack McKeon provided a new ceiling for managers when he won a World Series at the age of 72 with the 2003 Marlins; then again this season when he took over at mid-season at the age of 80 and acquitted himself well without it showing up in the standings.

Cox is 70 and will be 71 next May.

He might be willing to go back on the field, but would he be okay with replacing his friend and hand-picked successor Gonzalez?

If the Braves frame it correctly by saying “listen Bobby, Fredi’s gone whether you take the job or not,” it wouldn’t be seen as Cox pushing Gonzalez out of the way, but taking an open position.

Cox might’ve lost in the playoffs and World Series every year but one, but his teams never came apart like this and those losses weren’t because of managerial missteps.

Making the playoffs will render this speculation meaningless, but if the Braves complete this collapse will they be willing to stay the course and run the risk of this happening again a year from now? Of having the endless criticism from inside and outside the industry as to what they’re thinking in entrusting a strong young team with a manager that’s costing them games?

Collapses take years to get over and not before significant alterations are made in personnel or management.

All of that young talent is not accompanied by a guarantee of contention on an annual basis, especially in the NL East.

Suffice it to say that the Braves had better make the playoffs—getting swept in the first round would be better than this embarrassing crumble. And if they make it, who knows? Maybe they’ll straighten themselves out, play relaxed and run the table.

But they have to make it.

Jobs may be riding on it.

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Demotion Sickness With Jason Heyward

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There’s been a suggestion floated by some that the Braves should send struggling and injury-plagued future star Jason Heyward down to the minors for a brief time.

I don’t believe this to be a ludicrous idea as others do, but there are several obstacles of them making the move. They don’t have anyone to replace him nor his penchant for getting on base and the threat he poses in the lineup whether he’s hitting or not. It might work or it might send him into a funk and make things worse—that depends on the individual. And his struggles have had as much to do with injury as they have with a sophomore slump or failure to adjust.

It’s unfair to criticize the Braves developmental apparatus given the number of young players—Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Freddie Freeman, Brian McCann, Tommy Hanson—who’ve been homegrown, but the hype surrounding the predicted greatness for Heyward was always a portent for potential disaster.

The same thing happened with Jeff Francoeur as he was labeled a “can’t miss” superstar and was treated as such from the time he was a kid all the way up to the big leagues; the flaws in his game were conveniently glossed over as Frenchy’s “way”. That he never walked and was a Sports Illustrated coverboy after having been catered to his whole life as a multi-sport star only exacerbated the problems when he struggled and eventually was demoted.

That demotion highlighted a rift between GM Frank Wren and then-manager Bobby Cox. Francoeur was being punished for doing the same things he was feted for when they were working and he was understandably offended in a self-important and arrogant sort of way.

But that’s what they created by continually giving him passes and not correcting that which needed to be addressed.

He was in the minors for a few days and immediately recalled, rendering the maneuver pointless in both execution and practice.

Heyward’s a better player than Francoeur, but Francouer was—at the very least—durable; Heyward has been prone to injuries and it’s worrisome.

If there was a veteran solution to place in right field in his absence, sending Heyward down for a few weeks to get comfortable at the plate and to make sure he’s healthy wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but there isn’t.

Sending him to the minors now would do more harm than good to the player and the team.

I was a guest on the latest Red State Blue State podcast. It’s entertainment in its purest form.

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