Heath Bell’s Blameworthy Disaster

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Before he became a “genius” and a “future Hall of Fame executive”, John Schuerholz was the well-liked and competent GM of the Kansas City Royals. He’d won a World Series in 1985 and was not, under any circumstances, expected to one day be feted as the “architect” of a Braves team that would win 14 straight division titles.

In truth he wasn’t an architect of anything. The pieces to that team were in place when he arrived. Already present were Chipper Jones, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Steve Avery, Sid Bream, David Justice and Ron Gant. He made some great, prescient acquisitions such as Greg Maddux, Terry Pendleton and Fred McGriff; had mediocre overall drafts; and was aggressive in making trades on the fly to improve the team.

But he wasn’t a genius.

After a 92-70 season by the Royals in 1989 Schuerholz went on a spending spree that included signing the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, closer Mark Davis, away from the San Diego Padres to a 4-year, $13 million contract. (It was akin to the Jonathan Papelbon deal of today.)

The Royals had a young closer with Jeff Montgomery and didn’t need Davis.

Amid injuries and underperformance, the team finished at 75-86, 27 1/2 games behind the division winning A’s.

Following the season, Schuerholz left the Royals to take over for Bobby Cox as the Braves’ GM with Cox staying on as manager.

I mention the Davis signing because his nightmare from 1990 echoes what’s happening to Marlins’ closer Heath Bell now.

Bell just isn’t as likable as Davis was.

Yesterday was another atrocious outing for Bell and the unusual step (which is becoming more and more usual for him) of yanking him from a save situation occurred for the second day in a row. Manager Ozzie Guillen’s demeanor in the dugout when Bell is on the mound is becoming increasingly overt with frustration and anger. It’s the exacerbated human nature of the athlete that Bell’s teammates are publicly supporting him and privately saying that it’s enough and he needs to get the job done or it’s time for a change.

Bell’s numbers are bad enough. An 8.47 ERA; 24 hits, 14 walks and only 10 strikeouts in 17 innings and the 4 blown saves don’t tell the whole story. He’s not in a slump. He’s been plain awful.

I called this when I wrote my free agency profile of Bell in November but he’s been far worse than anyone could’ve imagined.

In his first few big league seasons as a transient between Triple A and the Mets, Bell didn’t see eye-to-eye with Mets’ pitching coach Rick Peterson and GM Omar Minaya made a rotten trade in sending Bell away to the Padres. The fact that the trade was bad doesn’t make it wrong that they traded him. The Padres were a situation where he was able to resurrect his career first as a the set-up man for Trevor Hoffman and then as the closer.

The Mets did him a favor.

Bell has a massive chip on his shoulder that indicates a need to prove himself. Perhaps the money and expectations are hindering him. That’s not an excuse. He’s a day or two away from being demoted from the closer’s role by the Marlins not for a few days to clear his head, but for the foreseeable future.

Bell’s locked in with the Marlins for the next 2 ½ years as part of a 3-year, $27 million deal unless they dump him. As of right now, he’s a very expensive mop-up man and the Marlins have every right—even a duty—to use someone else because Bell’s not doing the job. Period.

I seriously doubt they’re going to want to hear his mouth if and when he’s demoted from the closer’s role.

But they will.

Bet on it.

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The Price for McCutchen

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Pirates GM Neal Huntington is making it clear with his between-the-lines statements that he’s willing to trade Andrew McCutchenThe Sporting News.

Given the Pirates circumstances as a perennial laughingstock and that McCutchen would have to be just as overwhelmed to stay long-term as the Pirates would be to trade him, it makes sense to listen to what other clubs have to say.

McCutchen is not closing in on free agency (it’s not until after the 2015 season) and he’s going to be arbitration-eligible until next year. He’s 25, is not reliant on his speed to make a living and he can play center field.

He’s an MVP-quality talent.

It’s somewhat unprecedented for a young, established position player to be available regardless of the demand.

Most of the huge deals for packages of young players that aren’t closing in on free agency involve pitchers. We saw this with the Athletics’ latest housecleaning in dealing Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez. The Rays are always ready to do business with any player on their roster and the Rockies made a bold move in trading Ubaldo Jimenez last summer.

McCutchen is a franchise cornerstone and exactly the type of player for whom an interested club should be willing to overpay as Huntington implies.

Let’s take a look at some big trades that were made with a lot of young talent exchanged for a young position player to get a gauge on circumstances and boundaries.

1982: Indians trade OF Von Hayes to the Phillies for INF Julio Franco, RHP Jay Baller, 2B Manny Trillo, OF George Vukovich and C Jerry Willard.

Hayes was 24 and saddled with the nickname “5 for 1” after the trade, but turned out to be a very good player for the Phillies. He had power and speed and if he played today, he’d be comparable to McCutchen.

Franco was an excellent hitter and lasted in the big leagues until he was 48.

Hayes’s career was over at age 33 after the Phillies had traded him to the Angels in a trade that brought them…Ruben Amaro Jr.

1990: Padres trade 2B Roberto Alomar and OF Joe Carter to the Blue Jays for 1B Fred McGriff and SS Tony Fernandez.

Alomar was 23 and I don’t think anyone predicted he’d blossom into a Hall of Fame player with power. Two old-school GMs—the Padres’ Joe McIlvaine and the Blue Jays’ Pat Gillick—pulled off this drastic maneuver that worked out better for the Blue Jays, but was productive for the Padres. In retrospect, they would have preferred to keep Alomar, but no one knew what Alomar was.

Veteran general managers got together and cobbled out a major trade that helped both sides.

1992: Brewers trade INF Gary Sheffield and RHP Geoff Kellogg to the Padres for RHP Ricky Bones, OF Matt Mieske and INF Jose Valentin.

Sheffield was miserable in Milwaukee, couldn’t handle the expectations and pressure stemming from being in the big leagues at 19 and the nephew of Dwight Gooden. In later years, Sheffield claimed to have intentionally thrown balls wildly from third base as some form of retribution for perceived slights.

Sound familiar?

The self-destructive petulance was chalked up to youth.

It turned out not to be youth. Gary was just Gary and that’s simply what he did.

From age 19-40, Sheffield imploded and exploded in his subsequent stops (six after Milwaukee and San Diego) and alienated anyone and everyone along the way. He got away with it because he could hit for power and get on base—no other reason.

The Brewers got rid of Sheffield because he was a ticking time bomb.

2007: Rays trade OF Delmon Young, INF Brendan Harris and OF Jason Pridie to the Twins for RHP Matt Garza, SS Jason Bartlett and RHP Eddie Morlan.

Young was a former first pick in the draft, but the new Rays front office wouldn’t have drafted him first had they been in charge and were in the process of clearing out players who didn’t behave appropriately—Young had acted up in the minors and majors resulting in suspensions and confrontations with manager Joe Maddon. It helped the decision to move him that they didn’t value what it was he did because he hit a few homers, didn’t get on base and played poor defense in the outfield.

Garza was a young pitcher with a temper similar to Young’s, but that temper was tolerable to get his power arm.

This was a mutual-interest/need deal and not one to clear salary.

Barring free agency, financial constraints and ancillary factors, players like McCutchen are rarely available.

Is he “available”? Or are the Pirates tossing it out there to see if anyone bites and gives up the house?

Teams should inquire and be serious about getting him.

The Royals have the prospects and the need. With McCutchen in center field flanked by Alex Gordon and Jeff Francoeur, their outfield defense would be superlative and their rebuilding process would be sped up markedly.

The Nationals need a center fielder, have the young talent to deal and are looking to improve quickly; the Braves’ farm system is loaded; and the Mets should accept reality and give the fans something to bank on while getting a marquee youngster.

If teams have to overpay, so be it.

For a player like McCutchen, everyone should contact the Pirates and see whether or not they’re serious about moving him. If they ask for seven players including four who are perceived as “can’t miss”, then they’re not serious; if they ask for four or five, then it’s something for an interested club to pursue because McCutchen is worth it.

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GMs The Second Time Around

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With two big general managing jobs open—the Angels and the Cubs—let’s take a look at recognizable title-winning GMs and how they’ve fared in second and third jobs.

John Schuerholz

Schuerholz won the World Series with the 1985 Royals and moved on to the Braves after the 1990 season because Bobby Cox had gone down on the field and handled both jobs after firing Russ Nixon. It was Cox who drafted Chipper Jones (because Todd Van Poppel insisted he was going to college, then didn’t—he probably should’ve); Kent Mercker; Mike Stanton; Steve Avery; Mark Wohlers; and Ryan Klesko. He also traded Doyle Alexander for John Smoltz.

Schuerholz made the fill-in moves like acquiring Charlie Leibrandt, Rafael Belliard, Otis Nixon, Alejandro Pena and Juan Berenguer; in later years, he signed Greg Maddux and traded for Fred McGriff.

It was, in fact, the predecessor to Cox—John Mullen—who drafted Ron Gant, Mark Lemke, Dave Justice and Tom Glavine.

The idea that Schuerholz “built” the Braves of the 1990s isn’t true. It’s never been true.

Andy MacPhail

MacPhail was never comfortable with spending a load of money. When he was with the Twins, that was the way they did business and he excelled at it building teams on the cheap with a template of the way the Twins played and a manager, Tom Kelly, to implement that.

He put together the Twins 1987 and 1991 championship clubs. MacPhail became the Cubs CEO in 1994 and stayed until 2006. The Cubs made it to the playoffs twice in MacPhail’s tenure and came close to winning that elusive pennant in 2003.

MacPhail’s legacy running the Cubs—fairly or not—is that he was in charge while Kerry Wood and Mark Prior were pushed very, very hard as young pitchers trying to win that championship.

It was a vicious circle. If the Cubs didn’t let them pitch, they wouldn’t have made the playoffs; and since they let them endure heavy workloads at a young age, they flamed out.

MacPhail went to the Orioles in 2007 and the team didn’t improve despite MacPhail seeming to prevail on owner Peter Angelos that his spending on shot veterans wasn’t working; MacPhail’s power was usurped when Buck Showalter was hired to be the manager and his future is uncertain.

Sandy Alderson

Credited as the “father” of Moneyball, he was a run-of-the-mill GM who won when he had money to spend, a brilliant manager in Tony LaRussa, and an all-world pitching coach Dave Duncan. When the well dried up, the A’s stopped contending and he was relegated to signing veteran players who had nowhere else to go (sort of like Moneyball), but couldn’t play (unlike Moneyball).

Alderson drafted Jason Giambi and Tim Hudson among a couple of others who contributed to the Athletics renaissance and the Billy Beane “genius”.

Moving on to the Padres as CEO in 2005, Alderson created factions in the front office between the stat people and scouting people and appeared more interested in accumulating legitimate, on-the-record credit for himself as a cut of the Moneyball pie than in building a winning team by any means necessary within the budget.

He joined the Mets as GM a year ago. Grade pending.

Pat Gillick

Gillick is in the Hall of Fame. He built the Blue Jays from the ground up, culminating in back-to-back championships in 1992 and 1993.

He’s retired and un-retired multiple times, ran the Orioles under Angelos and spent a ton of money and came close, but continually lost out to the Yankees.

He took over the Mariners and built a powerhouse with Lou Piniella; they came close…but couldn’t get by the Yankees.

He went to the Phillies, built upon the foundation that had been laid by the disrespected former GM Ed Wade and scouting guru Mike Arbuckle and got credit for the 2008 championship.

He says he’s retired, but I’m not buying it even at age 74. The Mariners are the job I’d see him taking if it’s offered and with another bad year from Jack Zduriencik’s crew in 2012, it just might be.

Walt Jocketty

Jocketty won the 2006 World Series and, along with LaRussa, built the Cardinals into an annual contender. He was forced out in a power-struggle between those in the Cardinals from office that wanted to go the Moneyball route and Jocketty’s people that didn’t. One year after the World Series win, he was fired.

At mid-season 2008, he was hired by the Reds and was given credit for the 2010 NL Central championship, but that credit was a bit shaky.

Wayne Krivsky was the GM before Jocketty and traded for Brandon Phillips and Bronson Arroyo.

Dan O’Brien Jr. preceded Krivsky and drafted Jay Bruce and signed Johnny Cueto.

And it was Jim Bowden who drafted Joey Votto.

The common denominator with the names above and the levels of success or failure they achieved had to do with the groundwork that had been placed and, in part, what they did after their arrival.

The Cubs and Angels are both well-stocked for their choices to look very smart, very quickly; but the hiring of a “name” GM doesn’t automatically imply that the success from the prior stop is going to be repeated and that has to be considered with whomever the two teams decide to hire.

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Humanity And The Hall Of Fame

Hall Of Fame

Before anything else, I went into Bert Blyleven‘s Hall of Fame candidacy in painstaking detail almost a year ago to this day—Prince of NY Baseball Blog, 1.9.2010.

Having nothing to do with his politicking and pressuring the voters to induct him; nor his iffy win totals, Blyleven was up there with the great pitchers of his day in everything but winning percentage; he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

It’s interesting to note that Blyleven’s support was almost non-existent until the new metrics and proliferation of stat friendly writers and bloggers began pushing him so aggressively. As more stat people were allowed to vote and present their case to those that in prior years weren’t receptive to Blyleven, many slowly had their minds changed to vote yes.

With Felix Hernandez going 13-12 and (deservedly) winning the Cy Young Award a year after Tim Lincecum won the award with a less-flashy winning percentage and ERA than Chris Carpenter and a lower win total than Adam Wainwright, the numbers are having a profound affect on the post-season awards and the Hall of Fame.

Will this continue as Curt Schilling—a loud proponent of the candidacy of…Curt Schilling—gets ready for his career to be put to the ultimate test in two years?

Blyleven’s consistent harping on his own worthiness clearly had a positive influence on some of the voters; but Blyleven was well-liked in his day as a team clown; Schilling was respected on the field, but loved hearing the sound of his own voice and playing up his team-oriented nature and “gutsy” performances exemplified by the bloody sock in the 2004 ALCS.

Are Schilling’s credentials better than those of Kevin Brown? Brown was loathed by the media because he made their lives difficult— seemingly on purpose—but was gutty in his own right; his intensity to win and discomfort with the media caused many of his problems. Should he be seen in a less flattering light than Schilling because of that?

Brown was better than Schilling in the regular season—people don’t realize how good Brown really was because of his injuries and bad press; Schilling was lights out in the post-season. Along with Bob Gibson, Orel Hershiser and Dave Stewart to name three, there aren’t many pitchers you’d rather have on the mound in a make-or-break post-season game than Curt Schilling.

You didn’t see Brown schmoozing and cajoling to get his due in the HOF balloting.

Schilling?

Put it this way: people like Blyleven personally and got tired of hearing him whine; Schilling is the epitome of polarizing; he was a great pitcher who put up big post-season numbers; he’s done some incredibly nice things with his time and money in terms of charity; and he’s a relentless self-promoter who casts himself as a representative of conservative causes with his hand over his heart and waving of the American flag as if that’s the definition of right in the world regardless of context.

I truly don’t know what’s going to happen with Schilling, but I doubt he’ll get in on the first ballot and the longer he waits, the less likely he is to keep his mouth shut. Unlike Blyleven, he’s a guy who’s going to lose support the more he talks.

Regarding the other candidates, I think Barry Larkin and Tim Raines should wait a while (maybe a long while) before meriting serious consideration; that Jack Morris is a Hall of Famer; that Fred McGriff is a Hall of Famer; Edgar Martinez and Alan Trammell deserve more support; and if Blyleven’s in, then Tommy John should be in. In fact, John has a better case than Blyleven in my eyes for the combination of success on the field and that he revolutionized the game by undergoing the surgery that’s saved scores of careers, is so commonplace that it’s no longer a pitcher’s death sentence and now bears his name—a name that many mentioning it don’t realize belongs to a pitcher who won 288 games.

Roberto Alomar also deserves his election to the Hall for his on-field accomplishments. He was a great fielder; an excellent, all-around hitter; a terrific baserunner; and a clutch player. He also fell off the planet in his numbers at a young age and his career was sullied by the incident while playing for the Orioles in which he spat in the face of umpire John Hirschbeck during an argument.

Then there were the PED cases Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro; the “lumped in with the offenders” types like Jeff Bagwell; and the “ballpark question from playing in Coors Field” of Larry Walker.

McGwire and Palmeiro aren’t getting in. Ever.

I don’t know about Bagwell and Walker; fairly or not, I’d say on January 6th, 2011, that I doubt either will be enshrined.

Here’s the point: are McGwire and Palmeiro being punished because of the judgments of people without a clear cut series of rules that govern how they vote? And where does this judgment begin and end?

Since the PED issues with McGwire and Palmeiro are going to prevent them from ever receiving any kind of support, does that equate with the off-field allegations about Roberto Alomar?

People have been reluctant to discuss this, but what of the continued accusations from Alomar’s former girlfriends and his ex-wife of having unprotected sex with them while knowing he’s HIV-positive?

As much as people try to claim a separation of on-and-off field behaviors in casting ballots, which is worse? A player doing what a large percentage of his contemporaries were doing during the so-called “steroid era” and putting up massive numbers? Or going beyond the scope of humanity with a repulsive selfishness as Alomar is accused of doing in his romantic life?

You can claim there to be no connection to the Hall of Fame with the allegations against Alomar and I’ll agree with you; but to equate someone using steroids to the devaluation of one’s humanity in taking another person’s long term health as nothing to be concerned about—as Alomar is repeatedly alleged to have done—is a greater level of moral repugnance than any drug use could ever be whether it’s recreational or performance enhancing.

Alomar and his representatives “kinda-sorta” deny he has HIV, but if you read between the lines, it’s not a denial. It’s parsing.

Only he knows if he’s been behaving this way and possibly infecting lovers with a dreaded disease, but if it became publicly known to be true, would that seep into the voters’ minds?

As much as it’s suggested that players’ personalities and off-field tendencies have nothing to do with their careers, how long did Jim Rice have to wait for induction based more on his prickly relationship with the media than the proffered reasons for keeping him out?

The people who dealt with a borderline candidate like Brown aren’t going to be as supportive as the prototypical “blogger in the basement” who had no reason to dislike him and is simply looking at the numbers.

On the same token, Dale Murphy was considered one of the nicest, most decent men to ever put on a baseball uniform; he has a somewhat legitimate candidacy for HOF consideration, but has never come close; nor will he.

The spitting incident with Hirschbeck was said to be a major reason Alomar didn’t get in on the first ballot; but what if it was revealed that yes, he’s been putting people with whom he had intimate relations at risk due to his own denials and insistence to not practice safe sex? Would that cause anyone to hesitate?

As long as there are no clear cut criteria and people like Blyleven get results from a propaganda tour and outside support that grows exponentially, it’s not something to dismiss.

It’s a hard question to answer and I’d have to think very seriously before casting my vote for or against someone if that were the case.