The Diamondbacks Grind Justin Upton Out Of Arizona

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The Diamondbacks sought offers from Justin Upton almost immediately upon Kevin Towers taking over as GM and in all that time—two-and-a-half years—they never gave a legitimate reason as to why. Few could formulate an obvious justification to place a 25-year-old outfielder with speed, solid defensive skills and power on the trade block so publicly.

Now that Upton has been traded to the Braves, it’s being said that the Diamondbacks wanted more “grinders,” and that Upton wasn’t that type of player. This would be fine if they were exchanging an easily replaceable player who didn’t fit into the clubhouse dynamic they were trying to create, but Upton isn’t a journeyman player. He’s not even a potential All-Star if all breaks right. He’s an MVP candidate in his mid-20s, signed to a reasonable long-term contract worth $38.5 million through 2015.

The pat excuses—lack of money; clubhouse malcontent; rebuilding—didn’t fit with the desperation to trade Upton, so it appeared as if they were trading him just for the sake of it. This all goes back to the hiring of Towers and the 2011 division title. I doubt that when Towers was hired he expected a few bullpen moves and the pieces that were already in place would result in a stunning NL West title. There was no rebuilding project to undertake because they won immediately with the remnants of what former GMs Josh Byrnes and his interim replacement Jerry Dipoto had left for Towers and manager Kirk Gibson to work with.

That division title might have hypnotized the Diamondbacks into thinking they were better than they actually were; into believing that the edited, simplistic version of Towers’s resume and the four playoff appearances and one pennant he won as GM of the Padres were accurate as a final determinative factor of his quality of work. In reality, the NL West was a weak division that the Padres won in back to back seasons in 2005 and 2006 because they were the best of a rotten bunch. Somehow, Towers garnered a reputation that he never truly earned. He’s a competent executive to be sure, but as for someone whose every word should be adhered to because he has a “track record of success,” it’s highly presumptuous. Towers’s executive accomplishments may be true, but they’re not 100% accurate.

All the speculation that there might have been off-field issues with Upton (because there was no other possible explanation for this obsession to trade him) were rendered moot when it was strategically leaked that he wasn’t intense enough to suit Towers and Gibson. As a response to search for reasons to the publicly inexplicable solicitation of offers for Upton, the Diamondbacks found one that can’t be quantified, therefore not disputed as anything other than an opinion.

Because Gibson was a run through the wall, football-mentality type doesn’t mean that’s what every player has to be in order to be successful. I’m not of the mind that the manager is a faceless, nameless functionary installed to implement front office edicts, but I’m also not of the mind to bend over backwards to adjust the roster to fit what the manager wants to do, especially when it involves trading a player who has the ability to win the MVP. The recent death of Earl Weaver and the accompanying tributes and obituaries discussed his love for the 3-run homer, defense and pitching, but Weaver was also able to adapt when he didn’t have the personnel to play that way. Gibson is not Weaver and sounds as if he’s distancing himself from the implication that he wanted tougher players than Upton.

Here’s the impression I get from the way this entire mess played itself out: Towers arrived as Diamondbacks GM, looked at the prospective 2011 roster and felt there were too many holes to fill through making small trades and affordable free agent signings. He sent feelers out regarding Upton hoping for a massive haul to rebuild the team and contend in perhaps 2012-2013. No massive offer came and they held onto Upton. Things went perfectly in 2011, they won the division with Upton finishing fourth in the MVP voting and they were suddenly viable contenders for the immediate future. After trading for Trevor Cahill and making a bizarre signing in Jason Kubel, they were going for it all in 2012. But they didn’t win it all. The pitching had injuries and the rotation and bullpen weren’t as good in 2012 as they were in 2011. They wound up at .500.

Who was to blame? Judging by what they just did it was Upton and his lack of fire. 2012 and the ongoing saga notwithstanding, the damage was done in late 2010 when Towers tossed Upton out there as a negotiable entity. Upton seemed perplexed and hurt by the trade talk but was great in 2011. In 2012, he played through injuries and his numbers suffered. This didn’t stop Diamondbacks’ Managing General Partner Ken Kendrick from calling out Upton and Stephen Drew for substandard play. Never mind that it’s been revealed that Upton had an injured thumb or that Drew was returning from a ghastly ankle injury, they weren’t playing up to Kendrick’s standards and he tore into them.

The Diamondbacks still had Upton on the table at mid-season 2012 and made their intentions clear when they signed Cody Ross for three-years and a whopping $26 million. There was nowhere for Upton to play. Towers traded for Heath Bell, whose main skill at grinding is grinding on the nerves of teammates, coaches, managers and front office people.

Clamoring for a shortstop, Towers traded his own former top draft pick Trevor Bauer to the Indians in a three-team trade that brought them Didi Gregorius from the Reds. Towers immediately compared to Gregorius to Derek Jeter. Then he agreed upon a trade of Upton to the Mariners knowing that the Mariners were one of the teams on Upton’s no-trade list and having been told beforehand that Upton was not going to okay the move under any circumstances. Like an undaunted explorer, Towers was formulating new ways to venture to the point of no return.

In the trade with the Braves, he sent Upton and Chris Johnson to Atlanta and acquired another shortstop Nick Ahmed along with Martin Prado, Randall Delgado and Zeke Spruill.

He’s got the young Jeter in Gregorius, I’m waiting for him to compare Ahmed to Nomar Garciaparra to have his very own late-1990s, inter-organizational war as to who’s better, Nomar or Derek.

The Diamondbacks finished off their Upton gaffe and obviously didn’t learn the error of their ways when, with Prado, they announced that they planned to sign him to a long-term contract to prevent his free agency after 2013. How about talking to his agent first and seeing what he wants before boxing oneself and making Prado’s contract extension a necessity rather than a desire?

Then it became public that they were going to try and trade for Rick Porcello of the Tigers. The Diamondbacks are a club that operates under the pretext of going beyond full disclosure to overexposure without understanding what kind of damage they’re doing to their plans (if they have any).

There’s been no acknowledgement of what got them in this situation in the first place: The Upton rumors that started when Towers first took the job. If there’s no accepting and admitting of the problem, then the problem can’t be solved. Towers wanted a shortstop in exchange for Upton and was trying to get Jurickson Profar from the Rangers. When the Rangers said no, he turned his attention to minor leaguers like the ones listed above. His current big league shortstops are Cliff Pennington, Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald—none of whom are any good.

Are they rebuilding? Are they trying to win now? Is Towers undoing what was there when he arrived and trying to tailor a club to fit his manager even though the manager is the first one to go when things come undone?

The Diamondbacks put themselves in this position and rather than climb out of the hole they’ve dug, they’re continuing to dig hoping that digging deeper yields an escape route. Logic dictates that it won’t and they’ll keep making things worse until it won’t matter what kind of team they want because the players they have aren’t good enough.

Upton was good enough. He’ll be showing that with the Braves in 2013 and beyond as the Diamondbacks grind themselves into the ground.

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Why Are the Diamondbacks So Desperate to Deal Justin Upton?

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The proposed trade of Justin Upton to the Mariners was rejected by Upton because the Mariners are one of four clubs on his no-trade list. With a heavy return consisting of a situational lefty (Charlie Furbush), a young middle infield prospect (Nick Franklin), a young righty reliever with closer potential (Stephen Pryor), and one of the following young starters: Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen or James Paxton, in theory the trade made sense for the Diamondbacks. Given their overflow of outfielders, someone (or two) has to go.

It has seemed at times that Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers is collecting outfielders just for the sake of it. Apart from the Upton trade talks a year ago, there was no reason for him to pay $16 million last winter to sign Jason Kubel when Kubel was replacing Gerardo Parra who had a career year offensively and defensively—winning a Gold Glove—in 2011. He signed Kubel anyway. Kubel had a hot start to the season making the signing look like the work of a genius, but once the National League figured out Kubel’s weaknesses (he has a slow bat and doesn’t hit lefties), he had a dreadful second half.

This winter, Towers replicated the Kubel signing more expensively from the opposite side of the plate by signing Cody Ross to a 3-year, $26 million contract. Ross can hit both lefties and righties and can crush a fastball, so he’s more of an everyday player than Kubel, but there’s a glaring redundancy of the flawed outfielders that Towers insists on signing to fill holes that didn’t exist.

Compounded by the trade of Chris Young to the Athletics for a no-hit shortstop Cliff Pennington, the Diamondbacks now have three no-hit shortstops with Pennington, Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald. In addition, they traded their top young pitching prospect Trevor Bauer in a three-way trade to bring in a young shortstop, Didi Gregorius, who Towers ridiculously compared to Derek Jeter. Bauer had made no friends in the organization with his mouth and unwillingness to listen to suggestions from anyone and didn’t hesitate to make that known publicly. But Towers drafted Bauer. Shouldn’t he have been aware of his personality before the fact?

Interestingly, one of the reasons the Diamondbacks—under former GM Josh Byrnes—were able to acquire Ian Kennedy was because the Yankees had tired of his mouth and he didn’t listen.

Like the line from the film The Town, “You need a Venn diagram for these people.”

When Towers was hired, the Diamondbacks were an organization in apparent disarray. In the midst of a 2010 season in which they’d lose 97 games, they fired their longtime GM Byrnes at mid-season along with his hand-picked, inexperienced manager A.J. Hinch and replaced them with Jerry Dipoto and Kirk Gibson. Dipoto made several housecleaning trades that set the stage for the club’s stunning division title in 2011. Towers rebuilt the bullpen. The one thing Towers is good at is building a bullpen. Apart from that, his history has been one of haphazard, lateral maneuvers and a significant amount of luck.

No one has come up with an acceptable reason that Upton is on the block to begin with.

Is it attitude? There’s never been a report of Upton causing problems and he’s certainly got a better reputation than his brother B.J. Upton. The same B.J. Upton to whom the notoriously prickly and behavior-oriented Braves just gave $75 million. Any off-field problems and desire for “good guys” is counteracted by the Diamondbacks trading for Heath Bell. When compiling a list of players with bad reputations, Bell will be in everyone’s top 10.

Playing ability? Upton was the first overall pick in the 2005 MLB Draft, is a power hitter with speed and is a good defensive right fielder.

Age? He’ll be 26 in August.

Money? He’s signed at a comparatively cheap $38.5 million through 2015.

A better replacement? They don’t have a better replacement.

I suppose you can make the argument that he’s their biggest asset and would yield the largest return, but the team is trying to win. Doesn’t Upton help them in that goal better than replacing him with some conglomeration of a Furbush, Ross, Kubel and a mass of young players that may or may not make it?

In looking for a “why?” of Towers’s frantic attempts to trade Upton that seemingly were in place immediately upon getting the job, his accompanying decisions have made clear that there may not be a reason and if there is, the public doesn’t know about it. But we can only judge by what’s known and via that metric, combined with the other things Towers has done in his time on the job, Upton’s availability not as a “we’ll listen,” but as a “we have to get this guy outta here,” simply doesn’t pass the smell test.

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The One Punch Knockout and the New Yankees Reality

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The Yankees are in the midst of taking an accumulation of punches that place their 2013 hopes on the precipice of ending in December. The organization isn’t used to that; the rest of baseball isn’t used to that; and the media isn’t used to that; and the fans are definitely not used to that.

Let’s look.

The losses

None of the players who have departed the Yankees this winter are irreplaceable on their own. Nick Swisher just agreed to a 4-year, $56 million contract with the Indians. Rafael Soriano is still on the market. Eric Chavez, Russell Martin and Raul Ibanez all went to other teams. Individually, each would inspire a shrug from the Yankees of old and they’d simply spend money or trade for other pieces to replace them. But when you combine the weak free agent market with the combination of Yankees’ needs and that they’re not spending any cash to fill them, you have a mess.

When was the last time the Yankees didn’t retain players that they wanted to keep? They wanted to keep Martin; they wanted to keep Chavez; they wanted to keep Ibanez. Martin went to the Pirates—the Pirates!!! Chavez to the Diamondbacks; and Ibanez to the Mariners. Three teams with nowhere near the spending power the Yankees are supposed to have, nor the historically winning environment. Yet all three are gone. While, on the surface, it may seem that the Martin departure was the most shocking and painful, leaving the largest hole, it’s really Ibanez’s decision not to wait for the Yankees to make their offer that signifies how far the Yankees have fallen both perceptively and in fact.

It strikes of pure Yankees arrogance to tell Ibanez to sit tight and wait without any guarantees that they’re going to make him an offer and expect him to do it. The days in which players will wait for the Yankees are over. Ibanez had a job offer in hand and likely significant playing time with the Mariners or he could’ve waited out the Yankees for an offer that might never come.

Can anyone blame him for walking? And do the Yankees have a backup plan for any of these departures?

The replacements and retentions

Ichiro Suzuki was re-signed because the Yankees were left with few options other than him. If you listen to GM Brian Cashman’s politely uninterested tone when he was asked if Ichiro was going to be back, and amid the hemming and hawing, you hear everything but the word he really wanted to say—no. Eventually, though, they not only brought Ichiro back, but they gave him a two-year contract.

Cashman, who wants power hitters, is now faced with Ichiro in right field and Brett Gardner in left. These are not power hitters. Jason Kubel is available from the Diamondbacks and has one year remaining on his contract. As flawed a player as he is, he’s a power hitter that would fit neatly into the current Yankees’ lineup as something other than a fan-placating addition or 38-40-year old former star signed with an unsaid prayer that they have enough in the tank to get them through 2013. That said, Kubel is a platoon player who is at his best against righties. D-Backs GM Kevin Towers isn’t giving Kubel away, and considering what Ibanez took from the Mariners ($2.75 million) and what Kubel is due ($8.5 million), they’d have been better off keeping Ibanez. Defensively each is as bad as the other.

Who are they getting to fill the remaining holes at DH and catcher? A.J. Pierzynski signed with the Rangers on a one-year contract and the Yankees didn’t even make an offer to him. Francisco Cervelli is currently at the top of their depth chart at catcher. They’ve signed Kevin Youkilis to replace the injured Alex Rodriguez at third base, and they don’t have a bench.

These are the Yankees? Piecing and patching and praying?

And the talk that the Cashman tends to make big moves late in the winter sounds more desperate and hopeful than expectant.

The veterans and the human element

Will the Yankees’ players realize where the season is going if they’re at or below .500 in June or are far out of playoff position? Will they choose to live to fight another day?

The concept that they’re the Yankees and they never quit no matter the circumstances is convenient to the narrative, but is totally ignorant of the human element involved with older athletes who have their money and may not have the stomach (or the available “helpers”) to spend the last four months of a season mounting a heroic comeback.

Age is not a factor to be dismissed. Because the Yankees’ stars have such accomplished resumes, it’s reasonable to expect a certain minimum/maximum level of performance, but with age comes a natural decline. Players who are in their late-30s/early 40s and are coming off serious injuries as Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera are and as A-Rod will, can’t grind it out and put up the same effort on a nightly basis they did when they were 10 and even 5 years younger. Drug testing making it impossible to take amphetamines or any other form of chemical assistance renders a 40-year-old to being a 40-year-old with the accompanying aches, pains and inconsistencies.

If those veterans see the season is shot in July, they’re going to bail just as they did in the ALCS. What’s the difference between doing it three months earlier if continuing to push is little more than postponing the inevitable?

“Everyone wants to be a Yankee”

Yes. Everyone wants to be a Yankee as long as they pay the most money. When this chapter of Yankee history is fully written in a decade or so, the first domino to tip over in the Yankees downfall wasn’t the 2012-2013 winter and the failure to retain their free agents or to make significant improvements with younger players; nor will it be the $189 million payroll mandate to be met by 2014. It will be the winter of 2010-2011 when Cliff Lee shunned the Yankees and instead chose to sign with the Phillies.

Prior to Lee, when was the last time the Yankees avidly pursued a player, offered him the most money and were turned down? Greg Maddux comes to mind. Before that, who? When did the Yankees refuse to overpay to get a player they wanted even if that player was indifferent about being a Yankee and would’ve gone elsewhere if he had a choice like CC Sabathia?

First it was Lee. Then it was Carl Pavano right after Lee. Now they’re reduced to losing out on Martin, Chavez and Ibanez.

Players wanted to be Yankees, but it wasn’t because they were longing to play in New York, or they wanted to win a championship, or that they were hypnotized (as the Michael Kay wing of mythmaking would assert) by the pinstripes and “rich tapestry of history.” It was because of money.

It’s quite simple. Offer the most money, the players will come and say that they always wanted to be a member of whatever team it was that offered them the most money. When Bobby Bonilla did it with the Mets in the winter of 1991-92, he was called an opportunistic liar because he didn’t really want to be with the Mets. When Sabathia did it, he didn’t come for the money. He was concerned about the reputation in the clubhouse of being dysfunctional and miserable.

That concern was assuaged and he signed. Oh, and the Yankees paid him the most money.

With each passing day the Yankees new truth becomes clearer and clearer. Because they don’t have the cash to spend now, the players aren’t coming. As a result, this is the team they’ve put together—one that had it been built in 2005, would’ve been similar to the 1998 team that won 114 games and is considered one of the best in history. But the players they have today are not the players they were eight years ago. Those results are going to show on the field. Then they’ll show up in the newspapers with critical columns followed by disinterest; it will in the stands with empty seats; and on TV and radio with hosts reminiscing of the good old days or ignoring the Yankees completely.

Like a sculpture, it’s not the first chip that does the damage, but an accumulation. The Yankees cumulative age, lack of funds, and diminished reputation are chipping away at what they were. The foundation has been decaying for years. This is the end result. If it looks bad now, just wait until the season starts. Then the crumbling infrastructure will be obvious to all and the “it’ll all be okay,” delusion prevalent now will be mercifully end.

Reality has a way of sorting itself out.

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Ken Kendrick Channels His Inner Steinbrenner

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Part of being the best and highest paid player on a team is taking the brunt when the team isn’t playing well. It’s with that in mind that Justin Upton can’t complain when Diamondbacks’ managing general partner Ken Kendrick calls him out on his slow start—Arizona Republic Story.

Upton has MVP potential and at 24, he should be putting up better numbers than a .243/.340/.365 slash line with 5 homers. It’s June. The Diamondbacks had high hopes for 2012 after a stunning 2011 NL West title and near miss of going to the NLCS. They traded for Trevor Cahill and signed Jason Kubel. These moves were made for a World Series run.

Of course it was absurd to expect Ryan Roberts to repeat his 2011 breakout/career season; Paul Goldschmidt isn’t fully established at first base; and Chris Young was injured after a hot start. Although he’s pitched better of late, if anyone needs to be called out for performance, it’s closer J.J. Putz.

But Upton is the main main in Arizona, so he has to take the hits for his teammates. That’s how it works. Publicly Upton put up a brave front in response to the Kendrick comments. Whether or not he’s upset or insulted by them privately is irrelevant. There’s a simple solution: start hitting.

As for the Kendrick negativity heaped on Stephen Drew, it’s illogical to think that Drew doesn’t want to play even though that same criticism was often levied against his brother J.D. Drew. Is it possible that Stephen Drew is thinking about the future and looking to other venues when he becomes a free agent? Yes. Is it the family history and that he’s represented by Scott Boras that adds to the perception? Yes. But he’s got a contract option with the Diamondbacks for 2013 at $10 million. If he’s looking forward to free agency or wants a contract extension, wouldn’t it make more sense that he get out and play well rather than sit on the sidelines and wait for the Diamondbacks to decline his option after this season, which they’re obviously going to do? No one’s paying him big money after this year. In fact, as a free agent he’ll get a Major League contract, but it will be incentive-laden and short-term.

Kendrick’s frustration is not an excuse for these comments. It’s irresponsible and foolish for any front office person to question a player’s commitment when he’s returning from injury. There’s a difference between being injured and being a malingerer and Drew’s ankle was seriously injured. It’s hard to believe he’s sitting out purposefully.

Kendrick and many observers were expecting more than 27-30 and 9 games out of first place from these Diamondbacks; but it may be that the team had very high hopes and isn’t good enough to achieve them. If that’s the case, castigating the players isn’t going to help Kendrick or anyone in the organization. In fact, it’s probably going to make things worse.

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Off Season Losers In Retrospect

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Several days ago I listed the off season winners in retrospect discussing teams and the moves they made this past winter. Now it’s time for the losers.

New York Yankees

Acquired: Michael Pineda, Raul Ibanez, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Jose Campos

Subtracted: Jorge Posada, A.J. Burnett, Jesus Montero, Hector Noesi

The YES Network website still hasn’t mentioned Jose Campos since he got hurt. For that matter, nor have they mentioned Manny Banuelos’s recent injury. Maybe they haven’t been informed yet. Yeah. That’s it.

The trade of Montero and Noesi for Pineda and Campos is an absolute and utter disaster—a fireable offense for GM Brian Cashman.

Kuroda’s been good and unlucky.

Pettitte’s unexpected return has been a bolt from the blue and Ibanez has contributed the power I expected.

It’s fine to talk about them “having” to get rid of Burnett, but they’re paying him; they got low minor leaguers for him; he’s pitching well for the Pirates; and the players the Yankees got haven’t played yet in 2012. Had Pettitte not returned I guarantee there would be people now lamenting the loss of Burnett.

Guarantee.

Boston Red Sox

Acquired: GM Ben Cherington, Manager Bobby Valentine, Andrew Bailey, Ryan Sweeney, Cody Ross, Kelly Shoppach, Mark Melancon, Nick Punto

Subtracted: GM Theo Epstein, Manager Terry Francona, Jonathan Papelbon, Marco Scutaro, Josh Reddick, Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek

It’s only when you look at the list above all at once do you realize how rancid an off-season the Red Sox had. Never mind the exchange of GMs/managers. Had he stayed, Epstein probably would’ve had better success fending off the advancing power grab of Larry Lucchino but it would’ve taken a Herculean effort for Epstein to prevent the mediocrity that the Red Sox have become.

I’m sick of seeing Francona complaining about how he was treated in Boston. If it weren’t for the Red Sox, the hot chicks to whom he’s sending candid photos of himself wouldn’t know who he is; not to mention would he not have two World Series rings and respect as a “great” manager—which he’s not.

Bailey got hurt as Reddick is on his way to making the All Star team and has been the Athletics’ best player. Melancon is back in the minor leagues; Shoppach is on the trade block; Ross was playing well before he got hurt; Punto is Punto.

No one’s saying they should’ve overpaid to keep Papelbon, but giving Scutaro away for a journeyman righty Clayton Mortensen made no sense.

Detroit Tigers

Acquired: Prince Fielder, Octavio Dotel, Gerald Laird, Collin Balester

Subtracted: Wilson Betemit, Brad Penny, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, Joel Zumaya

Fielder and Cabrera are doing their jobs at the plate and more. The porous defense created by the signing of Fielder and shifting of Cabrera to third base hasn’t been as catastrophic as expected. That’s unless the pitching staff has it in their heads that they have to strike out more hitters or pitch differently to prevent balls from being hit to the right or left sides of the infield—highly unlikely.

The Tigers are 5 games under .500 because their pitching has been bad. The off-season isn’t a failure because of the signing of Fielder, but 5 games under .500 wasn’t what Mike Ilitch had in mind when he paid all that money to sign a huge bat like Fielder to replace Victor Martinez and team him with Cabrera.

Minnesota Twins

Acquired: GM Terry Ryan, Josh Willingham, Jamey Carroll, Jason Marquis, Ryan Doumit, Joel Zumaya

Subtracted: GM Bill Smith, Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Kevin Slowey

Terry Ryan was supposed to come back into the GM’s chair and start doing things the “Twins’ Way”. Well, that “way” is no longer working. The reason that vaunted “way” worked in the past was because they had talent on the roster and a club that was built for how Ron Gardenhire managed.

That’s no longer the case.

Marquis was released. Carroll hasn’t hit. Willingham’s been fantastic. The Zumaya signing was worth a shot I suppose, but he got hurt again. What he needs now is a friend—a real friend—to tell him that it’s over and he should retire before he damages himself permanently.

Maybe that’s what the Twins need too.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Acquired: GM Jerry Dipoto, Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, Chris Iannetta, Jason Isringhausen, LaTroy Hawkins

Subtracted: GM Tony Reagins, Fernando Rodney, Jeff Mathis, Tyler Chatwood

Pujols has started hitting and the Angels will rise and fall on what he does, but the uncharacteristic decision on the part of the Angels to depart from the template they’ve adhered to for a decade has led to this disconnect between GM Dipoto, manager Mike Scioscia and the club.

Scioscia’s hitting coach, Mickey Hatcher, was fired against Scioscia’s wishes. They never took serious steps to bolster the bullpen and had too many players for too few lineup spots.

Owner Arte Moreno made maneuvers that were not team-related, but related to the TV deal he wanted to secure. And he did.

They did business like the 1980s Yankees and they’ve been playing and behaving like the 1980s Yankees. The one thing that will save them is the thing that was lacking in the 1980s: the Wild Cards.

Cincinnati Reds

Acquired: Mat Latos, Ryan Madson, Ryan Ludwick

Subtracted: Ramon Hernandez, Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Edinson Volquez, Edgar Renteria, Francisco Cordero

The Reds are in first place and playing well no thanks to Latos (he’s been horrific); Madson (out for the year with Tommy John surgery); and Ludwick (.205/.290/.402 slash line with 6 homers in a homer-friendly home park).

It’s not as if they needed Alonso with Joey Votto ensconced at first base. They have a young catcher in Devin Mesoraco so they didn’t really need Grandal. And Volquez has been consistently inconsistent and injured since his great rookie year with the Reds.

But the winter moves are what’s relevant here and if they’d held onto the players they traded for Latos (and I’m not retrospectively ripping the deal since I thought it was good for both sides), they could’ve gotten mid-season help rather than an in-season nightmare.

Milwaukee Brewers

Acquired: Aramis Ramirez, Alex Gonzalez, Norichika Aoki, Jose Veras, Brooks Conrad

Subtracted: Prince Fielder, Yuniesky Betancourt, Casey McGehee

Ramirez is starting to hit and will hit put up numbers by the end of the season. We’ll never know whether the improved defense and pop from Alex Gonzalez and a full season from Mat Gamel would’ve made up for the loss of Fielder because both blew out their knees within days of each other.

It’s not really anyone’s fault. They did the best they could under their financial and practical circumstances.

St. Louis Cardinals

Acquired: Manager Mike Matheny, Carlos Beltran, pitching coach Derek Lilliquist

Subtracted: Manager Tony LaRussa, pitching coach Dave Duncan, Albert Pujols, Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, Gerald Laird, Nick Punto.

So wait…now that the Cardinals are at .500 and freefalling it’s been miraculously discovered that the transition from a Hall of Fame manager/pitching coach combination to a manager who’s never managed before anywhere wasn’t going to go as smoothly as it did when they got off to a hot start?

That replacing Pujols wasn’t as simple as signing Beltran and moving the now-injured 36-year-old Lance Berkman to first base?

Shocking.

Colorado Rockies

Acquired: Michael Cuddyer, Marco Scutaro, Ramon Hernandez, Jeremy Guthrie, Tyler Chatwood, Tyler Colvin, Jamie Moyer

Subtracted: Chris Iannetta, Jason Hammel, Matt Lindstrom, Ian Stewart, Seth Smith

The starting pitching has killed them.

They loaded up on starters, but it hasn’t been enough as Drew Pomeranz got hurt and they gave Moyer 10 starts. It hasn’t helped that Hammel has been very good for the Orioles while Guthrie has been terrible for the Rockies.

Cuddyer has been everything advertised. Scutaro and Hernandez haven’t.

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Off Season Winners In Retrospect

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Let’s look at the teams whose off-season moves are paying off so far in 2012.

Tampa Bay Rays:

Acquired:  Jose Molina, Hideki Matsui, Luke Scott, Carlos Pena, Fernando Rodney

Subtracted: Johnny Damon, Kelly Shoppach, Casey Kotchman, Juan Cruz, John Jaso

The Rays did what the Rays always do. They cut out the players that were getting too expensive or had been signed as a short-term veteran stopgaps and replaced them with youngsters or other veteran stopgaps.

Molina hasn’t hit; Pena is doing what Pena does with a low batting average, good on base percentage and power; Rodney has been brilliant. None of the players they dispatched—Damon, Shoppach, Kotchman, Cruz, Jaso—have been missed or are doing much with their new teams.

Baltimore Orioles

Acquired: GM Dan Duquette, Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Matt Lindstrom, Wilson Betemit

Subtracted: GM Andy MacPhail, Jeremy Guthrie, Luke Scott, Vladimir Guerrero

The Orioles have played over their heads but Dan Duquette got rid of Guthrie and acquired Hammel and Lindstrom who are under team control and have pitched well. Chen has been very good.

Chicago White Sox

Acquired: Manager Robin Ventura, Kosuke Fukudome

Subtracted: Manager Ozzie Guillen, Mark Buehrle, Sergio Santos, Carlos Quentin, Juan Pierre

Getting rid of the volcanic and tiresome personality of Guillen and replacing it with the laid back Ventura has been exactly what the White Sox needed. They cleared salary by getting rid of veterans Buehrle, Quentin and Pierre. They’re not as good as they look right now, but the AL Central is wide open and they have enough starting pitching to stay in the hunt. They underachieved horribly in recent years under Guillen and are overachieving now under Ventura.

Texas Rangers

Acquired Yu Darvish, Joe Nathan

Subtracted: C.J. Wilson, Darren Oliver, Endy Chavez, Matt Treanor

Darvish has been as brilliant as I expected. Nathan is having a good season. They haven’t missed Wilson on or off the field.

Seattle Mariners

Acquired: Jesus Montero, Hector Noesi, John Jaso

Subtracted: Michael Pineda, Josh Lueke, David Aardsma, Jose Campos

For Michael Pineda (disabled list), Jose Campos (hot prospect and on the disabled list), the Mariners got a top hitting prospect in Jesus Montero who’s still finding his way and showing flashes of immense power and a young starting pitcher who’s also learning his craft in the big leagues in Noesi. They got rid of the troublesome Lueke for Jaso who’s been contributing big hits of late.

Oakland Athletics

Acquired: Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, Collin Cowgill, Bartolo Colon, Jonny Gomes, Ryan Cook, Jarrod Parker, Tom Milone, Seth Smith, Kila Ka’aihue, Manny Ramirez

Subtracted: Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, Andrew Bailey, David DeJesus, Josh Willingham, Ryan Sweeney

Reddick has 14 home runs and is heading for the All Star Game. Cespedes was a silly signing for a team like the A’s, but there’s no denying his talent. We’ll see what Manny does and the young pitchers Millone and Parker are high-end arms.

Washington Nationals

Acquired: Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson, Ryan Perry, Mark DeRosa, Brad Lidge

Subtracted: Ivan Rodriguez, Todd Coffey, Jonny Gomes

Gonzalez has been terrific across the board and might deserve to start the All Star Game. Jackson has been consistent despite not accumulating wins.

Miami Marlins

Acquired: Manager Ozzie Guillen, Carlos Zambrano, Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, Mark Buehrle

Subtracted: Javier Vazquez, Chris Volstad, Clay Hensley, Burke Badenhop

Zambrano showed up in shape, has kept his temper in check and is showing why the Cubs gave him that contract in the first place (the majority of which they’re paying for him to pitch for the Marlins). Reyes is getting hot and Buehrle is a leader off the field and innings-eater on it. Bell’s been a disaster, but it pitching better lately.

Guillen was hired to draw attention and he did so negatively when he started trouble almost immediately with his idiotic comments praising Fidel Castro. Jeffrey Loria is under investigation for the stadium deal and looked silly using Muhammad Ali as a human shield to protect himself from getting booed at the regular season opener of the new stadium, but apart from Bell they’re getting what they paid for for the most part.

San Francisco Giants

Acquired: Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan, Clay Hensley, Gregor Blanco

Subtracted: Carlos Beltran, Jonathan Sanchez, Andres Torres, Ramon Ramirez, Pat Burrell, Cody Ross

Cabrera’s not going to maintain this pace, but he’s still a good player and they got him for Sanchez who’s been hurt and had worn out his welcome with the Giants. Pagan is batting .314 with 10 stolen bases and has contributed several big hits to go along with his usual array of space cadet maneuvers. Blanco and Hensley have been solid, cheap pickups off the scrapheap.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Acquired: Trevor Cahill, Jason Kubel, Craig Breslow

Subtracted: Micah Owings, Ryan Cook, Collin Cowgill, Jarrod Parker

The Diamondbacks are struggling because they’re not getting the same above-and-beyond performances from the players that carried them to a stunning division title in 2011. That doesn’t diminish the work that Cahill, Kubel and Breslow have done. If the Diamondbacks don’t right the ship, it won’t be because of the players they acquired over the winter.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Acquired: Chris Capuano, Jerry Hairston Jr., Mark Ellis, Aaron Harang, Matt Treanor

Subtracted: Jon Garland, Jonathan Broxton, Jamey Carroll, Hiroki Kuroda, Casey Blake, Rod Barajas, Vicente Padilla

Capuano is pitching about 20 miles over his head; Hairston is hitting about 20 miles over his head; Ellis and Harang are respected, under-the-radar veterans.

The Dodgers didn’t spend a lot of money this past winter, but are getting far more than they paid for.

Off season losers and incompletes will be in forthcoming postings.

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2012 National League West Predicted Standings

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Wins Losses GB
1. Colorado Rockies 92 70
2. San Francisco Giants 85 77 7
3. Arizona Diamondbacks 84 78 8
4. San Diego Padres 80 82 12
5. Los Angeles Dodgers 69 93 23

Colorado Rockies

I don’t understand the criticism of the maneuvers the Rockies made this past winter or of the decision to trade Ubaldo Jimenez last summer.

They filled their needs by clearing Jimenez when they were going to have to pay a lot of money to re-sign him after 2013 and got two young starting pitchers, one of whom looks like he’s going to be a big winner in Drew Pomeranz; they signed high quality people and grinder type players who are versatile and play the game the right way with Michael Cuddyer and Casey Blake; they signed a good part-time catcher, Ramon Hernandez, to play semi-regularly and tutor young Wilin Rosario; they dispatched a mediocre closer, Huston Street in favor of someone cheaper and probably better with Rafael Betancourt; and they traded a journeyman righty for an underrated all around player Marco Scutaro.

Here’s the simple truth with the Rockies: they can pitch; they can hit; they can catch the ball; they can run; they have one of baseball’s best managers in Jim Tracy and one of its best players in Troy Tulowitzki.

It’s not that hard to do the math if you can add and subtract.

San Francisco Giants

Much is made of their vaunted starting rotation, but after Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner, do you trust Ryan Vogelsong to repeat his amazing work from 2011? Work that was achieved at age 34 after being the epitome of a journeyman?

The bullpen is solid and deep. Their lineup is still shaky and counting on youth (Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford); rockheads (Angel Pagan); and those with questionable work ethic when they think they have a job sewn up (Melky Cabrera). Buster Posey is returning from a ghastly ankle injury.

They made changes, but I don’t see this club as having improved from the 86-76 team they were last season.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Many are in love with the Diamondbacks because of the season they had in 2011 and that they “improved” over the winter.

But did they improve?

I don’t understand the Jason Kubel signing to replace Gerardo Parra once Parra finally began fulfilling his potential offensively and won a Gold Glove defensively.

They acquired a top arm in Trevor Cahill and are hoping for a repeat of the stellar work their bullpen gave them last season.

How much of what happened in 2011 is realistically repeatable? They were good, but they were also lucky.

It’s a stretch to think it’s going to happen again.

San Diego Padres

One thing you can say about new GM Josh Byrnes: he’s fearless.

It took major courage to trade away a young, contractually controlled arm with Mat Latos going to the Reds and Byrnes got a load of young talent for him.

They dealt away another young bat Anthony Rizzo to get a flamethrower with closer potential, Andrew Cashner; they took Carlos Quentin off the hands of the White Sox for two negligible prospects hoping that Quentin would stay healthy in his free agent year and provide them with the pop they need.

Quentin just had knee surgery and will miss the beginning of the season.

The Padres have a load of starting pitching and their offense will be better than it was. They could sneak up on people and jump into the playoff race.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Are the Dodgers prototypically “bad”?

No.

But they’re in the process of being sold and with Matt Kemp having a 2011 season that should’ve won him the MVP and Clayton Kershaw winning the Cy Young Award, it took a major hot streak late in the season for them to finish above .500.

Their starting pitching is okay; their bullpen is okay; but their lineup is not and they’re in a tough division and league. Many structural changes are possible not only in the ownership suite, but in baseball operations as well.

Far more in depth analysis is in my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide, now available.

Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. (This sample is of the Rangers.) My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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Diamondbacks Sign Jason Kubel—Is There a Reason?

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This is either overkill; an impulse buy; or a precursor to other deals.

Unless the Diamondbacks are going to make a trade including Gerardo Parra, I’m not understanding what they need with Jason Kubel.

Kubel’s a useful ancillary piece; he has some pop and should feel liberated to have gained freedom from the cavernous Twins home park Target Field that robbed him of his home field production; he’s not costing a fortune nor is his deal long-term (2-years, $15 million with an option for 2014); but the Diamondbacks don’t need him…unless GM Kevin Towers has something cooking with Parra going somewhere in a trade.

Parra won a Gold Glove for his play in left field in 2011 and he had a fine year at the plate with a .784 OPS and 15 stolen bases; Kubel isn’t a very good outfielder; not only is Towers failing to improve his offense to any great degree other than Kubel having more power than Parra—mitigated by his lack of speed and that he doesn’t hit lefties—he’s also weakened his outfield defense.

Is Towers disbelieving Parra’s breakout year? I don’t see why since Parra put up similar numbers in the minors and is only 24, but that’s a scouting determination that needs to be made.

Towers has been looking for pitching and the White Sox are willing to clean house; Parra is the type of player that White Sox GM Kenny Williams might have interest in to take over in left field for Juan Pierre; perhaps Towers has his eye on John Danks or Gavin Floyd and Parra would be part of that trade.

Other than that, this was a redundant maneuver that makes no sense at all.

Then again, as much as Towers is lauded for being a “great” GM, he’s done some stupid things in his time. One came in 1998 when, as Padres GM, he claimed Randy Myers on waivers to prevent him from going to the Braves (who didn’t want Myers) and nearly got fired because of it.

I don’t know why he would give nearly $4 million guaranteed to Willie Bloomquist.

So it’s not as if there’s always a logical explanation for what Towers does.

Does the Kubel signing and benching of Parra fall into the former category as part of a plan or the latter of just “doing stuff”?

I’m not sure.

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The Twins Lost Their “Way”

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And General Manager Bill Smith was fired because of it.

You can read about the Smith gaffes everywhere—how he shunned the Twins reliance on trusted bullpen arms; spent terribly on Tsuyoshi Nishioka; traded a needed backup catcher and top prospect Wilson Ramos for Matt Capps.

The Twins retreated from the template that made them an admired organization who functioned under a system and a budget by spending money badly and executing poorly conceived, desperation trades.

A change had to be made.

Former GM Terry Ryan is taking over on an “interim” basis that some don’t believe is all that interim.

If he’s taking the job, he should just take the job and say he’s taking the job.

Don’t think that Ryan is going to walk back into the GM chair and fix the 99-loss Twins immediately. Already they’re said to be cutting the payroll from an un-Twins-like $113 million in 2011; he has to address the backup catcher situation and decide exactly how many games Joe Mauer will catch and how many will be spent DHing or playing first base; they’re losing Michael Cuddyer and possibly Jason Kubel and Joe Nathan; Justin Morneau‘s playing status is in limbo after repeated concussions and other injuries; Nishioka is a disaster; the starting rotation is mediocre at best and the bullpen is in shambles.

With the defending division champion Tigers; the high-priced White Sox; and the rising Royals and Indians in the AL Central, it’s going to be next-to-impossible for the Twins to contend in 2012.

It’s not as if Ryan oversaw a quick-fix the first time he took charge as GM in late 1994 replacing Andy MacPhail.

The Twins were mostly terrible from 1995 through 2000; only in 2001—Tom Kelly‘s final season as manager—did the team finish over .500 and this was after threats of contraction and haplessness surrounded the franchise.

From 2002 onward, the Twins have been a case study in frugal and gutsy free agent signings and trades; Ryan adhered to the designated limits on payroll and weeding out players who didn’t behave off the field and execute fundamentally on the field.

His top-level drafts were shaky, but he did find some late-round sleepers who were integrated into that “Twins way”. He served the organization’s best interests in drafting Mauer over Mark Prior in spite of the insistence of armchair experts that they should’ve taken Prior; he selected functional late-rounders in Kubel, Danny Valencia and Pat Neshek; his picks of Denard Span, Jesse Crain, Scott Baker, Brian Duensing and Kevin Slowey yielded useful big leaguers who fit into roles; his trades for Johan Santana, Francisco Liriano and Nathan were strokes of genius.

Now he’s looking at a club not dissimilar to that which he took over in 1994. Rife with bloated mediocrity at the big league level, there are some young players with promise—Chris Parmelee and Joe Benson among them. Both make it less of an issue to let Cuddyer walk and to field offers for Span.

That’s what the Twins have to do.

Ryan’s first order of business will be to consider dealing Liriano and Span now or wait until the season is underway—the Twins must infuse the club with young, high-level and cheaper talent. That’s the way he built the club that dominated their division for most of the past decade.

It’s not something that can be done on an interim basis.

If he’s not in it for the long haul—loyalty to the organization or not—then he shouldn’t be entrusted with the all-important deals that can make or break a franchise.

He’s done it before.

Ryan has a lot of work to do and he needs to be all-in to do it properly.

Is he?

He and the Twins have to make that determination quickly and act boldly; and if he’s not, the Twins need to hire someone who is. Someone who knows and understands The Twins Way.

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Einhorn Or No Einhorn

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Amid their egocentric beliefs that they’re influential in the big business that is baseball ownership, you can read the clumsily presented and agenda-driven Mets stories from those who have neither the skill nor the nuance to even try to hide their contempt for the Wilpons.

They’re everywhere.

Or you can read what Bill Madden wrote yesterday in the NY Daily News.

It says something that there are very few in-depth, verifiable narratives regarding the deal collapsing apart from broad-based assumptions and outsider statements of what’s “obvious”.

We don’t know what happened; Einhorn said his piece, rife with corporate cliches; the Wilpons have said nothing.

Don’t automatically think that the supposed “white knight in a bad hairpiece”—Einhorn—is being entirely forthright as to the chain of events and that the Wilpons’ silence is an admission of “guilt”.

The main issue that’s being debated now is how much money are the Mets going to have to spend this winter to improve the club and who’s in their price range.

You’ll find your answers if you care to look for them.

Here are the facts: the Mets have prohibitive contracts coming off the books; there’s not much available via free agency; the Mets improvement—if any—in 2012 will come from rebounds, returns from injury and young players stepping forward.

The contracts of Luis Castillo ($6 million) and Oliver Perez ($12 million) are expiring; and they’ve already dumped Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran.

The one free agent the Mets are absolutely going to pursue and will pay is their own free agent, Jose Reyes.

Apart from that, here are the big name free agents this winter: Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Lance Berkman, Beltran, Mark Buehrle, Edwin Jackson, Hiroki Kuroda, Heath Bell, Jonathan Papelbon, K-Rod.

The Mets don’t need a first baseman; they could use Buehrle and Kuroda, but neither is coming to the Mets; Jackson is big and durable and I’d go after him, but the Mets aren’t giving him the $70-90 million (at least) he’ll get on the open market and he’s represented by Scott Boras. Given what the front office believes about relief pitchers, they’re not paying for Bell or Papelbon; if they go after a closer as a backup to Bobby Parnell, it’ll be a Brad Lidgetype on an incentive-laden contract.

What free agents are they missing out on sans Einhorn?

On the trade front, they could go after B.J. Upton or Marlon Byrd; check in on Brandon Phillips. There are useful though not earth-shattering free agents like Jason Kubel and Josh Willingham.

These are ancillary acquisitions who would help, but not throw a scare in the NL East that the Mets are coming.

The Mets improvement in 2012 will stem from finding out what’s wrong with Jason Bay and getting him into some semblance of what he was with the Red Sox and Pirates, or trading him for another heavily-paid underachiever like Chone Figgins.

The rotation will be solid if Johan Santana comes back and gives them 180 innings at 75% of what he was; if Mike Pelfrey is serviceable; if Jon Niese steps forward; and if R.A. Dickey continues to pitch as well as he has.

They’re not spending big on the bullpen. Teams build superior bullpens with castoffs and retreads and, money or not, that’s what the Mets were and are going to do.

Offensively—with or without Reyes—they’ll have enough to score a fair amount of runs with David Wright, Ike Davis, Bay, Lucas Duda and an improved Angel Pagan.

The size of the offer they present to Reyes will be a greater window into the financial circumstances of the club; not a pieced together extrapolation that pops up—without disclosed sources—in the blogosphere or on Twitter.

When the Reyes negotiations start, then we’ll know.

And not before then.

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