Dan Jennings represents a new threat to uniformed baseball people

MLB

Widespread bafflement and undisguised anger has simmered from the Miami Marlins’ stunning decision to replace fired manager Mike Redmond with general manager Dan Jennings. The results in Jennings’s first three games at the helm have mirrored what they were under Redmond with discombobulated losses and puzzlement as a team that many had considered a World Series contender looks closer to a club that’s heading for the number one pick in the 2016 draft. While owner Jeffrey Loria and his front office staff are loath to admit this sad fact – and probably won’t – it’s the flawed roster that’s the problem and not anything that the manager did or didn’t do.

That aside, Jennings put himself in this difficult situation by accepting the job. Uniformed baseball people have been anonymously expressing their dismay that the field is now being invaded by “suits.” While the Marlins situation is different from most other clubs in that there is a known quotient of dysfunction from the top down and has been for years, the Jennings hiring isn’t only offensive to those who have dedicated their life to the on-field, nuanced, “you can only learn by watching” portion of the game. It symbolizes the final infiltration of the last enclave in which players and “baseball people” held sacred and thought was safe.

To make matters worse, the Marlins aren’t even a pure sabermetrically-inclined team from whom this type of blurring of the lines of accepted propriety was possible or even likely. The Marlins under Loria are more Steinbrennerean than sabermetrican, lending credence to the idea that stat people are watching closely for the reaction to Jennings among the players, media and fans to see if they too can get away with a non-baseball person going down on the field and taking charge just as they’ve overtaken a large portion of big league front offices.

Uniformed baseball people accepted the new age front offices and statistical adherence not by choice, but out of necessity. These faceless, suit-clad front office people have no qualms about going into the clubhouse as if it too is their domain and they’re free to make “suggestions” to players, coaches and managers that are orders disguised as options. Now, with the Jennings foray down to the field, it might be making its way into the clubhouse completely.

The difference between uniformed personnel who work their way up through the minor league system as players, then coaches, then managers and finally find themselves on a big league staff or are actually in the manager’s office and those who are permeating baseball’s front offices today is that those who are in the front office have options for other forms of employment that will be just as, if not more, lucrative than being a GM or scouting director. Often, uniformed personnel can’t do anything else besides baseball. So it’s either accept the new reality or get a job at Wal-Mart. Another threat they have to parry is presenting itself and they’re resisting it.

The chipping away of the aura of the once insular and sacred realm of “baseball people” began with the widespread popularity and acceptance of the ludicrous stories in Moneyball. It blew up from there and is still multiplying like a disease meant to wipe out those who probably can’t formulate an algorithm, but have an innate sense of when their pitcher is out of gas. It’s easy to see why they’re chafing at Jennings being in uniform.

There’s no threat of the pure sabermetric front offices or even sabermetrically-leaning front offices having their current baseball bosses go down on the field as happened with the Marlins and Jennings. You won’t see Jeff Luhnow, Theo Epstein, Andrew Friedman, Brian Cashman or any of the other GMs who are stats-obsessed pulling on a uniform to run the team on the field. But is it possible that there’s a group of 20-somethings making a load of money in the stock market looking to buy a team with it in their minds to be the next subject of a book by having a non-baseball guy go on the field and win a World Series? The ego and arrogance that has led to the transformation of an endeavor that was once meant to be a plaything – a sports franchise – into a big business in which non-athletes can become sports celebrities. It’s treated as such. It provides a spotlight that these Masters of the Universe wouldn’t get by being mentioned on Bloomberg as a CEO with a $150 million bonus and a mansion in the Hamptons.

This is why the Marlins and Jennings could have unintended consequences throughout baseball. The Marlins are being deservedly ridiculed for what they’ve done. Jennings is a baseball guy, so It’s not “ridiculous” in the context of Bill Veeck’s midget Eddie Gaedel or Ted Turner going down on the field to manage the Atlanta Braves. It is, however, an intrusion into what the uniformed people felt was their domain. If one team does it, another team might do it. That’s what the uniformed people are rightfully afraid of more than they are offended by the Marlins’ breach of accepted protocol.

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The Marlins way

MLB

Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria finally gave in and did what he’s clearly wanted to do by firing manager Mike Redmond. My prediction was off by two-and-a-half weeks.

Let’s not treat Redmond as a victim here. Yes, he got caught in an Oliver Stone-conspiracy style of triangulation of crossfire between the demanding owner, the roster that was thought to be better than it actually is, and the fact that he is, at best, an average manager. He didn’t do a particularly good job, doesn’t have the resume to say that he should have been given more time, and the team is floundering. High expectations can cost a manager his job and if the expectations are reasonable, then the firing is deserved. Unreasonable expectations will get a manager fired, but that doesn’t mean that the firing isn’t justified.

These ambiguities can be viewed as unfair, but they’re part of the landscape when choosing managing a baseball team as a vocation.

When a manager takes a job offered by Loria, it’s not hard to predict how it’s going to end. Like Al Davis with the Oakland Raiders, the manager/head coach is a supporting character in the drama. That said, many clubs in sports treat their field bosses as disposable entities and have been far more callous about it than Loria, doing so with the tacit protection of a starstruck gallery of supporters and media factions invested in selling a myth.

Billy Beane – considered a “genius” – has gone through four managers in his time. Some were fired for cause; others were fired just because he felt like firing them; others were tossed overboard with Beane blaming the media, not the manager, for his failings. Theo Epstein fired both Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria and was given a widespread pass for it from the same people who are unloading on Loria now. Because Epstein got the so-called “best” manager in baseball Joe Maddon, his tactics are somehow more honorable because there’s a reason behind them rather than emanating from Loria’s reflexive response to fire the easiest target: the manager.

It’s partisan nonsense hidden behind analysis and excuses.

Loria is an easy target because he’s the one who was investigated by the SEC, hoodwinked the State of Florida into building him a new stadium, was slapped on the wrist by Major League Baseball for pocketing revenue-sharing money, and fires his manager when things don’t go the way he thinks they should. This is how he does business and he’s successful at it. Who’s to say he’s wrong?

Redmond joins an eclectic group of past victims buried in the body orchard of Loria’s impatience, petulance, anger and blameworthiness that includes respected GM Larry Beinfest; one of the best current managers in baseball Joe Girardi; an underrated baseball lifer Jack McKeon; the mediocre Fredi Gonzalez; the missing in action Edwin Rodriguez; and the magnet for self-inflicted, intentionally-created controversy Ozzie Guillen.

With the daylong speculation as to where Loria was going to go to replace Redmond, the names that popped up included Dusty Baker, Jeff Conine, Wally Backman, and Bo Porter. In a tactical move seemingly designed to surprise, general manager Dan Jennings will take over in the dugout. Jennings has been a respected scout and front office man, but has never managed or coached at the professional level.

While unusual, this is not completely unheard of in today’s game. Former Marlins manager John Boles didn’t play professionally. Nor did former Baltimore Orioles manager Dave Trembley. Their results when managing were poor and while there was limited talent on the teams they managed, it’s naïve and ignorant to dismiss their lack of professional playing experienced as irrelevant.

Playing for a year or two as a low-level minor leaguer with zero chance of making it any further than the bottom rung or professional baseball shouldn’t add any more credibility than someone who worked his way up through the minors. But that ignores the macho, testosterone-fueled nature of baseball.

Hiring Jennings might craft greater organizational continuity between the field staff, president of baseball operations Michael Hill, and, naturally, Loria. Some are questioning the decision, but Loria has – intentionally or not – shielded himself from criticism by a large portion of the viewing public by doing what the stat people say should be done more often and ignore the “experience” factor when making a decision on whom the manager should be. They can’t critique it in anything more than a nitpicky fashion because doing so inadvertently chips away at their own belief system and its tenets.

Jennings might think that since he’s been a longtime confidant and is a trusted member of Loria’s baseball operations staff that he’s safe. If this was a short-term attempt on the part of Loria and Jennings to get a close look at what’s happening on the field and in the clubhouse, then it makes sense on all ends. That may yet be the case. The Marlins run their club differently than other teams do in which the general manager is the ultimate face of the franchise and runs the club on a day-to-day basis. The Marlins have Hill, Loria’s stepson David Samson, Jennings, and Loria himself taking part in how the team is run with numerous advisers and kibitzers jockeying for position. In theory, Jennings can do what he was doing as the GM and still manage the team.

The players are the keys here. They didn’t hate Redmond, so his departure won’t be viewed with a sense of relief. There’s a very real possibility that the team really isn’t much better than a .500 team, so it won’t matter who the manager is unless structural changes to the roster are made. Players, being the entitled, blame-shifting, “nothing’s my fault” entities that they are, will look at Jennings and raise an eyebrow if (when) he simply looks out of place in uniform. Ostensibly, Jennings is the players’ “boss,” but in sports that’s largely meaningless unless the owner himself is taking over the team. Sharing an office with a boss is uncomfortable no matter how good a person is at his or her job; no matter how secure within the terms of employment he or she is. The idea that the “boss” is with them 24/7, watching, judging assessing, scrutinizing is awkward.

The players are the ones with the power and the larger paychecks. They’re the ones who should be blamed, but rarely are. Now Jennings is on the field. Undoubtedly, given the flawed nature of the Marlins’ roster, he’ll learn the same thing that Redmond did: there’s not much he can do to fix it unless the players play better. The biggest problem with this team stems from the thought that they were going to be a World Series contender when they are, in reality, a mediocre team who can make the playoffs if everything goes right. Since it didn’t go right, it cost Redmond his job and put this odd chain of events in motion.

Miami Marlins *may* fire manager Mike Redmond

MLB

On Saturday, after their third straight loss to the New York Mets, I wrote the first draft of a post entitled “Miami Marlins fire manager Mike Redmond.” The reasons for this were three-fold:

1) I expected him to be fired that Monday if the Miami Marlins lost on Sunday

2) I wanted to have the post ready to go needing little more than tweaking when it happened

3) I wanted to specifically say that I’d written the first draft of the post on Saturday to establish my prescience

This wasn’t an example of jumping on the bandwagon based on the swirling rumors as to the tenuous nature of Redmond’s job security. I saw it coming before the season started when there was an inexplicable number of “experts” who predicted a Marlins playoff run with a few going so far as to say they were going to win the pennant.

My tweet on this subject from April 1 is below.

For the most part, this isn’t to denigrate the predictions of others. In many cases, there are extenuating circumstances for a reasonable projection with a strong foundational basis to have ended up wrong. Injuries, tragedy and good or bad luck all play a role. Since the post was essentially written, I’ve chosen not to wait for Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria to finish sharpening his well-worn axe and swing it at Redmond, but to point out that those who are defending Redmond now are just as misguided as those who looked at this team and thought they were a rising threat.

Loria has spent his time as a baseball owner earning the image of George Steinbrenner-lite. He’s overseen significant upheaval on his roster, with the coaching staff, in the managerial office, and front office. Often seen as petulant, impetuous, demanding, irrational and bullying, Loria has made nine managerial changes since taking over the organization prior to the 2002 season. Some were misguided tantrums like dumping Joe Girardi. Others were questionable in blaming Fredi Gonzalez for a flawed club that the manager somehow coaxed to 87 wins in 2009 and firing him in 2010. Ozzie Guillen was a “this was the wrong guy hired for the wrong reasons” mistake.

In true Steinbrennerean fashion, he’s recycled Jack McKeon twice, the second time being when McKeon was 81-years-old. If McKeon were 10-15 years younger today, he’d already be managing the Marlins again for 2015.

But he’s not.

So barring a miraculous turnaround from their current record of 3-11, Loria will be looking for a new manager within days. Speculation has centered around the “fireplug” type whose personality is diametrically opposed to the cerebral and outwardly calm Redmond; someone who will come in, flip the food table, get in the faces of players (his own and opposing), umpires, and anyone else who dare draw his ire.

Loria wants his Billy Martin and with McKeon too old to fill the role, he’s looking elsewhere. Mets Triple A manager Wally Backman’s name has come up. A carbon copy of Martin with a turbulent off-field life, rampant controversy, the flammable reputation in personality, alcohol-fueled ignitability, baseball nerve and savvy, Backman would be a risk that could pay off big or really blow the thing up.

All of this is independent of whether or not the Marlins’ slow start falls at the feet of the manager.

Objectively, it’s hard to blame Redmond for what’s happened thus far with the Marlins. But to absolve the manager of all blame and say that injuries have undone the club is misrepresenting the facts and issues that have caused this atrocious start. With the players retreating into the embrace of team meetings, a vampire-like side effect of inability to see one’s reflection in the mirror, and Giancarlo Stanton saying that they don’t have “fire”, it’s only a matter of days (hours, minutes, seconds) until Loria holds someone responsible for this catastrophe. The easy target is the manager.

And he’s not wrong.

For all his volatile behaviors, ruthless businessman trickery, political machinations, and Lex Luthor-style evil persona, Loria does have baseball knowledge. Trouble arises when he thinks he knows better than everyone else and because one bout of interference worked that they’re all going to work. The Marlins are certainly dysfunctional, but the Marlins under Loria have always been dysfunctional. This was true when he gutted the team after a large free agent spending spree and lost 100 games and it’s true now that they were a trendy preseason pick to go to the playoffs.

There can be a dozen excuses as to why Redmond’s not at fault. He’s without their best pitcher Jose Fernandez until mid-season when, instead of a glossy equivalent to a mid-season pickup of an ace, he might end up as a guy getting ready for 2016 rather than pushing it in 2015. Henderson Alvarez is also hurt. The injuries are not irrelevant, nor are the misplaced, oversized expectations that permeated the team and led Loria to believe they should have a record opposite to the one they currently do. The players they acquired before the season leading to the enthusiasm were more complementary than headliners. Mat Latos, Mike Morse, Dan Haren, Dee Gordon, Ichiro Suzuki, Martin Prado – all have use in one form or another, but to take their acquisitions as the finishing touches for a team that was mistakenly believed to be thisclose is compounding the problem: the team was overestimated from the get-go.

And that goes back to the blame game. Loria’s certainly not going to blame himself. The players can say they’re blaming themselves, but really aren’t. The baseball operations chain-of-command was just changed. There’s no one else to fire other than Redmond.

He’s a generic, replaceable, vanilla voice whose message isn’t getting through. For the owner to look at the situation and decide that he might as well bring in someone else is completely fair. In fact, it’s justified in that what’s happening now is not working and it’s better to act sooner when there’s still time to save the season than later when it’s not.

James Shields choosing San Diego over Miami wasn’t only about being close to home

MLB

Even if the Miami Marlins had the highest offer on the table for James Shields – something that has been speculated – and he chose to pitch closer to home in San Diego for the Padres for slightly less money, it’s highly likely that it wasn’t his home base that was the biggest aspect in his decision. The Marlins’ offer, if it was indeed higher, would also have been even more lucrative given the lack of state income tax in Florida.

Shields undoubtedly preferred to pitch closer to home. But after money is considered, he also might have wanted to pitch for a team that is more likely to tell him the truth when it comes to the contract negotiations. History has shown how useless any verbal promises the Marlins make are. At his age and at this stage in his career, it was worth it for him to believe that he wouldn’t be traded away after the first year or year-and-a-half of the contract.

The Padres also have something of a history of spending and then cleaning house of all big contracts when the profits or attendance figures didn’t meet their expectations, but that was under previous owners Tom Werner and John Moores. With the Marlins, it’s the same double-dealing, ruthless businessman Jeffrey Loria who’s running the franchise. No matter what he says, no player can believe him. Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle said outright that he lied to their faces as they signed with the Marlins after the 2011 season and did so without the benefit of a no-trade clause in their contract. The Marlins claim that they, as a club policy, don’t give no-trade clauses. When a team says that and they buttresses it with a illusory “promise,” a savvy businessman will be more keenly aware of the ramifications of going back on it than a naïve player will be. After going back on his word, the owner can shrug and point to the contract while the player laments, “But, but, I was promised…” as if it matters.

Some don’t care where they wind up as long as they’re getting paid. Some, usually veterans with options, don’t want to sign for four years to play in Miami and then find themselves traded to oh, I dunno…Toronto? after the first season or sooner. And that’s the danger with signing for Loria’s team. As a businessman, he’s brilliant. He’s tricked everyone at various times, taken revenue sharing money that was meant for the players and pocketed it, hoodwinked the state political apparatus into essentially giving him a new ballpark, and committed numerous acts of trickery to get what he wants with no apologies and no regrets.

No matter his profit margin, that doesn’t alter the fact that his reputation in baseball is one in which everyone – players, agents, general mangers, owners and the commissioner’s office – thinks he might be blatantly lying to their faces no matter what he says. This is why the talk that the Marlins are one of the up-and-coming teams in baseball has to be taken with a significant amount of hesitation. They’ve been aggressive in trying to improve, but they’ve done that before and gutted the place when there weren’t immediate dividends on the field and off. This is why the smart bets for the first manager fired should be Marlins manager Mike Redmond. This is why prognosticators picking the Marlins as the flavor of 2015 need to step back and look at the club’s history before anointing them. That’s why players and their agents don’t want to go there if they have a choice. Shields had a choice and went to San Diego.

The Yankees’ Other Key Pending Free Agent

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Last night’s absurd 9-1 loss to the expansion-level Astros aside, the Yankees have surpassed the low-level expectations they were saddled with given their injuries to key players, lack of big name free agent signings and insistence that they’re going to get their payroll down to $189 million by 2014. At 15-10, the doom and gloom surrounding the club after the 1-4 start has subsided for the moment. That said, the age and number of injuries they’ve had will eventually catch up to them as the season moves along. If they’re still in position to be a factor by July, then it will be appropriate to laud the team’s resiliency and a playoff run.

What’s ignored in their good start is the steady hand that’s guided them through it, manager Joe Girardi. While the most prominent pending free agent the Yankees have is Robinson Cano, Girardi’s contract is also expiring at the end of the season and the team has been content to let him work in the final year with no rumors floated about a possible extension. Whether they’re willing to let the season play out and consider their options is known only to them, but unless they’re undertaking a full-blown rebuild—one that Girardi, with his resume, would not be interested in overseeing at this point in his career—then it makes no sense to run the risk of Girardi leaving.

For all the criticism he attracts for overusing his bullpen and overmanaging; for showing how clever he is with unnecessary in-game offensive decisions related to the near and dear to his heart “small ball” and doing “stuff” to make it look like he’s “managing” when just sitting there and letting the players play would be a better move, Girardi is now ensconced as the Yankees manager and those that are calling for his dismissal are complaining for its own sake.

He’s a good manager based on the following prime criteria, contingent on the situation, that a good manager needs to have:

  • The team achieves what it’s supposed to achieve

I don’t mean that the Yankees expectations are to win the World Series every year and if they don’t, the season is judged as a failure. That’s what wound up dooming Joe Torre. I mean that if a team like the Nationals, for example, doesn’t have any significant injuries and finishes at 85-77 and out of the playoffs, then that falls on manager Davey Johnson. Barring a clear screw-up, a manager shouldn’t be dumped based on playoff results.

  • The team overachieves

Girardi’s one season as Marlins manager resulted in the definition of a club that overachieved. In 2006, following a sell off the prior winter in which they dumped A.J. Burnett, Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, Carlos Delgado, Paul Lo Duca, Luis Castillo and Juan Pierre, they were widely expected to lose over 100 games. Girardi won the Manager of the Year by keeping them in Wild Card contention and had them at .500 as late as September 16th before a 78-84 finish. He was fired by owner Jeffrey Loria in a fit of petulance. Not much has changed from then to now with Loria who’s on his fifth manager since Girardi.

  • There’s accountability from the top down

The worst thing a manager can do is to accept that there’s a “rebuilding” going and act as if it doesn’t matter what the game results are as long as the players “develop.” That doesn’t mean trying to win every single game like it’s the seventh game of the World Series at the expense of health and sanity, but it means that there won’t shrugging and disinterest if the losses begin to pile up.

Girardi has managed the Yankees for five-plus years and they’ve made the playoffs and won 95+ games in four of them. If they want to bring in someone else, whom are they going to hire to replace him? Is it that easy to find someone who can deal with the circus, handle the media, have respect in the clubhouse and win with a diminished and aging roster all at the same time? If they were still going to have a $200+ million payroll and toss money at all their issues, then they could find the prototypical “someone” to manage the team and be okay. That’s no longer the case. There’s rarely an answer as to who the fans/media might want as a the new manager. It’s just change for change’s sake. There are times when it’s necessary to make a change just because. This is not one of those times.

It must be remembered that had he not gotten the Royals job prior to Torre being let go, GM Brian Cashman was seriously interested in Trey Hillman. Hillman had an airtight resume, was impressive in both presence and tone and was a disaster in Kansas City. He was strategically inept and couldn’t deal with the scrutiny and media in Kansas City. One can only venture a guess as to how bad he would’ve been in New York. It’s not that simple to find a good manager, especially in New York.

If Torre was the dad/Godfather to all the players, then Girardi is the no-nonsense brother who took over the family business and is running it his way. Girardi has never gotten the credit he’s deserved for the seamless transition from Torre. He never tried to be Torre and in the first season at the helm, it caused some friction with the veterans who weren’t accustomed to the energy, detachment and lack of personal attention with a pat on the back here and a paternal embrace there that was a daily part of the Torre regime. He also missed the playoffs in his first year after Torre had made it in every one of his seasons running the show. He survived it.

The easy thing for him to do would’ve been to copy his former manager and mentor. Instead, Girardi took little bits and pieces from his former managers Don Zimmer, Tony LaRussa, Torre, and Don Baylor. Girardi is more of a “what you see is what you get” than Torre ever was. Torre was calculating and Machiavellian. In circumstances in which he’d had enough of certain players—such as when he batted Alex Rodriguez eighth in the 2006 ALDS loss to the Tigers—the old-school and occasionally vicious Torre came out. His close relationships with Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada among others were due in part to him nurturing them through their formative years and in part because he was a self-interested actor who knew he needed those players on his side if he was going to succeed and continue in his job with an owner always looking to fire the manager if his demands weren’t met. When Girardi took the job, there were the familiar sibling tensions, especially with Posada, that he had to navigate. Sometimes he did a better job than others. Now there’s a détente between Girardi, Jeter and the other remaining veterans, but there will never be the affection there was with Torre.

He’s earned the right to have his status defined. By all reason and logic, the Yankees are playing far better than should’ve been expected given the issues they face. Girardi is looking into the contractual unknown. Perhaps they’ve told him they’ll take care of him at the end of the year. Maybe they haven’t. They could be waiting to see what happens. In any case, it’s a mistake. A number of appetizing jobs might be open after this season including the Angels (that one might be open in a matter of days), Dodgers, Tigers, Rangers, Mets, Blue Jays, Nationals and Mariners. All of those teams would be interested in Girardi.

It’s doubtful that he leaves the Yankees, but while they’re concerned about Cano’s contract, they need to pay attention to Girardi’s as well because he’s done a good job and they need him to stay.

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Loria’s Marlins Mistake

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Instead of the accusation that Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria made the change, let’s say that the Marlins President of Baseball Operations Larry Beinfest or, preferably, GM Michael Hill called down to manager Mike Redmond and told him to switch the pitchers in the day/night doubleheader against the Twins and had Jose Fernandez pitch the opener rather than Ricky Nolasco. Would there be this huge uproar over Loria’s “interference?”

Loria denies that he did this, but given the allegations from Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle that Loria lied to their faces and his history of using the gray areas of business to justify his flexibility with the truth, believing him is impossible.

The angry reactions for this, however, are over-the-top. In the above-linked piece, Jeff Passan writes that Loria is guilty of “overstepping boundaries no other owner in baseball would dare.” How he would Passan know this? Is it out of the realm of possibility that owners across baseball are letting their opinions be known and that the employees are well-advised to, as Passan also put it in reference to Loria and manager Mike Redmond, “listen to the man who signs his paycheck?”

What happened to the front office running the team and having a pliable manager who does what he’s told as an implementer of the organizational plan? Whether or not the organizational plan meets the approval of the media and fans is irrelevant. Loria is the owner as he’s more than willing to say and act upon. He did it again in this case.

As for the potential undermining of Redmond, the threat of losing his job, and the unhappiness of the players, what was expected? Just as history has shown that Loria is willing to do anything at any time with gutting trades, lies, bloviating that would’ve embarrassed George Steinbrenner, financial shenanigans that Frank McCourt would feel are excessive, and arrogance that would lead Jim Crane to cringe, he’s also willing to fire managers and has no issue ignoring the feelings of players.

Redmond is in his first major league managing job and any job involving managing/coaching for the Marlins is rapidly turning into being hired by the late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis to coach the team: a no-lose/no-blame situation. If good things happen, they were unexpected and a byproduct of the good work done by the manager; if bad things happen, they were a result of the endless dysfunction and impossibility of the circumstances. Redmond has a three-year contract and his salary is unknown, but given that it’s the Marlins, that he’s a rookie and they’re still paying former manager Ozzie Guillen the final three years of his four-year, $10 million contract, Redmond’s salary can’t be more than $1.5 million for the duration of the deal. For Loria, if he decides to make a change at some point for any reason, that’s a business expense he’s ready to absorb.

Respect of the players? How much respect was Redmond going to have from the start? The Marlins veterans know what’s happening and will go along to get along, waiting to be traded or allowed to leave as free agents; the young players have no power whatsoever to disrespect the manager, so it’s similar to Redmond still managing in the minor leagues: do what you’re told, keep your mouth shut or you won’t play.

Regarding the supposed “standard protocol” that Passan references when it comes to Nolasco having the option of which game he’ll pitch, it’s not in the basic agreement nor is it a gentleman’s agreement that Loria is beholden to adhere to. It’s a courtesy and Loria ignored it. Nolasco is in the last year of his contract and is going to be traded sooner rather than later. Why should the Marlins care what he thinks about anything?

In retrospect, what Loria should have done was to have Beinfest or Hill tell Redmond of the change. Speaking of protocol, the smart protocol for Loria would have been to use intermediaries to get what he wanted done. This would have insulated him and provided plausible deniability for his orders. It would’ve been known, but not known and the deluge of criticism mitigated.

Either way, what’s the difference? He’s the owner. He can do what he wants. And he’s proven that to be exactly what he’s going to do.

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Accepting the Marlins Inevitable Reality (It Was Clear from the Get-go)

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In today’s New York Times, Tyler Kepner writes about the empty seats in Marlins Park; about the gutting of the franchise; and the possibly bright future the Marlins have because of all the prospects they accumulated in trades of veterans.

We can go into the lack of attendance and perceived wrongdoing of owner Jeffrey Loria, but what he does is in the same ballpark (pardon the dual entendre) of what the Astros are currently doing, but the Astros are receiving widespread praise for putting together a big league club that is a big league club in name only. Weeks ago, I gave Astros owner Jim Crane a written lashing for his arrogant statements that if fans want the team to spend money, they should write him a check among other, “I’m a big shot, you’re not” alpha male nonsense, but no one else did. Astros GM Jeff Luhnow is a stat guy centerfold and little criticism is heading the way of their front office in spite of their on-field atrocity.

The political machinations that got Marlins Park built, predominately at the expense of Floridians, is still being sorted out with allegations, accusations and SEC investigations. Does anyone really believe that the investigation will amount to much, if any penalties for the likes of Loria or the powerbrokers who facilitated him getting his new park and not paying for it? Loria fits every small bit of chicanery into the flexible rules under which he operates. Similar to the Astros within-the-rules stripping of their payroll to the bare minimum and putting a team on the field that on most days is non-competitive against legitimate Major League teams, there’s no rule saying Loria can’t sign free agents and trade them a year later; that he can’t fire his manager Ozzie Guillen one year into a four year contract; that he can’t take the benefits from the new park, pocket the profits and flip a chubby middle finger at anyone who dares question him.

The Marlins were a disappointment in 2012. Loria was right to fire Guillen for the poor job he did on the field and the ridiculous statement he made early in the season praising Fidel Castro. He had options rather than gutting the club (again) by retooling with a different manager and a tweak here and there to give it another shot in 2013. But it wouldn’t have made a difference with the fans if the Marlins were contending in 2013 with a manager who didn’t alienate a vast portion of the fans they hoped to attract. It wasn’t and isn’t going to work in Miami because the fans aren’t interested.

The Marlins attendance improved dramatically last season in comparison to 2011. During that year, their usual numbers were between 10,000 and 20,000. It was an annual problem. When there were higher attendance figures, it stemmed from ancillary attractions like the Mets and Dodgers fans who’ve relocated to Florida and wanted to watch their teams. One the one hand, it’s not fair to question the reasons the fans are coming—their money is just as green regardless which club they’re rooting for—but on the other, the Marlins can look at the increase in attendance and realize that it’s fleeting and say, “Yeah, but they didn’t come to see us,” and act accordingly.

In 2012, the attendance was better than it was when they played in Sun Life Stadium, a football facility. With the new park, they regularly drew crowds of nearly 30,000 and finished twelfth in the National League in attendance. That’s counting the second half after they’d conceded the season and traded Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante. Before 2012, they were annually at the bottom in attendance going back 15 years. In 1997, when they spent a ton of money and won the World Series, they were fifth in the National League in attendance, but it’s petered out and whether the team was good or not, the fans don’t have the passion. Since then, it’s gone rapidly downhill and even after they won another World Series in 2003, there wasn’t the usual accompanying attendance spike. The Marlins have stayed anchored to the bottom of the ocean of attendance.

And that’s the point. The Miami fans are not fickle, hammering home the point that the new park shouldn’t have been built in the first place. If someone stood up and told Loria to take his threats and his team and move if that’s what he had to do, none of the other stuff—the park, the investigation, the free agents, the trades, the faux anguish—would’ve happened. If he received a new park in San Antonio, Oregon, North Carolina or anywhere, the overwhelming probability is that he would’ve moved and done the exact same thing that he does in Miami—bought people’s favor, made promises and then utilized flexible statements and semantics to justify the gutting of the team and defend against accusations of ruthless profiteering. He’s a combination of a politician and a classically brutal businessman. He may want to have a team that wins, but when he sees that it’s not going to happen, all bets are off. It’s admirable in its way if you know what you’re dealing with going in.

Amid all the head shaking and abuse raining down on Loria, it all goes back to the initial mistake: giving in to his threats to move the club and Florida allowing him to get his park without paying for it. No one should be surprised, chagrined, or angry at the Marlins method of doing business. The system was rife for abuse and Loria abused it. There was no other way this could’ve ended and if the traded players Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, et al, didn’t see it coming; if the people who could’ve stopped the park from being built didn’t make a greater effort to do so; if MLB is allowing clubs like the Marlins and Astros to do whatever they want in their own best interests, then it’s on them for allowing it to happen. Lamenting it after the fact as if the money spent on the park would’ve been better-used for charitable causes is ludicrous. The Monday morning quarterbacking is done so in the same vein as the original decision to let the Marlins build the park. It was done for expediency and self-interest. The park wasn’t for the fans nor was it to “save” baseball in Miami because baseball in Miami can’t be saved. They don’t care whether it’s there or not.

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Robinson Cano Puts His Money Where His Heart Is

2013 MLB Predicted Standings, Award Winners, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, History, Management, Media, MVP, NFL, Players, Stats, Trade Rumors

The initial reaction to the splashy headline that Yankees’ second baseman Robinson Cano fired agent Scott Boras and replaced him with rapper Jay-Z was that I would follow suit and hire a literary agent with my first choice being comedian Dave Chappelle.

Of course Jay-Z isn’t going to be Cano’s agent in spirit where he’ll be sitting across from Brian Cashman and exchange numbers for the upcoming Cano mega-contract. The media is being politically correct by saying how smart Jay-Z and great a businessman Jay-Z is—and they’re right—but he’s not an attorney and he’s not an agent even though he recently received a temporary license to represent baseball players. This is a business expansion on the part of Jay-Z as a frontman and recognizable name to garner street cred with his athlete-friends and entirely unlike the idiotic decision on the part of former NFL player Ricky Williams who, in 1999, was drafted fifth overall with first overall talent and decided to hire Master P as his agent and signed what has been referred to as the “worst contract contract for a player” in NFL history.

Jay-Z didn’t get where he is being arrogant enough to think he’s capable of juggling all of these endeavors and handling the nuts and bolts. It’s a business deal with a legitimate agency, Creative Artists, that represents such diverse clientele as Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt (the real Pitt, not Billy Beane) and has also recently negotiated Buster Posey’s contract extension. Cano didn’t do something stupid here. He hired an agency to: A) get him paid; and B) keep him a Yankee, not necessarily in that order.

Cano’s personality never lent itself to Boras and the Boras style of negotiation with the current club portrayed as the enemy rather than an employer with whom to engage in a give-and-take to come to a reasonable agreement. It had already started with the Yankees making a conciliatory decision to forego their longstanding policy of not negotiating with players prior to the contract expiring by making what was termed a “significant” offer for Cano to preemptively sign. Boras scoffed at the offer. No one knows what it was, but it was probably a genuine, signable, framework deal to cobble something together. This is the Yankees we’re talking about so there wouldn’t be a Jeffrey Loria bout of lying and cheapness. They’re perfectly willing to pay their players. Presumably, Cano hired Boras because of the name recognition and the likelihood that other players were telling him, “Yeah, hire Scott. He’ll get you paid.” But if I, you or Jay-Z was functioning as Cano’s agent—and doing the actual agenting—we could get him $200 million from the Yankees. Alex Rodriguez, who knows more about the positives and negatives of having Boras as his father-figure and Svengali representative than anyone, might have told Cano that if the situation continued down this path, he’d be in a Dodgers’ uniform after the season. Cano doesn’t want to leave the Yankees and Jose Cano is his father. Cano is subdued, quiet, definitely not an overt leader, and relaxed to the point of appearing zombie-like. He didn’t need the uncertainty all season.

This will spur talk that Boras’s power base is evaporating; that players are no longer willing to follow the Boras plans and schemes to extract as much money as possible from someone whether it’s in their preferred locale or not, but these are exaggerations. There will always be players hypnotized by the Darth Vader-like fear that Boras’s name engenders throughout the industry and his history of coming through more often than not. In the end, Cano hired Boras in what was a clear preparation for free agency and saw his agent and club being at loggerheads with the potential of having to leave the only baseball home he’s ever known whether he wanted to or not over a negligible (at that level) amount of money. Perhaps Cano realized that when the offers are $230 million and $250 million, there’s really not much of a difference and decided to make the move to not move where he’s comfortable and happy. Cano wants to be a Yankee and the hiring of Jay-Z essentially assures that he’ll be a Yankee and that the negotiations will progress with an agreement likely sooner rather than later.

Please check out my new book Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide, now available on Amazon, Smashwords, BN, and Lulu.

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2013 MLB Post-Season Predictions

2013 MLB Predicted Standings, All Star Game, Award Winners, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, Paul Lebowitz's 2013 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

You can see my 2013 MLB predicted standings in full here. Below are the division winners and wild card entrants.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

AL EAST: Rays

AL CENTRAL: Tigers

AL WEST: Rangers

AL WILD CARD: Blue Jays

AL WILD CARD: Mariners

AL WILD CARD GAME: Mariners over Blue Jays

ALDS 1: Tigers over Mariners

ALDS 2: Rays over Rangers

ALCS: Rays over Tigers

NATIONAL LEAGUE

NL EAST: Nationals

NL CENTRAL: Reds

NL WEST: Diamondbacks

NL WILD CARD: Braves

NL WILD CARD: Giants

NL WILD CARD GAME: Giants over Braves

NLDS 1: Giants over Nationals

NLDS 2: Reds over Diamondbacks

NLCS: Reds over Giants

WORLD SERIES: REDS OVER RAYS

In depth information packed in over 400 pages on all 30 teams with players’ height, weight, where they were drafted, age, contract status and how they were acquired is immediately available in my new book. In addition there is analysis of front offices, managers, starting rotations, bullpens, lineups, benches, fantasy picks, breakout candidates, trade candidates, predictions and essays on such diverse subjects as the Astros’ teardown and why it’s bad for baseball; Jeffrey Loria; the Yankees’ $189 million payroll; the pending free agency of Robinson Cano; Torii Hunter’s comments about the possibility of a gay teammate; Tim Lincecum, Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and anything else you can think of is available in my new book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2013 Baseball Guide now available on Amazon, BN, Lulu, Smashwords and more outlets coming soon.

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Jim Crane Tells Astros Fans What He Thinks Of Them

Ballparks, CBA, Draft, Free Agents, Games, History, Management, Media, Players, Politics, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats

In this Wall Street Journal column by Brian Costa discussing the Astros’ decision to gut the big league product, strip it down to nothing and basically assure that it has the chance to approach the “accomplishments” (is “decomplishments” a word?) of the worst teams in the history of baseball, owner Jim Crane made some arrogant statements that would make Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria cringe at the unthinking and obnoxious audacity.

The money quote from the mostly laudatory piece was the following:

“It doesn’t bother me that people want us to spend more money,” Crane said. “But it’s not their money. This is a private company, even though it’s got a public flair to it. If they want to write a check for 10 million bucks, they can give me a call.”

Was Crane smiling when he said this? Was he being facetious? Was he serious in essentially kicking the remaining fans that will be willing to pay money to go watch the 110+ loss monstrosity they’ve put together in displaying this level of “screw you” attitude?

While refreshing in its honesty, Crane is forgetting that he’s in a service industry and the fans are the key to making a baseball team work. Baseball is different from a “normal” business and it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The roster the Astros have put together is going to have significant impact on the fortunes of many of those other teams due to their historic awfulness. Jobs will be saved and lost; teams will make or miss the playoffs based on their ability to beat on the Astros. In years past, I would have agreed with Crane if they made an effort to put a competent big league product on the field. That can be done as the Marlins under the aforementioned Loria have shown several times. The Astros aren’t doing that.

When your best pitcher is Lucas Harrell; your best hitter is Jose Altuve; and your closer is Jose Veras, you’re not winning a lot of games especially in the American League West. They’re feeding their fans garbage with the promise of a potential future coming to fruition in perhaps 2016 if all goes well with their rebuild. The elephant in the room is that there are no guarantees that it’s going to work.

They’re operating within the rules, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for the game and it made me rethink my belief that teams shouldn’t be forced to spend a minimum amount on payroll as they are in other sports such as the NFL and NHL. It’s bad enough that the Astros are not competitive, but that they’re so blatantly wallowing in the lack of competitiveness and doing so on purpose to garner revenue sharing money and have more cash to spend in the draft and on international free agent makes it feel overtly wrong. Crane’s statement to that effect is bold, frank and distasteful to the fans who will be willing to come to the park to watch the Astros in their current form.

As you can see here, it’s not a cheap little trek to go to Minute Maid Park with the most inexpensive tickets being $5 for the privilege of sitting in the upper deck of the outfield, then rising incrementally with the best seats fetching $160 a pop. Then they’re paying to park and spending money on food and items while there. Does that not count in Crane’s demands of someone who wants to watch a better team to give him money towards that end?

Crane’s right in that it’s a private company, but it’s a private company that is functioning within a group dynamic with 29 other teams. There’s also a certain amount of, as Billy Joel put it, “they rub my neck and I write ‘em a check and they go their merry way,” in being a sports owner. Maybe Crane felt that he made his money in private business and deserves to own something he can: A) enjoy; B) make money at while spending a limited amount of cash; and C) not have to eat crap from people.

He’ll learn, though, that he does have to eat crap from people. In this life, it’s unavoidable in getting what one wants. The President of the United States has to scrounge for money; pose for photographs; sell his agenda. It applies to everyone. The only possible way to prevent it is to make enough money to disappear; make other people enough money to disappear; or not have any money at all. And then disappear.

I mentioned Loria and he’s a relevant figure as a comparison. Considering the vitriol he attracts, think about this: he probably is being somewhat muted in his responses when criticized. So when he storms out of a press conference; makes ridiculous assertions that not even a sycophantic assistant would believe; calls former players like Jose Reyes liars; or insinuates that the fans should be grateful that they now have a beautiful new ballpark in Miami (without mentioning that they paid for it), he’s dialed down what he really wants to say by a substantial percentage. If a person is disposable in his eyes, I’d venture to guess that he makes George Steinbrenner look like Art Rooney in his treatment of them.

Crane showed the real Crane in his comments and it’s not a pretty picture. The ruthless businessman stuff isn’t going to sell while his team is this rancid. He needs to learn when to use “owner speak” and say something without saying anything or we’ll hear far worse than this in the coming years especially if the rebuild doesn’t go according to the blueprint or the inherent expectations in the conclusion of the WSJ piece:

“I didn’t make $100 million by making a lot of dumb mistakes,” Crane said. “We’re not going to get everything right, but we’re going to get a lot right.”

This article was not a good place to start in getting things “right.”

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