The Shady Non-Story of Keith Law and the Astros

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How is it possible when any tiny little bit of baseball news on and off the field is reported by multiple outlets that—during a relatively slow time—no one has any details of the job Keith Law was supposedly offered by the Houston Astros?

What you’re telling me is that Jon Heyman, Richard Justice, Tracy Ringolsby, Ken Rosenthal, Jerry Crasnick and Jayson Stark (both of whom work for ESPN with Law) don’t have any details on this bit of “news”? On a baseball news day in which MLB Trade Rumors was posting stories entitled “Phillies Release John Bowker”; “Cardinals Shopping for Right-Handed Reliever”; “Phillies Interested in Jeremy Accardo”; and “Mets Re-Sign Miguel Batista”, the Law-Astros story received no attention and no digging apart from what Law himself said on Twitter?

Really?

What would be said if Sergio Mitre came out and said that he’d chosen to leave the Yankees rather than be the number two starter behind CC Sabathia?

Or if Grady Little said he’d chosen not to return to manage the Red Sox to replace Terry Francona?

They’d be ridiculed.

But because of his status as a former assistant in the Blue Jays front office who has carved out a snarky niche for himself as something other than a stat guy and is now a TV analyst and scout, his pronouncements are given credibility.

Do they warrant credibility?

It’s circular.

Highly educated at Harvard and other fine institutions of higher learning>>writer for Baseball Prospectus>>former Blue Jays assistant>>ESPN analyst/scouting and draft guru>>interviewing with the Astros.

But is it real?

Should we believe him?

It’s hard to tell.

Weeks ago, it was reported that Law interviewed for several front office positions with the new Astros braintrust led by Jeff Luhnow.

Luhnow proceeded to hire Sig Mejdal as his “Director of Decision Sciences” (whatever that is); and Stephanie Wilka as his Coordinator of Amateur Scouting.

But no Law.

Yesterday Law said the following at about noon Eastern time on his Twitter feed:

I have chosen to stay with ESPN. It was a difficult decision, and I’m very grateful to the Astros for the opportunity.

The opportunity for what is unclear.

Did they offer him a job or not?

The tweet was so opaque and laden with ambiguous phrasing and plausible deniability that it looks like a political cover story to protect Law’s reputation as the ultimate baseball insider; someone who knows his way around front offices, crunches the numbers and travels around doing “scouting”. He has a breadth of experience and knowledge, thereby according him as an “expert” in the media.

But is he?

Where is this story and why doesn’t anyone with inside informers and leaks have the details of the job that Law implies—doesn’t say, but implies—the Astros offered?

The only reporting I can find online ends up back with Law’s pronouncement. Here on Hardball Talk, Aaron Gleeman reports what Law said on Twitter.

No one knows what job he was offered?

Circular.

And back to Law.

Law has me blocked on Twitter. Why? Probably because I call him an armchair expert who regurgitates scouting terminology. I don’t call people names or curse at them; his decision to block me is indicative of a skin far too thin to say the things he does in the tone he says them.

Blocking me on Twitter was, retrospectively, a bad idea. Truth be told, I don’t remember if I ever even followed him (I don’t think I did), so blocking me informs the world at large that he knows who I am. That’s unless he scours Twitter during his off hours and blocks random people. With (at the time of this writing) 364,584 followers, that’s highly unlikely.

Law strikes me as someone who’s very conscious of how he’s perceived and is desperately seeking to maintain and bolster his reputation; but when one is caught in prevarications or twisted facts as he was when he had his somewhat embarrassing slap fight with Michael Lewis over Law’s negative review of the film Moneyball and then backtracks like a trapped waterbug, his agenda reveals itself.

Later, in what was clearly an effort to say, “look, the Astros aren’t done hiring after Mejdal and Wilka”, Law tweeted:

Astros have received permission to interview Cardinals regional cross-checker Mike Elias for a Special Assistant role in scouting

Someone asked if that was the same job Law was offered and he replied:

no, I don’t think it’s the same job.

Here’s what I suspect: the Astros interviewed Law as a courtesy without any intention of hiring him; the story of said interview was leaked (possibly by Law himself); this was either an attempt on the part of Law to extract a better deal from ESPN or to shoehorn his way into a front office job with a GM in Luhnow who believes what Law believes in building an organization; the Astros may or may not have offered him a position, but that position was such that it was either designed for him to turn down because it was so low on the totem pole or didn’t happen at all and they’re letting him kindasorta say they did in a face-saving gesture; and now he’s made a great show of “choosing to stay at ESPN” when he really didn’t have much of an alternative to leave from the beginning.

How is a story that begins and ends with one source—the subject of said story—to be taken at face value?

It can’t.

If I’m wrong, I’ll admit it.

But through the principles of deduction, what we’ve learned so far and from whom we’ve learned it, I don’t think I am.

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Executive Perception

Books, Media, Players

The nature of the job in being a baseball executive is such that it’s no longer a “baseball guy” who can sit behind his desk, try to do his job and avoid the media until he has no other choice.

He has to be part salesman; eloquent spokesman; charmer; spin-doctor; in addition to smart baseball guy.

It’s how we’ve gotten style over substance; perception over truth.

You have to sift through the muck to get to that reality, but once you do you’re able to separate fact from fiction; truth from puffery.

Royals GM Dayton Moore is one such case where he’s suddenly receiving accolades from opposing executives, media and fans for the great farm system he’s developed.

The word “he” is the operative term.

How much influence Moore had in the drafting/acquisitions of said players is unknown, but I have a question: why is Moore given the credit for the players the Royals have accumulated and the likes of former Devil Rays GM Chuck LaMar, former Phillies (and current Astros) GM Ed Wade and Giants GM Brian Sabean are ridiculed because their work on the whole was considered poor or they don’t talk a good game?

I find it laughable that the Phillies current crop of prospects are credited to former assistant Mike Arbuckle, but Wade is considered little more than an afterthought to the juggernaut that succeeded after Wade was long gone.

The Devil Rays became the Rays; the new front office became the stuff of legend and now the subject of a book—The Extra 2% by Jonah Keri; I just received a copy in the mail; a review will be forthcoming. But the foundation of draft picks—B.J. Upton; Jeff Niemann; James Shields; Carl Crawford—was already there when they arrived. He also traded for Scott Kazmir. Does LaMar get a footnote in the way the Rays have been built? Or is he simply considered a fool who took advantage of the annual top picks in the draft because the big league product was so rancid under his watch?

Sabean has made a habit of finding pitchers and developing them. Because he overspent for Aaron Rowand and Barry Zito and doesn’t indulge in the numbers racket baseball has become in certain arenas, he’s savaged as an old-school thinker who got lucky. Did he get lucky with Tim Lincecum? With Matt Cain? With Brian Wilson? With Madison Bumgarner? Was he an ancillary part along for the ride while others made the calls? Or should he receive similar congratulations as Moore is getting now?

I’m sorry, it doesn’t work the way it’s framed.

The totem for the all-powerful executive—Billy Beane—is seen as such because of Moneyball and his skills with the language. Recently Jerry Crasnick wrote this piece about Beane and the Athletics solid off-season.

Beane’s a smart guy but he’s also highly manipulative and cultivating of his reputation as that CEO. The “zero-sum game” line comes straight out of Wall Street; his twisting of language makes it sound as if he’s saying something profound when he’s speaking in circles as if every word warrants applause. Such verbal gymnastics like the A’s are dictated to what they can’t do sound nice—they make great snippets—but are more-or-less sprinkled trickery to tilt the heads of the listeners and intimidate them with his well-rounded approach—an approach whose objective reality has been poor in recent years by every metric other than his ability to talk and that there are those clinging to the myth out of selfish interests.

In an extreme example, Beane would get credit for the “genius” of Wilson’s beard; Sabean would get blame for letting his players look so unkempt.

No executive is an island—they all have help from others in the front office—whether that’s good or bad help is the key to their success, but if a club is successful or unsuccessful, it’s not only the titular head who is responsible for the results.

There has to be the protagonist of any story, it’s easy to take a Beane, Moore, Wade or whoever and make them the hero/villain; but it’s not accurate. Nor is it fair.

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