What’s next for the Reds after firing Bryan Price?

MLB

Cincinnati Reds pitching coach Bryan Price (38)

The Reds firing manager Bryan Price should come as no surprise. Their won/lost record of 3-15 is terrible in any context, but it’s incidental when determining Price’s fate. As discussed in my post for FanRag Sports here, Price had little chance of retaining the job beyond this season and if things went badly, it made sense to pull the trigger sooner rather than later.

Price was in a bad spot from the get-go when he got the job in 2014. Replacing Dusty Baker and taking over a team that made three postseason appearances under Baker and never gotten beyond the first round, hiring Price was change for its own sake. He just happened to be the guy sitting next to Baker who was not a Baker acolyte and got the opportunity for a limited level of continuity to see if the same core of players would have different luck with a new manager. They didn’t. In Price’s first year, they finished at 76-86. Then the housecleaning started in earnest. From there, he was a “bridge” manager who would oversee a rebuild and whose expertise – pitching – was the area in which their new foundation was to be built. Acquiring talented young arms Brandon Finnegan, Anthony DeSclafani and Luis Castillo among others was the basis of the rebuild. They had some decent power bats and could build around veteran star Joey Votto as the linchpin of the offense.

No one, least of all the Reds, were expecting the club to vault into contention in 2018. In a National League Central with the Cubs, Cardinals and Brewers, there was essentially no chance of that. But when the season began and the Reds found themselves buried after three weeks even with those three competitors struggling, what was the purpose of delaying the inevitable and letting Price twist in the wind?

Jim Riggleman has been named as the interim manager. The club made certain to emphasize the word “interim.” This is familiar terrain for the veteran baseball man Riggleman having been the guy sitting next to the guy who got fired and taking over in similar circumstances as manager of the Padres, Mariners and Nationals.

For those scoffing at Riggleman and pejoratively labeling him as an old-school retread, he’s a good baseball man who will, at minimum, stabilize the situation as they decide on their direction.

And what direction is that?

Immediately, speculation centered around three names: Barry Larkin, John Farrell and Joe Girardi.

Larkin is a Reds icon and baseball Hall of Famer. He was a great player and is a good, well-spoken person. He’s expressed an interest in managing. Owner Bob Castellini likes “name” managers – that’s how Baker got the job in the first place – and Larkin fits that criteria.

However, there are dangers with this kind of hire. First, what exactly are Larkin’s managerial credentials? Being a great player does not imply that he or anyone will be a great manager. In fact, it’s generally the opposite. The better players are often terrible managers because they grow frustrated with players being unable to perform as easily or as intelligently as they did. “I did it, why can’t you do it?”

The problem with hiring Larkin goes beyond his inexperience. Placing a young president of baseball operations and general manager, Dick Williams, in a position where he has foisted upon him a manager who is clearly not of his choosing figuratively castrates him. If Larkin doesn’t work out as manager, the club will be confronted with the choice of firing and creating a rift with a popular player and personality who happens to be from Cincinnati; or retaining him not because of his work, but because they don’t want to create a rift with a popular player and personality. Hiring someone who is bulletproof from being fired is not a good thing and there’s no guarantee he can do the job. Fans don’t go to games to see a manager manage if the team is terrible, so why risk it?

Farrell was mentioned in the FanRag post as the obvious successor. The Reds hired him as a scout. Perhaps the implied hesitation of the Riggleman interim hire is so Farrell can gauge the organization before taking over on the field. He’s not great, but he does come with a certain cachet after winning the World Series with the Red Sox and is a good pitching coach. While Price is also a good pitching coach, the pitchers have stagnated, regressed or gotten injured under his stewardship, so maybe a different voice is all that is needed.

The idea of Girardi might be alluring to Castellini, but this is not a good fit for Girardi. He won’t want to go to a team that is still in need of retooling. As the Yankees struggle without him, it would be understandable if he sits on the sideline, does some broadcasting, and has his Yankees tenure look better and better as the team tries to find its footing with new manager Aaron Boone. Two jobs that immediately that immediately come to mind as better fits for Girardi are the Cardinals and the White Sox. For him to jump back in with the Reds smacks of desperation to take a job, any job, and that’s something Girardi neither needs to do nor should do.

Price was not the problem, but he was not the solution either. Therefore, firing him was justified.

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Mattitude?

Games, History, Management, Media, MiLB, Players, Stats

The Nationals are reportedly going to name Matt Williams as their next manager. This comes as no surprise since Williams has long been rumored for the job due to his relationship with Nats GM Mike Rizzo from their days together with the Diamondbacks when Williams was a player and Rizzo was their Director of Scouting. Let’s look at what the Nats can expect from Williams.

Running the games

In 2007, Williams managed very briefly for the Diamondbacks organization in Double A. He managed in the Arizona Fall League last year. He’s been a coach in the Major Leagues with the club for four years. As much as experience is routinely ignored in the hiring of managers today, it matters.

Williams doesn’t have much managerial experience. For a team like the Nats, a concern for an inexperienced manager will be handling the pitching staff and making pitching changes – something Williams has never done and initially might not be adept at. He’ll need an experienced bench coach and pitching coach who he’ll trust and listen to and not men who are selected for the oft-mentioned “loyalty to the organization.” Those guys are generally there and will be there whether the manager succeeds or not creating the potential for mistrust.

It hasn’t been decided whether pitching coach Steve McCatty will return and Randy Knorr, who was passed over for the managing job, was the bench coach for Davey Johnson over the last two seasons. One would assume that both will stay.

The relationship with Rizzo

Rizzo has had high-profile dustups with the two managers he hired as Nats GM, Jim Riggleman and Johnson. Riggleman quit after 55 games in 2011 when he wanted his contract option exercised and Rizzo refused. Johnson disagreed with the Stephen Strasburg shutdown, openly chafed at the overseeing he had to endure in today’s game and threatened to quit/dared Rizzo to fire him. Had Johnson not been retiring at season’s end, it’s likely that Rizzo would have done just that at mid-season and replaced him with Knorr.

If Williams is thinking that the prior relationship between the two will put him in a better position than Johnson, he’s mistaken. Rizzo is in charge and he lets the manager know it. Considering Williams’s quiet intensity as a player, a disagreement between the two could become a problem. He’s not going to simply nod his head and do what he’s told.

The team

Williams is walking into a great situation that probably won’t need much hands-on managing. With the Bob Brenly-managed teams that Williams played for with the Diamondbacks, there wasn’t much for Brenly to do other than write the lineup and let the players play. The veterans policed the clubhouse and Brenly was sort of along for the ride. The same holds true for the Nats. Apart from tweak here and there, the lineup is essentially set. The starting rotation and bullpen are also going to be relatively unchanged.

The one mistake Williams can’t make is to walk in and decide that he has to put his stamp on the team by doing “something” like deciding they’re going to rely more on speed and inside baseball. Writing the lineup will be more than enough. The decision to consciously keep his hands off what doesn’t need to be changed is a window into a manager’s confidence. While Brenly wasn’t a good manager, his style was similar to that of Barry Switzer when he took over the powerhouse Dallas Cowboys in the mid-1990s – he knew enough not to mess with it. It worked and the team won. Of course, no other team was going to hire either man to manage/coach for them, but that didn’t have a bearing on the job they were hired to do and they did it.

Williams is going to benefit greatly from the improved health of Bryce Harper and Wilson Ramos; he’ll be free of any constraints with Strasburg; the team is loaded. All he needs to do is be the serious, stern competitor he was in his playing days and he’ll be fine. Saying it and doing it are two different things and with a brand new manager who’s never done it before, there are still a lot of traps he could fall into and won’t know how to get out of. That’s what he has to look out for. Apart from that, it’s a great opportunity…as long as he doesn’t screw it up.




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The Blue Jays Managerial Search and the ESPN Disease

All Star Game, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, Players, Trade Rumors

Jim Riggleman isn’t a bad idea as manager for the Blue Jays, but he hasn’t heard from them. You’d never know that unless you followed the story after what Buster Olney said on Twitter:

The Jays are close to announcing their next manager. Two of the final names they discussed were Jim Tracy and Jim Riggleman.

There’s sufficient ambiguity in this tweet to explain it away after Riggleman’s own agent said there had been no contact between the Blue Jays and Riggleman. He also said that Riggleman would be very interested in the job. It could be said that the name was kicked around by the Blue Jays; that the two sentences are unconnected; that Olney has a source telling him this; or that ESPN told Olney to say something provocative regarding the Blue Jays while they’re a hot topic to accumulate some webhits to ESPN.com.

I like Olney. He’s got a thick skin; he can take a joke without freaking out in a “how dare you question me?!?” tantrum; and he writes his columns and reports without vindictiveness or self-promotion, but the ESPN Disease pops up on occasions in which he and other mostly respectable reporters toss something out there that they know is, at best, a twisted exaggeration. One would assume that they’re enacting an editorial order. Similar to a few years ago when there was a “rumor” from somewhere that the Cardinals and Phillies had discussed a trade of Albert Pujols for Ryan Howard, there was a brief uproar with factions arguing and screaming about the mere concept; with Phillies’ GM Ruben Amaro Jr. livid at having to answer questions as to the possibility of a story he knew nothing about. Olney was a guest on ESPN News at its height and the host asked him something to the tune of, “How close is this to happening?” as if, barring a zombie apocalypse, it could’ve happened. And I can picture a drooling zombie looking at Pujols and Howard and grunting, “Nooooooo!!!!” in between guttural growls and throaty sputters. Even zombies know better.

The ESPN employees go along with the program, entertain the nonsense, talk about Tim Tebow, and “report” this stuff because it’s their job, but what they miss is how this style of journalism diminishes quality people and their credibility when they’re forced to engage in cheap attention grabs.

As for the Blue Jays managerial search, the two names that Olney dropped—Tracy and Riggleman—would actually be good choices for that situation. The Blue Jays need to hire an experienced manager and, with the collection of talent they now have, it doesn’t have to be someone with the resume of Joe Torre for it to work. It just has to be someone who knows the terrain; who has managed in the big leagues; who won’t tolerate the same terrible fundamentals as former manager John Farrell did; can deal with the press; and will be respected by the veterans.

Riggleman has the baggage from his resignation from the Nationals hovering over him, but he’s always implied that there’s more to the story than we know. If he’s going to be interviewed for a big league managerial job, he’d better have a ready and reasonable explanation why he walked away from the Nationals amid the perception that he was throwing a tantrum because the club refused to exercise his 2012 option.

Tracy, despite his critics, is a good manager who got a bad rap with the poor endings in his prior stops managing the Dodgers, Pirates, and Rockies. He has all the attributes I mentioned above, the players have always liked him and played hard for him, he’s sound strategically, and is good with the press.

If I were making the decision, before anything else, I’d call Tony LaRussa and see if he’s bored with retirement and if he is, would Dave Duncan like to come along as well? They already reportedly inquired with Bobby Cox and Cox said no, so why not LaRussa? It’s a tailor made situation for him with a rabid fanbase and the new challenge back in the American League. He might be competitively recharged after a year away. He surely seemed to enjoy himself at the All-Star Game.

The Blue Jays cannot make the same mistake they did with Farrell. In addition to all the other problems Farrell had in his two seasons, his eyes were cast back toward Boston with a lusty gaze and the players didn’t think he knew what he was doing. They were right. He didn’t. This Blue Jays team can win, but they’re more likely to fail if they hire a cheap, convenient alternative to manage the club rather than someone who’s got the bona fides to maximize their talent.

That could be Riggleman; it could be Tracy; it could be LaRussa; or it could be someone else—it had better be someone who has the known ability to do the job unlike the last manager GM Alex Anthopoulos hired, Farrell. After so many years of expectations and waiting and hoping, 2013 is the Blue Jays chance and they can’t afford to blow it, especially on an unknown field boss.

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2012 MLB Award Winners—National League Manager of the Year

All Star Game, Award Winners, Books, Cy Young Award, Games, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats

Awards time is coming up fast in MLB. Yesterday I wrote why Bob Melvin should win the Manager of the Year award on the American League. Last month, I listed my Cy Young Award picks. Now, let’s look at the National League Manager of the Year along with who I picked before the season and who I think is going to win as opposed to who should win.

1. Davey Johnson, Washington Nationals

Johnson retuned to the dugout at mid-season 2011 at age 68 replacing Jim Riggleman and taking over a team that had been rebuilt from top-to-bottom and was on the cusp of taking the leap into contention. 2012 was supposed to be a step forward with a chance at making the playoffs if everything broke right. It turned out that everything broke right and then some.

Johnson straddled the line of development and winning; of protecting and letting fly and the Nationals won 98 games and the NL East title.

In his long managerial career, Johnson’s confidence has never been lacking. He’ll tell you his team’s going to win and tell you that it will be, in part, because they have Davey Johnson as their manager. He dealt with the rules and was onboard—reluctantly I think—with the limits placed on Stephen Strasburg. He didn’t hinder Bryce Harper learning how to play and behave in the big leagues and, for the most part, the 19-year-old exceeded expectations especially considering the reputation he carted with him from the minors as a loudmouthed brat.

The veterans have loved Johnson in all of his managerial stops because he lets them be themselves and doesn’t saddle them with a lot of rules and regulations. He doesn’t care about the length of their hair or that their uniforms are all identical as if they’re in the military. He treats them like men and they responded by getting him back to the playoffs.

2. Dusty Baker, Cincinnati Reds

The criticism Baker receives from the stat-obsessed is bordering on fanatical and doled out just for its own sake. He does and says some strange things sometimes, but so does every manager in baseball. He lost his closer Ryan Madson in spring training and replaced him with the unproven Aroldis Chapman and manipulated the bullpen well. The starting pitching was solid from top-to-bottom and remarkably healthy. The lineup lost star Joey Votto for a chunk of the season, but got through it and won the NL Central in a walk. The bottom line for Baker is this: he wins when he has good players and the players play hard for him. That’s all that matters.

3. Bruce Bochy, San Francisco Giants

Bochy is old-school and would fit in perfectly in the late 1800s with his gravely voice, gruff and grumbly—though likable—manner of speaking, and professional handling of his players. Like Baker, Bochy lost his closer Brian Wilson; dealt with Tim Lincecum’s poor season; and manipulated the lineup getting useful production from journeymen like Gregor Blanco after the suspension of Melky Cabrera.

4. Mike Matheny, St. Louis Cardinals

Matheny made some strategic mistakes as he was learning on the job after never having managed before, but the Cardinals made the playoffs and got past the expected pains of evolution following the departures of Tony LaRussa, Dave Duncan, and Albert Pujols. Matheny coaxed a career year out of Kyle Lohse, transitioned Lance Lynn into the starting rotation and an All-Star berth, and overcame the injuries to Lance Berkman and Yadier Molina.

5. Fredi Gonzalez, Atlanta Braves

Gonzalez learned from his mistakes by not burning out his bullpen and overcame injuries and questions in the starting rotation and lineup to win 94 games. Gonzalez and pitching coach Roger McDowell developed Kris Medlen; didn’t abuse Craig Kimbrel; overcame the struggles of Randall Delgado and Tommy Hanson; and the injuries to Brandon Beachy and Jonny Venters. Dan Uggla dealt with prolonged slumps; Chipper Jones was in and out of the lineup; and the Braves went through multiple shortstops, but still emerged in a tough division to make the playoffs.

My preseason pick was Johnson and that’s who’s going to win.

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Don’t Push The Beast—Lessons From The Nats-Cubs Scrap

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I don’t believe in many unimpeachable rules about baseball. I do have certain preferences such as not hiring as a manager someone who has zero managerial experience. That concept is considered antiquated right now with the circumstantial success of White Sox manager Robin Ventura (a calm, respected voice replacing a tired, raving lunatic act of Ozzie Guillen); and Cardinals manager Mike Matheny (running a very good team), but I still prefer to have someone who’s done it before.

There are other aspects from which I would not deviate unless I had no other choice. An example of this is not fighting a battle I have little-to-no chance of winning. That would mean avoiding a confrontation with the likes of Kyle Farnsworth of the Rays and Mike Morse of the Nationals. Farnsworth is known and feared throughout the league for his skills with his fists and willingness to mix it up; Morse is just a giant of a man and is nicknamed “The Beast” for obvious reasons.

The Cubs didn’t get the memo when it comes to Morse and the Nats. That memo includes:

  • Don’t try to hurt Bryce Harper
  • Don’t whine when we beat you because we didn’t whine when teams beat us
  • Davey Johnson’s teams like to fight
  • We have a lot of big guys (Jayson Werth, Morse, Edwin Jackson) who have no hesitation about retaliating or dropping the gloves if it comes down to that

As a result of the Cubs essentially crying because they’re terrible and the Nats are good, Cubs’ pitcher Lendy Castillo chose to throw the ball close to Harper. Harper and the Nats naturally took exception and both benches and bullpens cleared.

You can see the clip below:

In many ways, it was a prototypical baseball player dustup. Everyone had angry looks on their faces, people were milling around, umpires tried to maintain order, the bullpens came running in, guys started grappling, it dispersed, someone said or did something and the sides came together again. In the midst of the scrum, Cubs catcher Steve Clevenger—who openly complained about the Nats swinging at 3-0 pitches when they were leading 7-2 (ridiculous)—ran over and pushed Morse. Morse, an immovable object on a baseball field, looked at Clevenger like he was insane and, like a typical baseball scrap, the wrestling went on for a few minutes with no punches thrown.

This was in no way similar to the Phillies initiation processes with Harper when Cole Hamels purposely drilled him in the back. I had no problem with what Hamels did; my problem was that Hamels announced it as if he wanted credit for it or to show how tough he is. Harper responded appropriately by embarrassing Hamels by stealing home. He didn’t glare, gesture or threaten. He handled it between the lines. On August 26th, Harper grounded back to Cliff Lee, didn’t run to first and rather than throw to first base, Lee ran over and tagged Harper. It wasn’t malicious; it was a lesson to the kid saying, “Hey, run the ball out.”

What the Cubs did was different. No one wants to hear how frustrated they. Nor does anyone care about their interpretation of silly “rules” in baseball that don’t exist. They have no reason to be frustrated. They’re awful. And this is amid the expectations inherent when they hired Theo Epstein as the team president and watchers expected a rapid improvement that was based on management and not on talent level. Their talent level isn’t very good and teams that are good are beating on them. That’s how it goes.

The Nats are heading for the playoffs and, in spite of Harper enduring growing pains that were unexpected given the hype surrounding him from the time he was a 15-year-old prodigy, is still pegged as a future perennial All-Star and MVP candidate. He’s 19-years-old and there was no reason to throw at him and run the risk of hitting him on the hand or wrist and knocking him out for the season. The Nats were right to take a stand and the Cubs were wrong by being angry at anyone but themselves.

It’s the law of the jungle that the strong prey on the weak. It’s not bullying, it’s fact. The Nats took beatings for so long that they were able to acquire players like Harper. Under old-school managers Johnson and Jim Riggleman, I don’t recall them ever complaining about it. The Cubs are dreadful and their behavior is worse than their play because in addition to being awful, they whine, yap, and try to sabotage the future of teams that are where the Cubs want to be. If anyone has to learn how to play the game with propriety, it’s the Cubs.

And challenging The Beast is pretty stupid too.

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Pitching Coach Pep Boys

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How much of what a pitching coach says to his bosses when analyzing a potential trade target is legitimate and how much is said for their validation and consumption?

Is it accurate when a coach says, as Rick Peterson reportedly did when the Mets were considering trading Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano, that he could fix Zambrano “in ten minutes”?

Is it the arrogance inherent in so many coaches, managers, executives and players?

Or is it bluster based on reputation?

Needless to say, Peterson did not fix Zambrano in ten minutes. Nor did he fix him in ten months. And he wouldn’t have fixed him in ten years.

On Thursday, the Nationals completed a trade for Athletics lefty Gio Gonzalez.

Gonzalez’s wildness has been well documented and is in black and white for all to see. 183 walks in two years speak for themselves.

Did the Nationals hierarchy discuss Gonzalez with big league pitching coach Steve McCatty? And did he tell them the truth as he saw it or was he influenced by the club’s clear desire to get their hands on Gonzalez at whatever cost?

McCatty famously slammed his hand into the dugout wall when Stephen Strasburg threw that fateful pitch in 2010 in which he tore his elbow in an injury that required Tommy John surgery. I’ve long said that because Strasburg was injured while the Nationals were following organizational edicts and stringent limitations on his innings and pitch counts, no one could be held responsible for the injury; this made it something of a relief when he did get hurt. There was no documented evidence of abuse; no outrageous pitch counts; no “arm-shredding” reputation for anyone.

This in spite of the fact that then-Nats manager Jim Riggleman was the manager in charge when Kerry Wood was overused and abused during the Cubs run toward the playoffs in 1998.

Somehow the onus for Wood and Mark Prior fell two Cubs managers later and Dusty Baker.

It’s about perception.

Will altering Gonzalez’s mechanics give him better control?

Perhaps.

But will doing so make him easier to hit?

Sometimes when a pitcher has funky mechanics and doesn’t know where the ball is going, it contributes to him getting hitters out. Not only does Gonzalez walk a lot of hitters, but he strikes out a lot of hitters as well; and he doesn’t allow many hits or homers.

The funky motion and wildness could be a large portion of that, so making a change that the pitching coach sees as “fixing” him could damage him.

Such was the case with the Pirates when the fired Joe Kerrigan.

Kerrigan was fired, in part, because of the mechanical adjustments he made to former Pirates number 1 draft choice Brad Lincoln.

The main transgressions on the part of Kerrigan were: A) that he was a quirky personality who made his presence felt and imposed on his already weak manager, John Russell; and B) the changes didn’t work.

What did they hire a name pitching coach for if they didn’t want him to do what a name pitching coach does in trying to address issues he may see in a pitcher’s mechanics and approach?

If he didn’t do anything and the pitchers didn’t improve, would he have been fired for that?

Of course.

Anyone can stand there and do nothing.

For years, Leo Mazzone was seen as the “brains” behind the Braves brilliant starting rotation. Then he went to the Orioles and couldn’t repair their pitchers; he hasn’t been able to get a coaching job since.

Why?

Maybe it’s because you can’t make an Astrovan into a Ferrari; you can’t make Kris Benson and Daniel Cabrera into Greg Maddux and John Smoltz.

Peterson and Tom House have theories, stats, stick figures, computer simulations and innovative techniques to help their charges, but they’re also selling stuff.

It’s hard to take people selling stuff at face value.

In spite of his documented and long history of success, Dave Duncan has never auctioned his services to the highest bidder; he’s never sought a managerial job; he’s shooed away anyone who even approached him with the idea that he manage.

He’s a voice you can trust because he’s not hawking a load of junk.

The others? I have my doubts.

I wouldn’t want a yes-man overseeing any part of my organization; nor would I want someone whose main interest is maintaining a reputation at the expense of doing his job. The attitude I prefer is “don’t ask me a question you don’t want the answer to” and with today’s pitching coaches, I wonder whether they’re of the same mind and working to make their charges better or hiding behind a curtain of agreeable self-protection by interpreting what the front office wants to hear and tailoring their responses to that in order to save themselves.

And that’s not how a team should be run.

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Wayside Mandate

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What happened to the rule in baseball that minority candidates had to receive interviews for high profile jobs as managers and general managers?

Is it no longer in effect?

Does it receive a waiver when a club decides to hire a “star” executive or field boss or promotes from within using the “next in line” approach?

Why is it that Theo Epstein was essentially rubber-stamped to go to the Cubs with the Cubs not fulfilling the requirement of interviewing a minority?

Or that Ben Cherington was promoted as Red Sox GM without so much as a peep from MLB that they had to talk to other candidates to satisfy the rule?

Initially I felt that the rule was a half-hearted attempt to appear progressive in name only; I didn’t think it would do much good; if a club has a specific person in mind for a job—and that may have race as a part of the subconscious exclusionary process—there’s not much that can be done to change their minds.

But what if a candidate walks in and wows the prospective employer? And what if that candidate’s reputation is boosted by the fact that teams were forced to interview them when, short of the mandate, they might not have done so?

Executives chat regularly; it’s a relatively closed society. They complain about players’ behaviors; their bosses; the media; and other mundane aspects of doing a job that many think is the pinnacle in baseball.

Doesn’t it make sense that if a Demarlo Hale or Bo Porter go in for an interview as manager and doesn’t get it for whatever reason that doing well will boost them for another opportunity?

But baseball has given a pass to clubs like the Cubs who hired Epstein away from the Red Sox; watched silently as Epstein hired Jed Hoyer from the Padres; and may look the other way when he hires his next manager whether it’s Ryne Sandberg (the “Cubs institution” excuse—which can be altered to make light of the Cubs being something of an institution) or Terry Francona (Epstein and Hoyer know and have worked with him before) to replace the fired Mike Quade.

The Padres promoted Josh Byrnes to take over for Hoyer.

No interviews?

Why?

Of course in some situations there is a “token” aspect to interviewing a candidate because of his or her racial profile, but it’s a means to an end.

Ten short years ago, there was one minority GM—Kenny Williams of the White Sox, who is black.

The minority managers from 2001 were Dusty Baker, Don Baylor, Jerry Manuel, Tony Perez, Davey Lopes, Felipe Alou, Hal McRae and Lloyd McClendon.

Failed retreads Buddy Bell, Bob Boone and Jeff Torborg were also managing that year.

Today, we have Manny Acta, Ron Washington, Ozzie Guillen, Fredi Gonzalez and Baker on the job with three openings with the Cardinals, Red Sox and Cubs.

Journeyman manager Jim Riggleman has been mentioned as a possibility for the Cardinals.

Jim Riggleman? The same Riggleman who quit on the Nationals in a self-immolating snit because they didn’t want to exercise his option for 2012? That guy? Teams want to hire him to manage?

I wouldn’t even consider him after what he pulled with the Nationals.

The Athletics hired Bob Melvin as interim manager after firing Bob Geren and gave him the full-time job. No minority interviews.

The Nationals hired Davey Johnson—their interim manager and a supremely qualified candidate with a terrific resume of managerial success, but someone who appeared tired at times in 2011 and may have lost his managerial fastball—no minority interviews.

What about Willie Randolph? Is he toxic? His strategic skills weren’t great when managing the Mets, but he had control of the clubhouse and deserves another chance.

Today Ruben Amaro Jr. and Michael Hill are working GMs; Tony Reagins was just fired by the Angels; and Kim Ng is an Asian-American woman who’s interviewed to be a GM and is currently an executive with Major League Baseball—the same MLB that is tacitly allowing clubs to selectively bypass the the mandatory minority interview rule to hire “names”.

Progress has been limited, but it’s progress nonetheless.

A rule that has helped make positive improvements in this realm is being dispatched out of convenience due to the recognition of those that are currently getting those jobs.

Epstein was going to be the Cubs boss one way or the other, but that doesn’t render the requirement meaningless.

At least it shouldn’t.

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Chuck LaMar’s Resignation And Defending Ruben Amaro

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Phillies GM Ruben Amaro took steps—as misguided as they were—to maintain a talent base in the minor league system by trading Cliff Lee for a bunch of prospects simultaneously to trading for Roy Halladay. Those prospects have yet to work out and, in fairness to Amaro, nor have those he traded to get Halladay.

In response to the blowback from making that deal and as the Phillies were struggling at .500 at mid-season 2010, he traded prospects for Roy Oswalt to fill the hole that was created by the trade of Lee and was rewarded with a division title and a trip to the NLCS; this season, he felt he needed a righty outfield bat and went and got Hunter Pence for more youth.

Amaro bolstered the big league product and put a team together that’s contending for a World Series and should continue to do so at least through next season.

In addition to that, by getting Lee back as a free agent, he corrected the original mistake that started all the fuss.

The public outcry was probably less of a reason for the switch from one tack to the other than the struggles of the youngsters he got in the Lee trade—Phillippe Aumont; J.C. Ramirez; and Tyson Gillies.

Amaro smartly shunned that strategy and sought to win now with established players.

When doing that, of course the developmental side of the organization is going to suffer.

That was Chuck LaMar’s department.

For the record, Aumont has pitched well in Double and Triple A this year.

Now, LaMar has resigned; the decision stems from the Phillies inability to pay the bonuses for drafted talent required to keep the pipeline as productive as its been.

You can read about the LaMar point-of-view here on Philly.com.

On the surface, it seemed to be a capricious, ill-thought-out move; a mistake not in the Jim Riggleman realm of self-immolating and stupid, but a mistake nonetheless.

It’s easy to understand where LaMar is coming from in his frustration of not being able to draft and sign the players he wanted because of finances; but look at it from Amaro’s position: the Phillies are not the Yankees or the Red Sox. If the Phillies are spending $165 million on big league payroll, they’re not going to have the money to maintain a farm system as they did on the way to building this current team; part of maintaining that farm system is spending money on bonuses.

When drafting, teams can get lucky with players who were selected in the lower rounds and didn’t require a heavy bonus, but that’s a byproduct of a myriad of factors that can’t be counted on to happen on a regular basis.

It’s likely to remain this way for the next several years because, as they shave the likes of Raul Ibanez and Oswalt from the bottom line, they’re going to have to pay Cole Hamels, Pence and decide what to do with Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Madson.

LaMar wanted more money to sign drafted players and to find undrafted talent; but if the money’s not there, it’s not there.

Obviously the Phillies are eventually going to pay the practical price on the field for having a star-studded, aging big league club and neglecting finding young talent, but in the process they might win this year’s World Series and will contend for more in the foreseeable future. That’s worth a few lean years of rebuilding because of the issues that spurred LaMar’s resignation in the first place.

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Jim Hendry’s Tenure As Cubs GM—An Evenhanded Analysis

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I’m not about vitriol nor praise just for the sake of partisan politics. Reactionary analysis is untrustworthy in the positive and negative sense. It’s almost universally based on the last game, week or season. Many times, the media and fans can twist a situation due to selfish interests, a lack of knowledge  or unhappiness with whomever is their target of the moment.

The Cubs fired general manager Jim Hendry yesterday. He will be replaced on an interim basis by assistant GM Randy Bush and owner Tom Ricketts is going to conduct a search, do interviews and has said he wants to hire someone from outside the organization.

What kind of job did Hendry do in his nearly nine years at the helm of one of the most difficult teams in sports—the Cubs?

Let’s take a look.

Trades.

Before anything else, Baseball-Reference saved me hours of digging through Hendry’s various trades with a handy historical record of all trades made between franchises. Check it out.

  • The good:

February 2, 2005: The Chicago Cubs traded Sammy Sosa and cash to the Baltimore Orioles for Dave Crouthers (minors), Mike Fontenot and Jerry Hairston.

Sosa had to go and the Cubs got the useful Fontenot and Hairston for him.

November 25, 2003: The Florida Marlins traded Derrek Lee to the Chicago Cubs for Mike Nannini (minors) and Hee-Seop Choi.

Lee was a leader and had several fine years for the Cubs.

December 4, 2002: The Los Angeles Dodgers traded Mark Grudzielanek and Eric Karros to the Chicago Cubs for Chad Hermansen and Todd Hundley.

Hundley was finished; Grudzielanek and Karros were two experienced veterans who contributed greatly to the 2003 Cubs who came within five outs of a World Series berth.

November 26, 2002: The Milwaukee Brewers traded Paul Bako to the Chicago Cubs for a player to be named later. The Chicago Cubs sent Ryan Gripp (minors) (December 16, 2002) to the Milwaukee Brewers to complete the trade.

Bako made Greg Maddux happy.

December 15, 2003: The Chicago Cubs traded Damian Miller and cash to the Oakland Athletics for Michael Barrett.

Barrett put up solid numbers and set Chicago ablaze with his classic one-punch knockout of A.J. Pierzynski.

July 30, 2009: The Pittsburgh Pirates traded Tom Gorzelanny and John Grabow to the Chicago Cubs for Jose Ascanio, Josh Harrison and Kevin Hart.

Hendry robbed the Pirates.

July 23, 2003: The Pittsburgh Pirates traded Kenny Lofton, Aramis Ramirez and cash to the Chicago Cubs for a player to be named later, Matt Bruback (minors) and Jose Hernandez. The Chicago Cubs sent Bobby Hill (August 15, 2003) to the Pittsburgh Pirates to complete the trade.

Two words: Aramis….Ramirez.

December 18, 2009: The Seattle Mariners traded Carlos Silva and cash to the Chicago Cubs for Milton Bradley.

Getting rid of Milton Bradley—even for Silva—deserves credit.

  • The bad.

December 7, 2006: The Cincinnati Reds purchased Josh Hamilton from the Chicago Cubs.

The Cubs had a deal in place with the Reds before the fact to take Hamilton and trade him to the Reds and made a few bucks; needless to say, they should’ve taken a shot on Hamilton, but it’s understandable—given his history—that they didn’t.

December 31, 2008: The Chicago Cubs traded Mark DeRosa to the Cleveland Indians for Chris Archer (minors), John Gaub (minors) and Jeff Stevens.

The Cubs got some solid young talent for DeRosa, but the machinations were misplaced. DeRosa was their unsung hero on and off the field in 2008; manager Lou Piniella didn’t want to trade him; and the trade of DeRosa was made essentially so they could sign Bradley.

A team trying to win a championship can’t be trading versatile veteran leaders to restock the farm system and then sign a Milton Bradley.

January 6, 2009: The Chicago Cubs traded Jason Marquis to the Colorado Rockies for Luis Vizcaino.

You know what you’re getting from Maquis and that’s okay; you also know what you’re getting from Vizcaino and that’s not okay.

November 13, 2008: The Florida Marlins traded Kevin Gregg to the Chicago Cubs for Jose Ceda.

Ceda’s done nothing for the Marlins despite ridiculous minor league strikeout numbers and a wicked slider; if the Cubs were getting Gregg as a set-up man for Carlos Marmol, then fine, but they weren’t. They got him to close. Gregg was and is entirely untrustworthy as a closer.

I understood the logic by letting Marmol do the heavy lifting before the ninth and to let Gregg rack up the overrated save stat, but it didn’t work. It was a bad idea. Marmol should’ve closed from the beginning of the season; he wound up taking over late in the season when it was already too late.

December 7, 2005: The Florida Marlins traded Juan Pierre to the Chicago Cubs for Sergio Mitre, Ricky Nolasco and Renyel Pinto.

Yeah. This was not a good trade.

July 31, 2006: The Chicago Cubs traded Greg Maddux to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Cesar Izturis.

They were dealing Maddux because he was a free agent at the end of the year, but it should be illegal to trade Greg Maddux for Cesar Izturis in any case.

January 5, 2008: The Chicago Cubs traded Angel Pagan to the New York Mets for Corey Coles (minors) and Ryan Meyers (minors).

The Cubs could’ve used Pagan.

February 2, 2009: The Chicago Cubs traded Michael Wuertz to the Oakland Athletics for Richie Robnett (minors) and Justin Sellers.

Wuertz was highly underrated.

  • Either/or; neither/nor.

July 31, 2004: As part of a 4-team trade: The Boston Red Sox sent Nomar Garciaparra and Matt Murton to the Chicago Cubs. The Minnesota Twins sent Doug Mientkiewicz to the Boston Red Sox. The Montreal Expos sent Orlando Cabrera to the Boston Red Sox. The Chicago Cubs sent Francis Beltran, Alex Gonzalez and Brendan Harris to the Montreal Expos. The Chicago Cubs sent Justin Jones (minors) to the Minnesota Twins.

This was a gutsy move on all ends and could’ve worked big time for the Cubs had they not faded at the end of the season and missed the playoffs. Nomar played well for them over those last two months.

January 8, 2011: The Chicago Cubs traded Chris Archer (minors), Hak-Ju Lee (minors), Robinson Chirinos, Sam Fuld and Brandon Guyer to the Tampa Bay Rays for Zach Rosscup (minors), Matt Garza and Fernando Perez.

The Cubs gave up a lot to get Garza; Garza’s pitched well this year and in some bad luck. He’ll be with the Cubs through 2013 unless he’s traded; they’ll be able to recoup their prospects if they do that.

July 31, 2010: The Chicago Cubs traded Ted Lilly, Ryan Theriot and cash to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Brett Wallach (minors), Kyle Smit (minors) and Blake DeWitt.

DeWitt has use; they got some young talent for Lilly and Theriot.

***

Contracts.

This will include both free agent signing and extensions given to players already with the Cubs.

OF Moises Alou—3-years, $25 million.

Alou was excellent in his time with the Cubs.

RHP Greg Maddux—3-years, $24 million.

Maddux was his durable, consistent self in his return to the organization that drafted him.

RHP Ryan Dempster—free agent for $300,000 after being released by the Reds in 2003; signed a 4-year, $52 million contract after 2008.

Dempster was used as a closer and was mediocre; he moved into the starting rotation in 2008 and was masterful. He’s a good, consistent starter who’s delivered more than could ever have been expected.

RHP Bob Howry, 3-years, $12 million.

Howry was durable and mostly good.

INF/OF Mark DeRosa—3-years, $13 million.

It appeared to be a classic overspend on DeRosa, but as stated earlier, he was the key player in their 2008 run to the best record in the National League.

OF Alfonso Soriano—8-years, $136 million.

A disaster. Plain and simple.

LHP Ted Lilly—4-years, $40 million.

Lilly was a good pitcher for the Cubs.

OF Jim Edmonds—signed in May 2008 after being released by the Padres.

Edmonds looked shot for the Padres, got to the Cubs and rejuvenated his career with 19 homers in 85 games.

OF Kosuke Fukudome—4-years, $48 million.

Fukudome was an underappreciated all-around player with pop and a good eye.

OF Milton Bradley—3-years, $30 million.

Bradley had a great year with the Rangers in 2008 on and off the field; there were no problems whatsoever. Was it reasonable to think he’d continue that trend with the expectations the Cubs had after their 2008 flameout and Bradley’s status as the “missing piece”?

No.

OF Marlon Byrd—3-years, $15 million.

Byrd’s been everything the Cubs expected on and off the field.

1B Carlos Pena—1-year, $10 million.

They knew what they were getting. Homers, walks and a .200 batting average.

3B Aramis Ramirez—5-years, $75 million with 2012 option for $16 million with a $2 million buyout.

Ramirez has been one of the best and most underrated third basemen in baseball for years; he’s also been an intensely loyal Cub.

RHP Carlos Zambrano—5-years, $91.5 million with 2013 vesting option.

Of course it looks horrific now, but when Zambrano signed the contract, he was 26; in the middle of an 18-win, 2007 season; had pitched over 200 innings for 5 straight years; looked like he was a rising star because he was a rising star; and he could hit.

Why wouldn’t you lock up a pitcher with Zambrano’s talent at that age?

Who knew he was going to freak out the way he has? Signing him up until he was 31 or 32—through his prime, healthy years—made complete sense. There were no problematic behaviors; no major attitude issues to note or be concerned about.

It hasn’t worked. Hendry’s not to blame for Zambrano.

***

Drafting and development.

In 2003 the Cubs drafted Sean Marshall, Jake Fox, Casey McGehee, and Sam Fuld. They took Tim Lincecum out of high school in the 48th round.

They picked someone named Ryan Harvey with the sixth pick in the 1st round that year directly in front of Nick Markakis; Chad Billingsley was taken by the Dodgers at 24.

In 2004 they drafted Fuld again and Micah Owings. They didn’t have a 1st round pick.

The only Cubs draftee from 2005 to make it to the big leagues is a pitcher named Donald Veal. Their 1st round pick was a lefty pitcher named Mark Pawelek; later in the 1st round, Garza, Clay Buchholz and Jed Lowrie were taken.

In 2006 they drafted Tyler Colvin in the 1st round and Jeff Samardzija in the 5th. Kyle Drabek, Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, Chris Coghlan, Daniel Bard and Chris Perez were taken later in the 1st round.

That year, they signed Starlin Castro as an amateur free agent from the Dominican Republic.

In 2007 they had the third pick in the 1st round and selected a third baseman named Josh Vitters; Vitters is struggling in Double A. In that draft, they took Darwin Barney, Brandon Guyer and Andrew Cashner.

Matt Wieters, Matt Dominguez, Madison Bumgarner and Jason Heyward were taken later in the 1st round.

They drafted Cashner again in 2008, this time in the 1st round. Not much of note was taken after him in the 1st.

The success/failure or 2009-2011 has yet to be determined.

***

Managers.

Hendry hired Dusty Baker after the 2002 season after Baker’s bitter divorce from the pennant-winning Giants.

When you hire Baker, you know what you’re getting. He’s probably going to win; he’s going to push his starting pitchers hard; he’ll rely on his veterans and players he likes. There’s been a long-running debate as to whom is responsible for the injury-wracked careers of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior.

Wood was battered as a rookie by Jim Riggleman. This is fact.

As for Prior, by now I’d say it’s clear that even if there’d been a set of usage guidelines to stop him from throwing 120-130 pitches on a regular basis, he still would’ve gotten hurt. You can lay the responsibility on Hendry or Baker if you like, but I disagree with it.

There was the choice of worrying about tomorrow tomorrow or trying to win when there was an opening; the Cubs went for it and almost made it. Baker came close to getting the Cubs over the threshold to the World Series and it didn’t happen.

After Baker, the Cubs hired Lou Piniella.

After his negative experience and allegations of being lied to about how much money would be spent when he managed the Devil Rays, Piniella wanted to win; he wanted to win immediately; and he wanted veteran players to do it.

The Cubs under Hendry gave him what he wanted and he, like Baker, almost won. In fact, had Piniella chosen to start Lilly over Dempster in game 1 of the 2008 NLDS, he might have. It was a tactical blunder on the part of the manager that gave the Dodgers the first game of the series and the momentum to sweep. Lilly didn’t pitch in the series.

Piniella is a frontrunner and when things are going good, he’s fine; but he was unable to get through to Bradley (and openly said he hadn’t wanted to trade DeRosa). It was Piniella’s mistake to entrust the closer’s role to Gregg. By 2010, the manager was halfway out the door and quit in August.

Mike Quade earned the managing job with a solid showing after taking over for Piniella. He was selected over the more popular choice, former Cubs hero Ryne Sandberg. Quade has had disciplinary trouble with Zambrano and the team is a dysfunctional mess as evidenced by the firing of Hendry. He can’t be blamed for the majority of this season and it’s hard to imagine Sandberg having done much better.

***

Records.

The Cubs records and results went as follows under Hendry’s reign:

2003: 88-74, 1st place; lost in NLCS to Florida Marlins 4 games to 3.

2004: 89-73, 3rd place.

2005: 79-83, 4th place.

2006: 66-96, 6th place.

2007: 85-77, 1st place; lost in NLDS to Arizona Diamondbacks 3 games to 0.

2008: 97-64, 1st place; lost in NLDS to Los Angeles Dodgers 3 games to 0.

2009: 83-78, 2nd place.

2010: 75-87, 5th place.

2011: 54-70; 5th place.

***

The final analysis.

I found it absurd how Hendry was vilified for a large number of things that weren’t his fault; that people were reacting to his dismissal as if the Cubs had won that ever-elusive pennant and/or World Series.

Perhaps firings are all they have to celebrate.

Like most GMs, Hendry made some great moves; he made some nothing moves; and he made some terrible moves. While the Cubs were right in deciding to find a new direction for the franchise with a different GM, Hendry is a respectable and competent baseball man who in no way deserved the treatment he received from the public and media upon losing his job.

The Cubs came close to winning with Hendry in charge.

Considering it’s the Cubs, it’s all one can reasonably ask.

The new GM will get a brief honeymoon, but odds are he’s going to eventually end up in the same position as Jim Hendry was in. Will he come as close? By 2016, we’ll know the answer.

Or we won’t.

It is the Cubs after all.

//

The Twins’ Unique Pursuits

All Star Game, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, Players, Prospects, Trade Rumors

One of the bigger head-scratching rumors over the weekend of the MLB trading deadline revolved around the Twins and the Nationals talks to send Denard Span to the Nats.

Various stories had the Twins wanting Drew Storen; the Nats offering Tyler Clippard; the Twins demanding that Roger Bernadina and Stephen Lombardozzi be part of the deal—then things falling apart.

Who knows how close they came and how accurate the reporting was?

But the Twins desires were indicative of the unique way they run their club.

They have a plan and a template, but often appear to have their judgment clouded by insignificant aspects such as designation of “closer” and organizational connections.

You could make the argument that, financially, they’d be better off with Storen over Clippard; Clippard is arbitration-eligible after this year and due for a big raise; Storen has one year of service time. There are also the questions about former Nats manager Jim Riggleman‘s overuse of Clippard affecting him negatively going forward.

But the money isn’t as big a problem as it once was for the Twins; they can’t justifiably be called a “small market” team anymore with a 2011 payroll hovering around $113 million. They’re upper-mid-market, if anything.

I get the impression that they wanted Storen because he’s a “closer” as if the appellation of the term means something. He’s got great stuff, but has been shaky in the role and allowed 7 homers; Clippard is dominant with plenty of strikeouts and a funky, over-the-top motion that is sneaky fast and unusual for hitters to have to face. Clippard gives up his share of homers too, but all things being equal, I’d rather have Clippard.

Why they wound demand Bernadina is a mystery. But Lombardozzi is the son of former Twins infielder Steve Lombardozzi who was a part of the 1987 championship team. The legacy aspect can’t be ignored if a player who was a 19th round draft pick is so fervently desired by a club with family ties. The younger Lombardozzi has put up solid minor league numbers, but is he someone to hold it up on either side?

Ancillary issues are at play with these talks. Span is signed inexpensively through 2015, but was just activated from the disabled list after a concussion. Could the continued problems with post-concussion syndrome suffered by Justin Morneau have influenced the Twins to try to get something for Span now before any after effects show themselves? Ben Revere is younger and cheaper and can catch the ball in center field.

The way the Twins run games under Ron Gardenhire makes it imperative that they have a deep bullpen; this was why they made the trade for Matt Capps last year surrendering top catching prospect Wilson Ramos; and why they would presumably want Storen.

The trade was never completed and I have to give credit to the Twins for holding true to their beliefs.

That said, maybe those beliefs need some tweaking because they’re causing them to do things which make little sense in theory and probably won’t be smart in practice either.

//