Keys to 2013: Texas Rangers

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Starting Pitching Key: Yu Darvish

The Rangers’ starting rotation isn’t as deep as it once was. They know what they can expect from Matt Harrison and Derek Holland. The back of the rotation is a giant question mark and they don’t even have Scott Feldman to step in as a swingman while they wait for Martin Perez and Colby Lewis to return from injury. Alexi Ogando has proven he can be effective as a starter, but the key for the Rangers rotation is Darvish.

Darvish was everything the Rangers could have wanted when they paid the big posting fee (almost $52 million) and signed him to a $50.5 million contract. If he evolves into a season-long Cy Young contender, the Rangers are a title contender. If he falters, their search for starting pitching will get serious.

Relief Pitching Key: Joakim Soria

Soria is still recovering from Tommy John surgery, but the Rangers have a hole in the eighth inning with the departure of Mike Adams and the shifting of Ogando to the rotation. They’re also waiting for the return (probably late in the season if they’re still contending) of Neftali Feliz.

A major question regarding the Rangers’ bullpen is whether the new delineation of duties with Nolan Ryan’s possible departure and GM Jon Daniels’s promotion leads to a more conventional pitch count/innings limit for the starters that was decidedly abandoned when Ryan was truly in charge. If the Rangers switch strategies, the bullpen will be pushed harder and be increasingly important.

Offensive Key: Lance Berkman

If Berkman is healthy, he’s going to hit. A knee injury limited him to 32 games for the Cardinals in 2012 and he considered retirement. Now, with the Rangers, he can be a designated hitter and not worry about playing the field. Less stress will be placed on his knees. He still hits and walks and with the Rangers friendly home ballpark, it’s reasonable to expect Berkman to hit 25+ homers and post a .380 OBP.

Defensive Key: Craig Gentry

The Rangers’ offense is not the machine it once was with Josh Hamilton gone. Gentry can run, but that’s secondary to catching the ball in center field. The Rangers are not as deep as they’ve been in the last several years and their margin for error is diminished. Fundamentals are imperative to overcoming these changes and not missing the offense from Hamilton too greatly.

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American League Patience Or Panic?

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Let’s take a look at some teams that, prior to the season, had expectations but have struggled out of the gate. Should they be patient or should they panic?

Boston Red Sox

The Carl Crawford news is getting worse and worse and his contract has been labeled a “disaster” one year into a seven year deal.

Disaster is a bit much since he’s hurt, but the end result is that he’s enduring all sorts of maladies and didn’t play well in 2011.

They acquired Marlon Byrd to replace the injured Jacoby Ellsbury. It’s a morbid race to see which of the injured duo of Ellsbury and Crawford gets back first.

Daniel Bard is starting tonight after his successful return—albeit brief—to the bullpen. It appears as if the team is taking a wait-and-see approach as to what to do with Bard for 2012. I’d expect him to return to the bullpen with Aaron Cook taking his spot in the rotation. The question is when.

The Sunday night rainout and going on the road to play a bad team in the Twins gave the Red Sox and manager Bobby Valentine a much-needed break from the rising viciousness at home.

There’s little they can do at the moment to improve the roster and they have to wait and hope.

Kansas City Royals

The innocent climb is never easy, especially for a team like the Royals that has been mismanaged and plain bad for a long time.

With their high-end young players expected to yield a marked improvement on the field, they won 3 of their first 5 games…then turned around and lost 12 in a row.

The Royals are very talented. That doesn’t always mean they’re going to adhere to a specific timeframe of improvement. They’ve started poorly and now lefty Danny Duffy is missing his Friday start with elbow tightness. Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon and Jeff Francoeur have gotten off to slow starts at the plate; they lost Joakim Soria for the season to Tommy John surgery; and catcher Salvador Perez is out until the summer.

There’s no need to panic and make a desperate and stupid trade. They have to play it out and learn from adversity.

Los Angeles Angels

Most teams with the Angels’ collection of stars would make it through and at least hang around .500 if one aspect of their club—offense, defense, bullpen, rotation—were struggling so terribly. But the Angels haven’t hit; their bullpen has been rotten; the starting pitching inconsistent; and the defense shabby.

Overall, they don’t look right.

It’s as if the holdovers from the years of Angels’ stability, cohesion and familiarity are treading cautiously with a newcomer the status of Albert Pujols.

Pujols is pressing and has yet to hit a home run.

They need to relax. This team is too good to play like this the entire season. They’ve got a hot streak coming. Soon.

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Radio Appearance with Breakin’ the Norm

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Here’s my appearance from Tuesday with Les Norman on Breakin’ the Norm on 810 WHB in Kansas City talking about the Royals, Tigers, Cardinals, Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, Mike Matheny, Tony LaRussa, Albert Pujols, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and many other things. Check it out.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide is available.
Click here for a full sample of team predictions/projections. My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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The Ryan Madson Free Agency Profile

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Name: Ryan Madson.

Position: Right handed relief pitcher.

Vital Statistics:

Age-31.

Height-6’6″

Weight-200.

Bats: Left.

Throws: Right.

Transactions: Drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 9th round of the 1998 MLB Draft.

Agent: Scott Boras.

Might he return to the Phillies? No.

Teams that could use and pay him: Boston Red Sox; Baltimore Orioles; Chicago White Sox; Kansas City Royals; Minnesota Twins; Texas Rangers; Seattle Mariners; New York Mets; Florida Marlins; Cincinnati Reds; Los Angeles Dodgers.

Positives:

He has a good fastball and excellent changeup; Madson’s herky-jerky motion is all arms and legs and makes it difficult to pick the ball up out of his hand; he’s been mostly durable apart from some silly injuries from kicking things; he throws strikes and has experience in the post-season and with a difficult fanbase in a passionate sports town. Madson is good against both lefties and righties.

Negatives:

That herky-jerky motion isn’t gentle on one’s body and is especially stressful on his arm; he’s been heavily used since 2004. Madson wants star closer money with a limited closer pedigree; he’s struggled at times and can be prone to allowing the long ball; his strikeout numbers are fewer than one-per-inning.

What he’ll want: 4-years, $44 million.

What he’ll get: 3-years, $34 million with a vesting option for a fourth year at $12 million.

Teams that might give it to him: Red Sox; Orioles; Royals; Twins; Rangers; Marlins; Reds; Dodgers.

The Red Sox are not going after Madson unless his market crashes and he’s willing to take 2-years with an option.

The Royals are on the list because there’s a chance they trade Joakim Soria and if that’s the case, they’ll need a closer.

Dan Duquette likes having a legitimate, proven reliever at the back of his bullpen; Buck Showalter has had both a foundling-type short reliever and has used multiple people in the role; he’s also had that “one guy” and Madson can get out hitters from both sides of the plate.

The Rangers will sign a closer and move Neftali Feliz into the starting rotation.

Jeffrey Loria is putting it out there that the Marlins are going to spend big with offers to Jose Reyes and Albert Pujols; they have to sign someone and with the questions surrounding Juan Oviedo/Leo Nunez, Madson fits.

Francisco Cordero might not return to the Reds as a free agent and Madson is about as good as he is.

The Dodgers somehow find money to spend despite their ownership mess; Javy Guerra did well as the Dodgers closer but Ned Colletti likes veterans and Madson is a veteran despite being relatively inexperienced in the job.

Would I sign Madson? The back-and-forth regarding Madson’s “agreement” with the Phillies and their denial that there ever was such an agreement is comical.

I detailed my suspicions when it happened, but here’s what I suspect, briefly: Madson and Phillies GM Ruben Amaro agreed to a contract; Amaro needed approval from team president David Montgomery; Montgomery wanted to know why the Phillies were paying so much for Madson when a bit more could get them Jonathan Papelbon; the deal was nixed; they went after Papelbon and got him.

Now Madson’s looking for work.

And the Phillies are better with Papelbon.

At a reasonable price I would sign Madson, but given that he’s represented by Boras and wanted 4-years and $44 million and that the Phillies preferred the more expensive Papelbon, I’d be extremely cautious before committing to Madson long-term. I don’t trust him and for that kind of money, a team needs to be sure they know what they’re getting.

Will it be a retrospective mistake for the team that signs him? If they guarantee $40 million, yes. If they get him for, say, 3-years at $27 million with incentives, no.

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Time For The Blue Jays To Move Up

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The Blue Jays are looking for a closer. They also could use another bat and definitely need a starting pitcher to function as an anchor for the young starting rotation.

Let’s take a look at what they could and should do.

Closer.

With the top tier closer off the market as Jonathan Papelbon signed with the Phillies and the Blue Jays reluctant to spend that amount of money on a short-reliever anyway, they have to look at the other options; these options might not be as splashy as the Papelbon signing, but they would fit into the Blue Jays budget and serve their purpose in the regular season.

The names of a lower tier/cheaper variety include the affordable, warted veterans Brad Lidge, Jonathan Broxton, Matt Capps and Joe Nathan.

Then there’s Heath Bell, who’s not young (34) and won’t demand as much as a Papelbon, Ryan Madson or Francisco Rodriguez.

The Blue Jays could wait and see if the market crashes on Madson or K-Rod; or they could try and make a trade for Joakim Soria, Huston Street or Carlos Marmol.

The prices for Soria and Marmol are likely to be exorbitant; I’d steer clear of Bell, Madson, Broxton, Capps and Street—they don’t fit for the Blue Jays.

That leaves Nathan and Lidge.

Lidge has had his highs and lows in the post-season; his confidence is hair-trigger and his injury history concerning; he’d be cheap and might be very, very good or very, very bad.

Nathan pitched well once he regained the job as stopper from Capps and in his second year back from Tommy John surgery, he’s a good gamble to regain his form at a highly affordable price.

What I would do: Sign Joe Nathan for 2-years, $11 million guaranteed with incentives to push it to $15 million and a mutual option for a 3rd year.

Starting pitcher.

In the summer when it looked like the Cardinals were going to clear salary to keep Albert Pujols, I suggested that the Blue Jays bring back the pitcher they drafted but non-tendered when he got hurt—Chris Carpenter.

Carpenter was signed by the Cardinals, allowed to recover, had his motion torn apart and rebuilt by Dave Duncan and developed into one of the best pitchers in baseball over the past decade.

But Carpenter signed a contract extension with the Cardinals.

What the Blue Jays need is a horse. Someone to eat innings and set an example for the talented youngsters Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek, Henderson Alvarez and current ace Ricky Romero.

There are pitchers like this available.

Mark Buehrle is team-oriented; can show the youngsters how to get by when they don’t have their good stuff; and when he’s on, he pitches no-hitters. He’d probably prefer to stay in Chicago (with the White Sox or Cubs); go to the Cardinals (who don’t have room for him barring a trade or three); or stay relatively close to the Mid-West. That shouldn’t dissuade the Blue Jays from pursuing him.

Hiroki Kuroda has wicked stuff and is mean, but it’s hard to see him leaving the West Coast.

Edwin Jackson is represented by Scott Boras and the Blue Jays won’t want to pay him—nor should they.

Roy Oswalt isn’t looking for a long term contract and won’t be interested in the pressure-packed, big city atmospheres of Boston or New York—he’d like to go to Texas or the Mid-West, but maybe he’d also listen to the Blue Jays.

Like Jackson, C.J. Wilson will cost more than they’d like to spend on a starting pitcher.

Javier Vazquez had major success in Canada with the Expos and was one of baseball’s best pitchers over the second half of last season for the Marlins; he has yet to decide whether he’ll pitch in 2012 (I suspect he will) and he’s had bad experiences in the American League overall and the American League East in particular with two hellish stints with the Yankees.

Trade candidates include Bronson Arroyo; Francisco Liriano; Trevor Cahill; Gio Gonzalez; Mike Pelfrey; Brett Myers; Wandy Rodriguez; and Joe Saunders.

All have positives and negatives. Of the group, the ones I’d serious pursue are Arroyo—he’s an innings-eater, is signed for $13 million through 2013, and has guts and experience in the AL East; Cahill—a sinkerballer who pounds the strike zone and has succeeded with a bad Athletics team; or Rodriguez—terrific stuff and an underrated competitor.

What I would do: Explore a trade for Arroyo and go after both Oswalt and Buehrle—see what the asking prices are, who wants to come to Toronto and will be the most reasonable.

A bat.

I would stay away from the massive financial commitment to Prince Fielder; I wouldn’t touch David Ortiz.

If Joey Votto is put on the market, any team would have to try getting him, but he’s going to cost a chunk of the farm system.

Here’s the best strategy: let Kelly Johnson leave; sign Carlos Beltran to play right field; shift Jose Bautista to third base; and move Brett Lawrie to second. When Beltran is the DH, they can play Edwin Encarnacion at third and have Bautista in right.

Beltran’s contract demands are no longer going to be Borased because he and Boras parted ways in the summer; he won’t cost any draft picks because it was inserted into his contract he can’t be offered arbitration by his prior club; and he could DH when his knees aren’t feeling up to playing the outfield—it might be more often than it would normally be due to the artificial turf at the Rogers Center.

He’d be a more athletic, versatile and cheaper alternative to Fielder; and is a quiet leader who has performed in the big city and during pressure-packed moments. The big concern I’d have with Ortiz is that there’s a chance he’s a “Red Sox player” who won’t perform when removed from the venue where he made his name and became the Big Papi character. That “character” is also an issue—while the Red Sox are used to him, his outspokenness might be seen as an intrusion for a new, young club.

What I would do: Sign Beltran for 3-years, $40 million and make the position switches listed above.

The above maneuvers would fill the Blue Jays needs; leave them financial room to add as they need to at mid-season; and put them in a legitimate position to contend for a playoff spot rather than hope that if everything goes right, then maybe they’ll hang around the outskirts while knowing that they had little-to-no chance.

They have the talent now; the Red Sox are vulnerable; the Yankees are aging.

It’s time to move up.

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The Papelbon Aftershocks

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Let’s separate the Jonathan Papelbon aftershocks by reaction and affect.

Jonathan Papelbon

Papelbon has never been fully appreciated for how good he’s been—especially by the Red Sox.

He has a clean motion; the post-season history of success; has done the job in a smothering atmosphere of scrutiny; is durable; throws strikes; and is an accountable team player.

Naturally, as they usually do, the Red Sox will start talking about some phantom malady that “concerned” them; in this case it will be Papelbon’s shoulder. A shoulder for which he’s missed zero time since 2006.

Statistics don’t tell the whole story with Papelbon. Because his blowups generally include 4-5 games a season where he’ll allow a crooked number of 3-5 runs, his ERA and ERA+ are always higher than they’d normally be if the lowest grades were dropped.

It’s a simplistic and self-serving effort to bolster a narrow argument to say that Papelbon is a “fly ball pitcher” and his home games being played in Citizens Bank Park will yield a larger number of home runs. His splits between fly balls and ground balls are negligible and slightly higher for fly balls; but he also strikes out over 10 hitters per 9 innings.

He’s a strikeout pitcher with a searing fastball and a vicious splitter.

He allowed 3 homers all season in 2011; 2 in Fenway Park (9th in homers out of all ballparks in baseball) and 1 in Cleveland (tied for 11th in homers).

The ballpark in Philadelphia is not going to be an issue for Papelbon; nor will the tough fans, the expectant media and the pressure of a championship or bust team upon whose hopes may ride on his shoulders.

He’s been through it before and come through repeatedly.

Philadelphia Phillies

This is as simple as it gets.

The Phillies have a superlative starting rotation; they’re old; they have money to spend and a short window to win another championship or two.

They spent a reported $50 million on the top closer on the market after the breakdown in negotiations for Ryan Madson.

They’ve acquired a known quantity for slightly more money than Madson’s asking price.

It’s a championship or nothing for the Phillies. With their success or failure no longer based on a winning season or making the playoffs, they needed someone they trust in the playoffs and World Series. Papelbon gives them that.

Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox have a compulsive, fervent, almost blindly faithful reluctance to accept the fact that they need a legitimate closer to win.

They never appreciated what they had in Papelbon even after having endured the nightmares of 2003 and 2005 when they didn’t have a closer and it cost them dearly; they tried to go with the closer-by-committee nonsense again in 2007 and were saved from themselves by Papelbon seeing where the team was headed and offering to move back to the bullpen after an ill-advised spring stint as a starter.

Papelbon could’ve been signed to an extension, but the club never broached the subject with any seriousness. This is while they tossed money into the trash for Daisuke Matsuzaka, Matt Clement, Bobby Jenks and Julio Lugo.

They paid Keith Foulke $20 million over three years for what amounted to one season of production—and he was worth it because they won a championship they wouldn’t have won without him.

They’re not overspending to replace Papelbon; they’re not going after Ryan Madson and trust me when I say the Red Sox fans do not want Heath Bell.

Daniel Bard is fully capable of taking over for Papelbon in the regular season; but like the Phillies, the Red Sox metric is not the regular season, it’s the playoffs and that’s when Bard will be tested and judged…if the Red Sox get there at all.

Brad Lidge and Joe Nathan are more likely for the Red Sox to sign to cheap deals; they could try to trade for Joakim Soria or approach Theo Epstein to see if he’d like to move Carlos Marmol.

There won’t be a retaliatory strike of “we lost Papelbon so we need a ‘name’ to replace him”—that’s not what the Red Sox do.

Comparisons

B.J. Ryan and Papelbon are human beings; both pitched and made their living as short relievers; Ryan was 30 when he signed with the Blue Jays; Papelbon will be 31 next week.

Apart from that, I see zero connection between the two pitchers.

Ryan was lefty; Papelbon righty.

Ryan’s mechanics were among the worst I’ve ever seen; Papelbon’s are picture perfect.

Ryan was leaving an atrocious Orioles team and heading for a team that was a fringe contender at best with the Blue Jays; Papelbon’s going from one team that was picked for the World Series in 2011 to the other team that was picked for the World Series in 2011.

If there’s a legitimate comparison between two pitchers in this murky plot, it’s Madson and Ryan.

Madson’s mechanics are herky jerky and stressful—they’re not as bad as Ryan’s, but they’re not to be ignored as a non-issue either. Madson missed time with a strained shoulder in 2007.

Madson has been a closer for 2011 only; he hasn’t done it long-term; he is not a strikeout pitcher and uses different strategies with a fastball, cut fastball and excellent changeup than Papelbon does with his power fastball and strikeout-begetting split-finger.

It’s short-sighted and simplistic—the same accusations stat people levy against old-schoolers—to reference numbers as the final word without examining the other aspects of the overall equation—and I don’t mean numbers.

B.J. Ryan is not Jonathan Papelbon; Papelbon is not Ryan Madson.

There’s no connection other than the specious reasoning in equating contracts and variable statistics.

Some have suggested that Madson is “better” than Papelbon based on selective use of said statistics. Madson’s agent Scott Boras appeared close to completing another inexplicable financial coup with the $44 million rumored deal with the Phillies. That’s gone. Now Boras is going to whip out his Madson “book of accomplishments” and numbers crunching of his own to “prove” that his charge not only deserves a Papelbon contract, but more than a Papelbon contract.

The problem is there’s no one who’s going to give it to him.

I liken this situation to the Braves in 1997. Jeff Blauser was coming off a terrific season and was negotiating a new contract as a free agent. His agent was Scott Boras. Blauser felt he was worth the same money that Jay Bell received from the Diamondbacks ($35 million); Braves GM John Schuerholz reacted to this leap of logic by telling Blauser and Boras to take a hike and signed the superior defensive shortstop Walt Weiss. If Boras compares Madson to Papelbon and Mariano Rivera—and he will—any sane team is going to walk away.

Media/Fans

The one legitimate gripe from fans of other clubs is that the Phillies have blown up the market for closers with the Papelbon contract. That said, Papelbon was the number one guy on the market and he got the most money any closer is going to get. No one’s giving Madson that money or anywhere close to it. Nor should they.

Why the fans are worried about Papelbon’s years and dollars is beyond me. My criteria for a contract that’s too expensive is if a want precludes a need. If there’s an overpay for a want and you can’t buy what you need, it’s a bad deal.

The Phillies needed Papelbon and they bought him.

Everything else—the draft, the after-effects, the market—are subsidiary.

You cannot make the suggestion that Madson is “better” as Keith Law does, and then ignore his mechanical issues; you can’t dismiss the closer designation as a meaningless mental exercise as Jonah Keri does in playing up the Rays use of Kyle Farnsworth on the cheap while failing to mention that Rays manager Joe Maddon intentionally declined to name Farnsworth the “closer” because he didn’t want his skittish pitcher thinking about being the closer.

It wasn’t all that long ago that Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said that Madson wasn’t good at closing. He used him in the role out of necessity and, with a great sense of timing, Madson did well in 2011.

The Blue Jays erred in overpaying for Ryan. That won’t be replicated with Madson. Or Papelbon.

As for the suggestion that the Phillies don’t understand where they are and what they’re doing, it’s the height of outsider arrogance and “I’m smarter than you” pomposity.

They know.

They know that by 2014 they’re going to be ancient, super-expensive and probably on the downslide. Will it be worth it if the Phillies are hoisting a championship or two because of the players they have now? Absolutely. GM Ruben Amaro tried to maintain the farm system while simultaneously contending and keeping financial sanity and it didn’t work; the Red Sox tried to do it and it didn’t work.

They’re paying the price to win now and will pay in the future as well.

Papelbon is proven; he’s better; he’s what the Phillies needed; and they got him.

It’s not difficult to comprehend—tremors and madness irrelevant.

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MLB Rumors And Strangeness

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If this is what we have to look forward to as the off-season beckons, you’d better get yourself a raincoat and a gas mask because it’s getting worse before it gets better.

Jed Hoyer to the Cubs?

Jon Heyman suggested this on Twitter, so it’s in the Joel Sherman-realm of the idiotically speculative; but if Hoyer, who’s been with the Padres for two years, is already considering leaving to join Theo Epstein as (one would presume) the GM of the Cubs to run them on a day-to-day basis, I have to ask what goes on in San Diego that Hoyer would want to bail so quickly? Are he and Epstein that close that they have to be near one another? Is there something wrong with his current job that he needs to leave? The Padres have a lot of young talent and good starting pitching, so if he’s bailing, I have to wonder if Jeff Moorad is interfering and making it an untenable, unattractive situation in which to stay.

The funniest thing in all of this maneuvering is that Epstein would presumably inhabit the role of his nemesis, Larry Lucchino, and hover over his former protege while he tries to do the GM grunt work.

A rift is inevitable.

Here’s some really weird logic.

In this posting on MLB Trade Rumors, the Blue Jays off-season outlook is explored.

The author doesn’t think as highly of the 2012 Blue Jays as I do with the “maybe” tone of their potential to contend as soon as next season; I’m saying right now that the Blue Jays will make a serious run at the playoffs in 2012.

What I don’t understand is the following statement regarding the closer situation and GM Alex Anthopoulos:

Anthopoulos said after the season that he expects the Blue Jays to go outside of the organization for bullpen help, either through trades or free agency. This makes sense, though the Jays have some internal options. B.J. Ryan‘s contract is off the books, but the memory of his contract lives on. I don’t expect the Jays to bid aggressively on the top free agent closers, especially those who cost draft picks.

The logic of this is what? That because a closer like Ryan—who was Cy Young Award-contending brilliant in his first season with the Blue Jays—got hurt and turned out to be a costly mistake, the Blue Jays should ignore any and all free agent closers?

Ryan also had one of the worst sets of mechanics I’ve ever seen in my entire life, so it shouldn’t have come as a shock when he needed Tommy John surgery.

This argument is akin to saying because the Blue Jays drafted infielder Russ Adams in 2002 and he didn’t work out and since they bypassed the chance to draft Cole Hamels and Matt Cain, that they should shun any infielder that comes up in the draft and take a pitcher instead.

It’s stupid.

The Blue Jays are thisclose to having a superior starting rotation with Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Henderson Alvarez and Kyle Drabek; the two things they need more than anything else are a legitimate closer and a veteran, 200-inning starting pitcher.

Jonathan Papelbon is out there and available; the Red Sox are in absolute disarray and have always been in question as to whether they were going all out to keep Papelbon; there’s an opportunity for the Blue Jays to make a rapid strike and get themselves an All Star closer with a history of dealing with pressure and getting the big outs in the post-season and simultaneously hurt one of their division rivals.

Barring a pursuit of Papelbon or Heath Bell, they could make a trade for a Joakim Soria or see if Epstein would be willing to move Carlos Marmol.

B.J. Ryan has nothing to do with anything unless they’re looking for reasons to avoid paying a closer. And that would make zero sense.

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2012 Starts Now For The Blue Jays

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The Blue Jays can and will contend for a playoff spot in 2012 if they make smart personnel decisions this winter.

Here’s what they have to do:

Get a legitimate closer.

GM Alex Anthopoulos is notoriously close-to-the-vest in how he runs his team; there’s no ironclad “strategy” of using stats or scouting; he doesn’t betray his hand and acts stealthily and aggressively in making his moves.

He may or may not care what’s said about him, but he doesn’t allow it to interfere with what he does.

This past winter, Anthopoulos signed two former closers in Octavio Dotel and Jon Rauch; he also traded for Frank Francisco.

In the logistical sense, they were all interchangeable and were signed to short-term deals to preclude widespread complaining about not being the closer. But if the Blue Jays want to be taken seriously next season, they have to get someone better and more trustworthy than Rauch or Francisco. (Dotel was traded to the Cardinals at the end of July.)

The market will be flush with established closers via free agency and trade. Heath Bell, Francisco Rodriguez, Jonathan Papelbon (who worked with Blue Jays manager John Farrell with the Red Sox) and Ryan Madson are all free agents or potential free agents. Jonathan Broxton is a probable non-tender; and Joakim Soria is a trade candidate.

All are worthy of consideration and are better than Rauch/Francisco.

Find a veteran anchor for the starting rotation.

The Blue Jays let a future Cy Young Award winner get away.

No. I’m not talking about Roy Halladay. I’m talking about Chris Carpenter.

To be fair, when the Blue Jays non-tendered Carpenter under J.P. Ricciardi’s regime, Carpenter was injured and hadn’t been particularly effective; the talent that made him a 1st round draft choice wasn’t going to be fulfilled until he was streamlined—mentally, mechanically and physically—under Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan with the Cardinals. The Blue Jays wanted to bring him back for less money, but he smartly went to the Cardinals, rehabbed his injury for a year and became a star when he got healthy.

Carpenter has a $15 million option for 2012, but he’s a 10-and-5 player so he can veto any trade; for him to waive it, the trading team would presumably have to give him a contract extension.

The Cardinals are in major flux, but if they’re looking for salary relief and want to bolster a sagging farm system, they could exercise the option rather than pay Carpenter’s $1 million buyout and trade him. This would all have to be done within a rapid series of maneuvers to make it work.

Shedding that $15 million and trading him would give the Cardinals room to re-sign Albert Pujols; re-signing Pujols might be the key to LaRussa coming back for another year; Adam Wainwright will be back next season and they could bring back Joel Pineiro to fill Carpenter’s slot and hope reuniting with Duncan will return Pineiro to his Cardinals form.

The Blue Jays have prospects to trade.

Carpenter leading a rotation with Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Kyle Drabek would be superior to most of baseball if the younger pitchers fulfill their potential; Carpenter could teach them how.

Be flexible and think outside-the-box.

They don’t have the cash to go after Jose Reyes and they signed Yunel Escobar to a contract extension; but Brett Lawrie‘s ability to play third and second base allows the Blue Jays to go after a David Wright.

The recently acquired Kelly Johnson is a free agent, but if they offer him arbitration he’d probably take it. An infield of Adam Lind, Johnson, Escobar and Lawrie can mash—whether it’d be adequate defensively for the pitching staff would have to be determined.

The Mets probably aren’t going to trade Wright, but the Blue Jays have a lot of young pitching and outfield bats. Anthopoulos thinks outside-the-box and goes after players who “probably aren’t” getting traded. Sometimes the players who “probably aren’t” getting traded do get traded and extract a major chunk of a trading team’s farm system. (See Ubaldo Jimenez.)

Alter the strategy on the bases and with the lineup.

The Blue Jays run the bases with abandon. If they’re doing it at the bottom of the lineup to try and make something happen, it’s an arguable premise; doing it in front of a basher like Jose Bautista is a mistake.

Without doing any deep statistical research into the matter, there’s no excuse for Bautista to have 37 homers and only 83 RBI.

Before Corey Patterson was traded, he was batting in front of Bautista for much of the season; Patterson steals bases, but has a woeful on base percentage. Escobar also batted in front of Bautista and gets on base at a good clip. Since his arrival, Colby Rasmus has been batting second with Bautista third.

A better plan would be batting Bautista fourth and having Escobar lead off; Johnson would bat second; Lawrie third; and Rasmus and Lind behind Bautista.

The haphazard stolen bases also have to stop.

Temper expectations and idol worship.

There was recent talk of Anthopoulos being a “genius”.

Yah. Well. Billy Beane was a genius once too. So was Theo Epstein. So was Jack Zduriencik.

Are you getting my point?

Listening to sports talk radio on Friday, Jim Mora Jr. was being interviewed about the upcoming NFL season and he subtly hit back at the notion of Patriots coach Bill Belichick being a “genius” saying something to the tune of, “he’s a good football coach; a genius is someone who comes up with life-saving vaccines”.

He’s right.

The Blue Jays have been built the right way so far, but expectations and idolatry have doomed even the smartest people with the most coherent and logical plans.

They’re in a great position now to take the next step, but keeping from doing something stupid isn’t as easy as it sounds.

If they follow some incarnation of the plan I laid out (or something similar), they could be a playoff team in 2012.

If….

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Considering Isringhausen

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

Should the Mets think about Jason Isringhausen as closer for 2012?

Almost a month ago when they traded Francisco Rodriguez, Isringhausen was considered the veteran stopgap before they decided what they were really going to do. Most of the focus centered around Bobby Parnell, but Pedro Beato, Manny Acosta and Ryota Igarashi have all gotten long looks in innings prior to the ninth. Beato had a chance to close a game but a failed double play necessitated the use of Tim Byrdak to finish.

Would Isringhausen be an inexpensive, veteran option to start the season in 2012?

His arm is duct-taped together and he’s about to turn 39; his numbers are mediocre if you take them at face value; but he’s been a good-humored leader in the clubhouse; has done everything asked of him; has pitched well enough that if age and injury-history weren’t factored in, he’d be an obvious choice to stay and continue in the role. He strikes out a fair amount of hitters and throws strikes; there would be a seamless transition once they move on to someone else.

His stuff isn’t as impressive as K-Rod’s was, but what I call the “aggravation factor” (no, it’s not a stat) is diminished with Isringhausen. You pretty much know what you’re getting—he allows a homer here and there; is going to blow a few games; and doesn’t get in trouble just for the sake of it as K-Rod does—and for the most part, will do his job.

There will be numerous closer-types available next season, but given what the Mets front office believes, they’re not going to overpay for a mediocrity when they could find someone from within who’d do the same job at a lower salary; nor are they going to spend the money and draft picks for a Jonathan Papelbon or Heath Bell; they’re not going to trade the exorbitant player-price demanded for Joakim Soria.

Parnell is too inconsistent to be trusted as a set-up man, so using him as a closer could be disastrous especially to start a season; the others are question marks and the Mets have no young minor league fireballer like the Braves did with Craig Kimbrel.

Would the Mets be better off taking a chance on a Brad Lidge or Fernando Rodney than Isringhausen? By digging through the scrapheap to find another arm the way they did with him and Beato?

If they’re going to do that, they should just keep Izzy.

Such a thought would’ve been seen as ridiculous a few weeks ago, but given what’s out there and the way this Mets team is being rebuilt, it’s not so ridiculous anymore.

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Dayton Moore’s Strengths Are Superseded By His Weaknesses

Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Players, Trade Rumors

Baseball’s lower-echelon is inhabited by a “genius” (Billy Beane‘s Athletics are dreadful); an “Amazin’ Exec” (Jack Zduriencik’s Mariners couldn’t win without being able to score); and a boy wonder (Jed Hoyer of the Padres looks terrible in comparison to the man he replaced, Kevin Towers, who has the Diamondbacks in contention as the Padres are floundering).

But what of an executive whose work is ongoing? One who has made some tremendous acquisitions through the draft, but has shown drastic flaws in major aspects of how he runs his club?

When Dayton Moore was hired by the Royals to be their GM, I thought it was an inspired choice. Not only did he have a solid reputation as a development man, but he’d worked under a fine executive in John Schuerholz with the Braves and made well-thought-out changes to the way the Royals ran their scouting staff and minor league system.

There are people who are not meant to be the overseers of an entire operation and that appears to be the case with Moore.

The Royals have an abundance of talent finally bursting through to the big leagues. But that doesn’t eliminate the mistakes and haphazard intractability/capriciousness Moore has shown in signing players and making trades.

Gil Meche pitched well for two of the five years for which he was signed as a free agent and the only saving grace for Moore in the final year of the deal was that Meche basically gave $11 million back because he couldn’t pitch due to injury.

Willie Bloomquist, Jose Guillen, Kyle Farnsworth and Horacio Ramirez were predictable disasters and his trade of a power arm like Leo Nunez for a one-dimensional bat like Mike Jacobs were failures.

He jumped the gun in trading former Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke and got a fraction of what he should’ve gotten had he waited.

Now the Royals are again in last place.

Now they’re considering dealing veterans to contending clubs.

But again, Moore has it wrong.

The price for closer Joakim Soria is said to be “exorbitant” for reasons that only Moore can understand. Soria was so bad earlier in the year that he lost his closer’s role and has had arm trouble in the past, possibly due to overwork at the hands of overmatched former manager Trey Hillman. Wouldn’t it be better to deal him now?

With Soria, at least there’s an argument to keeping him. He’s a proven closer and is signed through 2014 at a very reasonable rate.

But for the likes of Melky Cabrera, Jeff Francoeur and Wilson Betemit, Moore is being delusional in both his demands and vacillation as to whether or not he’ll trade them.

Cabrera has played well this season (37 extra base hits; 11 homers; .781 OPS); Francoeur is what he is—a defensive ace with some pop and a head as hard as quartz, but he has use for a contender; Betemit is Betemit—a journeyman player for whom the Royals should sell high while he’s back to the Betemit he was with the Braves and Dodgers and not the one from the Yankees and White Sox which allowed him to wind up with the Royals in the first place.

But according to this posting on MLBTradeRumors, the Royals are “willing to move Betemit in the right deal”.

Right deal?

What’s the “right deal”?

With all their young players starting to graduate to the big leagues, does Moore truly believe that Betemit, Cabrera or Francoeur are going to be key parts of a resurgence after the 2-3 years it’s going to take before they’re ready to contend?

I’m not of the belief that the GM should only get blame for the bad stuff and no credit for the good stuff. Royals Senior Advisor Mike Arbuckle was largely credited to drafting the foundation of the Phillies with Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels with nothing but vitriol rained down on former GM Ed Wade.

It doesn’t work that way with me.

The GM is the boss; he gets the credit, he gets the blame.

It’s the same way with Moore.

He’s done a masterful job of finding talent like Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Danny Duffy, Louis Coleman and others on the way.

The Royals are going to get better simply by nature of more talent in the pipeline that was accrued after Moore took control.

He gets the credit.

But the GM is still making ghastly mistakes at the big league level with free agents and trades.

He takes the blame.

To a large degree, the poor decisions sabotage the good work he’s done in building up that farm system.

He’s going to be the GM for the long term with a contract through 2014, but given the mistakes he’s made (and is apparently going to repeat again-and-again), maybe he shouldn’t be.

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