The Logic of Rafael Soriano’s Opt Out

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Now that Rafael Soriano is still out on the market with seemingly no viable landing spot to be a closer and get the long-term contract he and agent Scott Boras want, it’s easy to criticize the decision to opt out of the last guaranteed year he had with the Yankees and that he rejected the qualifying offer the Yankees extended to receive draft pick compensation when Soriano signs elsewhere.

It’s a “Why would you do that?/You had no choice,” situation that may end up backfiring, but will still be understandable.

Had Soriano not opted out of the last year of the contract, he was to be paid $14 million in 2013. Since he opted out and had a $1.5 million buyout of the contract, that plus the set-in-stone qualifying offer of $13.3 million would have netted $14.8 million in 2013.

Given Soriano’s history with Boras, however, why would he believe the media and fan reaction of implied craziness for opting out of a nearly $15 million payday over the agent who got him the $35 million deal from the Yankees in a nearly identical situation after the 2010 season when it didn’t appear that he had an offer that lucrative forthcoming?

When Soriano first entered free agency after the 2010 season, he had a bad reputation from his year with the Rays because of complaining about pitching in non-save situations and for disliking when manager Joe Maddon asked him to pitch more than one inning. But he’d had a great year with a 1.73 ERA, 45 saves and 36 hits allowed in 62 innings with 57 strikeouts. This was prior to the qualifying offer rule in the CBA, but there was still draft pick compensation for top tier free agents. No team wanted to give up the draft pick compensation to sign Soriano. That was until the Yankees, shut out of the free agent market when Cliff Lee chose the Phillies over them and facing the prospect of an empty winter shopping cart, saw Hank and Hal Steinbrenner and Randy Levine overrule GM Brian Cashman and sign Soriano. They surrendered the draft pick and made public the unsaid but known truth that the GM didn’t have final say in baseball matters. Cashman was borderline insubordinate with his open opposition to the contract.

Soriano was uncomfortable in the Yankees insular and stuffy clubhouse, didn’t do a good job as the set-up man and found himself demoted to the seventh inning rather than the eighth, with David Robertson—and his salary $9.5 million less than that of Soriano—taking over and making the All-Star team.

Soriano simply didn’t fit and this continued into 2012…until Mariano Rivera tore his ACL. Robertson proved unable to close and got injured himself, and they were left with Soriano.

They were rewarded with a different pitcher with a different attitude and wholly changed body language. Back in his comfort zone as the closer with the accompanying adrenaline rush of the ninth inning and the opportunity to accumulate the status symbol save stat, Soriano was indeed a savior for the Yankees and was, more than is presently acknowledged, a key component to the club winning the AL East again. As a bonus, the brilliant season forced Boras to look at this situation and the 2013 situation and advise his client to opt out of his deal.

The Yankees would have paid Soriano the $14.8 million without complaint in 2013 with the pitcher returning to his role as set-up man for Rivera, relatively safe in the knowledge that they had a suitable backup if Rivera’s unable to make it back from his torn ACL and that Soriano was not signed long-term and not sabotaging their attempts to get under the $189 million payroll threshold in 2014. But that was no benefit to Soriano in any way other than a guaranteed payday. It’s true that Soriano could have made $14.8 million and then accepted the Yankees qualifying offer after 2013, guaranteeing himself an extra $30 million. Presumably he would be the closer in 2014, but he’d also be two years older pitching for a team that, currently, doesn’t look like it’s going to be very good.

If the agent is saying he’ll receive $60 million from the team that signs him. If he was faced with the prospect of returning to the set-up role and maybe being the closer in 2014 if Rivera retires (or getting traded), he had reason to listen to his agent because his agent had come through for him before. Soriano was so good in 2012 as the closer and so terrible as the set-up man in 2011 and the first month of 2012, that his value was not going to be higher than it is now at age 33. It’s his last chance for a long-term deal and he went for it.

Boras will say to clubs, “You need a closer? Look, here’s your closer. He did it in New York and he did it replacing a legend.” There’s a logic to the argument. There’s also a logic to the argument that Soriano will be more valuable than the draft pick that closer-hungry clubs built to win now like the Tigers would trade for him.

Teams with a protected draft pick like the Blue Jays might go for Soriano and not give up anything more than a second round pick. They’re all-in as it is and Soriano is more proven than Sergio Santos and Casey Janssen, plus they have money to spend.

There aren’t many places for Soriano to go, but there weren’t many places for him to go after the 2010 season and Boras got him paid. I wouldn’t discount the possibility of him doing it again and as senseless as it seemed for Soriano to turn down the guaranteed money, it wasn’t a hasty decision. It might not work, but it made sense.

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Which B.J. Upton Are The Braves Getting?

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Looking at his numbers without knowing how physically gifted he is, the Braves signing B.J. Upton to a 5-year, $75.25 million contract would be viewed somewhere between an overreach and lunacy. Upton’s offensive production has steadily declined from his best overall season—his first full year in the big leagues—in 2007 to what has now become a 28-year-old question mark.

Upton’s entire career has been based on talent and not results. He was the second player selected in the 2002 amateur draft; in 2004, he was in the big leagues at 19 before going back to the minors for most of 2005 and 2006; he looked to be a burgeoning star in 2007 with 24 homers, 22 stolen bases, and an .894 OPS; and throughout has been an aggravating player and person with bursts of brilliance and extended periods of inconsistency and laziness. At times, Upton doesn’t behave as if he even wants to play, let alone play hard.

In 2012, his free agent season, he hit a career high 28 homers and was clearly trying to hit more homers—not that that’s always a good thing. His OPS has been stagnant in the mid .700s since 2010, he strikes out 160 times a year, and his walks have severely diminished since posting 97 in 2008. When sufficiently motivated, he’s a great defensive center fielder, but one of his signature moments of being B.J. Upton occurred in June of 2010 when he lackadaisically pursued a line drive in the gap and Evan Longoria confronted him in the dugout nearly initiating a fistfight.

In addition to that incident, he was benched or pulled several times by manager Joe Maddon for such transgressions and chose not to run hard on a double play ball in the 2008 World Series. If he’s not going to run out grounders in the World Series, when is he going to run them out?

The petulance and sour faces are unlikely to be assuaged by his paycheck and the mere act of putting on a Braves uniform, but that’s undoubtedly what they’re expecting. When thinking about Upton and predicting the future, I’m reminded of the Braves acquisition of Kenny Lofton from the Indians after the 1996 season. The Indians dealt Lofton away because he was a pending free agent after 1997, wanted a lot of money the Indians wouldn’t be able to pay, and the club didn’t want to let him leave for nothing as they did with Albert Belle.

Lofton did not fit in with the corporate, professional, and somewhat stuck-up Braves of the 1990s and was allowed to leave after the season where he, ironically, returned to the Indians for a reasonable contract. Lofton was a far better player than Upton is and wasn’t known for a lack of hustle. He was just outspoken and got on the nerves of managers and teammates who didn’t know him well.

Will Upton be motivated to live up to the contract or will he be content now that he’s getting paid? Will being a member of the Braves inspire him to act more professionally? The Braves certainly aren’t the frat house that the Rays were. Will there be a culture shock or will Upton try to fit in? Chipper Jones is no longer there to keep people in line and Dan Uggla doesn’t put up with the nonsense of teammates jogging around—with the Marlins he confronted Hanley Ramirez repeatedly; Tim Hudson won’t shrug off Upton jogging after a shot in the gap; and Fredi Gonzalez is more outwardly temperamental than Maddon.

Perhaps what Upton needs is the starchy, conservative, “this is how we do things” Braves instead of the freewheeling, young, and new age Rays. Maybe he’ll take the new contract as a challenge and want to live up to the money he’s being paid, money that based on bottom line statistics alone, he never would have received.

Upton is one of the most talented players in baseball with a lithe body, speed, power, and great defensive skills. At 28, he’s in his prime. The Braves just need to hope that he feels like playing and fitting in, because if he doesn’t the same issues that were prevalent in Tampa will be evident in Atlanta, except they’ll be paying big money to cajole, entreat, challenge, discipline and bench him while the Rays weren’t.

Upton is a “can” player. He can hit 20+ homers. He can steal 40 bases. He can make plays of unique defensive wizardry. He can get on base and take pitches. The Braves are paying for what he can do. What he will do is the question that not even the Braves are able to answer. They’re certainly paying for it though. It could be a retrospective bargain or disaster. And no one knows within a reasonable degree of certainty as to which it’s going to be.

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American League Contenders Remaining Schedules and Playoff Scenarios

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This is not about playoff possibilities as in a team losing the last seven games of the season with the team pursuing them winning the last seven to forge an inexplicable comeback. Nor is it about unrealistic scenarios. It’s about evenhanded reality and viable opportunity.

Let’s take a look.

New York Yankees

Schedule: 4 games at Blue Jays in Toronto, Sept. 23, 24, 25, 26; 3 games vs Red Sox at Yankee Stadium, Oct. 1, 2, 3

How they’re playing: The Yankees righted the ship after the beginning of September when a collapse looked imminent. If the Yankees somehow fall out of the division lead or the playoffs entirely, it won’t be due to a prototypical collapse as we saw with the Red Sox last season.

What they need: 5 wins would pretty much guarantee the division title. They do not want to find themselves looking at the scoreboard on Monday and wondering what the Angels, A’s, Rangers, Orioles and whoever are doing.

What will happen: The Blue Jays want to get the season over with and are playing like it. They showed nothing against the Yankees last week and the only reason they won two games against the Orioles this week was because the Orioles didn’t capitalize on what the Blue Jays were repeatedly handing to them.

CC Sabathia is pitching well and the Yankees were able to rest Rafael Soriano and David Robertson.

The Yankees are going to the playoffs, but could still blow the division and it wouldn’t be due to a collapse.

Baltimore Orioles

Schedule: 3 games vs Red Sox in Baltimore, Sept. 28, 29, 30; 3 games at Rays in Tampa Bay, Oct. 1, 2, 3

What they need: To have a chance at the division title, they’ll have to go 5-1 and hope the Blue Jays and Red Sox want to stick it to the Yankees and show up to the games trying to win and not get them over with so they can go home, and that the Red Sox and Rays would also like to stick it to the Yankees to the point that they don’t go all out against the Orioles.

All possible I suppose, but unlikely.

4 out of 6 wins should get them in.

What will happen: The Orioles will take care of business against the Red Sox and Rays and get at least those 4 wins and hope the nightmare scenario that I’m going to discuss doesn’t happen in the AL West. If they’re eliminated, the Rays may not even pitch their main starters in those last three games and if the Orioles lose 1 or 2, they’ll have no one to blame but themselves. The nightmare scenario affects the Yankees as well.

Tampa Bay Rays

Schedule: 3 games at White Sox in Chicago, Sept. 28, 29, 30; 3 games vs Orioles at Tampa Bay, Oct. 1, 2, 3

What they need: The Rays have won 7 straight, have to sweep the White Sox—who are fighting for their division title—and hope they’re still alive when they get to Monday against the Orioles. Very, very difficult.

What will happen: The Rays will be done by Monday and have to decide how hard to push to keep up the “integrity” of the pennant race in those last three games. I have a hunch Joe Maddon will play to win without overstressing his young arms.


The Nightmare Scenario

I’ll examine the AL West all at once.

Texas Rangers

Schedule: 1 game vs Athletics in Texas, Sept. 27; 3 games vs Angels in Texas, Sept. 28, 29, 30; 3 games vs Athletics in Oakland, Oct. 1, 2, 3

Oakland Athletics

Schedule: 1 game vs Rangers in Texas, Sept, 27; 3 games vs Mariners in Oakland, Sept. 28, 29, 30; 3 games vs Rangers in Oakland, Oct. 1, 2 ,3

Los Angeles Angels

Schedule: 1 game vs Mariners in Anaheim, Sept. 27; 3 games vs Rangers in Texas, Sept. 28, 29, 30; 3 games vs Mariners in Seattle, Oct. 1, 2, 3

The Rangers are leading the American League in wins with 91, but their division lead is now at 3 games over the A’s and 5 over the Angels. Their problem is that they’re playing two teams that are chasing them. The A’s and Angels have a sense of urgency that I don’t get the impression that the Rangers have had recently. Their playoff spot is not assured as the division winner or as the Wild Card. For them it would take a collapse to miss the playoffs, but it could happen.

Let’s say the A’s win today over the Rangers then beat on the Mariners this weekend. And let’s say that the desperate Angels who are taking every game like a playoff game and have 4 remaining with the playing-out-the-string Mariners win 6 of 7 including 2 of 3 vs the Rangers.

What if we get to Monday and the A’s are either tied with the Rangers or a game behind and the Angels are 2 out with 3 to play? There’s a possibility that the Rangers will enter Monday with 92 wins; the A’s with 91; and the Angels with 89. What if the A’s sweep the Rangers and the Angels sweep the Mariners? The Rangers and Angels would be tied. What if the Rangers sweep the A’s and the Angels sweep the Mariners? The A’s would be either out or hoping that the Yankees or Orioles came undone.

Because the AL West will simultaneously be beating on each other and the Mariners when they’re not beating on each other, the Yankees and Orioles are relatively assured of at least a playoff spot and have to determine who’s going to win the division. But the Rangers could very easily find themselves on the outside looking in with the A’s and Angels either passing them entirely or face the hell of a one-game playoff prior to the Wild Card play-in game.

What will happen: The Rangers will survive and hold onto the division. What will be most interesting will be how they try to manipulate which teams are in the playoffs. Of all their potential playoff opponents, the last ones they want to see are the Angels. If the Angels somehow make it in—relieved to have salvaged a season that looked shot in August and on a blazing hot streak with a deep starting rotation and star bats—they could conceivably make the playoffs and blow everyone away.

The team the Rangers presumably fear least is the Yankees when considering that they’ve beaten them before, the Yankees have rotation questions, and worry as to whether Soriano can handle the post-season. But the Angels have massive obstacles to overcome and it might be too late.

The most probable scenario: The Yankees win the AL East; the Orioles and Athletics take the Wild Cards; the Rangers win the AL West.

Of course, as the last day of the 2011 season showed, this is all subject to change at the whim of the Baseball Gods, closers who can’t close, non-contending teams that want to have company in their misery (see the Red Sox of Boston) and massive managerial blunders.

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Being Bobby Valentine

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As I’m sure you’re aware, Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine had a newsworthy interview on The Big Show with Glenn Ordway and Michael Holley on radio station WEEI. You can listen to it here.

This concisely sums up Valentine’s tenure as Red Sox manager. Valentine came on the line and asked whom he was talking to. The reply—I believe from Glenn—came in a derisive tone referencing Valentine’s weekly appearance on ESPN New York with Michael Kay as if the very idea of appearing on a New York based radio show with an unabashed Yankee-lover like Kay was a transgression in and of itself and an insult to the people of Boston.

Valentine was asked if he’d checked out on the season and Valentine replied by saying that if he was in the room, he’d punch Glenn in the mouth. Then he laughed loudly and somewhat ludicrously. It was over-the-top. He was kidding with an implied, “Wanna see how serious I am? I’ll punch you!” It wasn’t funny, but that was the intent. He wasn’t going to punch anyone.

At the mentioning of Valentine showing up late for a game against the Athletics in Oakland, Valentine got truly and legitimately angry—understandably. He wasn’t late. He got to the park at around 4 PM. The game was due to start at 7:05 PM. The reason he was late? His 29-year-old son hadn’t seen him manage all season long and was coming in to the Bay Area for a visit. The flight was late due to the fog in San Francisco and Valentine got stuck in traffic. That’s why he was at the park “late” when he really wasn’t late. But the intimation was that Valentine showed up late because he doesn’t care; because he wants out as Red Sox manager. Valentine then demanded to know who said that he was late. The hosts looked it up and found that Nick Cafardo and Sean McAdam, among other unnamed people, had reported it. Repeatedly Valentine referenced Rays’ manager Joe Maddon’s preferred time of arrival as 4:00 for every night game. Valentine said he’d talk to Cafardo when he saw him. I doubt he’s going to punch him in the mouth.

When asked about his meeting with Red Sox owner John Henry and GM Ben Cherington when both flew to Seattle to see Valentine (stoking speculation that the manager was about to be fired), Valentine tried to make a joke out of it saying that there was no brown sugar for his oatmeal and Henry’s ham was overcooked. It was cringeworthy in a way similar to Valentine’s famous “stoned” dance while he was managing the Mets and imitated a hitter trying to bat while high. But he was kidding. Was there a bit of sniping under the joke? Possibly. But this is Valentine we’re talking about. Everything he says drips with condescension. Some of it is unintentional. (I think.)

When asked a question from a fan as to whether he regretted coming back. He said no, but admitted that this season has been miserable. What was he supposed to say? That he’s had a ball with the team underperforming, the players trying to get him fired, the press baiting him, and having his reputation destroyed in large part because of a mess that was present and unfixable when he arrived?

At least he was honest. The season has been miserable. Had he said anything different, he’d have sounded like a delusional fool.

After that, he brought up the accusation of having been late again. That really bothered him.

Was this as big a deal as it’s being made out to be? No. This is a microcosm of what’s gone wrong with Valentine and the Red Sox from day 1. He wasn’t the choice of the GM; he was taking over a dreadful situation that no manager would’ve been able to navigate successfully; the media was waiting for him to trip up and trying to trip him up; it took him time to get back into the swing of big league managing after not having done it for 10 years and not having been in the American League for 20; and he’s Bobby Valentine. Being Bobby Valentine invites madness in and of itself.

As a polarizing figure, the only way for Valentine to succeed in 2012 was if the Red Sox were 100% healthy; if the players who were responsible for the 2011 collapse took responsibility for what went wrong; and if they got off to a good start to wash away the bad taste permeating the organization inside and out since last season.

None of that happened. It got worse and worse and it’s come to this. Valentine didn’t threaten anyone, nor was the interview something to treat as a headline story. It was awkward. That’s all.

But that doesn’t really matter, does it? At first when Valentine took over the Red Sox, they were a disaster. Now they’re still a disaster, but it’s a lawless land where the story isn’t the club, but the endless stream of controversies. Until the manager is gone, it’s not going to stop. The managerial death watch is on and there won’t be a reprieve. He’s not innocent, but he’s not exactly guilty either.

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Justice MLB Style

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Due to lingering bad blood following his departure from the Rockies, Ubaldo Jimenez—a starting pitcher for the Indians—threw at former teammate Troy Tulowitzki intentionally in his last spring training start before the regular season. He hit him on the elbow; the act incited a near brawl and an increase in the rhetoric between the sides with each blaming the other.

Jimenez was suspended for 5 games to start the season which meant he’d miss one start.

On Tuesday Tampa Bay Rays’ reliever Joel Peralta got caught with pine tar in his glove during their game in Washington against the Nationals. Peralta is a former Nats’ pitcher and there was obviously some inside information in hand. Peralta was ejected from the game and yesterday MLB suspended him for 8 games—Washington Post Story.

Peralta, a reliever, could conceivably pitch in 5 of those 8 games he’ll be suspended for.

Is this fair? Is it equitable? Should their roles as starter or reliever be taken into account?

This is like a person being arrested for assault and given probation while a person arrested for possession of marijuana is sentenced to six months in jail.

The punishment doesn’t fit the crime and Peralta’s appeal should include the comparative nature and short-term given to Jimenez, whose actions were far worse than what Peralta did. Jimenez could’ve hurt Tulowitzi; all Peralta was doing was trying to get a better grip on the ball.

One was retaliation; the other was competitive.

This entire episode has degenerated into comedy and bewilderment.

Nats’ manager Davey Johnson called Rays’ manager Joe Maddon a “weird wuss” (I think you can translate that into street vernacular and it’s a major insult to another man). Maddon replied by calling Johnson “bush (league)” and “cowardly”.

The rules are the rules and if Peralta was cheating, Johnson is well within his rights to call it to the attention of the umpires. What I don’t understand is why he did it now. This was a card to hold for the post-season. The Nats and the Rays could conceivably meet in the World Series and if Johnson wanted to catch Peralta, that would’ve been a better time to do it.

As for Maddon, I don’t know if he’s a wuss, but he is a bit weird in terms of baseball managers with his lack of rules and new age, kindergarten-style “theme” road trips. Old school managers like Johnson—who doesn’t have many rules himself—do think Maddon’s something of an odd duck. Mostly because he is odd.

Personalities aside, a suspension of 8 games is too much. When taking into consideration that Peralta is a reliever and what he did wasn’t of a violent nature as was the case with Jimenez, 3 games is more than sufficient.

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The Best Manager In Baseball(?)

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Put Joe Maddon in the manager’s office of the Padres, the Athletics, the Cubs or even the Red Sox and their record isn’t going to be any different with Maddon than it is with their current managers.

So how can Maddon be repeatedly referred to as the “best” manager in baseball when his style is tailored to fit his Rays’ clubhouse? When his team bonding exercises and lack of off-field discipline wouldn’t work anywhere else?

Saying Maddon is the “best manager in baseball” is based on fleeting criteria that can’t be transferred. It’s the Mike Francesa logic from preseason 2011 as he picked the Twins in the AL Central for no reason other than, “I awlways pick da Twins.”

Is that a viable foundation for picking them or is it laziness based on history that has no connection to the present?

If the individuals comprising that history are no longer the same, then of what value is the history? It’s the same thing as having picked the Rays to lose 100 games in 2008 because they’d lost or almost lost 100 in every year of their existence. History hinges on the participants and what caused the history. If the players were different and better; if the front office was smarter; if the competition was weaker, then why would the predictions automatically be the same?

Reality is based on perception and the perception now—because of the Rays’ success—is that Maddon is the “best” manager in baseball.

Well, he’s not. The mere appellation itself has no quantifiable basis and is formulated from nothing other than a similar belief system between the manager and the person who’s doing the ranking.

The Rays are a unique, almost unprecedented club in that they don’t have money to even put forth the pretense of keeping their players long-term for big money. If those players aren’t willing to do as Evan Longoria, Matt Moore and Ben Zobrist did and take longer term deals well before their arbitration years and have those deals contain options that will take them past free agency, they’ll be traded for younger players to continually replenish the farm system. That a Rays team that has made the playoffs in 3 of the past 4 years still doesn’t draw fans gives them a freedom from having money to spend and needing to spend that money to keep a rabid fan base and media horde happy. They’re 12th in the American League in attendance this season; were 13th last season and haven’t finished higher than 9th since they became good in 2008.

It works for Maddon because of the situation he’s in. It has nothing to do with being the “best”. It has to do with what’s working in the circumstances. If the team was exhibiting poor behavior off the field and wasn’t hustling then it wouldn’t look as cute as it does while the Rays are winning.

Their defensive metrics, bullpen construction, sabermetrically-inclined front office and funky manager are part of the equation, but the Rays have been as much of a beneficiary from high draft choices and luck as from their clever defensive alignments and ability to find relievers or failed starters who succeed with the Rays in ways they haven’t in prior stops.

In 2012, their bullpen has been statistically middle-of-the-pack and saved by the excellent work done by Fernando Rodney. Their vaunted defense is near the worst in baseball in fielding percentage; is third in errors; is -19 in fielding runs above average (if you’re into advanced fielding metrics that make the Rays do the profound amount of shifting that they do).

If you think they’re making up for their defensive issues with pitchers racking up strikeouts, you’re wrong. Their staff is sixth in the majors in strikeouts. Their pitchers do keep the ball in the park and they, as a team, have taken advantage of slumping opponents to hover around first place.

But it’s not the same as it was when the Rays shocked the world in 2008 and made the playoffs in 2010 and 2011.

They’re not the dominant group of youngsters who catch the ball, throw strikes and hit clutch homers. It’s a different dynamic.

Maddon is a good manager, but his quirky little bits of shtick are only taken positively because the team has won. If he were in another town with a team out of control and 15 games under .500, his new age style would be blamed for it.

In fact, if the Rays fade this season, there’s an argument to say that it’s in part because of Maddon’s defensive alignments and bizarre decisions based on nothing like playing Hideki Matsui because it was his birthday. Of course playing Matsui on his birthday is no more ridiculous than some of the out-of-context numbers that are used to justify things that don’t make sense, but it sounds weird. Sounding weird is enough to make certain factions go critical.

If the Rays stumble, will there still be a “best manager in baseball” chorus trailing everything Maddon does? Or will he be criticized?

Maddon’s gimmicks work because the Rays have won. If they were still the 100-loss calamity they were in his first two seasons as a manager, then we’re not discussing this because he would’ve been fired long ago. The “best manager” stuff is moot because it’s dependent on the players and the front office. A true barometer of the best would require so many categories and caveats that it’s not worth discussing in such a narrow frame. The manager is important, but not to the degree of blind worship without facts as it’s become with Joe Maddon.

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The Giants Must Address Their Closer Situation

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The Giants’ loss of Brian Wilson unravels much of their winning strategy.

Santiago Casilla was designated as the replacement closer when it was revealed that Wilson would miss the rest of the season with Tommy John surgery.

That decision was either short-lived or not final-final because when Casilla started the ninth inning of Friday night’s game against the Mets with a 3-2 lead, he had a short leash of one batter. Jason Bay led off with an infield hit and manager Bruce Bochy yanked Casilla in favor of Javier Lopez to pitch to the Mets lefties Lucas Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Josh Thole.

Strategically, it was the correct move even though it didn’t work. But if Wilson were available, Wilson would’ve been pitching regardless of lefty or righty bats coming to the plate.

The Mets tied the game and the Giants won the game in the tenth inning, but to do it they had to use Lopez, Sergio Romo and Clay Hensley to finish the game when, under normal circumstances, they would’ve used one pitcher, Wilson.

And that’s the problem.

The Giants have a very strong bullpen as long as they have a legitimate closer to be the linchpin. When there’s such disarray as to the roles and the pitchers don’t know when they’re going to be called on, it turns into anarchy that makes it very hard to win. Bochy has never functioned with a closer by committee; there are managers who can do that. Davey Johnson likes to have more than one short reliever racking up the saves; Buck Showalter and Joe Maddon are capable of doing it. It’s not a strength of Bochy. For his entire managerial career he’s either had Trevor Hoffman and Wilson. The haphazard way in which they’re coping with Wilson’s loss is indicative of Bochy’s need to have that ace in the bullpen.

As much as the Giants’ starting pitching is considered their strength, the problem they now have is that without Wilson, they’re likely to reconsider pulling their starters when they normally would because they might need them to go deeper into the games. As the season winds down, that extra stress and workload due to the absence of Wilson will take its toll on the team—a team that isn’t going to run away with any division. They’re going to make their playoff run in September and have to be healthy and fresh.

Tim Lincecum should be fine; Matt Cain is a workhorse; Madison Bumgarner is a rising star; Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito are still question marks. Zito especially, with his 84 mph fastball, has zero margin for error and, in a larger scope, nor do the Giants.

It’s very hard to compete when relying so desperately on the starting pitching and having an All-Star closer if that closer is no longer there. Their defense has been horrible and they don’t hit. When you combine the sequence of events, it’s going to be a bad ending in San Francisco unless they do something definitive to address one or more of these issues.

They’re going to need someone who can close.

Brett Myers is likely to be available; I’d prefer Carlos Marmol whom the Cubs will absolutely want to unload.

When Wilson went down, so did the Giants blueprint. It has to be dealt with. Soon.

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The Price for McCutchen

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Pirates GM Neal Huntington is making it clear with his between-the-lines statements that he’s willing to trade Andrew McCutchenThe Sporting News.

Given the Pirates circumstances as a perennial laughingstock and that McCutchen would have to be just as overwhelmed to stay long-term as the Pirates would be to trade him, it makes sense to listen to what other clubs have to say.

McCutchen is not closing in on free agency (it’s not until after the 2015 season) and he’s going to be arbitration-eligible until next year. He’s 25, is not reliant on his speed to make a living and he can play center field.

He’s an MVP-quality talent.

It’s somewhat unprecedented for a young, established position player to be available regardless of the demand.

Most of the huge deals for packages of young players that aren’t closing in on free agency involve pitchers. We saw this with the Athletics’ latest housecleaning in dealing Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez. The Rays are always ready to do business with any player on their roster and the Rockies made a bold move in trading Ubaldo Jimenez last summer.

McCutchen is a franchise cornerstone and exactly the type of player for whom an interested club should be willing to overpay as Huntington implies.

Let’s take a look at some big trades that were made with a lot of young talent exchanged for a young position player to get a gauge on circumstances and boundaries.

1982: Indians trade OF Von Hayes to the Phillies for INF Julio Franco, RHP Jay Baller, 2B Manny Trillo, OF George Vukovich and C Jerry Willard.

Hayes was 24 and saddled with the nickname “5 for 1” after the trade, but turned out to be a very good player for the Phillies. He had power and speed and if he played today, he’d be comparable to McCutchen.

Franco was an excellent hitter and lasted in the big leagues until he was 48.

Hayes’s career was over at age 33 after the Phillies had traded him to the Angels in a trade that brought them…Ruben Amaro Jr.

1990: Padres trade 2B Roberto Alomar and OF Joe Carter to the Blue Jays for 1B Fred McGriff and SS Tony Fernandez.

Alomar was 23 and I don’t think anyone predicted he’d blossom into a Hall of Fame player with power. Two old-school GMs—the Padres’ Joe McIlvaine and the Blue Jays’ Pat Gillick—pulled off this drastic maneuver that worked out better for the Blue Jays, but was productive for the Padres. In retrospect, they would have preferred to keep Alomar, but no one knew what Alomar was.

Veteran general managers got together and cobbled out a major trade that helped both sides.

1992: Brewers trade INF Gary Sheffield and RHP Geoff Kellogg to the Padres for RHP Ricky Bones, OF Matt Mieske and INF Jose Valentin.

Sheffield was miserable in Milwaukee, couldn’t handle the expectations and pressure stemming from being in the big leagues at 19 and the nephew of Dwight Gooden. In later years, Sheffield claimed to have intentionally thrown balls wildly from third base as some form of retribution for perceived slights.

Sound familiar?

The self-destructive petulance was chalked up to youth.

It turned out not to be youth. Gary was just Gary and that’s simply what he did.

From age 19-40, Sheffield imploded and exploded in his subsequent stops (six after Milwaukee and San Diego) and alienated anyone and everyone along the way. He got away with it because he could hit for power and get on base—no other reason.

The Brewers got rid of Sheffield because he was a ticking time bomb.

2007: Rays trade OF Delmon Young, INF Brendan Harris and OF Jason Pridie to the Twins for RHP Matt Garza, SS Jason Bartlett and RHP Eddie Morlan.

Young was a former first pick in the draft, but the new Rays front office wouldn’t have drafted him first had they been in charge and were in the process of clearing out players who didn’t behave appropriately—Young had acted up in the minors and majors resulting in suspensions and confrontations with manager Joe Maddon. It helped the decision to move him that they didn’t value what it was he did because he hit a few homers, didn’t get on base and played poor defense in the outfield.

Garza was a young pitcher with a temper similar to Young’s, but that temper was tolerable to get his power arm.

This was a mutual-interest/need deal and not one to clear salary.

Barring free agency, financial constraints and ancillary factors, players like McCutchen are rarely available.

Is he “available”? Or are the Pirates tossing it out there to see if anyone bites and gives up the house?

Teams should inquire and be serious about getting him.

The Royals have the prospects and the need. With McCutchen in center field flanked by Alex Gordon and Jeff Francoeur, their outfield defense would be superlative and their rebuilding process would be sped up markedly.

The Nationals need a center fielder, have the young talent to deal and are looking to improve quickly; the Braves’ farm system is loaded; and the Mets should accept reality and give the fans something to bank on while getting a marquee youngster.

If teams have to overpay, so be it.

For a player like McCutchen, everyone should contact the Pirates and see whether or not they’re serious about moving him. If they ask for seven players including four who are perceived as “can’t miss”, then they’re not serious; if they ask for four or five, then it’s something for an interested club to pursue because McCutchen is worth it.

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The Red Sox Out-of-Book Experience with Bobby Valentine

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The Red Sox made the smart and gutsy decision to shun the “middle-manager” nonsense that came en vogue after Moneyball and hired Bobby Valentine to take over as their new manager.

Here’s what to expect.

The beer and chicken parties are over.

The somewhat overblown Red Sox beer and chicken parties of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and their crew are referenced as the fatal symptoms of apathy under Terry Francona.

When Valentine’s name was mentioned as a candidate amid the “new sheriff in town” mentality, the 1999 NLCS card-playing incident is presented as an example of what went on with the Mets under Valentine.

What’s missed by those who constantly mention the Bobby BonillaRickey Henderson card game as the Mets dejectedly entered the Turner Field clubhouse after their game 6 and series loss is that Bonilla was gone after the season (at a significant cost to the Mets that they’re still paying); and Henderson was released the next May.

Those who expect Valentine to storm in and start getting in the faces of the players immediately are wrong.

He won’t tolerate any garbage, but it’s not going to be a both-guns-blazing, walking through the door of the saloon like Clint Eastwood bit.

He’ll try a more smooth approach at first, telling them what the rules are, what’s expected and demanded and what won’t be tolerated. If he’s pushed, he’ll make an example of someone and it’s going to happen fast.

This is not to say that he’s an old-school social conservative who’s going to interfere with his players’ personal business. Bobby V liked chewing his dip when he was managing the Mets; he treats his players like men; but if their off-field activities are affecting on-field production—as was the case with Todd Hundley and Pete Harnisch—they’re going to hear about it. It will be done privately at first, then publicly if it continues.

His big theme concerning the way the players behave will be “don’t make me look like an idiot”.

The stuff that went on under the watch of Francona was more embarrassing than damaging. If the players had been performing their due diligence in workouts and not been so brazen about their clubhouse time, it wouldn’t have been an issue. But because they so cavalierly loafed and lazed, seemingly not caring what was happening on the field, it snowballed and became a flashpoint to the lax discipline of Francona and festered into unnecessary problems.

Relationships with opponents, umpires and the media.

Valentine has endured public spats with many other managers and hasn’t shied from any of them, even suggesting they possibly turn physical if need be.

During his playing days, no one wanted to mess with Don Baylor. Baylor, who crowded the plate and steadfastly refused to move when a ball was heading in his direction, led the league in getting hit-by-pitches eight times. Valentine had protested a mistake the then-Cubs manager Baylor had made on his lineup card when the Mets and Cubs played the season-opening series of 2000 in Japan; Baylor made some comments about it; Valentine, who never brought the lineup card to the plate as Mets manager, did so in the first game of the Mets-Cubs series in May; Valentine asked Baylor if the two had a problem, Baylor said no and that was it.

This was indicative of the personality and gamesmanship of Valentine. Managers and players from other teams don’t like him, but he doesn’t care.

As Red Sox manager, he’s going to bait Joe Girardi; he’ll annoy Joe Maddon; he and Buck Showalter will glare at each other from across the field at who can be more nitpicky in a chess match of “I’m smarter than you”; he knows the rules better than the umpires and finds the smallest and most obscure ones to get an advantage for his team; he manipulates the media and his temper gets the better of him—he’ll say he’s not going to talk about something, then talk about if for 20 minutes; and his foghorn voice will echo across all of baseball to let everyone know the Red Sox are in town.

Francona was well-liked by everyone.

Valentine won’t be. And he doesn’t care.

Valentine can be annoying. He was a three-sport star in high school and a ballroom dancing champion, is married to his high school sweetheart and is still remarkably handsome even at age 61; he was Tommy Lasorda‘s pet in the minor leagues and his teammates loathed him—he grates on people because of his seeming superiority and perfection.

He’s not irritating people intentionally unless he thinks it will help him win a game—it’s just Bobby V being Bobby V.

The GM/manager dynamic.

Did new Red Sox GM Ben Cherington want Valentine?

There will be an across-the-board series of analysis why he did and didn’t—most will detail why he didn’t.

But does it matter?

The whole concept of Valentine being impossible to handle, undermining, subversive and Machiavellian stem from his inter-organizational battles with Steve Phillips when the duo were the GM/manager combination for the Mets.

Valentine hated Phillips and vice versa; it wasn’t simply that Valentine hated Phillips as a GM, he hated him as a human being more.

But Phillips’s personal behaviors weren’t publicly known to the degree that they are now; it’s doubtful that Cherington will be stupid enough to get caught up in the number of foibles that have befallen Phillips and sabotaged someone who was a better GM than he’s given credit for and an excellent and insightful broadcaster.

Despite the disputes and cold war, something about the Valentine-Phillips relationship worked.

As long as there’s a mutual respect between Valentine and Cherington, what’s wrong with a little passionate debate even if it’s of the screaming, yelling and throwing things variety?

It’s better than the alternative of King Lear—the lonely man seeking to salvage what’s left of his crumbling monarchy—as there is in Oakland with Billy Beane; or what we saw eventually disintegrate with Theo Epstein’s and Larry Lucchino’s Macbeth and Duncan reprise with the Red Sox.

The only difference between the managers who are installed as a matter of following the script and out of convenience—as Francona was—and Valentine is that Valentine’s not disposable as the prototypical Moneyball middle-managers are and the Red Sox have to pay him a salary far greater than they would’ve had to pay Gene Lamont or Torey Lovullo.

In the final analysis financially, it’s cheaper to hire and pay Valentine than it would be to hire a retread or an unknown and run the risk of a total explosion of the team early in 2012 and having to clean house while enduring a lost season and revenues.

Valentine can tape together what’s currently there better than the other candidates could.

There will be disagreements and if Valentine has to, he’ll go over Cherington’s head to Lucchino or use the media to get what he wants. It’s Cherington’s first GM job; he won’t want to screw it up; plus, it’s a no-lose situation for him because if things go wrong, there’s always the head shake and gesture towards Bobby V and Lucchino to explain away what went wrong and why it’s not Cherington’s fault.

Even if it is.

Strategies.

Valentine isn’t Grady Little and won’t ignore the numbers; he was one of the first stat-savvy managers  who accessed the work of Bill James when he took over the Rangers in 1985.

That’s not to say he won’t make moves against the so-called new age stats that make sense on paper, but are idiotic or unrealistic in practice. He’s not going to demand his switch-hitters bat lefty against lefty pitchers because of an obscure and out-of-context number; he’ll let his relievers know what’s expected of them in a “defined role” sense (to keep the peace); and he’s going to tweak his lineups based on the opponent.

He doles out his pitchers innings evenly and finds players who may have underappreicated talents and places them in a situation to succeed—sounds like a stat guy concept.

Players.

With the Mets, there was a notion that Valentine preferred to have a roster of interchangeable parts with non-stars; functional players he could bench without hearing the entreaties that he has to play <BLANK> because of his salary.

Valentine might prefer to have a clear path to do what’s right for a particular game without having to worry about how it’s framed or answering stupid questions after the fact, but he dealt with his star players—Mike Piazza; Mike Hampton; Al Leiter; Robin Ventura—well enough.

What Valentine is truly good at is finding the players who have been ignored or weren’t given a chance and giving them their opportunity.

Todd Pratt, Rick Reed, Benny Agbayani, Desi Relaford, Timo Perez, Melvin Mora, Masato Yoshii were all Valentine “guys” who he trusted and fought for. All contributed to the Mets during Valentine’s tenure.

If anyone can get something out of Daisuke Matsuzaka, it’s Valentine; if anyone can put Carl Crawford in the lineup spot where he’ll be most productive—irrespective of Crawford’s personal preferences—it’s Valentine; and if anyone can work Jose Iglesias into the lineup without undue pressure, it’s Valentine.

Concerns.

While he managed in Japan for several years in the interim, Valentine hasn’t managed in the big leagues since 2002. Veteran managers sometimes hit the ground running after a long break as Jim Leyland did with the Tigers; or they embody the perception that they’ve lost something off their managerial fastball—I got that impression with Davey Johnson managing the Nationals in 2011.

Valentine’s 61 and in good shape, but ten years is a long time to be away from the trenches.

There will be a honeymoon period with the media and fans, but like the Red Sox attempt to hire Beane to be the GM after 2002, how long is this honeymoon going to last if the Red Sox are 19-21 after 40 games with the expectations and payroll what they are.

It’s hard to stick to the script as the Yankees fans are laughing at them; mired in a division with three other strong teams in the Yankees, Blue Jays and Rays possibly ahead of them; and the fans and media are bellowing for something—anything—to be done.

Valentine’s Mets teams tended to fade, tighten and panic at the ends of seasons. It happened in 1998 and 1999; in 1999 they squeaked into the playoffs after a frenetic late-season run and, once they were in, relaxed to put up a good, borderline heroic showing before losing to the Braves in the NLCS.

There will be players who ridicule, mock and question him. John Franco took the opportunity to get his revenge against Valentine by helping Phillips’s case to fire him in 2002 because Valentine had taken Franco’s closer role away and given it to Armando Benitez while Franco was injured.

Will Beckett push Valentine so one of them has to go? I doubt it, but Beckett’s a bully and won’t like being told what to do.

Will Bobby Jenks‘s attitude or Kevin Youkilis‘s whining cause Valentine to call them out publicly?

Will it damage the team if there’s an early insurrection or will it embolden the front office that a stricter force was necessary?

The real issues.

It’s nice that the Red Sox have hired a proven, veteran manager; a known quantity; someone they can sell to the media and fans, but it doesn’t address the player issues that sabotaged the team as they collapsed in September.

John Lackey is out for the year with Tommy John surgery and they need starting pitching.

David Ortiz is a free agent.

They need a bat.

They have to hope that Crawford straightens out and becomes the player they paid for.

Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia have been enduring multiple injuries.

Clay Buchholz is returning from a back problem.

They don’t know who their closer is going to be.

More than anything else, the Red Sox 2012 season is going to be determined by how these holes are patched and filled.

But the manager’s office is taken care of and they’re indulging in an out-of-book experience in hiring Bobby Valentine.

And it’s a great move.

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Josh Lueke and the No-Tolerance Policy

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The Mariners traded right-handed relief pitcher Josh Lueke and a minor leaguer or cash to the Rays for catcher John Jaso.

Jaso isn’t very good defensively, but he gets on base and has shown some minor league pop. Today the Rays signed Jose Molina; they have Jose Lobaton, Robinson Chirinos and have expressed interesting in bringing back Kelly Shoppach.

They’ll be okay behind the plate without Jaso.

But will they be okay with Lueke?

Lueke became known not for of his blazing fastball, but because he was part of the deal that sent Cliff Lee from the Mariners to the Rangers and a dispute ensued as to whom knew what about Lueke’s arrest record in which he was charged with sexual assault and lying to the police, then pleaded no contest.

The whole episode could have cost Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik his job.

The Mariners dumping of Lueke for what amounts to a backup catcher isn’t simply a trade; it appears as if they want to put the whole Lueke experience behind them as an organization, were presented with this deal and took it.

I don’t blame them.

I wouldn’t touch Jose Lueke.

You can make the case that in every organization there are a fair number of people who’ve been a bit too aggressive or behaved inappropriately with the opposite sex.

I’m not only talking about players; I’m talking about employees in every facet and it’s not always just men.

But the Lueke case is on the record. You can also make the contention that since it was his word against the accuser’s and that the episode sort of went away that he deserves another chance as long as he doesn’t get caught up in anything else.

It’s not unreasonable.

With the Rays however, their rise to prominence since 2008 came, of course, as a result of the high draft picks accrued from being so awful for so long; by making intelligent trades and savvy free agent signings; and a fair amount of luck.

An underreported aspect of their leap into contention was that they also ceased taking crap from their employees.

There’s a power in the act of not taking crap.

In relatively rapid succession over the course of a year-and-a-half from 2006-2007, the Rays had dealt with the DUI arrest of pitching coach Jim Hickey; the repeated and increasingly violent transgressions of Elijah Dukes; the bat-throwing suspension of Delmon Young; and the continued sobriety struggles of Josh Hamilton.

Hamilton was left unprotected in the 2006 Rule 5 draft and selected by the Cubs who immediately sold him to the Reds. Hamilton restarted his career in Cincinnati in 2007, was traded to the Rangers and became a star.

Apart from a few minor disputes with manager Joe Maddon, Young played and behaved well enough in 2007 that the Twins—historically a team that doesn’t take any garbage either—traded for him in what wound up being a coup for the Rays in acquiring Jason Bartlett and Matt Garza. Young’s been a mostly solid citizen since then.

Dukes was incorrigible and traded to the Nationals for a nondescript minor league lefty, Glenn Gibson. He continually got into off-and-on-field trouble and the Nationals released him after the 2010 season.

At that time, since the Rays were such a running joke and a team that few paid attention to unless they were in the front of the newspaper as opposed to the back (where they belonged), they were in a position to draw a line with their employees and eject those that crossed it.

That may no longer be the case as they’ve succeeded and increased in stature and positive attention.

You can also say that the Rays have taken a load of stuff from B.J. Upton that a “not taking crap” template would’ve required they get rid of him; but Upton’s problems don’t stem from him being an off-field violent offender—he’s just lazy on the field and doesn’t listen.

There’s a difference between that and being arrested/suspended for violent acts. Those other cases were individuals who were already with the Rays; they’re trading for Lueke.

The Rays could issue the no-tolerance policy to Lueke. Or they could be trying a pump-and-dump of rebuilding his value, then include him in a trade. It’s not as if they gave up all that much to get him and releasing him will cost them nothing if he does give them cause. Lueke has a great arm. In normal circumstances, I’d say “why not?” and see how he behaves and pitches; but with the Rays, having learned the lesson of enough’s enough combined with “if you don’t want to be here and act appropriately, we’ll get rid of you” and seeing it work, I have to wonder why they would bring this person into the organization, due diligence and no-tolerance policy or not.

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