The R.A. Dickey Trade, Part I—The Rumors Are Lies

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The Mets’ trade of R.A. Dickey to the Blue Jays along with catcher Josh Thole and a minor leaguer for catcher Travis d’Arnaud, catcher John Buck, minor league righty Noah Syndergaard and another minor leaguer is contingent on Dickey signing a contract extension with the Blue Jays by Tuesday afternoon. Until then, it’s not done. But negative analysis of why the Mets are doing this has run the gamut from them being tight-fisted to petulant to stupid.

It’s none of the above.

The easy storyline is to take Dickey’s comments at the Mets’ holiday party as the last straw. At least that’s what’s being implied by the New York media. That holiday party has become a petri dish for dissent and the final impetus to trade players. It was in 2005, after all, that Kris Benson’s tenure with the club was effectively ended when his camera-loving wife Anna Benson arrived in a revealing, low-cut red dress. Then-Mets’ GM Omar Minaya subsequently sent Benson to the Orioles for John Maine and Jorge Julio, which turned out to be a great deal for the Mets.

The Benson trade and the pending Dickey trade are comparable in one realistic way: they got value back. Maine was a good pitcher for the Mets for several years and they spun Julio to the Diamondbacks for Orlando Hernandez, who also helped them greatly. With Dickey, it’s an organizational move for the future and not one to cut a problem from the clubhouse.

Were the Mets irritated by Dickey’s constant chatter? Probably a bit. In looking at it from the Mets’ position, of all the clubs Dickey pitched for as he was trying to find his way with the knuckleball—the Rangers, Brewers, Twins (three times), and Mariners (twice)—it was they who gave him a legitimate shot. He took advantage of it, they got lucky and he became a star because of his fascinating tale on and off the field and his ability to tell it. It’s not to be ignored that the Mets, under Sandy Alderson, gave Dickey a 2-year, $7.8 million guaranteed contract after he had one good season in 2010. They didn’t have to do that. They could’ve waited to see him do it again, wondering if it was a fluke. The Mets invested in Dickey and he agreed to it. For him to complain about the contract he signed with such silly statements as the $5 million club option for 2013 setting a “bad dynamic” and threatening to leave after the 2013 season as a free agent were things better left unsaid considering all the variables.

If the Mets were truly interested in wringing every last drop out of Dickey and seeing if he could repeat his 2012 season while placating the ignorant fans complaining about this brilliant trade, they would’ve kept Dickey on the cheap as a drawing card and worried about later later—just as they did with Jose Reyes.

Rather than repeat that mistake, they dangled Dickey to pitcher-hungry teams and when they didn’t get the offers they deemed acceptable, they waited until the big names (Zack Greinke, James Shields) and medium names (Ryan Dempster, Anibal Sanchez) came off the market and struck. That it was simultaneous to the holiday party “controversy” is a matter of timing convenient for conspiracy theories. Delving deeper into the reality of the situation and there’s no substance to the “Dickey Must Go” perception.

This is a cold, calculating decision on the part of the Mets for the future, not to send a message. If you think Alderson was influenced by Dickey’s comments, you’re misjudging Alderson badly. It’s amazing that he’s been able to convince the Wilpons to make deals for the long-term that won’t be popular with a large segment of the fanbase and will provide kindling for the members of the media to light another fire to burn the embattled owners at the stake, but he did it. Personalities didn’t enter into it. Alderson, as the A’s GM, had Jose Canseco and Rickey Henderson. While they were productive, he kept them and tolerated their mouths and controversies, then discarded them. As CEO of the Padres, he acquired Heath Bell knowing his reputation. It’s not personal until the personal is affecting the professional. Dickey’s situation hadn’t reached that tipping point.

It’s a childhood fantasy to believe that every player in a major league clubhouse is a close friend to every other player in a major league clubhouse. Like any workplace, there’s conflict, clashes and little habits that get on the nerves of others. Did Dickey’s sudden fame grate people in the Mets clubhouse? Were they jealous? Probably, especially since there’s a prevailing perception that a knuckleballer is comparable to a placekicker in football and isn’t really getting hitters out as much as he’s tricking them with a pitch they rarely see. Whether or not that’s true is irrelevant. As we saw in the Cy Young Award voting, no one’s giving credit based on how they got their results. Dickey was among the top pitchers in the National League and garnered enough votes to win the award. The Cy Young Award, like Reyes’s batting championship is a title based on so many factors that it shouldn’t enter into the equation as to whether or not a player stays or goes.

How many players are there about whom teammates, on-field management, front office people and opponents don’t roll their eyes and whisper to media members of how annoying they are? In today’s game, there’s Mariano Rivera. 30 years ago, there was Dale Murphy. Apart from that, who?

Even Goose Gossage, who has replaced Bob Feller as the Hall of Fame’s grumpy old man in residence, doesn’t criticize Rivera personally when going into one of his rants about closers of today that should begin with a fist pounded on the desk and, “In my day…” and end with, “Get off my lawn!!!”

On the opposite end, there are players universally reviled like Barry Bonds. Most are in the middle. People can still do their jobs without loving the person they work with.

The trade of Dickey was baseball related and nothing more. It was the right call.

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Hot Stove Losers, 2011-2012

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On Friday I listed the winners of the off-season. Now let’s look at the losers.

Boston Red Sox

It’s not the maneuvers they made that are specifically bad.

Confusing? Yes, trading Marco Scutaro to free up some money and then spending some of that money to sign Cody Ross while leaving shortstop in the questionable hands of Nick Punto, Mike Aviles and/or rookie Jose Iglesias was one of a long line of bizarre decisions, but none could be called “bad”.

My focus is on the perceived and practical appearance of disarray that’s taken hold in Boston since the departure of Theo Epstein.

Say what you want about Epstein and the moves he made, but you knew he was in charge.

Now, with Ben Cherington elevated to GM and Larry Lucchino clearly diving into the breach and interfering in team matters (Bobby Valentine would not be the Red Sox manager without Lucchino championing him), there’s a troubling lack of cohesion.

What you have is a team of well-paid stars whose behavior was enabled by a disciplinary lackadaisical former manager, good guy Terry Francona; a transition from a clubhouse dominated by Jason Varitek to…who?; a front office with multiple voices and philosophies trying to gain sway; and a polarizing manager who won’t want to blow what is probably his final chance to manage in the majors and working on a 2-year contract.

They haven’t addressed issues in the starting rotation other than hope that Daniel Bard can make the transition from reliever to starter and sign a bunch of low-cost veterans on minor league deals to see if they can cobble together a back-end of the rotation. But what happened with the Yankees and Freddy Garcia/Bartolo Colon in 2011 doesn’t happen too often, so the Red Sox shouldn’t expect to get similar renaissance-level/amazing rise performances from Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla, John Maine and Clayton Mortensen.

There are more questions than answers with this team and the solution to what ails them starts at the top.

And at the top, it’s chaos.

Baltimore Orioles

Regardless of the ridicule his hiring received, Dan Duquette is a highly competent baseball man who never got the credit he deserved for helping put together the Expos of the 1990s or the Red Sox of recent vintage.

But the Orioles are devoid of talent, especially on the mound, and it doesn’t matter how qualified the manager (Buck Showalter) and GM are, you can’t win if you don’t have talent.

What the Orioles have to do is make the difficult decision to take their most marketable assets—Nick Markakis, Adam JonesJim Johnson and even Matt Wieters—and let the rest of baseball know that they’re open for business and willing to listen to any and all offers.

Whether owner Peter Angelos or Showalter will be on board with that is up in the air.

Oakland Athletics

So Billy Beane gets another rebuild?

How many is this now? Five?

The Athletics use a lack of funds and a difficult division—along with their GM’s increasingly ridiculous and fictional reputation as a “genius”—to justify trading away all of their young talent for the future.

That future is far away in the distance and contingent on a new ballpark that they hope, pray, plead, beg will one day come their way.

Here’s a question: why do the Rays, facing the same logistical issues as the Athletics, try and win by making intelligent, cost-effective moves with their players and somehow succeed while a supposed “genius” is continually given a pass because of a resume that is bottom-line fabricated from start-to-finish?

Yet we’ll again hear how Beane got the “right” players in dumping Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey.

Right players for what?

If the answer is losing close to 100 games, then he’s definitely succeeded.

Oh, they kept Coco Crisp and signed Bartolo Colon.

Beane deserves an Oscar more than Brad Pitt for maintaining the veneer of knowing something others don’t.

It’s a ruse and you’re a fool if you continue to fall for it.

Milwaukee Brewers

They understandably lost Prince Fielder because they couldn’t and wouldn’t approach the $214 million he received from the Tigers.

Signing Aramis Ramirez was a good decision and they kept their bullpen and starting rotation together, but their hot stove season was pockmarked with the failed(?) drug test of NL MVP Ryan Braun and possible 50 game suspension for using PEDs.

With the pitching and remaining offense in a mediocre division, they’d be able to hang around contention even without Fielder, but missing Braun for 50 games could bury them.

St. Louis Cardinals

You can’t lose three Hall of Fame caliber people and consider the off-season a success. Albert Pujols, Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan are all gone. Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran will offset the loss of Pujols…somewhat, but he’s still Pujols and fundamentally irreplaceable.

Mike Matheny has never managed before and it was the rebuilding aptitude of Dave Duncan that salvaged something out of the broken down and finished pitchers he continually fixed like an abandoned but still workable car.

LaRussa is the best manager of this generation.

A seamless transition? No way.

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Blunt Group Therapy For Red Sox And Brewers Fans

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It won’t help, but I know what Red Sox and Brewers fans are going through.

You’re counting the days and games; scouring the schedules of your team and your competitors; calculating the likelihood and magic numbers for a playoff spot you once felt was guaranteed; examining the pitching matchups and acting as if nothing’s wrong when you’re worried, worried, worried.

Each loss; each injury; each day that passes and another piece of the lead is whittled away, you say, “just let us make the playoffs; I don’t care if we lose in the first round; I don’t want to deal with the embarrassment of being called a ‘choker’ and hearing the obnoxious Yankees/Cardinals fans and their smug self-satisfaction at the misery of others”.

I know.

I experienced it with the Mets in 2007 and 2008.

Of course, 2007 was far worse.

And the parallels are unmistakable.

Like the Red Sox of 2011, the 2007 Mets had high expectations after a disappointing prior season. The Mets were short-handed in the starting rotation relying on aging and declining veterans Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez and inexperienced and tired from a long-season Oliver Perez and John Maine; the Red Sox have lost Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz to injuries and John Lackey has been, um…not good.

The hype surrounding this Red Sox team was exemplified by the idiotic (before the season, during and maybe after) lusty fan piece on NESN by Eric Ortiz proclaiming the Red Sox as a direct challenger to the 1927 Yankees.

After reading that, a large segment of people wanted the Red Sox to lose.

The 2011 Rays, like the 2007 Phillies, have nothing to lose and are playing with the freewheeling “no one expects us to win anyway” attitude that allows them to relax. The Rays are younger and healthier.

Is it likely that the Rays catch the Red Sox? No. But examining their schedules with the Rays having 3 games in Boston next week and 7 games remaining with the Yankees, there’s cause for concern. If the Yankees have the division locked up, is it so farfetched to see the Yankees shun going all out to win in those 3 games in Tampa against the Rays to screw the Red Sox?

The perfect storm is in place because the Red Sox are playing the Yankees in 3 games at Yankee Stadium directly before they travel to play the Rays.

It’s possible that, to make the playoffs, the Red Sox will be rooting for the Yankees.

That’s not where they want to be.

With the Brewers, their arrogance is engendering loathing throughout baseball.

Yesterday I defended Nyjer Morgan for his Tony Plush persona because it’s nothing to get into a twist about—who cares what Morgan says and does? But the one thing a team does not want to do is inspire other teams to want to beat them more and ruin their playoff chances—the 2007 Mets did that with the Marlins and it cost them. And teams like the Brewers—who’ve won nothing—certainly don’t want to make a veteran team with a megastar like Albert Pujols angry.

The Phillies have a right to be arrogant; the Brewers don’t.

The Cardinals are now 6 games behind the Brewers.

Many lower-level teams are playing out the string and trying to get the season over with; for the most part, they want to win, but don’t care all that much which other teams make the playoffs; if they’re made to care because of taunting and narcissism, it’s a motivation that was unnecessary and self-destructive.

Ron Darling said something interesting during the Mets game yesterday. In essence, players who hit 4-5 more homers in September are doing so because they’re looking to pad their stats by the end of the season. This isn’t strategic nor is it done with the interests of team goals in mind. They’re guessing at pitches and hacking. If a player does this against the Cardinals and not the Brewers, that’s not good for the Brewers.

After today, the Brewers remaining schedule is relatively weak; the Cardinals have a few tough games with the Phillies; the Mets are looking to finish above .500; and the Cubs would dearly love to knock out the Cardinals.

Of the two teams that are in danger of a September swoon, the Red Sox are far more vulnerable than the Brewers; if either happens to join the 2007 Mets and 1964 Phillies as members of the exclusive club of inexplicable chokes, they have no one to blame but themselves.

And it could happen.

I know.

Because I saw it happen with the Mets.

Twice.

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The Cardinals’ Last Stand

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Having swept three straight from the Brewers at Miller Park, the Cardinals have kept themselves alive in the NL Central race. They’re still down 7 1/2 games with 25 to play so a comeback would be bordering on the miraculous, but they’re still around—and that was the first step.

This weekend is supremely important for the Cardinals to—at the very least—stay 7 1/2 games behind. The Brewers are in Houston for a 3 game series with the Astros while the Cardinals are going home to play the Reds.

On Monday, the Brewers go to St. Louis for 3 games.

If the Cardinals can cut the deficit another game or two, Monday becomes very, very interesting and important. Let’s say the Cardinals manage to get within 5 games after their home series with the Brewers. The Brewers are then going to Philadelphia to play the Phillies; the Cardinals have the Braves coming to town.

Without providing schedules for each team down the stretch (their opponents are mostly the same), the Cardinals have to make their move now.

It’s hard to see the Brewers stumbling in a 2007 Mets-type way and being caught or passed by the Cardinals. Those Mets were drastically flawed in the starting rotation with Oliver Perez and John Maine both having been coaxed to unexpected 15 win seasons by Rick Peterson and Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez were shells of what they once were; this Brewers club with Zack Greinke, Yovani Gallardo, Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf has legitimate starting pitching.

You can also throw the 2008 Mets into that mix. With Johan Santana their starting pitching was better than it was in the previous year, but the bullpen was relying on journeyman Luis Ayala to close after Billy Wagner went down with Tommy John surgery; the Brewers have two legitimate closers in John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez.

2007 Mets manager Willie Randolph panicked and 2008 manager Jerry Manuel was outgunned; I don’t know how Brewers rookie manager Ron Roenicke is going to react if his club is pressed by Tony LaRussa‘s Cardinals over the last two weeks.

But the Cardinals crawled back into striking distance with the sweep—similar to the way the Phillies did against the Mets (twice) in the final 5 weeks of the 2007 season.

The last thing the Brewers want to do is let the Cardinals think they have a chance.

That’s what the Cardinals are thinking now.

And if things break a certain way, in seven days time they might have more than a chance. They might have a race; a race the Brewers neither wanted, needed nor expected.

The Brewers have to take care of business by next Thursday or they could have a problem on their hands.

A big one.

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