Alex Anthopoulos’s Kitchen Sink

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Unwed to a particular strategy as his predecessor was, when Alex Anthopoulos took over as Blue Jays’ GM replacing J.P. Ricciardi, he exhibited a freshness that invigorated the franchise. Ricciardi did a better job than he’s given credit for, but a series of poor drafts and feuds with players from his team and others as well as the consistently mediocre, “almost there” results, led to his ouster. Anthopoulos took the controls, executed a series of well-regarded trades getting quality prospects Kyle Drabek and Travis D’Arnaud for Roy Halladay; as well as acquiring Brandon Morrow for Brandon League and was rightfully judged as a solid choice and up and coming executive who could be trusted.

The Blue Jays looked to be a team on the rise with plenty of young talent and a forward thinking GM who knew the numbers, but also trusted his old-school baseball people with flexibility of trying speed in lieu of power and on base percentage. But the on-field results are still mediocre-to-bad and now there’s a rising scrutiny on Anthopoulos. His great moves such as getting Morrow and finding a taker for Vernon Wells‘s atrocious contract have been mitigated by his poor moves such as trading Mike Napoli for Frank Francisco. Colby Rasmus and Yunel Escobar were two players who had worn out their welcomes in their prior stops, but were talented enough to make it worthwhile to get them. Escobar is still a player the front office wants to strangle because of his brain dead behavior and Rasmus has been the same disappointment with the Blue Jays he was with the Cardinals; in fact, he’s been worse.

Now the strange decision to sign career utility player Maicer Izturis to a 3-year, $10 million contract while trading a better player Mike Aviles to the Indians for a scatterarmed reliever (the Blue Jays have plenty of those) Esmil Rogers calls into greater question what the plan is. In 2012, the entire pitching staff was decimated by injuries and the strategy Anthopoulos has used to construct his bullpen with journeymen such as Kevin Gregg, Francisco, Jon Rauch, Octavio Dotel, and Sergio Santos has been a failure. His hand-picked manager, John Farrell, was roundly criticized for game-handling skills that were bordering on the inept and a profound lack of fundamentals that cost the club numerous games.

This kitchen sink strategy is reminiscent of a sous chef getting the head chef job, having many plans and innovative ideas, then overdoing it making things worse than they were before. Anthopoulos is trying a lot of different tactics, but it doesn’t hide the bottom line that his choice as manager was traded away only because the Red Sox desperately wanted him and was in serious jeopardy of being fired if they hadn’t; that the Blue Jays have consistently been labeled a team to watch, but sat by haplessly as the team that finally overtook the Red Sox and Rays in the AL East was a different kind of bird, the Orioles, with a roster that was widely expected to lose 95 games in 2012.

The Blue Jays have yet to hire a manager to replace Farrell. The trade was completed on October 21st. How long does it take to find a new manager? The pedestrian names who struggled elsewhere such as Don Wakamatsu and Manny Acta have been bandied about. How many managers does Anthopoulos get to hire and fire? How many tries at getting the recipe right will he get before the scrutiny falls squarely on him?

Getting Brett Lawrie and Morrow; dumping Wells’s onerous contract; and the perception of knowing what he’s doing have carried him this far. Much of what’s gone wrong with the Blue Jays hasn’t been the fault of Anthopoulos, but there comes a time when there has to be a legitimate improvement on the field before the question, “What’s the problem here?” is asked. That time is coming and if the Blue Jays don’t get better quick, it will be asked of Anthopoulos and right now, given the ponderous managerial search, it doesn’t appear as though he has an answer that will placate the angry masses.

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The Truth About The Yankees’ Home Runs

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The simple stupidity of the Yankees being criticized for relying on the home run ball speaks for itself. Are they supposed to stop trying to hit home runs to prove they can win without it? What’s the difference how they score their runs? Are they sacrificing other aspects of their game chasing homers?

The answer to the above questions is no.

They have players who hit a lot of home runs. If they lose games in which they haven’t homered, it’s a safe bet that they ran into a pretty good pitcher.

The out-of-context stat argument is more complicated. Picking and choosing a convenient stat to bolster an argument is not the true intent of using statistics to begin with. They’re designed to promote a factual understanding and not to fool readers into seeing things the way the writer wants.

Is it a bad thing that the Yankees score via the home run? No.

Is it indicative that they’ll continue that trend once the playoffs start and do they need to be prepared to find other ways to score runs when they’re in games against better teams with better pitchers? They’ll hit their homers, but it won’t be like it is now.

The truly important factor to examine isn’t whether or not they’re hitting home runs, but who they’re hitting the home runs against.

During the regular season there aren’t the top-tier pitchers they’re going to face in the playoffs. The better the pitcher is, the better his stuff is; the better his command is; the better his control is. He’s not going to make the same mistakes as the mediocre and worse pitchers they’re fattening up their power numbers against.

I looked at all the pitchers the Yankees have homered against this season.

The list follows:

Russell Martin: Clay Buchholz, Justin Verlander, Jose Mijares, Homer Bailey, James Shields, J.P. Howell, Jonathon Niese, Jon Rauch

Mark Teixeira: Anthony Swarzak, Felix Doubront, Matt Albers, Bruce Chen, Luis Ayala, Tyson Ross, Bartolo Colon, Graham Godfrey, Hisanori Takahashi, Alex Cobb, Dillon Gee, Mike Minor

Robinson Cano: Jason Marquis, Luke Hochevar (2), David Price, Bronson Arroyo, Tyson Ross, Bartolo Colon, Ervin Santana, Alex Cobb, Johan Santana (2), Tom Gorzelanny, Anthony Varvaro, Tommy Hanson, Miguel Batista (2)

Alex Rodriguez: Ervin Santana, Clay Buchholz, Derek Holland, Justin Verlander (2) Tommy Hottovy, Will Smith (2), Octavio Dotel, Jonny Venters, Tommy Hanson, Jon Niese

Derek Jeter: Wei-Yin Chen, Hisanori Takahashi, Carl Pavano, Matt Capps, Bruce Chen, Justin Verlander, Tommy Hanson

Raul Ibanez: James Shields (2), Jason Isringhausen, Neftali Feliz, Burke Badenhop, Felix Hernandez, Hector Noesi, Bronson Arroyo, Jonny Cueto, Randall Delgado, Chris Young

Curtis Garnderson: Jake Arrieta, Ervin Santana (2), Carl Pavano, Anthony Swarzak (2), Jeff Gray, Phil Coke, Max Scherzer, Brian Matusz, James Shields, David Price, Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Will Smith, Bobby Cassevah, Casey Crosby, Bobby Parnell, Tim Hudson, Tom Gorzelanny, Edwin Jackson

Nick Swisher: Joel Peralta, Kevin Gregg, Clay Buchholz, Vicente Padilla, Drew Smyly, Jose Valverde, Luke Hochevar, Tyson Ross, Johan Santana, Cory Gearrin, R.A. Dickey

Eric Chavez: Clay Buchholz (2), Jason Hammel, Tommy Hanson, Jon Rauch

Andruw Jones: Darren O’Day, Matt Maloney, Collin Balester, Steve Delabar, Tommy Milone, Johan Santana, Jon Niese

There are some names above that the Yankees might be facing in the post-season. Shields, Price, Verlander, Hanson and a few others. But they’re not going to be able to use Hochevar, Pavano or most of the other mediocrities to beat on.

I don’t see the names Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Dan Haren, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez or Yu Darvish in there.

If the Yankees don’t hit homers, then what?

Understanding the value of their homers is not the brainless bully strategy of, “Me swing hard; me hit home runs; team win.”

What was the score when the home runs were hit? What where the weather conditions? Did the pitcher make a mistake or did the hitter hit a good pitch? Was the game a blowout and the pitcher just trying to get the ball over the plate to get the game over with in either club’s favor?

These questions, among many other things, have to be accounted for.

Those who are complaining about the club needing to “manufacture” runs don’t know any more about baseball than those who are blindly defending the use of the home run without the full story.

Of course it’s a good thing that the Yankees hit a lot of home runs, but those home runs can’t be relied upon as the determinative factor of whether they’re going to win in the post-season because they’ll be facing better pitching and teams that will be able to use the homer-friendly Yankee Stadium themselves mitigating any advantage the Yankees might have. Teams that are more versatile, play good defense, steal bases and run with smart aggression and have strong pitching will be able to deal with the Yankees’ power.

Teams like the Mets are unable to do that.

The Yankees’ home runs are only an issue if they stop hitting them. Then they’ll have to find alternative ways to score when the balls aren’t flying over the fences. This is why it’s not a problem that they don’t have Brett Gardner now. In fact, it seems like the fans and media has forgotten about him. But they’re going to need him in the playoffs because he gives them something they barely have with this current configuration: he can run and wreak havoc on the bases and is an excellent defensive left fielder.

As much as Joe Morgan was savaged for his silly statements blaming the Oakland A’s inability to manufacture runs in their playoff losses during the Moneyball years, he wasn’t fundamentally inaccurate. It wasn’t about squeezing and hitting and running capriciously as Morgan wanted them to do and altering the strategy that got them to the playoffs; but it was about being able to win when not hitting home runs; when not facing a pitching staff that is going to walk you; when a team actually has relievers who can pitch and not a bunch of names they accumulated and found on the scrapheap.

The A’s couldn’t win when they didn’t get solid starting pitching or hit home runs.

Can the Yankees?

That’s going to be the key to their season. Then the true value of their homer-happy offense will come to light.

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Imagine Beltran Back to the Mets

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Jokes about the Mets taking a bridge loan from Bank of America aside, they had the money available to make try and sign Jose Reyes for $80 million and have spent about $10 million of the Reyes money on Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch (the Andres Torres/Ramon Ramirez acquisitions for Angel Pagan are a financial wash).

So what if the Mets are one of the mystery teams who are after Carlos Beltran?

Before shipping him to San Francisco for Zack Wheeler, the Mets made it a point to ask Scott Boras if the outfielder would be willing to consider returning if they traded him; at the time, I thought it was for appearances only and that they wanted no part of Beltran in the future.

But maybe it wasn’t.

Beltran fired Boras and replaced him with Dan Lozano who’s been busy with a few other “i” dots, “t” crossings, controversies, accusations and contracts.

Now he’s looking for a home for Beltran.

With the talk that the Mets willing to listen to offers on Ike Davis, Sandy Alderson could be truly interested in bringing Beltran back.

I believe that Lucas Duda is going to be a more productive power hitter than Davis; he doesn’t strike out as much and walks more; plus he’s a year behind Davis in service time. Duda is a horrible right fielder and an adequate first baseman; Davis would bring back quality on the trade market and the Mets know that Beltran can handle New York and being a Met—such as that is.

Beltran is an attractive option for multiple teams because he’s a switch-hitter; has power; showed he was recovered sufficiently from knee problems to steal a few bases; transitioned well to right field; is a big game performer; is a well-liked person; and doesn’t cost any draft picks.

Would it be so absurd for the Mets to consider bringing him back and would he think about it? They asked in the summer and Beltran said he would.

It’s unlikely given the contending and finanical status of the teams that are already known to be interested—the Cardinals, Rockies, Blue Jays and Red Sox among them—but it wouldn’t be such a terrible thing as a domino effect to make the Mets better in 2012 and beyond.

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The Mets Can’t Win

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I don’t mean on the field.

Obviously it’s going to be hard for them to compete in the National League East with the Phillies, Braves, Marlins and Nationals; but as I said when the Jose Reyes signing by the Marlins was leaked to the media, this is where the Mets are. They didn’t have the money and/or the desire to pay Reyes and let him leave.

What’s being ignored is that the Mets weaknesses in 2011 were not at the plate. In fact, they were more than capable of surviving without Reyes, David Wright and Ike Davis in the lineup and enduring poor years from Jason Bay and Angel Pagan.

How did they do it?

They had the second highest on base percentage in the National League which led to them finishing sixth in the league in runs scored. They had no power as Carlos Beltran led the team with 15 homers despite being traded in July. With the outfield fences being moved in, Citi Field will be more hitter-friendly to Wright and Bay which should lead to more production. One thing about the Mets front office led by Sandy Alderson: they did the math of how the new park dimensions will affect the hitters and the pitchers. Whether the projections are accurate or not is unknown. If anything, the mental block that has affected Wright since he set foot in the new, cavernous park will be removed.

There are two ways to go about building a team in the off-season: you can bolster strengths or address weaknesses. As difficult as it is to believe, the Mets strength was actually offense. That’s only in part due to the career season of Reyes— a career season that included two stints on the disabled list; a controversial bunt to win the batting title; a .337 average and a weak .384 OBP in conjunction with that lofty average. He also stopped stealing bases after his hamstring woes in what looked to be a concession to staying healthy as he headed towards free agency.

Their weaknesses were the bullpen, a lack of depth—both personnel wise and in innings pitched—in the starting rotation; and black holes in the lineup.

One of those black holes was Pagan.

Pagan has long been an impressive talent. Something like a baseball Frankenstein, Pagan’s creation seems to have been through mined bodyparts from a baseball graveyard. Somewhere in that body, he can run like Tim Raines; hit like Bernie Williams; and field like Garry Maddox.

He was also deprived of a functioning baseball brain.

For a management group that either wants players who listen to instruction or know what to do and when to do it, Pagan was a clear target for dispatching. It could’ve been any number of things that hastened his departure—his rising salary; his frequent injuries; his consistent on-field mistakes—but it was probably his attempt to double off a Cardinals baserunner—by throwing the ball towards Cardinals first base coach Dave McKay—that was the catalyst for the team to say enough’s enough.

Pagan was traded to the Giants for outfielder Andres Torres and right handed reliever Ramon Ramirez.

It’s partially addition by subtraction and partially getting functional bodies who will be better than what they had.

Both Torres and Ramirez are better and cheaper than what the prior bullpen inhabitants.

The Mets also signed two former Blue Jays relievers Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco.

Rauch receives a 1-year deal for $3.5 million; Francisco 2-years at $12 million.

All the relievers they acquired are relatively cheap and competent. Relief pitchers fluctuate from year-to-year and overpaying for them—especially with limited finances—is absurd.

Will these decisions spur a load of season ticket purchases? Inspire the media to suddenly cease the bashing of the team for doing the things that Alderson and Co. did with the Padres and Athletics they were faced with not having the money for big ticket items and instead went the affordable and sane route?

Probably neither, but the Mets filled needs in the bullpen and by getting rid of Pagan. The entire 2012 season is hinging on the improvement of young pitchers Jonathon Niese and getting something useful from Mike Pelfrey; the offense might be improved by the aforementioned factors of ballpark and Davis coming back; also Lucas Duda showed an impressive spurt of power late in the season.

Considering the way they were constructed in recent years and the doom accompanying the overreacting devastation at Reyes’s departure, they made some smart decisions that were what the media and fans were clamoring for in opposition to just buying things that were overpriced as they did under the prior regime.

Overall, things could be much worse.

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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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Trade Targets For National League Contenders

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Let’s have a look at the National League contenders, what they need to improve and whom they should target.

The word “contender” is defined by teams that I think are contenders based on current position and whether they can make a legitimate run towards the playoffs. Being over .500 or overachieving based on pre-season predictions (my own included) are not factored in.

Philadelphia Phillies

What they need: Bullpen help; a versatile defender/bat, preferably right-handed.

There are the popular bullpen names like Heath Bell. Bell’s going to get traded. Kerry Wood, Grant Balfour, Mike Gonzalez, Jon Rauch and Hong-Chih Kuo could be had; the Mets wouldn’t hesitate to trade Francisco Rodriguez anywhere and they’d give him away.

They’ll get bullpen help from somewhere.

For a bat, if Casey Blake is healthy he’s a veteran righty bat who can play multiple positions; he’s got a team option for $6 million with a $1.25 million buyout at the end of the year and might be rejuvenated by a shot at a ring.

Atlanta Braves

What they need: A bat.

Chipper Jones is out for at least a month after knee surgery and center field has been a toxic wasteland.

The A’s are going to clear out the house so that makes Coco Crisp, Josh Willingham and David DeJesus available. The aforementioned Blake could be acquired cheaply; they could go after Carlos Beltran who would undoubtedly love to go to the Braves.

The Padres’ Chase Headley plays third and has played the outfield before. Aramis Ramirez has said he’s not waiving his no-trade clause, but I’m not buying it. Why wouldn’t a veteran player want to go to the Braves?

The question with Beltran is whether he can play center field for a couple of months or if the Braves felt comfortable shifting Jason Heyward over from right for the remainder of the season.

Maybe they should re-acquire Jeff Francoeur. Not because he’d help but: A) he’d fit neatly into hitting coach Larry Parrish‘s aggressive!!! approach; and B) it’d be funny!!

Milwaukee Brewers

What they need: A good fielding shortstop; a lefty for the bullpen; an extra outfielder who can play center field.

There was talk about J.J. Hardy being reacquired, but he wants to stay with the Orioles.

Jason Bartlett would be perfect.

Carlos Gomez isn’t going to hit. That’s clear. Michael Bourn is available. Crisp could be had for very little.

Would they make a move on Beltran? GM Doug Melvin has been super-aggressive in the past and with Prince Fielder halfway out the door as a free agent and their brilliant starting pitching, the Brewers have to win now.

Brian Fuentes as a lefty specialist is an idea even though his splits in 2011 are ghastly against lefties. Sean Burnett and Kuo are options.

St. Louis Cardinals

What they need: Pitching.

They need a starter and could use bullpen help.

The Cardinals are in a bit of a box as to what they can do both practically and financially. They don’t have many prospects to deal for a Ricky Nolasco or Anibal Sanchez of the Marlins; nor do they have the money to fit Ted Lilly or Wandy Rodriguez into their long-term payroll.

If they felt confident that K-Rod wouldn’t reach his 2012 incentive based on appearances, they could get him for almost nothing.

They’d probably be better off leaving the rotation as is rather than do something stupid; I’d go after a Balfour, Fuentes or Bell.

Pittsburgh Pirates

What they need: A power bat.

If I’m the Pirates, I say screw it and go for it. Now.

The division is winnable, they’ve hung around with pitching and defense, but can’t hit.

Would Aramis Ramirez be willing to go back to Pittsburgh? How about Kosuke Fukudome? Beltran? Willingham? Hunter Pence? Luke Scott? Carlos Quentin?

Throw the bomb, Pirates. Why not?

Cincinnati Reds

What they need: Starting pitching a shortstop bat.

They need to watch the Marlins to see if they’re going to sell. Nolasco and Sanchez would help the Reds drastically. The Cubs’ Ryan Dempster has a $14 million player option that will undoubtedly scare off the majority of the league.

Rafael Furcal has a $12 million club option and a limited no-trade to certain teams. Ask about Hanley Ramirez. The Marlins might’ve had it with him and be willing to drop a bomb in the clubhouse for a lot of pieces.

San Francisco Giants

What they need: A bat. Any bat.

They’re linked with Beltran, but this concept of it being fait accompli that he’s going to San Francisco is stupid.

The Giants were supposedly after Jose Reyes, Reyes is on the disabled list and not getting traded.

How about Hanley Ramirez? They have the prospects to get him and he’s signed.

They could use a catcher, but there aren’t any available. One thing I was thinking the other day was if the Rockies fade, why not ask about Chris Iannetta?

Arizona Diamondbacks

What they need: A first base bat; bullpen help.

They could trade for Aramis Ramirez and shift Ryan Roberts to first base.

I don’t think Carlos Pena is as useful as others do with his feast or famine style; they released Russell Branyan who does pretty much the same things that Pena does.

Bell, Wood, Fuentes, Balfour—the usual bullpen suspects should be considered.

Here’s an interesting thought: K-Rod. It’d be a role reversal from the grand plan of the Mets in 2009 with J.J. Putz as the set-up man and K-Rod as the closer and they wouldn’t have to worry about the contract kicker if K-Rod is setting up for Putz.

Colorado Rockies

What they need: A starting pitcher.

Once they’re healthy, the Rockies will hit enough and the bullpen is okay.

Their starting rotation has been hurt badly in losing Jorge de la Rosa. It’s doubtful they have the money for Wandy Rodriguez or Lilly, but if the Marlins sell, Nolasco and Sanchez are targets. Jason Marquis isn’t any better than what the Rockies currently have, but he’s a functioning arm—for what that’s worth.

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Covering The Bases Of Inaccuracy

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Considering his success as a manager, it’s odd that certain factions have chosen to take the Twins awful start and a statement he made yesterday as an all-encompassing indictment of the entire tenure of manager Ron Gardenhire.

Gardenhire said that he and pitching coach Rick Anderson have been trying to convince Francisco Liriano to “pitch to contact” rather than try and rack up strikeouts.

Was this a discouragement against the strikeout? No, I doubt it. I see this as an entreaty for Liriano to trust his stuff and stop being so concerned with missing bats; make the pitches and let the movement, velocity and location take care of itself.

Laying the blame for the Twins slow start at the manager’s desk an after-the-fact emergence of those who’ve surreptitiously criticized the Twins and their style for years, but didn’t have the courage to do so while the team was making the playoffs on an annual basis.

Because they do things their own way, the stat people have ridiculed them as a creation of luck; that Gardenhire was along for the ride as they’ve made the playoffs in six of his nine years as manager; the one year they didn’t, they lost in a one-game playoff. His faults have been perceived as evident in their consistent playoff losses.

It’s a fact that they’ve only gotten past the ALDS once.

But facts don’t always tell the entire story. The reasons for the criticisms of Gardenhire may be accurate and factual in the bottom line, but it doesn’t make it fair.

You can’t have it both ways.

You can’t say the manager is at fault for the negatives and deserves no credit for the positives. In stat circles as an excuse more than a reason, the playoffs are seen as a crapshoot. If that’s the case, you can’t hold Gardenhire responsible for continually running into the Yankees in the ALDS and losing; nor can you say his strategies didn’t work if there’s no blame to be doling out.

Now the Twins are off to an atrocious start not because of anything Gardenhire has said, done or not done; they’re off to an atrocious start because they’re a strangely constructed team that endured heavy under-the-radar free agent losses that undermined their template for winning.

Without the bullpen arms Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch and Jesse Crain; and the departure of defensively superior shortstop and second baseman J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson, how do you think the pitchers—none of whom apart from Liriano are particularly good—are going to fare?

When a contact-based, bullpen reliant starting staff has their defense compromised and relievers dispatched, what’s going to happen?

It doesn’t help that the Twins haven’t hit, but their defense is awful and this is directly affecting the pitchers. They’re walking too many people; giving up too many hits and homers.

Could it be that the pitchers don’t trust the defense and trying too hard to pitch differently from what they’re accustomed to and what they’ve been taught? That the absence of trustworthy bullpen arms is in their heads as they feel they have to pitch deeper into games? Are they trapped in the purgatory of  bad defense, pitching to contact, conserving pitches and an offense that hasn’t started hitting?

As much as his decisions can be criticized, Gardenhire is in control of the clubhouse and his players play the game in a fundamentally correct fashion. It’s worked for them every year. Through lost stars like Johan Santana, injuries and a limited payroll, they’ve won.

Gardenhire wasn’t appreciated for the good things, but now all of a sudden his managing is why the Twins sit at 4-7?

He’s not doing anything different than he did before. His team’s just oddly constructed and not very good.

****

Check out my book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

It’s out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.

If anyone would like to purchase an autographed copy, leave a comment; Email me; contact me on Facebook or Twitter.

Become a fan on my Facebook fan page. Click on the link.


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Minnesota Has Bigger Problems Than Just Michele Bachmann

Books, Management, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Spring Training

All due respect to the overt danger of Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann contemplating a presidential run and that there are unsupervised adults who are supporting this endeavor, there are bigger issues currently confronting the people of Minnesota.

Representative Bachmann has zero chance of being elected president, thereby rendering her run meaningless. The Twins on the other hand have had a viable claim to being World Series contenders for much of the past decade. It’s not simply due to talent; the “Twins Way” has been as responsible for their consistency as any trades, free agent signings, smart draft choices or stability.

There’s a chain-of-command with the Twins; a code of conduct and behavior off the field; and an adherence to fundamentals on it that has served them well despite injuries, defections and financial constraints.

But now there are holes that they’ll have a tough time overcoming.

Let’s take a look.

Systematic departures:

The Twins are not a club of dominating starting pitching. Their rotation—apart from the potential star Francisco Liriano—is a strike-throwing, innings-gobbling group of cogs in the machine.

They’re not asked to do too much. They need to pound the strike zone, not surrender crooked numbers and get the game to the bullpen with a lead.

That’s the problem.

Departed relievers Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch and Jesse Crain were keys to manager Ron Gardenhire’s strategy.

Guerrier was durable with 70+ appearances every single year and consistent numbers. Crain didn’t allow many homers, threw hard and could strike people out. Rauch was versatile, able to set up and close.

All three are gone and so too is sidearming Pat Neshek who was placed on waivers and claimed by the San Diego Padres.

The return of Joe Nathan and a full season from Matt Capps (one will close, the other will set-up) will help in their efforts to move forward without the above-mentioned pitchers, they still have several gaps to fill in the middle innings. And they haven’t done it.

If you think Carl Pavano‘s 2010 season and his brilliant spring training are a portent of a continuation of that work into the regular season, you’re banking a lot on a pitcher who was a running joke not long ago and has a history of relaxing (to say the least) once he has contractual security.

Apart from Liriano, the rest of the Twins staff is extremely hittable and will be hurt badly by the departures of the defensively-oriented J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson.

With a bullpen-based team and mediocre starting rotation that needs its defense, do you see the problem here as the bullpen has been drastically altered and gutted of the unsung arms that were imperative to team success?

Teams don’t realize what they had until it’s gone; replacing Guerrier, Rauch and Crain won’t be a matter of plugging someone else in andc continuing with the same template.

Questionable defense, declining offense:

Alexi Casilla has moved to shortstop to replace J.J. Hardy. Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka—a shortstop in Japan—will play second base.

Do you know what to expect from either one of these players?

It was a year-and-a-half ago when Casilla—the erstwhile second baseman—was sent to the minor leagues for poor, lackadaisical play. Will he hit? And can he play shortstop on an everyday basis?

Nishioka has killed the ball this spring, but that means nothing. You won’t know how a Japanese import is going to perform until the season starts and he does it. Nishioka batted .346 last season; stole 22 bases; and walked 79 times—stats.

But so what?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you don’t know what you’re getting from a Japanese import. You could be getting a Hideo Nomo-like phenomenon; you could be getting a Hideki Irabu disaster. Offensively, you might get Ichiro Suzuki or Hideki Matsui or you could get Kaz Matsui.

You don’t know.

There are some who believe that a team is only as good as their up-the-middle personnel. The Twins have Joe Mauer behind the plate—state of the art and one of the top three all-around hitters in baseball; in center field, they have the talented Denard Span who should rebound from a sub-par 2010; at second and short, they have two question marks both offensively and defensively.

A weaker offense:

The Twins seem to still be holding their collective breaths with Justin Morneau as he recovers from the concussion he sustained last year. They have the depth to mix-and-match and survive with Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, Jim Thome in some permutation.

But with the departures of the bullpen pieces; the new middle of the diamond; the likelihood of a fallback year from Delmon Young; and the questions surrounding Morneau’s health, they won’t score as many runs as the did last season and will allow more due to a diminished pitching staff.

The Twins are banking a great deal of their 2011 season on Casilla and Nishioka—an eventuality I would not be comfortable with.

Hangover and fallout:

The Twins put everything they had into last season. They spent money to acquire veteran talent Orlando Hudson, Hardy and Thome; they made bold in-season acquisitions with Capps and Brian Fuentes; they felt they had the goods to finally take out the Yankees.

For five innings in game 1 of the ALDS, they were killing the ghosts from their playoff nemesis…then the wheels came off.

After the Yankees exploded for 4 runs in the top of the 6th inning of game 1, the Twins put forth their final stand in the series by tying the game in the bottom of the inning; but Mark Teixeira‘s 2-run homer gave the Yankees a 6-4 lead—which they held.

The Twins whole aura changed. All the confidence and self-belief they carried into the series, telling themselves that this time would be different, floated off into the distance and disappeared like a lost helium balloon.

As much as it’s said that such an instance can be overcome when the next season starts, this is not the same team. It’s weaker and the White Sox and Tigers are stronger.

It all adds up to a down year for a model franchise.

The 2011 Twins are going to go about as far as former Governor Tim Pawlenty’s own (more realistic than Rep. Bachmann’s) presidential aspirations: the Twins players and Pawlenty are good guys; solid backgrounds; experience; systematic beliefs and a limited chance to win based on reality.

They’re in for an awakening and it’s not going to be gentle.

****

I published a full excerpt of my book a week ago here.

The book is available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

Now it’s out on Amazon Kindle too! Dig it!!!



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Clarifications And Rhetoric

Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Media, Spring Training

Let’s start with a comment from Joe regarding yesterday’s posting.

I enjoyed this post. The one thing you could have left out was taking a shot at Dave Cameron by saying he is a stat-zombie, and is still clinging to the Moneyball-farce. Whether you think he is, is besides the point. It took away from respectually-disagreeing, which is fine. The rest of the post was really just you disagreeing with these two opinions. And was well-written and well-thought out. I would be a little concerned with his weight, and declining K rate. But I hardly think he is going to become an albatross if he doesn’t opt-out. And even if he did, this is the one organization best-suited to take that hit. Josh Beckett isn’t the same body-type. But I would feel more comfortable moving forward with Sabathia for the next five, than I would with Beckett or Lackey the next four years (And I am actually confident that Beckett and Lackey bounce back). Five years, $115 million is certainly risky for a pitcher that is going to be on the wrong side of 30, but sometimes I think it can be overblown. If this were a mid-market team, then I would hope for the opt-out to be exercised. But it isn’t a mid-market team, it’s the Yankees. However, if CC DOES opt-out, and wants an even longer deal — which he obviously will. Then I would let him walk. The deal getting even riskier, does not help the Yankees. Also, Joe Sheehan used to work for BP. So yes, he enjoys the numbers.

Joe straddles my line between remarkably useful and strangleworthy; or at least a conk on the head when he aggravates my admittedly irascible temperament.

Respectually is not a word.

Apart from that, maybe Joe’s right.

As much as the term “stat zombie” has served my purposes, perhaps it’s time to abandon it for a more inclusive discussion on what I believe and why I believe it.

In order to engage rather than immediately incite a reaction from the stat inclined to think I’m attacking them with a fighter’s stance, I’m taking a step back from the mentality of hitting first and asking questions later.

I never saw the term “stat zombie” as a negative along the lines of “stat geek” which I would find a thousand times more offensive. A geek is inept, clumsy and socially clueless; a zombie is the walking undead functioning without a conscious mind.

There’s a big difference.

Mindless adherence to numbers without room for nuance is the essence of being a zombie.

I used the term occasionally in my upcoming book and I’m not changing it now. But it’s not fostering debate. It’s inspiring an immediately contentious atmosphere and while I’m essentially unbeatable in such a circumstance, I’ll step back from it in favor of less incendiary terminology.

As for Sabathia, he did have a knee problem last season; this can be viewed in a couple of ways that bolster mine and Sheehan’s positions.

Sabathia admitted that his right knee was bothering him last season and he had a “clean-up” surgery to repair it—NY Post Story.

Since it was his right knee—his landing leg—it wouldn’t be as much of a concern were it his left leg; the dominant side is far more important to a pitcher to balance in the leg lift and explode off the rubber. The left leg holds up the entire body as Sabathia loads up to throw; this would be of greater concern to me.

The pain clearly didn’t affect his performance, nor his durability. But it’s not something to dismiss. Since he’s lost weight and had the issue repaired, it’s all the more reason to discount it as a reason not to bring him back if he does opt out.

His performance in 2010 with a knee problem and the steps to ease the pressure are bigger indications that he’s going to do everything he can to live up to his salary and importance to the club independent of salary and contract length.

But Sheehan’s suggestion of knee problems is not so easily ignored.

Here’s what I would do if I were the Yankees; if Sabathia has another Cy Young Award-caliber year and opts out—I’d give him a raise and do everything I could to keep the years at five.

Hypothetically, with his current deal, a raise from 4 remaining years at $92 million to 5 years at $130 million isn’t out of line for either side. Sabathia’s not getting that money anywhere else; presumably the only way he’d leave the Yankees would be to head back to Northern California. The Athletics can’t pay him; the Giants are going to have to lock up both Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum and are still under the Barry Zito albatross through 2013.

He’s got nowhere to go for a raise.

With the Yankees sudden interest in fiscal restraint, it has to be taken into consideration how much money they’ve wasted in the past. This year alone they’re paying Damaso Marte and Kei Igawa a combined $8 million and tried to bring back Carl Pavano.

Carl.

Pavano.

Are they going to explain away letting Sabathia walk over an extra year and $30 million? The Yankees?

He won’t leave whether he opts out or not. They won’t let him leave because he’s got nowhere to go and they can’t let him leave.

Finally, I received the list that Sheehan alluded to in comparing Sabathia to other pitchers of similarly grand stature.

Special shout-out to Baseball-Reference for the information.

The lists are available here for the height requirement and weight of above 260 pounds; and here for 270 pounds-plus.

Here’s what I wrote yesterday before having the lists:

But here’s what I suspect: Sheehan’s size-based argument against Sabathia was hindered by the pitchers who inhabited said list since they weren’t on a level with C.C. Sabathia; nor were they on a level with Harang or Zambrano.

If he listed them, I’m betting the prevailing response would be, “Who?!? You’re putting him in a category with Sabathia based on what? Because he’s big?”

I was right.

Here are some of the more recognizable names; you be the judge: Chris Young, Daniel Cabrera, Armando Benitez, Jon Rauch, Seth McClung, Jonathan Albaladejo, Andy Sisco…do I need to go on?

Young was an All Star; I always loved Cabrera’s talent; Benitez was a good closer; Rauch is useful; Mike Francesa had a man-crush on Sisco; but are any of the names on that list in a category with Sabathia?

No.

Not even close.

It ‘s a reflection on the twisted nature of such an argument that the names were left out. If they’d been added, the disclosure would’ve been full and while it might have watered down Sheehan’s hypothesis, at least he’d have been on the high ground and not appeared to have been hiding facts for convenience sake.

These…stat….people (there, I said it) have something to say.

If they want a debate, it works both ways. I’ve made my way to the bargaining table sans the high intensity of unrestrained rage (yet still armed with Force Lightning if anyone still wants to scrap—and lose).

If they want a meeting of the minds, I’ll listen. Attentively and with my guard still up to an acceptable level.

Joe (StatMagician on Twitter) is a peacemaker—the ambassador to the stat people.

We’ll see where this goes…